Bournemouth’s main draw has always been its long, wide and immaculate yellow sandy beaches. It was once the playground of rich Victorians – Charles Rolls (as in Rolls-Royce) and Edward VII both enjoyed its shores – and has been extremely popular ever since it was founded as a purpose-built resort in the early 1800s.

But as increasingly cheap air travel lured visitors away from the UK in the twentieth century, Bournemouth went the way of many other coastal towns in Britain: tourism dwindled and its seaside grandeur faded to a dreary, out-of-date facade.

Today things are changing. Bournemouth is shrugging off its stag-do central image, and welcoming a new breed – or, in fact, a few new breeds – of visitor to its sands. Lottie Gross explores what the town has to offer visitors today.

For the active traveller

It’s not all about beach-bumming in Bournemouth. While there are indeed some superb stretches of sand, there’s also a whole lot of surrounding countryside ripe for exploration.

Get yourself a pair of wheels from Front Bike Hire on the promenade do the ten-mile round cycle to dramatic Hengistbury Head. Stop off at the top to take in the views over the coastline and sample Purbeck ice cream in the visitor centre before heading back to town.

Bournemouth pier also caters for the adventurous: there’s a zipline that whisks willing participants from the end of the pier onto the beach, narrowly avoiding a dip in the Atlantic, and inside Rock Reef there’s a climbing wall and suspended assault course.

For surfers and ocean explorers

Surf culture has been ever-growing in Bournemouth over the last two decades, despite the much-criticised surf reef that never made waves in Boscombe (pun intended).

The Boscombe area, east of the main Bournemouth beach, continues to be surf-central, with opportunities to hire kayaks, SUPs (stand-up paddle boards) and, of course, book in for surf lessons.

If you’re not keen on diving in, hang out at Urban Reef to watch novices and experts out on the water while sipping a cocktail of your choice (takeaway drinks available for those who’d rather relax on the beach).

Image by Manuel Martín on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

For food fiends

Bournemouth has long been a victim of big restaurant chains and small, somewhat grotty takeaway joints. But there are a few diamonds in the rough – if you know where to look.

The latest addition to the nearby Sandbanks area is a new Rick Stein restaurant that serves deliciously fresh seafood and fish dishes on an inventive, daily-changing menu.

The Koh Thai tapas bar has been a long favourite with the locals, with two locations in Bournemouth town centre and Boscombe. Try the 24-hour ribs and the prawn tempura and you won’t be disappointed.

A photo posted by Lottie Gross (@lortusfleur) on

For culture vultures

As a relatively new town whose tourism focus is mainly around the beach, Bournemouth is somewhat lacking in museums and art galleries. But there’s one star on the seafront that makes up for it: the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum is a treasure trove of Victorian eccentricities showcased among world-renowned artworks.

The building, commissioned by former Bournemouth mayor Merton Russell-Cotes in 1901 as a summer home for his wife, is an unusual piece of architecture and now dedicated to the couple’s extensive travels around the world and their vast collection of art.

The rooms are lavishly decorated, with nods to various cultures around the world (see the Japanese symbolism in the murals on the ceiling in the main hall), and there’s a curious artefact around every corner.

Visit the ladies’ toilet on the ground floor to see an original, working Victorian loo, and take five in the café on the first floor, which has one of the best views of Bournemouth beach.

For luxury

The latest addition to Bournemouth’s accommodation portfolio finally signifies a shift in the standard: the brand new Hilton hotel on Terrace Road is far cry from the tired 1960s-style hotels the town is overrun by.

It’s stylish inside with a surprisingly boutique feel about it – the rooms are decorated with retro tourism posters – and the hotel’s restaurant, Schpoons & Forx (complete with cutlery-themed décor) is one of the town’s best establishments, with a varied but expertly executed menu by chef Matt Tebutt.

Slightly out of town, the Chocolate Boutique Hotel is perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth. They run truffle-making and chocolate portrait painting workshops for guests, and each room comes with its own daily supply of the sweet stuff.

Perfectly poised near the town centre, the Green House Hotel provides a conscience-friendly luxury option. The hotel generates much of their own electricity and uses solar power to heat the water that fills their gorgeous free-standing baths.

