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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

“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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Image 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).

Image 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.

Featured 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.

Image 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.

Image 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.

“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

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.

“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. 

The third part in our Slovenia In Four Seasons feature sees Senior Web Editor Tim Chester explore the country in August. Check out our trips from the winter and the spring too.

Think of the northern Adriatic and you’d be forgiven for thinking of Italy – of Venice, Rimini, and Trieste – or Croatia, whose abundant seaside gems stretch from Rovinj to Zadar and beyond. However, you’d be missing an important 47 kilometres, which belong resolutely to Slovenia, a tiny fragment of coast wedged between its neighbours that packs in a disproportionately large number of treats.

Croatia might completely hog the waterfront in this part of the world, snatching miles and miles of stunning coastline from similarly-sized nearby countries and attracting huge numbers of visitors to match, but the Slovene Riviera – sitting pretty at the tip of the Slovene Istria in the south west of the country – is equally as beguiling.

Most visitors to this country, which has been independent since 1991, covers an area the size of Wales and numbers just a handful of million inhabitants, head straight for the capital Ljubljana or the justifiably popular Lake Bled, but I’d been told to make a beeline for the beach. So, a couple of hours after our budget plane bounced onto the tarmac we were on top of Hotel Piran in the city of the same name sipping margaritas as the sun dropped into the sea.

The drive along the top of the peninsula to Piran sets the scene: look to the right as the road crests a hill and you can see the fishing port town of Izola, beyond that the more industrial Koper, whose new developments encircle a medieval core, and in the far distance Trieste in Italy. To the left, signs point to the casinos and bars of resort town Portorož, hedges intermittently open to reveal the salt pans of Sečovlje, and in the distance Croatia squats peacefully.

We only had a long weekend to spare so we hit the ground running the following morning, exploring Piran’s cobbled streets and labyrinthine passageways with a local guide. The city dates back to medieval times but it was the Venetian Republic which really left their mark; some corners of the centre look like they’ve been airlifted from the famous watery landmark across the sea and in fact Piran is very much like Venice if you substract the crowds and the effluent.

Tartini Square is the place to get your bearings, a former inner port whose buildings and statues tell a variety of stories. Named after Giuseppe Tartini, a famouse violinist and local hero whose statue stands proud in the midst, the city’s hub is crowded with messages for anyone looking in the right place.

On one side, Casa Veneziana is a light red example of Venetian gothic architecture, an erstwhile lodging for a local girl who caught the eye of a Venetian merchant, emblazoned with the words “lasa pur dir” (“let them talk”) in response to the gossip that followed their courtship. The Municipal Palace, meanwhile, features a stone lion with wings holding an open book under its paw, the bared pages signifying the fact it was erected during peace time. The nearby 1st May square is also full of secret stories; look out for depictions of Law and Justice in front of the stone rainwater collector, and the statues holding gutters.

Elsewhere and Piran is home to eight churches, most sadly closed due to vandals and thieves, including the impressive baroque St George’s Parish Church which dates back to the 12th Century and commands awesome views. The imposing city walls and several family attractions, from the Maritime Museum to an aquarium, are also worth your time.

That afternoon we were taken by speedboat to a cluster of floating nets belonging to the Fonda Fish Farm, where thousands of Piran sea bass grow into huge healthy specimens under careful supervision. The company are aiming to nurture top quality fish and mussels and their enthusiasm was infectious.

We followed our tour with a dip in the Adriatic back at Piran’s concrete beach and ended the day at Pri Mari, a family-run Mediterranean restaurant and a Rough Guide author pick. The owners, Mara and Tomi, lavished us with fine Slovenian wines and endless thanks once they discovered we were from the book that had brought in so much business over the years, but their hospitality was exemplary before they knew who we were. Two steaks (because that’s what you order at the coast, naturally) were delectable and the place was thrumming with happy customers. Piran nightlife seems somewhat sedate but we managed to find two guitarists playing Pink Floyd to a small dancefloor and a man serving pina coladas in one corner of the port to finish things off.

The following day we drove into the hinterland in search of wine. The Karst region behind the coast is carpeted with vineyards and olive groves, interspersed with peach and cherry trees and harbouring thousands of underground caves (the Postojna and Škocjan caverns are the best known).

Before long we arrived at Korenika & Moškon, a small family-run cellar dating back to 1984. The place actually goes back much further – the family has been producing wine for ages – but the communist regime put paid to that for a while. For several hours we were plied with golden yellow and peachy Malvasia and Paderno whites and bold, interesting reds such as local pride and joy Refošk, a dark ruby and almost port-like liquid.

From here we were driven to Izola for the weekend fish festival, a lively gathering of locals and domestic tourists who descend on the port for live music, craft stalls and plenty of fried catch.

On Sunday we sped through Portorož, Slovenia’s answer to the French Riveria but without the bumper-to-bumper traffic and hordes of people selling tat laid out on bedsheets, to the Sečovlje salt pans.

A vast national park that has been producing salt for 700 years and continues to this day, it marks the border with Croatia and plays host to an abundance of wildlife. We jumped on a golf cart for a flying tour of the endless salty pools before taking a dunk in the dirt at the in-house spa. Lying caked in sea salt and mud wraps in the middle of this barren landscape, we fell into a trance like happy hippos.

