Pre-conceptions are a funny thing. If someone told you about an archipelago of islands set adrift off the coast of Africa, an oasis that boasts superb beaches and perennial warmth, which is home to the world’s second largest Carnival, award-winning wines and Spain’s highest mountain, you’d probably want to visit.

If they revealed they were in fact talking about the Canary Isles, though, some of your thoughts might start to cloud with images of sunburned Brits, dodgy fried food and all-things tacky.

It’s time to set aside these anachronisms about the Canary Islands and explore these seven isles in the spirit of Christopher Columbus, who famously stopped over, en route to sailing off the map of the known world in search of the New World.

For a little bit of everything: Tenerife

The largest of the Canaries is also the most popular with tourists. The parched southern strip of Tenerife might be stuffed with a swathe of tourism development, but this string of resorts is just one part of a diverse and remarkable island. Most island inhabitants live elsewhere and although the Costa Adeje has added a touch of class to proceedings in the south, Tenerife’s most interesting towns and sights lie beyond this tourist enclave.

Head north and you’ll find a lively carnival that takes over the capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife for three weeks in February. Push inland and pine forests soon give way to the jaw dropping Teide National Park, home to the eponymous volcano, Spain’s highest peak at a whopping 3718. Then you can swirl in superb seafood and excellent wines in picturesque towns like Garachico and La Orotava. Last year also saw the island’s first ever walking festival recognise its top-notch hiking. Tenerife is the Canary Island with it all.

Spain, Canary Islands, Tenerife, Parque Nacional del TeideTeide National Park

For wind-sport lovers and beach bums: Fuerteventura

The second largest of the Canary Islands lies less than a hundred kilometres away from the African coast and is one of the least developed. Fuerteventura is a parched desert-like escape whose east coast is the main attraction, where the shifting sands of Corralejo and Jandia blown in on the Saharan breeze.

Corralejo, in the north, is the stand out resort. Here British families mix – in a resort that is also a real Spanish town – with locals, surfers and windsurfers from all over the world. There are little tapas bars, fancy restaurants and proper beaches right in town. Jandia, in the south, is more popular with German visitors. The main resort Morro Jable is home to an epic 4km beach, but beware there are stretches where clothes are most definitely optional.

Elsewhere on Fuerteventura you’ll find volcanoes to climb, little whitewashed inland villages and the delicious Majorero cheese, best enjoyed grilled with a little palm honey.

Spain, Canary Islands, Fuerteventura, Playa de SotaventoPlaya de Sotavento

For a spread of landscapes: Gran Canaria

The “Continent in Miniature” tourist office epithet for this neatly round island is, for once, no hyperbole; Gran Canaria offers more scenic diversity than any of the other islands.

There are the epic sands of Maspalomas in the south, the subtropical forests of the interior, rugged mountains and, in Las Palmas, the most beguiling of the island capitals with its buzzing nightlife and sandy beaches. Gran Canaria is a big hiking destination, too, with a network of well-marked trails and a walking festival. The island also produces decent wine and the excellent Tropical lager – perfect to end a long hike.

Sunset on Gran Canaria, Canary IslandsSunset on Gran Canaria

For the cool Canaries: Lanzarote

The youngest of the seven main islands, stylish Lanzarote is also the most aesthetically pleasing – largely thanks to one man. César Manrique was a visionary architect who stamped his creative architectural style (which has echoes of Gaudi’s Modernista movement) on myriad local projects, as well as fighting doggedly to stop high-rise buildings being built. Lanzarote-born, he spent most of his life on the island and created a legacy that visitors can learn more about at his old studio home, which now houses the César Manrique Foundation.

Volcanic activity has also led to a unique viticulture that sees delicious Malvasia grown in the island’s volcanic craters. You can visit the handful of well-kept wineries to pick up discounted bottles or enjoy them in the rich spread of restaurants that have made the island popular with foodies.

Elsewhere you’ll find an otherworldly volcanic escape in Timanfaya National Park, while the island of La Graciosa is a laidback road-free hideaway. Lanzarote’s most attractive resort is family friendly Playa Blanca in the south, with the main attraction the famous white-sand beaches that give it its name.

Spain, Canary Islands, Lanzarote, La GeriaVines growing in La Geria

For jaw dropping scenery: La Palma

It is no wonder that the most northwesterly of the isles is known as the “Beautiful Island”. The entire island has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve for its swathe of remarkable scenery: some parts are dramatically volcanic and others lush rainforest.

The scenic highlight is the Caldera de Taburiente National Park where the finest views of the archipelago can be seen from Roque de los Muchachos at 2396m. You can drive most of the way up and then ramble around this volcanic mound on foot. The capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma, is an attractive historic bolt-hole on the ocean that is well worth a day or two of exploration.

Spain, Canary Islands, La PalmaUp in the clouds above La Palma

For world-class hiking: La Gomera

Arriving on a ferry from Tenerife’s southern resorts, San Sebastian de la Gomera feels like another world. (You can catch ferries from La Palma and El Hierro too.) You’ll want to get your walking boots on: mountainous La Gomera is less of a beach escape and more suited to those looking to get away from other tourists and enjoy the myriad hiking trails.

The island’s routes really are spectacular, with a well-marked trail network snaking out across the whole of La Gomera. The local wine is spot on too, as is the Almagrote, a spicy cheese paste that is highly addictive.

Spain, Canary Islands, La Gomera, Garajonay National Park,Garajonay National Park

For a total escape: El Hierro

This semi-mythical island is the hardest to get to and the least well set up for visitors. It is where Columbus said goodbye to Europe and it still feels a deeply dramatic place, all sheer cliffs, rugged hills and twisting roads. Nature is at its rawest on this Canary Island.