© Pellier Photography

South West Trains run a service from London Waterloo to Bournemouth, with tickets from £16 return. Explore more of Bournemouth and the south coast with the Rough Guide to Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of WightCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Italy has long been one of Europe’s most popular destinations. From the magnificent remnants of ancient Rome to the coolest in contemporary culture, secret beaches to snow-covered peaks, tranquil countryside to frenetic city streets, plus an all-pervasive passion for food – the allure of this boot-shaped nation has proven itself timeless.

With so much diversity, deciding where to go in Italy can be simply overwhelming. This one minute video guide will help you plan your trip.

Remember, even in the country’s most touristed destinations, you need only detour down a small city backstreet, or stop briefly in a nameless village, to discover the Italy of legend – an Italy that seems yours, and yours alone.

Way out in the cool North Atlantic Ocean, there’s a cluster of craggy islands inhabited primarily by sheep and puffins. The Faroe Islands are Scandinavia’s ultimate off-the-beaten-track destination. Here’s our guide to what to expect on your first trip to this remote archipelago.

What and where are the Faroe Islands?

Contrary to popular misconception, the Faroe Islands are not near the Antarctic nor are they somewhere in Portugal. In fact, this cluster of eighteen islands is situated roughly midway between Iceland, Norway and the northern tip of Scotland.

It’s an extraordinary landscape of sharp cliffs, sweeping glaciated valleys, narrow fjords and pointed basalt peaks that was formed when volcanic rock thrust up from the deep North Atlantic Ocean.

Since the sixth century, the Faroe Islands have been inhabited by Irish monks, Viking settlers and an awful lot of sheep. Today, it’s home to 49,000 people and is a self-governing nation – part of the Kingdom of Denmark – with its own parliament, flag and language, a booming fishing industry.

Image by Ros Walford

Why should I go?

If you love outdoor adventure in rugged landscapes, invigorating sea air and cosy harbour villages, then you’ll love the Faroe Islands. Whether exploring the islands by car, foot, boat or bicycle, the excellent infrastructure makes it easy to get around. It’s an incredibly welcoming place with a gentle pace of life and an interesting mix of modern innovations based on ancient traditions.

What should I see?

Seeing thousands of puffins and other sea birds nesting in high cliffs is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Faroes. So whether or not you are an enthusiastic birdwatcher, a boat trip to Vestmanna, or to the westernly island of Mykines – a “paradise of birds” – is an unforgettable experience.

Driving in the Faroes is a highlight in itself, as beautifully tarmacked roads sweep around the fjords and sounds, where houses with fluffy grass roofs blend into vibrant green landscape and every scene is a stunner.

A short drive from Vagar airport are two of the most dramatic views in the archipelago: the island of Tindhólmur, a rock that juts out of the ocean like a jagged shard of glass, and Gásadalur waterfall where icy water gushes from a sea cliff.

Image by Ros Walford

Saksun is one of the prettiest spots on Streymoy, the largest island. It’s a small settlement beside a steep-sided inlet, while over on Esturoy to the east, winding roads take you up into the mountainous north and up to the highest peak, Slættaratindur (882m). Not far from here, you can see two rock stacks, known as Risin og Kellingin (the giant and the witch) and the picturesque village of Gjógv, named after a gorge.

Visiting one of the smaller islands, such as the remarkable Stóra Dímun, is as remote as it gets. This 2-sq-km inaccessible island is inhabited by eight people who live in a farmhouse perched on a plateau surrounded by vertical sea cliffs. The only access is via a helicopter service that delivers supplies three times a week. Tourists can come here on boat trips or stay on the island for a few days in summer, when the schoolhouse doubles as a self-catering apartment.

What outdoor activities can I do?

It’s possible to do almost any outdoor activity here, from horseriding, trail-running and climbing to sea kayaking, sailing and fly-fishing for wild salmon.

If you’ve got thighs of steel, you’ll enjoy cycling the quiet mountain roads. But those who prefer a gentler pace would be better off hiking.

