The Northern Irish coast is justifiably famous for its beauty, all craggy inlets and brooding cliffs topped by crumbling castles. Most people explore this coastline from the land, walking along the clifftops and driving the winding road that snakes along from the Scotland-facing east coast to the large inlet of Derry in the west.

But now a new kind of coast trail lets visitors see this gorgeous area from the ocean. The North Coast Sea Kayak Trail promises something for everyone, of all kayaking abilities, as well as being a great way to see the world-famous Giant’s Causeway.

So, where is it?

The North Coast Sea Kayak Trail runs along the north Antrim coast of Northern Ireland from Magilligan Point to Waterfoot at the base of Glenariff, over 70 nautical miles of open water.

What will I see?

The star of the show along here is, of course, the Giant’s Causeway. But as most novice kayakers paddle at around three nautical miles per hour, and there are a lot of jutting headlands and craggy outcrops to navigate, it will take a little while before you hit the main attraction.

And that’s the point of kayaking here. Visit by coach and you’ll be whisked along to the Causeway in a flash, seeing nothing of its surroundings. Explore by kayak instead, and you’ll understand the geological context as you negotiate the rugged coastline that surrounds those famous natural steps.

You’ll also see just how flexible a kayak can be – backing into narrow grottos at White Rock, or “rock hopping” through the shallow waters that lap the spiky basalt cliffs Ballintoy.

How long does it take?

Experienced kayaker and ready to go? Then the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail can be travelled in its entirety in two full days. There’s plenty of information, including maps on the Canoe NI website.

Those with less paddling experience can see the Causeway by heading out with a guide from Simply Sea Kayaking from Portballintae to Dunseverick Harbour, which takes about 6–8 hours.

What about wildlife?

You’re sure to see gannets dive bombing into the Atlantic with alarming speed in search of fish all along this coast, while at Runkerry Cave you’ll see cormorants nesting by the dozen.

Seals hang out around the Skerries rock stacks and will almost certainly pop their grey heads up out of the water to greet you – they may even mess with you, disappearing in a flash only to reappear directly behind you with what you’ll swear is a cheeky glint in their eye.

Dolphins also regularly surface to check out any interloper in their waters people have even seen basking sharks breaching nearby.

Image by CanoeNI.com

Is it hard work?

The simple answer is yes. Your aching muscles at the end of a day on the trail will prove testament to that, but sea kayaking is easy enough for anyone with a decent level of fitness – and a certain amount of tenacity. But those sheer cliff views make it all worthwhile – and those aching muscles are nothing a hot bath can’t sort out.

Sharing a double kayak can make things easier (and you’re less likely to capsize).

How do I do it?

Simply Sea Kayaking run tours for all abilities along the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail including three-hour taster sessions for complete beginners and guided excursions for those with more experience.

There are even overnight tours, including bothy camping. Prices start from £40 per person and include all specialist equipment.

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

A brand new art exhibition with a difference has opened in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary this month. You can’t exactly buy an entrance ticket and there are no galleries as such.

Instead, you’ll need a PADI license and an oxygen tank, because this exhibition sits 27m below the surface of the Atlantic, around seven miles south of Key West, Florida.

The installation, which comprises a dozen photo illustrations from Andreas Franke’s Sinking World series, is mounted on the weather deck of sunken ship Vandenberg. The vessel, a former Air Force missile tracking ship, was intentionally sank in 2009 to create an artificial reef for marine life to thrive upon. Today, as well as this unusual art exhibition, it sees Goliath grouper and sailfish shelter and breed throughout its decks.

To see the exhibition, visitors can book the Morning Wreck and Reef tour operated daily by the Key West Dive Center.

More underwater attractions across the world

Underwater attractions aren’t a new concept, mind. Here are a few more places you can get cultured under the sea:

  • Museo Subacuático de Arte, Cancun, Mexico: over 400 sculptures of men and women, made from marine-life-friendly materials by English artist Jason deCaires Taylor.
  • Japanese Atlantis, Okinawa Island, Japan: discovered by a diver in 2014 and dubbed the “Japanese Atlantis”, this underwater world off the coast of Okinawa is thought to be part of a 5,000-year-old lost city.
  • Underwater post office, Vanuatu: keen postcard-writers will be pleased to find out they can pen their message above sea, then dive the three metres beneath surface to send it from the island of Vanuatu.

Image by Ratha Grimes on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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

Backpacking Thailand can mean staying in fun-packed hostels and idyllic beach bungalows, eating noodles so tasty and so cheap you’ll swear off all other food groups and climbing aboard everything from an overnight train to a lolloping elephant.