You won’t find bustling resorts with raucous pubs and clubs here. Instead, come for the great diving or to indulge in some serious soul searching. If you crave solitude and want to escape modern life, then El Hierro is the Canary Island for you.

Spain, Canary Islands, El Hierro, La Restinga, lava fieldsLava fields, La Restinga

Getting around: Ferry companies Armas and Fred Olsen, plus local airline Binter, offer connections between all the islands.

Tourist boards around the world are constantly trying to outdo each other as they try to sell their destination to the rest of the world. Some efforts can be cheesy, but others are downright sensational. After all, no one knows the place better. Here, we’ve picked nine of the most inspiring tourism campaigns. Get your backpack at the ready…

New Zealand

New Zealand’s tourist board is well aware there aren’t many places where you can have five adventures in a day. In this video, we travel with an extreme sportsman as he flips out of a helicopter, snowboards through freshly fallen snow, takes two wheels to an icy cliff-edge and then bungees off a bridge. Thanks to this – and the killer soundtrack – these two minutes couldn’t be much more exhilarating.

Canada

In this well-thought out video, Canada’s tourist board exploit the dichotomy between what you tell your mum you’ve been doing, and what you’ve actually been doing, to show the many different faces of this beautiful country. The message? Whether careering down a mountain or scoffing midnight crêpes, you can’t help but have the time of your life. We’re sold.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s tourist board seem to have caught wind of the rising internet popularity of sloths. What better way to get more acquainted with the world’s favourite animal, than to listen to him sing? This video is unsurprisingly endearing, and does a great job cementing paradisical Costa Rica on the traveller’s radar.

Norway

With so many pristine fjords and fairytale log cabins, it would be hard for Norway not to show off. This panoramic video of a group hiking to the peak of a snowy mountain, in order to slalom ski down it during sunrise, is ample travel eye-candy to convince you of a trip.

England

England’s tourist board have knocked it out of the park with this montage that evokes pretty much everything associated with the nation. All walks of English life recite William Blake’s Jerusalem from Brighton to the Yorkshire Dales, in a video that is encouragingly self-aggrandising (and a little tongue-in-cheek). There really is only one England.

Japan

Japan’s tourist board wants to know: do you really know the people of Japan? To try and answer this question, we follow the traditional Awa dance from home, to school, to a parade, stopping off for a beer or freshly-delivered fish along the way. This video celebrates the sharing and creativity that really is at the heart of Japanese culture.

Holland

Holland’s tourist board are making a big statement: they say Holland is the ‘Original Cool’. Apparently, everything we know about Holland is true (art, windmills, canals) but there’s a lot more edge to the country’s traditions than we realise.

Brazil

This fast-paced video from Brazil’s tourist board is invigorating inspiration for your next trip. In the clip, the country welcomes visitors from all corners of the earth to enjoy everything from the ocean, to the food, to the festivals. If you’ve not got FOMO (fear of missing out) already, then perhaps you should have another watch.

Ecuador

Ecuador’s video really takes you somewhere else. Thanks to the dream-like style, coupled with the most chilled-out Beatles rendition you’ve ever heard, after thirty seconds of this you’re undoubtedly more relaxed. But you’re not dreaming – the turtles, the guitarists and the cobbled-stoned streets are all real.

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Vietnamese food is distinct and unforgettable. The cuisine relies on a balance of salty, sweet, sour and hot flavours, achieved through use of nuoc mam, a fermented fish sauce, cane sugar, the juice of kalamansi citrus fruit or tamarind and chilli peppers. Dishes use plenty of fresh herbs but tend not to be overly spicy, as chilli sauces are served separately. From the new Rough Guide to Vietnam, we’ve picked ten essential Vietnamese foods everyone should try.

Goi cuon

Vietnam’s most famous dish: translucent spring rolls packed with greens, coriander and various combinations of minced pork, shrimp or crab. In some places they’re served with a bowl of lettuce and/or mint. A southern variation has barbecued strips of pork wrapped up with green banana and star fruit, and then dunked in a rich peanut sauce – every bit as tasty as it sounds.

Goi Cuonphoto credit: rice paper rolls via photopin (license)

Banh mi

This baguette sandwich filled with greens and a choice of fillings, including paté and freshly made omelette, is so good it’s been imitated around the world.

Banh Miphoto credit: banh mi via photopin (license)

Banh xeo

These enormous, cheap and filling Vietnamese pancakes translate (banh xeo means “sizzling pancake”) pancake contain shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and egg, which is then fried, wrapped in rice paper with greens and dunked in a spicy sauce before eaten.

Banh xeo

Bun cha

A Hanoi specialty, you’ll find bun cha at food stalls and street kitchens across the city. Essentially a small hamburger, the pork patties are barbecued on an open charcoal brazier and served on a bed of cold rice noodles with assorted foliage and a slightly sweetish sauce.

bun cha

Pho

Vietnam’s national dish a the country’s great staple is pho (pronounced “fur”), a noodle soup eaten at any time of day but primarily at breakfast. The basic bowl of pho consists of a light beef or chicken broth flavoured with ginger and coriander, to which are added broad, flat rice noodles, spring onions and slivers of chicken, pork or beef.

Pho Vietnam

Cao lau

Central Vietnam does it best. Among Hoi An’s tasty specialities is cao lau, a mouthwatering bowlful of thick rice-flour noodles, bean sprouts and pork-rind croutons in a light soup flavoured with mint and star anise, topped with thin slices of pork and served with grilled rice-flour crackers or sprinkled with crispy rice paper.

Cao laophoto credit: Cao Lau – Ba Be, Hoi An Market VND15000 via photopin (license)

Cha ca

Seafood dishes are among the standouts of Vietnamese cuisine. Cha ca, reportedly devised in Hanoi, is perhaps the best known. It sees white fish sautéed in butter with dill and spring onions, then served with rice noodles and a scatering of peanuts.

