Plato said every dog has the soul of a philosopher. While that statement is disputable, the wave-riding canines at the Noosa Festival of Surfing are proof that some dogs, at least, have the soul of a surfer.

Thousands gathered at Queensland Australia’s Noosa Beach this week to watch The Dog Spectacular, the world’s only surfing event where dog and master compete as a team. The doggies lead the way down the beach, leaping with all paws onto the surfboards as soon they were set in the ocean ­– ready to catch a wave.

As pairs of all breeds and ages paddled out together; it was clear that this was not some adrenaline-fuelled competition but an exercise in pure, surf-loving fun.

“It’s a wonderful experience for dog and human,” said Festival Co-Founder Paul Jarratt. “It’s not really about winning or losing; it’s a celebration of all the good things we love about surfing, the ocean and environment that we are privileged to have in Noosa. I think that’s why we attract surfers and their families from all over the world, we’ve got 20 countries represented this year.”

Check out some of the images below for highlights. Special mentions to the dog in sunglasses who rode waves all on his own.

The festival will continue on until the 12th of March, and is a must for anyone planning a trip to Queensland’s aptly named Sunshine Coast.

Because it's Friday, and who doesn't want to see dogs surfing in Australia? http://bit.ly/1QLagU

Posted by Rough Guides on Friday, 11 March 2016

Italy’s sun-kissed coastline is undeniably easy on the eye, but that doesn’t always translate into great beaches. Take the Amalfi Coast: surely one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world, but its pockets of grey sand (or silver, as the locals spin it) can come as an anti-climax.

In general, Italy can’t rival the likes of Spain and Portugal for broad, golden stretches of sand, but its 7600km of coastline does harbour plenty of stunners, particularly in the far south and islands.

Natasha Foges shares her top locations for an Italian beach holiday, from remote coves to perfect buckets-and-spades family beaches.

Best for families: Santa Maria di Castellabate, Campania

If you have kids in tow – along with armfuls of beach toys, sun hats, towels and sunscreen – a small-town beach is ideal, as you can shuttle easily between hotel, beach and café without any fraught car journeys.

Unassuming Santa Maria di Castellabate, in the secluded Cilento region a couple of hours’ drive south of the glitzy Amalfi Coast resorts, is family-holiday gold: a venerable Aragonese watchtower overlooks a lovely crescent-shaped bay with sparklingly clear water, mellow waves and a jolly seafront passeggiata.

The labyrinthine, UNESCO-protected old town, high on a hill above the bay, is ripe for exploring, while the spectacular Greek temples at Paestum, some 20km away, are an essential trip.

Image by stebox78 on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Best for nightlife: Rimini, Emilia-Romagna

The resorts of Rimini and next-door Riccione can be brash, but if it’s nightlife you’re after, there’s no better place. By day a busy, family-friendly stretch of beach, by night Rimini’s seafront is a place of cocktail bars and beach parties, while the hills above town hold the best of the clubs.

Weary partygoers sweat out their Aperol Spritz hangovers on the handsome, 15km-long beach – before starting all over again come sundown.

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

Best for variety: Sardinia

Sardinia is many Italians’ summer-holiday destination of choice (tip: avoid August), and it’s easy to see why. Its coastline is glorious, and wonderfully varied. Hiring a car or moped and pootling between its beaches – from spectacular stretches of dazzling white sand to rocky coves with limpid waters – is a fun way to spend a week or two, particularly if you quickly tire of parking yourself on the same lounger with the same view every day.

Excellent beaches are too numerous too mention, but don’t miss Chia in the far south – a dreamy stretch of peach-coloured sand and turquoise water – and Piscinas further north, a remote beach with towering dunes and a wild, end-of-the-road feel.

Best for old-world charm: Viareggio, Tuscany

With its classic seafront prom lined with Art Nouveau facades, Viareggio is a refined throwback to more genteel times. Though somewhat faded these days – the hotels along the front are no longer quite so grand – something of the glamour of its heyday lingers, especially in the lively evening passeggiata.

The beaches themselves are sandy and broad, and for the most part colonised by private beach clubs, with neat ranks of parasols and loungers lined up for weekending Florentines.

Best for remoteness: Salento peninsula, Puglia

Picture your perfect beach: powdery sand, azure sea and not a soul in sight? Such is Italy’s beauty that untouristed corners are sadly rare. But spots that are harder to get to (often in the poorly connected south) remain undisturbed by mass tourism.

