A country in the throes of massive change, Sri Lanka’s heady mix of British colonial heritage, beautiful landscapes and incredibly friendly locals make it a beguiling destination. But the tropical isle has only cropped up on travellers’ radars in recent years, following the end of the country’s 26-year-long civil war in 2009. With more tourists heading to Sri Lanka every year, now is the perfect time to visit. Here are ten tips and tricks to help first-time visitors.

1. Prepare to go slow

Although infrastructure is improving and transport options are plentiful, getting around this modestly-sized country might feel a little trying at times, with its tightly winding roads and engine-testing inclines. The Hill Country is particularly notorious for eating away at time – whether traveling by bus, tuk tuk or train, expect to inch from one tea plantation to the next at speeds of around 12-15 miles per hour. For those with little time or deep pockets, taking a seaplane or hiring a car and driver are good alternatives.

2. Go to relax, not to rave

Outside of Colombo, and a few beach resorts, hostels with dorm rooms tend to be thin on the ground. Family-run guesthouses are much more common, which means it’s easy to meet locals but tricky for solo travellers hoping to make friends on the road. As an emerging honeymoon hotspot Sri Lanka also attracts a lot of couples. Those looking for nightlife to rival Bangkok’s Khao San Road will leave unfulfilled: beach bars pepper Arugam Bay on the east coast and Hikkaduwa on the west, but these are mellow affairs and many shut down out of season.

3. Treat yourself

If you’ve got Sri Lankan rupees to spare there are plenty of new luxury hotels and resorts where you can spend them. International names such as Aman have already set up shop on the island, and Shangri-La has two new hotels scheduled to open soon. But it’s the home-grown, luxury hotel mini-chains that you ought to keep your eye on. Uga Escapes and Resplendent Ceylon are just two examples of burgeoning local brands that offer more than just copy and paste properties. There are tonnes of great budget boutique hotels across the country.

4. Go north to get away from the crowds

Formerly off limits, the country’s Northern Province is prime territory for those who want to roam off the beaten path. A Tamil Tiger stronghold, it was one of the last areas on the island to reopen to tourists, and has yet to succumb to the same wave of hotels, resorts and other developments, or to receive the same flurry of foreign visitors. If you’re after deserted golden beaches, remote temples and colonial port towns go north.

5. Focus on food

Sri Lankan food is delicious, so make the most of it while you’re there. Though knowing where and when to find the good stuff may prove a harder task than you anticipated. Bowl-shaped hoppers (savoury rice flour crêpes) are a highlight, though are typically only served first thing in the morning or in late afternoon. Rice and curry is a lunchtime affair, while kottu rotty (chopped flatbread stir-fried with eggs and vegetables) is only available in the evening. Those familiar with Asia will be surprised at the lack of street food stalls; instead, some of the best food can be found in the kitchens of small guesthouses.

6. Consider Colombo

With jazz clubs, rooftop bars, boutique stores and internationally-acclaimed restaurants, Colombo can no longer be considered merely a gateway city. And though there are a number of sights to see, the capital is also a great place to simply settle in and get a sense of what local life is like. Watch families fly kites on Galle Face Green at sunset, cheer for the national cricket team at the R Premadasa Stadium or observe grandmothers swathed in vivid saris bargain with stallholders at Pettah Market.

7. Plan around the seasons

While the monsoon rains might not dampen your enthusiasm for exploring bear in mind that experiences can vary wildly depending on the season. If you’re desperate to climb Adam’s Peak, for example, then visit during pilgrimage season (December-May). Outside of these months it’s still possible to hike to the summit, but the myriad tea shops that line the path will be closed and you’ll climb with a handful of tourists instead of hundreds of local devotees, meaning much of the atmosphere and camaraderie among climbers is lost.

8. Get active

Sri Lanka might be known for its stupas, beaches and tea plantations but it’s also crammed with adrenalin-packed activities. Why not try surfing in Arugam Bay, hiking the Knuckles Mountain Range or white-water rafting in Kelaniya Ganga, Kitulgala. Cycling holidays are also becoming increasingly popular with a number of international tour operators offering specialist tours.

9. Make the most of your money

By western standards Sri Lanka is still a cheap destination, but prices are rising quickly: the cost of a cultural show in Kandy has doubled in the last year alone. For everyday items like tea and toothpaste head to the supermarkets in big cities where you can rest assured that you’re not paying over the odds. In the corner shops of smaller cities simply check the packaging, which has the price printed next to the letters ‘Rs.’ (meaning rupees).

10. Understand the culture

At its closest point, only 18 miles of aquamarine waters separate Sri Lanka and India, but there’s a world of difference between the two. The pace of life in Sri Lanka feels much less frantic than that of its neighbour, which makes it ideal for those intrigued, yet intimidated, by India. Few locals bat an eyelid at western visitors and while covering up is always appreciated (and necessary at places of worship), wearing shorts and vests is unlikely to attract much attention.

Explore Sri Lanka with the Rough Guide to Sri LankaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Bobby’s mullet blows in the wind as he pilots his dinky motorcycle down Copenhagen‘s cobbled backstreets. Wobbling past kebab shops and contemporary design stores on his way to work, he looks like a living relic from a bygone era: the 1980s.

