Steamy rainforest, smoking hot volcanoes and stunning reef-fringed shorelines, Central America is a god-given playground for the adventurous. Whether you’re packing a surfboard, a wetsuit and a GoPro or simply a pair of hiking boots, Andy Turner rounds up the best activities in the region.

Surf in El Salvador

Once off limits due to gang violence and civil war, El Salvador is now becoming a firm fixture on the international surf scene. Reliable waves peel elegantly along its 300km Pacific shoreline, and unlike nearby Costa Rica or Nicaragua the water stays a swimsuit-friendly 25–30°C (77–86°F) year-round.

While the country’s beaches only come in shades of volcanic grey, the breaks more than make up for it. Today you’ll find gringo-friendly surf resorts, from the affordable El Dorado to the distinctly upmarket Las Flores, dotted along the coast.

Go volcano boarding in Nicaragua

Bored of snow, surf or skate-boarding? Why not point yourself feet first down an active volcano instead? Cerro Negro in Nicaragua is ground zero for the emerging craze of volcano boarding (more akin to tobogganing as you spend most of the time on your butt).

After a sweaty climb with a piece of plywood strapped to your back, you reach a height of 738m, before donning a fetching orange jumpsuit, hopping on your board and yelling “Vamos!”.

While you can slow yourself down by sticking out your feet, local operators Bigfoot have clocked speeds of over 80kmph. The fact that Cerro Negro is overdue an eruption, having been quiet since 1999, also adds a certain thrill.

Dive in Panama’s “new Galápagos”

If you’re after world-class underwater action the island of Coiba, off Panama’s south coast, deserves your full attention. Once a penal colony, Coiba makes for a perfect dive site thanks to its crystal clear water and nutrient-rich currents comparable with those in the Galápagos and Cocos Islands.

A multi-day dive trip will give you the best opportunity to see its range of critters from tiny seahorses and bizarre-looking frogfish to truck-sized whale sharks.

With a park ranger station the island’s only nod to civilisation, Coiba makes for a serene escape from the backpacker trail.

Zipline through treetops in Costa Rica

First used by biologists for a monkey-eye view of the forest canopy, ziplines turned out to be way too much fun for just boring old science in the 1990s. Costa Rica was one of the first places to develop them into adventure attractions and today boasts the world’s widest range of ziplines.

Fly past squirrel monkeys and waterfalls in the forests around Volcán Arenal or try the full “Look guys, no hands!” experience using a “superman” cable.

Apart from indulging your inner Tarzan, it’s the best way to see the sheer scale of Central America’s tropical forest.

Go underground in Belize

There are plenty of stellar Mayan monuments above ground in Central America but you’ll also find intriguing evidence of this unique civilization in a series of subterranean caves and sinkholes.

One of the most atmospheric sites is Actun Tunichil Muknal, or “ATM”, in Belize. Here, you wade through waist-deep water and squeeze through limestone fissures before flicking on your head torch to reveal stunning stalactites and stalagmites – plus, something a whole lot creepier…

Laid to rest on several platforms are several calcified skeletons, thought to be the victims of Mayan human sacrifice.

Image by Antti T. Nissinen on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Delve into the jungle in Honduras

The most remote region of the most enigmatic country in Central America? Tick! Take a river trip ten days up the Río Platáno in Honduras’s La Mosquita province and flat whites, wifi and satnav will seem far, far way.

Only a few operators have the know-how to tackle this challenging region, among them La Moskita who have taught the likes of Ewan MacGregor and Ray Mears jungle survival skills. After a day spent rafting rapids and hiking through primeval forest you’ll be ready to string up a hammock, zip up your mosquito net and ponder how on earth you got into this.

A photo posted by Rodrigo Fuentes (@rod_fm) on

Take a hike in Guatemala

While you’ll find exquisite lakes, soaring volcanoes and lush forest across Central America, Guatemala combines them to perfection in the Western Highlands around Xela (pronounced “shey-la”).

From here you’ll find a number of tempting treks, among them the ascent of Volcán Santa María, a perfect cone of black. Just downhill is Volcán Santiaguito, which regularly spits out a plume of ash that makes for the perfect summit selfie.

Non-profit Quetzal Trekkers offers a monthly full-moon ascent that culminates in a truly memorable dawn breakfast.

