Glasgow

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Before you even set foot in the Kelvingrove you’re in for a treat - the building is absolutely stunning. That’s just one of the reasons this is the most popular free attraction in Scotland.

Inside are three floors of installations and exhibitions including retrospectives celebrating the cultural history of the city and nation. Make sure you check out the paintings by the French Impressionists and Dutch Old Masters, although the star of the show is Salvador Dali’s looming ‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross’.

Everything from dinosaurs to ancient Egyptian artefacts are on show so there’s something for everyone. Plus visitors can enjoy a fine collection celebrating the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style from the Art Nouveau movement. You can also pay for touring exhibitions such as the ‘Dinosaur Eggs and Babies’ which is in town until mid-August.

There’s plenty to do nearby too. Behind the gallery and museum is Kelvingrove Park, which hugs the River Kelvin and sits next to Glasgow University. The surrounding West End of the city is also home to independent shops and eateries including Oran Mor, a converted church that hosts gigs, comedy and live theatre.

Image credit: © Ian Dagnall / Alamy

Riverhill Coffee Bar

This hugely popular city café is on Gordon Street, right next to Glasgow Central Station. As well as a destination for visitors from afar, it’s a favourite pit stop for locals thanks to a mouth-watering range of delicious treats.

The signature savoury dish is a lunchtime chicken shawarma wrap with tahini mayo and sumac onions, although there’s plenty going on at breakfast time too. Healthy-ish morning kickstarters are joined by the likes of chorizo and egg bagel with a sprinkle of paprika and puddledub bacon and sausage rolls. It’s very difficult to say ‘no’ to either option.

Nothing pulls in the crowds like Riverhill’s famous cake selection, though. Rich doesn’t quite cover it. No wonder the shortbread is labelled ‘billionaire’s’ not ‘millionaire’s’. 

The café is also on the doorstep of Glasgow’s renowned shopping area and it is just three minutes walk from the Gallery of Modern Art. The gallery itself is one of the city’s most iconic buildings and is guarded by a statue of the Duke of Wellington which is most famous for being almost permanently topped by a traffic cone.

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre 

For an unrivalled live experience in Glasgow, drop by the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre on Trongate near Merchant Square. This balletic living sculpture uses moving parts, light and music to tell a touching human story.

This choreographed show is full of quirky, robotic items animated with humour. It’s performed by a higgledy-piggledy network of machines which form a twitching clockwork contraption - the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a mad inventor’s workshop!

Not sure it’s your thing? There’s a shorter 40-minute show as well as the full 70-minute version with dates and times of performances displayed online.

Sharmanka is housed in 103 Trongate, an eclectic art space where you also can grab a bite to eat while you mull over what you have just seen and attempt to fathom it out. Café Cossachok is a Russian eatery specialising in authentic dishes such as borscht and, of course, blinis.

Liverpool

Brazilica

Every year Liverpool borrows a splash of fun, hedonism and vibrancy from its twin city Rio and celebrates Brazilica: a festival of Brazilian music, dance and art on scouse streets.

This year’s festival will see a celebration of South American culture across the city’s venues with fringe events throughout July. You certainly won’t want to miss the Carnival Queen competition, which sees the UK’s best samba dancers battle for supremacy; nor the Carnival Parade, which takes to the city’s streets on 17th and 18th July.

Fringe events include a range of South American musical acts, such as legendary disco musician Marcus Valle, playing throughout the city. There’s a fortnight of film in some of Liverpool’s most engaging venues throughout much of July too, such as City of God at St Luke’s, Liverpool’s roofless - ‘bombed-out’ in local parlance - church. Meanwhile, you can take in the companion piece Graffiti Art at FACT - the UK’s leading new media gallery.

If you’re hungry for more Brazil after all that, there will be themed celebrations at Liverpool’s nightspots – so make sure to pack your dancing shoes - alongside feathers, bikinis and head-dress. It really is the best way to celebrate this annual explosion of colour across Liverpool’s streets.

Image credit: © Christopher Middleton / Alamy

Mowgli

Rub shoulders with students, bohemians and artists at Mowgli, the newest addition to Bold Street - Liverpool’s alternative shopping, eating and drinking quarter. It’s run by authentic 'curry evangelist' Nisha Katona and offers tapas-style Indian street food with the X-factor. It’s curry, but not as you know it.

Mowgli delivers bold flavours from an irreverent menu that is based around ‘chaat’ - meaning ’to lick’; the kind of fast-food snacks served by roadside vendors in India. The baltis and tikka masalas historically favoured by British palates are nowhere to be seen.

