Street food in Taiwan has a charm that restaurants just can’t match. There’s a distinct pleasure to be found in wandering through the labyrinthine stalls glowing with colourful signage; watching your food made to order; inhaling the changing aromas at each stage of preparation – it’s as if the sights, sounds and spirit of the island become yet another ingredient in each dish’s recipe.

Here’s a quick introduction to roadside feasting in China‘s autonomous isle, one of the world’s most delectable foodie hubs. From candied fruit on a skewer to stinky tofu that tastes sort of like blue cheese, here are 10 Taiwanese street foods you absolutely must try.

As the only democracy in the Chinese speaking world and the most progressive city for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, a legacy of artists and activists have worked to make Taiwan’s capital a place where culture, progression and creativity thrive.

Now, a new wave of resident creatives are re-energizing the city. Cutting-edge art galleries stand next to traditional teahouses, and basement club techno still murmurs in the streets as local markets set up their fare with the sunrise. Affordable, safe, efficient and exciting, this sea of glass, concrete and palm trees is an urban explorer’s dreamland. For travellers looking to unearth Taiwan’s underground scene, here are eight tips for discovering cool Taipei at its best.

1. Don’t stop drinking coffee

Taiwan’s celebrated tea culture can be traced back more than three hundred years. Home to some of the world’s best greens and oolongs, tea here is both a science and a philosophy, a remedy for body and soul.

While you’ll find no shortage of old-school teahouses, the same spirit of craft and pride has been applied to Taipei’s third wave coffee scene – and the results are glorious. Interesting cafés are popping up everywhere in the city, from over the top chemistry lab-esque B Coffee & Space in Da’an to the award-winning baristas and Scandi-inspired minimalism of Fika Fika in Zhongshan.

Whether you spend the day shooting espresso or sipping cups of siphoned single-origin brew, you’ll quickly discover why Taipei seems set to become the world’s next hub of café culture.

photo by Colt St. George

2. Tap into the city’s creative scene in Zhongshan and Dongmen

Taipei was named World Design Capital 2016 for a reason. Everyone from young architects to underground record labels seem to be embracing a new “made in Taiwan” pride that’s at once trendy and distinctly Taiwanese. The neighbourhoods of Zhongshan and Dongmen are perfect for testing the waters.

While the main streets may feel a bit commercial, amble the historic back lanes of Zhongshan district and you’ll discover well-curated vintage shops like Blue Monday, cute design boutiques and stylish records stores like Waiting Room. Taipei Artist Village – an arts institution and residency open to local and international creatives – is also worth popping by.

Dongmen is even more gratifying. While the upscale main streets boast everything from craft bubble tea to the latest in Taiwanese interior design, hit the quiet residential alleyways and you’ll find quirky art cafés, craft beer bars, dusty Chinese antique shops and good old fashioned Taiwanese comfort food spots like James Kitchen on Yongkang Street.

3. Sample the street food, especially stinky tofu

Be it in London, New York or Berlin, street food has become undeniably, and often tragically, hip. Forgo the pomp, faux-grit and absurd prices of the latest in questionable Western street food trends and rejoice in Taipei’s affordable authenticity.

From notable night markets like Ningxia and Liaoning to nameless back alley daytime stalls serving dishes perfected over generations, there’re an overwhelming variety of delicious local dishes to sample. Fatty braised pork on rice, oyster omelettes, beef noodle soup, dumplings and shaved ice piled high with fresh fruit are good for starters.

However, your ultimate quest should be to conquer the infamous chòu dòufu, or stinky tofu. It smells like a rotting corpse, but possesses a flavour profile of such intense complexity most hardcore foodies call it sublime. Others spit it up immediately.

Pixabay / CC0

4. Give vegetarianism a try

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian having trouble finding meat-free eats, keep an eye out for restaurant signs with enormous, glaring swastikas. The symbol is associated with Buddhism in China long before it’s appropriation in Europe and marks the restaurant as entirely vegetarian.

