It’s an exciting time for wine lovers in London. Drinking culture in the capital has shifted: wine has become cool. 

Gone are the days of directory-sized wine lists, haughty sommeliers and fusty cellars, the new breed of London wine bar is laidback, stripped down and unpretentious. Young Londoners are popping corks with abandon.

“Events such as the Wine Car Boot and Street Vin at Street Feast have broken down the barriers and brought wine to a younger audience”, says director of London Wine Week Emma Murphy, “wine has begun to take centre stage”.

Want to see what all the fuss is about? Here’s our pick of the best wine bars in London.

For a first date: Sager + Wilde

The owners of this hip corner bar are key drivers behind London’s wine scene. Husband and wife duo Charlotte and Michael began by running a pop-up in Shoreditch, offering incredible wines at tiny mark-ups, before moving to their permanent base in Hackney. Exposed walls, re-purposed station lights and a salvaged, glass-brick bar have transformed this former pub. The wine list changes daily, with a tendency towards the Old World. Much fuss is made about their grilled cheese sandwiches – but it’s their friendly attitude that really sets them apart.

Sager + Wilde, 193 Hackney Rd, E2 8JL

CourtesySW2Photograph courtesy of Sagar + Wilde

For the fashion conscious: Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels

Run by the same team as Soho’s opinion-dividing Experimental Cocktail Club, who are famous for their arbitrary door policy, this French import has bought a little bit of haughty Parisian attitude to Covent Garden’s Neal’s Yard. Their aesthetic bucks the trend for minimalism: graphic print chaise lounges and velvet pouffes cluster around tiny coffee tables. Prices are high, but if you can identify their mystery £9-a-glass wine, there’s a free bottle for the taking. Snacks include a flowerpot filled with crudités and an edible soil made from ground biscuits, walnuts and coffee beans.

Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, 8–10 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP

For foodies: 40 Maltby Street

Set in the railway-arch warehouse of importer Gergovie Wines, this innocuous bar has been raved about by the likes of Guardian critic Jay Rayner. Not that you’d guess it from the shabby-chic décor and wooden pallet tables. When it comes to wine, their objective is to let “the land and the grape speak”, and if you’re not au fait with natural wine, you might be in for some surprises. When hipsters descend on Maltby Street Market for their fix of Monmouth coffee and St John doughnuts at the weekend, expect to queue for a table.

40 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA

10 cases2Photograph courtesy of 10 Cases

For a tasting session: 10 Cases Cave à Vin

The no-reservations Cave à Vin sits cheek-by-jowl with 10 Cases restaurant in Covent Garden. It’s somewhere between a bar and wine shop, offering their most popular wines by the glass and bottle or to take away. The small space is at its best in the evening, when you can settle in at one of their ten or so candlelit tables, order a plate of charcuterie and work your way through the day’s selection.

10 Cases Cave à Vin,16 Endell St, WC2H 9BD

For a pre-theatre drink: Bedford & Strand

At this much-loved subterranean wine bar they tell it like it is. “Reliable” wines include dependable classics like Vin Pay’s d’Oc Sauvignon, while more of a splurge pushes you into “good” – old vine Californian Zinfandel and the like. Spindle-backed chairs, chequerboard tiling and a menu of bistro classics give the place a thoroughly French feel: it’s hard to believe you’re just a stumble from the West End. Head down an inconspicuous staircase on Bedford Street to find the entrance.

Bedford & Strand, 1A Bedford St, WC2E 9HH

B&S Resturant _0711_ 1844Photograph courtesy of Bedford & Strand

For dinner with friends: Toast(ED)

Toast or Toasted, no one can quite agree, but there’s no debate as to whether this wine bar, restaurant and shop is worth the schlep out south to East Dulwich. Their ballsy, distinctive wines will be a revelation for the uninitiated. Sparkling reds, unusual sweets and cloudy-orange natural wines: you’ll find them all here. Exciting small plates such as raw grey mullet or sourdough beignets are dreamt-up daily to accompany the booze.

