Aurora-chasers venture to the Arctic north, while slick Oslo lures the arty crowd. In the stampede to these A-list destinations, the rest of Norway is often forgotten. But leave some space in your itinerary for Trondheim, the country’s former capital and third largest city. With Scandinavia’s largest medieval building, rocking nightlife, and museums to charm your thermal socks off, there are plenty of reasons to linger – here are seven of the best.

1. To see medieval splendour at Nidaros Domkirke

The world’s most northerly medieval building inspires awe with elaborate tracery and rows of bishops that gaze from its stone facade. The Nidaros Domkirke is built over the grave of Saint Olav, Norway’s ‘eternal king’ and patron saint, credited with the country’s transition from paganism to Christianity.

Intriguingly, the Domkirke draws two very different kinds of pilgrim. Some arrive after following the Pilgrim’s Route, a 640km journey from Oslo, which has been trodden since the eleventh century. The others couldn’t be more different: fans of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, who placed the cathedral on the cover of their first full-length album.

2. To rock from daytime until dawn

Speaking of heavy guitars, you don’t need to wait until sundown to rock out in Trondheim. Part-museum, part-cultural centre, Rockheim takes you from the innocent beginnings of 1950s rock in Norway right through to modern heavy metal legends. Interactive displays and listening posts mean you can make a day of it, though in reserved Norway we’d advise against using Rockheim as your own personal karaoke bar. Continue the theme when the sun dips below the horizon and head to Fru Lundgreen, a basement bar with a non-stop soundtrack of Scandinavian rock.

3. To immerse yourself in Norwegian folk history

Monuments and historic buildings are wonderfully well preserved in Trondheim, and consequently the city exudes nostalgia. The Archbishop’s Residence is the oldest secular building in all of Scandinavia, with its first stones laid in the twelfth century.

Alongside it, in the shadow of the Domkirke, is the Archbishop’s Palace Museum, an award-winning attraction telling Trondheim’s history all the way back to the Iron Age.

But the best time capsule to Trondheim’s agrarian past is the Folk Museum (summer only). This open-air space has more than 80 historic buildings, mostly wooden houses in eighteenth-century style and farmsteads.

4. To maroon yourself on peaceable Monks’ Island

If your eardrums are ringing, embrace Trondheim’s spiritual side with a boat trip to Munkholmen (Monks’ Island). Lapped by the chilly waters of the Trondheimsfjord, this tiny isle has bleak beginnings as an execution ground, though following the birth of Christianity in Norway it became a Benedictine monastery.

In the seventeenth century it was transformed into a prison, but these days it’s a summer playground. Munkholmen is prime territory for picnics of thermos coffee and kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls), rambling the remains of a 400-year-old fort, and summertime swims. Boats run hourly in good weather.

5. For a glimpse of Norway’s colourful side

It’s far from grey up north. To see Trondheim’s most colourful neighbourhood, make your way to Gamle Bybro, the Old Town Bridge. From this hulking red span you can enjoy a fine view of storehouses in colours from mustard to navy blue, creating a rainbow of reflections in the Nidelven River.

If admiring the scenery from bright Bybro lifts your spirits, it’ll come as no surprise that the bridge is known as the ‘Gate of Happiness’. The bridge symbolised a new start for Trondheim, having been built after a devastating fire in 1681. From the east side of the bridge begins one of Trondheim’s most picturesque streets, Bakklandet. This cobbled road is flanked by pastel-coloured shop fronts and cafes painted merry shades of red and pink.

Trondheim Norway byAlexander Shchukin on Flickr (license

6. For feasts worthy of a Viking

It’s no secret that dining out in Norway can create a black hole in your bank balance. Nonetheless, there are reasonably priced restaurants in Trondheim, like Baklandet Skydsstation. This eighteenth-century building oozes charm, with walls draped in embroidery and old photographs; it’s an excellent spot for platters of herring, rye bread sandwiches or fish soup. Wash it down with one of more than a hundred types of aquavit. Vegetarians won’t want to miss the rotating lunch specials at Persilleriet, a snip (by Norwegian standards) at DKR128.

And while Brits may be disorientated by the sight of Three Lions English pub and Scottish-themed drinking hole Macbeth, there plenty of evening haunts with a more local feel. Head for Trondheim Mikrobryggeri for craft beers in a cosy setting.

7. To enjoy fjords, fishing and ski slopes near the city

The great outdoors is mere steps away from the city. Trondheimsfjord is Norway’s third longest at 126km, with scenic islets and rocky coves where sea eagles soar. The fjord is excellent fishing territory for travellers who want to barbecue their own catfish or simply bob in tranquil waters. The best times to fish are late winter and early spring, so pack your thermals.

For a more adrenaline-pumping winter pastime, take a 40-minute drive (or 45-minute train journey) south of Trondheim to Vassfjellet, a ski centre with 500m of vertical. Meanwhile a two-hour train ride away lies Are, a Swedish ski area with plenty of powder and an untouched feel.

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

As the year draws to a close, we’ve been looking back over our favourite stories and features of 2015. We published over five hundred articles, news reports, quizzes, videos, photoblogs and more this year, working with authors and photographers from around the world.

Here, we’ve collected our favourites. A huge thanks to our brilliant team of freelancers and editors and – of course – you, our readers, without whom this wouldn’t have been possible. Here’s to another great year of travel.

