The Charity Aid Foundation have released their annual World Giving Index, naming the world’s most generous countries of 2016.

This year Myanmar has officially been ranked the most generous country in the world, speaking to the nation’s strong Buddhist traditions. As for Europe the UK came out on top, whereas Kenya was revealed to be the most generous in Africa, Guatemala claimed the title in Latin America and the UAE was rated as most generous in the Middle East.

Factors such as financial donations, kindness to strangers and volunteering are all taken into account, but CAF admits there is room for error as research is based solely on roughly 1,000 respondents from each of the 140 countries polled.

Perhaps most notably the people of Iraq have been rated the kindest to strangers, with Libyans coming in at a close second. According to the index at least eight in ten Iraqis have helped a total stranger in the last month alone – validating so many travellers’ tales of the boundless kindness and sincere hospitality within these heartbreakingly war-torn nations.

Check out the World Giving Index 2016 top ten most generous countries list below.

10. United Arab Emirates

Image via Pixabay/CC0

9. Ireland

Image via Pixabay/CC0

8. United Kingdom

Image via Pixabay/CC0

7. Indonesia

Image via Pixabay/CC0

6. Canada

Image via Pixabay/CC0

5. Sri Lanka

Image via Pixabay/CC0

4. New Zealand

Image via Pixabay/CC0

3. Australia

Image via Pixabay/CC0

2. United States

Image via Pixabay/CC0

1. Myanmar

Image via Pixabay/CC0

As the only democracy in the Chinese speaking world and the most progressive city for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, a legacy of artists and activists have worked to make Taiwan’s capital a place where culture, progression and creativity thrive.

Now, a new wave of resident creatives are re-energizing the city. Cutting-edge art galleries stand next to traditional teahouses, and basement club techno still murmurs in the streets as local markets set up their fare with the sunrise. Affordable, safe, efficient and exciting, this sea of glass, concrete and palm trees is an urban explorer’s dreamland. For travellers looking to unearth Taiwan’s underground scene, here are eight tips for discovering cool Taipei at its best.

1. Don’t stop drinking coffee

Taiwan’s celebrated tea culture can be traced back more than three hundred years. Home to some of the world’s best greens and oolongs, tea here is both a science and a philosophy, a remedy for body and soul.

While you’ll find no shortage of old-school teahouses, the same spirit of craft and pride has been applied to Taipei’s third wave coffee scene – and the results are glorious. Interesting cafés are popping up everywhere in the city, from over the top chemistry lab-esque B Coffee & Space in Da’an to the award-winning baristas and Scandi-inspired minimalism of Fika Fika in Zhongshan.

Whether you spend the day shooting espresso or sipping cups of siphoned single-origin brew, you’ll quickly discover why Taipei seems set to become the world’s next hub of café culture.

photo by Colt St. George

2. Tap into the city’s creative scene in Zhongshan and Dongmen

Taipei was named World Design Capital 2016 for a reason. Everyone from young architects to underground record labels seem to be embracing a new “made in Taiwan” pride that’s at once trendy and distinctly Taiwanese. The neighbourhoods of Zhongshan and Dongmen are perfect for testing the waters.

While the main streets may feel a bit commercial, amble the historic back lanes of Zhongshan district and you’ll discover well-curated vintage shops like Blue Monday, cute design boutiques and stylish records stores like Waiting Room. Taipei Artist Village – an arts institution and residency open to local and international creatives – is also worth popping by.

Dongmen is even more gratifying. While the upscale main streets boast everything from craft bubble tea to the latest in Taiwanese interior design, hit the quiet residential alleyways and you’ll find quirky art cafés, craft beer bars, dusty Chinese antique shops and good old fashioned Taiwanese comfort food spots like James Kitchen on Yongkang Street.

3. Sample the street food, especially stinky tofu

Be it in London, New York or Berlin, street food has become undeniably, and often tragically, hip. Forgo the pomp, faux-grit and absurd prices of the latest in questionable Western street food trends and rejoice in Taipei’s affordable authenticity.

