If you’ve got wheels, wanderlust and a spot of time, start your engines. From the sunny shores of Portugal to the darkest dungeons of Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, the following itineraries can be easily combined, shortened or altered to suit your wayfaring tastes. Here are 10 of the best road trips in Europe.

1. From the glamour and glitz of Paris to the glorious grit of Berlin

Leaving Paris, cruise through the gentle hills of Champagne and Reims to the quaint capital of Luxembourg City, and explore the country’s plethora of fairy-tale castles.

Trier, Germany’s oldest city, is less than an hour’s drive further north-east, where ancient Roman baths and basilicas stand marvellously intact.

Spend a night in the medieval village of Bacharach in Riesling wine country, before wandering the riverside streets of Heidelberg. Onward to Nuremberg, and then to Leipzig for a strong dose of hot caffeine with your Cold War history, classical music and cake.

Detour to Dresden, restored after ruinous bombing in WWII, before ending in one of Europe’s coolest cities: the creative paradise of Berlin.

Alternatively, try starting your engines in London and taking the ferry to France, transforming this road trip into a pilgrimage between Europe’s holy trinity of artistic hubs. 

Best for: Culture vultures looking for bragging rights.
How long: 1–2 weeks.
Insider tip: If you’re driving in France, you’ll legally need to keep safety equipment (a reflective vest and hazard signal). Additionally, keep spare Euros in your wallet to pay the occasional French road toll on the way.

Ausflug nach Luxembourg Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

2. Surf and sun in the Basque and beyond

Begin in Bilbao, where the nearby villages boast some of the world’s best surf, and drive along the Atlantic to San Sebastian: watersports wonderland and foodie heaven. Then venture south through the rugged wilderness of the Pyrenees to Pamplona. Ascend onwards to the Roncesvalles Pass before looping back to the coast. Or continue along the Bay of Biscay to the attractive seaside resort of St-Jean-de-Luz.

Travellers with a little extra money lining their pockets will be happy to spend days lingering on boho beaches in Biarritz, while those looking for gargantuan swell can do no better than the surfer hangouts in Hossegor.

Finish the trip northward in Bordeaux, “the Pearl of the Aquitaine”, where café-strewn boulevards and world-class wines are your trophies at the finish line.

Best for: Sun-seeking surfers and foodies.
How long: 1 week.
Insider tip: Check seasonal surf forecasts before you go, and look into coastal campsites if you’re on a budget. The Basque roads beg a convertible – or better yet, a colourful camper van with surfboards strapped to the roof.

Bordeaux, FranceYann Texier/Flickr

3. The Arctic fjords from Bergen to Trondheim

Kick off in the city of Bergen, on Norway’s southwest coast, and make way past mighty fjords to Voss and the colossal Tvindefossen waterfall. Then check the world’s longest road tunnel off your to-do list, a cavernous 24.5km route under the mountains.

Catch a quick ferry across the Sognefjord and carry on to the Fjaler valleys, a land of glaciers and snowy mountain peaks, to the waterside towns of Stryn or the mountain village Videster.

Work your way northward to the well-touristed towns of Geiranger, down the death-defying hairpin turns of Trollstigen (literally “The Troll Path”).

After the descent, ferry across the Eresfjord to Molde and Kristiansund. For the final stretch, drive the iconic Atlantic Road with its roller-coaster-style bridges, and conclude with some well-deserved downtime upon the still waters and stilted homes of Trondheim.

Best for: Thrill seekers and landscape junkies.
How long:
3–7 days.
Insider tip:
If you plan on road tripping during Norway’s winter months, be sure to check online ahead of time for road closures.

8983387461_471cff8b6c_oHoward Ignatius/Flickr

4. The unexplored east: Bucharest to Vienna

Embark from Bucharest, travelling northward through the Carpathian mountains to Transylvania, and make a mandatory stop at Bran Castle (claimed to be the old stomping grounds of Dracula himself).

Take the Transfagarasan mountain road, one of the most incredibly beautiful routes in the world, towards the age-old cities and countless castles of Sibu, Brasov and Sighisoara. Then set course to the unexplored architectural gems of Timisoara.

Carry on towards the tranquil baths and hip ruin pubs of bustling Budapest, and be prepared to stay at least a few days. Depart for Bratislava – a capital full of surprises – from where it’s only an hour further to the coffeehouses and eclectic architecture of Vienna.