A turtleneck peeks out from beneath his blue denim jacket, which perfectly matches the wash of his jeans, and a Freddie Mercury-esque moustache conceals his upper lip. This getup is, in part, why he’s often referred to as “Retro Bobby”.

But it’s his unconventional barbershop that’s truly earned him his retro reputation – the perfect place to unleash your inner-child, or your inner-geek. Ruben og Bobby is a basement world crammed with vintage video games, hulking pinball and arcade machines, classic consoles and old-school toys. Thoughtfully posed action figures are stuffed on shelves, curated in self-evident categories such as Ninja Turtles, He-Man, Pokémon and Power Rangers.

Image provided by Ruben og Bobby

Though Bobby’s own hair is – to put it mildly – bold, he’s a skilled barber capable of all kinds of cuts, from the 90s bowl to the latest in disheveled-chic. In a tiny room behind the salon’s front desk, there sits a single barber’s chair in front of a mirror and a first-generation Nintendo for customers to play during their snip. Beat the high score and receive a 20% discount off the price.

Customers pay for their new doos in Danish Krone, Bitcoins or cool retro stuff – because Bobby also accepts trade-ins for his goods and services. Though his business model might not conquer the world, in Copenhagen Ruben og Bobby works. But why?

Image provided by Ruben og Bobby

He has created something much more than a barbershop or vintage toy store. The space functions as both an interactive museum and art installation of sorts – a nostalgic homage to a time of chunky plastic, ground-breaking creativity and experimental design left behind in our race towards a more virtual future.

The shop is a refuge from Copenhagen’s crowded hotspots and a worthwhile place to hang, whether you’re due for a trim, looking to buy or just feel like playing some vintage games. With special events like 8-bit music parties and arcade tournaments it’s a social environment too – so don’t be surprised if you end up befriending a bunch of Danish locals, including Retro Bobby himself.

Retro Bobby from Copenhagers on Vimeo.

Ruben og Bobby is located at Bjelkes Alle 7a in Nørrebro, Copenhagen‘s hippest and most multicultural neighbourhood. To book a haircut, and for more on the shop, check out rubenogbobby.squarespace.com. Explore more of the city with the Pocket Rough Guide CopenhagenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tom Michell, author of The Penguin Lessons, was an intrepid but fairly ordinary 23 year old when he travelled to Argentina in the 1970s to teach English in a boys’ school. But on one school break, in which he travelled through Brazil and Uruguay, he picked up an unusual companion… Here’s the story of how it happened.

Let’s get straight to the point: how did you manage to pick up a penguin in Uruguay?

I’d been staying in Punta del Este for a few days, just unwinding and chilling at the end of a holiday, and the day before I was going to go back to Argentina I was walking on the beach and encountered lots of dead penguins covered in oil and tar. Rather than turning round and walking away, I walked on just to get some idea of how many were dead. And while doing that I noticed one of them move.

My first inclination was to go and polish it off, because all the others were dead. But I wasn’t quite certain how I was going to do it, and as I approached this bird it stood up and made it quite clear that it wasn’t just going to sit there while I wrung its neck.

I thought, well, perhaps I ought to clean it, and perhaps it would survive if I did.

So once you rescued him from the beach, what happened?

And after rubbing him with butter and olive oil and various things – soap detergent, shampoo – I had really quite a recognizable penguin. And I thought, all I have to do is let him go now – take him to the sea. So I took him back down to the sea and tried to encourage him to go.

I thought if I put him out on the rocks, as the waves come in he’ll disappear and just swim off and it’ll be fine. So I put him out on the rocks, went back to watch, and the wave came in and he disappeared. But while I was saying goodbye and good luck little bird, out he came again and came straight back to me! So I tried again and again and he wouldn’t go, he kept coming back. What was I going to do?

Eventually I decided if I abandoned him there, if I just left him and walked off the beach and went back, he wouldn’t be able to climb up the wall. So I walked off and I left him. And then he came running up the beach after me, like some small child! No, it wasn’t like a small child at all, it was quite different from that – it was just like a penguin.

So you took him back to your holiday apartment and eventually made it across the border to Argentina. How did that go?

Knowing the Argentines reasonably well having spent 6 months there, I decided that if I called him an Argentine penguin, every officer would immediately say “Ah, well of course you must bring him back.” And so this was my plan.

And of course the ruddy bird squawked while we were going through customs, so the officer yanked me into a small interview room. I thought I was going for the high jump, but it became fairly clear fairly quickly that actually he was only after a bribe.

If I’d given him a bribe in the first place – if I hadn’t been so young and so foolish – it could’ve been so much easier. But of course I was English and I thought, how dare you ask for a bribe. I’m not giving you a bribe to bring a penguin through. I called his bluff and said: “Well I’m not going to pay a bribe, you can look after him.” And I made to go.

Who are you lookin’ at? by Gerald5 on Flickr (license)

I said I was going to complain to the authorities about being asked for a bribe, and in revolutionary Argentina with lots of armed guards and military rushing around with guns, he obviously thought better of it too. So he let me go. And I took the penguin back on public transport.

