Royal Lancaster Hotel, London

I’m a massive fan of doing cute things with a partner or friend just because. No need for an anniversary or birthday – flowers/dinner/a cute homemade card can be shared any day. It’s even better when it’s unexpected! When The Royal Lancaster invited me to review their hotel bordering Hyde Park I jumped at the chance – it was the perfect opportunity for a little date night, just because.

The stay was kindly gifted but as usual, all views are my own.

 

Check-in is from 2pm at the hotel, and we arrived at 4pm to have some time to take a look at the facilities before dinner. The hotel is huge and beautifully furnished – minimalist luxury. We were shown up to our room (we were upgraded to the Park Suite) and given a little tour. The first thing that I noticed were the amazing views of Hyde Park – many of the hotel rooms give a breathtaking view of the park, and you can see various London landmarks out of the expansive windows.

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The views are SPECTACULAR

The room was beautifully decorated with minimalist (but cosy) décor – I have taken notes for my future house! Amenities include a bath, walk-in shower, fast WiFi, hairdryer and a TV with extras such as iPlayer and YouTube (through which we played music) etc. The room was perfect and I have no complaints!

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Park-Suite

Tempting to steal decor notes for my future house!

Before dinner we headed to the gym. There is no spa at the hotel, but they do suggest visiting Hyde Park for a dip in the Serpentine, which could be nice at certain times of year. The gym is described as being ‘well equipped’ which I wouldn’t argue, so long as you have only basic equipment needs. Consistently I feedback to hotels with gyms that more and more people require more than solely cardio machines and light weights. I have seen this changing slowly, but there was room for improvement at The Royal Lancaster. The gym was not busy (only one extra person) and is open 24h a day, 7 days a week, which is great. It could have benefitted from some extra weights-setups, e.g. chest press and squat rack (I think of these being basic in a gym). Water and towels are provided.

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Making the most of the hotel gym

We booked dinner at The Island Grill, one of the hotel’s two evening restaurants, for 7:30pm. The hotel is open to non hotel-guests and was pleasingly busy – a sign of a good restaurant! We were told that the chef previously worked at The Shangri-La at The Shard, and this certainly came across in the cooking. Even without knowing much about the restaurant in advance of our dinner, it was immediately obvious that the restaurant places huge emphasis on sustainability by prioritising seasonal and local ingredients, and offering a wide range of vegetarian and vegan options. The restaurant earned 2 AA Rosettes and won the Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2015. Of course, as a vegan I would have loved a couple more vegan options (e.g. a veggie buger and some grilled options), but what we ate (pea soup, wild mushrooms on sourdough, heirloom tomato and mushroom filo) was delicious. We ended the meal with a ginger cake, which was very heavy but still delicious. If you’re a keen wine drinker, the alcohol selection is extemsive but not overwhelming, and labels all the vegan options available, which was great! We had an amazing Rosé from France, which was £32 per bottle and went down very easily.

 

I have not slept as well as I slept in our hotel room is a very long time. The bed is huge and extremely comfortable, and the room has aircon – vital for a good sleep on warmer days. Any noise from the road 16 floors down was blocked out by the thick windows, and I slept like a baby. Would thoroughly recommend for a good night’s sleep.

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The spacious (and air conned) bedroom was very much appreciated!

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Park Restaurant overlooking Hyde Park. There were options from both a buffet bar and a la carte. After the amazing vegan dinner I was disappointed to only see one vegan option on the menu. I ended up ordering the ‘crushed avocado’ without the poached egg. It could have done with more toast and more avocado (having got rid of the eggs), but it was delicious! The buffet bar was extensive and very pleasing – we ate a lot of really great food. Unlike many buffets where quality is compromised for quantity, everything we ate was great. As with most hotels, the buffet could have benefitted from vegetarian, gluten free and vegan signs on each of the food items for ease of choosing – it was not always obvious.

 

TL;DR

  • The Royal Lancaster Hotel hosted us for an AMAZING night in their Park Suite.
  • The rooms are beautifully decorated and spacious, and the beds are incredibly comfortable.
  • The gym was decent but could have done with much more equipment.
  • I was very impressed by Island Grill, one of the hotel’s restaurants, with a focus on sustainability.
  • I slept incredibly well and we weren’t disturbed by any noise from adjacent rooms or the street throughout our stay
  • The breakfast bar was great, but both the menu and bar could have done with more vegan options.
  • Would thoroughly recommend if you’re looking to stay somewhere very ‘London’ – you will not be disappointed!