Best for: Anyone looking for a break from the conventional tourism of western Europe.
How long: 7–12 days.
Insider tip: Exercise caution when driving through tunnels. Though the weather outside may be fine, tunnels are often slippery.

8429373280_67a6c3d7fe_oMichael Newman/Flickr

5. To Portugal and beyond

Start in Braga, before driving south to the medieval town of Guimarães, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then it’s onward to the breathtaking “second-city” of Porto, though it’s nothing less than first-rate.

Drive east to the vineyards and steep valleys of Penafiel and Amarante before hitting the coastal road to the vast white beaches of Figueira da Foz. From here it’s on to Peniche, Ericeira and then Lisbon: the country’s vibrant capital that’s on course to beat out Berlin for Europe’s coolest city.

Drive south to Sagres, Arrifana and Carrapateira. After soaking up the sun on the picturesque shores of the Algarve, wrap this road trip up in the Mediterranean dreamland otherwise known as Faro.

But if you’ve still got itchy feet when you reach Faro, take the ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Morocco. Imagine the satisfaction of parking your ride in the desert village of Merzouga, before exploring the Sahara – that’s right, it would feel awesome.

Best for: Beach bums and oenophiles.
How long: At least 10–14 days.
Insider tip: As Portugal is among the more affordable destinations in Western Europe, this can be an especially great trip for travellers on a budget.

14282745865_37f8214526_oChris Ford/Flickr

6. High-altitude adventure on Germany‘s Alpine Road

The Alpenstrasse, or Alpine Road, is your ticket to a bonafide Bavarian odyssey: a safe route through the unforgettable vistas of Germany’s high-altitude meadows, mountains, crystal-clear lakes and cosy village restaurants. Start lakeside at Lindau and head to Oberstaufen if you fancy a therapeutic beauty treatment in the country’s “capital of wellness”.

Venture eastwards to the Breitachklamm gorge, where the river Breitach cuts through verdant cliffs and colossal boulders. Carry on to the town of Füssen – famous for its unparalleled violin makers – stopping along the way at any quaint Alpine villages you please. The iconic Neuschwanstein Castle, the same structure that inspired Walt Disney to build his own version for Cinderella, isn’t far off either.

Hit the slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen if the season’s right. Stop at Benediktbeuern on your way to the medieval town of Bad Tölz, then up through the stunning wilderness scenes of the Chiemgau Alps before ending in the regional capital of Munich. If you’re missing the mountain roads already, carry on to Salzburg and stop in the ice caves of Werfen on the way.

Best for: Outdoorsy types.
How long: 3–8 days.

19728031982_ea351f1379_oHoward Ignatius/Flickr

7. Godly beaches and ancient highways in Greece

Start in Athens and take the coastal roads south through the Athenian Riviera to Sounion, situated at the tip the Attic peninsula. Watch a sunset at the Temple of Posseidon, then drive northward through mythic mountains to the fortress of Kórinthos before posting up in the legendary city of Mycenae (home of Homeric heroes).

If you’re craving a luxurious seaside stay, look no further than the resort town of Náfplio. If not, carry onwards through the unforgiving landscapes to Mystra, the cultural and political capital of Byzantium.

Feet still itching? Then it’s on to Olympia, sporting grounds of the ancients, and the mystic ruins of Delphi. Loop back towards Athens, approaching the city from the north.

Best for: Sun-worshipers, and anyone who’s ever read Homer or watched overly action-packed flicks such as Troy and 300.
How long: 5–10 days, though it’s easy to trim a version of this road trip down to a long weekend.

19338893149_fc29514d3e_kNikos Patsiouris/Flickr

8. London to Edinburgh and the Highlands

Leave the hectic pace of England’s capital behind. Make for Oxford, home of the world’s oldest English-language university, and a place of storied pubs where the likes of J.R.R Tolkien and Lewis Carrol regularly wrote and wet their whistles.

If you’ve got the time, it’s a quick drive to the cottages of the Cotswolds. If not, cruise up to Stratford-Upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare.

Take the two-and-a-half-hour drive north to Manchester for a city fix and watch a football match, then head to the quirky medieval lanes of York, walled-in by the ancient romans nearly 2000 years ago.

Press on to the Lake District National Park. Drink in the scenery that inspired England’s finest romantics, before making your way past tiny villages to the majestic wonders of Edinburgh. If you’re craving the rugged comforts of the highlands go to Stirling, Inverness, or the Western Isles – worth the drive indeed.

