24 Hours in Fort Lauderdale

Miami has the beat, Fort Lauderdale has the beach.  Few people will come to Florida’s 8th biggest city unless they are coming for the sun, sea and sunsets, rather passing through on the way down to Miami just 30 minutes to the south and onwards to The Keys.  But there’s enough here to keep even the most restless tourist occupied for 24 hours.

For starters there’s Sawgrass Mill, America’s biggest outlet centre with over 300 stores, located on the edge of the Everglades National Park, and rivals some of the theme parks in Florida for daily footfall.  Less busy but still impressive is the Aventura Mall that sits on the borders between the city limits of Fort Lauderdale and Miami. No good can come out of visiting either as the owner of a joint bank account or credit card.  Both really require a car to access although Aventura has the hub of a number of local bus routes, such as line 4 that runs up Ocean Drive to Dania Beach.

To get a different view of some of the amazing properties that sit on the river then use the informative Water Taxi service that runs the whole length of Hollywood and the waterways of Dania and beyond. There is a boardwalk that runs for a couple miles from South Hollywood allowing the perfect cycling conditions, with hire points at regular intervals.

You’d be mad not to take advantage of being so close to the Everglades and the best way to see them is by airboat.  Guides will point out alligators, manatees and all sorts of strange creatures at the Sawgrass Recreation Park.  Florida is one of the few states where gambling is legal and so many people will head to Gulfstream Park for some betting action whether that’s on horse racing or on the casino tables.

Take your pick from all of the major chain hotels either in the city centre or Hollywood Beach. You will pay a premium for a room with a view in somewhere such as The Diplomat on Ocean Drive which has a 33rd floor bar and an amazing swimming pool as well as a very good restaurant.  A cheaper option, The Crown Plaza 5 minutes south has an infinity pool which offers some superb sunset views from the poolside bar.

Hyde Beach Kitchen, just off  is a seriously good seafood restaurant and cocktail bar with a local right on the beach that will earn anyone trying to impress their partner significant brownie points, whilst further up South Ocean Drive is the highly recommended GG’s Waterfront Grill and Billy’s Stone Crab Shack which not only offers superb stone crab, unsurprisingly, as well as superb sunset views.  If you want to sample some of the best craft beers in the area then Hollywood Ales brews on the beach at the junction of Polk Street and North Surf Street, which also does some decent food, whilst a minute’s walk away is the always busy Taco Beach Shack.  You’ll find the excellent Hollywood Pale Ale in many bars and restaurants up and down Ocean Drive.

24 Hours in Bilbao

Name a place in Europe where you can buy you a three course meal, a glass of superb red wine, a bottle of water and you still get some change from €20? There’s very few places I’d wager unless you have somehow managed to get Doc Brown’s DeLorean working again.  But just sometimes the world surprises you and that’s exactly what Bilbao does.  The meal deal isn’t in some backstreet rundown café either – its in a 4 star hotel where you can eat with a view of one of Europe’s most modern stadiums or one of Europe’s most ambitious and most successful dockside regeneration programmes,  step forward the restaurant El Buxto in the Hotel Hesperia Zubialde, which not only has this excellent offer but slap bang next to Bilbao’s latest architectural wonder, Estadio San Mamés.

First up – don’t come to Bilbao and expect the city to entertain you.  Sure, there are a few attractions but to get the most out of this gem of a city you need to walk like a local, eat like a local and drink like a local.  Be prepared to understand the etiquette of Pintxo and the fanaticism of Athletic Club and you will get along famously.

Twenty years ago the city was a bit of a mess.  The riverside was still scarred by years of neglect and the city was just coming to terms with the 21st century.  And then along came Frank Gehry with his vision for an artistic masterpiece that would change the future of the city forever.  The opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997 was the defibrillator that the region needed. Over €500 million was generated for the region in just a few years as over 4 million tourists visited the museum. The regional council estimated that the money visitors spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport allowed it to collect €100 million in taxes, which more than paid for the building cost. In economic theory terms, the Return on Investment was bat-shit crazy. A cameo role in the 1999 James Bond film “The World is not Enough” didn’t harm visitor numbers either.

Most visitors come to Bilbao to experience the Guggenheim Museum and it is certainly as stunning inside as it is from the outside.  Admission is €10 plus any additional charge for the temporary exhibitions.  The museum has a prime location on the banks of the river, opposite the very upmarket Duesto district with its fine riverside mansions.  The parkland running adjacent to the museum has now been redeveloped, including a new shopping centre, the Zubiarte plus La grúa Carola (the red crane) which forms part of the Maritime Museum whilst closer to the Guggenheim is another excellent art museum, the Museo de Bellas Artes be Bilbao in Euskadi Plaza.

Further down the river towards the mouth of the Biscay is the Vizcaya Bridge, built to connect the two banks and is today the world’s oldest transporter bridge, having been built in 1893 after being designed by Alberto Palacio, one of Gustave Eiffel’s disciples.  45 metres tall and 120 metres long, the bridge is still in operation today, transporting vehicles and passengers across every couple of minutes on a cradle, suspended by 40 metres of cable.  You can cross the bridge by the walkway, 40 metres above the river if you don’t have a fear of heights for €7, which also includes a trip on the vehicle transporter.  It is best to approach the bridge from Areeta metro stop as that side is open during all seasons whilst the Portugalete side is only open March to October.

