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?


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Can’t decide between a city or beach break? Some of the world’s most magnificent metropolises have been blessed with pristine stretches of sand, so you can effortlessly combine architectural riches, cutting-edge cuisine and vibrant nightlife with a spot of seaside relaxation. So slap on the sun block and the shades, here’s our pick of the best urban beaches.

Havana, Cuba

On summer weekends it seems like the whole of Havana decamps to Playas del Este, a seemingly endless sweep of palm-fringed sand just 18km from the city. Santa Maria at the western end has an all-day piña colada-party vibe. If you’re prepared to walk, you might even find your own private Caribbean paradise.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Despite the high body count in summer, Banje Beach by the Old Town walls is the most famous in Dubrovnik. Just 1.5km from the city, Sveti Jakov Beach is the under-the-radar local’s favourite, a 500m-long crunchy mix of sand and small pebbles, beneath a beautiful church of the same name.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Cities don’t come more beach-centric than Rio, backed by a high-rise skyline and granite peaks. So join the bronzed Cariocas on iconic Copacabana and upmarket Ipanema for a friendly game of footvolley (you guessed it: a sport combining volleyball and football), or just admire the view over a caipirinha. The famous sands are also host spectacular New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Miami, USA

Once-seedy SoBe (South Beach) is now the stomping ground for Miami’s beautiful people, its palm-studded strip filled with chic bars, fusion restaurants and hedonistic clubs. But you can up the culture quotient with a tour of the historic Art Deco neighbourhood, or head inland to the up-and-coming Wynwood Arts District.

Barcelona, Spain

Barceloneta is one of the city’s most iconic and popular beaches. Its shabby waterfront was revitalised in the massive makeover for the 1992 Olympics and now this former fisherman’s quarter is lined with chic and cheerful tapas bars. Join the throng over a cold beer and the Catalan take on paella.

Sydney, Australia

Most visitors join the burnt backpackers and territorial surfers on Sydney‘s world-famous Bondi, but the surrounding Eastern Suburbs beaches, including Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee have a more laid-back, local vibe. Manly is the party hub of the Northern Beaches, while keen surfers should check out Freshwater, Dee Why, Curl Curl and Narrabeen.

Dubai, UAE

Better known for its soaring skyscrapers and mega-malls, the Middle East’s most flamboyant city has miles of white-sand beaches – some of them shipped in from the desert. You’ll find the designer-clad sun worshippers on Jumeirah Beach, or there’s the free stretch of sand running the length of Umm Suqeim, known as Kite Beach.

Los Angeles, USA

West LA’s Venice Beach is a people-watching paradise. Ocean Front Walk is lined with surf shops, ice cream parlours and street vendors, and a never-ending circus of stilt-walkers, jugglers and fortune-tellers play to the eclectic crowd of power walkers, cyclists, rollerbladers and skateboarders. Just don’t expect to have it to yourself.

Nice, France

More than 35 pebbly beaches – both public and private – stretch uninterrupted along Nice’s glamorous Promenade des Anglais, from the airport to the Old Port. Each beach has its own vibe but it can be worth splashing out to lounge on a private plage that comes with a few frills.

Cape Town, South Africa

Dramatic boulders divide Clifton Beaches into four small, interlinked coves. Fourth Beach is the liveliest, Third is gay-friendly, Second is the students’ hangout and First is the one for surfers. While they’re sheltered from the bitter trade winds in summer (November to March) be warned, the water is always icy in Cape Town.

Helsinki, Finland

You might not put ‘Helsinki’ and ‘beach’ in the same sentence but Finns flock to the nearest strip of sand – the 450-metre-long Hietaniemi, known as Hietsu – in summer to make the most of the ‘white nights’. Out of the (rather chilly) water, you can get active with volleyball, basketball and football.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Once a retreat for nineteenth-century Hawaiian royalty, Waikiki Beach is now chock-full of high-rise resorts, tourists and surfers. But even that can’t detract from the killer views of Diamond Head volcano. The long, rolling breaks are perfect for novice surfers, or you can ride an outrigger canoe, before watching the sunset from an oceanfront bar.

Vancouver, Canada

The city’s many beaches all come with views over the North Shore Mountains. Kitsilano (Kits) Beach is the place to see and be seen, with free tennis and basketball courts and the largest saltwater pool in Canada. The more low-key Spanish Beach is perfect for BBQs and long strolls.