 

The Amazon Is Burning

What on earth can we do to help?

It shocked and saddened me to the core when I heard a few days ago about the huge fires raging in the Amazon rainforest. Not only had I heard nothing about it on the news, I was also totally at a loss as to what was causing it and what I could do.

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The extent of the fires is so great you can see them from space. Source: NASA, Aug 13

 

I know I’m not alone in this – as more and more people have been sharing the news across social media, I have seen the same comments time and time again. ‘This is so tragic, but what can I do to stop it?’. Whilst Notre Dame had to be saved by private billionaire donors, we’re lucky that each and every one of us can have a part to play in the preservation of the lungs of our world.

 

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Some facts

  • The Amazon rainforest is key to fighting climate change on our planet. It produces much of the world’s oxygen and acts as a carbon sink, and without it there is no way we can expect to fight climate change.
  • The fires are often started intentionally, in order to clear land for the growing of crops and grazing of cattle. Weaker enforcement by authorities mean that farmers have been able to organise ‘fire days‘ without legal consequence.

Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates (Nepstad et al. 2008). Amazon Brazil is home to approximately 200 million head of cattle, and is the largest exporter in the world, supplying about one quarter of the global market.

  • Brazil has had more than 72,000 fires this year, an increase of 84% on this time last year. Brazil houses 60% of the Amazon rainforest.
  • The fires release both Carbon Dioxide (228 megatons so far this year) and Carbon Monoxide, a toxic gas, which is being carried beyond South America’s coastlines.
  • The deforestation rate in the Amazon has increased markedly since July, with areas the size of Manhattan being cleared daily, partially due to encouragement by the new far-right president, Bolsonaro.
  • If deforestation continues at its current rate, the trees will not be able to regrow, and much of what was forest will become savannah, with devastating effects on biodiversity and the future of the planet.

Carlos Nobre, a senior researcher with the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of São Paulo, said the surge in deforestation was taking the rainforest closer to a tipping point at which swaths of the usually humid forest would become a dry savannah, with dire consequences for the climate, wildlife and forest dwellers.

Amazon burning

 

That’s depressing. So what can we do? 

Human-made fires are especially hard to stop, but there are some things we can do to help, both immediately and moving forward.

1. Donate to one of the below charities, all of which aim to raise awareness and actively protect the Amazon rainforest (edited list courtesy of cnet, which has more information, and CBS News).

The highlighted bullet points are charities that receive the highest ratings on Charity Navigator, a non-profit that evaluates financial health, transparency and accountability in charities – if you can only donate to one, make it one of these.

  • Donate to the Rainforest Foundation, which is committed to making sure donations made reaches projects such as supporting environmental defenders, indigenous advocacy organisations and deforestation monitoring.
  • Donate to Rainforest Action Network to protect an acre of the Amazonian rainforest.
  • Amazon Conservation Association accepts donations and lists exactly what your money goes toward –– whether it’s planting trees, sponsoring education, buying a solar panel and preserving indigenous lands.
  • Donate to the Rainforest Trust to help buy land in the rainforest. Since 1988, the organization has saved over 23 million acres. 
  • The World Wide Fund for Nature (known as the World Wildlife Fund in the US and Canada) works to protect the  species in the Amazon and around the world.
  • Donate to Amazon Watch, an organization that protects the rainforest, defends Indigenous rights and works to address climate change.
  • Donate to the Amazon Conservation Team, which works to fight climate change, protect the Amazon and empower Indigenous peoples. 
  • Amazon Conservation accepts donations and lists exactly what your money goes toward. You can help plant trees, sponsor education, protect habitats, buy a solar panel, preserve Indigenous lands and more.
  • Donate to One Tree Planted, which works to stop deforestation around the world and in the Amazon Rainforest. One Tree Planted will keep you updated on the Peru Project and the impact your trees are having on the community.