Image by Blanc Philippe on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Explore more of Central America with the Rough Guide to Central America on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

To celebrate of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, visitors will be offered free entry to national parks across the USA next week.

From the 16th to the 24 April, admission fees will be waived in all 59 parks, with a range of special activities also planned around National Junior Ranger Day on the 16th. There’s never been a better excuse to see the spring blossom in Yosemite, track crocodiles in the Everglades or hike near a smoking caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Not sure where to start? Check out our park-by-park guide or take this quiz to find out which park you should visit first.

Header image via Pixabay/CC0. Find out more on www.VisitTheUSA.com/outdoors.

With its canals, narrow cobbled alleys and trams, the novelty value of Amsterdam can prove entertaining enough for many kids. There’s also a whole host of attractions specifically aimed at young children, ranging from circuses and puppet theatres to urban farms and one of the best zoos in Europe.

There are also plenty of opportunities for play – practically all of the city’s parks and most patches of greenery have some form of playground, and the recreation area in the Vondelpark is heaven for kids and parents alike.

You’ll find most places pretty child-friendly; the majority of restaurants have highchairs and kids’ menus, and bars don’t seem to mind accompanied kids, as long as they’re well behaved. Indeed, having a small child in your care is unlikely to close many doors to you in Amsterdam.

Wondering where to start? Here are our tips for the best things to do with kids from the new Rough Guide to Amsterdam.

1. Take a walk in the woods

The woodlands of Amsterdamse Bos offer playgrounds, outdoor theatre, lakes and cycle paths. You can also rent canoes and pedalos to explore the Bosbaan Canal, and visit the Ridammerhoeve goat farm, which makes its own ice cream and cheese

2. Spend an afternoon at a petting zoo

Situated next to a playground, the Amstelpark Petting Zoo has chickens, rabbits, goats and donkeys, while the De Pijp Petting Zoo’s variety of farm animals also includes sheep, ponies, pigs, guinea pigs and salamanders. Both are free to enter.

3. Take a canal trip

For older children, a good introduction to Amsterdam might be one of the canal trips that start from Centraal Station or Damrak, or for 5- to 12-year-olds try the Blue Boat Company’s pirate-themed audio guide: while their parents are enjoying a standard cruise, the audio guide helps kids to spot animals using binoculars and to listen out for water sounds; at the end of the journey they get a certificate proving their qualification as a freshwater pirate.

Pixabay / CC0

4. Get some fresh air in Vondelpark

The city’s most central park, the leafy and lawned Vondelpark has an excellent playground, as well as sandpits, paddling pools and a couple of cafés where you can take a break. In summertime, the open-air theatre, Openluchttheater, usually puts on some free entertainment for kids – mime, puppets, acrobats and the like.

5. See a puppet show

The intimate Amsterdam Marionette Theatre, housed in a former blacksmith’s, puts on traditional marionette performances. Because plays are set to classical music there’s no language confusion, and the costumes are fabulous. You could also try permanent children’s theatre De Krakeling, which runs theatre, puppet and dance shows for youngsters up to the age of 17, often with an emphasis on full-scale audience participation.

6. Enter the Amsterdam Dungeon

This popular sight is housed in a former church. Tours last for around an hour, during which you’re handed from one ham actor to another, making believe you have been sentenced by the inquisition, press-ganged onto the high seas, chased by witches and surrounded by plague victims – until you’re finally swept around the interior of the church on a short roller coaster ride.

7. Go to the zoo

Artis Royal Zoo is a fun day out for kids, all the more so if you time your visit to coincide with feeding times. At the time of writing these were 10.45am for birds of prey; 11.30am and 3.45pm for seals and sea lions; 2pm for pelicans; 3pm for lions and tigers (not Thurs); and 3.30pm for penguins.

8. Take a history lesson

A free audio guide (in English) leads children aged nine and upwards around the Dutch Resistance Museum Junior, a new add-on to the main Dutch Resistance Museum. It explains World War II from a child’s perspective using true stories and authentic items.

9. Learn about Judaism

At the JHM Children’s Museum, children aged 6–12 can learn about the Jewish faith and traditions on a tour that leads them through the house of the Jewish Hollander family, learning about kosher food in the kitchen, and Jewish music from around the world, among other topics.