How did the children react when you arrived back at school with a penguin called Juan Salvador as a pet?

It wasn’t really that strange – if I’d turned up with a dog, nobody would’ve batted an eyelid. A penguin wasn’t wildly different – they live there. So if somebody simply decides they’re getting a tortoise, would you make a lot of fuss about it? The difference is actually that tortoises aren’t as personable as penguins. So it was certainly his character that got people coming out to the terrace where I installed him.

As it says in the book: “Juan Salvador was a penguin who charmed and delighted everyone who knew him in those dark and dangerous days.”

From all the time you spent with Juan Salvador, do you have one standing moment that you will always remember?

I suppose the moment is sitting there, with him – doglike – leaning his head on my foot falling asleep, and saying “ I ought to write a book about you”.

IMG_2869 by Adam Reeder on Flickr (license)

And he just looked up, and the shiver of disgust that run from his beak down to his bottom and excited that way gave you absolutely no doubt about what he thought of my idea. That’s the moment I will always remember.

To find out what happened to Juan Salvador read of Tom’s heart-warming and compelling novel, The Penguin LessonsCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

You can’t expect to fit everything Southeast Asia has to offer into one trip – or two or three or four, to be fair – and we don’t suggest you try. So, to help you start planning, we’ve put together 8 ideas for your Southeast Asia itinerary from The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.

For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few together, but remember that the distances you’ll be covering can be vast. Plus, there’s lots to discover off the beaten track.

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. Vietnam

Start in colonial streets of Hanoi (1), the country’s historical, political and cultural capital. Go for a sail around the famed natural wonders of Ha Long Bay (2), before heading to the northern hills to the ethnic minority villages orbiting Sa Pa (3).

Take the train down to imperial architecture of Hué (4), make a day-trip to the DMZ, then move south to charming Hoi An (5). Nha Trang (6) is Vietnam‘s pre-eminent beach party town, whereas Mui Ne (7) offers great water-sports and sandy coasts with a more laidback vibe.

Da Lat (8) is your gateway to the Central Highlands, but if you’re still craving sea and sand the island of Phy Quoc (9) is a haven for beach bums and divers. Float down lush canals in the Mekong Delta (10), and finish your trip in bustling Ho Chi Minh City (11).

2. Myanmar

Kick off in Yangon (1) for street markets and the glorious Shwedagon Paya, then go to Mawlamyine (2), Myanmar‘s third largest city. Catch a boat to Hpa-an (3) before visiting one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, Kyaiktiyo (4).

Kalaw (5) is a perfect base for treks to ethnic-minority villages, and traditional life at Inle Lake (6) shouldn’t be missed either. Watch the sunset over Mandalay (7), then soar in a hot-air balloon over the awe-inspiring temples of Bagan (8).

Stroll the botanical gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin (9) before taking the train ride across the Goteik viaduct to Hsipaw (10), an increasingly popular trekking base.

3. Laos and Cambodia

Begin with the unmissable two-day trip down the Mekong River from Houayxai to Luang Prabang (1), the city of golden spires. Then its off to the stunning natural playground of Vang Vieng (2), before venturing to the country’s quaint capital, Vientiane (3).

Enjoy the pretty French-colonial lanes of Savannakhet (4) and explore the Khmer ruins of Wat Phou near Champasak (5). Set course towards Si Phan Don (6) to chill out for a few days in one of the four thousand islands scattered across the Mekong River. Catch a mini-bus to Cambodia for river dolphin watching in Kratie (7), or laze riverside in relaxed Kampot (8).

An easy bus ride takes you from Phnom Penh (9) to  Siem Reap, where the world-famous temples of Angkor (10) beg to be explored. But if you’re feeling a little travel-worn afterwards there’s no better place to kick back than the beach resort and offshore islands of Sihanoukville (11).


4. Bangkok and Northern Thailand

After immersing yourself in Bangkok, Thailand’s frenetic and thriving capital, chill-out among the rafthouses and waterfalls of Kanchanaburi (2).

Rent a bicycle to explore the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya (3) and then make for the elegant temple remains in Sukhothai (4). To break free of the tourist route head to isolated Umphang (5), where the surrounding mountains are perfect for trekking.

Chaing Mai (6) is always a backpacking favourite, but an amble through the arty night markets and excellent live-music bars of Pai (7) shouldn’t be missed either.

5. Thailand’s Beaches and Islands

Commence among the old-world charms of Thailand‘s Phetchaburi (1), then take a trip to the paradisiacal islands of Ko Tao (2) and Ko Pha Ngan (3) for raging moon parties or a detox.

Trek through the jungle in Khao Sok National Park (4) ­– one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet – and as you move further south, consider a stop in the slightly ugly tourist village of Ko Phi Phi (5) for undeniably fun all-night parties, snorkelling and diving.

Continue south to the relaxed island getaway of Ko Lanta (6), before winding this itinerary down in the pockets of paradise still remaining in Ko Lipe (7) and the stunning Ko Tarutai National Marine Park nearby.

6. Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore (1) is an easy introduction to Southeast Asia with its array of tourist-friendly pleasures. But move on to Melaka (2) for a fascinating mix of cultures and an ideal first stop in Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur (3) is a must, and the cooling heights of the Cameron Highlands (4) will provide refuge after the bustle. Relax on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands (5) then make for the rainforests of Taman Negara National Park (6), before catching a ride on the jungle railway to Kota Bharu.

Attractive Kuching (7) is an ideal base for visits to the Iban longhouses, and a journey along the 560km Batang Rajang (8) river into the heart of Sarawak is unforgettable.

Nature and adventure buffs alike will love Gunung Mulu National Park (9), Kinabalu National Park (10) and the wildlife outside of Sandakan (11). Finish this itinerary among the teeming marine life of Pulau Sipadan (12), one of the top dive sties in the world.

7. Indonesia

There’s plenty to discover by starting in Sumatra’s Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba (1), the famous orang-utan centre, soaring volcanoes and island retreats among them.

Take time to explore Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta (2), before moving on to Java cultural heart: Yogyakarta (3), the best base for the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Take a pre-dawn hike up to the crater rim of still-smoking Gunung Bromo (4), adventure the many wonders of Hindu Bali and hop over the Lombok (6) and the Gili Islands for adventures in paradise.

Enjoy close encouters with Komodo dragons in Komodo and Rinca (7) before heading to the mountainous landscapes of fertile Flores (8). Finish up on Sulawesi, immersed in the flamboyant festivals and fascinating culture of Tanah Toraja (9).

8. The Philippines

Start by soaking up the compelling energy of Manila (1), a convenient gateway to some of the country’s more inaccessible areas.

Check out the shipwrecks and prehistoric landscapes of Palawan (2), before you pass through Cebu city (3) on your way to Camiguin (4), a small volcanic island home to a bohemian arts scene and some amazing adventure activities. 

Surfers flock to the acclaimed reef breaks of Siargao (5), while the captivating sunsets and limited electricity at both Malapascua and Bantayan (6) typifies island living at its best.

Boracay (7) also shouldn’t be missed, home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and nightlife rivalling Manila. Conclude this itinerary in the cool mountain villages of the Igorot tribes in the Cordillera (8), nestled among jaw-dropping rice-terrace scenery.

Featured image by Lee Aik Soon.

As T.S. Eliot once said, “The journey, not the arrival, matters,” and nowhere is this truer than travelling in Bolivia. Here, we’ve picked five of the most beautiful travel routes through the country. Follow these to witness some of the finest scenery Bolivia has to offer.

For magnificent mountains: La Paz to Copacabana

Mode of transport: Bus
Length of journey: 3.5 hours
Suggested season: Any. Cloud cover is greater in the rainy season, Nov–April

As the road first approaches Lake Titicaca, the adobe brick of the slum settlements of El Alto, on the brow of La Paz, disappear into yellowed-grass and sparse farmland. Small settlements line the shore, dipping into the sparkling azure waters, and the bus sweeps into the winding hills which skirt the edges of the lake. At each bend, passengers can admire the impressive backdrop of the hazy mountain-giants of the Cordillera Real – La Paz’s most iconic landmarks – as they loom over the water and finally recede into the distant background.

Those lucky enough to arrive in Copacabana in the early evening will also be treated to an exquisite sunset. The final rays outline the boats bobbing on the silent waters, as the sun returns to what the Inca’s believe was its birthplace: the Isla del Sol.

This is Bolivia. by Johannes Donderer on Flickr (license)

For the intrepid explorer: Puerto Almacén to Santa Ana de Yacuma

Mode of transport: Cargo boat and 4×4
Length of journey: 3–5 days
Suggested season: Dry: April–Oct

Travel by cargo boat deep into the Amazon jungle is the ultimate adventure. Persuade a captain in Puerto Almacén, near Trinidad, to give you passage on his cargo boat and pack your waterproof clothing for the inevitable jungle showers. What makes this journey unmissable is the clamour and closeness of the jungle which encompasses the craft on its voyage, and the opportunities for sighting toucans and kingfisher in the boughs along the shoreline.

Before returning to Trinidad, spend a few days of descanso (rest) in Santa Ana. Convince a local to take you by canoe up smaller tributaries on the hunt for caiman or to spot howler and capuchin monkeys. When finally you return to Trinidad by 4×4, it’s worth the discomfort of the unpaved road. The land here is pampas – fertile, wet lowlands – and home to lounging, roadside capybara and venues of vultures who scatter as you pass.

Image by Steph Dyson

This route back also includes a lake crossing by wooden car ferry: twenty minutes of calm reflection as the boat navigates the watery landscape.

For the active traveller: Uyuni to El Salar de Uyuni to Sabaya

Mode of transport: Bicycle
Length of journey: 3–4 days
Suggested season: Dry

If exploring El Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flats – on an organised tour doesn’t appeal, then this journey is for you.