The centre of the city is Plaza Moyua and it is from here that you can experience the Basque art of the Txikiteo – a Basque bar crawl that essentially involved hopping from bar to bar to sample each one’s speciality dishes, or pintxos.  The rules of the txikiteo, where the best pintxos could be found and even that there was an annual competition for the best one in the city (the Muestra de Bares de Pintxos if you really wanted to know) change from week to week but for the visitor it is easier just to go with the flow.  A list of the finalists each year can be found here.

If you head to Madrid or Barcelona you can hop from bar to bar and experience tapas. You will get a small plate of whatever the bar has made free of charge with your drink. In the Basque region, a pintxo costs extra. The pintxo started life modestly, as a piece of tortilla or ham on bread, and must be consumed standing up, in a maximum of two mouthfuls. The Guggenheim effect is the terms given to explain the explosive growth in popularity in txikiteoing and pintxos in general as a result of the opening of the museum. My personal favourite is Singular, a craft brewing inspired bar in Lersundi Kalea which not only has 6 craft beers on tap but an excellent selection of Pintxo in a very relaxed atmosphere.

The city has some decent hotels including the Hotel Abando in Colon de Larreategui and the amazing building that is the Palacio de Oriol in Avenida Cristobal Murrieta.  If you want to really splash the cash then head to the Hotel Carlton on Plaza Federico Moyua 2 or the Gran Hotel Domine in Alameda de Mazarredo with its amazing atrium and slap-bang opposite the Guggenheim.  Neither come cheap but what you spend on a room for the night you will undoubtedly save in food and drink.

If one building sums up the city then it is the new home of Athletic Club Bilbao, the San Mamés stadium, located just 10 minutes walk from Plaza Moyua.  The building is stunning and won the 2015 World Sports Building of the Year award.  Tickets can be purchased at the ground and if the team aren’t at home then you can also tour the stadium.

The Airport itself is a wonderful piece of architecture, designed by Santiago Calatrava whose latest creation, the Occulus, is the hottest new building in Lower Manhattan. Located 6 miles outside of the city centre, in the Loiu valley, it is linked by the BizkaBus (number 3247) which runs every half an hour to Plaza Moyà and the Bus Terminal at San Mamés and costs €1.45 each way with a journey time of around 25 minutes.  Once in the city if you want to make use of the Sir Norman Foster designed metro (such as a trip up to the port or the Transporter Bridge) then buy a day ticket for €4.30.  Within an hour you can also reach the fantastic resort of San Sebastian, famed for having more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world and the amazing crescent beach, by bus or train, whilst an hour to the west is another resort town, Santander.  To the south you can find Pamplona, famed for its annual Bull Run.

24 Hours in Aberdeen

Welcome to the Granite City said the sign as you drive across the River Dee from the A90.   Aberdeen.  Home to Henry Cecil, Graeme Garden, Brewdog and Alex Salmond, winner of Britain in Bloom a record ten times and the 56th most habitable city in the world. That’s quite an introduction to a city that is often forgotten on the cultural map of Great Britain, one of the furthest outposts on the tourist trail of these wonderous Isles.

The city’s history has been tied to the sea and it is no different today.  The quayside still bustles with activity, day and night as the onshore home of the North Sea Oil and Gas industry.  The importance of the sea in the development of the city can be found in the Maritime Museum, located in Shiprow which also offers some fine views across the harbour area and is free to enter.  Another interesting museum in the city centre is the Tolbooth Museum which is one of Aberdeen’s oldest buildings and one of the best-preserved 17th century gaols in Scotland. It features displays on local history and the development of crime and punishment through the centuries and provides a unique experience in the form of its atmospheric 17th and 18th century cells, original doors and barred windows.  For something more hands on and educational then head to the Science Museum in Tramsheds – admission is £5.75 for Adults and £4.50 for Kids.

For those with a more criminal mind, you can follow the stories of crime writer Stuart MacBride who has used the city for the location of his Logan McRae thrillers such as Cold Granite and Dark Blood, with a self-guided tour around the places featured in his book.

The city features a number of parks and gardens such as the Hazlehead Park and Duthie Park and Winter Gardens, whilst the fine beach of Balmedie is within touching distance of the city centre.  A walk through Seaton Park down to Brig o’Balgownie, Scotland’s oldest bridge, is well worth the effort. Built on the orders of Robert the Bruce and restored in 1607, it served as the River Don’s main crossing point. Lord Byron, referred affectionately to the single span bridge in Don Juan.  If you are prepared to travel out of the city a bit then the Queen’s favourite country retreat, Balmoral, is open between April and July, located around 50 miles west.