10. Visit Madame Tussaud’s

The large waxworks collection has the usual smattering of famous people and rock stars, as well as Dutch celebrities and the royal family, plus a few Amsterdam peasants and merchants thrown in for local colour.

11. Hire a canal bike

A fun water-based activity is a ride on a pedalo-style canal bike. This can get tiring, but jetties where the bikes can be picked up and dropped off are numerous, and it’s quite safe.

Image by walter etty on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

12. Hit the playground

TunFun in the old Jewish Quarter is a large underground playground with slides, trampolines and climbing apparatus, for children aged 1–12. Activities include gymnastics, bowling and indoor football, and there’s plenty of equipment to clamber into, under and over.

Explore more of Amsterdam with the Rough Guide to AmsterdamCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0.

*This competition is now closed*

Always wanted to be a travel writer? Well you’re in luck. Last year we ran our travel writing competition and the winner, Steph Dyson, has become one of our regular contributors. This year, we’re opening it up again to seek out the best untapped travel writing talent.

Enter the competition and you could become a Rough Guides writer, as well as bagging £2000 (approx US$2800) to spend on a trip of your choice.

The Prize:

The winner will get a £2000 (or local currency equivalent) travel voucher to spend on planning an unforgettable trip with GapYear.com, a bundle of Rough Guides books, and their winning work will be featured on RoughGuides.com.

Created by backpackers for backpackers, GapYear.com connect travellers with an unrivalled range of tours, volunteering projects and working holidays in over 100 countries around the globe.

Whether it’s rescuing endangered tigers in India or surfing deep blue waves in Morocco, they guarantee exhilarating experiences on every continent and provide dedicated support and advice throughout every step of the journey.

Last year’s winner, Steph Dyson, said: “I’d always wanted to visit Patagonia in the south of Argentina and Chile, but didn’t have the funds to take such a trip. So thanks to Rough Guides and GapYear.com, I booked onto a 34-day tour with Intrepid.”

Two runners up will also receive a bundle of Rough Guides books and will be published on RoughGuides.com.

Why enter?

If you’re not sure whether you should enter your writing, here are some wise words from last year’s winner, Steph:

“Winning the competition has opened up so many opportunities with both Rough Guides and other travel writing websites.

“The feeling that other travellers are reading my writing, and hopefully being inspired to discover new places as a result, is very addictive and has certainly given me the confidence to pursue a career in writing.

“Having the chance to write for such a globally-renowned publication and work with the Rough Guides web editors has also been invaluable: the feedback and guidance I’ve been given has really helped me to develop as a writer.”

How to enter:

To enter, all you need to do is write a 500-word feature, based on a personal experience, on one of the following themes:

  • Close to home
  • The most beautiful place in the world
  • My best day on Earth

Entries should be emailed to [email protected], either as a .docx (Microsoft Word) file, or pasted into the email itself. Entries should be no more than 500 words and no less than 450 words. Applications close at 12:59 BST on the 1 May 2016.

5 tips for writing a great piece

• Have a clear idea. Can you summarise your story – its setting and its angle combined – in a line or two?

• Take special care over the opening. Stories don’t have to start smack-bang in the thick of the action by any means, but this can be a useful way to engage the reader from the off.

• Readers will turn away at the drop of a hat – keep them with you by clearing your story’s path of all obstructions (such as a dropped hat, unless it’s contributing something).

• Judiciously employ observations (local colour): combined the right way, sights, sounds and smells can spellbind.

• Use temporal and spatial markers to ensure the reader knows where (and when) they are at all times.

Read last year’s winning entry here, and the runners-up here.

Good luck!

Open to the UK, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA entrants over the age of 18 only. For full Terms & Conditions see here.

Japan has long captivated the imaginations of travellers around the globe, seeming to both baffle and beguile all who venture there.

Between language barriers and Japan’s rather deceiving size (roughly stretching the length of Miami to Montreal) it’s all too easy to miss out on Japan’s best spots during the trip planning process. From countryside almost mystic in its tranquility to the addictive buzz of urban life, there’s a lot to pack into a single itinerary.

Let this video serve as a starting point – a one minute guide on which to base your Japanese odyssey. Whether you decide on the seaside or the mountains, big city backstreets or rustic villages, one thing’s for sure: you’re bound to discover a culture like no other.

