London Calling: A Guide for First-Timers

Check out my Flight Path page for other destination guides.

London is one of the greatest cities in the world and a first-time visit can feel daunting/overwhelming for London novices. I’ve been coming to London for years as a tourist and I made London my home in May 2019. This blog post offers tips and suggestions to help you get the most out of your visit. As Samuel Johnson famously declared, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’  I hope when you visit that you love this city as much as I do…

USEFUL WEBSITES AND APPS

ARRIVING

Heathrow Airport and Gatwick Airport are the two main arrival points for international flights. Flights to Gatwick can sometimes be cheaper than Heathrow so it’s worth checking flights destined for both airports to compare.

  • Heathrow Airport – you can avoid the expensive cost of the Heathrow Express by taking the Piccadilly Line on the Tube for under £5.
  • Gatwick Airport – take the Gatwick Express. You could take an National Express coach but it’s a longer journey (90 minutes to London Victoria Station) and not much cheaper than the Express.

GETTING AROUND LONDON

London is a fantastic city to walk around but it is also huge with lots to see and do. London consists of 33 distinctive boroughs but you will probably spend most of your time in the boroughs of Westminster, Camden, Kensington and Chelsea during your first visit. If you are short on time, use public transport to get to key areas which you can then explore on foot.

  • Oyster card – definitely buy one of these. You can buy them from ticket machines in London Underground Stations. You will need one to travel on all forms of public transport. Whilst you can now travel contactless with your bankcard, not all International bank cards work. My bank card works but I feel more comfortable keeping my travel card separate, not flashing my bank card in public. The oyster card can easily be topped up using ticket machines or the TFL Oyster app https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/terms-and-conditions/tfl-oyster-app
  • Don’t bother buying a travel card – Oyster cards have a daily capped rate of £7 zone 1 – 2 on the Tube and £4.40 for unlimited bus travel
  • Download the Tube App and CityMapper App to help you navigate the city.

WHERE TO STAY

  • Wombats City Hostel London – I’ve stayed in many London hostels over the years and this one is my favourite. It was awarded London’s best hostel by Hostelworld in 2019. Great facilities and location. Maximum length of stay is two weeks https://www.wombats-hostels.com/london/
  • The Hub Premier Inn – if you can afford to spend more than the cost of a hostel bed, then The Hub could be for you. I like the one in King’s Cross. They offer compact and comfortable modern rooms with TVs and AC https://www.premierinn.com/gb/en/hotels/england/greater-london/london/hub-london-kings-cross.html
  • Good Hotel London – if you fancy staying somewhere unique, I stayed at the Good Hotel London earlier this year. It’s a boat hotel with an amazing socially conscious mission. Read about my stay here Good Hotel London
  • LHA Hostels – perfect for people looking to move to London and who can’t afford expensive deposits and rents. A £200 deposit will secure you a place and you can select to stay in a private room or shared room in various properties around London. These hostels are not designed for backpackers or short term travellers (stay at Wombats City Hostel instead) as you need to provide your own toiletries, kitchenware etc. Check out their website here https://lhalondon.com/

THINGS TO DO

Free gems in the city:

  • View London from Primrose Hill, or Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath.
  • Stop by the British Library – the Treasures Gallery is unmissable and free (extra charge for some exhibitions) plus the outside seating area is lovely in the summer.
  • Prepare to be amazed at the Wellcome Collection – a fantastic place that showcases artefacts exploring ‘the connections between medicine, science, life and art’. The free temporary exhibition I visited about the psychology of magic was brilliant.
  • Spend time in one of London’s most-loved galleries – National Portrait Gallery (extra charge for some exhibitions) – I much prefer this to The National Gallery next door.
  • Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – has to be seen at least once.
  • Get an art fix at Tate Modern – a modern and contemporary art fan’s dream (extra charge for some exhibitions) and Tate Britain – housing British art dating back to Tudor times.
  • Peruse thought-provoking exhibits in the Imperial War Museum (a charge to visit the Churchill War Rooms).
  • Lose hours at the British Museum (extra charge for some exhibitions) – home of the Rosetta Stone and other treasures.
  • Shop til you drop in Covent Garden – known for street performers, markets and designer stores.
  • Pause for thought in the ‘Actor’s Church’, St Paul’s Church, when browsing round Covent Garden.
  • Drink tea in the Twining’s Tea Bar, Strand – the oldest tea shop in London (free to look, charge for tea).
  • Visit the V&A (extra charge for some exhibitions) – has 4.6 million items!
  • Mooch around Harrods.
  • Harry Potter fans can get a photo taken at Platform 9 3/4 Kings Cross.
  • Pose with a lion at Trafalgar Square.
  • Swot up at the Natural History Museum – a stunning building housing a vast collection.
  • View London from the Sky Garden – beautiful views of the city but you have to book in advance to visit.
  • Pop in to the neon paradise of God’s Own Junkyard and pick your favourite sign.
  • Walk The Line – London’s first dedicated modern and contemporary art walk http://the-line.org/#/home
  • Have a coffee in a restored Victorian public convenience (free to look, charge for coffee) at The Attendant Fitzrovia.
  • People watch in Leicester Square. Check out actor handprints outside Vue Leicester Square cinema. You may get lucky and see a premiere taking place.
  • Pose with Eros in Piccadilly Circus – a mini Times Square.
  • Stroll round Chinatown – a vibrant area of the city.
  • Imagine London during the Swinging Sixties when shopping in Carnaby Street.
  • Walk through the Baker Street Wonderpass – the city’s most unusual underpass.
  • Head to Hackney City Farm – home to a variety of rescued animals.
  • Drop by the Design Museum (extra charge for some exhibitions) – the recent Stanley Kubrick exhibition was phenomenal.
  • Explore Camden Market – for shopping and food on the go. Grab a beer canal side and people watch.
  • Ride the Emirates Air line, a cable car that spans the Thames.
  • Meander round Little Venice – for some serenity in the city.
  • Another serene space to help you find your inner zen – Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park.
  • Go deer-spotting in Richmond Park – home to over 650 deer.
  • Snap street art – key areas: Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Camden.

