Top five… fun European escape rooms you have to try

As is probably clear now for anyone who has read this blog, I love an escape room.

I find great joy in finding a new room to play in a new city of the world I visit and have amassed more than 60 physical and online escape room games to date around the world.

It’s also fair to say I introduced this pastime to my fiancée Holly and she too fell in love with the game instantly; part of the reason we fit together so well!

In the blog below, I’ve laid out five of my favourite escape rooms from my European adventures for anyone who also wants to give the games a try or is an avid fan themselves.

These five escape rooms each offer something slightly different from the rest I’ve played and put you, the player, at the heart of everything they do.


1: Panic Room (Gravesend – England)

Located in Gravesend, The Panic Room is the UK’s largest escape room experience going. Spread across three locations in the town centre, there are currently 14 different rooms they have set up all ranging in theme and difficulty.

What strikes you straight away with The Panic Room are three things. Firstly, they have put a lot of time, effort into their brand. It looks fantastic. Secondly, the staff are extremely friendly and enthusiastic.

No matter what the scenario you play out, no matter how many of you are there and no matter your level of escape room experience, they tailor the situation to your needs. Finally, they are not a cheap, nor tacky, looking escape room. Some places struggle to make it look good but that is not an issue here. They have gone the extra mile.

They also keep the rooms fresh, changing rooms up for new themes to keep customers wanting to come back for more.

No matter what the scenario you play out, no matter how many of you are there and no matter your level of escape room experience, they tailor the situation to your needs.

Panic Room

As mentioned there are a host of rooms available. For a newbie to escape games I’d suggest something like The Don or Old Father Time as they are more gentle introductions to the escape room genre, combining logical puzzles with an interesting story.

For the more seasoned teams, you can opt to try out rooms that incorporate live actors – such as the Happy Institute – giving a whole new twist on what you have to do.

Special mention must also be made to the extraordinary Dino Land. This is far bigger than a normal room and has the feel of taking part in your own Jurassic Park-esque feature-film. I won’t say any more on it as I’d hate to spoil the surprises for anyone keen to take part!

Prices start from £25 per person for a team of two (so £50 total) and go down to £13.75 per person for a team of eight (£110 total).

To read about more fun things to do in Kent visit my Top five… places to visit in Kent blog.


2: One Hour (Paris – France)

If you tire of tourist sites in Paris, and want to try something fun, then I’d highly recommend you drop by the One Hour Escape Room.

Spread across two locations, this horror-themed escape experience has four games to play. Two are located at its Charonne site (Lost Aslyum and Very Bad Night) and two are at its Voltaire site (The Slaughterhouse and Yakuza).

To access these locations go to Charonne Metro station on line 9 for the first site and Voltaire Metro station on line 9 for the second one.

I’ve done a lot of escape rooms in my time but the ones here (I’ve done both Lost Aslyum and The Slaughterhouse) crank up the fear-factor and make it a really immersive experience.

With live actors terrorising you as you play, it makes a special game. Even the most solid players with nerves of steel will jump a few times during these games.

Holly and I played The Slaughterhouse together and the game-master (who is also a live actor in the game itself) adapted his role depending on how well we were doing throughout.

I’ve done a lot of escape rooms in my time but the ones here crank up the fear-factor and make it a really immersive experience.

One Hour

The game is both challenging physically and psychologically and leaves you nervously laughing on many occasions.

It’s not a cheap experience. For two people it cost us €96 (about £85) in total, but given the attention to detail in the room and the fun it provides I considered this great value for money.

I think the greatest compliment I can pay One Hour Escape Rooms is that they have produced two of my favourite escape room experiences ever!

Try it – if you think your nerves will hold out!

To read about more fun things to do in Paris, visit my Paris… the lovers’ city blog.


3: Escape Boats (Dublin – Ireland)

To avoid the escape room phenomenon becoming somewhat stale things, game masters are looking for fun and inventive ways to keep their ideas fresh. So when we found a floating escape room based on the onboard a boat in Dublin we jumped at the chance to give it a go!

The aptly named Escape Boats was our game host and can be found to the east of the city centre in the Grand Canal Quay.

For €70, two people can enjoy a game on their barge which is surprisingly spacious and has a lot more to it than initially meets the eye.

Given it’s location on the water, Escape Boats do a great job of utilising the surroundings and making this a challenging – yet fun – escape room experience.

There are plenty of puzzles to work out (although I’ll be honest I hate ones that involve Morse Code – for which there is one here – because I’m awful at hearing the difference in tones) and the game is a logical and well thought-out affair.

Given it’s location on the water, Escape Boats do a great job of utilising the surroundings and making this a challenging – yet fun – escape room experience.

Escape Boats

One tip – which doesn’t give anything away – is to not think certain items are just props as we did. Some items of clothing – for instance – are actually useful elsewhere and will stop you just sitting on a shelf (as we did for about five minutes) while things happen around you.

As escape rooms go, this one was so very different to others we’ve played and I cannot recommend it enough. The hosts were a pleasure to play with and made for a really enjoyable hour’s game.

To read more fun things to do in Dublin, visit my Dublin… how to spend a weekend in the Fair City blog.


4: Escape Rooms Durham (Durham – England)

What could be better than just doing an escape room? How about an escape room built into an old castle!

Located in the north of England, Lumley Castle is more than just a beautiful castle and hotel. It is also home to Escape Rooms Durham‘s own Lumley Castle-themed escape room; The Lilly of Lumley.

First thing to say here is that our host was amazing and really went the extra mile to help us and make our time in the escape room extra special. The room itself is complex and has may interesting features that make for a rewarding game.

The game challenges the gamers to solve the mystery of what happened to Lilly – the resident ghost of the castle – and help put her soul to rest.

Based in one of the castle’s dungeons, this beautifully presented game takes a rather somber story and turns it into something quite magical for just £25 per person.

The game challenges the gamers to solve the mystery of what happened to Lilly – the resident ghost of the castle – and help put her soul to rest.

Escape Rooms Durham

I won’t spoil the game by giving away its secrets, but will say that it is a logical one and for those who have played escape rooms before you should find it challenging, yet winnable. We finished the room in exactly 50 minutes which I take as a good time.

To read more about fun things to do in Durham, visit my The Great British road trip… exploring England, Scotland and Wales blog.


5: Escape Stories (Stockholm – Sweden)

Ahead of a trip to Sweden, I wanted to continue my obsession of finding the best escape rooms in the world.

After much research I booked us into Escape Stories. This escape room has four themed rooms at the time of writing. The Last Manuscript, The Break In, The Cover Up and The Da Vinci Quest. We went for The Last Manuscript at a cost of 750 SEK for two people (around £60).

The game hosts are enthusiastic and run you through the rules of the room as well as give you the backstory to your particular quest.

Unlike some rooms I’ve previously done, Escape Stories doesn’t limit the number of clues you can ask for, nor does it penalise you for asking for them. They are concentrating on ensuring that players have the best time possible and give them the greatest opportunity to escape. How much help and assistance you want it totally down to you as a team.

Escape Stories concentrate on ensuring that players have the best time possible and give them the greatest opportunity to escape.

Escape Stories

I won’t give too much away – as I’m sure Escape Stories won’t thank me for giving all its secrets away here – but it’s safe to say all is not as it seems in the room so really explore hard as some clues are rather tricky to find. Just for the record, we escaped the room in 46 minutes.

To read more fun things to do in Stockholm, visit my Stockholm… a smorgasbord of fun blog.

Top five… must visit theme parks

Who doesn’t love a day out at a theme park?

Well, Ok, for some people the thought of being flown through the air at great height and speed, or getting soaked may not be their first choice for a fun day out, but I have to say, the inner child within me loves exploring those fun-filled amusement parks in the same way I did when I was 10-years-old.

I’m fortunate enough to have been to some amazing theme parks across the globe. So while there are thousands more to get to, I’ve narrowed it down to five of my favourite destinations so far (listed in no particular order).

Leave a comment below if you agree with this list or if there are others you’ve been to that you think should get an honouree mention.


1: Universal Studios / Island of Adventure (Orlando – USA)

Florida is well known for hosting some of the world’s most exciting theme parks that attract visitors from all over the globe.

So while I technically know this first choice is cheating – as it’s two parks – I couldn’t separate them. Also, I’ve giving myself a free-pass as they are linked by a certain ride that transports visitors from one park to the other with a valid park-to-park ticket. It’s my list, so I’m counting it!

Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando Florida are therefore the first to make the list.

These two theme parks provide a more adult experience than the Disney parks in the same area. Movie buffs – particularly in the older Universal Studios – will enjoy the opportunity to be a part of some classic films and take in a show with their favourite characters. It’s a living cinema experience.

The rides are pretty incredible too. Kids will love taking a magical bike ride with ET as he escapes the group of scientists looking to study him before helping everyone’s favourite extra-terrestrial get back to his home planet. After that who wouldn’t want to join Will Smith and his Men in Black team as you shoot your way through the streets after a massive alien attack. It’s such good fun! As a hint – even though they tell you not to hit the red button in the car in front of you, make sure you do at the end for a massive score bonus!

Sadly, Universal Studios has said goodbye to classic rides like Back to the Future (a simulator where you used to chase Biff in a bid to save the future) and Jaws (a calm boat ride around Amity Island until a certain shark reared it’s ugly head). They have replaced them with the enjoyable Simpsons simulator and Diagon Alley; as part of the parks huge Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansions. More on that in a bit.

The one thing Universal Studios used to be short on was roller coasters. This issue was addressed back in 2009 with the opening of the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit – a 51 m, 65 miles per hour X-Coaster that lets riders pick their own personal music to listen to while being spun, dropped and flung in all directions.

It’s worth point out also that if you visit around Halloween time each year to stick around for the infamous Halloween Horror Night evening events.

These thrilling spectacles see Universal Studios transformed into full-on horror films full of ghosts and ghouls and everyone’s favourite movie serials killers. For those brave enough, you also get the chance to step inside the numerous horror houses set-up that bring some of the scariest films and TV shows to life.

The Halloween Horror Nights alone are well worth a trip to Florida in October / November time.

Horror aside though, the parks do offer something a little more wholesome all year round.

The flagship part of the Universal complex now is their impressive homage to Harry Potter and all things Hogwarts.

Now. while I’m personally not a fan of the Harry Potter books (sorry, yes, I’m a muggle) nor a fan of the films, even I was amazed by how the parks transport you into this wizarding world.

They have also come up with the ingenious method of transporting guests from one park to the other using one of their newer rides; The Hogswarts Express!

The Hogwarts Express is located just outside of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios and at the entrance of Hogsmeade at Island’s of Adventure.

The Hogwarts Express is a ride suitable for all ages where you simply board the train and take a journey as though you’re travelling to Hogwarts yourself. The journey lasts around seven minutes, and families are able to sit together in a cartridge and enjoy the cinematic action taking place through the train window (which is really a very clever TV screen).

Once you exit the train you suddenly find yourself in the opposite park to the one you started in. Fantastic!

Movie buffs will enjoy the opportunity to be a part of some classic films and take in a show with their favourite characters. It’s a living cinema experience.

Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure

That brings me on quite nicely to Islands of Adventure. This is a park geared more at the thrill seakers.

Again, here, there are a wide range of Harry Potter-inspired rides including the fantastic Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, but there also areas of the park dedicated to other film genres, styles and fun gimmicks.

Some of my favourite parts are near the entrance to Islands of Adventure. Here you’ll find the Marvel Comics-inspired area (again I’m actually not a fan of the Marvel films – hope I’m not alienating too many of you with these remarks).

Top of any riders agenda should be The Incredible Hulk – a zero to 40mph in two seconds thrill ride – and the scary Doctor Doom’s Fearfall which throws riders about 50m into the air before dropping them back to the ground.

Also, don’t miss the amazing water rides in Toon Lagoon including the Popeye rapids ride where it is physically impossible to stay dry and the super-speedy Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls.

While still dripping wet, take a step back 50 million years or so into Jurassic Park and try to avoid the hordes of Velociraptors and the menacing T-Rex as you escape, by boat, from the dinosaur-infested park.

Since my last visit, they have also opened a new section – back in 2016 – entitled Skull Island; a King Kong-inspired land. I’m personally looking forward to trying this areas sole attraction, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, during my next trip to the park in the future.

Now the scary bit. The ticket prices. If you buy the tickets on the door it will cost you a small fortune. Nobody does this. You can buy, at the time of writing, a three-park explorer ticket – valid for 14 consecutive days from the first time it’s activated – that gives you access to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – as well as Universal’s Volcano Bay waterpark – for £275 per person.

However, I’d advise shopping around for better deals when you are looking at booking. There are often good deals available for 14-day park tickets that come from other sources.


2: Tivoli Gardens (Copenhagen – Denmark)

Most great theme parks are hyper-modern, state-of-the-art affairs. Then again, most theme parks aren’t Tivoli Gardens.

Located in the centre of Copenhagen in Denmark, Tivoli Gardens first opened its doors on 15 August 1843 making it the third-oldest operating amusement park in the world!

The park is best known for its wooden roller coaster, Rutschebanen, (The Mountain Coaster). It is one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters that is still operating today. 

Don’t think that just because it has older rides that this park is in anyway dated.

Visitors should also make a point to ride the always enjoyable bumper cars while it’s criminal to visit Tivoli Gardens without having played a game or two of Galoppen.

Tivoli Gardens

Situated throughout the park are three other modern roller coasters. The first – and largest – of these is the Dæmonen (The Demon) that features an Immelmann loop, a vertical loop, and a zero-G roll. This is a high-speed thrill-ride that rivals many coasters found throughout the world.

The next is Mælkevejen (Milky Way) – a 36 km/h coaster that opened in 2019 while the final one Kamelen (The Camel Trail) reaches a speed of 26 km/h and opened the same year.

It’s not just about the roller coasters. Tivoli Gardens offers a lot more.

The Star Flyer, opened in Tivoli in 2006 and takes riders some 80m (260 feet) into the sky providing amazing views of the park and the surround Copenhagen area. As it stands, it is one of the world’s tallest swing rides.

One of the parks newest rides – having opened in 2016 – is Fatamorgana. This spinning ride offers two separate seating arrangements across four different platforms that are rotated as they are elevated into the sky.

The first is a milder version with two-seater gondolas, while the other is a thrilling version in which riders are slung around at high speed while seated in a ring and facing away from the center

There are also a number of shows – usually either held in the streets or at one of the two concert halls on site – and plenty of child-friendly rides to keep the whole family entertained.

Visitors should also make a point to ride the always enjoyable bumper cars while it’s criminal to visit Tivoli Gardens without having played a game or two of Galoppen.

There are a few options for tickets at Tivoli Gardens that can either be purchased online before arriving or at the park entrance. The ticket you choose to buy will give you a different wristband to wear in the park and signify what you can do.

For just 135 Danish Kronar (about £16) an adult visitor can enter the park but will not have access to individual rides. Tickets per ride can then be purchased as they go around. This option is good for those who may only want to go on one or two rides during a trip.

The better bet is to get the Entrance and Unlimited Ride ticket for 245 Danish Kronar (about £30) which allows you on any number of rides as many times as you like.


3: Fuji-Q Highland (Fujiyoshida- Japan)

Picture the scene. You are climbing the initial slope of a giant roller coaster. Your heart is pumping with adrenaline and anticipation for the ride ahead. Then, as your car creeps over the peak of the coaster’s tallest point, the splendor of Mount Fuji opens up in front of you.

There are very few theme parks that can rival such a scene which is partly what makes Fuji-Q Highlands a great place to visit while in Japan.

Yet, this stunningly picturesque theme park is more than a pretty backdrop and is home to six incredible roller coasters with a seventh planned for 2022.

The pinnacle of these coasters is Fujiyama. When Fujiyama opened in 1996, it was the world’s tallest roller coaster at 259 feet (79 m), and had the largest drop in the world at 230 feet (70 m)! While it has lost its titles to newer rides, it still makes for an incredible experience.

Next up is Do-Dodonpa. Standing at 52m tall and reaching speeds of up to 172 km/h, it was once the world’s fastest roller coaster. As of 2013 it is the fourth fastest in the world but still boasts the highest acceleration at launch time (106.9 mph in 1.8 seconds).

This insane concept allows the trains seats to rotate 360 degrees forward or backward in a controlled spin. This allows Eejanaika to invert 14 different times, even though the actual track inverts only three times.

Fuji Q Highlands

Another showstopper is the terrifying Eejanaika. Standing at 76m tall, this ride is only the second fourth dimension roller coaster ever built. This insane concept allows the trains seats to rotate 360 degrees forward or backward in a controlled spin. This allows Eejanaika to invert 14 different times, even though the actual track inverts only three times.

Away from the adrenaline-filled roller coasters, Fuji Q Highlands has two haunted attractions: the Haunted Hospital, the world’s first largest haunted attraction and the newly built Hopeless Fortress.

There are also a series of other well thought out water, drop and swinging rides for thrill-seekers to try out. There are also activities for the younger audience too as children will enjoy a stroll around the sizable Thomas the Tank Engine Land.

For travellers in Japan who want to make the most of the area, there is also the impressive Fuji Q Highland Resort Hotel and Spa to stay in which affords great views of the park and Mount Fuji, while also housing a number of restaurants, shops, spa treatment areas and onsen bathing facilities.

While admission to the Fuji Q Highlands is free, you won’t be able to go on any rides unless you have purchased the correct ticket. This can be done online before you travel and gains you entry to the park 15 minutes before opening allowing you to get to the front of the queue for the ride of your choice.

If you want to pay per-ride then individual rides cost between 400 yen (about £3) and 2,000 yen (about £14). The better bet, though, is to buy a one-day pass for unlimited rides for 6,000 yen (around £40).

One thing to note about the park is that queues can be slow. At peak times it can take over two hours to get on one of the main rides. I’d advise that visitors to Fuji-Q Highlands do all the big rides they want to get on as early as possible during a visit.


4: Busch Gardens (Tampa – USA)

Back in the United States now, and back to the theme park packed state of Florida. And while Orlando is home to the vast majority of the visitor attractions, no trip to the Sunshine State would be complete without making the drive across the I4 to Tampa on the west coast of Florida for a day out at Busch Gardens.

The park is owned and operated by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and welcomes over 4 million guests through its gates every year.

The park has many high-octane roller coasters and thrill rides. Chief amongst these is the formidable SheiKra; the first Dive Coaster in North America. There is also Tigris, the tallest launch coaster in Florida and Montu, which was the tallest and fastest inverted roller coaster in the world at the time of opening. Special mention should also be made to Kumba that features a total of seven inversions across the three-minute ride.

Situated throughout the park there are also many other rides to enjoy including the incredible drop rides like Falcon’s Fury which currently stands as the tallest free-standing drop tower in North America. This huge ride reaches a maximum height of 335 feet (102 m) and then drops riders – face down – for five seconds of scream-filled free fall; reaching speeds of 60mph.

The first launch takes riders out of the station from zero to 30mph in 1.8 seconds. Later on, there is a second – and fastest – launch which takes riders to 60mph in 2.4 seconds while a third a final launch takes riders to 40mph in 2.1 seconds.

Busch Gardens

Despite all these amazing rides, the main focus of the park these days is Cheetah Hunt which opened back in 2011.

This ride aims to give riders the experience of being a cheetah as it chases down its prey. One of it’s key features is the multiple launches it operates during the course of the ride – three in total. The first launch takes riders out of the station from zero to 30mph in 1.8 seconds. Later on, there is a second – and fastest – launch which takes riders to 60mph in 2.4 seconds while a third a final launch takes riders to 40mph in 2.1 seconds.

With a host of dips, dives and long straights running almost the length of the park itself, Cheetah Hunt offers something slightly different for all roller coaster fans.

It’s worth remembering that Busch Gardens is more than just a theme park. It is also a working zoo which is home to many different species of animals that you can see during a visit.

Animals remain a key feature for Busch Gardens, with the different sections of the park being themed after different parts of the world.

Rides also make full use of the animals’ habitats, showcasing them to the guests. Rides like Rhino Rally – a safari-themed attraction – and the relaxing train ride that takes you around the full circumference of the park give visitors a break from the adrenaline-fuelled thrill rides on offer.

Like all parks in Florida, tickets can – and should – be purchased online before you travel.

Busch Gardens tickets often are linked to Adventure Island waterpark in Tampa and Aquatica waterpark and Seaworld Orlando. To purchase a 14 consecutive day unlimited ticket for all of these parks you’re looking at approximately $199.99 per adult (about £150).

While it’s a lot of money to pay out per person, each park on their own makes for a series of entertaining days out during a Florida holiday.


5: Lotte World (Seoul – South Korea)

Most theme parks are, by their very nature, outdoors. Yet in South Korea on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, Seoul, one park combines the regular outdoor fare with the world’s largest indoor theme park. That place is Lotte World!

The inside theme park is housed over four floors that circles above a large ice-rink (separate ticket needed for this) at the foot of the park.

The size of the park, with its many winding corridors, make for it to be somewhat of a maze to navigate. It is therefore, in my opinion, best to try and ‘complete’ each floor – starting from the top and working your way down – if you are to stand a chance of doing the whole park in a single day.

What makes Lotte World so intriguing is that rides appear almost out of nowhere. Rounding corners it is possible to come across a new ride that you didn’t even know existed moments before.

And there are a surprising number of large rides housed within the confines of the park. Keep your eyes peeled for Pharaoh’s Fury (an Indiana Jones inspired jeep ride on the fourth floor), the Jungle Adventure boat ride on floor three and the flume ride on floor one.

What makes Lotte World so intriguing is that rides appear almost out of nowhere. Rounding corners it is possible to come across a new ride that you didn’t even know existed moments before.

Lotte World

You’ll also notice a continuous series of hot air balloons circling the ceiling of Lotte World. These balloons – that run on a rail from the ceiling above – let you get a birds-eye-view of the park and are well worth the time it takes make a full lap.

There are also numerous other exciting rides inside the park that will entertain the whole family, as well as a few smaller roller coasters to keep the thrill seekers happy.

The second part of Lotte World is the smaller outside area known as Magic Island. You can reach this either by monorail or on foot via a bridge. This is because Magic Island has been built on artificial island within the Lotte World complex.

The area has a few larger rides including Atlantis Adventure – a steel roller coaster that is themed on the lost city of Atlantis – and Gyro Drop; a new attraction coupled with VR goggles to give a simulation of a futuristic landscape during the elevation sequence before dropping riders back to the base.

Lotte World can be accessed from Seoul by taking the Metro to Jamsil Station on Seoul Subway Line 2 or Seoul Subway Line 8.

