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; Oxford’s colleges really are like Harry Potter film sets. Others will surprise, with their under-the-radar nature or statement-making modern architecture.

rough guide europe budget coverWhether you’re planning to see it all or explore the hidden corners of the continent, these are our top 12 tips for backpacking through Europe, taken from our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

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. 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. Make sure you check out our tips for travelling by train in Europe.

Rail travel Europe

Pixabay/CC0

3. 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. Homestays will often give you better value for money than most hotels so they are also worth considering. 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.

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.

Music festival

Pixabay/CC0

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. If you shun tourist traps to eat and drink with the locals, you’ll find plenty of foodie 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 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.

Rila mountains, Bulgaria

Filip Stoyanov/Flickr

 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 our latest 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 a 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.

Puglia, Italy

Pixabay/CC0

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.

 

rough guide europe budget coverFor a complete guide to backpacking through Europe, check out our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image via Agustin Rafael Reyes/Flickr.

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

Seattle, Washington, USAImage 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

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USAImage 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

Southern Louisiana, USAImage 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

Sunset in Southern Florida, USAImage 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.

With a whole host of new attractions opening this year, from world-record-beating skyscrapers to whacky amusement parks, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. To help you decide where to visit, we’ve picked the top 9 new tourist attractions around the world. 

Shanghai Tower, China

A better symbol of China’s continuing march forward would be harder to find than the new Shanghai Tower, at 632 metres the world’s second tallest building and muscling its way in to every shot of Shanghai like a giant robotic arm. Twisted from base to tip, at about one degree per floor, it is even designed to withstand typhoons. By the end of this year the tower will also have the world’s highest observation deck, at 557 metres above sea level. Lifts will reach this in under one minute – so prepare for some ear-popping.

Lincoln Castle, UK

Want to see the document that gave birth to democracy? We’re talking about the Magna Carta of course, which reaches its 800th birthday this year. You can find out why it’s so highly lauded at Lincoln Castle. This eleventh-century Norman castle reopens in April and promises a state-of-the-art underground vault to house the Magna Carta, an ‘in-the-round’ film explaining its importance and history, a complete circular walk around the castle’s ancient walls and access to both the Victorian male and female prisons for the first time.

Lincoln castle, Lincoln, England, UK, Europe

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA

One of the great shames of the art world is the amount of exceptional artwork kept in storage and rarely seen by the public. What is the point, after all, of owning a large art collection if you don’t have the space to exhibit it? The Whitney finally solves its space problem in 2015, with the opening of its new building; at 18,000 square feet, the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. A cantilevered entrance beneath the High Line sets the tone for a graceful, light-filled gallery with river views – and, of course, some of the world’s greatest artworks.

IceCave, Iceland

Ever wondered what the inside of a glacier looks like? White? Deepest blue? Both? Well, wonder no more. Book a trip to Iceland this year and you can visit the country’s latest attraction, the IceCave. Here you can venture into a series of tunnels and caves running inside Langjökull Glacier, which stretch as much as 300 metres into the solid ice about 30 metres below the surface. These mind-bending proportions make the IceCave one of the largest man-made ice structures in the world – and well worth donning multiple layers of clothing to see.

Ice Cave, Iceland

Lost and Found festival, Malta

In April 2015 Malta will make its debut on the electronic music scene. From the 3rd to the 5th DJ Annie Mac will host Lost and Found, a new festival in St Paul’s Bay on the north shore and Ta’ Qali National Park near Rabat. With a line-up of international dance DJs, Lost and Found promises daytime pool and boat dance parties against an ocean backdrop and nighttime open-air raves with a chilled out vibe. You won’t even have to camp either: packages including hotel accommodation start from £148/$225 per person.

Dreamland, Margate, UK

2015 is set to be a great year for Margate, as the seaside resort’s most famous attraction, Dreamland, finally reopens. The UK’s oldest amusement park is being reimagined as the world’s first heritage amusement park by designer Wayne Hemmingway, its centerpiece the Grade II listed Scenic Railway, Britain’s oldest rollercoaster. Numerous rides from other parks are being rebuilt around it, many of which are the only remaining examples of their type. Ride the 1950s Hurricane Jets and the 1940s Caterpillar that once stood at Pleasureland Southport, before strolling past the large Tiffany lamps donated from the Blackpool Illuminations collection.

Seaside at Margate, Kent, England, Great Britain, Europe

TreeTop Crazy Rider, New South Wales

Two words have never belonged together more than rollercoaster and zipline. Well, the crazy folks at Ourimbah State Forest on Australia’s Central Coast certainly think so. Their new 1km-long adventure must-do promises to combine the thrill and suspense of a rollercoaster with the flying sensation of a zipline. Strap in and swoop through the forest, twisting round corners and dropping into the bush. No special skills are required and it’s open to everyone over seven.

Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France

A new building has landed at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers – although we think it looks more like the giant foot of a crystal transformer. This is the new Musée des Confluences, a science centre and anthropology museum dedicated to pondering life’s big questions: Where do we come from? Who are we? And what do we do? No existential crisis needed though, there are said to be 2.2 million objects in the collection to answer these head scratchers, not to mention regular arts and crafts exhibitions.Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France, Europe

Sa Pa cable car, Vietnam

Reaching the peak of Fansipan Mountain (3143m) used to mean a full-day hike at least. But from later this September the trek up will be reduced to a 20-minute flight by cable car. This will be the world’s longest and highest cable car, no less, running up from sleepy Sa Pa Town in Lao Cai Province to Indochina’s rooftop. Enjoy the view from the summit before exploring Sa Pa itself, an isolated community set to become firmly established on the tourist trail – the cable car will transport 2000 people per hour, the same number as reached the peak in an entire year previously.

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For the best cities, countries, and best-value destinations to visit this year, check out the Rough Guide to 2015Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Drone videos dominated the news last year. Capturing the world from above is the latest travel craze – and the results can be spectacular. But with more and more drones in the skies, laws are justifiably being tightened. Before drones are banished for good, we’ve rounded up our favourite bits of aerial footage. Here are five of the best drone videos:

Burning Man

Nevada’s Burning Man remains the coolest festival on the global calendar. The annual party sees an entire city built in the Black Rock Desert with revellers packing RVs with everything they need for the week-long extravaganza. This drone clip shows the sprawling festival in all its glory.

Niagara

Ever wondered what it might be like to peek over the edge of Niagara Falls? Now, thanks to one enterprising YouTube user and his quad-copter, you can get an idea. This mesmerising footage captures the falls from above – a view not one of the thirteen million annual visitors who make the pilgrimage here are able to see.

Into a volcano

The Pacific island of Vanuatu isn’t all paradise. It’s also home to the Yasur volcano, filmed here by Shaun O’Callaghan. Not many filmmakers would be willing to test their kit against a shower of molten rock and billowing clouds of toxic gas, but remarkably his drone makes it out unscathed.

NYC from above

From the imposing skyline to the neon jungle of Times Square, there are few parts of New York that haven’t been captured on film from the ground. This clip takes a different approach, using a DJI Phantom and a GoPro to get a bird’s eye view of the classic Big Apple sights: look out for 5th Avenue, Central Park, Times Square and more.

Fireworks

Don’t try this one at home. A Brit was recently arrested for a similar stunt, and the hazards of combining a very expensive drone with thousands of pyrotechnics are obvious. Still, Jos Stiglingh’s stunt went smoothly, bringing us this a spectacular footage from the midst of a fireworks display. No wonder it’s had over ten million views on YouTube.

Our editors and authors have named Iran as one of the top countries to visit in 2015. Here, Anthon Jackson explains why now is the time to travel to Iran.

The word is out: as far as off-the-beaten-path destinations go, Iran is an absolute gem. More than ever since 1979, intrepid travellers are making their way to the Islamic Republic, and there’s little wonder why.

Boasting gorgeous landscapes and rich tapestry of ancient cultures and religions, Iran is highly welcoming and easy on the wallet (though you can only use cash), offering plenty of bang for your buck. Stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea and from Turkey to Pakistan, it encompasses spectacular desertscapes even more desolate than the American Southwest, snowcapped peaks, fertile valleys and lush forests.

Its treasure chest of attractions include ancient Persian monuments, lavish Qajar mansions, Silk Road caravanserais, world-renowned museums and art galleries in the bustling capital of Tehran, and the splendid Safavid gardens in Esfahan that encircle some of the world’s most hauntingly beautiful mosques, adorned with mesmerizing turquoise tile-work.

Mountains and Lake in Iran, Middle East

“Persia’s sense of heritage runs deep, boasting a richness on a par with the greatest of civilizations”

Much like its 3000-year-old qanats, an ingenious network of irrigation tunnels, Persia’s sense of heritage runs deep, boasting a richness on a par with the greatest of civilizations. Wandering the ruins of majestic Persepolis, one of history’s greatest capitals, it’s hard not be impressed with the wealth and glory of the once-mighty Persian Empire. In Shiraz, City of Poets and heartland of Persian culture and sophistication, visitors from near and far pay their respects to the ornate tomb of Hafez (whose lines are often held in greater honour than those of the Qur’an), while in Yazd, home to one of the Middle East’s best-preserved medieval bazaars, a flame said to have burned for 1500 years flickers on in the Zoroastrian Fire Temple.