But it also means following a well-worn route – one that has sprouted an entire industry to service it, and sometimes, sadly, to take advantage of it.

Sidestep those scams and dodge the dangers with our top tips for making the most of backpacking Thailand.

1. Be respectful – know the etiquette

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason, but those smiles can quickly disappear if you don’t respect the culture. The feet are considered the lowest part of the body so never point them (especially the soles) towards somebody, especially if that somebody is a statue of Buddha. The head is considered most sacred so don’t touch people on the head, even children.

2. Eat bravely

One of the best things about travelling in Thailand is the food and you’ll find the tastiest – and cheapest – Thai noodles and curries at the street food stalls.

Be brave and follow the locals, they know which places have the highest standards, and the more people eating means more turnover and fresher ingredients.

3. Embrace public transport

Yes, the tuk tuk is an experience you mustn’t miss but to get proper mileage under your belt (and to get between Bangkok and the highlights of Chiang Mai, the southern islands and Kanchanaburi) you’re going to need to get to grips with the Thai bus service (Baw Khaw Saw or BKS).

Government-run, it’s reliable and extensive, with a BKS station in almost every town. Book your tickets here the day before you want to travel if and take the overnight first class bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

These generally stop somewhere en route for you to eat and will have reclining seats and a toilet on board. Bring a warm jacket to wrap up in, earplugs and an eye shade and prepare to arrive very early in the morning.

4. Timing is everything

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the monsoons finish for the year and temperatures are at coolest. This is also peak season though so if saving money and avoiding crowds is more important to you than sunbathing, the wet season (May to October) could be a better bet. To see all the highlights at a reasonable pace you’re going to need at least a month, though two is better.

5. Don’t be fooled

That tuk tuk driver stopping you on the street to tell you it’s a national holiday and that temple you’re about to visit is closed? It’s almost certainly not, he or she may just want to take you to their cousin’s carpet factory or sister’s gem shop.

Don’t be fooled by official looking uniforms, cheap or free tuk tuk tours or one day only gem sales either – unfortunately all are scams set up to part you from your travel funds, usually in exchange for a worthless ‘gem’ you can sell when you get back home

And don’t even think about getting involved in the sex industry – prostitution may be rife in Thailand but one thing it’s not is legal.

6. Agree a price before you ride

Be it a taxi or a tuk tuk, you need to agree a price for your journey in advance. Taxi drivers are meant to use the meter so ask them to and if they say no move on along the rank to the next driver.

Tuk tuks should be haggled over – ask your hostel for a rough estimate on current rates and stand firm. Though it also pays to remember that haggling over 20 baht is about equivalent to getting in a stress over 40p or 60 cents – sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

7. Pack light

You’re going backpacking for the freedom – so don’t weigh yourself down. Buy a light backpack and fill it only with the essentials.

You’ll need layers for those chilly bus journeys, a few items of underwear you can wash repeatedly, a waterproof jacket, earplugs, your phone charger and adaptor and insect repellent. Here’s a backpacking checklist to help you plan your backpack.

8. Use hostels

Thailand has a great network of hostels and you’ll not only save money over hotels, but also meet more people and get more local recommendations. Hostel staff are also a reliable source of advice and information on everything from avoiding the latest scam to where to get the best noodles, so talk to them.

9. Go with the flow

Thailand is a place to chill. So stay on somewhere if you love it, move on if you don’t, and if you hear about a cool new bar or restaurant, or a party on the beach, go. Unpredictable sometimes, unforgettable always.

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

With its mountainous coastal backdrop, scattering of tawny islands and giddyingly translucent waters, the Croatian Adriatic offers one of the most compelling seascapes in Europe.

Indeed it’s something of an island-hopper’s paradise, with a veritable shoal of ferries providing the opportunity to stride up the gangplank, sprawl on the sun deck and soak up the maritime scenery.

And with a recent increase in the number of sea and air connections, there’s never been a better time to raise anchor.

Where to start

Where you start largely depends on which airport you fly into. The mid-Dalmatian city of Split receives the largest number of incoming flights and is also the Adriatic Sea’s largest ferry port, serving the ever-popular islands of Šolta, Hvar, Brač, Korčula and Vis.

Dubrovnik is also a useful gateway thanks to its catamaran services to Mljet, Lastovo, Korčula and Hvar.

The two other entry points are the northern city of Rijeka, providing access to a varied group of islands in the Kvarner Gulf; and the north Dalmatian port of Zadar, with its own group of laid-back island getaways.