There are many options for day walks: climb to the top of Slættaratindur for stunning views over the archipelago; take the postman’s path up over the steep ridge from Bøur to Gásadalur waterfall (which once was the only way to reach Gásadalur village before a tunnel was built). Alternatively, you can hike from Tórshavn to Kirkjubøur to see the oldest church in the Faroe Islands.

What about the capital city?

Tórshavn is one of the smallest capital cities in the world. Narrow streets cluster around the harbour, where a peninsula called the Tinganes sticks out into the bay. It’s here you’ll find the government buildings – modest wooden houses that stand on the site of one of the oldest parliamentary meeting places in the world.

As far back as the ninth century, the Vikings held a general assembly here (called a “Thing”), and evidence of their meetings can still be seen carved on the rocks. It’s still an informal place, where you might say “hej” (“hi”) to a government minister as they wander past in the lanes of the neighbouring district of tiny, grass-roofed houses.

Artistic and creative industries are flourishing here. The capital city may be small but it has its share of galleries, including the National Gallery On the outskirts of town, Nordic House hosts Faroese and Nordic art exhibitions, concerts, theatre and dance.

There are upmarket craft and design shops including designer knitwear from Guðrun & Guðrun (creators of the desirable sweater worn by detective Sarah Lund in Danish crime drama The Killing), an excellent design cooperative called Öström, and colourful glass creations at Mikkalina Glas.

Image by Ros Walford

Is there a music scene?

Tutl is the only music shop and record label in the Faroe Islands. Outdoor festivals are an important feature in summer, and key dates in the diary include G! Festival, during which thousands of people descend on the tiny village of Gøta to enjoy rock music and hot tubs on the beach.

At Hoyma, also held in Gøta, festival-goers revive the old tradition of going from house to house to enjoy acoustic concerts inside residents’ living rooms.

What should I eat?

One of the loveliest dining experiences is Heimablídni, the Faroese tradition of “home hospitality”, in which guests pay for a meal cooked and served at the home of their hosts.

You’re likely to be able to try some of the local favourites, such as fresh fish or fermented meat (which is nicer than it sounds – it’s usually a tender leg of lamb that’s been left to hang in the salty sea air, in a process similar to curing).

It’s not all rustic cuisine, though. There are some sophisticated fine-dining restaurants in Tórshavn. Aarstova is famous for its slow-cooked Faroese lamb, while Barbara is a superb fish restaurant in a turf-topped building.

Image by Ros Walford

How do I get around?

Fifteen years ago, the only way to get between the islands was via ferry. Now, two sub-sea tunnels link the main islands and a network of smaller tunnels connect valleys and villages that were once isolated from the world. The smaller tunnels can take some getting used to, as one lane serves traffic coming in both directions. Fortunately, the Public Roads’ Office has made a useful video that explains all you need to know about driving.

The subsidised (and very good value) helicopter service, operated by Atlantic Airways, runs regularly between the smaller islands. It’s an exhilarating way of getting around, but they only fly every other day and you can’t book a return, so plan carefully. Otherwise, buses and ferries are slower paced alternatives.

For further information about the Faroe Islands, see the Visit Faroe Islands and Visit Tórshavn websites. Atlantic Airways operate daily flights to Vagar Airport from Copenhagen.

Snow-white beaches, giant coconut-eating crabs and karate-loving grannies: Okinawa is Japan but not as we know it. This alluring chain of sun-kissed, hibiscus-draped islands offers a blend of Southeast Asian heat, unique ‘un-Japanese’ culture and delicious, life-extending food. Andy Turner explores how to make the most of a trip to Japan’s subtropical paradise.

Find the elixir of (long) life

An hour’s drive north of Okinawa’s sprawling capital, Naha, the village of Ogimi is famous across Japan for having the most centenarians (people over 100 years old) in the country. In fact, you’re barely considered middle-aged when you hit 80 here.

This could all be down to the local diet: steaming bowls of dark green vegetables, tofu, fresh fish and muzuku seaweed, the latter hoovered up from the Okinawan seabed and exported across Japan. Or perhaps it’s the knobbly goyu cucumber, apparently packed with all kinds of medicinal goodies (and often served up fried with SPAM, of all things).

