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.

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

Polluted, rainy and business-orientated. Let’s face it, a trip to Bogotá hardly sounds appealing. And many travellers don’t bother to probe much further than this bleak reputation, seeing Bogotá either as somewhere to be skipped out altogether, or as merely a logistical blot on a more exciting itinerary.

Other Latin American cities such as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro are huge tourist draws, and within Colombia there are more great cities: Medellín’s gripping mix of hedonistic nightlife and cruel cartel-centre past, Cartagena’s heady blend of Caribbean buzz and colonial beauty, Cali’s famous salsa scene.

But Bogotá deserves to be seen as more than just a stop-over. Spend some time here and you’ll realise the city quietly works its humble magic; slowly revealing an irresistible pull of vibrant art-strewn streets, quirky cafés and one of the most interesting urban cycling innovations in the world. Here, we’ve whittled down the top six reasons to give Bogotá a chance.

La Candelaria by Luz Adriana Villa on Flickr (license)

1. For the street art

Sao Paulo, London, Valparaíso, Montreal – some cities are well known for their street art. But amongst the artistic community Bogotá is up there with the best, with international artists flocking to its streets to contribute to its thriving scene.

Bogotá doesn’t just accept art, it actively encourages it with neighbourhood commissioned pieces, privately funded works and local schools hiring street artists to teach classes.

While there’s art all over the city, it’s La Candelaria, Bogotá’s oldest neighbourhood, where it’s most concentrated. Here the narrow, cobbled streets have become a canvas for artistic expression: buildings are cloaked in colourful works from strikingly lifelike faces to bizarrely endearing flying potatoes.

But the creativity doesn’t stop at eye level, the tiled rooftops are littered with strange statues: a juggler on a unicycle wobbling along the edge of a roof, a figure sitting with a banana dangling from a fishing rod. Bogota Graffiti Tour is the best introduction to this dynamic culture, led by guides who are all closely involved in the street art community.

The free tour (donations welcome) explains the historical and socio-political contexts behind each piece and the collective culture, and introduces the styles of the city’s most compelling artists, from Guache’s multi-coloured, often-dreamlike focus on indigenous issues, to Toxicómano’s hard-hitting anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist driven pieces.

Bogotá street art by Frank Plamann on Flickr (license)

2. For innovative urban cycling

One word: Ciclovía. This is the stuff urban cyclists dream of, a day when you can ride through car-free city streets. In Bogotá this happens every week when Ciclovía clears the traffic from 76 miles of roads right through the city centre.

Every Sunday, more than two million people come out to reclaim the tarmac: cycling, jogging, roller blading, dog-walking and strolling with pushchairs, while Recrovía fills the parks and paths with free yoga and aerobic classes.

The programme has been running since 1974, with such success that other Colombian and international cities are now following suit. For Bogotá this is about more than just exercise and a break from the mind-numbing traffic-clogged streets: in a society where the gap between rich and poor is so great, and so much emphasis lies on the status of owning a car, this is the perfect leveller and social integration at its best.

Ciclovia em Bogotá by Cidades para Pessoas on Flickr (license)

3. For the great gourmet pleasures

There’s been an explosion of culinary creativity in Bogotá. From quirky hybrid ventures to smarter joints where nuevo Colombiano chefs are experimenting with traditional ingredients and international techniques, Colombia’s capital is a great place for a feed, with each neighbourhood harbouring its own foodie vibe.

La Candelaria has a number of small, creative places tucked away down its winding, graffiti-splashed streets. A small space with an exposed brick bar, Sant Just has an innovative, daily-changing menu that blends French cuisine with Colombian ingredients, served up in enormous portions. A few streets away, La Peluqueria is an exciting blend of edgy café, hairdresser and creative space for emerging artists.

In La Macarena, a village-absorbed-by-the-big-city neighbourhood, there’s a clutch of international restaurants, one of the best being Tapas Macarena – a tiny, charming spot for authentic Spanish cuisine.

To the north, Zona Rosa and Parque 93 hold Bogotá’s smarter dining. Amongst the competition, Central Cevicheria is up there with the best, serving zingy ceviche in a cool space decked out with bare wood and industrial lighting.

