There’s a lot of things to do in Barcelona, Spain’s second city: the dark, twisting streets of the Barri Gòtic; the cool and sophisticated La Ribera district filled with designer shops and fashionable bars; the enticing beaches and über-modern seafront area – all topped off by some seriously unusual architecture, an integral part of Catalan’s Modernisme movement. It’s this mix, along with its tempting tapas and bar scene that makes the city such an exciting stop, and inevitably the prices to visit its museums, churches and the like are high. Here are a few suggestions for free things to do in Barcelona:

Walk down Las Ramblas

The sight that launches most guidebooks, Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s main – and most famous – thoroughfare. Lined with cafés, bars and souvenir shops, it’s a heaving throng of tourists, locals, buskers and those notorious street performance artists. A stroll down here is an absolute must.

Ditch the diet at La Boqueria

Barcelona’s biggest and brightest market, La Boqueria, situated just off Las Ramblas, has enticing and overflowing displays of fresh fruit and vegetables, glistening seafood and meat – including some rather alarming sheep head cuts – pongy cheeses and tempting cakes and breads. If you’ve eaten breakfast already, head to Els Enchants Vells (metro Encants/Glòries), Barcelona’s bustling open-air flea market.

Go to hospital

Designed in 1902 by Catalan architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, in an exuberant modernist style complete with swirling turrets and towers, vibrant mosaics and a beautiful brick facade, the enormous complex of Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Paul  rivals the Sagrada Família in size and wow-factor.  General admission is free, though you’ll have to pay for a guided tour.

Sit on a bench in Parc Güell

Antoni Gaudì – figurehead of Catalan modernisme – really let his imagination go wild in the Parc Güell. Sitting on the outskirts of the Gràcia district and opened to the public in 1922, the urban parkland is peppered with brightly coloured pavilions, swirling sculptures, giant lizards and its most famous feature, a long ceramic bench – a glittering, undulating mass of multi-coloured mosaics.

Sunbathe on the beach

Take your pick from a number of Barcelona’s sandy beaches: Barceloneta is the closest to the city centre (metro stop Barceloneta, or a 20 min walk from town) and attracts the most crowds, while further along, quieter Icària (metro stop Ciutadella-Vila Olimpica) has some top-quality restaurants worth trying. Mar Bella beach, generally known as a nudist beach – and good for windsurfing – is a 20 min walk from Poble Nou metro stop. The perfect spots for when those city streets get that bit too hot.

Goggle at La Seu

Barcelona’s greatest Gothic cathedral, La Seu, dates from 1298, and was built over an old Christian basilica. With its imposing facade topped with spiked steeples and huge flying buttresses, it’s home to the remains of Santa Eulalia, a young girl martyred for her Christian beliefs. The interior and cloister (complete with white geese, meant to represent the virginal Eulalia) are free to visit during general admission times, but there are charges to sections outside these hours.

Hop from house to house

Most of the modernist houses in Barcelona have an admission charge, but there’s nothing stopping you doing your own house-hop for free. Casa Amatller, La Pedrera, Casa Battlò, Casa Lleó Morera – to name but a few – all have magnificent facades displaying trademark features of swirling walls and mind-boggling motifs. For the ultimate in modernist marvel, the Sagrada Família – worth a (free) visit for its exterior alone – cannot be beaten.

Skate at night

Pull on some elbow pads, knee protectors and a pair of gnarly freeline skates, and join the Association of Skaters for a night-time exploration of Barcelona. The group leaves from C/Salvador Esprinu, 61 at 10.30pm every Friday, depending on the weather.

Marvel at Frederic Mares’ curios collection

On the first Sunday of every month, this fantastic little museum dedicated to the life and work of the twentieth-century sculptor Frederic Mares, has free admission. The museum shows off his prolific collection of religious sculptures and secular knick-knacks, all of which give a fascinating insight into the life of an infatuated hoarder.

Witness an explosion of lights

By day, the perfectly ordinary-looking Font Màgica sits among the lush gardens and impressive buildings in Montjuïc pleasure park. On certain nights, however, its bubbling water is lit up in vibrant rainbow colours, dancing and splashing to a musical soundtrack (either classical or cheese, or both). It’s free to see the pretty – and popular – spectacle, so join the crowd with plenty of “oohs” and “aaahs”.

Dublin is no longer the budget-sapping city it once was. These days, it’s possible to while away a weekend in its leafy parks, crumbling churches and relic-packed museums without spending much beyond food and accommodation – and, of course, the occasional pint of Guinness.

Watch hurling

An ancient sport resembling a pumped-up mishmash of hockey, baseball and lacrosse, Hurling is Ireland’s national obsession. Tickets for the biggest games, held at Dublin’s vast Croke Park stadium, occasionally change hands for upwards of €100, but you can get a free taster by checking out Hill 16, which lists amateur matches taking place around the city.

Study Trinity College’s architecture

Established in the 16th Century, Trinity College is Ireland’s most prestigious university. It costs nothing to wander through the current campus grounds, set around neatly trimmed lawns, but if you want to see the Book of Kell – an ancient illustrated manuscript housed in the university’s Old Library, you’ll need to pay.

Explore Celtic history

The National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street houses more than two million archaeological treasures, including Bronze Age jewellery and the superbly preserved hand of a Celtic man who met his maker sometime between 400 and 200 BC.

Go to church

Dublin’s two big cathedrals charge an admission fee to visitors, but it’s free to look around many of the city’s small churches. Try St Ann’s Church on Dawson Street, where Dracula author Bram Stoker was married, or the Whitefriar Street Church, which is said to house the bones of St Valentine.

Enjoy Dublin’s park life

With more green spaces per square mile than any other European city, Dublin is the perfect place to picnic. St Anne’s, one of 30 public parks around the city, hosts a fragrant rose festival each July – showing off more than 10 acres of display borders.

Listen to some open air opera

Each August, arias fill the amphitheatre at Dublin City Council’s Civic Offices. The free Opera in the Open shows are scheduled to last an hour each, appealing to a mixed crowd of relaxed mums and office-weary business people.

Watch free concerts

On Sundays from September to June, the Hugh Lane hosts free, sit-down concerts in its sculpture gallery. The acts (a mixture of Irish and international music) start at noon, and you can then browse the venue’s art galleries until 5pm.

Walk around Howth

Although it’s grown from a quiet fishing community to a seaside suburb of Dublin, Howth is still best explored on foot. The local tourist board has mapped a trail linking the area with nearby Sutton, passing a lighthouse, a castle, and cliffs that have been chewed up by the pounding waves.

Browse the Loft Market

Free (as long as you can resist the temptation to buy something), the indoor Loft Market is a popular hangout for designers and vintage enthusiasts. Founded by the fashion editor of local style mag Thread, it stocks art, jewellery and clothing.

Let a local take you for a pint

Sponsored by local businesses, the City of a Thousand Welcomes campaign aims to connect first-time visitors with knowledgeable locals. Choose a time that suits you, fill in a few details on the website and a friendly ‘ambassador’ will take you out for a beer.

Share your own tips for enjoying Dublin for free below…

If you fancy a book pilgrimage this year, look no further than our round-up of Britain’s top literary destinations, taken from the pages of Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain.

The Hay Festival

Hay-on-Wye is a lovely, little Welsh border town that is a pleasure to hang out in for a variety of perfectly good reasons. But it is really about books. Secondhand books. And antiquarian books. And book festivals. And bookshops filling the former cinema. And book cafés. In fact the whole town has been taken over by the book trade with over thirty bookshops packed into a town (really little more than a village) of around two thousand inhabitants.

It’s home to the Hay Festival, an annual celebration of all things booky that Bill Clinton famously dubbed the “Woodstock of the mind”. A-list authors – the likes of Norman Mailer, Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis – have becume regular features, and Arundhati Roy and DBC Pierre effectively launched their careers here. Now, around fifty thousand festival-goers flock to a self-contained site on the outskirts of Hay-on-Wye, complete with massive marquees, stalls and cafés. Many talks are now broadcast or turned into podcasts, and the festival has even expanded to almost a dozen similar events in Mexico, Spain, the Maldives and India, but there’s no substitute for experiencing the original.

Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts takes place in last May or early June – visit www.hayfestival.co.uk.

Hardy country

Novelist, poet…architect. Thomas Hardy’s early profession is his least known, and on first glance of Max Gate near Dorchester, the home he designed for himself in 1885, your first thought isn’t of a talent wasted but slight relief that he turned to writing. It’s a gloomy place, solid red brick – but this curiosity is an intriguing stop on the trail of Dorset’s most famous son.

Dorset’s towns and villages, landscape and language permeates all of Hardy’s writing – so Dorchester itself is Hardy’s Casterbridge, the coastal town of Bere Regis becomes Kingsbere and Cerne Abbas is Abbot’s Cernel, the last two both featuring in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. A full tour of Hardy country would take in all these and more – certainly starting in Dorchester. But, more than visiting any individual town, it’s when you explore deep into rural Dorset that Hardy’s words most resonate.

