When winter is upon us, the temptation is to retreat to our homes for cosy nights in. But all around the world, winter is the time when some cities really shine. Here are 20 places that look more beautiful in winter.

1. Chicago, USA

Chicago is best known as the Windy City, although we think it’s even more beautiful during the winter months when it transforms into the Snowy City. Come in January or February to witness Chicago at its coldest; temperatures can drop so low that Lake Michigan partially freezes over – truly a sight to behold.

2. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn’s medieval old town is enchanting throughout the year, but during Estonia’s long winter months it takes on a whole new dimension of wonder. Take a stroll around the fortified Toompea and eventually you’ll end up in Raekoja Plats. Pop into the tiny room beside the Town Hall for a glass of glögi or some homemade soup.

3. Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Imagine a series of sixteen turquoise lakes, cascading into each other in an unforgettable display of water’s power and majesty. Now imagine that same scene, but frozen. Plitvice National Park is one of Croatia’s main tourist attractions, almost deserted in the winter months but all the more beautiful when its waterfalls are frozen in time.

4. Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan

Jigokudani may not be the most dramatic winter landscape in Japan, but it is unmissable in winter when the resident Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, bathe in the steaming hot springs. It’ll take a fair amount of willpower to resist stripping off and joining the monkeys, although the attendants might have something to say about that…

5. Banff National Park, Canada

The star attraction of Banff National Park is undoubtedly Moraine Lake. Located some 15km from Lake Louise, the lake’s crystal clear waters reflect the snowcapped Valley of the Ten Peaks. We’re not the only ones who love it here – the Canadians put the scene on their $20 banknotes during the 1970s.

6. Hallstatt, Austria

No, you’re not looking at a puzzle. This place really exists. Hallstatt is a tiny lakeside village and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Austria, all the more glorious when nearby Salzburg Mountain is blanketed in snow. It is often voted as one of the prettiest villages in the world, and we wouldn’t disagree.

7. Richmond Park, UK

London’s biggest park is even more beautiful in the winter. At 2500 acres, it’s three times the size of New York’s Central Park, and with wild deer galloping around it feels like you could be lost in the middle of the English countryside. On the few winter days when snow falls in the capital, Richmond Park is the place to be.

8. Gobi Desert, Mongolia

If you’re the kind of person who might travel to deepest Mongolia to check out some wooly camels in the middle of the bitter winter, then read on. During the Thousand Camel Festival, local camel herders take part in polo competitions and races. If you fancy getting involved, everyone is welcome to mount a camel and join the opening parade.

9. Bruges, Belgium

With its cobbled alleyways, frozen canals and gingerbread architecture, Bruges is without a doubt at its most beautiful during the winter months. Come in January or February when the popular Christmas markets have packed away and you will have the town to yourself. It’s unlikely you’ll return home with seeing a castle or two – there are more per square inch here than any other city in the world.

10. Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany

Remember sleeping beauty’s castle at Disneyland? Well this is the building that inspired it, only you won’t find any adults dressed as furry rodents lurking around here. Located on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Schloss Neuschwanstein is even more beautiful in the winter months when the surrounding forest is dusted in snow.

11. Trakai Castle, Lithuania

The expression “fairytale castle” is overused, but when it comes to Lithuania’s Trakai Castle there are few other ways to describe it. Located seventeen miles west of Vilnius, the castle transforms during the winter months, when the surrounding lake freezes over and the orange turrets are speckled with snow.

12. Atlas Mountains, Morocco

This is Africa, but not as you know it. The majestic Atlas Mountains see total snow cover above 3000m from November to April. Though visitor numbers are higher in the summer months, Mount Toubkal is perhaps at its most stunning during the winter, when intrepid mountaineers don crampons and climb to the 4167m-summit.

13. Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is a great place to visit year-round but during the winter months (May to September) it really comes into its own. Nearby, the Remarkables and Coronet Peak ranges offer some of the finest skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand, and the town is particularly lively in June and July when the Queenstown Winter Festival takes place.

14. Yellowstone National Park, USA

Vast, volcanic Yellowstone has been home to bison since prehistoric times. During the winter months, when higher areas are covered in a thick layer of snow, the bison migrate to lower grounds where it’s easier to feed on the grass. Wildlife lovers will be in their element; the park is also home to bears, elks, wolves and the pronghorn antelope.

15. Lapland, Finland

During the summer months this is the land of 24-hour sun, but during the long winter Lapland is engulfed in almost total darkness. This would be a fairly grim time of the year to visit, were it not for the chance of catching a display of the aurora borealis dancing in the sky. January, February and March tend to be the best times to see the Northern Lights.

