Things to do in Warsaw

Poland is not a top tourist destination and the capital city Warsaw is always in the shadow of the more architecturally attractive Krakow. Recently though this industrial setting has become home to many culturally ambitious and successful projects. The city has been destroyed more than once and the proud and patient Poles have rebuilt a glorious new “old town” for whimsical wandering. The landmarks are sparse and yet explore a little deeper and you will find cool contemporary art collections, trendy and cheap underground bars, design focussed concept stores, and daring and delicious eateries. Even after three days in Warsaw there was more to do and see, and discovering this lesser known city brought me great joy and excitement.

To stay

H15 Boutique Hotel – the only design hotel in Warsaw starts from just £50 a night. Housed within a transformed 19th century building just south of the city centre it has 46 spacious rooms and suites imaginatively designed by Mariola Tomczak.

To eat

Salto – this is the creative venture from Argentinean-born Martin Gimenez Castro, winner of the 2013 edition of Poland’s ‘Top Chef’ competition. Passionate and innovative, Martin has thoughtfully designed every aspect of the venue. The food, though intricate is full of bold flavour combinations and unusual cooking techniques.

Concept 13 – found on the fifth floor of the smart Vitkac shopping centre, this stylish restaurant offers panoramic views of the city. The food lives up to the luxurious location with indulgent international dishes including foie gras with quince and sichuan pepper, and tagliatelle with truffles. The service and atmosphere are lovely ensuring you will have a special evening.

Kraken Rum Bar – just across the street from our hotel Kraken provided us with a hearty lunch in Warsaw. Wonderfully fresh fish dishes are available, and next door at Beirut Hummus bar you can feast on Middle Eastern delicacies. Kraken is a lively evening venue too, filled with young locals.

Warszawa Wschodnia – one of the places I discovered in the Soho Factory area of Warsaw. Chef Mateusz Gessler offers a delicious three course lunch for the equivalent of £4. Sit at the bar and enjoy the show from the open kitchen.

To drink

Ministry of Coffee – arguably the best coffee in town, this café serves coffee from Sweden’s Koppi and is also the host of the Polish AeroPress Championship. I had a smooth and tasty Flat White here after arriving off the flight from London.

Pies Czy Suka – a little design shop with an in-house bar. We tried the unusual molecular foam cocktails one night before going on to dinner, and the classics looked good too.

Café 6/12 – this sophisticated venue has a grand marble floor and high ceiling, and with 76 types of smoothies it is the ideal stop for breakfast. I had a punchy freshly squeezed juice here in between shopping stints.

Filtry Café – a 10 minute tram ride from the city centre, this speciality coffee shop was the first of its kind in Poland. Filtry opened in 2007 (apparently the first venue to serve brewed coffee) and has had many renowned Polish baristas behind the bar. It is a charming café serving a variety of seasonal blends and the Kofi brand.

To do

Palace of Culture and Science – built in 1955 this impressive building is the tallest in Poland. Travel up in the lift to the terrace on the 30th floor to see amazing views over the whole city.

Museum of Modern Art – we wandered around the intriguing building on New Year’s Day and saw a great architecture exhibition. Offering temporary thought-provoking shows it is definitely worth checking out whilst in the city.

Wilanow Palace – this royal residence was built in the 17th Century. As well as the impressive palace building itself, the accompanying gardens are worth seeing (in either sun or snow!)

To see

Neon Museum – based in the Soho Factory complex, the Neon Museum displays a huge collection of cold war neon signs. These important signs which were used to glamorise consumerism in the mid-century slump and illuminated the cityscape.

Poster Museum – Opened in June 1966, The Poster Museum is the oldest institution of its kind in the world, and has a collection of over 55,000 posters.

Fotoplastikon Warsaw – A Fotoplastikon allows viewers to watch changing three-dimensional images. Built in the early 20th century, The Warsaw Fotoplastikon is one of only a few in the world still in working condition.

To shop

Galilu Olfactory – this airy and bright little shop stocks a wide range of wonderful perfumes. The sophisticated scents are from unique brands all over the world and the staff will give you expert help choosing the right bottle for you.

Horn & More – a seductive girl’s boutique stocking fine underwear, statement jewellery and aromatic scented candles. It is a treat for all the senses.

Magazyn Praga – Located in a former glue warehouse this little shop features relics from its industrial past that mix with their high-profile selection of new and vintage fashion and furniture. There are irresistible design items everywhere, I wanted it all!

