From the new Pocket Rough Guide, we’ve selected some of our favourite tips for seeing Paris on a budget.

A trip to Paris, famous as the most romantic of destinations, is one of those lifetime musts. Long the beating heart of European civilization, it remains one of the world’s most refined yet passionate cities. Yet despite its reputation as an expensive place to visit, there are many places that can be enjoyed without splashing the cash, from engrossing museums to good-value restaurants. Here’s our pick of the best free things to do, affordable eats and budget beds.

The free sights

Musée Carnavalet
One of the city’s best free museums is the Musée Carnavalet. Set in two beautiful Renaissance mansions, it charts the history
 of Paris from its origins up to the belle époque through a huge and extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and archeological finds. The attractive formal gardens are worth a visit in themselves.

Maison de Victor Hugo
Among the many celebrities who made their homes in Place des Vosges was Victor Hugo; his house, at no. 6, where he wrote much of Les Misérables, is now a museum, the Maison de Victor Hugo. Here, his life is evoked through a sparse collection of memorabilia, portraits and photographs that convey an idea of his prodigious creativity.

Petit Palais
Built 
at the same time as its larger neighbour the Grand Palais,
 the Petit Palais is hardly “petit” but certainly palatial, with beautiful spiral wrought-iron staircases and a grand gallery on the lines of Versailles’ Hall
of Mirrors. The Musée des Beaux Arts housed here has
 an extensive range of paintings and sculpture and decorative artworks, plus there are free lunchtime classical concerts on Thursdays.

Père-Lachaise
Final resting place of a host of French and foreign notables, Père-Lachaise  covers some 116 acres, making it one of the world’s largest cemeteries. It’s surely also one of the most atmospheric – an eerie yet beautiful haven and the resting place of (among others) Molière, Chopin and ex-Doors singer Jim Morrison.

The best views

Pont Neuf
The “new bridge” is actually the oldest in the city, and, with its stone arches, arguably the loveliest. There are few better places to watch the Seine flow than this link between the Ile de la Cité, and the right and left banks of the river.

On the buses 
Touring
 Paris by bus is enjoyable and inexpensive; try the #29 from
Gare St-Lazare, which goes
past the Opera Garnier, through the Marais, and on to Bastille.

Parc de Belleville
Absorbed into Paris in the 1860s and subsequently built
up with high-rise blocks to house migrants from rural areas and the ex-colonies, Belleville might not exactly be “belle”, but it’s an interesting side of the city. Well worth the trip out is the Parc de Belleville, which with its terraces and waterfalls, offers get great views across the city, especially at sunset.

Sacré-Coeur
There’s no charge to visit this Parisian landmark, but the real draw is the view from the terrace. Looking out from 
the steps that cascade down Montmartre’s steep hill, the silvery roofs of Paris seem to spread to the horizon.

Getting outdoors

Jardin des Tuileries
No trip to Paris is complete without a saunter along the chestnut-tree-lined alleys of the Jardin des Tuileries, admiring the grand vistas, formal flower beds and fountains. This is the French formal garden par excellence.

Jardin du Luxembourg
Fronting onto rue de Vaugirard, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the chief green space of the Left Bank, its atmosphere
a beguiling mixture of the formal and the relaxed. These gardens are filled with people playing tennis or chess and couples strolling round the elegant lawns.

Promenade Plantée
This disused railway line, now an elevated walkway planted with trees and flowers, is a great way to see a little-known part of eastern Paris. Starting near the beginning of avenue Daumesnil, just south of the Bastille opera house, it takes you
to the Parc de Reuilly, then descends to ground level and continues nearly as far as the périphérique.

Bois de Boulogne
The Bois de Boulogne was designed by Baron Haussmann and supposedly modelled on London’s Hyde Park – though it’s a very French interpretation. You should avoid it at night, but by day it’s an extremely pleasant spot for a stroll. The best, and wildest, part for walking is towards the southwest corner.

Affordable meals

Bistrot des Victoires
If you’re in the mood for something traditional, stop off at Bistrot des Victoires, a charming old-fashioned bistrot serving staples like confit de canard and poulet rôti for around €10. 

Breizh Café
This Breton café serves arguably the best crêpes in the city, with traditional fillings like ham and cheese, as well as more exotic options such as smoked herring, which you can wash down with one of twenty different ciders.

La Fourmi
This artfully distressed, high-ceilinged café-bar in Montmartre can usually be found full of Parisian bohos sipping coffee and cocktails. Come during the day for light meals or at night for drinks.

L’As du Fallafel
For a cheap and filling lunch, get a takeaway from L’As du Fallafel in the Marais’ Jewish Quarter. The sign above the doorway reads “Toujours imité, jamais égalé” (“always copied, but never equalled”), a boast that few would challenge, given the queues outside.

Budget beds

Hotel Bonséjour Montmartre
Set on a quiet, untouristy street on the slopes of Montmartre, footsteps away from great neighbourhood bars and restaurants, this hotel is
 a steal. The simple, old-fashioned clean room are a serious bargain.

Mama Shelter
One of the most talked-about hotels in Paris, Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter justifies the hype. Yet it’s also extremely good value. The industrial-chic theme includes arty graffiti motifs on the carpets and ceilings, swanky bathrooms, iMacs and decorative superhero masks.

St Christopher’s Paris
We reckon St Christopher’s two massive hostels are among the best in Europe. Try the original branch overlooking the waters of the Bassin de la Villette where there’s a great bar, inexpensive restaurant, and free internet access.

Get the full Pocket Rough Guide to Paris for a complete guide to the city. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Gilly Pickup discovers the enduring allure of Cuba’s bright and breezy capital, Havana, the island’s cultural heart.

Havana’s effervescence is palpable. The city is reminiscent of an old picture postcard come to life – awash with faded grandeur and crumbling ice-cream coloured buildings. Bartenders mix up mojitos in time to the hip-swaying, hypnotic sounds of salsa and straw-hatted, cigar-puffing men driving vividly coloured vintage Cadillacs, Pontiacs and Buicks.