At the centre of his Wessex Heights – which stretch roughly from the Wiltshire/Berkshire border in the east to the Quantocks to the west – is “homely Bulbarrow”, a magnificent hill in north Dorset with an Iron Age fort, Rawlsbury Camp, and views across the county, including Blackmore Vale, Hardy’s “vale of little dairies” and the home of Tess.

The final stop is where his story started: the absurdly picturesque cob and thatch cottage in Higher Bockhampton, back towards Dorchester, where he was born in 1840, where he wrote his early novels, and which had been the Hardy family home for several generations. Nestled in among the trees, with an attractive garden, it’s the archetype of rural Dorset cottage, and little altered since the family left – a perfect snapshot of his world.

Max Gate and Hardy’s Cottage are both managed by the National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk)

Wordsworth’s daffodils

If William Wordsworth really did feel “lonely as a cloud” while strolling beside Ullswater in Cumbria on April 15, 1802, it was an abstract mood, as he wasn’t alone that day: his companion was his devoted sister, Dorothy. Her journal records their delight at seeing a belt of daffodils “about the breadth of a country road”. Make a pilgrimage to the same spot and you can’t help but feel a cosy glow of recognition, mixed with a dash of dreamy romance. Every spring, thanks to the National Trust, a fresh “host of golden daffodils” appears in the dappled shade of Glencoyne Wood on Ullswater’s peaceful shore. You can visit on foot, or cruise the lake aboard a Victorian steamer.

Dorothy’s journal is on display at the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere, where notebooks, publications, items of clothing and household objects help round out a picture not only of the Wordsworths but also of their close friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the other Romantics. There are more traces of their lives in Dove Cottage next door, home to William and Dorothy from 1799 to May 1808.

Wordsworth considered Grasmere “the fairest place on earth”, but eventually the growing family moved to a larger house, Rydal Mount, a few miles away, remaining there for 37 years. When their beloved daughter Dora died, he and Mary planted hundreds of daffodils at Rydal in her memory; these, too, still emerge every spring.

Wordsworth Point in Glencoyne Wood is around seven miles south of Penrit (www.nationaltrust.org.uk). Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum are in Grasmere (www.wordsworth.org.uk).

Dylan Thomas’s “heron priested shore”

On a peaceful tree-lined lane in the shadow of the twelfth-century Laugharne Castle stands a simple, pitched-roof, green shed. Cup your eyes against the small window to reveal a few sketches pinned to the wall, a plain writing desk and a few pieces of balled-up paper scattered on the floor. It is as though Dylan Thomas has just popped out for a pint at his favourite haunt, the snug at nearby Brown’s Hotel.

Swansea’s wild genius poet spent the last four years of his drink-shortened life in the small south Wales town of Laugharne producing some of his finest works from this shed. He’d wrestle over tight lines of poetry for five intense hours each afternoon before wandering along the lane to The Boathouse where he lived with his wife, Caitlin, and their three children. Until Dylan’s death in 1953, aged just 39, the family lived in this gorgeously sited three-storey house with its views of the “heron priested shore” of the Taf Estuary.

Thomas undoubtedly drew inspiration from this beautiful spot, but his real muse was the town and people of Laugharne, which many credit as the model for Llareggub, in his classic Under Milk Wood. Walking the narrow streets of this “lazy little black-magical bedlam by the sea” almost sixty years on from the first performance of his “play for voices” it is hard to conjure up characters like Captain Cat, Mr Waldo and Myfanwy Price.

The final station on the Dylan Thomas tour is the graveyard of St Martin’s church. It is perhaps fittingly underwhelming in a town that has always had a grudging love for its most famous son.

Visit www.dylanthomasboathouse.com for more.

Bloomsbury in Sussex

Daubs, swirls and blocks in earthy colours decorate lamp bases, table tops and chair-backs. Plump nudes recline under a mantelpiece scattered with sepia photos. Spilling over a chimney breast is a fluid mural including a still life, complete with painted-on frame. Who needs gilt frames, when your entire house is your canvas?

This is Charleston Farmhouse, the East Sussex home of post-Impressionist painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. Immaculately preserved, it’s a museum to their unfettered creativity. It’s also rich in memorabilia from the freethinking set of writers, artists and intellectuals to which they belonged: the Bloomsbury Group.

The couple moved to this calm corner of Sussex in 1916, amid the turbulence of World War I. Friends, cousins and intimates from London gravitated to Charleston, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster among them. Vanessa’s amicably estranged husband Clive and her younger sister, Virginia Woolf, practically lived there.

Virginia and her husband Leonard fell in love with Sussex so completely that within three years they acquired their own little pocket of green, The Monk’s House, four miles to the west across the fields. It was in this pretty, weatherboarded cottage that Virginia wrote Mrs Dalloway, To The Lighthouse and Orlando. The downstairs rooms, which are open to the public, lovingly recreate the writer’s presence.

Charleston Farmhouse is at Firle, East Sussex (www.charleston.org.uk)

Hay’s challenger: Wigtown

Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway is Scotland’s answer to Hay and is every bit as quaint and bookish.

Officially designated Scotland’s book town in 1998 after a Scotland-wide search for the perfect place to convert into a literary centre, the town boasts over twenty book-related businesses from The Book Shop, Scotland’s largest for secondhand titles, with over a mile of shelving, to ReadingLasses – possibly the last bookshop specializing in women’s studies left in the country – with a café serving delicious, mostly fair-trade and organic food. There are also smaller, specialist outfits like Byre Books, who focus on folklore and mythology, theatre, film and TV and Scottish interest.

A town of books wouldn’t be complete without an annual literary festival and Wigtown’s takes place over ten days in late September and early October. Speakers in previous years have included Roddy Doyle, Christopher Brookmyre, Iain Banks, David Aaronovitch, Irma Kurtz, Diana Athill, William Dalrymple and Louis de Bernières. There’s music too, such as Burns’ words sung chorally with harp accompaniment, and poetry, film screenings, creative writing workshops, late-night storytelling, cookery demonstrations by Scottish luminaries such as Nick Nairn and a fair amount of history, inspiration, celebration and tasting of the local whisky.

Wigtown Book Festival (www.wigtownbookfestival.com) takes place in late September/early October.

Agatha Christie’s holiday home

 

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Queen of Crime’s oeuvre, there’s something irresistible about the country-house settings, the sepia-tinted period and the aristocratic ambience of her numerous whodunnit yarns. All of these can be found in abundance at Greenway, a creamy Georgian mansion perched above the River Dart in South Devon, now run by the National Trust. This was her holiday home, which beautifully evokes the spirit of her sinister tales – it was in fact the setting of three of them: Dead Man’s Folly, Five Little Pigs and Ordeal by Innocence.

The present building dates from around 1800 while its interior has the feel of a mid-twentieth-century rustic retreat, filled with baubles and knick-knacks from around the world. You’ll see piles of gardening hats, bound copies of the Ladies’ Magazine from the turn of the eighteenth century, a wardrobe full of party clothes and a generously proportioned wooden WC. Traces of Agatha include dozens of the ornate wooden boxes that she collected, ranks of first editions of her books and tapes of the author discussing her method. And if you’re lucky you’ll come across one of the staff tinkling the ivories in the drawing room.

Outside is a gorgeous succession of walled gardens, old-fashioned greenhouses, fig and apple trees and hidden ponds, with the River Dart sparkling below. When you’ve had your fill, unwind with a leisurely round of croquet followed by tea and scones in the courtyard café.

Head to www.nationaltrust.org.uk for more info.

Shakespeare’s Stratford

A walk down Henley Street, where Shakespeare grew up, reveals half-timbered buildings bedecked with lanterns, flags and striped canopies. Halfway up the street is the town’s most famous building, Shakespeare’s old house, complete with ornate leaded windows and splintered wooden flowerboxes that overflow with dazzling purple and red petunias.

Down by the River Avon, you can kick back with a book or explore the magnificent Bancroft Gardens. This part of town is also home to Stratford’s crowning glory, the recently rebuilt Royal Shakespeare Theatre and adjacent Swan Theatre, and it’d be a tragedy not to attend at least one show. The Swan Theatre is almost in the round and the new main stage thrusts out into the auditorium, so in true Shakespearean style, every seat is within spitting distance of the performers, giving you the chance to enjoy plays like Macbeth in all their ghostly detail.

If that puts you in the mood for something spooky, you can amble up to Shrieve’s House – supposedly Stratford’s most haunted building – for a lantern-lit ghost tour. This is where the tortured soul of William Shrieve, an archer in King Henry VIII’s army, is thought to roam restlessly. It’s also where William Rogers, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s comic character Falstaff, ran a popular tavern. Some visitors have reported feeling icy premonitions here, but it’s known as one of Shakespeare’s favourite places.