Longform: A night on the Caledonian Sleeper

Ben Lerwill sold us on the romance of rail travel with this story about travelling from London to Edinburgh on the famous 140-year-old Caledonian Sleeper service. Join him for a night of whisky and haggis on the tracks.

Video: 10 things everyone learns travelling solo

If we ever needed proof that Rough Guides readers are passionate about solo travel, this video was it. It was watched by more than 7 million people on Facebook, racking up more than 30,000 likes along the way.

Interview: 26 countries in 501 days: an epic culinary adventure

Editor Olivia Rawes met Tom Perkins, who cycled 20,000km through 26 countries, immersing himself in new cultures through food. They spoke about the highlights and challenges of his trip, and the cookbook it inspired, Spices and Spandex.

Opinion piece: Want to support Nepal? Go there on your next trip

In the wake of the devastating earthquakes that struck Nepal this spring, Shafik Meghji, co-author of the Rough Guide to Nepal, told us why it was more important than ever to support the country through tourism.

Photo story: Venice Carnival in pictures

We were entranced by these mesmerising pictures of the 2015 Venice carnival, captured by Rough Guides author and photographer Kiki Deere in February.

Image by Kiki Deere

Destination spotlight: The Andaman Islands – India’s far-flung string of pearls

Few visitors to India venture over 1000 kilometres into the Bay of Bengal to visit the Andaman Islands – and many don’t even know of their existence. Nick Edwards, co-author of the Rough Guide to India, told us about the joys of their natural splendour and relative isolation.

Humour: 14 lessons you learn on your first backpacking trip

Steve Vickers had chuckling at our desks with his astute and amusing observations about life on the road. If you’ve been backpacking this year, some of these lessons will certainly strike a chord.

News story: A robot hotel has opened in Japan

We’re always on a quest to find the weird and unusual, and strange news stories don’t get much better than the opening of this robot hotel in Japan. Editor Rebecca Hallett discovered more.

Quiz: Can you identify the country from its outline?

Our cartographer Ed Wright flummoxed over 7000 of you with this tricky geographical quiz. Still think you’re a cartographic clever-clogs? 68% is the average score to beat. Be warned – there are some tricky questions in there.

Reader-voted: 25 of the best reasons to travel

When we asked you to share your motivation to travel on social media, we never expected this response. “I love to travel because it broadens the mind and feeds the soul” was just one of the great reasons you came up with.

It has often had to play second fiddle to its southern neighbour, but Northern Ireland offers a diversity of attractions that frequently confounds first-time visitors. Rejuvenated and irrepressible, Belfast now rivals any of the UK’s capital cities, but in addition, the country manifests superb natural heritage – including one of the world’s great coastal road trips – remarkable cultural treasures, outdoor activities in abundance, and an increasingly vibrant food and music scene.

1. Belfast is a city reborn

Barely recognizable from the battle-scarred city of the 1970s and 80s, Belfast is today a bona fide city-break destination, no question. Stately Victorian buildings and a rich industrial heritage hark back to the city’s glorious past, but really, it’s the revitalized restaurant scene, some rocking nightlife and a raft of excellent festivals that all serve to confirm Belfast’s welcome renaissance.

Belfast Town Hall on a sunny day by mariusz kluzniak on Flickr (license)

2. There are superb hikes to be had

Northern Ireland boasts numerous low-lying mountain ranges, but it’s the rugged Mournes in County Down that draws the lion’s share of hikers. Its highest peak – Slieve Donard – only tops 850m, but this is often testing terrain; and who needs the Great Wall of China when you’ve got the Mourne Wall, a 22-mile long dry stone wall which traverses some fifteen summits. No less fabulous, if somewhat less demanding, are the Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone, a sparse expanse of wild, undulating moorland.

3. The Causeway Coastal Route is one of Europe’s most spectacular road trips

Stretching for some 120 miles between Belfast and Derry, this fabulous road trip has few rivals anywhere on the continent. Unsurprisingly, most people make a beeline for the Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland’s only designated World Heritage Site), with its stupendous black basalt columns. But there are diversions aplenty enroute, among them Rathlin Island, which harbours some incredible wildlife, and Portstewart, lined with a glorious two-mile sweep of golden sand.

4. The Titanic Quarter is now a highlight of Belfast’s regenerated docklands

It was, of course, from Belfast in 1912 that the Titanic set sail, and the ill-fated ship is commemorated in truly spectacular style at the all-new Titanic Quarter in the city’s regenerated docklands area. Comprising, among other things, a media centre and a scientific discovery centre, its focal point is Titanic Belfast, a thrilling and engaging interactive museum.

Titanic, Belfast by Metro Centric on Flickr (license)

5. It’s finally time to big-up the country’s cuisine

Northern Ireland’s culinary scene has taken a while to get going, but it’s certainly making amends now. In Belfast, two restaurants have recently gained a Michelin star, namely Ox, and Eipic at Deane’s, whose sumptuous menu offers dishes such as scallop with clementine and hazelnut brown butter. And don’t leave without trying the Ulster Fry, widely acknowledged to be a superior version of the great English fry-up.

6. Northern Ireland boasts two of the UK’s finest open-air museums

Two particularly fine outdoor museums are the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum just outside Belfast, which displays some thirty buildings transplanted here from around the country, and the Ulster American Folk Park, near Omagh, which brilliantly relays the historically close links between Northern Ireland and the United States. Here, too, a splendid array of vernacular architecture has been transferred from its original setting.