Located just five miles outside the city centre is the state of the art home of the craft brewery craze.  Brewdog can quite rightfully sit back and say “we did that” when they see the hundreds, if not thousands of micro-breweries opening up around the world today.  The DogTap is located at the brewery and allows you to get up close and personal with the beer and the brewery process.  Tours are available Monday to Friday at 4pm and 6pm, and 12pm, 2pm and 4pm at weekends and costs £15 per person, which of course includes a few beers. Number 67 & 68 buses run regularly from Aberdeen city centre to Ellon Park & Ride which is a short, thirst-inducing, walk away.  They also have a bar in the centre of town in Gallowgate.

The nightlife in Aberdeen is often something that people often come to the city for and there is so many bars to choose from that it is impossible to scratch the surface in one evening.  The Howff in Union Street is one of the best rated bars as well as offering some decent food, whilst literally just down the road is The Pint of Cupid which is certainly a fixture on most nights out.  The Tippling House in Belmont Street gets very busy in the night as it offers an extensive food menu and whisky tasting.  Finally, The Illicit Still in Guestrow offers food, drink, pool and a good location.

I actually had my first ever Deep Fried Mars Bar back in 1999 in Stonehaven in The Carron Fish Bar, which used to proudly display a banner on the side of the building claiming they invented the snack, although today they’ve been forced to remove the claim.  However, there are still places around the city where you can try the “delicacy”.  Alternative, for a real unique snack, head to Pittordrie, home of Aberdeen Football Club where you can sample the Pittordrie Pie, so good that the football club are looking at trademarking the meat pie.

There are a number of good hotel options in the city, with the majority falling into the “reasonable” bucket.  Jurys Inn Aberdeen is right in the centre of the action, opposite the station and has the airport bus stop right outside, whislt the Premier Inn Aberdeen City Centre Hotel is just north of Union Street, in the heart of the main night time action. Holiday Inn Express Aberdeen City Centre is also in the area and good value if booked in advance.  If you really want to push the boat out then consider the Mecure Ardoe Hotel in South Deeside Road which looks like a Disney-esque castle.

Aberdeen’s Dyce Airport is located six miles northwest of the city centre and is served by BA from Heathrow, Easyjet from London Gatwick and Stansted, as well as FlyBe from London City.  The airport is linked to nearby Dyce railway station by the 80 Dyce Airlink shuttle bus which runs between the station, where you can get a train every 30 minutes to the city centre. Trains run on a regular basis up the east coast from Glasgow and Edinburgh via Dundee.

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24 Hours in Helsinki

Back in 2011 Monocle magazine voted Helsinki as the most liveable city in the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit placed it in their top ten cities in the world last year and last year they welcomed a record 3.5 million visitors who added nearly €1.5 billion to the already thriving economy. It’s fair to say Helsinki, and Finland overall, are enjoying life at the moment.

But will you? Your 24 hour experience in the capital of Finland will ultimately depend on two factors:-

1. The time of year
2. How well you have prepared for point 1

It’s fair to say that your experience of this fantastic city will be dependent in many ways on the weather. Whilst the sun shines hard and long into the night in the height of summer, the bitter winter is enough to send the most durable Finn indoors to enjoy their favourite past time – Saunaring.

I’m not sure there is a verb “to sauna” but if there isn’t it then the wordsmiths have obviously never visited Finland. There are more saunas here than cars but not quite as many as mobile phones – after all this is the country that brought us Nokia, and of course Snake. Consequently, a Finnish fact to take how is that there are no pay phones in the country.

Let’s assume for the sake of this post (and how I’ve experienced the city twice now) you visit during the summer. Whilst there will be the odd “grey day” where low cloud and drizzle will be the order of the day, most days will be wall to wall sunshine, with daylight disappearing in late June/early July close to midnight.

The new train line now takes you direct from the very smart Vantaa airport around 10 miles north of the city direct to the main station in around 20 minutes. The station can be found in between the two terminals and a single ticket to the city is €5.50. Trains run via two routes but both ultimately go to the city centre with very little difference in journey times. Remember to validate your ticket when you board in the orange/yellow machines.

The Soviet influence (after all, St Petersburg is only a four and a half hour journey away) is obvious from the block-line buildings and the fantastic architecture of the main station featuring the poshest Burger King in the world.

The importance of the water during these months cannot be underestimated. Finns love to take to their boats and sail out to the three hundred plus islands that form the archipelago of Helsinki. Whether it’s on an organised boat trips sailing gently around the islands or a visit to such historic places as the fortified islands of Suomenlinna, which are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another place to visit for an afternoon is Helsinki Zoo or Korkeasaari, located on a rocky garden. A ferry and water buses take visitors to the island summertime from the Kauppatori and Hakaniemi where the market stalls are.

With few tall buildings in the city, the best views of the skyline are from the water. The one building that dominates the panorama is the Helsinki Cathedral, the icon for the city since it was built over 150 years ago, a brilliant white structure with the green and gold rooftops sparkling in the summer sunshine.

For football lovers, head to the Sports Academy opposite the station that has enough screens to keep even the most ardent fan happy as well as decent American diner-style fair. If you are in town for the football season then a trip up to the Olympic Stadium, where the Finns hosted the games in 1952 and the next door is the Sonera Stadium (Finnish for stadium by the way is Töölö), how to arguably the biggest team in Finland, HJK and HIFK. The ground is a 15 minute walk up Mannerheimintie from the central station.

