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Dresden is such an easily forgotten Baroque gem when it comes to exploring Germany. Often overshadowed by the showier Munich and and edgier Berlin, so many don’t realise the city offers a whole new side to the country. Dresden is a city steeped in history, heritage and beauty. It was the first place I have been in Germany where I truly felt like I had stepped back in time with some of the most beautiful architecture and streets I have found in Europe. Comparable to Vienna and Prague, the city is a perfect weekend escape, or even a day trip from another nearby city.

While we decided to drive through and spend an afternoon in the city on our way from Saxon Switzerland National Park to Prague, it would be a great place to visit if you were staying in any of the nearby cities, or to head for a whole weekend. Dresden was everything I had been missing about Europe while living in Australia, its streets are filled with stories from times gone by and it is a great place to indulge your love of the arts, music and theatre. While it was gorgeous in the summer sunshine, now is actually the perfect time to visit with it being the German capital of Christmas and boasting some of the most beautiful Christmas markets designed to make your winter sparkle.

Absolutely Lucy Dresden City, Germany

How to get to Dresden

With easy access by plane, train, bus and even by car, there’s honestly no reason not to pay the city a visit. As I’ve said, it’s a great place to spend a day while passing through to your next destination. Or you could spend a whole weekend there exploring at your own pace and enjoying the Christmas markets. If you’ve been exploring the nearby countries, there is also great international rail connections to Aarhus, Budapest, Bratislava, Prague, Vienna and Zurich. Once you arrive, you have your pick of exploring on foot or by bike, or using the public transport network by using buses, trains, trams and ferries. You can find out more about this, plus timetables and prepaid travel cards here.

What to see in Dresden

If you love cities bursting with history and beauty, prepare to be wowed by Dresden. One of the few cities in Germany that wasn’t destroyed or devastated by the wars, it rose majestically from the ashes and remains beautifully preserved today. Previously the seat of the Saxon rulers, it is clear that they lavished their attention on the city and blessed it with amazing architectural treasures in glittering palaces and stunning gardens and soaring churches that dominate the skyline. My best advice for exploring the city? Take your time. Don’t rush and really take it all in. It’s an amazing city and one worth appreciating.

Dresden Cathedral

Zwinger

This one was spectacular in the sunshine and perfect for walking around in the afternoon. Enjoy magnificent Baroque architecture at this 18th century palace on the banks of the river Elbe. Designed by court architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, it is considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Germany. With grounds filled with trickling fountains and statues of mythological figures, it’s worth walking around the outside of the palace to really appreciate it’s beauty. It served as the orangery, exhibition gallery and festival arena of the Dresden Court, but now houses the Dresden State Art Collections.

Dresden Frauenkirche

My favourite building in Dresden and one that will honestly take your breath away. I’m so sad I didn’t get more photos there, but I managed to capture the stunning ceiling. This incredible reconstruction project saw the Dresden Frauenkirche transform from a Catholic to Protestant church during the Reformation, before being replaced in the 18th century by a larger Baroque Lutheran building.

Dresden Frauenkirche

Destroyed during Allied bombing in 1945,the ruins were kept and stored to be reconstructed following the reunification of Germany in 1990, with the church eventually reopening in 2005. Whether you’re interested in history and architecture or not, this one will blow you away by it’s fine embellishment and decoration, with gold and pink adorning the walls and the most intricately painted ceilings.

Semperopera

For fans of the arts, the Semperoper is a must-see in the historic centre of Dresden. Nestled on the west side of Dresden’s Theaterplatz, one of Germany’s finest public squares, is the city’s opera house which is also home to the Semperoper Ballett. Built in the style of the Italian High Renaissance, explore the gardens at your leisure, or, to experience the magnificent interiors, attend a performance or take a tour.

Dresden College of Arts

Dresden Castle

One of the oldest buildings in Dresden, the Royal Palace was the seat of the kings of Saxony of the Albertine line of the House of Wettin. With over 800 years of history lying in its walls, it is known for the different architectural styles employed, from Baroque to Neo-renaissance and is beautiful to explore, especially in the evening.