Ticketed Places:

  • Tower of London – a history buff must.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral – a visit up to the Whispering Gallery is unmissable.
  • London Eye – the big wheel with majestic views.
  • Westminster Abbey – pay your respects to some historical giants.
  • Jack the Ripper Museum and Walk – a must for Ripper enthusiasts.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum – again a must for fans.
  • Greenwich’s Royal Observatory – go to stand on the Meridian Line.
  • Stay overnight at London Zoo – book a night at ZSL London Zoo Lodges.
  • Kayak on the Thames with Kayak London.
  • Go up The Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fire of London.
  • Slide down the ArcelorMittal Orbit – the UK’s tallest sculpture. If you fancy a swim, the London Aquatics Centre is nearby, offering one of the cheapest swims in the city.
  • Open air swimming – Hampstead Heath Ponds and London Fields Lido.
  • Picturehouse Central – catch a movie at my favourite cinema.

Tip: look out for small round blue plaques on buildings around London. They tell you where famous writers, artists etc lived.

FOOD & DRINK

You can find all international cuisines and a multitude of drinking spots in London. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Borough Market – one of the city’s largest and oldest markets. Eat a pie at Pieminister.
  • Rules – oldest restaurant in London.
  • Savoy’s American Bar – longest surviving cocktail bar in London.
  • Netil360 – laidback rooftop bar in East London.
  • Abeno – the go-to place for Japanese Okonomiyaki (one of my favourite eats).
  • Hawksmoor – for your Sunday roast dinner.
  • Best fish and chips – the award-winning Poppies (available for delivery).
  • A must-try: a sausage roll from bakery chain Greggs.
  • Places with meal deals to grab lunch on the go – Boots, Tesco, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer.
  • Coffee on a budget – the Pret a Manger chain do a filter coffee for £1.
  • Cheapest food shop if self-catering – Morrisons.

SEE A WEST END SHOW 

  • Get cheap tickets from the TKTS booth in Leicester Square.
  • My recommendations: Hamilton; Book of Mormon; Come From Away – book tickets for under £20 direct with the theatre online. No need to shell out for pricey tickets – you get an excellent view from the back of the Phoenix theatre.

MY FAVOURITE WALK

  • Start at St Paul’s Underground station, visit St Paul’s Cathedral, then walk over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. Lovely views of London from the bridge and tower of the Tate Modern. Facing the Thames, you can either go right, walk by the Globe Theatre to Borough Market, a perfect spot for lunch or go left and you’ll get to the National Theatre and BFI Southbank.

DAY TRIPS FROM LONDON (reachable from under 2 hours).

Other suggestions: Bristol; Bath; Windsor; Canterbury; Margate; Cambridge; Oxford.

IMAGES OF LONDON

 

A Journey In Japan

This is a throwback destination guide. People often ask me which place has been my favourite travel destination. Years of travelling around the world means it is difficult to choose a favourite place. I have been fortunate to go to so many great places but if I had to choose one favourite, it would be Japan. I visited Japan in the summer of 2017 and absolutely fell in love with the country, the culture, the food, the people etc. It’s a very special place and an easy and safe destination to travel round solo. Key tourist sites are well sign-posted, the high speed and efficient Shinkansen bullet trains make getting around the country a breeze and you will always find people happy to help you should you need guidance/directions.

