Things to do in Munich

Munich is the capital and largest city of the German state of Bavaria, on the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps. It is the third largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, with a population of around 1.49 million. I am telling you all these things, because they are facts I did not know before visiting this brilliant Bavarian city. Booking the trip far in advance with my BA airmiles, I had almost forgotten that I was visiting, and did not know what to expect. I loved the creativity and diversity of Berlin, but found the cityscape ugly and so was delighted to be surrounded by the beautiful gothic, Baroque and Romanesque architecture of Munich. The culture and design scene is exciting and fascinating to explore, and the cuisine on offer is diverse and innovative. Of course, you cannot escape the beer halls and lederhosen, I chose to embrace these traditions whilst also finding my own less obvious Munich discoveries.

To sleep

Bayerischer Hof: This prestigious and impressive hotel is an institution. It is a significant part of Munich’s history and heritage, renowned and well loved by locals, tourists and celebrity figures. I loved the grandeur and luxury of the bedrooms, the vibrant blue pool and the smart champagne breakfast buffet.

Flushing Meadows: Quite possibly the coolest place in Munich. This hip hotel is housed on the top two floors of an industrial building in the most vibrant neighbourhood of the city, Glockenbach. The 16 individual rooms showcase the work of 11 creative locals, we stayed in a Loft Studio Super designed by the German techno musician, DJ Hell.

To eat

Tantris: this two Michelin star restaurant is renowned. Located on the outskirts of town with an alarming red colour scheme, it is memorable for more than just the food. Chef Hans Haas presents elaborate and delicious plates of unusual flavour combinations. We tasted the Saturday set lunch menu, which included lobster, veal with truffle and a chocolate with figs dessert.

Hey Luigi: Italian food plays a fundamental role in the Munich restaurant scene, and there is no point trying to find ‘the best’ as every local has their own favourite. Head to Hey Luigi, a buzzy neighbourhood eatery for reasonably priced big plates of pasta and a great atmosphere.

Theresa: One of the few decent restaurants open on Sundays in Munich. Theresa is known for serving the best meat in the city, and despite my high expectations I was still impressed with my fillet steak and chips. The service is slow but for Sunday brunch it feels natural to have a slow-paced meal.

Pommes Boutique: this Belgian café offers the best (twice-cooked) chips in town, and an endless selection of sauces. Fill a pot with your favourite, we liked garlic aioli and peppercorn.

Charlie: the owner of this eatery, Sandra Forster, has started up some of the coolest restaurants in the city. Charlie is THE place to go for great Vietnamese food, and on Saturday evenings it turns into a DJ bar. Forster’s restaurant Roecklplatz is also worth trying for traditional but trendy cuisine.

To drink

Man versus Machine: I did a lot of research to find the best artisan coffee in Munich. Eventually I came across Man versus Machine, a new coffee shop serving up faultless creamy fruity drinks. I loved the café design, the friendly baristas and the atmosphere in this trendsetting venue. If you are a real caffeine geek it is also worth trying Mahlefitz.

Stereo Café: After wandering round the nearby sights and museums, this trendy little café is the ideal place to rest your legs and sip a hot drink and nibble a homemade cake.

Café Vorhoelzer: the lucky university students have this rooftop bar with incredible views over the city. The good thing is… anyone can go, squeeze in the little lift and admire the sights. Sometimes they even had a coffee artist who will draw your desired animal in the foam of your cappuccino.

Super Danke: this super juice company could take over the world. Making juices full of goodness, that taste too good to be so healthy, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Anywhere that gets me drinking spinach and kale is a hit!

Goldene Bar: Bizarrely hidden behind the huge Haus der Kunst this ornate golden venue serves up fruity cocktails and gets very busy at the weekends. Also nearby is the popular celebrity club P1. If you like historical bars you must also pop into Schumann’s, the most famous bar in Munich. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the concoctions, though must admit it is pretty cool that Schumann was the inventor of so many classic cocktails.

Reichenbach bar: the best cocktails we tried in Munich were found here. The cocktail den is discreetly situated at the back of the main venue. The bartender is experienced and creative with his drinks and serves up strong and tasty drinks.

Hofbrauhaus: No trip to Munich is complete without the compulsory visit to a beer hall, and Hofbrauhaus is the most legendary of the lot. Originally built in 1589 by Bavarian Duke Maximilian I as an extension of the Hofbräu brewery, the general public was admitted from 1828. Sit at a wooden table with the fellow drinkers and order a stein. If you are peckish you can also eat authentic German food here.