From notable night markets like Ningxia and Liaoning to nameless back alley daytime stalls serving dishes perfected over generations, there’re an overwhelming variety of delicious local dishes to sample. Fatty braised pork on rice, oyster omelettes, beef noodle soup, dumplings and shaved ice piled high with fresh fruit are good for starters.

However, your ultimate quest should be to conquer the infamous chòu dòufu, or stinky tofu. It smells like a rotting corpse, but possesses a flavour profile of such intense complexity most hardcore foodies call it sublime. Others spit it up immediately.

Pixabay / CC0

4. Give vegetarianism a try

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian having trouble finding meat-free eats, keep an eye out for restaurant signs with enormous, glaring swastikas. The symbol is associated with Buddhism in China long before it’s appropriation in Europe and marks the restaurant as entirely vegetarian.

There are loads around the city, selling delectable Buddhist meals at ridiculously cheap prices. Many are buffet style, where whatever you’ve stacked on your plate is paid for by weight. The selection is usually too vast to try all of in a single go, which will keep you coming back for more.

5. From dilapidation to design: check out the city’s former art squats

Maverick Taiwanese artists were the first to recognize the potential of Taipei’s abandoned industrial buildings, squatting and staging illegal performances in these derelict-turned-creative spaces. Though authorities were quite resistant to their presence initially, after much protest spaces such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park have become governmentally protected cultural centres.

Today these spaces are generally buzzing with life, hosting a plethora of fun adult and family events in on-site galleries, concept stores, cinemas, studios, concert halls and more. While governmental commercialization of these spaces has blunted their cutting-edge origins, they still feel undeniably special and worthwhile.

photo by Colt St. George

6. Lose yourself in Taipei’s nightlife

Home to a thriving underground scene, Taipei’s nightlife and music scenes are simply awesome. From indie garage rockers like Skip Skip Ben Ben, to techno, noise and experimental hip hop, putting the effort into exploring Taipei’s underground sounds will reveal an entirely different dimension to the city and provide opportunities to mingle with the artists who are making it happen.

Revolver in Zhongzheng is a laidback and friendly institution that throws everything from metal to indie nights, while F*cking Place (though the club doesn’t use an asterisk) is definitely among the city’s coolest dive-bars – with the added bonus of ridiculously cheap beer. For techno and electronic parties get to Korner, a subsection of well-known club The Wall. Pipe and APA Mini are also great venues for live music.

7. Not feeling the party? Try a reading rave

With a vibrant population of artists, intellectuals and activists perhaps it’s no surprise that print still holds a special place in Taiwan. The popularity of Eslite in Dunnan branch, Taipei’s massive 24 hour bookstore and one of the world’s only to keep such hours, speaks for itself. Curl up in this beautifully designed booktopia and join the locals as they pore over pages all night long.

On a smaller-scale, keep an eye out for the artisanal stationery shop Pinmo Pure Store, Gin Gin Store (the first gay bookstore opened in Greater China) and hip new bookish concept stores. In this respect, Pon Ding is an absolute standout – a friendly, three-story collaborative creative space housing art, independent publications, quality magazines and pop-up events. Of course, they’ve also got a brilliant café.

photo credit: Pon Ding

8. Get back to nature

Every once in a while you need to leave the urban grind behind and unwind in the natural world. Thankfully, nature is never far off in Taiwan.

The high speed railway from Taipei can have you beaching on the island’s subtropical southern coast in less than two hours, while verdant mountain trails and popular surf breaks are easily accessible by bus. If you’re feeling adventurous, delve further into the mountains to experience the colourful cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

But whenever you find yourself recharged and craving that big-city buzz it’s a quick train trip back to the creative playground that is Taipei.

EVA Air, a Star Alliance member, flies daily from London Heathrow to Taipei, offering passengers award winning service and a choice of three cabin classes: Royal Laurel Class (Business Class), Elite Class (Premium Economy) and Economy Class. Featured image: Pon Ding. See more of Taiwan with the Taiwanese tourist board

Renowned the world over for its decorated tribes, the Omo Valley is a stop on many a tourist route in Ethiopia. But visits to the area can cross ethical boundaries, and few tourists are allowed the pleasure of a genuine experience with local people. Here, Rough Guides photographer Tim Draper tells us about his experience photographing some of southern Ethiopia’s most fascinating tribes. 