2. Cut your beef consumption. Much of our processed meat, e.g. burger meat, is sourced from the Amazon, and Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef. Although many people argue that soy is a leading cause of deforestation, as much as 80% of this production is to feed farm animals, requiring 10x the amount of land than if we were to eat the soy directly. Avoiding soy from the rainforest still might not be a bad idea either, but giving up beef (at least non UK-raised beef) is your best course of action.

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Livestock farming is an important driver of deforestation, and not just in the Amazon

3. Use Ecosia instead of google as your preferred search engine

4. Sign petitions such as the below:

5. To ensure responsible logging, only buy wood products with the FSC logo, or buy second-hand. Much of the world’s trade in wood is from illegal logging.

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A deforested plot of the Amazon near Porto Velho on Aug. 21. Image: Reuters

 

Please do share this far and wide if you can – we are not helpless, even where we are unable to douse the fires ourselves. Collective action is powerful – find me on Instagram and let me know what you’re doing to help!

EDIT: My friend Sophie Hellyer, who recently spent some time in the Amazon, mentioned two further organisations helping out on the ground, Instituto Socioambiental and Peoples of the ForestLocals that she worked with suggested these, but I have not vetted them. Woth checking out regardless!

 

London’s best lunchtime fitness classes

Waking up super early in the morning or trekking to the gym after a long day at work isn’t for everyone, which is why we’re all about those lunchtime classes. With classes from 30 to 45 minutes and studios dotted around London, ‘I don’t have time’ is no longer a valid excuse to not fit in a workout. And when the classes leave you feeling positive and motivated for the rest of the day, what’s not to love?

Here are some of the top classes for you to check out in London on your lunch break:

1. Barry’s Bootcamp

Best for: Calorie burn

Studios: West (Bayswater), Central (Euston), East (Liverpool Street), Canary Wharf, SW1 (Victoria), however not all of these locations offer reduced-length lunchtime classes.

Cost: £22 per class, with package deals for multiple class purchases.

Global fitness chain Barry’s Bootcamp is based on the science of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn as many calories as possible and increase fitness. Attendees alternate between resistance training on the floor to intervals on the treadmill. Normal classes are 60 minutes, but at lunchtime (12pm and 1pm), certain locations shorten classes to 50 minutes (including stretching); to compensate for the reduced class length, free protein shakes are offered after the class. It’s a seriously intense session, but perfect for a mid-day pick-me-up if you’re feeling lethargic!

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Barry’s Bootcamp ‘red room’

2. HIIT – Another Space

Best for: Fat burn

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

HIIT at Another Space combines boxing and MMA moves with floor-based resistance training. This high-intensity class is short (35 minutes at lunchtime) and incorporates a variety of exercises to keep your body working. The studios are also beautiful, so perfect to enjoy a shake and shower in post-class.

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HIIT at Another Space, Bank

3. Hot yoga – Another Space

Best for: Flexibility

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

Held in the same studios as HIIT, hot yoga at Another Space is the perfect option if you’re looking for a less intense workout. Don’t be fooled though – expect to work on both your flexibility and strength in this dynamic, heated yoga class. The heat is held at 32 degrees for 45 minutes to gain maximal muscle benefits without the extreme heat of other hot yoga.

4. F45

Best for: HIIT

Studios: All over London! You’d be hard pressed not to find one near your office.

Cost: Cost depends on your membership, which are available as monthly to biannually. The eight-week challenges are priced separately. Intro offers available at most studios.

A concept born in Australia, F45 provides groups classes of functional high-intensity circuit training. F45 has 27 different ‘genres’ of workout, each focussing on a different aspect of fitness, such as HIIT, cardio or resistance training. At the front of each class, screens display each exercise, while multiple instructors roam the class and are on hand to motivate and correct where needed. Most studios also offer an ‘eight-week F45 challenge’, aimed at reducing body fat over the course of eight weeks. This may be too extreme for many (it encourages the cutting of carbohydrates for quick results), but could be the kick needed to get back into shape after some time off.

5. Signature Express – Barrecore

Best for: Barre

Studios: All around London, including Chelsea, Islington, Kensington, Mayfair, Notting Hill and Moorgate.

Cost: Membership starts at £200/month for 9 credits. Introductory offer available.