Chicago, USA

Over 40km of beautiful public beaches line the Chicago shores of Lake Michigan, perfect for work (with free wi-fi), rest and play. North Avenue is one of the most popular, where you can start the day with a yoga session, play some volleyball and end with a dip in the freshwater lake.

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The judges’ comments read like an appreciation of Scotland’s finest: they identify hints of caramel and honey, a whiff of campfire smoke, a smooth, buttery feel in the mouth and a peppery finish. Yet Sullivan’s Cove single malt French Oak Cask comes not from Scotland but from Tasmania. And in the World Whiskies Awards last year, it was judged the best whisky on Earth.

Surprised a small Aussie state half a world away from the Old Country could snatch the accolade from Scotland or Japan? Don’t be. The wonder is it took so long.

A sparsely populated island in the Roaring Forties, Tasmania is a sort of Scotland max. It has officially the purest air in the world – the next landmasses upwind are Patagonia and Antarctica – so some of its purest rainwater, which flows in soft mountain streams. Add highland peat bogs and a cool climate, and you have a terroir tailor-made for whisky.

Bill Lark thought so as he sat with a dram while trout fishing in the Tasmanian highlands in 1988. Puzzled by the lack of home-grown whisky, he discovered that the distilling of spirits was banned in the young colony by puritanical state governor Sir John Franklin in 1838, prompted by his wife Lady Jane’s comment that “I would prefer barley be fed to pigs than it be used to turn men into swine”.

Thanks to Bill’s legal challenge 150 years later, Lark Distilleries opened in 1992.

Since then, eight more have followed. Most are in southern Tasmania, and all are open for tastings and a yarn about whisky. Some, like Overeem or Belgrove – which distils rye harvested outside the back door – are tiny family affairs. Others, such as Sullivan’s Cove or Hellyer’s Road near Launceston, are rising international stars.

What unites them is the use of quality island ingredients and a hand-crafted approach that’s refreshing given the corporate creep of Scottish whisky. At around A$130 (£72) for a typical bottle – and over A$1000 (£580) for French Oak Cask – Tassie whiskies aren’t cheap. Given their sublime taste, however, it’s money well spent.

Find distillery locations and hours at taswhiskytrail.com. Tasmanian Whisky Tours runs day tours from Hobart to three or four distilleries. For more unforgettable experiences around the world, check out the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth

Capital of Wales since 1955, Cardiff is unrecognisable even from just a few years ago. With an exhilarating mix of heavyweight cultural sights, exciting regeneration projects – not least the revitalized Cardiff Bay – world-class sport, a prolific music scene and some seriously banging nightlife, it’s easy to see why Cardiff now ranks alongside London and Edinburgh as one of the UK’s most compelling destinations. So if you were in any doubt, here are ten great reasons to visit…

1. Cardiff cuisine is on the up

Although it’s hardly renowned as a gourmet paradise, Cardiff’s culinary landscape has improved markedly in recent times. Pick of the city centre restaurants is The Potted Pig, which occupies the vaults of an old bank, and where – yep, you guessed it – pork reigns supreme. It’s worth making the short trip out to well-heeled Pontcanna, where both The Smoke House and Fish at 85 are currently doing great things – at the latter, pick your fish from the counter and the chef will prepare it just as you like it.

2. It’s an unrivalled place to watch world-class sport

Quite simply, rugby is king here, and the natives love nothing more than shouting themselves hoarse at an international inside the magnificent Millennium stadium, and with the World Cup approaching, national hysteria will soon reach fever pitch. Welsh football is also undergoing something of a renaissance, with the national team on the verge of qualifying for the Euro 2016 tournament. But if you can’t get to a game (either rugby or football), take a Millennium Stadium tour. Cricket, too, is becoming increasingly high profile, with matches taking place at the Swalec Stadium, which recently staged the first match of the Ashes series between England and Australia.

3. Cardiff Bay is one of Europe’s best regeneration projects

Once one of the world’s busiest docks – when it was rather more romantically known as Tiger Bay – Cardiff Bay has been utterly transformed over the past decade, and the results are dazzling. From the spectacular, super-sized Wales Millennium Centre and the Welsh Assembly, to more venerable buildings like the Neo-Gothic Pierhead and the sublime little Norwegian church – which is where Roald Dahl was christened – this sparkling waterside area is an unmissable part of any Cardiff itinerary.