As a travel photographer I desperately wanted to capture creative and authentic portraits in the Omo Valley, whilst hoping to avoid the negative experiences told in tourists tales of ‘zoo-like’ excursions.

After spending almost a week researching tour companies in Addis I carefully chose my driver, and together we planned our trip around the Omo villages.

We stayed overnight in most villages, camping or sleeping in huts. It was a good way to get to know the tribes, spending long afternoons with them while tourists came and went, barely getting out of their vehicles before they were whisked away.

If you don’t want a zoo-like experience in Omo, you’d do well to keep your camera in your pocket for a little while longer, try to connect with the people on a deeper level than that of a fifteen-minute whistle-stop photo opportunity.

I took my pictures methodically and slowly, with good humour and in a relaxed atmosphere. After all, good travel portraits – like good travel experiences – require time, care and trust.

Arbore children

Two women on market day

Hamer tribeswoman

Mursi girl holding gun

A painted Karo tribesman

Karo tribes people by the Omo river

A painted Karo tribesman

Mursi tribeswoman with lip plate

A painted Karo tribesman poses with his gun

A Hamer girl with red ochre hair

Painted Karo tribesman with gun

Hamer tribe, mother and child

Young child in the Mursi village

A tribal ceremony in the Bena village

Bena tribe, mother with her children

A Bena family sit outside their home

Hamer tribe girls

See more of Tim’s photography here. Explore more of Ethiopia with the Rough Guide to EthiopiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

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

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

1. Start early

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

2. Embrace a new ordering system

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

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

Image via Pixabay/CC0

3. Know your place (in the menu)

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

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

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

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

Sichuan noodles via Pixabay/CC0

4. Learn how much to order

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

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

5. Master the art of balance

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

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

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

Spicy tofu via Pixabay/CC0

6. Get the basics down

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

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

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

Image via Pixabay/CC0

7. Settle up with ease

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

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

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

*This competition is now closed*

Always wanted to be a travel writer? Well you’re in luck. Last year we ran our travel writing competition and the winner, Steph Dyson, has become one of our regular contributors. This year, we’re opening it up again to seek out the best untapped travel writing talent.

Enter the competition and you could become a Rough Guides writer, as well as bagging £2000 (approx US$2800) to spend on a trip of your choice.

The Prize:

The winner will get a £2000 (or local currency equivalent) travel voucher to spend on planning an unforgettable trip with GapYear.com, a bundle of Rough Guides books, and their winning work will be featured on RoughGuides.com.

Created by backpackers for backpackers, GapYear.com connect travellers with an unrivalled range of tours, volunteering projects and working holidays in over 100 countries around the globe.

Whether it’s rescuing endangered tigers in India or surfing deep blue waves in Morocco, they guarantee exhilarating experiences on every continent and provide dedicated support and advice throughout every step of the journey.

Last year’s winner, Steph Dyson, said: “I’d always wanted to visit Patagonia in the south of Argentina and Chile, but didn’t have the funds to take such a trip. So thanks to Rough Guides and GapYear.com, I booked onto a 34-day tour with Intrepid.”

Two runners up will also receive a bundle of Rough Guides books and will be published on RoughGuides.com.

Why enter?

If you’re not sure whether you should enter your writing, here are some wise words from last year’s winner, Steph:

“Winning the competition has opened up so many opportunities with both Rough Guides and other travel writing websites.

“The feeling that other travellers are reading my writing, and hopefully being inspired to discover new places as a result, is very addictive and has certainly given me the confidence to pursue a career in writing.

“Having the chance to write for such a globally-renowned publication and work with the Rough Guides web editors has also been invaluable: the feedback and guidance I’ve been given has really helped me to develop as a writer.”

How to enter:

To enter, all you need to do is write a 500-word feature, based on a personal experience, on one of the following themes:

  • Close to home
  • The most beautiful place in the world
  • My best day on Earth

Entries should be emailed to [email protected], either as a .docx (Microsoft Word) file, or pasted into the email itself. Entries should be no more than 500 words and no less than 450 words. Applications close at 12:59 BST on the 1 May 2016.