Habana Vieja and beyond

Havana’s UNESCO listed Habana Vieja or Old Town, almost an open air museum, was once the Caribbean’s main Spanish settlement. With a glut of castles and baroque churches it has more old colonial buildings than any other city in the New World. Head to the Camera Obscura in the Plaza Vieja for the best views.

Of course there are countless museums to explore, too. The most famous is probably the Museum of the Revolution in Centro Habana. This big blast from the past is housed in what was once the Presidential Palace, headquarters of the Cuban government for forty years. Besides plenty of rusty revolvers and a life size wax figure of Che Guevara, it contains maps tracing the war’s progress, innumerable photos of Fidel Castro and some blood-stained uniforms.

Behind the museum are parts of a plane shot down during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, a surface-to-air missile and the yacht that brought Guevara and Castro together with eighty plus revolutionaries to Cuba from Mexico in 1956 – today rather incongruously kept in a glass enclosure.

Another important landmark is the Capitolio Nacional. Once Cuba’s seat of government, the building is similar in appearance to the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. It is home to the National Library and Academy of Sciences and houses a planetarium and museum. Under the dome, a 24-carat diamond – an imitation – is set into the floor. This is where distances between Havana and other sites in the country are measured.

A cigar stop-off

No trip to Cuba would be complete without a cigar, and close by the Capitolio is one of the city’s most famous cigar factories, Real Fabrica de Tabaco Partagas.

Here, a reader is employed to entertain workers while they make the cigars – the reason why some cigars are named after literary characters. Tours allow visitors to see how cigars are made and, of course, there is the opportunity to buy some from the little shop at the end.

In the footsteps of Hemingway

While in Habana Vieja, it makes sense to pay a visit to El Floridita, one of the bars where Ernest Hemingway liked to have a bite to eat and down daiquiris.

Nothing much seems to have changed here since the thirties, when he was sometimes snapped at the bar with Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper, though it was a favourite meeting place for expat Americans before Hemingway made it famous.

Hemingway’s celebrity status has never dimmed in the eyes of the locals and his favourite stool is cordoned off almost as if he is expected to walk back in at any minute. The bar even created a daiquiri in his name, ‘The Papa Hemingway Special’. One story goes that he once sank 13 doubles in one visit. Who knows for sure, but if he did, he must have had a serious hangover next morning.

Fans of Hemingway can also visit his home, Finca Vigia, which lies just outside town. Now also a museum, it is kept just as it was when the man himself lived there. This is where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and today visitors can see his huge book collection and his typewriter.

Along the sea spangled waterfront

And speaking of the sea, every visitor to Havana should head to the Malecón, the eight kilometre sea spangled waterfront promenade popular with locals and tourists, swimmers, joggers and musicians.

Although it was built in 1901 to protect the city from rough seas, today a party atmosphere abounds, especially during evenings and weekends.

Feisty bands and fizzing nightlife

You’ll learn to expect continual music here. It emanates round the clock from the city’s shady squares and cobbled streets. Havana is a feisty rainbow explosion of live bands. They’re everywhere: in the airport, restaurants, bars and on the streets – and at night the experience is out of this world.

Many local musicians play the ‘tres guitar’, a rhythm instrument with three double strings, while the pulsing African ‘son’ music and Timbal drum beats are bound to get your feet tapping.

Nightlife is full on and fizzing – and there are plenty of clubs and bars where visitors can party like a local. Dress to impress, as the locals do, and head to open-air cabaret Tropicana, a great place to soak up the sounds and shake that booty. This is no ordinary cabaret, complete with a 32-piece orchestra.

Festivals galore

It’s also an idea to plan a visit to Havana to coincide with some of the popular celebrations and festivals. These include the cigar festival in February, Carnival in July, the ballet festival in October and film and jazz festivals are in December.

Explore more of Cuba with the Rough Guide to CubaCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tasmania has shaken off its reputation as a sleepy backwater. Australia’s smallest state is buzzing with art, nurturing an exciting foodie scene and cutting the ribbon on new hiking trails – all against a backdrop of rich history and remarkable wildlife. Here, Anita Isalska gives ten reasons why you should give in to the island’s lure. 

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

A ferry ride up the peaceful Derwent River doesn’t seem like the obvious start to explore your dark side. But in the subterranean galleries of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art you’ll find some of the most confronting creations in Australia. Passion, death and decay are explored in unflinching detail in this controversial museum in the northern suburbs of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Test your limits with maggot ridden installations, X-rated sculptures and obese automobiles, all from the private collections of arty eccentric David Walsh.

2. To raft the Franklin River

Quicken your pulse in Tasmania’s wild west on a white water rafting adventure. In this glacier carved terrain, thick with Huon pine forests, experienced guides will navigate you down the frothing Franklin River. You’ll stop to cook on open fires and pitch a tent under the stars. There’s nothing like being part of a crew paddling a raft through the Franklin’s thunderous rapids to instil a lasting respect for Tasmania’s formidable wilderness.

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

Tas’ most famous critter is most often experienced through its nocturnal scream. But Tasmanian devils can be seen up close at sanctuaries across the state, like Bonorong. Don’t be fooled by their puppy-like appearance and lolloping gait. Time your visit for feeding time and you’ll see these marsupials screech, squabble and chomp straight through wallaby bones. On a more serious note, make sure you spare some time to learn about the devastating facial tumour disease threatening these Tassie natives.

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

Mainland Aussies flock to the annual Taste Festival in Hobart. But you can undertake a year-round gastronomic extravaganza on Bruny Island, an easy day-trip by ferry from Hobart. Start by slurping fresh oysters at Get Shucked, before perusing the unctuous delights of Bruny Island Cheese Company. You’ll want a bottle or two to accompany those garlic-marinated, vine leaf-wrapped delights, so stop for pinot noir at Bruny Island Premium Wines. Finish off with jams and ice creams at the berry farm.

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

The silhouette of Cradle Mountain, reflected in mirror-clear Dove Lake, is one of Tasmania’s greatest natural icons. Lace up your hiking boots in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and discover Pencil Pine Falls or the neck-craning Ballroom Forest. Some are easy wooden walking trails that spiral around picnic spots like Wombat Pool; others vertiginous hikes that require experience. For hardened adventurers, there’s the six-day Overland Track.

