Monday 14 October 2019

Unusual City Breaks - Let's Get Inspired!


Dear Readers,


In the spirit of keeping things diverse, we are now going to discuss the Travel Trend of city breaks.  Now, certainly not a new thing, of course, but potentially one could argue in recent times city breaks have become even more popular. 


The thing is this, dear Readers, a lot of people, certainly those without children, who are both working full time don’t have time to take a week’s holiday.  Think about it:  a whole week out of your diary?  Unfortunately in this day and age, this is to some people, unthinkable.  And I’m not just talking about people who are heads of huge businesses, or high-fliers, so to speak, I am talking about pretty much everyone.  If you own your own small business or a shop for example, and have few or no staff, it’s equally as hard.


Therefore today we are going to look at some unusual examples close to home (for most of us) and try and give you some inspiration to have a potter around a city not too far from you.



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We are going to look first at Liverpool.  Once a place to avoid, since it was given city of culture in 2008 Liverpool has undergone a remarkable transformation.  Almost the entire of the docklands, once derelict, have been re-gentrified into apartments, restaurants and leisure facilities.  Made famous by possibly the most famous band in the World, the Beatles, Liverpool had a lot to live up to.  Heavily bombed in the war, and since then, suffering extreme poverty, it has taken decades for the city to become what it now is.  FABULOUS! 

The first thing to remark upon is the people.  For our non-UK readers, the Liverpool accent is notorious and love it or loathe it (personally, dear Readers, I love it), it is certainly something to experience!  Along with the accent comes of course, the people.  Now, be prepared to meet the most hospitable, most friendly, kind people you have ever met.  I never forget on my first solo trip to Liverpool, I wanted to try and find the iconic shop, Cricket (more on that later), I was completely lost.  It went against the grain for this Southerner (don’t even make eye-contact, let alone speak to anyone) to ask for directions, but boy, I was glad I did.  The lady practically invited me to her house for a cup of tea!  They are friendly bar none.  Even in the posher places where, certainly in the likes of London, you get scowled at then ignored, yes I am talking to you, sales assistants in Dior (don’t ask), they are friendly and welcoming.  You couldn’t feel more comfortable in a city if you tried.

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The next thing to remark upon is the architecture.  It’s hard to miss the Liver Building and it is architecturally spectacular.  As is the city itself with beautiful buildings all around.  The re-gentrification has clearly carried on from the docklands into the city centre with a whole new area (Liverpool One) some would argue making it ever so slightly generic but it’s nice all the same.

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So what are we recommending, then?  Well how about this for an itinerary:  I would suggest you stayed in one of two places.  You’ll find at the Albert Dock all sorts of eateries and bars and the most wonderful Titanic exhibition which is free and totally fascinating, completely worth a visit.  It’s also where they used to film Richard & Judy and the weatherman used to stand on the map of the British Isles if you remember rightly, dear Readers?  Next to it is Stanley Dock and the home of the Titanic Hotel.  It’s about £140 a night for a double room but it is pretty special and very, very cool.  It is a beautiful location and really quirky in a good way.  You just cross the road and you’re in the centre so you don’t have to walk far.  You’re right on the famous Mersey so it can be a bit on the nippy side, but the views are gorgeous.  So it’s either that or, if you really want something super authentic, you’ll need to head to the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. 

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We haven’t mentioned them yet, really, but let’s face it, you can’t come to Liverpool and not talk about the Beatles.  For true fans, there’s nowhere else to stay.  Now, warning you now, if you want a good night’s sleep I would stick with the docklands.  This hotel is not for sleeping, certainly not sober sleeping.  This is for a good time.  The location is perfect for the bustling Cavern Quarter where things are certainly at!  It is clearly Beatles-themed and it is really, really fun.  And pretty cool to be honest.  You’re looking at about £90 a night for a double room.

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Right so that’s the hotel sorted.  Parking you’re looking at ample parking in the docklands and with the Hard Day’s Night Hotel, you’re best off dropping your passengers and luggage off and parking in the Liverpool One carpark.  Details, details, boring, let’s talk about the Beatles.  For all Beatles fiends, you’ll need to head to the Cavern Quarter whatever you do.  It’s hard to miss!  There you will find lots of bars and a really great atmosphere, reminiscent I always found to that of Covent Garden.  There’s an excitement in the air.  There are Beatles memorabilia shops a-plenty, but where it’s at is the Cavern itself.  That famous nightclub you must have heard of.  It is still functioning and even in the day-time, toddle in there and there will be bands playing.  It’s a great atmosphere, and actually very family-friendly.  It is absolutely fascinating and really worth a visit.  For those who like their shopping, the Cavern Quarter is also excellent for that.  There is a shop there called Cricket, made famous by the WAGs of the Liverpool football players but, as you can imagine, your Hapless Blogger has been there once or twice, and it is a fabulous shop.  Very typically Liverpudlian:  very unassuming.  Unpretentious and full of the most fabulous collection of designer clothes you could imagine.  You’ll probably see someone famous in there and they won’t care either.  You’re trying on the same pair of Louboutins as Colleen Rooney?  So what?!