The Salento peninsula, in the heel of Italy’s boot, harbours some of the mainland’s loveliest beaches – understandably popular with Italian tourists in high summer, but blissfully quiet the rest of the year. The eastern side is craggy and dramatic, with the historic seaside town of Otranto a high point, while the western side is flatter, an almost unbroken stretch of pristine white-sand beach and Caribbean-blue sea.

On the eastern side, the road winds above the rocky coast, past Moorish-style fishing villages, caves and underwater grottoes, to lovely Santa Maria di Leuca at the tip, where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea in a stunning bay.

The standout beach on the western coast is gorgeous, dune-backed Marina di Pescoluse – nicknamed “the Maldives of the Salento” due to its offshore sand banks that resemble small islands at sunset.

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

Best for a city break: Mondello, Sicily

Can’t choose between a city break and a beach holiday? Have both. Base yourself in Palermo, Sicily’s capital: a fascinating city with plenty to see and do, just a short bus trip from Mondello, the town beach, which boasts beautifully clear water in a gently shelving bay.

With pastel changing cabins backing the beach and a whimsical Art Nouveau building, “The Charleston”, crowning a pier in the middle of the bay, it has a pleasingly retro feel. Though the beach is packed with palermitani on summer weekends, you won’t find many foreign tourists here, and the lively holiday atmosphere is infectious.

Explore more of Italy with The Rough Guide to ItalyCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0

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”.

Squeezed between Argentina and Brazil and shaped a bit like a football, Uruguay doesn’t feature on your average South American checklist. But with its progressive politics, sizzling asado culture and some of the best beaches on the continent, we think it should.

From off-grid hippie enclaves (note: cannabis was legalised here in 2014) to chic celebrity hangouts to riotous party towns, there’s a beach here for everyone. It would take a while to cover every stretch of sand along Uruguay’s largely unspoilt 660km coastline, so we’ve selected five beach towns that we think make Uruguay a strong contender for best beach destination in South America.

For remote relaxation: Cabo Polonio

Without roads or electricity, and with a population of about eighty, Cabo Polonio is the place to go for a proper escape from civilization. The Cabo Polonio experience begins with the journey – whether you pay someone with a rowing boat to take you there, ride a horse along the beach, hike for 7km over the rolling dunes or hop in a 4X4 from the national park entrance.

There are only a few rustic places to stay here (the Cabo Polonio Hostel boasts a pedal-powered washing machine) and some tin-roofed restaurants fire up the asado during the summer. Don’t expect anything to “do” in Cabo Polonio, other than lie in a hammock, drink beer, and pay a visit to the talkative sea lions who hang out near the 120-year-old lighthouse. The hardest decision you’ll make is whether you should ever leave.

Image by Brennan Paezold on Flickr (license)

For chilled out chic: La Pedrera

About a hundred years ago, the Arrarte family built a beach hut on this peaceful stretch of coast – comprising two sandy beaches separated by a rocky headland – and a few of their friends followed suit. Today, this is one of Uruguay’s emerging chic holiday towns, which some compare to what Jose Ignacio was like before it became popular among the holidaying millionaire set.

Expect a gorgeous, wave-lapped beach (with a black, rusted shipwreck – Cathay VIII – on the western side), dusty lanes criss-crossing the town and a few ramshackled bars and restaurants serving fresh grilled seafood.

For something special, Pueblo Barrancas has lovely cabañas-on-stilts, dotted around a sloping forest just off the beach; it may be 2km west of town, but the moonlit walk home along the beach is unforgettable.

For night owls: Punta del Este

If you know somebody who has travelled to Uruguay and likes to party, there’s a fair chance they made a beeline for Punta del Este. Situated on a narrow peninsula, the town nicknamed the “Miami of South America” is the stark opposite of Uruguay’s laidback persona – high-rise, brash and expensive.

But for all its sins, Punta del Este has some of Uruguay’s best beaches and offers the most raucous night out in the country. Wide, sandy Playa Mansa is a prime sunbathing spot lapped by gentle waves, while choppier Playa Brava is worth a visit to check out (and be photographed beside) the famous Hand in the Sand sculpture.

In the evening, seasoned revellers will make for the club hubs of La Barra to the east or Punta Ballena to the west.