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

One of Australia’s most hotly-tipped new attractions for 2015 is the Three Capes Track. Due to open in November 2015, this 82km coastal trail promises a touch of luxury for bushwalkers. Instead of stooping under the weight of your camping gear, you’ll be able to bed down in furnished huts at three different spots along the track and make use of on-site cooking facilities. That leaves more time to focus on what’s really important: jaw-dislocatingly good views of Australia’s tallest sea cliffs.

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

Each night at dusk, a parade of little penguins pops out of the waters of Bicheno Bay and waddles ashore to their burrows. A guided walk is the best way to admire these dainty seabirds without disturbing them. They’ll hop between your legs, preen their inky black coats and jab their beaks at toes (don’t wear open-toed shoes).

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

Stomach-plummeting views await at Cataract Gorge, just 15 minutes’ drive from Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Tiptoe over the suspension bridge or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of forested hillsides from the longest single-span chairlift in the southern hemisphere. Picnic spots are scattered around the gorge’s First Basin (and stalked by curious peacocks), ideal for you to soak up some rays and the tranquil atmosphere.

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

Two centuries ago, a ticket to Australia was a terrible fate. The most harrowing final destination was Tasmania’s Port Arthur, one of Australia’s 11 penal colony sites. Port Arthur was thought inescapable: only a narrow band of land, Eaglehawk Neck, connected it to the rest of the island, and this was fiercely guarded by dogs. Today, Port Arthur has been conserved as an open-air museum. You can explore the former prison wings and convict-built chapel, board a boat to the lonely graveyards on Isle of the Dead and linger for a ghost tour if you dare.

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

There’s an unforgettable reward for taking a steep forested trail on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. At the Wineglass Bay overlook, you’ll see a perfect arc of sand glowing against the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea. Cool off from all that bushwalking with a dip or kayaking trip, or simply gaze out over the dusky pink granite boulders dappled with lichen, one of Tasmania’s most surreally beautiful sights.

Explore more of Tasmania with the Rough Guide to Australia or our Tasmania Snapshot. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Kris Griffiths takes a tour of the birthplace of reggae, following in the footsteps of Jamaica’s most famous son, Bob Marley, on what would have been his 70th birthday.

Reggae music was born in the downtrodden townships of this Caribbean island. It’s a genre that has managed to captivate most of the globe with its bouncing riddims and One-Love jubilation, thanks largely to its chief ambassador, Robert Nesta Marley.

Despite cancer stealing him at age 36 in 1981, he’s still very much part of Jamaica’s collective consciousness, and in the city he grew up in, he has almost attained the status of a prophet. Murals of his dreadlocked visage abound and his tunes can almost always be heard floating on the breeze.

For fans of Marley and the genre he helped globalise, one of the most fitting times to visit is ‘Reggae Month’ every February, when his birthday is celebrated with tribute shows and exhibitions. But Bob’s Kingston is alive all year round, for anyone from reggae pilgrims to more casual admirers just seeking some ‘positive vibrations’.

It all began here.

Growing up in Trenchtown

Although he was born in the village of Nine Mile in north Jamaica, Bob moved to Kingston’s Trenchtown as a young boy with his mother after his father died. It was in this impoverished neighbourhood his musical journey commenced. He learnt the guitar while listening to R&B from American radio stations with housemate Bunny Wailer, with whom he would later form eponymous group The Wailers.

The restored tenement block is now a National Heritage Site and fascinating cultural centre, where reggae musicians congregate to record and perform. A striking new statue of Bob has also been erected here to mark his 70th birthday.

Some tourists are deterred from visiting by a prejudice about local ‘ghetto’ culture, at odds with reality – visitors are welcomed warmly by locals promoting Bob’s peaceful message. Visiting also generates vital revenue for the still-deprived community that spawned him.

Recording at Tuff Gong Studio

Located in downtown Kingston, Tuff Gong is the label Bob founded in 1965 (named after his nickname ‘The Gong’ and being a ‘Tuff’ cookie). Today, its HQ is not only one of the biggest studios in the Caribbean but one of the most famous in the world, attracting not just reggae luminaries like sons Damian and Ziggy but superstars of other genres from Kenny Chesney to Sinead O’Connor.

Housing vintage analogue equipment alongside newer digital technology, the studio allows intimate access to the spaces where Bob recorded hits like Redemption Song and Buffalo Soldier. The label went on to sell millions of records, while Bob’s posthumous best-of Legend became the biggest-selling reggae album of all time.

Relaxing at home

Little did young Bob know, the home he would later buy a few miles uptown would become Kingston’s most-visited tourist site, the Bob Marley Museum.

The colonial-era clapboard house, where he lived for his final six years, is now a preserved shrine. Utensils in the kitchen date from his last days; his unpretentious bedroom left exactly as it was, his favourite guitar still by the bed; and poignant family photos hang on the walls. More dramatic are bullet-holes from the infamous 1976 assassination attempt, a grim reminder of the evil confronting Bob’s non-violent philosophy.

There are also museum spaces literally wallpapered with press clippings that exhibit his vast collection of Gold Records. And you can try Bob’s favourite drink, Irish Moss (made with seaweed extract), in the One Love Café, or a hearty vegetarian stew typifying the Rastafarian ‘Ital’ diet.

Retreating to Strawberry Hill

Following the shooting, Bob often withdrew to a retreat nestled high in the Blue Mountains overlooking Kingston, which is as special a spot to visit today as it was 40 years ago. Now a boutique hotel, Strawberry Hill was then owned by producer Chris Blackwell, who’d signed Marley and found his songs an international audience. Subsequently many famous artists visited, including the Stones, Willie Nelson and Grace Jones – personal photos of whom still hang on its walls alongside various Marley platinum discs.

For those with the budget to stay here, high-end features include a negative-edge infinity pool offering vertiginous mountainside views down to the city. For the rest of us, a traditional afternoon tea will do just fine.