4. Great bands were born here

Any city that spawns such great bands as the Super Furry Animals and the Manic Street Preachers (ok, technically the latter are from Blackwood just up the road in the Valleys) commands respect – and Cardiff certainly takes its music seriously. For live music, the Moon Club is currently the venue of choice amongst more discerning gig-goers, while Clwb Ifor Bach has a firmly Welsh orientation. Jazz-heads, meanwhile, should make an appointment with Café Jazz. If you’re looking to buy, make a pilgrimage to Spiller’s Records, which is generally acknowledged to be the oldest record shop in the UK; there’s not much you won’t find here.

5. It has nightlife to rival – if not beat – any city in the UK

Whether you’re out for a few beers before a big game at the Millennium Stadium, or gearing up for a more full-on Friday night experience, an evening out in Cardiff is not for the feint-hearted. Cardiffians have a reputation – fully justified – for partying hard. Away from the ubiquitous chain pubs, try Buffalo, which takes on a clubby feel as the evening wears on. For a more local experience, make for Y Mochyn Du – a former gatekeeper’s lodge popular with Welsh speakers – or Gwdihw (“Owl”), a delightful, retro-style café-cum-bar offering a rich programme of alternative happenings.

Cardiff at Night (2) by Pete Birkinshaw (license)

6. Cardiff Castle is fascinating

Plonked right in the heart of the city centre, Cardiff Castle’s most sustained period of development coincided with the arrival of the Bute family, who ruled the roost (and indeed most of Cardiff) during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are various aspects to visiting the castle, first and foremost the apartments, occasionally kitsch but always fascinating. On a warm summer’s day, however, a stroll along the battlements and around the beautifully manicured lawns is reason enough to visit. But what really makes this place cool are the various concerts and festivals held within its grounds.

7. It is one of the UK’s most exciting TV and film locations

Unbeknown to many, Cardiff is one of the UK’s most important locations for television and film shoots, as the recent openings of the BBC Drama Village and Pinewood Studios would testify. The big-hitter is Doctor Who, hence the entertaining Doctor Who Experience, where visitors immerse themselves in a “journey through time” before encountering some of the Doctor’s many adversaries, which include, of course, the brilliant Daleks.

Doctor Who Experience by Evan Moss (license)

8. You can shop in some of the UK’s most beautiful arcades

No, not the slot machine variety, but a series of beautifully renovated Edwardian-era arcades that you’ll rarely find anywhere in the UK. Each arcade – and there are half a dozen – variously conceals a host of wonderfully diverse emporia, including clothes shops, art galleries, and antique and second-hand bookshops. These are also great places to refuel, with two establishments in particular worth seeking out: The Plan (for the best coffee in town) and Madame Fromage (the best deli in town).

9. It has one of the world’s largest Transporter Bridges, and you can climb it…

Ok, it’s not exactly in Cardiff (it’s actually fifteen miles down the road in Newport), but the splendid Transporter Bridge – built in 1906 and one of just six such bridges in the world still in operation – is a must-see. From a practical point of view, the suspended gondola transports cars and passengers across the Usk River in just two minutes. Better still, and assuming that you don’t suffer vertigo, you can clamber to the top of the 177ft (that’ll be 270 steps) walkway for head-spinning views of the Severn Estuary.

10. There’s a great beach on the doorstep

Just a short train ride from the city centre, Barry Island is often much maligned, yet this is a tad unfair. Sure, it has it’s tacky amusement arcades and obligatory funfair with rickety rides – but it also boasts a neat promenade and a lovely Blue Flag beach in Whitmore Bay. And if you’re a fan of Gavin & Stacey, then you can hunt down some of the locations used during the filming of the series, including the arcade that the endearingly formidable Nessie worked in.

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Draped across the turbulent waters of the Norwegian Sea, far above the Arctic Circle, Norway’s Lofoten Islands are, by any standard, staggeringly beautiful.

In a largely tamed and heavily populated continent, the Lofoten are a rare wilderness outpost, an untrammelled landscape of rearing mountains, deep fjords, squawking seabird colonies and long, surf-swept beaches.

This was never a land for the faint-hearted, but, since Viking times, a few hundred islanders have always managed to hang on here, eking out a tough existence from the thin soils and cod-rich waters. Many emigrated, while those who stayed came to think they were unlucky: unlucky with the price of the fish on which they were dependent, unlucky to be so isolated, and unlucky when the storms rolled in to lash their tiny villages.