On the other side of the railway line from the stadium complex is the amusement park of Borgbacken and the Sea Life centre that heaves of a weekend but is great to get a feel for family life in Finland.

The city centre is compact and easily walkable. The pedestrianised streets are cross-crossed with trams if your legs need a rest but nowhere is more than a ten minute walk away. The streets around the main station (remember if arriving by train Helsinki is often written in the Swedish form Helsingfors. The main artery of Mannerheimintie is flanked by institutions including the National Museum, tracing Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present, imposing Parliament House and Kiasma contemporary art museum as well as some of the upscale shopping establishments. At right angles to this is the tree-lined boulevard of Esplanadi which runs to the water’s edge and is where the good and beautiful congregate after work on a summer’s evening.

Talking of midnight sun, then the place to head is Hernesaaren, a ten minute cab ride to the furthest southern tip of the city. The old abandoned industrial land has been converted into a massive beach club with various pop up bars, street food vendors and a huge stage for outdoor events. Deckchairs and cabanas provide a Cafe deal Mar feel whilst the deck area offers superb views of the city, silhouetted by the setting sun. Five minutes walk back towards the city is Löyly, a huge sauna open to all on the rocks that is covered by another superb bar and restaurant.

There’s no shortage of decent bars and restaurants in the city. If craft beer is your thing, and quite frankly why wouldn’t it be, then head to the tiny Wall Street cabin bar on Ateneuminkuja, behind the Ateneum art gallery where the have a fridge full of the stuff.

For a drink with a view then jump on the old red tram called Spårakoff that departs from Mikonkatu near the central station every hour during the summer from 2pm. The posh team not only tours the sights of the city but has a fully stocked bar. A ticket costs €9. Alternatively head to the 14th floor of the Hotel Torni where their panoramic terrace offers some of the best views in the city.

Another unique bar is the Trillby and Chadwick Detective Agency on Katariinankatu street. Themed as the 1920’s Helsinki branch of a London detective agency set up to support the enforcement of Finland’s prohibition laws and combat alcohol smuggling, it’s hidden behind an unmarked wooden door. Pass through here and pick up the phone and make an appointment with Trillby. If there’s room, they will invite you through a second set of doors to the most secret bar in the city.

The usual hotel chains are scattered across the city centre but if you are looking for something a bit different then the Hotel Katajanokka may be up your street, located in an old prison whilst the GLO Kluuvi is highly recommended with a great city centre location, a decent bar and very comfortable rooms.

 

24 Hours in Lincoln

Did you know that back in the 12th century, Lincoln Minster was the tallest building in the world?  You can take your Empire State, your Sears Tower and your Burj Khalifa at 828 metres high, nearly a century ago it was the 160 metre tall central spire of Lincoln’s most reverend of buildings that was the talk of the back pages.  Wherever you are in the city centre, the Minster is always looking down on you.  Not that it should worry you – Lincoln today has the perfect mix of historic charm and modern sophistication.  Don’t come here expecting something out of the ordinary to do, but do come here if you want some excellent food, great places to drink and don’t want to break the bank.

First, the downside.  Lincoln is a pain to get to if you are coming by train.  You need to go to either Newark Northgate or Nottingham mainline stations and then jump on a 1 (or 2 if you are lucky) carriage train that winds its way through the flat countryside.  Driving is a bit easier with the dual carriageway A46 linking the A1 and M1 with the centre of the city.

Start off your Saturday afternoon with some excellent Tapas in the shadow of the castle at Olé Olé in Bailgate before diverting into Lincoln Castle then heading down Steep Hill (a very apt name) into the main part of the city. The huge investment into the University of Lincoln has led to redevelopment and regeneration of a number of areas including the Brayford Pool area in the city centre where bars such as The Rogue Saint in Mint Street, Dexters Alehouse and Revolution.  On the pedestrian street on the way up to the castle the two best bars in the city can be found – The Cardinals Hat and The Strait and Narrow which has over 20 beer-based cocktails should you want something a bit different.

If The Imps (Lincoln City) are at home then head straight down the High Street to Sincil Bank and continue for 15 minutes and catch some of the Non-League action from £18.  Alternatively, Market Rasen race course is around 30 minutes away and is well worth an afternoon.

When the sun goes down start your evening off with a Ghost Tour around the Cathedral’s narrow lanes before enjoying a decent meal at Browns Pie Shop on Steep Hill then heading down to the High Street bars.  Need a bed for the night?  The Old Bakery is an excellent B & B in a great location (Burton Street) that also doubles up as a restaurant and a Deli.  Bar the major chains such as the Holiday Inn and Premier Inn another good bet is the historic Castle Inn Hotel on Westgate.

On the first Thursday of December until the following Sunday, the Bailgate area of the city holds its annual Christmas Market in and around the Castle grounds. The market is based upon the traditional German-style Christmas market and brings in people from hundreds of miles around.

