You’ve heard the one about not sticking your chopsticks straight up in rice, right? (It resembles funerary incense sticks).

Honestly? Don’t fret. Because let’s face it; you’ve got bigger problems than antiquated cultural faux-pas. Like how to actually order and eat a table-full of delicious Chinese food in a regular, everyday, non-touristy Chinese restaurant – in China. Here, Thomas O’Malley gives us a step-by-step guide.

1. Start early

First things first, aim to eat earlier than you might be used to. Many Chinese diners sit down for dinner at around 6pm, and it’s not uncommon for restaurants to be winding down by 9pm. But if you do miss last orders, it’s not the end of the world – chances are there’s a 24-hour McDonald’s around the corner.

2. Embrace a new ordering system

Typically in China, one person – the host – orders (and pays) for everyone, which is why usually only one menu will be given out by the server. And you can almost guarantee the menu will be beefier than a telephone directory, because restaurants in China pride themselves on the ability to make dozens, if not hundreds of dishes.

Restaurant staff expect to dawdle while you flick through the menu, choosing dishes as you go (and taking suggestions from your fellow diners). Of course, it’s up to you how you split the bill, but giving just one person ordering duties is more efficient than everyone taking a turn, especially as you’ll be sharing the food.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

3. Know your place (in the menu)

In a typical jia chang cai (family-style) restaurant, menus start with the house specials (often the fancy banquet dishes like whole seafood, spicy hot pot or Peking duck depending on the region), followed by cold salad dishes, meaty mains, stir-fried vegetables, soups, and at the back, staples like noodles, rice, steamed bread, dumplings and desserts.

It all depends where in China you are eating, of course!

In Beijing and the north, expect hearty roast lamb and duck, starchy noodles and lots of garlic. Chillis and the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn rule in central Sichuan (try the hot pot), while southern Cantonese food like dim sum, seafood and roasted meats will already be somewhat familiar if you’ve dined in Chinese restaurants in the West. Not to mention the southeast Asian flavours of Yunnan, Guizhou rice noodles, Hunan dry-pot dishes…

Despite the mind-blowing diversity of regional cuisines across China, there are some common dishes that most restaurants will know how to cook. Try these tasty (and foreigner-friendly) standards: jidan chaofan (egg-fried rice), xihongshi chao jidan (stir-fried tomatoes and eggs), gongbao jiding (diced chicken with peanuts and dried chilis), and pai huanggua (a cold salad of cucumber and garlic).

Sichuan noodles via Pixabay/CC0

4. Learn how much to order

A good rule of thumb is to order one dish per number of diners, plus soup and rice. (This is why dining in big groups is more fun – you can munch more and the cost per person is lower.) The concept of starters, mains and desserts doesn’t apply, so order everything at once.

For a table of six, plump for a couple of cold salad dishes, three to five hot ‘mains’, a vegetable, soup, and rice or noodles.

5. Master the art of balance

Part of the reason one person assumes ordering responsibilities is because a successful Chinese meal is the art of balance and harmony on the table: hot and cold, colour, nutrition, complimentary tastes and textures. That’s the theory, anyway. Or just get a fist-full of grilled lamb skewers and ice-cold beer and to hell with it.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, yin and yang refers to how different foods generate hot or cold energy in the body. Cucumber is yin, or cold, for example, while chili peppers are yang, or hot. A good Chinese meal should be a balance of yin and yang foods.

Make sense? Well this won’t: lobster is yang and crab is yin. Let’s call the whole thing off.

Spicy tofu via Pixabay/CC0

6. Get the basics down

Dishes are served in the middle of the table for diners to attack ‘family-style’; only rice is served individually. Just keep grazing away at those central dishes until you can graze no more.

At formal banquets you’ll have two sets of chopsticks – one to transfer food from the communal dishes to your bowl or plate, and one to eat with. But mostly you’ll just get one set. They are your friends. Treat them well. (And avoid those wasteful disposable ones.)

If a dish is too salty, eat a little of it over your plain rice to balance the seasoning. You’ll usually get dark vinegar and chilli oil on the table to add a sour or spicy note (often to noodle soups). Pro tip: the two link up to make a zingy dipping sauce for steamed or fried dumplings.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

7. Settle up with ease

When you’re ready to settle up, don’t be shy; it’s a fairly common practice to raise your voice to get the server’s attention. “Fuwu yuan” (waiter/waitress – or ‘xiaojie’ in the south) is heard every few minutes in ordinary restaurants.

And last of all, you might be pleased to know that, outside of hotels, tipping isn’t part of the culture at all.

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

This year saw the opening of the world’s first Barbie museum in Montréal, Canada. It’s one of a handful of exhibitions specialising in unusual subject matters, so if dusty fossils don’t do it for you, we’ve rounded up ten of the world’s weirdest museums.

1. Meguro Parasitological Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Those prone to squeamishness should probably avoid this Japanese museum, set up by passionate parasitologist Dr Satoru Kamegai in 1953. There are over 60,000 specimens, along with 50,000 books on parasitology.

One particularly gruesome exhibit is the eight-metre-long tapeworm, handily displayed next to a length of white ribbon designed to emphasise the creature’s horrifying length.