Pixabay / CC0

For glitz and glamour: Jose Ignacio

Equally as chic as neighbouring Punta del Este, only without the behemoth tower blocks that line the beach there, Jose Ignacio has recently transformed from a humble fishing village to become one of the most fashionable holidaying destinations in Latin America.

In the summer months you’ll be sunbathing on the sandy beach alongside bronzed millionaires, supermodels and celebrities – and you’ll pay for the privilege to stay in one of the elegant guesthouses or the futuristic, waterfront Vik Hotel.

Still, the village retains hints of its old charm and is a good option for a day trip, if you can find a parking spot alongside the sports cars.

For the surf: Punta del Diablo

Its name translates as “Devil’s Point”, but there’s nothing frightening about this remote surfing town near the Brazilian border. During the low season, this has a similar somnolent vibe to Cabo Polonio – populated by dreadlocked locals and knackered dogs – and offers reliably great surfing throughout the year on the central Playa Pescadores.

During the summer months the 1500-strong population bulges to 20,000 as backpackers and a hedonistic student party crowd descends – mostly from Brazil and Argentina – onto the wide, sun-drenched beaches. For community-spirited accommodation just off Playa Grande, Rosi and Martin’s labyrinthine off-grid home is a charming option.

Image by Eduardo Fonseca Arraes on Flickr (license)

Explore more of Uruguay with the Rough Guide to South America on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Looking to unwind on a tropical island somewhere in Southeast Asia? Then head to the island of Langkawi, Malaysia’s ultimate escape from the country’s frenetic cities. From trekking into the rainforest to wildlife-watching – all between spells of relaxing on a wide, sandy beach – here are a few reasons why you should escape to Langkawi.

1. Because cocktails flow freely down by the sea

While beach resorts abound, there are still a few brilliant beach shack bars left on Langkawi’s shores, many of which are on the sands of Pantai Cenang.

Little Lylia’s Chillout Café is a throwback to island nightlife before the arrival of multinational investors. What’s lacking in ostentation is more than made up for by the warmth of hospitality. Flaming lamps on the beach and table-top candles add a touch of rustic romance. The sound of lounge music merges with the lapping of the waves and you can unwind with a shisha pipe or a plate of chicken satay in addition to cocktails.

2. Because it’s teeming with weird and wonderful wildlife

Board a boat at Kilim Jetty to tour the waterways of Kilim Karst Geoforest Park. You’ll have a good chance of spotting pythons between the twisted roots of mangroves and bonnet macaques feeding.

Keep your mouth closed when you pause to view the awesome sight of bat colonies hanging in caves within limestone formed 550 million years ago – who knows what might drop from above!

The island also provides habitat for more than 200 bird species. In the island’s foliage you’re likely to spot oriental pied hornbills, easily identifiable thanks to their bulbous beaks. Females have blue eyes and the males’ are red.

You’ll need well-attuned ears to identify the call of greater racket-tailed drongos, which have a quiff-like crest and distinctive twin tail feathers. Impressively, the drongos are able to mimic as many as 26 calls by other birds and animals, including the whooping and shrieking of monkeys.

3. Because you can trek in an ancient rainforest

Pack your boots and hike, to the sounds of squealing cicadas and chirping birds, in dense rainforest on the slopes of Gunung Raya and Gunung Machincang, Langkawi’s highest mountains. Companies like Dev’s Adventure Tours and Junglewalla offer guided tours providing insights into nature and wildlife.

Alternatively, follow marked trails at your own pace. Locals rate the trail to the Telaga Tujuh waterfalls, whose seven pools are associated with legends featuring fairies.

4. Because the sea waters are warm and ripe for swimming

If you’re a water baby, then you’ll love Langkawi. Ocean temperatures fluctuate between 28–30°C (82–86°F), making swimming in the sea inviting and pleasant. Be warned though: jellyfish can be a problem. The creatures, known locally as obor obor, lay their eggs by the shore on evenings. Several resorts protect guests with anti-jellyfish nets. Wearing a rashie or T-shirt helps minimise your exposure to stings.

5. Because you can ride a cable car in tropical temperatures

Cable cars are usually associated with winter holidays but riding the Langkawi Skycab lifts you above the dense canopy of the virgin rainforest decking Gunung Machincang. The peak of the steep-sided mountain stands 708m above sea level, where viewing platforms prove popular spots for enjoying panoramas of the island. On clear days you can see the coastline of southern Thailand beyond the glimmering Andaman Sea.