24 Hours in Copenhagen

The major issue anyone coming to Copenhagen has is deciding what sort of 24 hours you really want to spend in the Capital of Cool.  Some of that decision will depend on who you are traveling with – be it the family, the group of friends, the romantic interlude or simply wandering on your own. Copenhagen has so much to offer for everyone, even when it is at its coldest in the middle of winter.

Your first taste of the city will undoubtably be Kastrup airport, which is as efficient, well-stocked and conveniently located as any major airport could ever want to be – heck, they even have a replica of the Little Mermaid there just so you don’t have to get trampled in the tourist stampede to see Den Lille Havfrue as the locals call it in the slightly incovenient location north of the old fort on Langelinie.  From the airport you can catch a train to the Central Station or to Malmö should you wish to recreate the steps of Saga Norén from the TV Series Broen/Bron (or The Bridge) or the Metro which will take you to the heart of the city, Kongens Nytorv.  From here you are a stone’s throw from the iconic pastel buildings of Nyhavn (New harbour) where pavement bars and restaurants will happily take your cash (plus a bit more for the view).  You can grab an information harbour tour from here or if you have the cash, rest your weary head at Nyhavn 71, a converted warehouse right at the far end of the dock.

If you are feeling brave, hire a bike and meander through the back streets of the city, especially the old parts to the north of Europe’s longest pedestrianised street, Strøget (“the walking street”) where you will find all the major brands plus a few decent bars to sooth the retail itch.  The street runs westwards to Rådhusplasden, where the city hall can be found as well as the entrance to the legendary Tivoli, the second oldest amusement park in the world (Bakken – just north of the city centre at Klampenborg is the oldest), dating back to 1843.  It is rumoured that Michael Jackson wanted to buy the park back in the 1990’s after a visit here.  Today it still holds magic for everyone – every Dane will remember their first visit.  It has some decent, if pricey restaurants as well as its own brewery, the Apollo.

The city is slowly moving outwards, none more so to Ørestad, which is two stops on the train from the airport and on the fringes of the Metro.  Here, you will find Scandinavia’s second shopping centre, Fields, a new cinema and very soon the 18,000 capacity indoor Royal Arena.  There is also the amazing Bella Sky Hotel, which looks like one of those Rubiks snake toys you may have had as a child and has a sky bridge linking the two towers about a million feet up in the air.  The Crowne Plaza is just a few hundred yards away and offers some decent rates at weekends. If you really want to save your cash for more hedonistic pleasure then there is an infamous Cabinn close by too.

Did someone say beer?  Copenhagen is the home of Carlsberg but it may disturb you to know they don’t actually brew here at all – your “Best lager is the world” is more likely to be brewed in Northampton these days.  However, that shouldn’t stop you heading to Carlsberg for a tour and a tasting session of some of their lesser known beers. Another brewer in the city, Tuborg, closed their doors some time ago but their old brewery in Nordhavn is still an iconic structure.  The brewing scene in the city is now synonomous with Mikkeller, which brews some outstanding beers and has a couple of bars in the city including the original Mikkeller Bar in Viktoriagade 8 as well as the superb new bar, Warpigs, in the old meat packing district which is today THE place to eat, drink and be merry. It is around a fifteen minute walk from the central station, although be warned after dark those ladies who may be being a bit too friendly towards you are after your cash.

Many people will head for Christiana, the “independent” Hippy state where everything goes.  Or so they want you to believe.  Itr’s like going to a Radio 1 Roadshow and expecting it to be like Margate ’86.  Your best bet is to steer clear and head up the coast to Louisiana, one of the best art museums in the world, located on the shores of the Øresund Sound.  It is a 25 minutes train ride north from the city centre to Humlebæk then a five minute walk.  Alternatively, head west to Copenhagen Zoo to get up close and personal to the animals.

Copenhagen has had some of the best restaurants in the world, including Noma and The Paul but unless you have an Amex Black card you may be better off heading for such secret treasures as Tattooed Widow, with its matching beer menu and just a stone’s throw from Konigs Nytorv or Argentinian Steak restaurant Fuego in Holbergsgade.

For those wanting a bit of football, then the cross city rivalry between IF Brøndby and FC Copenhagen can boil over the top at times, but both sets of fans show some real passion.  Tickets start from just 200 Danish Kroner to watch either – Parken, the national stadium is today home to FCK as well as every major music star in the world when they are in town.

Few people come back from Copenhagen with bad memories.  It is rightly voted as one of the best cities in the world – having lived there myself for two years I can concur that it is the perfect 24 hour city.

24 Hours in Glasgow

“Ah Glasgow” said the man on the bus from the car park at Stansted Airport when I told him where I was going, “Edinburgh’s ugly little sister”.  Harsh it seemed, although he then regaled me of tails growing up in Cumbernauld, itself voted the second worst place to live in the United Kingdom back in 2003.  On my last two visits, albeit for the Olympic and Commonwealth Games in 2012 and 2014 respectively, the city centre had been spruced up and even bus drivers had been known to stop to let passengers on.  Glasgow was back on the tourist map.