16. Prague, Czech Republic

Europe does Christmas markets well, and arguably the most beautiful of them all is in Prague. Here you can roam around the fairy-lit wooden huts and pick up Christmassy gifts and decorations to your heart’s content. Don’t forget to try a klobása (barbequed sausage) washed down with some svařené víno (mulled wine) to complete the full festive experience.

17. Harbin, China

If you’re going to make the journey to Harbin make sure it’s in January, when the city hosts the largest ice and snow sculpture festival in the world. Participants travel from all corners of the planet to exhibit their spectacular, enormous ice designs. Just don’t forget your gloves – this part of northeastern China has been known to have temperatures dropping below -20°C in the winter.

18. Lake Bled, Slovenia

It doesn’t get much more picturesque than Instagram-filter-defying Lake Bled, in the alpine Upper Carniolan region of Slovenia. You can walk around the entire lake in about an hour, although it’ll be hard to resist stopping at every opportunity to photograph Bled Island’s Church of the Assumption, with the epic snowcapped mountains looming behind.

19. New York City, USA

New York City does winter well. The temperature plummets, the sky is electric blue and when it snows, it really snows. While some visitors might spend their time fighting with festive shoppers in Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, more romantic sorts should head to Central Park for a skate. This is probably the most impressive setting for an ice rink on the planet, with the Manhattan skyscrapers towering nearby.

20. Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan

Tajikistan’s seldom-visited Pamir Mountains are beautiful throughout the year, but they are perhaps at their most epic during the winter. During the long cold months this rugged part of the world is deserted, with the exception of the most intrepid explorers. Even the native nomads retreat from the high pastures from September onwards.

See a picture of Skye, suspect computer enhancement. That’s just how it works until you get there. Then you cross the bridge, and slowly it dawns on you – Skye really does look like another world.

The grass really is that emerald green (that’ll be the rain), the mountains really are that sheer, the water really is that mirror-like. And, yes, the sky really is that theatrical, its clouds veering from disaster film leaden to romantic drama sun-streaked.

No surprise then that the latest film adaptation of Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, uses Skye as a backdrop. Here’s where you can follow in their footsteps.

For classic Skye scenery

Locals were called up to the Quiraing to appear as extras during filming here, in the scene where Macbeth is titled Thane of Cawdor, but it is the scenery that decidedly steals the show.

Arrive early (before 11am) to grab a parking spot along the single-track road between Uig and Staffin and head along the lower level path. To your left are sheer granite cliffs, exposed by a dramatic landslip that also created otherworldly rock formations including the Needle rock stack and the dramatic triple summit of the Prison.

Taking a hard left you’ll hike uphill (thousands of feet have worn it into a ladder of turf steps) for views down over the Table, a flat grassy plateau once used by locals to hide sheep from invaders. It’s a steep trail back down to road level but the shots you’ll have filled your camera with make it well worthwhile.

For a challenge

The most challenging mountain range in Britain, The Cuillin also plays a dramatic role in the film, as the site of Banquo’s assassination.

But the drama doesn’t end there, as even the most experienced of hikers will find plenty to push them in this rocky range. There are 11 munros in the ridge, the easiest of which to climb is probably Sgurr na Banachdich, for which you won’t need to use your hands.

Start from Glen Brittle Youth Hostel car park and follow the path up the south side of the stream, passing a series of waterfalls. A faint muddy path leads off to the right, ascending the moor. You’ll cross a stream and head on up the back of Coir’ an Eich on a clear path zigzagging up an extremely steep scree slope before continuing along the ridge towards the summit. You’re at 3166ft up here and the views are truly spectacular, out over the tooth of the ridge towards the sea.

Don’t set out without proper gear, food and drink, a decent map and route instructions.

For those who want to get out on the water

“I was really foremost led by [Scotland] and [its] landscape to kind of define the look of the film”, said director Justin Kurzel. And if you want to get a real feel for the views that inspired him, you have to take to the water.

Board a Bella Jane boat trip in Elgol and it’s just a 45-minute crossing to the base of the River Scavaig, which links the loch to the sea and is said to be the shortest river in Britain.

It takes just ten minutes to walk up the river to the loch, with some rock hopping involved, and here you will get some of the best views of The Cuillin. The steep-sided mountains stare down at you from all directions, reflected in water so calm it acts like a mirror.