Mingling with pilgrims in sacred Mashhad’s Haram complex, you’ll marvel at the dazzling, tiled Tomb of Imam Reza, resting place of Shi’a Islam’s eighth Imam. And while soaking up the grandeur of Imam Square and admiring its iconic, blue-domed Shah Mosque, you’ll begin to appreciate the old rhyme, “Esfahan is half the world,” then join local Esfahanis for an evening promenade past the magically lit bridges spanning the Zayandeh River.

Reflection of the Shah or Imam, Emam Mosque at Meidan-e Emam, Naqsh-e Jahan, Imam Square, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Esfahan, Isfahan, Iran, Persia, Asia

“Returning travellers are most impressed with the warmth of Persian hospitality”

Even considering Iran’s abundance of worthy sights, returning travellers, particularly from the US, are most impressed with the warmth of Persian hospitality. Doubtless among the most welcoming people on earth, Iranians are lauded even by their most bitter enemies as superior hosts. In chatting with curious locals, often keen for a glimpse of the outside world, foreigners in Iran are guaranteed endless cups of tea, spontaneous gifts, home invitations and even impromptu guide services. And in stark contrast to more established regional travel hubs, jaded by decades of mass-tourism, you’ll find hardly any of the old tourist touts in Iran.

Until quite recently, however, Iran only drew a small trickle of foreign visitors, but as relations with the West continue to thaw, tourist numbers are on the rise, hotels are booming, visa requirements are easing up and airlines are rapidly expanding to connect Iran’s hubs with Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Some international companies have already set up shadow offices in the country as they anticipate a deal to finally rid themselves of crippling international sanctions.

“There is indeed cause for hope”

And there is indeed cause for hope. An end to political deadlock that has kept much of the population impoverished for decades may be in sight. Indeed, by just about all indicators, the country’s long-poisoned relationship with the West appears increasingly on the mend.

Though the much-anticipated November 2014 deadline for nuclear negotiations has come and gone, only to be extended until 1 March, 2015 (with a final agreement to made on 1 July), the past year has seen unprecedented progress towards ending the twelve-year nuclear standoff with the West and the 35-year freeze in relations with the United States.

Asia, Iran, Isfahan, Imam square, Sheikh Lotfollah mosque.

The two countries, after more than three decades of radio silence and bitter clandestine conflict, now enjoy daily diplomacy in pursuit of surprisingly common regional goals. Of course, a mountain of mistrust needs first be dismantled before any meaningful deal can be struck, but both can already agree that, firstly, such a breakthrough is vital, and secondly, that the path ahead lies at the negotiating table rather than through old tactics of pressure and intimidation.

Perhaps most promising of all for the prospect of continued detente between Iran and its longtime enemies – and most worrisome for the ageing mullahs in control since the 1979 Revolution – remains its burgeoning youth. Of Iran’s 77 million people, more than 60 percent are now under the age of 30 and many of them burning for change, increasingly tired of the ultraconservative, out-of-touch elite, of the sanctions, the international isolation, the stealthily patrolling, dress-code enforcing Ershad (morality police), and even fast-food rip-offs like Kentaky Chicken, Pizza Hat and Mash Donald’s.

It would appear change is on its way whether the mullahs like it or not. And when it comes, travellers can expect the floodgates of mass-tourism to open wide. The time to travel to Iran is now.

Need to know: Check your home country’s travel and security advice before booking a trip to Iran. You may not travel to Iran if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, and at the time of writing, some nationalities were only permitted to visit the country on an organised tour and may not travel independently.

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal

Trim out the religious and/or mystical connotations and Buddhism boils down to something quite simple – brain training. Emptying your mind of white noise in the Buddhist manner – and thereby opening it up to richer focus and awareness – has never been easy. But the digital age is making it even harder, with an ever-billowing storm of information clamouring for our attention. So, retreat – a Tibetan Buddhist monastery might just be the perfect balm to your perpetually flicking and scrolling mind.

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal

Get isolated at Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia

Travel to Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia, a country whose name is a byword for notions of the faraway, and you’ve already made a significant mental leap. You’re certainly not in Kansas anymore here – the nearest wifi is hundreds of miles away in the capital, Ulan Bator. The lodge lets you sample the nomadic lifestyle, except with all the hard bits removed and felt slippers thrown in. Expect snow leopards, bears and wild camels – who needs David Attenborough documentaries?

Get isolated at Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia

Stay with the Huaoranis in the Amazon, Ecuador

The Amazon river and its tributaries form one of the greatest natural networks of connectivity on the planet. Digitally speaking, however, it’s a total void. Arrange a stay with the Huaoranis of Ecuador for insights into their culture, from tracking in the rainforest to lessons in their language, which is said to be unrelated to any other on Earth.