Toast(ed), 36 Lordship Lane, SE22 8HJ

For adventurous palates: Vivat Bacchus

You can’t fault Vivat Bacchus’s motto. Life is too short to drink bad wine. With bars on either side of the City in Clerkenwell and Southwark, this South African-run mini-chain once made a name for themselves hawking £1000 tasting menus to bankers, but have thankfully since reassessed their strategy. Though the décor’s not much to write home about, the new-world wine list and unusual menu (expect zebra and springbok) make it worth seeking out.

Vivat Bacchus, 47 Farringdon St, EC4A 4LL and 4 Hays Lane,
 SE1 2HB

IMG_0875Photograph courtesy of Vivat Bacchus

For a meeting: 28°–50°

This “wine workshop” mini-chain is expanding apace. Created by Xavier Rousset and Agnar Sverrisson – the duo behind the Michelin-starred Mayfair restaurant, Texture – this place has the smarter end of the market sewn up. Filament light bulbs, wrap-around bars and exposed brickwork typify their sleek, industrial vibe. The wine list is highly curated, with just fifteen reds and fifteen whites available by the glass, carafe or bottle at one time. The selection might range from a heavy, tannic Madiran to Spain’s rising star, the aromatic Albariño.

28o–50o, 15–17 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2NE; 140 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1BT; 17–19 Maddox Street W1S 2QH

For lunch: Vinoteca

Since opening their first branch in 2005, Vinoteca has expanded to four locations across the capital. These airy, accessible bars have a legion of fans and are just as welcoming during the day as after sundown. They’re known for tackling established wine wisdom, offering prosecco on tap and ten-litre “bag in a box” wines that are bottled on site. Above all, they pride themselves on offering “small production wines with huge character [and] real drinkability”.

Vinoteca, 7t John Street, EC1M 4AA; 15 Seymour Place, W1H 5BD; 53–55 Beak St, W1F 9SH; 18 Devonshire Road, W4 2HD

Le Volpe e L'Uva, Oltrarno, Florence, Tuscany, Italy

For Francophiles: Terroirs

Terroirs is a little more grown up than some of the bars on this list, popular with a slightly older clientele. Stick to the ground floor, where the focus is on the wine rather than the food. As their moniker suggests, they try to find “wines that encapsulate the notion of terroir”, so expect to find plenty of natural and biodynamic bottles on the list. It’s the kind of place you can wash down a cracking white Burgundy with French bread, tartiflette and crème brûlée.

Terroirs, 5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW

For a break from the shops: Antidote

Tucked just south of Oxford Street lies this little wine bar and restaurant, where organic wines and interesting small plates make the perfect pit-stop. Come early in the evening to bag one of the downstairs bar tables, or book in advance to splash out on a full meal in the main restaurant upstairs. Not sure what to try? You can’t go wrong with a selection from their cheese and charcuterie menu.

Antidote, 12A Newburgh Street, London, W1F 7RR

Explore more of London with the Rough Guide to London. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. This feature was updated in January 2016. 

You’ve had a satisfying day or two’s heavy sightseeing in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district. You’re culturally replete – but have a nagging feeling that you’ve missed something. The locals. Just what the hell do they do in this metropolis of fifteen million souls?

To find out, head across the Golden Horn to Independence Street (İstiklal Caddesi), the nation’s liveliest thoroughfare. Lined with nineteenth-century apartment blocks and churches, and with a cute red turn-of-the-twentieth-century tramway, it was the fashionable centre of Istanbul’s European quarter before independence, and it is now where young Istanbulites (it has the youngest population of any European city) come to shop, eat, drink, take in a film, club, gig and gawk, 24/7.