Performing at National Stadium

Jamaica’s Wembley, built during Bob’s teenage years, has for most its lifetime served as a temple for the sport he held dear – football – which he regularly played. Home of the national team, internationally-known as the ‘Reggae Boyz’, it backdropped a significant moment in Bob’s career.

In 1978 the Wailers headlined the massive ‘One Love Peace Concert’ here, Bob’s first homeland show since returning from self-imposed exile, at a time when Jamaica was riven by deadly political civil war. During the song Jammin’, however, peacemaker Bob called for the leaders of both warring parties to join him onstage and shake hands, in a plea for national unity. For that night at least, peace reigned on Kingston’s streets.

Three years later Bob would return to the stadium, for his funeral. A commemorative statue of him – one of several around the capital – still stands outside, wielding a guitar.

Kingston has celebrated his life every year since on his birthday, but for visitors that musical high is on offer here perennially. As his son Ziggy said recently, Bob is more alive today than ever.

Kris stayed at Spanish Court Hotel. For further info on visiting Kingston go to www.visitjamaica.comCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Wherever your itinerary takes you, travel in Myanmar (Burma) is sure to provide a wealth of new experiences – whether you’re air-kissing at your waiter in a city teahouse or witnessing your first nat ceremony. To mark the release of our first guide to the country, co-author Jo James shares fourteen of her essential things to do in Myanmar.

Breakfast in a Burmese teahouse

From Yangon’s traffic-choked streets to dusty village lanes, Myanmar’s teahouses are local institutions. Enthusiastic tea boys dodge between the tables, slopping tea into saucers and serving up deep-fried snacks. Patrons air kiss loudly to attract the staff’s attention, their eyes on the football match on TV and their minds on teashop gossip. Stop for a bowl of mohinga – the nation’s favourite noodle soup, or refuel with a char kway (a Chinese-style doughnut) dunked in a delicious cup of sweet, milky tea.

Float down the Irrawaddy

The Irrawaddy River curls south from foothills of the Himalayas, unfurling past Mandalay and Bagan’s temple-covered plain before spilling its silt-rich waters into the Andaman Sea. Myanmar’s most important waterway is plied by everything from luxury teak-decked steamers to ponderous government ferries and leaking speedboats. Climb aboard your vessel of choice and float downstream to see a slice of riverside life – and remember to keep an eye out for rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

Relive the Raj

From streets lined with peeling colonial-era buildings and afternoon tea at The Strand in Yangon, to ghostly locations from George Orwell’s novel Burmese Days in Katha, echoes of British Burma reverberate in a handful of places around Myanmar. Nowhere are these echoes louder than in Pyin Oo Lwin, a former hill station, where horse-drawn carriages trundle past mouldering teakwood mansions and a bell cast for George V’s Silver Jubilee still chimes from the town’s Purcell Tower.

Revive yourself with tealeaf salad

Enthusiastic tea drinkers, the Burmese are one of the few cultures to eat tea as well, in the form of lahpet thouq or tealeaf salad. Fried garlic and broad beans, chopped tomato and whole green chillies are added to piles of deep green, slightly pickled tealeaves, creating something like pesto with a strong caffeine kick – a popular pick-me-up for sleepy students and flagging sightseers alike.

Explore Buddhism’s quirky side

Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhism is shot through with a thick vein of mystery and magic, with enough offbeat sights and stories to revive the interest of the most jaded temple-goer. Climb to the Golden Rock, a precarious gold-crusted boulder held in place for centuries by a few strands of Buddha’s hair, meet alchemist monks searching for the secret to eternal life at Hpa-An’s crag-top pagoda and clamber through the insides of a vast concrete Buddha outside Mawlamyine.

Image by Jo James

Join a nat ceremony

Transvestite natkadaws ply a middle-aged lady with whisky as she gyrates to music from a traditional orchestra. Members of the audience tuck 1,000-kyat notes into her clothing to propitiate the nat who has possessed her. Although Myanmar’s native belief system – that the world is suffused by a collection of unruly nats who require frequent mollification with alcohol, music and money – contrasts sharply with Buddhism’s emphasis on restraint and quiet reflection, many Burmese people happily believe in both. Catch the country’s largest nat ceremony in Taungbyone each August, or head to Mount Popa, Myanmar’s most important centre of nat worship.

Take your time on a Burmese train

Journeys on Myanmar’s antiquated narrow-gauge rail network are often uncomfortable and comically bouncy, and timing is unpredictable in the extreme. However, in exchange for risking a bruised bum and a late arrival, train travellers are rewarded with a fantastic chance to interact with local people, from friendly fellow passengers and holidaying monks, to the poised ladies who sway down the aisle selling snacks from trays balanced precariously on their heads.

Try thanaka

Each morning Burmese women and children daub their cheeks with powdery yellow swipes of thanaka, a natural sunblock and cosmetic made from the ground bark of the wood apple tree, with its sandalwood-like fragrance. However you feel about its beautifying abilities – that tawny shade of yellow isn’t for everyone – freshly applied thanaka is wonderfully cooling, and makes your face smell great for hours.

Rock a longyi

Once you’ve sorted out your thanaka, the natural next step is to get yourself a longyi – a tube of fabric worn by men and women across Myanmar. The male version (a paso) is often nattily checked or striped, and tied with a knot in front, while the female version (a htamein) is more richly patterned, and tucked into a fold around the waist. Pick out your favourite design and take it to a tailor, who will sew it up for you and you’re all set – just ensure that it’s tied tightly enough to avoid any inadvertent flashing…

Nurture a jaggery addiction

Irregular, caramel-coloured lumps of jaggery are one of the great pleasures of a Burmese meal. Made from boiled toddy palm sap and jokingly called “Burmese chocolate”, jaggery is exceedingly addictive whether plain or flavoured with coconut shreds and sesame seeds. However unhappy it might make your dentist back home, cultivating a serious jaggery habit is certainly healthier than Myanmar’s other great tooth-rotting pastime – chewing kwoon-ya, lip-staining little parcels of betel nut, tobacco and slaked lime.