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There are a squillion bars and restaurants and it all depends on what you want.  So I have to go on my own recommendations and for dinner, I insist you go to San Carlo.  A little bit like a posher version of Donatello’s in Brighton (more on that later, but you may know it), it likes to display photos of its famous visitors all over its walls.  Not for from the Hard Day’s Night Hotel, so not far to stumble back from, it is lovely and the food is out of this world.  Not cheap, but a lovely place to see and be seen.


Liverpool is a very forward-thinking city in all aspects of its development, and you will have an unforgettable time there.



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Another city one once avoided, Manchester has undergone some serious development just as Liverpool.  Much bigger, it is just as architecturally beautiful.  Honestly, dear Readers, if you have never been before, just go, as it’s not at all what you think.  And the trams!  For some reason I had no idea there where trams there!  Such a novelty, but beware, they are silent!  Unlike driving into Liverpool which is a complete doddle, Manchester is bigger and busier, so I would recommend letting the train take the strain.  So much easier and no car to worry about parking.

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Where are we staying?  Well, we’re only going for one night, so what about the Great John Street Hotel.  This is a former Victorian school and what one might call “uber-chic”.  It really does kill several birds with one stone:  you are close to the shopping and eating districts but if you really wanted, you are also within view of Grenada Studios and we all (well, some of us) know what is filmed there…the famous Coronation Street (aaaaggghhhh heaven for some and hell for others and our European friends ready this won’t have a clue, but Coronation Street is a very well-known programme in the UK, and some people make a special trip to Manchester to visit the set…I said “some” people but chacun a son gout).  With its own Oyster bar and rooftop terrace (bliss) this will cost you £225 per room, but hey, it is what it is.  Or indeed you might prefer the eccentric Hotel Gotham.  Architecturally fascinating, it is a themed hotel, aimed at 1930s America ergo Batman kind of era, all moody and gangster with smart suits and hats (you get the picture).  Another one with a rooftop terrace, you are right next to the shops, bars and restaurants.  You’re looking at about £215 a night.

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Right, culture or shopping?  You can have both:  the Manchester Art Gallery and the People’s History Museum are well worth visiting.  Then the Arndale Centre is great for shopping, but in typical Hapless Blogger style, I would recommend you headed to Selfridges and Harvey Nicols, especially to the resto in Harvey Nics as the views are fab.  For some more views and actually a great way of getting your bearings of the city, take a trip on the Manchester Eye.  It’s right next to Harvey Nics so you can’t miss it, and it is utterly worth it.

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Eating and drinking?  Well, my dear Readers, the sky is the limit.  It depends what you want and you can get pretty much anything.  If you want a real hoot of a night out, go to Canal Street which is the gay bar district.  Such a great atmosphere and such fun.  If you want to see and be seen, you could head to San Carlo, Manchester, but we went there in Liverpool, so I would suggest heading to Rosso.  Uber chic and very trendy, it is simply lovely at Christmas time, as is Manchester, actually, the Christmas markets are lovely.



Goodness we are definitely following a theme here, dear Readers, aren’t’ we?!  Glasgow, another city which was once one to avoid, is now just lovely.  Honestly it has to be one of my favourite cities ever.  Like Liverpudlians, Glaswegians are simply the nicest people you will find.  With a gorgeous accent, they are just so friendly.  If you’re feeling brave, take a drive through the Gorbles.  Known as the roughest area, you probably wouldn’t want to dwell there at night, but even that didn’t feel too scary to me…but maybe I am just naïve…Glasgow is a similar size to Liverpool, so easy as anything to drive into and park.

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Another stunning example of beautiful architecture, it really does take your breath away.  Buchannan Street and Sauchiehall Streets in particular.  But I have to say, once on a diversion in the northern districts of the city, I simply couldn’t get over the beautiful buildings there, too.

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Where are we staying this time?  I would suggest either Dakota Glasgow which is just behind Sauchiehall Street so very central.  It’s really cool with gorgeous rooms and a dedicated Champagne bar and cigar terrace…I mean, what’s not to love?  It’s in the old work and pensions building and is really lovely.  You’re looking at roughly £122 per room.  Or you may prefer the Kimpton-Blythswood Square Hotel which, again, is as central as can be.  Dating from 1823, this is the former home of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club.  It is beautiful and a wonderful way to spend time here.  You’re looking at about £158 per room.