La Peluquería by Olivia Rawes

4. For real coffee

Colombian coffee is world famous, but as new arrivals quickly learn the best produce is exported. Hold your disappointment: a number of cafés in Bogotá are working hard to address this.

Leading the way is Azahar, a café founded by travellers who wanted to re-establish the connection between coffee, local farmers and Colombian people. A shipping container houses the café: repurposing the very vessel that is so often associated with taking the best beans away from the country, and here using it to serve great coffee back to Colombians.

This care and passion trickles down to the product: each single origin coffee served is traceable back to an individual farmer, with the bag detailing information about the farmer and the plantation – there’s even a QR code that links to a video of the farmer explaining what makes their own coffee so special.

Pixabay / CC0

5. For the views

Looming over Bogotá’s city centre, is Cerro de Monserrate, one of the city’s most loved landmarks. Cable cars and a funicular railway run up and down the mountain, while athletic locals and those tourists who’ve adjusted to the altitude tackle the steep, one-hour-thirty-minute walk up to the top.

Whichever way you ascend, the panoramic sweep of the cityscape below is stunning. Often framed by a dramatic sky, the city spreads out from forested mountains into a sprawl of low-rise tiled roofs. The scattering of taller buildings announce that Bogotá is on the cusp of the skyscraper age.

Monserrate by Luis Jou García on Flickr (license)

6. For the underground cathedral

Add an extra day to your Bogotá stay and explore the surrounding area. An easy, and unmissable day-trip is to Zipaquirá, home to the only underground cathedral in the world. Carved out of an old salt mine hidden in the depths of a mountain, the site is an astounding maze of winding passages, carved crosses, and small chapels.

The most impressive part is undoubtedly the vast main cathedral: an eerily-beautiful, purple-lit space delineated by huge pillars and a lofty ceiling, and filled with a rock-hewn altar and the biggest subterranean cross in the world.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá by Jimmy Baikovicius on Flickr (license)

Explore more of Bogotá with The Rough Guide to Colombia. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Cover image from: Pixabay/CC0

The USA is practically bursting with amusement parks, from the sprawling and city-sized to the off-beat and unexpectedly endearing. Cotton candy and corn dogs, kiddie rides and coasters – here are the best theme parks in America.

Six Flags Magic Mountain, California

Magic Mountain boasts the world record for most roller coasters in a single amusement park, clocking in with a whopping 19, plus heaps of other rides. Thrills deserving of mention include Superman (launching you backwards from 0 to 100 miles per hour in seven seconds) and Tatsu (the tallest, fastest, longest flying roller coaster in the world).

Six Flags Magic Mountain by Jeff Turner on Flickr (license)

Cedar Point, Ohio

Though only two coasters short of Magic Mountain’s record, Cedar Point can still brag about its 72 other rides. A long stretch of sandy swimming beach along Lake Erie and array of attractions catering to all ages have kept this park an American favourite since its opening in 1870.

Walt Disney World, Florida

What list of amusement parks could go without mentioning Disney World? Indeed, the complex really is a world unto itself, with four gigantic theme parks, two top-notch waterparks, nonstop entertainment and 28 different Disney resorts suited to a variety of tastes and budgets.

From the cheery nostalgia of Magic Kingdom to the looping coasters of Hollywood Studios, Disney World’s immensity doesn’t just warrant a day trip, but a whole holiday.

Magic Kingdom by Jeff Krause on Flickr (license)

Dollywood, Tennessee

Few places put such a charming spin on celebrity cultism as Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s very own amusement park. Built in her Great Smoky Mountains homeland, the park draws its inspiration from the history and culture of East Tennessee.

An impressive breadth of rides, award-winning shows and festivals, a full-size steam train and the world’s fastest wooden roller coaster keep more than three million guests a season steadily rolling in.

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, Florida

Universal Studios used to have an unspoken reputation as secondary to Disney, though by all means still a brilliant park. However since the opening of Islands of Adventure, particularly the recently expanded and incredibly detailed Wizarding World of Harry Potter, they just might be the best in the country.

