Everybody knows the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Skye. But what about the other 6000-odd British Isles? Yes, we did say 6000. From the chunky Shetland Islands in Scotland’s far north to the sunny Isles of Scilly slung out from the coast of Cornwall, the British Isles are made up of islands of all shapes and sizes. Pick the right one and you could even have it all to yourself.

For a royal welcome: Piel Island

It’s probably fair to say that this Cumbrian island is the archipelago’s quirkiest, with its very own King and Queen. That’s Sheila and Steve, who own the island’s Ship Inn and welcome visitors to their kingdom with real ales and pub meals. This low-lying isle may be just 50 acres, but Piel has its own castle – and for the princely sum of £5 you can pitch your tent just about anywhere you like. The pub also has accommodation, and the royal family can organize seal watching and fishing trips. Take the ferry across from Roa Island, which confusingly is actually part of mainland England, for £5.

For an Art Deco stay: Burgh Island

You can walk to this island off Bigbury on Sea – assuming the tide is out, that is. At low tide the waters reveal a wide sandy beach, which acts as a 250-metre-long road for the Burgh Island Hotel’s Landrover, as well as anyone who wants to stroll across and have a pint in the ancient Pilchard Inn. At other times the hotel operates what could claim to be Britain’s oddest ferry: a “sea tractor” (£2 to non-residents) – essentially a raised platform 7ft above some very sturdy tractor wheels. Stay overnight in the Art Deco hotel and you’ll be in good company, previous guests have included Noel Coward and Agatha Christie, who set two of her mysteries here.

Off to sea by Ben Salter (license)

For complete rule of the roost: Towan

Here’s your chance to get an island all to yourself simply by booking a holiday cottage. That cottage is The House, perched atop Towan island on the eponymous beach in Newquay. Approach by private suspension bridge and enjoy the Atlantic views from your bar room, complete with bar billiards table, 3D TV and – of course – fully equipped bar. There’s even a flag you can raise to signal that you’re in residence. It sleeps six, so bring some friends for a game of snooker.

For adventure and activity: St Martin’s

Who wouldn’t want to visit Bread and Cheese cove? That’s the name of one of this unknown Scilly Isle’s superlative beaches, all fine, white sand and (usually) gently lapping seas. The population of St Martin’s is around 120 but don’t expect things to be quiet, there’s a pub, an art gallery, a diving school and even a vineyard. You could snorkel with seals, go rockpooling, learn to scuba or simply order a traditional Cornish pasty from the Island Bakery and enjoy a picnic on the beach. There’s plenty of accommodation, including camping, and Tresco Boat Services can ferry you to and from the other Scilly Isles.

Crossing to Little Sark by Brian Fagan (license)

For peace and quiet: Little Sark

Still – just about – joined to its sibling Sark by a very narrow isthmus known as La Coupée, Little Sark will one day be its very own island. Until then, hire a bike (there are no cars on Sark) and cycle across the 3-metre-wide concrete road to reach this rugged land of granite cliffs and ancient tin mines. Book ahead for a room at the delightfully chintzy La Sablonnerie Hotel, whose cooks will source your dinner from its own gardens and the sea that surrounds this tiny island (lobsters are a speciality).

For northernmost claims: Unst

Considered remote even by Shetlanders, Unst is the northernmost inhabited island in the UK and here you can collect “northernmost” experiences from the post office to the gin distillery, home to Shetland Reel gin, made with local botanicals. You have to stay at the northernmost hotel of course, and that’s Saxa Vord Resort, an ex-RAF base now offering hostel and self-catering accommodation – and plenty of that gin. Don’t miss a walk out to the northernmost point, at the far end of Hermaness nature reserve and overlooking Muckle Flugga lighthouse, built by Robert Stevenson and said to have inspired his son’s Treasure Island map. The island’s network of inter-island ferries will get you out here from the mainland of Shetland.

Tilly on lookout duty by Pete + Lynn (license)

For a short flight and long history: Papa Westray

The world’s shortest scheduled flight takes just two minutes, usually less, and carries people to Papa Westray from Westray in the Orkney Islands, dropping them off at an airport that is little more than a shed. You may even get a chance to play co-pilot, sitting up front next to Colin McAlistair as he operates a flight that covers less distance than the length of the main runway at Heathrow. Once here you can explore almost sixty archaeological sites, including the oldest known northern European house, the Knap of Howar, which predates the Pyramids.

For extreme living: St Kilda

Nobody has lived on St Kilda since 1930 when the population requested evacuation – and you’ll see why immediately. This dramatic scattering of granite rocks in the midst of the Atlantic is the most remote part of the British Isles, lying some 40 miles west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, and life here was hard. Today no crossing from the Hebrides is guaranteed, with landings on the main island of Hirta only possible for a few months in summer. Take a chance though and you could be richly rewarded, with a hike to the top of the UK’s highest sea cliffs and a sail past the world’s largest northern gannet colony and Britain’s greatest population of puffins. Head out here on a cruise with Hebrides Cruises for the chance to moor overnight in Village Bay.