Tips:

  • You need to buy your railcard before you go. I bought my pass here http://bit.ly/2LXFvV5 The pass is excellent value for money and gives you unlimited travel provided you follow the instructions. Your Japan Rail Pass entitles you to free seat reservations on valid trains. Reservations can be made in person at train stations. This site offers great advice https://www.seat61.com/Japan.htm
  • When in Japan, buy a Pasmo card (similar to London’s Oyster card) that you can top up to pay for public transport. You can buy these from Metro ticket machines.
  • Download the free Tokyo Metro App to help you navigate your way around this sprawling city.

TOKYO

Give yourself plenty of time to explore this huge city. Suggested things to see/do:

  • View Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks.
  • Visit Tsukiji Market and have a fresh sushi lunch.
  • Go to Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park.
  • Go up the Tokyo Skytree.
  • Visit a cat cafe.
  • Catch the show at the Robot Restaurant.
  • Visit Sensō-ji temple.
  • Stroll along Takeshita Street in Harajuku.
  • Sing Karaoke in a branch of Karaoke Kan.

Day trips from Tokyo: Nara, Kamakura, Nikko and Mount Fuji (train journeys from Tokyo)

Nara Famous for the freely roaming deer and temples.

Kamakura: An understated seaside resort with a large buddha statue.

Nikko: National Park with a famous shrine and mausoleum.

Mount Fuji

I didn’t get to go to Mount Fuji during my trip unfortunately as I had left it to do when I returned to Tokyo after exploring the country and I misjudged how much time I needed to do it. If you can, you should definitely go; you can find a suggested day trip itinerary here https://www.jrailpass.com/blog/mount-fuji It’s at the top of my to-do list when I am next in Japan…

TAKAYAMA

A city with a beautifully preserved old town. You only need a night or two here. Many travellers come here before hiking Japan’s Alps. I really enjoyed my visit here. Such a cute place with small shops, saki bars and restaurants. Stay in a traditional Ryokan if you can and you definitely have to visit an onsen (a hot spring that is a quintessential Japanese experience).

KANAZAWA

A modern city with some fantastic sites to visit. Suggested things to see/do:

  • Kanazawa Castle – impressive historical site.
  • Kenrokuen Garden – lovely landscaped garden.
  • Go for matcha tea in one of the geisha teahouses in the Higashi Chaya district.
  • See contemporary art at the 21st Century Museum.

KYOTO

Absolutely loved my time in Kyoto. It’s less manic than Tokyo, with so many beautiful temples to visit, and no trip to Kyoto is complete without a walk around the geisha district. You can see a geisha performance for an affordable price at Gion Corner. Other suggested things to see/do:

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine – famous for its thousands of red torii gates. Kyoto’s most visited shrine.
  • Visit Arashiyama’s bamboo forest. It can get over-crowded so try to visit early in the day.
  • Walk the Philosopher’s Path (known for cherry blossoms in the spring).
  • Dine in a restaurant in Pontocho Alley.

OSAKA

A modern and vibrant city with a thriving culinary scene. A fun day trip is a visit to Universal Studios Osaka – go just to hear Harry Potter speaking Japanese and ensure you stay for the dementors light show in the evening. I also recommend eating your way round Dōtombori or booking a food tour.

HIROSHIMA & MIYAJIMA

Many travellers visit Hiroshima and Miyajima as a day trip from Tokyo but both places are peaceful at night and are good options for an overnight stay if you don’t want to rush. I chose to stay overnight in Hiroshima and I was glad I did this as Miyajima is a train and ferry ride away from Hiroshima, and it may take you longer to get there and back than you expect. I visited Miyajima in the morning which then gave me plenty of time to explore Hiroshima’s Peace Park. The Peace Museum is excellent, and the park itself has several monuments, such as the Children’s Monument, worth seeing.

I spent three wonderful weeks travelling round Japan focusing on the main places I had read about during my trip research but there is so much to see in this magnificent country so I will definitely be going back. For now Japan, Sayōnara. We will meet again one day.

 

Tripping to Brighton

  • Visited May 2019.

An easy day trip from London is a visit to the seaside resort of Brighton, located on the South Coast of England. I’ve wanted to come to Brighton ever since I read Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock as a teenager and as much as I love London, sometimes it’s lovely to escape the city to be by the sea. Brighton is regarded as the LGBTQ capital of the UK and the vibe of tolerance and diversity makes it an exciting and fun place to visit. Before going I consulted two of my favourite websites for suggestions of things to do – Atlas Obscura http://bit.ly/2Mi6oEf and Culture Trip http://bit.ly/2W77Adr. Atlas Obscura is a great source for all the weird and wonderful things there are to see and do in places around the world and Culture Trip (which also has an App you can download articles to read offline – invaluable when I was in Cuba with little Internet access) is brilliant as various articles suggest essential sights, restaurants etc. Armed with a rough list of key sites, I set off for my day trip.