5 tips for writing a great piece

• Have a clear idea. Can you summarise your story – its setting and its angle combined – in a line or two?

• Take special care over the opening. Stories don’t have to start smack-bang in the thick of the action by any means, but this can be a useful way to engage the reader from the off.

• Readers will turn away at the drop of a hat – keep them with you by clearing your story’s path of all obstructions (such as a dropped hat, unless it’s contributing something).

• Judiciously employ observations (local colour): combined the right way, sights, sounds and smells can spellbind.

• Use temporal and spatial markers to ensure the reader knows where (and when) they are at all times.

Read last year’s winning entry here, and the runners-up here.

Good luck!

Open to the UK, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA entrants over the age of 18 only. For full Terms & Conditions see here.

Going for a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exaggerated and preposterously warm, that a simple dip can feel borderline indecent. Venture from the capital Reykjavik as far as Reyðarfjörður in the extreme east and you’ll also find that the country hides hundreds of out-of-this-world geothermal pools and naturally-heated hot tubs.

But it first pays to know the rules. Because in Iceland, the right spa etiquette is taken deadly seriously. Here are five dos and don’ts to bear in mind.

Don’t forget to wash yourself

It may sound obvious, but unlike the rest of Europe, where most bathers make-do with a quick shower-room rinse, Icelanders have a set, strict routine when going for a dip that must be followed to the letter.

First, read the rules. They’re pinned to every changing room wall and notice-board, as well as being published in English, French, German and Danish, so you really have no excuse not to follow them.

Second, get washing. Scrub your head, armpits, feet and groin with soap beforehand, and – most importantly – do it in your birthday suit, not bathing suit. A quick rinse just won’t do, especially because most geothermal pools use freshwater and far lower levels of chlorine, even at the Blue Lagoon at Reykjanes.

And having just read the rules, you have no excuse not to get naked. You have been warned.

Do get chatting to the locals

Approaching a complete stranger in a bikini may at first seem like a coquettish, brazen thing to do, but it’s OK in Iceland.

In Reykjavík, hot tubs and pools are more like social clubs where people catch up on news and discuss politics: and they’ve done so since the twelfth century when poet, scholar and politician Snorri Sturluson built the first stone hot tub outside Reykholt.

To get the best of the conversations, go to a local’s pool such as Vesturbæjarlaug, a short walk from Reykjavík city centre, or Nauthólsvík, a geothermal saltwater pool by a golden beach.

Around seven o’clock on a weekday morning, the conversation bubbles as much as the thermal waters. There is no social hierarchy, and everyone is treated like an equal.

For something more romantic, take a date to Sundhöll, built in the 1930s, it’s open late and is one of the oldest baths in the capital.

Don’t talk too loudly (or on your phone)

Icelanders don’t like tourists who make too much noise: period. Their dose of social media may well be a get-together in the spa, but they talk quietly, which can sound as soft as whale song.

The reason? Many spas and indoor pools were built in the 1960s and loud noises echo down the corridors of the indoor pools and steam rooms.

“Our bathhouses tend to venerate tradition above anything else,” says spa aficionado Birgir Þorsteinn Jóakimsson, who visits Reykjavik’s Vesturbæjarlaug every day. “Talking loudly is a nasty habit, especially at an Icelandic spa – so you won’t be popular with the locals. It’s not a circus.”

It also pays to be alert, as hawkish pool attendants may ambush you, showing you the door. They’ve been known to throw tourists out for less.

Don’t jump straight in

Those milky-blue waters are ridiculously tempting, but also feverishly hot. Draw the cool air into your lungs and take your time by testing the water temperature first to check your skin’s sensitivity to the geothermal heat.

In Reykjavík at Laugardalur Park, also known as the Valley of the Pools, the water used to hover at a white-hot 45 degrees Celcius, punishing unsuspecting dive-bombers. Such waters have since been cooled due to health and safety regulations, but with most still nudging upwards of 37 degrees, it’s an odd juxtaposition between bathing in hell, while feeling like you’re in heaven.

To maximise enjoyment, remember to swim in an anticlockwise direction. No one can really explain why, but Icelanders swim in circles from right to left, and so should you.

