Active in Milan

From it’s Renaissance architecture of Church of Santa Maria, to its postcard-pretty canals in Navigli, to the heavenly gold hue of the Risotto Milanese, and a catwalk-highstreet scene which makes every day seem like Fashion Week – Milan has it all. Add to that a glorious climate, Prosecco on tap, and the fact that the beautiful, natural lakes of Nothern Italy are just a short train ride away – it ticks all the boxes for a weekend break.

My sister and I jumped on a 5:30am plane (ouch) last Saturday to visit my cousin, who has recently moved to Milan after spending her Erasmus year there. She was official tour guide and translator; the perfect way to visit a city is to be taken around by a local.

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The Lowdown

Located in Northern Italy, just south of the Alps, Milan is Italy’s industrial powerhouse and is at the heart of European fashion. It has been ruled by the likes of the Caesars and Napoleon, so it has a fascinating cultural history. But these days it leads the way with the largest post-war redevelopment in Italy whilst keeping most of its historical past intact.

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Where to Stay

South-west of the city centre lies the Navigli District, which plays host to bars which spill out onto the street with unmatchable aperitivo offerings, and an emerging art scene which really adds to the area’s cobbled-street charm. My sister and I booked a charming studio flat on AirBnB complete with exposed brick walls and a juliet balcony – I’d die happy if I could find a place like this in London.

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What to do whilst you’re there

If you’re visiting Milan on a weekend, spend one of your days exploring the city by foot and start your sightseeing trip by visiting Milan’s most famous landmark, The Duomo. It’s a magnificent white, Gothic cathedral, which is home to more statues than any other in the world. You can even climb the steps to the roof, where you can enjoy spectacular 360 views over the city.

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Just to North of the cathedral, lies the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – one of the world’s oldest shopping centre, where you can find the likes of Prada, Gucci and Ferrari. It’s four stories tall and highly decorated in marble with glass domed ceilings.

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Castello Sforzesco is a must-see and is home to lakes and the most luscious green lawns I have ever seen in Italy. For a city that doesn’t shout about its history (unlike Rome, Florence and Venice do to excess), it’s the perfect place to visit and really gain a sense of Milan as it hosts 12 mini-museums.

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Jump on a tram and head South until you reach the Prada Foundation, which is an institution dedicated to contemporary art. Make sure you get an Aperol Spritz from Bar Luce which was designed by Wes Anderson. It’s full of colour-blocked Formica tables, whimsical wallpaper and themed pinball machines and junk boxes – it could be easily be plucked from a glossy set.

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Dedicate a day and head north out of Milan to Lake Como. We visited the quaint village of Varenna which is made up of pastel-coloured houses dotted along the steep slopes that rise from the lake.

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Where to eat

Exploring Milan with an adopted Milanese meant that we were taken to places which were off the beaten track – and the locals all lunch at Luini which is just a stone throw away from The Duomo. It’s a hole-in-the-wall takeaway eatery, where they serve panzerotti – a fried dough parcel which is stuffed with tomato and oozing mozzarella, I’d call it Italian street food. It’s greasy and oh so bad for you, but it’s incredible.

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I had one of the best pizza’s I’ve ever had at Pizza AM and it’s somewhere I would have never ventured to without my cousin and her Italian pals, where I learnt that it’s sacrilege to put meat on a pizza (whoops). But be prepared to queue for your dinner here, but as you wait, they will bring you a slice of Margarita and a glass of Prosecco! I was shocked when the whole meal came to €16 per person – and someone told me Milan was expensive.

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On the doorstep of our apartment in Navigli, was MAGs Cafe. If you’re in this area for breakfast I’d highly recommend grabbing a custard croissant and cappuccino (fun fact: the plural for cappuccinos is actually cappuccini). It’s also the perfect place to grab a cocktail in the evening and watch the sunset over the canal.

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Best time to visit

The best time to visit Milan is during April to May or late September to October. Visiting during the spring and autumn months means you can avoid the summer’s scalding temperatures.

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How much does it cost?

Milan is more expensive than many other cities in Italy, purely because it’s the country’s business centre. We were however taken around Milan by locals, so managed to do it on the cheap – and actually brought Euros home with us for a change! A coffee will set you back €2 and a beer or spitz in a bar or restaurant will cost around €6.

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Active in Warsaw

Visiting Warsaw was never high on my bucket list. Before jumping on the plane, I didn’t research Poland and all I knew about the city is that it saw terrible events of WW2. So, I imagined it to be a depressing city without much character. I didn’t even look at a single travel book about Warsaw (because there actually isn’t one). There’s a part  of me that loves the feeling of travelling to a place that you have no previous impressions of!

My mum, sister and I decided to have a girly weekend away and our decision to go to Warsaw was based purely on the cost as the flights and accommodation was dirt cheap.

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The lowdown

Warsaw is the Polish capital and it’s unfortunate location has meant that it’s struggled a lot through the past centuries. For a traveller, Warsaw’s turbulent history, beautiful architecture,  abundance of green spaces, cheap eateries and quirky bars are a massive draw.