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

Hoboken, the mile-square city in New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan, is back on its feet. And as Allison Singer discovers, not only has the birthplace of baseball and “ol’ blue eyes” himself, Frank Sinatra, become a popular choice of residence for young professionals who don’t want to combat sky-high Manhattan prices, it’s also well worth a trip.

Why should I visit now?

When Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast in 2012, Hoboken was one of the hardest-hit places. It essentially drowned; the entire city was flooded. People lost their homes and businesses, but they didn’t lose their spirit. Since then, the community has rebuilt their city better than ever.

In the last year, Hoboken has received a slew of accolades, including being named one of the most exciting small cities in the USA. Businesses and restaurants are taking notice; NYC’s Luke’s Lobsters and Del Friscos, for example, just announced plans to open Hoboken locations later this year.

Hoboken clock on 11th/Washington by r0sss via Flickr (CC license)

So what is there to see and do?

Most importantly, walk the city-long riverfront to explore each pier. Pier 13 offers a huge selection of food trucks, and a super-hip open-air bar and paddleboarding excursions. Pier C, a floating island connected to the riverfront walkway by winding wooden bridges, is home to Hoboken families’ favorite playground, and Pier A stretches out so far toward Manhattan, you’ll feel like you could easily swim there – though we wouldn’t recommend trying that.

Set seven blocks back from the river, the Hoboken Public Library is a stately building at over 100 years old, and the city has more worthy coffee shops and pizzerias than you can count. There are plenty of live music events, and, for spring and summer visitors, plenty of outdoor markets to explore – the Garden Street Farmers Market even combines fresh produce with live music.

What do only the locals know about?

While the riverfront is lovely, for the most striking views of the Manhattan skyline locals go to Castle Point Lookout on the Stevens Institute campus. The view from the top of the cliff is unrivalled on either side of the river with the Empire State Building and Freedom Tower standing in clear view.

Don’t wait in the hour-long line for Carlo’s Bakery – made famous thanks to TV series Cake Boss. Instead, snag a quick picture out front, then try one of the other great bakeries in town, like Old German Bakery on 4th and Washington.

And locals know this all too well: don’t drive to Hoboken if you can help it. Street parking is sparse, and traffic enforcement can be trigger-happy when it comes to ticketing. Instead, take public transportation, like the PATH train or regional rail. It really is a walkable city – you won’t need a car to get around.

Where are the best places to stay and eat?

There’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to restaurants – many of which can be found on Washington Street. Make sure to get yourself to an Italian deli, like Lisa’s on 9th and Park, for some deliciously fresh mozzarella. For pizza, head to Benny Tudino’s, and for Mexican, try Charrito’s – with locations in both uptown and downtown – and order your guacamole spicy.

For drinks, downtown bars will be filled with drunken college students, so if you’re after more of a relaxed vibe, venture uptown or west. There you’ll find low-key bars with welcoming staff and friendly clientele. Try Hudson Tavern on 14th and Hudson, or Northern Soul on 1st and Madison.

Cocktail at the W Hotel in Hoboken by Jazz Guy via Flickr (CC license)

Make a pit stop at one of Hoboken’s Irish pubs. We like Finnegan’s on 8th and Willow – but in the city that claims to hold the world record for most bars per square mile, you’ll be able to find the perfect watering hole to suit your taste.

As for sleeping, staying in Hoboken is tricky. The only hotel in town is the W, and it’s not exactly cheap. You could stay one town over, at the Lincoln Harbor Sheraton in Weehawken, or better still make Hoboken a day-trip on your next visit to New York City.

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

The allure of Istanbul is hard to beat. This thrilling city bridges two continents with a history spanning more than 2000 years. And with Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport hitting an all-time record for flight traffic this July, its status as a top city-break destination has been further cemented.

But what about the rest of the country? “More often than not, people spend all their time in Turkey mostly in Istanbul”, says entrepreneur and filmmaker Pete R, “but Turkey has much more to offer”. 

In this film, our pick of the week, he heads out across the country, paragliding in Pamukkale, hiking in Cappadocia and swimming in Lake Van. “Turkey is definitely one of its kind”, he says, and “I [encourage] you to go further east to see the real Turkey!”

Inspired? Check out our list of 20 things not to miss in Turkey and our “wild east” itinerary to kick-start your trip planning.


More to Turkey than Istanbul from Pete R. on Vimeo.

Explore more of Turkey with the Rough Guide to TurkeyCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In Cuba, the car is not king. For a country whose image for visitors has become so inseparable with classic 1950s American automobiles, this is a remarkably auto-free nation. The most recently available World Bank statistics (from 2011) indicate that there are just 21 passenger cars per 1000 people in Cuba (in the UK it’s 457 and the USA 423). That means a lot of quiet roads. Hop on a bike and you’ve got the run of the place.

You can happily cycle along the single motorway between Havana and the rest of the country in the middle of the day, without being passed by a single vehicle for quarter of an hour.