If you have a head for heights, ascend to the Top Station in one of the glass-bottomed gondolas, peering over the ancient jungle’s treetops on the way. The 15-minute ride carries you 2.2 kilometres.

At the top you can cross the 125-metre long Sky Bridge. The world’s longest free span, curved bridge dangles above a chasm from a single metal pylon. Blend in by snapping selfies on the vantage point that doubles as one of Langkawi’s best-known landmarks.

6. Because there’s great accommodation for all

Whether you’re strapped for cash or want to splash out, there’s somewhere for you on the island of Langkawi.

Many of the beachfront resorts are aimed at the higher end of the market – many making a perfect romantic getaway for couples in love. If stepping down from a chalet onto a white-sand beach to spend a morning dozing in a gently swaying hammock sounds up your street, splurge on the Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa at Pantai Cenang.

The Tipsy Gypsy Guesthouse is a brilliant budget option, where you can hang out with fellow travellers and sip cocktails at the on-site bar. There’s also a smattering of homestays in Langkawi and even Airbnb has made its way to this little isle.

7. Because there are miles of silver sand for the beach bums…

If you want to roll out your towel and while away time on Langkawi’s sandy beaches, head to popular Pantai Cenang, on the south-west coast, or for ultimate relaxation, head north to the quieter Tanjung Rhu.

If lying on the sand taxes your patience try a jet ski tour or sunset boat cruise in waters around the island. They don’t cost the earth and are a great way to see Langkawi’s pretty shoreline.

Stuart flew to Langkawi with Malaysia Airlines via their hub in Kuala Lumpur. Explore more of Malaysia with the Rough Guide to MalaysiaCompare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Since the 1960s, foreign tourists have flocked to Goa, India’s smallest state, attracted by its palm-fringed golden beaches, glorious sunshine and distinctly relaxed attitudes. Domestic tourism has taken off enormously in recent years too, such that now almost ninety percent of visitors are from within India.

Kerala, several hundred kilometres south, draws double the number of both domestic and foreign tourists than Goa, with its dense tropical landscape, tantalising festivals and 550km of striking coastline.

Here’s what to expect from each of these captivating states, and how to decide whether to visit Goa or Kerala first.

What’s the local culture like?

Goa was a Portuguese territory from the sixteenth century until 1961, and a quarter of the population remain Christian today. Though Hindus still make up the majority of the population, unusually for India you’ll find churches in pretty much every town, some of the best of which are in Old Goa, the state’s former capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kerala is intensely ritualistic, with numerous ancient indigenous practices that are unique to this region and which make a visit here far more alien to Western perceptions than Goa. All-night festivals are frequent occurrences at temples across the state, with fireworks, splendidly adorned elephants and deafening drums combining to create magical spectacles.

A performance of kathakali, Kerala’s most famous form of ritual drama, is well-worth experiencing to see the elaborately made-up and fantastically dressed performers act out ancient stories with astonishing intensity.

Which is best for food?

Goa and Kerala are renowned for their excellent cuisines. South Indian curries are generally much spicier than those in northern India, and use simpler, tangier ingredients often including copious amounts of coconut, fresh chillies, tamarind and curry leaves.

Masala dosas originated in southern India, and are a breakfast staple across both states. Rice usually replaces bread in family homes of both states, though in touristy places – and especially in Goa – naans, chapatti and parathas are readily available.

Yet despite these similarities, Goan and Keralan cuisines differ more than you might think.

Idli, steamed rice cakes, are a staple in Kerala, usually served with sambar, a lentil-based vegetables stew. Vada, deep-fried lentil doughnuts, are also immensely popular here, where meals are often served on banana leaves. The vindaloo, meanwhile, is a Goan creation. Vinegar, one of the key ingredients, is a Portuguese legacy, and these ultra-hot curries are traditionally made with pork.

Keralan food is traditionally vegetarian, but you’ll find meat in most places, and fresh, delicious seafood is ubiquitous, as it is in Goa.

Where can I party?

When hippies flocked to Goa in the 1960s, parties spread like wildfire. By the 1990s, Goa Trance was in full swing, attracting partygoers from all over the world to dance till dawn on the sand or in beautiful jungle settings. At the turn of the millennium, the authorities clamped down, banning loud music after 10pm, and with it went the rave scene.