A replica of the Hogwarts Express now connects the two parks. Both are bursting full of attractions, ranging from cutting-edge coasters on Marvel Superhero Island to whimsical ride-alongs in the land of Dr. Seuss.

Diagon Alley by Jeff Krause on Flickr (license)

Knoebels, Pennsylvania

Founded in 1926, Knoebels is a classic American amusement park running the types of nostalgic attractions and mighty wooden coasters you’d happily relive every summer. But above all, Knoebels should be praised for its prices. General admittance is free, and rides range from $1.25 ­to a maximum of $3 per person.

The park’s rather famous freshly-baked apple dumplings with ice cream also deserve special mention, as well as its dogs-allowed policy.

Pacific Park, Santa Monica, California

Though the thought that Pacific Park’s whirring rides are supported by a wooden pier alone might feel a little death-defying, the oceanfront ambience here will have you feeling California carefree.

There are only thirteen rides but remember: you’re in Santa Monica. Stroll through the gorgeous Venice Canals Walkway to Venice Beach, where Californian bodybuilders pump iron under the sun, skateboards and surfers showcase their skills, and all manner of bric-a-brac sellers, psychics and ragtag performers set up along the boardwalk. Welcome to people-watching paradise.

Pacific Park by Jim Sheaffer on Flickr (license)

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, Indiana

The automatic two-parks-for-the-price-of-one-ticket is a huge draw here. Holiday World consistently wins awards for being the cleanest park in America, and it boasts some top-notch rides too.

Neighbouring Splashin’ Safari is home to the two longest water coasters on Earth, and it provides a refreshing relief after a hot summer morning spent in the sun. Plus, the thoughtful inclusion of free parking, sunscreen, wifi, all-day soft drinks and refreshments with the purchase of your entry ticket adds bonus value for your tourist buck.

Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City

During the first half of the twentieth century Coney Island was a resort attracting the wealthy, home to grand hotels and extravagant carousels. Though no longer in its heyday, the East Coast atmosphere of the place is tough to beat.

Romantic old rides (three of which are protected NYC historic landmarks) look over 2.5 miles of white-sand beach and a lively boardwalk. Mid-century signage still adorns classic carnival games and stalls dishing out grade-A American comfort foods. New coasters are also in the works, and classic events such as Nathan’s Famous frankfurters Hot Dog Eating Contest and The Mermaid Parade continue their legacy each year.

Coney Island Boardwalk by Augie Ray on Flickr (license

Legoland, California

A great park for younger children, a day at Legoland provides a nice change of pace from the unbearable wait times of America’s most popular parks.

The nature of the park itself inspires kiddie creativity, and the success of 2014’s Lego Movie has breathed new life into the place. That said, those looking for an adrenaline fix may be left wanting.

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Cover image from: Pixabay/CC0

From city breaks to romantic countryside escapes, options for short trips in the UK abound. Whether you’re looking to get active, overindulge or just chill out, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our pick of the best weekend breaks in the UK. Need more inspiration? We’ve also rounded up 20 of the most memorable places to stay.

Best for romance: Lake District, England

It’s easy to see why the Lake District National Park inspired William Wordsworth’s Romantic poetry. With its rolling green hills peering over clear expanses of water and quintessentially English towns and villages, the national park makes the perfect romantic getaway. Stay in a stone-­clad cottage, light a roaring fire and enjoy the peace and quiet of this stunning region after a day admiring awesome views from the top of the fells.

Pixabay / CC0

Best for cycling: Scottish Highlands, Scotland

Scotland’s northwest Highlands boast some of the best cycling roads in Britain. Weekend breaks in the UK don’t come much better than this on two wheels. Wild swathes of largely deserted mountainous terrain give way to clear, well ­maintained roads perfect for a bike ride, with few cars joining you along the way. The scenery around is astoundingly beautiful, and you’ll find yourself cruising through deep valleys and past inky-blue lochs. Visit in summer, when the weather is most reliable.

Best for music: Liverpool, England

The home of The Beatles, Liverpool has been dubbed the World Capital of Pop. For your fix of the Fab Four, head to the Albert Dock for The Beatles Story, or check out a Beatles tribute band at the Cavern Club. More recently, the city’s award­-winning festivals: Sound City, Creamfields and Liverpool Music Week, have consolidated its status as a go-­to destination for music lovers. In the evening, there are open mic nights and live venues across the city.