Ca Chaphoto credit: Fish and dill for 2 – Cha Ca La Vong VND120000 each via photopin (license)

Mi quang

This unheralded and affordable noodle dish is a Hanoi specialty. Ingredients vary by establishment, but expect to see a simple bowl of meat noodles enlivened by additions like flavoursome oils, fresh sprigs of leaves, shrimp, peanuts, mint and quail eggs.Mi quang

Nom hua chuoi

Vegetarians rejoice. Nom hua chuoi, or banana-flower salad, is a great meat-free option.
Lime and chili are the key flavors and add a refreshing punch to the shredded veg.

Vietnamese banana blossom salad

Com tam

Com tam, “broken rice”, is a street-stand favourite. Recipes vary, but you’ll often find it served with barbecued pork or beef and a fried egg.

Com Tamphoto credit: com tam dac biet via photopin (license)

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Picturesque Wales has long drawn holidaymakers to its unspoilt countryside, rugged mountainous terrain and long, lonely coastline. Whether you’re after a dream-like hike or scenic drive, beautiful views aren’t hard to find. Here are some of our authors’ favourites – walks, nature reserves, beaches, railway journeys and much more – taken from new Rough Guide to Wales.

Wye Valley wonder

Walking or driving through the Wye Valley, especially near Tintern’s towering ruins, it’s easy to see why Wordsworth was so inspired.

Tintern Abbey, Wye Valley, Walesphoto credit: tintern abbey hdr arty via photopin (license)

Styles and starry skies

A vast area of rocky moors, Brecon Beacons National Park is not just perfect walking country – it’s also one of the world’s first “dark sky reserves”.

Brecon Beacons, Walesphoto credit: IMG_7253 via photopin (license)

The end of the world

The Llŷn Peninsula excels in escapism, whether the panorama from the summit of Tre’r Ceiri or the lovely seaside village of Aberdaron.

Llyn Peninsula , Walesphoto credit: Sun going down over the Llyn Peninsula, North Wales via photopin (license)

Snowdonia’s finest scramble

Snowdon’s splendid, but the north ridge of Tryfan gives wonderful exposure and views, and the scramble up borders on rock-climbing.

Snowdon, Walesphoto credit: SANY0400.JPG via photopin (license)

Coastal escapes

You can’t beat the glorious views of Worms Head and Rhossili Bay from the head of the Gower Peninsula.

Rhossili, Walesphoto credit: Rhossili via photopin (license)

On the rails

Hop aboard Ffestiniog Railway, the finest of Wales’s narrow-gauge railways, which climbs 13 miles from the coast into the heart of the mountains.

Ffestiniog Railway, Walesphoto credit: Ffestiniog Railway at Ddaullt via photopin (license)

Wales at its wildest

Covering 240 square miles, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park encompasses wooded estuaries, rocky cliffs and isolated beaches

Pembrokeshire Coast National Parkphoto credit: Wooltack Point – Pembrokeshire via photopin (license)

Skeletal grandeur

Newport’s Transporter Bridge, a remarkable feat of engineering, was described as “A giant with the might of Hercules and the grace of Apollo when it opened in 1906.

Transporter Bridge, Newport, Walesphoto credit: Transporter Bridge via photopin (license)

Small-town splendour

There’s a superb view across the Menai Strait to the Snowdonian mountains in Beaumaris, plus a picture-postcard castle and lovely Georgian townscape.

View from Beaumaris, Walesphoto credit: nature-trail-lighthouse-110.jpg via photopin (license)

Flocks away

Gigrin Farm is one of the best places in Europe to watch red kites feeding. As many as five hundred of the magnificent birds descend at any one time – a fantastic sight.

Gigrin Farm, Walesphoto credit: Red Kites – Gigrin Farm via photopin (license)

A pass to the past

An ancient drovers’ road, the magnificent Abergwesyn Pass twists its way through the forests and valleys of the Cambrian Mountains.

Abergwesyn Pass, Walesphoto credit: Llyn Brianne via photopin (license)

Explore more of Wales with The Rough Guide to WalesCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Historic attractions abound in England. Wherever you’re based, you’ll find imposing palaces, gothic cathedrals and chocolate-box villages within easy reach, but among the most impressive examples of the country’s heritage are the slew of majestic castles. Taken from the new Rough Guide, this is our pick of the best castles in England

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle is undoubtedly one of the finest in Northumberland. It’s owned by The Percys, the dukes of Northumberland, who have presided over the estate since 1309. More recently, however, the castle found fame as Hogwarts School in the early Harry Potter movies.

England, Northumberland, Alnwick Castle

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

Another Northumbrian gem, Bamburgh Castle is found in the little village of the same name. It’s most formidable when seen from the beach, where acres of sky, sea and dunes lead up to the castle’s dramatic setting atop a rocky basalt crag. The castle first appeared in Anglo-Saxon times, but was heavily reconstructed in the nineteenth century.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

Leeds Castle, Kent

Its reflection shimmering in a lake, the enormous Leeds Castle resembles a fairy-tale palace. Beginning life around 1119, it has had a chequered history and is now run as a commercial concern, with a range of paying attractions including hot-air ballooning, Segway tours and jousting. The name is misleading: you’ll find it in the High Weald of Kent.

Leeds Castle, Maidstone, Kent

Dover Castle, Kent

No historical stone goes unturned at Dover Castle, an astonishingly imposing defensive complex that has protected the English coast for more than two thousand years. In 1068 William the Conqueror built over the earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort here; a century later, Henry II constructed the handsome Great Tower. The grounds also include a Roman lighthouse, a Saxon church and a network of secret wartime tunnels.