Do take a local’s advice

The most sacred pools are only known by the locals – and with good reason. Places like the old pool at Gamla Laugin at Fludir on the Golden Circle – supposedly the oldest in Iceland – or Seljavallalaug, a snooker-chalk blue outdoor pool secreted up a valley near Skogar, are so sybaritic you wouldn’t want to share them with anyone else either.

“Everyone has their favourite they want to keep,” says Guðrún Bjarnadottir, a spa professional working at the Blue Lagoon. “If you talk to locals – and they like you – you may get lucky. My personal favourite is somewhere in the hills north of Hveragerdi. It’s in a mystical place known as the Smoky Valley, but the exact location and directions – well – that would be telling.”

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

Spain’s massive size means that it’s thankfully not as hard as you might expect to wander off the well-beaten tourist track. Whether it’s quiet coves, tucked away old villages or eerie landscapes you’re after, here are seven places that you’ve probably never heard of but really should visit in Spain.

1. Las Alpujarras, Andalucía

South of Granada, the hills and valleys of Las Alpujarras provide some of the country’s lushest scenery. This isn’t an area for novice drivers – hairpin bend after hairpin bend lead up to many of the region’s lovely white-washed villages – but it’s worth the effort to enjoy the serenity of the countryside.

In the settlements here you can really get a sense of a truly local way of life – one that revolves around shady central plazas, welcome siestas from the midday sun and sherry in the local bar after dark.

2. Beget, Girona

Beget is tucked so deeply into a valley that you won’t see it before you’re almost in it. This tiny village in northern Catalunya is definitely worth stumbling over, however – little has changed here for centuries, creating a quiet charm that’s hard to beat.

Explore the narrow cobbled streets to find old stone houses and pretty little bridges that cross the river. For dinner, sit down to a plate of seasonal Catalan food at one of the family-run restaurants.

The centrepiece of the village is the stately, beautiful twelfth-century church, which boasts a carved wooden Christ figure dressed in a tunic, with arms outstretched.

Image by azama8 on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

3. El Burgo de Osma, Soria

The Río Duero cuts across central Castilla and some of its loveliest scenery can be found in and around the graceful old town of El Burgo de Osma.

Though its buildings pay homage to the fact that this was once a very grand place – it is home to both a cathedral and a university – El Burgo today is quaint and gorgeous, with little in the way of attractions, but a joy to experience nonetheless.

The town is particularly lovely on summer nights, when locals congregate on the main square to use it as a social club, playground and exercise yard. El Burgo also makes a great base from which to explore the surrounding area, which boasts both a dramatic canyon park and a mighty fortress.

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

4. Zahara de la Sierra, Andalucía

The beautiful southern region of Andalucía is particularly known for its beautiful white towns, and one of the best examples of which can be found at Zahara de la Sierra, reached via a very scenic drive through the countryside from the lovely old town of Ronda.

An obvious landmark for miles around, it is the castle that you notice first, sitting dramatically on top of a stark rocky outcrop; below which huddle bright white houses (with their equally picturesque red-tiled roofs).

5. Cadaqués, Girona

It’s easy to shun the idea of the Costa Brava, with its rather old-fashioned image of sun-and-sea holidays, but the region is home to some very pretty beaches, and with a bit of knowledge it’s not too hard to find more interesting towns and quieter sands.

The most pleasant place to stay on the northern Costa Brava is undoubtedly the picturesque seaside town of Cadaqués, its narrow, hilly streets filled with bougainvillea-covered houses and with craggy headlands on either side of its still-working fishing port.

The beaches here are small and pebbly, but there’s plenty else to the town to keep you occupied, not least its art galleries and studios – Dalí settling nearby after World War II saw the town attract a rather bohemian artistic community – and smart restaurants.

6. Las Médulas, Castille y León

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the other-worldly landscape of Las Médulas had been ravaged over hundreds – even thousands – of years by the weather, but you’d be wrong. The strange, jagged red rocks here are the result of Roman strip-mining, when five tonnes of gold were taken from the hillsides via canals constructed for the purpose.