Pixabay / CC

Best for booze: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Where better for a pint of shamrock-­topped Guinness than an Irish pub? Belfast won’t disappoint, with everything from a National Trust pub­ The Crown Liquor Saloon ­to chic modern bars. Join a pub crawl around the city’s traditional bars for cold Guinness and live music. You can even try pouring your own pint at Lavery’s. If the black stuff isn’t for you, northern Ireland’s recent craft beer revolution means there are plenty of beers to try too.

Best for entertainment: London, England

World­-class museums, West End theatres and leading art galleries; when it comes to short breaks in the UK, England’s capital has it all. With a packed calendar of exhibitions and events throughout the year, London draws the biggest names in music, sport and the arts. It doesn’t need to be expensive, either, as many of the capital’s museums are free, and cheap events are held year-­round. Rough Guides readers even recently voted it the world’s coolest city. You’ll never be struggling for something to do here.

Best for scenery: Llandudno, Wales

The sweeping curve of Llandudno’s bay draws in visitor after visitor every year, and it’s no wonder why; the seaside town offers stunning coastal scenery. Take the tramway to the top of Great Orme for wonderful panoramic views across the bay. Or, take in the scene from above on one of the town’s cable cars. Nearby Conwy Castle is a must-­see; climb the battlements to admire the snow-peaked mountains of Snowdonia and the placid Conwy estuary.

Best for relaxation: Bath, England

Bath has been a popular spa destination since the Roman era, and its natural hot springs still steam today, with boutique hotels offering luxury spa breaks. Of course, the town’s focal point is the wonderfully preserved Roman Baths. In July and August, the Baths stay open until 10pm, and torches light up the ruins, making an evening summer stroll through the Georgian streets even more enticing.

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Best for surfing: Cornwall, England

The Cornish coast attracts thousands of surfers every year, with some of the best waves in the UK. In the summer, Rip Curl Boardmasters festival brings together music and surfing, pulling in big names from both. Fistral Beach, where the festival’s surf competitions are held, is the most popular year­-round, but the many bays will leave you with plenty of choice. There’s no end of surf schools to try, and when you’re tired of the waves, treat yourself to a Cornish cream tea.

Best for architecture: Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle’s fairy­tale towers are a reminder of the city’s ancient roots, while sleek, urban design in the city centre gives the the city a decidedly cool edge. Take an architecture tour to explore the Old Town’s winding Reformation-­era streets and the elegant Neo­classical buildings of the New Town. Modern highlights include the controversial Scottish Parliament building and the swirling Edinburgh Landform. When you’ve had your fill of the city from the ground, head to the top of Calton Hill to take in the skyline from above.

Pixabay / CC0

Best for nature: New Forest, England

A trip to the New Forest is truly magical. Designated a royal hunting preserve 1000 years ago, the enchanting working forest is wonderfully unspoilt, with unenclosed pasture land allowing animals to roam free. The area is a wildlife haven, where you can find many indigenous species in their natural surroundings. The most iconic are the New Forest ponies, which rule the land; you’ll find yourself giving way to horses rather than people on a drive through the forest.

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image Pixabay / CC0. 

Since the 1960s, foreign tourists have flocked to Goa, India’s smallest state, attracted by its palm-fringed golden beaches, glorious sunshine and distinctly relaxed attitudes. Domestic tourism has taken off enormously in recent years too, such that now almost ninety percent of visitors are from within India.

Kerala, several hundred kilometres south, draws double the number of both domestic and foreign tourists than Goa, with its dense tropical landscape, tantalising festivals and 550km of striking coastline.

Here’s what to expect from each of these captivating states, and how to decide whether to visit Goa or Kerala first.

What’s the local culture like?

Goa was a Portuguese territory from the sixteenth century until 1961, and a quarter of the population remain Christian today. Though Hindus still make up the majority of the population, unusually for India you’ll find churches in pretty much every town, some of the best of which are in Old Goa, the state’s former capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kerala is intensely ritualistic, with numerous ancient indigenous practices that are unique to this region and which make a visit here far more alien to Western perceptions than Goa. All-night festivals are frequent occurrences at temples across the state, with fireworks, splendidly adorned elephants and deafening drums combining to create magical spectacles.