Kent, Dover, Dover Castle, view from the tower

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

One of the country’s most picturesque castles, Bodiam is a classically stout square block with rounded corner turrets, battlements and a wide moat. When it was built in 1385, it was state-of-the-art military architecture, but fell into neglect until restoration in the last century. The extremely steep spiral staircases will test all but the strongest of thighs.

Bodiam Castle

Windsor Castle, Berkshire

The oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, towering above the town of Windsor in the Berkshire countryside just outside London, Windsor Castle is still an important ceremonial residence of the Queen. The castle itself is an imposing sight, while inside you can explore the State Apartments and artwork from the Royal Collection.

Windsor Castle, Changing the Guard

Warkworth Castle, Northumberland

Ruined but well-preserved, Warkworth Castle has Norman origins, but was constructed using sandstone during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Take in the view from the north of the hamlet of Warkworth, from where the grey stone terraces of the long main street slope up towards the commanding remains of the Castle.

Warkworth Castle, Northumberland

Hever Castle, Kent

The moated Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, and where Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, lived after their divorce. Bought by American millionaire William Waldorf Astor in 1903 it has been assiduously restored in mock Tudor style yet it retains an intimate feel. Outside you can explore Waldorf Astor’s beautiful Italian Garden a splashy water maze.

Hever Castlephoto credit: Hever castle via photopin (license)

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

Myth and legend surround the desolate ruins of Tintagel Castle, said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. Sited on a wild and rugged stretch of Cornwall’s coast, the remains have nearly all but decayed since it was deserted in the seventeenth century.

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

Warwick Castle, Warwickshire

It’s worth visiting Warwick so see this whopping castle alone, which lords it above the River Avon. Historians think the first fortress was constructed here by the Saxons, but the most significant expansions were made by the Normans and later in the nineteenth century. Save time to explore the extensive grounds, too.

Warwick Castlephoto credit: Warwick Castle via photopin (license)

Lancaster Castle, Lancashire

From the dungeons to the ornate courtrooms, Lancaster Castle is a historical tour-de-force. Defences have been sited high above the river here since Roman times, while more recently the building served as a working prison until 2011. Tours bring the castle’s history to life.

Lancaster Castlephoto credit: Lancaster Castle via photopin (license)

Carlisle Castle, Cumbria

Cumbria’s mightiest castle dominates the county capital of Cumbria, Carlisle, were it has stood for over nine hundred years. Among its claims to fame is that it was where Elizabeth I held Mary Queen of Scots captive in 1568. Climbing the battlements for great views over the town.

Carlisle Castle

Lincoln Castle, Lincolnshire

Intact and forbidding, Lincoln Castle’s walls incorporate bits and pieces from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries, with a wall walkway offering great views over town. This year the former debtors’ prison has been revamped to exhibit several rare documents, most notably one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta.

Lincoln Castlephoto credit: Lincoln castle sunset via photopin (license)

Highclere Castle, Hampshire

Tucked away in the northern reaches of Hampshire, 20 miles north of Winchester, Highclere Castle will be very familiar to fans of hit period drama, Downton Abbey, which is filmed here. Home to Lord Carnarvon and his family, the house is approached via a long drive that winds through a stunning 5000-acre estate, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens designed by Capability Brown.

Highclere Castle photo credit: P1010570 via photopin (license)

Corfe Castle, Dorset

The romantic castle ruins crowning the hill behind the village of Corfe Castle are perhaps the most evocative in England. The family seat of Sir John Bankes, Attorney General to Charles I, this Royalist stronghold withstood a Cromwellian siege for six weeks, gallantly defended by Lady Bankes. One of her own men, Colonel Pitman, eventually betrayed the castle to the Roundheads, after which it was reduced to its present gap-toothed state by gunpowder. Apparently the victorious Roundheads were so impressed by Lady Bankes’ courage that they allowed her to take the keys to the castle with her.

Corfe Castle, Dorset

Rough Guide to England coverExplore more of England with The Rough Guide to England. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Greece offers well over two hundred inhabited islands of all shapes and sizes, set like gems in the sparkling Ionian and Aegean seas – so you’re really spoilt for choice when planning a visit. Former resident and Rough Guide to Greece author Nick Edwards picks five of the best Greek islands for exploration.

For archaeology: Crete

As Greece’s largest island, Crete is something of an all-rounder, boasting the dramatic White Mountains, kilometres of fine beaches, the delightful Samaria Gorge and several interesting cities, not least the island capital of Iraklion. For anyone interested in archaeology, however, it’s the obvious place to combine the joys of an island with a variety of ancient remains to rival the mainland.

Just 5km outside of Iraklion lies Knossos, the island’s preeminent ancient site, with its grand, second millennium BC Minoan palace, where King Minos once kept the legendary Minotaur. The layout of the interconnected halls and rooms is truly labyrinthine and much of the palace amazingly well preserved. Here you can marvel at superb ancient art, such as the famous dolphin fresco. Iraklion’s archaeological museum, meanwhile, is also one of the country’s finest, with a host of fascinating Minoan treasures. East along the coast, Malia Palace is another great site from the same era.

Best Greek Islands

Other star Minoan attractions near the south coast are the Palace of Phaestos, which enjoys a splendid hillside location and view of Mount Psiloritis, and the smaller remains at Ayia Triada. In the same region, the ruined capital of a Roman province that encompassed Crete and a chunk of north Africa can be seen at Gortys, while further afield the Dhiktean Cave and Palace of Zakros are yet more ancient sites to be enjoyed.

For beaches: Milos

Despite being one of the lower profile Cyclades, most beach connoisseurs rate Milos as the best in this most famous island group. Perhaps that is not so surprising – thanks to its volcanic nature and horseshoe shape, it boasts an impressive seventy-five beaches, yet is barely 20km across. Rarely crowded except in the height of peak season, Milos has a laidback feel and offers plenty of choices in accommodation and eating.

