Street food in Taiwan has a charm that restaurants just can’t match. There’s a distinct pleasure to be found in wandering through the labyrinthine stalls glowing with colourful signage; watching your food made to order; inhaling the changing aromas at each stage of preparation – it’s as if the sights, sounds and spirit of the island become yet another ingredient in each dish’s recipe.

Here’s a quick introduction to roadside feasting in China‘s autonomous isle, one of the world’s most delectable foodie hubs. From candied fruit on a skewer to stinky tofu that tastes sort of like blue cheese, here are 10 Taiwanese street foods you absolutely must try.

Italy has long been one of Europe’s most popular destinations. From the magnificent remnants of ancient Rome to the coolest in contemporary culture, secret beaches to snow-covered peaks, tranquil countryside to frenetic city streets, plus an all-pervasive passion for food – the allure of this boot-shaped nation has proven itself timeless.

With so much diversity, deciding where to go in Italy can be simply overwhelming. This one minute video guide will help you plan your trip.

Remember, even in the country’s most touristed destinations, you need only detour down a small city backstreet, or stop briefly in a nameless village, to discover the Italy of legend – an Italy that seems yours, and yours alone.

Travel, no matter how well researched, is a leap into the unknown, and so is parenthood. Although travelling with babies and toddlers seems daunting (it’s not really, here are some of our top tips), there are many rewarding reasons to explore the world with young kids.

Here are ten reasons why, when you’ve got young kids, it’s the best time to travel the world.

1. Seeing the world from their perspective is like seeing everything for the first time again

Travelling with kids means parents often have to try to make sense of the world for their little ones. When you’re in a situation where everything is new to them, it will undoubtedly force you to see things in a new and exciting way, too, so you can help them understand their foreign surroundings.

2. It’s a chance to take advantage of your natural hiatus

If you’ve always wanted to get off life’s treadmill and travel, having a baby is the perfect time to do it.

It’s a recognized life transition period which comes with maternity, paternity, and parental leave in many countries. Employers expect you to be gone, so use the time off work to travel.

Pixabay / CC0

3. It helps you avoid the rut of routine

Once you’ve mastered the first overwhelming round of sleeping and eating routines, you might feel reluctant to shake things up by travelling. But baby and toddler needs shift constantly, whether you stay put or hit the road, so don’t be discouraged.

If you’re brave enough to start travelling with your children as babies and toddlers, you’re more likely to keep adventuring and avoid the rut of routine.

4. You have to pack to go to the shops, so why not go somewhere better?

Small children require an arsenal of supplies: nappies, wipes, balms, creams, swaddles, hats, buggies, carriers, and more. You need to pack a nappy or changing bag every time you leave the house anyway, so why not travel somewhere exhilarating?

5. You break free from parenting trends – and it feels good

There’s a lot of pressure on parents to do things right – whatever that means. Parenting guidelines, however, seem to be trend-based, and fluctuate with the latest bestselling books.

Travel allows you break free from the tyranny of parenting literature and explore how other cultures do it. It provides an opportunity to glean global parenting wisdom in a far more interesting environment.

Pixabay / CC0

6. You fast-track family bonding

Both travel and young children add the element of unpredictability to daily existence. When you embrace both at once, the highs, lows, and problem-solving in between will inevitably lead to learning more about one another. Stuck together on a trip, you have to learn how react as a team – something that’ll be handy when you later have to tackle the teenage years.

7. It helps you all become more adaptable

A child’s adaptability is likely to be a nature and nurture thing. Traveling enables parents and young kids to practice flexibility.

This doesn’t mean skipping naptime everyday or tossing all structure out of the window, but different environments, cuisines and the demands of transportation and accommodation schedules will force you and your kids to compromise and try new things.

8. You embrace minimalism – less stuff means more living

Parenting young children comes with an overload of stuff. Some of it, such as buggies and baby carriers, is necessity. But there comes a time when the heaps of toys, nursery decor and baby accessories become oppressive.

Travelling can help new parents get a grasp on the essentials in life; you’ll have to travel relatively light and therefore life is stripped back a little. This leaves room for the basic pleasures in life, like embracing the great outdoors.

Pixabay / CC0

9. It’s ed-venturous, as well as adventurous

Small children learn tons from the freedom of play and the experience of exploration, which sit at the heart of travelling. You’ll learn more about your family unit as you travel, and the world itself.

10. It doesn’t have to come at any extra cost

You don’t have to pay big bucks for flights until the kids are at least two, and many cultural attractions, from galleries and museums to parks and monuments, are free for young kids around the world.

Featured image Pixabay / CC0. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. 