Don’t try to cross the river (unless you are happy to get very wet), instead stick to the left-hand side of the loch and continue further, leaping from rock to rock and following the often soggy path to get a little closer to those imposing peaks.

The boat runs continuously so you can either stay an hour and a half or three hours before catching it back to Elgol. On the crossing look out for the Small Isles of Rum, Muck, Eigg and Canna, as well as plenty of seals, and puffins during the summer.

For a true taste of Scotland

Food might not be a focus of the film – but it should be one for your trip. Skye is known for its natural produce and restaurant menus across the island make good use of it (try Kinloch Lodge, the Three Chimneys and Scorry Breac for the best).

The freshest produce is found by getting out there among it, though, foraging on a day out with Skye Ghillie, aka Mitchell Partridge.

Every day with Mitch is different, but expect a spot of deer stalking through the forest (look out for snapped branches and hoof prints as signs of recent activity), plenty of picking of herbs such as wood sorrel and bog myrtle and a feast of foraged mussels on the beach, cooked in water from the loch.

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

Ask anyone who’s ever travelled solo, and they probably wouldn’t want to adventure any other way. It might be daunting at first, and it’s certainly simpler for some people than it is for others. But spending time alone on the road is among the most rewarding travel experiences out there.

Whether it’s a long trip around the world or a habit of solitary weekend jaunts, here are 10 things everybody learns while travelling alone:

1. You always return home with lots of new friends

Ever noticed that you’re more likely to ask one person for directions than you are to ask a group of people? Solos are more approachable, plain and simple. Lone travellers learn that the benefits of this are twofold: not only will other travellers feel far more comfortable introducing themselves to you, but it’s actually easier for you to strike up conversation with others as well.

2. You can engage with locals on a level that only solo travellers can

You know that local folks are more open, and definitely more curious, when it’s only you walking into that hole-in-the-wall café, or sampling the pungent flavours of that roadside food stall. From a heartfelt conversation on a rickety train, to suddenly having a network of genial families happy to host you for a night, you know none of these incredible experiences would have been possible if you’d been travelling with others.  

3. You’re free to adventure as you please, and it feels awesome

There is no need to compromise when travelling alone. No need to appease a friend’s unfortunate craving for an overpriced burger and fries, or their incessant complaints about mosquito bites in a jungle where you’re on travel cloud 9. As a lonesome wanderer you travel where you want, when and however you want to – all with a liberating degree of indulgence.

4. You gain a deep understanding of the destinations you’ve visited

Travelling solo, you’re more immersed in your surroundings. You notice the unique quirks, and subtle character that truly makes a place what it is. But walk around the same street chatting with an old friend, and your mind is often immersed elsewhere.

5. There is something liberating about travelling to a place where no one knows you

For some, travelling alone is like a fresh start. Or a temporary escape from the life-baggage you’re forced to lug around back home. That’s not to say you’re a different person when abroad, but you may notice how much that therapeutic anonymity has changed you by the time you return home.

6. Alone time is healthy and we rarely get enough of it

Time spent alone and unplugged forces you to really reflect on your life back home, your recent experiences on the road and the direction things are headed. Some of those thoughts aren’t always pleasant to deal with, but solo travellers know that even if solitude is a struggle at times, they’re stronger because of it.

7. Distance makes you appreciate the important people in your life

Distance makes you appreciate the people who matter most in your life back home. Especially those you’ve taken for granted. Far away and alone, you’re reminded to make the most of every second with loved ones when you return.

8. Distance teaches you that some people who you thought were important, really aren’t

The same distance can also make you realise that some people in your life aren’t quite as important as you thought they were. Be they a bad influence, a toxic love or a fair-weather friend, it’s not always a welcome realisation. But it’s usually for the best.

9. When you’re a little lonely, you’ll get more creative

Whether it’s journaling, drawing, philosophising or brainstorming future entrepreneurial endeavours, solo travellers are usually forced to find new expressive ways to amuse themselves when there’s no conversation (or wi-fi). You might have even stumbled upon your vocation.

10. Sometimes it’s fun to pretend you’re the only tourist in the world

Isn’t that really what every solo traveller secretly wants, to boldly go where no-one has gone before?

But let’s be honest for a second: very rarely are we ever as intrepid or adventurous as we’d like to imagine ourselves.Still, when you’re the only tourist on that bush bus to nowhere there’s a thrilling fantasy that plays out in your mind as you watch a new world go by out the window – and solo travellers know that feeling is addictive, and stays with you for the rest of your life.