Brühls Terrace

Perfect for sunny afternoon stroll, “The Balcony of Europe” stretches alongside the city and high above the banks of the river Elbe. We were amazed that we were overlooking the same river as we do back in Hamburg, but I will say that Dresden’s Brühls Terrace is a touch prettier than Hamburg’s more industrial style. This historic architectural ensemble begins at the Schlossplatz on the site of the old city ramparts where you head up the steps.

Dresden Brühls Terrace

Stroll along the promenade to find the Dolphin Fountain, the College of Art, The Moritz Monument, and below find the Terrassenufer, the main landing stage for cruise boats. If I can give you one tip for exploring this section, make sure you go into the College of Art and explore, cut straight through the entrance hall and go out the opposite doors to the courtyard. It was one of my favourite secret finds when exploring Dresden, like a secret garden time forgot and some seriously beautiful hidden archtecture.

Moritzburg Castle

This Baroque palace in Moritzburg, is about 13km northwest of the Saxon capital, Dresden, and makes a perfect day trip from the city. This stunning palace features an island, lakes and an 18th-century hunting lodge in the grounds. All feature the stunning designs, detail and luxe interiors.

Dresden Cathedral

Dresden Cathedral

Another spectacular sight, Dresden Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, is another building with an imposing character. Looming across the square, it makes an impression as you wander down from Brühls Terrace. We couldn’t go inside straight away due to a service ongoing, but we’re so glad we went back later on because honestly, the building was breathtaking from the inside. So detailed and so much interesting history.

The Georgentor and the Procession of Princes

This amazing wall is quite a sight and luckily we stumbled across it when exploring the city. It was the original city exit to the Elbe Bridge and the first of the city’s many Renaissance buildings. The famous Fürstenzug, the Procession of Princes, is a 102-meter-long portrait of the Dukes, Electors, and Kings of the house of Wettin, together with leading German figures from the arts and sciences.

Dresden wall

Are you planning a visit to Germany? Dresden is such a great city for exploring history, heritage and the true beauty of Europe. Plus it’s much quieter and smaller, so perfect for exploring on foot and for a more relaxed visit. After seeing how good the Christmas Markets are up in Hamburg, I can’t even imagine how amazing they are over in the “home of Christmas”.

Have you been to Dresden? How was your experience? What is your favourite European city?

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As soon as I arrived in Germany I was excited to start planning trips, to start living again in my new home. Last month for my birthday – Rügen Island. It was somewhere I had never heard of before moving to Germany, but shortly after arriving here, a very kind travelling friend offered me her family’s beautiful holiday home for a weekend and I thought what better timing than to go for my birthday! So the final weekend in May, we packed up the van and hit the road for a lovely long weekend at the seaside.

We had the most amazing weekend filled with ice cream on the beach, walking in the national park, exploring tiny towns and beautiful parks, and of course, stuffing ourselves with yummy food! I really wish I could go back and do that whole weekend all over again, I really wouldn’t change a thing, it was a perfect way to spend my birthday. In this post I’m going to share all of the things we did and what I would recommend if you happen to be visiting, hopefully it will help you have a special trip and to make the most of your time there.

What to do?

There is so much to do on Rügen Island, you’ll be spoilt for choice! The best thing is that there is something for everyone, so whether you’re away for a romantic weekend for two, or a big group holiday, everyone is sure to enjoy themselves. From the chilled beach bars and viewpoints, to the more active hikes and bike rides, you can design the holiday you want and do everything at your own pace.

Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

Beaches

There are so many lovely beaches to check out – hopefully you have good weather like we did – although I will warn you it is the Baltic Sea so don’t start getting excited about swimming! We were staying in Sassnitz so we spent the most time on the east side of the island where we found some gorgeous beaches waiting for us. We had a day of beach-hopping starting from Binz and working our way through to Sellin, Baabe, Göhren and all the way south to Theissow. If you have the time on your trip, I really recommend visiting a few different beaches to get away from the crowds and see a different side to the island. Binz and Sellin are gorgeous beaches with all the cute charm of  an old-fashioned seaside town, comparable to Brighton in the UK. Expect pricier accommodation and lots of bars and restaurants, as well as lots of people – these were the busiest places we visited – but they are very pretty and great for the evenings when you want to go out for dinner. The other beaches further round, especially Baabe and Göhren, are much quieter and its lovely to sit on the beach and enjoy a picnic and the uninterrupted views of the bay. Check out this article for a more detailed guide to the individual beaches.

