They hang from trees and clothes lines. Bits of plastic bodies jammed onto fenceposts and nailed to cabin doors, decaying heads strewn among the island’s greenery, gazing at visitors through insect-infested eye-sockets. Welcome to Mexico‘s Isla de las Muñecas, or Island of Dolls.

Located deep in Xochimilco, a borough just 28km south of Mexico City, the Isla de las Muñecas is part of an Aztec-made network of canals and artificial islands called chinampas.

Legend has it that decades ago a little girl’s corpse washed up on the murky banks of the island. Don Julian Santana Barrera, the island’s solitary caretaker, discovered her floating facedown alongside a waterlogged doll. To commemorate her spirit, Barrera hung the doll on a nearby tree.

But the little girl’s ghost soon began to haunt him. Desperate to appease her, the caretaker hung more dolls – every bit of a Barbie or scrap of a Cabbage Patch he could lay hands on. Barrera amassed hundreds of them over a span of 50 years. Still, the ghost never left.

Barrera died in 2001. He was reportedly found floating in the same spot that he’d found the girl. Of course, official reports seem to dismiss Barrera’s discovery of the girl in the first place. But the dolls remain, and tourists who visit swear that each doll’s eerie presence speaks for itself – whispering.

Dolls welcome the island’s visitors by Kevin (CC license)

Dolls nailed to the island’s cabin by Kevin (CC license)

Cabin interior by Kevin (CC license)

Dolls on display by Kevin (CC license)

Shrine by Kevin (CC license)

The forest by Kevin (CC license)

Dolls hung by metal wire by Kevin (CC license)

A pile of dolls in decay by Kevin (CC license)

Rotting baby by Kevin (CC license)Dolls lurk everywhere on the island by Kevin (CC license)

Isla de las Muñecas can be visited by ferry from Embarcadero Cuemanco or from Embarcadero Fernando Celada. Explore more of Mexico with the Rough Guide to MexicoCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In 2011, Tom Perkins set off to cycle from London to Cape Town. Joined by friends and taken in by strangers, his 501-day journey took him over 20,000km of road, through 26 countries and across 3 continents.

His goal, to learn about lesser-documented cultures through food, became an epic culinary adventure that culminated in his first book, Spices and Spandex.

From sleeping rough to gorging on a freshly decapitated bull, and from being run over twice to being caught up in the midst of the Arab Spring, he told us what it’s really like to spend 501 days living ­– and eating – on the side of the road.

In ten words how would you describe your journey?

A privileged, exposed, kaleidoscopic adventure on a hungry stomach.

That was nine but we’ll let you off. So what was the inspiration behind your trip?

I studied politics, history and film at university and I thought what am I doing to do with this knowledge? I wanted to visit these places.

We can have this armchair knowledge of places and societies but until you go and experience them, that knowledge is unfounded. Travel is education, it teaches in a way that nothing else does.

So my inspiration came from this goal of travelling from London to Cape Town, and of using food as the lens through which to get a better understanding of places. Food is this amazing facilitator, it allows you to interact with so many different people in different societies. It opens up doors like nothing else.

Image by Tom Perkins

Is there one meal that really stands out in your memory?

Yes. It was in south Malawi, we’d been cycling for eight hours and we had forgotten to buy any provisions.

We were stuck on the side of the road with no food. But we were taken in by a school teacher named Nelson, who served us a very simple meal, which was very bland because he could not afford to buy salt. And it struck me that here was a man who couldn’t afford salt but he had provided for strangers.

It was that sense of unreserved generosity to complete strangers that I carried with me throughout the trip. It wasn’t fine dining, but it was a meal that had so much loaded intention behind it that it really stuck with me.

You travelled through 26 countries, where surprised you the most?

Ethiopia. It’s a country which defies all conventions.

Any notion of what you think might be there, just ignore that because you’re going to be overwhelmed by the realities on the ground. Everything about it is different from anywhere you’ve been before.

It has its own alphabet, its own calendar, its own time, its own food, its own religion, its own drink culture, its own dance culture. And it’s the most densely populated landlocked country in the world, so everywhere you look there are people.

Image by Tom Perkins

It’s so far from the impression that we get of Ethiopia; it’s so fertile, so green, so mountainous, so diverse and so rich in culture. You go there and you don’t know what’s happening because there’s nothing to relate it back to.

Either you get on board with it or you can become very overwhelmed by it. But that’s what the journey was about, being pushed outside of our comfort zones. Everything we set out to do Ethiopia delivered in spades.

Where was the hardest place to travel?

We had a really amazing, yet challenging, experience travelling through Egypt. The country at the time was right in the heart of the Arab Spring, so it was tough at times.

We had some incredible experiences there that I still can’t quite make sense of, such as being escorted away from Tahrir Square because we looked like Israeli spies.

Witnessing that kind of social phenomenon first hand and talking to young Egyptians that were very tied up in the revolution was amazingly exposing. Our eyes were wide open being in Egypt at the time for many good and bad reasons.

Image by Tom Perkins

What was the scariest moment of your trip?

There were some scary moments. I got run over twice – it wasn’t very much fun. I still shudder just thinking about how close that second time was. It was one of those moments where you realize just how dangerous it can be living on the side of the road for 501 days.

