Get inspired: short hop
Colchester was the original capital of Roman Britain, and by the time the Normans were in town it was still worthy of a great honour – a magnificent castle. A thousand years on, the Castle Museum is reopening on May 2 after an extensive refurbishment. More of it is now accessible to visitors who want to find out more about the stronghold William the Conqueror built. In the 17th century, the notorious ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins interrogated and locked up alleged witches there. But the city’s not only for the ghoulishly curious – its thriving art scene includes firstsite, one of the most exciting contemporary art galleries in the country.
The largest city in beautiful East Anglia, Norwich is a major cultural hub that’s independent in spirit and rich in unique history. Each great era of the city’s history can still be seen, in the artistry and architecture of its magnificent Norman cathedral, in the charming little shops along Tudor Elm Hill, in the lively café culture of Norwich Lanes, and in the contemporary art scene that makes Norwich a wonderful place to escape to in the 21st century.
Yes it’s a great place to go if you’re a train enthusiast (National Railway Museum) or a lover of Scandi history (Jorvik Viking Centre) but did you know that York is also one of Europe’s sweetest spots? The Rowntree dynasty began here, in a little grocer’s shop on Fossgate, which is now lined with lovely cafés and restaurants. Indulge your sweet tooth with a luxury pampering break themed around chocolate (yes, really), visit the attraction York’s Chocolate Story, or eat choccy treats for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea at the York Cocoa House.
All the way up
Manchester is a city that knows how to relax but won’t be told when to go to bed. For gigs and clubbing, a vibrant gay scene and groundbreaking theatre, the centre of town buzzes each night. There are Manchester Music Tours dedicated to the city’s music legends – The Smiths, Oasis, and yes, there’s even a Joy Division tour. But new music continues to thrive, with club venues busy with upcoming live talent. Manchester has some great hotels too, not to mention shops, restaurants and museums, but to be honest, after all this lot, you’ll barely have time to unpack your toothpaste…
Discover more great things to do in London
Zima Russian Street Food & Bar
Russian street food hasn’t made much of an impact on the London scene, so the prospect of a Soho basement bar offering just that alongside infused vodka shots had me aflutter. In reality, Zima Bar is serving sharing plates and pickles and there’s not much street to it at all. But it’s still an edgy den – all blue tiles and rustic wooden benches – under the steer of Russian superstar chef Alexei Zimin, who founded Russia’s foremost food mag, Eda, and Moscow’s restaurant and cookery school, Ragout. His star credibility has brought a buzz through the door, and Russian princesses with megawatt wristwatches posed around with caviar and jugs of vodka on our visit. Rightly so, the vodka collection is great, with a huge variety of brands to put hairs on your chest backed up by six in-house infusions at £3.50 a pop (£32 by the 250ml jug). A horseradish version felt like a bloody mary minus the tomato while the sea buckthorn, a berry native to Russia, was intensely sweet-sour (in a good way). Dishes included a melt-in-the-mouth short rib stroganoff with buttery crushed potatoes (£8.50) and a bowl of borscht (beetroot soup, £5) with a tart mushroom cream floating on the surface, and flecks of pork belly sinking to the bottom. Skill can’t be faulted in these warming – not to mention affordable – dishes. The pickle platter wasn’t much to write home to Mother Russia about, though, with grapes and cherry tomatoes taking on a hefty sourness. Leaving as sour a note was the cynical offer o
Venue says: “Every Sunday in May: get half a kilo of crayfish and a one-litre jug of beer for £18.50.”