Steam Train

For a really unique way to see the island, why not hop aboard the old fashioned steam train and power along the Rügensche Kelinbahn, a nostalgic nod to days gone by, from Putbus to Göhren on a 24km ride. Taking in everything from lush green forests to huge beach resorts, you’ll get an eyeful when you take a ride on the fondly known, Racing Roland.

Villages & Parks

It’s definitely worth taking some time to explore all the little villages and parks spread around the island during your stay. In Bergen, you’ll find some pretty spectacular panoramas across the ocean, plus colourful old buildings including Benedix-Haus in the market place. Gary is close by and as the tiniest and oldest town on the island, you’ll visit just to se the amazing views from the Ernst Moritz Arndt Tower. Putbus was our favourite village – originally we went there to see the beautiful palace I had read about online only to find that it had been torn down years ago – but we were pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous Insel Vilm eco-park that was waiting for us there and spent hours wandering around. If you get time to drive all the way north, I really recommend visiting Kap Arkona which is the northernmost tip of the island and boasts amazing views, a gorgeous beach and lighthouses you can climb to the top for even better panoramas.Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

Jasmund National Park & Königsstuhl

One of my favourite parts of visiting the island was Jasmund National Park which completely took my breath away and was easily one of the most memorable places I have spent my birthday. Read all about our visit and my top tips for visiting, here.

Walk/Bike

If you love getting outside and being active, you’ll be in your element at Rügen, hit the trails and go walking in Jasmund National Park or from beach to beach, or hire bikes and feel the wind in your hair as you cycle the island. There are also walking and bike tours available if you would prefer to join a group when you explore the island, or if you travel with a group and would prefer a guide to lead you around.

Sunset spots

Everyone loves a sunset and on Rügen Island there are two places I found that will provide you with the best views in the evening. Sellin Pier is one sight you don’t want to miss, so make sure you get there before the sun dips over the horizon to see it all light up. Imagine an old-fashioned, Brighton-esque pier bathed in the sun’s last rays of the day and gently sparkling as its lights start to twinkle. It was a beautiful sight and a perfect place for a sunset walk before dinner. I also found out about another place called Panorama Hotel Lohme, which was up in the very north above Jasmund National Park, and boasts gorgeous panoramic views over the ocean. We didn’t go to this one sadly as the weather was very cloudy and foggy on our second night on the island, but I’ve read great reviews and seen some beaut pics.Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

Eating Out

We came prepared and filled up the van with food for the whole weekend so we could have more of a self-catering experience and save a bit of money – we didn’t know if it might be more expensive on the island. We ate our own food for breakfasts and lunches, but actually ended up eating out on both the Saturday and Sunday nights we were there. On the Saturday night, we decided to go and see Sellin Pier at sunset and realised we were both starving after a busy day, after checking out the menu for Seebrücke Sellin, we couldn’t resist going in for a bite to eat. I was very impressed to find that it was actually very reasonably priced, I had expected it to be a lot more expensive, and that the food was absolutely delicious. We went for a goats cheese starter, then had the burger and a mushroom pasta, all of which were absolutely amazing and the service was great considering we walked in five minutes before they were due to shut the kitchen!

On my birthday night, we went on the recommendation of our friend who told us we had to go and eat at Rialto, an Italian restaurant in Binz which has the best pizza and ice cream. After thoroughly taste-testing, I can tell you that the pizza and ice cream are amazing!

Where to stay?

We stayed at our friend’s place in Sassnitz which was perfect – this side of the island has all the best beaches and sights, plus we were right at the entrance to Jasmund National Park. There are lots of hotels and holiday homes all over this side of the island for varying levels of luxury and price tags. I personally would recommend renting a holiday home or somewhere self-catering where you can cook your own meals or can even have barbecues in the long summer evenings. We loved having a bit more space and a place to prepare breakfast and lunches. Sassnitz is also a great way to stay close to all the action without actually having to be in busy Binz, it’s still a cute little seaside town but with more of a cosy feel.Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

When to go?