One of the best beaches on the south coast is sandy Paleohóri, gently heated by underground thermal currents and linked to a second strand, hemmed in by colourful cliffs, via a tunnel through the rock. The headland that encompasses the northern settlements of Adhámas and Plaka is punctuated by a variety of coves, while the long sandy stretch at Pollonia in the northeast is shaded by tamarisks. It is the rugged west coast, however, that offers the purest beauty and most undeveloped beaches of Triadhes, Ammoudharaki and Kleftiko, the latter accessible only by boat.

Best Greek Islands

For spirituality: Pátmos

Given the ever-present significance of religion in Greece, diminutive Pátmos is regarded as one of the most important islands: it’s where St John holed up and received the visions that he dictated to his disciple Prohoros as the Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. Hike up early in the morning to the cave where this took place, now enclosed in an eleventh-century chapel, to have the best chance of getting the place to yourself and even being able to rest your head in the niche where the saint laid his. Gazing out across the sea to the surrounding islands is enough to get even hard-nosed cynics feeling spiritual.

Chora, Patmos, Greece – best greek islands

Further up the hill, another eleventh-century monastery, that of Ayiou Ioannou Theologou, commands more wonderful views and is home to a community of monks. Much of the solid structure is off-limits to visitors but the church is delightful and the museum displays some dazzling Orthodox paraphernalia, dark and brooding medieval icons, and some parchment manuscripts. Needless to say, there are some fine sandy beaches and plenty of secular delights to detain the visitor back down at sea level.

For ocean activity: Lefkada

Mid-sized Lefkada has one of Europe’s largest windsurfing centres (near its southern tip) and a gleaming new marina on the edge of the island capital, making it a magnet for those who love to spend time on the water. It also boasts easy accessibility, being joined to the mainland by a causeway, some dramatic mountain scenery and a few of the most stunning beaches in the Ionian Sea on its west coast. In addition, Lefkada Town is an attractive and cultural place, with some fine old churches.

Yachties flock here for the great facilities at the marina, the large dry dock at Vlyho and ease of mooring at the various bays on the east coast, such as Dessimi, Rouda and Syvota. The satellite islands opposite the main resort of Nydri constitute good sailing territory too, while Nydri itself offers the usual range of watersports. Meanwhile, at Lefkada’s southern end, the bay that stretches from Vassiliki to Pondi draws a youthful crowd, who take advantage of the favourable wind patterns and shallow water that are ideal for windsurfing. At any one time, you might count literally hundreds of colourful sails flapping in the breeze.

Windsurfing in Lefkada, Greece

For a little bit of everything: Lésvos

The third-largest island behind Crete and Evvia, versatile Lésvos (often referred to as Mytilini after its capital) is, surprisingly, little visited. Mytilini itself is a large town with a rather grand seafront, an extensive fortress and several absorbing museums, plus plenty of places to eat and drink. Among the smaller towns that impress architecturally, Molyvos (aka Mithymna) and Ayiassos stand out. The former sits on a north coast headland crowned by an imposing castle, while the latter straddles a mountainside valley and has a warren of streets around the picturesque central church. Various other beautiful monasteries are dotted around the island.

The coastline is blessed with numerous excellent beaches, none better than the 9km-long stretch of pebble and sand at Vatera on the south coast. But there are more geological features than just rock and sand: the large shallow Gulf of Kalloni includes salt marshes that are a birdwatcher’s dream; over in the west there’s a petrified forest; and thermal spas punctuate the eastern half.

Lesvos, Greece, Europe - best greek islands

As the home of Greece’s most highly rated ouzo, there are a fair few lauded distilleries, such as Varvayianni and Samara, yet the island also produces great wines, such as Methymneos, and olive products.

Finally, there is a strong cultural aspect to Lésvos, which has had a literary reputation since ancient times, as the birthplace of the poets Sappho, Aesop and more recently Elytis. It is also the birthplace of the twentieth-century artists Theriade and Theophilos, who have museums in their honour on the island. A lot of Sappho’s erotic poetry was addressed towards other women (quite a thing for the sixth century) and her legacy is perpetually sustained at lively Skala Eresou, which draws lesbians from all over the world.

Explore more of the best Greek islands with the Rough Guide to The Greek IslandsCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Taken from the new Pocket Rough Guide, this is our pick of the best pubs in London

London is a very big city. In fact, it’s the largest capital in the European Union, stretching for more than thirty miles from east to west, and with a population of just over eight million. Ethnically and linguistically, it’s also Europe’s most diverse metropolis, offering cultural and culinary delights from right across the globe.

If you want to get under the city’s skin, there’s only one place to do it. Found on just about every street corner, the pub remains one of the nation’s most enduring social institutions and its popularity in London sees no sign of waning. The City has probably the best choice of long-established drinking holes, while in Soho and the East End you’ll find a wide choice of bars and clubs alongside good-old fashioned pubs. For a riverside drink, head for the South Bank or Docklands, and for a lazy Sunday afternoon mosey on up to Hampstead or down to Greenwich.