It’s further off the beaten track and Karkow appears to be the tourist hotspot of Poland, but Warsaw’s got a more local and authentic feel to it, don’t waste another second overlooking it.

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Where to stay

Stay in Praga, which is located in the east of Warsaw just over the Vistula River. It’s an incredible district which is overflowing with studios and galleries, and many hidden underground clubs and bars. Much of the post-industrial buildings in Praga survived the war and it’s here where you can find some beautiful pre-war streets and apartment blocks.

We stayed in a two bed apartment that we booked on AirBnB – it was incredibly spacious and it was complete with exposed brick walls and high ceilings. It was also next to this fab cafe, Halas, which just sold coffee, vinyls and banana bread.

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What to do whilst you’re there

One of the most remarkable things in Warsaw’s skyline is the Palace of Culture and Science, dubbed as ‘Stalin’s Penis’. It’s aggressive but is a beautiful piece of Soviet architecture. If you fancy it, you can take a lift up to the 30th  floor for a 360 view of the city.

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The Old Town of Warsaw has literally risen from the ashes and to say that it was hit badly by WW2 would be an understatement. It was completely flattened during the uprising and only two building survived! The buildings here are beautiful and it’s hard to believe that they aren’t the originals. Craft beer is something the Poles know how to do well, so after you’ve wandered around the old town, put your feet up and have a pint at Same Krafty.

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If you’re not staying in Praga seriously consider taking the tram and a day to explore this district. Make sure you head to the SoHo Factory as it’s where designer shops and incredible restaurants are located (but more on the food later), alongside the Neon Museum. It’s an overwhelming experience of colours and shapes which date back to the Soviet time and are collected from all over Poland.

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Another incredible museum to visit is the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which is a modern and interactive look into the story which shaped the city forever. It’s heartbreaking and expect to walk around the building with goosebumps and tears in your eyes.

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Where to eat

You can’t head to Warsaw without trying some Polish food so trying pierogi’s at Goscciniec is a must. It’s a small restaurant located in the Old Town and their traditional food is fresh, hot and delicious. We had piergois with spinach and cheese, and potato dumplings stuffed with pork.

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Wandering around Warsaw we found a lot of Italian restaurants or places serving up Italian inspired dishes. If you’re in the eastern part of the city head to Pausa Włoska and make sure you save enough room for dessert because you don’t want to miss out on their tiramisu.

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And if you find yourself in the western part of Warsaw, then hit up BYC Moze. Locals love it because you can get your hands on fresh bread, buns and cakes. We loved it for their creamy risotto and breaded turkey with the smoothest mash. It’s complete with communal tables and floor-to-ceiling windows. The perfect place to take a pit shop, rest your feet and people watch whilst you bathe in the light that comes streaming through the windows.

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On our last day we headed the SoHo Factory where we stumbled into Warszawa Wschodnia for brunch. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and if you’re lucky you can sit around the open kitchen and watch the chefs cook your food in front of you. I had the best eggs benedict that I’ve ever had here. It was so rich and creamy, plus it only cost £3!

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Best time to visit

We were incredibly lucky with the weather when we went in March. We were told by many people that it would be freezing but we actually didn’t need all our thick, woolly layers. To get the best out of the Polish weather, visit in the summer.

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How much does it cost?

I can’t get over how cheap Warsaw is! When we went the exchange rate was 5 Polish Zloty to every pound. A pint of craft beer costs around £1 and we were constantly dining out. We have so many 3 course dinners, bottle(s) of wine, cocktails and even some shots of vodka and the most we ever spent on dinner was £30 a head.

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Dining along the Victoria Line

Back in the summer I wrote a post titled A North Londoners Guide to Eating in North London, where I took you on a foodie adventure along the northern end of Piccadilly line; from Kings Cross and beyond, ending up in Southgate. This time I’ll take you up a trip up and down the Victoria Line, letting you in on all my favourite places to eat and drink.

The Victoria line runs from Brixton in South London, all the way up to Walthamstow in the North-East, which is where we’ll start our journey…

Walthamstow

When I was in college I used to work in Walthamstow in a tiny GP surgery, and boy, it has come a long way in those five years. It’s now home to like the likes of God’s Own Junkyard which showcases neon art in a salvage yard, it’s evident that the culture of Shoreditch is pushing out and moving further east.

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I’ve mentioned Sodo Pizza before on here, and I can’t not talk about Walthamstow without mentioning these incredible sourdough pizzas. Their winter goat is a real winner and is made with tomato, mozzarella, goats cheese, walnuts, caramelised onions and olives.

Eat17 brings you innovative dishes as well as producing good old British food. They actually make a lot of their own ingredients on site, including bacon jam, so good.

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Tottenham

If you don’t already, then you need to start following @discovtottenham on Instagram, my sister moved into the area back in June and I was so surprised at how many decent places there are to eat and drink.

Lets start with a favourite, The Beehive, it’s got beers from local Londoner brewers and a burgercentic menu. They have an impressive beer garden and there’s even a nice atmosphere on match day – although I do always sit with my back to the TV.

