I recommend Sarnano for its beautiful mountain views. In the village there are lovely friendly shops. There's the Centro Storico and the market on Thursday. Not far from there is water rafting that you can do if you dare, there's hang gliding to face a vertigo fear and maybe stay at Villa San Raffaello to look at the fields to see some racing deer. This town is safe enough to let your kids go around, I would know because I do and I'm 11. I think it's perfect for children of any age and there's a water park and beaches near to Sarnano.
Think of Sweden and we inevitably think of IKEA and wrestling with flat-pack furniture. You can browse the flagship store near Stockholm – free buses from Regeringsgatan/Jakobsgatan in the centre depart every hour, Monday to Friday. Just try not to bring back too much Swedish design to fit in your backpack!
IKEA Kungens Kurva, Modulvägen 1
Turkish Food Centre (also known as TFC) has a huge selection of Turkish and Mediterranean food that's high quality but at amazingly low prices. You get exotic fruits and vegetables at road market prices but at qualities comparable to major supermarkets. It also has a huge selection of chilled foods, tinned foods, herbs and spices, pulses, fresh Turkish breads, and even a butcher! You can get Filo pastry, stuffed olives, coriander, etc.
89 Ridley Road London, E8 2NH
Telephone: 020 72546754.
Nearest station: Dalston/Kingsland
Or bus 242 from Liverpool St station to Dalston Junction.
When staying at the super slick and eco-friendly Andaz Hotel (formerly the Great Eastern) in Liverpool, book Urban Gentry - insider tour guides and get a real insight into the fashion (or art) tribes of East London. The hotel also has it's own Reader in Residence to tell you bedtime stories, or read you a precis of the day's news.
Andaz, Liverpool Street
Despite a change in regulation which technically brought the end of tax-free shopping at UK airports for persons travelling within the EU, electronics chain Dixons continues to offer tax-free prices to all travellers, regardless of their destination. The Dixons Tax Free shops are a great way to pick up a bargain (saving 17.5%) without having to worry about different power suppliers, warranty and import duty issues that may be associated with buying abroad.
Whilst the range is limited, they do offer a number of key brands including Apple iPods and major electronic brands. Large items can even be delivered to your home address or picked up on your return. Pre-ordering is available by phone and details of products can be found on their website - www.dixonstaxfree.co.uk.
I would recommend that you pre-order or check availability before you fly. It saves a lot of time and they can get stock in from different terminals if required.
An funky little baby and kidswear shop based on trendy Brick Lane that sells clothing for cool but cute kids, so you won't find any fluffy baby grows or pastel colours here! A perfect kidswear shop for the Shoreditch area, without being too super cool. For parents who want their kids to dress a little like them and show a bit of attitude.
162 Brick Lane
London E1 6RU
020 7247 4949
You have never tasted anything like the unpasteurized bliss available in special Paris shops- check "points de vente" on pascalbeillevaire.com
Butter is not even mentioned on the website (merely their cheese) so go to the shop best suited to your whereabouts and buy a package or two of beurre cru croquant. Bliss bliss bliss.
Choose the shop that best suits your own Paris address via www.pascalbeillevaire.com
An east London based vintage shop, just off ultra fashionable Brick Lane, with a fondness for 80s fashion in particular. Expect George Michael earrings, Mickey Mouse caps, colourful shell suits and glam Joan Collins garb. You get the picture?
Items flying off the shelves have included ski goggles, Knight Rider annuals, electro-age musical instruments among other weird and wonderful things.
Recently spied browsing the rails have been Peaches Geldof, The Mighty Boosh and The Black Kids. No longer their little secret!
I Dream Of Wires,
68a Cheshire St (Off Brick Lane)
London E2 6EH
020 7739 4481
11am - 7pm every day
Tube: Liverpool Street / Aldgate East
It's a little known fact but BAA operated airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh and Glasgow to name a few) offer a money back/price guarantee on goods purchased at their airports. This can be great when faced with the uncertainty of picking up a bargain at the airport or waiting to you get to your destination to see if things are cheaper. To qualify, you just need to purchase using BAA's loyalty card - Worldpoints. Sign up online for bonus points and easy registration www.baa.com/worldpoints
You can save some money by booking your flights and hotels via cashback website www.quidco.com.