Best for: Locals that want to feel like foreigners, and foreigners that want to feel like locals.
How long: 5–10 days.

8663584897_ee256a5ff7_k Andy Smith/Flickr

9. The secret shores of Sicily and Calabria 

Hit the gas in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, the biggest historic centre in Italy after Rome and arguably the country’s most chaotic metropolis.

Adventure onwards along the Tyrrhenian coast to the golden sands of Cefalù – a great holiday spot for families, with a mellow medieval town centre to boot.

Get to the island’s heartland and the ancient city of Enna. Surrounded by cliffs on all sides, and built atop a massive hill, you’ll feel as though you’ve walked on the set of Game of Thrones. Head southeast to the shores of the Ionian Sea and dock in Siracusa, once the most important in the western world while under ancient Greek rule with much of its historic architecture intact.

Then it’s up to Catania for a trip to molten Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano on the entire European continent.

Finish the trip in Messina, or ferry across into the Italian province of Calabria where rustic mountain villages, friendly locals and the idyllic sands of Tropea and Pizzo await – refreshingly void of foreigners.

Best for: Anyone looking for a truly authentic Italian experience, and of course, hardcore foodies. 
How long: 
6–12 days.

Catania and Mt EtnaBob Travis/Flickr

The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget For more information about travelling through Europe, check out The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

Some sights are touristy for a good reason. They’re the ones you go to Europe to check off: a wobbly gondola on the canals of Venice, or a mandatory Eiffel Tower selfie. Europe has countless sights all worth a visit in their own right, but there’s so much more to the continent than cathedrals and beaches – and some of it’s pretty bizarre. So from plastic hammer fights in Portugal, to a night behind bars in an ex-Soviet prison, here are a few things to do in Europe you probably never considered.

1. Sleep with fishes at Sweden’s Utter Inn

In many ways, Sweden‘s Utter Inn is your archetypal Swedish house: its walls are wood-panelled and painted red, there’s a white gabled roof, and the location – propped on a little island in the middle of Lake Malaren – is classic Scandinavia. But things get slightly surreal once you look out of the window of the hotel’s solitary room. A large Baltic salmon glides past, followed by a huge shoal of smelt. These are not your average lakeside views, but then you’re not actually lakeside. The island is actually a tiny pontoon, the red house just the tip of the architectural iceberg: Utter Inn lies 3m below the surface of the lake. A night spent here is literally like living in a goldfish bowl.

2. Play for high stakes at Italy’s Il Palio

Siena’s famous bareback horse race – Il Palio – is a highly charged, death-defying dash around the boundary of the city’s majestic Piazza del Campo.  The race is held twice every summer and takes only ninety seconds. The only rule is that there are no rules: practically anything goes as riders shove each other off their mounts. The course is so treacherous, with its sharp turns and sloping, slippery surfaces that often fewer than half of the participants finish. But in any case it’s only the horse that matters – the beast that crosses the line first (even without its rider) is the winner.

1142445167_f2f2497c15_bspeed by Giorgio Montersino (license)

3. Ponder Armageddon at the Plokštine missile base in Lithuania

It’s not often you’re invited to join a guided tour of a nuclear missile base, especially when you’re in the middle of one of northeastern Europe’s most idyllic areas of unspoilt wilderness. However, this is exactly what’s on offer at Plateliai, the rustic, timber-built village in the centre of western Lithuania’s Zemaitija National Park. It’s perversely appropriate that Soviet military planners chose this spot as the perfect place to hide a rocket base. Closed down in 1978, it’s now eerily empty of any signs that would indicate its previous purpose. Until, that is, you come to one of the silos themselves – a vast, metal-lined cylindrical pit deep enough to accommodate 22m of slender, warhead-tipped rocket. The missile itself was evacuated long ago, but peering into the abyss can still be a heart-stopping experience.

4. Get naked in France’s Cap d’Agde

Of a size and scale befitting a small town, France‘s Cap d’Agde legendary nudist resort has to be one of the world’s most unique places to stay. The resort’s sprawling campsite is generally the domain of what the French call bios: hardy souls who love their body hair as much as they hate their clothes, and are invariably the naked ones in the queue at the post office. But the bios share the Cap with a very different breed, libertines for whom being naked is a fashion statement as much as a philosophy: smooth bodies and intimate piercings are the order of the day – and sex on the beach is not necessarily a cocktail. Come evening, throngs of more adventurous debauchees congregate in the Cap’s bars, restaurants and notoriously wild swingers’ clubs for a night of uninhibited fun and frolicking.