We went to visit at the end of May and the weather was gorgeous, but being close to the Baltic Sea, it is understandably harder to predict the weather. I would recommend visiting May to September for the best weather, but keep an eye on weather reports because if the weather is bad, there isn’t much to do that doesn’t rely on you being outside all day. Also, avoid school holidays as it is clearly a big holiday destination for families/elderly and can get busy.

Transport

There are buses and trains on the island which connect each of the little towns to each other, these are great if you don’t have access to a car plus there are lots of bike paths and hiking trails if you like to keep fit. You also can access the island by bus or train from Hamburg. We drove to the island (around 3.5 hours) and throughout the weekend we used the van to get everywhere which was really helpful to make the most of our weekend. I would recommend hiring a car or driving to the island because it gives you so much more freedom to stay in more budget-friendly places and to be independent and spontaneous about your day. We would decide at a moment’s notice our plans and easily went off to a new beach or town. If you rely on public transport you would be much more restricted on how much you get to see and how quickly.

Have you been to Rügen Island – what are your recommendations? Are you more of a beach or forests-lover? What summer travels have you got planned?

Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

I’m lucky enough to travel to some truly amazing places and I’ll be honest that sometimes that can mean that you become a little more immune to the wow-factor, but every once in a while, you go somewhere that restores your sense of awe to factory settings. Somewhere that really just takes your breath away and leaves you chomping at the bit to explore more of this incredible world around us. When we planned a weekend away at Rügen Island for my birthday, it was the result of a kind travelling friend who offered us a holiday home to stay in rather than a whole lot of planning. The spontaneous break was everything we both needed and much more, especially when we discovered how utterly beautiful both the island, and the national park, really were. It’s not often a place leaves me speechless, but when it does, it usually comes down to the spectacle of nature because it takes something vast and powerful to really remind you what a tiny place you occupy in the world.Rügen Island – Visiting Jasmund National Park & UNESCO site Königsstuhl | Germany

Jasmund National Park

It may be Germany’s smallest national park but Jasmund boasts some seriously spectacular views such as the famous chalk cliffs which won the heart of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich around 200 years ago. With lush forests and endless walking trails, plus the stunning coastline and beautiful beaches, Jasmund National Park has a lot to offer to anyone who ventures up to the north-east of the country in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. A UNESCO Natural Heritage site and perfect for walkers, visitors will wander through ancient beech forests dating back over 700 years – if you’re wondering what all those classic fairy tales were inspired by, it had to be mystical forests like this one.Rügen Island – Visiting Jasmund National Park & UNESCO site Königsstuhl | GermanyPerfect for exploring by foot or bike, there are lots of different trails that will take you through the forest, or along the 8.5km routes along the cliffs which can reach up to 117m tall. At the very highest point of the national park, you will find the entrance to UNESCO Natural Heritage site Könuigsstuhl, which is German for “King’s Chair” and has long played an important role in local mythology. Overlooking the Baltic Sea, on a very clear day visitors can see right across the bay to the coast of Sweden as the sun warms the famous white chalk cliffs. According to legend, the name Könuigsstuhl actually comes from ancient times when the custom was that the first to climb the cliffs from the sea and sit in the chair on the top would be elected king. You can see why – with a history like that and the natural beauty of the area – it would capture the imagination of Romantic painters.Rügen Island – Visiting Jasmund National Park & UNESCO site Königsstuhl | Germany

What was it really like?