You wild camped the whole way, where was the weirdest place you spent the night?

Fifty-two hours hitching a lift to a safe town, on a lorry carrying kidney beans, through the precarious northern Kenyan savannah, was probably the weirdest two nights I’ve had in a long time.

You were away for 501 days did you find it hard to adjust back to normal life?

It was a tough process to adjust to normal life but you never really go back to how things were. You always take things from the road because you can’t do a journey like this and not have that affect the way that you try live your life afterwards.

What advice would you give to someone dreaming of doing a similar trip?

Know your strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of doing something like this is that you can tailor it to what suits you so find a means and a method that really motivates you. And be flexible to the idea of the unknown, accept that you can’t control everything.

Be clear in your blueprints, be clear in your ambitions and then be true to yourself. And don’t try and imitate anything else, because it’s you at the end of the day who has to constantly keep pushing. So have that flexibility, but be very clear why you’re travelling as well.

Image by Tom Perkins

Is there a particularly important lesson that you learnt?

Two things: perspective and perseverance. A journey like this will inevitably have many highs and many lows.

It’s crucial not to let the lows disproportionately affect the way that you see and make judgments about certain places and individuals. Accept that actually the lows in trips like this kind of accentuate the highs; they are all part of the journey and they add richness to it.

And then perspective. When travelling through some of the more challenging parts of the world you have to look around and realize how lucky you are. That we are in the amazingly privileged position to very readily find solutions to the problems that we might encounter.

So perspective and perseverance. Realizing that travel has these great fluctuations and so being able to relish every moment, be it high or low, is a really valuable thing.

Image by Tom Perkins

Now you’re back, what’s next for you?

Once you’ve done a trip like this you’re constantly scheming for the next one.

I am transfixed now on South America. My dream is to go from Mexico City to Buenos Aires and to discover as many lesser-documented food cultures along the way. And again to travel in a really slow, intimate way. I’d love to produce another book if I can.

That sense of documenting – to go away, to get to get people to teach you and then to relay that in some form – is what really motivates me.

Find out more about Tom’s travels and order Spices and Spandex on his website: www.thenomadickitchen.com. Header image by Tom Perkins.

1. Chicago, USA

Chicago is best known as the Windy City, although we think it’s even more beautiful during the winter months when it transforms into the Snowy City. Come in January or February to witness Chicago at its coldest; temperatures can drop so low that Lake Michigan partially freezes over – truly a sight to behold.

2. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn’s medieval old town is enchanting throughout the year, but during Estonia’s long winter months it takes on a whole new dimension of wonder. Take a stroll around the fortified Toompea and eventually you’ll end up in Raekoja Plats. Pop into the tiny room beside the Town Hall for a glass of glögi or some homemade soup.

3. Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Imagine a series of sixteen turquoise lakes, cascading into each other in an unforgettable display of water’s power and majesty. Now imagine that same scene, but frozen. Plitvice National Park is one of Croatia’s main tourist attractions, almost deserted in the winter months but all the more beautiful when its waterfalls are frozen in time.

4. Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan

Jigokudani may not be the most dramatic winter landscape in Japan, but it is unmissable in winter when the resident Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, bathe in the steaming hot springs. It’ll take a fair amount of willpower to resist stripping off and joining the monkeys, although the attendants might have something to say about that…

5. Banff National Park, Canada

The star attraction of Banff National Park is undoubtedly Moraine Lake. Located some 15km from Lake Louise, the lake’s crystal clear waters reflect the snowcapped Valley of the Ten Peaks. We’re not the only ones who love it here – the Canadians put the scene on their $20 banknotes during the 1970s.

6. Hallstatt, Austria

No, you’re not looking at a puzzle. This place really exists. Hallstatt is a tiny lakeside village and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Austria, all the more glorious when nearby Salzburg Mountain is blanketed in snow. It is often voted as one of the prettiest villages in the world, and we wouldn’t disagree.

7. Richmond Park, UK

London’s biggest park is even more beautiful in the winter. At 2500 acres, it’s three times the size of New York’s Central Park, and with wild deer galloping around it feels like you could be lost in the middle of the English countryside. On the few winter days when snow falls in the capital, Richmond Park is the place to be.

8. Gobi Desert, Mongolia

If you’re the kind of person who might travel to deepest Mongolia to check out some wooly camels in the middle of the bitter winter, then read on. During the Thousand Camel Festival, local camel herders take part in polo competitions and races. If you fancy getting involved, everyone is welcome to mount a camel and join the opening parade.

9. Bruges, Belgium

With its cobbled alleyways, frozen canals and gingerbread architecture, Bruges is without a doubt at its most beautiful during the winter months. Come in January or February when the popular Christmas markets have packed away and you will have the town to yourself. It’s unlikely you’ll return home with seeing a castle or two – there are more per square inch here than any other city in the world.

10. Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany

Remember sleeping beauty’s castle at Disneyland? Well this is the building that inspired it, only you won’t find any adults dressed as furry rodents lurking around here. Located on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Schloss Neuschwanstein is even more beautiful in the winter months when the surrounding forest is dusted in snow.