The world is flat. Or so the thinking went, until someone actually went off to circumnavigate it. You may not make such a colossal discovery during your own global journey, but what awaits you “out there” is something only you can find: your very own adventure. Who knows, you may just find a best friend, even the love of your life, along the way.

But before you make your plan to travel around the world, you might need a little advice. Here’s where the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World comes in, with tips on everything from visas and vaccinations to budgeting and packing.

Here, author Doug Lansky answers some of the most common burning questions.

1. I’ve just got three months. Is that too short to travel around the world?

Well, since the actual flight time to circumnavigate the planet is about 40 hours, no it’s not, but it is too short to try to see most of it. As long as you don’t attempt to visit too many destinations, you’re fine. In fact, you’ll likely have a far more enriching trip than someone who travels for twice as long but tries to see four times as much.

2. I’ve got £4000 ($6160) saved up. Will that get me around the world?

No problem. You can find great deals on round-the-world tickets for about a third of that price, or even hitchhike on yachts for free. The more important question is what kind of trip do you want to take and how long do you want it to last? It’s important to figure out a daily budget that fits your comfort level, and to learn which countries offer the best value.

3. I hear a lot about “attractions”, “must-sees” and “wonders”. Is it tourist-bureau hype or is there something to it?

A bit of both. When the hype lasts long enough, it seems to become legend, or even fact. The classic is the “Wonders of the World” lists. Truth is there’s no such thing as a “must-see” and you’ll have a far more enriching trip if you personalize your journey and don’t construct it around seeing the major attractions.

4. How do you know where to sleep each night, what to see during the day, and how to get around?

Carry a guidebook – or a digital version of one. It will cover all the sights in each town, with a short review of the best affordable accommodation, often accompanied by a helpful map (although getting a bit lost now and then is a healthy way to travel). In peak season, you may want to book accommodation a day or two ahead of time.

5. I want to make my journey alone, but I’m worried about travelling solo…

There are hundreds of thousands of travellers out there right now making solo journeys and most of them had just as many concerns as you do. Loneliness can be a problem, particularly at the beginning of a trip and during some meals, but you’ll find your stride and start meeting other travellers before long. Check out our list of great solo travel destinations for inspiration, and learn about the benefits of hitting the road alone.

6. C’mon, do I really need travel insurance?

Only if you get really sick. Or injured. Or sued for some driving accident. In short, yes.

But unless you get insurance that fits your travel plans, it won’t do much good. Which means you shouldn’t necessarily sign up for that convenient “click here for insurance” button when you buy your plane ticket online. Insurance companies rarely cover the exact same things, so you dig a little to find out if your activities and destinations are included.

7. Is taking time off going to ruin my career?

It might delay that promotion, but there’s a better chance it will improve your career prospects. Most prospective employers will find your journey an interesting topic of conversation, just make sure you’ve worked out a few life-lessons from your trip and how they might apply to the job at hand.

If you’re particularly concerned, you might see if you can plan some work-related education into your trip – such as learning a language, taking a writing course or attending cooking school. That also shows prospective employers you were cerebrally engaged during your trip and viewed it as a continuation of your education.

8. I’ve got a smartphone. How do I use it while traveling without it costing me a small fortune?

You’re going to have to make some adjustments to your mobile usage. Exactly what depends on how long you’re staying in one spot and what you’re willing to spend for the convenience of constant connectivity. If you’re spending a couple of weeks or more in one place, it can be worth your while to pick up a local SIM card (or a cheap phone with one if your SIM is locked in). Otherwise, you’ll probably want to take a mini digital detox and shut off data roaming until you find a wi-fi hotspot.

9. Is there one thing I’m likely going to forget?

Earplugs. Hostels and cheap hotels are often located next to busy streets and nightclubs. Some buses and trains have minimal ventilation and you’ll need to keep the windows open, which lets in plenty of air but more decibels than you’d care for. And don’t forget about the snoring roommate – there’s typically one assigned to every dormitory room.

10. I have to ask… What about travellers’ diarrhoea? What should I expect?

You should expect to get it. But if you get it checked out quickly (simple microscope analysis) you can typically get some meds at any clinic and you should be feeling fine within an hour or two. Don’t “ride it out” – total waste of a couple of days. Surprisingly, more travellers get the shits when eating from buffets (yes, even in nice hotel restaurants) than simple, cheap restaurants because so many people work with the food and all it takes is one set of unwashed hands.