Then Norway found tourism. The first boatloads turned out to be English missionaries bent on saving souls, but subsequent contacts proved more financially rewarding. Even better, the Norwegians found oil in the 1960s, lots and lots of oil, quite enough to extend the road network to the smallest village, and thereby end rural isolation at a stroke.

The islands’ villages have benefited from this road-building bonanza and yet kept their erstwhile charm, from the remote Å i Lofoten in the south through to the beguiling headland hamlet of Henningsvaer, extravagantly picturesque Nusfjord and solitary Stamsund.

Today, the Lofoten have their own relaxed pace. For somewhere so far north, the weather can be exceptionally mild: you can spend summer days sunbathing on the rocks or hiking around the superb coastline.When it rains, as it does frequently, life focuses on the rorbuer (fishermen’s huts), where freshly caught fish are cooked over wood-burning stoves, tales are told and time gently wasted.

If this sounds contrived, in a sense it is – the way of life here is to some extent preserved for the tourists. But it’s rare to find anyone who isn’t enthralled by it all.

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.

There’s something fascinating about doorways. Whether it’s the idea of the unknown, the promise of a warm welcome, or simply the frame for a perfect view, something makes us feel compelled to photograph them again and again. From the mesmerizing arches of the Mezquita in Córdoba to ornately carved frames in Tibet, here are 20 of our favourite shots from the Rough Guides archive.

1.Dar el Makhzen, Fez el JedidMorocco

2. Colourful temple doorway at Jogyesa Temple, Seoul, South Korea

3. A blue doorway on a cobbled street in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

4. A painted doorway in Tallinn, Estonia

5. A highly decorated chapel in Gyantse, Tibet

6. An Art Nouveau doorway in Brussels, Belgium

7. A girl entering house in Stone Town, Zanzibar

8. Entrance to Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand

9. An elegant doorway in partly ruined house, Venice, Italy

10. A carved wooden doorway in Mombasa, Kenya

11. A door in the old town of Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany

12. Frescoes on the facade of St Michael’s church in Riva Valdobbia, Italy

 13. A watchful cat in Brittany, France

14. Mosque entrance in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

15. An ornate doorway in the Alcobaca Monastery, Portugal

16. A church doorway in Istanbul, Turkey

17. A traditional Swahili door in Pangani, Tanzania

18. The Gate of Forgiveness in the Mezquita, Córdoba, Spain

19. Kilpeck Church doorway in Herefordshire, England

20. A thatched mud hut in Gujarat, India

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After 150 years of boom and bust, Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood is being redefined. Mary Novakovich takes to its bars and restaurants to discover what’s hot about the city’s hippest neighbourhood.

Things weren’t looking too promising when the taxi dropped us off on a dusty road with a railway on one side and grim-looking industrial units on the other. “We’ll take you out to the Junction,” my Toronto friends said. “It’s a cool place. Lots going on. Full of craft breweries. You’ll love it.” Possibly, but the initial signs weren’t good.

I lived in Toronto in the mid-1980s, when my flat was a good 5km east of the Junction yet still felt like the Wild West in the days when Queen Street West was the hub of the hip universe. Thirty years later, Toronto’s twentysomethings have been priced out of the centre and are discovering a new Wild West where the rents are much cheaper.

Only the Junction isn’t so new. And you could argue that it’s less wild now than it was in the nineteenth century. The Junction – named for the four railways that crossed into the neighbourhood – was a hive of industry back then, with a large number of taverns to keep the many railway and factory workers well watered.

Image © Adam Batterbee

A once-dry neighbourhood making up for lost time

Unfortunately, the taverns did too good a job: by 1904, residents had had enough of the debauchery on their doorstep and voted for a ban on the sale of alcohol. The district stayed dry until 2000. They’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

While the Junction has had its periods of boom and bust over the past century and a half – some really quite bleak – this is clearly boom time. Shops and small warehouses that had gone bust in low periods have now been taken over by juice bars, restaurants and cool cafés.

The industrial shock we faced on arrival was all forgiven within a few minutes of walking through the door of Junction Craft Brewing – part tap room, part shop and total brewery. It had all the hipster hallmarks you would expect from a small-scale yet busy craft brewery: industrial chic interior, chunky wooden tables, artfully arranged barrels and some really good beer in an agreeably laid-back atmosphere. If you can’t decide on which beer to choose, you can have a flight of four small glasses of whatever’s on tap. The Tracklayer’s Krolsch was particularly refreshing.