I booked my train ticket through the Trainline App the day before going. Using the App I was able to select the cheapest journeys and I paid £19 for a return ticket (including booking fee). A ticket bought on the day at the station would have cost me £27. It was cheaper to travel from London Blackfriars station with Thameslink than to travel from London Victoria. London Blackfriars is easily reached using the Underground. The journey time from Blackfriars to Brighton was only 1 hour 13 minutes. There are regular trains running to and from Brighton. When you exit the station, take the road straight ahead to walk down to the sea front.

Suggested Activities

The Seafront

  • Visit Brighton Palace Pier – free to walk along.
  • Enjoy fish and chips by the sea – but watch out for seagulls who like to steal your food!
  • Buy a stick of Brighton Rock at The World Famous Brighton Rock Shop on the street parallel to the sea front (55 Kings Road).
  • Grab a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants and watch the waves and the sun go down – I had a glass of wine at Tempest Inn. The interior is designed to look like caves. The outside seating area is perfect for people watching.
  • Go up the British Airways i360, a 162-metre observation tower. An adult ticket is £16.50 if you buy it on the day at the venue.
  • Visit the newly opened Upside Down House – next to the i360 tower – in which all of the rooms are inverted. Tickets cost £4
  • Walk along the sea front to the colourful Hove Beach Huts, a short walk from the i360.
  • Visit the Sea Life Centre – the World’s oldest operating aquarium. An Adult ticket bought on the day costs £20. Tickets are currently 40% cheaper when bought online.
  • About a mile west of the Palace Pier lies Brighton Marina and the start of the Undercliff Walk if you fancy some scenic exercise.

Away from the Sea

  • A must-do is a visit to the absolutely stunning Royal Pavilion. Built as a holiday home for King George VI, the opulence of the Chinese-themed interior is breathtaking. When I visited there was an exhibition of Stephen Jones’ Hats. Tickets cost £15 when bought at the venue. Tickets are cheaper online. Take your smartphone with you and you can access two free audio tours, using the Pavilion’s free wifi.
  • Also in the same grounds as the Royal Pavilion, you can visit the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. Tickets cost £6.
  • Visit The Lanes – an area of narrow lanes, with small shops, pubs and restaurants.
  • Go on a Ghost Walk – meet outside the Druid’s Head Pub. An adult ticket is £8.
  • Mooch around the shoppers paradise of North Laine, a bohemian area full of vegan cafes, vintage clothing stores, bars and restaurants. This area boasts the largest selection of independent retailers on the South Coast. Highlights include This is Not A Butchers gift shop and the quirky Snoopers Paradise, Brighton’s biggest antiques and vintage emporium.
  • Pop into St Bartholomew’s Church, which has one of the tallest interiors in England. Some say that it was built to the measurements of Noah’s Ark.
  • Near to St Bartholomew’s Church is Bardsley’s Fish and Chip restaurant, lauded as one of the best in Brighton. Loved my chips and mushy peas takeaway from here so I can recommend.
  • Also nearby is the Brighton Open Market. Redeveloped in 2014, it is now home to 50 local producers and creators. Opposite The Gnarly Trunk gift shop you will find the Brighton Fairy Folly, created by artist David Mayhew as a home for ‘fairies, hobbits, mermaids and witches’.
  • Street Art fans will enjoy finding hidden gems all around Brighton.

*Something I’ve read on other blogs as a suggestion is a Brighton Sewers Tour but note that this is now permanently closed.

Getting Around Brighton

The key sites of Brighton are easily accessed on foot but there is also a Hop On Hop Off bus tours operating around the resort. Tickets cost £14 and can be bought here http://bit.ly/2YUGZ4M

Selection of pictures from my day trip:

I Believe In Nashville: A Travel Guide

  • Visited March – April 2019

‘I Believe In Nashville’ is the title of a mural by Adrien Saporiti that appears in various places around Nashville and frequently appears in tourists’ photos on Instagram. Meant as an expression of support, it’s unabashed celebration of the city captures how I felt after spending two months living and working there and was therefore the perfect title for my second, and final blog, on Nashville. For my first post, ‘Welcome to Nashville, y’all’ https://wp.me/p9u5hw-1C3 I covered the main sights of Downtown Nashville, which is where the majority of travellers visiting the city spend their time. As much fun as it can be to bar-hop down Broadway’s Honky Tonks, there is much more to Nashville than that and the locals tend to avoid going to Broadway as it’s full of drunk tourists. To really love and appreciate Nashville, you have to venture away from Downtown and check out the treasures of other neighbourhoods. This blog post is intended to give you an insight into other areas worth exploring and suggest highlights to inspire you. Enjoy! 🙂