Image by Jo James

Get tipsy on toddy

All over Myanmar, you’ll see spindly bamboo ladders disappearing into spiky palmyra palm trees – a sure sign that a toddy tapper is at work nearby. The palm’s sweet, white sap ferments naturally into toddy, a cloudy, lightly alcoholic beverage also called palm wine or tan-ye. Myanmar’s only home-grown alcoholic drink (Mandalay Brewery’s “anti-aging” spirulina beer notwithstanding), toddy is only available from low-key village bars close to where it’s made, making it an unmistakable taste of the Burmese countryside.

Sample village life

Take to the hills in Shan State and trek along the now-classic Kalaw to Inle Lake route, or head north to explore the less-visited area around Hsipaw and Kyaukme. Whichever hike you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to stay overnight in Shan and Palaung villages along each trail – something that isn’t yet possible elsewhere in Myanmar – and to experience rural life first-hand, with roosters for alarm clocks and water buffalo for trail mates.

Image by Jo James

Go to market

Barefoot porters pad down crowded aisles shouldering crates of limes, stallholders lean against sacks of onions lazily smoking cheroots, while prospective buyers prod green mangoes and examine glistening fish. Go for a stroll through any messy morning market and you’ll discover something new, from the novel (Burmese herbal shampoo) and delicious (crispy bein moun pancakes smeared with jaggery syrup), to the malodorous (shapely piles of ngapi fish paste speared with smoking incense sticks).

Get wet during Thingyan

While in theory, Thingyan – the week-long Burmese New Year festival – is a time to solemnly reaffirm one’s Buddhist beliefs, to the outside observer it seems more like a raucous, countrywide water fight. As temperatures soar each April, everyday life grinds to a halt and children and teenagers take to the streets to soak each other and passers-by (foreigners are singled out with particular relish) with buckets and out-sized water pistols. Festivities reach fever pitch in Mandalay, where streets are lined with makeshift stages from which revellers hose down passing motorists to a booming soundtrack of local hits.

 

Explore more of Myanmar with the new Rough GuideCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Taken from the new Pocket Rough Guide, here’s our pick of the best day trips from Rome. 

Rome is one of the world’s most enthralling cities, and you may find there’s quite enough to keep you occupied during your stay. But it can be a hot, oppressive city, and its churches, museums and ruins are sometimes wearing – so if you’re around long enough it’s worth getting out to see something of the countryside or going to the beach, for which there are lots of options within easy reach.

Two of the main attractions close to Rome are among the most compelling in the country, let alone the Rome area: Tivoli, about an hour by bus northeast of Rome, is a small provincial town famous not only for the travertine quarries nearby, but also for two villas – one Renaissance, one Roman, both complete with landscaped gardens and parks; southwest of Rome, Ostia is the city’s busiest seaside resort, but more importantly was the site of the port of Rome in classical times, the ruins of which – Ostia Antica – are well preserved and worth seeing.

Tivoli

Sited on a hilltop, with fresh mountain air and a pleasant position on the Aniene River, Tivoli has long been a retreat from the centre of Rome. The major sight is the Villa d’Este, the country villa of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este now been restored to its original state with beautiful Mannerist frescoes. It’s the gardens that most people come to see, peeling away down the hill in a succession of terraces, their carefully tended lawns, shrubs and hedges interrupted by one fountain after another. Tivoli’s other main attraction is the Villa Gregoriana, created when Pope Gregory XVI diverted the flow of the river here to ease the periodic flooding of the town in 1831. At least as interesting and beautiful as the d’Este estate, it remains less well known and less visited, and has none of the latter’s conceits – its vegetation is lush and overgrown, descending into a gorge over 60m deep.

Villa Adriana

Probably the largest and most sumptuous villa in the Roman Empire, Villa Adriana, just outside Tivoli, was the retirement home of the Emperor Hadrian for a short while between 135 AD and his death three years later. Hadrian was a great traveller and a keen architect, and parts of the enormous site were inspired by buildings he had seen around the world. The massive Pecile, for instance, through which you enter, is a reproduction of a building in Athens; the Canopus, on the opposite side of the site, is a copy of the sanctuary of Serapis near Alexandria, its long, elegant channel of water fringed by sporadic columns and statues leading up to a temple of Serapis at the far end. 

Ostia

Lido di Ostia has for years been the number one, or at any rate the closest and most accessible seaside resort for Romans. The beaches are ok, and much cleaner than they used to be, but you have to pay to use them and the town doesn’t have a great deal to recommend it apart from its thumping nightlife in summer, and with a little more time you could do better. Inland, however, the excavations of the Roman port of Ostia – Ostia Antica – constitute one of the finest ancient Roman sites you’ll see anywhere. Until its harbour silted up and the town was abandoned during the fourth century, Ostia was Rome’s principal port and a thriving commercial centre. Over the centuries the sand and mud of the Tiber preserved its buildings incredibly well and the excavations here are an evocative sight: it’s much easier to visualize a Roman town here than at the Forum – and it even compares pretty well with far better-known sights like Pompeii.

Santa Severa

There’s not much to sleepy Santa Severa but it’s easy to get to and has everything you need for a day at the beach, with long stretches of sandy beach – some free, the rest given over to the usual letti and ombrelloni – and a tavola calda right on the seafront; there’s also a castle at the southern end of the beach, home to a small municipal museum, if you get bored. The only drawback is the fact that the train station is a 20min walk from town, with erratic connecting buses and no real alternative transport.

Anzio

About 40km south of Rome, yet with a character quite different to the capital, Anzio boats excellent beaches – among the best in Italy – and some interesting history; two military cemeteries (one British, another, at nearby Nettuno, American), as well as a small museum, bear testimony to the town’s role in World War II. Anzio is also a good place to eat: it hosts a thriving fishing fleet and you’ll find some great restaurants down on the harbour.

photo credit: Praia de Anzii via photopin (license)

Capalbio

Just over the border in Tuscany, about 100km northwest of Rome, Capalbio is just about possible on a day-trip, and its beaches are worth the journey. The station is a shortish walk from the beach and the village, a little way inland, is an upscale, artsy sort of place, and only a bus-ride from the late Niki St-Phalle’s sculpture garden, the Giardino dei Tarocchi, which the French artist created over twenty years with her husband, Jean Tinguely.