Looking more like Arizona than northern Spain, this eerie landscape of red-rock needles and caves is best viewed from the Mirador de Orellán, which offers a spectacular panorama over the area; undoubtedly the best way to experience it is on foot, via the Las Valiñas trail from pretty Las Médulas village.

7. The Costa da Morte, Galicia

Don’t be put off by its name – the “Coast of Death” – this relatively undeveloped region is well worth a visit. Though at times it has a rather desolate beauty, and though it can be as wet and windy as the shipwrecks that litter its seabed suggest, the quiet, beautiful coves, snug fishing villages and mountain slopes make this costa surprisingly enchanting.

This isn’t the place to go for resort facilities – and all the better for it; instead, head for the charming little seaside towns like Malpica de Bergantiños and Laxe, the latter of which offers some of the area’s safest swimming.

For really wonderful scenery, head to Ezaro; here, the mineral-rich rocks of the escarpments are multi-coloured, and appear to glisten underneath countless little waterfalls.

Image by Asier Ríos Molina on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts over seven hundred million people, in excess of 450 World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. Which means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

To celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe, packed with tips and insights for the first-time visitor, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, read on…

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, may travellers see in this city a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Pixabay/CC0

4. Row down the Danube, Hungary

Rowing and kayaking are both possible on the Danube. In Budapest, you can rent boats, kayaks or canoes on Margaret Island or along the Romai River Bank.

5. Sip an espresso in Tirana, Albania

Albania’s colourful capital, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars is better for strolling than sightseeing – but there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

6. Admire Kotor, Montenegro

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, Kotor is Montenegro’s only major tourist spot, with tiled roofs and a clear Venetian tilt to its architecture. Not a sunbathing destination, but there’s plenty to keep you busy.

7. Have a night out in Belgrage, Serbia

Explore the nightlife and café culture of Serbia’s hedonistic, hectic capital – at its best in spring and summer when all ages throng the streets at all hours.

8. See the Northern Lights, Norway

You don’t need to head up to Hammerfest as Bill Bryson did in his book Neither Here Nor There; this celestial show can be viewed across the country (Oct, Feb & March are ideal, the rest of winter is also good).

9. Cycle across the Netherlands

You can easily rent a bike and find your way around Amsterdam, but there’s really no reason to stop there. Dedicated signed trails lead you from town to town.

Pixabay/CC0

10. Get a sense of history in Kraków, Poland

This southern city emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, making it one of UNESCO’s twelve greatest historic cities in the world and an architectural treasure trove. It may look like a history lesson, but the city is very much alive and buzzing.

11. Spend a weekend in Venice, Italy

Venice is sinking (possibly under the weight of all the tourists), and there’s a chance the water may be knee-deep in St Mark’s Square by the time you visit, but to stroll Venice without crowds (off season, or at sunrise) may top your European visual highlights.

12. Go wine tasting in Slovenia

Slovenia has been making wine since the time of the Romans, so it’s not surprising that they figured out how to do it well over the years. There are fourteen distinct wine-growing regions to explore here.

Pixabay/CC0

13. Soak up the sun in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Situated near the southern border with Serbia, this 1300-year-old architectural city gem has been lovingly rebuilt, stone by stone, since the intense shelling in 1991, and is looking better than ever.

14. Discover Mozart’s Salzburg, Austria

This famous border town is not only worth a visit to pay homage to the man, but also has churches so cute you want to pinch them, plus plenty of art, city squares and chocolate galore.

15. See the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Resting majestically atop an enormous citadel in the centre of Granada, the Alhambra is a visual overload. The structure’s Moorish columns and domes and light-reflecting water basins inspire even the weariest traveler.

16. Be wowed by Bruges, Belgium

The most popular tourist attraction in Belgium is this entire town, the best-preserved medieval city in Europe. On some streets you feel as if you’re wandering through a museum’s thirteenth-century installation.

17. Be awed by the Palace of Versailles, France

Louis Quatorze certainly knew how to live. There’s the grand entrance, endless gardens that require an army of pruners, and a hall with more mirrors than a Las Vegas magic act. It’s good to be king.