By day, bare-shouldered girls in Benetton vests, miniskirts and Converse All Stars mingle with Armani-clad businessmen riding the city’s financial boom, and music stores and fashion boutiques blare out the latest club sounds onto the shopper-thronged street. At night the alleyways off the main drag come to life. Cheerful tavernas serve noisy diners (the Turks are great talkers) wonderful meze, fish and lethal raki. Later, blues, jazz and rock venues, pubs and clubs burst into life – with the streets even busier than in daylight hours. You won’t see many head-scarved women here, and the call to prayer will be drowned by thumping Western sounds. But though Islam may have lost its grip on Istanbul’s westernized youth, traditional Turkish hospitality survives even on Independence Street, and you may find yourself being offered a free beer or two. This is Istanbul’s happening European heart; no wonder it has been heralded as “Europe’s Hippest City”.

From Sultanahmet take a tram to Karaköy then the Tünel funicular railway to the bottom of Independence Street; both close at around 9pm. Return to Sultanahmet by taxi after midnight.

 

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Move over Paris Plage. Although media reports heap praise upon its strip of sun, Seine and sand, the North European city that has a better claim to be the spiritual home of the urban beach is Hamburg. Every April tens of thousands of tonnes of sand are imported as miniature seaside paradises appear in the heart of Germany’s second city. The doors open at the end of May and so begins another summer of beach bar hopping Hamburg-style.

Having spent their weekends on sandy strips beside the River Elbe since the late-1800s, Hamburg residents have long known about urban beach culture. But the reason why no other German city does the Stadtstrand (city beach) with such panache comes down to character. That Hamburg is simultaneously a sophisticated media metropolis and a rollicking port city produces a beach bar scene that ranges from glamour to grunge without sacrificing the key element – good times. Think sand, sausages and Strandkörbe (traditional wicker seats) to a soundtrack of funk and house beats. Ibiza it is not, but then nor is it trying to be.

Your flip-flops on, head to the river in port-turned-nightlife district St Pauli to begin at Strand Pauli (Hafenstr. 89). A year-round institution near the ferry port, it combines retro lampshades, castaway style and views of the ninth largest container port in the world – Hamburg in a nutshell. Next stop west on the beach bar crawl is slicker Hamburg City Beach Club (Grosse Elbstr. 279), all potted palms, day beds and aviator sunglasses, from where it’s a short walk to the former docks in Altona. Behind the beach volleyball pitch are relaxed Hamburg del Mar (Van-der-Smissen-Str. 4) and Lago Bay (same address), which aspires towards Ibiza but scores most for a small swimming pool. A tip wherever you go: sunset is popular, so arrive early, buy a drink and settle in.

Not that it’s all imported sand and urban chic. At the end of the road in Övelgönne further west still is Altona’s Strandperle (Schulberg 2). Sure it’s a glorified shack, but no one minds when it’s on a genuine river beach to make Paris Plage look like a glorified sandpit. Now, what was the German for “c’est magnifique”?

Scheduled flights link Hamburg to airports in London, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin. Beach bars open from noon to midnight between May and September.

 

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Sophisticated, globally minded and perfect for late-night parties – Madrid can be an expensive place to enjoy. So if you want to see the sights on a budget, timing is crucial. Many of the city’s best museums, galleries and historic buildings are free to visit but only for a few hours at a time, so it always pays to check before turning up. Here are ten things to do in Madrid for free.

Take a stroll through Parque del Buen Retiro

For centuries it was a royal retreat, but Parque del Buen Retiro is now open to everyone – with museums, galleries and monuments dotted across 350-or-so acres of green space. If you visit in May, it’s worth seeking out the Rosaleda (rose garden), where fragrant blooms explode in shades of peach and cherry.

Make the most of the free admission to galleries

Some of Madrid’s best galleries offer free admission at certain times of the week. For example, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, which houses works by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, is free at weekends and after 7pm on weekday evenings.

Browse the El Rastro flea market

Every Sunday morning, El Rastro takes over the rambling streets south of Plaza de Cascorro, with thousands of shoppers coming to try on clothes, flick through old books or rummage for antique jewellery. The sheer size of the market makes it worth having a look, even if you don’t want to buy anything.