 

Explore more of Rome and the surrounding area with the Pocket Rough GuideCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Co-author of the Rough Guide to India, Nick Edwards, explains why the trekking in Ladakh is among India’s finest.

Ladakh is quite unlike any other region of India, both geographically and culturally. A rugged and arid high-altitude desert, set between the mighty Karakoram and Great Himalaya ranges, its very name means “the land of high passes”. It is blessed with spectacular mountain scenery that contrasts with the cultivated ribbon of green surrounding the Indus River, which winds westwards through Ladakh from its source on the Tibetan Plateau.

The majority of people in India’s most sparsely populated area, the Mahayana Buddhist Ladakhis, live in and around the picturesque capital of Leh, itself located at a heady altitude of 3500m. Leh is the place where almost all visitors arrive, whether by air or road transportation, and is the best place to acclimatise. Wherever you decide to explore from here, there’s no doubt this is the prime trekking area in the Indian Himalaya. Here, we outline some of the highlights.

It’s rich with unusual wildlife

Having more in common with central Asia than the rest of the subcontinent, the region is blessed with some unusual creatures. Grazing animals such as the nimble ibex, the Tibetan wild ass and endangered Tibetan antelope, as well as various species of wild sheep and goats, can all be spotted on the craggy slopes or patches of rolling grasslands. One of the most adorable sights is the local marmot, often seen ruminating beside the trekking paths.

In the unlikely event you come in winter, you might be treated to a rare sighting of the majestic snow leopard, while the shaggy domesticated yak is a ubiquitous presence at any time of year.

There is also a perhaps surprisingly impressive diversity of birdlife, from the hoopoe and the Tibetan snowcock to the lammergeier and the golden eagle, with some resident species and others that migrate north from India for the summer.

The hospitality is unrivalled

Despite often surviving at subsistence level, the Ladakhis have a reputation for hospitality and an innocent mixture of pride and good nature. The women are especially photogenic in their traditional dress, which they almost all wear: a thick woven kuntop robe, colourful shawls, plus elaborate jewellery and the unique perak hat perched above their braided pigtails.

You are guaranteed a warm welcome wherever your wanderings take you, and there is a constantly-developing network of homestays around Leh and along trekking routes, which will increase your contact with the locals and directly benefit them economically.

The monasteries are astonishingly picturesque

One of the most characteristic images of Ladakh is of scenic whitewashed monasteries balanced precariously atop craggy peaks at angles that sometimes seem to defy gravity. These atmospheric spots have been unbroken places of worship for over a millennium and are especially lively during their annual festivals. Many offer basic but unique accommodation but even if you don’t stay, they are worth visiting at any time.

There is nothing quite like sitting on your own in the main prayer hall, always a riot of colour with painted thangkas, murals and statues, and listening to the mesmeric chanting of a lone monk, or chancing upon a ceremony involving cacophonous percussion and rasping horns. Among the star monasteries are Tikse, Hemis, Spitok, Lamayuru and Alchi, which contains some of the most highly acclaimed murals in the world.

There is something for everyone

One of the beauties of trekking in Ladakh is that you can easily choose a length of trek to suit the time you have available and the power of your lungs and leg muscles. You can do anything from fairly low key hikes over two or three days, between Leh and some of the surrounding monasteries, to something more ambitious.

Further up the scale, the five-day trek between Alchi and Lamayuru is bookended by those famous monasteries and offers splendid views of the Indus Valley. Alternatively, the six- to eight-day Markha Valley circuit, tucked below the impressive Stok-Kangri massif, contains various topographies and altitudes, while experienced wilderness seekers will be attracted by the ten- to twelve-day marathon across the Zanskar Range between Lamayuru and Padum.

It has the perfect climate

As Ladakh is untouched by the monsoon and there is very little precipitation throughout the year, it offers dry trekking conditions and superb views almost all the time. This is particularly true of the main summer season from June to September, when the rest of India is covered by the rains. During these months daytime temperatures can easily exceed 20ºC, although you should bear in mind that the mercury can plummet to below zero at the higher altitudes at night, even in summer, and that snow flurries often occur even in August on the higher passes.

Explore more of India with The Rough Guide to IndiaCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Are you a cartographic clever-clogs or due a geography refresher course? We’ve compiled the outlines of ten different countries – large and small – without any rivers, seas, mountains or cities to help you. Can you deduce the country from its shape alone? Take the quiz to find out…

Taken from the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, these are our top 12 tips for backpacking through Europe.

Europe has it all: sprawling cities and quaint villages; boulevards, promenades and railways; mountains, beaches and lakes. Some places will be exactly how you imagined: Venice is everything it’s cracked up to be; springtime in Paris has even hardened cynics melting with the romance of it all; and Oxford’s colleges really are like Harry Potter film sets. Others will surprise, whether for their under-the-radar nature or statement-making modern architecture.

If you’re backpacking in Europe for the first time, bear in mind that the best trips combine practicality with stick-a-pin-in-the-map impulsiveness. Here’s our advice:

1. Pick your season wisely

If you decide to travel during the peak summer season, try heading east – the Balkan coastline, the Slovenian mountains and Baltic cities are all fantastic places for making the most of your money. When tourist traffic dies down as autumn approaches, head to the Med. The famous coastlines and islands of southern Europe are quieter at this time of year, and the cities of Spain and Italy begin to look their best. Wintertime brings world-class skiing and epic New Year parties. Come spring it’s worth heading north to the Netherlands, Scandinavia, France and the British Isles, where you’ll find beautifully long days and relatively affordable prices.

2. Be savvy about accommodation

Although accommodation is one of the key costs to consider when planning your trip, it needn’t be a stumbling block to a budget-conscious tour of Europe. Indeed, even in Europe’s pricier destinations the hostel system means there is always an affordable place to stay – and some are truly fantastic. If you’re prepared to camp, you can get by on very little while staying at some excellently equipped sites. Come summer, university accommodation can be a cheap option in some countries. Be sure to book in advance regardless of your budget during the peak summer months.