Courtesy of the JNTO

2. The Dog Collar Museum, Kent, England

Today’s dogs have it easy. Exhibits at this fascinating museum at Leeds Castle include a fifteenth-century collar worn by Spanish hunting dogs to protect their necks from bears. Much more elegant are the ornate gilt designs from the baroque period, and the silver collars dating back to the nineteenth century.

The museum was founded in 1977, when antique collector Gertrude Hunt presented her beloved collection of 60 dog collars to the castle. Since then, the museum has continued to expand, and there are now over 130 exhibits, dating from the sixteenth century.

Courtesy of Leeds Castle

3. Mcdonald’s Big Mac Museum, Pennsylvania, USA

Ever wondered about the origins of your Big Mac? No, neither have we, but in case you do want to know where it all began, there’s a museum just for you.

The Big Mac Museum in Pennsylvania was founded by Jim Delligatti, the franchisee who opened Western Pennsylvania’s first McDonald’s restaurant. He also created the Big Mac, an item which first went on sale in his restaurant in 1967, with a price tag of just 45 cents.

Visitors can learn all about the brand’s history and browse the collection of McDonald’s memorabilia, which includes the world’s largest (albeit plastic) Big Mac.

Courtesy of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau

4. Museum of Bread Culture, Ulm, Germany

Whether it’s a warm pretzel or deliciously dark rye bread, Germans love their dough-based produce. This museum was founded by two entrepreneurs who worked in the bakery trade before opening their first permanent exhibition in 1960.

It soon became a museum, which is now run by a charitable foundation. Visitors can check out fascinating displays of baking tools, admire bread-related art and learn about bread’s importance to food security. We’re feeling bloated just thinking about it.

Image by Bernhard Friese

5. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, New Delhi, India

Founded by sanitation expert Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, this museum is divided into three sections: ancient, medieval and modern. The ancient section has displays relating to the first manmade toilets (found in Pakistan in 3000 BC, if you were wondering), while the hand-painted ornate Austrian toilet bowls in the medieval section are truly breathtaking.

In the modern section you’ll find hi-tech Japanese and Korean toilets along with a replica of the world’s largest “toilet complex”, which can be found in Maharashtra in west-central India.

Courtesy of Sulabh International Museum of Toilets

6. Historic Wine Tool Museum, California, USA

We’re beginning to think there’s a museum for everything these days. If you’ve always wondered what a pomace cutter is, or pondered exactly how a vine pruning knife should be used, this museum, in the grounds of California’s Buena Vista Winery, is for you.

On guided tours visitors can see an enormous selection of tools, ranging from pruning knives and shears to grape presses and wine barrel spigots. Many are hundreds of years old, so it’s a great way to learn about the history of viticulture, too. The majority of exhibits were donated by Phillippe Bérard, a world-renowned vineyard owner with a passion for antique wine tools.

Image by Drew Kelly

7. Currywurst Museum, Berlin, Germany

Visiting Berlin? When you’ve been to Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate, head to the Currywurst Museum for the ultimate German experience. Stop by the ketchup bottled-shaped audio station to listen to currywurst-themed songs, take a selfie on the sausage sofa or learn about the dish’s key spices at the sniffing station.

There’s also a huge collection of currywurst literature to peruse, should you wish really torture your stomach.

Courtesy of Currywurst Museum

8. The Museum Of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia

This weird and wonderful museum is a reassuring reminder that you’re not the only one who treasures that dirty sock your ex-partner left at your apartment. It was set up by two Zagreb-based artists who once dated, and when they split up joked that they should create a museum to honour their relationship.

A handful of mementoes grew to an enormous collection as word spread and broken-hearted singles from around the world donated items. Notable exhibits include the “therapy instrument” (axe) used by its donator to smash the furniture of a cheating partner, and a pair of bright orange pants given to a man by his ex-girlfriend.

Image by Adrian Cinca

9. The Icelandic Phallological Museum, Reykjavík, Iceland

This definitely isn’t your average school trip museum visit. Filled with over 200 penises and penile parts, the Icelandic Phallological Museum was founded by former teacher Sigurður Hjartarson. His interest in all things phallological started when he was a child living in rural Iceland, where pizzles – or bulls’ penises – are often used as cattle whips.

Today the exhibits include specimens from polar bears, seals, foxes and reindeers. There’s also a one-metre-long blue whale penis, which was once apparently used as an oar for a canoe.

Courtesy of the Icelandic Phallological Museum

10. Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, Kansas, USA

Did you know that barbed wire was first patented in 1874? Or that it played a crucial role during the First World War, when its high tensile strength made it a powerful deterrent against enemy tanks?

This museum has over 2000 types of barbed wire on display, and you can brush up on your knowledge at the learning centre, where you’ll find newsletters from America’s top barbed wire appreciation clubs (yes, those are a thing) and an extensive collection of fencing tools.

Visit in May and you’ll be able to participate in the annual Barbed Wire Swap and Sell and take part in the barbed wire splicing contest. Seriously.

Courtesy of the Barbed Wire Museum

Get inspiration for your next trip with our ultimate bucket listCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. 