Whatever the secret, it’s probably no thanks to the local hooch, awomori, ‘island sake’ which can pack a 60% alcohol punch. But that shouldn’t stop you sampling a glass – try the smooth, three-year aged version from local distillery Chuko Awamori.

Image by Andy Turner

Learn to be a karate kid

Not only are people incredibly long-lived in Okinawa, chances are they’re also handy in a fight. Karate was invented here in the seventeenth century (80s movie buffs may remember a certain Mr Miyagi was Okinawan), and you’ll see young and old heading to the local dojo every week (though perhaps not catching flies with their chopsticks).

Okinawan karate is less about flashy moves and more a way of life – the ‘why’ more important than the ‘how’ as they put it. Enthusiasts can arrange lessons with an experienced sensei (instructor). Alternatively drop in to Naha’s Dojo Bar, to lap up the martial arts memorabilia and an ice-cold Orion beer.

Image by N i c o l a on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Kick back on Japan’s answer to Hawaii

Okinawa is often dubbed the ‘Japanese Hawaii’, and the comparison seems apt when you head to the outer islands or jima. With over 130 to choose from it’s tricky to pick out a favourite but Aka-jima (in the Kerama islands), a short if bumpy ferry ride from Naha is hard to beat for sheer beauty. Once the boat departs, you’re left with the sound of waves gently lapping against white sand and the scent of Ryūkyū pines in the sea breeze; you might even spot an elusive Kerama deer taking a dip.

For classic white-sand and emerald water eye candy you’ll need to hop on a plane to Ishigaki, part of the Yaeyama group of islands, 400km southwest of Naha. Here Kabira Bay is as close as Japan gets to Boracay or Waikiki Beach, with only half the level of commercialisation. There’s even a gloriously unpretentious hostel which makes for a tempting place to wake up.

Image by Visit Okinawa

Seek out some strange wildlife

The further you travel from the Japanese mainland Okinawa’s wildlife gets progressively weirder. On Hatoma in the Yaeyamas, huge armour-plated coconut crabs, up to a metre across, lumber past traffic to mate in the sea. A short boat ride away on Iriomote, tiny wild boar, half the size of their mainland cousins, roam the beaches snaffling up turtle eggs, while inland a rare miniature ‘leopard’, the Iriomote cat, prowls the forest.

Image by Visit Okinawa

Explore an ancient empire

Gliding into Naha, aboard the sleek airport monorail, you could be forgiven for thinking that not a single building survived World War II (the city was devastated during the US assault on Okinawa in April 1945). Yet hidden amongst the utilitarian modern architecture are several reminders of its heyday as the capital of the Kingdom of Ryūkyū.

An independent state sandwiched between Ming dynasty China and feudal Japan, Ryūkyū developed its own culture and language, before finally being annexed by the Japanese in the nineteenth century.

The influence of its neighbours can be seen at Shuri Castle, painstakingly rebuilt in the 1990s. Here, vermillion Chinese pagodas and ornate dragons stand side-by-side with minimalist Japanese rooms kitted out with tatami mats. Look up and you’ll spot shīsā or ‘lion dogs’, glaring down from the roof. This uniquely Okinawan mascot can be seen warding off evil spirits and typhoons across the islands.

Image by Yusuke Umezawa on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

See an underwater Atlantis

Diving is excellent across Okinawa (check out our rundown of the best sites) but the most intriguing is off tiny Yonaguni, an edge of the world kind of place, within binocular-spotting distance of Taiwan. As well as being a hotspot for hammerhead sharks, it’s also home to a mysterious series of ‘ruins’ that resemble a mini Atlantis. With giant sandstone terraces and steps seemingly cut out by hand, it’s tempting to believe this was the work of an ancient civilization and not just a quirk of geology.

Image by Inside Japan

Andy Turner travelled with Inside Japan who offer a twelve-night island hopping trip to Okinawa as well as specialist itineraries for karate and diving enthusiasts. For a video taster of the islands see Be Okinawa.

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.

It’s easy to be daunted by the endless choices on offer when planning a trip with kids. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of family vacation ideas that will get everyone – even jaded teenagers – excited.