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One place my sister raves about is Craving Coffee, and the owners are on a mission to bring great coffee and locally sourced food to Tottenham. They serve local roasters Climpsons & Sons, alongside teas from Lalani and Co. Local producers are featured extensively, such as Wildes Cheese and Flourish Craft Bakery. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday they open their doors to the Tottenham Social Street Food Residencies, where you can catch monthly changing pop up restaurateurs (these all tend to be small local businesses you can also find in Tottenham Green Market).

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Finsbury Park

Have brunch at Fink’s Salt and Sweet and get to their Avocado Toast. The portion is more than generous and is topped with goats cheese and comes with a harrisa spread – it’s mad good value for money.

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Grab a cup of joe at Blighty Coffee, where they roast their own coffee beans! They’ve got signature drinks like the Orancino, which is basically Terry’s Chocolate Orange in a cup, and the Spitfire, which is served with cinnamon and chocolate. They also do a cracking eggs royale.

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Highbury and Islington 

Now I could write a whole post about Highbury and Islington, and narrowing down what to include in this section has been incredibility hard (no thanks to Upper Street).

Go for cocktails at The Four Sisters and it’s the perfect place for an afternoon session. It retains much of its historic charm as the interior is made up of dark wooden panelling, with cosy corners filled with wooden stalls and tables.

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If there’s only one thing you take from this post – then head to Rök, a Scandi smokehouse. Their soused mackerel with creme fraiche and pickled onions was the best I’ve ever had, it was so tender and delicious!

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Kings Cross

Long gone are the days where Kings Cross is referred to a no mans land, it has seen incredible regeneration and I can’t get enough of Ganary Square – it’s my new favourite weekend hangout. With the likes of Dishoom and Caravan, what’s not to love?

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Euston

Just west of Euston station you’ll find Drummond Street, which is a slice of Indian culture, with sweet emporiums, grocer’s and restuarants, but with none of Brick Lane’s tourists. My dad would take us to Diwana Bhel Poori House and we’d all order these incredible dosas with a lassi on the side. It’s cheap and cheerful, but they serve great South-Indian food.

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Fitzrovia

Fitzrovia is a gem of a place, it’s got so many amazing restaurants and it’s located in-between Warren Street and Oxford Circus tube stations, just North of SoHo. Scott and I used to have Spanish lessons nearby and we’d always head to BoBo Social, which serves up amazing gourmet burgers; Barrica, which is a small tapas bar with an  extensive wine list; and of course ICCO, a pizzeria where you can bag yourself a thin, crispy pizza for less than a fiver.

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I can’t talk about Fitrovia without mentioning Pied à Terre, a Michelin starred french restaurant, and if you have a bit of cash in your wallet or what to dine out for a special occasion, then I beg you to go here. You won’t be disappointed.

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Green Park

If you get off the tube at Green Park, you’ll find yourself in Mayfair which is home to some of London’s most exclusive restaurants, bars, shops and hotels.

If you walk North, you’ll find Sketch – which has got to be one of the wackiest places to eat and drink in London (just browse their photo gallery and take a look at their toilets for a start!)  They’re notorious for their afternoon-tea which they serve in ‘The Gallery’, a beautiful 1930s themed pink room, making it the perfect location for tea and cake.

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Victoria

It’s rare for me to venture this far South, but if there’s one thing that will entice me, it’s the prospect of having something sweet at Dominique Ansel. Here you’ll find a cronut which is a mix of a croissant and doughnut and is so incredibly light, and a cookie shot, a chocolate chip cookie in the shape of a shot glass with a coating of dark chocolate inside which is then filled with milk.

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If you head to the Artists Residence, a seriously cool hotel just five minutes from Victoria station, you’ll find the Cambridge Street Kitchen. It’s a colourful restaurant filled with neon signs, modern prints and an open kitchen, sending off a ‘east meets west’ vibe.

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Vauxhall

Vauxhall is a hard neighbourhood to define, it’s right on the south bank and in the heart of the city, but there never seems to be a good reason to go there – until Pharmacy 2 opened their doors. It’s a modern restaurant-cum-gallery by Damien Hirst and Mark Hix. While the decor is bright and wacky (as you’d expect of Hirst) but the food is simple and precise.

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Brixton 

Brixton has become a hub for foodies, clubbers, artists and rockers alike, and it joins the likes of Peckham and Nottinghill as areas which have now gone through the gentrification process. Take Pop Brixton for example, it was developed in reaction to high street brands dominating London and showcases a selection of young businesses. It’s home to four bars and 16 street food stalls and restaurants, alongside a changing schedule of events.

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If you want to get to know some of the lesser-known Caribbean treats, then head to Fish, Wings & Tings. It’s got a short menu, and yes there’s also jerk chicken, but try the rotis, codfish fitters, and prawns in red strip tempura. If it’s not hot enough for you, the guy who owns it also make his own hot sauce (but it’s not for the faint-hearted).

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For an appartif or an after dinner cocktail, head to The Shurb & Shutter where you can get your hands on innovite drinks. They’re a bit on the gimmicky side, but they’re all expertly made.

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Let me know if you visit any of these places or if you have any hidden gems you’d like to share