Here you can get the referral commission advertisers normally get for referrals. Flights typically receive 1% cash back from well-recognised sites such as expedia.co.uk and ebookers.co.uk or virginatlantic.com.
Hotels also get higher returns giving as much as 10% cash back for agencies such as hotels.com and expedia.co.uk. The only thing to caution about is that hotels will be prepaid and may not have the same flexibility (a cancellation charge may apply) when compared to booking directly.
The Chinese Arts and Crafts Shop in the China Resources building on Harbour Road in Wan Chai is a fantastic place for antique Chinese silk dresses, high quality authentic antiques and artefacts. They also stock a huge range of Chinese medicines. For ease - it's worth making this your first port of call for gifts.
What it is: Hong Kong's Octopus card - a prepaid travel card that can also be used to pay for items at convenience stores as well as travel.
Why I recommend it: One of the headaches of travelling to a new place is dealing with all of the change and new currency. A big headache can be removed by getting an Octopus card (which can be bought from the Airport Express counter). You can purchase an Octopus card at any MTR station or at the airport that can be charged up with a return Airport Express journey (or single) and 3 days unlimited travel on the MTR. Buy one card and you can also use it for paying for chewing gum, water or whatever at your local 7-11 store as well. A guide on how to use it can be found online.
Airport Express One Free Single Journey + 3 days unlimited travel on MTR + $50 deposit + Stored value $20 = Price HK$220.
Airport Express Two Free Single Journeys (valid for 180 days) + 3 days unlimited travel on MTR + $50 deposit + Stored value $20 = Price HK$300.
You can also get a card which excludes the Airport Express transfer if you don't need it. Also remember that there is a refundable deposit on the card too.
Hong Kong's banking industry is dominated by HSBC. As such, you can get some great discounts at stores in Hong Kong if you have an HSBC credit card. The stores don't usually care which country it's issued in, just keep an eye out for the discount sign at the cashier desk.
Stores across Hong Kong
If staying on Kowloon and arriving later in the evening, or feeling a bit thrown by jet lag and fancy something to do late at night, a walk around Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, the commercial heart of Kowloon is an absoloute must! An amazingly vibrant neon street spectacle as people shop and socialise amongst street stalls and sprawling maze-like malls. Although it is bustling and chaotic it never feels claustrophobic due to the polite and leisurely pace - people stroll around soaking up the atmosphere. The area remains busy sometimes until 2am so it's a must see for any traveller.
Nathan Road - TsimShaTsui, Kowloon
Take the MTR to TsimShaTsui Station - take the Nathan Road exit
It is a market that takes place every Saturday in Belfast. Good selection of produce to buy, whether it be food, art, clothes or photographs. There is usually a band playing. With loads of food stalls you can buy you lunch or a coffee and sit down and relax.
12-20 East Bridge Street
St George’s Market is located opposite Belfast Waterfront Hall and the Hilton Hotel in Oxford Street, which runs parallel to the River Lagan. From the rear of Belfast city Hall walk eastwards down May Street for a few minutes, cross over Victoria Street and St George’s is directly in front of you.
The Sogo department stores are a one stop shopping experience. With stores in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, they may not be as full of bargains as the markets, but they still allow big savings on prices back home on goods which do seem to be good quality. The stores have a Japanese style, but include top fashion brands from around the world, and in classic department store style have floors devoted to particular types of products, including the bargain basement - which is at the top of the shop!
555 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay, HK
TEL: 2833 8338
'Ley ho ma?' (That's 'How are you?' in Cantonese) and welcome to Hong Kong. You'll be arriving at Hong Kong International Airport (www.hongkongairport.com), just 25 minutes away from the Hong Kong Island and regular winner of the Best International Airport award. Hong Kong International Airport (IATA Code: HKG) serves as the gateway to this buzzing city or as a hub to further connections to the rest of Asia. Terminal 1 serves as the low-cost terminal and features a full sized cinema as well as the Hong Kong essential - shops. Yes, shopping (along with eating) is the national pastime in Hong Kong with shops staying open until late. Service is generally good (as long as you are spending money) and best of all - Hong Kong is has no sales tax.