3. Take the train

Getting around by train is still the best option, and you’ll appreciate the diversity of Europe best at ground level. Plus, if you make your longest journeys overnight and sleep on the train, you’ll forego accommodation costs for the night. Most countries are accessible with an InterRail Global pass or the equivalent Eurail pass. Depending on your time and budget, choose one corner of the continent then consider a budget flight for that unmissable experience elsewhere.

4. Plan your trip around a festival

There’s always some event or other happening in Europe, and the bigger shindigs can be reason enough for visiting a place. Be warned, though, that you need to plan well in advance. Some of the most spectacular extravaganzas include St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, when Dublin becomes the epicentre of the shamrock-strewn, Guinness-fuelled fun, Roskilde in Denmark, Glastonbury’s Scandinavian rival with a mass naked run thrown in for good measure, and Italy’s bizarre battle of the oranges in Ivrea.

5. Eat like a local

You’ll come across some of the world’s greatest cuisines on a trip to Europe, so make sure to savour them. A backpacking budget needn’t be a hindrance either, as if you shun tourist traps to eat and drink with the locals, there are plenty of gastronomic experiences that won’t break the bank. Treat yourself to small portions but big flavours with a tapas dish or two in Spain, relish the world’s favourite cuisine at an Italian trattoria or discover the art form of the open sandwich with smørrebrød in Denmark. Don’t be tempted to skip breakfast, either – an oven-fresh croissant or calorie-jammed “full English” are not to be missed.

6. Find the freebies

Being on a budget doesn’t mean you should miss out, even in some of the world’s most sophisticated cities. Many iconic European experiences are mercifully light on the pocket: look out for free city walking tours, try the great Italian tradition of aperitivo in Rome, make the most of the free museums in London and try cooking with local ingredients rather than eating out. We’ve got lists of the top free things to do in Paris, Barcelona, London, Dublin and Berlin to get you started.

7. Get outdoors

It can be tempting to focus backpacking through Europe on a succession of capital cities – but you’d be missing out on a lot. Europe offers a host of outdoor pursuits that animate its wide open spaces, too, from horseriding in Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains and surfing on Portugal’s gnarled Alentejo coast to cross-country skiing in Norway and watching Mother Nature’s greatest show in Swedish Lapland.

8. Allow yourself the odd splurge

One advantage of budget travel is that it makes splurging all the sweeter – and for a little “flashpacking” guidance, we include Treat Yourself tips throughout the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. If you’re mostly staying in dorms, splash out on the odd private hostel room or boutique hotel; swing by a speakeasy for cocktails in Paris; gorge yourself on pasta in Rome; and allow yourself a day of watersports in Croatia.

9. Stay up late

Whether it’s Berlin and London’s hipster dives, flamenco in Seville, Budapest’s ruin bars, or the enotecas that celebrate Italy’s rejuvenated wine industry, there are countless reasons to stay up till sunrise. Europe lives for the wee hours and you’ll be following in some famous footsteps. Think about ordering a knee-buckling Duvel beer at Brussels’ historic La Fleur en Papier Doré, a time-worn café once the favourite hunt of Surrealist painter Magritte and Tintin creator Hergé, or sipping pint in one of Oxford’s historic pubs, like the Eagle and Child, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s old haunt.

10. Hit the beach

Clubbed and pubbed out? It’s time to hit the beach. If you’re looking for heat, Formentera’s beaches are quieter and wilder than on neighbouring Ibiza, while Croatia and Italy have a slew of beautiful stretches of sand. If you want to head off the beaten track, consider Mogren in Montenegro, part of the so-called “Budva Riviera” that stretches either side of Montenegro’s party town par excellence.

11. Go under the radar

If you’re looking for Europe’s charm without the crowds, you’ll want to consider straying from the well-worn routes. Some of our favourite under-the-radar towns include Olomouc in the Czech Republic, a pint-sized Prague with less people and more charm (and cobblestones), and Berat, a gorgeous Albanian town where row after row of Ottoman buildings loom down at you from the sides of a steep valley.

12. Stay safe

Take some basic precautions to stay safe. It’s not a good idea to walk around flashing an obviously expensive camera or smartphone, and keep your eyes (and hands if necessary) on your bags at all times. Exercise caution in hostels and on trains; padlocking your bags to the luggage rack if you’re on an overnight train increases the likelihood that they’ll still be there in the morning. It’s also a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport and keep it safe somewhere online.

 

For a complete guide to backpacking through Europe, check out the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

The USA embodies the very definition of a giant, sprawling country, and with its wildly varied geography and astonishing assortment of regionally distinct subcultures, the third-largest nation in the world would take a lifetime (or more) to thoroughly explore.

And while this is not a country that specialises in subtlety – three of our ten spotlighted choices below feature “big” or “grand” in their name – it’s full of inspiring places that hide themselves just under the surface of the country’s skin to remind visitors that there’s more to touring the USA than simply experiencing mega-destinations such as Times Square, Walt Disney World and Las Vegas.

Follow us, west to east, as our author highlights his pick of the ten best places to visit in the USA.

McCarthy, Alaska

Sometimes the finest adventures begin at the end of the road – or in the case of this rough-and-ready village in the Alaska interior, across the Kennicott River from the end of the road. Accessible via small plane or, more popularly, by footbridge at the terminus of a 58-mile gravel route, the old mining town of McCarthy – the area’s copper reserves dried up in the 1930s – soldiers on as a semi-living ghost town in the heart of impossibly enormous Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve. McCarthy’s year-round population dropped from 42 to 28 in the 2000s, so get here now while the community still exists.

Best month to visit: August

Seattle, Washington

Colourfully set beside deep-green forests and around the glimmering azure waters of Puget Sound – with the peaks of the Cascade Range to the east and the Olympic Mountains to the west often white with snow – greater Seattle is quite arguably both the most beautifully situated metropolis and one of the best places to travel in the USA. The Emerald City is also fun – a place where you can play catch with freshly caught fish at high-spirited Pike Place Market, dive deeply into the city’s rich musical legacy at the Experience Music Project museum near the ever-cool Space Needle, and, if the frequently grey skies subside for the day, take in the heart-melting Pacific Northwest view from the 73-storey-high Sky View Observatory at the Columbia Center. You can also plan your visit around Bumbershoot, the city’s colossal music and arts festival that takes place in the shadow of the Space Needle annually over Labor Day weekend.