To do

Spa at Kempinski: Hidden within the five star hotel this boutique spa offers advanced and indulgent treatments based on the seasons with the very best therapists. I loved my detox massage which totally relaxed my body easing all tension and tightness in my muscles.

Traditional Market: Marienplatz is a central square in the city centre of Munich. It has been the city’s main square since 1158 and is still a great place to taste German delicacies and the local beer.

Spa at Sofitel: this exotic spa is available for guests and visitors to the hotel. I experienced an immaculate full manicure, with an efficient and thorough beauty therapist. After preening my fingers and painting them a pretty pale pink she gave me the bottle of nail varnish to take home. A lovely gift at the end of a lovely treatment.

Englisher Garten: this large public park in the city centre perfect for Sunday strolling or bike rides. Head to the pictoresque Chinese Tower beer garden for refreshments.

To see

Alte Pinakothek: This is one of the oldest galleries in the world and houses some of the most famous Old Master paintings. We saw the charming Canaletto exhibition which brought back memories of my recent trip to Venice.

Museum Bradhorst: This modern art museum is worth seeing inside and out. The psychedelic multi-coloured building encourages you in from the street to investigate what it is all about. Inside it holds some of the works from Anette Brandhorst (and her husband Udo Fritz-Hermann’s) collection of late 20th Century and contemporary art.

Haus der Kunst: When it was open in 1937 this epic building was used to showcase Hitler’s art collection, now the venue is used for temporary and travelling modern art exhibitions. Works by the German Expressionist painter Georg Baselitz are currently on show.

Munich Residenz: Found in the city centre the Residenz was the official home of the rulers of Bavaria from 1508 to 1918. The rooms are fascinating and fantastically beautiful, I particularly admired the splendour of the Antiquarium gallery arcade.

Heiliggeistkirche: There are a few churches huddled in the centre of Munich, this Gothic hall church was my favourite, magically white and gold inside with a myriad of paper doves suspended from the ceiling.

To shop

Falkenberg: I want my home to look like this shop. Falkenberg owner Sabine presents a carefully curated collection of beautiful and intriguing things including fine furniture, books, clothes, stationery, candles and jewellery from designers across Europe. The best concept store in town.

A Kind of Guise: A Kind Of Guise was born from the idea of creating products which are equally well designed and of high quality in terms of both production and the materials used. All the garments are made locally in Germany, and are immaculately tailored. I loved the thick winter shift dresses and lovely shirts.

Saskia Diez: A renowned jewellery brand in Munich, the work of Saskia Diez is delicate and thoughtful. I particularly liked the ultra thin rose gold rings, and the special fragrances, Silver and Gold that she recently created.

Papierladen: It is no secret that I am a total stationery addict and this is where I got my Munich fix. An array of stylishly arranged books, pencils, paperclips and other writing paraphernalia. It is known to locals as “the one with the beautiful papers”… I couldn’t agree more.

Cheers from Downtown: Another Munich born brand who recently opened up shop to offer local designers work to the public. The team are friendly and enthusiastic and the clothes are cool and inspiring. A great place to buy a stylish German souvenir.

Distorted People: This trendy boys clothes shop doubles up as a barber. The garments are simple and classic and most feature their ‘Barber and Butcher’ motif, but it was scruffy vintage hairdressing room that I particularly liked.

Many thanks to the Munich Tourist Board for their help with this trip.

Things to do in Rome

TO SEE

Vatican City (Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica): Take the metro to Ottaviano. From there it’s a three minute walk to the great walls of the Vatican City where you queue to buy tickets and enter the Vatican museums and Sistine chapel. Resist the queue-jumping promises from the commission-hungry tour guides and wait in the fast moving queue. Or to avoid the queues and the hassle completely, buy tickets in advance.

After weaving your way through the scores of tourists and amateur photographers in the Vatican Museums to the ultimate, wondrous Sistine Chapel, follow the city wall to the epic St Peter’s Basilica.

MAXXI (Contemporary Art Gallery): Back onto the metro for two stops to Flaminio then jump on a U2 tram up Via Flaminia four stops along where you’ll discover the wildly creative MAXXI museum. Opened in 2010 and designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, the building itself is as impressive as the art within. Free entry with the Roma Pass.

Aventino Keyhole: Hike up the hill to Aventino, and peek through the keyhole near Santa Sabina church to spy an amazing view of St Peter’s.

Coliseum: The colossal stadium ruins are familiar from Ridley Scott’s film, Gladiator, and are just as impressive in real life. Skip the queue with a Roma Pass.