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Bolivia brims with unique and barely-visited landscapes and cultures. It offers everything from the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, to the Parque Nacional Madidi – one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, plus a wealth of ancient indigenous customs and traditions.

But despite this plethora of attractions, the country rarely features top of most travellers’ South American itineraries.

So could there be some truth in Bolivia’s reputation as the world’s least friendly tourist destination? In 2013, Bolivia ranked last globally for the “attitude of population towards foreign visitors”. That year the country received only 800,000 international visitors compared to 5.6 million in neighbouring Argentina.

We think this captivating country has just been misinterpreted. Here, Steph Dyson, winner of our writing competition, tells us why you need to make time for South America’s most misunderstood destination.

Image by Barnabas Kindersley (c) Dorling Kindersley

Misconception #1: given that ranking, the local people won’t be friendly

Visitors may find themselves ignored in the market, or frustrated as they struggle to be understood in basic transactions. But this unresponsiveness – sometimes bordering on rudeness – stems from the fact that many people do not speak Spanish as their native tongue.

Instead, over half of the population speaks one of the indigenous languages – Quechua or Aymara, with Spanish as a secondary language.

In addition to this language barrier, poor quality English teaching has resulted in few Bolivians being equipped with the linguistic skills to communicate with English-speaking tourists.

Unless you’ve invested time into learning key phrases, you may be met with a lack of patience, masking the warmth and kindness of the majority of the people you will encounter.

Mercado de Sucre by Cristian Ordenes via Flickr (cc license)

Misconception #2: you’re likely to get robbed

We all hear the anecdotes, or read the warnings on the travel forums. But let’s face it: we’re far more likely to share sour experiences from our trips than how safe we felt throughout.

In the de facto capital La Paz, stepping outside of the tourist hotspots or hopping onto public transport is one of the best ways of exploring the city. However, many tourists work themselves into such a frenzy that they stick to the centre and the sanitised – and ludicrously expensive – tourist transport. This starves travellers of a real insight into Bolivia.

As with all big cities in South America – and indeed across the world – due caution and awareness of your surroundings is your best protection. But locals here will often look out for you, kindly reminding you to keep your bag close or warning you of potential scams. Taking heed of this advice, as well as taking basic precautions, will increase your feeling of safety.

Bear in mind, despite perceptions, that the overall crime rating of Bolivia is actually lower than neighbouring Peru.

City view of La Paz by Jimmy Harris via Flickr (cc license)

Misconception #3: it could be difficult to travel

Tourism is underdeveloped in Bolivia – but the country rewards adventurous souls, offering the rawness lost in more seasoned tourist destinations.

Travel in the larger cities along the well-etched tourist trail is rarely difficult, with many companies now recognising the need for English-speaking staff.

In rural areas, you’ll need some grasp of Spanish, although this shouldn’t put you off. Bolivian Spanish is one of the easiest to understand due to its clarity and speed, and taking a few classes before you travel – or spending a week or two studying in stunning Sucre – will give you the best chance to get the most from your time in Bolivia.

Fundamentally, what visitors must understand is that the development of tourism is hindered by the fact that many Bolivian people cannot yet see its benefits. Few companies work with or directly profit small communities, meaning that tourism may appear an invasion into local peoples’ lives, rather than a means of earning money to support community development.

You can help to change this: take tours run by companies who promote responsible, local tourism, such as Condor Trekkers in Sucre. This will ensure your legacy is positive, helping communities to use tourism constructively for their own needs.

These tours will also guarantee a more positive reception during your travels, and give you a closer understanding of the indigenous and Andean traditions maintained by the Bolivian people.

Image by Dreamstime.com: Laumerle

So what does this mean for you?

Bolivia offers incredible rewards to travellers who ignore its past reputation. Its diverse range of landscapes is mind-blowing, and the country is packed with ancient landmarks – from the birthplace of the Inca dynasty to one of the cradles of Andean civilization.

You will discover a population who – despite what you might hear – are friendly and welcoming. Most importantly, travellers who go the extra mile will discover how hospitable Bolivians really are.

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

On the face of it, Scandinavia isn’t a very sensible place for a holiday. For one thing, it’s almost always going to be colder than the place you’re leaving behind. And when it comes to basics like food and accommodation, it’s probably more expensive too.

But if you don’t mind throwing a few warm jumpers in your backpack and paying a little extra for meals out – and honestly, it’s not that bad – you’ll be rewarded handsomely. Scandinavia is home to some of Western Europe’s wildest sights, from shimmering blue lakes and clattering herds of reindeer to snow-laden forests that look like they’ve been imported straight from Narnia.