Jasmund National Park was honestly one of the most magical and mystical places I have ever visited, I felt as though I had truly stepped into a fairytale. The ancient beech forest was filled with swirling mist and dark shadows on the day we went and as we walked through the trees, I half-expected Robin Hood and his Merry Men to come running out brandishing bows and arrows. At every turn we marvelled at the spookiness of the fog as it engulfed us and yet the vibrancy of the green of the leaves and the colours in the bark. The walk only takes around 30 minutes to the top of Könuigsstuhl, but for us it took over an hour each way because we had to keep stopping for photos and just to enjoy our surroundings. At one point we went a little off-course and started exploring part of the forest around a lake which we were drawn to by the sound of the frogs chirping in the mist, it was simply too magical to turn away from.Rügen Island – Visiting Jasmund National Park & UNESCO site Königsstuhl | GermanyEventually we reached the top and had to pay the €9.50 entrance fee but of course, with the mist, we were faced with a pretty much non-existent view! We didn’t let it deter us and had a good laugh about it, exclaiming loudly how wonderful the view was in front of a group of confused tourists. We decided to make the most of our visit and check out the visitor’s centre which is actually great with a really interactive audio tour which is available in English and will keep the family entertained. Then we also watched the short film they offer which was really interesting and tells you more about the forest and how they protect it. But obviously we were disappointed not to see the view, so we decided the next morning we would run the same route we had just walked to see the view and not waste time repeating the day.Rügen Island – Visiting Jasmund National Park & UNESCO site Königsstuhl | GermanyThankfully our last day on the island dawned sunny and bright, with clear blue skies and we couldn’t wait to see the view properly. We ran the same route again and arrived out of breath but were soon rewarded by the view, which was definitely epic enough to make our running worthwhile. We had to chat our way past the gate so that we wouldn’t have to pay again just for the view but a lovely woman let us through for five minutes. It was spectacular and my words won’t do it justice but hopefully the pictures will. On a side note: walking through the forest on the second day was definitely not as exciting as the first time with all the mist, although still beautiful it was a lot less atmospheric. If you get the opportunity, I would really recommend checking it out on a misty or duller day, it is one of the few places I have been that is actually worth visiting more than once for a totally different experience.

For more information, or to place your visit, click here to go to the official website.

Have you visited Jasmund National Park – what did you think? Have you been to any other national parks in Germany? What summer trips are you planning?

Rügen Island – Visiting Jasmund National Park & UNESCO site Königsstuhl | Germany

img_2335I’ve always very firmly believed that fresh air, a good dose of nature and time spent by the ocean can cure just about anything. It doesn’t matter how stressed I’ve been over the years, or how frustrated, I’ve always found solace in spending a few days away from everything, getting back to basics and enjoying life in it’s purest form. Over the years I’ve spent weekends camping in the Lake District, Peak District, in the shadow of Mount Snowdon in Wales, and around my home in Norfolk. I’ve stayed in campsites ranging from a full-on Glamping experience complete with champagne and pink wellies, to the most basic, wild campsites you can find, and I’ve done it in all weathers. Later on, as I discovered my love of festivals, I quickly realised that I was a much bigger fan of the four-day weekend camping events that allowed you to truly lose yourself in the music. I teamed up with Yelloh! Village, who offer the world’s finest open-air hotels and camping rentals, to write about what makes the perfect camping experience.imageThere’s something about getting back to basics with a group of your closest friends that just spells out a lot of fun. Whether you’re heading off to explore an untouched wilderness and can’t wait to get away, or you simply fancy going a bit wild in the woods, it’s a perfect way to actually spend time together with no distractions. It’s easy to forget that every second we spend with friends these days is dictated by the myriad of text messages, Snapchats, Facebook updates and Tweets that dominate our existence these days. Once all of those are done, often your time together is up and all you have to remember it is what is documented online. I was out with friends the other night and even dancing in a bar, every second of our moves was being photographed and snap-chatted by the pair for social media. It’s funny and it’s become an inherent part of our lives now but sometimes it is nice to just switch everything off and talk surrounded by nothing but nature. I guess I’m a country girl at heart, but I just find it so soothing to be away from the stresses of everyday life and there’s something about open space that just heals me.img_2333Some of my best camping memories are of the Glamping weekend I spent with my two best friends, the time spent camping in national parks in the Tasmanian wilderness as part of an epic 10-day roadtrip, and the hilarious times we’ve had setting up our tents and lounging round the campsite at festivals. Everyone was just present, laughing at each others’ jokes and experiencing every second together rather than thinking about how they would record it for social media. Every camping experience I’ve had boils down to the same factors whether we’re raving at a festival, getting lost in the woods or out on the moors – it’s the same few things that really make a camping trip a success, and a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re sat reading this thinking camping is so not for you, then think again – I never used to think I would enjoy it but it’s now become one of my favourite travel experiences. Plus it’s a great way to explore the world around you when you’re travelling on a budget, whether locally or on the other side of the world, the basic components of camping remain the same, it’s just the weather that gets better!image

What makes the perfect camping experience?