After a short walk, a one-day ticket can be purchased for 55,000 South Korean Won per adult (around £36) on the door. A cheaper ticket is also available for entry after 4pm costing 44,000 South Korean Won per adult (about £29).

Lotte World remains extremely popular with South Korean locals and is a great way to spend a day away from the busy streets of the Korean capital.

Paris… the lovers’ city

Paris

Living just outside of London in Kent has its advantages. One of them being that – in normal times – it is very easy to get into Europe quickly from a plethora of airports and train stations, as well as numerous ferry terminals on the south coast.

And there is no city easier to get to on mainland Europe, from London, than the capital of France; Paris!

With a population of just over 2.1 million people, Paris is the largest city in France. Each year around 30 million tourists flock to the city to see it’s many sights and to sample some of the world’s best food.

And it’s not just about the food. Paris has a wealth of options to experience. From French history to high fashion; or renaissance art to modern sport, Paris really does have options that will suit everyone!

Described as the city of love, Paris is a popular honeymoon destination too with lovers jostling for positions in front of the Eiffel Tower or next to the River Seine in order to capture that memorable image from their time in France.

So whilst it wasn’t our honeymoon – nor my first time in the city – my girlfriend (as she was at the time) and I headed to Paris for a long weekend during a November. We had always put Paris high on our must-see list together, but it rushed further towards the top after Holly managed to win a competition on Heart FM giving us return flights and two nights in a hotel located centrally in the city itself. Perfect.


The Eiffel Tower is an undisputed symbol of all things Parisian

So what do you need to know as a visitor to Paris. Let’s start with some of the obvious stuff.

If you haven’t been to France for a long while (and have been living under a rock since then) then you may not be aware that the country moved from using the French Franc to the Euro. At the time of writing £1 could be transferred to around €1.10.

To make matters worse for a British traveller heading to Paris, the prices in the city are pretty comparable to those in London making the French capital not ideal for anyone looking for a cheap weekend away.

Paris also finds itself a time zone along from London so just remember to put those watches forward an hour when you arrive in France and back again when you return to the UK; although most devices do this automatically now anyway.

If you are looking for somewhere to escape the dreary English weather then Paris is probably not the venue for you. I think I’ve been to the city about four or five times in my life – at different times of the year – and on every occasion, without fail, I have got soaked through at least once per trip.

From this point of view, to me, it’s London but with French people. Your best bet is to travel in the summer months. July and August appear to be the best with average highs of around 25ºC and lows only dipping to near 15ºC.

It means if you are caught in a rain shower then at least you won’t be too cold.

If however, you travel as we did in November time then pack warm clothes and an umbrella. Average highs only reach around 10ºC while lows can dip to near freezing.

My tip, however, would be that no matter what time of year you go take your umbrella. I know I never go to Paris without it and while it may seem silly to pack one in the middle of a heatwave, the weather can change in the city very quickly.


Google Maps view of Paris highlighting some of the main attractions in the city

It’s also handy to have at least a few French words in your arsenal for a trip to Paris. Neither Holly nor I (both of whom studied French at school) are proficient in the language but being able to ask for a few things in French, say please and thank you does actually help open some doors.

Growing up, I always remember being told that Parisian’s were unfriendly and unhelpful – and this coming from parents who grew up in London!

However, while you will come across some that just are not interested in helping out a lost tourist, there are many more who will do and will often have a stronger grasp of English than should be expected. After all you are in their country so good manners suggests you should try and speak to them in their native tongue where possible.

Also remember to take plug converters. There are two associated plug types for France; types C and E. Plug type C is the plug which has two round pins and plug type E is the plug which has two round pins and a hole for the socket’s male earthing pin. France operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz.

While tourists can expect a safe and enjoyable trip to Paris, I would urge caution when using the Metro and around some of the popular sights.

During my last couple of visits to the city I have noticed more ‘gangs’ appearing in the Metro stations and at key sites. From my experience I’ve had one gang approach me outside of Sacré-Cœur and grab my wrist while trying to pick-pocket me (fortunately I managed to pull away and run off before they succeeded) and also witnessed a more subtle ‘attack’ on the Metro.

As the train stopped at one station. A lady and her small child (whose hand she was holding) were stood near the doors. They were staying onboard the train to another stop. As the doors opened at the stop we arrived at a group of six or seven young men boarded the train and squeezed in around the lady who tried to push them away as they were in her personal space and on top of her young child.

The men then just as the train was due to pull away all leapt out of the doors and back on the platform, letting the train doors close and the woman and the child behind on the train. It was only when the train had left the station and the lady had checked on the wellbeing of her child, that she noticed her purse had been opened and her money stolen.

So while this may not be the norm in Paris, I always use the Metro with a degree of caution and would urge others to do so too.

However, despite these rather unpleasant events, my time in Paris has always been an enjoyable one and I’ll now share with you a selection of some of my top things to see and do in the city of love.


Getting there

There are two main ways to get to Paris from London; by train or by plane.

You can, should you want to, take a longer route which would involve catching a ferry from Dover on the south coast and then driving to Paris but I’d recommend one of the two options stated above.

So let’s look at the first option of the train, known as the Eurostar. To catch the Eurostar to Paris you can do so from a number of stations in and around London and Kent.

There are three in total that act as a starting point for the Eurostar London St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet International and Ashford International. However, since the outbreak of Covid-19 there has been a temporary suspension to services from Ebbsfleet and Ashford until 2022.

For the purposes of this blog however, I will speak as if Ebbsfleet was still in operation as this was where I travelled from on my last trip to Paris by Eurostar.

Ebbsfleet is the closest station to me to get to Paris. Living just 15 minutes from the station it makes it very easy to get to the continent (normally) in a very short space of time. It always amuses me that I can get to Paris far quicker than I can to travel to many places in my own country!

How much it costs to travel on the Eurostar will depend on a number of factors. Where you travel from, what time of day you travel and what days you travel on. For instance, if you want to go from Friday to Sunday leaving the UK at around 10am, then it is likely to cost you more than if you were to travel on a Thursday early morning.

Yet from personal experience, the Eurostar is by the the most cost effective and time efficient way to travel to Paris. Why? well firstly you don’t have to spend hours at an airport going through security. Passport checks take place in England (or France if you are returning in the other direction) and you therefore don’t need to go through customs at the other end; nor wait for your luggage as it’s with you at all times.

Secondly, the station in Paris (Gare Du Nord) is located in the city centre meaning you don’t have to rely on airport transfers which can take a fair bit of time (more on that in a bit).

Price-wise you can find a decent bargain also if you are prepared to travel early in the morning. I’d suggest – to make your most of your time in France – that, for a long weekend in Paris – you leave early on a Friday morning and return late on a Sunday or Monday night. This way you get the best part of three or four days in the city and keep rail costs to a minimum.

For my trip we did just this. It meant that catching the 5:58am train from Ebbsfleet International got us in to Paris by 9:32am local time. For the return we left Paris on the Sunday at 20:13 and arrived back in England at 21:18 GMT. For this we paid a total of £137 for two people (£68.50 each).


Map of the Eurostar’s routes across Europe as of January 2021. Image from Eurostar official website

The second option to explore is flying from one of London’s airports to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

For me I’ve only every done this once. I’ve personally never seen the point in flying to Paris when the option of the train is so close to hand. However, for some, flying may be a better option and the route is well serviced by flight providers including EasyJet, British Airways or the French national airline, Air France.

As I previously mentioned, this trip came courtesy of a prize win so the return flights from London Gatwick to Charles de Gaulle with EasyJet were free of charge for us. Normally though there would be a cost attributed to such a journey and – at the time of writing – can be found for as little as £61.85 for a return journey for one person on a November weekend.

So while that may be slightly cheaper than a Eurostar journey there are a few things to remember. Firstly, the time you’ll spend at airports either end and the parking of cars for the duration of the trip will add to the bill. Secondly, Charles de Gaulle is about 45 minutes to an hour outside of the centre of Paris; on a good day.

One this I remember about our airport transfers on this trip was that we ended up sitting in heavy traffic for a long time and that Parisian’s seemed to take the law into their own hands when it came to the rules of the road. Honestly, there were cars everywhere. I’m sure at times we were sat in a row of six or seven cars across what was only a two lane road!

However, the option is available should you need it but I’d always edge towards taking the train to Paris.


Arriving at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport after our flight from England

Where to stay

As you’d expect in a major city like Paris, there are hundreds – if not thousands – of options for accommodation to suit all budgets.

From hostels to AirBnBs; cheap hotels to five star luxury – the city really has something for everyone.

So while I try not to stay in the cheapest accommodation during a trip, I do tend to bulk at the prices of some of the more expensive establishments on offer.

So to satisfy a mid-budget traveller I’ll suggest two wonderful hotels that I’ve had the pleasure to stay in during a break in Paris.

The first is Hotel 34B – which confusingly sometimes still goes by its old name of Bergere Opera. Don’t worry if this latter name appears on your booking confirmations it is the same place. To make my booking I used the helpful GetARoom.com service although you can book directly if you require.

This three-star hotel is located on Rue Bergèrein – in the centre of the city to the north of the river between the Louvre Museum and Sacré-Cœur. It has easy access – within five to ten minutes walk – of at least five Metro stations with Grands Boulevards on lines 8 and 9 perhaps being the closest.

The hotel has style. Having been renovated in recent years (which led to the change in it’s name) the hotel offers good sized rooms and a delicious Continental breakfast to its guests as well as all the regular features you’d expect such as free wi-fi and air conditioning.

I stayed here for a night during March one year for a cost of £89.67. This was for a double-standard room for two people that included breakfast. From here, we were able to enjoy our time in the city.


The room has clean and stylish at Hotel 34B
Example of the hanging art you can expect to see in rooms at Hotel 34B

My second recommendation is the four-star Hôtel Golden Tulip Opéra de Noailles.

The hotel is also centrally located, but situated further west in the city than Hotel 34B. It is serviced by two two immediate Metro stations; Opéra (which is on lines 3, 7 and 8) and Quatre-Septembre (on line 3).

I will find it harder to speak about the price of this hotel as this was where Holly and I stayed during our time in the city when she won the trip on the radio. However, looking at prices for a two night stay for two people, in a standard double room for November time I can see that, at the time of writing, you can expect to pay around £146.50 per night.

If this is like our trip, then this will also include a good, hearty continental breakfast as well.

The hotel itself is a mix of traditional Parisian fair with a quirky centre. Entering the building you’ll be welcomed by numerous, large, colourful snail and bear statues in the lobby and bar area. The reception desk is located near the door and from my experience the staff are superb.

During our stay they made sure we were comfortable in our room, gave good advice on places to eat and took the time to speak to us. There is also a small bar, next to reception, where Holly and I enjoyed a glass of wine or two before venturing out for our evening meals.

The more traditional side of the hotel is that you still leave your room key with reception when you leave the building and the lift to access the various floors is a small and intricate affair.

Opposite the reception desk the lift – which is quite slow – can hold about two people semi-comfortably. This becomes slightly harder to do if you have multiple bags to carry. However, with around six floors of rooms, if you are located at the top of the hotel it is a welcome alternative to the stairs after a long day walking around the city.

The rooms are pleasant as well and pretty spacious. Ours was the standard double in the hotel but came with a good-sized balcony which – on a nice day – would give you pleasing views of city life on the streets below.

Despite being in the centre of the city, the noise from the roads outside didn’t disturb us at all at night and we enjoyed a lovely couple of nights sleep during our stay.


Typical views from the balcony of one of the rooms at Hôtel Golden Tulip Opéra de Noailles
Inside our room at Hôtel Golden Tulip Opéra de Noailles

Getting around

Once you are in the centre of Paris you realise – if you didn’t already know it beforehand – that the city is extremely large.

To make matter worse, most of the main tourist attractions are quite spaced out from one another also so getting between them efficiently – especially if you are doing so on a tight timescale – is key to making sure you don’t miss out.

So while walking is a possibility should you wish it will take you a long time to navigate the streets to find your next destination. The Eiffel Tower, for instance, has a tendency to look a lot closer than it actually is from various points in the city and can then take a surprisingly long time to actually reach it!

The best bet here is to make the most of the Metro.

Earlier in this blog I said I had seen issues on the Metro, involving gangs and pick-pockets, but I want to point out that this is not a common occurrence and something you’d have to be very unlucky to encounter. It’s something that could happen to you on any metro, or underground, system anywhere in the world, so don’t let that put you off using the Parisian metro.

The Metro is a symbol of the city. It is known for its density within the city limits, uniform architecture and unique entrances influenced by Art Nouveau. It is 225.1 kilometres (139.9 mi) long and has 304 stations across 16 lines. In total 64 stations have transfers between lines.


Metro stations entrances throughout Paris can be identified easily from these classic signs

One thing I did notice about the Metro in Paris is that the trains are pretty dated and not the most comfortable. Most still have a system where you have to hit a little lever on the door to make it open – something you can actually do even while the train is still slowing down. Safe I’m sure!

The Metro itself is pretty cheap to use (A single metro ticket costs €1.90 per person) – similar sort of price to that of the London Underground for those familiar with the UK. But, if like me you planned to use the Metro a lot over the course of a long weekend, then there is a good way to avoid having to route through your change each and every time you go underground.

The answer is to buy a Metro Pass from the helpful ParisInfo.com.

Offering a variety of tickets covering the various zones for between one and five days, this paper ticket gives you unlimited use of the Metro system within the designated zones for the time you selected, starting when you first use the ticket.

It’s a great system and works really well. For a long weekend, that you are spending just in Paris, I’d suggest suggest getting the three-day pass for zones one to three. This will cost you €29.40 per person. If you have plans to go beyond the cities boundaries then other options that will take you as far as the airport, Disneyland and Versailles are also available for slightly more money.

It’s easy to organise as well. Following the link provided above, select your preferred ticket options and the number of passes you want to buy then pay online. You then collect your tickets when you arrive in Paris for free or pay to have them delivered by post to you at home or to your accommodation in Paris.

It really doesn’t make sense to pay to collect the tickets so make your way to your selected collection point. There are two options available. The first is at Point d’accueil Hôtel de Ville (located at 29 rue de Rivoli 75004 Paris) and the second is Point de retrait Gare du Nord (located at 18 rue de Dunkerque 75010 Paris).

We chose the second option which is in the heart of the busy Gare du Nord; the location where the Eurostar finishes it’s journey into Paris from the UK.

To collect your tickets find your way to the Tourist Information Point situated near lines 7-9 for international arrivals. When you collect your tickets you’ll just need your confirmation email and a form of ID (you should still have your passport with you at this point I’d imagine). The whole process takes just five minutes and you’ll soon be on your way exploring Paris.


A standard view from inside a train on the Paris Metro system

Top sites

Paris is a city that is full to the brim with amazing places to visit, great things to see and fun things to do. It’s impossible to fit it all in just one long weekend.

So I’ve selected a few things that for more are ‘must-sees’ during a visit to this wonderful city – especially for those people reading who have never visited it before.

The first on everyone’s to-do list is the most obvious. The Eiffel Tower!

What possible trip to Paris would be complete without going to, and then going up, this magnificent monument to engineering and symbol to all things French?

Locally nicknamed “La dame de fer” (French for “Iron Lady”), it was constructed from 1887 to 1889 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair and was initially criticised by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it soon became a cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world.

It’s a sight that is obvious from many spots around the city and is impressive to see. When you arrive at the foot of the tower, it shoots up into the sky from four impressive legs – each housing it’s own lift.

To go up the structure you can choose to walk (yes there are stairs all the way to the top). However nowadays there are six lifts. Three go up to the second floor (Pillar East, North and West), two go up from the second to the third floor (the top of the tower) and the last, in the south pillar, is privative and allows you to go directly to the restaurant Jules Verne, which is at 1st floor, it is reserved for the customers of the restaurant.

Be warned – before entering the lifts from the ground you’ll go through the very thorough baggage checks and security which is sadly a by-product of necessity from the world we live in today.

You have two options for tickets (which I’d suggest you buy online before you travel). The first – and most pointless – is one that only takes you to the midway point of the tower. Why anyone would get that far and not go to the top is beyond me. This means that if you buy this ticket you’ll only go up the legs of the tower and into the main middle section. You’ll not get to go up the neck and to its highest point.

The second ticket is takes you to the summit – some 276m above the ground. For just €25.50 per adult (around £23) you can get these tickets and ascend to the top.

On your way up you will have to get off at the middle section (floor two), so do take your time here to take in these views before joining the queue for the lift to the top.

From the top – and on a clear day – you’ll get superb views across the city where you’ll be able to see many of the other sites you’ll probably be going to next.

On average – on a moderately busy day – you’ll probably be between one hour and two at the Eiffel Tower so make sure you give yourself enough time here to enjoy it.

Getting to the Eiffel Tower is easy to do. The closest Metro station is Passy on line 6 and it’s just a short walk across the Seine to get to the monument.

As a final tip, it’s also worth returning at night to see it lit up. At various points of the evening they put on impressive light displays which really make for some great videos and pictures.


The Eiffel Tower as it appears when you arrive at Passy Metro station across the River Seine
On a clear day, the views from the Eiffel Tower mean you can see much further than this
Standing at the foot of the Eiffel Tower at night, with it lit-up, makes for a beautiful sight
Walking away from the Eiffel Tower you get a great view of the entire structure
A short example of the light show from the Eiffel Tower at night

The next stop for a trip to Paris should be Sacré-Cœur.

I’d advise using Anvers Metro station on line 2 as a good lace to arrive as it brings you out to the south of the basilica itself and gives you a pleasant walk (up hill) to the main entrance. Sacré-Cœur is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, which is the highest point in the city.

The basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. The basilica was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

One thing to be carefully about here is that it was in this park (in front of Sacré-Cœur that a gang of people tried to pick-pocket me. If you see large groups looking shifty, then I’d urge caution. They can be forceful and aggressive if you’re unlucky enough to encounter them. Chances are though you’ll be fine, and police to operate regularly in this area as a response to this behaviour.

You have two main options when visiting Sacré-Cœur. One is to just enter the main church and this is free. Inside you’ll see the main prayer and sermon areas and also get great views of the beautiful artwork making up the walls and windows. It’s truely spectacular.

The second thing you should do is pay €6 (about £5.30) to go up to the top of the basilica’s tower.

To get in the tower you leave the church and head around the side of the building, down some stairs and into a rather modest looking side-entrance where you’ll buy your ticket (this isn’t available to buy online).

It is quite a climb and there is not a lift. Some of the spiral stairways are pretty narrow also, so you need to be in reasonable health to make it to the top.

Once you’ve reached the highest point you g of the basilica – it’s dome – you get a lovely view across the city. Make sure you spend a good 10 minutes or so just sitting on the stone benches at this point to get your breath back and to drink in the views of the city.


Viewing the front of Sacré-Cœur from the photo point in the park
The view out from the top of the basilica across Paris with one of the church’s bell-towers in the foreground
The domes of Sacré-Cœur are both impressive in size and beautifully designed

Sadly, this next spot is one that is currently (at the time of writing anyway) one you can only do from the outside. The famous cathedral of Notre-Dame once welcomed guests in their thousands through its doors to view the beautiful architecture and stunning stained-glass windows it housed.

Then, on April 15, 2019, fire ransacked the building; gutting it from floor to ceiling – with much of its huge wooden roof collapsing in on itself, making it unsafe for tourists to visit.

While the inside is currently going through a huge repair and refurbishment programme, much of the outside of the building is intact and worth seeing.

The cathedral is located on a island in the middle of the River Seine. It’s easily accessible though as multiple roads cross to the island from either side of the river.

To get there, one of the closest Metro stations is Pont Maire on line 7. From here make the short five minute walk across the river and to the cathedral’s front. You can still walk around the perimeter of the cathedral taking it in from various sides. Hopefully, one day soon, it will reopen to the public once again.


Notre-Dame Cathedral as currently seen when you approach it from the River Seine

While Notre-Dame remains out of bounds, a smaller and, until now, slightly overlooked church has remained off most people’s itinerary. Yet, I’d argue that Sainte-Chapelle is perhaps even more stunning than some of it’s larger and more famous neighbours.

Just a few minutes walk from Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle is a modest church from the outside but one that holds some real hidden treasures behind it’s doors.

When Holly and I went, it was one of the first places we visited. Joining the queue in the street, I’d say to visitors to make sure you are in the right line. We stood in the queue for around 20 minutes before suddenly realising we were actually in line to enter the nearby court house! Realising our mistake we surreptitiously made our way out of the line and round the corner into the courtyard by the actual church to pay our entrance fee and head inside.

For just €10 (about £8.90) you get entrance to both the upper and lower chapels.

Sainte-Chapelle is a gothic-style gem and is considered a masterpiece of the thirteenth century architecture. In it’s lower chapel you’ll find the statue of the Virgin Mary, patron of this sanctuary. The interior polychrome decoration, which is mostly red and blue, recreates the original medieval decoration.

However, it’s the upper chapel that really is the show-stopper.

Built as a reliquary, the upper chapel was decorated lavishly with sculptures and enormous stained glass that fill the chapel with light and colour.

The fifteen stained-glass windows, which leave just enough room for the chapel’s columns, are made of 1,113 scenes that narrate the history of mankind from Genesis to the resurrection of Christ.

This room is reason enough to part with your €10. With stained-glass windows reaching almost from floor to ceiling, you end up with a crick in your neck from all the upward staring. Just make sure to occasionally look down to see where you’re going as it becomes very easy to find yourself walking into people.


The stained-glass inside the upper chapel is stunning and surrounds you on all sides

A view up at the beautiful colours making up one of the upper chapels many stained-glass windows
Looking directly up at the roof of the upper chapel in Sainte-Chapelle gives you an idea of how surrounded by stained-glass you are

Not too far from these two previous sites, is the world-famous Louvre Museum.

To date, it remains the world’s largest art museum and a central landmark of Paris. It is located on the right bank of the River Seine in the city’s first arrondissement (meaning district or ward). Its closest Metro station is Louvre – Rivoli on line 1.

It is home to approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century. These are exhibited over an area of 72,735 square meters. In 2019, the Louvre received 9.6 million visitors, making it the most visited museum in the world.

Entrance to Louvre is timed and you’ll have to select a time slot to enter when you buy your ticket online. These cost €17 (about £15) per adult. It’s important to remember that to get inside the Louvre (through it’s glass pyramid entrance) you’ll be in a long queue so factor this in for when you plan to arrive to meet your time slot. In the height of summer queue times can sky-rocket to a number of hours in length!

It’s important to remember that unless you want to spend every minute of your holiday in the Louvre, you won’t have time to see it all. The place is huge!

Taking this into consideration, Holly and I identified a number of exhibits we wanted to see and did them over the course of about two to three hours.