MIDTOWN

Music Row is located in this area so this is where you can see some of the major recording studios as well as visit the famous Historic RCA Studio B, where the likes of Elvis have recorded – note that to visit Studio B, you have to buy an official tour through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Vanderbilt University is also in this area so you can find some cool bars and eateries offering food and drink deals to attract students. Highlights:

  • Patterson House – swanky bar. You will have to wait to get in as every customer is allocated a seat. It’s definitely worth the wait. Cosy and dimly-lit inside, your bartender will suggest drinks for you. Not cheap but good for a treat.
  • Whisky Jam at Winners Bar – this is a free concert on Mondays and Thursdays where people go to watch real talent. Go early as the venue gets packed out.
  • Parthenon – a full-scale replica of the original in Athens. An adult ticket is £6. Worth a visit as it is impressive.
  • Hattie B’s Hot Chicken – there are daily queues down the block for this eatery.
  • Buffalo Exchange – a hip store that buys, sells and trades vintage and used clothing for men and women. Great if you are looking for something unique and quirky.

*If you need to buy groceries in this area head to Piggly Wiggly.         

GULCH

A gentrified area of Nashville where you will find upscale boutiques, bars and restaurants. Highlights:

  • The Station Inn – a concert venue that hosts bluegrass acts.
  • Pemrose – I enjoyed a meal here with friends when it had just opened. A lovely seafood restaurant. I can recommend the mussels and fries appetiser.

*If you need to buy groceries in this area head to Turnip Truck.

HILLSBORO VILLAGE

Trendy area of Nashville with character. Highlights:

  • Belcourt Theatre – a nonprofit cinema that shows classic and arthouse films.
  • Biscuit Love – keen to try southern biscuits? Biscuit Love is the place for you. The original opened in the Gulch but the Hillsboro Village venue tends to be quieter. Open for breakfast until 3pm daily.
  • The Grilled Cheeserie – as I love a grilled cheese sandwich I couldn’t wait to eat here and it did not disappoint!

12SOUTH

Upscale neighbourhood with boutiques and hip eateries. Home to one of the most photographed ‘I Believe In Nashville’ murals (located opposite Draper James). Highlights:

  • Draper James – Reese Witherspoon’s clothing store.
  • The Flipside – relaxed place offering 22 versions of sautéed chicken.
  • Bartaco – popular taco spot.

GERMANTOWN

Upscale historical neighbourhood with many restored Victorian buildings. Worth a wander around. Highlights:

  • Monells – highly rated Southern dining. Come here hungry and ready to eat!
  • The Cupcake Collection – they lured me in with the promise of a free cupcake – I was given a small sample sweet potato cupcake to try – and I left with a delicious red velvet cupcake.

EAST NASHVILLE

East Nashville is the equivalent of New York’s East Village. Cool and quirky with lots of character. Its laid-back arty vibe makes this a popular place to live in Nashville. Highlights:

  • The 5 Spot – Sunday Night Soul is a bi-monthly event and Motown Monday is every Monday. The Sunday Night Soul event I attended was brilliant – amazing singing talent was showcased. £10 entry fee. Highly recommended.
  • 5 Points Pizza – lauded as the best pizza in Tennessee. I certainly enjoyed my pepperoni pizza and can recommend the garlic knots.
  • 5 Points Tacos – popular food truck with tasty tacos.
  • Ghot Wingz – no frills chicken wing eatery
  • Lipstick Lounge – Gay-friendly bar that welcomes everyone. Fun venue.
  • 4Way Market – massive craft beer selection on offer.
  • Attaboy – speakeasy no-menu cocktail bar. I didn’t make it here but I’m told by friends that it is great.
  • Shoppes on Fatherland – lovely collection of stores perfect for an afternoon mooch around.
  • Local Honey hair salon (download the 20% off voucher from their website before you go) – if you need to get your hair done in Nashville, I had an excellent experience here. Mackenzie, my stylist, was warm, friendly and she did a good job of my highlights.

Other Suggestions

  • Grand ‘Ole Opry – a must-do for country music fans
  • Opry Mills – huge outlet mall
  • The Hermitage – this historical mansion was the home of President Andrew Jackson
  • Belle Meade Plantation
  • Nashville Zoo

Useful websites worth checking out when planning a trip to Nashville:

Nashville Guru http://nashvilleguru.com/

Nashville Scene https://www.nashvillescene.com/

Blog about Nashville’s Street Art https://www.camelsandchocolate.com/nashville-murals/ Fantastic street art can be found all over the city and this blog gives a useful overview of key areas and standout pieces that should not be missed.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

 

Good Hotel London

  • Visited May 2019
  • Use the code STAYGOOD when booking direct on www.goodhotellondon.com to get 10% off your stay.
  • For every direct booking, £5 per night is donated to underprivileged kids through NGO Niños de Guatemala. 