Image © Adam Batterbee

“The promise of Toronto’s best southern fried chicken was waiting for us”

It was tempting to stay for a third round (the first two went down far too easily), or even pop next door to the Toronto Distillery Co for a taste of organic gins and whiskies. But the promise of Toronto’s best southern fried chicken was waiting for us. And more craft beer.

Within a few minutes we escaped the nondescript railway sidings and wandered down Keele Street to Dundas Street West, which was one long line of bars and restaurants – all of them buzzing. A Canadian friend told me how he grew up in this neighbourhood and still couldn’t quite believe how it became so trendy. It was such an ordinary-looking district, he said, and I couldn’t help but agree. Architecturally, its appeal wasn’t obvious, but the answer wasn’t long in coming.

On Dundas Street West we entered our second craft brewery of the evening, Indie Ale House. It was less rough and ready than Junction Craft Brewing, with warm exposed brick walls and a beer shop at the entrance. And the best southern fried chicken in Toronto? It really was, even if I couldn’t do justice to the gargantuan portion on my plate. And the accompanying glass of Iron Lady was considerably more palatable than its steely namesake.

Big plates for small prices

Our next stop on the Junction line was 3030, a cavernous space that combines a bar with a restaurant and a music venue. A row of vintage pinball machines made one wall glow and flash and ping, and at the far back was a stage where a bearded DJ was setting up his computer.

The bar was championing Ontario craft beers, with offerings from Mill Street Brewery, Hogtown Brewers, Beau’s and, of course, its near neighbour Junction Craft Brewing. A pint of Beau’s Lug-Tread slipped down pleasantly, though I discovered later that Beau’s makes an ale that has possibly Canada’s best beer name: Beaver River IPEh?.

The menu carried the two words that usually make my heart sink: small plates. But from what I could see, 3030 was sensibly subverting the rip-off European version of this insidious trend by offering relatively big plates of food for small prices – about $5 (£2.60) a pop. That was more like it.

The whole area was shabby-chic central. Some of the interiors probably came from a shop like Smash (smash.to), a local showroom where salvaged furniture has been given a new lease of life in fun and innovative ways. Rather like the Junction itself, which has finally found itself on the right side of the tracks.

Explore more of Toronto with the Rough Guide to Canada or get the Rough Guides Snapshot TorontoCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image by Wyliepoon on Flickr Creative Commons

Ever since the 1960s Berkeley has been synonymous with left wing politics and student protests. And while the city has stayed true to its progressive credo, it offers numerous other reasons for visitors to the Bay Area to make sure they don’t only get trapped in the albeit sublime honeypot of San Francisco. Former US resident and Rough Guides author Nick Edwards runs down the top things to do in Berkeley and explains why you should make a point of jumping on BART to the East Bay.

Beards, books and Birkenstocks

For half a century now the city has been at the forefront of anti-establishment activism and the anti-war movement, ever since the students of UC Berkeley clashed with then Governor Ronald Reagan and the National Guard during violent Vietnam protests.

The university campus, with its iconic campanile, bustling Sproul Plaza and the quieter lush grounds beyond is still the best place to start getting a feel for the place Berkeley occupies in recent American history. It also boasts most of the town’s museums.

Image courtesy of Visit California

The left-leaning atmosphere extends far beyond the confines of the campus, however, to the numerous cafés that populate the town, where earnest academics can sometimes be seen poring over weighty tomes or deep in serious discussions.

If you want to mug up and be able to join in, you won’t have to go far to find a well-stocked bookstore either. Berkeley is famous for noble establishments such as Black Oak Books, Revolution Books and Lewin’s Metaphysical Books.

Wandering the pleasantly quiet streets that fill the space between the busy commercial strips of Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues near the campus, 4th Street in West Berkeley and Solano Avenue to the north, you will lose count of bearded, besandled residents walking dogs and checking out curios in numerous quirky shops. Just try spotting a Republican placard or bumper sticker – the Grand Old Party long ago gave up even trying to field candidates here.

The cradle of California cuisine

Food activist Alice Waters really started something when she opened Chez Panisse in 1971, setting her stall out to source high-quality organic local produce for her innovative recipes.

This style of embellishing American cooking with European and ethnic touches of flair and promoting a close relationship with local farms became known as “California cuisine”, which has spread the length of the Golden State and beyond.

So if you want to feast on the likes of grilled Becker Lane Farm pork loin with roasted figs, wild fennel cakes and Early Girl tomato confit, this is the place for you. Just be prepared for a hefty bill.