It’s easy to be daunted by the endless choices on offer when planning a trip with kids. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of family vacation ideas that will get everyone – even jaded teenagers – excited.

For adventure: India

In the spirit of the latest The Jungle Book movie, take the kids on a tiger safari in India’s national parks. Two of the best tiger reserves are in Tadoba and Kanha national parks in central India – the latter in Madhya Pradesh which was the inspiration for Kipling’s classic story. There’s also the sprawling Satpura National Park in the same region, where you can pile into 4x4s for game drives and spot other wildlife lurking in the lush landscapes.

For seaside fun: Britain

Ignore the jokes about the changeable British weather and head for the beach for your next family vacation. For such a small island, Britain has an astonishingly varied coastline – from the rocky coves indenting Cornwall’s Atlantic side to the long sandy beaches of Rhossili bay in Wales and Cape Wrath at Scotland’s northwestern tip. Get into the old-fashioned seaside spirit in Blackpool or Scarborough, or check out the cool chic of Brighton and its exotic Royal Pavilion.

For activities: Costa Rica

Cloud forests, jungles, volcanoes and tumbling waterfalls – the natural beauty of Costa Rica is inexhaustible, and even better appreciated when you’re in the thick of it. Strap the family into zip wires for an unforgettable ride above Monteverde’s cloud forest, and hold on tight for a white-water rafting adventure in the jungles of Arenal. For a gentle comedown, take a leisurely boat cruise through the green waterways and lagoons of Tortuguero National Park.

For exotic culture: Morocco

Choose your transport – camels, 4x4s, mules or your own two feet – for guided treks through the Atlas Mountains surrounding Marrakesh. Along the way, you get to stay in Berber villages to unplug yourself (and the gadget-glued kids) and discover a completely different way of life. After a family vacation spent riding the sand dunes or biking along dusty trails, finish in relaxing style on the beach at Essaouira.

For history: Rome

People of all ages can’t help but wonder at the ancient marvels that are casually strewn all over Rome. The Forum and the Colosseum are the big-hitters, of course, but there’s also the miracle that’s the Pantheon, which has been standing in Piazza della Rotonda since AD125 despite all that history has thrown at it. Children who are fans of Roman history will get a thrill from wandering through the ancient ruins of Ostia Antica. They’re only about 30 minutes from Rome and attract only a fraction of the tourists you’ll find in Italy’s capital.

For a road trip: America’s West

Start in Los Angeles – maybe squeeze in a visit to Universal Studios or Disneyland while you’re there – before hitting the road. Get a taste of the desert while driving through Joshua Tree National Park before crossing the border into the dusty red landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico. The area around Tucson, Santa Fe and Albuquerque is rich in colonial Spanish history and Native American culture, including the terracotta-coloured Unesco World Heritage Site of Taos Pueblo. At this point it’s very tempting to continue north towards the Grand Canyon.

For food: Vietnam

Stick a plate of noodles in front of children and most of them would be happy. Go a step further and let them discover how to cook it themselves in the bewitching surroundings of Hoi An, preferably in one of the cooking schools that’s in a scenic riverside spot. The kids will be whipping up a classic Vietnamese pho in no time after spending the morning scouring the local markets for fresh ingredients for their lunch. Hoi An is street-food heaven, with stalls mingling influences from both the north and south of the country.

For wildlife: Kangaroo Island, Australia

More than a third of this peaceful South Australia island is covered in national parks where you can get comfortably close to wildlife – that means lounging with the sea lions on the beach and feeding the kangaroos in the aptly named Kangaroo Island National Park. There are also wallabies and koalas too, of course – not to mention possums, bandicoots and other native creatures. You’ll spot another exotic species in any of the five surf bays too, as the long sandy beaches and waves attract surfers from all over the world.

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0. 

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

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

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

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

It’s not just appearance that makes up the beauty of a place. Often, travellers will cite the people as the most beautiful thing about a country or culture. In Southeast Asia, there’s no doubt there is beauty in every form – and now our readers have voted to decide which countries are the most beautiful. Here are Southeast Asia’s most beautiful countries ranked by our readers.

7. Thailand

An ever-popular backpacking destination, we’re surprised to see Thailand at the bottom of this list. That’s not to say it’s not beautiful, though. With brochure-worthy beaches in almost every bay and some luscious mountain landscapes, there’s plenty to wow travellers in Thailand. And, of course, the people are indeed beautiful – they were even voted some of the friendliest in the world by our readers.

Pixabay / CC0 

6. Laos

This little nation sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam sits in a similar position here. Laos has no coastline to woo travellers seeking pristine beaches, but instead there are some picturesque waterfalls perfect for swimming beneath, plus one of Southeast Asia’s most charming little towns: Luang Prabang.