It isn’t all fjords and pine trees, though; there are fairytale castles, Viking treasures, and gritty, pretty cities that nurture some of the world’s most exciting art and design scenes. Then there’s that green, egalitarian approach to life that will leave you thinking that – somehow – Scandinavia just works.

Ready to take the plunge? Here are 7 ideas for short breaks in Scandinavia.

1. Bergen and the fjords , Norway

Bergen looks like it was built for a photo shoot, but its beauty pales in comparison to the epic fjords nearby. You might find that the staggering views are rewarding enough (imagine soaring mountains reflected in mirror-smooth water), but otherwise there’s a whole host of adrenaline-pumping activities to keep you occupied. Anyone for paragliding?

2. Gothenburg and the west coastSweden

In the space of a couple of decades, Sweden’s second biggest city has reinvented itself as one of Europe’s coolest city break destinations. It’s still a big industrial hub with a busy port at its heart, but the focus is increasingly on tourism. Why should you go? For the super-fresh seafood, for the locally brewed beer and laidback bars, and for the car-free islands that lie just offshore, where you can swim in cool, clear waters.

Gothenburg by Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn) via Flickr (CC license)

3. SkagenDenmark

Set on a narrow spit of land with breezy beaches on both sides, Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost town – and one of its prettiest, too, with mustard-yellow houses lining the streets. Since the Nordic Impressionists arrived here more than a century ago, attracted by the big skies and soft golden light, the artists have kept on coming. Now the town is dotted with galleries, workshops and antiques shops. Cycle a few kilometres northeast of town to the sandbar called Grenen, where Denmark ends, and you can watch two separate seas sloshing together before your eyes.

Skagen by Tjark via Flickr (CC license)

4. Österlen, Sweden 

Home to rolling fields of poppies and cornflowers, rather than the usual dense pine forests, Österlen is the gorgeous chunk of land in the far southeast of Sweden. It’s one of the best parts of the country to explore by car, with farm shops and orchards sprouting up at the side of the road, and powder-fine beaches hugging the pristine coast. Head to Stenshuvud Nationalpark on a warm summer’s day, squint just a little, and you might think you’ve landed on some languid Thai island.

Nature’s own stripes by Susanne Nilsson via Flickr (CC license)

5. StockholmSweden

Sprawling across low islands that are stitched together by passenger boats and bridges, with views of soaring spires around almost every corner, Stockholm sure is a looker. But beyond the medieval lanes of the old centre, the self-proclaimed Capital of Scandinavia is a slick, forward-thinking city, home to some of the world’s coolest tech and fashion brands. It’s pricey and pretentious, sure, but there’s a reason young Swedes flock here from all four corners of the country.

6. LaplandNorway & Sweden

Wood-fired saunas, shivering forests, reindeer meat, and steaming cups of lingonberry juice: Lapland manages to roll Scandinavia’s most exotic bits into a single epic landscape. Challenging weather conditions and the area’s vast size can make exploring a slow process, but with a long weekend you’ll be able to get a decent flavour for life in the north. Watch the Northern Lights, try ice fishing, or snuggle down for a night at the Icehotel. Come back in summer when the sun reappears, nourishing the valleys with meltwater, and the possibilities for hiking are endless.

Aurora borealis by imagea.org via Flickr (CC license)

7. Copenhagen, Denmark

When it comes to art, design, fashion and food, no other Scandinavian city can compete with Copenhagen. Yes, Noma is here, but most visitors experience a more laidback version of the city, where bottles of Carlsberg are still swigged at canal-side bars, and where pushbikes – not limos – remain the favoured mode of transport. Give the famous Little Mermaid statue a miss, and instead make time for the galleries, food carts and design shops. A weekend here is barely enough to scratch the surface.

Explore more of Scandinavia with the Rough Guides to Norway, Denmark and SwedenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

If you love dark, you’re going to love this piece of news.

No, that wasn’t a slip of the keyboard. The tiny Channel Island of Sark has some of the darkest skies on the planet, and this weekend astro-enthusiasts will flock (or rather, bob) to the island as it opens its very first observatory to the public.

This eccentric, ex-Feudal island – only accessible by boat – lies between Guernsey and Jersey, around 80 miles south of England. In 2011 it was named the world’s first ‘Dark Sky Island’ for the remarkable clarity of its night sky, not surprising on an island without any cars or street lamps and a population of just 600.