7. The music scene rocks

The north can certainly rival the south when it comes to musical talent. In days of yore, the leading lights were Van Morrison and the Undertones (the latter famously championed by the late John Peel), while in the 90s, it was the turn of indie-heroes Ash, from Down, and the Divine Comedy from Enniskillen. Hot on the scene right now are Two Door Cinema Club from Bangor. If you fancy attending a gig, drop in at Belfast’s iconic Limelight Complex, or there’s Open House, a unique, year-round series of gigs at various venues around the city.

8. Northern Ireland offers wonderful outdoor activities

Whether it’s mountain biking in the Davagh Forest or angling on Lough Earne, there’s loads to do here. Golfers won’t feel short-changed either, with dozens of fabulous courses to hack around, including Royal Portrush (which will stage the British Open in 2019) in Antrim, and the sublime Royal County Down course in Newcastle; indeed, Northern Ireland currently boasts one of the world’s great sporting superstars in Rory Mcllroy. Big cheers, too, for the national football team, which has just qualified for Euro 2016 in France, its first major finals since 1986.

9. Derry’s medieval walls are among the finest in Europe

Neatly positioned within a bend of the River Foyle, Derry’s medieval walls are among the best-preserved anywhere in Europe, their survival all the more remarkable having withstood three major military sieges. Enclosed within the mile-long circuit is the original medieval street layout, itself spotted with a cluster of eminently enjoyable attractions, the pick of which are the Tower Museum and the Verbal Arts Centre.

10. It has the largest lake in the British Isles

To the surprise of many, Northern Ireland ranks the largest lake in the British Isles. Lough Neagh is just to the west of Belfast but actually bordering five of the country’s six counties. Its tranquil waterways and secluded bays provide ample opportunity for boating, fishing, walking and cycling; a great way to get a handle on the lake is to tackle the 113-mile long Loughshore Trail – but don’t worry, it’s almost completely flat.

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

As far as capital cities go, London is big. It’s the largest capital in Europe and has land mass of over 1500 square kilometres. Within that space, over 8.5 million people from all over the world live, work and play, and a further seventeen million people visit the city each year.

Those are big numbers for an undeniably enormous city. But you only get a sense of London’s vastness when you’re above it, so naturally, we took to the skies in a London Helicopter for a full 18 minutes of gawping at one of the world’s greatest cities.

If you’re flying over London or on the flight path into Heathrow, these are the astonishing views you should look out for:

The Shard

The City

St Paul’s Cathedral

Trafalgar Square

The Docklands

Lottie flew with The London Helicopter, which has 18-minute London Sights flights starting from £200 per person. Explore London with the Rough Guide to London. For more travel videos subscribe to Rough Guides on YouTubeCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In far-off lands, largely undiscovered by travellers today, there are fires eternally burning; some natural and some man-made. These impressive fire craters can be found across Central Asia, fed by the vast oil reserves that lie beneath this region. They’ve featured in both local folklore and Hollywood movies as the entrances to Hell.

If you’re brave enough to risk meeting the devil at one of these give, then you are almost guaranteed to have a great big bonfire all to yourself.

“The Door to Hell” in Derweze, Turkmenistan

Locally referred to as “the door to hell”, the Derweze fire crater has been, until recently, off-limits to man for over 45 years. This gigantic flaming hole in the arid Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan would be more at home in a big-budget science fiction blockbuster than in the back garden of one of the world’s least-explored countries.

The impressive flaming crater first appeared in 1971 when Soviet geologists drilled an oil test well in the area; little did they expect the oil rig to collapse and a 70 metre hole to engulf their equipment. The geologists decided to burn off the oil to prevent future explosions and the fires have been burning ever since.

Golden Eagle Silk Road by Martha de Jong-Lantink on Flickr (license)

The Derweze site lies in a tiny village of 350 people, a 162 mile off-road self-drive across rocky desert terrain. Other than the village, there is no sign of civilisation within a day’s driving distance. Adding to the desolate feel, the Aral Sea – with its eerie abandoned rusting ships – lies to the north.

“Burning Mountain” in Yanar Dag, Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan – nicknamed the “land of fire” – the Yanar Dag (translated as “Burning Mountain”), is a flaming hill. Legend says that the hill, where highly flammable gas continuously seeps through the surface, was accidentally set alight by a shepherd in the 1950s. Now the hill’s flames reach up to three metres tall throughout the year, all visible from the capital, Baku.

Locals bathe in the warm spring waters across the hillside, which can also be ignited with a match as they are full of sulphur. The spooky glow across the hills at night attracts Zoroastrians from across the world, who come to the area to worship. Nearby, mud volcanoes dot the landscape and erupt regularly, spurting mud balls high into the air.

Yanar Dag – Asheron – Baku by Rita Willaert on Flickr (license

“Flaming Stone” in Yanartaş, Turkey

Just outside of the popular Turkish tourist resort of Antalya, near the Olympos Valley, vents in the rocky mountains spurt out fire in every direction.

At night, and especially in the winter months, the dark skies create the best environment to see the small craters in the mountainside to spurt out fires; some lasting for seconds, and others for days.