TO DO

Trevi Fountain: this spectacular fountain and sculpture is hidden among the cobbled streets of Tridente. Throw a coin in and make a wish.

Porta Portese flea market: Rome’s biggest and most famous flea market is found just across the Ponte Sublicio Bridge on Sunday mornings. Search through the stalls to pick up a bargain.

Spa at Boscolo Palace: After a day on foot seeing all the city’s sights, enjoy a relaxing massage in the oriental Kamispa at the Boscolo Palace Roma Hotel.

TO SHOP

Fendi: Pop into the flagship store of Italian designer brand, Fendi, and gawp at the luxury clothing and accessories on display.

Super: Located in the artesian area of Monti, Super is a lovely little concept store selling unique clothes and fun gifts.

Spiezia: Rumoured to be one of the smallest stores in Rome, Spiezia has been run by optician Alessandro Spiezia since 1967. Stocking prestigious designer brands alongside his own glasses and sunglasses, this store is sure to satisfy even the most demanding and unconventional of clientele.

Riga Dritto: This recently opened stationery shop from Milan stocks the cutest pencils and pens from Japan, and pretty paper products made in Italy.

D Cube Heritage: As night falls on Piazza del Fico, this small store lights up the street with its stylish homeware from Italian brands such as Seletti, and some quirky imported speciality brands including Falcon.

TO EAT AND DRINK

Antico Caffe Greco: Founded in 1760, this opulent cafe on the main street of Via dei Condotti is always crammed full of tourists but I recommend standing at the bar with the locals to enjoy a strong espresso.

Pipero Al Rex: Stop off for a speedy Michelin-star lunch at an intimate friendly restaurant. I recommend Chef Pipero’s famous carbonara with thick cut chunks of bacon, rich creamy egg-yolk sauce and a sprinkling of the very best Parmigiano.

Trattoria Settimio all’Arancia: Aperitivo is a must in Italy. As they are laying out the tables for dinner, enjoy a delicious glass of Prosecco and an accompanying plate of prosciutto while watching the sun set.

00100 Pizza: This inconspicuous little pizza outlet was one of the few open at lunchtime on a Sunday (believe me, we did our research). From the owner of renowned pizzeria Sforno comes this chunky, cheap pizza sold by the slice. I loved the Patate e Pancetta and the Classico Suppli with irresistible arancini-esque balls of deliciousness.

Pompi: There is only one place to try Tiramisu in Rome. Tourists and locals alike queue for this speciality at Pompi. Available in different varieties, the boxed dessert costs just €3,50 and can be enjoyed in or out. Get there early to avoid disappointment. Who said Tiramisu for breakfast wasn’t a good idea?

Bar del Fico: Late night drinks are best enjoyed in the atmospheric Piazza del Fico. If you’re hungry, dine in the super trendy restaurant, otherwise enjoy a cocktail or beer in the chic Parisian-style bar.

Frigidarium: There is always a queue outside Frigidarium. Stop off on your way home from a night out for a creamy gelato, available in an array of tempting flavours.

TO STAY

Boscolo Palace: There are three  Boscolo hotels in Rome, the 5 star palace has a great range of facilities on offer. The large, luxurious rooms will provide an ideal home for your weekend in Rome.

Many thanks to the Rome Tourist Board for their help with this trip:

www.turismoroma.it and Tourist information service: Roma 0039 060608.

Things to do in Oslo

Unusual and exciting, Oslo has an icy cold appearance and climate but is perhaps the warmest and friendliest city I have visited. In recent years Norway’s capital has grown in popularity and importance, with the ‘barcode’ business district developing at speed and the hotel and restaurant scene becoming more trendy and diverse than ever before. It may be more expensive than its Scandi counterparts but it has just as much, if not more, to explore and discover.

SLEEP

The Thief – Less than a year old, the Thief hotel is without doubt the most enticing hotel in Oslo. Located on the water’s edge in the cultural hub of Tjuvholmen, this coveted hotel is the home for every celebrity visiting the city. With an enviable art collection and an alliance with neighbouring gallery, Astrup Fearnley, the accommodation looks as seductive as it feels. Hotels don’t come much cooler than this.

EAT

Sverre Saetre – This sophisticated gallery of pretty patisseries was opened by Norwegian pastry chef, Sverre Saetre who previously trained at the Michelin starred restaurant in Oslo, Bagatelle. The cabinets hold immaculate delights: macarons, cakes and the signature ‘dry cakes’ (puff pastry with red peppers and parmesan).