There are some obvious must-see for a first time visitor but they will be very busy. The first is the Mona Lisa – a small and quite frankly unremarkable portrait that still garners attention. To view this you’ll need to find the gallery it’s in (it’s well signposted inside) and then join the queue to get to the front for a short look at the painting.

Despite my best efforts they really don’t like you using a selfie-stick to take a picture of the painting from a distance. Not sure why to be honest as you are allowed to take photos of the painting when you have queued up for it.

The other must-see is the Venus de Milo statue. This ancient Greek statue is one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture and is impressive to see. There is no queueing system here so you just need to find a good position to see the statue to get a good look at it and to grab any pictures you can.

When you have had enough of battling the crowds, make your way back out the way you came and exit back onto the streets.


The queues outside the famous pyramid entrance to the Louvre can be long
It’s worth seeing once, but the Mona Lisa is both small and very busy
The world-famous Venus de Milo is worth a visit inside the Louvre

The final site I’d suggest making the effort to go and see is the Arc de Triomphe.

Standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle, juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues. It’s a truely terrifying roadway so don’t try and cross it. You can get to the Arc de Triomphe using the Argentine Metro station on line 1 and using the underpasses to get to the centre of the roundabout.

Before visiting this site, I didn’t realise that you could actually go inside it or, indeed, up it.

I’m glad we did, as the inside of the monument is home to some interesting statues from French history while the top of the monument provides good panoramic views of the city.

For just €12 (about £10.60) you can climb the monument and take in the history and the views. It’s incredibly worthwhile and a joy to behold on a clear day.


View of the Arc de Triomphe
There is more to see than you’d maybe expect inside the Arc de Triomphe
You can get great views across Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe
If you walk down the Champs-Élysées you see the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the road

If you are tired of normal tourist sites and want to try something fun then I’d highly recommend you drop by the One Hour Escape Room.

Spread across two locations, this horror-themed escape experience has four games to play. Two are located at its Charonne site (Lost Aslyum and Very Bad Night) and two are at its Voltaire site (The Slaughterhouse and Yakuza).

To access these locations go to Charonne Metro station on line 9 for the first site and Voltaire Metro station on line 9 for the second one.

Now I’ve done a lot of escape rooms in my time but the ones here (I’ve done both Lost Aslyum and The Slaughterhouse) crank up the fear-factor and make it a really immersive experience.

With live actors terrorising you as you play, it makes a special game. Even the most solid players with nerves of steel will jump a few times during these games.

Holly and I played The Slaughterhouse together and the game-master (who is also a live actor in the game itself) adapted his role depending on how well we were doing throughout.

The game is both challenging physically and psychologically and leaves you nervously laughing on many occasions.

It’s not a cheap experience. For two people it cost us €96 (about £85) in total, but given the attention to detail in the room and the fun it provides I considered this great value for money.

I think the greatest compliment I can pay One Hour Escape Rooms is that they have produced two of my favourite escape room experiences ever!

Try it – if you think your nerves will hold out!


Our team photo from the terrifying One Hour Escape Room ‘The Slaughterhouse’ game

Where to avoid

As mentioned, it’s best to remain vigilant if you are travelling on the Metro system in Paris as pick-pockets and gangs do operate. This is particularly the case if you are travelling alone, have lots of luggage with you that’s hard to personally keep hold of, or if you are travelling late at night when it is quieter. However, being vigilant does not mean avoiding.

When it comes to avoiding places in Paris there are not too many that come to mind. It’s a fun city with loads going on. However, I will point out a couple of things from my time there that you may want to take note of.

The first one is the Moulin Rouge.

The Moulin Rouge itself is steeped in history and is, perhaps, best known as the birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance and its distinctive red windmill on the roof.

The original house was co-founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller but burned down in 1915 before being rebuilt and now hosts numerous shows each night.

So while the building itself is worth a flying visit (and maybe inside if you are inclined to catch a show) the area it is located is less than salubrious. Situated close to Montmartre in the Paris district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement (the closest Metro station is Blanche) there is definitely a seedy undertone to the area that really becomes apparent the later in the evening you visit.

So while Holly and I made a flying visit to see the building one night, it was not the sort of place we wanted to spend too long hanging around; nor will it be an area of Paris I’d be in any rush to return to.


The Moulin Rouge at night with its famous red windmill lite up

My other suggestion of something that you could miss – albeit for much different reasons than the above – is the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes.

Opened in 1974, it is the second oldest zoological garden in the world. While it does not house large animals like elephants, there are a lot of rare smaller- and medium-sized mammals and a variety of birds and reptiles. Some of its animals also live in original 19th-century buildings.

On the site there are also greenhouses, a Gallery of Evolution, children’s galleries, the Gallery of Palaeontology and Anatomy and a mineral and geology gallery.

This small zoo and breeding center is located towards the south-east of the city along Rue Cuvier. Their are two metro stations suitable to use if you do visit here. The first is called Censier – Daubenton on line 7. Slightly closer to the zoo itself though is Jussieu on lines 7 and 10.

While it makes for a pleasant visit – although when I went it was pouring with rain which made the time there less enjoyable – there are both better zoos elsewhere and more interesting things to do in Paris; especially if time is precious during a trip to the city.

The zoo is very well kept and not too expensive. I paid €14 per adult for our entry and we spent around two hours in the grounds. Looking back, however, I think there are other things we could have done with our time in Paris that would have made for a more interesting trip.

If you are visiting with young children though, this may be one to keep them entertained for a short while.


Flamingos at the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes.
A Red Panda sitting high in the trees as the rain crashes down
These great apes call the old 19th Century buildings at the heart of the zoo, home

Great places to eat

It goes without saying that there are literally thousands of great places to eat and drink in Paris. Good food and wine is about as French as it comes and you can almost guarantee that from the smallest side-street café to the largest Michelin starred restaurant (in 2019 it was reported that there were over 100 Michelin starred restaurants in Paris) the dining experience will be memorable.

So if you are maybe looking to root out a few affordable gems amongst the smorgasbord of options, I can recommend three great places to eat for modest city prices.

The first – and probably most costly of the trio is – Maceo. Slap bang in the middle of Paris – and just a heartbeat away from the Palais Royal Garden – this wonderful eatery is lovely place to spend the evening.

The restaurant describes itself as boasting a cosy yet airy space that can act as a pre-theatre dinner location or somewhere to have a reunion with family and friends. It’s equally suitable for an intimate tête à tête or business lunch; a romantic soirée or an extravagant celebration.

The food and service match the classy surroundings.

With first-class wine and a good variety of foods to suit both vegetarians and carnivores, an evening at Maceo will most likely set you back in the region of €150 for an excellent three-course dinner and a bottle of wine.

What you get for that money is top quality food, prepared by a skilled chef and wonderful surroundings that will live long in the memory after you’ve left the city to return home.


Enjoying an intimate dinner at Maceo

My next suggestion is Chez Delphine located on Rue Saint-Georges just a short walk away from Sacré-Cœur.

This quiet restaurant is unimposing and could be easily missed as being ‘just another restaurant serving French food’. Its positioning down a small city street amongst the other restaurants means it’s easy for visitors to pass by its doors without giving it a second glance.

That would be a mistake.

For a very reasonable price – around €100 for two people to enjoy a three-course dinner and wine – you get a great selection of food and top service to boot.

A must-have is the Burgundy snails for starters. If you’ve not tried snails before then this is a great introduction to this French delicacy. Also make sure you have room to try the suckling lamb main which will be cooked to perfection. Finally, sit back an finish off your wine with a classy desert like the Charlotte with chestnuts and coffee or the French classic profiteroles. Whatever you choose however, will leave you more than satisfied.


The food at Chez Delphine is full of flavour and perfectly cooked
Leave room to sample one of the restaurant’s wonderful desserts

My final pick for a great place to eat is Vaudeville situated on the corner of Rue Vivienne near Opera.

With it’s tall marble walls and its rows of tables and seats, this brasserie is a lively and welcoming place to have a good lunch or evening meal.

For just €29 each, you can enjoy a starter, main course and dessert (wine or other drinks are not included in this price) from a menu that boasts superb seafood, an oyster bar and a wide range of meat and vegetarian dishes.

Again, a must have here is the snails. I think that no matter where we were during our Parisian stay, Holly and I always ordered at least one portion of snails per meal to enjoy.

The main meals here are both filling and well presented. The meats are tender and the sides that go with them are full of flavour.

The desserts though make this place somewhere to return to. The Floating Island – a dessert of grilled almonds and salted butter caramel was delicious while the cheese platter was also extremely tasty.

It’s fair to say that here – like most places in Paris – you’ll neither go unsatisfied nor hungry. The Parisian café and restaurant culture is something I enjoy greatly and sitting down in these welcoming establishments is a wonderful way to spend your time in this beautiful, popular city.


You can’t do a trip to Paris without trying snails
This Floating Island dessert was worth the trip alone

Useful links

Eurostar

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport

EasyJet

British Airways

Air France

Hotel 34B

GetARoom.com

Hôtel Golden Tulip Opéra de Noailles

ParisInfo.com

The Eiffel Tower

Sacré-Cœur

NotreDame

Sainte-Chapelle

Louvre Museum

Arc de Triomphe

One Hour Escape Room

Moulin Rouge

Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes

Maceo

Chez Delphine

Vaudeville

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Dublin… how to spend a weekend in the Fair City

Dublin

The city of Dublin may be synonymous with drinking holidays and rowdy stag-dos, but there is so much more to the Irish capital than beer, Guinness and pubs.

This beautiful city is steeped in culture (the area of Dublin Bay has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times) as well as brimming with entertainment. The mix of museums and nightlife make for a well rounded trip.

The city itself – known affectionately as the Fair City – is home to around 550,000 people – around 10% of the whole population of Ireland – and, for many, remains the heart and soul of Irish life.

Running through the heart of the city is River Liffey; the lifeblood of the city, and perhaps the country itself, with around 60% of its flow abstracted for drinking water and to supply industry.

Any visit to Dublin will be largely based around the river and travellers get the opportunity to cross over it on one of its many bridges; with perhaps the most famous of these being the Liffey Bridge, more affectionately known as the Ha’penny Bridge which dates back to 1816.


The Jim Larkin Statue in front of the the unmissable Spire of Dublin sits in the heart of O’Connell Street and is a focal point for many organised events

So what can a first time visitor expect from Dublin during a long weekend in the Irish Capital and what should travellers note before departing?

Well the first thing to note is that Ireland is on the Euro. At the time of writing £1 could be transferred to around €1.10. Add the poor exchange rate – if you are coming from the UK anyway – to the fact that Ireland in general isn’t the cheapest place to be, then spending money can be eaten (or drunk) away pretty quickly.

To give some context, the average pint of larger will set you back in the region of €6. If you’re buying a round for a few people then you will quickly spend a hefty amount of money. Also note, if you are drinking in the more ‘touristy’ areas such as Temple Bar then these prices can be even higher.

The next thing to pay attention to is the weather.

Similar to much of the rest of northwestern Europe, Dublin experiences mild-warm summers, cool winters, and a lack of temperature extremes. July and August give average highs of around 20ºC while the winter months will see temperatures dip below 10ºC.

Temperatures in April – I will be basing this blog on travel in April – can be in the early teens so it is advised to dress appropriately for the conditions.


Google Maps image of Dublin

It’s not just the heat that travellers need to take note of when venturing to Ireland as all year-round there is a reasonable chance you’ll experience some rain during a three-day stay in Ireland.

Most months of the year experience an average rainfall of between 10 and 12 days rain so chances are at some point in your trip you will get wet. Always take an umbrella with you to Ireland.

As you’d expect, the language for an English speaker is not an issue and from mine and Holly’s experience in Dublin we were welcomed to the city by a wide range of cheerful and larger-than-life characters.

It is worth remembering though that the English and Irish haven’t always made for the best of bed-fellows with the two nations experiencing a somewhat difficult past together. While, for the vast majority, this is now in the distant past, you can expect to be on the receiving end of some good natured jokes and banter from your Irish hosts.

My advice is to give as good as you get and you’ll not go far wrong (although obviously remember there is always a line not to cross).

As mentioned, Holly and I took a short weekend break in Ireland during an April. Our plan was to see as much of this city as we could in the day time while also enjoying a selection of the bars and restaurants it had to offer during the evening.

Here’s my selection of must-sees and can-be-missed activities that can make for an enjoyable long-weekend in Ireland.


Getting there

Flying to Ireland from the mainland of the UK is a simple affair with most British-based airports providing a number of flight options to different locations in Ireland; including Dublin.

Our plan was to make the flight as easy to organise as humanly possible. To do this we wanted to make the short 45 minute to an hour flight from London to Dublin from the closest airport to home that we could.

There were plenty of options for us to choose from. For instance British Airways flies to Dublin from London City or Heathrow, while Aer Lingus goes from Heathrow and London Gatwick.

For us thought, it turns out, the airport closest – and the one with the best timed flights – was London Southend with Irish airline Ryanair; who also have routes from London Gatwick, Luton and Stansted.

While many don’t like flying with this low-budget airline, they do provide a quick and easy route to many of Europe’s top destinations and for just £60 Holly and I were able to get return flights to the Irish capital.

London Southend is a small, single-terminal airport, but it has to be said is extremely well organised and a pleasure to travel from. There are a few small shops inside the terminal to spend your time in and you can grab some food from one of the coffee shops also available.

Arriving in Dublin International Airport was problem free. This giant, two-terminal hub welcomes around 33 million travellers to its doors each year and is situated around 10 miles to the north of the city centre.

Originally opened in the 1940s, Dublin International Airport has seen a great deal of development over the years and is now a modern, comfortable airport on the Irish mainland.


The view from the the terminal building at Dublin International Airport

Having left London Southend at 6:30am on a cold, wet Saturday morning in April, we were landing in Ireland just an hour later having just enough time onboard to listen to a single podcast and grab a few extra minutes of much needed sleep.

But while the journey out was problem free the return journey was anything but. After arriving at the airport we suddendly saw flashing lights cruising across the tarmac towards our terminal where it appeared that a passenger had collapsed due to a suspected heart attack. Hopefully, the man in question has since recovered.

Our plan that evening was to leave Dublin late on the Monday and make the short hop back to London Southend before collecting our car and driving home.

The weather had other ideas for us though.

When you go to Ireland you can expect a very changeable weather front at the best of times, but it was actually the weather in Southend that was causing us the problem.

Thick fog had set in and we only found out about this after our plane had taken off from Dublin. Despite our pilot’s best efforts when we made it to the Southend area, it just wasn’t safe enough for us to land there so he took us to the closet available, clear, airport which happened to be London Gatwick.

The only problem we had with this was that our car was stuck in Southend and we were now near Crawley at around midnight.

After a few urgent phone calls, Holly’s father kindly drove to pick us up and take us to Southend to collect our car meaning we got home at around 4am!

So while I would say we were unlucky with our flight, it is worth noting that this can happen at London Southend due to its location. However, I still would be happy to travel from there again should I need to in the future.


Where to stay

There are plenty of hotels, B&Bs and hostels in and around Dublin and the same is true for AirBnBs.

We wanted to stay centrally when we were in Dublin to avoid having to travel in and out of the city so we picked an AirBnB just off the upper end of O’Connell Street; the main thoroughfare in the city centre.

This cosy little apartment gave Holly and I a great base to explore Dublin from as it was just five minutes from the main street.

Based in a small residential block of flats, we paid £230.48 for two nights in April.

After arriving in the city we made the short walk from the city centre with our hand luggage to the apartment building. The streets, while busy during the day time, get emptier at night, and the building is surrounded by places to grab food or a few essentials for a city break stay.

Inside, the apartment is stylishly decorated. Having made our way in after picking up our keys from the lock box on the street, we were pleasantly surprised by the space we had to ourselves.

To the left of the entrance way there is a medium sized living room fit with comfortable sofas and a TV that comes with Netflix. Take note, that the exposed brickwork that you can see in the pictures is actually rather well designed wallpaper. I’ll be honest, that one fooled me for a bit!

Just off the living room is a compact kitchen with all the basics we’d need for a short stay in Ireland.

Back into the hallway, the bedroom sits directly opposite the front door and is a nice, light design with an inviting double bed at the heart of the room. There was also ample space for us to unpack our few items and make ourselves comfortable in.

The other door off the hallway takes you into the shower room which again has been well designed and was spotlessly clean during our visit.


Sitting down in the living room ready for some Netflix
Settling into the bedroom of this lovely AirBnB
The kitchen was useful to have although we only really used it for cups of tea and coffee

I’ll say it again, while you could spend more money on a fancy hotel somewhere else in Dublin, we wanted to have a comfortable base to settle into during our trip. After all, it was our plan to be out and about for as much time as possible in Ireland so it felt pointless spending too much money on a room that we were not planning to be in for any great period of time.

All the said, we did make the most of this AirBnB and because it was so nice and peaceful inside it we found it easy to curl up on the sofa one night, stick on some Netflix and relax.


Getting around

Dublin International Airport is located around seven to eight miles outside of the city centre.

While you can hire a car from the airport, or get a transfer company to pick you up, we decided to choose the cost effective transport option provided by Dublin Bus.

The quickest and cheapest way to get from Dublin International Airport to the city centre (getting off at O’Connell Street) is to jump on either the 747 towards Heuston Railway Station or the 16 heading towards Ballinteer.

Dublin Bus provides a good, safe and efficient service from the airport to numerous places in Ireland – as well as Northern Ireland. You simply walk out of the airport, to the bus stops located nearby and pay for the ticket you want for the location you are travelling to.

At just €7 per adult each way, this is a great cost effective way to travel to the city and takes about 50 minutes with moderate traffic. This journey, while not the quickest of ways to travel, gave Holly and I time to sit back and enjoy our new Irish surroundings.

Once you’re in the city my top suggestion is to explore it by foot. Walking is both safe and easy to do in Dublin due to its quite compact size. Having a car here is more likely to cause you problems with parking and pretty much everywhere is accessible within 30 to 40 minutes on foot.

It also allows you plenty of opportunity to explore little side roads, cross bridges over the lovely River Liffey, stop off at traditional Irish pubs and bars and generally get a real feel for life in Dublin.


Top sites

With so much to try and squeeze into a long weekend in Dublin, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what will give you a varied, yet authentically Irish experience. Hopefully this can help travellers with a few ideas.

The first thing to do is sort out any pre-bookable activities, and it would be remiss of any first-time visitor to Ireland to not make a trip to the legendary Guinness Storehouse.

Located on just south of the river on St James’ Gate, this area of Dublin is like a monument to one of its finest exports.

Arriving in the area, the cobbled streets, imposing warehouse buildings and iconic Guinness signage gives the feeling you’re entering a Dickins novel rather than a brewery.

And for just £15 per-person – when booked in advance online – you get a memorable experience which can be enjoyed by even those who don’t like the famous product itself.

For this I can speak with experience. While Guinness has become a drink of choice for me, for Holly it remains a somewhat abstract concept. She really has not got the taste for it. Yet, while she doesn’t enjoy the drink we both did enjoy the tour we received of the Storehouse.


The famous Guinness signage adorns the walls and gates everywhere around the Storehouse
Getting ready to sample some Guinness
The imposing warehouses and horse-drawn carriages give a very 19th Century feel to the area

Once inside, at your appointed time slot, we met a knowledgeable employee who gave us an interesting overview of the facility. After that, we were free to look around the Storehouse at our own pace, read up on the history of the Storehouse before sampling a pint of the good stuff at their Gravity Bar which gives great views of the surrounding city.

Well I say it gives great views, but whenever Holly and I seem to get anywhere where there is a view to be enjoyed, the clouds descend, the fog comes in and our views become a thing of guesswork. It’s become a bit of an ongoing joke for us, and again this happened to us here. So we got great views of about six feet; but I hear on a good, clear day you can see much further!

The next stop I’d recommend is an old favourite of ours; an escape room. Yet, to avoid things becoming stale, we found an escape room based on the water onboard a boat!

The aptly named Escape Boats was our game host and can be found to the east of the city centre in the Grand Canal Quay.

For €70, two people can enjoy a game on their barge which is surprisingly spacious and has a lot more to it than initially meets the eye.

Given it’s location on the water, Escape Boats do a great job of utilising the surroundings and making this a challenging – yet fun – escape room experience.

There are plenty of puzzles to work out (although I’ll be honest I hate ones that involve Morse Code – for which there is one here – because I’m awful at hearing the difference in tones) and the game is a logical and well thought-out affair.


Rather happy with our time getting out of the great Escape Boats’ game

One tip – which doesn’t give anything away – is to not think certain items are just props as we did. Some items of clothing – for instance – are actually useful elsewhere and will stop you just sitting on a shelf (as we did for about five minutes) while things happen around you.

As escape rooms go, this one was so very different to others we’ve played and I cannot recommend it enough. The hosts were a pleasure to play with and made for a really enjoyable hour’s game.

Venturing back to the centre of the city, visitors will no-doubt have walked past the impressive Trinity College which plays host to The Old Library and the Book of Kells.

Situated just south of the river if you cross O’Connell Bridge from the main O’Connell Street, you need to walk into the stunning grounds of Trinity College to find this tourist attraction.

It’s easy to forget, as you meander your way through the grounds, that this is a fully functioning college with students coming and going from lectures, so being respectful here should be must.

Holly and I ended up visiting here as a last port-of-call during our trip to Dublin. We’d walked past the college numerous times and seen the queue for the Book of Kells and the Old Library – located in the Long Room – but had not joined it as it was stretching quite far around the building.

On our last morning in Dublin, we bit the bullet and joined the queue to see this stunning piece of history and architecture.

Paying the €16 entry fee each, we were a bit concerned that this was going to be anti-climatic and a waste of money. Fortunately that wasn’t to be the case.

The visit starts with a walk around a number of artifacts the College has in its possession which are interesting to see before taking you to the first of the two big-ticket items; the Book of Kells.

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together . It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland and is believed to have been created c. 800 AD. 

This 9th Century wonder sits in pride of place in the exhibition area and draws a crowd to see it. Be warned, you’re not allowed to take photos of the Book of Kells itself and security are present to stop people doing this.

Once we’d taken in the Book of Kells we made our way through to the Old Library – or Long Room.


The Long Room library at Trinity College is well worth the entrance fee alone
Some of the College’s oldest books are on display in the Long Room’s tall and stylish bookshelves

Built between 1712 and 1732, the Long Room at Trinity College’s Old Library holds the collection’s 200,000 oldest books. The distinctive and beautiful barrel ceiling was added in 1860 to allow space for more works when the existing shelves became full.

This room clearly inspired works of fiction, such as Harry Potter, with its dynamic ceilings and rows of books adorning the walls. It really is a marvel to behold and it’s easy to lose time here as you slowly make your way up and down the room taking in the spectacular surroundings.