BarcelonaSpain’s second city – sets the template for urban style, hip design and sheer nonstop energy. Where others tinker at the edges, time and again Barcelona has reinvented itself. Visit for the first time or the fiftieth, Barcelona never fails to surprise.

The city’s popularity means finding a hotel vacancy at any time of year can be difficult, so it’s always best to book in advance. There’s a wide range of options, though, from youth hostels and budget pensións to glam five-star-plus hotels, housed in medieval mansions and Modernista masterpieces alike.

Start planning your trip with our guide to the best area to stay in Barcelona, taken from the latest Rough Guide.

Note that while rooms with balconies may be the brightest, traffic is a constant presence and, in a city where people are just getting ready to go out at 10pm, you can be assured of a fair amount of pedestrian noise, particularly in the old town.

The Ramblas

If you hanker after a Ramblas view, you’ll pay for the privilege – generally speaking, there are much better deals to be had either side of the famous boulevard, often just a minute’s walk away.

Spain’s most famous thoroughfare, however, has its attractions, lined with cafés and restaurants, thronged by tourists and performance artists, and home to the acclaimed Boqueria food market.

Value for money: Hostal Benidorm. This refurbished pensión attracts tribes of young tourists with rooms available for one to five people.

Dramatic luxury: Hotel H1898. The former HQ of the Philippines Tobacco Company got an eye-popping refit; some of the sumptuous suites even have their own private pool, jacuzzi and garden.

Barri Gòtic

The Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, which spreads east from the Ramblas, forms the very heart of the old town. With buildings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, most of the district is picture-perfect, full of shops, bars, restaurants, museums and galleries. Alongside some classy boutique choices, most of Barcelona’s cheap accommodation is found here.

Note that the south of the the Barri Gòtic is rather less gentrified. Be careful (without being paranoid) when coming and going after dark and take care at night in poorly lit streets.

Impeccable boutique: Hotel Do. This nineteenth-century Neoclassical building, renovated by renowned Catalan architect Oriol Bohigas, seamlessly blends the contemporary with the timeless.

Eye-catching style: Neri Hotel. A delightful eighteenth-century palace houses this stunning boutique hotel of just 22 rooms and suites, featuring swags of flowing material, rescued timber and granite-toned bathrooms.

El Raval

The old-town area west of the Ramblas is known as El Raval (from the Arabic word for “suburb”) and has always formed a world apart from nobler Barri Gòtic.

Over the last two decades, however, the district has changed markedly, particularly in the “upper Raval” around Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, MACBA. Cutting-edge galleries, designer restaurants and fashionable bars are all part of the scene these days.

You’d hesitate to call El Raval gentrified, as it clearly still has its rough edges. Don’t be unduly concerned during the day as you make your way around, but it’s as well to keep your wits about you at night, particularly in the southernmost streets.

A local landmark: Barceló Raval. The USP of this hotel is its 360-degree top-floor terrace with plunge pool and sensational city views; rooms are sophisticated and open-plan with space-station-style sheen.

Sumptuous style: Hotel España. There’s been no more eagerly awaited hotel opening in recent times than the revamp of this Modernista icon – its interior has no equal in Barcelona.

Sant Pere and La Ribera

The two easternmost old-town neighbourhoods of Sant Pere and La Ribera are both medieval in origin, and are often thought of as one district, but each has a distinct character.

Sant Pere – perhaps the least visited part of the old town – has two remarkable buildings, the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Mercat Santa Caterina. By way of contrast, the old artisans’ quarter of La Ribera has always been a big draw, by virtue of the presence of the graceful church of Santa María del Mar and the Museu Picasso.

Both have a number of safely sited budget, mid-range and boutique options, and are handy for the Born nightlife area.

Budget cool: Chic & Basic Born. From the open-plan, all-in-white decor, everything here is punchily boutique and in-your-face. Chic, certainly; basic, not at all.

Wham-glam designer: Grand Hotel Central. This hotel, beloved of all the style mags has spacious, ever-so-lovely rooms, a rooftop sundeck and infinity pool.

The Eixample

North of Plaça de Catalunya, the Eixample – split into Right (Dreta) and Left (Esquerra) – has some of the city’s most fashionable hotels, often housed in converted palaces and mansions and located just a few minutes’ walk from the modernista architectural masterpieces.

The Dreta de l’Eixample acts as a sort of open-air museum, featuring extraordinary buildings – most notably by Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The Esquerra de l’Eixample is one of Barcelona’s hottest night-out destinations, with both Michelin-starred restaurants and some of the best bars and clubs.

Cheery B&B: BarcelonaBB. Lovely rooms, amiable hosts and a tasty breakfast shared with other happy travellers – what’s not to love?

Contemporary high-spec: the5Rooms. The impeccable taste and fashion background of owner Jessica is evident here: expect gorgeously styled rooms, original artwork and terrific bathrooms.

The waterfront

The greatest transformation in Barcelona has been along the waterfront, where harbour and ocean have once again been placed at the heart of the city. Dramatic changes have opened up the old docksides as promenades and entertainment areas, and landscaped the beaches to the north.