How to get around

Car ferries run by state company Jadrolinija serve the main islands, providing public transport for the locals as well as sustaining island tourism.

Faster and slightly more expensive than the ferries, passenger-only catamarans run by both Jadrolinija and Krilo Jet whizz across the water to a selection of destinations.

In summer 2015 a fleet of seaplanes run by European Coastal Airlines started flying from Pula, Rijeka and Split to Lošinj, Hvar, Korčula and Lastovo, adding significantly to the number of itineraries on offer.

When to go

It is possible to island-hop all year round, although sailings to particular islands might be limited to one a day in winter. Wait until the summer timetables come into effect (usually June–Sept) to take advantage of the full range of options.

Note that some routes (such as the Veli Lošinj-Zadar ferry or the Split-Hvar-Dubrovnik catamaran) only run in summer.

July and August can be very hot indeed – perfect for splashing around in the Adriatic but potentially exhausting if you are indulging in urban sightseeing, not to mention hiking or cycling.

Some of the catamaran sailings can sell out in high season, raising the chances of you getting stranded at least once during your trip.

Costs are also at their highest in midsummer, when accommodation prices go through the roof. Travel in late spring or early autumn and you’ll get better value all round.

The classic circuit

The most popular island-hopping itinerary is from Split to Dubrovnik via Brač, Hvar and Korčula. This allows you to see the very best of Dalmatia and is relatively easy to do.

There are numerous ferries from Split to Supetar on Brač, from where you can cross the island to visit the fabulous (but over-popular) Zlatni rat beach at Bol. A daily catamaran sails from Bol to Jelsa on Hvar, from where regular buses will take you to Hvar Town and its compulsive mixture of Renaissance architecture and cocktail-fuelled nights.

There’s a daily catamaran service from Hvar Town to Korčula, where another seductive blend of past glory and present-day hedonism awaits. From here, you can choose between a catamaran or bus ride to Dubrovnik, which makes for a suitably spectacular climax to your trip.

Don’t rush it

The only problem with the classic island circuit is that it can sometimes seem like an oversubscribed exercise in box-ticking, and you really need to give each island time in order to get the most out of the experience.

Consider a side-trip to sleepy, understated Šolta, the nearest island to Split, with its dry-stone-walled olive groves and picture-perfect harbour villages, Maslinica and Stomorska.

Once on Brač, avoid Zlatni rat and make for less-hyped beaches like Lovrečina Bay, or the rocky shores around bike-friendly Sutivan.

On Hvar, don’t just stick to the main town but find time for the equally historic but decidedly more mellow Stari Grad.

It’s a shame to go to Korčula without visiting Proizd, the famously alluring rocky islet just off the port of Vela Luka.

Make time for Vis

Very much an independent traveller’s favourite due to the relative lack of package hotels, Vis is the kind of island that attracts superlatives, whether on account of its rugged scenery, stunning beaches, individual cuisine, or its increasingly cool reputation for offshore bohemia (check out this year’s Goulash Disko Festival in early September).

However Vis is also notoriously difficult to island-hop, with Tuesday morning’s catamaran service to Hvar Town the only link to a nearby island. All other ferry transport goes through Split, meaning that you have to track back to the mainland before travelling onwards. Providing you study the timetable carefully, the diversion to Vis will be well worth the effort.

Don’t forget the north

The islands of the northern Adriatic can be just as rewarding as those of the south. Catamaran services from Rijeka allow you to sample some highly individual, under-touristed islands, alongside increasingly sophisticated Lošinj, the rising star of Adriatic chic.

Pixabay / CC0

The uniquely sandy island of Susak ought to be your first stop, followed by bustling Mali Lošinj with its sleek spa hotels and palm-fringed promenades. From here you can travel on to Silba, a snoozy Shangri-la of independent travel where cars and even bicycles are banned. From Silba, head south by catamaran or ferry to the historic port of Zadar (gateway to another group of low-key islands), or return to Lošinj, where one of European Coastal Airlines’ seaplanes will whisk you down the coast to Split, ready to start your island-hopping adventures all over again.

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

It’s not just appearance that makes up the beauty of a place. Often, travellers will cite the people as the most beautiful thing about a country or culture. In Southeast Asia, there’s no doubt there is beauty in every form – and now our readers have voted to decide which countries are the most beautiful. Here are Southeast Asia’s most beautiful countries ranked by our readers.

7. Thailand

An ever-popular backpacking destination, we’re surprised to see Thailand at the bottom of this list. That’s not to say it’s not beautiful, though. With brochure-worthy beaches in almost every bay and some luscious mountain landscapes, there’s plenty to wow travellers in Thailand. And, of course, the people are indeed beautiful – they were even voted some of the friendliest in the world by our readers.