The 300km route between Uyuni, El Salar de Uyuni and El Salar de Coipasa by bike is a unique alternative. Camp overnight on Isla de Pescado and sign the visitor’s book for cyclists. If you’d rather pitch up away from civilisation, a further 20km will bring you to Isla Pescador, a rarely-visited spot providing unrestricted views of sunset and sunrise across this surreal salt plain.

Continue further north to reach El Salar de Coipasa; tourist-free, appreciate here the emptiness and desolation of the seemingly limitless expanse of salt. Finish in the small town of Sabaya, roughly 100km from the city of Oruro, and recuperate with good food and a pleasant hotel.

This is a journey only for the well-equipped: sun protection and long sleeves will safeguard you from the worst of the reflected sun’s rays, while camping gear (with warm layers for night-time) and a compass or GPS are indispensable. Sufficient water and food are essential as few shops exist along the route.

Bolivien/Chile-Salar de Coipasa by kristen miranda on Flickr (license)

For a long walk: Inca trail to Los Pinos

Mode of transport: Foot
Length of journey: 2 days
Suggested season: Dry as river crossings are required

The Inca trails crisscrossing Bolivia continue to attract visitors who desire to walk in the footsteps of these ancient ancestors, and for good reason. The almost fully-paved trail between the lagoons at Tajzara in the Reserva Biologica Cordillera de Sama and Los Pinos, near the southern city of Tarija, promises striking vistas of verdant valleys and Andean wildlife such as vicuñas, llamas and condors.

Not for the inexperienced walker – as the path is occasionally unclear – the trek involves a six to eight hour descent from 3400m to 1400m down the Incan pathway. Add a day at the beginning to explore the often flamingo-inhabited lagoons, and spend a night camping on their shores beneath an unblemished canvas of stars.

Make sure you visit the Servicio Nacional de Áreas Protegidas office in Tarija to register and obtain a map before leaving.

For something a little different: Potosí to Sucre

Mode of transport: Buscarril or ‘Ferrobus’. Departing from El Tejar station in Sucre or Potosí’s Estación Central.
Length of journey: 8 hours
Suggested season: Any

The normal transport between Sucre and Potosí is by taxi or bus. But the local ‘buscarril’ service is for those who enjoy doing things differently.

Essentially a bus modified to run on train tracks, the ‘buscarril’ travels at a leisurely 30km per hour, winding between the Cordillera de los Frailes. Offering unmediated encounters with rural Bolivia as it stops in each village along the route, it also wins points for novelty: passengers may be required to wait while market stalls set up on the track are removed to allow the vehicle to pass.

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

Copenhagen’s cool credentials are known around the world, but Denmark’s second city has so far kept just under the radar. This won’t last for long, though – people are starting to cotton on that Århus (or Aarhus) is a compact, accessible city (not to mention a young, happy and well-fed one) with more than enough Scandi cool and culture to charm your thermal socks off. Here’s what you need to know for a weekend in Århus, the “city of smiles”.

What’s the arts and culture scene like?

The EU have named Århus a European Capital of Culture for 2017, and the theme will be “Let’s Rethink”, reflecting the sense of creative liberation which already runs through the city.

Among Århus’s world-renowned museums are Den Gamle By (“The Old Town”), a living museum exploring Denmark’s past, and ARoS, a cutting-edge art gallery (with a particularly excellent food hall) topped by a ring of coloured glass you can walk around to view the city in a rainbow panorama.

multi colored by Jenny Han on Flickr (cc license

The whole city balances the old and the new in a clever but also playful way, typified by the Moesgård museum. Here you can view exhibitions on Viking history and human evolution in an arresting modernist building, designed both to evoke the layers of an archeological dig and (with its sloping, grass-covered roof) to be a great place to have a picnic in summer or go sledging in winter.

What about festivals and markets?

There are innumerable ways to get involved in Danish culture in Århus, with event spaces like Godsbanen hosting markets – try to catch the excellent Finderskeepers when it’s in town – and venues all around the city holding art, music and film events year-round.

If you’re in the city in summer you shouldn’t miss the long-running Aarhus Festuge, one of the biggest cultural events in Scandinavia (which also includes an excellent food festival), while in winter you can enjoy a Christmas festival and a slew of Christmas markets.

Shopping, and shopping again by Brian on Flickr (cc license)

I hear it’s great for architecture and design, what’s coming up?

As well as its charming old docks, Latin Quarter and other picturesque historic districts, Århus holds its own in terms of modern Scandinavian architecture. And it’s not only the city’s public buildings which innovate, but also its residential ones.

In preparation for 2017 the city is undertaking a major harbour redevelopment, and thankfully this is no bland urban renewal. What’s done of the Aarhus Ø (“Aarhus East”) project so far is bold and brilliant, especially the apartment complex Isbjerget (“Iceberg”).

As in any self-respecting Danish city, you’ll see almost as many bikes as cars, and during the summer months you can get in on the action for a spontaneous architectural tour. Hop on one of the free (yes, actually free!) city bikes and pedal your way from the university around the historic centre and on to the waterfront (and Moesgård, if you’re feeling active).