Now it would be remiss to come to Dublin and not sample its energetic and welcoming nightlife. And there is no better place to do this than in the city’s Temple Bar neighbourhood.

First thing to clear up, the Temple Bar is not a single pub. Far from it. It is an area on the south bank of the River Liffey and is bounded by the Liffey to the north, Dame Street to the south, Westmoreland Street to the east and Fishamble Street to the west.

It is also promoted as Dublin’s ‘cultural quarter’ and, as a centre of the city’s nightlife.

This area is full of pubs, bars and restaurants and comes to life as the lights go down each day. Some of the pubs you can get a drink in include The Temple Bar Pub, The Porterhouse, The Oliver St. John Gogarty, The Turk’s Head, Czech Inn, The Quays Bar, The Foggy Dew, The Auld Dubliner, The Stag’s Head and Bad Bobs.


The streets of Temple Bar can be relatively quiet during the day time, but really come alive at night
The Wall of Fame on the side of The Irish Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum Experience in Temple Bar showcases some of the city’s leading musicians

This is a colourful and vibrant area of the city and really has a great sense of fun about it.

Most bars will have some form of entertainment on offer which ranges from resident DJs to live Irish music. Drinks will flow aplenty and the streets will end up awash with happy revellers as the hours of the day tick by.

Even if you are not a big drinker, it’s worth spending a bit of time in the area to get a really authentic Irish experience.

One great way to spend a bit of time in Temple Bar – as well as many other places within Dublin – is to join onto one of the daily Dublin Free Walking Tours.

Meeting at the Spire on O’Connell Street – look out for the yellow umbrellas – these southside tours run at 11am and 2pm every day while a 3:30pm tour explores the northside of the city.

We did one of the southside tours and got an enthusiastic tour of some of the city’s top sights including Trinity College, Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, Christchurch Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.



Dublin Castle in all its glory
You’ll walk past the Bank of Ireland just south of the River Liffey shortly after starting the Southside tour

As the tour would suggest, technically it’s a free affair. However, these great guides rely entirely on tips so it’s done on the basis of paying for whatever value you feel you got from the two hours you spend hearing about the city. There really is no pressure to pay a fortune so you can pay whatever you can afford.

These tours are a great way to get to grips with the city’s layout so I’d suggest doing one early in a stay so you can really get a feel for Dublin.

The final must-see is a slightly sombre one but worth making the effort to see; The Famine Memorial

The memorial, which stands on Customs House Quays is in remembrance of the Great Famine (1845-1849), which saw the population of the country halved through death and emigration.


The Famine Memorial is a sombre experience but should not be overlooked

This memorial is a key reminder to a major piece of Irish history and is a stark reminder of the struggles experienced in Ireland during the 1840s.

Take a few moments to see the sculptures and apricate the artwork that has gone into creating them. It is a bold reminder of the tough times this beautiful country has experience in the past that now allows us to today enjoy its warmth and plenty.


Where to avoid

While I would thoroughly promote going to the Temple Bar neighbourhood, for me you can also get an suitably Irish experience without going to the famous The Temple Bar Pub.

I’ll say from the off, I didn’t go inside, but the reason for that is that this pub was absolutely rammed full of people no matter what time of day or night you happened to pass it by.

When people think of Temple Bar it’s this bar that automatically springs to mind. It’s famous red and black exterior is well known and usually adorns any travel book that explores Dublin. However, the Temple Bar is a lot bigger than one pub and is more about the area as a whole rather than just this place.


The Temple Bar Pub is a focal point for many holidaymakers but is best viewed from the outside

Tip here is to grab your photos of the outside of this bar and then make your way around the corner to one of the other lively pubs available that has more room inside its walls.

At the Temple Bar Pub itself, from what I could see, it looked like an enjoyable experience for those who did manage to get inside and get a drink. Personally, I really didn’t fancy being stood up for hours and constantly having to move as people try and squeeze past to go to the bar.

My other one that can be missed is the Chester Beatty museum.

Again, it may seems slightly harsh given that entry is free – and that the museum is described by some as the best in Ireland – but it just didn’t have a wow factor for me.

The museum itself is the pre-eminent Irish museum promoting the appreciation and understanding of world cultures. It has many exhibits including manuscripts, rare books, and other treasures from Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.


One of the exabits in the Chester Beatty showcasing Asian and Japanese culture

But while history buffs may be in their element here, you really have to have a niche interest in some aspects of certain histories to really get a full appreciation of what’s on show.

Again, there is nothing wrong with how the museum is presented and the staff are extremely helpful, but should I be back in Ireland again in the future, I won’t find myself rushing back to this museum for a second visit.


Great places to eat

There are literally hundreds of great places to eat and drink all over Dublin, with many visitors making their way for the previously mentioned Temple Bar Pub as a first port of call.

However for me, there are two must-visit stops for any first time traveller to Dublin that give both great local food and drink and an entertaining, lively evening to boot.

The first of these is the wonderful Lundy Foots.

Located in the Temple Bar district, Lundy Foots can be found on the corner of Essex Gate and Exchange Street Lower.

This lively pub serves a multitude of good-value food options from Irish Angus beef burgers and chips to curry, fish and chips and Caesar salads.

The drinks menu is even more impressive. Vast arrays of whiskey, gin and draft beers will tempt even the mildest of drinkers and it would almost be criminal if you left this bar without sampling at least one of the local products.

Do note however, that Lundy Foots can get extremely busy in peak times. Holly and I found that it was best to try and arrive at this place early as seating was at a premium and tables went quickly. If you are planning in advance a visit then I’d suggest booking a table to make sure you don’t end up being disappointed.


Enjoying the entertainment and drinks in Lundy Foots
The very filling and tasty Irish food will leave you feeling extremely satisfied
Live Irish dancing in Lundy Foots

Amazingly, on our visit we managed to grab a table in the centre of the bar on the raised, stage platform area where were found ourselves in a great spot to enjoy the Irish dancing performance by two of the bar’s talented staff while listening to the live music filling the air with its Irish charm.

Just around the corner from Lundy Foots is my second pick; the sinisterly named Darkey Kelly’s.

The red arched doorway to this infamous pub can be found on the slope up Fishamble Street; one of the oldest streets in modern Dublin. Inside, the rather ominous doors is a welcoming, if tightly-packed restaurant based around a central bar.

Darkey Kelly’s remains one of the best known pubs in Dublin for traditional Irish music. On top of that it is also the home to one of the most enduring legends surrounding Dublin; that of the woman by whom the pub is named – Darkey Kelly.

For generations Darkey Kelly was known in Dublin’s folk memory as the woman who was burned at the stake for witchcraft but new evidence uncovered suggests that although she was innocent of witchcraft she still had a dark side to her character. The discovery of bodies under the floorboards of the brothel she ran in 1761 suggests she may have been Ireland’s first serial killer!


Enjoying some drinks at Darkey Kelly’s

This morbid tale is now the theme of the pub near where Darkey Kelly’s brothel once stood.

Putting aside this gruesome past, the pub itself is full of fun, laughter and charm. A wholesome menu including numerous traditional Irish dishes will warm your insides. If you get the opportunity, leave space for one of their fantastic desserts also. It’s well worth it and will make for a fulfilling evening during any Irish adventure.


Useful links

Ryanair

AirBnB

Dublin Bus

Route 747

Route 16

Guinness Storehouse

Escape Boats

The Old Library and the Book of Kells

Temple Bar

Dublin Free Walking Tour

The Famine Memorial

The Temple Bar Pub

Chester Beatty

Lundy Foots

Darkey Kelly’s

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Top five… places to visit in Kent

Kent is often described as the garden of England. Situated in the south-east of the country, Kent is home to over 1.5m people and offers some of the best scenery available within the UK.

I’ve often felt quite lucky to live in this haven on the outskirts of London. Close enough to the capital to enjoy a day out there and, of course, for work, but far enough away to feel removed from the everyday hustle and bustle city living can bring.

The county also shares borders with Essex along the estuary of the River Thames and even with the French department of Pas-de-Calais through the Channel Tunnel making escaping to the continent (when we don’t have a pandemic taking place) easy to do.

It’s an area steeped in history also. Kent was the first British territory conquered – and settled-in – by Germanic and Nordic tribes with the Nordic originating Jutes from the Jutland area of Denmark and South Sweden settling in Kent and nearby areas of the South East of England.

It was also an area highly favoured by kings and queens including the infamous King Henry VIII who enjoyed a special relationship with Kent. During his reign Kent was used as his personal escape from royal life and his playground for his – how shall we put it – extra-curricular activities.

Yet modern Kent is far more than just a shrine to a fallen King; although it can be hard sometimes to move away from his influence as he owned over 70 residences in the county during his lifetime.

Here are some of my top picks for things to do during a day out in this beautiful county.


1: Canterbury

The cathedral city of Canterbury is a hive of activity in the busiest periods of the year and offers a quint-essential medieval experience. And at the heart of any visit to Canterbury should be a trip to its famous Cathedral.

As one of the oldest – having been founded in 597 AD – pilgrims and visitors have made their way to Canterbury Cathedral since the Middle Ages. Now one of the most famous Christian structures in England, Canterbury Cathedral remains one of the most visited places in the country and for good reason.

Sitting in the heart of the city, the cathedral’s stunning architecture and beautiful stained-glass windows are a sight to behold.

Adults can gain entry for just £10 per person and children under 17 are free when accompanied by a full paying adult.

The city was also home to the much-loved Canterbury Tales exhibition. An animatronic walk-through account of the great Geoffrey Chaucer’s 24 stories was a must-see for visitors to Canterbury before it sadly closed down earlier this year.

Now one of the most famous Christian structures in England, Canterbury Cathedral remains one of the most visited places in the country and for good reason.

Canterbury

Around the old streets of the city there are plenty of shops and restaurants to while-away the hours and visitors can enjoy a pleasant walk around the city centre. Just outside the main centre of the city there are also numerous parks and woodland areas that dog-walkers and visitors alike can also enjoy.

A lesser-known (well compared to the Cathedral anyway) attraction is that of the city’s biggest escape room; Escape Kent.

These fun hour-long story-based puzzle rooms provide a fun-for-all-the-family activity. Well run, and entertaining, Escape Kent provides the right mix of logical fun puzzles with challenging and thought-provoking plots.

At the time of writing there are six live escape rooms, although I know from personal experience that these do change to keep ideas fresh and make you want to come back for more.

Games are usually for between two and eight players and cost as little as £20 per person (for larger groups) or £25 per person for smaller ones.


2: Whitstable

The harbour-town of Whitstable stands on Kent’s north coast and provides a pleasant backdrop a family-filled day of fun.

While it may lack the sandy beaches of the more popular Broadstairs and Margate seafronts, Whitstable has an abundance of character and charm that should pull it to the forefront of your attention.

A walk through the town’s modest-sized shopping street will take you down towards the harbour where you’ll have ample opportunity to try some of the freshest catches straight from the sea. Numerous winkle, crab and ‘famous’ oyster outlets give you a great flavour of the area while there are also an abundance of fish and chip shops offering a wide range of locally-sourced products.

Numerous winkle, crab and ‘famous’ oyster outlets give you a great flavour of the area

Whitstable

A trip to Whitstable wouldn’t be complete without a walk down the pebbly seafront. This pleasant stroll will take you past the various beach-facing holiday homes and beach huts and gives even more opportunity to sample so local food from the stalls set up at the end nearest the harbour.

Your best bet here is to walk down the length of the beach towards The Old Neptune Pub which is located on the seafront. Here you can get a drink or two, have lunch and enjoy it all while watching the world go by on land and sea.


3: Knole Park (Sevenoaks)

Located in picturesque Sevenoaks, Knole Park is a stunning example of Kent country life. The beautiful deer park covers acres of land surrounding Knole House; a country house and former archbishop’s palace.

A national-trust property, Knole is provides a great place for families of all ages. Children will enjoy walking around the deer park watching the animals amongst the huge trees both standing and, in some cases sadly, knocked down in the Hurricane of 1987. The deer are indeed very use to humans in their habitat. Many will allow you to get quite close and some even try and take food from picnickers.

At the centre of the park sits Knole House. This property which dates back to the 15th century is a typical stately home and boosts numerous paintings and tapestries of historical faces and events that are relevant to the area or to the house itself.

Knole Park is best to do on a sunny day. Although the sun brings the crowds, there is always plenty of space in the grounds

Knole Park

Best of all, this day out is a nice cheap affair. Visitors – who are not National Trust members – have to pay £5 to park their car at the grounds for the day and then a further £8 per person to enter the house. However, if you just want to walk around the grounds then the car parking fee will be the only outgoing.

This location is best to do on a sunny day. Although the sun brings the crowds, there is always plenty of space in the grounds (which also hosts a full-sized golf course) to enjoy a pleasant stroll and picnic.


4: Panic Rooms (Gravesend)

Anyone who has ever read my blog will know that I’m a huge fan of an escape room. And fortunately for me, one of the world’s best (in my opinion) is located a mere stone’s throw from my front door.

Located in Gravesend, The Panic Room is the UK’s largest escape room experience going. Spread across three locations in the town centre, there are currently 14 different rooms they have set up all ranging in theme and difficulty.

What strikes you straight away with The Panic Room are three things. Firstly, they have put a lot of time, effort into their brand. It looks fantastic. Secondly, the staff are extremely friendly and enthusiastic.

They are not a cheap nor tacky looking, escape room. Some places struggle to make it look good but that is not an issue here. They have gone the extra mile.

Panic Rooms

No matter what the scenario you play out, no matter how many of you are there and no matter your level of escape room experience, they tailor the situation to your needs. Finally, they are not a cheap, nor tacky, looking escape room. Some places struggle to make it look good but that is not an issue here. They have gone the extra mile.

They also keep the rooms fresh, changing rooms up for new themes to keep customers wanting to come back for more.

As mentioned there are a host of rooms available. For a newbie to escape games I’d suggest something like The Don or Old Father Time as they are more gentle introductions to the escape room genre, combining logical puzzles with an interesting story.

For the more seasoned teams, you can opt to try out rooms that incorporate live actors – such as the Happy Institute – giving a whole new twist on what you have to do.

Special mention must also be made to the extraordinary Dino Land. This is far bigger than a normal room and has the feel of taking part in your own Jurassic Park-esque feature-film. I won’t say any more on it as I’d hate to spoil the surprises for anyone keen to take part!

Prices start from £25 per person for a team of two (so £50 total) and go down to £13.75 per person for a team of eight (£110 total).


5: Leeds Castle (Maidstone)

Just five miles from the town of Maidstone, travellers will find Leeds Castle.

There has been a castle on this land from as early as 1119, initially a simple stone stronghold constructed by Robert de Crevecoeur which served as a military post in the time of Norman intrusions into England.

As the centuries bore on, the castle developed and in the 16th century, Henry VIII used it as a dwelling for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

The castle and its grounds are now a major travel destination. Aside from the castle itself there is a maze that is exited through a shell grotto, a golf course and what may be the world’s only museum of dog collars! In the grounds there are often events taking place like live birds-of-prey shows or medieval jousting events. There are two castle-themed children’s adventure play areas targeted at the under sevens and the under fourteens.

Hold onto your tickets after you have left. The tickets give you free access again to Leeds Castle as many times as you want over the course of a year.

Leeds Castle

The castle itself is a joy to walk around. Overlooking the gardens and the surrounding lakes, there are plenty of stunning views to take in from its many viewpoints. It also acts as a wedding destination for couples looking for that something special on their big day, although you’ll need a fair bit of money behind you to afford the prices of such a venue!

Couple of ideas here. Firstly, visit the castle in the month or so during the lead up to Christmas. Not only does it create a magical setting that the kids will enjoy as the sun sets behind the ramparts, but it also plays host to a Christmas market that has live music, tasty food and more mulled wine than anyone could ever wish to drink.

Secondly, hold onto your tickets after you have left. The tickets give you free access again to Leeds Castle as many times as you want over the course of a year. This means if you are looking for somewhere to visit at short notice and don’t want to spend a fortune, then the castle and its grounds can provide a great cost-effective trip.

Tickets for the first entry may seem a bit steep but if you plan multiple visits then it’s great value for money. An adult ticket is £27 per person while a family ticket for two adults and up to four children can cost £80.

This blog first appeared as a guest publication on Famously Frayling on 24 August 2020.

The Great British road trip… exploring England, Scotland and Wales

Road Trip

Hi everyone. This blog will be a little different to my normal posts so hopefully this will all workout OK.

As Covid-19 is still taking the world by storm and has pretty much caused a halt to a lot of international travel, Holly and I have decided to take a three-week road trip around England, Scotland and Wales this August and visit places that we’ve kept putting off due to trips abroad.

Each day, I’ll try and update this blog page. Making it a bit of a road trip diary. Hopefully you’ll all enjoy my ramblings and enjoy the beautiful sights the UK has to offer along with us.

To jump to a certain section of the blog follow the links below to the top of each day’s entry. And remember, you can follow this blog to get live updates sent to your email account as well as leave comments on posts you enjoy. Also follow us on Social Media for more pictures and information as well following this blog. Have a great summer everyone!



Day 1

London – Lichfield

So it begins!

Setting off from home late afternoon on a blistering hot day, Holly and I were full of excitement for the three and a bit weeks of fun we have ahead of us.

The first thing that was ahead of us, however, was a three hour drive from our home in Dartford, Kent to our first stop in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

This stop was one for me really. For just over a year of my life, about seven or eight years ago now, I lived in the city of Lichfield and this was the first time Holly would get to see my former home-town.

Driving into the city was like a trip down memory lane. Spotting loads of places I used to walk, or run, was really nostalgic. As you approach this small city you can see the Cathedral with its spires standing tall in the centre, dominating the low-lying skyline. We’d be paying a visit to this site on day two.

Day one, however, was more about getting on the road and reaching our first stop. Here we’d opted for the central George Hotel as I knew it was located right in the middle of the city in a quiet part of town. The hotel itself is well presented – if a little dated – and the rooms are comfortable enough. For our one-night stay we paid just £40. Sadly the air-conditioning was switched off throughout the hotel due to Covid-19. Bit disappointing as it was a ridiculously hot day. Fortunately we were moved room to one with a window!

After settling in to our room, Holly and I took a walk around the city centre. I was pleased to see that during our walk a number of the old buildings that line the streets are still standing firm, even with their structures bowing out quite considerably given their age.

As we got into the evening, I took Holly to my favourite Thai restaurant in the city. Siam Corner MaMa Thai. Stepping inside, you can forget that you are in central England as the restaurant is beautifully presented with authentic-looking Thai decorations. And the food is still superb also.

A great end to the first day on the road.

Day 2

Lichfield – Stoke-on-Trent

A fairly lazy start to the day was a welcome way to start our first full day of our holiday roadtrip. The plan for the day was to spend the morning in Lichfield before making the short 30-mile trip north to my other former home of Stoke-on-Trent; somewhere I’d spent about eight years of my life from the start of my time at university at Staffordshire University to leaving in my 20s having worked for the local city council.

After getting up, we took the short walk next door to Damn Fine Cafe. This small but stylish cafe was always too busy to eat in when I lived in the city but, this morning, we managed to get a table by the window to enjoy a good quality breakfast baguette, eggs benedict, coffee and orange juice. All for under £20 which wasn’t too bad.

After breakfast – and after checking out of The George – we had time on our hands before our timed entry to Lichfield Cathedral. During this time I took Holly for a whistle-stop tour of my former home. First on the agenda was a walk around Stowe Pool; a lovely little resevoir which plays home to numerous ducks, swans and geese.

After our stroll, a trip around the town was in order. While we had done this during the night before, this time the streets were much busier with shops and restaurants in full swing.

Next up was a trip to the beautiful Beacon Park; taking a walk past the contensious statue of Edward Smith; the captain of the fateful Titanic. I’ve never been 100% certain why Lichfield has this statue because – as far as I know anyway – the captain had no links to Lichfield; instead being born in nearby Stoke-on-Trent.

Anyway, our walk took us into Beacon Park where families enjoy playing football together, feeding the birds and having picnics. We just made the most of the sunny day and enjoyed the weather.

With time still in our favour a walk to the Close – where the Cathedral is located saw us have a quick look around the free-to-enter Erasmus Darwin House herb garden. This peaceful little retreat is a nice way to spend 15 minutes and had things been more normal, we may have gone into the house also. However, that was not to happen on this visit.

Grabbing a drink we took a seat on the grounds outside the cathedral and waited for our time slot. Lichfield is such a quiet city it’s sometimes hard to believe it has city-status.

When 1:30pm rolled around we took our place in the queue and entered Lichfield Cathedral. Any visit to Lichfield is not complete without a trip to the Three Spires; the cathedral thats appearance gives the city it’s nickname.

Two adult tickets cost us just £4 in total. For a building with this history and architectural beauty that’s a bargain. Inside, we had to follow a strict one-way system. This took us past all the main aspects of the catherdral and, given the Covid-19 restrictions in place, meant we got a great view of the entire cathedral.

After about 20 minutes inside we headed out (into the rain) and made our way back to the car. In comparison to some of the car journeys we have ahead of us, a 30-mile, 45 minute trip is a walk in the park.

Arriving in Stoke-on-Trent we again had a bit of time before our only activity of the day in the city. A short car journey around some of my former haunts – including my old flat in Shelton, old place of work in Stoke and the Trentham Estate shopping village gave Holly a flavour of what the city is like.

Our last activity of the day was at Trentham Monkey Forest; a woodland meadow that is home to 140 Barbary Macaques that are able to move freely amongst the trees – as well as the paying guest!

This was always one of my favourite places in Stoke-on-Trent. Set a few miles outside the city centre, you can forget that you are in the Midlands as these beautiful monkeys from Morocco and Algeria run around you (ignoring you for the most part) while looking after their adorable young. During our visit there were four very young monkeys – just five week’s old – clinging to their mothers as they watch and learn.

You’ll get your first glimpse of the monkeys just moments after you’ve entered the park through the turnstyles – tickets cost just £8.55 per adult if purchased online before arriving. Just down a short path you’ll come to the main area where most monkeys hang out – literally.

Top tip. Keep your eyes in the trees and enjoy walking the full length of the monkey forest. You stand a chance of seeing monkeys in the trees all over and sometimes they blend in so well it’s only when they move that you know they are there.

The only thing that was left for us to do was to check into our second hotel; The Weathervane Hotel based in Meir Park which is also conviently linked to the Hungry Horse pub and restaurant where you can enjoy a hearty meal for two purchased directly by using the pub’s app service.