Tip 1: Forget the 'duty-free shops' at the airport. The whole of Hong Kong is duty-free so the airport is often the most expensive places to buy your souvenirs. The Hong Kong Airport Express train offers an efficient way straight to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. Note that Kowloon station is not very well connected to the MTR (the distances are quite large - if carrying a suitcase, you may want to take a taxi from the station).
Practicalities and getting around
As a former British Colony, Hong Kong is a breeze to navigate even for the most novice business traveller. Signs and announcements are typically in three languages (Mandarin, Cantonese and English, although written Mandarin is the same as Cantonese) so as long as you can read English you shouldn't have a problem getting around. Most people in the main business areas also speak English but it's always worthwhile having the address of where you want to go to written down in Chinese, just in case your taxi driver doesn't know the English name for the destination (street names have both English and Chinese names - sometimes they don't correlate and they certainly aren't pronounced the same). The Hong Kong Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar so this is the most common currency of exchange.
Tip 2: If you have spare US Dollars on you, it may be more cost efficient to change USD into HKD as the exchange rate will be fixed. However, given the current weakness of the USD vs GBP, you might want to capture a good rate now. (www.hsbc.com.hk)
Tip 3: Get yourself an Octopus card - accepted as payment on the MTR and public transport systems - buy one with an Airport Express ticket included at the airport (www.octopuscards.com).
Where to stay
Hong Kong benefits from a strong portfolio of hotels which can cater for all tastes and budgets - ranging from the surprising and excellently located YMCA to the pinnacle of luxury - the Peninsula Hong Kong. However, one common denominator can be found across most hotels - service is generally outstanding and standards are higher than those found in North America and Europe. Hong Kong is split across three key areas - New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. New Territories is the area that borders China and is not usually frequented by business travellers and tourists alike. Given the lack of business or tourist interests in this area, I would not recommend staying here. Kowloon is connected to the mainline and features shopping (the national pastime), food (the other national pastime) and business. This area tends to be slightly older than Hong Kong Island but it does benefit from slightly more space (which is hard to come by in Hong Kong) and offers greater value for money.
Tip 4: Always ask the hotel if offers special corporate rates. Most tend to do and you may be able to benefit from a complimentary upgrade or better price.
Kowloon hotel recommendations
YMCA - USD120 per night
Located on Waterloo road right by the Peninsula hotel, this YMCA is unlike any other YMCA in the world. Despite the name, it functions more as a main stream hotel rather than a hostel, offering clean and modern rooms are at great prices. Staff are friendly and down to earth. Location is perfect for exploring all that Kowloon has to offer.
Tip 5: If you want a taste of luxury - why not upgrade to a suite at the YMCA. This could at a cost similar to that of a normal luxury hotel room.
Marco Polo Prince - USD180 per night
Located as part of the huge waterfront (Harbour Plaza) shopping complex, you will never be short of all things to do in this classic Hong Kong institution. This hotel forms part of the Marco Polo chain and you will find other Marco Polo hotels adjacent to this hotel. Well located for shopping and perfect for journeys on the star ferry. Traffic in this area can sometimes be bad which means travelling by car is not ideal.
Peninsula - USD450 per night
Look up luxury in the dictionary and you may find the Peninsula Hong Kong listed. Every whim and care is catered for in this five-star complex. Famed for its old colonial style, high tea still features strongly on the tourist trail. As a guest, you will benefit from access to the first class spa and pool facilities. Try whiling away the day and escaping the rush of the city as you sip cocktails by the pool. Rooms are luxurious as expected and even the smallest detail is catered for.
Hong Kong Island recommendation
Lang Kwai Fong Hotel - USD200 per night
Small but well formed, the Lang Kwai Fong Hotel is actually located about a 10 minute walk from its expat haven namesake but the hotel is close enough to wonder back to after a night out. It is also five minutes away from Hong Kong's Soho district which is famed for its al fresco dining and the outdoor escalator which claims to be the world's only outdoor escalator. Rooms are small but the location is excellent for anyone wanting to stay centrally without the cost.