11. Trakai Castle, Lithuania

The expression “fairytale castle” is overused, but when it comes to Lithuania’s Trakai Castle there are few other ways to describe it. Located seventeen miles west of Vilnius, the castle transforms during the winter months, when the surrounding lake freezes over and the orange turrets are speckled with snow.

12. Atlas Mountains, Morocco

This is Africa, but not as you know it. The majestic Atlas Mountains see total snow cover above 3000m from November to April. Though visitor numbers are higher in the summer months, Mount Toubkal is perhaps at its most stunning during the winter, when intrepid mountaineers don crampons and climb to the 4167m-summit.

13. Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is a great place to visit year-round but during the winter months (May to September) it really comes into its own. Nearby, the Remarkables and Coronet Peak ranges offer some of the finest skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand, and the town is particularly lively in June and July when the Queenstown Winter Festival takes place.

14. Yellowstone National Park, USA

Vast, volcanic Yellowstone has been home to bison since prehistoric times. During the winter months, when higher areas are covered in a thick layer of snow, the bison migrate to lower grounds where it’s easier to feed on the grass. Wildlife lovers will be in their element; the park is also home to bears, elks, wolves and the pronghorn antelope.

15. Lapland, Finland

During the summer months this is the land of 24-hour sun, but during the long winter Lapland is engulfed in almost total darkness. This would be a fairly grim time of the year to visit, were it not for the chance of catching a display of the aurora borealis dancing in the sky. January, February and March tend to be the best times to see the Northern Lights.

16. Prague, Czech Republic

Europe does Christmas markets well, and arguably the most beautiful of them all is in Prague. Here you can roam around the fairy-lit wooden huts and pick up Christmassy gifts and decorations to your heart’s content. Don’t forget to try a klobása (barbequed sausage) washed down with some svařené víno (mulled wine) to complete the full festive experience.

17. Harbin, China

If you’re going to make the journey to Harbin make sure it’s in January, when the city hosts the largest ice and snow sculpture festival in the world. Participants travel from all corners of the planet to exhibit their spectacular, enormous ice designs. Just don’t forget your gloves – this part of northeastern China has been known to have temperatures dropping below -20°C in the winter.

18. Lake Bled, Slovenia

It doesn’t get much more picturesque than Instagram-filter-defying Lake Bled, in the alpine Upper Carniolan region of Slovenia. You can walk around the entire lake in about an hour, although it’ll be hard to resist stopping at every opportunity to photograph Bled Island’s Church of the Assumption, with the epic snowcapped mountains looming behind.

19. New York City, USA

New York City does winter well. The temperature plummets, the sky is electric blue and when it snows, it really snows. While some visitors might spend their time fighting with festive shoppers in Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, more romantic sorts should head to Central Park for a skate. This is probably the most impressive setting for an ice rink on the planet, with the Manhattan skyscrapers towering nearby.

20. Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan

Tajikistan’s seldom-visited Pamir Mountains are beautiful throughout the year, but they are perhaps at their most epic during the winter. During the long cold months this rugged part of the world is deserted, with the exception of the most intrepid explorers. Even the native nomads retreat from the high pastures from September onwards.

On the face of it, Scandinavia isn’t a very sensible place for a holiday. For one thing, it’s almost always going to be colder than the place you’re leaving behind. And when it comes to basics like food and accommodation, it’s probably more expensive too.

But if you don’t mind throwing a few warm jumpers in your backpack and paying a little extra for meals out – and honestly, it’s not that bad – you’ll be rewarded handsomely. Scandinavia is home to some of Western Europe’s wildest sights, from shimmering blue lakes and clattering herds of reindeer to snow-laden forests that look like they’ve been imported straight from Narnia.

It isn’t all fjords and pine trees, though; there are fairytale castles, Viking treasures, and gritty, pretty cities that nurture some of the world’s most exciting art and design scenes. Then there’s that green, egalitarian approach to life that will leave you thinking that – somehow – Scandinavia just works.

Ready to take the plunge? Here are 7 ideas for short breaks in Scandinavia.

1. Bergen and the fjords , Norway

Bergen looks like it was built for a photo shoot, but its beauty pales in comparison to the epic fjords nearby. You might find that the staggering views are rewarding enough (imagine soaring mountains reflected in mirror-smooth water), but otherwise there’s a whole host of adrenaline-pumping activities to keep you occupied. Anyone for paragliding?

2. Gothenburg and the west coastSweden

In the space of a couple of decades, Sweden’s second biggest city has reinvented itself as one of Europe’s coolest city break destinations. It’s still a big industrial hub with a busy port at its heart, but the focus is increasingly on tourism. Why should you go? For the super-fresh seafood, for the locally brewed beer and laidback bars, and for the car-free islands that lie just offshore, where you can swim in cool, clear waters.

Gothenburg by Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn) via Flickr (CC license)

3. SkagenDenmark

Set on a narrow spit of land with breezy beaches on both sides, Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost town – and one of its prettiest, too, with mustard-yellow houses lining the streets. Since the Nordic Impressionists arrived here more than a century ago, attracted by the big skies and soft golden light, the artists have kept on coming. Now the town is dotted with galleries, workshops and antiques shops. Cycle a few kilometres northeast of town to the sandbar called Grenen, where Denmark ends, and you can watch two separate seas sloshing together before your eyes.