A performance of kathakali, Kerala’s most famous form of ritual drama, is well-worth experiencing to see the elaborately made-up and fantastically dressed performers act out ancient stories with astonishing intensity.

Which is best for food?

Goa and Kerala are renowned for their excellent cuisines. South Indian curries are generally much spicier than those in northern India, and use simpler, tangier ingredients often including copious amounts of coconut, fresh chillies, tamarind and curry leaves.

Masala dosas originated in southern India, and are a breakfast staple across both states. Rice usually replaces bread in family homes of both states, though in touristy places – and especially in Goa – naans, chapatti and parathas are readily available.

Yet despite these similarities, Goan and Keralan cuisines differ more than you might think.

Idli, steamed rice cakes, are a staple in Kerala, usually served with sambar, a lentil-based vegetables stew. Vada, deep-fried lentil doughnuts, are also immensely popular here, where meals are often served on banana leaves. The vindaloo, meanwhile, is a Goan creation. Vinegar, one of the key ingredients, is a Portuguese legacy, and these ultra-hot curries are traditionally made with pork.

Keralan food is traditionally vegetarian, but you’ll find meat in most places, and fresh, delicious seafood is ubiquitous, as it is in Goa.

Where can I party?

When hippies flocked to Goa in the 1960s, parties spread like wildfire. By the 1990s, Goa Trance was in full swing, attracting partygoers from all over the world to dance till dawn on the sand or in beautiful jungle settings. At the turn of the millennium, the authorities clamped down, banning loud music after 10pm, and with it went the rave scene.

These days parties do still exist (if the police are successfully paid off), and Goa still has a reputation as the party capital of India, particularly around Anjuna and Vagator. Beer as well as local and imported spirits are widely available at beachside restaurants, and cocktails are especially popular in the early evening happy hours.

Kerala, by contrast, has never had much in the way of nightlife, unless you count all-night kathakali performances. Some hotels and restaurants catering for tourists do serve alcohol (amusingly sometimes disguised in tea pots in unlicensed places). In coastal resorts such as Varkala, you’ll find plenty of cheap booze, and even the odd impromptu party which carries on till the small hours.

Where will I find the best beaches?

Goa’s beaches tend to be wider and cleaner than that of Kerala, and are, overall, more tourist-friendly. You can take strolls down the beach and continue for hours, connecting from one resort to the next, which isn’t possible in most places in Kerala. Beachside accommodation is plentiful, from budget shacks to glitzy resorts. There are coastal yoga retreats galore and shops selling the usual hippy tat wherever you go.

Though Kerala’s beaches tend to be smaller, and the beach-shack culture is pretty much non-existent, “God’s Own Country” is home to numerous pretty shores, particularly in the far north where you’ll find some gorgeous quiet coves scattered among little fishing villages. Kerala is also queen of Ayurvedic treatments – if you’re interested in some alternative therapies, this is the place to for you.

What sights are there to see?

Old Goa is home to some lovely examples of whitewashed churches, and the Dudhsagar waterfalls near the southern border with the state of Karnataka manage to draw curious tourists inland. But it’s Goa’s beaches which brings most people here, rather than any specific “sights”.

The main attraction for visitors to Kerala is Fort Cochin, with its European-era architecture, spice markets, iconic Chinese fishing nets, art exhibitions and hip cafés. Another Keralan allure is the chance to ride a boat through the myriad of narrow backwaters that weave their way through lush forests and offer a glimpse into traditional rural village life that’s barely changed for centuries.

Where should I go in a nutshell?

If you’re up for some serious sun worshipping, plenty of boozing and some yoga to cleanse your soul the morning after, your best bet is Goa. If you’re looking for a quieter, more culturally immersive trip, try Kerala. And if you have a weakness for punchy curries, extend your trip and go to both.

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Ghost stories are fun. Though folk tales and flatout fabrications abound, the best of them possess a kernel of historic truth that prompt us to ponder the lives of those who inhabited the world before we came along.