The Lamb & Flag

This tiny old pub is hidden away down an alley between Garrick Street and Floral Street in Covent Garden. Among its claims to fame is that the Poet Laureate, John Dryden, was beaten up here in 1679 by a group of thugs who were most probably hired by his rival poet, the Earl of Rochester.
33 Rose St  

The Salisbury

This flamboyant and superbly preserved late-Victorian pub offers an escape from the crowds a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square. The interior is replete with bronze nymphs, etched and engraved windows, red-leather seating and a fine lincrusta ceiling, while a wide range of ales is on offer behind the bar.
90 St Martin’s Lane 

The Salisbury Pub London

The Red Lion

Not what you’d expect to find in St James’s, the exclusive little enclave sandwiched between St James’s Park and Piccadilly, this glorious old Victorian gin palace has elegant etched mirrors and lots of polished wood. They offer a commendable range of ales, with seasonal selections that change every few weeks.
2 Duke of York St

The Dog & Duck

For a slice of old Soho, you can’t do better than this tiny pub. The Dog & Duck retains much of its old character and its original decor, with beautiful Victorian tiling and mosaics, plus a good range of real ales. A real West End treat.
18 Bateman St

The Lamb

For refreshment after a trip to the British Museum, walk a few minutes east to The Lamb. This marvellously well-preserved Victorian pub in a pretty street boasts mirrors, polished wood and “snob” screens, plus intriguing old photos. The excellent Young’s ales round things off splendidly.
94 Lamb’s Conduit St

London, Bloomsbury, The Lamb, pub facade

Jerusalem Tavern

This converted Georgian coffee house – a short walk from Smithfield Market – has a frontage dating to 1810, meaning the building retains much of its original character. Better still, the excellent draught beers are from St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk.
55 Britton St

The Three Kings

Tucked away north of Clerkenwell Green, just a quick stumble from the Jerusalem Tavern, lies another of London’s gems. This atmospheric pub has a delightfully eclectic interior and two small rooms upstairs that are perfect for long occupation.
7 Clerkenwell Close

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

seventeenth-century watering hole – famous chiefly because of patrons such as Dickens and Dr Johnson – with several snug, dark-panelled rooms and real fires. Popular with tourists, but by no means exclusively so. It’s hidden down an alleyway off Fleet Street, so look out for the sign.
Wine Office Court, 145 Fleet St

England, London, Fleet Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Prospect of Whitby

Steeped in history, this Docklands venue is perhaps London’s most famous riverside pub, with a pewter bar, flagstone floor, ancient timber beams and stacks of maritime memorabilia. Decent beers and terrific views too.
57 Wapping Wall

Royal Oak

The Royal Oak is a lovingly restored Victorian boozer that eschews jukeboxes and one-armed bandits, opting simply for a superb stock of real ales (mild, pale and old) from Harveys Brewery in Sussex and some good old-fashioned pub grub.
44 Tabard St 

Royal Oak Pub London

The Holly Bush

For drinking in north London, try this lovely old pub, with a cosy real fire in winter and a charming wooden interior, tucked away in the steep backstreets of Hampstead village. There are some fine ales on offer, plus decent food (particularly the sausages and pies) – note that it can get mobbed at weekends.
22 Holly Mount 

Trafalgar Tavern

Frequented by the likes of Dickens (and mentioned in Our Mutual Friend), William Thackeray and Wilkie Collins, this Regency-style inn is a firm tourist favourite in Greenwich – with its riverside position and good snacks, it’s easy to see why.
5 Park Row 

Pocket Rough Guide London

 

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Gilly Pickup discovers the enduring allure of Cuba’s bright and breezy capital, Havana, the island’s cultural heart.

Havana’s effervescence is palpable. The city is reminiscent of an old picture postcard come to life – awash with faded grandeur and crumbling ice-cream coloured buildings. Bartenders mix up mojitos in time to the hip-swaying, hypnotic sounds of salsa and straw-hatted, cigar-puffing men driving vividly coloured vintage Cadillacs, Pontiacs and Buicks.

Habana Vieja and beyond

Havana’s UNESCO listed Habana Vieja or Old Town, almost an open air museum, was once the Caribbean’s main Spanish settlement. With a glut of castles and baroque churches it has more old colonial buildings than any other city in the New World. Head to the Camera Obscura in the Plaza Vieja for the best views.

Of course there are countless museums to explore, too. The most famous is probably the Museum of the Revolution in Centro Habana. This big blast from the past is housed in what was once the Presidential Palace, headquarters of the Cuban government for forty years. Besides plenty of rusty revolvers and a life size wax figure of Che Guevara, it contains maps tracing the war’s progress, innumerable photos of Fidel Castro and some blood-stained uniforms.

Behind the museum are parts of a plane shot down during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, a surface-to-air missile and the yacht that brought Guevara and Castro together with eighty plus revolutionaries to Cuba from Mexico in 1956 – today rather incongruously kept in a glass enclosure.

Another important landmark is the Capitolio Nacional. Once Cuba’s seat of government, the building is similar in appearance to the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. It is home to the National Library and Academy of Sciences and houses a planetarium and museum. Under the dome, a 24-carat diamond – an imitation – is set into the floor. This is where distances between Havana and other sites in the country are measured.

Plaza de San Francisco, Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis, La Habana Vieja, Cuba

A cigar stop-off

No trip to Cuba would be complete without a cigar, and close by the Capitolio is one of the city’s most famous cigar factories, Real Fabrica de Tabaco Partagas.

Here, a reader is employed to entertain workers while they make the cigars – the reason why some cigars are named after literary characters. Tours allow visitors to see how cigars are made and, of course, there is the opportunity to buy some from the little shop at the end.

In the footsteps of Hemingway

While in Habana Vieja, it makes sense to pay a visit to El Floridita, one of the bars where Ernest Hemingway liked to have a bite to eat and down daiquiris.

Nothing much seems to have changed here since the thirties, when he was sometimes snapped at the bar with Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper, though it was a favourite meeting place for expat Americans before Hemingway made it famous.

Hemingway’s celebrity status has never dimmed in the eyes of the locals and his favourite stool is cordoned off almost as if he is expected to walk back in at any minute. The bar even created a daiquiri in his name, ‘The Papa Hemingway Special’. One story goes that he once sank 13 doubles in one visit. Who knows for sure, but if he did, he must have had a serious hangover next morning.