There are loads around the city, selling delectable Buddhist meals at ridiculously cheap prices. Many are buffet style, where whatever you’ve stacked on your plate is paid for by weight. The selection is usually too vast to try all of in a single go, which will keep you coming back for more.

5. From dilapidation to design: check out the city’s former art squats

Maverick Taiwanese artists were the first to recognize the potential of Taipei’s abandoned industrial buildings, squatting and staging illegal performances in these derelict-turned-creative spaces. Though authorities were quite resistant to their presence initially, after much protest spaces such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park have become governmentally protected cultural centres.

Today these spaces are generally buzzing with life, hosting a plethora of fun adult and family events in on-site galleries, concept stores, cinemas, studios, concert halls and more. While governmental commercialization of these spaces has blunted their cutting-edge origins, they still feel undeniably special and worthwhile.

photo by Colt St. George

6. Lose yourself in Taipei’s nightlife

Home to a thriving underground scene, Taipei’s nightlife and music scenes are simply awesome. From indie garage rockers like Skip Skip Ben Ben, to techno, noise and experimental hip hop, putting the effort into exploring Taipei’s underground sounds will reveal an entirely different dimension to the city and provide opportunities to mingle with the artists who are making it happen.

Revolver in Zhongzheng is a laidback and friendly institution that throws everything from metal to indie nights, while F*cking Place (though the club doesn’t use an asterisk) is definitely among the city’s coolest dive-bars – with the added bonus of ridiculously cheap beer. For techno and electronic parties get to Korner, a subsection of well-known club The Wall. Pipe and APA Mini are also great venues for live music.

7. Not feeling the party? Try a reading rave

With a vibrant population of artists, intellectuals and activists perhaps it’s no surprise that print still holds a special place in Taiwan. The popularity of Eslite in Dunnan branch, Taipei’s massive 24 hour bookstore and one of the world’s only to keep such hours, speaks for itself. Curl up in this beautifully designed booktopia and join the locals as they pore over pages all night long.

On a smaller-scale, keep an eye out for the artisanal stationery shop Pinmo Pure Store, Gin Gin Store (the first gay bookstore opened in Greater China) and hip new bookish concept stores. In this respect, Pon Ding is an absolute standout – a friendly, three-story collaborative creative space housing art, independent publications, quality magazines and pop-up events. Of course, they’ve also got a brilliant café.

photo credit: Pon Ding

8. Get back to nature

Every once in a while you need to leave the urban grind behind and unwind in the natural world. Thankfully, nature is never far off in Taiwan.

The high speed railway from Taipei can have you beaching on the island’s subtropical southern coast in less than two hours, while verdant mountain trails and popular surf breaks are easily accessible by bus. If you’re feeling adventurous, delve further into the mountains to experience the colourful cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

But whenever you find yourself recharged and craving that big-city buzz it’s a quick train trip back to the creative playground that is Taipei.

EVA Air, a Star Alliance member, flies daily from London Heathrow to Taipei, offering passengers award winning service and a choice of three cabin classes: Royal Laurel Class (Business Class), Elite Class (Premium Economy) and Economy Class. Featured image: Pon Ding. See more of Taiwan with the Taiwanese tourist board

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

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

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

There are few better ways to see Europe than by rail. Budget flights might abound, but nothing can match the experience of travelling by train. Forget about tedious airport transfers and unsociable departure times, by rail you’ll get glorious views, spacious seats and – best of all – the ability to hop off a train right in the centre of a new city.

Whether you’re planning an epic rail tour or just looking for a weekend break, this is our pick of the best places to visit by train in Europe.

For foodies: Lyon

France’s gourmet capital has never been more accessible, with a direct Eurostar link to London and TGV connections that will whisk you to Paris or Marseille in under two hours.

Compact and instantly likeable, the city is perfect for getting to grips with in a weekend. Stroll the old streets of Vieux Lyon, test your adventurous palate with local specialties such as tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe), then hit up the hip Croix-Rousse district for super-cool coffee bars and cocktails.