When an engine does rumble up behind you, a turn of the head is likely to reveal either a tourist bus hoping to get a last peek at the place ‘before the Americans invade’; a truck transporting sugar cane, the principle Cuban crop, upon which the economy depended for so long thanks to the generous prices paid for it by the Soviet Union; or a 1957 Chevrolet taxiing Cubans from A to B – almost the entire fleet of American classics in Cuba are doing the same.

“There’s a special blend of Caribbean culture as potent as the rum”

A cycling tour around Cuba holds the same appeal as any visit to this fascinating country: a chance to witness a nation whose highly educated population is still nursing the Cold War’s longest hangover, where decades of urban neglect have, ironically, saved buildings and even whole towns from the bulldozers of progress and renewal, leaving the past so firmly imprinted on Cuba’s present.

Cuba is a place where Spanish colonialism, American and Soviet expansionism and Cuban nationalism, sun, salsa and socialism have created a special blend of Caribbean culture as potent as the rum made from truck-loads of sugar cane.

Yet there are added rewards for cyclists, and they start with all those empty roads. Even in the largest cities you’d be unlucky to see a traffic jam.

Once outside them the lush, semi-tropical, ever-green Cuban countryside can be heard almost as soon as it can be seen. The call of the red, white and blue Cuban trogon, the national bird and one of over 350 bird species found on the island, remains undisturbed by the sounds of carburettors.

You can safely cycle two, even three abreast along main roads, though you may have to swerve for the occasional farmer on horseback. Pass under a bridge and you’ll see whole groups of hitchhikers, waiting for one of those American gas-guzzlers or trucks. Not long ago they were accompanied by yellow-suited officials whose job it was to flag vehicles down and oblige them to load up with passengers: state-sponsored hitchhiking – only in Cuba.

“Cycle from city to mountains to beach with ease”

You needn’t be a super-fit cycling fanatic to join in either. Cuba’s compact size (it’s slightly smaller than England) means distances between places are never that great, allowing you to cycle from city to mountains to beach quite easily in a two-week tour.

There are three principal mountain ranges in Cuba but the landscape between them is generally flat or gently undulating. The mountains themselves are beguiling rather than awesome, the peaks forested and rounded, rather than rocky and rugged, making them accessible to cyclists.

Buying or even just hiring a decent bike in Cuba is near impossible so unless you bring your own, you’re looking at paying for a bike tour – but there is plenty to recommend this too. The chances are you will have a Cuban tour guide which will add immeasurably to your time spent here. It takes a lifetime to figure this place out by yourself but you’ll get there a lot quicker if you’ve got Cubans to engage with.

Refreshingly, given the polarising effect that Cuba has outside the island and the entrenched positions of Cuba-watchers on both the left and right, people inside the country tend to have a more nuanced view of things. What’s more, your tour guide may well have trained as an engineer or a doctor, but ended up in tourism because tips from a weeks work can equate to half a doctor’s salary, so there’s a good chance you’ll get an intelligent take on Cuban failures and successes, politics and culture.

“Ask a farm labourer for directions and you may end up in a conversation about the European Union”

Education is one of the great successes of the Cuban Revolution (literacy rates are close to 99%) and like the health system, free for all. In the early years of the Revolution new schools appeared all over Cuba, particularly in the countryside, part of the huge push to educate the rural poor. Pedal up an empty mountain road now and stop to ask a farm labourer for directions (there are hardly any road signs) and you may end up in a conversation about the European Union.

How much longer will all this last? If the US finally ends its economic blockade of the island, will the expected influx of American tourists and money change the character of Cuba forever? Many seem to think so and there is talk of a Russian-style descent into monopoly capitalism. There will almost certainly be more cars on the roads but it is a mistake to assume Cuba’s destiny is inextricably tied to its relationship with the US.

“For cyclists the time to go is now – soon the car will claim another crown”

Cuba was already changing before December 2014 when President Obama announced that the time had finally come to change US policy towards its tiny neighbour. Unlike the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba is not collapsing – far from it. Raul Castro’s reforms, expanding the private sector, allowing greater numbers than ever to pursue their own destiny and create their own wealth, albeit within the constraints of what is still largely a state controlled economy, have proved popular with most.

Dreams or nightmares of a Starbucks in every neighbourhood in Havana are as yet unfounded but for cyclists the time to go is definitely now – soon the car will claim another crown.

Explore’s 8 day Highlights of Cuba by Bicycle tour starts from £1,588pp and includes return flights; 4 nights standard hotel accommodation, 2 nights in Casa Particulares on a bed and breakfast basis; one lunch; bike hire, transport and the services of a tour leader, driver and cycle guide. For more information, or to book, visit www.explore.co.uk or call 01252 884723.

The rich and varied cuisine of Andalucía is a reflection of its dramatic history. One of its signature dishes, gazpacho, was introduced by the romans in the first millennium BC, and didn’t reach its final version until peppers and tomatoes arrived in Spain following the voyages of Columbus.