Skagen by Tjark via Flickr (CC license)

4. Österlen, Sweden 

Home to rolling fields of poppies and cornflowers, rather than the usual dense pine forests, Österlen is the gorgeous chunk of land in the far southeast of Sweden. It’s one of the best parts of the country to explore by car, with farm shops and orchards sprouting up at the side of the road, and powder-fine beaches hugging the pristine coast. Head to Stenshuvud Nationalpark on a warm summer’s day, squint just a little, and you might think you’ve landed on some languid Thai island.

Nature’s own stripes by Susanne Nilsson via Flickr (CC license)

5. StockholmSweden

Sprawling across low islands that are stitched together by passenger boats and bridges, with views of soaring spires around almost every corner, Stockholm sure is a looker. But beyond the medieval lanes of the old centre, the self-proclaimed Capital of Scandinavia is a slick, forward-thinking city, home to some of the world’s coolest tech and fashion brands. It’s pricey and pretentious, sure, but there’s a reason young Swedes flock here from all four corners of the country.

6. LaplandNorway & Sweden

Wood-fired saunas, shivering forests, reindeer meat, and steaming cups of lingonberry juice: Lapland manages to roll Scandinavia’s most exotic bits into a single epic landscape. Challenging weather conditions and the area’s vast size can make exploring a slow process, but with a long weekend you’ll be able to get a decent flavour for life in the north. Watch the Northern Lights, try ice fishing, or snuggle down for a night at the Icehotel. Come back in summer when the sun reappears, nourishing the valleys with meltwater, and the possibilities for hiking are endless.

Aurora borealis by imagea.org via Flickr (CC license)

7. Copenhagen, Denmark

When it comes to art, design, fashion and food, no other Scandinavian city can compete with Copenhagen. Yes, Noma is here, but most visitors experience a more laidback version of the city, where bottles of Carlsberg are still swigged at canal-side bars, and where pushbikes – not limos – remain the favoured mode of transport. Give the famous Little Mermaid statue a miss, and instead make time for the galleries, food carts and design shops. A weekend here is barely enough to scratch the surface.

Explore more of Scandinavia with the Rough Guides to Norway, Denmark and SwedenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Carved balconies like lace, swaggering villas in spacious gardens and an absurdly long pier. Who would have expected “Herring Village” to be so glitzy?

Indeed, who would have imagined such Bäderarchitektur (spa architecture) in a backwater like Usedom, a little-known island in the Baltic Sea?

Yet during the latter half of the nineteenth century, as German aristocracy went crazy for seawater spa cures, Heringsdorf and adjacent Ahlbeck morphed from fishing villages to become the St-Tropez of the Baltic.

When Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III began holidaying here, earning the villages their collective name Kaiserbäder (Emperor’s spas), the Prussian elite followed. Aristocrats and industrialists set aside six weeks every summer to wet an ankle in Badewanne Berlins (“Berlin’s bathtub”).

You can almost smell the moustache wax along Delbrückstrasse in Heringsdorf. A des-res of its day, synonymous with status, the promenade is a glimpse of the Second Empire at the height of its pomp.

Mosaics glitter in the pediment of Neoclassical Villa Oechler at No. 5; it doesn’t stretch the imagination far to visualize the glittering garden balls hosted before the palatial colonnades of Villa Oppenheim, while the Kaiser himself took tea at Villa Staudt located at No. 6.

Only breeze-block architecture bequeathed by the GDR in the centre spoils things here – top apparatchiks built hotel blocks for workers and took the grand villas for themselves. Reunification has returned health cures and gloss to the resorts; Ahlbeck in particular has emerged as a stylish spa retreat for Berlin’s city slickers.

If you sit in a traditional Strandkörbe wicker seat, scrunching sugar-white sand between your toes – imperial villas on one side, Germans promenading continental Europe’s longest pier on the other – you’d be forgiven for thinking the Kaiserbäder are back to normal. Not quite.

Usedom has acquired a new reputation of late. In 2008 the world’s first nudist flights landed at its airport and a minor diplomatic spat occurred when Poles strolled across the newly dismantled border to see sizzling sausages of a very unexpected kind.

Sure, Freikörperkultur (literally “Free Body Culture”) is restricted to specified areas, but you can almost hear the Kaiser splutter into his Schnapps.

Usedom (kaiserbaeder-auf-usedom.de) is 2hr 30min by car or train from Berlin; change at Züssow to reach Heringsdorf and Ahlbeck by rail. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

There’s more to see in Canada’s most populated province than ice hockey, forests and freely flowing maple syrup – and some of it’s pretty weird. From the world’s largest Elvis Presley festival, to axe throwing ranges in Toronto, here are just a few things you didn’t know you could do in Ontario.

1. Drink Dead Elephant Ale while gazing at a dead elephant

On September 15, 1885 Jumbo the Elephant of the PT Barnum circus, the world’s first animal celebrity, was hit by a train and killed in St Thomas, Ontario. It made global headlines. Jumbo’s skeleton is on display at the New York Museum of Natural History and his ashes are interred at Tuft’s University. Thankfully, none of these remains are distilled in the Railway Brewing Company’s tribute. They boast a hoppy IPA in honour of Jumbo, dubbed Dead Elephant Ale, and an enormous statue of the deceased animal in front of their business. Cheers?