See a piece of ancient Egypt

Madrid has plenty of old buildings, but in terms of sheer antiquity there’s nothing quite like the Temple of Debod – an ancient Egyptian complex built near Aswan more than 2,000 years ago. The enormous stone blocks were dismantled and sent to Madrid in the 1960s (as a thank you for Spain’s help in protecting other Egyptian temples from flooding) then reassembled in the city’s Parque del Oeste.

Temple of Debod in Parque de la Montana

Look skywards at the Planetario de Madrid

It’s always free to look around Madrid’s planetarium, which has audio-visual exhibitions looking at all aspects of space and its exploration. There’s a hands-on area for kids, and a domed projection room (which costs extra) that guides visitors through the night sky.

Get lost in Madrid’s barrios

Take a short walk away from Puerta del Sol and you’ll discover some of Madrid’s most colourful barrios (wards). Try multicultural Lavapiés, where shisha bars and Indian restaurants line the graffiti-daubed streets, or hipster-packed Malasaña, known for its nightclubs and vintage clothing shops.

Party on the streets

Street parties and festivals are an important part of Madrid’s social calendar. One of the wildest events is February’s Carnaval, a six-day festival of music, theatre and dance that opens with a fantastical procession of floats and costume-clad performers.

 Visit the Royal Palace

Time it right and you can visit the Spanish king’s official residence for free. Unlike his predecessors, Juan Carlos I doesn’t actually live at the Royal Palace, a treasure trove of art and antiquities inspired by the Louvre in Paris, but it is still used for state events. Admission is free for EU residents on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

See flamenco for free

Okay, so you’ll need to buy a drink, but the late-night restaurant Clan gives you the chance to see authentic flamenco performances for free. The music starts sometime after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and dancing carries on until 3am.

Flamenco Dancers in Madrid

Take a free walking tour of Madrid

You might need to tip your guide, but the three and half hour walking tours offered by Sandeman’s New Europe are officially free. Tours start outside the tourist office on Plaza Mayor everyday (at 11am and 1pm), taking in popular sights like the Royal Palace and Plaza de la Villa.

 

Once a month, on the eve of the full moon, downtown Hoi An turns off all its street lights and basks in the mellow glow of silk lanterns. Shopkeepers don traditional outfits; parades, folk opera and martial arts demonstrations flood the cobbled streets; and the riverside fills with stalls selling crabmeat parcels, beanpaste cakes and noodle soup. It’s all done for tourists of course – and some find it cloyingly self-conscious – but nevertheless this historic little central Vietnam town oozes charm, with the monthly Full Moon Festival just part of its appeal.

Much of the town’s charisma derives from its downtown architecture. Until the Thu Bon river silted up in the late eighteenth century, Hoi An was an important port, attracting traders from China and beyond, many of whom settled and built wooden-fronted homes, ornate shrines and exuberantly tiled Assembly Halls that are still used by their descendants today. Several of these atmospheric buildings are now open to the public, offering intriguing glimpses into cool, dark interiors filled with imposing furniture, lavishly decorated altars and family memorabilia that have barely been touched since the 1800s. Together with the peeling pastel facades, colonnaded balconies and waterside market, it’s all such a well-preserved blast from the past that UNESCO has designated central Hoi An a World Heritage Site.

The merchant spirit needs no such protection, however: there are now so many shops in this small town that the authorities have imposed a ban on any new openings. Art galleries and antique shops are plentiful, but silk and tailoring are the biggest draws. Hoi An tailors are the best in the country, and for $200 you can walk away with an entire custom-made wardrobe, complete with Armani-inspired suit, silk shirt, hand-crafted leather boots and personalized handbag. And if you’ve really fallen under Hoi An’s spell, you might find yourself also ordering an ao dai, the tunic and trouser combo worn so elegantly by Vietnamese women.

Hoi An is around 700km south of Hanoi. The nearest airport and train station are in Da Nang, a 30km taxi ride away.