For adventure: India

In the spirit of the latest The Jungle Book movie, take the kids on a tiger safari in India’s national parks. Two of the best tiger reserves are in Tadoba and Kanha national parks in central India – the latter in Madhya Pradesh which was the inspiration for Kipling’s classic story. There’s also the sprawling Satpura National Park in the same region, where you can pile into 4x4s for game drives and spot other wildlife lurking in the lush landscapes.

For seaside fun: Britain

Ignore the jokes about the changeable British weather and head for the beach for your next family vacation. For such a small island, Britain has an astonishingly varied coastline – from the rocky coves indenting Cornwall’s Atlantic side to the long sandy beaches of Rhossili bay in Wales and Cape Wrath at Scotland’s northwestern tip. Get into the old-fashioned seaside spirit in Blackpool or Scarborough, or check out the cool chic of Brighton and its exotic Royal Pavilion.

For activities: Costa Rica

Cloud forests, jungles, volcanoes and tumbling waterfalls – the natural beauty of Costa Rica is inexhaustible, and even better appreciated when you’re in the thick of it. Strap the family into zip wires for an unforgettable ride above Monteverde’s cloud forest, and hold on tight for a white-water rafting adventure in the jungles of Arenal. For a gentle comedown, take a leisurely boat cruise through the green waterways and lagoons of Tortuguero National Park.

For exotic culture: Morocco

Choose your transport – camels, 4x4s, mules or your own two feet – for guided treks through the Atlas Mountains surrounding Marrakesh. Along the way, you get to stay in Berber villages to unplug yourself (and the gadget-glued kids) and discover a completely different way of life. After a family vacation spent riding the sand dunes or biking along dusty trails, finish in relaxing style on the beach at Essaouira.

For history: Rome

People of all ages can’t help but wonder at the ancient marvels that are casually strewn all over Rome. The Forum and the Colosseum are the big-hitters, of course, but there’s also the miracle that’s the Pantheon, which has been standing in Piazza della Rotonda since AD125 despite all that history has thrown at it. Children who are fans of Roman history will get a thrill from wandering through the ancient ruins of Ostia Antica. They’re only about 30 minutes from Rome and attract only a fraction of the tourists you’ll find in Italy’s capital.

For a road trip: America’s West

Start in Los Angeles – maybe squeeze in a visit to Universal Studios or Disneyland while you’re there – before hitting the road. Get a taste of the desert while driving through Joshua Tree National Park before crossing the border into the dusty red landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico. The area around Tucson, Santa Fe and Albuquerque is rich in colonial Spanish history and Native American culture, including the terracotta-coloured Unesco World Heritage Site of Taos Pueblo. At this point it’s very tempting to continue north towards the Grand Canyon.

For food: Vietnam

Stick a plate of noodles in front of children and most of them would be happy. Go a step further and let them discover how to cook it themselves in the bewitching surroundings of Hoi An, preferably in one of the cooking schools that’s in a scenic riverside spot. The kids will be whipping up a classic Vietnamese pho in no time after spending the morning scouring the local markets for fresh ingredients for their lunch. Hoi An is street-food heaven, with stalls mingling influences from both the north and south of the country.

For wildlife: Kangaroo Island, Australia

More than a third of this peaceful South Australia island is covered in national parks where you can get comfortably close to wildlife – that means lounging with the sea lions on the beach and feeding the kangaroos in the aptly named Kangaroo Island National Park. There are also wallabies and koalas too, of course – not to mention possums, bandicoots and other native creatures. You’ll spot another exotic species in any of the five surf bays too, as the long sandy beaches and waves attract surfers from all over the world.

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0. 

Spanning an area as large as Europe, French Polynesia can be intimidating to the first-­time visitor. Technically an overseas collectivity of France, this globally ­renowned destination is considered by many to be a slice of heaven on earth.

With its idyllic beaches, postcard­-worthy sunsets, and incredible turquoise waters filled with abundant marine life, French Polynesia’s Society Islands (most notably Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Raiatea, and Taha’a) attract the majority of the region’s visitors. Yet there’s all this – and more – to discover in these halcyon isles.