2. Lace up your blue suede shoes for the biggest Elvis Festival on Earth

Situated on the unlikely banks of Georgian Bay, the ski resort town of Collingwood hosts an Elvis-fest to end all Elvis-fests every summer. Impersonators with greasy pompadours and overwhelming sideburns flock here from around the globe with hopes of being crowned the next King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Every venue in downtown Collingwood, plus the nearby hot spot of Blue Mountain resort, is practically crawling with Elvises. Whether the impersonators are bang on, or hilariously missing the mark, they’re a lot of fun to gawk at.

Collingwood Elvis Festival by Jay Morrison (CC license)

3. Trim a few years off of your life with Dangerous Dan’s “Colossal Colon Clogger”

If gorging on local fast-food is your idea of a holiday then don’t miss Dangerous Dan’s, named after owner James’ grandfather, a wrestler notorious for his unhealthy diet. The Toronto restaurant is famous for its “Quadruple ‘C’ Combo” – a 24oz burger served with a quarter pound of cheese, a quarter pound of bacon, two fried eggs, a side of poutine and a large milkshake. Be sure to leave room for a Double D cup dessert to hammer the final nail in your food coma coffin. Eat at your own risk.

4. Get sleepy in a tepee on Manitoulin Island

On beautiful Manitoulin Island’s M’Chigeeng Reserve lies a forest ringed campground with tepees, wigwams and a native longhouse. Here, at the Great Spirit Circle Trail, glampers can get back to nature in a luxury-enhanced tepees. Whether you want to hike, canoe, forage on a medicine walk or take on a horseback tour into the Manitoulin wilderness, this is a wonderful way to learn a bit about the rich cultures of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

5. Channel your inner lumberjack

The West Coast Lumberjacks didn’t win Canada’s Got Talent for nothing. Showcasing thrilling exhibitions of wood wizardry such as log rolling, chainsaw carving and axe throwing, they keep all audiences enthralled with superhuman skills. Catch a performance at Wonderland Amusement Park just outside of Toronto during the summer months, or at the Ontario Lumberjack Competition at Brechin in June. Feeling inspired? Channel your inner lumberjack at BATL, Toronto’s very own axe throwing range.

Axe throwing at BATL by Tibor Kovacs (CC license)

6. Retrace the footsteps of a prepubescent Justin Bieber in his hometown of Stratford

150km east of Toronto is the pretty little theatre town of Stratford, the site of Justin Bieber’s nativity. Yes, musical superstar Bieber’s talent was birthed and nurtured in this very place. For hardcore ‘Beliebers’, sitting on the steps of the Avon Theatre, where Justin used to busk, will no doubt be a holy pilgrimage of sorts. This self-guided tour also features the pizza parlour where Bieber has been known to give autographs and the City Hall where he recorded his first song.

7. Relax with a restorative ‘Stitch n’ Bitch’

Nothing is more therapeutic than the intricate needlework involved in knitting and crocheting. Except, perhaps, getting everything off your chest while you’re at it. The Knit Café in Toronto’s hip west-end not only offers drop-in sessions for beginners up to advanced students but is a great hang-out, with “Stich n’ Bitch meetups every Tuesday. By far, the most relaxing part of any session is the chat.

8. Break bread with Old Order Mennonites in St. Jacob’s Country

North of Toronto is a stunning rural area where farms are nestled among undulating hills. This countryside is home to twenty different sects of Mennonites, and on any given day you can see these farmers’ traditional horse-drawn buggies trundling along the roads. The village of St Jacob’s is home to St Jacob’s Mennonite Church, where there is a potluck supper open to visitors every Sunday at 5:30pm; a perfect opportunity to learn about the locals residents, many of whom still eschew the conveniences of modern technology, electricity included.

Ontario Mennonites by Zhu (CC license)

Explore more of Canada with the Rough Guide to CanadaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Lynn stayed with the Westin Trillium House Hotel, Blue Mountain, prices from $159 (low season) and $199 (high season). 

There’s nowhere quite like Scotland. This epic land of mighty mountains, plunging glens and surging rivers offers a sweep of experiences that you just cannot find anywhere else.

If you’ve ever wanted to have your own kilt fitted, canoe down a river fuelled by a wee dram or hop on Europe’s only scheduled flight to land on an Atlantic beach, then read on…

1. Get your kilt on

Forget the wafer-thin tartan tat that tourist shops churn out in Edinburgh’s Old Town. These are indeed just patterned skirts. If you want a proper kilt you’ll need to pay for it – but it should last a lifetime.

Edinburgh tailors like Geoffrey Tailor offer the full service. Ideally, you want an eight-yard kilt made in full weight, 16/17oz worsted. They will measure you up, talk you through the tartans and let you know about all the add ons like a sporran or a sgian dhu (basically a lethal knife you stuff down your socks).

Tartans by Gitta Zahn via Flickr (CC license)

2. Take Europe’s most surreal flight

That is right. Hop on Flybe’s propeller plane (operated by Scottish island specialist airline Loganair) and about an hour later – after one of the most scenic flights of your life – you bash down right on to the sands of Traigh Mhor on the remote Hebridean isle of Barra.