These days parties do still exist (if the police are successfully paid off), and Goa still has a reputation as the party capital of India, particularly around Anjuna and Vagator. Beer as well as local and imported spirits are widely available at beachside restaurants, and cocktails are especially popular in the early evening happy hours.

Kerala, by contrast, has never had much in the way of nightlife, unless you count all-night kathakali performances. Some hotels and restaurants catering for tourists do serve alcohol (amusingly sometimes disguised in tea pots in unlicensed places). In coastal resorts such as Varkala, you’ll find plenty of cheap booze, and even the odd impromptu party which carries on till the small hours.

Where will I find the best beaches?

Goa’s beaches tend to be wider and cleaner than that of Kerala, and are, overall, more tourist-friendly. You can take strolls down the beach and continue for hours, connecting from one resort to the next, which isn’t possible in most places in Kerala. Beachside accommodation is plentiful, from budget shacks to glitzy resorts. There are coastal yoga retreats galore and shops selling the usual hippy tat wherever you go.

Though Kerala’s beaches tend to be smaller, and the beach-shack culture is pretty much non-existent, “God’s Own Country” is home to numerous pretty shores, particularly in the far north where you’ll find some gorgeous quiet coves scattered among little fishing villages. Kerala is also queen of Ayurvedic treatments – if you’re interested in some alternative therapies, this is the place to for you.

What sights are there to see?

Old Goa is home to some lovely examples of whitewashed churches, and the Dudhsagar waterfalls near the southern border with the state of Karnataka manage to draw curious tourists inland. But it’s Goa’s beaches which brings most people here, rather than any specific “sights”.

The main attraction for visitors to Kerala is Fort Cochin, with its European-era architecture, spice markets, iconic Chinese fishing nets, art exhibitions and hip cafés. Another Keralan allure is the chance to ride a boat through the myriad of narrow backwaters that weave their way through lush forests and offer a glimpse into traditional rural village life that’s barely changed for centuries.

Where should I go in a nutshell?

If you’re up for some serious sun worshipping, plenty of boozing and some yoga to cleanse your soul the morning after, your best bet is Goa. If you’re looking for a quieter, more culturally immersive trip, try Kerala. And if you have a weakness for punchy curries, extend your trip and go to both.

Explore India with the Rough Guide to IndiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Compared to flashy Emirati neighbours like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the capital of Oman is a breath of fresh, sea air. Muscat is famous for dazzling souks and superb seafood, but its terrain brings the biggest thrills. This port city on the Gulf of Oman is backed by the arid Hajar mountains, meaning you can trek deserts at dawn, spot dolphins at sundown, and enjoy plenty of effusive Omani hospitality in between. Here are ten reasons to make time for Muscat.

1. To test your bartering skills

Muscat’s Muttrah Souk is a labyrinth of ceramics, jewellery and camel-themed souvenirs. The best buys are butter-soft llama wool pashminas, leatherware and exquisite gold jewellery. Most stalls are open to bartering, but there’s less wiggle-room on jewellery (which is sold by weight). If you’re a haggling novice, start with an offer around 40–50 percent of the vendor’s opening price, and aim to meet somewhere in the middle. Sellers know their bottom line: if they’re happy to let you walk away from a sale, you’ve crossed it. For the best people-watching, arrive after 5pm when locals venture out for a good haggle.

2. To see a remarkable mosque

During 45 years of rule, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos has lent his wealth and name to many of Muscat’s finest constructions. But the most remarkable is Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, which gleams from the tips of its four minarets and 50m-high gold dome right down to the white marble flooring. The men’s prayer hall (visitable by both sexes) is especially stunning, with vast Persian carpets and chandeliers the size of dune buggies. Male visitors should wear long sleeves and trousers, and women should cover from collarbones to below the knee, and bring a scarf to wrap your hair.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque-Mihrab Detail by ~W~ on Flickr (license)

3. To glimpse Oman’s swashbuckling past

Swords and daggers are fundamental to Oman’s heritage, even enjoying pride of place on the national flag. Only Oman’s well-to-do wear the khanjar (traditional dagger) these days, but the craftsmanship remains revered. See an array of historic weaponry at the Bait Al Zubair Museum, from pearl-embossed straight swords to beauteous blades inscribed with koranic verses.