Port Vell is the best place for waterfront views, while to the northeast the eighteenth-century neighbourhood of Barceloneta holds tightly packed streets and excellent seafood restaurants. Further up the coast is the showpiece Port Olímpic, a huge seafront development constructed for the 1992 Olympics.

Four- and five-stars also abound much further out on the metro at the Diagonal Mar conference and events site.

Chic and charming: Bonic Barcelona. This “urban guesthouse” is just a few steps from the port and Ramblas, with Gothic-Moorish decor and gorgeous tiled floors.

Stupendously cool: W Barcelona. This signature building on the Barceloneta seafront is one of the city’s most iconic structures; open-plan designer rooms have fantastic views and facilities are first-rate.

Gràcia

If you prefer neighbourhood living, then the northern district of Gràcia is the best base. It still retains a genuine small-town atmosphere and, unlike some districts in Barcelona, has a real soul.

The area is still very much the liberal, almost bohemian, stronghold it was in the nineteenth century and you’re only ever a short walk away from its excellent bars, restaurants and clubs.

Hostel with style: Casa Gracia. Though this vibrant and stylish space, spread over six floors in a Modernista building, is technically a hostel, you’ll feel like you’re staying in a hotel.

Deluxe luxury: Hotel Casa Fuster. Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s magnificent Casa Fuster is the backdrop for this five-star, with huge beds, gorgeous bathrooms and a wonderful panoramic roof terrace and pool.

This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from the Rough Guide to Barcelona.

Tasty ‘big-ass ants’, llamas wearing woolly hats, and tiny enclaves of Welsh culture make South America a fascinating, if at times, mind boggling continent to explore. Here’s our foray into some of the more eclectic cultural treats to be found upon these shores.

1. Patagonia’s Welsh teahouses

Debuted to the world in Bruce Chatwin’s pivotal account of his travels, In Patagonia, the Welsh region of Argentina is a thoroughly un-South American segment of this continent. The tiny town of Gaiman draws many a visitor with its nostalgia-inducing scents of freshly baked scones and pots of perfectly brewed tea.

Sample these delicious delights in the numerous casas de té which line the streets and where you’ll find the cottages bearing testament to their heritage: tea towels sporting red dragons, expertly knitted tea cosies and china-laden Welsh dressers.

2. Cusco’s llamas

Having acquired fame as the historic capital of the doomed Inca Empire, Cusco has since gained notoriety for other, loftier reasons. Now it claims the title of “Lamb and Llama Capital of South America”.

Wildest travel dreams are fulfilled by photo opportunities with these posing local, woolly celebrities, each sporting equally woolly hats; all for a handful of soles, of course.

Catch an even more poignant picture by snapping one of the ladies taking a taxi home with her two llamas at the end of the working day.

3. The unusual regional delicacies

South American cuisine can be a potent assault on the taste buds and stomach. Ecuador and Colombia have a tradition of combining queso with almost everything: banana splits with cheese sprinkles and hot chocolate with floating, yellow lumps.

Further south in Peru and Bolivia, find herb-stuffed, oven-roasted guinea pig washed down with chicha (an alcoholic maize drink which traditionally uses saliva to instigate fermentation).

For more intrepid tastes there are steaming bowls of caldo de cardán (soup made from a bull’s penis) in Bolivia, platters of buchada (goat’s stomach stuffed with offal) in Brazil, and the salted and lightly toasted treat that is hormigas culonas (literally “big-ass ants”) proudly served in Santander, Colombia.

Image by Maximiliano Dobladez on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. The hamster-cheek habit

South America’s love of the coca leaf persists, all despite global controversy surrounding its consumption (yes – it is derived from the same plant that produces cocaine). But this natural stimulant is a traditional feature of life in the mountains and coca leaf chewers are instantly recognisable for the peculiar bulge protruding from their cheeks.

Used for overcoming fatigue or altitude sickness, it can be drunk as mate (coca tea) or chewed with a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda to activate the chemicals. Be warned: it takes little time to realise it’s an acquired taste.

Image by Chris Ford on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

5. The linguistic assault of Chilean Spanish, cachai?

Those who’ve studied Spanish in any other country will feel at an immediate loss upon hearing the baffling jumble of jerga (slang) that is the Chilean dialect.

Indecipherable words are mashed together to form even more indecipherable sentences, and every ten seconds of speech will involve a complex combination of weónes, po and cachai (“mate”, “well” and “get it?”). Travelling through this linguistically challenging country is a test for even the most competent Spanish speaker.

6. The concept of punctuality…

South Americans are infamous for their distinct approach to punctuality: schedule an appointment with a local friend and you might be surprised if they turn up within the hour (or even two or three in Brazil).

This attitude towards timekeeping has even become part of the language used here. Hora inglésa (English time) stands for being on time, and if they want to say “now,” al tiro or ahorita will do. Although bear in mind that both carry undertones of at-some-point-in-the-not-so-distant-future, so don’t be disappointed if you still have to wait.

As frustrating as it can be, you can’t deny that their time-keeping approach at least forces you to relax and take things slow.

