IN PICTURES: Village life and countryside walks in Cumbria

I don’t normally travel within the UK, but last weekend I went to visit a friend who recently moved to Cumbria.

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The area is very scenic, perfect for long walks (weather permitting).

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We visited Bolton Castle, which is really nice and has great views over the countryside.

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There are many nice villages nearby, so we spent a couple of hours window shopping and sampling Wensleydale cheese in Hawes.

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My friend runs the beautiful Brownber Hall, so we had plenty of time to relax in style, watching goldfinches flying by.

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A WEEKEND IN CARDIFF: Rainy days and bar hopping

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We took advantage of the bank holiday and hopped on a train from London to Cardiff. Our flat was near Cardiff Bay, so after making ourselves at home, we decided to explore the area.

We started at the impressive Millenium Centre, a landmark building perfect for taking photos. Then we headed to the bay, an area with lots of cool bars and restaurants. If the weather is nice you can also take a quick boat trip for £3.

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In the evening we decided to try and find a restaurant in the centre for dinner, but this was a mistake a that area was way too rowdy in the evening.

On our second day we explored some more, stopping at the little shops in the many arcades in the city centre.

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As the weather wasn’t great, we spent some time at Cardiff Castle (tickets for £12), a nice place to learn more about the history of the city. Bute Park is just behind the castle, and it looked quite nice too.

We had a late lunch at Bill’s, followed by a couple of nice cocktails at 10 Feet Tall, then headed back to the flat for a lazy night in.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Stay: We stayed in this nice flat, which was well located between the bay and the city centre.
  • When to go: The weather in Wales is not the best, so rain is always expected. We went in May and it was still quite cold.
  • Go: Trains from Paddington take a little over 2h. Book in advance as it can get quite expensive (we paid £74 return each).

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ALL IS QUIET IN OXFORD CIRCUS: Breakfast in Central London

I’ve lived in London for long enough to know that the area around Oxford Street-Piccadilly Circus-Trafalgar Square is best avoided if you’re not a tourist. But I was wrong!

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I found myself at 9am on Oxford Street on a Wednesday – and it was great! It was a cold January morning, and the crowds were nowhere to be seen: so I wandered around for a while just taking it all in.

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I noticed the impressive architecture around Piccadilly Circus; took photos of the statues in Trafalgar Square; looked at the cool store fronts in Carnaby Street. Then I hopped on the tube to get to the Tate Modern just as it was opening, when art students sit on the floor with their sketchbooks.

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Having my breakfast and looking at St Paul’s across the river, I felt so lucky to have had a moment of peace in this amazing city.

INSIDER TIPS: 4 ideas for exploring London off the beaten track

London is an incredible city, you can easily spend a month here exploring all the sights, museums, parks and more. But there’s also lots to do off the beaten track. Here are some of my tips:

Look over the city from the Walkie Talkie:

This may be one of the ugliest buildings in London, but it’s a good place to go to get great views over the city. What’s more, tickets are free, you just need to book in advance.

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Sample the local brew at We Brought Beer:

With locations in Clapham and Balham, this is a great place to sample a wide range of local beers. The staff can help you find the perfect ale, which you can drink on the spot or take home with you.

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Take a leisurely walk in Richmond:

Richmond is the perfect place for a quiet break. You can walk by the river, spot deer at Richmond Park, or spend a whole day wandering around Kew Gardens. It’s easily accessible through the District Line, but it feels so different from London!

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See great art at the Dulwich Picture Gallery:

Most tourists will visit the National Gallery and the British Museum, but further afield there are lots of less popular (and less crowded) galleries and museums. The Dulwich Picture Gallery is a short train ride from London Bridge, and always has something amazing on.

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What are your favourite things to do in London?

THE 5-MINUTE TRIP PLANNER: A sunny day out in Brighton

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Brighton gets really busy on sunny weekends, when half of London seems to get on the train to enjoy the sunshine. And it’s really worth it!

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There are lots of nice shops, bars and, of course, the beach!

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Trains from London are frequent and cheap, so there’s no need to book in advance.
  • Do: Walk around the Lanes, a pedestrianised shopping area full of quirky and cool shops.
  • Eat: Terre a Terre is a famous veggie restaurant that is on the top of my wishlist – it’s highly recommended and everything on the menu looks amazing!

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The 5-minute trip planner: Planning a short trip in no time.

A WEEKEND IN EDINBURGH: Beautiful views and rainy days

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I have a good friend in Edinburgh, so I’ve been there a few times to visit. It’s a beautiful place and very close to London, so it’s perfect for a weekend trip.

Here are some good things to do in Edinburgh:

1. Wander around the Royal Mile

Edinburgh’s city centre is very pretty and it’s always bustling with life. A great place to walk around and explore. And the impressive Edinburgh Castle is right nearby and definitely worth a visit.

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2. Hit the bars

Edinburgh is great for pubs – there’s just too many to choose from! Sample a few to find your favourite!