In the winter it may be wiser to explore the city’s interiors than its exteriors, preferably by sipping hot chocolate in a steamy-windowed café; if you want to stretch yourself you could perhaps stop off at Jægergårdsgade or Strøget for some hygge-enhancing Danish homewares – before heading back somewhere cosy with a warm duvet.

What should I eat and drink?

There are plenty of excellent cafés around town, such as the lovely (largely vegan and gluten-free) Café Gaya, which also holds live music and events. It’s worth seeing if any bakeries catch your eye, too; just a quick glance at the selection of sourdough, rye and cheesy pastries will convince you that there’s a lot more to Danish baking than… well, Danishes.

Any visitor to Denmark should try smørrebrød, literally “buttered bread”, which is basically bread (usually sourdough rye) served with a variety of toppings; think pickled herring, smoked salmon, cured meats, salad and sauces. It’s infinitely adaptable and surprisingly filling – and it’s not to be confused with smörgåsbord, by the way, unless you want to be given a very icy look.

Visitors should also explore the city’s impressive restaurant scene, which offers some intriguing modern twists on traditional Danish cuisine beyond smørrebrød.

Foodie Frederiksbjerg is the go-to district for all of these. You can put together your own smørrebrød using ingredients from the district’s markets and delis, then treat yourself to dinner at cutting-edge Hærværk (on Frederiks Allé) or warm, welcoming Nordisk Spisehus (on M. P. Bruuns Gade).

Here, the seasonal menus are themed around dishes from Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, alongside original, usually Nordic dishes. It’s the perfect place to discover the range and quality of food in Århus – and the delicate balance the city strikes, innovating without a hint of pretension or stuffiness.

What day trips can I take?

If you somehow exhaust the attractions of the city itself, you can head off into the rest of the Jutland peninsula. For winter walks and wildlife-spotting head to a national park such as unspoiled Thy (Denmark’s first national park) or rugged Mols Bjerge.

Also nearby is the Kattegat coast, dotted with windswept, white-sand beaches, just as appealing in winter storms as summer sun. You could experience a Scandinavian icon by catching a ferry out to the fjords, too.

lovely couple on a morning stroll by Michael Munk on Flickr (cc license)

As a pleasing contrast to Jutland’s glut of stunning scenery and highbrow culture, round off your trip by letting your inner child loose at Legoland in Billund – just another reason people in this part of the world are so happy.

There are frequent flights to Århus from London with Ryanair, and regular shuttle buses between Århus Airport (and Billund Airport) and Banegårdspladsen, by the central train station. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

10. Berlin, Germany

Germany’s thriving capital has been voted the tenth coolest city in the world thanks to its cutting-edge art scene, wild nightlife, multiculturalism, incredible museums and rebirth into the dynamic cosmopolitan powerhouse it is today. And as each day goes by, Berlin seems to only get cooler.

9. Barcelona, Spain

Some of the world’s best food, drink, architecture and beaches all combine in the idyllic Catalan capital. Whether you’re surfing, skateboarding, spray-painting or simply devouring tapas, Barcelona is an amazing place to lounge with friendly locals by day and stay out late after the Mediterranean sun has set.

8. Hong Kong, China

It’s tough to beat the contrasting combination of tranquil green mountains and dazzling seaside skyscrapers. But add dim sum, the best shopping on Earth, a wealth of culture and a highly addictive dose of urban bustle into the mix – it’s no wonder Hong Kong came in at a strong eighth place with our readers.

7. Reykjavík, Iceland

With laidback days and long, hedonistic summer nights the world’s most northerly capital is undeniably awesome. For such a tiny population Iceland’s creative output is off the charts, breeding artists such as Bjork and Sigur Ros to name a few. But how many other cool cities can also boast the aurora borealis or an easy escape from city life to primordial looking wilderness when you need it? Only Reykjavík.

6. Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Always a strong contender, we weren’t surprised to see Amsterdam come in a strong fifth place on the cool list. The marriage of calming canals and crooked brick buildings with alternative lifestyles, bike culture and avant-garde art scenes make the Dutch capital an easy city to love, but a much tougher one to leave.

5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

For its favela funk parties, un-paralleled beach life, ever-tempting churrasco, grit and glorious style, our readers were insistent about Rio’s inclusion in the coolest cities list. Rio’s landmarks and landscapes never grow dull, and its vibrant atmosphere energizes and inspires residents and visitors alike.

4. Tokyo, Japan

Though life in its multiple city centres is a true sensory overload – satisfying barrages of crowds, flashing lights, anime, J-pop and futuristic tech – deep in the suburbs and backstreets our readers found a host of fashionable pop-ups, hip bars, slick art galleries and little ramen restaurants with flavours to blow your mind. From hangouts in Yoyogi Park to great hospitality and general politeness towards travellers, Tokyo definitely deserves its spot in the top four.

3. Istanbul, Turkey

Balancing on the brink of Europe and Asia, one could easily spend a week beaching and sightseeing in historic Istanbul and never get bored. But to get a taste of contemporary cool you’ll have to leave the oldest neighbourhoods behind. It won’t be long before you stumble upon one of the many edgier districts bursting with hip cafés, independent boutiques, experimental galleries, wild nightclubs and a creative buzz that has the whole world talking Turkey.