Pixabay / CC0

7. The mysterious architecture

The stoic, bulbous stone heads on Easter Island are not the only examples of laborious human vocation to have emerged from this continent. Further along the coast, the inexplicable accuracy of the geometric geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines in Peru continues to perplex archaeologists.

And, although relatively unknown in comparison with its sister-site, Machu Picchu, nearby Choquequirao remains a mysterious, barely discovered complex. Experts believe that only 30 percent of these ruins have been reclaimed from the surrounding undergrowth, and it remains to be seen what other enthralling secrets the rest of South America has yet to disclose.

8. Babies in backpacks

Intricately weaved textiles are some of the most visually striking features of life in the traditional Andean regions of South America. The ubiquitous aguayo ranks as one of the most useful: these rectangular pieces of cloth, striped in colours ranging from flamingo pink to coca leaf green, can transform into a sling-like backpack for women.

The contents? Anything from potatoes to babies.

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

The ICEHOTEL, constructed from snow and ice each year, has long been Swedish Lapland’s blockbuster attraction. It features in our list of the top 21 things to do in Sweden, and crops up on bucket lists the world over. Yet when the weather warms in the spring, this extraordinary hotel just melts away.

This year, things are set to change. The team behind the hotel are set to build ICEHOTEL 365, three times the size of its seasonal sibling, which will remain open throughout the year.

Image by Pin Pin Studio

The sustainable addition aims to make the most of the region’s near-constant daylight, running solely on solar power for part of the year. Here, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for 100 days straight between May and July. .

Yet while the new hotel will even offer ice-sculpting classes and a champagne ice bar in summer, some of the magic of bedding down in a giant igloo is certain be missing.

Image by Pin Pin Studio

Instead, guest can hike under the midnight sun, raft along the Torne river or learn more about the Sámi through cultural experiences. It’s not quite a year-round winter wonderland, but it could be an exciting alternative.

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

Header image by Pin Pin Studio.

Backpacking Thailand can mean staying in fun-packed hostels and idyllic beach bungalows, eating noodles so tasty and so cheap you’ll swear off all other food groups and climbing aboard everything from an overnight train to a lolloping elephant.

But it also means following a well-worn route – one that has sprouted an entire industry to service it, and sometimes, sadly, to take advantage of it.

Sidestep those scams and dodge the dangers with our top tips for making the most of backpacking Thailand.

1. Be respectful – know the etiquette

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason, but those smiles can quickly disappear if you don’t respect the culture. The feet are considered the lowest part of the body so never point them (especially the soles) towards somebody, especially if that somebody is a statue of Buddha. The head is considered most sacred so don’t touch people on the head, even children.

2. Eat bravely

One of the best things about travelling in Thailand is the food and you’ll find the tastiest – and cheapest – Thai noodles and curries at the street food stalls.

Be brave and follow the locals, they know which places have the highest standards, and the more people eating means more turnover and fresher ingredients.

3. Embrace public transport

Yes, the tuk tuk is an experience you mustn’t miss but to get proper mileage under your belt (and to get between Bangkok and the highlights of Chiang Mai, the southern islands and Kanchanaburi) you’re going to need to get to grips with the Thai bus service (Baw Khaw Saw or BKS).

Government-run, it’s reliable and extensive, with a BKS station in almost every town. Book your tickets here the day before you want to travel if and take the overnight first class bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

These generally stop somewhere en route for you to eat and will have reclining seats and a toilet on board. Bring a warm jacket to wrap up in, earplugs and an eye shade and prepare to arrive very early in the morning.

4. Timing is everything

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the monsoons finish for the year and temperatures are at coolest. This is also peak season though so if saving money and avoiding crowds is more important to you than sunbathing, the wet season (May to October) could be a better bet. To see all the highlights at a reasonable pace you’re going to need at least a month, though two is better.

5. Don’t be fooled

That tuk tuk driver stopping you on the street to tell you it’s a national holiday and that temple you’re about to visit is closed? It’s almost certainly not, he or she may just want to take you to their cousin’s carpet factory or sister’s gem shop.

Don’t be fooled by official looking uniforms, cheap or free tuk tuk tours or one day only gem sales either – unfortunately all are scams set up to part you from your travel funds, usually in exchange for a worthless ‘gem’ you can sell when you get back home

And don’t even think about getting involved in the sex industry – prostitution may be rife in Thailand but one thing it’s not is legal.

6. Agree a price before you ride

Be it a taxi or a tuk tuk, you need to agree a price for your journey in advance. Taxi drivers are meant to use the meter so ask them to and if they say no move on along the rank to the next driver.

Tuk tuks should be haggled over – ask your hostel for a rough estimate on current rates and stand firm. Though it also pays to remember that haggling over 20 baht is about equivalent to getting in a stress over 40p or 60 cents – sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

7. Pack light

You’re going backpacking for the freedom – so don’t weigh yourself down. Buy a light backpack and fill it only with the essentials.

You’ll need layers for those chilly bus journeys, a few items of underwear you can wash repeatedly, a waterproof jacket, earplugs, your phone charger and adaptor and insect repellent. Here’s a backpacking checklist to help you plan your backpack.