4. For the Gulf’s freshest seafood

While grilled meats, hummus and flatbreads are heaped onto many a restaurant table, Muscat is primarily a city of seafood lovers. The stand-out dish is kingfish curry, chunks of gamey fish simmered in a broth of coconut, turmeric, ginger and garlic, but fish is usually scooped out of the sea and freshly grilled. Feast on catch of the day with a view of bobbing yachts at the marina’s Blue Marlin restaurant. Even the most ravenous travellers will be satisfied by platters heaped with grilled tuna, prawns, kingfish and a whopping lobster.

IMG_5395 by Riyadh Al-Balushi on Flickr (license)

5. For palatial modern architecture

A natural starting place to gaze at regal architecture is Al Alam Palace, a resplendent gold and blue royal residence. Next, discover the Royal Opera House, an admirable blend of Omani and Italian-imported marble and Burmese teak. It’s even worth poking your nose inside certain luxury hotels: the Al-Bustan Palace Hotel has an atrium the equal of many a museum, 38m high with a blend of art deco and lavish Arabian stylings.

6. To watch cavorting dolphins

Applaud the mid-air acrobatics of spinner dolphins on a boat tour around the Gulf of Oman. As their name suggests, these little dolphins are known for dizzying mid-air pirouettes, as they hunt for tuna and sardines. Ocean Blue Oman has regular two-hour cruises, with great chances of seeing these playful cetaceans frolic in the water.

7. To access breathtaking hiking terrain

While the region’s most impressive hikes are accessed from Nizwa, a 90-minute drive southwest of Muscat, the capital itself is backed by the dramatic Hajar Mountains. Lace up your walking boots for the rocky C38 trail from Muscat’s Riyam Park into the hills; rewards for this two-hour exertion include bird’s-eye views of the port and fortresses, and blissful mountain solitude. Hiking is at its best from October to April.

8. For sweet-toothed temptations

Guests to Omani homes are welcomed with cardamom-scented coffee and sticky dates. There are 35 varieties to enjoy, from caramel-like Khalas dates to darker, less sweet Farth dates; browse for your favourites at the fruit and vegetable markets at Sultan Qaboos Port. Another snack guaranteed to strike fear into your dentist’s heart is Omani halwa, a gelatinous treat boiled down from sugar, wheat starch and saffron (find it in Muttrah Souk).

9. To experience endless desert

West of Muscat, the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert extends across the Arabian Peninsula. Covering not only parts of Oman but neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, Rub’ Al Khali (the ‘Empty Quarter’) is an estimated 583,000 square-kilometres of uninhabited dunes. Photographers are spellbound by the play of light on these rippling hillocks of sand, solitude-seekers venture here to camp under the stars, but it’s increasingly a destination for adventure travel. Desert tours by 4WD tour meander off-road tracks through the Hajar Mountains before taking a spin around the dunes (Viator offers day-trips from Muscat).

10. For sunset strolls along the Corniche

Muscat’s popular promenade winds from Sultan Qaboos Port east along the waterfront, following Al Bahri Road. One side of this picturesque path bypasses glittering shopfronts and sky-blue Al-Lawati Mosque; on the other, dhows (traditional sailing boats) sway in the Gulf of Oman. Spot bulky sixteenth-century Mutrah Fort along the walk, and a lookout tower in the shape of a giant incense burner, towering over verdant Riyam Park. Strolling along the Corniche is spectacular around sunset, when the sea glitters in hues of magenta and orange, and the Islamic call to prayer soars from minarets.

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

Croatia is one of Europe’s rising tourist stars. This remarkable Adriatic country of 1244 islands, bear and wild boar inhabited forests and world-class vineyards is so much more than just a beach destination. To make sure you hit the ground running in this complex and diverse nation, follow our top ten Croatia travel tips.

1. Be picky

Avoid the temptation to cram too much of this geographically challenging country in to your first visit. If you only have a week split it between the capital, Zagreb, for a night or two and spend the rest of the time exploring the famous Adriatic coast. Longer trips allow rewarding forays further afield, where gems like the UNESCO listed Plitvice Lakes, the castles of the Zagorje and the Slavonian vineyards await.

2. Don’t only go to Dubrovnik

Yes Games of Thrones star Dubrovnik is every bit Lord Byron’s ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, but also tempting on the coast is Split, the country’s second largest city, whose city centre is remarkably a UNESCO site, the spectacular Roman Diocletian’s Palace.

Further north the old Roman hub of Zadar and early Croatian city Šibenik are lively hubs just emerging from the bitter 1990s war, where the cafes are less filled with tourists.