Do: Shop at the city’s famous indoor market, the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. It’s the ideal place to pick up a train picnic.

Stay: Stylish mini-chain Mama Shelter have opened their latest outpost here, offering boutique design at budget-friendly prices – including iMacs in all the rooms.

Lyon via Pixabay/CC0

For nightlife: Budapest

Looking to get ruined? No, we’re not condoning bachelor party excesses, but embracing one of Budapest’s most famous attractions, the ruin bar.

These rambling bars have taken over abandoned buildings in the city’s seventh district, filling their dilapidated interiors with quirky decor, murals, art installations and more. You won’t find another night out in Europe quite like it.

As for getting there, direct rail links put you in easy reach of Vienna’s more sedate charms or the chilled-out Croatian coast via Zagreb.

Do: Take a bath. Budapest has long been known for its magnificent thermal pools; Gellért and Széchenyi baths are two of the best.

Stay: The sleek but affordable Soho Boutique Hotel is perfectly located for Budapest’s two train stations, and the best of the city’s nightlife.

Budapest via Pixabay/CC0

For the journey: the Scottish Highlands

For more than 140 years, the Caledonian Sleeper Highland Route has run from London to Scotland’s far north, calling in at Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.

It’s undeniably one of the most spectacular journeys in Europe, passing through some of the Highlands’ most glorious landscapes, be they carpeted with snow in winter or dotted with wildflowers come spring.

Do: Allow yourself at least three days to explore Scotland’s rugged beauty. The adventurous can use “outdoor capital” Fort William as a base to climb Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak.

Stay: Splash out on a night at Inverlochy Castle, one of Scotland’s most luxurious hotels on the site of a thirteenth-century fortress.

Ben Nevis via Pixabay/CC0

For sun and sightseeing: Seville

Approaching Spain by train, most travellers make a beeline for Barcelona or Madrid. But those who venture further south are handsomely rewarded.

It’s just a two-and-a-half hour journey from Madrid to the Andalucían capital, one of the country’s most enchanting cities. With its Moorish architecture, majestic cathedral and narrow, atmospheric streets, Seville is a joy to wander – especially in June and July when there’s an average of 12 hours sunshine a day.

Do: Go on a tapas tour, either planning your own route or joining an organised group.

Stay: The small but welcoming Hotel Alminar is ideally located for sightseeing; it’s right by the cathedral and has a roof terrace perfect for summer evenings.

Seville via Pixabay/CC0

For romance: Venice

Picture Venice and a train is probably the last image that comes to mind. Yet with direct links to Florence, Milan, Munich and more, rail is both a convenient and quick way to reach the city.

The station sits right on the Grand Canal, mere meters from the vaporetti and water taxis that will take you anywhere in the city. There no better way to crank up the romance than cruising beneath the Rialto Bridge, past some of the city’s finest palazzo and on to the famous landing stage at San Marco.

Do: Explore the other islands in the lagoon. The Lido’s beaches are great for sunny afternoons, while Murano is (unsurprisingly) the best place to pick up Murano glass souvenirs.

Stay: Boutique hotel Ca’ Pisani in Dorsoduro offers four-star service away from the crowds across the Grand Canal.

For an autumn or winter break: Munich

The Bavarian capital comes alive once temperatures begin to fall. First there’s the legendary Oktoberfest, which actually takes place at the end of September, and sees funfairs, beer tents and unbridled merriment overtake the city.

A few months on, as November draws to a close, the first signs of Christmas start to appear. Munich’s Weihnachtsmärkte is one the best in Germany, with hundreds of stalls radiating out from Marienplatz.

Do: Even if you’re not in Munich over Oktoberfest, make sure to visit the famous Hofbräuhaus for a stein.

Stay: Save your money for beer and glühwein by staying at the funky Wombats City Hostel (dorms and private rooms available).

Oktoberfest via Pixabay/CC0

This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All hotel recommendations are editorially independent. Header via Pixabay/CC0.

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

What and where are the Faroe Islands?

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

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

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

Image by Ros Walford

Why should I go?

