Five Destinations in Five Days: A rollercoaster trip with Aer Lingus Regional
City breaks to beat the band
As Aer Lingus Regional celebrates its five millionth passenger, Tom Sweeney embarks on a celebration of his own - touring five of its destinations in five days.
Take a free walking tour of the Necropolis (Castle Street, behind Saint Mungo’s Museum of Life and Religious Art, glasgownecropolis.org), the remarkable Victorian cemetery that houses the outlandishly grandiose mausoleums of the wealthy and famous. Go large and visit nearby Glasgow Cathedral and Provand’s Lordship, the city’s oldest house (1471).
The Burrell Collection (Pollok Country Park, glasgowlife.org.uk, free admission) houses nearly 9,000 treasures amassed by shipping magnate Sir William Burrell and is the envy of cities worldwide. The man had taste, and money to burn. With a €90m refurbishment due to begin next year, now is the time to go.
CitizenM (60 Renfrew Street, citizenm.com) provides free wi-fi, free movies, rain showers and XL king-sized beds and promises no trouser presses or towel swans – my idea of hotel heaven. It’s super-cool, super-affordable and is slap-bang in the city centre. In a word, perfection. CitizenM has set a bold new standard.
Deep-fried Mars Bars put Glasgow on the don’t-dare-eat-there map, but The Gannet in fashionable Finnieston (1155 Argyle Street, thegannetgla.com) has placed the city on a pedestal. As Wee Jimmy Krankie would say, this raved-about restaurant is “fan-dabi-dozi”. Inventive fare with flair, and delightful young hipster staff.
If Carlsberg did pubs... Babbity Bowster (16-18 Blackfriars Street, babbitybowster.com) is the Real McCoy of real ale pubs and serves fab food – try traditional stovies (Irish stew with attitude) and some locally-brewed heavy (auburn) ale or lager. There’s a beer garden, and Glasgow’s best live traditional music.
The Scottish capital is gob-smackingly gorgeous, not so much eye candy as och aye candy. Stroll to the top of Calton Hill for free, postcard views of Holyrood Palace, the Scott Monument, the splendid Old and New Towns and the big, beautiful bruiser of a castle atop an extinct volcano.
The castle’s a given, so pop in to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1 Queen Street, www.nationalgalleries.org, free admission) to see portraits of famous Scots from Bonnie Prince Charlie and Walter Scott to Rabbie Burns and Billy Connolly. Each picture paints a thousand words of Scottish history. An absolute must-see.
The Grassmarket Hotel (94-96 Grassmarket, grassmarkethotel.co.uk) is in the heart of the Old Town – and the action. This characterful historic building is full of cool characters, being a favourite with the young fashionable crowd. Super-comfortable quirky rooms have Beano and Dandy wallpaper so no need to pack any bedtime reading.
When the pubs and nearby cinemas empty, Cafe Piccante (19 Broughton Street, cafepiccante.com) fills. OK, it’s a chipper, but it's also a champ. Nighthawks head here for battered haggis or black pudding and chips. For dessert, there’s deep-fried Yorkie. Irn Bru is the de rigeuer drink. When in Rome...
The Royal Mile and Rose Street are full of pubs, but up a laneway opposite the Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street is Scotland’s finest – and Edinburgh’s best-kept secret. The outrageously ornate Cafe Royal (West Register Street, caferoyaledinburgh.co.uk) has ales, whiskies galore and a menu that includes buckets of steamed mussels.
The larger-than-life bronze statue (above) of Nottingham’s most famous son, Robin Hood, with his longbow drawn, outside the castle is the most photographed tourist attraction in the city, though it looks nothing like Errol Flynn or Kevin Costner. The best way to find it is to simply, em, follow the arrows.
Have a drink to steady your nerves in the haunted Salutation Inn (Maid Marian Way, salutationpub.com), dating from 1240, before joining the Nottingham Ghost Walk (75 minutes, ghostwalks.co.uk) which is a scream – in more ways than one. Tales of ghostly goings-on will keep you entertained and looking over your shoulder.