Another great influence came from the Moors who changed the face of southern Spain forever with the planting of orange, olive and almond trees. They also introduced spices such as cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and saffron plus vegetables and fruits like aubergine, spinach, quince and pomegranate.

Today, the cooking of modern Andalucía falls into mountain and coastal food. Along the coastline, fish and seafood are king; inland, rich stews, jamones (cured hams) and game are preferred. Wherever you are, however, there are few greater pleasures than joining the regulars at a local bar to wind down over a glass of fino (dry sherry from Jerez) while nibbling tapas – Andalucía’s great titbit invention.

From the new Rough Guide to Andalucía, these are the highlights no food-lover should miss.

Tapas in Seville

The city that invented tapas has some of Spain’s very best bars to sample them. It simply knocks spots off the competition: there is simply nowhere else in Andalucía – or even Spain – with such a variety of places to indulge this culinary art. El tapeo means eating “on the go” and Sevillanos do it on their feet, moving from bar to bar where they stand with a manzanilla or beer while wolfing back fistfuls of whatever tapas take their fancy. Locals tend to drink the cold, dry fino, but often change to beer in high summer. Another popular tapas partner is tinto de verano – the local version of sangría – consisting of wine mixed with lemonade and ice.

Goat’s cheese in Villaluenga del Rosario

Some 13km southwest of Grazalema, the tiny mountain village of Villaluenga del Rosario is the highest in Cádiz province. Tucked beneath a great crag, it’s a simple place, with narrow streets, flower-filled balconies and pantiled roofs, frequently enveloped by mountain mists. Come here to try the famous goat’s cheese, which can be purchased at the multi-award-winning Payoyo cheesemaker’s factory on the south side of the main road running through the village.

Jerez in the “sherry triangle”

The northwest corner of Cádiz province is sherry country, a dramatic landscape of low, rolling hills and extensive vineyards. The famous triangle of sherry towns – Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María and Sanlúcar de Barrameda – are the main production centres of Andalucía’s great wine, but smaller places like Chipiona and even tiny Rota manage to muscle in on the action. Besides their bodegas, at many of which you can taste blends and buy some to take home, all the sherry towns make interesting places for a stopover in themselves.

Anís in Rute

Beyond a ruined Moorish castle and a Baroque church, this whitewashed town, sited picturesquely on a hill overlooked by the hazy Sierra de Rute, has few conventional attractions. Rute’s fame throughout Andalucía is based on a far more potent allure: the manufacture of a lethal anís (aniseed apéritif) with spring water from the sierra. It comes in varying strengths and can be tasted at the twenty or so small bodegas scattered around the town; Bodega Machaquito is regarded as one of the best.

Jamón in Jabugo

The mere mention of the name of Jabugo is enough to make any Spaniard’s mouth water, and once you’ve tasted what all the fuss is about it’s easy to understand why. As roadside billboards depicting smiling pigs proclaim, jamón is king in Jabugo and can be sampled at producers’ outlets in the village. The jamón ibérico or pata negra (both acorn-fed hams) that you can taste here are some of the finest in all of Spain.

Olive oil in Baena

Córdoba province’s olive oil has been prized since Roman times – and its most celebrated oil production centre is Baena. The town has its own official denominación de origen and Baena’s finest oil stands comparison with the best in Europe. With a markedly low acid content and an unfatty, concentrated flavour, the best “free run” oils produced here are far too good (and expensive) for cooking and are instead sparingly used to flavour gazpacho – in Córdoba province, salmorejo – or tasted on a morsel of bread as a tapa.

Seafood in Cádiz

Feasting on fish and crustaceans in sight of the sea is an Andaluz passion. You’ll find fresh and tasty fish served up in bars and restaurants in all coastal regions, but the atmospheric sea-locked city of Cádiz has perhaps the most valid claim to be Andalucía’s seafood capital. The old seamen’s quarter, the Barrio de la Viña, is where gaditanos make for on warmer nights to scoff fried fish and mariscos at economical marisquerías, while the city’s summer playground, the Paseo Marítimo is also lively and fun in season.

Mineral water in Lanjarón

Lanjarón has known tourism and the influence of the outside world for longer than anywhere else in the Alpujarras due to the curative powers of its spa waters which have attracted cure seekers since ancient times. These gush from seven natural springs and are sold in bottled form throughout Spain. Taste the waters straight from the mountain at the village’s spa.

 Explore more of Andalucía with the Rough Guide to AndaluciaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

So you’ve gawked at the guards of Buckingham Palace, hiked up Snowdon and hit the beach – what next? From lethal motorcycle races to mountain towns that look like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, here are 8 unconventional things to do in the UK.