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

What should I see?

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

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

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

Image by Ros Walford

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

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

What outdoor activities can I do?

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

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

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

What about the capital city?

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

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

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

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

Image by Ros Walford

Is there a music scene?

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

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

What should I eat?

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

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

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

Image by Ros Walford

How do I get around?

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

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

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

Surviving 42ºC (107ºF) desert heat, tramping hurricane-battered Pacific beaches and scaling lofty volcanoes, our hard-travelling authors have visited every corner of this vast, magnificent country – from the ancient caves of Baja California to the dense rainforest of the Lacandón Jungle.

To celebrate the publication of the new Rough Guide to Mexico, we’re sharing a few of their Mexico travel tips, including some of their favourite sights and experiences.

1. See dawn from a kayak

Paddling through the glassy, desert-backed waters of Bahía Concepción as the sun rises, surrounded by marine life, is an otherworldly experience.

Windy Playa Punta Arena is one of the best stretches of sand – and popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders. At Playa Santispac, some 5km further on, Ana’s offers cheap fish tacos and potent Bloody Mary as well as kayak rental and snorkelling gear.

2. Hit the road

Driving Highway 1, which runs 1711km from the US border to the southern tip of Baja California, rates as one of the world’s greatest road journeys.

Expect an enchanting drive featuring starry nights, vast deserts, isolated mountain ranges and empty beaches.

3. Get retro chic

The 1950s meets modern cool at Acapulco‘s Boca Chica hotel, a renovated resort carved into the cliff-face above the madness at Playa Caleta and decorated by Mexican artist Claudia Fernández.

The all-white rooms feature retro showers, flat-screen TVs, iPod docks and free wi-fi – plus there’s a luxurious spa, gym, massage cabañas and pool terrace.

Acapulco via Pixabay/CC0

4. Go subterranean swimming

The cenotes of northern Yucatán – vast sun-lit caverns filled with water – are magical places for a refreshing dip; X’keken and Samula are two of the best.

Shafik Meghji recently explored these and more, discovering why they were once considered sacred gateways to the Mayan underworld.

5. Get a window onto the Aztec world

Rent a boat and soak up the carnival atmosphere, flowers and traditional floating gardens at the Mexico City suburb of Xochimilco.

You can rent a boat on a weekday for less-crowded cruising, but Sundays are by far the most popular and animated day; Saturdays are lively, too, partly because of the produce market.

6. Go syncretic

The Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, in the village of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, is an incredibly vibrant blend of Catholicism and animist tradition, with the local Maya praying on a floor of pine needles.

The area is home to the Tzotzil Maya, one of the most distinctive and intriguing communities in Mexico.

7. Party at the best underground club

You can’t get more underground than La Mina Club in Zacatecas – it’s inside the old El Edén mine shafts, right in the heart of the mountain and accessed on the same train used in the mine tour.

From 11pm it pumps with everything from Latin sounds to cheesy electronic techno music. But if you don’t enjoy being trapped in an enclosed space, beware this might not be the club for you…

Sunset in Zacatecas via Pixabay/CC0

8. Discover Mexico’s microbreweries

Baja California’s craft beer scene is expanding. Sample it in Tijuana at Plaza Fiesta, where locals often head without a specific place in mind, preferring to wander until they find a scene that appeals to them, or La Taberna, the city’s acclaimed microbrewery and congenial pub.

Elsewhere, Ensenada is fast developing its own craft brew scene, with local beer maker Wendlandt operating warehouse and tap room Cervecería Wendlandt for connoisseurs to sample its popular oatmeal stout and Vaquita Marina pale ale. Baja Sur’s original microbrewery, Baja Brewing Co in San José del Cabo serves pints such as Baja Blond and Peyote pale ale.

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

Wherever you go in downtown Shanghai, you’ll be struck by international influence both past and present. From the leafy avenues of the former French Concession to the modern malls on Nanjing West Road, this is a city that grew up with globalisation.