Best month to visit: July

Image by Charles Hodgkins

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California

A smart alternative for tall-tree-seeking Bay Area visitors over Muir Woods National Monument (often overcrowded) and Redwood National Park (much too far for a day trip), California‘s oldest state park is also one of its largest and best. Big Basin Redwoods, a gorgeous 65-mile drive south from San Francisco, is a choice destination in almost any weather, where the dense tree canopy of the Santa Cruz Mountains provides shaded relief on warm days and a natural umbrella on rainy ones. The park’s extensive trail network includes everything from easy interpretive-nature trails to full-blown backpacking routes such as the lovely Skyline-to-Sea Trail.

Best month to visit: March

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

As you crest a gradual rise along the road north into Grand Teton, your first sighting of the purple, jagged-tooth peaks of the Teton Range may well result in mumbled exclamations of awe, if not an outright case of goose pimples. If so, you’re not alone – initial reactions like this have been documented through the ages. Invariably overshadowed by its world-famous, geyser-spewing neighbour to the immediate north, Yellowstone, Grand Teton is in a league of its own. For outdoor enthusiasts, this is undoubtedly one of the best places to go in the USA, with year-round visitors coming to hike, rock-climb, bicycle, cross-country ski, wildlife-watch, and stare at the most striking mountains this side of the Alps.

Best month to visit: September

Image by Charles Hodgkins

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Wedged snugly against the US–Mexico border and located hundreds of miles from Texas’s major cities, Big Bend is not for anyone seeking a conveniently located patch of desert ruggedness; this is a place that requires dedication to reach. However, your efforts are suitably rewarded with all the Chihuahuan Desert charms you can handle: sentinel rock outcroppings, small packs of low-slung javelinas scampering across hiking trails, towering canyons that seemingly threaten to swallow the muddy Rio Grande whole, international boundary intrigue, pointy ocotillo aplenty. You’d be forgiven for expecting to see Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner around the park’s dusty roads.

Best month to visit: February

Southern Louisiana

The reality of Southern Louisiana is not so different from the myth of the region in the minds of Americans and foreign visitors alike. From Lafayette to Baton Rouge to New Orleans, this really is a singular place: swamps and bayous full of alligators and moss-draped cypress trees; French-speaking Cajuns squeezing age-old tunes out of accordions and mandolins; Creole sugarcane plantations just over the levee from the mighty Mississippi River; jazz clubs, festivals, and second-line parades soaked in equal parts booze and brass; end-of-the-road holiday towns on distant barrier islands; foods that will tingle your taste buds and shatter your belt. There’s nowhere quite like it.

Best month to visit: April

Image by Charles Hodgkins

Chicago, Illinois

Anchoring the third-most populous metropolitan area in the US, and boasting one of the most iconic skylines you’ll find anywhere, lakeside Chicago offers a smorgasbord of attractions that could keep an ambitious visitor occupied for weeks. By day, join a walking tour of downtown’s modern architecture landmarks, take your pick from an array of top-tier museums (including the world-class Art Institute of Chicago), or score an opening night ticket for the Chicago Cubs baseball game on 5 April at the so-called Friendly Confines of storied Wrigley Field. After dark, choose from almost any type of cuisine imaginable – from haute to Greek to BBQ, the City of Broad Shoulders does everything well, and more affordably than coastal culinary rivals New York and San Francisco.

Best month to visit: May

South Florida

South Florida is known for many things, but a pair of particularly adversarial relationships head the list of many visitors: sodden wild lands versus the paved, built-up environment, and humans versus biting insects. The collision here between the subtropical United States and Latin America makes this one of the most culturally fascinating corners of the country, where you can stroll through Miami‘s Little Haiti and Little Havana neighbourhoods in the morning, enjoy an airboat tour through the Everglades‘ magnificent “river of grass” in the afternoon (just be sure to tote along bug repellant), and either indulge in Miami’s legendary club scene all night or make the relaxing 160-mile drive out through the Florida Keys to atmospheric Key West. Or you can just eat key lime pie all day long. Regardless of your approach, this is where summer spends the winter in the States, so pack an extra pair of shorts.

Best month to visit: December

Image by Charles Hodgkins

Delaware Shore

While beach names such as Rehoboth, Dewey, and Bethany may not stir the imagination quite the same way as Malibu, Waikiki, and Key Biscayne, don’t overlook Delaware’s abbreviated, but lovely shore. Untainted by reality television and overdevelopment – though lashed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – the First State’s 20-plus miles of land abutting the Atlantic Ocean is as glorious a strand as you’ll find anywhere on the East Coast. Runners will want to come for the flat-routed CoDel (Coastal Delaware) Marathon, which begins and ends in Dewey Beach on the first weekend in May. Walk the sands in search of gigantic, laggard horseshoe crabs, snack on salt water taffy along Rehoboth’s popular seaside boardwalk, and be thankful you won’t have to cross paths with Snooki and her costar-inebriates.

Best month to visit: June

Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

Resisting the frilly preciousness that can characterise higher-profile small towns of the region, Shelburne Falls offers a portrait of working-class New England while still drawing in plenty of visitors for its smattering of worthy sights. The humble village of 1700 residents, set along the leafy Mohawk Trail (also known as the State Route 2, a popular autumn foliage-viewing byway that’s celebrating its 101st anniversary this year), is split by the languid Deerfield River, the banks of which are linked by the marvellous, pedestrian-only Bridge of Flowers – a set of unusual, riverside glacial potholes adjacent to the small downtown area. Shelburne Falls is also home to the second-oldest bowling alley in the US, where you can try your hand at candlepin, the New England-only brand of the game that requires extra precision by using a much smaller ball and pins.

Best month to visit: October

Explore more of the States with the Rough Guide to the USA. Book hostels for your trip, compare flights, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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