The city centre is one of the easiest to navigate in Europe, laid out on a rough grid pattern and bookend to the west by the monolithic cheap hotel chains that seem full with hen parties every weekend, gaggling all night long courtesy of whatever luminous WKD is on special offer at the off licences on Argyle Street, whilst to the east are the refined, Victorian Winter Gardens.  The city’s history has been shaped by the River Clyde that used to act as the barrier between the industry of the docks of Govan and Ibrox to the south, whilst the mercantile district north of the river completed the contrast between brawn and brains.

Today, it is the cultural capital of Scotland, home to many fine galleries such as the Kelvingrove Art Museum, located in a stunning building on Argyle Street and home to Monet’s, Renoir’s, Picasso’s and Dali’s galore, whilst the Burrell Collection has its home in Pollock Country Park to the south of the city.  The redeveloped areas north and south of the river around the old Govan dockyards is a sign of the prosperity in the city.  Here you will find the Glasgow Science Museum, a fine place for the family to spend a couple of hours interacting with each other in the strangest of ways and also home to the Glasgow Tower where you can get some of the best views in the city, whilst on the north bank of the Clyde you will find the Riverside Museum plus the iconic Finnieston Crane.

For those who love their football, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t then a trip to Hampden Park is a must for the excellent tour of the National Stadium plus a visit to the National Football Museum, a bargain £29 for both for a family of four. Of course there are also options to take in a game at Celtic Park or Ibrox (plus a host of smaller clubs including Partick Thistle, St Mirren, Motherwell and Hamilton Accies). For something completely different, how about paying your respects to Saint Valentine?  His remains, so they believe, are held in the church of Blessed St Johns Duns Scotus.

George Square is the heart of the city, whilst just down the street in front of the Gallery of Modern Art you will find the iconic Duke of Wellington statue complete with a traffic cone on his head.  The city centre is a shopper’s paradise with chain stores littering the likes of Sauchiehall and Buchanan Street’s, as well as big retail parks on almost every point of the compass outside the central area.

All this culture is bound to make you thirsty so try one of the following bars to quench your thirst.  The Meat Bar, which also offers unsurprisingly a wide array of treats for carnivores, in West Regent Street is a popular location as too is Blackfriars Bar in Bell Street which changes its beers as frequently as Lady Gaga changes her costumes in a concert.  On the River Kelvin, not far from the Botantic Gardens Inn Deep offers a riverside setting and some decent beers. Finally, it would be wrong not to pay homage to Brewdog in its country of origin so head across the road from the Kelvinbridge Art Gallery in Argyle Street for some excellent brews from home and away plus some decent food.

Talking of decent food, want to try the infamous Deep Fried Mars Bar? The Blue Lagoon Fish and Chip Shop can satisfy your cravings.  The scotch pie should also be tried whilst in the city, which is a mutton spiced pie with pepper and can be served with Bovril or brown sauce, especially at football matches and other outdoor events. Pubs often hand them out for free at half time for key football matches. For some this is still not enough and they eat it in a buttered white roll.  For the really hungry try the Glasgow Salad, which is basically a box that typically includes kebab meat, fried chicken, pizza, chicken tikka, onion rings, pakora, naan bread, garlic bread, coleslaw, chips other fast foods and sauces.

For those wanting to head slightly further afield for culture and culinary delights then the beauty of Loch Lomond is just thirty minutes away by car but a million miles away in terms of beauty and serenity, whilst Stirling, home of William Wallace is the same distance away in a north-easterly direction.  Both well worthy of half a day of anyone’s time.

If you do end up staying the night then can I thoroughly recommend Malmaison in the quietish surrounds of West George Street where you can eat, drink and sleep in a former Greek Orthodox Church, whilst Citizen M continues to grab rave reviews for its approach to guest experience at their location in Renfrew Street.  If you like your toilet in the middle of your room, then this is the place to go. The budget chains such as Premier Inn, Travelodge and Holiday Inn Express can all also be found in central locations but expect to share with some raucous travellers at the weekend.

Glasgow is certainly a changed place.  The grittiness has been replaced by a polished finish, the chaos by order.  Well worth a weekend look in anyone’s book.

 

 

24 Hours in Brooklyn

You mean New York, right? Actually no. Brooklyn itself has a population of over 2.6million and if listed on its own would be the fourth biggest city in the whole of the United States. Whilst many visitors to New York will make the pilgrimage across the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the best free views you can get anywhere in the world, there’s so much more to the borough that it warrants a day of its own for visitors.
Originally settled by the Dutch and named after the village back in the Netherlands Breuckelen, the area grew with influxes of settlers from Europe, hence why names of locales such as Gravesend and Brighton exist today. The main turning point for the borough was In 1883 when the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, meaning transportation to Manhattan was no longer by water only, and Brooklyn’s ties to the City of New York were irrecoverably strengthened.

Start your day in Lower Manhattan, watching the sunrise over the Brooklyn Bridge from Pier 17 next to the under redeveloped South Seaport, then head over the bridge, taking in the views of the Manhattan skyline and the East River.