Day 3

Stoke-on-Trent

Day three started with a trip to the UK’s largest indoor tropical waterpark; Waterworld.

Back when I used to live in Stoke-on-Trent, a trip to Waterworld was something to look forward to. And even with new Covid-19 rules and regulations firmly in place, the park did not disapoint.

For a cost of £20 per-person (plus £3.50 parking and £5 refundable locker deposit) a plethora of flumes and water rides welcome visitors and – since my last visit some years earlier – four new rides have been installed in what is known as Tornado Alley.

The jewel in the crown here is the UK’s first trap-door drop slide named Thunerbolt. This thrill-seekers dream will test your metal as the floor is quite literally whipped away from beneth your feet. For me, however, the best ride here is the Cyclone; a rubber-ring flume that takes riders through multiple sections of swirling fun.

As Waterworld got busier, Holly and I took our leave. We found two and half hours here was more than enough time to do everything we wanted to do (twice on some occasions).

Our next stop was at Hanley Park. Based near the University Quarter on the outskirts of Shelton, we planned to meet with a few of my old colleagues from my days at Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Meeting at the newly opened Pavillion Cafe in the park, we were able to enjoy a hot drink and a Staffordshire Oatcake (a local delicacy) while catching up with some friends I’d not seen since leaving the city around eight years earlier!

With the afternoon sun beating down on us, Holly and I had to make a hasty exit when we realised we were in danger of being late for our last activity of the day; a trip to Trentham Gardens.

The gardens provide a peaceful place to walk around where you can admire the abundance of flowers in bloom, take a stroll around the lake and see the site of the former house on the Trentham Estate.

Entry to the gardens is priced at £12 per adult and can be purchased online prior to your visit, which I’d recommend doing.

During a visit make sure you take a walk through the stunning Italian Garens and keep your eyes open for the wire-framed fairy sculptures scattered around the estate.

After a full day of activity, all that was left for us to do was to grab something to eat. For dinner we stopped off at Blue Tiffin; a small Indian restaurant at the side of the A50 near our hotel. For a good quality meal for two with drinks we spent just shy of £40.

With stomachs full we returned to our hotel for our second of two nights sleep ready to depart Stoke-on-Trent in the morning and head north to Durham and Lumley Castle.

Day 4

Stoke-on-Trent – Durham

Day four would see us departing Stoke-on-Trent early as we made our way to Lumley Castle in Durham via the Peak District. This stunning midlands region has some truely breathtaking sceanery to admire as its winding roads take you through hills and farmland.

The first stop on-route was at the Pooles Cavern; near the quiet town of Buxton. This beautiful cave formation has loads of amazing chambers full of stalagtites and stalagmites all of which have formed of centuries.

The tour at the caverns take about 45 minutes – and costs £11 per adult – to do and our guide – who spoke very quickly but with real passion – was full of intersting information about the caves and made the time go very quickly.

We then made a passing visit to Buxton town centre – a wonderful little town that justifies a far longer stay – as we made our way to the village of Eyam.

This village has a dark, yet noble, history. At the time of the Black Death – something all of us going through Covid-19 can sympathise with greatly now – the plague arrived in Eyam in 1665. 

As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to their rector, the Reverend William Mompesson, and the ejected Puritan minister Thomas Stanley. They introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness from May 1666. The measures included the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and relocation of church services to the natural amphitheatre of Cucklett Delph, allowing villagers to separate themselves and so reducing the risk of infection. Perhaps the best-known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease.

Such a sacrifice is hard to imagine and – considering the era it happened it – perhaps more should be made to highlight what a brave act this was. If you are in the Derbyshire area at any point make sure you stop by Eyam as it’s an interesting – and free – place to visit.

After grabbing a bite to eat (panini for Holly and a sausage and black pudding cob for me) from a cafe in Eyam we hit the road. A two-and-a-half hour drive up the M1 and A1(M) awaited us that also took us through the less-than delightful Sheffield area. Nothing against Sheffield per-say, just the ring-road that we were navigated around was horrible to traverse. Anyway, we made it out in one piece and arrived at the incredible Lumley Castle just before 3pm.

Upon arrival we were told that our room was still being prepared so we went for a mojito in the Library Bar. This quiet bar is a great place to unwind after a long drive.

Lumley Castle is more than just a beautiful castle and hotel. It is also home to Escape Rooms Durham‘s own Lumley Castle-themed escape room; The Lilly of Lumley.

First thing to say here is that our host was amazing and really went the extra mile to help us and make our time in the escape room extra special. The room itself is complex and has may interesting features that make for a rewarding game.

I won’t spoil the game by giving away its secrets, but will say that it is a logical one and for those who have played escape rooms before you should find it challenging, yet winnable. We finished the room in exactly 50 minutes which I take as a good time.

Having won our game, we then checked into our room. We had originally booked into a standard castle room (for £79 per-night). However, what Holly didn’t know was that I’d already upgraded us to the best room in the hotel for an extra £100; the King James Suite!

When you enter the room you walk into an open living space, but with comfortable chairs, a widescreen TV and open fireplace. Just off here there is a seperate bedroom; complete with a huge four-poster bed that you need stairs to climb just to get into!

Elsewhere, there is also a side door off the living space that takes you to a small bathroom; fitted out with a jacuzzi bath. Next to this is a corridor that takes you to a washroom.

The day was complete with a meal at Lumley Castle’s prestigious eating establishment; Knights Restaurant. Fine food and copious amounts of wine were the order of the day and rounded off a truely memorable fourth day of our epic UK roadtrip adventure.

Day 5

Durham – Edinburgh

After a wonderful night at Lumley Castle (I cannot explain quite how amazing it is to wake up on a four-poster bed in a castle bedroom!) we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Knights Restaurant that I’d pre-booked for the sum of £14.50 per person.

We then made our way (very slowly) out of the castle. It’s rarley been harder to leave a hotel than it was to leave Lumley Castle. It was superb from start to finish and did everything it promised and more during our short stay. We will 100% visit here again in the future.

The day ahead was relatively clear. Basically we had to leave England and make our way to Edinburgh; the capital city of Scotland some 128 miles and two-and-a-half hours away.

However, there was no point wasting the day just driving. So first we decided to actually head a short distance south a take a trip to the English Heritage site of Finchale Priory.

The Priory was founded back in 1196 on the site of the hermitge of St. Godric; a retired sailor and merchant who settled at the site after a life of adventure and travel. It also acted as a holiday-home of sorts for the monks of Durham until 1538.

Today the Priory lies in ruins but is open to visitors to walk around and explore. For just a £3 parking fee we were able to spend a good half-hour at the site and see everything it had to offer.

It was then time to get back on the road and actually head north towards the Scottish border. Before we would get that far though we couldn’t come to the area and not make a stop at the famous Angel of the North statue.

The statue is said to be seen by the equivalent of one person every second of the day and holds a prime spot on the panoramic hilltop along the A1 route.

A short stop here was all it takes. A few photos later – as well as a roadside hot chocolate to boot – and we were back on the road.

The journey north should have been a really nice one. The route from Durham to Edinburgh promises beautiful views of the countryside and the sea on a nice day as you drive along the coastal route. Today, however, the weather was not on our side. From the moment we left Lumley Castle the heavens opened and torrential rain came crashing down. Bad times!

As the rain continued, we made our progress to the English and Scottish border where we made a stop to grab another couple of pictures of us with the border signs.

Once over the border we finally made it to Edinburgh just before 4pm. Our accomodation in Edinburgh for two-nights is the Britannia Edinburgh Hotel; costing us £138 in total.

Now my initial reaction to this hotel wasn’t great if I’m honest. Firstly you have to pay for parking at £5 a day to park it in the hotel’s car park. To pay this you either do it by phone or using £1 coins in the pay-and-display machine. Sadly the hotel isn’t that helpful with this and if you don’t have exactly five £1 coins on you they don’t seem to want to give them to you in exchancge for a £5 note. Rather silly if you ask me.

The rooms are also extremley basic. Fit with a double bed and a basic TV and shower. To make matters worse, the current situation with Covid-19 has meant they are not cleaning rooms during stays and only do so after you’ve left. This dispite other hotels still being able to offer a cleaning service.

Maybe I was spoilt by Lumley Castle’s opulence. But I wasn’t expecting anything to that standard. Not by a long way. But I was still expecting a bit more for our money. Anyway, moan over.

With it still raining rather heavily we did take a first walk into the city centre of Edinburgh. We made our way along the road next to Edinburgh Castle – just to see it at this point – and took a walk down the famous Royal Mile to find a pub where we could get some food and give Holly her first ever taste of haggis!

With stomachs full of haggis (and burger and chips) the torrential rain became too much to handle and an Uber ride back to the hotel was in order to get dry and rest-up ahead of our full day in the Scottish city tomorrow.

Day 6

Edinburgh

After a night at our hotel (my opinion of it has not improved a the shower pressure is really bad making showering almost impossible) we set out for a full day exploring Edinburgh.

Today was our first day of serious walking. We’d walked around some of the other places we’d visited so far but always had the car nearby to jump in. Here, I was determined to leave the car at the hotel as the prospect of driving around Edinburgh really didn’t appeal.

Our first step was to walk to Arthur’s Seat; an extinct volcano on the edge of the city. With time not on our side we were only viewing it from the foot of the hill but its imposing size is an impressive sight in itself.

After a flying visit to Arthur’s Seat, we made our way back to the city centre where we were meeting up with a free walking tour of the Edinburgh Old Town. This tour was organised by the superb City Explorers who run tours in both English and Spanish.

Picking up the tour from the Royal Mile, three different tours run across three time slots every day. Our tour – the tour of the Old Town – leaves at 11am and was a very entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

Our tour guide was full of energy and always quick with a story or two about the things we were seeing in the city. Stories were a mix of truthful and legendary but always entertaining.

Now while it is a ‘free tour’ it’s not really free (well it is, but only if you are a bit too tight with your money). At the end of the two hour tour your guide will be accepting tips (both cash and card) and – as a guide – around £5 per person is reasonable although you can give more or less as you see fit.

We had a couple of hours on our hands before we were due to visit one of Edinburgh’s main tourist attractions; Edinburgh Castle – so we made our way, on foot, to the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh for a look around.

What we hadn’t appriciated was that the Garden’s were a good 30 to 40 minute walk away from where we had finished the walking tour and – given we only had two hours between the tour and our entry to the castle – time was going to be rather pushed.

By the time we were inside the Gardens we had just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat, use the toilet and look at a couple of plants. To make matters worse, the heavens had truely opened and the rain was relentlessly streaming down on us. Fortunatley, the entry is totally free so we didn’t feel like we’d missed out too much although the gardens do look stunning if you have time to give them a proper viewing.

With the rain still coming down hard, we jumped into an Uber and made our way back to Edinburgh city centre and to the castle.

For £15.50 per adult, we got access to the castle and, if I’m being totally honest, found it slightly disapointing.

For me, if you are visiting a castle anywhere in the world you expect it to hold onto some of the original charm from when it was first used as a castle. Here, the castle sits very impressively atop the hill but, once inside, some of its charm is lost and replaced with relics from more modern warfare.

Maybe it was the rain and our inability to see the stunning views that would be on offer to visitors on a sunny day, but the castle just didn’t do anything for me. That’s not to say I’m not glad I went. I am. I was just perhaps hoping for more.

By the time we had decended Castle Hill the rain was slightly easing up and we made our way to a pub on the Royal Mile to grab a much needed drink. Soon after we decided to find somewhere to eat and we opted for the well reviewed Makars Gourmet Mash Bar Company. And what a choice this was!

A delicious meal of haggis, sausage and mash was such a welcome respite from the chilling wind and rain. To make it an even better experience, a couple of pints of the Scottish Guinness substitute; Belhaven were sunk as was my first glass of Monkey Shoulder, Scottish whisky. All this and two glasses of wine for Holly for under £40 (given the government subsidies taking place right now for Covid-19). Absolute perfection.

Day 7

Edinburgh – Inverness

An early start to the day – not just so we could leave that pretty awful hotel that we’d just spent the past two nights (seriously it’s one of the worst I’ve ever stayed at in my humble opinion) – but also so we could do a morning climb of Arthur’s Seat.

A slow drive (not because of traffic, more that all roads in Edinburgh appear to be 20mph) got us to the car park at the foot of the hillside. After paying for a couple of hours in the car park we made our way to the hillside to begin the incline. Boy was it worth it!

After a tough 30 minute climb we found our way to the top of the hill. The views from here were amazing. Having been rained on for most of our time in Edinburgh, someone was clearly smiling on us today as the skies were a beautiful blue and visability was superb. If you have time in Edinburgh and the weather is on your side then make your way here as you’ll get a far supieror view of the city than you’ll get from anywhere else.

After grabbing all our photos and making our way back down to the car we had the prospect of another three-hour drive north to Inverness ahead of us.

Having looked at the route we decided we wanted to make the most of the journey. To do this we took the scenic route down through the stunning Cairngorms National Park.

If you haven’t been to the Cairngorms then you cannot understand just how amazing they are. You are surrounded by 360 degree scenes of mountains and hills, interspersed with flowing rivers and waterfalls! It’s just beautiful!

During the drive we made numerous stops by the side of the road just to take a few snaps. It’s so easy to do as there are so few cars on the roads.

One such stop we made (albeit a childish one) was at the Aberdeenshire village of Cockbridge! Let’s be clear there is nothing there. Just a bridge with a plague saying “Cockbridge”. There isn’t even a street sign anymore. Not sure why but the street sign has been removed which is a great shame.

Moving on, we drove a further hour down the road to go to two Outlander-themed locations. If you’ve not seen the TV show it basically follows the story of an adulterous English woman who goes back in time (accidentally) by touching a cairn in Scotland and starting a relationship with a Scottish Highlander named Jamie.

The first of these visits was to the Clava Cairns; a series of four cairns and a number of stone circles in the Scottish hillside that you can walk around and enter for free!

The Clava Cairns are about 4,000 years old and were built to house the dead. What remains today would have once been part of a larger complex. Two parts of the complex, Balnuaran of Clava and Milton of Clava, are open to the public.

The second stop was at the Culloden Battlefield. The site of one of the most famous battles from the 1700s and saw the Government forces of the English and the Scottish clans go to war. The battle was very one-sided and resulted in a resounding defeat for the clans.

Today, visitors can pay a couple of pounds to park and then walk around the battlefield which is now presented as a war grave memorial. The National Trust for Scotland are also using cattle on the battlefield to keep it maintained and to try and return it to the state it was in at the time of the battle.

Regarding the prices, we found that if you just want to see the actual battlefield then you can do so for the price of the car park. This is the option we took. If, however, you want to go in the museum while you are there then I think that will cost you an extra £11 per adult. For me, the battlefield is the main star of the show!

After a full day of driving, walking and climbing, we made the short hop into Inverness and checked into our £75 a night B&B called Braehead Guest House.

We were met by our friendly host – and beautiful pet dog – outside the house and shown to our room. While it was basic in terms of ammenities it had heart and was very clean. We were told all we needed to know about the room – and about breakfast in the morning – and were left to settle in, in peace before going into Inverness to grab some food from a nearby pub.

Day 8

Inverness – Orkney Islands

Day eight was another early start and a wonderful cooked breakfast at our B&B. Our host – and dog – made for great breakfast companions and gave us a hearty breakfast to set us up for the day on. After this, we packed up, paid and said our goodbyes. If I was in Inverness again, I certainly would stay at Braehead Guest House again.

After making our way out of Inverness we went to see if we could see any of dolphins that sometimes frequent the waters of the area over at the Menkinch Local Nature Reserve.

This wetlands made up of fresh water canals and the open salt waters of the sea but sadly, on this occasion, we’d timed it poorly and the tides were out. It meant that while there were no dolphins visable, we did get to see plenty of birds.

After about an hour taking a relaxing stroll, we made our way back to the car and set about starting our route up the north-east coast to John o’ Groats and, eventually, Orkney.

It just so happens that Inverness is also the starting point of one of the world’s most famous driving routes; the North Coast 500. This route does a lap around the northern part of Scotland and we were able to do a good chunk of this route on our way up to the tip of the country.

But to make the most of this route, you need to stop along the route. Our first, impromptu, stop was the gorgeous Dunrobin Castle.

Described as the jewell in the crown of the Highlands, this castle is set to the backdrop of the sea and also boasts a stunning garden where we were able to enjoy a falconry show.

For just £11 entry per adult this proved to be a great way to spend just over an hour and grab some photos for the memory banks.

Our route took in two other smaller (free) stops also. The first at a place called the Hill o’ Many Stanes (or stones). This hidden-away historic site remains a bit of mystery but is interesting to see. In a small field a series of medium sized stones have been lined up into multiple rows (22 in total) for an unknown reason. It’s thought these could date back as far as the Bronze Age and may have been a way of remembering family members lost over time.

Further up the road in the town of Wick we made our final stop before John o’ Groats at the Old Castle of Wick.

This place was a strange one to find. Our sat-nav guided us down through what looks like a busy housing estate – the last place you’d expect to find an ancient castle ruin. However, we stayed with the route and it eventually took us to a dead end near a field which was signposted with the castle some 800m in the distance.

The castle itself is no more than a shell of a single tower sat on the cliff edge. What makes this place worth visiting are the views you get over the cliffs and out to sea.

While these interludes were interesting to see, the main thrust of my day was to see a very famous signpost marking one of the two furthest points on the UK mainland from each other; the John o’ Groats signpost.

Completing the drive to John o’ Groats felt something of an accomplishment. Starting out just over a week ago in Kent we would find ourselves as far north on the UK mainland as we could. It’s fair to say the moment brought a big smile to my face.

Again for just the price of parking (just £2 for the entire day) you get to see this British landmark in the flesh. For some it may be only a signpost, to others it marks something more. A journey just starting or one completed.

With more pictures in the bank, we grabbed a bite to eat in a nearby hotel restaurant and made our way to the Pentland Ferries terminal at Gill’s Bay for our 6.30pm crossing to St. Margaret’s Hope on Orkney Islands. The ferry takes about an hour to cross and allows you to take your car from the mainland to use while you are over on Orkney.

There are a couple of options to get to Orkney (inlcuding Orkney Ferries) but we took the Pentland Ferries route as it was both the most cost effective and quickest. Even still a return trip for two people (with a car) set us back £140! However, if you travel with Orkney Ferries (which docks in Stromness on the Orkney Islands) you can expect to pay over £200 for the same thing! Not only will it cost you more money, but it will also take an extra 30 minutes to sail there!

Our journey over went smoothly (if a bit wetly) and we disembarked just minutes after docking. We then made the 45 minute drive to our accomodation; the Lindisfarne Bed & Breakfast in Stromness. This lovely B&B cost us £178 for two nights and it’s fair to say I had high hopes for this place!

When we arrived just before 9pm we were met by the extremley friendly host who gave us a quick guide of our room  and told us about the breakfast arrangements for the morning. Once we were settled into our room we took the opportunity to rest-up after yet another busy day on the road.

Day 9

Orkney Islands

First thing to say is the Lindisfarne Bed & Breakfast is a superb place to stay! Nothing was too much hastle for our host who was very attentive to our wants and needs.

After getting ourselves ready we made our way down to the breakfast room for 8am. The room was spacious and has the most stunning view out over the fields, water and mountains. You really can’t ask for more while tucking into your black pudding, haggis, sausage, egg and bacon.

For the day ahead we planned to drive around the island stopping off at various places. The big issue here was that a lot of Orkney has remained closed due to Covid-19. However, as we were to find out, this would not hold us back much.

Our first stop was Skara Brea; a 5,000 year old neolithic settlement. First uncovered by a storm in 1850, Skara Brae showcases a recreated house and full interior, showing how it might have looked. Then, following the path down, visitors can see what remains today of the the prehistoric houses.

When we pulled up in the visitor centre car-park we noticed that we were the only ones there! At this point Skara Brea has not yet reopened to the public. However, it doesn’t mean you will have wasted your trip. You can go around the full perimeter of the site (without going into it) and lean over the fence to see it from about five or six feet away.

Had it been open we’d have paid our £7 entry each and explored further, but we were glad to have seen some of it, had the area totally to ourselves and not paid a penny for the pleasure.

From there we made the short 10 minute drive to Birsay to view the ruined remains of the Birsay Earl’s Palace.

The palace was built between 1569 and 1574, and its life was a short one. Its story effectively ended with the overthrow of the Stewart earls in 1615 and by 1700 the palace was roofless and decaying.

Today the palace is a small, free, visitor attraction that is worth a quick 20 minute visit. If you – like us – get lucky, you’ll get the whole site to yourself, giving you ample space and time to enjoy all it has to offer.

Now our next stop was one that was nothing more than a bit of childish adolescence. Our stop was in the small villiage of Twatt!

Initially we drove to the centre of Twatt (stop smirking) but there was no signpost to be seen. So we made our way out checking out every signpost we passed. Finally we found one directing traffic to Twatt and took the opportunity to grab a photo. Right, childish antics aside (for now) we could get back to some serious travels.

Back on the road we pulled into our next landmark; The Ring of Brodgar.

Yet another free site, the Ring of Brodgar Walk meant we could walk among one of the most spectacular prehistoric monuments in the British Isles. Similar to Stonehenge – although here you can get right-up close and personal to the stones – the Ring of Brodgar Stone Circle and Henge is an enormous ceremonial site dating back to the third millennium BC.

It’s a fascinating site. There is plenty to look at and admire and again, if you’re lucky, you’ll not have to fight through the crowds you get if you visit the similar Stonehenge in England.

A couple of minutes down the road, we parked up and went to the Standing Stone of Stenness. Yet another free site, the Standing Stones of Stenness consist of four upright stones in a circle that originally held 12 stones. The focus of the interior was a large hearth. Origianlly, the stones were encircled by a large ditch and bank, the form of which has been lost over time by ploughing.

The field is now shared with a herd of sheep who do keep themselves to themselves but do add a nice little photo opportunity to the visit.

Our penultimate stop was at another site that was advertised online as being closed due to Covid-19. Still we went hoping we could at least see something. The Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn is an ancient burial site dating back to over 5,000 years ago.

The site attests to a belief in an afterlife and in its evocative gloom it’s easy to conjure up images of burial rites and rituals taking place.

Pulling down a small, tight lane, we parked up with the other two cars in attendance and made our way up the hill to the Cairn. While the entry to the Cairn was locked off (as we’d expected) you could still see the remaining area of the site for free and got some of the best views we’d seen since arriving on Orkney. Seriously, the views from the top of the hill were worth the climb alone!

The final trip of the day took us along to Scapa Beach. This short stretch of sandy shoreline was a great way to unwind and take in the wonderful views Orkney has to offer.