3. Go to the beach

If the weather is good, it is a good idea to explore some of the Scottish coast nearby. We went for a walk in Aberdour, which is a quaint little town 30 minutes from Edinburgh.

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4. Visit a museum

Edinburgh has some great museums, and the National Museum of Scotland is one of the best. Besides the impressive permanent collection, the terrace on the 7th floor has great views over the city.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: There are lots of flights from London, but taking the train is also a good alternative – the journey takes about 4h40.
  • Stay: Staying close to the city centre is the best option as most of the sights are within walking distance.
  • When to go: The weather in Edinburgh can be positively dreadful in the winter, so avoid going between November and February. In August the Edinburgh Festival is on with lots of amazing art and comedy.

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DRINKING IN STYLE: 3 pubs to visit in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is full of great pubs, and as it turns out I spend a lot of time in them every time I’m in the city. On my last visit I went to these three cool places:

1. THE GROSVENOR

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This pub is located about 15 minutes from the city centre, and although it’s still very close, it’s much less busy than pubs in central Edinburgh. A good option if you want to avoid the tourist crowds.

2. BOW BAR

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This traditional little bar is centrally located and had great atmosphere. Friendly staff and a great range of beers on tap – that’s all you need really!

3. CASTLE ARMS

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Located very close to Edinburgh Castle, this pub is a good option for a break while sightseeing. I didn’t try it, but the food looked delicious.

THE LONDON GUIDE: Insider tips for the best art in London

London has some of the best museums in the world, and many of them are free to visit! For such an expensive city, London is very generous with its art. Here’s my quick guide for making the most of London museums:

1. NATIONAL GALLERY

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Right at Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is a great place to see amazing art. You can easily spend a whole day wandering around, staring at masterpieces such as the Arnolfini Portrait and The Ambassadors (two of my favourites). It’s also a great place for British art, with anything from Turner to Hogarth.

It’s free to visit and there are many free talks and even drawing lessons!

Around the corner is the National Portrait Gallery. Visit on one of their late shifts to enjoy special talks and live music.

2. TATE MODERN AND TATE BRITAIN

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Split on either side of the Thames, Tate Modern and Tate Britain are among the most well-known galleries in the UK.

The Tate Modern specialises in (obviously) modern art, with exhibits cleverly displayed in a range of broad themes. The building is an attraction in itself, with the massive Turbine Hall serving as a unique venue for large displays which are specially commissioned annually.

Tate Britain is the home of British art (my words). Here you can see the best of the Pre-Raphaelites alongside Henry Moore sculptures. The building has been renovated recently, when all the displays were reorganised strictly by date.

Both are free to visit (temporary exhibitions are paid). Check for special events as well as free tours.

3. THE BRITISH MUSEUM

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It’s impossible to visit the British Museum without ending up reflecting about colonialism. This museum holds a massive collection of historic objects from all over the world, from Easter Island Moai to Egyptian mummies.

Entering the permanent collection the first thing you will see is Rosetta Stone. Just a few rooms away are the equally famous Elgin Marbles – the insides of the Parthenon are not in Athens after all.

The British Museum is located within a beautiful building with a Greek façade which is replicated inside the museum with a modern twist. The main court houses nice souvenir shops and a good cafe. Free to enter except for temporary exhibitions.

4. EXHIBITION ROAD: V&A, Natural History Museum, Science Museum

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Exhibition Road in South Kensington is home to three amazing museums.

The V&A is just too wonderful to describe. The beautiful building is home to the largest collection of design objects in the world, with room after room filled with beautiful displays. Join one of their free tours and then chill out at their fancy cafe.

Across the road is the Natural History Museum, where you can see dinosaur fossils alongside dodo models. It’s a great museum, but avoid weekends as it’s always too packed with children.

Next door is the Science Museum, a fun and interactive museum which include exhibits like a lunar module. Again it’s full of children on the weekends, so it’s best avoided then.

All of these are free to enter, except for special exhibitions.

5. OTHER POPULAR MUSEUMS

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  • Royal Academy: Very centrally located, it’s not free to visit, but it has great exhibitions on all the time.
  • Courtauld Gallery: Housed in the beautiful Somerset House, this is the best place to see impressionism in London. Tickets at £7.
  • Wallace Collection: The building has just opened after a long renovation, so it’s a good time to visit. Stop for a meal at their popular restaurant.
  • Transport Museum: I visited this recently, and it was really fun! Tickets are expensive at £16, but you can visit as many times as you wish throughout the year.
  • Soane Museum: An unusual home filled with a unique collection.

6. GALLERIES

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There are countless galleries around London, with new displays available every day. Just wander around Hoxton or Soho and you will find lots of places with great art.

Famous galleries such as the White Cube or the Saatchi Gallery are always a good starting point.

Within the Southbank Centre, the Hayward Gallery has great temporary exhibitions, with tickets at around £10.

HOW TO PLAN:

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There are endless options of museums and galleries in London. For up to date information, TimeOut and the Art Fund have comprehensive listings of what’s on at any given time.

Go get lost in a museum!