 

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America’s most over-the-top and hedonistic spectacle, Mardi Gras (the night before Ash Wednesday) in New Orleans reflects as much a medieval, European carnival as it does a drunken Spring Break ritual. Behind the scenes, the official celebration revolves around exclusive, invitation-only balls; for such an astonishingly big event, it can seem put on more for locals than the raucous crowds who descend on the town, but you’ll hardly be wanting for entertainment or feeling left out.

Following routes of up to seven miles long, more than sixty parades wind their way through the city’s historic French Quarter. Multi-tiered floats snake along the cobblestone streets, flanked by masked horsemen, stilt-walking curiosities and, of course, second liners – dancers and passersby who informally join the procession. There’s equal fun in participating as there is in looking on.

Whichever way you choose to see it, you’ll probably vie at some point to catch one of the famous “throws” (strings of beads, knickers, fluffy toys – whatever is hurled by the towering float-riders into the crowd); the competition can be fierce. Float-riders, milking it for all it’s worth, taunt and jeer the crowd endlessly, while along Bourbon Street, women bare their breasts and men drop their trousers in return for some baubles and beads.

As accompaniment, the whole celebration is set to one of the greatest soundtracks in the world: strains of funk, R&B, New Orleans Dixie and more stream out of every bar and blare off rooftops – no surprise, of course, considering the city’s status as the birthplace of jazz.

You might have thought that all of this madness would have been curtailed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but like New Orleans, the party carries on in the face of long odds; indeed, the year following, many of the weird and wonderful costumes were made from the bright blue tarps that have swathed so much of the city since the storm.

See www.mardigrasneworleans.com for more info.

 

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In the days leading up to Thailand’s annual Loy Krathong Festival of Light, pretty little baskets fashioned from banana leaves and filled with orchids and marigolds begin to appear at market stalls across the country. On festival night everyone gathers at the nearest body of water – beside the riverbank or neighbourhood canal, on the seashore, even at the village fishpond. Crouching down beside the water, you light the candle and incense sticks poking out of your floral basket, say a prayer of thanks to the water goddess, in whose honour this festival is held, and set your offering afloat. As the bobbing lights of hundreds of miniature basket-boats drift away on the breeze, taking with them any bad luck accrued over the past year, the Loy Krathong song rings out over the sound system, contestants for the Miss Loy Krathong beauty pageant take to the stage and Chang beer begins to flow.

One of the best places to experience Loy Krathong is in Sukhothai, the first Thai capital, 400km north of Bangkok, where the ruins of the ancient capital are lit up by fireworks.

 

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Ibiza’s summer clubbing season is an orgy of hedonism, full of beats, late nights and frazzled young things. It reaches a messy climax in September, when the main club promoters and venues host a series of seratonin-sapping parties to round things off and extract a few final euros from their battered punters. These end-of-season events tend to attract an older clubbing crowd, who prefer to hop over to Ibiza for a cheeky long weekend, avoiding the gangs of teenage pill-monsters that descend on the island in late July and August. The British rave dinosaurs join a resident hardcore of Ibizan clubbers and an international cast of party freaks and techno geeks, all brought together by a common appetite for dance music.

Where you go depends on your tastes. In San Antonio, the young crowd gathers at Eden and Es Paradis, whose entire dancefloor is flooded just before sunrise, while in the village of San Rafael, Amnesia’s essential closing party usually throws open its doors for free after 4am – the last worn-out dancers are often still there come mid-afternoon. Just across the road, Privilege, the world’s biggest club, parted ways with the famously debauched Manumission in 2008, but still throws closing parties for crowds of up to 10,000. In a laudable attempt to inject fresh energy into the scene, Ibiza Rocks has added live music, including Florence and the Machine and Pendulum, to the mix in recent years. Across the island in Ibiza Town, the elegant Pacha has the cream of the world’s best DJs, including Erick Morillo and David Guetta, cranking things up to delirious levels. Four kilometres south of Ibiza Town, the after-party at Space usually gets going around 8am, with punters donning shades and getting down on the legendary terrace before moving inside, where the walls quiver to progressive techno.