Barrecore’s Signature Express class promises to strengthen, lengthen and tone muscles in the space of 45 minutes. This class incorporates barre (ballet-like) moves coupled with resistance training.

6. Define Express – Define London

Best for: Low-impact sculpting

Studios: Great Portland Street, Fitzrovia.

Cost: Single credit £28 (excluding £10 off offer for new clients).

If you’re looking for a quick and dynamic workout, the Define Express classes offer all the toning and strengthening of their longer classes in just 30 minutes. Depending on the day, you can expect barre, floor workouts and strength workouts to target specific muscle groups. Lunchtime classes run from 12:30 – 1pm and 1:05pm – 1:35pm.

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Define London

7. Shake & Ride – Boom Cycle

Best for: Mood boost

Studios: Hammersmith, Holborn, Battersea, Monument.

Cost: One ride is £18 with package deals available. A one-month unlimited pass is £135.

There’s nothing quite like spinning to raise the heart rate and get the blood pumping. Boom Cycle is akin to a party on a bike, with loud music, coloured lights and an instructor who practically dances at the front. If you’re into high intensity cardio, Boom Cycle is for you – expect to leave grinning (and sweating) from ear to ear. Lunchtime classes vary in length – they are either 45 minutes or 30 minutes, and the latter includes a free shake after the class!

8. Quick HIIT – Metabolic London

Best for: All-round everything

Studios: Mornington Crescent.

Cost: Monthly membership is £100/month for unlimited classes. Single class is £20.

If you’re truly strapped for time, this 30-minute class could be exactly what you’re looking for. With a mixture of cardio and strength training, this class will leave you burning fat long after leaving the studio, and the endorphins with power you through your afternoon at work. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, but you get out as much as you put in, and at only 30 minutes long, what is there to lose?

Is your bank unethical?

Banking isn’t exactly short of negative press – with the 2008 recession, news of shady investments and excessive pay, people are seeming more and more disillusioned with mainstream banking. But are there alternatives? Are they safe? That’s what I set out to answer.

I had never considered how banks use money until recently, when I found out about an ‘ethical bank’. My first question was ‘if there are ethical banks, what are the rest doing that is so unethical’?

Here’s a little insight into my research, which will hopefully help you make more informed choices about what you want your money to be doing in the future!

All of this information is from talking to people and doing research online. I’m not a professional but have put in references and links for you in case you want to do further reading.

What makes most banks unethical?

Banks are a business like any other. Their primary goal is to make money while providing a service to users. In general, the unethical part of most banks becomes visible when you look at where they invest their money, and there have been a few court cases in the past with banks that have been caught being complicit in illegal activities, such as funding drug cartels (and more recently too). Most of the business they carry out however is totally legal, it just might not be in line with your personal values.

Ethical Consumer magazine released a report in 2018, stating that the UK’s biggest 5 banks ( Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS and Santander) are hindering our efforts to tackle climate change by profiting from some of the world’s most harmful industries, such as fossil fuels.

As if that weren’t bad enough, most mainstream banks also use money from consumers to fund various other industries, such as nuclear weapons, tobacco (full report on why this does harmful than good) and fracking.

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Would we be in a better position to fight climate change if it weren’t for big banks?

Worryingly, there is little incentive for banks to disclose where their money is going, and as such it has been incredibly hard for the average consumer to even begin to figure out which banks might be morally bankrupt, and which might actually be able to benefit the world we live in. Thankfully, Ethical Consumer has done the reports, and these are the banks that came out on top:

Triodos

Triodos is one of the most transparent banks out there, meaning that every investment decision they make can be seen by everyone. It publishes details of every organisation it lends to, and is known for specialising in sustainable energy, organic farming and culture, helping local communities.

“We want people to really think about what their bank is doing with their money. Money doesn’t have to be invested in the arms trade, fossil fuels and tobacco – it can be used to do good things that help build the society we want to live in,” says the bank.

Triodos has 715,000 customers across Europe, lending £6.5bn to projects making a positive impact on the world. The only downside is that it costs £3 per month for a current account. Huw Davies, head of retail banking says that there is ‘no such thing as free banking’, and that someone always pays, e.g. via hidden penalty charges and hidden fees. Triodos is about as transparent as it gets.