Pixabay / CC0

5. Vietnam

If the karst rock formations of Ha Long Bay, jutting out of a cerulean sea, aren’t enough to inspire awe, then perhaps the tiered terraces of Sa Pa might just make your heart beat faster. There’s a lot more to Vietnam’s beauty though, including the evocative ruins of Mỹ Sơn and a string of pretty little beaches along its coastline. Not forgetting one of the world’s greatest rivers, the Mekong, and its lush delta in the south of the country.

Pixabay / CC0

4. The Philippines

An archipelago of more than seven thousand islands, The Philippines earns its place as the fourth most beautiful country in Southeast Asia. The island of Palawan is one of the most picturesque spots, with azure waterways flowing between vast rocky cliffs that drop sheer to the water. For some otherworldly beauty, head to the “Chocolate Hills” on Bohol, an undulating landscape of 40-metre-high grassy mounds.

Pixabay / CC0

3. Cambodia

Voted the world’s friendliest country by our readers, it’s no wonder Cambodia takes a top spot in this list too. No-one could deny that, despite the crowds, sunrise at Angkor Wat is a stunning sight. But Cambodia’s beauty extends beyond ruined temple complexes and into brilliant beaches and fascinating floating communities.

2. Myanmar

Tourism in Myanmar has boomed since the NLD lifted its tourism boycott, and for good reason. The country has plenty of travel eye-candy on offer, whether you want to watch the fishermen on Inle Lake, see the sunrise over the thousands of temples in Bagan, or just slowly meander down the Irrawaddy and meet the smiling locals as you go. A deserving destination for second most beautiful in Southeast Asia.

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1. Indonesia

It’s Indonesia that’s captured the hearts and minds of our readers, taking the number one spot for most beautiful place in Southeast Asia. Its astonishing array of natural wonders would make even the most jaded traveller’s jaw drop: beyond the stunning beaches scattered across these 17,000 islands, there are pretty waterfalls, dense jungles and towering volcanoes.

Pixabay / CC0

Explore more of Southeast Asia 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. Featured image Pixabay / CC0. 

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

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

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

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

1. Take a walk in the woods

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

2. Spend an afternoon at a petting zoo

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

3. Take a canal trip

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

Pixabay / CC0

4. Get some fresh air in Vondelpark

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

5. See a puppet show

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

6. Enter the Amsterdam Dungeon

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

7. Go to the zoo

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

8. Take a history lesson

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

9. Learn about Judaism

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

10. Visit Madame Tussaud’s

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

11. Hire a canal bike

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

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

12. Hit the playground

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

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

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.

Japan has long captivated the imaginations of travellers around the globe, seeming to both baffle and beguile all who venture there.

Between language barriers and Japan’s rather deceiving size (roughly stretching the length of Miami to Montreal) it’s all too easy to miss out on Japan’s best spots during the trip planning process. From countryside almost mystic in its tranquility to the addictive buzz of urban life, there’s a lot to pack into a single itinerary.

Let this video serve as a starting point – a one minute guide on which to base your Japanese odyssey. Whether you decide on the seaside or the mountains, big city backstreets or rustic villages, one thing’s for sure: you’re bound to discover a culture like no other.

Plato said every dog has the soul of a philosopher. While that statement is disputable, the wave-riding canines at the Noosa Festival of Surfing are proof that some dogs, at least, have the soul of a surfer.

Thousands gathered at Queensland Australia’s Noosa Beach this week to watch The Dog Spectacular, the world’s only surfing event where dog and master compete as a team. The doggies lead the way down the beach, leaping with all paws onto the surfboards as soon they were set in the ocean ­– ready to catch a wave.

As pairs of all breeds and ages paddled out together; it was clear that this was not some adrenaline-fuelled competition but an exercise in pure, surf-loving fun.

“It’s a wonderful experience for dog and human,” said Festival Co-Founder Paul Jarratt. “It’s not really about winning or losing; it’s a celebration of all the good things we love about surfing, the ocean and environment that we are privileged to have in Noosa. I think that’s why we attract surfers and their families from all over the world, we’ve got 20 countries represented this year.”

Check out some of the images below for highlights. Special mentions to the dog in sunglasses who rode waves all on his own.

The festival will continue on until the 12th of March, and is a must for anyone planning a trip to Queensland’s aptly named Sunshine Coast.

Because it's Friday, and who doesn't want to see dogs surfing in Australia? http://bit.ly/1QLagU

Posted by Rough Guides on Friday, 11 March 2016

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