For tourist information and the latest on RSC shows, see www.visitstratforduponavon.co.uk and www.rsc.org.uk.

 

Make Of The Most Of Your Time In Britain has 500 great British experiences – find out more.

Whether seeking a dose of The Good Life or wanting to do your bit to keep Britain a green and pleasant land, connecting with the environment can help revive the spirit of even the weariest urban dweller. Spend some quality time in the countryside and nurture self-sufficiency skills for a brave new eco-world.

Wwoofing in Norfolk

Not a stuttering dog impersonation but World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Discover the realities of rural life on Fincham’s Farm, an isolated smallholding near the village of Garboldisham Ling in south Norfolk, from early starts to milk the goats to the intricacies of sheep-shearing. No agricultural expertise is necessary to sign up for a short break, but you’re bound to glean some tips on mulching and pesticide-free ways of growing before you leave. It’s a family affair where everyone chips in to earn their board and meals – and giving your food a hand on its journey from garden to plate makes it extra flavoursome.

Visiting the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales

Nestled in the foothills of Snowdonia just three miles north of Machynlleth, this interactive shrine to sustainable living shows you exactly what an eco-home looks like. Sunshine and breezes are harnessed to keep the lights on and the rooms cosy, while water is recycled in clever ways to meet your washing needs. After a comfort break in the compost toilet, take a stroll in the permaculture garden to learn planet-friendly ways of feeding yourself. It’s an inspiring vision to ponder over a glass of chilled organic wine in the eco-café.

Dry-stone walling in Northumberland

A sunny hillside overlooking a patchwork of fields near the village of Rothbury is a scenic spot for a lesson in the ancient craft of dry-stone walling. Experienced traditional builder John Wilson demonstrates how no mortar is needed to assemble a solid, durable wall the Incas would be proud of. Selecting the right shaped stone to lock together in a neat jigsaw is slow but satisfying work – and the finished wall not only stops sheep wandering off but is a piece of living history.

Spotting wild daffodils in Yorkshire

Spotting the first daffodils of the year is just one way of adding to the Woodland Trust’s online record of how climate change is affecting Britain’s wildlife and nature. Take a springtime walk in the Farndale valley by the River Dove in North Yorkshire to see a mass of yellow blooms carpeting the banks.

 

Beachsweeping in Cornwall

From putting up a fence around a cider apple orchard to hacking through gorse in the Peak District to give the wildflowers space to bloom, BTCV’s charity-run conservation holidays are a chance to blow away the city cobwebs and get your hands dirty. The week-long Cornish Beachsweep in Falmouth is one of the most rewarding: after a day combing the magnificent beaches, batten down for the evening in Tregedna Farm’s stylish converted barn for a communal meal with like-minded volunteers.

 

Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain includes 500 great British experiences – find out more.

Visiting London, it’s hard to imagine the UK is staggering its way out of a recession. Lamborghinis continue to roar down Bond Street, new restaurants pop up each week and the East End appears to be entirely populated by espresso-sipping hipsters, with not a jellied eel in sight. However long you spend in the capital, follow these tips for free things to do in London to emerge wallet intact.

Hit the museums

Thanks to those philanthropic Victorians London has the world’s finest collection of free museums, most of which double as architectural marvels. The South Ken trio of the Natural History, V&A and Science Museum is the best place to start. Though don’t miss the British Museum or the quirky Sir John Soane collection.

Marvel at world-class art

Most of London’s wonderful permanent art collections are free to all (stick that in your pipe Musée du Louvre!). As well as the National Gallery and the two Tates, try the Whitechapel Gallery or the newly revamped Photographers’ Gallery.

Witness the capital’s enviable live music

Apart from buskers murdering Coldplay on the tube, you’ll find free music across the capital. Camden pubs such as the Lock Tavern regularly host free gigs while Rough Trade record stores put on in-store performances by suprisingly big names.

Enjoy some free concerts

For some free Bach or Beethoven try a student performance at the Royal Academy of Music or an evening concert at St Martin’s in the Fields. If you’re under 26 you can also enjoy a huge range of free events at the Barbican arts centre.

Get your sides split for nothing

A smile costs nothing so they say, especially on Tuesdays at the Camden Head Pub or Wednesdays at the Comedy Café. Each venue hosts free nights where comics try out new material (be gentle!).

Pedal for free

For a couple of quid you can access the capital’s network of bulky-but-brilliant “Boris bikes” for 24hrs. Hiring the bikes is then free if you limit each ride to 30min (a range of apps help you find the docking points – try http://cyclehireapp.com/).

Seek out some real wildlife

With London Zoo costing a staggering £63 for a family of four, it’s worth knowing you can see wildlife for free in the capital. Richmond Park is famous for its herds of deer while the Lee Valley provides everything from butteflies to swooping peregrine falcons.

Behold London’s pomp and ceremony

Pageantry breaks out regularly across London from the Changing the Guard to the Lord Mayor’s Show, both free to view. For something less stuffy don’t miss the Notting Hill Carnival held each August bank holiday.

Forage for the city’s best free food

It’s a wee bit cheeky but you can sample plenty of free titbits at London’s wonderful food markets – try Borough for the widest range or its smaller, cooler, rival Maltby Street. Even Harrod’s food hall hands out the odd morsel to the great unwashed.

Exploit the numerous 2for1 ticket offers

Both Visit London and National Rail’s Day’s Out Guide offer a range of 2for1 deals for those travelling by tube or train. If you simply must go to Madame Tussauds this is probably the cheapest way to do it.

However good your intentions are, it’s often all too easy to retreat to the comfort of the hotel room and shy away from really engaging with the locals when you’re on your travels. Here’s a selection of holiday ideas that will thrust you into the heart of the community you’re visiting and foster a much deeper understanding on the place and its people. Share your own memories of meeting the locals below.

Stay in a Ukrainian village

Central Europe – if that’s how we should think of the mountainous region of western Ukraine – is an area with few international visitors, but already a sustainable model of tourism is being developed in the area. The Rural Green Tourism Association (RGTA), set up in 1996, is a community-run volunteer organization that helps villagers earn extra income through hosting guests. For example you could stay in the wooden houses of the Hutsul people in villages like Vorokhta or Yavoriv.

Visitors can spend their time walking in the polonyas, the mountain meadows where cool breezes waft across the long grasses. After a day’s hiking, expect to be liberally plied with food and drink, all made and prepared by the villagers, such as banosh (a mixture of sweetcorn, bacon and sour cream). Hospitality is unceasingly friendly and you’ll probably get a chance to watch or join in traditional dances (typically accompanied by the alp-horn-like trembita and the sopika, a form of flute) or to listen to their plaintive folk songs.

For more information on the RGTA of Ivano-Frankivsk, nearby hiking trails, getting there and how the homestay scheme works, see members.aol.com/chornohora.

Meet the Maasai, Tanzania

On a walk with the village’s herbalist, the parched plains of northeastern Tanzania soon appear less bare than when you first looked across their expanse of wiry plants. Every few minutes he bends a different branch down from a tree, offering a leaf to rub between your fingers to smell. Or he crouches down to the ground, digs away with his fingers and pulls up a gnarled root. For every such root or leaf he explains, by motioning to a part of his body, what ailment the particular plant is used against, such as the pepper bark tree, whose rough, black bark is used to treat malaria.

People2People’s cultural safaris are made up of countless intimate experiences like these. Accompanied by a translator, guests embark on customizable tours to visit and stay with members of four different tribal groups in Tanzania. You might join a Maasai warrior bringing his cattle in at dusk, help gather the harvest on a Bantu farm, or hunt for spring hares and grapple with the curious clicking languages of the Khoisan.

No specifics are guaranteed, however, as these aren’t displays put on for your benefit but a rare chance to interact with local villagers, observing and taking part in whatever they’re doing. In rural Africa time is fluid, and you may well spend several hours simply sitting under some welcome shade chatting with the elders. Then again, you may be lucky enough to be there for a special occasion such as a wedding, where distant family members will assemble from across the region and beyond, gathering for days of celebration and feasting. Whatever you see, it will be a different Africa from the one seen through binoculars from the back of a jeep.

People2People will customize a safari to suit your needs, which can also include more traditional activities such as wildlife-watching and trekking. For typical itineraries and reservations see www.p2psafaris.com.

Stay in an African village, Zambia

To understand what daily life is really like in an African rural community, a stay in Kawaza village, on the edge of Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, offers an authentic introduction to its rigours and rhythms. Guests can drop in for the day or stay as long as they like; on arrival, you’ll have a chat with your guides to plan a programme that suits. Visitors are encouraged to get as involved as they can, whether it’s learning about traditional herbal medicine, fishing in wooden dugout canoes or simply helping to prepare traditional meals.