Chez Panisse is still the jewel in the crown of Berkeley’s “gourmet ghetto”, a section of Shattuck Avenue lined with a number of quality restaurants and fine emporia such as Alegio chocolate shop, tucked inside Epicurious Garden along with an array of exclusive food outlets.

Top restaurants are not confined to Gourmet Ghetto though, with other notable places to eat such as Lalime’s, Revival and Gather dotted around town.

Don’t be alarmed if your budget does not stretch to such high-end cuisine though. Berkeley is also blessed with a huge number of excellent and inexpensive multicultural restaurants. You can enjoy chunky burritos at Cancun Taqueria, superb masala dosas at Vik’s Chaat Corner, or a range of authentic Indonesian recipes at Jayakarta.

Musical nooks and crannies

Good old Jonathan Richman, still occasionally to be found strumming on the university steps, named his record label Beserkley when he moved to the state in 1975, a nod to the city’s nickname of Bezerkley. Indeed the local music scene is as underground as its political one, with a variety of eclectic venues and record stores.

Ashkenaz is a quirky world music and dance centre on busy San Pablo Avenue, which is also home to the legendary Albatross Pub.

Balkan Dancing via photopin (license)

Meanwhile, Freight and Salvage provides a classic coffee house setting for hearts-on-their-sleeve singer-songwriters and La Peña Cultural Center showcases Latin and folk, as well as encouraging cultural activism.

Perhaps the best example of Berkeley’s musical credibility is the uncompromisingly alternative 924 Gilman club, a haven of hardcore and experimental acts that helped launch the likes of Green Day and Sleater-Kinney.

Immediately south of the campus, Telegraph Avenue is a riot of stalls selling tie-dye clothes, political stickers and jewellery in the shape of peace symbols.

It also contains a string of cheap cafés, takeaway joints and two major record shops in the shape of Rasputin Music and the original location of even more iconic Amoeba Records, where there was never any need for a vinyl comeback because it never went out of fashion. Half a block behind it, People’s Park is another site of sixties dissent and still a community-controlled urban space.

The green, green hills above

It’s not all urbanisation in Berkeley though. In fact, the higher you go up the dramatic, verdant hills that rise abruptly to the east, the more you find yourself amidst some surprisingly sublime natural surroundings.

You can start this ascent from the beautifully landscaped thirty acres of the university’s Botanical Garden, featuring a dazzling array of plant and cactus species.

Alternatively, a more northerly route out of town takes you via the exquisite Berkeley Rose Garden and the grey basalt lump known as Indian Rock, so named in honour of the local Ohlone tribe, to the uppermost ridge that gives onto the semi-wilderness of Tilden Park.

Here an impressive expanse of over two thousand acres encompasses thick woodland, numerous trails and delightful Lake Anza, perfect for a soothing dip in the warmer months.

Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to pick a spot somewhere along Grizzly Peak Boulevard, where you can gaze back west across Berkeley and the Bay to the gleaming skyscrapers of San Francisco, the elegant span of the Golden Gate Bridge and the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean beyond.

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

Hippies need not be confined to San Francisco‘s Summer of Love. There are enclaves all over the world where peace and love are rife.

1. Goa, India

It may be known as a party hotspot today, but Goa used to be firmly off the beaten track. The relaxed local culture, delicious cuisine and endless white-sand beaches have always attracted chilled-out travellers in need of a break, with an optional side of spiritual exploration. Whether or not you’re interested in the nightlife, luckily there’s still much of the old, laidback Goa in evidence for the independent-minded traveller today.

2. Negril, Jamaica

This gorgeous beach may be over-developed in some places now, but it goes on for so indulgently long (it’s around four miles end to end) that you only need to wander a bit further to find yourself some peace and quiet. If you’re feeling particularly active you can join in the watersports on offer, but you may find your schedule is soon pretty packed with sunbathing, walking and, if you’re that way inclined, some meditating.

3. Glastonbury, England

Hear Glastonbury and you think of the festival. Of course, anyone can find their inner happy hippy at this world-famous music and arts festival, especially over in the Green Fields, but this is a year-round destination. It’s at the heart of the “Isle of Avalon”, an area rich in myths and Arthurian legends which attracts Pagans, Wiccans and all manner of New-Agers. Head up to Glastonbury Tor for ley-lines and gorgeous views, or wander along the hippy-tastic High Street.