HorizontalHorizontal by Björn Lindell (license)

5. Spend a night at the cells in Latvia’s Liepa–ja prison

Being incarcerated in a foreign country is usually the stuff of holiday nightmares. Unless you want an insight into Latvian history, that is. The former naval prison in Karosta, a Russian-built port that stretches north from the seaside city of Liepāja, is now the venue for an interactive performance/tour that involves such delights as being herded at gunpoint by actors dressed as Soviet prison guards, then interrogated in Russian by KGB officers. Stay the night and things get even harder – you may find yourself mopping the floors before bedding down in one of the bare cells, only to be brutally awoken by an early morning call.

6. Lose your grip on reality in Austria

Pegging yourself as the “Museum of the Future” is, in our ever-changing world, bold. Brash, even. And that’s exactly what the Ars Electronica Centre in Linz is. Dedicated to new technology, and its influence within the realms of art, few museums on Earth have their fingers quite as firmly on the pulse. Come here for the CAVE (Cave Automatic Visual Environment). This room, measuring – cutely enough – 3m cubed, is at the cutting-edge of virtual reality; the simulation uses technology so advanced – 3D projections dance across the walls and along the floor, as you navigate through virtual solar systems and across artificial landscapes – that you feel like you’re part of the installation. 

4012451762_a7e91c2de9_oAEC Linz by Konstantinos Dafalias (license)

7. Play with fire at Spain’s Las Fallas

Catholic Spain traditionally holds fast to old habits, synchronizing Saints’ days with ancient seasonal rites. The most famous – and noisiest – festival of all is Las Fallas: in mid-March the streets of Valencia combust in a riot of flame and firecrackers, ostensibly in celebration of St Joseph.  It’s (barely) controlled pyromania, a festival where the neighbourhood firemen are on overtime and beauty sleep is in short supply. The fallas themselves are huge satirical tableaux peopled by ninots, or allegorical figures – everyone from voluptuous harlots to Vladimir Putin – painstakingly crafted out of wood, wax, papier-mâché andcardboard. They’re exhibited during nightly street parties, before all five hundred of them literally go up in smoke at midnight every March 19.

8. Toboggan without snow in Madeira, Portugal

However you make the 560m climb up to Monte, the hillside town that hangs quietly over Madeira’s capital, Funchal, there’s only one way we recommend getting back down: toboggan. There’s no snow, of course – this is a subtropical paradise. The road becomes your black run as you hurtle towards sea level in a giant wicker basket. At first, progress is slow. Then gravity takes over, powering you to speeds of up to 48 km/hr. When you think you’re going too fast to stop (there aren’t any real brakes here), your wheezing guides will dig their rubber boots into the tarmac – giving you  the first chance to jump out, look down and admire the sparkling blue Atlantic that stretches out before you.

SONY DSCphoto by A m o r e Caterina (license)

9. Get hitched at the Roma Bride Market in Bulgaria

While the setting – a dusty field next to a cattle market, perhaps, or a car park – couldn’t be less glamorous, the atmosphere is anything but dull. Heavily made-up girls, blinged to the nines in seductive sequined dresses and high heels, dance provocatively on car roofs, which themselves have been rigged up with speakers pumping out ear-splitting pop. Meanwhile, leather-clad boys strut and pose, eyeing up potential partners as they go. Each year, the nondescript town of Stara Zagora, some 200km southeast of the capital, Sofia, plays host to one of Europe’s more unorthodox happenings: the Bride Market, which typically attracts a couple of thousand people. Nowadays the event is more of a fair than a marketplace though – the space where the courtship process begins before anything more serious is considered.

10. Join a hammer festival in Portugal

Porto’s Festa de São João is a magnificent display of midsummer madness – one giant street party, where bands of hammer-wielding lunatics roam the town, and every available outdoor space is given over to a full night of eating, drinking and dancing to welcome in the city’s saint’s day. No one seems to know the origin of this tradition of hitting people on the head, but what was customarily a rather harmless pat with a leek has evolved into a somewhat firmer clout with a plastic hammer. Midnight sees the inevitable climax of fireworks, but the night is far from over. The emphasis shifts further west to the beach of Praia dos Ingleses, where youths challenging each other to jump over the largest flames of bonfires lit for São João.