The opening of the Barclays Center on the junction of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic has re-invigorated the area. Brooklyn had for too long been without its own sporting team, its own identity. The controversial relocated of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team to Los Angeles in 1957 had left the city without a team until an equally controversial move saw the New Jersey Nets NBA team skip States and take up residence in the 18,000 all seater arena which opened in 2010, although fortunes haven’t favoured the Nets recently, so much so that you can pick up tickets from around $15 on Stubhub on a regular basis. The New York Islanders ice hockey team also play their home games in the arena.

On North 11th Street you will find the world renown Brooklyn Brewery, where daily tours take you behind the scenes and allow you to sample some of their famous and not so famous brews. Close by are the restaurants on Bedford Avenue, the heart of one of the trendiest areas of Brooklyn, Williamsburg. Highly recommended is Sweet Chick (164 Bedford Avenue) which serves up savoury fried chicken with sweet waffles. If steak’s your thing then there is a Peter Luger’s steakhouse around the corner on Driggs Avenue.

One of the famous restaurants in Brooklyn is Brennan & Carr at 3432 Nostrand Avenue, a favourite of Man versus Food’s Adam Richman where you can sample their legendary hot roast beef sandwiches, dipped in beef broth. It’s a bit of a trek, with the nearest subway being Avenue U on the Q Line but well worth it. Another incredibly popular restaurant is Emily on Fulton Street, where you can expect to wait for an hour plus in peak times for a slice of their glorious pizza.

One of the growing trends in happening areas such as Brooklyn is the emergence of bar hybrids – bars that are combined with other types of establishments. One of the best rated, which has ‘America’s greatest baked potato no less’ is the deli-bar of Mekelburg’s on Grand Avenue.

Brooklyn is of course also home to the world-famous Coney Island, the Southend-On-Sea meets Margate of New York with its famous pier, amusement park and of course once a year, Nathan’s World Hot Dog eating championships on the 4th July. The Cyclone rollercoaster, built in 1927 is still in operation and has been added to the National Historic Sites register. Don’t expect much fun and giggles in the winter where the Atlantic Ocean bashes the piers but head down here in the late spring or early Autumn when the summer crowds have dispersed for some glorious old-fashion fun.

For some peace and relaxation, then head for either the Botanic Gardens or Prospect Park, the Brooklyn equivalent of Central Park complete with its own zoo, which both come alive in the summer months.

Most visitors will head back to Manhattan when the sun starts to set, with hundreds of hotels to choose from. Brooklyn has its own share of good lodgings though including Aloft and the Indigo in Duffield Street or the NU in Smith Street – all three are located relatively close to Brooklyn Bridge and the shopping mall at Hoyt.

Brooklyn is like Hoxton or Shoreditch on growth hormones. There are so many parts of the city in constant flux that the best way to experience and enjoy your 24 hours is simply to choose a starting spot and just wander.

24 Hours in Toronto

According to the very well-respected Economist Intelligence Unit, Toronto was the world’s best city to live in in 2015 in their study of 36 major cities.  The research looked at a range of factors including safety, cost of living and livability and whilst the biggest city in Canada didn’t finish top in any one category, their overall score was enough to top the list, beating off Tokyo, Paris, Melbourne and Singapore.

Canada’s largest city has learnt to adapt to the extremes in the weather.  During the winter when the temperatures plunge the locals head underground to move around the city, using the subways and shopping centres to avoid the bitter winds and snow. PATH is the largest underground pedestrian system in North America. It connects 1200 stores and restaurants, 50 office towers, 20 parking garages, five subway stations and a railway terminal over its 28km length. Each letter in PATH is a different colour representing a different direction: P is red and points south. A is orange and points west. T is blue and directs north. H is yellow and points east. In the summer the city becomes a non-stop festival zone. The fairground rides and food sample-packed Canadian National Exhibition (15 August-1 September) acts as an appetizer for the Toronto International Film Festival. Screening more than 300 movies between 4-14 September, it’s the world’s largest public cinema showcase. Think Cannes, but without the fake tan, egos and traffic jams.

The city is laid out on a US-style grid system and is relatively flat, making it easy to walk around.  It is conveniently divided into districts to make finding what you need, when you need it so much easier.  The Financial District is home to the skyscrapers around the shore line while to the east is the new Distillery District, home to some of the best new bars and restaurants.The Discover District is home to the Royal Ontario Museum.

It’s certainly a city to head to if you love your sport.  The massive Rogers Center (originally The SkyDome) is where the Blue Jays play in the Major League Baseball under one of the world’s largest retractable roofs.  Five minutes walk east is the Air Canada Centre where the Maple Leafs (Ice Hockey) and Raptors (Basketball) play.  Opposite the entrance is the RS Sports Bar and Grill which has over 200 big screens (including one which is 39 ft high) and has a fine selection of beers.  Don’t forget the Hockey Hall of Fame on Yonge Street for all those who love some puck action.