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Co-op

Co-op bank is the only highstreet bank with an explicit ethical policy, including (but not limited to) never investing in fossil fuels, companies that test on animals or arms manufacturing.

In 2011 the bank suffered huge losses and was sold off to private shareholders, leaving its ethical policies in doubt. However, as of 2018, the bank proved that it was able to continue running with ethical investments only, and is watched closely by a customer union, to ensure no dodgy investments get made. It seems to be making a comeback, so could still be a good option.

Monzo

If you’re a millennial, there’s a chance you might recognise Monzo’s eye catching ‘hot coral’ banking cards. Launched in 2015, Monzo has been breaking crowdfunding records since, and is a ‘fintech unicorn‘ – one of the rare British startups to be already valued at over £1bn.

Similar to Triodos and Co-op, Monzo is all about transparency. Anyone can read minutes from Monzo meetings, and they have just hired a diversity inclusion leader – 26% of Monzo’s staff identify as non-straight, and 45% of the staff are female.

Whilst no doubt better than the majority of banks, Monzo appears to focus less of sustainability and ethics than the above two options. However, if you’re looking for an intuitive, user-friendly option that has all the functionality to help you save, use money abroad and soon even pay off your mortgage (once you’ve saved enough to get one), Monzo could be for you.

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The easily identifiable online banking card of Monzo (ft. Lily Allen’s hand)

Handelsbanken

This Swedish bank has been operating in the UK since 1982, with over 200 independent branches. As each branch is decentralised, customers belong to a local branch rather than an umbrella bank, meaning that each customer is known by the local bank, leading to better and more ethical lending decisions. Unlike many banks, staff at Handelsbanken are not pushed to sell dubious packages to customers that they don’t want or need – this has led to the highest rating among personal and business bank customers for satisfaction and loyalty.

Charity Bank

Charity Bank is an ethical bank that ‘uses savers money to lend to charities and social enterprises’. They have lent over £278m to these causes since 2002, funding community projects, the arts, education and training, the environment and more.

Similar to Triodos, they are incredibly transparent about their lending, and you can read up about how each penny is spent here. Not only this, but they also provide practical support and free seminars for those working in the charity sector, helping them achieve their goals and help others. If you’re interested in helping out local communities, this could be the bank for you.

 

Summary

Many people don’t want to change banks because of the faff of having to change account number, sort code and PIN, and for good reason. When we get a phone we get to keep the number for life – why is it not the same for banks? Unfortunately, despite the increasing number of ethical options out there, bank switching appears to have remained relatively stable, perhaps because of the complications involved in switching.

I cannot recommend more choosing to switch banks, even if only for some of your money, especially if you are with one of the main banks, e.g. HSBC, Barclays, Nationwide etc.

We choose to spend our money the best we can day to day, and yet fail to realise that the rest of our money, no matter how small, is still being spent on investments that likely don’t align with our values.

Is it not more important that the bulk of our money goes towards projects that have positive impacts? Perhaps this is over simplifying, but I cannot help but think that it is really the least we can do, if we are able.

TL;DR

Mainstream banking is pretty bad for the world. I’ve switched to Triodos Bank and you should too.

Read more here.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! I know it’s a huuuuuge topic and I’ve tried to cover what I can in here. Essentially I wanted to share that there are options, so we don’t have to all be stuck in the abusive relationship that is mainstream banking. Please do comment and share, and come and find me on Instagram to let me know what you think!

Hvar & Split, Croatia

I was recently lucky enough to travel to Croatia with one of my closest friends for a beautiful holiday for good food, sunshine and relaxing, and we had SUCH an amazing time!

It seems that this year, Croatia is a very popular destination for tourists, and rightly so, so I thought I’d list the best places we visited both on the island of Hvar and Split, on the mainland.

The food recommendations are primarily places that offer excellent vegan and vegetarian options, but none of them are fully vegan/veggie. I’ve just put them down in the order we visited them 🙂

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Zoe and I had an amazing time in Hvar!

Food

Giaxa – When we first arrived in Hvar we headed to Giaxa for a light lunch, upon recommendation that it does great vegan food! It was certainly not a light lunch (we ended up getting a full three courses!) but the food was delicious. You can get everything from mixed veg to full gnocchi and meat, so there’s something for all tastes. The staff are also lovely, and the chef was a vegan Argentinian, which explains the great variety of food!