Plan more of your first trip around the world with the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

Plato said every dog has the soul of a philosopher. While that statement is disputable, the wave-riding canines at the Noosa Festival of Surfing are proof that some dogs, at least, have the soul of a surfer.

Thousands gathered at Queensland Australia’s Noosa Beach this week to watch The Dog Spectacular, the world’s only surfing event where dog and master compete as a team. The doggies lead the way down the beach, leaping with all paws onto the surfboards as soon they were set in the ocean ­– ready to catch a wave.

As pairs of all breeds and ages paddled out together; it was clear that this was not some adrenaline-fuelled competition but an exercise in pure, surf-loving fun.

“It’s a wonderful experience for dog and human,” said Festival Co-Founder Paul Jarratt. “It’s not really about winning or losing; it’s a celebration of all the good things we love about surfing, the ocean and environment that we are privileged to have in Noosa. I think that’s why we attract surfers and their families from all over the world, we’ve got 20 countries represented this year.”

Check out some of the images below for highlights. Special mentions to the dog in sunglasses who rode waves all on his own.

The festival will continue on until the 12th of March, and is a must for anyone planning a trip to Queensland’s aptly named Sunshine Coast.

Because it's Friday, and who doesn't want to see dogs surfing in Australia? http://bit.ly/1QLagU

Posted by Rough Guides on Friday, 11 March 2016

Planning your first trip around the world can be daunting. There’s an awful lot to discover out there, from retina-burning white beaches tapering off into gin-clear waters to mountain ranges hiding echo-bending canyons and fascinating wildlife.

To celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World, packed with tips and insights for your first big trip, here are 20 ideas to kick-start your inspiration.

Whether you’re dreaming of kicking back on a white-sand beach, partying until dawn or leaving the tourist trail behind, read on…

1. Participate in a festival

There’s a world of opportunities to celebrate out there. Get covered in coloured dye at Holi, hurl oranges in Italy, take part in Spain’s biggest food fight or don a costume and join a Brazilian samba school.

2. Learn a language

Private and group lessons are a bargain in many countries, and are a great way to gain a greater understanding of your destination. Think about learning Spanish in South America or even try to break the ice with a few words of Mongolian.

3. Be awed by nature

Whether you want to tick the seven wonders of the world of your bucket list or get off the beaten track, there are some stupendous sights to discover. The unfathomably stunning Grand Canyon, for instance, is even still deepening at the rate of 15m per million years.

4. Take a cookery course

Even if you just learn to make one great dish, your friends and relatives will be grateful for years. You could master Indian cooking in Kerala or take a popular Thai cookery course in Bangkok.

5. Shop at a local market

Practice your language skills, meet locals and get a good price all at the same time by exploring local markets. You could hit the bazaars of Fez and Marrakesh in Morocco, where you’ll find more than 10,000 fascinating alleys to explore, or join the crowds at Belgium’s oldest Christmas market.

6. Take a literary journey

Connecting the sites from your favourite foreign book or following in the footsteps of an author is a great way to see another side of a country. Get started with our 10 great literary journeys or try one of these 20 breaks for bookworms.

7. Find your own dream beach

There’s nothing like finding a hammock with your name on it and staying still until you’ve recharged your wanderlust. Thailand doesn’t have a monopoly on Southeast Asia’s great beaches, but many travellers simply can’t seem to return home without an obligatory white-sand sizzle on one of its palm-tufted strands.

8. Attend a sporting event

Don the local team’s colours and make a few new friends as you attend a match or game, be that rugby in New Zealand, cricket in India or ice hockey in Canada.

9. Try the street food

Street food meals may be the most memorable of your entire trip. We’ve picked 20 of the best street foods around the world to whet your appetite.

10. Climb a mountain

Start slow by taking on a classic trekking route or take a mountaineering course and scale a more intimidating peak. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is a popular first challenge: the storybook mountain silhouette you first learn to draw in primary school, it’s typically hiked in five or six days.

11. Sample the local firewater

Leave the backpacker bar behind at least once to try something new. It could be an unusual beer in the Czech Republic, a daiquiri in Havana or gintonic in Barcelona. You could even making learning about the local drinking culture the focus of part of your trip on one of these 20 boozy breaks.