From Hollywood horror hotspots to dilapidated colonial settlements, here are the most haunted places in America. Fact or fiction, funny or frightening: you decide.

The White House, Washington D.C.

Home to every American President since 1800, the White House in Washington DC is a hub of paranormal activity. Indeed no spectre seems so active as President Abraham Lincoln. A frequent visitor to those who sleep in his former bedroom, Lincoln’s lively apparition has been spotted by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, and sent scores more running and screaming.

Even Winston Churchill swore that he saw the deceased President smiling by the bedroom’s fireplace. Having just risen from a hot bath, Churchill was naked during the encounter (save for a smouldering cigar), and refused to sleep in Lincoln’s old bedroom on all subsequent visits to the White House.

The White House / Pixabay / CC0

112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York

Here, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family in 1974. One year later the the Lutz family moved in, suffered a bout of physical injuries caused by unseen forces, glowing red eyes, rotating crucifixes and general madness before moving out.

It’s upon these experiences which best-selling book, The Amityville Horror, and its eponymous Hollywood blockbuster are based. Though the story has been subject to scathing scepticism, some may be worried to know that the Lutz’s passed a polygraph interrogation about the hauntings.

Cape May, New Jersey

Sun on your skin, a warm ocean breeze and white sand between your toes – by day Cape May seems far from frightening. But the pleasures of America’s oldest seaside resort, established in 1620, are said to be enjoyed by both the living and the dead.

At night, the cheerfully-coloured Victorian mansions take on a spooky silhouette. Resident paranormal investigators lead ghost tours down dark streets lit by flickering gas lamps, telling grisly tales of the old wooden buildings now infamous for unearthly happenings. Conveniently, many of the most haunted estates have been converted into lovely inns and quaint B&Bs. Sweet dreams.

Cape May / Pixabay / CC0

Gettysburg Battlefield, Pennsylvania

With the lives of nearly 8,000 civil war soldiers lost during the decisive Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, many visitors claim they can still hear the cannon fire and bloodcurdling screams of soldiers.

The deceased don’t seem limited to the battlefield either, with apparitions of ghostly horsemen roaming as far as Gettysburg College. Indeed, believers have sworn witness to entire battles raging throughout the area – soldiers stuck performing their final acts of patriotism like broken records on an eternal loop.

The RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

The Queen Mary served as an ocean liner, warship and swanky cruise ship before being converted into a proper luxury hotel, permanently docked at Long Beach in 1967. But the souls of passengers who died aboard the ship’s tumultuous past have reportedly remained – and these ghosts keep today’s guests rolling in.

Haunted highlights include the sounds of phantom children playing in an empty nursery, and the particularly rowdy spirit of a purser murdered in Cabin B340 (sadly, the cabin is no longer rented out due to the safety hazards of flying furniture).

The Queen Mary by Chris Michaels on Flickr (license)

Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Kentucky

More than 8,000 people perished behind the immense gothic façade of Waverly Hills, a hospital opened in 1910 to treat Kentucky’s tuberculosis epidemic. However, in 1962 the sanatorium was converted into a home for individuals with mental illness. This is when Waverly Hills earned its frightening reputation.

The facility turned rife with stories of suicide, medical mistreatment and grotesque experiments upon patients. In 1982 the state of Kentucky finally forced the centres closure due to “patient neglect”. This is easily one of the most haunted places in America – prime ghost hunting territory. But be warned, those who died here did not do so happily.

Overnight stays are a tour option for daring visitors, and mysterious orbs frequently appear in photographs of the Sanatorium’s dark, crumbling halls.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium by Louisville Images on Flickr (license)

Jerome, Arizona

Once a buzzing mining town during the days of America’s Wild West, Jerome’s population plummeted from 10,000 to 100 when ore deposits ran out during the Great Depression. The spirits of past residents have remained however, with reports of sharp-shooting spectral cowboys and disembodied miners strolling the old cobblestones and checking into haunted hotspots like the Jerome Grand Hotel.

Today, the veritable ghost town has been transformed into a vibrant artists’ community, with cheap rents and phenomenal views over Arizona’s Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim inspiring a new wave of residents to establish art galleries, cafes and wineries.