Once you’re down, you can even enjoy garlic cockles freshly picked from the runway. Surreal does not cover it.

Plane landing, Barra airport by Colin Moss via Flickr (CC license)

3. Soak in a hot tub in the heather

Forget bubbling away with bubbly in a hot tub. In Scotland it’s all about relaxing with a cosy wee dram. Its best savoured on a freezing cold night, when your hair turns to ice and stars explode above like you have never seen them before.

We recommend the hot tubs at self-catering escapes like Roulotte Retreat, Mains of Taymouth and Kilfinan House.

Never! by Mark Rowland via Flickr (CC license)

4. Bag a munro

Up for a hillwalking challenge? This bizarre craze sees devotees “bag” Munros, or mountains over 3000ft-high, by hiking their way up to the top.

Sir Hugh Munro is the man to blame for first putting together the list of peaks, which currently stands at 284. The record for completing them all is an improbable 40 days – good luck!

5. Paddle through whisky country

Scotland is serious whisky country and you can’t leave without sampling the nation’s famous spirit. But for a real experience to remember – take to the water.

Dave Craig of Spirit of the Spey offers a unique Canadian canoe trip down a stretch of Scotland’s fastest flowing river, the Spey, where distilleries dot the banks.

This is thirsty work, but luckily Dave is on hand to offer a wee dram midstream and then a private tasting by a roaring fire in his home afterwards.

River Spey by Dave Conner via Flickr (CC license)

6. Spot the “Big Five”

Stick with us here, but you don’t have to go on safari to spot the Big Five – Scotland has its very own: red deer (the UK’s largest land mammal), golden eagles, otters, red squirrels and common seals.

To tick off sightings of all five, check out new small cruise operator Argyll Cruising, who offer wildlife cruises on their seven-berth ship, Splendour.

Image by Alamy: Colin Leslie

7. Celebrate Hogmanay

The Scots don’t do New Year: they celebrate Hogmanay. This gloriously nefarious extravaganza has its roots deep in the country’s mysterious pagan past. It’s such a party that the entire country takes January 2nd off as well as New Year’s Day.

The epicentre of the action is Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, which goes on for days before and after the big night.

Elsewhere look out for the Comrie Flambeaux fire festival in Perthshire and the Stonehaven Fireballs Festival, both spectacular events that kick off the new year with a serious and uniquely Scottish bang.

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

The world’s longest glass-bottomed walkway opened in China‘s Hunan province last week, after the old wooden panels of the Haohan Qiao suspension bridge were replaced with transparent glass frames.

Towering 180 meters over a scenic canyon in Shiniuzhai Geopark, the structure is billed as a walk for thrill-seekers and nature buffs alike.

But is it safe? Though the first batch of tourists on site said they could feel the bridge wobbling beneath them, the 11 engineers who built the Haohan Qiao swear by the bridge’s solidity. Each glass frame is 24mm thick and 25 times stronger than your average window pane. Engineers even installed thin steel beams to ensure that if the glass were to shatter, walkers wouldn’t actually fall through.

But if you’re walking for the bragging rights, remember that this is just the latest of China’s increasingly popular glass-bottomed tourist attractions.

An even longer and taller glass-bottomed bridge is set to open in Hunan’s Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon later this year (measuring an extreme 300 meters high and 430 meters long). Here’s hoping that one feels a little less wobbly.

From the sunny shores of Portugal to the darkest dungeons of Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, the following itineraries can be easily combined, shortened, or altered to suit your wayfaring tastes. If you’ve got wheels, wanderlust and a spot of time, here’s some adventure fuel. Start your engines: these are the best road trips in Europe.

1. From the glamour and glitz of Paris to glorious grit of Berlin

Alzette River, Luxembourg City by Wolfgang Staudt (CC license)

Leaving Paris, cruise through the gentle hills of Champagne and Reims to the quaint capital of Luxembourg City, and explore the country’s plethora of fairy-tale castles.

Trier, Germany’s oldest city, is less than an hour’s drive further north-east, where ancient Roman baths and basilicas stand marvellously intact.

Spend a night in the medieval village of Bacharacht in Riesling wine country, before wandering the riverside streets of Heidelberg. Onward to Nuremberg, and then to Leipzig for a strong dose of hot caffeine with your cold war history, classical music and cake.

Detour to Dresden, restored after ruinous bombing in WWII, before ending in one of Europe’s coolest cities: the creative paradise of Berlin.

Alternately, try starting your engines in London and taking the ferry to France, transforming this road trip into a pilgrimage between Europe’s holy trinity of artistic hubs. 

Best for: Culture vultures looking for bragging rights.
How long: 1–2 weeks.
Need to know: If you’re driving in France, you’ll legally need to keep safety equipment (a reflective vest and hazard signal). Additionally, keep spare Euros in your wallet to pay the occasional French road toll on the way.

2. Surf and sun in the Basque and beyond

Biarritz by BZ1028 (CC license)

The Basque roads beg a convertible – or better yet, a colourful camper van with surfboards strapped to the roof.