To one end of the beach there is a small waterfall that we couldn’t reach as the tide was in. If I had to be picky about this beach – which if it was anywhere else in the UK would be crowded from sunrise to sunset – was that the view was slighty (only slightly) spoiled by the oil rigs you can see in the distance. Not that they can do anything about this, it just takes something away from the natural charm of Island life.

After spending a few hours relaxing back at the B&B, we had an evening meal booked for 7:30pm at the Kirkwall Hotel based in its namesake town down on Harbour Street.

A small but well thoughtout, affordable, menu awaited us and the food was of good quality also making for an enjoyable final evening on the Orkney Isles, before heading back to the mainland in the morning.

Day 10

Orkney Islands – Loch Ness

Today marked our last day in Orkney and it’s fair to say we were both sad to be leaving. The Island made a real impression on us over the past couple of days with its hospitable welcome and ts interesting and beautiful sights.

Perhaps one of the biggest things we’d miss was the accommodation and the hearty breakfasts that had welcomed us each morning. Waking up at Lindisfarne Bed and Breakfast to those stunning views across the fields will live long in the memory.

The day ahead was one mostly about travel. We had a morning ferry – again with Pentland Ferries – to catch from St. Margaret’s Hope to take us back to mainland Scotland. After packing up our things we set off from the B&B. As we left, we realised that this was the (slow) start of the way home as we’d not be any further north than this during our trip.

As we had time on our hands in the morning we took the scenic route back to the ferry terminal which meant I finally got a photo or two up close with a Highland cow! This felt a bit of a landmark moment as I’d wanted to do this while we were in the Highlands but whenever we saw them, they were always standing in the middle of a field, miles away from where I was standing.

However, on this occasion, there were a group of them next to a fence by the road. Perfect for a quick snap or two.

Arriving at the ferry terminal very early gave us time to relax for a bit while we waited to board our boat. As the day was nice it also meant that during the journey, we’d actually be able to see the sights around us rather than the dark clouds and rain that we’d had on the way out.

Back on the mainland we started the three-hour drive south to Loch Ness. The journey took us back along much of the route we took north from Inverness. Again, it was spectacular to see.

We made a stop along the route in a small town called Dornoch and grabbed some lunch. The town was small but very picturesque. The pub we stopped in also made us a couple of sandwiches – despite them not being on the menu – which helped us along the way.

From here we made the relatively short hop towards Loch Ness. The first thing we noticed as we approached from the north was the amazing scenery. Mountain backdrops full of bright green trees framed the Loch perfectly. It also may sound obvious, by Loch Ness itself was so much bigger than I was expecting it to be. I mean, I was expecting it to be big; but damn, it’s huge!

Our only stop for the day here was at Invermoriston Falls. Based on the west side of the Loch, the waterfall is with a small wooded area and is really pretty. There is a small summer house just downstream of the waterfall and this makes for the perfect spot to get some photos of the waterfall.

As an aside, there is a small, free, car park just five minutes away from the falls.

With the evening drawing on, we checked into our accommodation; the Loch Ness Guest House in Fort Augustus. The Guest House is located close to the south end of Loch Ness and from the outside looks like a nice mix of an old and new building. Due to Covid-19 we checked into our room without seeing a single person. The room was small but perfectly good. There is a good bathroom with shower and a comfortable double bed.

As it’s a guest house – not a hotel – there was also a communal kitchen where you can make hot drinks, get small snacks and a few breakfast cereals.

Our accomodation cost us £252 for four nights – or £63 a night – which given the popularity of Loch Ness represents good value for money. However, as we arrived I noticed a sign saying the current prices were £100 a night for the same double room we were in. I’m glad we booked when we did!

After settling into our room we went for a quick bit of dinner at a local restaurant before heading back to the hotel room for a well deserved sleep.

Day 11

Loch Ness

After a great first night’s sleep at the Loch Ness Guest House we eased ourselves up in the morning ahead of our first full day in the region.

The guest house was extremely quiet and meant that we both got a really good night’s sleep. Also the shower facilities in the room were very good and this was probably the best wash we’d had since getting to Scotland as the shower actually had some force behind it (unlike that pitiful effort in our Edinburgh accommodation). For the first time in days I actually felt clean!

The morning was to start with a trip to Urquhart Castle. While the castle lay in ruins today, it’s location just to the side of the loch means it remains a must-see for any visitors coming to the area.

The castle was once one of Scotland’s largest and over the centuries has seen numerous conflicts fought for its ownership. Control passed back and forth between the Scots and the English during the Wars of Independence and continued as the Lords of the Isles regularly raided both castle and glen up until the 1500s

As with most attractions at the moment we had to buy our tickets online in advance and for a set time-slot. Tickets cost £9.60 per adult. If you arrive by car you also need to reserve a parking space but this is free to do and can be done at the same time as the entrance ticket purchase.

Arriving early (we always do) we had a about 20 minutes to kill before our 9:30am entry (which is also the castle’s opening time at this time of year). It meant that we were first in the queue to enter and allowed us a few moments in the castle grounds to get some photos without anyone else being in them. Bonus!

The castle alone is an impressive sight, but with the backdrop of the Loch on a sunny day, it is something very special. Add to that – due to Covid-19 – fewer people were being given tickets to enter each day (we were told that on a usual day 5,000 people would visit, but at the moment that number is restricted to 300-400) making the whole experience feel unique and rather exclusive. My thinking is that we may as well take as many positives out of this weird time as we can!

After spending a couple of hours here taking in all the views, we reluctantly, decided to move one (after making a couple of purchases in the shop and buy a sandwich and cake to take with us for a picnic lunch.

Our plan for the afternoon was to make the 50-minute drive up around the south-end of Loch Ness to reach the Falls of Foyers waterfall.

This secluded waterfall (which is free to view and also has ample free parking nearby) is a popular destination for tourists; even in these Covid-19 times.

A well-maintained path leads you steeply down the forested slopes to a viewpoint overlooking the Falls. The waterfall is a spectacular 140 feet of crashing water down the rock face from the River Foyers into the gorge leading to Loch Ness.

After viewing the falls from the upper viewpoint, we made our way down to the lower viewpoint to get the full waterfall experience.

There is also a beautiful forest to explore but, before we set off, we made our way back up to the higher ground, found a nice bench and enjoyed our sandwiches and cake with the waterfall flowing in the background.

Our plan after this was to take the 1.6 mile forest walk. We started well and it brought us out onto a street. Slightly confused as to where to go, we found another family doing the same thing and, from a safe distance, joined them for the walk. Five minutes later, however, the walk was over!

Fear not, this wasn’t due to injury, it was just the bridge you have to cross to continue the walk was shut off as it clearly had seen better days.

We said our goodbyes to our short-lived walking companions and made our way – through the backstreets – back to the car.

With the afternoon drawing on, we made started driving back to the guest house. On route we made a couple of stops to take in the views of Loch Ness. Top tip here, make as many stops as you can as the views just get better and better the higher up you go along the road running parallel with the Loch.

Another great thing about travelling around Loch Ness, for the natural sights at least, is that they are all free of charge. For travellers on a budget, this is a great way to enjoy fulfilling days at next to no cost.

Our evening plans were not set in stone, and we were hoping to grab some light food somewhere nearby our accomodation.

We set out and found a local restaurant – there are a few to choose from in Fort Augustus – to eat in while enjoying the beautiful weather over some good food and drink.

Day 12

Loch Ness

A 5am alarm got us up nice and early for day 12 of our trip (and the half-way point) as we tried to get a look at the sun rising over Loch Ness. Despite us being up and ready, somebody forgot to inform the weather about our plans. So instead of watching the sunrise beautifully over a peaceful Loch Ness, we got the rain falling heavily over a windy Loch. Not ideal, so back to bed we went.

A couple of hours later we were back up and ready to have a second start to our day. The had earmarked this day as being the one we would spend on the Isle of Skye and despite the BBC advertising a full day of rain ahead, it would prove to be mostly clear and dry.

Setting off from our guest house, the Isle of Skye is an hour’s drive away and for our first stop was at the famous Eilean Donan Castle.

The castle is recognised as one of the most iconic images of Scotland. Situated on an island at the point where three sea lochs meet, the castle is surrounded by some of the most impressive scenery Scotland has to offer.

You may think you’d seen this castle before, and chances are you will have done. Eilean Donan has appeared in numerous TV shows and films (including one James Bond) and is as glorious in real life as it is on the big screen.

As with everything at the moment, booking tickets in advance is a must and for the £10 per adult you can cross its beautiful bridge and take a look inside its walls.

When we arrived the weather had not improved from our morning disappointment and so we got a little bit wet on our approach to the castle. Fortunately, however, most of the castle’s attractions are inside so you can get in the dry quickly and easily.

The only down side of the poor weather is that it can obstruct your views of the lochs. While we didn’t want to hang around much outside, we still got a nice selection of photos to enjoy.

Moving on, we made the drive further into Skye. And fortune appeared to be on our side. The further in we got, the more the weather improved. Mountains previously obscured by mist and cloud came into sight and we found ourselves in an idyllic setting.

After making our way down the winding roads we came to our second destination of the day; the Fairy Pools.

Having seen these majestic pools online before we’d set off, we were keen to see them for ourselves.

Free to visit at any time of year, the pools are located near the village of Carbost in Glenbrittle. The Fairy Pools are rock pools of crystal-clear spring water formed from a series of waterfalls that originate from the many tributaries of the nearby River Brittle.

There are a few things I’d advise ahead of a visit here that I wish we had known. Firstly, the pools are a pretty long walk from the car park (which costs £5 to park in) Give yourself at least 30 minutes to walk the distance to the main pools and the same again back.

The second thing is that, currently, there are no toilet facilities there. Go before you set out or be prepared to try and find a bush nearby.

Finally, dress appropriately. It’s not just about the weather you have to prepare for. It’s the local wildlife also. There are millions of Highland Midges here and they are relentless in their biting! Within minutes of us being at the Fairy Pools, Holly and I were surrounded by these little pests. Bring something to cover your arms and legs and – if you have it – a bug net for your head. Also wear as much bug repellent as you can stomach. Thank me for that tip later.

For me the midges really spoilt these wonderful pools. The area is stunning but with the constant flow of midges we couldn’t relax. Another thing to mention is that you can take a dip in the waters too if you wish (again we didn’t as we didn’t have our swimwear with us) but many people were braving the cold waters.

After our insect ordeal we made our way further into Skye. One thing that the area seems to have done well for itself is market a number of its natural formations with catchy names. It seems that if you just have a rock or a waterfall without a name, tourists are less interested in it. However, give it a gimmick and a cool name and you’ve got yourself an instant tourist attraction and paid-for cark parking opportunity.

None of the above is a criticism from me. Far from it. If anything, it helps those of use looking for things to see to know where to go. With that in mind we set off for the impressive rock formation; The Old Man of Storr. The Storr is an example of the Trotternish landslip and stands today at a height of 719m.

Parking at the foot of the hill for £3, we set off up the steep pathway to get a closer glimpse of the rocks. If you want to do the full path available it will take about 45 minutes each way. With time not on our side, we made it up about halfway and found a great spot to grab some photos before heading back down. To be honest, if you get to a good viewpoint there appears to be little point continuing up the hill as you’ll only be seeing the same thing from a slightly different angle.

Our final stop in Skye was just 15 minutes further up the road and this was at the Kilt Rock viewing platform. This site is free to visit and has two main parts. To the left you have the Mealt Waterfall which is fed by the nearby Mealt Loch. The second to the right is 90m Kilt Rock which is said to look like a pleated kilt. If you squint hard enough you can just about see what they mean.

With the day complete we started the two-hour drive back to Loch Ness and said goodbye to the stunning Isle of Skye which deserves a much longer visit in the future.

Day 13

Loch Ness

After the full day of travelling around the Isle of Skye yesterday, a much more sedate day was in the offing for our thirteenth day of our UK roadtrip. That’s not to say we didn’t have an early start on our hands though.

It dawned on us that we’d been Loch Ness for nearly three days and at no point had we ventured onto the Loch itself.

Therefore, this morning we made the drive to the north end of Loch Ness, near Inverness, and picked up a two-hour boat ride on the famous Loch.

We booked our trip with Jacobite Cruises – organised via the easy-to-use Get Your Guide app – for just £25 per person. The boat was a good size and had plenty of space on-board; especially given the need for social distancing.

One issue that became apparent very early on, during our drive to the meeting point at Dochgarroch Loch (near Inverness City Centre), was that it was not a sunny morning. The mist was rolling in across the loch, obscuring the mountains and much of the water.

On the positive, a misty loch is very fitting for the mysterious loch. It’s very easy on a morning like this to understand how people have mistaken things floating in the water for the head, or neck, of an ancient monster lurking beneath the surface. On this occasion though, if any monster is in the loch, it kept its head very much below water level.

As the boat set off down the Caledonian Canal, we passed numerous fly-fishermen. With the mist getting thick as we approached the Loch Ness we were unsure how much of a good view we were going to get of the usually stunning surroundings. Fortunately, as we move further into the loch, the mist started to lift.

The tour takes you to down as far as Urquhart Castle. Here the boat does a couple of circles in front of the castle to give you a chance to grab some photos before making the trip back to the dock where you disembark.

With the tour finishing at around lunchtime (there are other later tours taking place throughout the day) we made our way back south to Fort Augustus. On the way, we made a stop at the Loch Ness Clansman Hotel restaurant – situated just off the A82 that runs parallel with Loch Ness – for a quick bite to eat.

The stop proved to be more eventful than we’d anticipated.

Sitting down to enjoy our haddock and chips and macaroni cheese lunches, we picked a table by the window with great views out across the loch. The food was inexpensive – especially with the 50% off discount currently running on food and drink from Mondays to Wednesdays due to Covid-19 support packages from the Scottish Government – and was really tasty as well.

Then, just as we were finishing eat, we heard a massive crashing noise come from the counter area of the restaurant. At first, I wasn’t 100% sure what had happened. Everything looked normal until I realised that one of the waiters was suddenly soaking wet. Then I noticed the massive hole that had appeared in the roof above him!

From a quick glance, it was clear that water had been leaking above that spot and pooling in the ceiling. The noise we then heard was the sound of the roof giving way and the water crashing down on the poor waiting staff below. The disaster meant that the electrics had to be switched off and the restaurant closed.

We finished our last bites of food and made our way out. I hope the damage isn’t too bad for them to fix as the staff were really friendly and helpful and looked slightly shocked at what had befallen them.

Back in Fort Augustus the weather had turned from dull to beautiful sun. With no further activates planned for the day, Holly and I took a look around the town.

If you’re in Fort Augustus and wanting to find some interesting local products then look no further than the Iceberg Glass Blowing Studio. Inside you’ll find a vast variety of items for sale and you’ll also get the chance to see some of the skilled glass-blowers mastering their craft.

Further up the street we grabbed a couple of ice creams and took a short walk along the canal before heading back to our guest house for a couple of hours ahead of our dinner-date at The Boathouse restaurant; located just a few minutes’ walk from our accommodation.

The Boathouse provides good customer service with great value, filling food. There is a good mix on the menu combining British food with Turkish cuisine.

It also has a great waterfront position meaning window seats have a great view of the loch.

After enjoying our three-course dinner we made our way back to the guest house for our final night’s sleep in Loch Ness before heading to Glasgow in the morning.

Day 14

Loch Ness – Glasgow

After our last day in Loch Ness yesterday, we had a day of travel ahead of us as we bid farewell to the beautiful mountain vistas and headed back to city dwellings.

Our destination for the day was Glasgow, the second city of Scotland. On the way though, we were not going to pass up the opportunity to see some more of the fabulous sites Scotland has to offer.

Our first stop was one for Holly in particular; the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This gorgeous bridge has a train track on it that sees a steam train come over it between 10:30am and 11am everyday set against the backdrop of mountains and flowing streams. If you want to see the train pass over the viaduct make sure you arrive at around 10am to get a good spot.

To top it all off, Holly tells me this viaduct was used in a hit film series containing wizard schools, magic, flying cars and poor bad-acting children (that last one is only my humble opinion not one Holly totally shares).

We were keen to make sure we had a good spot on the hillside to see the steam train make its way over the bridge. Along with numerous other tourists we picked a spot and waited… and waited… and waited. Then, eventually, the train came. With its steam billowing everyone jumped into position to get their photos while it passed by. 30 seconds later, the show was over and we all, slowly, made our way back to the car park.

I may have made that sounds anti-climactic. It really wasn’t! Seeing the train come over the viaduct was rather special and one we both really enjoyed.

Getting to the viewpoint at the viaduct was easy to. We parked in the well-signposted car park, paid the £3 charge and made our way to one of the two hill sides. Best advice is to go to the viewpoint that you get by leaving the car park, walking along the road past the overflow car park then going up the woodland path. There was a flow of people going that way so it’s easy to know where to go.

After visiting the viaduct, we looked at the Glenfinnan Monument opposite the car park next to the loch which is worth a quick viewing due to its fantastic surroundings.

Our next stop was for a spot of mountain climbing. Well by climbing I mean sitting in a cable car and being taken to the top of one of the mountains in the Nevis range – home to the UK’s tallest mountain; Ben Nevis.

We purchased our cable car (or gondola as they prefer to call it) tickets online in advance of our trip for £19.50 each with Nevis Range Mountain Experience. This well organised company run a ski resort in the winter and also have a downhill mountain bike route skilled bikers can use if they are feeling daring enough.

While the gondola doesn’t take you up Ben Nevis, you can see the mountain from the drop-off point – although views can be slightly obscured if fog descends or the weather is generally poor.

During our visit there was next to no queue to get up the mountain meaning we were able to board within minutes of arriving. At the top we were able to grab some lunch in the cafe before taking a walk to a viewing area on one of the nearby peaks where we enjoyed amazing views of the surrounding mountains. The weather was so clear that we could even see as some of the lochs in the distance that we had driven past a ground level earlier in the day.

After making our way down we drove the short 10-minute hop to the Old Inverlocky Castle.

Although now a ruin, this was one of the most important castles in Scottish history and has been the backdrop for two major historical events, the first and second battles of Inverlochy.

Originally dating back to the 13th century, Inverlochy Castle last played a part in Scottish and English history during the Civil Wars of the 1640’s. In 1645 the royalist Earl of Montrose routed the roundhead forces of the Campbell Chief Duke of Argyll at the second Battle of Inverlochy.

This free attraction is worth a short visit and you can explore some of the space that would have once housed this ancient castle. We grabbed our photos, had a look around and set off towards Glasgow.

However, before we’d get to Glasgow we had one stop to make near Falkirk visiting the famous Kelpies.

These two giant statues by the roadside are of two fearsome mythical horse-like creatures rearing up from the earth. There impressive design is worth making a stop for. If you go during the day time, you have to pay for parking but you can do a tour if you wish.

Due to the distance we were travelling though, we made it to the Kelpies a bit after 6pm; after the tours had finished. That was no big deal as far as we were concerned. The tours didn’t appeal much and I didn’t see what it would to a visit. Added to this, you can visit the statues at any time of day and night and view them for free.

As the evening was drawing on, we still hadn’t checked into our hotel in Glasgow; the Devoncote Hotel. We were only due to stay a single night here and we checked into the hotel at around 8pm. The room is spacious, if a bit bland. However, for £45 a night for a standard double room – including breakfast – you can’t expect the Ritz.

Adding to that, this night would be our last in Scotland for this trip as tomorrow we’d be heading back into England and to the Lake District.

Day 15

Glasgow – Lake District

Day fifteen was the day we would be leaving Scotland after ten nights north of the border. I wish I could say our last stop was as awe-inspiring as the others but I’ll be honest, I’m not in love with Glasgow.

I know we only spent one night in the city but I just didn’t have a good feel about the place. The city seemed rather run-down and in general, not the sort of place you’d want to spend any great deal of time. That may seem extremely unfair to some, but that’s just the way the place made me feel.

It lacks the beauty of the Highlands – which in fairness isn’t it’s fault – but also the charm of other cities in Scotland such as Edinburgh and Inverness.

Our plan was to leave Glasgow in the morning. However, as a massive football fan, I couldn’t leave without at least seeing two of the UK’s famous grounds. Ibrox – the home of Rangers – and current Scottish Premier League champions Celtic’s home ground; Celtic Park.

The first stop was Ibrox. In a rather industrial side of Glasgow the route from the hotel to the stadium is baffling. The roads in this city don’t seem to make sense and it feels like UK road laws don’t carry the same weight in in Glasgow as they do in the rest of the country.

After a quick stop and look through the gates at Ibrox; all UK football stadiums are closed currently due to Covid-19 – we got back into the car for another fun-filled jaunt through the city’s maze of streets.

Before going to Celtic Park we planned to visit the Glasgow Botanical Gardens. Arriving at around 9.30am we planned to have a walk through the grounds before going into the glasshouses for their 10am opening.

The grounds were pleasant enough, but the plants were clearly at the end of their lifecycles as many had flowered already and were now wilting. To make matters worse, we then discovered that the glasshouses were not being opened at the moment! Slightly disappointed; we made for a hasty retreat to the car and started the short drive to Celtic Park.

Celtic Park is clearly a more modern stadium than Rangers’ Ibrox home, and its structure is impressive to see as you make your approach.

Pulling into a turning that would normally see thousands of supporters making their way to watch their team (probably) win, I was able to literally park my car in the middle of the dead road and grab a few photos of the ground. For me, that was my Glasgow experience done!

While that was all the football-fix I was getting in Glasgow, I still wanted more. So, after a little bit of persuasion to Holly, I convinced her that we’d take a detour to Dumfries on our way to Gretna to see the home of my favourite Scottish team; Queen of the South.

I’ve followed the fortunes of the Doonhamers for a number of years now – mainly from afar – and always look out for their results. Think as a child I just liked the club’s name so adopted them as my Scottish team.

During my time at university, I made the long journey up to watch a game at Palmerstone Park one weekend and always planned to do another at some point. Sadly there was no football on offer today but that didn’t stop me grabbing a few pictures outside the quaint south-Scotland stadium.

But hold on, there was still time for one more football stop.

Just down the road, we also managed to squeeze in a stop at Raydale Park – the former home of Gretna FC and current home of phoenix club Gretna 2008.

Not wanting to push my luck any further we stopped for a bite to eat at the Gretna Gateway Outlet Village which is a decent little outlet park where you can buy a number of high-end brands at lower prices.

After that we drove the short distance (everything in Gretna is a short distance as it’s a very small place) to it’s most famous site; the Gretna Green Blacksmith’s Shop.

Becoming famous for being the marriage site of eloping couples from England, people still travel from far and wide to get married here at the wedding capital of the UK.