Pixabay / CC0 

6. Laos

This little nation sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam sits in a similar position here. Laos has no coastline to woo travellers seeking pristine beaches, but instead there are some picturesque waterfalls perfect for swimming beneath, plus one of Southeast Asia’s most charming little towns: Luang Prabang.

Pixabay / CC0

5. Vietnam

If the karst rock formations of Ha Long Bay, jutting out of a cerulean sea, aren’t enough to inspire awe, then perhaps the tiered terraces of Sa Pa might just make your heart beat faster. There’s a lot more to Vietnam’s beauty though, including the evocative ruins of Mỹ Sơn and a string of pretty little beaches along its coastline. Not forgetting one of the world’s greatest rivers, the Mekong, and its lush delta in the south of the country.

Pixabay / CC0

4. The Philippines

An archipelago of more than seven thousand islands, The Philippines earns its place as the fourth most beautiful country in Southeast Asia. The island of Palawan is one of the most picturesque spots, with azure waterways flowing between vast rocky cliffs that drop sheer to the water. For some otherworldly beauty, head to the “Chocolate Hills” on Bohol, an undulating landscape of 40-metre-high grassy mounds.

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3. Cambodia

Voted the world’s friendliest country by our readers, it’s no wonder Cambodia takes a top spot in this list too. No-one could deny that, despite the crowds, sunrise at Angkor Wat is a stunning sight. But Cambodia’s beauty extends beyond ruined temple complexes and into brilliant beaches and fascinating floating communities.

2. Myanmar

Tourism in Myanmar has boomed since the NLD lifted its tourism boycott, and for good reason. The country has plenty of travel eye-candy on offer, whether you want to watch the fishermen on Inle Lake, see the sunrise over the thousands of temples in Bagan, or just slowly meander down the Irrawaddy and meet the smiling locals as you go. A deserving destination for second most beautiful in Southeast Asia.

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1. Indonesia

It’s Indonesia that’s captured the hearts and minds of our readers, taking the number one spot for most beautiful place in Southeast Asia. Its astonishing array of natural wonders would make even the most jaded traveller’s jaw drop: beyond the stunning beaches scattered across these 17,000 islands, there are pretty waterfalls, dense jungles and towering volcanoes.

Pixabay / CC0

Explore more of Southeast Asia with the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0. 

Richard Mellor explores Šibenik, a city tipped as Croatia’s next best tourist hotspot thanks to a new luxury hotel. 

It’s appropriate that the parachute’s inventor – one Faust Vrančić, if you’re asking – was born in Šibenik, for this Croatian backwater has its feet firmly on the ground. Having a recent history of battle and bombs will do that to a small city.

Just 40 minutes up the coast from Split’s international airport, Šibenik’s travel résumé includes great beaches on its Dalmatian coast, inland hiking and waterfalls, cool music festivals, an evocative old town, fine dining, a UNESCO-protected cathedral and fortresses used in Game of Thrones.

Now, crucially, a top-quality hotel can be added to that list. Previously, as written in the Rough Guide to Croatia, Šibenik’s only downside has been its relative lack of accommodation. But the arrival of the whitewashed D-Resort Šibenik has changed all that: courtesy of Turkish conglomerate Dogus, luxurious digs newly await.

To one side is a new marina, replete with super-yachts and their espadrille-wearing crew. From the other, motorboats scuttle across a short Adriatic Sea inlet to Šibenik’s harbour and tree-lined corniche. Glinting red-tile roofs sprawl mazily uphill, with the ancient St Michael’s Fortress keeping watch over proceedings.

Explore a quartet of fortresses

St Michael’s is one of four fortresses around Šibenik. Once a seat for the Croatian king, its defensive castles were still being used by locals as recently as 20 years ago, providing shelter during the Croatian War of Independence. Today, thankfully, an ongoing restoration programme has them attracting tourists instead.

Over to the southeast, Barone’s new audiovisual display reveals what fortress life was like for its seventeenth-century soldiers.

Skulking opposite is St John Fortress – a Game of Thrones set in 2014 – while out west is the eye-catching sea-castle of St Nicholas, built by ruling Venetians to guard the vital channel into Šibenik.

A new island-hopping path, elevated above the sea, allows visitors to admire its gun platform and impressive Adriatic views.