Stay with the Huaoranis in the Amazon, Ecuador

Go wild camping in Sweden and Norway

Wifi is not such a rare amenity on campsites these days. But if you’re engaged in ‘wild camping’ – pitching your tent off-piste – then technology begins and ends at a rickety gas stove and a pack of AA batteries. In Norway and Sweden, wild camping is part of the national identity – and with landscapes ranging from the Arctic Circle to island-sprinkled archipelagos, there are myriad reasons to leave the glampsites behind.

Go wild camping in Sweden and Norway

Rub elbows with elephants at Jongomero camp, Tanzania

You’re enjoying a precious moment with a spindly dik dik in Ruaha National Park when all of a sudden: “BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP” goes your phone, the precious animal does a runner and your fellow safari guests make a mental note to blog about your appalling behaviour once reunited with their devices. Because they, unlike you, have respected this remote, luxurious southern Tanzanian camp’s requests that digital equipment be kept under lock and key for the duration of your visit.

Rub elbows with elephants at Jongomero camp, Tanzania

Get deserted in the Cook Islands

That these fifteen South Pacific islands are named after legendary eighteenth-century explorer James Cook is a bit of a giveaway – they’re seriously remote. Rarotonga, the main island, is not overburdened with hi-tech distractions – one popular activity is “jetblasting” whereby you hang out near the airport’s runway and, well, get blasted by the displaced air from descending planes. Better, perhaps, to focus on enjoying the islands’ natural underwater beauty, from black pearl fields to coral lagoons.

Get deserted in the Cook Islands

Back to basics in a bothy, Northern Ireland

Cast yourself away – or rather, paddle yourself – to this restored stone cottage near Lisnaskea in County Fermanagh, part of the Lough Erne Canoe Trail. The bothy is neat but basic as can be, its list of mod cons beginning and ending at cold running water, a wood-burning stove and south-facing skylights. With life stripped back to the bare essentials, you’re left with the mental space to enjoy Upper Lough Erne’s tranquil bays and sprinkling of lush green islands.

Back to basics in a bothy, Northern Ireland

Meet your ancestors at an archaeological dig

Get your hands dirty, cleanse your mind – that’s the basic idea here. A number of operators offer holidays based around archaeological digs, from Ethiopia to Uzbekistan – although you could always purchase the tools of the trade and go it alone. Beware, though: a metal detector’s seductive blipping might be hard to handle for those in technological cold turkey.

Meet your ancestors at an archaeological dig

Delve into the Krubera Cave, Georgia

The status of the Marianas Trench as the planet’s deepest point is standard pub quiz fodder. But the earthbound equivalent is less well-known. The true vastness of Georgia’s Krubera Cave has only been fully realised since the turn of the twenty-first century, and it took a team of Ukrainian speleologists two weeks to reach the cave’s 2200m deepest point. Down here, you’re guaranteed friend requests from nothing but spiders, beetles and other creepy crawlies.

Delve into the Krubera Cave, Georgia

Cut off in Havana, Cuba

With patched-up old Buicks and Cadillacs stalking its capital’s streets like mechanical ghouls, the idea of Cuba as a time capsule is a familiar notion. What lies under the hood of those US classics is about as sophisticated as technology gets in Cuba – the country has the lowest rate of web access in the West, and what’s permitted is subject to heavy government regulation. Time to disengage the brain from all things digital and enjoy the city’s steamy charms.

Cut off in Havana, Cuba

Spend a week in Amish country, USA

In populated areas of the US it isn’t easy to escape the digital dimension. But the Amish – whose Mennonite ancestors came over to Pennsylvania from Europe at the turn of the eighteenth century – have long done a very efficient job of escaping the clutches of the modern world. In Lancaster County you can immerse yourself in their simple, rural way of life, where houses are not connected to the grid and travel is by horse-drawn buggy.

Spend a week in Amish country, USA

Get grounded in Bolivia’s salt flats

In one respect the Bolivian salt flats are money-spinningly hi-tech – beneath the white expanses lie the world’s largest reserves of lithium, used in battery manufacture. But that’s where links to the modern world end. Tours of the mind-bending salar are a Bolivian must-do and whichever accommodation you wind up in – freezing shack, luxury “salt palace” or Airstream caravan – the landscape utterly overwhelms and grounds you in the present moment.

Get grounded in Bolivia's salt flats

Digital detox at Echo Valley Ranch and Spa, Canada

The internet has expanded at a terrifying rate since its inception, sure, but the Big Bang did it way bigger and way better. There’s nothing like getting out into the light pollution-free wilds and gazing up at giddying bucket-loads of stars to put you in your place. This ranch in British Columbia’s Cariboo region offers crystal-clear star-gazing allied to a digital detox programme – being reminded of your own puny insignificance never felt so good.