It’s not as tacky as I thought it would be if I’m honest. In fact, the overall look of the place is quite pleasant and romantic.

The Blacksmith’s Shop has over 260 years of history and heritage, joining couples since 1754, and is now considered a world-class, award-winning wedding destination in its own right. They offer intimate weddings, inside the shop, over their world-famous anvil.

For those like us not looking to get married at Gretna (although Holly and I did send photos of us there to our families to see how far we could push it for them to believe we’d gone through with it) visitors can also hear about the history of Gretna Green and Anvil Weddings at the museum. Here you can learn more about what made Gretna Green famous and the origin of Blacksmith’s Anvil weddings. Outside, there is an outdoor play area for children, the LOVE wall and the Courtship Maze too.

During a visit make sure you grab the must have photos with the Gretna Green signpost as well as under the Blacksmith’s archway.

It also, just so happened, that Holly’s cousin and partner lived in Gretna and we took the opportunity to drop in on them and say hello, grab a drink and go for a walk around the town.

Back on the road, we soon realised just how close to the Scottish and English border we were. The border is easily missed if you aren’t concentrating. I was one of those not concentrating, as we flew past the sign only for me to slam on the breaks and reverse the car back into Scotland. Not sure how many people can say they have entered a country backwards?

Located down a quiet country lane, the “Welcome to England Cumbria” sign is just to the side of the road and with our final pictures, it marked the end of our time in Scotland.

Coming from the south-east, the chance to see some of England’s northern highlights doesn’t come around very often. We made the most of our current location and took a detour on the road to the Lake District to go to see Hadrian’s Wall.

This English Heritage site is a national treasure. For the best viewing points go to the sites at any of Birdoswald, Corbridge, Chesters or Housesteads. We made our way to the first of these sites.

Given the time of our arrival, the English Heritage visitors centre at Birdoswald was shut. However, fortunately, this site is surrounded by fields in a very quiet area of country lanes. It’s therefore easy to view the remaining parts of the wall from the fields and even from the side of the road for free.

It was now time to make our move to the Lake District to check into our next accommodation; and our first AirBnB of the trip.

Arriving in the village of Bothel, we found our annex flat easily and made our way inside after first speaking with our friendly, and welcoming, hosts Pat and Geoff.

From the moment we entered the flat it was a real treat. Compared to a hotel room we had ample space to spread out for our three-day stay. Inside there is a spacious bedroom with comfy double-bed, a good-sized living room fit with all the required modern amenities, as well as a functional kitchen and bathroom.

It should prove to be a perfect base for our Lake District activities.

Day 16

The Lake District

For one of the first times on this trip we had a pretty empty morning ahead of us.

Being situated in such a beautiful part of the country made it all the more sweeter that we didn’t have to get up from the nice comfy bed early.

The night had been very comfortable all-round. The AirBnB is situated in such a peaceful village meaning there was next to no-noise from passing traffic or people.

Once we managed to get ourselves out of bed we starting the day with a coffee and tea in bed and then a bit of breakfast in the front room giving us time to plan our morning.

One thing that we couldn’t put off any longer, sadly, was our need to do some washing. We’d made it to this point in the trip just using the clothes we had brought but we were both fast running out of clothes that would be acceptable in public places. There are only so many times you can re-wear the same pair of shorts or t-shirt before they just become too unpleasant to be around!

So we gathered up as much washing as we could, loaded up our hosts washing machine and set the cycle off while we went away to think about the more fun aspects of the day ahead.

The afternoon was booked out but we still had time in the morning to do something. We decided to try and head over to Derwent Water – near Keswick – and have a look around.

One thing I’d forgot about the Lake District – having been here about seven years ago – was just how busy it can get. There were cars and people everywhere. It looked like a normal summer. It seems Covid-19 has passed this area by in terms of visitor numbers anyway.

The sheer number of people in the car parks meant it was near impossible to find a spot to park up near the middle section of Derwent Water. After a couple of half-hearted attempts to get in a few car parks we admitted defeat and headed to the area where we were due to do our first physical activity in the Lakes.

We made our way to the south-end of Derwent Water to Nichol End Marina and fortunately found a single space in a nearby car park to leave the car, before making our way to the marina to sit back for an hour and have some lunch and a drink in front of the water.

Our afternoon was booked up with Keswick Extreme, a local company who do all manner of physical activities. For the afternoon we were booked onto their Ghyll Scrambling two-hour session (£35 each) which would see us slide, dive, scramble, jump and swim our way along a flowing river.

Ghyll Scrambling is also known as Gorge Walking and Canyoning and is the ultimate Lake District adventure activity. Keswick Extreme take you on a journey down a steep and rocky mountain river where your guides take you on a direct route down the mountain, following the path of the water. During the session you experience rapid sections of the gorge, slide down rock slides, swim through bubbling plunge pools and even leap over the edge of waterfalls.

Meeting the guides at the marina at 1:30pm we were kitted out with wetsuits, wet-shoes, shorts, trainers, helmets and jackets. It may feel a lot of gear to take with you on a hot day but, trust me, you need it all!

After a bit of a briefing, our guides directed us to our cars and we followed them in their car to the start of the course in the hillsides.

The weather was perfect for our session. It felt extremely hot as we walked up the hill from the crowded car park to the starting point, but once you get in the water all that heat disappears from you very quickly. It’s very cold!

It’s key to get yourself acclimatised to the temperature quickly and your guides help with this by throwing water in your face. It’s a bit of a shock but, soon after, being in the water feels perfectly normal.

Then you start the course. Following the river, your guides help you navigate its twists and turns all the way through and tell you how to safely make your way from section to section. It’s so much fun!

There are a great mix of slides, jumps and dives to do and by the time you come out at the other end you are a combination of tired from the activity and wanting more. We both came away with huge smiles on our faces and saying how much we loved this activity and how much other people we know would love to do it if they were in the area.

After the course was completed and we made our way back to our cars, handed in our wet gear and then drove back to the marina to collect our belongings which were kept safely locked away in their storage unit. I cannot speak highly enough about the professionalism and great work Keswick Extreme do. They make the activities fun for all ages and abilities and keep you on your toes during your session.

They also take loads of photos of the session which they put on their Facebook page the evening of the activity which are then free to download. A top-quality service all-round.

With the evening still ahead of us we returned to the AirBnB, collected our washing, and booked ourselves into a nearby Brewers Fayre pub in Cockermouth for an evening meal and much deserved pint of beer.

Sliding backwards down a small slope
Belly-flopping into the water makes quite big splashes
Taking the plunge with Keswick Extreme

Day 17

The Lake District

After the rigors of yesterday’s scrambling, we had an easy morning planned ahead of more strenuous physical exerts in the afternoon; something that was becoming a bit of a habit during our time in the Lake District.

Another slow get up at the superb AirBnB we were staying in saw us leave the house at around 10am. The plan was to go for a quick look around Keswick in the morning as we had driven through it yesterday but not really getting the chance to see it properly.

On our way to Keswick I wanted to quickly drive through the small village of Caldbeck; somewhere I’d stayed some seven years previously in my only other visit to the Lake District.

This tiny village is extremely picturesque and the small duck pond is worth a stop at if you come through this way as there are often ducklings learning to swim on the pond if you come at the right time of year.

As we drove through the village, I even spotted the accommodation I previously stayed in – a beautiful little house called Marlowe Cottage.

We then made the short drive to Keswick and actually found a parking space with amazing ease. This – considering how difficult it was to even move the car through the streets during our drive through yesterday – was surprising to say the least.

Perhaps one of the reasons we found it easy to park in the car park just outside the town centre was because only one pay station was working and, even then, seemed to be taking an absolute age to process any payments.

The town centre of Keswick actually could be anywhere in the country. A host of the regular high street shops are available along with an unnatural number of artwork stores. It feels like every other shop is displaying a local artists work. How they all stay in business is something of a mystery to me.

One thing you’ll not find here are any tacky tourist shops. They just don’t seem to exist. Many, myself included, would say that’s a good thing.

Grabbing a sandwich, crisps and a drink from a local shop we then made the move to head up the Honister Slate Mine where we were due to meet up with Keswick Adventures for our Climb the Mine session.

Arriving up at the mine early was a good call. The roads to get up there are extremely steep and narrow so there is plenty of stopping and starting to do as you weave your way along the road avoiding other motorists.

It also gave us a chance to sit down outside, enjoy the wonderful views on offer, eat our lunch and get ourselves ready for our climb.

Meeting our guide (Ian) in the mine’s car park, he was full of humour and got us through the admin side of the session quickly and efficiently. For just £45 per person, we were going to get a chance to test our physical prowess in a testing environment.

Climb the Mine follows the route of the original underground mine workings in Borrowdale. Complete with vertical climbs and rope bridge crossings, this wet-weather activity leads you deep underground to explore a secret world of hidden passages and magnificent caverns.

After climbing up into the roof of the mine itself – an experience once reserved for an elite group of miners – you will head for the grand finale, which sees you emerge triumphant to a spectacular view of one of England’s highest mountain passes.

Our group of six climbers were all inexperienced climbers (including both Holly and myself) but everyone picked up the knack of moving safely up the mine, across rope bridges and leaning back at strange angles to get to the next section of the course.

It’s fair to say the course is challenging. The first section is in fact the hardest bit and requires a fair amount of strength to get up and around to the end point. You find yourself hanging off the mine’s wall over a reasonable drop to the dark slate below. We need not worry though, as Ian had given us an in-depth safety briefing as well as talking us all though the steps we needed to take as the session went on.

The second section was slightly easier and involved a climb up a ladder to a series of bridges before a third section saw us navigate a narrow ladder and across the final section of the mine’s upper walls.

As a bonus, as we had not used all the time allotted, we also got access to another section of the mine that was in complete darkness apart from our headlamps. Here we got to climb up in the dark and then make our way down a shaft way before heading out to see the stunning views of the outside world once again.

The trip won’t be for everyone. You have to be in reasonable physical condition and be ok at height, in the dark and in confined spaces.

If you are ok with all of that you’ll enjoy this activity a lot. We came away extremely happy with the tour and ready to go back to our AirBnB to enjoy a fish and chip takeaway meal and watch the evening’s Derren Brown TV show on Channel 4.

Day 18

The Lake District – Chester

Our time in the Lake District was coming to an end and we were going to have to move on from our wonderful AirBnB.

We’d loved staying at the apartment so much and both Pat and Geoff were incredibly friendly and helpful during our stay.

After a light breakfast we packed up our things, did a quick check around and set off on the road on our way to our next location; Chester.

However, we still had time for a couple more stops in the area before heading to Cheshire.

Our first port of call was at the Wild Boar Inn in Windermere for an afternoon tea with a difference.

Arriving just before midday we made our way to the restaurant. We came in through the hotel and got to have a look at a few of the rooms as we went past and they had a fantastic look to them; capturing the old style of the building with some nice modern amenities.

Once at the restaurant we were seated near the window – and to start with were the only two people in the entire place!

As mentioned, we had already opted for the Alternative Afternoon Tea option (normally £25 per person but due to Government incentives at the moment we got it for £15 per person). This selection is a feast of meat and fish dishes as well as filled Yorkshire Puddings and a selection of delicious cakes and pastries.

To top it off, alongside the obvious choice of a pot of tea (never understand people who go for afternoon tea and then order coffee) we also got a glass of Prosecco Rose and a trio of Wild Boar Beers (each a third of a pint) presented on a wooden bat.

The food and service were superb and we enjoyed a restful hour eating and drinking.

With our stomachs full, we what better way to spend the afternoon than moving just eight miles down the road to Lake Windermere to take part in two-hours of kayaking!

Fortunately, we had a bit of time on our hands when we arrived which gave us time to digest our lunch before heading over to Windermere Canoe Kayak to take out a double sit-on-top kayak.

Booked for just £25 in total we got changed into some swim and sports clothes in our car (as changing rooms are currently shut) and then were given our life vests and taken down to the water front to set off on the kayak.

We got extremely lucky again with the weather. Forecasts had suggested we could have thunderstorms when we were due on the lake but, instead, we had overcast skies but no wind or rain. Perfect conditions.

Initially, our kayaking skills seemed to have left us. We spent the first few minutes going too far left then too far right. Soon however, we found our rhythm and started making our way around some of the islands on the lake (a couple of which we stopped on for a quick look).

Over the two hours we were out on the kayak we enjoyed a relaxed loop around a part of the lake and sat in the middle for a while enjoying the scenery and rocking in the water as the speed boats went past.

With that our time in the Lake District was over and we hit the road for a two-hour trip south to Cheshire.

After a fairly straightforward journey down the M6 we got to Chester just after 7.30pm and checked into our hotel for the night; The Boathouse.

Situated about half a mile from the city centre of Chester and on the banks of the River Dee this stylish hotel cost just £85.50 for the night. Our room was spacious and had a wide variety of drink options including real coffee! That’s a win in my books!

After getting ourselves settled, we went out into the city. I’d been to Chester a few times before many years ago so knew my way around a little bit and wanted to show Holly the city centre, the Cathedral and a section of the impressive Chester City Walls.

The walls’ construction was started by the Romans when they established the fortress of Deva Victrix between 70 and 80 AD. It originated with a rampart of earth and turf surmounted by a wooden palisade. From about 100 AD they were reconstructed using sandstone, but were not completed until over 100 years later. Today, these stone walls still surround most of the city and provide a great walk around its perimeter.

As the evening was drawing on, the sun was setting creating a beautiful red sky. With the evening sky providing a stunning backdrop we walked through the city centre, via the cathedral and then up onto the city’s walls.

We took the path west and over to one of the main sites of the city; Chester Racecourse.

I remembered that the racecourse was accessible even when there are no race meetings taking place so we made our way down to the track. We even managed a couple of sneaky shots of ourselves on the track.

Feeling slightly tired, we made our way back – via a Five Guys – to our hotel and called an end to our day’s activities.

Day 19

Chester – Snowdonia

Our time in Chester was short and sweet but we had to move on early to make our way into north Wales.

The Boathouse provided a moderate standard of room, although – as I mentioned to the receptionist when we checked out – there was a lack of hot water for showers and we even got a breakfast delivered to our room that was actually for next door. You’ll be pleased to know, we didn’t eat their breakfast and I went and knocked on their room door and handed it over to them. Not ideal in these Covid-19 times!

But it’s fair to say we’ve stayed in much worse places than this. Edinburgh I’m looking at you!

By 10am we were packed up and on the road out of town again, where we were making the relatively short trip west to our Snowdonia base of Y Felinheli.

On the route we were due to pass by Conwy Castle. Located in North Wales, the castle was built by Edward I, during his conquest of the country between 1283 and 1289 and was constructed as part of a wider project to create the walled town of Conwy.

Now it stands impressively next to a busy road, multiple car parks and aside a gorgeous seafront view where children enjoy a spot of crabbing.

The castle is in magnificent shape and really still holds its own as one of the UK’s finest examples of castle construction. On this occasion, sadly, time was not on our side so we didn’t have chance to go inside to look around further.

Instead we spent about 45 minutes taking a look at the outside of the castle, walking along a small section of the Conwy town walls and taking a look in the small associated gift shop.

It was then time to get back on the road and make the trip to the Penrhyn Quarry where we were booked onto Zip World’s exciting Velocity 2 Zip Line.

This thrill ride is a truly unique experience. It is the world’s fastest – and, I believe tallest – zip line and it really does give you one hell of a ride.

Starting some 500 feet above the lake the main ride sends you shooting down the line, face first, at speeds up to 118mph! Most people won’t achieve that sort of speed as you have to have everything going in your favour to do so, but you will go from zero to 60mph in under ten seconds. When you consider that you are not holding onto anything and just relaying the straps to your zip line, that can be quite terrifying.

One arrival we went and grabbed some food at the indoor cafe. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of the food we received as you can sometimes go to these attractions and pay a fortune for not much. This was not one of those.

Killing a bit of time outside we watched other riders fly past us. I’ll be honest, I’m personally not great with heights so there was a little bit of me that was wondering why we’d paid quite a bit of money to do this.

It’s not cheap. We may as well say that from the off. For two people it cost us £178 to do the zip line and a further £15 to rent a Revi Camera to record it (they don’t allow you to take your own recording devices on with you).

When it came to our time we signed in and got kitted up. Our group were then taken to the first of the two zip lines you do. The first is a tester session really. It’s much smaller, slower and lower to the ground. Saying that it still picks up some speed and is reasonably high up. Let’s put it this way, you wouldn’t want to jump from it over the lake.

Once you’re through that you then board a small bus that takes you to the top of the hill where you’ll take on the main attraction. The journey up is slow going as the bus is not powerful and the route up the old slate quarry is steep with a number of sharp bends.

When we reached the top, we realised just how high up we were. The zip line down to the bottom looked incredibly long and descends very quickly helping riders achieve high speeds.

Our turn to ride came very quickly. We were ushered into the launch room, laid down on the ‘beds’ in front of the drop as the staff made sure we were strapped in correctly. Then the beds lowered and we hung in the air like butcher’s meat waiting to be purchased.

Before long, the safety clips were removed and the countdown began. Three, two one and away we flew.

It’s hard to describe the experience. Everything passed us by so quickly and the views we got as we flew were amazing to see. I ended up just staring everywhere. To the front you could see the sea in the distance and, even when I looked down, I could see the bright blue water of the lake shimmering below me as I soared over its crystal-like waters.

Then, almost as quickly as it begun, it’s over. We were out the other end and making our way back to the entrance area to give our kit back and make our way out.

For anyone reading this who enjoys thrill rides, has the time and money and is in north Wales then this is a must. It’s an experience that’s hard to replicate anywhere else.

With the memories of our experience fresh in our minds, all that was left for Holly and I to do today was to make our way to our new AirBnB – a wonderful apartment called The Lookout in Y Felinheli just over the water from Anglesey.

As with our previous AirBnB in the Lake District as soon as we arrived, I felt that the pictures our hosts had put online barely did the place justice. The apartment was huge with two large bedrooms; both fit with on-suite bathrooms, a large living and kitchen area and a massive balcony overlooking the water separating mainland Wales with Anglesey.

While we did not meet our hosts when we arrived this time, they sent us a very detailed description of how to gain entry to The Lookout. Inside the apartment, there was also an extremely detailed guide to our accommodation, the rules and tips about places to eat from the local area.

Keen to make the most of our new surroundings, we decided to order an Indian takeaway and enjoy a nice quiet evening in together with some good food and a bottle of wine.

My Velocity 2 experience at Zip World! Video courtesy of Zip World

Day 20

Snowdonia

Our only full day in Snowdonia – and indeed Wales was one summed up by trains, rain and Welsh food.

After a great night’s sleep in our incredibly peaceful AirBnB, we made the short drive across one of the two bridges that take you from mainland Wales into Anglesey to a small village with a large reputation.

Just over the bridge lies the modestly-sized Llanfairpwll Railway Station – often known by its longer name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

The station is on the North Wales Coast Line from London Euston to Holyhead and serves the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. However, more people each year visit the station as a tourist attraction than as a passenger to grab a photo with the 58-letter station building and platform signs.

As we arrived the skies showed signs of the weather that was ahead of us for the day. Holding out during our quick visit to the station, we were able to grab a few photos outside the building and on the stations two small platforms.

Back in the car we had another short drive to make that would take us back onto the mainland and to the region’s main attraction; Mount Snowdon.

During normal operations trains depart from Llanberis station and begin their climb 1,085m to the summit of Yr Wyddfa, a journey experienced by some 12 million travellers since 1896. These ancient Snowdonian mountains, thrust upwards by volcanic forces 450 million years ago, once grew to heights of 10,000 metres. Over eons the wind and rain and successive ice ages have sculpted them to their current form; with Snowdon being the highest summit in England and Wales.

These were far from normal times meaning that, currently, visitors taking a train can only get three-quarters of the way up Snowdon by train as the summit is closed due to Covid-19.

That didn’t put us off as the prospect of getting almost to the top with the quaint Snowdon Mountain Railway remained incredibly attractive. Covid-19 was not our only enemy for the day though as the weather steadily deteriorated with the rain beginning to fall and the winds picking up.

After we arrived, we had a bite to eat at the station’s cafe and collected our train tickets – priced at £31 each – for the 1pm train. As I collected the tickets I was warned by the ticket seller that due to the weather we may not even get to the three-quarters point, and if that was the case our train would stop at a place called the Rocky Pass where we’d sit on the train for 10 minutes or so to get some pictures then head back down.

Obviously, this was slightly disappointing news, but not one that could be helped. The Snowdon Mountain Railway team also said that should this happened, everyone onboard the train would get £10 back per ticket as compensation. A more than generous offer.

The closer to our time slot, the worse the weather got. The train up will only hold a small number of people at full capacity and a combination of the poor weather and global pandemic meant that the train was far from full. Despite the low numbers onboard, our ability to see anything out of the windows was nearly non-existent.

As we went up the railroad – a journey that normally takes an hour each way to the summit – the mist and god engulfed the mountains obscuring our views. To make matters worse, the rain meant we had to have the windows closed, and by doing that they just fogged up as people’s warm breath came into contact with the cold glass.

It came as no surprise to anyone when the train driver announced that we would be going no further than Rocky Pass and, to be honest, there would have been little point proceeding as the better views were from lower down the mountain anyway as the fog had settled higher up.

Snowdon Mountain Railway also did a superb job with the refund process. Before we’d even got off the train, we had received an email from the company saying our refund was being processed. Now that’s good customer service!

Back at ground level we returned to the car. Before leaving the are entirely we wanted to make the most of time at Snowdon. Just under half a mile from the mountain railway station we pulled into a small car park to see the Blades of the Giants statue; a huge sword and the stone inspired piece of public art – beside the Llyn Padarn lake.

Our last stop of the day was to get some traditional Welsh food. For this we found a great little cafe just five minutes from Snowdon called Llgad Yr Haul (fortunately you don’t need to say it to get served).

The cafe does a good range of food and drink and has indoor and outside seating available. We picked an indoor seat and ordered two Welsh Teas – one with Welsh Cake and the other with Bara Brith; a fruit cake-style dessert.

The cakes were delicious and after a couple of cups of tea each we said our thanks and made our way back to the car to make our way back to the AirBnB for an evening in front of the TV with leftover curry and wine and a couple more shop-bought Welsh Cakes.

Day 21

Snowdonia – The Cotswolds

The short stay in Wales ended in the morning with the prospect of a four-hour drive back into England to the wonderful Cotswolds.

Before we left our Welsh AirBnB sanctuary, we had a breakfast of Welsh Cakes, tea and coffee. The morning was beautifully clear despite weather reports suggesting we’d be waking up to thunder storms and gale-force winds. Perhaps this was the calm before the storm?