4. Cape Maclear, Malawi

Diving, kayaking, walking, snorkelling… there’s plenty to do in Cape Maclear, but you may be content just lazing lakeside in a hammock, drinking in the stunning view of Africa’s third-largest, second-deepest lake. The area’s stayed pretty rustic despite its popularity with backpackers from around the world, and it’s a truly chilled, calm place to while away some time.

5. Kathmandu, Nepal

Nepal has had many troubles to contend with, not least the 2015 earthquake, but it’s always attracted spiritually curious travellers and probably always will. After all, there’s nowhere in the world quite like it – a truly awe-inspiring natural setting with a view across the Himalayas, a city full of treasures with a kind and welcoming population, and a key site in both Buddhism and Hindusim. It’s also the perfect base for continuing your spiritual exploration, with treks to Pokhara and onwards to the Himalayas.

6. Dahab, Egypt

Diving in the clear waters of the Gulf of Aqaba; sharing shisha with friends in the evening; sleeping under the stars in Bedouin tents… The laidback pace of life makes Dahab a great place to sit back, relax and enjoy your environment. Though unrest in the region has resulted in fewer visitors lately, there’s little doubt they’ll find their way back soon enough.

7. Panajachel, Guatemala

During the sixties the lakeside Guatemalan town of Panajachel was so popular with itinerant hippies (mostly wandering down the continent from the US) that it became known as ‘Gringotenango’. As the civil war intensified visitor numbers dropped, but from the mid-nineties travellers started coming back in search of relaxation, stunning views of Lago de Atitlán and… well, what else do you need?

8. Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand

Just above Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand is this small island, a classic stop on the Hippy Trail. Somewhere between 1983 and 1993 (no one seems sure of the exact date, or particularly bothered) a few travellers started playing music on the beach during the full moon, and year on year the event grew and attracted more visitors. The rest (hard partying, day-glo, chemically-enhanced) is history.

9. Siargao, Philippines

For real seclusion, head to Siargao Island in the Philippines. If it’s peace and quiet that you’re after, though, maybe avoid September – the island became famous after word spread among the world’s surfers that there’s a break so good they called it “Cloud 9”, and the Siargao Cup global surfing competition is now held there annually. For the rest of the year it’s sedate and beautiful, a perfect place to find some zen.

10. Dali, China

A low-key city by Erhai Lake, Dali has long been a popular stop for backpackers and hippies. It’s still not overwhelmed by tourism, despite its gorgeous surroundings and intriguing traditional architecture (the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple are a well-known symbol of the city), which means it’s still a great place to find a bit of calm.

11. Eugene, Oregon, USA

Where Portland is hipster, Eugene is resolutely hippy. It’s the place to go for all your tie-dyeing needs, not to mention New Age philosophy, communal living and herbal remedies. There’s a lot to attract any type of traveller, but to get the most out of the city’s gorgeous natural setting and strong artistic community you should absolutely embrace your inner hippy.

12. Jericoacoara, Brazil

Known for its dazzlingly white beach and impressive sand dunes, Brazil’s beautiful Jericoacoara has been pulling in hippies and surfers for years. It’s a great spot for windsurfing, as well, and of course for walking, sunbathing and any other chilled-out beach activity you can think of. It’s also a national park, so it’s reasonably safe from development for now.

13. The Cyclades, Greece

Mykonos has always been a traditional stop on the Hippy Trail, but today is perhaps a bit overdeveloped and party-focused for some tastes. Luckily, there are other destinations in this group of gorgeous Greek islands. Keep going to Andros, for instance, and you’ll find peace, quiet and stunning walks. If you’re really after isolation, though, aim for Anafi. It’s the last ferry stop, and the perfect place for some reflection and relaxation.

14. Lamu, Kenya

The small island of Lamu has long been a prime spot for hippy travellers, and though there have been security concerns recently, it’s not hard to see the attraction. There’s not much to do other than take in the gorgeous medieval town, take leisurely dhow rides to nearby islands, and just chill out, man…

15. California, USA

California is in many ways the perfect place to find your hippy self. The most hardcore of hippies can chill out in accepting, alternative San Francisco; those who still love a bit of luxury can head to LA to dabble in meditation and organic green juices; literary hippies can go all Dharma Bums and scale the Matterhorn; and anyone at all can find a bit of inner peace wandering the stunning Yosemite National park.

16. Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a pretty perfect city for hippy-minded individuals: great cycling, lots of greenery, good food and a thriving music scene. If you really want to get into the hippy lifestyle, though, you need to head to Christiania. This colourful city-within-a-city has been a commune since 1971, and is showing no signs of slowing down. It’s autonomous and self-governing, to an extent, and a fascinating place to see a long-term social experiment in action.