As for St Michael’s, around which Šibenik first sprung up, bands have replaced bullets: its eleventh-century stonework and myriad improvements now play host to a terraced, 1077-capacity concert venue, one costing a cool £1.2 million. The National, Lambchop, Nouvelle Vague and Thievery Corporation have all played, some of them during August’s annual Terraneo Summer Break festival.

See a classic Croatian cathedral

Šibenik’s real historical jewel, however, is its UNESCO-protected St James’s Cathedral. Much of the Dalmatian Coast’s finest architecture was designed by Juraj Dalmatinac in the mid-1400s, and this entirely-stone-built Gothic Renaissance edifice is considered his crowning glory, even if it wasn’t finished until 1536.

Praise be, in particular, for the silvery dome, reflecting light from far around. Look out, too, for a 71-head frieze, containing strange caricatures of fifteenth-century locals. Adam and Eve are there too, looking utterly ill at ease in being very obviously starkers.

Inside, English-language brochures enable self-guided tours. The highlight is the small baptistry, and its sublimely-carved roof and mischievous cherubs.

Dine afterwards at the excellent Pelegrini restaurant, which majors in regional dishes like truffle and prosciutto pappardelle and cuttlefish gnocchi.

Pixabay / CC0

Amble around the Old Town

From the cathedral’s square slinks away Kralja Tomislava (Kalelarga to locals), Šibenik’s main street. Unexpectedly fancy boutiques sit alongside some more predictable shops hawking tourist tat.

Leading off Kalelarga are a jumble of stony stairways and narrow lanes, a maze whose sleepiness is interrupted only by occasional Vespas and the echo of footsteps. The elegant houses are Dalmatian-style, with dark green and blood-red-coloured shutters.

What really appeals is how Šibenik feels genuinely lived-in. Some alleys are left almost dim under canopies of clothes lines and cables. Old men sit smiling on stools outside their homes, wild rosemary grows and wafts of home cooking tease nostrils. Inside phone boxes, a religious sticker advertises salvation.

Pixabay / CC0

Take to the waters

A ten-mile drive inland is the attractive Krka National Park, named after the river which bisects it. Hiking trails criss-cross, but the headline act is the Skradinski Buk series of 17 successive waterfalls at the park’s southern end.

Beneath the final cascades is a wide basin providing swimming opportunities: come summer weekends, locals strip to their speedos, shorts and bikinis to dive in, and a party atmosphere pervades.

Day-trip ferries from Šibenik serve the small islands of Zlarin and Prvić, where bistros and fig trees give way to peaceful, pebbled beaches.

Bathing’s very much an option at the D-Resort, too, with a large infinity pool neighbouring its spa, where facials, massage and hammam rituals are also offered.

Pixabay / CC0

Explore more of Croatia with the Rough Guide to CroatiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image by Stewart Morris on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Among a certain segment of travellers, cruising is sometimes maligned: the dismal buffet and watered-down cocktails. Those kitschy lounge acts. The contrived shore excursions. But that, as they say, was then.

Cruising today, and especially river cruising, offers an entirely different experience, from celebrity chef-driven cuisine to stargazing lounges to bike rides along leafy canals.

River cruising is, in a way, ideal for those who don’t consider themselves cruisers: the ships are relatively small and intimate; land is always in sight, offering daily access to villages and towns; and dinners are elegant affairs at linen-topped tables, instead of noisy group melees.

Here are our five top picks for European river cruises, where the experience is the destination and the journey.

1. The Romantic Rhine, Germany

The Rhine has been immortalized for centuries: it inspired Richard Wagner to write his first opera, and the river’s famous Lorelei rock – supposedly helmed by a swirling-haired siren – has starred in poems, rock songs, and even as a Marvel Comics character.

Germany’s longest river is also one of Europe’s most beautiful cruise routes, particularly the 65-kilometre Middle Rhine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Romantic Rhine.”

During the Roman Empire, the Rhine was a strategic waterway, and looming over its banks are castles and crumbling fortresses that date back a thousand years.

The Rhine scenery is stunning – hilltop castles presiding over terraced, fragrant vineyards. Plus, there’s Riesling-tasting galore, the Mechanisches Muskikkabinett (Mechanical Museum) in Rüdesheim and a stop in Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town.

Pixabay / CC0

Travel with: CroisiEurope. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2016, the family-owned CroisiEurope offers affordable prices, but amenities are on par with the highest-level ships: spacious decks, hotel-style beds, and elegant dining rooms with French menus developed by notable chefs Paul Bocuse and Marc Haeberlin.

2. The River of Gold, Portugal

The traditional fado songs of Portugal are soulful and poetic, much like cruising the country’s waterways. Explore the river Douro and sip aromatic port in the country’s birth city, Porto; explore the lively Spanish university city of Salamanca; and, ease into the evening to the mournful sounds of fado.