Here, Eric Grossman takes us through French Polynesia’s highlights in a (coco)nut shell.

Tahiti Island

Tahiti Island is the largest and most populated of the 118 islands and atolls that make up French Polynesia. Most visitors use Tahiti as a base from which to explore the region’s many highlights; all the major destinations can be reached from the international airport in Faa’a.

With its ubiquitous pearl shops, lively roulottes (food trucks), and occasional traffic jams, the capital city of Papeete is the closest thing French Polynesia has to a metropolis. To truly appreciate the island’s many natural wonders, however, be sure to explore its rugged coastline, myriad historical sites, and mountainous interior.

Tahiti also affords visitors their best chance to get a taste of normal everyday Polynesian life by seeking out a beach or market (such as the Marché Papeete) crammed with friendly locals.

Tahiti via Pixabay/CC0

Moorea

Only a 30 minute ferry ride from Papeete, the charming island of Moorea is less populated and developed than its famous neighbour. Visitors exploring the mountainous, mostly rural island are more likely to encounter more chickens than humans.

From an elevated perch inland (for which you’ll need a 4×4 vehicle) one can view the two small, nearly symmetrical bays on the north shore where most of the island’s action takes place.

Moorea via Pixabay/CC0

Bora Bora

Perhaps the most lauded honeymoon spot on the planet, Bora Bora benefits from its natural lagoon that’s monitored by the imposing, majestic Mount Otemanu. The clear, warm waters are filled with colorful fish and majestic rays, and most visitors spend as much time here as possible.

A handful of upscale resorts, including the family friendly Four Seasons and opulent St. Regis, are famous for their overwater bungalows. These pricey accommodations offer an exceptional, once-­in-­a-­lifetime splurge perfect for celebs looking for some peace and privacy, as well as mere mortals celebrating a special occasion.

Bora Bora via Pixabay/CC0

Raiatea and Taha’a

The islands of Raiatea and Taha’a can be seen from Bora Bora, and like their world-­famous neighbour, both offer astoundingly clear waters and a relaxing break from modern life (in other words, don’t expect perfect internet access).

Prized by yachters and sailors, Raiatea is the larger and more visited of the two. The island is believed to be the site from which organised migrations to Hawaii and other parts of Polynesia were launched many centuries ago.

Smaller, quieter Taha’a is also worth a visit, especially for those interested in its two most famous products: vanilla and pearls.

Raiatea by Liz Saldaña via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

Tuamotu Islands

While no one will confuse the Society Islands for busier, more developed tropical destinations, certain visitors may seek something a little quieter; those looking to completely disconnect are wise to consider the Tuamotu Islands.

This vast archipelago of coral atolls is headlined by Rangiroa and Tikehau, where pink sand beaches give way to clear waters filled with a kaleidoscope of colorful fish (the famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau was a fan).

If you’ve ever fantasized about seeing a shark swim under your bungalow, look no further. Rangiroa, comprised of 240 small islets that form the second­-largest atoll in the world, ­is a mecca for divers.

Few visitors leave the Tuamotus without diving, snorkeling, or boating. Just don’t expect anything by way of shopping or nightlife ­ visitor services are at a minimum in these sparsely ­populated destinations.

Rangiroa by dany13 via Flickr (CC-BY – modified)

Marquesas Islands

About a three hour flight from the Society Islands resides the Marquesas Islands; these rugged, quiet islands are renowned within French Polynesia for their rich culture and breathtaking nature.

Some of the Marquesas have remained untouched since the era of European exploration. Fearless visitors traverse steep mountains while keeping an eye out for the wild horses, pigs, and goats that roam inland.

Nuku Hiva, the largest of the Marquesas, lures visitors with its lush valleys, ancient religious sites, and towering waterfalls. The island of Hiva Oa also receives tourism due to its wild landscape, giant stone tiki, and rich history (it’s the final resting place of the performer Jacques Brel and artist Paul Gauguin).

Marquesas via Pixabay/CC0

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Header image via Pixabay/CC0

Not all that long ago Margate was a forlorn seaside town rejected by even the bucket-and-spade brigade. In a sad story echoed across England, the already struggling high street was devastated by the opening of an out-of-town shopping centre; pubs and restaurants were closing, and the future of this once thriving seaside resort looked grim.