Many people visit the “flaming stone” to see the majestic ruins of the Temple of Hephasistos located at the foot of the mountains, and to sample traditional Turkish tea brewed by locals on the mountain fires.

“Fire on Biblical Proportions” in Baba Gurgur, Iraq

In the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, just outside of the city of Kirkuk, the world’s second largest oil field surrounds an eternal fire pit. The deep fire crater has been burning for thousands of years and is believed to be the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament.

Women sometimes visit Baba Gurgur to ask the fires to allow them to conceive a baby boy; thought to date back to a time when the Kurdish people worshipped fire.

The nearby city of Kirkuk, with its 5000-year-old citadel ruins, remnants of the ancient city of Arrapha, makes for an interesting visit. Kirkuk lies some 147 miles north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and Baba Gurgur is just a short walk out of the city. As the area is an operational oil field, many sections are fenced off and there’s a tight security presence.

The fire temple of Ateshgah of Baku, Azerbaijan

Just a short walk from central Baku stands a seventeenth-century stone temple, at the centre of which a fire has burned almost-continuously since it was built. The flames were once fed by a natural gas field located directly beneath the temple, but exploitation of this resource led to the fire being extinguished in 1969. It has since been replaced by mains gas, and is burning again today.

The fire is believed to have been first lit as a shrine for local Zoroastrian fire worshippers, and as a Hindu pilgrimage site, but today is a protected historical reserve.

See more of our weird and wonderful world with this gallery of strange and surreal placesCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

We asked our social media followers to tell us their favourite destinations for a Christmas holiday – here are the results.

1. England

There are some truly atmospheric corners of England to visit at this time of year and plenty of things to do, from country escapes in The New Forest to Christmas markets in Manchester. Thanks to @Burley_Manor and @travelred for their votes on Twitter.

2. New Zealand

On Twitter, @Kellie_Rooke chose New Zealand as her preferred Christmas destination. She recommends the country for “a BBQ near the beach, sun shining and Sauvignon Blanc in hand”. We think that sounds pretty perfect.

3. Barbados

On Twitter, @vickeblueyes was one of those voting for a sunny part of the world for this festive season. She recommends you kick back and relax on the beach with a glass of Mount Gay rum, getting that much-needed Vitamin D from the glorious sunshine.

4. Germany

For an ultra-Christmassy break, @marykingtweets recommends Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, Germany. Here you’ll find fantastic mountain scenery and a brilliant Christmas market.

5. Brazil

There’s no better place to spend Christmas than in Brazil, according to @dianaguerra. “There’s nothing like a Santa wearing shorts and getting a tan”, she says. Spend the day sculpting sandmen (rather than snowmen) on Ipanema beach in Rio.

6. India

Whether you want to spend your holiday in an ashram in Kerala or gorging on curry in Rajasthan, both @Diana_Jarvis and @RosieThomas told us they’d spend Christmas in India.

7. Poland

Poland might be chilly, but it’s a great destination to visit at this time of year; @porsz_mfl recommends heading to Kraków for pick up last-minute Christmas gifts at the market and warming up with swig of traditional wódka.

8. Cuba

“Escape the rain and head for Cuba” says @Trubikini. With average temperatures sitting around 22°C (71°F) in December, Havana makes an excellent getaway if you’d rather spend Christmas roasting yourself than a turkey in the oven.

9. Swedish Lapland

On Twitter, @bearandblair chose Lapland and said: “gotta go FULL festive in Swedish Lapland – dog sledding, northern lights and IceHotel IceBar cocktails”. We’re sold.

10. Morocco

On Facebook, you recommended eschewing tradition and heading into the Moroccan desert. Take to a camel on Christmas Eve and trek into the Sahara to enjoy a bonfire and Berber traditions among the dunes.

Thailand is the quintessential backpacker destination. Here you can make the first footprints on secluded sands, dance shoeless under a full moon and swim beneath cascading waterfalls.

Running through Thailand’s rainforests and temples and looping around its islands and beaches is the so-called “banana pancake trail”, a well-worn, tried and tested backpacker route that has seen the sandals of thousands of independent travellers over the decades.

They’re still coming in their droves and you’re a part of the action as soon as you strap on that backpack – the accessory that ensures you won’t even have the chance to get lonely.

Must-see destinations

For a frenetic introduction to Thailand, head straight to Bangkok where the neon lights and market stalls of Khao San Road still serve as the country’s main backpacker hangout. Slurp noodles, sip local beer and visit the gilded Grand Palace and Wat Pho’s giant gold reclining Buddha with your new friends.

For impressive Thai temples, head to Ayutthaya in the north, the country’s ancient capital now scattered with temples in varying stages of decay. The brooding red-brick ruins are best viewed at sunset, when the golden light makes this atmospheric city a photographer’s dream.

If you’re after something a little more laidback, Kanchanaburi is the spot for you. You can take a train along the famous Death Railway, built by prisoners of war during World War II, see the Bridge over the River Kwai and swim at the tumbling seven-tiered Erawan Falls.

Pixabay/CC0

Ko Pha Ngan is where the sands of Hat Rin see up to 30,000 people arrive each month for the famous full moon parties. The party starts at dusk, when thousands of lamps are lit, and continues through the night, with dancing, fire twirling and, of course, drinking.