8. Use hostels

Thailand has a great network of hostels and you’ll not only save money over hotels, but also meet more people and get more local recommendations. Hostel staff are also a reliable source of advice and information on everything from avoiding the latest scam to where to get the best noodles, so talk to them.

9. Go with the flow

Thailand is a place to chill. So stay on somewhere if you love it, move on if you don’t, and if you hear about a cool new bar or restaurant, or a party on the beach, go. Unpredictable sometimes, unforgettable always.

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

To celebrate of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, visitors will be offered free entry to national parks across the USA next week.

From the 16th to the 24 April, admission fees will be waived in all 59 parks, with a range of special activities also planned around National Junior Ranger Day on the 16th. There’s never been a better excuse to see the spring blossom in Yosemite, track crocodiles in the Everglades or hike near a smoking caldera in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Not sure where to start? Check out our park-by-park guide or take this quiz to find out which park you should visit first.

Header image via Pixabay/CC0. Find out more on www.VisitTheUSA.com/outdoors.

Set in Andalucía, Spain’s southernmost region, Granada is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and with good reason. The city is in an astounding setting at the confluence of four rivers, backed by the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and there are plenty of things to do.

The extraordinary palace and fortress of the Alhambra, visible from almost anywhere in city, dominates the skyline. Students of the University of Granada keep downtown lively, while the Moorish neighbourhood of Albaicín is a perfect place to stroll for an hour or two. And, with free tapas in most of the bars, you won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

What should I see?

The Alhambra – meaning “the red one” in Arabic, due to the fiery hue of its fortress walls – is the most visited monument in Spain, and shows off the culture of the last centuries of Moorish rule, which lasted here for several centuries until Christian forces conquered Granada in 1492 and took over the palace.

Make sure you book well in advance online, and arrive an hour before your allocated time slot so you can queue for your tickets. It’s a steep climb to reach the entrance, but worth every step.

The Royal Palace, Palacios Nazaríes, the pride of the complex, is no ordinary ruin. As you stroll from chambers to fountained courtyards, through narrow corridors and under glorious arches, your eyes are drawn to the rich detail that – incredibly – hasn’t been washed away over the centuries, despite periods of disastrously careless occupiers, such as Napoleon’s forces.

Once you’ve seen the palace, the grounds of the Generalife gardens are a relaxing place for a shaded break, before heading up to the ramparts of the Alcazaba, the oldest and most ruined part of the complex, and from where the views down over town are spectacular.

Back in town, after you’ve rested your legs, take a walk through the steep, winding alleys of the old Moorish neighbourhood and UNESCO World Heritage site, the Albaicín. While half the fun is getting lost in these maze-like streets, make sure you don’t miss the Mirador (viewpoint) at Plaza de San Nicolas.

Not far from the foot of the Albaicín is the city’s Catholic relic, the vast Catedral de Granada, first built in 1583 and a gothic masterpiece. Its impressive exterior has a dark, foreboding feel, while the marble-floored interior is light, bright and extravagant, with no shortage of gold statues and ornaments.

Where can I get good tapas?

Eating in Granada is an experience you’ll find in few other places. The majority of tapas bars will provide customers with free small plates with every drink ordered. The portion sizes and quality of the food varies wildly, so it’s a very good idea to know where you want to go before heading out.

The centre of town is best for tapas. A good place to start is Los Diamantes, by Plaza Nueva, an upmarket seafood bar where quality wines are paired with free tapas of fried anchovies (boquerones fritos).

Cerveceria la Riviera, down the road from the cathedral, is cheap and cheerful, always buzzing, and they serve very generous tapas portions. You can even select the free tapas from a menu with a dozen or so options – try the fried octopus tentacles (patas de pulpo) or chorizo in wine (chorizo picante al vino).

Russian-naval-themed tapas and sushi bar Potemkin, on Placeta Hospicio Viejo, serves delightful free tapas such as spicy squid on thinly sliced and delicately flavoured potato slices, and nearby Los Altramuces, on leafy Campo de Principe, is a traditional, low-key family-run bar, with a warm welcome and hearty free tapas such as chicken and tomato stew.

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For something different, try Om-Kalsum, a cheap North African and Middle Eastern tapas bar, where seven tapas and a bottle of wine will set you back just €14.

On the outskirts of the centre, the stylish Taverna Saint Germain, always packed with locals, is a fantastic place to sample some lovely local wines by the glass, while staff efficiently serve a range of appetising free tapas, with a modern twist on traditional Spanish dishes.

And where can I get an actual meal?

Start your day with the best breakfast in town from Café 4 Gatos in Albaicín, where wholesome, hearty tostadas – such as grilled aubergine and goat’s cheese – are served up with fresh juice, friendly service and great coffee.

It’s worth paying a little extra for a meal at Samarkanda, close to the markets at the base of the Albaicín, where top-notch Lebanese food is on offer, such as superb hummus with mincemeat and a rich and fragrant lamb tagine.

Where should I go after dark?

Granada’s teahouses, the majority of which are clustered in “Little Morocco”, around Calle Caldereria Nueva, are peaceful, atmospheric places to take a break with a fresh mint tea and a puff on a shisha.