Fast forward ten years to the latest edition of the Rough Guide to England and this North Kent town is lauded for its “irresistible energy” and its “vintage shopping and fabulous art gallery”.

So how exactly did this revival happen? And why has Margate’s regeneration been covered everywhere from the BBC to the New York Times?

Image courtesy of Visit Thanet

High speed London to Margate

Walking from the rail station past the iconic (or unsightly, depending on your point of view) granite high-rise block and shabby amusement arcades, it’s clear who has just stepped off the one-hour-twenty-minute high speed train from St Pancras. Moustachio’d hipsters cross over to the beach side of the busy seafront road, taking great gulps of sea air and gravitating to the pretty harbour arm in the distance.

Margate’s sea and sandy beach first attracted flannel-bathing-suited pleasure seekers in the Victorian times, and most of what today’s day-trippers are after, from fish and chips to art and antiques, can be found close to the harbour in the tiny Old Town.

A short stroll reveals narrow lanes bursting with independent little galleries, cafes and vintage clothing shops, plus an old fashioned sweet shop and the ridiculously atmospheric Lifeboat Ale and Cider House.

Art and the Creative Quarter

You can’t talk about art in Margate without more than a nod to landscape painter JMW Turner, who, after attending school in the Old Town, became a regular visitor to Margate – and Mrs Booth, his landlady – and said that the skies here “were the loveliest in all Europe”.

The Turner Contemporary opened in a big glass box on the seafront in 2011 and hosts all sorts of exciting historic and contemporary exhibitions, not least by local girl Tracy Emin, who was also commissioned to create the artwork over the visitor centre entrance, where her declaration to the town “I Never Stopped Loving You” blazes in neon green.

Image by Benjamin Becker

Riding in the slipstream of the Turner Contemporary’s national profile, an entire “Creative Quarter” has emerged, with collaborative artist-led spaces like Crate and Resort supporting local artists, and lots of the town’s independent shops have an artistic bent.

Small businesses like souvenir shop Crafted Naturally have studio space; owner Wendy runs hands-on workshops where you can create your own gorgeous batik print – drawing and brushing with hot wax over cloth.

One of the town’s most intriguing works of art can only be seen by leaving the other day-trippers behind and making for the underground Shell Grotto. Twisting passageways and damp chambers covered in the swirls and patterns of more than four million shells were discovered in 1835; you’re invited to make up your own mind whether it’s an eccentric Victorian folly, an ancient pagan temple, or simply the town’s first, best, PR stunt.

Seaside nostalgia

Back on the seafront there’s something proudly working class about Margate. It’s got character – and characters. Mannings Seafood Stall still serves up jellied eel and oysters, families line the steps down to the sands eating chips from Peter’s Fish Factory and kiosks do a roaring trade in Mr Whippy’s.

After years as a bingo hall and then snooker club, the 1911 Parade Cinema has reemerged as the Old Kent Market, complete with food stalls and double decker bus serving coffee and cocktails.

The nostalgic theme has been turned up a notch with the recent grand reopening of the sixteen-acre amusement park Dreamland, with the UK’s oldest wooden roller-coaster, dodgems, vintage arcade games and a roller room for skating like it’s 1979.

Image by Sam Pow

Playing up to the associations with the mods and rockers who gathered here in the sixties, vintage furniture and clothing stores have sprung up across the Old Town and, for those who have been put off by Margate’s rocketing rental rates, up Fort Hill to neighbouring Cliftonville.

Hunkydory 24, Junk Deluxe, Paraphernalia and Breuer & Dawson are some of the best, and the Aladdin’s cave that is Scott’s Furniture Mart shouldn’t be missed. Luckily, they deliver. The Art Deco desk you’ve got your eye on would be tricky to haul to St Pancras.

Rachel stayed at the Sands Hotel. More information about Margate can be found in the Rough Guide to Kent, Sussex and Surrey and via Visit Kent. Header image courtesy of Visit Thanet

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.

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