18. Bathe on the Black Sea Riviera, Bulgaria

Arguably Bulgaria’s greatest asset, the beaches of the Black Sea rightfully fill up during the summer holidays. The best ones can be found northeast of Varna.

19. Stroll Prague’s Staromestske namesti, Czech Republic

You can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve visited Prague, and never seen the Old Town square. This 17,000-square-meter centerpiece is the heart of the city, and has been since the tenth century.

20. Be a big kid at Legoland, Denmark

The little plastic snap-together blocks have got a good deal more sophisticated than they once were, but their simplicity is still their strength, and a visit to their Danish birthplace should cap off any lingering childhood fantasies about an entire Lilliputian Lego city.

21. Wander Tallinn’s old town, Estonia

Often compared to Prague, Estonia’s capital is an up-and-comer on the budget travel scene, as is its burgeoning nightlife. Check out the area round Toompea Hill, where the aristocracy and clergy once lived.

22. Soak in Baden-Baden, Germany

Germany’s most famous spa lies in the heart of the Black Forest. Its famed curative mineral waters bubble up from thermal springs at temperatures over 68°C.

23. Surf Portugal’s Atlantic coast

Portugal’s waves aren’t in the same league as Hawaii’s, but there are enough breakers around the country to keep most beginner and intermediate surfers happy

24. See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, England

A reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse, the Globe Theatre in London is Shakespeare’s backyard. The season runs from April to October.

25. Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Guinness may look like discarded brake fluid, but this thick stout with a scientifically measured head of foam is worshipped like a minor deity. And the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is the high altar.

26. Make a beeline for Bratislava, Slovakia

Low key charm, a museum of wine, and pavement cafés aplenty can all be found in the Old Town centre of Bratislava, Slovakia‘s “little big city“.

27. Visit Bran Castle, Romania

Also known as “Dracula’s Castle”, this popular castle actually has no ties to Vlad Tepeş, the medieval prince associated with the vampire extraordinaire, but none of this seems to deter visitors from coming.

28. Hike Sarek National Park, Sweden

The glaciers, peaks, valleys and lakes of this remote northern park cover 2000 square kilometres. Note that the trails are demanding and best suited for advanced hikers.

29. Ski in Zermatt, Switzerland

This glam skiing and mountaineering resort is tied to the fame of perhaps the most visually stunning Alp: the Matterhorn (4478m).

30. Shop in Helsinki’s Stockmann Department Store, Finland

You can’t miss it in Helsinki: it’s one of Europe’s largest department stores, selling everything you need and even more that you don’t.

Plan more of your first trip to Europe with the Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

We sent Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills to the southernmost tip of the Indian Subcontinent to research Kerala for the upcoming Rough Guide to India. From tea estates in lush green hills to sultry palm-fringed backwaters, plus a host of deserted beaches, she dove beneath the surface and immersed herself in the region’s natural wonders, lavish festivals and heavenly South Indian food.

In this video, Rachel shares tips on the top five things to do in Kerala. Here’s her expert travel advice for your trip to “God’s Own Country”.

Have you ever wanted luck and happiness for an entire year? All you have to do is slip on a fundoshi (a traditional Japanese loincloth), get purified with freezing cold water in the middle of February and join 9000 other Japanese men – with their 18,000 bare cheeks – in fighting over one of two lucky shingi sticks. Piece of cake, right?

On the third Saturday of February each year, in the Japanese city of Saidaiji-naka in Okayama, over nine thousand men, not including spectators, travel to the Saidai-ji Temple for one of Japan’s most eccentric festivals: the ‘Naked Festival’ known as Hadaka Matsuri.

Hadaka Matsuri dates back over five hundred years, when worshippers began competing to receive paper tokens from Shinto priests known as “go-o”, which supposedly gave a whole year of happiness to those lucky enough to win.

Today, competitors are first purified with cold water, then at midnight the lights to the temple are switched off and the priest throws the lucky charms – two 20cm-long sticks – into the crowd from a window above. To win, competitors must catch the stick and thrust it into a box filled with rice – only then, will they receive their blessing of year-long happiness.

This video shows two British tourists tackle this rather chaotic, and in some parts terrifying, celebration:

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month