Pascal – This French inspired café is chic and charming, the perfect place to stop for a warming bowl of soup at lunchtime, or a much needed caffeine kick. The black and white tiled floors are reminiscent of a French brasserie, whilst the high ‘Michigan’ bar stools offer an American style juxtaposition.

Nighthawk Diner – For those needing an American food fix, Nighthawk diner is the place to go. Relax in the comfy red leather booths and order a Nighthawk combo-burger and pistachio milkshake. The ideal indulgence for a cold winter’s evening in Oslo.

Ekeberg Restaurant – Known best for its advantageous positioning on the top of the south eastern hills in Oslo this restaurant is architecturally sublime with the best views in town. It was a great setting for our New Year’s Eve meal, we sipped wine and admired the skyline as fireworks flashed above the city.

DRINK

Tim Wendelboe – Norway has a particularly strong affinity with coffee and the cafes in Oslo represent this well. Tim Wendelboe is unmissable for caffeine addicts visiting the capital. The slick micro roaster / espresso bar offers carefully sourced, rare blends of beans.

Blå – Every Sunday evening crowds cram into the lively and raucous jazz music venue, Blå. It is a place for locals to share a few beers with friends whilst enjoying an eclectic live soundtrack, we certainly felt like the only tourists in the place! The house band plays every Sunday, their music is infectious and impossible not to dance to.

Fuglen – Coffee by day, cocktails by night, this vintage institution is a must visit. Barely changed since 1963 you can buy nearly every retro article on display, or just sit and enjoy your surroundings.

SEE

Astrup Fearnley – This impressive new modern art gallery was conveniently close to our luxury accommodation at The Thief. Indeed the hotel is one of the museum’s main sponsors, and as a guest you are given free access to the exhibitions. Amongst the prolific works are the ostentatious Jeff Koons sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles and Damien Hirst’s gory animals and bufferflies. We also enjoyed the temporary, more cheerful Brasilia show.

Munch museum – Edvard Munch is a Norwegian national treasure, and this museum is a homage to the great artist. A precariously icy walk to the museum was rewarded with a subtle and imaginative exhibition of Munch’s works on paper. An essential for any Oslo itinerary.

Holmenkollen ski jump – This terrifying structure is appreciated for its staggering feat of architecture and its more practical uses. Built in 1892 it is regularly used for international events, but for the rest of the year is a fine sight to see, and also houses the world’s oldest ski museum.

DO

Oslo Vinterpark – Oslo is totally unique as the only capital city to boast skiing so close to the busy town life. The slopes are easily reached by metro (just 20 minutes from the city centre) so lucky locals can enjoy a few hours of snow sports after a day at work. I skied for the very first time here. After a lesson with the brilliant instructor, Jonathan, I even managed a green run at the end of the session. It was a very special addition to our trip and an amazing asset to the city of Oslo.

Walk on the Opera House – Oslo Operahuset is perhaps the most impressive piece of architecture in Norway’s capital city. Sitting precariously on the water’s edge, this bold jagged glass and marble structure is admired for its glacier-like appearance and beautifully designed oak-lined auditorium. If you can’t afford the ticket prices, take a stroll on the sloped roof of the building and admire the views.

Vigeland Sculpture Park – Pick up breakfast at the super cool café, United Bakeries, then walk it off at the famous Sculpture Park. The park is filled with 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron, made by just one artist, the lifework of Gustav Vigeland. Mesmerising and refreshing, it is a free activity that anyone and everyone would enjoy.

SHOP

Freudian Kicks – A beautifully curated selection of designers from around the world. I noticed cool brands like APC, Carven, Surface to Air and Wood Wood. Taking advantage of the post-Christmas sale, I bought a lovely warm roll neck jumper from Nordic brand, Wall Winter Spring Summer.

Moods of Norway – Started by childhood friends in 2003 this casual Norwegian clothes store has been a hit, expanding across the city, and further afield to Los Angeles and New York. The shop is filled with brightly coloured garments and accessories.

Hunting Lodge Store – This dinky design store has a quirky selection of products, prints, art books and edgy streetwear. Many of the shop fittings are one-off designs and the attractive layout encourages browsing.

Norway Designs – Those who are addicted to Scandi design like me will enjoy the plethora of treats in the big Norway Designs shop in the centre of town. Here you will find everything you desire from stationery to homeware, jewellery to accessories.

Many thanks to Oslo Tourist board for their help with this trip. More information here.

www.visitoslo.com

www.visitnorway.com/uk