Good Hotel London is a non-profit floating boat hotel currently located on the Royal Victoria Dock, next to the Emirates Air Line cable car, and within easy reach of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Royal Victoria station and London City Airport. Perfect for guests attending events at the O2 area and ExCel Exhibition Centre.

Originally moored in Amsterdam in 2015, and then towed to London in 2016, Good Hotel London will be moored here at its current location until December 2021. Good Hotel Antigua, located in a former private mansion, opened in 2015. Good Hotel founder Marten Dresen was travelling through Guatemala when he met a little girl with no shoes. This chance meeting sparked the concept; he founded NGO Niños de Guatemala and then created the innovative business model of Good Hotel. The mission of the Good Hotel is clear: to do good whilst offering a premium hotel experience. All profits are re-invested. The Good Training programme offers long-term unemployed hospitality training followed by on-the-job training in the hotels. Good Hotel also collaborates with local businesses and local charities.

Arriving at the hotel after an epic 48-hour journey from Nashville, USA, I was pleased to be greeted by warm and friendly staff, a quick check in process (you are asked to complete your details prior to arrival online) and a personalised welcome note in my room with two chocolate treats. The room itself was lovely: a compact double room with a waterfront view. The room had a desk, tea and coffee-making facilities and a nice range of toiletries in the bathroom. An intercom in the room allows guests to press a button for assistance, whether that be a request for extra quilts, a hairdryer, etc. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, allowing this travel-weary guest to have a great night’s sleep to combat jet lag. I woke up feeling beautifully rested and worry-free – a cute touch was the placement of two small hand-made Guatemalan worry dolls on my bed when I arrived. Tradition says you place them under your pillow to take all of your worries away and I couldn’t resist following this sweet tradition.   

The Living Room, the bar and restaurant on the premises, makes it easy for travellers to relax and enjoy themselves here. The open-plan design and long tables are intended to encourage guests to be social and interact with each other. I throughly enjoyed an evening meal of salmon and rose wine before giving in to the jet lag and grabbing some zzz in my room. The hotel also offers a rooftop bar but typical cold and rainy English weather prevented me from taking advantage during my stay.

The check out process was as simple as check in and you can leave your luggage for free if you wish to explore the London sights after checking out. You could perhaps take a ride on the Emirates Air Line – you can get a discounted ticket with the hotel.

Overall, I had a fantastic stay at Good Hotel London. I love the concept behind the business model and heartily recommend other travellers to support the good work they are doing in London and Guatemala. Stay good, do good.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

Chattanooga, USA

  • Visited April 2019

Keen to explore more of Tennessee after my positive experience of Nashville, I ended up in Chattanooga on a whim. Only a couple of hours drive from Nashville (plus a one hour time difference) and $13 dollars for a single journey on Mega Bus, Chattanooga is definitely worth visiting for those travellers who enjoy outdoor activities and the Arts. Chattanooga is known as The Scenic City as it is located at the base of Lookout Mountain; spectacular views and great opportunities for climbing and hiking can be found in the surrounding area. It is also nicknamed Gig City as the city boasts citywide 10 -gigabit-speed internet, and has become a prime location for Start Ups and entrepreneurs. Back in the day, the city had the first factory bottling Coca Cola and was notorious for its industrial pollution. That is no longer the case today. Residents are proud of the city’s transformation and it has been voted one of the best places to live in the US. It’s not hard to see why. It’s family friendly, green spaces abound, has some fab eateries and drinking spots, and it has a thriving arts and culture scene. As much as I loved my time in Nashville, for me, its smaller Tennessee cousin Chattanooga, was more my kind of place and I would happily live there.

The city is quite compact and walkable but helpfully, a free electric shuttle runs every 5 minutes from the Chattanooga Choo Choo (in Southside where I was based) up to the North Shore, to a station near to the popular Aquarium, which makes it easy to get from one end of the city to the other. You can also rent bikes from bike stations dotted throughout the city.

Suggested Activities

  • Explore Lookout Mountain. Trek through Rock City, visit Ruby Falls (an underground waterfall) or ride the Incline Railway (the world’s steepest, operating since 1895). Another attraction is Point Park, a 10-acre National Park.
  • Visit the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a hotel in the old Terminal Station. Get an instagrammable pic with the illuminated Chattanooga sign. Train enthusiasts can book to stay in one of the old train carriages.
  • Art lovers should check out the Hunter Museum of American Art and their sculpture park. Loved this place!
  • Nearby, you can also explore the Bluff View Arts District, where you will find the River Gallery and sculpture park, and the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts.
  • Explore the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park. Download the app OtoCast before you go to listen to each of the artists explaining their sculptures.
  • Check out the public art in Southside or go on a street art hunt around the city – there are some amazing large scale murals to be found, such as ‘Traveling Musician’ by The Artist Seven on Passenger Street.
  • Hang out with pooches and have a beer at Barks and Beers.
  • Visit the Songbirds Guitar Museum – one of the world’s largest private collections of guitars.
  • Visit the African American Museum and Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
  • Go to the Aquarium.
  • Have a look around the vendors at Merchants on Main.
  • Eat a Moon Pie and read about the history of this iconic local treat at the Moon Pie General Store.