For a cocktail, boozy coffee or milkshake, head to the Bohemia Jazz Café, on Plaza de los Lobos, where a huge array of well-crafted drinks is available. The low-lit café’s 1950s kitsch style is maintained with typewriters on the wall, an old hairdresser’s booth, black-and-white photos, an ancient jukebox and hundreds of books lining the walls.

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Granada is well known for its passionate flamenco performances. It can be tricky find authentic shows – Le Chien Andalous, in a narrow cave down by the River Darro, is a good call and excellent value at €8.

Numerous bars on Calle Elvira and Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcón stay open well into the small hours.

Out of the centre, at club El Camborio, cheesy music belts out to a student crowd in an unusual venue set into caves. Here, in the suburb of Sacramento, high up in the hills, is where the Gitano Gypsy community live. Alhambra, visible across the valley and lit up at night, looks breathtaking.

Where can I shop?

Once the city’s silk souk, the tightly knit streets of Alcaiceria, behind the cathedral, are now jam-packed with Moroccan shops, selling everything from lamps and leatherwear to artwork and rugs. Make some room in your luggage, and get your bargaining hat on.

Explore more of Granada with the Rough Guide to AndalucíaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0. 

With its canals, narrow cobbled alleys and trams, the novelty value of Amsterdam can prove entertaining enough for many kids. There’s also a whole host of attractions specifically aimed at young children, ranging from circuses and puppet theatres to urban farms and one of the best zoos in Europe.

There are also plenty of opportunities for play – practically all of the city’s parks and most patches of greenery have some form of playground, and the recreation area in the Vondelpark is heaven for kids and parents alike.

You’ll find most places pretty child-friendly; the majority of restaurants have highchairs and kids’ menus, and bars don’t seem to mind accompanied kids, as long as they’re well behaved. Indeed, having a small child in your care is unlikely to close many doors to you in Amsterdam.

Wondering where to start? Here are our tips for the best things to do with kids from the new Rough Guide to Amsterdam.

1. Take a walk in the woods

The woodlands of Amsterdamse Bos offer playgrounds, outdoor theatre, lakes and cycle paths. You can also rent canoes and pedalos to explore the Bosbaan Canal, and visit the Ridammerhoeve goat farm, which makes its own ice cream and cheese

2. Spend an afternoon at a petting zoo

Situated next to a playground, the Amstelpark Petting Zoo has chickens, rabbits, goats and donkeys, while the De Pijp Petting Zoo’s variety of farm animals also includes sheep, ponies, pigs, guinea pigs and salamanders. Both are free to enter.

3. Take a canal trip

For older children, a good introduction to Amsterdam might be one of the canal trips that start from Centraal Station or Damrak, or for 5- to 12-year-olds try the Blue Boat Company’s pirate-themed audio guide: while their parents are enjoying a standard cruise, the audio guide helps kids to spot animals using binoculars and to listen out for water sounds; at the end of the journey they get a certificate proving their qualification as a freshwater pirate.

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4. Get some fresh air in Vondelpark

The city’s most central park, the leafy and lawned Vondelpark has an excellent playground, as well as sandpits, paddling pools and a couple of cafés where you can take a break. In summertime, the open-air theatre, Openluchttheater, usually puts on some free entertainment for kids – mime, puppets, acrobats and the like.

5. See a puppet show

The intimate Amsterdam Marionette Theatre, housed in a former blacksmith’s, puts on traditional marionette performances. Because plays are set to classical music there’s no language confusion, and the costumes are fabulous. You could also try permanent children’s theatre De Krakeling, which runs theatre, puppet and dance shows for youngsters up to the age of 17, often with an emphasis on full-scale audience participation.

6. Enter the Amsterdam Dungeon

This popular sight is housed in a former church. Tours last for around an hour, during which you’re handed from one ham actor to another, making believe you have been sentenced by the inquisition, press-ganged onto the high seas, chased by witches and surrounded by plague victims – until you’re finally swept around the interior of the church on a short roller coaster ride.

7. Go to the zoo

Artis Royal Zoo is a fun day out for kids, all the more so if you time your visit to coincide with feeding times. At the time of writing these were 10.45am for birds of prey; 11.30am and 3.45pm for seals and sea lions; 2pm for pelicans; 3pm for lions and tigers (not Thurs); and 3.30pm for penguins.

8. Take a history lesson

A free audio guide (in English) leads children aged nine and upwards around the Dutch Resistance Museum Junior, a new add-on to the main Dutch Resistance Museum. It explains World War II from a child’s perspective using true stories and authentic items.

9. Learn about Judaism

At the JHM Children’s Museum, children aged 6–12 can learn about the Jewish faith and traditions on a tour that leads them through the house of the Jewish Hollander family, learning about kosher food in the kitchen, and Jewish music from around the world, among other topics.

10. Visit Madame Tussaud’s

The large waxworks collection has the usual smattering of famous people and rock stars, as well as Dutch celebrities and the royal family, plus a few Amsterdam peasants and merchants thrown in for local colour.

11. Hire a canal bike

A fun water-based activity is a ride on a pedalo-style canal bike. This can get tiring, but jetties where the bikes can be picked up and dropped off are numerous, and it’s quite safe.