For a different – and less crowded – take on cosmopolitanism, head to the suburbs. Hidden among the city outskirts are six European-style towns. These novel developments are a result of a 2001 plan to relieve population pressure in the city centre, by building new suburbs on the outskirts. It was hoped the European motifs would help attract Shanghai’s middle and upper classes, but deserted streets in some of these areas suggest it takes more than quirky themes to pull residents away from central Shanghai.

If the city’s population growth catches up with its relentless construction, though, these offbeat enclaves are unlikely to stay quiet forever. Here are a few of the most intriguing.

Tie the knot in British Thames Town

For a very British experience, ride the Shanghai metro to Thames Town. Almost everything here, including the clambering ivy, the man-made River Thames and the church modelled on its Bristol counterpart, is disconcertingly English.

It’s this very Englishness that makes touches of Chinese life stand out all the more: the red-coated guard on an electric moped, the ladies with purple permed hair and their similarly coiffured poodles, the countless couples who travel here for wedding photography.

Though it’s known officially as Thames Town, perhaps the place is best summed up by the name of a local language school: Li Yang Crazy English Town.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Spot the statues in a quiet German Town

Architectural firm Albert Speer & Partner (Speer’s father was Hitler’s chief architect in WWII) based their design for Anting New Town on modern German residential districts. The result may indeed be modern, but the empty streets suggest it’s not very residential. It is, in fact, a bit of a ghost town, with only one in five properties being inhabited.

As well as rows of yellow and red apartment blocks, the development includes the German Football Park – a small pitch where real players have been substituted for plastic statues.

In the central square, too, statues dominate. Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang van Goethe stand with an air of gravity that suggests that they are in a town with more than one open bar.

German beer, and Taiwanese sausages, are on offer in the restaurant opposite the literary figures, and you won’t need to queue to place your order.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Get back to nature in Swedish Luodian

Luodian North European New Town is inspired by Sigtuna in Sweden. Like Luodian, Sigtuna sits on the banks of a Lake Malaren. The Chinese version of the lake is a popular spot for camping and barbecues, and is probably more frequently used for wedding photos than its Swedish counterpart.

Away from the water, statues of naked Scandinavians pose outside northwest Chinese noodle shops. With titles such as Vitality, these scantily-clad artworks fit right into Luodian’s natural, outdoors theme.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Shanghai Meets La Mancha in Spanish Fengcheng

You’ll need the adventurous spirit of a knight-errant to discover Spanish Fengcheng. The 600 year-old town is a bustling jigsaw of hotpot restaurants and clothing stores, and even many locals haven’t noticed the Spanish influence.

But Spanish influence there is, and you’ll know you’ve found it once you spot the three windmills. The adjacent bridge is decorated with stone-carved pictures of scenes from Don Quixote.

Rising up from the river running under the bridge is a sculpture that may well be the Lady of La Mancha; she aims a level gaze at a housing compound with unmistakeable white-washed walls and red-tiled roofs.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Take a cruise in Italian Pujiang

To many, Shanghai’s Breeza Citta di Pujiang sounds more Italian than it looks. Architects Gregotti Associati International aimed for a rectangular grid layout, and architecture defined by simplicity and clean lines.

The result is a modern hybrid of Italian design and Shanghai suburb, with wide streets and long canals that are popular with both anglers and canoers.

Wander far enough from the populated apartment blocks and you’ll find a deserted Venetian-style canal, where a disused gondola floats eerily.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

Go Dutch in Gaoqiao

Most emblematic of Holland Town (Gaoqiao) is the windmill that stands on an island in the Gaoqiao Port waterway. To one side of the windmill, a faded sign advertising wedding photography clings to the wooden walls. Though the photography agency is gone, the pretty views across the water are still here.

Gaohe Road, the main thoroughfare, has little open aside from a gym and a martial arts centre. The rows of narrow houses, in colours from asphalt grey to faded orange, are topped by an array of turrets and gables.

At the northeaster end of Gaohe Road, past Shanghai Renjia and the closed St Michael’s Catholic Church, are a few riverside benches from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of this picturesque Dutch town.