Lanson Place - USD250 per night
This boutique hotel is the real gem of Hong Kong. Set back from the hub of Causeway Bay, shopping and dining are just moments away. Rooms are well decorated and feature small kitchenettes. Breakfast is generally included in room rates and the hotel staff are very helpful. Rooms feature flat screen TVs and DVD players. The hotel lends out DVDs and books as part of its library. The gym is well equipped and modern.
Four Seasons - USD450 per night
Perfectly located on top of Hong Kong Station (connected to the Airport Express), this bastion of luxury does not disappoint. The rooms are bright and well appointed and can overlook the harbour. Conveniently located by the International Finance Tower, the Four Seasons hotel boasts one of the most convenient locations for business meetings. As a business traveller, you may find it very convenient for your trips in and out of the airport and to meetings.
Where to eat
Hong Kong's streets are filled with places to eat. Depending on how adventurous you are, you can eat for as little as a couple of USD and be very satisfied with the fresh and delightful food. Food halls also offer a convenient and accessible way of finding a quick lunch. Recommended food halls include Pacific Place and the shopping centre attached to Kowloon Tong. Try market stalls (they have been cleaned up post-SARs) for a true experience of local Hong Kong. The one over the road from Soho, Causeway Bay, is the most accessible (although apparently the most expensive according to locals).
What to do
Top ten Hong Kong attractions that won't take too much out time out of your schedule. Estimated time for each is included so that you can squeeze it into your busy schedule.
1. Peak tram - great views of the city travelling up the Peak Tram.
Time required - 2 hours
2. Star ferry - cross the harbour with classic style on board the famous (and fantastically cheap) Star Ferry.
Time required - 20 mins
3. Shopping - shop till you drop at huge shopping malls. Try Pacific Place, Hong Kong Island and Harbour City, Kowloon
Time required - 2 hours
4. Ladies market (Tung Choi Street) - better to browse rather than buy, this market features cheap goods and 'almost authentic' goods.
Time required - 1 hour
5. Stanley market - step away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy this small former fishing town and its market.
Time required - 2 hours
6. Ocean Park - if family are accompanying you, then take them to Ocean Park for some marine-themed fun.
Time required - 5 hours
7. Causeway Bay - best seen at dusk - watch the hip and trendy come out to meet for movies, karaoke and of course food and shopping. Check out the Times Square shopping centre and restaurant complex.
Time required - 2 hours
8. Happy Valley racecourse - check online to see the race timetable. Get yourself a general admission ticket or arrange a box for an experience you can bet on. www.happyvalleyracecourse.com
Time required - 3.5 hours
9. Ride a tram - be taken back to Hong Kong's colonial past whilst riding on these trams that run through Hong Kong island's central district.
Time required - 20 mins
10. High team at the Peninsula - OK, not so much Hong Kong but luxury at its finest. Enjoy fresh pastries in a delightful setting. Reservations recommended.
Time required - 2 hours
The Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue is a remarkable homage to consumerism. With four enormous malls and a host of favourite designers – from Gucci to Prada and Levi’s to Ralph Lauren – it’s the ultimate “one-stop-shop”: you can find the perfect birthday, anniversary or Christmas presents here. And there’s shopping outside the Mile, too – in the shape of some fabulous little specialist boutiques. Try Sam & Willy’s for everything a dog could want; or the H.I.M men’s clothing boutique; or Unique So Chique Tea & Chocolat for a glittering array of bath and body products, cards and stationery.
For the festive period, there’s a great Christmas market at Place Sainte Catherine in the Old Town, complete with a Ferris wheel and ice-skating rink. This is a great place to while away an hour or two and pick up some stocking fillers while you’re there.
Finding a tailor to make you a custom suit in Beijing can be a bit tricky if you don't know where you are looking in this vast metropolis. This can be particularly challenging if you have 'Western' measurements so can't buy off the shelf. The best place to go is Gong Ti Bei Lu market right by 'Workers' Stadium'. There you will be able to find various stores catering for your needs. Expect to pay around USD100 a suit.
Ask your hotel to write the address in Chinese - otherwise your taxi driver won't find it!
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