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So what are we going to do?  Well, it is just so full of atmosphere, honestly just have a wander around.  The buskers and street artists are the best I have ever seen.  My favourite street must be Buchannan Street with the original House of Fraser, and the stunning Princes Square shops.  About half way up Buchannan Street, after Princes Square, turn right and you will find a whole row of gorgeous little oyster and champagne bars. 

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In terms of eating and drinking, Glasgow has you covered.  It has become quite the foodie mecca.  If you wanted Michelin starred food I would suggest you went to Ox and Finch on Sauchiehall Street.  Super relaxed with clearly excellent food and cocktails to die for.  Or in fact, eat in either of the hotels I have recommended…or check out my little oyster bars…



Cardiff is much smaller, and I am not going to lie, dear Readers, not as great for the old shopping as the rest of the cities we’re talking about.  Obviously your Hapless Blogger is a bit of a shopping connoisseur and if you are, too, then Cardiff isn’t where you want to go.

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However, it is a brilliant night out and has a great atmosphere.  It is also fab because it has two interesting, if not centres, areas you could say.  It has Cardiff Bay and it has the city centre.  Now if you fancy the Bay, you want to stay at the iconic St David’s Hotel (Google it, it’s quite something) which is right on the water with all the boats and the Bay area itself which, like our other cities, has seen some significant re-gentrification allowing it now to be a lovely place to wander with fab bars and restaurants.  But back to the hotel itself and it is considered one of the best hotels in Wales.  It has an innovative bar and restaurant and is about a 25 minute walk to the city centre.  You’re looking at from about £141 per night.


If you wanted a more central hotel, stay at the Radisson Blu in the centre.  You would choose this one (as long as you don’t mind heights) as an executive room with panoramic view is £107 a night and what a view it is, dear Readers.  Thoroughly recommend.

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What to do and see?  Well, I know that not all of you will be into this, but if you are, go and watch Wales play rugby.  Even if you don’t understand the rules (moi) it is such a great thing to do, and the atmosphere is indescribable.  Honestly, if you can, watch them play New Zealand.  It’s off the scale and the best atmosphere afterwards too, no matter which side wins.  Or another thing to do is watch an outdoor concert in the grounds of Cardiff Castle.  Another fabulous and atmospheric experience.

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As we said, the shopping isn’t all that, but a must visit attraction is the enormous indoor market.  What a range of butcher’s stalls, greengrocers and fishmongers…partial to a whelk myself (I realise I am in a minority here) do stop here, dear Readers…even if you end up trailing through Cardiff with an interesting smell attached to your shopping bag…


There are clearly hundreds of bars and restaurants.  A personal recommendation (they always seem to be Italian?!) is Giovanni’s in the main shopping area right next to the arcades which are so pretty and there are some really unusual shops in there.  Giovanni is something of a celebrity chef now but his resto is so authentic and very, very Italian.  Not at all expensive, it really is the place to go in Cardiff.



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If you don’t know Brighton, it is something of a legend in its own lunchtime.  The Gay Capital of the UK perhaps, but it has something for everyone.  Completely and utterly different to the previous cities, this is a beachside resort.  It has it all, really:  excellent shopping, fabulous entertainment including a stunning pier with rides and merry-go-rounds, a beach, and the infamous i360 which is a sort of very tall flagpole that you can go up…


Famously home to Fat Boy Slim and his cronies, your Hapless Blogger was fortunate enough to grow up in that era of impromptu concerts on the beach and the Honey Club…none of which exist anymore (neither does any evidence, as this was pre-social media thank goodness!), but there are still some pretty cool clubs in Brighton if that’s your bag.

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Architecturally it couldn’t be more different to our other cities either, but just as beautiful.  Where are we staying?  Well, shall we go a bit classical then a bit trendy?  The obvious place to stay is the Brighton Grand where famously the IRA tried and failed to blow up Maggie Thatcher…It is as classic as classic goes, and is the quintessential seafront hotel with clearly fabulous views and the most spectacular lobby and dining room.  It goes from £215 a night for a room with a sea view and if you want to do Brighton in the classic seaside style, then you must stay there.  Now, here’s a bit of local knowledge for you:  it’s a “thing” basically almost all artists “kipping” in Brighton for the night stay at the Old Ship Hotel.  It is nothing to write home about to be honest.  The bar and restaurant is quite nice, but the rooms, well, there are definitely nicer rooms to be had in Brighton, but the point is, if you are here seeing bands, as a lot of people are, the after-party almost always happens at the Old Ship (right on the seafront again, not far from the pier) and it’ll only cost you £61 a night…but remember:  what happens in the Ship, stays in the ship!!