1. Horse about at Scotland’s Common Ridings

The Common Ridings of the Scottish border towns of Hawick, Selkirk, Jedburgh and Lauder are an equestrian extravaganza that combines the danger of Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermin and the drinking of Munich’s Oktoberfest. At dawn on each day of the ridings, a colourful and incredibly noisy drum and fife band marches around the streets to shake people from their sleep. It’s a signal: everyone get down to the pub – they open at 6am – and stock up on the traditional breakfast of “Curds and Cream” (rum and milk). Suitably fortified, over two hundred riders then mount their horses and gallop at breakneck speed around the ancient lanes and narrow streets of town, before heading out into the fields to race again.

By early evening, the spectators and riders stagger back into Hawick to reacquaint themselves with the town’s pubs. Stumbling out onto the street at well past midnight, you should have just enough time for an hour or two of shuteye before the fife band strikes up once more and it’s time to do it all over again.

2. Find Middle Earth in Northern Ireland

The mountains rise above the seaside town of Newcastle like green giants, with Slieve Donard the highest, almost 3000ft above the sandy strand of Dundrum Bay. Donard is just one of more than twenty peaks in County Down’s Mourne, with a dozen of them towering over 2000ft.

Conveniently grouped together in a range that is just seven miles broad and about fourteen miles long, they are surprisingly overlooked. On foot, in a landscape with no interior roads, you feel as if you have reached a magical oasis of high ground, a pure space that is part Finian’s Rainbow and part Middle Earth. This is ancient land and prehistoric cairns and stone graves – said to mark the resting place of Irish chiefs – dot the hills, peering through the mist to meet you.

3. Mountain bike on world-class trails in Wales

It’s not often that the modest mountains of Wales can compete with giants like the Alps or the Rockies, but when it comes to mountain biking, the trails that run through the craggy peaks of Snowdonia, the high moorlands of the Cambrian Mountains, and the deep, green valleys of South Wales are more than a match for their loftier counterparts. Indeed, the International Mountain Biking Association has long rated Wales as one of the planet’s top destinations.

Over the last decade or so, a series of purpose-built mountain-biking centres has been created throughout the country, providing world-class riding for everyone from rank beginner through to potential-world-cup downhiller. From easy, gently undulating trails along former rail lines that once served the heavy industry of the South Wales valleys, to the steep, rooty, rocky single tracks that run through the cloud-shadowed hills of North Wales, this is mountain biking at its finest.

_MTB1662 by Dai Williams (license)

4. Explore Britain’s most mysterious beach in Scotland

Cape Wrath is a name that epitomizes nature at its harshest, land and sea at their most unforgiving. In fact, the name Wrath denotes a “turning point” in Old Norse, and the Vikings regarded this stockade of vertical rock in the most northwesterly corner of Scotland as a milestone in their ocean-going voyages. As such, they were surely among the first travellers to come under the spell of Sandwood Bay, the Cape’s most elemental stretch of coastline.

Here blow Britain’s most remote sands, flanked by epic dunes and a slither of shimmering loch; a beach of such austere and unexpected elegance, scoured so relentlessly by the Atlantic and located in such relative isolation, that it scarcely seems part of the Scottish mainland at all. Even on the clearest of summer days, when shoals of cumuli race shadows across the foreshore, you are unlikely to encounter other visitors save for the odd sandpiper. You might not be entirely alone, though; whole galleons are said to be buried in the sand, and a cast of mermaids, ghostly pirates and grumbling sailors has filled accounts of the place for as long as people have frequented it.

5. Discover heaven on Earth in Cornwall

A disused clay pit may seem like an odd location for Britain’s very own ecological paradise, but then everything about Cornwall’s Eden Project is far from conventional. From the concept of creating a unique ecosystem that could showcase the diversity of the world’s plant life, through to the execution – a set of bulbous, alien-like, geodesic biomes wedged into the hillside of a crater – the designers have never been less than innovative.

The gigantic humid Rainforest Biome, the largest conservatory in the world, is kept at a constant temperature of 30°c. Besides housing lofty trees and creepers that scale its full 160ft height, it takes visitors on a journey through tropical agriculture from coffee growing to the banana trade, to rice production and finding a cure for leukaemia. There’s even a life-size replica of a bamboo Malaysian jungle home, and a spectacular treetop Canopy Walkway.

6. Call in the heavies at the Highland Games

Throughout Scotland, not just in the Highlands, summer signals the onset of the Highland Games, from the smallest village get-togethers to the Giant Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, which draws a crowd of around 20,000. Urbanites might blanch at the idea of alfresco Scottish country dancing, but with dog trials, tractors, fudge stalls and more cute animals than you could toss a caber (tree trunk) at, the Highland Games are a guaranteed paradise for kids.

The military origins of the games are recalled in displays of muscle-power by bulky bekilted local men, from tossing the caber to hurling hammers and stones, and pitching bales of straw over a raised pole. Music and dance are also integral to the games, with pipe bands and young girls – kitted out in waistcoats, kilts and long woolly socks – performing reels and sword dances. A truly Scottish sight to behold.