Image by Joseph O’Neill

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

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding experiences out there. But where is the best place to travel alone? We’ve put together our own recommendations, but this year we thought we’d ask our readers. Here are the best places to travel solo – as voted for by you.

10. Ethiopia

Ethiopia might not usually feature in backpackers’ top tens, but the country is a truly rewarding place for travel of any kind, especially travelling solo. There’s no doubt that getting around can be a challenge – transport infrastructure is basic and roads can be bad – but the kind people, fascinating historic sights and gorgeous landscapes make it all worth the effort. If you’re willing to take the leap, Ethiopia offers a true adventure.

Pixabay / CC0

9. New Zealand

It’s no surprise that New Zealand appears on this list. The country has been a favourite of solo travellers for generations, offering easy exploration and plenty of opportunities for meeting people. Whether you’re after good wine and sublime food, or landscapes that could captivate you for hours, there’s something for everyone here. If you’re planning a trip, here are our top tips for backpacking New Zealand.

Pixabay / CC0 

8. Nepal

It’s probably not hyperbole to say Nepal‘s people are some of the world’s friendliest, which is why it’s such an excellent destination for a solo trip. The country was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2015, which destroyed many historic temples and sights, but tourism goes on and travellers’ dollars are helping rebuild the country’s economy.

Pixabay / CC0

7. Spain

Spain solves the solo foodie traveller’s ultimate dilemma: while in many countries, eating alone in restaurants means just trying one dish, tapas means you’ve got an excuse to order at least three different things – right? Beyond the cuisine – a highlight for any visitor – the other great advantage to going solo in Spain is how easy it is to get around using the country’s rail and bus networks. Plus there are some brilliant backpacker hostels for meeting fellow travellers.

Pixabay / CC0

6. Cambodia

This land of temples and sleepy towns is one of the most welcoming in Southeast Asia for a solo traveller. Cambodia has plenty to offer when it comes to traditional sights, too, from sacred ruins to a coastline littered with pretty coves, not to mention the gorgeous islands flung off the mainland. Head to the capital for riverfront rooftop bars, and chill out in Battambang when you tire of temples.

Pixabay / CC0 

5. Australia

A classic backpacker destination, Australia is a solo traveller’s dream. You could spend months (if not years) exploring this diverse country, whether you’re drawn to its cool cities, famous beaches or even to the stark beauty of the Red Centre. And when Bondi Beach looks like this in summer, it’ll be nigh-on impossible not to make friends along the way.

Pixabay / CC0

4. Singapore

This small city state isn’t always an obvious first choice for travellers, and many pass through en route to more popular destinations like the Philippines or Thailand (spoiler alert: Thailand’s up next). But stay a while and Singapore will capture your attention, from its shiny high-rise buildings in the city to the outlying islands with their thick forests and sandy beaches.

Pixabay / CC0 

3. Thailand

Visiting Thailand has become something of a rite of passage for many young travellers in Southeast Asia, and it’s little surprise you voted it near the top of this list. The country’s tourist trail is well and truly trodden, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer a great destination (or that you can’t get off the beaten track). Thailand has it all: fresh, zingy food; pristine beaches; desert islands; opulent temples; and friendly, ultra-hospitable people.

Pixabay / CC0 

2. Ireland

This little island on the edge of Europe has so much charm and such friendly people that it’s the ideal place to travel solo; you’ll find it nearly impossible not to make friends with the locals. From the Giant’s Causeway on Northern Ireland’s rugged coastline, to the rolling green countryside of rural southern Ireland, it’s also a beautiful place to explore. Scale Skellig Michael if you’re a Star Wars fan (the final scene of the latest movie was shot on this special little piece of rock), or head to Belfast to see a city reborn.

Pixabay / CC0 

1. Vietnam

You’re bound for an interesting experience no matter how or where you travel in Vietnam, and journeying alone is one of the most rewarding ways to explore this beguiling country. From the noodles to the night buses, there are hundreds of experiences you’ll never forget throughout Vietnam, whether you’re exploring the lovely long coastline or trekking through remote villages and meeting the hill tribes.