A cruise down the Douro glides past looming rock formations and the Valerian and Pocinho Dams, to Barca d’Alva, with an excursion to Castelo Rodrigo, surrounded by almond trees, and on to Pinhão and the Douro Wine District.

Along the way, sample Portuguese specialties like salt cod, caldo verde stew, and the country’s famous port wine.

Image by Viking River Cruises

Travel with: Viking River Cruises winds through Portugal on the Douro River, from the capital city of Lisbon to Porto and its Baroque cathedrals. Their Scandinavian-themed vessels also maximize scenery-watching, with panoramic windows throughout.

3. The Canals of Burgundy, France

Best known for its centuries-old winemaking traditions, Burgundy is going through a rebirth, with wine-tasting salons that are spotlighting the latest oenological tech products and new farm-to-fork restaurants and upmarket B&Bs.

A cruise here floats lazily through the heart of Burgundy, stopping at family wineries like Domaine Briday in the northern Côte Chalonnaise, which is known for its white wines and the sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne.

Highlights include the Chateau de Rochepot, crowned by Burgundian multicoloured glazed tiles; the medieval wine capital of Beaune; and, above all, the barge’s slow pace. The full trip is around 75 miles, which you could cover in a morning drive in a rental car. Instead, this cruise can be spread out over six days, and the hypnotic movement of a barge is a powerful sedative, especially after a glass of Burgundy red.

Pixabay / CC0

Travel with: French Country Waterways. The oldest U.S.-owned barge company operating in France, French Country Waterways is the elegant godmother of the canals. The ship interiors are done up in dark-wood paneling, plush sofas with tasseled pillows, and a grand communal dining table, laden with heavy silverware and flickering candles.

4. The Danube: Prague to Budapest

It’s shortly after that first beer lands on the table, with views of the city’s famous bridges glinting beyond, that Kafka’s famous quote hits home: “Prague never lets you go. This dear little mother has sharp claws.”

After a couple of days in Prague, it’s hard to escape its grip, but the Danube awaits. The river’s history unfolds along the way, with stops at medieval Regensburg; the Benedictine Abbey of Melk, one of the largest monasteries in Europe; and Passau, which rises over the convergence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube rivers.

The cruise culminates in Vienna – where you’ll sample the famous sachertorte and ink-black coffee – and Budapest.

Enjoy sausages and a beer (or five) at Historische Wurstkuchl, Germany’s oldest restaurant in Regensburg; an evening of opera in Vienna and crossing beneath the 1849 Chain Bridge in Budapest.

Image by Avalon Waterways

Travel with: Avalon Waterways. Launched in 2003, Avalon Waterways has among the newest ships on Europe’s waters, with ample rooms with sliding glass doors, a sky deck with whirlpool, and stylish dining quarters.

5. The Norwegian fjords

Few sights accompany the morning coffee better than the sun rising over Noregian fjords. Greet the first light of day on the deck, as your ship glides around a bend and Norway’s cliffs come into focus, rising like skyscrapers over the waters.

Embark on a twelve-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes, which includes Ålesund, with its Art Nouveau architecture, and Tromsø, the capital of the Arctic.

Pixabay / CC0 

Travel with: Hurtigruten. On most other cruises, you’ll see the same passengers day in and out, but take the Hurtigruten ship and the faces change daily, since it also functions as a commuter route, with locals hopping on for short jaunts up and the down the coast.

And, don’t underestimate the allure of nostalgia: one of Hurtigruten’s most popular ships is the MS Lofoten – it launched in 1964, and little has changed since then. The ship celebrates the vintage era, with cargo loaded by traditional crane; gleaming wood and brass throughout, as well as oil paintings of coastal Norway; and sherry served on silver trays.

Explore more of Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image: Pixabay / CC0

Colombia meets Jamaica? Not quite, but two competing images loom large over the Caribbean island of Providencia: Bob Marley, adopted saint of the local Raizal population, and Johnny Depp, fictional hero of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise and a symbol of everything ‘pirate’ to the local tourism industry. It’s all a very long way from Bogotá.

This tiny Caribbean outcrop, along with its sister island of San Andrés, is actually much closer to Nicaragua than the coast of Colombia. With a population of around 5000, there are more golf carts and bicycles than cars and everyone knows everyone else.

All this makes Providencia a great getaway from Colombia’s frenetic cities. Here, Stephen Keeling picks a few highlights of visiting this fascinating island.