The same goes for the city of Pula in the northwest of the Croatian littoral, which boasts a UNESCO listed Roman amphitheatre.

3. Don’t let the bugs bite

From late spring into autumn mosquitoes are a nuisance throughout much of the country so find a good repellent that your skin does not react to. Light colours help. Avoid wearing fragrances too. Tics are a more pressing problem as they can cause serious illness so wear thick socks and cover up your legs when hiking. A simple tic remover is a good investment, especially if you may be trekking in rural areas.

4. Get the best beds

Spare beds can be hard to come by in summer especially in the most popular islands – like Hvar and Brač – and Dubrovnik. Booking ahead makes sense, but if you do get caught short look out for the sobe signs, which are essentially advertising rooms in locals’ homes. As well as being cheap, staying at a sobe can be a great way to meet Croats. If they are full, owners will often point you in the direction of another nearby.

5. Drink up

Of the big domestic brands Karlovacko is the favourite beer of many Croats and justifiably so. Croatia’s wines are seriously underrated abroad, at least in part due to the relatively small production and high domestic demand. Look out for the mighty Dingac red and the dry Posip white, both from Dalmatia. Istria is renowned for its Malvasija (great with seafood), while the Dubrovnik region’s own Malvasia is on the rise too.

6. Health matters

You should always take out decent travel insurance, even for a weekend break. If you’re an EU resident, be sure to pack a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to a basic level of state health care in Croatia. It won’t cover you for repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment though, which is where good travel insurance comes in. The emergency ambulance number in Croatia is 112.

7. Get active

Croatia may be famed as a sea and sun destination, but getting active is the best way to discover its wilder corners. Paklenica National Park offers superb hiking and climbing, while in the islands the walk to the highest point, Vidova Gora on Brač, offers remarkable views. For rafting the Cetina River tempts, while windsurfers should head to Korčula and paragliders to Mount Ucka.

8. Eat well

Croats are justifiably proud of the fine organic produce their country conjures up in such abundance and many will refer to the processed food in supermarkets witheringly as ‘cat food’. Wherever you are, a local market is never far away, so shop local to put together a mouth-watering picnic bursting with fresh flavour.

9. Talk to the locals

Be very careful when discussing the Homeland War, which ravaged the country as it became independent from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with a local. Do a little bit of research before your trip and hold back any too hastily formed views. Then when a Croat does decide to open up a little about those defining years, your knowledge and interest may help you gain an insight into the country well beyond the tourist sheen, which adds a totally different dimension to your trip.

10. Savour the seafood

Croatia’s seafood is truly world class. A bounty of fishy delights are hauled daily from the Adriatic, the cleanest corner of the Mediterranean. Even if you’re timid about bones and shells no trip to the coast is complete without a seafood feast. The best value way of sampling a range of delights is to order the riblja plata, a mixed platter of fish and shellfish, which is usually plenty for two to share.

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

Situated at the northern and southern extremes of this long, thin country, Vietnam’s two main cities lie over a thousand kilometres apart.

Southern Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly Saigon, was the US base during the Vietnam War and since the country’s unification has transformed into a thoroughly modern, thriving metropolis. The somewhat less modern capital, Hanoi, runs at a noisier pace, with its lively Old Quarter full of winding lanes.

Yet both cities can at times seem hyperactive, and you’ll need your wits about you to navigate their astonishingly hectic traffic. Can’t choose which one to visit? Here’s our lowdown on how they differ.

Which is best for culture?

Neither city is short of museums, temples, pagodas and impressive colonial architecture. Both have a cathedral too – relics of the French occupation – and highly entertaining traditional water-puppet shows.

HCMC has several more theme parks than Hanoi, so if rollercoasters are your thing, head south. If you’re more at home in a gallery than doing loop-the-loops, Hanoi will be a better bet, as it pips the post for both fine and contemporary art.

People from Hanoi are known for sometimes being more standoffish than their southern counterparts, with more traditional values and formal manners.

HCMC, more influenced by foreign cultures than Hanoi – particularly American and French – has a more spontaneous and open feel to it. Innovation is king and young trendsetters lead the way, alongside thriving tech-minded entrepreneurs and booming businesses.

Which is best for food?

You won’t struggle to find cheap, local culinary delights in either Hanoi or HCMC – street food is ubiquitous and, on the whole, mouth-watering in both cities. Hanoi is the home of pho (noodle soup), Vietnam’s national dish, which you can get on just about any street corner for as little as a dollar.