Tent

This is definitely something you want to invest in – buying a £5 tent from the supermarket and expecting it to withstand all weathers is just stupid. Even if you’re going to a festival – if it rains and becomes windy, your tent is going to flood and collapse and you won’t be able to get dry and warm. A camping trip can quickly become miserable if you have no way of getting dry. Look for great deals in the sales – I picked up my beauty of a tent in the Halfords sale a few years ago and it has seen me through countless amazing festivals and trips – it’s huge and easy to put up, and it  was reduced to less than half price when I got it.

Camping spot

Choose your pitch wisely – there’s nothing worse than putting your tent up in a rush and finding out later when you’re trying to sleep that you’ve camped on a 45 degree slope or there’s a massive rock right where you’re laying. Trust me, as someone who did a four day camping festival sleeping at a 45 degree angle because we arrived too late and couldn’t find a better spot – it’s absolutely bloody awful. Don’t do it. Always feel for rocks and lay down inside before you peg it to the ground.

Food

Plan the food you take well and it can change your whole experience, forget instant noodles and soup, its easy to cook up a good and healthy meal on a little gas stove. On my 10-day road trip around Tasmania we planned heavy meals of chilli and rice, and pasta to refuel after days of climbing mountains. It was quick and easy to prepare for four people so don’t be put off by the thought of it. There’s nothing better than a good, filling, hot meal at the end of a day camping.image

Location

There are some incredible places to camp in the world – under the stars in central Australia, on the beaches in Tasmania, and in the shadow of mountains all over the world are just some of my favourites. Choosing your location well can take a regular camping trip to the next level. Yelloh! Village has some amazing locations scattered across France which give you the opportunity to explore the landscape, towns and villages. Choosing a campsite where you can have a campfire also makes all the difference.

Price

Camping is a great way to travel if you’re on a budget. Especially for groups or families where accommodation could be expensive – there are so many free and cheap options available for campsites, and if you’re planning on repeating the experience your camping equipment is an investment rather than an expense.

Timing

Always look out for the skies above you – I’ve been lucky enough to camp in some amazing places with incredible views of the super moons, specific constellations, shooting stars. Sometimes the most beautiful sights are the ones that are totally free. There’s nothing better than a spectacular sunset, or making it up for sunrise.image

Company

The one thing that really makes the experience complete has to be the people you share it with. I say it all the time but it never becomes any less true, even in the most dire situations and the worst accommodations, the people are what shine through your memories long after the trip has finished. Taking your best friends who will make you laugh until you cry is the best way to approach a trip – no matter what goes wrong you’ll still make it an experience to remember.

Happy camping!