Begin in Bilbao, where the nearby villages boast some of the world’s best surf, and drive along the Atlantic to San Sebastian: watersports wonderland and foodie heaven. Then venture south through the rugged wilderness of the Pyrenees to Pamplona. Ascend onwards to the Roncesvalles Pass before looping back to the coast. Or continue along the Bay of Biscay to Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Travellers with a little extra money lining their pockets will be happy to spend days lingering on boho beaches in Biarritz, while those looking for gargantuan swell can do no better than the surfer hangouts in Hossegor.

Finish the trip northward in Bordeaux, “the Pearl of the Aquitaine”, where café-strewn boulevards and world-class wines and are your trophies at the finish line.

Best for: Sun-seeking surfers and foodies.
How long: 1 week.
Need to know: Check seasonal surf forecasts before you go, and look into coastal campsites if you’re on a budget. 

3. The Arctic fjords from Bergen to Trondheim

Fjords Of Norway by Howard Ignatius (CC license)

Kick off in the city of Bergen, on Norway’s southwest coast, and make way past mighty fjords to Voss and the colossal Tvindefossen waterfall. Then check the world’s longest road tunnel off your to-do list, a cavernous 24.5km route under the mountains.

Catch a quick ferry across the Sognefjord and carry on to the Fjäland valleys, a land of glaciers and snowy mountain peaks, to the waterside towns of Stryn or the mountain village Videster.

Work your way northward to the well-touristed towns of Geiranger, the down the death-defying hairpin turns of Trollstigen (literally “The Troll Path”).

After the descent, ferry across the Eresfjord to Molde and Kristiansudn. For the final stretch, drive the iconic Atlantic Road with its rollercoaster style bridges, and conclude with some well-deserved downtime upon the still waters and stilted homes of Trondheim.

Best for: Thrill seekers and landscape junkies.
How long:
3–7 days
Need to know:
If you plan on road tripping during Norway’s winter months, be sure to check online ahead of time for road closures.

4. The unexplored east: Bucharest, Transylvania, Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna.

Romania by Michael Newman (CC license

Embark from Bucharest, travelling northward through the Carpithian mountains to Transylvania, and make a mandatory stop at Bran Castle (claimed to be the old stomping grounds of Dracula himself).

Take the Transfagarasan mountain road, one of the most incredibly beautiful routes in the world, towards the age-old cities and countless castles of Sibu, Brasov and Sighisoara. Then set course to the unexplored architectural gems of Timisoara.

Carry on towards the tranquil baths and hip ruin pubs of bustling Budapest, and be prepared to stay at least a few days. Depart for Bratislava – a capital full of surprises – from where it’s only an hour further to the coffeehouses and eclectic architectures of Vienna.

Best for: Anyone looking for a break from the conventional tourism of western Europe.
How long: 7–12 days.
Need to know: Exercise caution when driving through tunnels. Though the weather outside may be fine, tunnels are often slippery.

5. To Portugal and beyond

Portugal by Chris Ford (CC license)

Start in Braga, before driving south to medieval town of Guimarães, a the UNESCO world Heritage site. Then it’s onward to the breath-taking “second-city” of Porto, though it’s nothing less than first-rate.

Drive east to the vineyards and steep valleys of Penafiel and Amarante before hitting the coastal road to the vast white beaches of Figueira da Foz. From here it’s on to Peniche, Ericeira, and then Lisbon: the country’s vibrant capital that’s on course to beat out Berlin for Europe’s coolest city.

Drive south to Sagres, Arrifana and Carrapateira. After soaking in sun on the picturesque shores of the Algarve, wrap this road trip up in the Mediterranean dreamland otherwise known as Faro.

But if you’ve still got itchy feet when you reach Faro, take the ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Morocco. Imagine the satisfaction of parking your ride in the desert village of Merzouga, before exploring the Sahara – that’s right, it would feel awesome.

Best for: Beach bums and winos.
How long: 10–14 days, or longer depending how long you’d like to stay in each place.
Need to know: As Portugal is among the more affordable destinations in Western Europe, this can be an especially great trip for any travellers on a budget.

6. High altitude adventure on Germany’s Alpine Road

Neuschwanstein Castle by Howard Ignatius (CC license)

The Alpenstrasse, or Alpine Road, is your ticket to a bonafide Bavarian odyssey: a safe route through the unforgettable vistas of Germany’s high-altitude meadows, mountains, crystal-clear lakes and cosy village restaurants. Start lakeside at Lindau and head to Oberstaufen if you fancy a therapeutic beauty treatment in the country’s “capital of wellness”.

Venture eastwards to the Breitachklamm gorge, where the river Breitach cuts through verdant cliffs and colossal boulders. Carry on to the town of Füssen – famous for its unparalleled violin makers – stopping along the way at any quaint Alpine villages you please. The iconic Neuschwanstein Castle, the same structure that inspired Walt Disney to build his own version for Cinderella, isn’t far off either.

Hit slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen if the season’s right. Stop at Benediktbeuern on your way to the medieval town of Bad Tölz, then up through the stunning wilderness scenes of the Chiemgau Alps before ending in the regional capital of Munich. If you’re missing the mountain roads already, carry on to Salzburg and stop in the ice caves of Werfen on the way.

Best for: Outdoorsy lederhosen aficionados.
How long: 3–8 days.