The Stanley Hotel, Colorado

Ever woken up at night to find your blankets stripped off and folded neatly at the foot of your bed, or played billiards with an invisible opponent?

These are the types of phantasmal encounters that turned the posh Stanley Hotel into an almost-abandoned spook house. However, a single serendipitous night in the hotel’s eerie atmosphere was enough to inspire author Stephen King horror classic, The Shining.

Now over a century old, The Stanley attracts a steady stream of visitors eager to partake in paranormal investigation tours, search out similarities between King’s novel and their lodgings, or just enjoy the stunning Rocky Mountain wilderness at The Stanley’s doorstep.

The Stanley Hotel by wakedawg on Flickr (license)

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USA. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
cover image from: Pixabay / CC0

Traditionally, pilgrimage meant hoofing it, wayfaring the hard way. Yet most Catholic authorities will tell you there’s nothing particularly sinful about making it easier on yourself.

You could roughly trace Spain’s Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, by car … but then taking full advantage of the fringe benefits – discounted accommodation and gorgeous red wine – would prove difficult. The answer? Get on your bike.

Day 1 by Juan Pablo Olmo (CC license

With reasonable fitness and not a little tenacity, the mantra of “two wheels good, four wheels bad” can take you a long way on the religious pilgrimage route that pretty much patented European tourism back in the Middle Ages.

The most popular section begins at the Pyrenean monastery of Roncesvalles, rolling right across northwestern Spain to the stunning (and stunningly wet) Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, where the presence of St James’s mortal remains defines the whole exercise.

Camino de Santiago by Fresco Tours (CC license)

Pack your mac, but spare a thought for the pre-Gortex, pre-Penny-Farthing millions who tramped through history, walking the proverbial 500 miles to fall down at Santiago’s door.

Bikers can expect a slight spiritual snag, however: you have to complete 200km to qualify for a reprieve from purgatory (twice the minimum for walkers). But by the time you’re hurtling down to Pamplona with a woody, moist Basque wind in your hair, though, purgatory will be the last thing on your mind.

Granted, the vast, windswept plains between Burgos and León hold greater potential for torment, but by then you’ll have crossed the Ebro and perhaps taken a little detour to linger amid the vineyards of La Rioja, fortifying your weary pins with Spain’s most acclaimed wine.

photo by Luis Marina (CC license)

The Camino was in fact responsible for spreading Rioja’s reputation, as pilgrims used to slake their thirst at the monastery of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The medieval grapevine likewise popularized the route’s celebrated Romanesque architecture; today many monasteries, convents and churches house walkers and cyclists.

Once you’re past the Cebreiro pass and into Celtic-green Galicia, rolling past hand-ploughed plots and slate-roofed villages, even a bike seems newfangled amid rhythms that have scarcely changed since the remains of St James first turned up in 813.

A “credencial” or Pilgrim’s Passport, available from the monastery at Roncesvalles or via csj.org.uk, entitles you to free or very cheap hostel accommodation. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

A dazzling oasis where forty million people a year let their hair down, Las Vegas has made a fine art of indulging its visitors’ every appetite. From its ever-changing architecture to cascading chocolate fountains, adrenaline-pumping zip lines and jaw-dropping stage shows, everything is built to thrill.

The Strip is where the real action is, a visual feast where each mega-casino vies to outdo the next with some outlandish theme, be it an Egyptian pyramid (Luxor), a Roman extravaganza (Caesars Palace), a fairytale castle (Excalibur) or a European city (Paris and the Venetian).

From the new Pocket Rough Guide to Las Vegas by Greg Ward, we’ve picked 15 unmissable things to do on The Strip – get the full guide to start planning your trip.

1. Marvel at the Bellagio

This is Las Vegas at its most luxurious, an Italianate marble extravaganza with its own eight-acre lake. Head to Jean Philippe Patisserie to enjoy morning pastries while admiring the world’s largest chocolate fountain, check out the Conservatory (part greenhouse, part camp and colourful fantasyland), and be sure to watch the mesmerising jets of the fountains after sundown.