2. New York City, USA

Our readers knew this top ten list wouldn’t be complete without NYC. But it’s no longer just Manhattan that keeps New York at the top. Brooklyn is ultimately responsible for clenching a strong second place. Its distinct cultural neighbourhoods have birthed much of the world’s most exciting music, art and design. Though gentrification threatens areas like Williamsburg, residents would argue that New York City is still the cultural capital of the world.

1. London, England

London is truly a world unto itself. From fantastic museums to back-alley speakeasies, hip gourmet restaurants to nameless holes-in-the-wall serving the best in far-off cuisines – London’s appeal is impossible to resist. For its dynamism, diversity, creative abundance and cultural wealth our readers were passionate about naming it the world’s coolest. While rampant rises in price endanger everything that has made this city the incredible place it is, Londoners remain hopeful. For now, London still has it all.

From psychedelic milkshakes to overloaded tuk-tuks, there are some things everybody comes across when backpacking in Southeast Asia. Whether you spent the brunt of your time beaching, boozing, motorcycling, meditating or trying to see it all – here are 15 things you likely learned.

1. Getting from A to B is surprisingly fun

All-night bus rides with bad action movies on loop, clutching the waist of a scooter driver as he weaves through Ho Chi Minh City traffic, or buying a vintage Minsk motorbike to tear up mountain roads – you know that the act of motion itself seems to facilitate some of the best backpacking memories.

2. Everything moves slowly

Thanks to any combination of traffic, vehicle break-downs, poor roads, bad weather or punishing hangovers you learned to accept the impossibility of arriving anywhere on time. Booking accommodation in advance was as rare as a concrete plan longer than two days. Learning to chill rather than feel perpetually frustrated was one of the best lessons you took home with you.

Vietnam by Malingering (CC license)

3. Tourism is both a blessing and a curse

Disrespectful debauchery, fake orphanages, irresponsible development and a whole lot of other despicable stuff ­– spend long enough backpacking in Southeast Asia and you know that tourism’s destructive side starts to glare.

At first you felt like part of the problem. But you learned to search out homestays, socially responsible tours, eco-friendly projects and grassroot NGOs. Every little bit helps.

4. The nicer-looking the restaurant, the worse the food

You know it’s not the locally-popular roadside food stalls that are likely to give you food poisoning. No, it’s the type of joints that serve penne al pollo and special steak tartare (“special” was probably dog code for “dog”).

5. A tuk-tuk can be the ultimate in luxury travel

A good tuk-tuk is like a chauffeured convertible crossed with a couch. Their people-carrying capacity seems to grow as each hour passes, capping somewhere around a dozen passengers after dark. For the price, it’s a luxury that can’t be beat.

Bangkok Tuk-tuk by Didier Baertschiger (CC license)

6. Cheap deals are usually too good to be true

A smiling driver offered you a sweet deal. Then you agreed to help him “get gas”. And you quickly learned what that means: pretending to shop in soulless tourist trap boutiques while buddy gets “gas coupons” from the owners. Visions of adventure faded before your eyes – but you never made the same mistake again.  

7. The smell of Durian will haunt you

Durian: the much-loved ball of spikes with an acquired taste and a rather pungent aroma that reeks of sweat, garlic and sweet-scented paint thinner – detectable from a block away. You learned to love it or hate it – there is no inbetween.

8. Not all monks are as serene as they look

Some monks look serene. Some monks drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes. You may have spotted one, red or saffron-robed and sneaking a smoke behind a crumbling temple wall or sipping a spot of Mekong Whiskey beneath a banyan tree.

Of course, this is prohibited by Buddhist precepts, and it definitely clashed with your original imaginings of monastic life. But nobody’s perfect, and old habits die hard.

Myanmar monk smoking a cigar by Peter Halling Hilborg (CC license)

9. “Happy Pizza” is not a cute name for pizza served by smiling staff

It is pizza that will get you high.

10. Mushroom milkshakes are not a new health food fad

These will also get you high.

11. Travel tattoos can be an awful idea

A Balinese Om symbol made much larger than asked, an ambiguous word scrawled across ribs in Khmer script, a little butterfly resembling a birthmark – perhaps you learned the hard way, or maybe you learned from others’ mistakes. Southeast Asia backpackers know these markings well: yolo moments of such (regrettable) power that they actually outlive you.

Tattoo support by MissAgentCooper (CC license)

12. Thai Red Bull is way more intense than the energy drinks you’re used to

It’s actually called Krating Daeng, and it’s reportedly what inspired the creation of Red Bull. Whether you guzzled it with vodka from a bucket or sipped it to null post-night bus fatigue, it’s strength was a syrupy revelation.

13. Backpackers wear a uniform

Harem pants, beer-branded tank tops and a pointless bandanna to top it off. Did you examine the stinky, hungover travellers surrounding you and think: Yes, I’d like to look exactly like them? Probably not. But the uniform happened.