Crab lovers rejoice

Not surprisingly, fresh seafood dominates menus on Providencia. The local black crab is a major staple, appearing in soups, stews or simply fried in the shell – some twenty percent of the island’s population make their living from the tasty crustacean.

The black crab is actually tinged with orange and lives on land most of the year (hiding in burrows in the hills and feeding at night). Between April and July the crabs descend en masse to the sea during their annual migration to lay eggs (the newly hatched juveniles then make the return journey) – it’s sometimes possible to view this amazing spectacle on foot, but these days the army routinely closes and guards strips of the coast road to protect migrating crabs. In recent years their numbers have declined dramatically thanks to overexploitation and the loss of habitat, but there has been some progress in making crab farming sustainable.

Image by on Cultura de Red Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Reggae Roots

Providencia loves its reggae and reggaeton, with the best place to soak up the island vibe Roland Roots Bar on Manchineel Bay. This Rasta-themed beach bar, with wooden shacks right on the sand, sways to a mellow reggae soundtrack and there are even swings from which to fling yourself into the sea.

Pirates of Providencia

In 1670, pirates led by Henry Morgan essentially occupied Providencia – though the buccaneers had been flushed out by 1689, this period informs much of the island’s romantic view of itself (many islanders claim descent from the pirates).

Get to grips with their legacy on tiny Santa Catalina Island, linked to Providencia by a rickety, wooden pontoon pedestrian bridge. On the other side a boardwalk leads along the shore, between tangled mangroves and a ramshackle village to Morgan’s Cannon (Cañónes), a rusty old artillery piece said to be the place pirates were hanged and ‘protestants burned’ by the Spanish.

On the other side of the hill lies Fort Beach (Playa Fuerte), a small stretch of sand with another old cannon, wishing well, an underwater cave (also named for Morgan), and good snorkelling. It’s one of seemingly thousands of spots in the Caribbean where Morgan supposedly hid treasure – he must have been swimming in gold.

Image by Quimbaya on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Go to church

The Raizal population on Providencia remains proud of its cultural roots, and one of the strongest traditions is attending Baptist church on Sundays (services are usually held in English). Even if you are not religious, it’s worth going along to see the soulful gospel choirs that sing at the main services – a magical experience. Services at the Iglesia Bautista Central (Central Baptist Church) take place at 11am every Sunday.

Scuba, boats and beaches

Providencia is blessed with small but glittering white-sand beaches and the best diving in the region – the island sits atop the third-largest barrier reef in the world.

Submarine highlights include “Manta City”, a congregation of giant southern stingrays (not mantas), and “Tete’s Place”, where schools of snappers, goatfish and parrotfish make you feel as if you’re swimming in a giant aquarium.

image by Luis Alveart on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If diving isn’t your thing, most hotels can arrange tours around the island via speedboat, including a two-hour visit to Crab Key, just off the east coast. This tiny islet offers superb snorkelling in the spectacularly clear surrounding waters – you’ll see plenty of small but multi-coloured tropical fish, fans and corals here. There’s a bar on the dock selling fresh coconuts and rum, and sometimes shrimp ceviche.

You can also make the short climb to the cocoplum-smothered top of the cay for sensational views of the massive reef, ‘the sea of seven colours’ around it and back over to the mountains of Providencia, rising into the clouds like a languid South Pacific atoll. Otherwise, tranquil Southwest Bay on the main island boasts the best beach, with a small selection of hotels and restaurants.

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

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts over seven hundred million people, in excess of 450 World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. Which means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

To celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe, packed with tips and insights for the first-time visitor, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, read on…

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, may travellers see in this city a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Pixabay/CC0

4. Row down the Danube, Hungary

Rowing and kayaking are both possible on the Danube. In Budapest, you can rent boats, kayaks or canoes on Margaret Island or along the Romai River Bank.

5. Sip an espresso in Tirana, Albania

Albania’s colourful capital, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars is better for strolling than sightseeing – but there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

6. Admire Kotor, Montenegro

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, Kotor is Montenegro’s only major tourist spot, with tiled roofs and a clear Venetian tilt to its architecture. Not a sunbathing destination, but there’s plenty to keep you busy.

7. Have a night out in Belgrage, Serbia

Explore the nightlife and café culture of Serbia’s hedonistic, hectic capital – at its best in spring and summer when all ages throng the streets at all hours.

8. See the Northern Lights, Norway

You don’t need to head up to Hammerfest as Bill Bryson did in his book Neither Here Nor There; this celestial show can be viewed across the country (Oct, Feb & March are ideal, the rest of winter is also good).