Image by walter etty on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

12. Hit the playground

TunFun in the old Jewish Quarter is a large underground playground with slides, trampolines and climbing apparatus, for children aged 1–12. Activities include gymnastics, bowling and indoor football, and there’s plenty of equipment to clamber into, under and over.

Explore more of Amsterdam with the Rough Guide to AmsterdamCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0.

Richard Mellor explores Šibenik, a city tipped as Croatia’s next best tourist hotspot thanks to a new luxury hotel. 

It’s appropriate that the parachute’s inventor – one Faust Vrančić, if you’re asking – was born in Šibenik, for this Croatian backwater has its feet firmly on the ground. Having a recent history of battle and bombs will do that to a small city.

Just 40 minutes up the coast from Split’s international airport, Šibenik’s travel résumé includes great beaches on its Dalmatian coast, inland hiking and waterfalls, cool music festivals, an evocative old town, fine dining, a UNESCO-protected cathedral and fortresses used in Game of Thrones.

Now, crucially, a top-quality hotel can be added to that list. Previously, as written in the Rough Guide to Croatia, Šibenik’s only downside has been its relative lack of accommodation. But the arrival of the whitewashed D-Resort Šibenik has changed all that: courtesy of Turkish conglomerate Dogus, luxurious digs newly await.

To one side is a new marina, replete with super-yachts and their espadrille-wearing crew. From the other, motorboats scuttle across a short Adriatic Sea inlet to Šibenik’s harbour and tree-lined corniche. Glinting red-tile roofs sprawl mazily uphill, with the ancient St Michael’s Fortress keeping watch over proceedings.

Explore a quartet of fortresses

St Michael’s is one of four fortresses around Šibenik. Once a seat for the Croatian king, its defensive castles were still being used by locals as recently as 20 years ago, providing shelter during the Croatian War of Independence. Today, thankfully, an ongoing restoration programme has them attracting tourists instead.

Over to the southeast, Barone’s new audiovisual display reveals what fortress life was like for its seventeenth-century soldiers.

Skulking opposite is St John Fortress – a Game of Thrones set in 2014 – while out west is the eye-catching sea-castle of St Nicholas, built by ruling Venetians to guard the vital channel into Šibenik.

A new island-hopping path, elevated above the sea, allows visitors to admire its gun platform and impressive Adriatic views.

As for St Michael’s, around which Šibenik first sprung up, bands have replaced bullets: its eleventh-century stonework and myriad improvements now play host to a terraced, 1077-capacity concert venue, one costing a cool £1.2 million. The National, Lambchop, Nouvelle Vague and Thievery Corporation have all played, some of them during August’s annual Terraneo Summer Break festival.

See a classic Croatian cathedral

Šibenik’s real historical jewel, however, is its UNESCO-protected St James’s Cathedral. Much of the Dalmatian Coast’s finest architecture was designed by Juraj Dalmatinac in the mid-1400s, and this entirely-stone-built Gothic Renaissance edifice is considered his crowning glory, even if it wasn’t finished until 1536.

Praise be, in particular, for the silvery dome, reflecting light from far around. Look out, too, for a 71-head frieze, containing strange caricatures of fifteenth-century locals. Adam and Eve are there too, looking utterly ill at ease in being very obviously starkers.

Inside, English-language brochures enable self-guided tours. The highlight is the small baptistry, and its sublimely-carved roof and mischievous cherubs.

Dine afterwards at the excellent Pelegrini restaurant, which majors in regional dishes like truffle and prosciutto pappardelle and cuttlefish gnocchi.

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Amble around the Old Town

From the cathedral’s square slinks away Kralja Tomislava (Kalelarga to locals), Šibenik’s main street. Unexpectedly fancy boutiques sit alongside some more predictable shops hawking tourist tat.

Leading off Kalelarga are a jumble of stony stairways and narrow lanes, a maze whose sleepiness is interrupted only by occasional Vespas and the echo of footsteps. The elegant houses are Dalmatian-style, with dark green and blood-red-coloured shutters.

What really appeals is how Šibenik feels genuinely lived-in. Some alleys are left almost dim under canopies of clothes lines and cables. Old men sit smiling on stools outside their homes, wild rosemary grows and wafts of home cooking tease nostrils. Inside phone boxes, a religious sticker advertises salvation.

Pixabay / CC0

Take to the waters

A ten-mile drive inland is the attractive Krka National Park, named after the river which bisects it. Hiking trails criss-cross, but the headline act is the Skradinski Buk series of 17 successive waterfalls at the park’s southern end.

Beneath the final cascades is a wide basin providing swimming opportunities: come summer weekends, locals strip to their speedos, shorts and bikinis to dive in, and a party atmosphere pervades.

Day-trip ferries from Šibenik serve the small islands of Zlarin and Prvić, where bistros and fig trees give way to peaceful, pebbled beaches.

Bathing’s very much an option at the D-Resort, too, with a large infinity pool neighbouring its spa, where facials, massage and hammam rituals are also offered.

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Explore more of Croatia with the Rough Guide to CroatiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image by Stewart Morris on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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