24 hours in Dublin guide

*post sponsored by Dublin Coach

I love a little overnight away to recharge my batteries and there's nothing better than a super quick trip to Dublin! I love Dublin because it feels a million miles away when really, it's only just down the road!

How to get there
Getting to Dublin is easier than ever with Dublin Coach. Hop on the coach next door to the Grand Opera House on Glengall Street. The service leaves every hour and gets you to Dublin in 2 hours. Unlike other services, the coach runs directly from Belfast to Dublin City Centre, dropping off at Dublin's Custom House Quay. 

The coach has USBs and WIFI for charging and browsing plus the seats are big and comfortable. The two hours flew in! Plus it's only £8 each way - bargain! 

Where to stay
I can highly recommend the beautiful Westbury Hotel, located just behind Brown Thomas. It's a really stunning hotel and so handy if you are on a major shopping trip. My favourite hotel (actually in the entire WORLD!) is The Merrion Hotel. It makes me feel so happy as I have very fond memories of a trip when I was a teenager. It's really homely and they have a fabulous spa in the basement too!

On this trip, we stayed in the brand new Iveagh Garden Hotel. It's Europe's first sustainable hotel and it's powered by the river that runs underneath the hotel. The hotel is really gorgeous - very modern and glamourous. It's a great place for a girl's trip and their bar & restaurant, Elle's, does amazing cocktails.

I've also heard great reports of House Dublin - they've also just opened up a sister Belfast version on Botanic Avenue that's worth a nosey.

Where to shop
I always head straight to Brown Thomas to look at all the gorgeous things and visit the babies in Chanel and Louis Vuitton! I also really love Armani makeup and Huda Beauty. Two of my favourite brands are a big reason why I venture to Dublin - COS and & Other Stories. Their clothes fit me so well - fellow tall girls take note. 

There's also a new Victoria's Secret in the old BT2 unit. It's really big and has a whole downstairs of the PINK collection.

If you want to explore some amazing Irish design, head to the Kilkenny Centre. They really champion local makers in everything from ceramics to jewellery. 

Where to eat
After asking you all on Instagram, Fire on Dawson Street came out as the top rated place to go. We headed there for an amazing meal - delicious steaks and the BEST PRAWNS I've ever had. The service is also fantastic. Highly recommended also came Sophie's at The Dean and Roberta's. I can also really recommend The Green Hen from previous visits.

We headed to The Woollen Mills Eating House for lunch on Saturday. They serve amazing lunch options from sandwiches to burgers. The restaurant is really chilled - a lovely juxtaposition to the location facing the busy Ha'penny Bridge. 

If you want some shopping fuel, make sure to grab a hot chocolate from Butler's Chocolate Cafe - the best!

Feeling inspired? Plan your perfect trip with Dublin Coach by visiting there website here.

New home, new vibes

*sponsored by TK Maxx

The start of this year has been an absolute whirlwind. Not only did I move to a new job but I moved into my first home! I've been saving for and working towards my own house for quite some time so I was delighted that I finally was able to make my dream come true! 

It's super hard saving for a deposit and also gathering up stuff for a house but I regularly frequented TK Maxx to stock up on essentials for my house - from my pineapple doormat to pots & pans! I feel like it's been such an amazing place to find both great value and one off gems that you know that no-one else will have. My local TK Maxx in Newtownabbey has a HUGE furniture section with lots of homeware goodness. As I've mentioned before, I do travel for a good TK Maxx find - a wee day trip to TK Maxx in Ards or Lisburn has also landed me some amazing finds! A little pro tip is to go in the morning, especially mid-week if possible! They seem to get great deliveries then!

Here's my top three picks that you need to look out for on your next TK Maxx adventure – and if you are anything like me you’ll find it hard to simply stick to these three things!

The best lamps EVER
Buying lamps was something I didn't realise was such a substantial task because you need SO MANY OF THEM! You become obsessed with finding really unique lamps and also feel super triumphant when you score an amazing pair of matching lamps for your bedside tables! I picked up the amazing gold & marble lamp in my local TK Maxx and it perfectly complements my jewel toned living room. Also I've picked up lots of really great lampshades for affordable prices - another thing that you don't realise you need lots of! Make sure to take a look in the homeware clearance aisle – there’s always some amazing lamps and lampshades there!

Soy candles GALORE
So fun fact about me: I'm really weird about candle ingredients. I'm a huge fan of soy candles both for their ingredients and their longer lasting burning time. Typically soy candles can be much more expensive but I always pick up amazing ones in TK Maxx which are great value. I've got everything from fresh cotton scents to gin & tonic! Warning: your friends will love them so much that you will end up buying loads to give out as gifts! My grandmother is now hooked after giving her some for her birthday & Christmas! I’ve picked up some of my favourite designer candles here over the years too so be sure to look out for some big names amongst the shelves!

Print perfect
My biggest spend since moving into my house has been on prints & photos to dress my house. I love black & white portraits, especially of old Hollywood icons! There's always an amazing selection and I have managed to buy one for almost every room of my house at this rate. The best bit is that you get the print/photo plus the frame. Most of my choices have been around the £30 - £50 mark, making them super affordable. I also have picked up some beautiful framed quotes for just £10 - a great way to dress an empty corner or bathroom.

Let me know what your favourite TK Maxx finds are - I always love to discover new things.

3 Belfast lunch options you need to try

I love to lunch. It's one of life great pleasures. But often, I love a cheap and quick lunch. An hour, something tasty that won't break the bank, all whilst catching up with a friend on my lunch break. I have 3 amazing options that you won't want to miss out on! 