7. Take bonfire night to extremes in Lewes

The first week of November sees one of the eccentric English’s most irresponsible, unruly and downright dangerous festivals – Bonfire Night. Up and down the country, human effigies are burned in back gardens and fireworks are set off – all in the name of Guy Fawkes’ foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 – but in the otherwise peaceful market town of Lewes, things are taken to extremes. Imagine a head-on collision between Halloween and Mardi Gras and you’re well on your way to picturing Bonfire Night, Lewes-style.

Throughout the evening, smoke fills the Lewes air, giving the steep and narrow streets an eerie, almost medieval feel. As the evening draws on, rowdy torch-lit processions make their way through the streets, pausing to hurl barrels of burning tar into the River Ouse before dispersing to their own part of town to stoke up their bonfires.

Forget the limp burgers of mainstream displays and lame sparklers suitable for use at home – for a real pyrotechnic party, Lewes is king.

8. Browse one of England’s oldest markets in Birmingham

There’s enough chaos and colour to rival any frenetic southeast-Asian market here, as a stroll around Birmingham’s Bull Ring markets is an overdose for the senses. The pungent aromas of fresh seafood; the jewel colours and silken textures of miles and miles of rolled fabrics; the racket from hundreds of vendors bellowing news of their latest offerings in hopes of making a sale.

Around 850 years ago Birmingham became one of the first towns in medieval England to hold a legitimate weekly market, selling wares from leather to metal to meat at a site they named the Bull Ring, and cementing the Anglo-Saxon settlement on the map for centuries to come. But while Birmingham has much-changed since medieval times, the noise, excitement and commotion of its Bull Ring markets have barely changed at all – only now you can buy almost anything from neon mobile phone cases and knock-off superhero outfits to fresh meat, fruit and veg.


Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

The break-up of the Soviet Union gave the world an impressive array of new capitals. Some have since become familiar fodder on travel itineraries – think Tallinn’s Baltic charm, Kiev’s bulbous cathedrals and Riga’s drunken Brits. Others, for better or worse, remain something of a mystery.

Step forward Yerevan, capital of Armenia, a city swaggering into a new era, and making a mockery of the usual Soviet stereotypes of drab, grey skies and drab, grey architecture.

by debs-eye via Flickr (creative commons license)

Lofty and landlocked, Yerevan is one of the sunniest of the ex-Soviet capitals, and for most of the year the azure-blue firmament is punctuated only by the awe-inspiring shape of Mount Ararat. This fabled 5137m peak is where Noah’s floating zoo is said to have come to rest after the floods, and although it now lies just across the border in Turkish territory, the fact that it can be seen from so many parts of Yerevan makes it one of the main symbols of the city.

One other unmissable feature here is the liberal, almost ubiquitous use of duf, a sumptuously coloured stone used in the construction of the vast majority of Yerevan’s buildings. Its precise hue shifts from peach to pink to rose depending upon the weather and time of day, though the fiery tones that emerge under the rising and setting sun are particularly magnificent.

by Forbes Johnston via Flickr (creative commons license)

Nowhere is this more apparent than on Northern Avenue, a sleek pedestrianized thoroughfare in the very centre of the city. Half a kilometre of soft, pinkish stone regularly inset with the cafés and boutiques of a burgeoning middle class, it would look stylish in any European city.

The street makes a grand place to people-watch over a coffee, served Turkish-style from a conical metal pot. The same could be said of most of Yerevan – indeed, on a summer afternoon it can seem as if the whole city is out, dressed for a fashion shoot, getting a caffeine fix.

Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.  Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

The fabled Pacific Crest Trail guides adventuresome hikers from the borders of Mexico to Canada, blazing across the deserts, mountain ranges and dense forests that make up America’s breathtaking Western States (California, Oregon, and Washington). It usually takes five months for thru-hikers to complete, but you’re about to make the 4286km journey in less than three minutes.

This film’s creator, Halfway Anywhere, says he quit his job to make the trip after “finally realizing that what you grow up thinking you are supposed to do and what you can actually do are two entirely different things”.

When you see the stunning clips in this video, you might just want to do the same:

We asked the Rough Guides team in Delhi to vote for the most beautiful places in India. After much deliberation, here are the results…

10. Chilika Lake, Odisha

Fed by fresh-water rivers and washed by the sea, this biodiversity hotspot is a wintering ground for migratory birds and home to a number of threatened aquatic species, including the Irrawaddy dolphin. A stunning place to start off our list of the most beautiful places in India.

9. Madikeri, Coorg, Karnataka

Our Delhi team voted for Madikeri as an excellent base from which to explore the lush national parks, natural beauty and gorgeous coffee plantations that abound in this scenic stretch of the Western Ghats.

8. Mawlynnong, Meghalaya

Described by one of our editors as magical, this village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya is simply stunning. The surrounding areas are just as unforgettable, with natural bridges made by twisting the roots of rubber trees crossing the rivulets and streams.

7. Kumarakom Backwaters, Kerala

At number seven in the list, Kerala’s scenic backwaters, edged with coconut palms, lush green rice paddies and picturesque villages, make for a beautiful escape from hectic city life.

6. Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

One of central India’s most atmospheric monuments, this medieval ghost town is set on a scenic plateau still prowled at night by leopards and panthers.

5. Hampi, Karnataka

This vast archeological site would have been one of the largest and richest cities of its time. The design, detailing and ornamentation of the best-preserved ruins are astonishing.

4. Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

This hot and desolate landscape is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. Situated right on the border with Pakistan, its striking white plains call out to many of the more intrepid explorers in our team.

3. Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand

From July to September, when its rolling alpine meadows are carpeted with wildflowers, this sprawling National Park is a bucket list destination for many in the Rough Guides office.

2. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This icy saline lake, cradled by stark and sombre mountains 4350m above sea level, comes second in our list. We think it epitomises the breathtaking majesty of the high Himalaya.

1. Lakshadweep

Quiet lagoons, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs teeming with aquatic life and secluded white-sand beaches… The list goes on. The absolutely spectacular Lashadweep (‘100,000 islands’ – though there are actually just 36) was a unanimous choice at the top of our list for the most beautiful places in India.

Some sights are touristy for a good reason. They’re the ones you go to Europe to check off: a wobbly gondola on the canals of Venice, or a mandatory Eiffel Tower selfie. Europe has countless sights all worth a visit in their own right, but there’s so much more to the continent than cathedrals and beaches – and some of it’s pretty bizarre. So from plastic hammer fights in Portugal, to a night behind bars in an ex-Soviet prison, here are a few things to do in Europe you probably never considered.

1. Sleep with fishes at Sweden’s Utter Inn

In many ways, Sweden‘s Utter Inn is your archetypal Swedish house: its walls are wood-panelled and painted red, there’s a white gabled roof, and the location – propped on a little island in the middle of Lake Malaren – is classic Scandinavia. But things get slightly surreal once you look out of the window of the hotel’s solitary room. A large Baltic salmon glides past, followed by a huge shoal of smelt. These are not your average lakeside views, but then you’re not actually lakeside. The island is actually a tiny pontoon, the red house just the tip of the architectural iceberg: Utter Inn lies 3m below the surface of the lake. A night spent here is literally like living in a goldfish bowl.

2. Play for high stakes at Italy’s Il Palio

Siena’s famous bareback horse race – Il Palio – is a highly charged, death-defying dash around the boundary of the city’s majestic Piazza del Campo.  The race is held twice every summer and takes only ninety seconds. The only rule is that there are no rules: practically anything goes as riders shove each other off their mounts. The course is so treacherous, with its sharp turns and sloping, slippery surfaces that often fewer than half of the participants finish. But in any case it’s only the horse that matters – the beast that crosses the line first (even without its rider) is the winner.

speed by Giorgio Montersino (license)

3. Ponder Armageddon at the Plokštine missile base in Lithuania

It’s not often you’re invited to join a guided tour of a nuclear missile base, especially when you’re in the middle of one of northeastern Europe’s most idyllic areas of unspoilt wilderness. However, this is exactly what’s on offer at Plateliai, the rustic, timber-built village in the centre of western Lithuania’s Zemaitija National Park. It’s perversely appropriate that Soviet military planners chose this spot as the perfect place to hide a rocket base. Closed down in 1978, it’s now eerily empty of any signs that would indicate its previous purpose. Until, that is, you come to one of the silos themselves – a vast, metal-lined cylindrical pit deep enough to accommodate 22m of slender, warhead-tipped rocket. The missile itself was evacuated long ago, but peering into the abyss can still be a heart-stopping experience.

4. Get naked in France’s Cap d’Agde

Of a size and scale befitting a small town, France‘s Cap d’Agde legendary nudist resort has to be one of the world’s most unique places to stay. The resort’s sprawling campsite is generally the domain of what the French call bios: hardy souls who love their body hair as much as they hate their clothes, and are invariably the naked ones in the queue at the post office. But the bios share the Cap with a very different breed, libertines for whom being naked is a fashion statement as much as a philosophy: smooth bodies and intimate piercings are the order of the day – and sex on the beach is not necessarily a cocktail. Come evening, throngs of more adventurous debauchees congregate in the Cap’s bars, restaurants and notoriously wild swingers’ clubs for a night of uninhibited fun and frolicking.

Horizontal by Björn Lindell (license)

5. Spend a night at the cells in Latvia’s Liepa–ja prison

Being incarcerated in a foreign country is usually the stuff of holiday nightmares. Unless you want an insight into Latvian history, that is. The former naval prison in Karosta, a Russian-built port that stretches north from the seaside city of Liepāja, is now the venue for an interactive performance/tour that involves such delights as being herded at gunpoint by actors dressed as Soviet prison guards, then interrogated in Russian by KGB officers. Stay the night and things get even harder – you may find yourself mopping the floors before bedding down in one of the bare cells, only to be brutally awoken by an early morning call.