The biggest attraction is undoubtably the CN Tower, completed in 1976, becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure and world’s tallest tower at the time. It held both records for 34 years until the completion of Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower in 2010. It is now the 3rd tallest tower in the world and remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere.  Views from the top are outstanding on a clear day, but not worth ascending if there’s any low cloud on the day.  At the top there is a glass floor, giving you a view of the street some metres below.  You can head up to the SkyPod where on a clear day views are up to 100 miles away.  In addition, you can now go on the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 m) wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m/1168ft (116 storeys) above the ground. Not one for the faint-hearted I would say! Tickets start from CAD44.

Located next door to the CN Tower are the popular Ripley’s Aquarium, where you can get up close up and personal to some fearsome creatures of the deep.  Across the road in Roundhouse Park is the Steam Whistle Brewery.  There’s few places in the world where you can get a free beer, but here’s one of them.  Pop in at any time to get a free sample of their North American-famous beer.  The brewery only brews one beer and the short 45 minute tour of the brewery, located in some of the old engine sheds, is a good way to understand their success (and you get two more free beers!).

There’s lots of shopping to be had at the Eaton Mall on Yonge Street or in the new “hipster central” district of West Queen West, whilst around the corner in Elm Street is the fantastic Queen and Beaver, almost an old-fashioned colonial club with a fantastic upstairs den that serves a mean brunch at the weekends and shows football from back home on a decent-sized screen.

The best address for the night, rather than the best hotel necessarily, is the Fairmont Royal York on Front Street.  Expect to pay for the name rather than the facilities, although it is centrally located.  Other good hotel options are The Renaissance Hotel which is part of the Rogers Center, or the Westin Harbour Castle right on the lake.

Transport from Pearson International Airport to Union Station is via the 4 times an hour UP (Union-Pearson…clever eh?) that runs from Terminal 1.  Single tickets cost CAD27.50, offer free wi-fi and take around 25 minutes.

The success of your trip in some ways will be down to the weather.  When the cloud comes in and the rain starts to fall it can be miserable but that’s the cue to hit one of the fantastic bars or spend the day sampling the delights the Distillery District has to offer. Niagara Falls is within a two-hour drive as well, and there are plenty of companies happy to take your money to show you one of the wonders of the geographical world.

24 Hours in Brussels

Beer, chocolate, waffles and fries…oh, and a famous boy detective.  That’s Brussels in one sentence.  But what about spending 24 hours in the city famed for beaurocracy and bizarre rule makers? Perfect. If there’s ever a city that spending 24 hours in is designed for then Brussels is it.  A compact, historical centre ringed by some excellent bars and restaurants with a smattering of attractions.

There’s no debate on where to start when arriving in the city – Grand-Place or Grote Markt depending on whether you can get your teeth and tongue around Flemish – is the heartbeat of the city.  At some point every tourist or casual visitor to the city will pass through this UNESCO World Heritage Site, flanked by gothic, gold top buildings and some of the most expensive cafes in Europe.  The rectangle is home to the flower market, if you get here early enough, the Town Hall, The Museum of Brussels and a Beer Museum.

Once you have passed through, taken your selfie and avoided the hawkers, head along the road running parralel to the north, the wonderfully named Rue du Marché aux Herbes where shops, restaurants and bars rub shoulders.  Just off this street you will find enticing alleyways with some traditional Belgian bars such as the L’Imiage Nostre-Dame down Impasse des Cadeaux where for a mere €10 you can sample 4 of their beers plus have a plate of cheese.

Running across this road you will find one of the main shopping streets in the city, Kleerkoperstraat.  If you head north up this road then you will also find some decent restaurants in the side roads.  For a big steak and an even bigger beer for less than €20 a head then visit Le Corbeau (The Raven) in Rue Saint-Michel or Exki in Rue Neuve.  In terms of bars, well it’s hard to take a wrong turn in the city and not find a decent place to have a drink.

Leave stocking up with chocolate and waffles until late in the day – instead for some of the sights of the city jump on Metro Line 6 or Tram number 7 until its terminus at Heysel.  For all you football lovers the name will synonomous with the tragic events of May 1985.  The stadium today has been completely rebuilt and renamed as the Stade Roi Baudouin.  It is next door to Mini Europe, home to over 100 scaled models of Europe’s greatest attractions.  If feeling big and powerful is your thing then head here and stomp around pretending to be a giant.  Brussel’s most famous landmark is just across the road from here – The Atomium.

Built for the 1958 World Expo, the eight metal spheres form an eye-catching exhibit that still offers education and some cracking views today as well as having a decent restaurant at the top.  If you only have time for one sight in the city, then head here.  If you have time for two then you should also head for the Comic Strip Musuem located in 20 rue des Sables in the city centre and pay homage to Hergé among others and his creation, Tintin.  Located around the replica exterior of Tintin and Captain Haddock’s house, Marlinspike Hall, you can get a fascinating insight into the world’s most famous boy reporter, his dog and the background to characters such as the Thompson Twins and Professor Calculus.

It’s never been easier to get to Brussels – just two hours from London by Eurostar and less than an hour by plane.  With the Euro currently sinking against the £ and $ there has never been a better time to go.