Pixabay / CC0

If you’re planning your first solo trip, buy the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.  Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. 

Travel, no matter how well researched, is a leap into the unknown, and so is parenthood. Although travelling with babies and toddlers seems daunting (it’s not really, here are some of our top tips), there are many rewarding reasons to explore the world with young kids.

Here are ten reasons why, when you’ve got young kids, it’s the best time to travel the world.

1. Seeing the world from their perspective is like seeing everything for the first time again

Travelling with kids means parents often have to try to make sense of the world for their little ones. When you’re in a situation where everything is new to them, it will undoubtedly force you to see things in a new and exciting way, too, so you can help them understand their foreign surroundings.

2. It’s a chance to take advantage of your natural hiatus

If you’ve always wanted to get off life’s treadmill and travel, having a baby is the perfect time to do it.

It’s a recognized life transition period which comes with maternity, paternity, and parental leave in many countries. Employers expect you to be gone, so use the time off work to travel.

Pixabay / CC0

3. It helps you avoid the rut of routine

Once you’ve mastered the first overwhelming round of sleeping and eating routines, you might feel reluctant to shake things up by travelling. But baby and toddler needs shift constantly, whether you stay put or hit the road, so don’t be discouraged.

If you’re brave enough to start travelling with your children as babies and toddlers, you’re more likely to keep adventuring and avoid the rut of routine.

4. You have to pack to go to the shops, so why not go somewhere better?

Small children require an arsenal of supplies: nappies, wipes, balms, creams, swaddles, hats, buggies, carriers, and more. You need to pack a nappy or changing bag every time you leave the house anyway, so why not travel somewhere exhilarating?

5. You break free from parenting trends – and it feels good

There’s a lot of pressure on parents to do things right – whatever that means. Parenting guidelines, however, seem to be trend-based, and fluctuate with the latest bestselling books.

Travel allows you break free from the tyranny of parenting literature and explore how other cultures do it. It provides an opportunity to glean global parenting wisdom in a far more interesting environment.

Pixabay / CC0

6. You fast-track family bonding

Both travel and young children add the element of unpredictability to daily existence. When you embrace both at once, the highs, lows, and problem-solving in between will inevitably lead to learning more about one another. Stuck together on a trip, you have to learn how react as a team – something that’ll be handy when you later have to tackle the teenage years.

7. It helps you all become more adaptable

A child’s adaptability is likely to be a nature and nurture thing. Traveling enables parents and young kids to practice flexibility.

This doesn’t mean skipping naptime everyday or tossing all structure out of the window, but different environments, cuisines and the demands of transportation and accommodation schedules will force you and your kids to compromise and try new things.

8. You embrace minimalism – less stuff means more living

Parenting young children comes with an overload of stuff. Some of it, such as buggies and baby carriers, is necessity. But there comes a time when the heaps of toys, nursery decor and baby accessories become oppressive.

Travelling can help new parents get a grasp on the essentials in life; you’ll have to travel relatively light and therefore life is stripped back a little. This leaves room for the basic pleasures in life, like embracing the great outdoors.

Pixabay / CC0

9. It’s ed-venturous, as well as adventurous

Small children learn tons from the freedom of play and the experience of exploration, which sit at the heart of travelling. You’ll learn more about your family unit as you travel, and the world itself.

10. It doesn’t have to come at any extra cost

You don’t have to pay big bucks for flights until the kids are at least two, and many cultural attractions, from galleries and museums to parks and monuments, are free for young kids around the world.

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

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

Find the elixir of (long) life

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

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

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

Image by Andy Turner

Learn to be a karate kid

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

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

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

Kick back on Japan’s answer to Hawaii

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

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

Image by Visit Okinawa

Seek out some strange wildlife

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

Image by Visit Okinawa

Explore an ancient empire

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

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

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

Image by Yusuke Umezawa on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

See an underwater Atlantis

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

Image by Inside Japan

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

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