Back in Piran, a final goodbye cocktail reflecting the deep orange rays of one last late summer Slovene sunset, we toasted our new discovery: 47km of criminally overlooked summer fun.

 Explore more of Slovenia with the Rough Guides destination page for Sloveniabook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Escaping the hundreds of climbers on their way to Machu Picchu, Alex Robinson discovers the “other Inca Trail” in Peru – an equally impressive but near-empty climb. 

I woke with a start in the night. The dogs were barking in the camp. I heard the clatter of tin cans, the crash of plates and then frightened shouts from one of the guides.

“Es un oso!” Did I hear that right? A bear? My heart thumped. I thought of the millimetres of canvas between me and the forest, and the chocolate bar under my pillow, its sugary sweetness seeping into the mossy odours of the night. There was a muffled, deep guttural growl. Then more frenetic barks and human yells and something heavy lumbered swiftly past my tent. I heard a tearing of branches. The dogs quietened down. Silence.

Image by Alex Robinson

Had it gone? I lay awake, wide-eyed. Or was it waiting? Five minutes. Ten minutes of silence. Nothing. Fear turned to wonder. I knew our camp was remote, but a spectacled bear, native to the Andes, was so rare it was almost mythical – as hard to find as a snow leopard. Somehow it had found our tourist camp – on an Inca trail, leading to a ruined city high in the tropical Andes.

Our trail didn’t go to Machu Picchu. The only wildlife you’ll see en route to that Inca city are high soaring raptors and the occasional viscacha (a rodent) by the wayside – looking like a stoned rabbit and squeaking alarmingly before rushing off into the bushes. There are just too many hikers on their way to Machu Picchu. But we were going to the Inca city of Choquequirao, and in the six nights we’d been on the trail we’d seen just two other walkers, panting as they descended out of the swirling mist from one of the numerous high passes.

Image by Alex Robinson

The scenery was magnificent, a trail running along a river had taken us past a string of minor Inca sites and high into the hills. We’d clambered up stone steps that wound into mountains and descended into thick cloud forest dripping with lichens and mosses and so silent you could hear the buzz of humming bird wings. We’d played football in a tiny Quechua village on a pitch cut flat from a steep Andean spur. We were a novelty there, not “gringo” tourists. And we’d dropped and climbed through deep valleys watched over by towering peaks that hid behind wispy clouds before revealing themselves in blazing reflected sunlight.

And though I may not have witnessed more than the broken plates and wrecked food containers that were left in its wake, I’d now experienced a spectacled bear. It was the last morning before we’d reach Choquequirao and over breakfast all of us were buzzing with excitement about the bear, and anticipation of our arrival. The internet is flooded with images of Machu Picchu, but a Google search of Choquequirao brings far fewer pictures. But those I did find had been dreamily spectacular when I first saw them, and now the city was just over the next ridge.

Image by Alex Robinson

It took us the whole morning to climb it, and much of the early afternoon to wind down the path on the other side. Choquequirao wouldn’t reveal itself. A dense fairytale-esque forest of gnarled, lichen-covered trees blocked out every view. The boulder-strewn path twisted and turned for kilometres. Finally, off to the right I caught a tantalising glimpse of buildings, rounded another corner and the forest opened onto a view of stone houses, and a sweep of terraces. We dropped further and cut past an unmistakably Inca wall – a jig-saw of organic lines formed by the slotting together of huge rocks.

The guide wouldn’t let us enter the city. Instead he ushered us past and onwards up another steep path to a high viewpoint. And then we saw Choquequirao in her slendour. At our feet was a grassy green plaza cut out of the face of a vast mountain spur swathed in forest. Off to the right scores of terraced fields dropped into a steep valley cut deep by the rushing blue-water Apurimac – a tributary of a tributary of a tributary of the Amazon. It was so far below that my eyes were dizzy with vertigo. But I could hear its roar echo up the mountain walls. Behind Choquequirao was a distant, serrated edge of snow-covered mountains. They momentarily revealed their faces through drifting cloud which cleared and paused, then swirled, covering the mountains once again from view.

Image by Alex Robinson

We stood in silence for more than an hour, spellbound as we watched the light shift and change as the sun sank into the valley at our backs, honeying the city stone warm yellow. The sky faded into glorious pink and purple and finally turquoise blue as the sun set, casting its dying rays onto the distant snowfields.

For two days we explored Choquequirao, losing ourselves in its silent ruins, in its meditative views and on paths cutting into the surrounding hills, and for those two days we had the city to ourselves, before leaving it behind us and taking the dusty path up through the valley to a town a bus and finally Cusco.

We’d been ten days away by the time we reached that city and its crowds of travellers – most of them on their way to Machu Picchu. Few had even heard of Choquequirao. But they will soon. Peru plans to build a fast road link from Cusco and a cable car across the Apurimac valley. Come before they do and walk the trail. The other Inca trail.

Journey Latin America  offer trips to Cusco including treks to Choquequirao. Explore more of Peru with the Rough Guide to Peru. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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