Greens Pizza
Let me make this clear - Green's is the BEST pizza in Belfast. I've tried them all but I've been going to Green's for years and it continues to be the best. Not only is it the best pizza but their staff are lovely in both the Lisburn Road branch and the Ballyhackamore location (plus they are soon to open a third branch on the Ormeau Road!) Their lunchtime deal has pulled me out of many a bad mood and hangover. You get half a pizza & either house salad or garlic bread AND A DRINK for under a £8. It's the best deal around!

My choice? The Gilroy Twister. Meat, loads of peppers and 2 dips - divine! 

See their menu or order home delivery here.

Oliver's Restaurant
Oliver's is one of those 'suits everyone' type of restaurants (I also put Howard Street & Deanes at Queen's in this category). There's a little bit of everything on the menu from traditional fayre to daily specials. The best bit is that it's all super tasty and affordable. I've had a few lunch dates here lately and I love the setting. It's so homely and comforting. Made with lots of local ingredients, the food is hearty and delicious. I've had everything from amazing pulled beef sandwiches to the most AMAZING risotto. 

To book or to see the menu, head here

The best bit about Bubbacue is that they have 2 branches now - hooray! Botanic Avenue and Callendar Street are super handy for grabbing a bite during work, uni or during a shopping date. I've been a long time fan of Bubbacue for the sheer value - it's tasty food that comes in big portions. I've long been an advocate of their mac & cheese - even if you say you don't like mac & cheese, you need to try it out! I've made a few converts of my friends lately! The owners of Bubbacue are the original Boojum owners so the fact they added a burrito to their menu lately made sense. It's SO yummy - packed with the most divine salsa and cheese ever!

See their menu and locations here.

Tried one of my lunch recommendations? Tweet me & let me know @GemmaLEBond 

Why this Men’s Project is one worth shouting about

*Sponsored by Aviva Community Fund

The Fund helps to provide much needed funding for community projects across the UK. That’s why was was so proud to see a local project, the North Belfast Men’s Shed winning funding this year. The North Belfast Men’s Shed provides an amazing safe space for men of all ages to come together to learn new skills, chat and have fun. They say women talk face to face & men talk side to side. The North Belfast’s Men’s Shed gives men the opportunity to make these important new friendships. The men do everything from wood-work to fishing and ballroom dancing! The multiple generational nature of the project means it’s also keeping hard earned skills alive. It’s totally free to attend and it’s open 9am-5pm, 5 days a week!

Their project, the Buddy Bench at North Belfast Men’s Shed initiative was awarded Aviva Community Funding just a few weeks ago. The project will allow the men of the Shed to spend time crafting Buddy Benches that will be donated to local schools. They hope to give a bench to every primary school in North Belfast. The benches are intended to be placed in the playground & a child can sit there if they feel sad or if they need a friend to play with. It’s almost like a little bit of the Men’s Shed community spirit brought to life in the playground!

I was so taken with the amazing men we met – so many of who reminded me of my late grandfather. He was a gardener for Belfast City Council and I know he would have adored going to the Men’s Shed! The lady who runs the project, Geraldine, is an absolute sweetheart. She spends her day running after a massive group of men and hopes it will continue to grow as they are soon moving to even bigger premises!

Have a family member or friend you think that would love the North Belfast Men’s Shed, email Geraldine for more information on:

Belfast Men’s Shed is just one of the over 590 projects and charities that secured funding from the Aviva Community Fund this year. The nationwide initiative, now in its third year, launched in September 2015, called upon passionate residents to submit a project close to their heart to be in with a chance of securing funding ranging from up to £1,000 to £25,000.

Over 6,500 groups entered the funding initiative, each galvanising the support of their local community to vote for their entry in four categories: Health & Wellbeing, Skills for Life, Community Support, and Inclusivity.

5.5 million votes were placed this year and the 828 groups with the highest votes were shortlisted as finalists. Awards in the £1k category were decided on by public votes, with winners in the £5k, £10k and £25k categories selected from the finalists by a judging panel. 

If you’d like to find out about other Aviva Community Fund winners and find out who won in your local area, visit this page here.

All shapes and sizes

Hotel Chocolat kindly sent me some of their Valentine's Day range to try out (all delicious - I haven't met a thing I didn't like!) and it got me thinking about what Valentine's Day means to me. I typically find Valentine's Day hard. As an eternally single person, the concept of not being part of a pair to celebrate a holiday that is marketed to the high heavens makes me feel a little at a loss. It's a narrative I'm not part of. Valentine's Day can seem really twee and sickening but deep down, I find it sweet. 

I've really spent a lot of time over the past number of years thinking about love and what it means to me. A lot of this time has really helped to build out what my expectations of my 'perfect match' are - and maybe why he's so hard to find! I've learned so much about love from the relationships I see around me - the 30+ year marriages of my friends parents, the love my best friend has for her son and the love I have experienced in my daily friendships.

It is with that spirit of friendship that I celebrate Valentine's Day this year - and remember that love should be celebrated every day of life. I have been incredibly blessed with outstanding friendships that have taught me so much about sharing, caring, sacrifice and patience. All of these qualities I hope will build me into  a great partner when that person comes along. I really do think that every good relationship - romantic or otherwise, starts in the basis of good friendship. Friendships come in so many shapes in sizes unlike people who often have a romantic ''type' (mine is usually tall, dark and handsome!) - another stark reminder that if we only looked for friendship in one place that you'd never find what you are looking for. 

I remind my friends that I love them when I can - whether that's when I'm leaving their house or over long winded WhatsApp conversations. It is the love of my friends that keeps me going & motivates me to be a better person.

Remind your friends you love them Valentine's Day & as often as you can. Write them a card. Send them a text. Bring them a bunch of flowers - spread the love. It's only when someone isn't here that you realise you wish you would have said it more so say it now. 

Wishing you all love this Valentine's Day & every day