This is no show village, however. The Kunda people, former hunters who now mostly survive through subsistence farming, have seen how low-impact tourism can protect them against the vagaries of farming in extreme conditions. Villagers who provide services to guests are given a monthly salary and the remaining profit is ploughed back into the community, improving facilities at the school and helping those most in need. And at Kawaza visitors don’t just get the chance to see the school their money has helped fund – they are encouraged to help with some teaching too.

For directions and rates see http://www.africatravelresource.com/africa/zambia/southluangwa/central/kawaza-village/.

Walk with Rastas in Knysna Forest, South Africa

From the moment your dreadlocked host greets you with a gentle knock of his clenched fist against yours and an exclamation of “Irie” (roughly meaning “respect”), you know this isn’t going to be your typical township tour. While the representatives of the House of Judah, the local church, come and introduce themselves, you notice that all the houses are painted in striking tones of crimson, yellow and emerald. One thing’s for sure: you’re in Rasta territory.

In 2003, tired of being perceived as dope-smoking outcasts, the Rastafarian community in Khayalethu – a township between the outskirts of Knysna and the surrounding forest – went to the local tourism board with a proposal. They wanted to show tourists what their life was really like, and to protect to the richness of their local forest. It worked. Guests now make visits to people’s homes and are led on guided nature tours through the surrounding fynbos ecosystem, a complex ground-level array of succulents and heathers, most seen nowhere else in the world. Those keen to hang around a little longer than a few hours can stay in one of the families’ homes.

For more info and contact details see www.openafrica.org.

Meet the Bushmen at Nhoma, Namibia

Nhoma, a simple tented camp owned and run in partnership with the nearby Bushman village of Nhoq’ma, on the border of Khaudum National Park, offers guests a chance to get back to their primeval roots. Always wanted to know how to start a fire or make an arrow? Immersed in a hunter-gatherer society, you will here.

After a morning spent hunting spring hares or porcupines with the Bushmen, learning how to make small traps from twigs and animal sinews, there’s usually time in the afternoon to join in their games and perhaps buy a few souvenir ostrich-shell necklaces. At night, after dinner back at camp, guests can trek back through the dark dunes to sit and watch the Bushmen gather to dance and sing, with their shaman often falling into a trance which, they say, enables him to communicate with their ancestors. They’ve been doing this for tens of thousands of years. Staying at Nhoma is one of the best ways of ensuring these traditions continue.

For rates, details of activities and further info on getting there see www.tsumkwel.iway.na.

Visit Bolivia’s Mapajo Community

On the border of La Paz and Beni, Mapajo Lodge is owned and operated by the communities of the Quiquibey River, who offer four- to six-day guided tours through the Pilón Lajas Reserve, a dense jungle of forests, streams and unexplored mountains packed with wildlife. Itineraries on offer include boat trips along the river to indigenous villages, where guests can learn traditional fishing methods, watch locals crafting bows and arrows, baskets and textiles, or go on canoe excursions by night.

To help you understand more about the biological and cultural diversity of the reserve, the lodge runs a visitor centre with a library and a small exhibition of arts and crafts. Accommodation is rustic: there are four twin-bed thatched cabins with hot-water showers, shared bathrooms (one cabin has a private bathroom) and a hammock, while water is piped in from a natural spring. It’s not exactly eco-chic, but then the focus here is not on staying indoors – it’s on discovering the unknown.

For prices, booking and details on activities see www.mapajo.com.

Meet the Huaorani, Ecuador

The Huaorani have long inhabited the headwaters of the Ecuadorian Amazon, hunting game with blowpipes and gathering food from the forest. They were the last of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples to be contacted by missionaries – in 1956 – and they now mostly live in permanent settlements, though at least one clan continues to shun all contact with the outside world.

On this trip you are taken to meet the small community of Quehueri’ono (“Cannibal River”), hunter-gatherers who live in the northwestern part of the Huaorani territory. Such a unique encounter is the result of years of consultation between their chief Moi Enomenga and an Ecuadorian travel company, Tropic EcoTours. For twelve years, Tropic has run hiking tours with Moi, employing Quehueri’ono villagers as guides – a sign of its success is that a permanent ecolodge, used as a base for village trips, has now been built, with five cabins equipped with twin bed, shower and flush toilet. For several days a Huaorani guide leads you through the rainforest, demonstrating how they use plants for medicine, shelter and clothes, and how to hunt monkeys by climbing up trees and firing poisoned darts from blowpipes. He’ll also point out an astonishing variety of wildlife, including blue morpho butterflies, greater and lesser kiskadees and several species of Amazonian kingfishers.

For itineraries, prices and booking for transport and accommodation see www.huaorani.com.

Live with nomads, Mongolia

A hundred or so goats head off bleating their complaints in one direction, while a herd of cows tramps off in another. A boy of perhaps ten rides by on his horse, with no saddle. All around smoke rises from the fifteen or so gers spread across this high plain, surrounded by a ring of forested hills. Here in the Terelj National Park, fewer than 100km from the Mongolian capital Ulaan Bator, the only signs of industrialization are the occasional solar panel or motorbike.

A typical day on a trip with Ger to Ger, a non-profit organization that promotes grassroots tourism development, starts with a journey on horse or oxcart from the ger where you spent the night onto your next resting post. The rest of the day is spent doing what your new hosts do. That could mean helping them collect the sheep at dusk, milking horses (the local tipple is Airag, fermented mare’s milk only slightly less alcoholic than vodka) or being taught how to use a bow and arrow. It is highly rewarding but can be pretty exhausting. With no translator you have to communicate with a Mongolian phrasebook and any props such as family photographs you might have with you. But for anyone keen to get a taste of what travel was like before everyone spoke English and booked online, a few days riding across Mongolia should suffice.

Ger to Ger’s office is based in Ulaan Bator. For itineraries and prices see www.gertoger.org.

Stay in an Isan village, Thailand

It’s far too easy to visit Thailand and come away feeling that you never really got to see what life for Thais is like outside of the tourist centres. If you’re curious, then a visit to the tranquil rice-growing village of Ko Pet in the northeastern Isan region may be just what you’re looking for.

Ko Pet is a village like many others in the region, with the difference that it has built a lodge so that small-scale tourism can supplement incomes from rice and vegetable cultivation. Guests (a maximum of six at a time) stay in the locally built three-bedroom Lamai guesthouse at one end of Ko Pet, surrounded by a garden of palms and mango trees, and are always accompanied by two of the villagers on visits into the village – who are there to provide translation and keep tours unobtrusive.

The activities on offer – joining elders foraging for edible insects or mushrooms, learning how to weave baskets from raffia, seeing silk being produced – are not staged, since they comprise what the villagers would be doing anyway. Guides ensure these are rotated between the twenty or so participating families, so there is little disruption of routine and income is spread evenly. Ko Pet may be in one of the more remote areas of Thailand but the scheme here is showing the way forward for rural tourism in Asia.

For directions and details of tours and packages see www.thailandhomestay.com.

Visit a Khmu village, Laos

But for the Mekong River on whose banks it stands, the village of Yoi Hai is cut off from the world, with no road cut through the dense jungle that surrounds it. Living here, surrounded by the cloud-covered heights of the hills, are the Khmu – an animist tribe who worship spirits in the trees and rocks that surround them. Until recently the population was even more isolated, but in 2000 the government decreed that they, and all the other hill tribes, had to form new towns on lower ground, partly in a bid to stamp out the opium trade and partly to improve access to healthcare and education. However, many tribal peoples have struggled to adapt to these more urban communities, with alcoholism and drug abuse on the increase.

Thanks to their relationship with the nearby Kamu Lodge, however, the future doesn’t look quite so bleak for the Khmu. The lodge – comprising twenty comfortable two-person safari tents and a thatched pagoda restaurant topped with solar panels – employs staff from local communities, is responsible for building a school and also pays a monthly community fund. You’ll get the chance to meet the people whom the lodge is helping – they will show you round the village, teach you how to cast a net into the river or how to pan in its waters for gold.

For further details, including rates and booking, see www.kamulodge.com.

Take to the hills in Bangladesh

When people talk of visiting hill tribes, Bangladesh is rarely the destination that comes to mind. Yet in the dense rainforests that line the country’s southeastern border with Burma and India, there are half a million indigenous people belonging to fourteen different tribes – and unlike in Laos, Thailand or Cambodia, very few tourists make the effort to visit the villages.

For the visitors that do come, however, Bangladesh Ecotours takes guests into the Chittagong Hill Tracts region (pictured at the top of the article) to stay with tribes, sharing in traditional feasts, shopping for handicrafts, and often finding themselves the audience for an impromptu song-and-dance given in their honour. In return for their hospitality, the company provides the tribes with funds for education and medical aid, promoting conservation projects such as reforestation and handicraft development.