Wedel – this renowned Polish confectioner is the ultimate chocolate emporium. Leave the chilly streets and head inside for the creamiest cup of hot chocolate, or a taste of the famous handmade torte with layers of wafer and chocolate. We returned several times for more.

Things to do in Florence

Florence is filled with fantastic food and staggering art; much is still the same hundreds of years after the masters lived and worked here. From the top of the startlingly huge Duomo, the city seems quiet and calm but, down on the cobbled streets, tourists flood the cafes and galleries, everyone eager to get a glimpse of authentic Italian life and history. Everything is within walking distance and in just one weekend I managed to see many of the main attractions, and tried at least six gelato shops!

To stay

Residenza d’Epoca in Piazza della Signoria: this charming little B&B is perfectly located for a weekend of sightseeing… just at the corner of Piazza della Signoria. The rooms are spacious and grand, bathrooms are filled with Etro toiletries and breakfast is served at a lovely communal table with the other guests.
Il Salviatino: this heavenly five star hotel is just outside the main city, but is so worth the fifteen minute drive. A 15th century villa perched on a hilltop – the views are beautiful and the facilities are divine. Memorable and magical.
JK Place: this is the ideal small boutique hotel for those hoping for a place with both five-star luxury and character. A few minutes walk from the main train station and the main attractions, it is as convenient as it is lovely.

To eat

Il Palagio, Four Seasons: The hotel is in the Santa Croce area slightly removed from the main city centre. It is one of the most special Four Seasons I have ever visited, with huge private garden and a top notch Michelin star restaurant serving wonderful Italian dishes and wines.
Il Pizzaiuolo: hands down the best pizza in town, this little eatery is always packed. Locals and the odd tourist huddle round tables gorging on the freshest Neapolitan pizzas. Opt for a glass of Prosecco to wash it all down.
Ice-cream at Grom, Perche No! and Emporio: we tried all the gelato we could find, indulging in several cones a day. Every shop is slightly different, offering their own special flavours and using particular secret techniques. For luxury creaminess Grom is the place to go, Perche No! offers incredible flavours and Emporio is a lovely stopover on the south side of the river.

To drink

Rivoire: this busy café is a landmark chocolatier and pasticceria. Enjoy your coffee while watching the chaos of Florence’s most popular square, Piazza della Signoria.
Volume: sit at the bar and observe the weird and wonderful surroundings while enjoying a fruity cocktail or a calorific crepe. Located in the hip area of Piazza Santo Spirito.

To see

Michelangelo’s David – housed in the Academia, expect giant queues for this famous statue. For express entrance invest in a Firenze card which will get you in super fast!
The Uffizi: holding perhaps the most famous collection of art in the world and it should be the first stop on your Florence to do list. Room 10 holds the most familiar paintings, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera.

To do

Climb to the top of the Duomo:  You will be quite taken aback when you first see the great Duomo, an amazing architectural feat. Climb to the top (prepare for several hundred steps) and enjoy the views of Florence.
Wander across the Vecchio bridge: The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone “closed-spandrel segmental arch” bridge over the Arno River. Try to visit early in the morning to avoid the painfully slow dawdling tourists, and grab a bargain from one of the numerous gold jewellery shops. If you are very lucky you may be able to arrange a walk though the special passageway from the Duomo across the bridge.
Take a photo: much to my delight we stumbled across this vintage black and white Fotoautomatica machine on Via Dell Agnolo. For just 2 euros you can take four different shots, which appear a few minutes later in retro black and white. Strike your best Italian pose!

To shop

Mio Concept Store: this shop is designed by Lenotta Studio and sells a fun collection of bits and bobs, ranging from designer gifts and jewellery to unusual kitchenware.
Il Papiro: is the one of the oldest stationery shops in Florence and is so popular with British tourists that they are soon opening a branch in London. Offering personalised alphabet stationery and beautiful hand marbled paper, it is very easy to spend a fortune in this beautiful shop.
Pharmaceutia: Opened in 1612 by Dominican friars this pharmacy is certainly one of a kind. Here you will find ornate bottles of colognes, oils and elixirs all concocted from historic formulae. If you want one souvenir I’d recommend the Acqua della Regina perfume.