Digital detox at Echo Valley Ranch and Spa, Canada

Surrender yourself in Chicago, USA

The “windy” of Chicago’s nickname actually refers to a certain loquaciousness associated with the city. But even here you can mute the world with the Monaco hotel’s “blackout” option, which encourages guests to hand in their devices on check-in. Be aware, however, that they also offer free wi-fi, so you can polish that halo even harder should you manage not to succumb.

Surrender yourself in Chicago, USA

Stay secluded in Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Somewhere along Turkey’s tourism-saturated Turquoise Coast, where holidaymakers are assured every home comfort, from full English breakfasts to free wi-fi, there’s an enclave of unplugged hippy-dom. Take a water taxi from Oludeniz (the “Blue Lagoon” in English, setting the evocatively back-to-nature tone) to the steep-sided, beach-fronted valley. You might still be able to data-roam, but listening to the crackle of evening bonfires or the strumming of acoustic guitars is far superior to the hum of social media.

Stay secluded in Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Take a survival challenge on a Belize island

“I couldn’t survive without my phone.” If you’re this digitally dependent, then perhaps it’s time you addressed your conception of the word “survive” – and that’s where getting shipwrecked on a desert island comes in. You’ll shell out for the privilege, of course, but before being left to your own devices on a Belize caye, the team will train you up and ensure you’re a budding Ray Mears. Fish gutting and fire building ahoy!

Take a survival challenge on a Belize island

Stay in Skiary Lodge, Scotland

If you have ants in your social media pants, make for the unflappable stillness of Lough Hourn and let its tranquility wash over you. The most distracting thing you’re likely to encounter hereabouts is the otherworldly light – though climbing, swimming, seal-watching and star-gazing are all possibilities. This phone-, electrics- and internet-free lodge – two hours by car from Fort William, followed by a hike or a boat ride – is the only survivor from an abandoned fishing hamlet.

Stay in Skiary Lodge, Scotland

Explore Antarctica

Time is running out for Antarctica. And not (for now) in the way that you might think: rather it’s the region’s status as a communications black hole that’s most pressingly threatened. The urgency of the data being gathered in the region is forcing change, expediting improvements in Antarctica’s links to the wider world: “Antarctica Broadband” is on the horizon, promising “fast internet from the bottom of the earth”. At least it’ll look impressive when you check in on Foursquare.

Explore Antarctica

Ultima Thule Lodge, Alaska

An ancient term denoting hazily understood lands in the far north, “Ultima Thule” harks back to the early, “here be dragons” days of navigation. And while it’s certainly rugged out here, there’s no chance of it all going a bit Into the Wild, for this is Alaska deluxe – after being flown in, it’s chunky wood cabins, bearskin rugs and saunas all the way. And after an afternoon watching bears catch salmon, Candy Crush will seem a very sorry thing indeed.

Ultima Thule Lodge, Alaska

Winter is coming. No, not an episode of Game of Thrones, just the perfect time to get excited about the white stuff. Of course, you could ski or snowboard… but why limit yourself? Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills heads to Paradiski in the French Alps to check out the top five winter activities off the slopes.

Ice climbing

Ice climbing is a hugely physically demanding activity, and hanging hundreds of feet in the air requires nerves (and legs) of steel. The 22-metre-high artificial ice tower in the Paradiski resort is a great place to learn; they’ve got initiation sessions for beginners a couple of times a week. Specialist equipment (including boots, crampons, harness, ice axes and a helmet) is provided and there are several routes to scale, including the one used by competitors in the annual Ice Climbing World Cup. The tower is reconstructed and re-iced – complete with 45-degree overhangs – each year as temperatures in the valley plummet at the start of winter.

Man climbing Ice Tower, La Plagne, French Alps, FranceImage courtesy of Paradiski

Hiking and snowshoeing

Admiring the scenery when you’re whooshing down the mountainside can be tricky, so there are plenty of marked trails where you can take it a little slower on a winter walk. Some routes are circular, but for others you can catch a bus or ski-lift home (free maps are available at the tourist office). Even better for a walk on the wild side is donning snowshoes and going cross-country in deep snow through the alpine forests and clearings of the Vanoise National Park. Along with beautiful panoramas, there’s a good chance of spotting wildlife such as mountain ibex, golden eagles and bearded vultures. You can hire snowshoes or join a guided tour.