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What to do?  Too much!  You need more than one night but you may not survive two!  By day you must go on the pier it is just such a great experience.  There is also the Brighton Pavilion to visit and an ice rink to fall over on there in the Winter.  The shopping is fabulous and the Laines are stunning.  Teeny, tiny little winding streets with quirky shops.  Another proper pastime essential for Brighton is people-watching.  You will see sights you never even believed existed at all times of the day…believe me!  Pop up to North Laine and see even more bonkers sights, getting high on the ambient smell of weed…

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Where to eat and drink?  Well, there are bars and restaurants galore, of course.  And once more, we visit yet another Italian establishment, Donatello’s!  This, like Giovanni’s and San Carlos likes having pictures of its famous patrons on its walls.  I have been going here for 30 years and it is wonderful.  Not in the least bit expensive, the best ever time to go is at Sunday lunchtime where you find big family groups all enjoying themselves…you could be in Italy…



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Lastly, but by no means least, is the beautiful city of Bath.  By far the smallest city on our list, Bath has to be the most attractive.  It is truly stunning.  The architecture is unique and absolutely something else.  Possibly the most stunning in the World, and certainly the most distinctive.


Bath has a lovely atmosphere.  Very much a rugby city, it is dominated by the game at the weekends!  The people are so lovely too, and so welcoming. 

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Where are we staying?  Well, it has to be the Royal Crescent Hotel.  Bath is so unusual, and has what they call the “Circus” and the “Royal Crescent”.  Basically buildings built in a circle and a crescent shape.  The Royal Crescent Hotel is next level, however, and I dare to say it, the most beautiful, most refined, nicest hotel in this post.  The thing with Bath is that it doesn’t feel like a city, if you know what I mean.  And because of its size, you can really get a feel for the countryside at the same time.  The Royal Crescent Hotel is at the top of the city with a beautiful park in front of it and behind the Crescent are the most beautiful gardens.  I keep using the word beautiful but I really mean it.  It is the stuff of Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden-type dreams.  Rooms go from £264 for one night.  It is quite a thing to have afternoon tea in the Dower House (part of the hotel) or to sip Champagne on the lawns in the Summer.


If you didn’t want to eat in the hotel, just toddle round the Crescent and there are some beautiful restaurants.  If you’re there in the Winter and in particular the Christmas Markets which must be some of the most picturesque in Europe, you must go round the corner and down the first street on the left.  Here you will find an old-fashioned German shop with beautiful things, toys, artefacts, and in their basement they have the most gorgeous café where you will find the best hot chocolate of your life!

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Or if you can’t quite stretch to Royal Crescent prices, stay at The Gainsborough Bath Spa.  Now, as we all know, Bath is famous for its Roman baths (DO NOT DRINK THE WATER YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!).  What’s fabulous about the Gainsborough is that is has access to the naturally heated thermal waters where through the spa in the hotel you are able to swim!  How cool is that?!  It’s pretty smart and very, very central.  You are looking at about £200 a night.  You are right in the thick of things, too and Bath has many, many beautiful bars and restaurants.  Another hotel of note is The Bird.  A five minute walk into the centre, it has terrific views and is from £99 a night.

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For something typically Bathonian, pop in to Lambretta’s bar for a quick pint and a chat with the locals (incidentally, if you are very, very strapped for cash, round the corner from Lambretta’s is Pratts Hotel…Faulty Towers has nothing on this place, but it is cheap)…


Something you really should do, apart from visiting the Abbey, the Roman Baths, Sally Lunn’s Bath Buns and the Royal Crescent, is to go to the Thermae Bath Spa.  This is just wonderful and right next to the Gainsborough if you stay there.  A beautiful experience with different pools and various steam rooms etc etc but the main thing is the enormous Jacuzzi on the roof.  Here you have a panoramic view of the city and it really is like something out of James Bond:  you get in the lift and then the doors open onto this infinity jacuzzi and just the sights of the city.  It is fabulous and you must do it.  The shopping goes without saying so I won’t bore you with it.  Or if you are there in the Summer, take a boat ride from Pulteney Bridge up the river Avon to The Boathouse pub…just superb.

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There.  I could go on all day but I won’t, dear Readers.  Hopefully you’ll have some refreshed vigour to visit our beautiful home-grown cities, and perhaps our European readers might have got some new ideas.


Until next time….


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