For prices, reservations and information on how to get to Chittagong see www.bangladeshecotours.com.

Stay with a Samoan family

Customary Samoan hospitality has helped simple, family-run tourist lodges to prosper as locals have turned their beachside huts into guesthouses. Now, on both of the two main islands (Upolu and Savaii), for US$40 or so, you can spend the night on a mattress on the floor of a little open-sided fale, with a mosquito net and maybe a locker for valuables. Your hosts will prepare dinner and a tropical breakfast and can arrange for you to go off on hikes or join in with cousins and aunties in their chores if you wish.

During the day the men venture off into the milky blue sea to spearfish from outrigger canoes, a coconut-leaf basket ready for the catch. Women weave mats from sun-dried pandanus leaves or hack at coconuts to extract the flesh for copra. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you may get to witness a traditional tattooing session, using sharpened pigs’ teeth and ink made from candlenut soot. By night, as the sea laps at the stilts of your simple fale, you can sit and read Stevenson under the wide and starry sky.

For contact details, directions and further information on the various fales, visit www.samoa.travel/acc.aspx.

Live with the Maasai, Kenya

Over a week spent living with a Maasai family in the village of Olturuto, in the Kajiado district 30km from Nairobi, you’ll become immersed in all aspects of daily life of the herders and their families. Helping with the chores may not seem like a holiday, but a few days grinding maize to make flour, milking the cows or collecting water from the borehole is the best way to learn what life’s really like in an African village. The reality is that most of your day is spent not working as we know it, but slowly passing time – catching up on local gossip, making arrows, weaving baskets or simply taking some time to contemplate the vastness of your surroundings.

Assisted at all times by a translator, you’ll also get the chance to talk with elders and medicine men and spend two days on a more traditional tourist activity on safari in nearby Amboseli National Park, home to elephants, lions and giraffes. And while the chance to see a lion from the back of a jeep is what brings most tourists to Kenya, very few get the chance to experience the simple rhythms of life as a Maasai.

GSE Ecotours organizes homestays (lasting four to fourteen days) in five villages in the Great Rift Valley and Central and Eastern provinces. For further enquiries contact +44 (0) 870 766 9891.

 

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Kids – you’ve got to love them, but you’ve also got to keep them entertained. In the second part of our special guide to British breaks for children, we look at puppet theatres, model villages, and trusty Thomas the Tank Engine. Share your own ideas for kid-friendly holidays below.

Revisit the Viking era in York

A thousand years ago York was a thriving Viking city known as Jorvik, its vitality, wealth and scope clear from the myriad buildings and artefacts found in the 1970s during work on the new Coppergate shopping centre.

After an initial five-year dig, and a couple of subsequent multi-million-pound developments, visitors to Jorvik Viking Centre get an innovative, close-up look at Viking society on the very site where the excavations took place. If you were ever going to get kids interested in the past, this is the place, with its interactive museum exhibits, role-playing Vikings and touch-screen learning, but the best bit comes right at the beginning as you descend beneath the modern-day streets and are clunk-clicked into a ghost-train-style “time capsule”, which then lurches off through the streets of Viking York.

It’s a clever and classy conceit that grabs you from the start, as your ride takes you right inside the excavated houses, shops and backyards, with animatronic figures hailing you in Old Norse, smoke blasting from a blacksmith’s furnace, and Viking builders enjoying a tea break (no change there then). Neatly redressing the one thing missing from every period-piece movie – the smell – you get decidedly authentic wafts from both farmyard and market, while every child’s favourite attraction is the furiously straining Viking gent astride the outdoor latrine. This is (ahem) bottom-up history at its best.

Jorvik Viking Centre, Coppergate, York, www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk.

Tunnel your way to the Ilfracombe’s tidal pool

Kit up first with picnic rugs, wet suits, buckets, spades, snorkels and crabbing nets. Accessed via a series of long subterranean tunnels, carved through the lofty rocky cliffs, Ilfracombe’s spectacular Tunnels Beaches are one of the jewels of the Devon coast. Emerge around low tide into the sunlight onto the sheltered sand and pebble beach, and you’ll be able to take a dip in the magnificent tidal sea-water swimming pool, a haven for little ones. Add in an abundance of rock pools rich with sealife, the opportunity for kayaking out to a secret cove, and all the facilities you need, from a stylish family café to an indoor soft play area, and you have a superb family day out.

Tunnels Beaches, Ilfracombe, Devon www.tunnelsbeaches.co.uk.

Fall spellbound at Little Angel Puppet Theatre

It is dark, save for several bouncing streaks of DayGlo colour. Three caterpillars are singing in three-part harmonies, and somewhere in the mix is a gang of angry strawberries. You are not insane, but an audience member at Islington’s wonderful Little Angel Puppet Theatre. And next time, you and your brood will be shoving the other kids out of the way so you can get to the front.

The setting is a dark, slightly draughty room, a former temperance hall with a high ceiling and wooden pews. Expert lighting illuminates the tiny set and its characters, to a playful, enduringly catchy score. The puppeteers, who sing, act and perform intricate manoeuvres, connect beautifully with the rapt kids (all nicely hypnotized and quiet), and although most performances are aimed at very young children, the accompanying adults cannot fail to be equally enchanted.

Little Angel has been running puppet shows here since 1961, when it was set up by innovative puppeteers John and Lyndie Wright. The hall seats a hundred, but feels much more intimate, and the workshop at the back is where many of the puppets are born.

The magical glow of the lights, the resonating voices, the accessible melodies and the artistry of the movements – it all makes the prosaic slapstick of the old Punch and Judy shows seem rather flat. And so, as the dancing DayGlo blobs flit about, and the surrounding children’s eyes grow vast with wonder, even the most sensible soul in the room will just give in, sit back and listen to what the singing caterpillars have to say.

Little Angel Puppet Theatre, 14 Dagmar Passage, London N1 020/7226 1787, www.littleangeltheatre.com.

Getting in touch with your inner bear, Hartfield

Now approaching his 85th birthday, A.A. Milne’s “bear of very little brain” has become a global phenomenon, with the original stories translated into fifty languages and Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and co featuring on duvet covers from Beijing to Barcelona. While the Disney films might have given him a jarring US accent, Pooh is, of course, a quintessentially English bear and the geography of his world is based firmly around Milne’s home in deepest Sussex.

Here among the open heathland and pine trees of Ashdown Forest you’ll find many of the locations – the Hundred Acre Wood, the Enchanted Place and the Heffalump Trap – captured so beautifully in the books by illustrator E.H. Shephard. Most are within a short drive of the village of Hartfield which functioned as Milne’s country escape from the 1920s until his death in 1956.

From Hartfield, pilgrimage can be made to the various Pooh-related sites. Best of all is Poohsticks bridge, a perfect representation of the bridge where Pooh invented a new game by absent-mindedly dropping pine cones off the side. The rules are simple – face upstream, release your sticks from an equal height (throwing is strictly forbidden), then rush over to the other side to see whose comes out first.

The House at Pooh Corner in Hartfield (www.pooh-country.co.uk) offers tours and information on “Pooh Country”.

Reliving history at Linlithgow Palace

Fifteenth-century Linlithgow Palace may be in ruins, its windows open to the sky, but it has enough hidden spiralling staircases, stony dungeons and vertiginous walkways to keep adventurous kids happy for a good couple of hours, and the huge roofless Great Hall is a marvellous place to run amok.

There’s plenty of child-friendly entertainment in the summer, from staged medieval games and jousting to falconry, displays of weaponry skills and tours by costumed guides. But at any time of year there’s plenty to engage kids actively in the castle’s history.

On the domestic front, peering at the huge fireplace in the kitchens helps you imagine how the castle’s lavish banquets were produced, with meat being turned on spits by little boys who were called “turnbrochies”. From the kitchen, chutes propelled rubbish into the surrounding dry – and doubtless very smelly – moat.

Continuing to the Great Hall, infant jaws will drop at a fireplace so big it required whole tree trunks to fuel it. And don’t forget to point out the minstrel’s gallery, where party entertainment was provided and you can still see the hooks from were tapestries were hung. Beyond are the bedrooms, and the lofty heights of Queen Mary’s Bower, with sweeping loch views and a satisfyingly dizzying perspective on the castle itself.

Linlithgow Palace, Kirkgate, Linlithgow, West Lothian, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk.

Spending a day with Thomas at Kirklees

A whistle toots, clouds of smoke and steam billow skywards, and parents with their kids stream down from the car park. Children throng the playground, throw themselves around on bouncy castles, have their faces painted. There’s usually something going on at Kirklees Light Railway, but today it has a special buzz: for Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends have come to town.