Bobsleighing

Last winter 12,401 people hurtled down the Olympic bobsleigh track at La Plagne, including one very apprehensive Rough Guides editor. One of only seven European tracks, it was built for the Winter Games in 1992 and is still in demand for competitions (World Championship trials will take place here at the end of January 2015). Thrill-seeking tourists also come here in their droves to jump aboard a four-man bob raft, a self-driving, self-braking bob that descends the bone-shaking 1500m track in about one and a half minutes  – that’s around 80km/hr. Even bigger daredevils can choose bob racing, which is even closer to a real competition experience (with speeds of up to 130km/hr).

Bobsleigh raft, La Plagne, French Alps, France, EuropeImage courtesy of Paradiski

Dog sledding

It’s difficult to deny the romance of gliding across the snow behind a pack of extraordinarily cute huskies. The part-dog, part-wolf breed has been used for centuries to pull sleds across inaccessible snowy landscapes, but that doesn’t mean that ‘mushing’ is easy. Sit back, wrap up warm and leave it to the professionals, or hang onto the handlebar (and your hat) and try steering yourself. Before you get going, the dogs are overexcited, yapping and jumping; the brakes are under your feet, and relaxing enough to get started is tough. Controlling the speed and trying not to tip over proves exhausting, especially as you know that if you fall out, you have to hang on tight or risk losing the huskies. Soon enough, though, the dogs begin to settle and after taking a few corners you slowly loosen up and start to enjoy the peace that comes with forging your own route across the wilderness.

Tobogganing

Although you’re advised to keep your hands and feet in the toboggan at all times, it’s hard to resist the urge to slow your rapid descent of Plagne Centre’s “Colorado Park” run. Panic and you’ll end up whooshing off course, with the added problem of kicking up a fog of ice. You’re then temporarily blinded, plummeting downhill, skidding on the hard, icy surface. There’s a night run you can take on the longer, 2.9km “Eldorado Park” in Plagne-Bellecôte, where you get a headlamp to go with the obligatory helmet. You’ll arrive at the bottom of the course battered and bruised, with an inexplicable desire to do it all over again.

Explore more of the French Alps with the Rough Guides Snapshot for the Alps and Franche-Comté. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Street art has exploded in popularity over the last few years, relying on a strong aesthetic impact to make you think, or at least raise a smile. Andy Turner takes a look at the Shoreditch scene and learns to distinguish a Banksy from a Borondo

A curious thing happens when you walk south across Bishopsgate, leaving behind the corporate gleam of the City. First, indecipherable stickers begin to decorate lamp posts; then road signs appear with witty additions (for example, a love heart pierced by the arrow of a one-way sign); finally, the pavement, walls and even windows come alive in a riot of paint, ink and stencilled creativity. Welcome to Shoreditch, world capital of street art.

London street art: the early years

While your classic train-trashing graffiti can be traced back to 1970s Harlem and the beginnings of hip-hop, London’s street art has always had a more cerebral flavour. Inspired by the Paris student riots, anarchist slogans such as “Eat the Rich” were appearing in (then) gritty Notting Hill as early as 1968, as well as existential ponderings on the banality of life (the scene is documented in the excellent The Writing’s on the Wall by Roger Perry). By the 1980s, though, this more philosophical style had largely been replaced by anti-Thatcher invective and “wildstyle” (ie illegible) tagging on the Underground network, the latter aimed solely at impressing other graffiti writers.

Banksy, D*Face and the backlash

Fast forward to the new millennium and a young Bristolian scallywag was busy applying a pair of jump leads to the capital’s street-art scene. Relying on lightning-fast “throw-up” stencils, Banksy’s subversive rats, chimps and flower-throwing rioters reintroduced a dose of satire to the street-art world and soon wound up gracing the covers of pop albums or the subject of money-spinning gallery shows.

Over the next few years a group of street artists coalesced in Shoreditch, sharing a punk-based ideal to reclaim public space for artistic expression. Genre-defining work began to appear including the pop-art inspired imaginings of D*Face, the “circus font” typographical murals of Ben Eine and the “nightmare” drip paintings of Pure Evil. Street art also became more visible to East Londoners when cash-strapped Tower Hamlets Council gave up removing it with high-pressure jets.

Hardcore graffiti writers collectively winced at this new wave of interlopers they dismissed as “toys” (know-nothing amateurs in graffiti speak), underground legend Robbo going as far to dub Banksy “the Tesco of the art world”. The idea that someone might profit from their work was anathema – especially when Banksy’s art was being prised off the walls and flogged before the paint had even dried; the pair engaged in a tit-for-tat “graffiti war”, overpainting each other’s work until Robbo’s untimely death in July, 2014.

Shoreditch goes global

The artistic ripples from East London quickly radiated across the world and artists including Shephard Fairy (of Obama “Hope” poster fame), Australian Peter Drew and Frenchman Clet Abraham (he of the witty road signs) arrived to hit Shoreditch, announcing their “residence” with logo stickers on lamp posts. Today, artists from Seoul to Sao Paulo can be seen working in broad daylight, often licensed to cover vast areas – look out for the giant animal murals by Belgian artist ROA, the beautiful multilayered stencils of Parisian C215 and the expressionistic brushwork of Spanish artist Borondo.