So instead think yoghurt bombs that explode with flavour when popped in the mouth; crackling, spicy gunpowder chicken and an Indian take on cheese on toast. And if you can’t decide, you can always choose a tiffin box and sample a bit of everything. For dessert, there are warming cardamom-flavoured cakes and lassi - a yoghurt-based drink - to wash it all down with. No chicken korma with half-and-half and a warm pint of lager here.

Prices are favourable and there’s a pleasing ‘no bookings’ policy, so choose your time wisely. With its exposed beam and tattooed staff ambiance, Mowgli is one of Liverpool's coolest - and hottest - places to eat.

Dazzle Ship

History buffs and music fans might spot a reference to Britain’s attempts to camouflage its shipping during WWI - or the glittering synth-pop of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. As a typically challenging Liverpool update on a 100-year-old concept, this attraction is arguably a little of both - a chance to explore the historic Edmund Gardner and revel in a sensory delight at the same time.

Dazzle Ships were designed to confuse predatory enemy vessels as to the size, movement and distance of British ships operating in dangerous territory during the First World War. Taking cues from the then-cutting-edge phenomenon of cubism, the ships were colourfully painted in jagged geometric shapes. The result was to employ avant-garde art in a bid to confound the enemy.

In a nod to those efforts - and by way of helping preserve the Edmund Gardner - artist  Carlos Cruz-Diez painted the ship with striking slashes of colour that will remain as its livery throughout 2015. There are daily tours of the ship while National Museums Liverpool are slowly taking over the surrounding area: The Museum Of Liverpool, International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum are close by, as is Tate Liverpool. It’s a cultural offering that can only be described as dazzling.

Sheffield

The Great Escape

Heading to a city in order to lock yourself in a room may strike you as an unlikely way to spend a city break, but that’s very much the point of The Great Escape. Well, not quite the whole point - you’re supposed to find your way out too, but therein lies the fun. 

What might sound like an exercise in corporate bonding is fast becoming one of the hottest leisure pursuits in the UK - so-called ‘escape games’ enable you to take part in fiendish Crystal Maze-style quests within a group, using ingenuity, observation, skills and teamwork to solve the puzzle and vanquish the room.

The Great Escape in Sheffield has four different rooms with very different set-ups and a range of difficulty. Choose from an interstellar maze of wormholes; a mad scientist’s lab; a homicide scene where you have to hunt down a Seven-style genius or the most difficult challenge of all - escaping from notorious Alcatraz. Only around 40% ever make it out - can you join them?

It’s just a short walk from Sheffield train station and is suitable for groups of two and up. If you like video games, puzzles and genre television - and you enjoy challenging your wits - then this is definitely for you. The game is on!

The Showroom Cinema

Sheffield’s independent cinema celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and continues to blaze a trail with alternative films, freshly-made local food and regular seasons. Love film? You’ll fall head over heels for The Showroom - a former car dealership transformed into an art deco celebration of motion pictures.

It’s one of Europe’s biggest independent cinemas and a cultural hub in its own right - slap bang in the middle of Sheffield’s cultural quarter and right next to the station. And don’t worry about seeking the best places for food before and a drink afterwards - there’s a bar, homemade ice cream and dinner for two. For couples and dates, it writes itself. 

There are blockbusters here, but they’re at the quality end of the spectrum. What you’re more likely to find is a fine selection of arthouse indies, world cinema, documentaries, limited releases and classics. There’s plenty of stage on screen too - meaning opera and theatre from the National Theatre, Glyndebourne and RSC: the next best thing if you can’t be there live.

Fagan's

Real ale and craft beer might be all the rage across the UK’s hipster bars, but at Fagan’s a love of the hop never went out of fashion. Locals say there is no finer pint of Guinness this side of the Irish Sea and there’s guaranteed to be a couple of local real ales on. Abbeydale’s Moonshine is a dependable and popular session ale in these parts.

The food is the stuff of legend too. The gargantuan all-day breakfast and local pies, served with chips, peas and gravy, are nigh on irresistible - just make sure you don’t have reservations elsewhere later in the day; you won’t want anything else until morning.

When you’ve had your fill move to the back room, where there’s folk music on most evenings. Occasional drinkers here include some of Sheffield’s finest such as Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley. Don’t expect Sky Sports, pool and a juke box - but if a game of arrows, a friendly dog, fine pint of beer and impromptu live music are your thing then you might just fall in love with Fagan’s.  

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