7. Godly beaches and ancient highways in Greece

The view from Cape Sounion, Greece by Nikos Patsiouris (CC license)

Start in Athens take the coastal roads south through the Athenian Riviera to Sounion, situated at the tip the Attic peninsula. Watch a sunset at the Temple of Posseidon, then drive northward through mythic mountains to the fortress of Kórinthos before posting up in the legendary city of Mycenae (home of Homeric heroes).

If you’re craving a luxurious seaside stay, look no further than the resort town of Náfplio. If not, carry onwards through the unforgiving landscapes to Mystra, the cultural and political capital of Byzantium.

Feet still itching? Then it’s on to Olympia, sporting grounds of the ancients, and the mystic ruins of Delphi. Loop back towards Athens, approaching the city from the north.

Best for: Sun-worshipers, and anyone who’s ever read Homer or watched overly action-packed flicks like Troy and 300.
How long: 5–10 days, though it’s easy to trim a version of this road trip down to a long-weekend.

8. London to Edinburgh and the Highlands

Stormy Calton Hill, Edinburgh by Andy Smith (CC license)

Leave the hectic pace of England’s capital behind. Make for Oxford, home of the world’s oldest English language university, and a place of storied pubs where the likes of J.R.R Tolkien and Lewis Carrol regularly wrote and wet their whistles.

If you’ve got the time, it’s a quick drive to the cottages of the Cotswolds. If not, cruise up to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds.

Take the two and a half hour drive north to Manchester for a city fix and watch a football match, then head to the quirky medieval lanes of York, walled-in by the ancient romans nearly two thousand years ago.

Press on to the Lake District National Park. Drink in the scenery that inspired England’s finest romantics, before making your way past tiny villages to the majestic wonders of Edinburgh. If you’re craving the rugged comforts of the highlands go to Stirling, Inverness, or the Western Isles – worth the drive indeed.

Best for: Locals that want to feel like foreigners, and foreigners that want to feel like locals.
How long: 5–10 days.

9. The secret shores of Sicily and Calabria

Catania and Mt Etna by Bob Travis (CC license)

Hit the gas in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, the biggest historic centre in Italy after Rome and arguably the country’s most chaotic metropolis as well.

Adventure onwards along the Tyrrhenian coast to the golden sands of Cefalù – a great holiday spot for families, with a mellow medieval town centre to boot.

Get to island’s heartland for the ancient city of Enna. Surrounded by cliffs on all sides, and built atop a massive hill, you’ll feel as though you’ve walked on the set for Game of Thrones. Head south-east to the shores of the Ionian Sea and dock in Siracusa, once the most important in the western world while under ancient Greek rule with much of its historic architecture intact.

Then it’s up to Catania for a trip to molten Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano on the entire European continent.

Finish the trip in Messina, or ferry across into the Italian province of Calabria where rustic mountain villages, friendly locals, and the idyllic sands of Tropea and Pizzo await – refreshingly void of foreigners.

Best for: Anyone looking for an truly authentic Italian experience, and of course, hardcore foodies. 
How long: 
6–12 days.

 For more information about travelling through Europe, check out the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

Go to Venice or Amsterdam, and you can hardly cross a street without tumbling into a canal. In London, you have to dig deeper.

You’re looking for the Regent’s Canal, which stretches from chichi Maida Vale to Thames-side Limehouse, and cutting past London Zoo’s aviaries, Camden’s pop kids, Islington restaurants and Hackney high-rises on its way.

Built in the early nineteenth century to connect London’s docks with the Grand Union Canal to Birmingham, its traffic was almost entirely lost to truck and rail by the 1950s. Now (mostly) cleaned up, the canal and its tributaries are a wonderfully novel way to delve into a compelling, overexposed city.

The canals by CGP Grey via Flickr (CC license)

Part of the canal’s allure is down to its submerged nature: much of its length is below street level, hidden by overgrown banks.

Spend time by the water’s edge and you feel utterly removed from the road and rail bridges above. When the route rises up or spews you back onto the street momentarily, you catch a brief glimpse of people seemingly oblivious to the green serpent that stretches across their city.

London waterbus by Markus Jalmerot via Flickr (CC license)

It’s not all idyllic: for every lovely patch of reeds or drifting duck, there’s a bobbing beer can or the unmistakable judder of traffic. Stroll the busier stretches on a summer Sunday, when the walkers, cyclists and barges are out, and the canal can feel more like a major thoroughfare than an escape route.

But this is a dynamic, breathing space: its energy is what makes it so vital, and makes the moments of quiet feel so special. There are countless highlights: the spire of St Pancras station, soaring over a surprisingly secluded corner near revitalized King’s Cross; Mile End’s picturesque nature reserve; and the bridges and wharfs that connect Limehouse to the Isle of Dogs.

Little Venice by Davide D’Amico via Flickr (CC license)

The poet Paul Verlaine thought the isle’s vast docks and warehouses classical in their majesty, calling them “astonishing…Tyre and Carthage all rolled in to one”. Turned into smart flats or left to crumble, they are no longer the heartbeat of an industrial nation, but with their forgotten corners and fascinating history, they definitely still feel magical.

Good tube stops from which to explore the canal include Warwick Avenue, Camden Town, Angel, Mile End and Limehouse. The London Canal Museum, 12–13 New Wharf Rd (canalmuseum.org.uk), is also worth a look. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

 

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