The two-room observatory has been built in the centre of the island where the sky is at its darkest. One room houses the Sark Astronomy Society’s mammoth telescope, with a sliding roof unveiling the epic sky above. The other is a “warm room” with a screen linking to the telescope.

This isn’t quite on the same scale as Britain’s Jodrell Bank or Herstmonceux observatories, but the stargazing experience is up there with the best.

Check out visitguernsey.com for more information on Guernsey and Sark. More details on the observatory project can be found on the Sark Astronomical Society’s website sastros.sark.ggStocks Hotel are running an all-inclusive Sark Trek package for £270.

All images in this feature Copyright Sark Tourism.

There’s more to see in Canada’s most populated province than ice hockey, forests and freely flowing maple syrup – and some of it’s pretty weird. From the world’s largest Elvis Presley festival, to axe throwing ranges in Toronto, here are just a few things you didn’t know you could do in Ontario.

1. Drink Dead Elephant Ale while gazing at a dead elephant

On September 15, 1885 Jumbo the Elephant of the PT Barnum circus, the world’s first animal celebrity, was hit by a train and killed in St Thomas, Ontario. It made global headlines. Jumbo’s skeleton is on display at the New York Museum of Natural History and his ashes are interred at Tuft’s University. Thankfully, none of these remains are distilled in the Railway Brewing Company’s tribute. They boast a hoppy IPA in honour of Jumbo, dubbed Dead Elephant Ale, and an enormous statue of the deceased animal in front of their business. Cheers?

2. Lace up your blue suede shoes for the biggest Elvis Festival on Earth

Situated on the unlikely banks of Georgian Bay, the ski resort town of Collingwood hosts an Elvis-fest to end all Elvis-fests every summer. Impersonators with greasy pompadours and overwhelming sideburns flock here from around the globe with hopes of being crowned the next King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Every venue in downtown Collingwood, plus the nearby hot spot of Blue Mountain resort, is practically crawling with Elvises. Whether the impersonators are bang on, or hilariously missing the mark, they’re a lot of fun to gawk at.

Collingwood Elvis Festival by Jay Morrison (CC license)

3. Trim a few years off of your life with Dangerous Dan’s “Colossal Colon Clogger”

If gorging on local fast-food is your idea of a holiday then don’t miss Dangerous Dan’s, named after owner James’ grandfather, a wrestler notorious for his unhealthy diet. The Toronto restaurant is famous for its “Quadruple ‘C’ Combo” – a 24oz burger served with a quarter pound of cheese, a quarter pound of bacon, two fried eggs, a side of poutine and a large milkshake. Be sure to leave room for a Double D cup dessert to hammer the final nail in your food coma coffin. Eat at your own risk.

4. Get sleepy in a tepee on Manitoulin Island

On beautiful Manitoulin Island’s M’Chigeeng Reserve lies a forest ringed campground with tepees, wigwams and a native longhouse. Here, at the Great Spirit Circle Trail, glampers can get back to nature in a luxury-enhanced tepees. Whether you want to hike, canoe, forage on a medicine walk or take on a horseback tour into the Manitoulin wilderness, this is a wonderful way to learn a bit about the rich cultures of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

5. Channel your inner lumberjack

The West Coast Lumberjacks didn’t win Canada’s Got Talent for nothing. Showcasing thrilling exhibitions of wood wizardry such as log rolling, chainsaw carving and axe throwing, they keep all audiences enthralled with superhuman skills. Catch a performance at Wonderland Amusement Park just outside of Toronto during the summer months, or at the Ontario Lumberjack Competition at Brechin in June. Feeling inspired? Channel your inner lumberjack at BATL, Toronto’s very own axe throwing range.

Axe throwing at BATL by Tibor Kovacs (CC license)

6. Retrace the footsteps of a prepubescent Justin Bieber in his hometown of Stratford

150km east of Toronto is the pretty little theatre town of Stratford, the site of Justin Bieber’s nativity. Yes, musical superstar Bieber’s talent was birthed and nurtured in this very place. For hardcore ‘Beliebers’, sitting on the steps of the Avon Theatre, where Justin used to busk, will no doubt be a holy pilgrimage of sorts. This self-guided tour also features the pizza parlour where Bieber has been known to give autographs and the City Hall where he recorded his first song.