The clear weather gave us a final opportunity to enjoy the scenery from our living room. Just perfect.

With the car loaded up and a quick thank-you message to our hosts sent, we set off for one of our longest journeys – in terms of time anyway – of the entire trip.

Leaving Wales the way we came in, we skirted around Chester and Manchester, before heading down the M6 where we saw more road works in an hour than we did in the entire time we were in Scotland!

Creeping off the M6 before hitting Birmingham, we sort refuge on the M5 as we finally made some progress down the UK.

Just after 1pm we made it into the Cotswolds and headed to our only activity of the day; the Dragonfly Maze in Bourton-on-the-Water.

I didn’t realise just how popular this would be as an attraction. I truly thought that it would be a quick visit with very few people around. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Not only is the area home to the maze it also has a number of other tourist attractions – including a Bird Park and Motor Museum – causing huge traffic jams in the local area. It’s clear the roads here were never designed for large numbers of cars and they just cannot handle it. Best bet is to try and park down a residential road in the nearby area – which you can do for free – and walk around half a mile to the maze.

When we arrived at the maze there appeared to be a short queue to get in which we joined. Shortly after joining it, a lady appeared from the ticket booth and said the queue would be over an hour!

While I accept that queue times have increased due to Covid-19 restrictions, it felt like the Dragonfly Maze was taking the precautions too far. They were restricting entry to the maze to 28 people at a time which is far too few. It became a one-in, one-out situation and just became slightly frustrating.

The maze itself is done quite well. Adult entry is £4.50 per person and you collect clues as you go around to piece together to solve the final mystery of where the dragonfly is when you make it to the middle. It’s not a mentally taxing exercise and children will enjoy it more than adults but you can’t fault the effort made; although at least one of the clues is slightly obtuse.

After a queue of over an hour, and twenty minutes in the maze, we headed back to the car – via a small cafe in the village where we grabbed some Cornish pasties. Lunch in hand, we tackled the crowds and set off for our last AirBnB accommodation of the trip.

Located in the quiet Aston Magna – just a short drive from Morton-in-Marsh – we checked into The Loft.

Taking the car through the small archway we parked up directly at the foot of the stairwell that takes you up to the apartment.

The AirBnB is stunning. High wood beams welcome you into the living and kitchen space and a small stylish wood-burner sits warmly to the side of the room.

Going through the door to the left of the living space we entered a large bedroom fit with a comfortable double-bed. The final room off the bedroom is a clean and welcoming bathroom; equip with a shower, toilet and sink.

Settling into our apartment for the night, we enjoyed some more downtime before heading out in the evening to visit some friends who happen to live just a couple of miles away from where we are staying.

Day 22

The Cotswolds – Bath

Waking up from our last night’s sleep in an AirBnB it dawned on us that we were on the final stretch of our three-week road trip around the UK.

With so many miles already in the bag – and more memories than can be counted – we treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast in the luxury of our apartment from the goodies our hosts had kindly provided us in the small fridge.

Bacon and eggs with a good cup of coffee were the order of the morning and set us up well for the 60-mile trip east to the historic city of Bath.

It’s been a few years since I’d last been to Bath and Covid-19 had already put pay to one of my favourite activities; Thermae Bath Spa. This thermal spa has a range of treatment rooms, pools, saunas, steam rooms and plunge pools but sadly had not opened. Fingers crossed next time we are in Bath it is able to do so.

Despite that, we were both looking forward to our time in the city. One of the things I was not looking forward to, however, and one of the city’s biggest issues is parking. The city is clearly not fit for the number of visitors it receives at peak times. Fortunately, our accommodation – The Rising Sun Inn – provides parking permits for street parking during a stay.

Arriving just after midday, we squeezed the car into the one remaining space on the street and collected the permit to display in the car. We then went into the Rising Sun Inn and met the landlord; an affable man who let us check into our room early and gave us a clear rundown of how things work.

The Rising Sun Inn is a combination of a pub with accommodation. It has a good family feel to the place and, while the rooms are small, they are comfortable and filled all our needs.

Heading out into Bath, we made our way to Bath Abbey – which it turns out is no longer an abbey just a Parish Church. The ‘abbey’ is an enjoyable way to spend a few minutes, although with the Covid-19 restrictions in place you do spend more time queueing outside it to get in than you need inside to see the many stained-glass windows and plaques adorning the walls.

Technically, Bath Abbey is free to enter although they do ask you to make a donation if you want to at a suggested rate of £5 per person. This is not mandatory however, and they don’t push it too far should you not want to give any money.

We were only too pleased to get inside the Abbey as the heavens had just opened and the wind was picking up. We made our way slowly around and took a few pictures before heading out again, through the compulsory gift shop, and back onto the streets.

Our afternoon plan was to go to the Roman Baths – located just outside Bath Abbey – but with our tickets booked for 3pm we made the most of the time by taking a walk through Bath to some of the city’s ‘rich’ districts.

The first stop was The Circus; a series of four-story homes and business premises located around a large roundabout. Each house has a huge price tag linked to it but even they pale in comparison to those in The Royal Crescent; a mere two-minute walk away.

This crescent-shaped street (funnily enough) boasts some of the city’s most expensive properties with prices ranging between £5m and £10m. Looking up at the properties made us realise that our chances of ever owning such a house was extremely limited. If anyone reading this blog fancies lending us a few pounds however, please do head over to the Contact us page.

Heading away from the Royal Crescent before a resident chased us away, we took the opportunity to try our luck at our third botanical garden of the trip.

Our previous two attempts in Edinburgh and Glasgow hadn’t been huge successes but this one in Bath was much better. The weather had improved and was dry – if still a bit windy – and the Botanical Gardens of Bath were full of trees from all over the world.

Taking a walk via the various statues in the gardens – including one to Shakespeare and one to the Roman god Jupiter – we picked up an ice cream from a nearby stall and took the mile-long walk back to the city centre to join the queue for the Roman Baths.

The Roman Baths are described as one of the finest historic sites in Northern Europe.

At the heart of the City of Bath, the baths consist of the remarkably preserved remains of one of the greatest religious spas of the ancient world. The city’s unique thermal springs rise in the site and the Baths still flow with natural hot water.

During our visit we explored the Roman Baths, took a walk on the original Roman pavements and saw the ruins of the Temple of Sulis Minerva.

We also saw the museum’s collection of finds including a gilt bronze head of the Goddess Sulis Minerva, and other Roman artefacts.

Entry to the Baths is currently on a timed basis, and costs £21 per person on weekdays and £23 on weekends. That’s great value, as the baths and museum are much bigger than the outside of the complex would suggest with many different things to see and a free audio guide to follow as you go around to give you some greater context.

We found it very easy to spend over an hour in the Baths before heading out and back to our hotel.

Back in our hotel room we took some time to relax and get ourselves ready for our evening meal out in Bath at the interesting-looking Mediterranean and Turkish restaurant – Cappadocia – for what would be one of our last meals out of the road trip.

Day 23

Bath – Winchester

The penultimate day of our trip, the last full day and our last location all made up the twenty third day of our road trip around England, Scotland and Wales.

After a hearty continental breakfast at the Rising Sun Inn – consisting of cereal, tea, coffee, Greek yoghurt, toast and croissants – we settled our hotel bill and made our way to the car for the final trip between road trip locations. This journey was another short one – just the 60 miles – between Bath and the historic city of Winchester.

This final location was one for Holly who had gone to university here and – like me with Lichfield and Stoke-on-Trent – was keen to show me around her former home city.

During the drive Holly took the opportunity to give her sister, Amy, a phone call as it also happened to be her birthday. If she reads this blog then; Happy Birthday Amy!

An added bonus of the journey was that on our route down the A303 we were able to grab a glimpse of the famous Stonehenge near Salisbury; somewhere I’d been before but Holly had never seen. That despite her only living around 25 miles away from it during her time at university!

The weather for our final full day on the road was much like the previous day’s weather. Very changeable. One minute it was glorious sunshine, the next it was wind and rain. Still this was not going to spoil our time in Winchester.

We made a stop at St. Catherine’s Hill – situated just outside of Winchester – and took a walk up the footpath to get a view out across Winchester. It was a slightly odd expereince though. The gates to the road were shut meaning we had to park at the foot of the hill and then once were were inside the gates there were loads of caravans there.

Making our way past the inpromptu caravan park we went up the hill and caught a glimpse of Winchester on one side while trying to phase out the noise of the M3 from the other side. Admitting defeat on this one, we went back to the car and carried on towards the city itself.

After arriving in the city, we made a short walk into the centre – via the statue of King Alfred who is buried somewhere in the city – to visit our third Cathedral of the trip.

Winchester Cathedral is perhaps the most impressive one we’ve gone into. While Lichfield and Bath both had ornate outsides the rather plain Winchester exterior was made up for both by its considerable size and also by the wide variety of things to see inside its walls.

Entry is the most expensive of the three we visited – at £9.95 per adult (which also allows you unlimited re-entry for the next 12 months – we were feeling that perhaps we were not going to be getting good value for money. I’m pleased to say I was wrong.

We spent over an hour in the cathedral looking at various exhibits they have in different sections showcasing its long history dating back to the reigns of King Alfred and the Viking invasions.

Some of the most impressive aspects of a visit to Winchester Cathedral are the examples of wall paintings dating back to the 1200s and original copies of the Winchester Bible also dating back almost 900 years and still with their original colours present. From a historical point of view they are quite incredible.

We also learnt that the author Jane Austen – famous for her works including Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility – is buried within the confines of the cathedral. While neither of us are huge Jane Austen fans we wanted to see this grave site and found her grave located inside the cathedral near the north entrance. Below a rather low-key black, stone-plague on the floor, Ms Austen has lied undisturbed here since her death over 200 years ago on 18th July 1817.

Making our way out of the cathedral, we both commented just how impressed we were by it. Holly had been inside once before but that was for her graduation and then didn’t have time to explore properly. This was a much more complete visit.

After that we nipped around the side of the cathedral to visit the English Heritage site of Wolvesey Castle.

This castle – well more palace – ruins was once the home of the 12th Century Bishop Henry of Blois; brother of King Stephen.

Though ruinous, the buildings still evoke an impression of their former grandeur. The last great occasion here was on 25th July 1554, when the East Hall was transformed with silk and gold hangings for Queen Mary and Philip of Spain’s wedding banquet.

Now visitors can walk around the substation site for free and take a look at what remains of this once magnificent palace.

As the rigors of our trip started to catch up with us we decided to check in to our hotel – the Winchester Hotel and Spa – and spend the afternoon using its spa facilities.

This four-star establishment was the most stylish hotel of our trip and from the reception area we were greatly impressed. We were met by a friendly receptionist who checked us into our room for the night and told us how the hotel was managing Covid-19 issues.

The room itself is spacious and well designed. However, there were a couple of niggles we had with it. For £134.10 a night we were not expecting absolute perfection but there were some sloppy errors.

The shower leaks and means that not all the water comes out of the shower head, potentially soaking the bathroom, there was also a suspicious stain on the shower curtain which we did not want to touch and a carpet gripper – the spikey nailed wooden boards that hold the carpet down – was poking through the carpet near the bathroom entrance. If you are walking bare footed and step on it you’d know about it for sure. You don’t expect to come to a hotel and need a Tetanus jab when you leave!

Also despite the hotel saying how it cleans its rooms thoroughly – given Covid-19 regulations – there was an open pack of coffee in the room which should have been removed.

We made sure we made these points to the hotel receptionist who was extremely apologetic for these issues. I don’t think that it is down to the hotel not caring, I think it’s just slightly sloppy workmanship. That’s not to say it’s good enough though for a four-star hotel.

We then made the decision to go down to the spa which had a limited number of people allowed in due to Covid-19 which was fair enough. We rang down to the spa to say we were on our way, filled out the health questionnaire and went in to relax.

The spa itself is fine if not spectacular. There is a small swimming pool available and a jacuzzi to enjoy alongside a number of sun loungers. Normally, there would also be a steam room and sauna to use but both were not operational given the current concerns. Not a problem though we had a pleasant couple of hours down in the spa and enjoyed the down time it offered us before heading out in the evening to have a meal at a local Weatherspoon’s Pub.

Day 24

Winchester – London

And so it ends!

After more than three weeks on the road we had come the final day of our road trip. We’d had such an amazing time exploring the length and breadth of the country and waking up in Winchester on our final day was met with mixed emotions.

On the one hand we just wanted to carry on exploring the country and seeing more and more new places. On the other we had so many new memories from our trip that we felt content to be returning home.

For the last day we decided to take it easy. Getting up, we went down and enjoyed a final full English breakfast of the trip at the hotel restaurant. This came with a choice of continental accompaniments such as Greek yoghurt and croissants.

Feeling rather full and ready to burst we made our way back to our room, cleaned up our things for a final time and checked out before heading to the hotel’s spa again for a few hours by the pool and in the Jacuzzi.

As we were so early, and it was a Sunday, we found that we had the entire spa to ourselves for a good long while and were able to enjoy the surroundings in blissful peace and quiet.

For the day we only had one thing planned. We had booked a short 25-minute neck, shoulders and back massage each at the spa but our time slot wasn’t until 2:30pm.

We used the rest of our free time in Winchester to walk back into town and pick up a couple of gifts for family and friends before stopping by the Royal Oak pub for a spot of lunch.

We had gone in with the idea of just having a very light lunch – given the large breakfast we’d enjoyed just a few hours earlier – yet somehow managed to order ourselves a fish and chips and sharing platter to share between us! We sat down and the food came quickly after we’d ordered it using the Greene King app which allows you to order and pay from your table.

Outside again we made our way through the high street and up the hill towards Stanmore. This area was one that Holly had lived in during her four-year teaching degree and she was keen to catch a glimpse of her old university.

Walking through a graveyard that had clearly seen better days, we found ourselves on Holly’s old campus at the University of Winchester. Years ago, while I had been at university in the Midlands (Staffordshire University), I’d visited Holly – at the time just a good school friend – a couple of times in Winchester. None of what I was seeing personally rang any bells for me and even though Holly had studied in Winchester, the money the university had invested on campus was clear to see making the place look quite different to how she remembered it.

After a bit of reminiscing, we made a slow walk back to the hotel for our massage treatments. Arriving 10 minutes early we sat down and relaxed in the Spa’s waiting room and were soon met by two therapists who took us to separate rooms for our treatments.

For £37 each, our therapists gave great quality massages and also paid attention to the points in my shoulder that I’d mentioned were a bit stiff. After the session we both came out feeling refreshed, relaxed and smelling great!

All that was left to do now was make the final drive of the trip. Heading home, we had around 90 miles to cover and made our way along the M3 until it joined the M25. The trip had been a great success and we both sat content with how well it had gone.

Pulling up at our home in Kent, I saw that we’d clocked just over 2,800 miles during the trip. Now we could step out of the car for the final time and head indoors in anticipation of a good night’s sleep ahead in our own bed.

Top five… urbex experiences

Have you ever been to an abandoned place and tried a spot of Urban Exploring – also known as Urbexing?

Below I’m listing my five favourite urbex experiences to date. Leave a comment at the foot of the article to say if you’ve been to any of these places or if you have a favourite site that you’ve visited similar to these.


1: Skrunda-1 (Lativa)

The city of Skrunda-1 is a ghost town and former Soviet radar station having been abandoned after the Soviet Union fell in the 1990s.

Personally, the idea of being able to explore a full city, uninterrupted, and having the place to ourselves was an opportunity I felt was far too good to miss out on.

To be honest I got extremely lucky to get a trip in. Visiting Skrunda-1 in December 2017, meant that I was able to gain entry to the whole city just before the Latvian Army took it over full time to use for training operations in 2018.

Even still, given that this place was shut off to the general public meant that I had to find a tour guide who could get me there and get me inside. For this I used the great Eat Riga Tours.

Arriving at the gate, we gave our details to the secruity gaurd, who then let us in to explore. For this trip there were three of us including our guide.

The city itself is huge and there are thousands of disused apartment blocks to explore. Each one holding remnants of its former occupiers from almost 30 years prior.

Pictures still hung on walls and newspapers from the early 1990s and late 1980s were scattered everywhere. In a few buildings there were examples of military action with discarded magazines and shell casings from a variety of weapons and an old box of explosives. We stayed clear of them just in case they were not as unused as other things laying around the floor.

As you’d expect, the city is in a state of general disrepair so the higher up the buildings we ventured, the more careful we had to be in case a floor or ceiling caved in. Fortunately, nothing like this occurred.

Our guide was extremity relaxed about the tour. He gave us freedom to roam the apartments and other buildings and explore anywhere we wanted to.

In a few buildings there were examples of military action with discarded magazines and shell casings from a variety of weapons and an old box of explosives.

Urbexing in Skrunda-1; Latvia

Highlights here included the old sports hall – still fit with a basketball hoop and pictures of hand-to-hand combat moves to practice – and the canteen area where residents and workers could eat together.

There was also a small prison block nearby which at best would have housed two or three people. It was extremely small, suggesting that it wasn’t used that much even when this area was full of life.

Sadly, as I mentioned, you cannot get into Skrunda-1 now. However, these images of the city and its empty corridors will stay with me for a long time as an example of how Soviet life was once conducted.


2: Chernobyl (Ukraine)

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a 30km restricted entry. You cannot visit it unless you are on a pre-approved tour. And even then there are strict regulations. For my trip I went with the well-reviewed Chernobyl Tour.

As you approach the Zone, one thing you realise is that it doesn’t have the feel of an abandoned nuclear disaster area. There are loads of tour buses these days and even small pop-up shops just outside the check point which are great to pick up those gimmicky souvenirs like a glow-in-the-dark fridge magnet!

The next step of your visit will see you go through the checkpoint. For this you have to exit the bus, walk through a radiation detector and then on-board your bus. And that’s it; you’re in the 30km Exclusion Zone!

In the 30km zone there are a number of, once inhabited, small villages that you’ll stop at to explore. Once through the villages, you’ll move on to the secret soviet object radar DUGA-1 and the secret town of Chernobyl-2 which provided the efficiency of antennas and horizon tracking of the launching of ballistic missiles.

Shortly after this stop you’ll head towards one of the two main sites in the zone; the sarcophagus and the New Safe Confinement (“Arch”) around the exploded Reactor 4.

This is in the heart of the 10km exclusion zone and you can surprisingly get to within 300m of the sarcophagus itself. Stays here are limited in time as the radiation is still extremely strong, however, you’ll notice that there are a number of people who appear to be working around this area.

From here you’ll move onto the second of the two big hitters in Chernobyl; the city of Pripyat.

One thing you’ll notice – should you have access to a dosimeter is that the Ferris Wheel itself is still incredibly radioactive. On no circumstances touch it!

Kiev and Chernobyl… Ukraine’s best and worst kept secrets

The city here was perhaps the biggest draw for me. One thing that is slightly disappointing (albeit totally understandable) is that you are no longer allowed to enter any of the buildings as they have become far too unstable. That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t plenty to see and do.

When people think of Chernobyl the image of the huge yellow Ferris Wheel is probably one of the first things that spring to mind. During a visit you can get up close and personal with this relic from history. One thing you’ll notice – should you have access to a dosimeter – is that the Ferris Wheel itself is still incredibly radioactive. On no circumstances touch it! Stand near it and take photos but don’t lay your hands on it. That you’ll regret.

For me a visit to this city was a fascinating experience. It’s like an entire outdoor museum. A visit to Chernobyl is something you’ll never forget.

Read my blog, Kiev and Chernobyl… Ukraine’s best and worst kept secrets for more details.


3: Belvedere Hotel (Croatia)

Hotel Belvedere is a former five-star hotel from the Yugoslav era that closed its doors permanently back in 1991 after suffering damage during the Siege of Dubrovnik.

Yet while it closed its doors to paying guests almost 30 years ago, those keen on a spot of urbexing can still gain entry. Located outside of the main part of Dubrovnik, the best way to get there is to walk along the coast and aim for the bottom of the hotel (don’t go to the original entrance at the top as that is totally closed off).

I’ll point out now, that entering the hotel is both risky and, as far as I can tell, seen as trespassing. There are numerous signs up around the base that inform you not to enter. However, there are no guards and no security and many places where you can get inside.

Once inside, you’ll notice that the area is a mess. It’s pretty disgusting too as the opening areas have clearly been used for parties over the years by locals. However, as you press on through the cold, dark corridors you’ll find your way into the main heart of the hotel.

Floor upon floor of guest rooms are accessible, while you can also take a wander around the former kitchens, nightclubs and restaurants as you make your way up the deserted building.

Entering the hotel is both risky and, as far as I can tell, seen as trespassing. There are numerous signs up around the base that inform you not to enter.

Dubrovnik… much more than a set for Game of Thrones

The higher you get, the more you need to ensure that the floor underfoot is still solid. Remember this hotel is in ruin and based down the side of a cliff. It’s unclear how stable it remains. During our hunt around we managed to get up to the second-to-top floor only to find the stairway blocked by a piece of fallen concrete flooring and a newly built brick wall. I guess someone at some point was trying to stop people getting in.

Remember this hotel is massive and it can be easy to get lost. Most floors and corridors look alike so try and remember your route in and out.

Finally, there are a number of places towards the top of the hotel where there are balconies. You can go out onto these but watch your footing. Some of these sections are somewhat spongy.

Read my blog, Dubrovnik… much more than a set for Game of Thrones for more details.


4: Rummu Prison (Estonia)

Originally called Murru Prison, Rummu Prison was established in 1938 and until the 1970s operated as part of the Estonian stone industry with workers mainly being made up of prisoners.

During the Soviet era, until the 1990s, excavation was performed as hard labour by prisoners, who would excavate and process limestone from the water-drained quarry

In 1961, the prison changed its name to Rummu Prison and stayed that way until shutting down in 2000.

Now the chance to see an abandoned prison isn’t something that occurs everyday, and had I done my research slightly better, I’d have discovered that a trip to Estonia in December 2016 wasn’t going to allow me to see much of it either!

What you don’t realise is that part of the abandoned buildings are now underwater.

Urbexing at Rummu Prison; Estonia

I booked my trip with Tallinn Traveller Tours as part of Coastal Cliffs and Soviet Paldiski Tour for 49 Euros per-person.

What you don’t realise is that part of the abandoned buildings (quite a large part actually) are now underwater. In the winter the water freezes over meaning that anything below the surface cannot be accessed.

From what I understand, in the summer, it is possible to scuba dive to the lower parts of this building.

However, despite this there are still a few things to see. Along one side of the prison perimeter there is a small spiral staircase that takes you up to a guard tower. This guard tower looks over the prison complex and straddles two very solid brick walls covered in barbed wire fencing to stop people – even today – climbing in or escaping out.