Food/Drink Recommendations

  • Next to the Chattanooga Choo Choo there are a couple of different bars and eateries, such as the Terminal Brewhouse. The Frothy Monkey is the perfect place to grab a coffee and people watch. 
  • Main Street Meats – a meat-eaters heaven! Whatever you choose to eat, wash it down with a Homegrown – a mix of Chattanooga whiskey reserve, Mexican coke and peanuts!
  • Flying Squirrel – cool place, offering reduced price drinks and tasty eats during happy hour. Guests staying at The Crash Pad get 20% discount on food.
  • The Pickle Barrel – great place to grab a snack and craft beer on the rooftop terrace. They even offer a fried Moon Pie dessert on the menu.
  • London Calling – classy speakeasy with great cocktails
  • Champy’s – iconic fried chicken venue. Delicious!
  • Taconooga – cheap and tasty tacos.
  • St John’s Restaurant – a good choice for a treat meal
  • Zarzour’s Cafe – this 100-year old food venue offers Southern-style home-cooked classics.
  • Chattanooga Whiskey – one for whiskey connoisseurs
  • Clumpies Ice Cream Co – popular ice cream parlour with an array of flavours.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

 

 

Welcome to Nashville, y’all

Read my second post about Nashville ‘I Believe in Nashville’ here https://wp.me/p9u5hw-1N7

  • Visited March and April 2019

I first visited Nashville back in October 2018 and then was fortunate to be invited to be an Ambassador at Nashville Downtown Hostel and its sister hostel, Music City Hostel in Midtown. Nashville is one of the fastest growing US cities, with an estimated 100 people moving here daily, and it is a sprawling city with distinctive areas that offer different vibes and attractions. For this first post, I’m going to focus on Downtown Nashville and the key tourist sights.

Honky Tonks

Nicknamed the Music City, Nashville is indeed a vibrant city full of aspiring musicians and great live music venues throughout the city. Most tourists who come here spend the majority of their time in Downtown, enjoying the Honky Tonks of Broadway and 2nd Avenue. Honky Tonks for those of you that don’t know, are bars that play country music and the ones on Broadway are always busy and very lively. A Friday or Saturday night on Broadway is quite something, with the street packed with revellers hopping from bar to bar. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Broadway’s Honky Tonks are quiet in the day time – when these bars open at 10 – 11 am, the live music and drinking begins. Always carry ID if you intend to go as it is standard to ID all patrons regardless of how old they look. You are spoilt for choice in terms of which bars to visit but Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is a must do, Nudie’s has the longest bar in Nashville, you can sign up for free line dancing lessons at Wildhorse Saloon, Jason Aldean’s Kitchen & Rooftop Bar offers a great view of Broadway from its rooftop and friends tell me Robert’s Western World is their favourite Honky Tonk. On Friday afternoons there is always a long queue to get into Margaritaville as the radio show Buzz Brainard’s Music Row Happy Hour is recorded live here.