Lola bar and street food – For a ‘good night’ we were recommended Lola bar and street food. The staff here are the most energetic and smiley waiters I’ve ever seen! Options were good – both the veggie curry and falafel and hummus were great 🙂 If you’re vegetarian go for the veggie burger and don’t forget sweet potato fries (we got 2 portions). These guys also know how to mix drinks. Not sure what to have? Ask them for a recommendation.

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Veggie burgers are always a winner. I had the falafel!

Fig restaurants – Fig have restaurants in Stari Grad (Hvar), Hvar Town and also in Split, and you can see why it’s so popular! I was told to book in advance and am glad I did – queues were stretching down the street! Zoe recommends the chicken wrap and I would recommend the roast veg. Apparently brunch is great too! Also, get the sweet potato fries (ask for garlic mayo on the side). Fig in Split (yes we went to both of them) is in a beautiful courtyard and one of the only vegan places there. Head inside and see an ancient drain from the original building – it’s cooler than it sounds!

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You can’t go wrong with the food from Fig!

Spice – Final recommendation from Hvar was Spice, a pan asian restaurant situated in the main square. I was worried that it would be over priced, but it wasn’t bad at all. My recommendation would be the veggie pad thai and definitely the spring rolls! If you’re not a fan of Asian cuisine, they also have a ‘western’ menu that you can choose from, so something for all! Excellent service too.

Things to do

Hvar adventure – We were told that one of the best things to do on Hvar was to leave Hvar and visit the nearby islands of Paklinski. Hvar Adventures is a tour company recommended by google and well situated just off the main port. We went on a day tour (9am-3pm) on one of their beautiful yachts (not a massive group party boat!) to visit nearby deserted coves with the most beautiful water you’ll ever see, and go snorkelling and cliff jumping in various places. The day was truly idyllic and if I could repeat it 10 more times I would! They also offer sunset tours and various other adventure options.

Spanish Fortress – If you get the chance, run (or walk) up to the Spanish Fortress. It’s free to go up and you’ll be greeted with amazing views of the whole town and nearby islands. You can go in the Fortress too, but the views are the same out the front. It’s 50kn to get in.

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Not a bad view to hike/run up to!

Hvar Cathedral – You’ll definitely walk past this if you’re staying around Hvar town, but it is worth stopping and taking a good look at! If you eat at Spice restaurant for dinner you’ll see the sun setting on the cathedral and it’s beautiful!

Split old town – Split is home to one of the best preserved Roman remains in the world, the Diocletian Palace. Wander around dodging tourists and taking in everything that the town has to offer. It’s busy but beautiful, so enjoy!

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Look up in Split old town and you’ll see the remnants of the original palace! Spot Zoe!

Marjan Forest Park – If you’re less of a people-person and more of a nature-person (like me), the Marjan Forest Park is perfect.

Drinks

Carpe Diem beach/bar – if you’re into clubbing, head to Carpe Diem nightclub at 12:30am for a night of dancing on the beach. If, like me, you’re more of an evening drinks in the sun kind of a person, take a water taxi over at around 5pm to grab some drinks on the island. Make sure not to leave it too late – the beach shuts at 7pm to turn it into a club for the party-goers later in the evening.

Carpe diem bar is situated on the sea front in Hvar Town. It is picturesque but potentially overpriced for what you get. The island is more unique (although still pricey).

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At the beautiful (but expensive) Carpe Diem nightclub

Beaches

Dobovica – a short bus ride from the centre of town is Dubovica beach, which has a lovely bar (Dubo Beach Bar). Thoroughly recommend for an intimate homemade feeling (not surprising as the owner, Ivek, serves drinks out the front of his house)! This is a really lovely beach which is much less busy than those closer to town. We had an amazing day here! There’s a long, steep path down, so probably not suitable for anyone who may struggle to walk (see pic)

Pokonji Dol – Much closer to the main town is Pokonji Dol, a small beach that is often packed, but still very beautiful. Many people recommended this to us when we went out!

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The rocky part of Pokonji Dol is a lot less busy, but also somewhat less comfortable!