In a city sadly lacking in hip boutique hotels, we’ll stick with the ever-reliable Jurys Inn close to the train station (Station Street, jurysinns.com) because it’s great value and the staff treat Irish visitors as VIPs. It’s functional rather than flash, so it does the job – and there’s free wi-fi.
I’d fly to East Midlands and stay overnight in nearby Nottingham (55 minutes on the shuttle bus) for no other reason than to tuck in to the best Indian curry in Britain. The restaurant is called Kayal (8 Broad Street, kayalrestaurant.com) and it’s amazing. In my experience, there’s naan better.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (Brewhouse Yard, triptojerusalem.com) is England’s oldest inn – it dates from 1189 and is haunted by some of the original customers. Built into the rock on which Nottingham Castle stands, this is where Robin Hood and his men went to get merry. Great pub, great grub.
4. Isle of Man
From May through August, take a boat trip (and bring your camera) to get up close to the enormous but harmless basking sharks that feed on plankton off Port Erin, Niarbyl and Peel. Manx Sea Quest (manxseaquest.com) operates wildlife and sightseeing cruises that are often accompanied by nosy, playful seals.
Long before the London Eye had visitors in a spin, the Laxey Wheel (visitisleofman.com) was attracting top-hatted tourists to the village of the same name. Built in 1854, the world’s biggest working waterwheel (22m) drained the nearby mines. Travel there through beautiful countryside on the little train from Douglas seafront.
So many to choose from, but the 136-room Best Western Palace Hotel & Casino (Central Promenade, Douglas, palacehotelcasino.co.im) doesn’t have “Best” in its name for nothing. The great-value Palace isn’t palatial, but it’s comfortable, ideally situated and has all the facilities you could wish for, including a heated indoor pool.
Occupying what was a 19th Century timber merchant’s home, the family-run 14 North (14 North Quay, Douglas, 14north.im) prides itself on sourcing and doing magical things with tip-top local produce. Specialities of the house include flatbreads (thin pizzas), of which the goat’s cheese and the ham hock are dangerously addictive.
The Terminus Tavern (Strathallan Crescent, Douglas) is run by the Duckworths, who should really be running the Rovers Return in Church Street. The Terminus, a former Isle of Man pub of the year, is noted for its wide selection of cask ales and its lunches, especially the fish and chips.
Antony Gormley's Angel of the North is an iconic attraction, but it's just the beginning of your cultural fix in Newcastle/Gateshead. The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (balticmill.com) mounts ever-changing exhibitions in a converted flour-mill. Upper-storey views over Sage Gateshead and the River Tyne are stunning.
Ouseburn Valley was the cradle of the industrial revolution on Tyneside. Today, it's Newcastle's up-and-coming artsy district. There's an agreeably beatnik feel to the old redbrick streets, with galleries like The Biscuit Factory (thebiscuitfactory.com) lining up next to funky pubs, vintage car garages and - bizarrely - an urban farm and stables. It's a great place for a few pints. . . away from the blue vodkas.
Looking for a recognisable name in Newcastle? Jurys Inns (jurysinns.com) have a hotel on Scotswood Road, with prices advertised from £66/€ as we publish. It's a five minute walk from Newcastle Central Station, with 274 rooms and a Costa Coffee bar downstairs.
Eat and drink
Stashed under the stanchions of Tyne Bridge, The Bridge Tavern (thebridgtavern.com) looks like a movie set in the making. Craft ale is brewed on site, and a tasty menu ranges from sharing planks of meats, seafood and cheeses to 'bar bait' snacks and mains like a stonking beer-battered haddock, chips and mushy peas that'll leave you with change of a tenner.
Aer Lingus Regional (aerlingus.com) flies direct from Dublin, Cork and Donegal to Glasgow; from Dublin and Cork to Newcastle and Edinburgh; and from Dublin to Nottingham and the Isle of Man. Prices start from €19.99 each way on the shorter routes.