Key Sights

  • Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: I’m not a big country music fan per se myself but this museum is excellent. There are always several temporary exhibitions on as well as the permanent displays of costumes worn by big names in the industry. $25.95 Adult ticket or $40.95 when combined with the Studio B tour.
  • Music City Walk of Fame – FREE – located near the Country Music Museum, this is a small ‘walk of fame’ featuring artists such as Elvis, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash.
  • Johnny Cash Museum – a must for Johnny Cash fans (such as myself). This small museum boasts the largest collection of Cash artefacts and memorabilia. $19.95 general admission.
  • Ryman Auditorium – the original home of the famous Grand Ole Opry. You can take a self-guided backstage tour for $24.95 or catch a concert here.
  • Printers Alley – FREE – historic alley way home to a number of bars, notably Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar and Skulls’ Rainbow Room.
  • Nashville Public Library – FREE – a lovely space to study and escape the cold/heat outside. The second floor has a large reading room with a view of the Tennessee State Capitol but the highlight is the Civil Rights Room, a room dedicated to documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville compete with a recreation of a lunch counter (a nod to sit-in protests) and video library. I highly recommend a visit to enhance your understanding of Nashville’s history *Don’t be alarmed by the large presence of homeless people on the third floor or by the fascinating eloquent homeless man who likes to have debates with the two statues placed at the top of the staircase. This is a safe place to be. It also has a nice outside courtyard.
  • Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum – often over-looked by tourists in favour of the Country Music Museum, this museum honours musicians regardless of genre or instrument. I haven’t been here yet but I intend to go as I’ve heard it’s excellent. $25.00 Adult ticket.
  • Tennessee State Capitol – the seat of government for Tennessee. Closed on weekend and state holidays. Free guided tours offered. I haven’t been yet but I plan to go.
  • Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park – FREE – located near the State Capitol building, this park was opened to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Tennessee’s statehood. The park aims to tells to the story of Tennessee’s history through plaques, a war memorial, fountains and tours – FREE tours take place very Wednesday. I enjoyed exploring this site.
  • Tennessee State Museum – FREE – a short walk from the Bicentennial Park, this museum is definitely worth a visit. Dedicated to telling the history of Tennessee, the exhibitions are informative and engaging. I spent about two hours here and will probably go again before I leave Nashville as there was so much to take in in one go.
  • Nashville Farmer’s Market – FREE – good place to grab a snack after a visit to the State Museum. Various food options available. My favourite place was Butter Cake Babe Coffee Cafe, a cute cafe selling varieties of gooey butter cake, amongst other treats. Batch sells cool and quirky Nashville souvenirs. A night market takes place every 3rd Friday 5 pm til 9 pm.
  • Frist Art Museum – located in a beautiful art deco building that used to be the post office, this art venue is worth a visit. $15 Adult ticket. If you don’t fancy forking out for the ticket, just pop in to have a look at the interior of the building.
  • John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge – FREE – spanning the Cumberland River, this bridge offers lovely views of Downtown Nashville and the riverside.

Food Recommendations:

  • Sun Diner – spot on breakfast place next to the Johnny Cash Museum – open 24 hours on weekends. My Eggs Benedict was fab.
  • Oscar’s Taco Shop – good budget option on Church.
  • Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant –  Tasty Southern food with live music. Can get very busy but solo diners can eat at the bar. My fried chicken main course with mashed potato and green beans was delicious.
  • Merchants – Southern food served in a casual bistro downstairs and more formal dining room upstairs. I had Mac n Cheese in the bistro and it was the ultimate comfort food experience.
  • Martin’s Bar-B-Que – Had a kitchen tray of chicken tenders with sides of mac n cheese and green beans washed down with a beer. So good!
  • The Diner – a six storey 24 hour restaurant perfect for late night eats. Casual dining can be found on the 6th floor.
  • Pinewood Social – hip hangout where you will find a trendy eatery, coffee shop, bowling and cocktails.

*If you need to buy groceries whilst staying in Downtown your only option is H.G. Hill Urban Market on Church which closes at 9pm every night. It’s a decent supermarket so you should be able to find everything you want here.

Getting Around Nashville:

Nashville is very spread out so you won’t be able to get everywhere you want to by foot. Here are some transport options:

  • Old Town Trolley Tours –  Hop On Hop Off 15 stops $39.42 online on their site. Fully narrated tour. Good option if you are short on time as it includes a stop at the Belmont Mansion.
  • The FREE bus – MTA Music City Circuit operates two routes.
  • Electric Scooters – can be booked through apps such as Bird and Lyft and are an easy way to zip between the different areas of Nashville.
  • Uber/Lyft also operate here.
  • Pedal Taverns and various party specialist tour buses can be booked for groups coming here to party – a frequent sight up and down Broadway on weekends.

The Nashville Bucket List

The first week I arrived I was given this list of Nashville must-dos – so far I have done three of these. Let’s see how many I can do before I leave at the end of April 🙂

  • Drink a Bushwacker
  • Go to a Predators Game
  • Go to The Ryman to watch a show – done 
  • Sing Karaoke at Wannabe’s
  • See the city from Love Circle
  • Honky Tonks on Broadway – done
  • Get drinks at The Patterson House – done
  • Stop by The Loveless Cafe for some food
  • Go to Piranhas and get a “Donut Burger”
  • Take in some art at The Frist Museum – done
  • Go on a Full Moon Hike
  • Watch an outdoor movie at Elmington Park

Adding my own Nashville Bucket List suggestions here:

  • Eat a Goo Goo Cluster – visit the store on 3rd Ave S
  • Queue up for fried chicken at Hattie Bs – 19th Ave S
  • Get your photo taken with the ‘I Believe In Nashville’ street art mural – 12th Ave S, opposite Reese Witherspoon’s store Draper James.
  • Catch a movie at the Belcourt Theatre.
  • Eat a sweet potato cupcake from The Cupcake Collection in Germantown.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

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