7. Relax with a restorative ‘Stitch n’ Bitch’

Nothing is more therapeutic than the intricate needlework involved in knitting and crocheting. Except, perhaps, getting everything off your chest while you’re at it. The Knit Café in Toronto’s hip west-end not only offers drop-in sessions for beginners up to advanced students but is a great hang-out, with “Stich n’ Bitch meetups every Tuesday. By far, the most relaxing part of any session is the chat.

8. Break bread with Old Order Mennonites in St. Jacob’s Country

North of Toronto is a stunning rural area where farms are nestled among undulating hills. This countryside is home to twenty different sects of Mennonites, and on any given day you can see these farmers’ traditional horse-drawn buggies trundling along the roads. The village of St Jacob’s is home to St Jacob’s Mennonite Church, where there is a potluck supper open to visitors every Sunday at 5:30pm; a perfect opportunity to learn about the locals residents, many of whom still eschew the conveniences of modern technology, electricity included.

Ontario Mennonites by Zhu (CC license)

Explore more of Canada with the Rough Guide to CanadaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Lynn stayed with the Westin Trillium House Hotel, Blue Mountain, prices from $159 (low season) and $199 (high season). 

There’s nowhere quite like Scotland. This epic land of mighty mountains, plunging glens and surging rivers offers a sweep of experiences that you just cannot find anywhere else.

If you’ve ever wanted to have your own kilt fitted, canoe down a river fuelled by a wee dram or hop on Europe’s only scheduled flight to land on an Atlantic beach, then read on…

1. Get your kilt on

Forget the wafer-thin tartan tat that tourist shops churn out in Edinburgh’s Old Town. These are indeed just patterned skirts. If you want a proper kilt you’ll need to pay for it – but it should last a lifetime.

Edinburgh tailors like Geoffrey Tailor offer the full service. Ideally, you want an eight-yard kilt made in full weight, 16/17oz worsted. They will measure you up, talk you through the tartans and let you know about all the add ons like a sporran or a sgian dhu (basically a lethal knife you stuff down your socks).

Tartans by Gitta Zahn via Flickr (CC license)

2. Take Europe’s most surreal flight

That is right. Hop on Flybe’s propeller plane (operated by Scottish island specialist airline Loganair) and about an hour later – after one of the most scenic flights of your life – you bash down right on to the sands of Traigh Mhor on the remote Hebridean isle of Barra.

Once you’re down, you can even enjoy garlic cockles freshly picked from the runway. Surreal does not cover it.

Plane landing, Barra airport by Colin Moss via Flickr (CC license)

3. Soak in a hot tub in the heather

Forget bubbling away with bubbly in a hot tub. In Scotland it’s all about relaxing with a cosy wee dram. Its best savoured on a freezing cold night, when your hair turns to ice and stars explode above like you have never seen them before.

We recommend the hot tubs at self-catering escapes like Roulotte Retreat, Mains of Taymouth and Kilfinan House.

Never! by Mark Rowland via Flickr (CC license)

4. Bag a munro

Up for a hillwalking challenge? This bizarre craze sees devotees “bag” Munros, or mountains over 3000ft-high, by hiking their way up to the top.

Sir Hugh Munro is the man to blame for first putting together the list of peaks, which currently stands at 284. The record for completing them all is an improbable 40 days – good luck!

5. Paddle through whisky country

Scotland is serious whisky country and you can’t leave without sampling the nation’s famous spirit. But for a real experience to remember – take to the water.

Dave Craig of Spirit of the Spey offers a unique Canadian canoe trip down a stretch of Scotland’s fastest flowing river, the Spey, where distilleries dot the banks.

This is thirsty work, but luckily Dave is on hand to offer a wee dram midstream and then a private tasting by a roaring fire in his home afterwards.

River Spey by Dave Conner via Flickr (CC license)

6. Spot the “Big Five”

Stick with us here, but you don’t have to go on safari to spot the Big Five – Scotland has its very own: red deer (the UK’s largest land mammal), golden eagles, otters, red squirrels and common seals.

To tick off sightings of all five, check out new small cruise operator Argyll Cruising, who offer wildlife cruises on their seven-berth ship, Splendour.

Image by Alamy: Colin Leslie

7. Celebrate Hogmanay

The Scots don’t do New Year: they celebrate Hogmanay. This gloriously nefarious extravaganza has its roots deep in the country’s mysterious pagan past. It’s such a party that the entire country takes January 2nd off as well as New Year’s Day.

The epicentre of the action is Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, which goes on for days before and after the big night.