If you want to get to know the locals, head to Chiang Mai, the jumping off point for numerous guided multi-day treks and short walks in the country’s remote north. Here you can visit small local communities, but be mindful of concerns around tribal tourism.

Getting around

A journey by tuk tuk is an essential Thai travel experience and you’re sure to use these noisy, fume-cloaked but very fun vehicles to get around, especially in Bangkok. Fares are the same no matter the number of passengers so team up with one or two (three is the safe maximum) other travellers to save money. Agree the fare before setting out (expect to pay 100-150 baht for short Bangkok hops) and be sure to have the right money ready on arrival.

Solo travellers can make good use of the motorcycle taxis that ply all common routes in both major towns and more off-the-beaten-track parts. These only seat one passenger and are no good if you’ve got luggage, but short journeys across town or the island can be good value (as low as 20 baht).

Thailand is a sizeable country and distances between large towns can be great (it’s 700km from Bangkok to Chiang Mai). An overnight bus or train is a good way of getting from A to B while also saving the cost of a hostel.

The overnight trains are operated by the State Railway of Thailand and run on four useful routes out of Bangkok, including services to Ayutthaya, to Chiang Mai and to Surat Thani (a jumping off point for many of the southern islands).

Second-class berths are the best bet for solo travellers, with the communal comfortable seats converting into fully flat curtained-off beds come nightfall.

First-class cabins are set up for two so only book these if you’re happy sharing with a stranger. Bring snacks and drinks and settle in for a long journey.

Don’t fancy the long journey alone? There are plenty of internal flights, with Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, Nok Air (Thai Airways’ budget arm) and Thai Lion Air all offering daily Bangkok-Chiang Mai flights with a flight time of 1hr 15min. Flying also means not having to go back to Bangkok – trains and buses use the capital as a hub meaning you will keep ending up back there.

Where to eat

Eating alone in Thailand doesn’t need to mean a table for one. The best food is often found at the local night market, where mobile kitchens sell noodles, fried rice, sticky rice cakes, pancakes and fresh juices, and seating is communal and lively.

Almost every large town will have street stalls selling noodles day and night, so you can fill up without even sitting down.

Many hostels have cafés or restaurants, where you won’t stand out as a solo diner and may even meet fellow travellers in search of dining companions. Most travellers love nothing more than discussing where they’ve been or are going over a bowl of noodles or a beer.

How to meet people

If you want to meet people, sticking to the main backpacker destinations (including those listed above) is the best bet. Stay in hostels rather than hotels – choose to stay in a dorm so you’ll be sharing with other people and not holed up alone.

In Bangkok stay on or near the Khao San Road for the best chance of impromptu Singhas with your new friends – NapPark is a good choice, with its communal tamarind-shaded courtyard and TV room.

In Chiang Mai, Diva Guesthouse has six­-bed dorms and a sociable café on the ground floor, while Kanchanaburi’s Jolly Frog has a communal atmosphere and hammocks in the central, leafy garden.

Compass Backpacker’s Hostel by James Antrobus on Flickr (license)

Group activities are a great way to make friends fast. You can try everything, from day trips to Thai cookery courses. If you want an insight into Thailand through food, in Bangkok try Helping Hands or the vegetarian May Kaidee, and in Chiang Mai the Thai Cookery School.

For more of an adventure, take a zipline tour through the rainforest near Chiang Mai with Flight of the Gibbon or learn to scuba dive with The Dive Academy on Koh Samui.

A girl’s guide: is it safe for solo female travellers?

Thailand is largely safe for solo travellers of both genders, and despite the country’s prolific sex industry, women are unlikely to attract any more attention than men when travelling alone.

When travelling alone in Thailand, the standard rules apply: don’t take unlicensed taxis and don’t go home with strangers. As long as you use your common sense, Thailand is a perfectly safe place to travel.

Many hostels will have female-only dorms, which may be safer, not to mention a great way to meet other female travellers.

Unfortunately drug-muggings are known to sometimes happen in Thailand, but these are easily avoided. Don’t eat or drink anything a stranger gives you, especially on a train or at a full moon party. Trains and buses are ripe for petty theft so keep all your valuables with you when you travel.

Get more advice on your solo trip to Thailand with the Rough Guide to Thailand

Beyond the mystical sounds of gamelan and the intricate craft of batik, Bali boasts a world of subcultures often overlooked by visitors. The art makes bold statements, nightlife sometimes involves a new tattoo, and music is anything but serene.

On an island where locals are often denied entry from bars and clubs, an experience off the typical tourist trail is both vital and enlightening. Kick-start your journey into Indonesia‘s underground with this alternative list of things to do on the Island of Gods.

Get weird at Black Market

What do pet snakes, drunk tarot readers, homeless artists, punk hairdressers, organic grocers, and the police have in common? They’ve all appeared at Black Market Bali.

This unpredictable art event pops up where and whenever it pleases, welcoming whoever wants to set up. With no schedule or restrictions, it tends to unfold like some chaotic hybrid between a circus and a garage sale. Buy, sell, browse, perform or party to a backdrop of live music, quirky vendors and rice fields.
Jl. Basangkasa No. 88, Seminyak

Skate the pool at Pretty Poison

When a venue in Bali says it’s having a pool party, you can usually bet on gaggles of the scantily clad and sunburnt swaying to last year’s top forty. But not at Pretty Poison. Here the pool stays drained for skateboarders to party in day and night.