12. Try out a new sport

This is the time to give a sport a go that you’ve always been curious about – or even one you’ve never heard of. Try these extreme sports and daredevil experiences for ideas.

13. Spend a few days in the jungle

Whether it’s in Costa Rica, Peru or Indonesia, you’ll learn a lot by spending at least a few days in the jungle. Just be sure to go with a guide who can both tell you about the indigenous animals and plants – and help you find your way back.

14. Sleep somewhere unusual

A night suspended 300m high on a cliff face sound a little nerve-wracking? Don’t worry, there’s lots more unusual accommodation out there, from magical treehouses to desert campsites.

15. See a performance

Tickets for plays and concerts might be pricy, but the experience is one you’ll never forget. Even at Australia’s famous Sydney Opera House, seats are readily available for many performances.

16. Get to grips with ancient history

From Bagan to Tikal, the opportunities to get lost in your own historical adventure are endless. No round-the-world trip would be complete without spending some time discovering an ancient civilisation or lost city.

17. Marvel at some of the world’s finest architecture

Architectural wonders abound, although few match the splendour of Agra’s Taj Mahal in India. Built in 1632–1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal,
the Taj is an architectural marvel that has been crafted down to the most minute detail.

18. Go on a great journey

Embark on an epic road-trip in the USA or Europe, spend a week on the Trans-Mongolian Railway or embrace the concept of slow travel with a gentle boat journey among Kerala’s backwaters.

19. Book a safari

But make sure you also get out of the minivan and view the wildlife on foot, or even from a canoe. The Maasai Mara in Kenya is one of the most fantastic destinations for wildlife-spotting, stretching for 3000 square kilometres and home to elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes among numerous other photogenic species.

20. Spend some time in the world’s great museums

The Louvre could eat most sports stadiums for breakfast and still have plenty of room left over, London’s British Museum houses an astonishing 70,000 exhibits, and New York’s Met is home to a whopping 2 million artworks.

Plan more of your first trip around the world with the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.

London is celebrated for many things. And rightly so; it’s up there with the most progressive, creative and historic cities in the world. But here at Rough Guides the thing we love most about London is its marvellous eccentricities.

While editing the latest Rough Guide to London, Greg Dickinson took note of some of the barmiest goings-ons in the city.

From the overstuffed Horniman walrus, to a lamp fuelled by Savoy sewers, to a hipster clown funeral in Dalston, these are a few of his highlights.

This philosopher didn’t want to miss meetings after he died

One of the founders of UCL (University College London), philosopher Jeremy Bentham bequeathed his fully clothed skeleton so that he could be posthumously present at board meetings of the University College Hospital governors, where he was duly recorded as “present, but not voting”.

Bentham’s Auto-Icon, topped by a wax head and wide-brimmed hat, is in “thinking and writing” pose as the philosopher requested, and can be seen in a hermetically sealed mahogany booth.

You can attend a clown’s funeral in Dalston…

Iconic nineteenth-century clown Joseph Grimaldi’s annual remembrance service, held at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston, has become a cult event among hipsters and circus performers alike.

Clowns shoes by Barney Moss via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

… and if you jump over his grave, a song will play

His actual grave is set back behind respectful railings at Joseph Grimaldi Park, just off Pentonville Road, but a modern memorial nearby allows a more irreverent homage. Two bronze casket shapes set into the ground, one dedicated to Grimaldi and the other Charles Dibdin, who employed him at Sadler’s Wells, lie side by side.

Against all instincts, just take the leap and dance on Grimaldi’s “grave” – the pressure of your footsteps sets off his trademark tune Hot Codlins. Less Rest in Peace than Rest in Play, it’s a fitting, and poignant, celebration of one of the world’s wisest fools.

This 90s American artist created his own Victorian home

Just to the north of Old Spitalfields Market, you can visit one of the area’s characteristic eighteenth-century terraced houses at 18 Folgate St, where the eccentric American artist Dennis Severs lived until 1999.

Eschewing all modern conveniences, Severs lived under candlelight, decorating his house as it would have been two hundred years ago. The public were invited to share in the experience, which he described as like “passing through a frame into a painting”.

Today, visitors are free to explore the candle-lit rooms, with the conceit that the resident Huguenot family has literally just popped out: during these “Silent Night” explorations, you’ll experience the smell of food, lots of clutter and the sound of horses’ hooves on the cobbled street outside.