Fans of Hemingway can also visit his home, Finca Vigia, which lies just outside town. Now also a museum, it is kept just as it was when the man himself lived there. This is where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and today visitors can see his huge book collection and his typewriter.

El Floridita, Havana, Cuba

Along the sea spangled waterfront

And speaking of the sea, every visitor to Havana should head to the Malecón, the eight kilometre sea spangled waterfront promenade popular with locals and tourists, swimmers, joggers and musicians.

Although it was built in 1901 to protect the city from rough seas, today a party atmosphere abounds, especially during evenings and weekends.

Malecon promenade, with people on  rocks by sea, Havana, Cuba

Feisty bands and fizzing nightlife

You’ll learn to expect continual music here. It emanates round the clock from the city’s shady squares and cobbled streets. Havana is a feisty rainbow explosion of live bands. They’re everywhere: in the airport, restaurants, bars and on the streets – and at night the experience is out of this world.

Many local musicians play the ‘tres guitar’, a rhythm instrument with three double strings, while the pulsing African ‘son’ music and Timbal drum beats are bound to get your feet tapping.

Nightlife is full on and fizzing – and there are plenty of clubs and bars where visitors can party like a local. Dress to impress, as the locals do, and head to open-air cabaret Tropicana, a great place to soak up the sounds and shake that booty. This is no ordinary cabaret, complete with a 32-piece orchestra.

Festivals galore

It’s also an idea to plan a visit to Havana to coincide with some of the popular celebrations and festivals. These include the cigar festival in February, Carnival in July, the ballet festival in October and film and jazz festivals are in December.

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

Tasmania has shaken off its reputation as a sleepy backwater. Australia’s smallest state is buzzing with art, nurturing an exciting foodie scene and cutting the ribbon on new hiking trails – all against a backdrop of rich history and remarkable wildlife. Here, Anita Isalska gives ten reasons why you should give in to the island’s lure. 

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

A ferry ride up the peaceful Derwent River doesn’t seem like the obvious start to explore your dark side. But in the subterranean galleries of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art you’ll find some of the most confronting creations in Australia. Passion, death and decay are explored in unflinching detail in this controversial museum in the northern suburbs of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Test your limits with maggot ridden installations, X-rated sculptures and obese automobiles, all from the private collections of arty eccentric David Walsh.

Australia, Tasmania, view of Hobart from Mount Wellington

2. To raft the Franklin River

Quicken your pulse in Tasmania’s wild west on a white water rafting adventure. In this glacier carved terrain, thick with Huon pine forests, experienced guides will navigate you down the frothing Franklin River. You’ll stop to cook on open fires and pitch a tent under the stars. There’s nothing like being part of a crew paddling a raft through the Franklin’s thunderous rapids to instil a lasting respect for Tasmania’s formidable wilderness.

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

Tas’ most famous critter is most often experienced through its nocturnal scream. But Tasmanian devils can be seen up close at sanctuaries across the state, like Bonorong. Don’t be fooled by their puppy-like appearance and lolloping gait. Time your visit for feeding time and you’ll see these marsupials screech, squabble and chomp straight through wallaby bones. On a more serious note, make sure you spare some time to learn about the devastating facial tumour disease threatening these Tassie natives.

Tasmanian devil sign

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

Mainland Aussies flock to the annual Taste Festival in Hobart. But you can undertake a year-round gastronomic extravaganza on Bruny Island, an easy day-trip by ferry from Hobart. Start by slurping fresh oysters at Get Shucked, before perusing the unctuous delights of Bruny Island Cheese Company. You’ll want a bottle or two to accompany those garlic-marinated, vine leaf-wrapped delights, so stop for pinot noir at Bruny Island Premium Wines. Finish off with jams and ice creams at the berry farm.

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

The silhouette of Cradle Mountain, reflected in mirror-clear Dove Lake, is one of Tasmania’s greatest natural icons. Lace up your hiking boots in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and discover Pencil Pine Falls or the neck-craning Ballroom Forest. Some are easy wooden walking trails that spiral around picnic spots like Wombat Pool; others vertiginous hikes that require experience. For hardened adventurers, there’s the six-day Overland Track.

Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain. Tasmania. Australia. : Stock Photo View similar imagesMore from this photographerDownload comp Caption:Dawn reflections on calm fresh water lake. Mist over mountain peak. Dove Lake. Cradle Mountians. Tasmania. Australia. Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain. Tasmania. Australia.

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

One of Australia’s most hotly-tipped new attractions for 2015 is the Three Capes Track. Due to open in November 2015, this 82km coastal trail promises a touch of luxury for bushwalkers. Instead of stooping under the weight of your camping gear, you’ll be able to bed down in furnished huts at three different spots along the track and make use of on-site cooking facilities. That leaves more time to focus on what’s really important: jaw-dislocatingly good views of Australia’s tallest sea cliffs.

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

Each night at dusk, a parade of little penguins pops out of the waters of Bicheno Bay and waddles ashore to their burrows. A guided walk is the best way to admire these dainty seabirds without disturbing them. They’ll hop between your legs, preen their inky black coats and jab their beaks at toes (don’t wear open-toed shoes).

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

Stomach-plummeting views await at Cataract Gorge, just 15 minutes’ drive from Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Tiptoe over the suspension bridge or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of forested hillsides from the longest single-span chairlift in the southern hemisphere. Picnic spots are scattered around the gorge’s First Basin (and stalked by curious peacocks), ideal for you to soak up some rays and the tranquil atmosphere.