Live music, skate competitions, dance parties, open-air movie screenings, art shows and tattoo nights all go down surrounded by Canggu’s tranquil rice paddies. Rambunctious skaters respectfully wait for their turn to shred the pool, while onlookers mingle, dance and get inked.

Most importantly, Pretty Poison one of the few venues remaining on the island that attracts a roughly equal mix of Indonesians and foreigners.
Short Cut Road, Jl. Subak, Canggu

A video posted by @prettypoison___ on

Tune into the contemporary at Ghostbird + Swoon

Run by a young Balinese woman and and her American partner, Ghostbird + Swoon doubles as an art gallery and curatorial space for experimental fashion. Their manifesto? “‘We seek beauty. Not the thoughtless, fleeting kind. But the ugly kind that takes time, mistakes, intelligence, obsessive reflection and mad skills to cultivate.“ The space features works by contemporary artists, often Indonesian women, with exhibitions examining themes such as female identity in regional society, and the artistic potential of junk. Engage with the thought-provoking work here and you’re sure to gain a nuanced understanding of this vast, complex country. Jl. Danau Tamblingan No. 75, Sanur

 

Rock out at Twice Bar

It’s no secret that Kuta, Bali‘s commercial centre, is a little trashy – especially after dark. Developers and binge-drinking foreigners have transformed the area into a mishmash of uninspired nightclubs, sleazy bars and tourist traps. But in the midst of all the debauchery, one venue is worth your time: Twice Bar, founded by members of popular Balinese punk band Superman is Dead. The frenetic sound of Indonesian punk rock keeps most foreigners away, but if you’re looking to begin an off-beat Balinese night out, this is the place to be. Heavy music is an important part of Indonesian culture – Napalm Death is the President’s favourite band, after all. Enjoy cheap arak (the palm sap equivalent of moonshine), adrenaline-fueled shows, an in-bar tattoo parlour and friendly Anarcho-Indonesian company. Jl. Popies II, Kuta

A video posted by Nugra dadee (@nug412) on

Take shelter at Revolver Espresso

Hidden down nameless a Seminyak backstreet, the original Revolver Espresso isn’t easy to find but is worth the hunt – they serve the best coffee on the island. Inside, you might think you’ve wandered into a trendy East London warehouse, with high ceilings and chipped white paint on rough brick walls.

But there’s enough comfy seating and vintage bric-a-brac to keep this industrial space feeling cosy. The shop has become famous for its premium beans, carefully sourced from around the world, roasted in-house, and brewed to perfection.

With fun tunes always spinning on vinyl, and delicious food to boot –try the poached eggs on mashed avocado, homemade relish and sourdough toast – it’s an ideal place to escape the island heat or wait-out the rain.
Jl. Kayu Aya, Gang 51, Seminyak

Iced Revolver shot by Jonathan Ooi (CC license)

Buy a taco and get a free tattoo at The Temple of Enthusiasm

Lifestyle brand Deus Ex Machina makes bespoke café racer-inspired motorcycles, artisanal surfboards, skateboards, clothing and more. Since the opening of their flagship, The Temple of Enthusiasm, the once sleepy village of Canggu has transformed into into the island’s most happening area.

Whether you’re in it for the Temple’s hip concept store, art gallery, bar, restaurant, half-pipe, farmers markets, movie nights, high-speed dress-up drag races, live music, longboard competitions or Taco Tattuesdays (free tattoo with the purchase of your taco) – this bona fide Bali institution is an absolute must.
Jalan Batu Mejan No. 8, Canggu

Surf, snack, and drink a cold one at Batu Bolong Beach

A steep, black-sand beach with waves perfect for longboarding brings beginners and tattooed, retro-looking surfers to Batu Bolong.

Factor in a bustling Hindu temple, Balinese family gatherings, Indonesian street food, unbeatable sunsets and Old Man’s – a tiki bar-style beer garden that gets wild on Wednesday nights – and you’ll discover the atmosphere of this beach is tough to beat.
Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong, Canggu

Batu Bolong sunset by bruno kvot (CC license)

Kick back at a late-night goreng stall

Whether you’re wrapping up after a hard day of surfing, exploring or doing a whole lot of nothing, there’s no better place to unwind than at at one of Bali’s many roadside late-night goreng tents.

Pass on the cutlery (though it’s not usually on offer) and use your hands to tuck into fried chicken or tempeh (a soy product sort of like tofu), served with a side of mouth-watering sambal (spicy chili sauce), white rice and a single lettuce leaf.

Their ramshackle, bare-bones atmosphere is the perfect complement to the intense flavours served up, and locals are always happy to chat. This really is Balinese nightlife at its finest.

Bali street food by steve deeves (CC license)

Explore more of the Bali coastline with The Rough Guide to Bali & LombokCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

You can’t expect to fit everything Europe has to offer into one trip and we don’t suggest you try. For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few countries together.

Each of these itineraries could be done in two or three weeks if followed to the letter but don’t push it too hard – with so much to see and do you’re bound to get waylaid somewhere you love or stray off the suggested route.

For a complete guide to exploring the region and up-to-date recommendations of the best hotels, hostels, activities and more, buy the full guide here.

1. Britain and Ireland

Where else to begin but London (1) – one of the world’s greatest but most expensive cities. While your wallet is still intact move on to the storied grounds of Oxford (2) before heading to Snowdonia (3), where the Welsh mountains provide excellent hiking.