On the platform, the little blue engine hisses, parents jockey (politely – this is England) to snap him with their self-conscious children, the Fat Controller (can you still say that?) looks at his pocket watch and taps his foot. Doors clatter shut, the whistle screeches, the couplings take up the slack, and with a crescendo of clanks and chuffs brave little Thomas hauls the carriages through an untidy sprawl of factory buildings and derelict land. The strains of “Thomas and Friends” bounce cheerfully down from ceiling-mounted speakers.

Suddenly, you’re cruising through glorious Yorkshire countryside as the little train sails out onto an embankment, smoke streaming back from its stack. Finally, 25 minutes after setting off, the train pulls into Shelley station. More bouncy castles, coffee and soft drinks, burgers and doughnuts. Engines huff and puff, turntables turn, points are thrown, water is taken on, and the return journey begins.

Kirklees Light Railway, Clayton West, near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, www.kirkleeslightrailway.com. Thomas and friends visit for one weekend per month.

Children’s stories on seven storeys

If you don’t have a child, kidnap one. And then take that child (and yourself) straight to Seven Stories, Britain’s only museum dedicated to celebrating the art of children’s literature. Tucked beneath the Byker Bridge in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley, the inviting, bright white building is called Seven Stories (a) because it’s got seven storeys and (b) because there are, reputedly, only seven types of story you can tell.

The entrance level, Level Three, houses an enormous bookshop rammed with all sorts of wonderful children’s books – from charming Paddington Bear stories by Michael Bond to Jacqueline Wilson’s most recent Tracy Beaker tales. But before delving in, head upstairs to Level 4, The Sebastian Walker Gallery, where changing exhibitions bring children’s picture books to life using hands-on, interactive games, quizzes and models.

Pop upstairs to Level 5, the Robert Westall Gallery, named after the Tyneside-born writer with a penchant for tales of cats, war, the supernatural and love, an intriguing combination that’s explored further through old photographs, manuscripts and original artwork of all of his most familiar stories – don’t miss the mock 1940s radio that has recordings of the author himself reading from his books. Don’t forget to stop by the bookshop on the way out. Oh, and give that kidnapped child back.

Seven Stories, 30 Lime St, Newcastle upon Tyne is at www.sevenstories.org.uk.

Stacks of fun at Legoland

Did you know the word Lego comes from the Danish leg gohdt, meaning to “play well”? Well, there are no limits to the possibilities for play in this plastic fantastic land constructed from over 25 million bricks. Around every corner across the park’s ten kingdoms await grin-inducing creations: Lego wildlife, Lego knights, Lego pirates, Lego dinosaurs. In Miniland you’ll even find Lego reproductions of famous landmarks such as the Moulin Rouge and London’s skyline, the latter including a 16-foot-high Canary Wharf made from 200,000 bricks.

It may be the Lego that makes it unique (at least within Britain), but really Legoland is all about good old-fashioned theme park fun. Aimed primarily at 3- to 12-year-olds, the park boasts a dizzying array of roller coasters, water rides, trains and merry-go-rounds spun into its 150-acre labyrinth. But, unlike most theme parks, it’s not just geared up for adrenaline junkies: there’s plenty to amuse younger tots too.

Legoland, Windsor, Berkshire, www.legoland.co.uk.

Strange ways in the woods at The Forbidden Corner

As greetings go, the entrance tower gives you a pretty good impression of what is to come. Huge blinking eyes and a gaping mouth invite you on a walk down a giant tongue-tunnel, complete with reverberating, digestive burp – cue screams and laughter as the kids charge further on into the self-styled “Strangest Place in the World”. It certainly defies straightforward description – call it a woodland maze within a secret walled garden, wrapped up as an eye-popping folly, and you’re only halfway to understanding what makes The Forbidden Corner such a hoot.

It’s a labour of love by owner and folly enthusiast Colin Armstrong and his architect friend Malcolm Tempest, who have turned part of the Tupgill Park Estate, just outside Middleham in North Yorkshire, into a highly eccentric family attraction. Trick fountains, oak-carved giants, misleading gateways, frog fountains and talking statues are just the start of it, since the maze effectively continues underground as well, with an underworld labyrinth entered through a full-sized Classical temple facade. This is an extraordinary place of revolving floors, blank doors, secret passages and subterranean forests, where nothing is quite as it seems – dare to walk through the underground waterfall, for example, and the waters miraculously part, while if out of curiosity you try the door marked “staff only”, out shoots a hand accompanied by a gruff invitation to clear off.

The Forbidden Corner, Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Middleham, North Yorkshire www.theforbiddencorner.co.uk.

Buried treasure: fossil hunting in Lyme Regis

To any child who loves dinosaurs (are there any who don’t?) the Jurassic Coast must sound like a dream destination. At its most celebrated spot, Lyme Regis in Dorset, 12-year-old fossil hunter Mary Anning found the near-perfect skeleton of a massive ichthyosaurus, revealed by a rock fall. Could such a miracle happen again?

Elsewhere in Britain, the erosion of cliffs is a worry or even a tragedy, but on the rugged Devon and Dorset coast it’s a process which keeps offering up fresh gifts. Visit Lyme Regis today and you may not, perhaps, find so much as a sniff of an ichthyosaurus, but traces of their contemporaries are there in abundance, embedded within layer upon layer of blue lias rock. Every day, the tide uncovers fresh material, laden with history.

Fossil-hunting is such a mainstay of the Lyme Regis tourist industry that the town goes all out to advertise and encourage it: even the lampposts are adorned with elegant, ammonite-shaped ironwork. It’s now generally frowned upon (and somewhat dangerous) to hack away at the cliffs, but you just need to sift through the fallen shards that litter the beach, chiselling large pieces open, to find the petrified bodies of primitive shellfish and reptiles. To get an expert’s eye view of this treasure-trove, kids can sign up for an organized fossil hunt with a professional palaeontologist.

Discovering Fossils (book online at www.discoveringfossils.co.uk) runs expert-led fossil hunts in Lyme Regis.

 

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For anyone planning a weekend break in Paris and attempting to find accommodation below €100 per person per night – and most likely failing – it’s pretty obvious that the capital of France is an expensive place to visit. An iconic city like this, though, with its intricate history, remarkable architecture and extraordinarily rich culture should be on everyone’s lifetime itinerary. Here are a few pointers to avoid maxing out the credit card and finding things to do in Paris for free.

Head to the museums on the first Sunday of every month

Lauded the world over, the Louvre , Musée d’Orsay, Musée Rodin and Centre Pompidou – to name but a few “big ones” – are free for visitors on the first Sunday of every month. Here you’ll find famous Impressionist masterpieces, exquisite sculptures and some of the best modern art ever created.

Visit the Paris Plage

For four weeks in the summer (from late July), the banks of the River Seine become pedestrian-only, and three areas – the Louvre/Pont Suly, Bassin Villette and Pont de la Gare – are transformed into beaches, complete with ankle-deep sand, ice-cream sellers, stripey deckchairs, beach volleyball and even swimming pools.

Wander among the dead at Père Lachaise

It might sound a touch morbid but the elegant Père Lachaise cemetery, on Boulevard de Ménilmontant, makes for a fascinating wander. A whole host of mostly French celebrities – writers, actors, philosophers, musicians – are buried here, along with Irish writer Oscar Wilde, American singer Jim Morrison and dancer Isadora Duncan.

Head to the markets

Free until you fancy buying something, the Marché aux Puces, in the north of the city at St-Ouen, takes place on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, and purports to be the world’s largest flea market. Food and drink-lovers should try the fancier Raspail organic market (Sunday morning only) on Boulevard Raspail.

Marvel at Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame

Paris’ most famous churches are free. Standing sentinel at the top of Montmartre’s steep hill, the Butte, it’s more the views over Paris that are the attraction of the cream-coloured Sacré Coeur  than its rather barren interior, while lofty Notre Dame, stranded on an island in the Seine, is truly one of the greatest Gothic cathedrals in the world.

Stroll along the river at night

You don’t have to be in a romantic clinch with a lover to appreciate the beauty of Paris at night. The Left Bank of the Seine is a particularly pretty spot to meander; watch as the city’s lights twinkle and dance on the Seine as it flows sleepily by.

Enjoy a lunchtime concerts at Petit Palais

From October to June, the Petit Palais – which houses the worthwhile (and free) Musée des Beaux Arts – hosts lunchtime chamber music concerts on Thursdays. Turn up an hour before the concert to collect a ticket.

Make a beeline for the Place des Vosges

Arguably the best-looking square in Paris, the Place des Vosges is enclosed by handsome pink brick and stone mansions constructed over arcades of chic shops and cafés. It has an impressive heritage, too, built by Henri IV and inaugurated in 1612 for the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. Chill out with a picnic on the grassy gardens in the middle of the square and listen to the merry buskers playing beneath the arcades.