Australia, Tasmania, Launceston, Cataract Gorge,

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

Two centuries ago, a ticket to Australia was a terrible fate. The most harrowing final destination was Tasmania’s Port Arthur, one of Australia’s 11 penal colony sites. Port Arthur was thought inescapable: only a narrow band of land, Eaglehawk Neck, connected it to the rest of the island, and this was fiercely guarded by dogs. Today, Port Arthur has been conserved as an open-air museum. You can explore the former prison wings and convict-built chapel, board a boat to the lonely graveyards on Isle of the Dead and linger for a ghost tour if you dare.

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

There’s an unforgettable reward for taking a steep forested trail on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. At the Wineglass Bay overlook, you’ll see a perfect arc of sand glowing against the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea. Cool off from all that bushwalking with a dip or kayaking trip, or simply gaze out over the dusky pink granite boulders dappled with lichen, one of Tasmania’s most surreally beautiful sights.

Explore more of Tasmania with the Rough Guide to Australia or our Tasmania Snapshot. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Manchester is Britain’s new cultural capital. No, really. The city may have been built on the heavy industry of the Industrial Revolution but since the 2002 Commonwealth Games, it has re-invented itself as a world capital of the arts.

Today Manchester dominates the headlines with a slew of galleries, venues and festivals. It’s home to some of the UK’s most forward-thinking developments, one of the coolest music scenes and a fast-expanding range of great hotels and restaurants. Then there’s Russell T. Davies’ new Channel Four series, Cucumber, set along Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village, and the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Hamlet, set to be screened in cinemas across the UK.

Is there any doubt that Manchester is starting to take centre stage in the UK? David Atkinson makes the case for why the city is the UK’s cultural hotspot.

1. It has the most intriguing art gallery

The Whitworth Gallery recently re-opened to the public following a £15m redevelopment. The new building features a glass-promenade gallery overlooking the new Art Garden in Whitworth Park. The opening show, a solo exhibition from the respected contemporary artist Cornelia Parker, runs until summer, while the permanent collection showcases the gallery’s eclectic range of fine art, textiles and wallpapers.

2. It’s about to get the country’s top arts centre

HOME, the city’s new multi-artform centre opens on the 21st May with a funfair theme for the opening weekend. The £25m development includes a 500-seat theatre, flexible studio space and five cinema screens. It will commission, produce and present a programme of contemporary theatre, film and visual art, drawing on resources of the former Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company, both of which have evolved into the HOME project.

HOME, ManchesterImage courtesy of visitmanchester.com

3. It hosts the most dynamic festival

The bi-annual Manchester International Festival (MIF) kicks off in July with 18 days of premieres, performances and events. The festival, described by The New Yorker as “probably the most radical and important arts festival today” puts Manchester on the international stage. One of this year’s cornerstone events is the premiere of wonder.land, a new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s iconic Alice in Wonderlandwhich turns 150 this year – with music by Damon Albarn.

4. It’s home to some of the best libraries

Manchester always had a rich literacy legacy – from Karl Marx observing working life in the mid nineteenth century to the UK’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy via the punk poetry of John Cooper Clarke. Manchester Central Library, reopened last March as a living-room space for the city. The nearby Portico Library is a Neo-Classical gem with a dusty-tome-filled Reading Room and Chetham’s Library is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.

Central Library, ManchesterImage courtesy of visitmanchester.com

5. It has the coolest music scene

Manchester has brought us bands from Joy Division to Elbow and the city’s best record shop, Piccadilly Records, remains the lynchpin of the Manchester music scene. For live bands, pick of the venues is The Deaf Institute a three-floor independent operation at the heart of studentland where you can catch bands on the way to stadium slots and cool new comedians, while supping on craft beers and tucking into tasty burgers.

6. It’s one of the best places for urban living

Looking for cool bars, trendy boutiques and lots of independent-spirited places to soak up the urban-cool vibe? Look no further than the Northern Quarter, the city’s thriving off-duty hub. Try North Tea Power for café-culture, surviving old faves like Afflecks Palace for vintage and vinyl, and Dry Bar for beers and bands.

Shops and cafes in the Northern Quarter in ManchesterImage courtesy of visitmanchester.com

7. It celebrates industrial heritage

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the family home of the Cranford author, reopened last year after a three-year project to restore the Grade II-listed Regency villa. Gaskell documented Manchester’s burgeoning industrial revolution from her writing desk at 84 Plymouth Grove after the family moved to the house in 1850 and her views contrasted starkly with the ideals of the Victorian era.

8. It has some fantastic places to stay 

With over 6,500 hotel rooms in the city centre, places to crash range from bijou boutique hotels to homely hostels. The Radisson Blu Edwardian, the former Free Trade Hall where The Sex Pistols invented punk in 1976, is now synonymous with urban cool while The Lowry, Manchester’s first five-star property, remains the place to see and be seen. 

Lowry ManchesterImage courtesy of visitmanchester.com

9. It’s home to boundary-pushing chefs

The restaurant scene has exploded, with the Manchester Food & Drink Festival now a cornerstone of the foodie diary. Simon Rogan of Michelin-stared L’Enclume fame is currently cooking up a storm at The French in the Midland Hotel. Other highlights include Cloud 23, the panorama bar at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate, for fancy cocktails, and The Briton’s Protection, one of Manchester’s favourite traditional boozers, for local ales and spoken-word nights.

10. It’s about to get some serious investment

The government announced a £78m cash injection into Manchester’s creative economy in last year’s Autumn Statement. The cornerstone of plans for the ‘northern powerhouse’ is The Factory, a new artist-led, creative hub on a site to the west of the city centre that was previously home to Coronation Street. The Factory, a homage to Manchester’s legendary Factory Records, will combine an array of arts spaces with a permanent home for the Manchester International Festival. It’s due to open 2019.

Explore more of the region with the Rough Guide to Britain. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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