Soak up some history in the medieval streets of York (4), then make the trip north to stunning Edinburgh (5). Find your inner Braveheart in the Scottish Highlands (6) and fit in an unforgettable hike, climb, or ski while you’re at it.

Pop across the North Channel to Belfast (7), but be sure not to miss the nearby Giant’s Causeway – one of Europe’s great natural wonders. Grab a perfect pint of Guinness in Dublin (8), then wind down on the windswept beaches of Ireland’s West Coast (9).

2. France and Switzerland

Start in Paris (1), Europe’s most elegant capital, then venture off to the châteaux and prime vineyards of the Loire Valley (2). Move south to beautiful Bordeaux (3), which boasts bustling city life and some of Europe’s finest surfing beaches to boot.

Head south the peaks of the Pyrenees (4) before taking a trip through Southern France to the Côte d’Azur (5). Don’t miss the magic of Corsica (6), a true adventure playground, or traditional cooking in Lyon (7), the country’s gastronomic capital.

Try your luck skiing and climbing in the Alps (8), and end by relaxing riverside in laid-back Zürich (9).

3. Benelux, Germany and Austria

Kick off in Amsterdam (1) before enjoying more atmospheric canals and beautiful buildings in Bruges (2). Cologne’s (3) spectacular old town is a perfect first stop in Germany, but be sure to head north soon after for the vast port and riotous bars of Hamburg (4).

Few cities can compete with the style and youthful energy of Berlin (5), while Dresden (6) has also become a favourite backpacker hangout. Then head south to Munich (7), where Bavaria’s capital boasts everything from snowy scenery to beer-fuelled Oktoberfest.

Cross over the boarder to Austria and hit the slopes or the Mozart trail in scenic Salzburg (8), and conclude this itinerary among the palaces, museums, cafés and boulevards of Vienna (9).

4. Spain, Portugal and Morocco

Begin in the Basque capital of Bilbao (1), Spain’s friendliest city and home of the Guggenheim. Then it’s on to the city beaches, late-night bars and enchanting old town of Barcelona (2). Ibiza‘s (3) nightclubs are famous the world over, but its pockets of peace and quiet are worth the trip alone.

Gobble tapas and dance the night away in Madrid (4) before heading west for the countless port lodges of Porto (5). Cruise down the Atlantic coast to the historic Portuguese capital of Lisbon (6), then make for the region of Andalucía (7), stopping in the cities of Seville and Granada as you venture further south.

If you catch a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco and set course for Fez (8), explore the medieval Moroccan city of labyrinth alleys, souks and mosques. Finish up in Marrakesh (9), a colourful city with a stunning backdrop of the Atlas Mountains.

5. Italy

Start in Milan (1) for a little Prada, Gucci, and Leonardo da Vinci. Veer east to visit the world’s most beautiful city, Venice (2), then south to the foodie nirvana of Bologna (3). Glide onwards to Tuscany (4) where Florence and Siena make excellent bases to explore the region’s hill towns.

You can hardly “do” Europe and not see Rome (5), and there is truly no better place to eat pizza than in the crumbling yet attractive city of Naples (6). Experience a Roman town frozen in time at Pompeii (7), before sleeping in one of Matera’s (8) hand-carved caves.

Kick back in Sicily (9) on idyllic beaches beneath smouldering volcanoes, or enjoy the hectic pace of Palermo, one of Italy’s most in-your-face cities.

6. Central and Eastern Europe

Get going in Prague (1), a pan-European city with beer that never disappoints. Move east to Warsaw’s (2) vodka-soaked bar scenes, Old Town, palaces and parks.

Arty and atmospheric Kraków (3) shouldn’t be missed, and neither should a trip to charming cafés of L’viv (4). Leave cities behind for the majestic wilderness of Slovakia‘s Tatra Mountains (4), then head back to civilisation and immerse yourself in Budapest (6) where you’ll find two great cities in one.

Finish this itinerary up in Ljubljana (7); Slovenia’s capital is a perfectly formed pit stop between central Europe and the Adriatic if you’re eager to push on to the Balkans.

7. Scandinavia

Start in the lively lanes of beautiful Copenhagen (1), and head north to Gothenburg’s (2) elegant architecture, fantastic nightlife and fully-functioning rainforest. A visit to Oslo (3) is worth the expense, but after a while you’ll feel the pull of the Norwegian fjords (4).

The mild climate and wild scenery of the Lofoten Islands (5) should not be skipped, but neither should the reindeer, huskies and elusive Northern Lights of Lapland (6). Of course, no trip to Scandinavia would be complete without a stop in Stockholm (7).

If you’re travelling in summer, get to Gotland (8) – Sweden’s party island, buzzing with DJs and bronzed bodies on the beach.

8. Russia and the Baltic Coast

Big, brash, expensive surreal – Moscow (1) is almost a nation in itself, and well worth a visit before moving on to the jaw-dropping architecture and priceless art collections of St Petersburg (2).

Head west to Helsinki (3), the proudly Finnish love child of Russian and Swedish empires, then hop across the gulf to charming and beautifully preserved Tallinn in Estonia (4).