Frequent the lesser-spotted Paris museums

Turn away from the big, pricey museums and dip into Paris’ numerous smaller, quirkier museums: from the stately Maison de Victor Hugo, where the great writer lived and worked, and the sculpture studio of the Musée Bourdelle to Marie Curie’s laboratory  and the lively Musée Carnavalet, specializing in the history of Paris, you’ll escape both the crowds and a battering on the wallet.

Go boating in the Jardin du Luxembourg

The lively and elegant Jardin du Luxembourg is filled not just with the usual plants and trees but with tennis and boules courts, modern art sculptures, chess boards (usually colonized by hordes of old men), and a boating pond festooned with children’s toy yachts. If you’ve packed your old wooden boat, you’re welcome to add to the armada.

What are your own tips for enjoying Paris for free? Share them below.

The IRA’s 1996 bomb in Manchester city centre was one of the city’s darkest days. Extensive damage was done, but ultimately it served only to unleash a flurry of investment that carries on to this day. This means, of course, that there are myriad ways to spend your pennies here these days. Yet deep down, Manchester remains a city of the people, and it looks kindly on the stony-broke. On a practical note, the city centre is eminently walkable. Bring a hooded coat though (an Oasis-style parka, perhaps?) – it’s not known as the Rainy City for nothing. Here are ten ways to enjoy Manchester for free.

Explore the National Football Museum

With the monopoly that Manchester seems to have on the Premier League, it’s only fitting that they should have the National Football Museum. Located close to the site of the 1996 IRA bomb, Ian Simpson’s 2002 glass-clad building is an elegant, defiantly delicate-looking retort.  Other freebie museums to check out include the Museum of Science and IndustryWhitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Museum.

Head to the Northern Quarter

This hipster-rich neighbourhood was cut off from the city core with the opening of The Arndale centre in 1976, and it now feels like an enclave all on its own – even the street names are represented in tile mosaics, locally designed and made. The absence of big chains means there’s a resolutely uncommercial feel to the district – the penniless can simply dine out on the atmosphere (look out for the metal fire escapes, for instance, that have seen the NQ double for NYC in movie shoots). Browsers are welcome at the Craft & Design Centre – a former Victorian fish market – and at the music-themed Richard Goodall Gallery on Thomas Street.

Visit the People’s History Museum

This brilliant museum champions the politically engaged and the working class in a city where they have historically been champions. Two galleries tell the story of the role played by Manchester – the world’s first industrial city – over 200 years of political radicalism. Architects Austin-Smith:Lord’s acclaimed building design looks pleasingly like a ninja mask, but check out the nearby Civil Justice Centre, too – its cantilevered courtrooms gave rise to a “filing cabinet” nickname.

Explore Castlefield

They tried, but they still haven’t gentrified Castlefield. You can scrub up this landscape of canals and warehouses but it will always be redolent of the city’s industrial past. That, of course, makes it perfect for a spot of flânerie. Ponder this as you wander – Castlefield gave rise to the city’s name thanks to Mancunium, a Roman fort that was located near Deansgate.

Get lost in a book at Chetham’s Library…

Marx and Engels were said to have been inspired by Manchester’s clash of wealth and poverty in the mid-19th century, and they chewed it over at this Oxbridge-aping institution – the world’s oldest free public library, founded in 1653. Occultist Dr John Dee is said to have caused the mark on the Audit Room table by accidentally summoning the devil (which must have earned him quite a ‘shhh’ from the librarian). The library is open Mon-Fri 9am-4.30pm (though closed for lunch).

…then skip to another at the John Rylands Library

Another library, yes, but make the most of them while you can – one of these days it’ll all be e-readers. This neo-Gothic beauty was opened in 1900 by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands as a memorial to her husband John. Amongst its rare books and illuminated medieval manuscripts is the oldest existing piece of the New Testament and, arguably, the first book to be printed in England – a 1476 edition of the Canterbury Tales. Since it’s now part of the University of Manchester, there’s only limited access to members of the public.

Try out a screening at Islington Mill

Salford’s Islington Mill has one of the city’s most respected music programmes, but you can get a freebie taste of the complex’s vibrant creative atmosphere by coming along to one of their visual art exhibitions or screenings. The walker’s most stylish route into Salford is by Santiago Calatrava’s 1995 Trinity Bridge, which looks about as sturdy as a moth’s wing.

Meander around The Quays

This sprawling expanse of former dockland a 40- to 50-minute walk west of the city core has redefined the boundaries of what can be thought of as central Manchester. The Lowry complex (free exhibitions and talks) and Daniel Libeskind’s 2002 Imperial War Museum North (also free) are monumental buildings fit for this landscape.  Head up the latter’s 55m Air Shard (a small charge applies) for views across the Ship Canal all the way to the Pennine Hills. Fans of The Smiths should take a detour to Salford Lads Club en route to The Quays – located on St Ignatius Walk, it featured on the album artwork for The Queen is Dead.

Take a tour of Victoria Baths

No spitting, bombing or heavy petting. And no swimming, either. But a long and passionate campaign has been waged to save this ornate public baths, and you can do your bit by popping in for one of their open day tours. Friends of Victoria Baths get in for free; otherwise there’s a small charge (see the Victoria Baths website).

Stop by the National Cycling Centre

With the recent successes of Bradley Wiggins and the GB Cycling Team in the Olympics and the Tour de France gracing the north for the first time, the sport is becoming ever more popular in the UK. If you time it right, you can catch Team GB training on a Siberian-pine track that has witnessed numerous world records since the centre opened in 1994. Weekday afternoons are your best bet. Those with £10.50 to spare can have an hour-long taster session.

Explore more of this area with the Rough Guides Snapshot to England’s northwest. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

 To celebrate Rough Guides reaching the grand old age of 30 this year, we’ve asked some of our writers, editors and staff members to nominate their favourite holiday destinations across the world. Be prepared for some acute pangs of wanderlust…

Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast

James Smart, Senior Travel Editor, Rough Guides

The sandy, snorkel-friendly Corn Islands – essentially the Caribbean with less tourists and lower prices – are an increasingly established destination. But the rest of Nicaragua’s poor, steamy and atmospheric east coast is well worth a visit if you want to get off the beaten track – you can nod to reggae in scruffy Bluefields, head on a panga ride to the idyllic Pearl Lagoon, or use remote Puerto Cabezas as the base for trips into the rainforest and to indigenous villages.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Emma Gibbs, Travel Editor, Rough Guides

Luang Prabang is at its most beguiling at dusk. While everyone else rushes up Mount Phousi for the sunset, I prefer to wander the dusty, quiet side streets, where the thump of children’s ball games is interrupted only by the slow, melodic chanting of the monks from the glittering temples.

Marrakesh, Morocco

Eleanor Aldridge, Travel Editor, Rough Guides

Just a few hours and a budget flight away from the UK, Marrakesh is hard to beat for an exotic weekend break. I love the alluring mix of modern and traditional culture, from the sprawling souks and tranquil riads of the medina to the nouvelle ville’s hedonistic nightlife.

Curonian spit, Lithuania

James Rice, Analytics & SEO Executive, Roughguides.com and Traveldk.com

A 98km-long sliver of sand-covered land straddling Lithuania and Russia, the Curonian Spit is the ideal getaway from life’s troubles. Grab a bike, pack a sandwich and cycle your way between the dunes, past fishing villages and through forest trails. Then picnic on the beach. Perfect.

Palm Springs, California, USA

Tim Chester, Web Editor, Roughguides.com and Traveldk.com

While much of PS is still stuck in a mid-century modern time warp, the sprawling desert city is growing (for better or worse) increasingly popular with LA urbanites keen for the same sun, spas and mountain views that attracted the ’50s entertainers in its heyday. Sitting in a hot tub under the stars and palm trees, margarita in hand after a long day doing nothing, is still one of my all-time favourite moments.

Jim Corbett National Park, India

Alison Roberts, Travel Editor, Rough Guides

The diverse wildlife at Corbett Tiger Reserve ensures a memorable trip whether or not you are lucky enough to bump into one of these impressive felines. Nevertheless, an elephant ride by the misty Ramganga River with your toes dangling feet away from a snarling tiger is an experience that’s hard to beat.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Lucy White, Travel Editor, Rough Guides

It’s been in the news a lot recently for being the birthplace of the Titanic, but there’s a lot more to Belfast than ship-building. Newly rejuvenated, with a tempting array of sparkling shops and an invigorated bar and restaurant scene – try the friendly and bohemian Ginger Bistro – the city has a tangibly enthusiastic and forward-thinking attitude.

Battle Harbour, Labrador, Canada

Stephen Keeling, Author, The Rough Guide to New England

Spending the night in one of the creaky bunkhouses on isolated Battle Harbour really is a trip back to the eighteenth century: there are shimmering blue-white icebergs, humpbacks, and killer whales gliding beneath the pier – and the friendly folks here still talk like they’re in Moby Dick. Soak up the accents and the sense of utter isolation.