IMG_2031Featured image: paste ups on Fashion Street including a charcoal by Portuguese artist Furia ACK; above: a C215 window in a barber’s shop, Brick Lane

London’s outdoor gallery

Despite the artists and their hipster hangers-on being priced out of E1, Shoreditch remains ground zero for street creativity. Clandestine work continues to appear overnight (check out the video below by A.CE for an artist’s eye view) and the art has become steadily more complex, incorporating sculpture, metalwork and multimedia. The scene has also shrugged off its macho “hoodie with an attitude” vibe with female artists such as Zina, Roo and Bambi attracting a strong following.

Banksy’s vision of a place where “every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring.” (Wall and Peace, 2005) now seems all the more prescient.

Need to know

For an entertaining, insightful look at the scene take a tour with Shoreditch Street Art Tours led by acknowledged expert and prolific blogger Dave (AKA nolionsinengland). For a suitably artistic place to stay on Shoreditch’s doorstep try the chic QBIC hotel in Whitechapel (rooms from £69).

All photos © Andy Turner except “Let’s Endure and Adore Each Other” by ESPO and  “Cheese” by Borondo © nolionsinengland; “Hitchcock” paste up © walkalondon

On a city tour with a difference, Matthew Hancock explores Portugal’s capital in an old Jeep to find the best things to do in Lisbon.

I’ve always been averse to city tours. It’s the cheesy commentaries and obvious itineraries that put me off, but the prospect of taking part in a ‘safari’ in an aged Portuguese military Jeep round the streets of Lisbon was much more exciting.

You need a sturdy vehicle to handle Lisbon’s tortuous slopes and winding backstreets. The city is built on a series of hills, its streets sliding down towards the broad Tagus estuary that flanks the city’s southern edges like a becalmed sea. On a map, the historic centre looks small and easy to negotiate – few city maps show its dramatic contours and gradients, not to mention the chaotic traffic.

So it is reassuring to clamber into the back of the solid metal 4WD at 9.30 one misty morning – even though it’s open backed and has no seat belts. The starting point of the safari is apt, on Praça Luís de Camões, named after the poet who wrote about Portugal’s great Age of Discovery. The tour consists of myself, an English student and two Australians, and we wait with a sense of adventure and anticipation.

We Hate Tourism tours, Jeep Safari, Lisbon, Portugal, EuropeImage by Matthew Hancock

The Jeep revs up and we’re off, easily negotiating the slippery cobbles and narrow streets that make up the Bairro Alto, the “high district”. A quiet grid of graffitied streets at this time in the morning, it is usually the city’s nightlife hub: within twelve hours, this will become a throng of diners and party goers. A few late clubbers are emerging bleary eyed to head home. We veer past the beautiful Igreja do Carmo convent, ruined in the Great Earthquake of 1755 and head towards the river to the warehouses at the back of Cais do Sodré station.

We speed along Rua do Arsenal – it’s hard not to smell the produce from the traditional shops along here, a pungent waft of dried bacalhau (cod) which the Portuguese are so partial to eating. Then we head up through the Baixa, Lisbon’s downtown heart, our driver pointing out his favourite restaurants (“Beira Gare, great for octopus”) and the most expensive designer shops along the palm-lined Avenida da Liberdade. The Jeep easily negotiates a nightmare roundabout at Marquês de Pombal, and suddenly we reach the leafy suburbs of Estrela, where the driver leaves us to wander among the exotic vegetation of the local park while he fills up with petrol.

Next, we head to the east of the city, along the waterfront and into a somewhat desolate wasteland of half-demolished warehouses. I’m about to ask why we’re here when the driver pulls up below a dramatic piece of street art, a giant figure hammered into the plaster on the side of the building. This is a work by Vhils (his real name is actually Farto), Portugal’s answer to Banksy – and his work is equally eye-catching.

Graffiti on wall in Lisbon, PortugalImage by Matthew Hancock

Next the Jeep really comes into its own as we attack the steep slopes of Lisbon’s oldest quarter, the Alfama, whose streets are so narrow you could take a can of sardines off the shelves of the shops as you pass. Our driver tells us this is where he grew up, and he takes the hills and bends as if they are second nature. This is really a village within the city, where kids play football on cobbled alleys, old women sit on doorsteps shelling peas, and where only drivers who know what they’re doing dare to venture with their cars.