9. Cycle across the Netherlands

You can easily rent a bike and find your way around Amsterdam, but there’s really no reason to stop there. Dedicated signed trails lead you from town to town.

Pixabay/CC0

10. Get a sense of history in Kraków, Poland

This southern city emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, making it one of UNESCO’s twelve greatest historic cities in the world and an architectural treasure trove. It may look like a history lesson, but the city is very much alive and buzzing.

11. Spend a weekend in Venice, Italy

Venice is sinking (possibly under the weight of all the tourists), and there’s a chance the water may be knee-deep in St Mark’s Square by the time you visit, but to stroll Venice without crowds (off season, or at sunrise) may top your European visual highlights.

12. Go wine tasting in Slovenia

Slovenia has been making wine since the time of the Romans, so it’s not surprising that they figured out how to do it well over the years. There are fourteen distinct wine-growing regions to explore here.

Pixabay/CC0

13. Soak up the sun in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Situated near the southern border with Serbia, this 1300-year-old architectural city gem has been lovingly rebuilt, stone by stone, since the intense shelling in 1991, and is looking better than ever.

14. Discover Mozart’s Salzburg, Austria

This famous border town is not only worth a visit to pay homage to the man, but also has churches so cute you want to pinch them, plus plenty of art, city squares and chocolate galore.

15. See the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Resting majestically atop an enormous citadel in the centre of Granada, the Alhambra is a visual overload. The structure’s Moorish columns and domes and light-reflecting water basins inspire even the weariest traveler.

16. Be wowed by Bruges, Belgium

The most popular tourist attraction in Belgium is this entire town, the best-preserved medieval city in Europe. On some streets you feel as if you’re wandering through a museum’s thirteenth-century installation.

17. Be awed by the Palace of Versailles, France

Louis Quatorze certainly knew how to live. There’s the grand entrance, endless gardens that require an army of pruners, and a hall with more mirrors than a Las Vegas magic act. It’s good to be king.

18. Bathe on the Black Sea Riviera, Bulgaria

Arguably Bulgaria’s greatest asset, the beaches of the Black Sea rightfully fill up during the summer holidays. The best ones can be found northeast of Varna.

19. Stroll Prague’s Staromestske namesti, Czech Republic

You can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve visited Prague, and never seen the Old Town square. This 17,000-square-meter centerpiece is the heart of the city, and has been since the tenth century.

20. Be a big kid at Legoland, Denmark

The little plastic snap-together blocks have got a good deal more sophisticated than they once were, but their simplicity is still their strength, and a visit to their Danish birthplace should cap off any lingering childhood fantasies about an entire Lilliputian Lego city.

21. Wander Tallinn’s old town, Estonia

Often compared to Prague, Estonia’s capital is an up-and-comer on the budget travel scene, as is its burgeoning nightlife. Check out the area round Toompea Hill, where the aristocracy and clergy once lived.

22. Soak in Baden-Baden, Germany

Germany’s most famous spa lies in the heart of the Black Forest. Its famed curative mineral waters bubble up from thermal springs at temperatures over 68°C.

23. Surf Portugal’s Atlantic coast

Portugal’s waves aren’t in the same league as Hawaii’s, but there are enough breakers around the country to keep most beginner and intermediate surfers happy

24. See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, England

A reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse, the Globe Theatre in London is Shakespeare’s backyard. The season runs from April to October.

25. Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Guinness may look like discarded brake fluid, but this thick stout with a scientifically measured head of foam is worshipped like a minor deity. And the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is the high altar.

26. Make a beeline for Bratislava, Slovakia

Low key charm, a museum of wine, and pavement cafés aplenty can all be found in the Old Town centre of Bratislava, Slovakia‘s “little big city“.

27. Visit Bran Castle, Romania

Also known as “Dracula’s Castle”, this popular castle actually has no ties to Vlad Tepeş, the medieval prince associated with the vampire extraordinaire, but none of this seems to deter visitors from coming.

28. Hike Sarek National Park, Sweden

The glaciers, peaks, valleys and lakes of this remote northern park cover 2000 square kilometres. Note that the trails are demanding and best suited for advanced hikers.

29. Ski in Zermatt, Switzerland

This glam skiing and mountaineering resort is tied to the fame of perhaps the most visually stunning Alp: the Matterhorn (4478m).

30. Shop in Helsinki’s Stockmann Department Store, Finland

You can’t miss it in Helsinki: it’s one of Europe’s largest department stores, selling everything you need and even more that you don’t.

Plan more of your first trip to Europe with the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

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

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

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