The Space closing party was once the event in the Ibiza club calendar but lately it has lost out to the hardcore action down at DC10. The no-frills club has had regular battles with the authorities over licensing, but it’s gained a loyal crowd of the hippest partiers (and most outrageous mullets) in Ibiza).

The Ibiza closing parties take place in the last three weeks of September; DJ, Pacha and MixMag magazines have listings.

 

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“You can probably guess that I’m from the Cape Flats – born and fled that is!” So starts another night of impassioned, edgy and often bitingly satirical comedy from some of South Africa’s rawest young comedy talent.

The townships of Cape Town aren’t known as hubs of comedy, but the Starving Comics, an almost exclusively black and mixed-race group of young funny men and women, most of whom hail from troubled areas such as Mitchell’s Plain and Gugulethu, aim to change that perception. After decades in the international wilderness during apartheid, when comedy from the US and Europe was all but impossible to watch, this clutch of new comics have a voracious appetite for international skits and stars, and are deadly serious about giving South Africa a distinctive comic voice.

So this means an eclectic cluster of moneyed bohos, grizzled old Afrikaners, township residents and tourists can be found in a variety of modestly sized venues above bars and in tiny theatres across Cape Town on any given night to hear comics blaze a trail through comic journeys both satirical and surreal that can take in everything from political corruption to ice-rink etiquette.

To watch a gig with the Starving Comics is to be reminded that it’s possible to create comedy out of absolutely anything – even issues as tragic as the South African crime rate and the legacy of apartheid. It’s not the slickest comedy experience. Performers forget their lines, audiences are sometimes barely in double figures and getting info in advance about gigs can be difficult. But this is comedy at its rawest, bravest and most exciting. Even if, after watching these guys, you may never feel the same way about Nelson Mandela’s rugby shirt ever again.

The Starving Comics perform almost daily at various venues in and around Cape Town including Zulu Sound Bar (194 Long Street) on Mon nights. Contact the venue on +27 21 424 2442.

 

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Pop stars, travelling from coach to bar and from plane to arena, are notoriously oblivious about the city they happen to be performing in. There are countless stories of frontmen bellowing “Hello, Detroit!” when they’re actually in Toronto. But some places have a genuine buzz about them. London is fine, but all too often its crowds sit back and wait to be impressed. If you want real passion, vibrant venues and bands who really play out of their skin, Glasgow is where it’s at.

Scotland’s biggest city has an alternative rock pedigree that few can match. Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Simple Minds, Snow Patrol and Belle & Sebastian have all sprung from a city that Time magazine has described as Europe’s “secret capital” of rock music. Its gig scene, which stretches from gritty pubs to arty student haunts, marvellous church halls to cavernous arenas, is enthusiastic, vociferous and utterly magnetic. Nice ’N’ Sleazy and King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (where Alan McGee first spotted Oasis) are legendary in their own right, but if one venue really defines the city, it’s the Barrowland.

Opened in the 1930s as a ballroom (which explains the fine acoustics), it was the hunting ground of the killer known as “Bible John” in the late sixties. It’s still a fairly rough-and-ready place – the Barras market is just outside, and its location in the Celtic heartland of Glasgow’s East End makes it a favoured venue for rambunctious traditional bands. Shane McGowan’s been there, drinking lurid cocktails, his slurred vocals drowned out by a roaring crowd. So have Keane, flushed at the success of their piano-pop debut, and looking bemused at the small fights that broke out near the front at their performance.

Of course, most gigs finish without the drama getting violent. With a 2000-person capacity that’s atmospheric but intimate, and without any seats or barriers to get in the way of the music or the pogoing, the Barrowland is a wonderful place to see a live performance, full of energy and expectation. I’ve seen PJ Harvey transfix the crowd, the Streets provoke wall-to-wall grins, the Mars Volta prompt walkouts, Leftfield play spine-shaking bass and Echo and the Bunnymen cement their return with dark majesty. Go get some memories of your own.

The Barrowland is at 244 Gallowgate, Glasgow (www.glasgow-barrowland.com).

 

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