Elsewhere look out for the Comrie Flambeaux fire festival in Perthshire and the Stonehaven Fireballs Festival, both spectacular events that kick off the new year with a serious and uniquely Scottish bang.

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

You’ve probably never heard of apitourism, or even considered “bee tourism” to be a thing. But it is, and it’s a travel trend swarming all over Slovenia.

While bee populations in countries such as the US are dwindling at an alarming rate, Slovenia is the only EU member state to have officially protected its prized bee race. They have 9600 beekeepers, around 12,500 apiaries and nearly 170,000 hive colonies.

We say ‘prized’ because the Carniolan honey bee is known for its friendly nature (they rarely sting) and hardy characteristics (they can survive sub-zero temperatures). Which explains why they sell 30,000 of their Queen Carniolan bees to European countries each year.

As the only country to certify apitourism providers, Slovenia will also host the European Green Capital in 2016. They’ll educate visitors on biodynamic and eco-friendly farming methods. Plus they’ll shine the light on the capital’s urban beekeeping and celebrate the UN movement which has declared May 20 World Bee Day.

So how can you get in on the action? Here are five ways to get up close and personal with Slovenia’s bees.

Go on the honey tasting trail

Thanks to its rich diversity of flora and expertise in mobile beekeeping, Slovenia produces 2400kg of honey each year.

Visit Marko Cesar, of the family-run Cesar brand, at his home near Maribor and you can sip on the country’s only sparkling chestnut honey-based wine. Elsewhere, you can sample liqueurs, mead, vinegar, beer and goats cheese, all made from honey.

Further west at the quaint Restaurant Lectar in Radovljica you can watch traditional honey bread hearts, or lectarstvo, being made; many biodynamic farmers flavour theirs with cinnamon, ginger, blueberry and chocolate.

Image by Lucy McGuire

Take an apitherapy tour

Nineteenth-century physician Filip Terc was ridiculed for claiming that bee venom could cure arthritis. But apitherapy is now recognised by the Slovenian Beekeeper’s Association as a legitimate form of homeopathy.

You can learn about the bacteria-fighting properties of propolis and the ‘curative’ effects of royal jelly on high blood pressure on an apitherapy tour.

Those with asthma can inhale ‘healing aromas’ from the hive while anyone feeling a little weary can try honey massages, beeswax thermotherapy – claimed to boost circulation and treat skin disorders – and a nap on special beehive beds, whose vibrations are said to induce calm.

Get hands-on at an apicamp

Whether you’re a beekeeping pro or simply want to learn more about the api-industry, Slovenia offers various ‘apicamps’ on Queen breeding, the apiculture science and traditional AZ hives.

You can join lectures in honey production, bee feeding and everything from comb wiring to obtaining propolis and royal jelly. Or if you want to do some serious swotting-up, you can head to the Slovenian Beekeepers’ Association in Lukovica – home to a honey laboratory and apiculture Library.

Image by Lucy McGuire

Stay on an eco-api-friendly estate

The apitourism trend has done wonders for highlighting new forms of eco-conscious travel. And many companies like ApiRoutes are using this niche industry to shine the spotlight on an array of eco and socially conscious accommodation and tours. In the lead up to 2016 – when Ljubljana will be hailed the official Green Capital – this ‘Green Piece of Europe’ will be thrust onto the responsible stage.

If you do one thing, check out the remarkable Trnulja Estate – a 100% organic farm with charming bio-apartments and excellent green credentials. Tanja Arih Korosec, Director of AriTours, says: ‘Tourism is becoming more about sustainability and if we can [use apitourism] to encourage tourists to act in a more sustainable way, other countries will follow.”

Image by Lucy McGuire

Discover api-folklore

During the mid-eighteenth century, Slovenia was rich in rural folk art, which appeared on many of the country’s traditional stacked AZ bee houses – it was believed that the motifs helped the bees navigate back to their hives.

Visit the Slovenian beekeeping museum in Radovljica to see 600 of these original hand-painted panels or take an excursion to the beautiful village of Selo to meet Danijela Ambrozic, who offers traditional api-artwork workshops from her beekeeping farm.

For more information on AriTours and ApiRoutes, visit Aritours.si and Apiroutes.com. Find more travel information on the Slovenia Tourist Board site at slovenia.info. WIZZ flies from London Luton to Ljubljana from £11.49. For more information visit wizzair.com. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Need a holiday but not sure who to travel with? Travelling alone can be empowering and fulfilling. Whether you’re a seasoned solo traveller or going it alone for the first time, this quiz will help you find the right destination.

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month