Denis Servers’ house by Matt Brown via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0) – modified

Brad Pitt takes on a whole new meaning in Cockney

Cockney rhyming slang is London’s very own eccentric coded language, where a word is replaced by two or more words, the last one of which rhymes with the original. For example, instead of the word “stairs” you have “apples and pears”; a piano (pronounced “pianner”) is a “Joanna”; and pinch becomes “half-inch”.

Rhyming slang is constantly evolving, too, with public figures providing rich pickings: Brad Pitt (shit), Posh & Becks (specs) and Gordon Brown (clown).

There’s a massive, overstuffed walrus at the Horniman Museum…

Pride of place in the Horniman’s gallery of curiosities goes to the splendid overstuffed Horniman Walrus (who even has his own Twitter account). The taxidermist didn’t know he was supposed to have wrinkles, so stuffed him to capacity.

Horniman Walrus by Bex Walton via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0) – modified

There are dinosaurs that look nothing like dinosaurs in Crystal Palace

Competing with the Horniman Walrus for best-loved Victorian curiosity in south London, the dinosaurs of Crystal Palace may look like extras from a 1970s sci-fi film, but they have an illustrious place in the history of the public understanding of paleontology.

Created by animal sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in 1854, he consulted the experts of the day, in particular Richard Owen who had coined the term “dinosaur” in 1842. Though most are wildly inaccurate according to our current understanding of dinosaur anatomy, at the time it was an ambitious project to show to the public the latest scientific discoveries.

Only… when Hawkins didn’t know how they looked – or if the scientists disagreed – he had to be a little “creative”.

There’s a place where you can stand on a box and be heard

For over 150 years, Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park has been one of London’s most popular spots for political demos. In 1872 the government licensed free assembly at Speakers’ Corner, a peculiarly English Sunday-morning tradition that continues to this day, featuring a motley assortment of ranters and hecklers.

This family at Eltham Palace adored their pet lemur so much…

… that they gave him its own bedroom.

The ring-tailed lemur, called Mah-Jongg and alive during the 1920s and 1930s, was also notorious for biting disliked male visitors. Such was his owners’ devotion to him that Mah-Jongg crops up in numerous artworks displayed in Eltham Palace, such as the mural by Mary Adshead in the billiard room in the basement, which is set out as it would have been during the Blitz, when the family, staff and visitors sheltered there.

Eltham Palace by DncnH via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

There’s a ‘wind-powered’ lamp near the Savoy

Don’t miss London’s last remaining Patent Sewer Ventilating Lamp, halfway down Carting Lane and historically powered by methane collected in a U-bend in the sewers below. The original lamp, erected in the 1880s, was replaced by this replica after being damaged in a traffic accident.

And some trivia for you Rough Guides fans out there – the building behind the lamp at 80 Strand is Rough Guides HQ!

Explore more of London with the Rough Guide to LondonCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts over seven hundred million people, in excess of 450 World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. Which means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

To celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe, packed with tips and insights for the first-time visitor, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, read on…

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, may travellers see in this city a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Pixabay/CC0

4. Row down the Danube, Hungary

Rowing and kayaking are both possible on the Danube. In Budapest, you can rent boats, kayaks or canoes on Margaret Island or along the Romai River Bank.

5. Sip an espresso in Tirana, Albania

Albania’s colourful capital, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars is better for strolling than sightseeing – but there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

6. Admire Kotor, Montenegro

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, Kotor is Montenegro’s only major tourist spot, with tiled roofs and a clear Venetian tilt to its architecture. Not a sunbathing destination, but there’s plenty to keep you busy.

7. Have a night out in Belgrage, Serbia

Explore the nightlife and café culture of Serbia’s hedonistic, hectic capital – at its best in spring and summer when all ages throng the streets at all hours.

8. See the Northern Lights, Norway

You don’t need to head up to Hammerfest as Bill Bryson did in his book Neither Here Nor There; this celestial show can be viewed across the country (Oct, Feb & March are ideal, the rest of winter is also good).

9. Cycle across the Netherlands

You can easily rent a bike and find your way around Amsterdam, but there’s really no reason to stop there. Dedicated signed trails lead you from town to town.