Latvia’s cosmopolitan Riga (5) should not be missed, and when you need your nature fix go further south to the Curonian Spit (6), a strip of sand dunes and dense forest ideal for cycling and hiking. Wind this trip down in Vilnius (7), the friendliest and perhaps even the prettiest of all Baltic capitals.

9. The Balkans

Start with a slew of cheap but delicious wine, watersports, and vitamin D on the Dalmatian coast (1), then move on to Europe’s war-scarred but most welcoming capital, Sarajevo (2).

History-steeped Dubrovnik (3) rivalled Venice in its day, and is an easy stop on the way to Budva (4), Montenegro’s star resort with unspoilt beaches and throbbing open-air bars. Head further south to Tirana (5) for charming architecture and urban exploration, before visiting the shimming shores of Ohrid’s (6) mountain-backed lake.

Be sure to check out the chilled vibe of Sofia (7), and the more upbeat buzz of Serbia’s hip capital: Belgrade (8). End this itinerary by discovering Transylvania (9) – you probably won’t find any vampires, but you will find fairytale villages, colourful festivals, and wolf tracking in the Carpathians.

10. Greece and Turkey

Begin by finding the perfect beach in Kefaloniá (1), and continue to Athens (2) for a sun set over the Parthenon. Sail first to the island of Íos (3) for partying backpackers and hippie-era charm, then on to Crete’s (4) Samarian Gorge.

Get to the Turkish mainland for a visit to the remarkably preserved temples, mosaics, and baths in Ephesus (5) before mountain biking, paragliding, or diving in Kaş (6).

Then venture east to Cappadocia’s (7) volcanic landscape and subterranean city, and wrap up among the bazaars, hammams, and surprisingly hectic nightlife in Istanbul (8).

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

Famous for being the birthplace of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and Madeira wine, this Portuguese island has a reputation as a holiday choice of the staid over-60s. Although it’s part of Portugal, Madeira is closer to North Africa than it is to Europe – and the island is attracting a new generation of independent travellers who know it’s not just another beach destination. Here’s the truth about Madeira.

Misconception #1: It’s where you go for a beach holiday

Although there have been no eruptions for about 6500 years, volcanic activity shaped the island and the small natural beaches have black sand. Granted, golden sand has been imported to Calheta and Machico beaches on the south coast, but no one’s pretending it’s the Canary Islands.

If you want beach time, do as the locals do and take the ferry to sister island Porto Santo a couple of hours away. That said, the seafood is as fresh as it gets on Madeira and from all over the island there are breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Misconception #2: It’s overrun by cruise ship passengers and OAPs

While hulking great cruise ships do dock in the capital, Funchal, this characterful city on the south coast is big enough to soak up any passengers who disembark for a bit of daytime sightseeing.

In the evenings, when the cruisers are back on board, Zona Velha (the Old Town) come alive. With plenty of cool bars, Madeira’s nightlife is chic and very European – things don’t kick off until at least midnight and it’s mostly locals on the dance floor.

Rigid inflatables leave the harbour for dolphin and whale watching, and although the swell of the Atlantic can be pretty alarming, once these wonderful, intelligent mammals are tracked down and the boat engines are cut, it’s a calm commune with nature.

This same swell attracts surfers; beginners can’t go wrong at gorgeous Porto da Cruz, but pros might prefer rocky Jardim do Mar.

Inland, the largely-deserted peaks and ravines lend themselves to climbing, canyoning and off-road jeep tours. Mountain bikers love the challenging climbs and steep downhills, while hikers can get deep into the forest by following the 2000km of levadas (narrow canals unique to Madeira) that crisscross the island.

Misconception #3: The Brits abroad don’t leave their all-inclusives

While there are any number of nice-but-bland chain hotels, Madeira is fighting its package holiday reputation. Luxury boutique hotels have opened their doors in Funchal and rustic homestays nestle above the cloud line in the mountains.

On the south coast, Fajã dos Padres is a really special place to stay. Accessible only by boat or a very rickety lift down the soaring cliff face (though a cable car is due to open in 2016), this organic farm spreads across fourteen acres of lush farmland and accommodation is in the old workers’ cottages on the edge of the sea.

Avoiding humdrum hotel pools is easy, as natural volcanic swimming spots are dotted around the coast. In pretty Porto Moniz, on the north side of the island, swimmers are buffeted by waves that crash over the rocks and into the deep blue pools. If you want to stay or eat nearby, try Aqua Natura.

Back in Funchal, another slice of local life can be seen first thing in the morning at the Mercado dos Lavradores (the farmers’ market). Huge tuna and ugly (but tasty) black scabbard fish are sold here, alongside locally sourced fruit and veg of every shape and colour. Plus, there’s a counter serving strong black coffee and pastéis de nata, which is perfect for people watching.

Misconception #4: It’s always sunny

It’s not! But it is a subtropical island, which means mild temperatures all year round – Madeira rarely gets too hot, but has a minimum temperature of 17°C (63ºF). October to March can be wet (which is great for the island’s greenery), but there are six micro climates which means it’s bound to be sunny somewhere on the island – and downpours usually pass quickly.

The Funchal Tobogan by Hilmil1 on Flickr (license)

Its varied climate is all the more reason to treat the island as a base for activities, rather than just somewhere to lounge by a pool. This Rough Guides’ writer did the exhilarating toboggan run from Monte downhill to Funchal in the pouring rain and felt much more intrepid for it.

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

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