To visit

Gucci Museum: A stylish and slick alternative to the work of the great masters, for fashionistas this museum is a must. See all the fashion triumphs and admire the leather bags, gorgeous accessories and Gucci frocks, all arranged beautifully.
Museo di Palazzo Vecchio: This massive, Romanesque palace is among the most impressive town halls of Tuscany. Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria with its copy of Michelangelo’s David as well the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, it is one of the most significant public squares in Italy.
San Marco Monastery: This lovely convent is free to see but is open at odd times. Admire the Madonna and Child alterpiece by Fra Angelico and light a candle for a loved one.

Out of Town: Conquer two cities by flying in to Pisa and pop over to see the leaning tower before travelling home.

Many thanks to Firenze Cards and the Florence Tourist board for their help with this trip.

Things to do in Seville

Seville is a city of sunshine and sangria and it is impossible not to be enamoured with the bright blue skies and vibrant character of southern Spain. It is a place deeply immersed in its regional traditions, religious festivals, flamenco and tapas. Relying strongly on tourism, visitors to Seville are invited to experience all that’s on offer, but be warned English is not widely spoken. The winding cobbled streets hide many gems: museums, craft shops and a staggering 700 churches. Follow the obvious tourist routes or grab a map and discover your own Spanish secrets.

To eat
Puratasca: This eatery in downtown Triana is satisfying the stomachs of locals and tourists alike. Casual and reasonably priced with favourites like chorizo lollipops and vegetable tempura.
Bar Alfalfa: is the ideal cheese and wine stop. A very cute corner bar with an intimate ambience – for just a few euros you can munch on a plate of Manchego and sip Spanish wine.
Eslava: The best tapas we tasted in Seville. The cafe gets very busy, so arrive early to avoid disappointment. The star dish is without doubt the pork ribs with honey, even meat avoiders can’t resist this mouth-wateringly good recipe.
Egana Oriza: finding fine dining in Andalusia’s evocative capital is something of a battle. Egana Oriza is a rare exception to the rule offering traditional, fine Spanish food. Start the meal with a glass of Cava and enjoy the airy dining room and vibrant flavours.
Dulce Regina: the cities best cookies are found here; for two euros you can pick a flavour of homemade biscuit to nibble as you wander down the cobbled streets peering in the colourful windows.

To drink
El Garlochi – a fabulously kitsch bar dedicated entirely to the iconography, smells and sounds of Semana Santa; the ubercamp El Garlochi is a true marvel. A cloud of church incense hits you as you go up the stairs, and the faces of baby Jesus and the Virgin welcome you into the velvet-walled bar. Taste the speciality cocktail, Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ).

To see
Cigarette Factory: opera lovers will have this building at the top of their to do list. The famous site was used in Bizet’s opera Carmen as well as other operatic compositions. The building is now used as the campus for University of Seville… I can’t think of a more amazing place to study everyday!
Museo de Bellas Artes De Sevilla: This giant gallery displays an astounding collection of art. With old masters like Murillo, beautifully restored and hung high on the walls, it is an awe-inspiring experience.
Casa Anselma: When I asked where to see the best Flamenco everyone pointed me in the direction of Casa Anselma, a characterful bar in the borough of Triana which opens every night at 12am for a show of passionate dancing and singing.

To do
Horse and carriage ride: these tours are available to pick up all over Seville, and though touristy are a fantastic way to see the city and rest your feet. Rides can be personalized so it is an opportunity to see the attractions you may have missed. A 45 minute tour will cost you 45 euros.
Parque de Maria Luisa: take a stroll round the paradisical half mile of palms and orange trees, elms and Mediterranean pines,  flower beds and romantic sculptures.
Cathedral and Giralda Tower: Built in the 15th century to demonstrate the city’s growing wealth and prestige, Seville’s cathedral is the largest in Europe. Work up an appetite climbing the tower and see the whole city shimmering beneath you.

To shop
Delimbo: the concept store attached to this contemporary gallery space sells a range of creative goodies. We loved the thick brightfelt pens and the wacky Modernaked cat rings.
Antonio Garcia: this magnificent and historic shop sells authentic sombreros and jackets for bullfighters and dancers. The atmosphere is worth stopping by for, and if you want an affordable souvenir I’d recommend the gorgeous Spanish leather belts (costing around 20 euros).
Andalusian taste: for all your foodie needs this little shop is the best bet. Buy some irresistible Iberico ham and Manchego cheese to take home as gifts.
Laurel Antigüedades: a lovely little vintage shop selling old silk scarves, ornate hats and retro dresses. I bought a wonderful Toni Benitez fascinator and a simple retro cotton camisole top.

Personalised day trips can be arranged with – with an English speaking guide you can see whatever you choose.