14. Don’t bring chewing gum to Singapore

If you went to Singapore, you’ll know it has some weird laws. The illegality of chewing gum is one of them. But that’s just the beginning. Walking around nude in your own home? Illegal. Taking a sip of water on the metro? Illegal. Failure to flush a public toilet after use? Illegal, obviously. Even publicly eating Singapore’s “national fruit”, the durian, falls on the wrong side of the law.

What, no fine for durians though? by Clark & Kim Kays (CC license)

15. Southeast Asia has been through a lot, and continues to go through a lot

Be it the horrors of colonisation, absurd and devastating wars, or the corruption and poverty that followed, the peoples of Southeast Asia have gone through hell. Yet it was ultimately the incredible friendliness of locals that made backpacking Southeast Asia one of the best experiences of your life.

Have your next backpacking adventure with the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

They hang from trees and clothes lines. Bits of plastic bodies jammed onto fenceposts and nailed to cabin doors, decaying heads strewn among the island’s greenery, gazing at visitors through insect-infested eye-sockets. Welcome to Mexico‘s Isla de las Muñecas, or Island of Dolls.

Located deep in Xochimilco, a borough just 28km south of Mexico City, the Isla de las Muñecas is part of an Aztec-made network of canals and artificial islands called chinampas.

Legend has it that decades ago a little girl’s corpse washed up on the murky banks of the island. Don Julian Santana Barrera, the island’s solitary caretaker, discovered her floating facedown alongside a waterlogged doll. To commemorate her spirit, Barrera hung the doll on a nearby tree.

But the little girl’s ghost soon began to haunt him. Desperate to appease her, the caretaker hung more dolls – every bit of a Barbie or scrap of a Cabbage Patch he could lay hands on. Barrera amassed hundreds of them over a span of 50 years. Still, the ghost never left.

Barrera died in 2001. He was reportedly found floating in the same spot that he’d found the girl. Of course, official reports seem to dismiss Barrera’s discovery of the girl in the first place. But the dolls remain, and tourists who visit swear that each doll’s eerie presence speaks for itself – whispering.

Dolls welcome the island’s visitors by Kevin (CC license)

Dolls nailed to the island’s cabin by Kevin (CC license)

Cabin interior by Kevin (CC license)

Dolls on display by Kevin (CC license)

Shrine by Kevin (CC license)

The forest by Kevin (CC license)

Dolls hung by metal wire by Kevin (CC license)

A pile of dolls in decay by Kevin (CC license)

Rotting baby by Kevin (CC license)Dolls lurk everywhere on the island by Kevin (CC license)

Isla de las Muñecas can be visited by ferry from Embarcadero Cuemanco or from Embarcadero Fernando Celada. Explore more of Mexico with the Rough Guide to MexicoCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Known for its lavish balls and even more lavish cakes, Vienna is overflowing with art. If there’s one image that encapsulates the city, it’s of an elegant, gold-clad muse staring out at the viewer with an unsettling beauty.

No, not Conchita Wurst, but the women of Gustav Klimt’s paintings. A tour of his artworks not only takes you to Vienna’s finest galleries, but provides a window on the city at the turn of the twentieth century.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – Gustav Klimt, photo from freeparking via Flickr (CC license)

In 1897, a group of artists frustrated with the constraints of Vienna’s cultural establishment formed “The Secession” movement. Klimt was their first president, and their headquarters was a bold statement of Jugendstil (youth style), a simple white building topped with a golden dome.

Displayed inside, Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze (1902) depicts the quest for happiness. Its parade of strange characters – including Death, Madness, Lasciviousness and Wantonness – are all obstacles to true joy, which is found, in the last panel, through art, poetry and music in the form of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Image credit: dreamstime.com: Sergey Pushkarev / Spushkarev

Klimt bridged the avant-garde and traditional decorative arts. He trained at what’s now the Museum of Applied Art (MAK), where you can see sketches for his Stoclet Frieze alongside objects by contemporaries in the Wiener Werkstätte.

Early in his career, he also helped to decorate several public buildings with murals. In the Kunsthistorisches Museum, distinctive Klimt figures, nestled between the columns of the grand stairwell, usher you into one of the world’s greatest art collections.

To see Klimt’s most famous works, visit the Belvedere. The collection includes landscapes, portraits of society beauties, and richly decorated icons such as the mesmerizing Judith (1901) and, of course, The Kiss (1908), its full-on bling and sensuous subject still arresting, however many dodgy reproductions you’ve seen.

Hope, II. by Gustav Klimt, photo from bm.iphone via Flickr (CC license)

But Klimt – and Vienna – are not mere decoration. The Leopold Museum, an essential last stop, owns Klimt’s late masterpiece, the brilliantly disturbing Death and Life (1910–15).

Fittingly, it’s shown alongside numerous paintings by his successor Egon Schiele, whose work brutally exposes the psychological unease lurking in the city Freud called home, an unease that simmers beneath the surface of Klimt’s own perfectly gilded canvases.

All museums listed are in central Vienna; to do them all justice, give yourself at least two days. See secession.at, mak.at, khm.at, belvedere.atleopoldmuseum.org and wien.info for more. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

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