Pixabay/CC0

10. Get a sense of history in Kraków, Poland

This southern city emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, making it one of UNESCO’s twelve greatest historic cities in the world and an architectural treasure trove. It may look like a history lesson, but the city is very much alive and buzzing.

11. Spend a weekend in Venice, Italy

Venice is sinking (possibly under the weight of all the tourists), and there’s a chance the water may be knee-deep in St Mark’s Square by the time you visit, but to stroll Venice without crowds (off season, or at sunrise) may top your European visual highlights.

12. Go wine tasting in Slovenia

Slovenia has been making wine since the time of the Romans, so it’s not surprising that they figured out how to do it well over the years. There are fourteen distinct wine-growing regions to explore here.

Pixabay/CC0

13. Soak up the sun in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Situated near the southern border with Serbia, this 1300-year-old architectural city gem has been lovingly rebuilt, stone by stone, since the intense shelling in 1991, and is looking better than ever.

14. Discover Mozart’s Salzburg, Austria

This famous border town is not only worth a visit to pay homage to the man, but also has churches so cute you want to pinch them, plus plenty of art, city squares and chocolate galore.

15. See the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Resting majestically atop an enormous citadel in the centre of Granada, the Alhambra is a visual overload. The structure’s Moorish columns and domes and light-reflecting water basins inspire even the weariest traveler.

16. Be wowed by Bruges, Belgium

The most popular tourist attraction in Belgium is this entire town, the best-preserved medieval city in Europe. On some streets you feel as if you’re wandering through a museum’s thirteenth-century installation.

17. Be awed by the Palace of Versailles, France

Louis Quatorze certainly knew how to live. There’s the grand entrance, endless gardens that require an army of pruners, and a hall with more mirrors than a Las Vegas magic act. It’s good to be king.

18. Bathe on the Black Sea Riviera, Bulgaria

Arguably Bulgaria’s greatest asset, the beaches of the Black Sea rightfully fill up during the summer holidays. The best ones can be found northeast of Varna.

19. Stroll Prague’s Staromestske namesti, Czech Republic

You can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve visited Prague, and never seen the Old Town square. This 17,000-square-meter centerpiece is the heart of the city, and has been since the tenth century.

20. Be a big kid at Legoland, Denmark

The little plastic snap-together blocks have got a good deal more sophisticated than they once were, but their simplicity is still their strength, and a visit to their Danish birthplace should cap off any lingering childhood fantasies about an entire Lilliputian Lego city.

21. Wander Tallinn’s old town, Estonia

Often compared to Prague, Estonia’s capital is an up-and-comer on the budget travel scene, as is its burgeoning nightlife. Check out the area round Toompea Hill, where the aristocracy and clergy once lived.

22. Soak in Baden-Baden, Germany

Germany’s most famous spa lies in the heart of the Black Forest. Its famed curative mineral waters bubble up from thermal springs at temperatures over 68°C.

23. Surf Portugal’s Atlantic coast

Portugal’s waves aren’t in the same league as Hawaii’s, but there are enough breakers around the country to keep most beginner and intermediate surfers happy

24. See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, England

A reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse, the Globe Theatre in London is Shakespeare’s backyard. The season runs from April to October.

25. Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Guinness may look like discarded brake fluid, but this thick stout with a scientifically measured head of foam is worshipped like a minor deity. And the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is the high altar.

26. Make a beeline for Bratislava, Slovakia

Low key charm, a museum of wine, and pavement cafés aplenty can all be found in the Old Town centre of Bratislava, Slovakia‘s “little big city“.

27. Visit Bran Castle, Romania

Also known as “Dracula’s Castle”, this popular castle actually has no ties to Vlad Tepeş, the medieval prince associated with the vampire extraordinaire, but none of this seems to deter visitors from coming.

28. Hike Sarek National Park, Sweden

The glaciers, peaks, valleys and lakes of this remote northern park cover 2000 square kilometres. Note that the trails are demanding and best suited for advanced hikers.

29. Ski in Zermatt, Switzerland

This glam skiing and mountaineering resort is tied to the fame of perhaps the most visually stunning Alp: the Matterhorn (4478m).

30. Shop in Helsinki’s Stockmann Department Store, Finland

You can’t miss it in Helsinki: it’s one of Europe’s largest department stores, selling everything you need and even more that you don’t.

Plan more of your first trip to Europe with the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

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