Borrowdale, Cumbria, England

Jules Brown, Author, The Rough Guide to The Lake District

Hop on the bus from Keswick into the heart of some of Britain’s most stunning scenery, from the lapping shores of Derwent Water to the crags of Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. My adventure here is different every time, whether I’m kayaking or peak-bagging, but the lakeland outdoors never fails to thrill.

Potosí, Bolivia

Shafik Meghji, Author, The Rough Guide to Bolivia

At a breathless 4090m above sea level, Potosí is the highest city in the world, and was once one of the wealthiest. There’s a treasure trove of colonial art and architecture, the legendary Cerro Rico silver mines, and a truly fascinating history to discover – just make sure you acclimatise first.

Si Phan Don, Laos

Steve Vickers, Author, The Rough Guide to Laos

Landlocked Laos isn’t known for its beaches. But in the luscious southern part of the country, the Mekong splits into a spectacular web of channels, creating thousands of sand-fringed river islands. Si Phan Don’s natural beauty is staggering (if you’re lucky you’ll spot highly endangered Irrawaddy dolphins) but my biggest pleasure comes from chatting with the laid-back islanders, who always have a warm smile for visitors.

Darwin, Australia

Andy Turner, Senior Travel Editor, Rough Guides

Young, vibrant and cosmopolitan, Darwin has transformed itself over the last decade to become one of Australia’s most liveable cities. Today you’re just as likely to meet young locals out for sushi and cocktails as you are a Crocodile Dundee stumbling out of a pub. When you add on the Top End’s incredible wildlife and Aboriginal sites, Darwin becomes a must-see on any Aussie itinerary.

The Somerset Levels, England

Keith Drew, Executive Editor, Rough Guides

A curious patchwork of rivers, rhynes, drains and ditches, the Somerset Levels provide some of the best inland birdwatching in the UK. Old peat workings in the mist-draped Avalon Marshes are home to hobby, marsh harrier and the rare bittern, while April and May sees herons and their young gathering in the treetops of Swell Wood.

Dana, Jordan

Matthew Teller, Author, The Rough Guide to Jordan

If travel is about expanding the mind, Dana is where your imagination fills the sky. A tiny cliff-side village in southern Jordan’s craggy mountains, it has views to inspire, little locally run guesthouses, hidden campsites, lonesome trails and incredible hospitality. Dana’s peace humbles. I never want to leave.

New Orleans, USA

Samantha Cook, Author, The Rough Guide to New Orleans

Forget what you think you know about Katrina, Southern Comfort, or Bourbon Street – New Orleans is a place unlike any other, an old port city fiercely proud of its unique music, culture, language and food. From its noisy brass band buskers and exhilarating street parades to its elegant Creole dining rooms (try Galatoire’s) and hole-in-the-wall jambalaya shops (Coop’s is great), it’s a city that can’t fail to enchant.

Berlin, Germany

Alice Park, Senior Travel Editor, Rough Guides

The first Rough Guide to Berlin was published in 1990, just as the two cities were becoming one again, and there can be few places we’ve written about that have changed so much in that time. It’s one of my favourite destinations, a vital, hedonistic and still ever-changing city, with a fantastically shabby-chic bar on every corner, a world-class club scene (check out Rosi’s), and a laidback, counter-cultural vibe that makes it worth returning to again and again.

Havasupai Indian Reservation, Arizona, USA

Greg Ward, Author, The Rough Guide to the Grand Canyon

Deep in the dry-as-bone Grand Canyon lies an utterly beautiful oasis, where trickling streams join to cascade down magnificent turquoise waterfalls. It has been home to the Havusapai for at least a thousand years, but travellers prepared to hike ten switchbacking miles from the nearest road are welcome to camp overnight.

 

 

 

Svalbard, Norway

Roger Norum, Author, The Rough Guide to Denmark

This Arctic archipelago is about as end-of-the-world as you’re ever going to get – the soil freezes to depths of up to half a kilometre and the polar bear-to-people ratio is 2 to 1. But Svalbard’s Bergmanesque landscape, gorgeous light and opportunity for outdoor adventure make it a real bucket list of a place to visit.

Solu-Khumbu, Nepal

James McConnachie, Author, The Rough Guide to Nepal

People come to this still-remote region of Nepal for one reason: to see Mount Everest. But Solu-Khumbu offers more than mere mountains. It plunges from snowy ridges occupied by Sherpa Buddhist monasteries to lush, steaming valleys creaking with bamboo. It’s beautiful and uplifting and, best of all, there are no roads.

Soho, London, England

Annie Shaw, Editor, Rough Guides

Louche, occasionally lairy and always alive, Soho never fails to thrill. A mix of old-school glamour and lingering sleaze, this central pocket of the capital, with its drop-dead cool and drop-down drunks, celebrates diversity and tolerance like nowhere else. Both day and night, it’s busy, buzzing and, to me, beautiful.

Tasmania, Australia

James Stewart, Author, The Rough Guide to Tasmania

Goodbye, then, chintz and doilies – I won’t miss you. Over the last decade Tasmania has ditched the heritage clichés and grown into a role as Australia’s alternative state. Nowadays, Tassie features the most adventurous gallery in Oz, MONA, yet retains stupendous scenery that is wilder than Loony Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.

St Ives, Cornwall, England

Helena Smith, Author, The Rough Guide to Walks in London and Southeast England

Getting to St Ives is half the fun, on the quaint branch line from St Erth that runs along a curve of sandy coast. St Ives has all the traditional bucket and spade pleasures, plus the cutting-edge Tate, intriguing painting studios and the acclaimed Porthminster Café and Restaurant which sits right on the beach.

Beng Mealea, Cambodia

Kia Abdullah, Web Operations Executive, Roughguides.com and Traveldk.com

I’ve been across the world, but Cambodia was like nothing else. From the relentless buzz of Phnom Penh to the breathtaking beauty of Siem Reap, this country has everything a traveller could want. Angkor Wat is beautiful, of course, but I was more blown away by Beng Mealea, a secluded set of ruins straight out of Indiana Jones – don’t miss it!

Naples, Italy

Natasha Foges, Senior Travel Editor, Rough Guides

For an authentic slice of Italian life, head to Naples, a raucous, chaotic city that’s brimming with rough-and-ready charm. Wander its ancient streets, dotted with Madonna shrines and buzzing with scooters, explore its beautiful Baroque churches and top-class museums – and be sure to stop at one of its hole-in-the-wall pizzerias for a world-class margherita.

Tsavo West National Park, Kenya

Richard Trillo, Author, the Rough Guide to Kenya

I’m very attached to this place. It sometimes seems every turn in the winding tracks through this 8000-square kilometre sanctuary yields a new discovery – fat-rumped zebras, a herd of wrinkled elephants like a mountain range in motion or impossibly tall, prehistoric-looking giraffes. In the region’s volcanic landscapes, bare lava fields are interspersed with sparkling, spring-fed lakes and thick stands of fig trees and acacias. Last time I was there, during the rainy season, I took a route new to me and spent two hours driving through this pristine scenery, only passing one other vehicle the whole afternoon.

The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia

Claire Saunders, Contributor, Rough Guides

It’s an otherworldly and stupendously beautiful landscape of blinding white salt flats stretching for as far as the eye can see, broken only by bizarre islands covered in giant cacti. In the wet season it is transformed into a giant mirror. As well as being the most stunning place I’ve ever visited, the Salar was also the coldest: despite a hot water bottle – purchased with some foresight and much smugness the day before – and going to bed wearing every single item of clothing in my rucksack, the night I spent there was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.

Winterton-on-Sea, England

Martin Dunford, Author, The Rough Guide to Belgium

It’s a place I regularly visit on the Norfolk coast. My children love to run around in the dunes there, the beach is huge and sandy and – big plus – we can take our dog. There’s a great café to warm up (or cool off) in afterwards. Oh, and the village has a great pub too. It’s heaven.

Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

Zora O’Neill, Author. The Rough Guide to Mexico

Every time I visit Mexico, I discover something new and exciting. The diversity and depth of traditional (and modern) culture here is a treasure. I spend most of my time in the Yucatán, which I love for its mellow attitude and strong Maya traditions. But drive one winding highway to another state and it’s a totally new and thrilling world.

Lapa, Rio de Janeiro

Rob Coates, Author, the Rough Guide to the Caribbean

I love a night out in Lapa. With all eyes on Brazil, the city exudes an infectious arrogance as it parties, and Lapa’s raucous street life and trendy samba clubs always leave my senses dazzled and feet jittering in rhythm.

Tokyo, Japan

Mark Thomas, Senior Picture Editor, Rough Guides

As a photographer, Tokyo is top of my list: a giant futuristic metropolis and the perfect sci-fi background to thousands of my shots. I’ve visited Tokyo on four occasions, met my future wife there and produced some of my best photography there. Its futuristic vision is still etched on my mind.

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