The street food in HCMC is just as readily available as up north, but tends to be slightly sweeter. Fantastic smells waft through the side streets of both these foodie-heaven cities, and there’s a lot more to tempt your palate than just banh mi (filled baguettes) and pho.

Café culture, a hangover from the French, permeates both cities too; in HCMC the coffee is sweeter and not quite as punchy as the equivalent brews in Hanoi.

Both cities have an astounding array of international cuisine, though HCMC just about trumps Hanoi on the breadth and quality of choices, as well as for upmarket restaurants.

What about nightlife?

The Vietnamese government is cracking down on venues opening after midnight, so several establishments close earlier than they used to.

HCMC has managed to retain far more late-night options than its northern sister, though a handful of Hanoi bars still manage to stay open until the last punter leaves (or passes out). The narrow streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter come to life at night, with thousands of locals and tourists alike flooding the alleyways, consuming cheap drinks on tiny plastic stools while snacking on steaming plates of barbequed pork and fried chicken feet.

Many of the bars in HCMC have live music at the weekend, and it’s certainly the place to be for classy cocktail lounges. If you’re looking for a refined evening out, or for a club with air conditioning where you can party till the small hours, HCMC is your best bet.

For cheap booze and backpacker vibe, though the area around De Tham in HCMC is great, Hanoi has far more going for it for the laidback, on-a-shoestring traveller. If you didn’t pack your smart shoes, Hanoi is where you want to be.

Where should I shop?

Hanoi has the superior choice of crafts, silk accessories and handmade goods. Craftsmen specialize in wood-and stone-carvings, embroideries and lacquerware, the finest of which are on sale at the southern end of the Old Quarter.

HCMC offers a plethora of cheap souvenir options, such as at Ben Thanh market, or for upmarket boutiques try Dong Khoi. The southern city is also the king of the malls, with vast, modern air-conditioned edifices housing copious brand and designer shops – ideal for cooling off from the humid urban heat.

Where should I go to relax?

Hanoi has developed rapidly in recent years, with new skyscrapers hastily transforming the city’s skyline outside of the Old Quarter. Both cities have populations of around eight million, but people are more crammed into the smaller HCMC. That said, the pedestrianized streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter can get so packed with people that during peak hours it can be difficult to move at all, and the city’s ceaseless noise can be too much for some.

Traffic in both cities is continuously hectic, with countless hooting scooters zipping about in a seemingly insane manner. The newer, wider streets of HCMC at least allow for more movement, but everything is relative ­– don’t expect a walk through town to be a peaceful meander.

In Hanoi you can at least cool down, with average temperatures dropping to 17°C in January, while temperatures in HCMC never fall below the high twenties. Mix that with high humidity and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a sweat on whenever you go.

To escape the southern heat, the green, tree-shaded lawns of HCMC’s Cong Vien Van Hoa Park, once a colonial sporting complex, is a popular downtime spot, as is the city’s Botanical Garden.

Though small, Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi for its residents, and a charming place to take a moment away from the chaotic city streets and watch elderly locals quietly enjoying games of chess and mahjong.

Which is best base for day-trips?

Ha Long Bay, a dreamy seascape of jagged limestone rocks jutting out over calm waters, is Vietnam’s number one tourist attraction and can be visited in a day-trip from Hanoi. Be warned though, it’s a hefty journey, at around four hours each way.

Under two hour’s drive from HCMC, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a top option for a day-trip. The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong army during the Vietnam War, and visitors can see the wince-inducing booby traps set for the American soldiers, as well as take a smothering look for themselves inside the tunnels. Tours are best booked with a travel agency around Pham Ngu Lao (roughly 180,000 VND).

So which one should I go to?

Naturally, this depends what you’re looking for. Hanoi errs on the more historical, less glitzy side, allowing visitors a glimpse of traditional Vietnamese culture as well as giving ample opportunities to see the best of the country’s artistic and creative offerings while appreciating the low-key street life.

HCMC, as the commercial centre of the country, inevitably has more investment, fancier hotels, smarter restaurants and an exclusive nightlife scene.

However, both these metropolises have excellent museums and cultural sights, plenty of tranquil places to unwind, superb food and day-trips to some of Vietnam’s most interesting locations. Take your pick!

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

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