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imageGoing out for dinner has always been one of my favourite things to do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s street food in Bangkok, a luxury three-course meal in a fine-dining restaurant or a stuff-yourself-silly night at the local steakhouse. I’m always open to trying new foodie experiences and I’d always much rather that than a night of partying, money much better spent if you ask me! Especially when it comes to supporting independent and local businesses, I’m not really one for chain restaurants and would always much rather eat at restaurant that isn’t mass-producing its food. Give me fresh, local produce and a creative means of cooking any day. It’s not just the food – although that is a huge part of why I love it – it’s also the social experience of trying new foods with friends or loved ones, of sitting around a table and eating together. I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to meals, growing up it was always the one time of day my family all sat down together with no TV or other distractions to eat and catch up on what we had all been up to. When you’re living such busy and different lives, I think it’s important to really take this time together. As a backpacker, getting to know people always seems to be done over dinner and a few beers, eating together is once again the thing that brings us all together of an evening.imageLondon is a city full of chain restaurants and well known brands, but for me, this just doesn’t do it when I have a weekend away. I’d much rather peruse the food markets and explore quirky little restaurants with a lot more personality for a bit of a unique experience. I was invited along to review RustiKo Soho, a new independent Italian restaurant in the heart of Old Compton Street, just a stone’s throw from some of the best theatres in London. As we walked up to the restaurant, we were excited by the cosy look of the place, the quirky, candle-lit interior, and a funky blues playlist we could hear muffled behind the windows. I was promised “the vintage Soho experience” from an evening there and I can’t say I was disappointed, we were made to feel so welcome from the second we stepped in the door. The size and the decor gave it such a friendly vibe, more like you had hired out the whole venue for your friends than the formality of a restaurant. Every bar stool was already taken by those enjoying the fantastic range of prosecco, classic and twisted cocktails, as we were escorted to our table. I loved the rustic vibes of the restaurant, it was just my kind of place and I could only imagine the other levels would deliver more of the same.imageOne glance at the menu showed me we were in for a treat as we struggled to choose our favourite dishes, there was so much choice and so many of my favourite dishes. Despite having limited numbers of dishes on the menus, every single dish on there sounded fabulous and there was definitely something for everyone. The waiters were incredibly helpful with suggesting wines to go with the dishes and offering recommendations for combinations of dishes. In the end, we started with the garlic chilli shrimp and polenta chips to start, with some garlic pizza bread. It was the first time I had tried polenta chips but they were delicious, and the garlic pizza bread was a huge hit with that super melty, delicious cheese. My favourite had to be the delicious garlic chilli shrimp – one of my favourite dishes to have as a starter – I was so impressed by the flavours and spice, it was perfect and I’ll definitely be ordering that again.imageFor our second course, we spent ages choosing our dishes, but in the end we couldn’t resist the lobster linguine and the gnocchi. Now gnocchi is a dish that I’ve had a lot of disappointment over in the past, I’ve had the sad looking potatoey lumps slapped on a plate several times and decided it wasn’t for me. But finally, we tried a gnocchi that was tasty and had the perfect texture, the dumplings were cooked in a tasty mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and basil sauce that was perfect for my vegetarian sister. The absolute highlight was my lobster linguine, a dish that I have loved for many years, I couldn’t resist seeing the chef’s take on it. This time it was half a lobster cooked with cherry tomatoes, spring onions and a brandy sauce, even now as I write this my mouth is watering at the memory. It was a deliciously rich dish full of flavours, but the chef had combined them so perfectly that they didn’t overtake the delicate taste of the lobster. It’s a fine balance and there’s nothing worse than a seafood dish that overpowers seafood with strong flavours, the brandy was a perfect accompaniment. I was so impressed with the quality of the food, and the portion size, we were left stuffed and couldn’t even manage dessert!imageWatching the other patrons, I couldn’t resist peeking at their food and was excited at the sight of the juicy steaks, the light pasta dishes and the small plates (piattini) that were perfect for sharing. The couple next to us were loving their meal and really recommended the dishes, particularly the rib-eye. Showing the diversity of Soho, the restaurant was filled with a real range of people, it really showed how it was perfect for all occasions whether it was a family meal, a romantic dinner for two, or cocktails with the girls. Even better, after dinner, we were taken downstairs to explore the newest addition to the restaurant, the newly-opened basement bar, The Shed. With a real vintage Soho feel, the bar is a perfect place to relax with a drink after dinner, or to spend an evening with good friends. Just a small bar, it has a really exclusive feel as you walk down the spiral staircase to see cute wooden seating, bookshelves and quirky little decorations. I loved the swing music soundtrack and it went perfectly with the amazing look of the bar. There were already a couple of groups down there enjoying a few drinks and I noticed, that although the place felt busy and bustling, it was never so loud that we struggled to hear each other. RustiKo had managed to find a perfect balance between atmosphere and the foodie experience, and the result was just lovely. It really was the rustic Italian experience nestled in the streets of Soho, and I can’t recommend this hidden gem enough. Book your table now.image

Have you been to RustiKo – how was your experience? Can you recommend any other independent restaurants? What’s your favourite Italian dish?

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