6. Lose your grip on reality in Austria

Pegging yourself as the “Museum of the Future” is, in our ever-changing world, bold. Brash, even. And that’s exactly what the Ars Electronica Centre in Linz is. Dedicated to new technology, and its influence within the realms of art, few museums on Earth have their fingers quite as firmly on the pulse. Come here for the CAVE (Cave Automatic Visual Environment). This room, measuring – cutely enough – 3m cubed, is at the cutting-edge of virtual reality; the simulation uses technology so advanced – 3D projections dance across the walls and along the floor, as you navigate through virtual solar systems and across artificial landscapes – that you feel like you’re part of the installation. 

AEC Linz by Konstantinos Dafalias (license)

7. Play with fire at Spain’s Las Fallas

Catholic Spain traditionally holds fast to old habits, synchronizing Saints’ days with ancient seasonal rites. The most famous – and noisiest – festival of all is Las Fallas: in mid-March the streets of Valencia combust in a riot of flame and firecrackers, ostensibly in celebration of St Joseph.  It’s (barely) controlled pyromania, a festival where the neighbourhood firemen are on overtime and beauty sleep is in short supply. The fallas themselves are huge satirical tableaux peopled by ninots, or allegorical figures – everyone from voluptuous harlots to Vladimir Putin – painstakingly crafted out of wood, wax, papier-mâché andcardboard. They’re exhibited during nightly street parties, before all five hundred of them literally go up in smoke at midnight every March 19.

8. Toboggan without snow in Madeira, Portugal

However you make the 560m climb up to Monte, the hillside town that hangs quietly over Madeira’s capital, Funchal, there’s only one way we recommend getting back down: toboggan. There’s no snow, of course – this is a subtropical paradise. The road becomes your black run as you hurtle towards sea level in a giant wicker basket. At first, progress is slow. Then gravity takes over, powering you to speeds of up to 48 km/hr. When you think you’re going too fast to stop (there aren’t any real brakes here), your wheezing guides will dig their rubber boots into the tarmac – giving you  the first chance to jump out, look down and admire the sparkling blue Atlantic that stretches out before you.

photo by A m o r e Caterina (license)

9. Get hitched at the Roma Bride Market in Bulgaria

While the setting – a dusty field next to a cattle market, perhaps, or a car park – couldn’t be less glamorous, the atmosphere is anything but dull. Heavily made-up girls, blinged to the nines in seductive sequined dresses and high heels, dance provocatively on car roofs, which themselves have been rigged up with speakers pumping out ear-splitting pop. Meanwhile, leather-clad boys strut and pose, eyeing up potential partners as they go. Each year, the nondescript town of Stara Zagora, some 200km southeast of the capital, Sofia, plays host to one of Europe’s more unorthodox happenings: the Bride Market, which typically attracts a couple of thousand people. Nowadays the event is more of a fair than a marketplace though – the space where the courtship process begins before anything more serious is considered.

10. Join a hammer festival in Portugal

Porto’s Festa de São João is a magnificent display of midsummer madness – one giant street party, where bands of hammer-wielding lunatics roam the town, and every available outdoor space is given over to a full night of eating, drinking and dancing to welcome in the city’s saint’s day. No one seems to know the origin of this tradition of hitting people on the head, but what was customarily a rather harmless pat with a leek has evolved into a somewhat firmer clout with a plastic hammer. Midnight sees the inevitable climax of fireworks, but the night is far from over. The emphasis shifts further west to the beach of Praia dos Ingleses, where youths challenging each other to jump over the largest flames of bonfires lit for São João.

photo by Lachlan Heasman (license)

11. Discover the Human Fish in Slovenia

Postojna‘s vast network of caves, winding 2km through cramped tunnels and otherworldly chambers, is the continent’s largest cave system, adorned with infinite stalactites, and stalagmites so massive they appear like pillars. Despite the smudged signatures etched into the craggy walls that suggest an earlier human presence in the caves – possibly as far back as the thirteenth century – this immense grotto’s most prized asset, and most famous resident, is Proteus anguinus, aka the Human Fish. The enigmatic 25cm-long, pigmentless amphibian has a peculiar snake-like appearance, with two tiny pairs of legs – hence the name – and a flat, pointed fin to propel itself through water. Almost totally blind, and with a lifespan approaching one hundred years, it can also go years without food, though it’s been known to dabble in a spot of cannibalism.

12. Attend the World Alternative Games in Wales

Bathtubbing? Wife-carrying? Combined mountain biking and beer drinking? No one does wacky quite like the Welsh, it seems, at least not like the natives of Llanwrtyd Wells. Each year, a series of bonkers events takes place that belies this small town’s sleepy appearance – indeed, with a population of just over six hundred, it can justifiably claim to be Britain’s smallest town. Conceived in 2012 as an antidote to the Olympic Games in London, it involves more than sixty madcap events. Utterly pointless, all of them, though try telling that to the legions of well-honed finger jousters, gravy wrestlers and backwards runners who descend upon the town in their hundreds (sometimes thousands) in search of fame and glory, of sorts. Perhaps the best thing about all these events is that anyone is free to participate – so what are you waiting for?


Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

 

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