17. Byron Bay, Australia

Byron Bay means one thing: surfing. It’s famous for its long, sandy beach and a local life so laidback it’s almost horizontal. If you feel like even this New Agey, chilled out surfer town isn’t quite hippy enough for you, head to nearby Nimbin for colourful murals, dreadlocks and tie-dye galore. Nimbin also happens to be known as the marijuana capital of Australia, even holding a “Mardi Grass” festival in May.

18. Chefchaouen, Morocco

Morocco has long been known as a destination for travellers who want to get off the beaten track. Marrakesh and Fez are the obvious places to go, but the travelling hippies of the world have long-preferred Chefchaouen. It’s cheap, cheerful and full of open-air markets and beautiful pale blue buildings. What’s not to like?

19. Istanbul, Turkey

The only city in the world to sit on two continents, Istanbul has long intrigued and enticed independent travellers. The “gateway to Asia” was a key point on the Hippy Trail of the sixties, a fork in the road from where some would head back into Europe and others would look onwards to India, Thailand, and Vietnam. Today it retains its independent vibe, attracting hippies, hedonists, artists and romantics from all around the world.

20. Gili Islands, Indonesia

These secluded islands off Lombok in Indonesia are pretty perfect if you want to get away from it all. Backpackers and hippies started heading there in the seventies and eighties, and now the islands are an established destination. They’re perfect for diving, lounging on the beach, and simply doing nothing at all.

After weeks of deliberation, we’re thrilled to announce that Stephanie Dyson is the winner of the Rough Guides and Journeys are made @gapyear.com writing competition and the recipient of a £2000 travel voucher. Congratulations, Stephanie! 

The judges were particularly impressed by her fresh take on a well-known experience. The colourful language in her carefully paced piece bought the sunrise to life and made us long to jump on a plane to Bolivia.

You can read her entry below – we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Pieces by the two runners-up can be found here.

The day I’ll never forget: A visit to the Salar de Uyuni

The silence is what hits you immediately. It smudges into the darkness, extending to the edges of the world, and stopping only to encounter the weak rays of the emerging sun.

At times, the faintest of noises are perceptible: the soft lapping of the small tides of salty water as they slosh against the tyres of the jeep; the almost imperceptible hum of the engine, as if conscious not to break the majesty of that moment.

This was the climax of our trip: dawn on one of the world’s most incredible marvels, the Bolivian Salar de Uyuni, or salt flats. Over the past three days, our jeep had offered us incredible views across the dusty canyons of the wilderness surrounding our starting point, Tupiza; it had struggled through mud-saturated roads, barely wide enough for one car and flanked by vertical drops into the valley below; from its windows, we had delighted in lakes brimming with flamingos, whose pink colouring had seemed to blend into the now rose-tinged water itself.

Despite the beauty of all of these sights, nothing had prepared us for that sunrise.

With every second, our views across the unending desolation changed. Subtly at first; hues of the palest orange grew from that solitary speck of life hovering beyond the Earth, fading into whites which escaped outwards into the darkness. There they mixed to create a stain of blue above the horizon.

What was strangest was how such an ordinary moment could be so extraordinarily transformed. Never before had we been so aware of a sunrise. As the light of dawn grew, we were introduced to beauty at its most magnificent: witness to not one sunrise, but two. Rainfall the previous night had covered the salt flats in a shallow sea of water which reflected the rays of the sun as they silently opened across the landscape. The sun rose from all angles, and you could be forgiven for forgetting which way was up, and where the ground actually lay.

Like any prepared travellers, we had bought props – a family of ducks – to star in the perspective shots that have become a trademark of any trip to Uyuni. In the semi-darkness of the approaching dawn, they bobbed noiselessly in ripples cast by our footsteps.

The final rays peered above the horizon, finding their reflection far below. The moment had ended. With it, the Salar began to assume a different personality, as the water would soon evaporate to leave a blanket of unmarred salt. We welcomed the chance to finally view our surroundings: commanding volcanoes – relics of a distant age – flanked the plain from one side, whilst rippling blues and the whites of clouds continued in every other direction. We were insignificant and unimportant; mere dirty specks on this unblemished symbol of nature’s beauty.

Our jeep was waiting. Still, we piled in slowly, savouring every last breath of that now lost moment of dawn.

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