2. Go all out on a Las Vegas buffet

The all-you-can-eat buffet is one tradition Las Vegas will never let go. For the ultimate in indulgence, head for Caesars Palace and buy a “Buffet of Buffets” pass, valid for 24 hours at all Caesars’ properties. Start with the Bacchanal Buffet, which epitomizes decadent Las Vegas excess.

3. See the Flamingo’s classic kitsch

Okay, so the Flamingo these days is more Donny Osmond than Bugsy Siegel, but the original Strip resort still holds plenty of kitsch. From its superb neon sign and the Strip-facing patio of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, to its trademark real-life flamingoes in the free Wildlife Habitat, there’s a lot to like about the Flamingo.

4. Hit the shops

Shopping now ranks among the principal reasons that people visit Las Vegas, and most people do almost all of their shopping on the Strip itself. Their prime destination is the amazing Forum at Caesars Palace, where a false sky cycles hourly between day and night, followed by the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, complete with operatic gondoliers plying the waters of the Grand Canal, and Miracle Mile at Planet Hollywood.

5. Explore the Luxor pyramid

Inside the sloping, monolithic walls of the Luxor lie two interesting exhibits. Enter the Egyptian pyramid through the paws of the Sphinx to see Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, the world’s only permanent exhibition of items salvaged from the Titanic, and the gruesome but uplifting Bodies…the Exhibition.

6.  Solve a murder

At CSI The Experience at the MGM Grand you can put your razor-sharp forensic skills to the test investigating, and almost certainly solving, fictional murder mysteries. A hugely enjoyable interactive adventure, this is perhaps the most enjoyable family attraction in Las Vegas.

7. Ride the Big Apple Coaster

Shake things up with a loop around the Manhattan skyline on New York–New York’s Big Apple Coaster. The little yellow cabs that loop and race around its skyscraper towers speed at 67mph, plunge over 200ft and roll like a jet fighter – this is a serious thrill ride no theme-park fan should miss.

8. Get the Eiffel Tower Experience

Ride into the skies atop Las Vegas’s own miniature version of Paris and look down on the rest of the Strip. The observation platform is perfectly poised to look north and south along the busiest stretch, as well as west, and down, to the fountains of Bellagio.

9. Catch a show

The old-style feathers-and-sequins revues have been supplanted by a never-ending stream of jaw-droppingly lavish shows by the Cirque du Soleil, plus the likes of the postmodern Blue Man Group and more.

10. Take a spin on the High Roller

At 550ft high the Las Vegas High Roller is the world’s largest observation wheel, and commands tremendous views over the city. The long-range panoramas are particularly spectacular, though intervening buildings mean it doesn’t offer ground-level views of the Strip.

11. Dine out

You could eat a great meal in a different restaurant on The Strip every night. Two of our favourites include Thomas Keller’s French bistro Bouchon at the Venetian, where the menu at is every bit as special as the setting, and Scarpetta at the Cosmopolitan, where you watch the Bellagio fountains as you savour Scott Conant’s wonderful contemporary take on Italian cuisine.

12. Watch a volcano erupt

Once the sun’s gone down, take your place outside the Mirage. The artificial volcano at Steve Wynn’s first Strip venture erupts at hourly intervals, on the hour, after dark.

13. Cross the drawbridge into Excalibur

If things haven’t been kitsch enough yet, stroll through this bizarre Arthurian castle-casino. Built in 1990, it remains the most visible reminder of the era when Las Vegas briefly re-invented itself as a vast children’s playground – although with its jam-packed, multi-coloured turrets it doesn’t so much look like a castle, as like a child’s drawing of a castle.

14. See Big Elvis

Head for the no-cover Piano Bar in Harrah’s, where the hunka-hunka love that is Pete Vallee, Las Vegas’s biggest and best-loved Elvis impersonator. His King-like voice, mastery of Elvis’s repertoire and easy audience rapport make this the best free show in town.

15. Spot crocodiles and sharks at Mandalay Bay

In keeping with Las Vegas’s emphasis on immediate thrills, the Shark Reef aquarium focuses almost exclusively on dangerous marine predators, prowling through tanks designed to resemble a decaying ancient Mayan temple that’s sinking into the sea.

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