We flank the castle and climb up to one of Lisbon’s memorable viewpoints at Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. The city is laid out below us, bathed in sunshine now the mist has burned away. The driver gives us all a mini bottle of Moscatel, a sweet local wine, which we sit and drink under a gnarled olive tree to admire the view, as white doves wheel and turn in the soft air. The castle is below us, the terracotta roofs of the Baixa below that, and the glassy Tagus river beyond. It feels like we’ve come a long way – though the driver points out our starting and finishing point, barely a mile across town.

Finally, we pile back in the vehicle and the Jeep wends its way back across town, dodging the odd tram and the driver downs his own little bottle of drink. Much like his passengers, I think he’s had a very pleasant morning out.

We Hate Tourism Tours’ (www.wehatetourismtours.com) Kings of the Hills tour lasts three hours and costs €30. Explore more of Portugal with the Rough Guide to Portugal. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Maria Hart meets some of Canada’s First Nations people to discover what aboriginal tourism in British Columbia has to offer.

“High tide is rush hour here” smiles our guide Tsimka, “that’s when the kayaks and water taxis usually come.” But since our group paddled over to Meares Island in a traditional flat bottomed canoe at low tide, we have the slippery boardwalk through the ancient rainforest all to ourselves.

Sitting on a fallen log at the massive base of a red cedar tree surrounded by frilly ferns, we eat our packed lunch and listen to Tsimka’s animated stories of forest monsters, while the moist evergreen scent and bird songs indulge our senses. Her easy smile and gift of storytelling come from her father Joe Martin, the master carver who made the red cedar dugout canoe that she uses for her tours.

Tsimka Martin is a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations woman who co-owns and operates T’ashii Paddle School in Tofino, British Columbia. Tofino, a popular west coast holiday and surfing town is traditionally Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations territory and Tsimka’s family have been here for generations. They are some of the many indigenous people of Canada who are now ready to share their culture and homeland through tourism.

Dugout Canoe, Tofino, First Nations Canada, North America

“Aboriginal” is an umbrella term describing three of Canada’s original people: the Inuit, the Métis, and the First Nations – formerly referred to as “Indians”. The First Nations people have inhabited Canada for over 12,000 years and have lived mainly on hunting and fishing, migrating seasonally and living very much in harmony with the nature around them. Today, while they’re a part of modern Canadian society, they’re also making the most of their heritage. From authentic experiences and traditional art to modern accommodations and industries, the First Nations are opening up to tourism. I spoke with Paula Amos, Marketing Manager of Aboriginal Tourism BC who explained: “developing Aboriginal tourism isn’t only about economic advancement or jobs; it’s about strengthening our culture and building cultural pride.”

There are a number of ways to actively learn more about Canada’s First Nations across the country, so here are three ways to experience a Canadian First Nations lifestyle:

Embrace nature in Tofino

British Columbia is leading the way in aboriginal tourism growth in Canada, but not just for the more traditional experiences. The Ucluelet people near Tofino, for example, simply embrace the adventure afforded by their dramatic surroundings. You can learn to surf and paddleboard, sleep in a yurt, or go offline in a secluded lodge at WYA Point retreat on Vancouver Island to commune with nature on your own. Even in the low season the legendary winter weather provides a challenge for the best surfers, as well as some romantic storm watching.

Spot wildlife along the Campbell River

Discovery Passage, Campbell river, BC, Canada

A three hour drive north-east of Tofino brings you to Campbell River. Here you’ll find boat-based wildlife discovery tours by Aboriginal Journeys. With generations of local knowledge and down-to-earth honesty, owner and guide Garry Henkel knows some of the regular passing orcas by sight, but when talking about bear watching, he admits: “We go out and see what we see; there are no guarantees until grizzly season.” At the end of a tour, a traditional salmon cedar BBQ can be prepared for large groups.

Get cultured in Alert Bay

For a truly cultural treasure chest, take a short ferry trip to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. The bay is home to the tallest totem pole in the world, measuring 173-feet-high and representing the 14 tribes of its Kwakwaka’wakw people. Interactive experiences such as cedar weaving, canoe paddling, storytelling, and medicinal forest tours are available, but to properly appreciate the traditions and grasp the First Nations history, the first stop has to be the U’mista Cultural Center.

First Nations Canada, Yaletown, Vancouver, Canada.

“U’mista” means “when something special comes back” and this cultural centre houses regalia and masks that were confiscated during the “dark times”, when potlatch ceremonies were outlawed. A potlatch ceremony would involve days or weeks of singing, dancing, eating and storytelling and was the primary economic system for the Kwakwaka’wakw. Now visitors are welcome to come and experience this engaging event firsthand. The T’sasala Cultural Group has summer dance performances at the Namgis Bighouse, which give a glimpse into the time-honoured ceremony.

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

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