4730104313_cc73a4806e_bphoto by Lachlan Heasman (license)

11. Discover the Human Fish in Slovenia

Postojna‘s vast network of caves, winding 2km through cramped tunnels and otherworldly chambers, is the continent’s largest cave system, adorned with infinite stalactites, and stalagmites so massive they appear like pillars. Despite the smudged signatures etched into the craggy walls that suggest an earlier human presence in the caves – possibly as far back as the thirteenth century – this immense grotto’s most prized asset, and most famous resident, is Proteus anguinus, aka the Human Fish. The enigmatic 25cm-long, pigmentless amphibian has a peculiar snake-like appearance, with two tiny pairs of legs – hence the name – and a flat, pointed fin to propel itself through water. Almost totally blind, and with a lifespan approaching one hundred years, it can also go years without food, though it’s been known to dabble in a spot of cannibalism.

12. Attend the World Alternative Games in Wales

Bathtubbing? Wife-carrying? Combined mountain biking and beer drinking? No one does wacky quite like the Welsh, it seems, at least not like the natives of Llanwrtyd Wells. Each year, a series of bonkers events takes place that belies this small town’s sleepy appearance – indeed, with a population of just over six hundred, it can justifiably claim to be Britain’s smallest town. Conceived in 2012 as an antidote to the Olympic Games in London, it involves more than sixty madcap events. Utterly pointless, all of them, though try telling that to the legions of well-honed finger jousters, gravy wrestlers and backwards runners who descend upon the town in their hundreds (sometimes thousands) in search of fame and glory, of sorts. Perhaps the best thing about all these events is that anyone is free to participate – so what are you waiting for?

Make the most of your time on earthDiscover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.


There’s no denying that life BC, before children, is very different from life after. Setting off on your travels with kids in tow doesn’t have to mean swapping Costa Rica for Center Parcs, you just need to be prepared and, like every good traveller, go with the flow. Here are 16 lessons you’ll learn along the way:

1. The world is your oyster

Let them catch the travel bug early. You can go anywhere and do anything, within reason.

2. They’ll remember the strangest things

Children will recall the funniest details – not the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower but the colour of the bedspread in the B&B where you stayed a single night. However random, cherish this store of mental postcards, scribbling them down in a scrapbook if you can, before they’re long forgotten.

White Horse, Uffington, Oxfordshire, people walking on hilltop

3. Whatever the distance, it’s a long way

However long the journey, however many times you’ve made it, however many times they’ve already been told, your young passengers will never tire of asking “when will we get there?”.

4. Extra time is invaluable

It will feel like your small brood has multiplied and you’re parent to quintuplets when you’re against the clock, trying to rush everyone through check-in and security at record speed. It’s stating the obvious, but get to the airport early.

5. Too much extra time is excruciating

There’s no point boarding early, however momentarily smug it makes you feel, if your seats are booked anyway – most budget airlines allocate seats these days. It just means kids having to sit longer in a confined space, strapped in, which is asking for trouble.

Italy, Lazio, Rome, Northern Rome, Piazza del Popolo, obelisk & central fountain with children playing

6. Kids are a cheap date

Children under 12 have been exempt from UK air passenger duty since May 2015 (and from May 2016 under 16s will be off the hook too) – a small saving on European flights but more significant for long-haul destinations. Even so, having to pay adult rate air fares for over-twos is a bitter pill to swallow. Before that age, the low price of travel is matched by the piddling chances of their remembering much of it, but it’s still worth making the most of those cost-free first two years.

7. They will surprise you at every turn

They’ll defy expectations – sitting still, sleeping soundly and behaving angelically through one flight, only to howl and fidget through the next.

8. You’ll be humbled

Do not judge the family floundering at check-in or struggling on board with the screeching kids. There but for the grace of God… See above.

Kids with games – travelling with children

9. Games are essential

You need more than “I spy” and “ten green bottles” in your games and songs repertoire. Audiobooks are perfect for long car journeys, of course, but other good standbys are singalongs to favourite musicals or classic albums plus edible prizes for the first person to spot a certain vehicle – purple digger or orange VW camper van anyone?

10. You’ll go to bed a lot earlier than usual

Particularly if you’re all bundled into one hotel room, it’s early nights and early starts all round. All the better for making the most of each day – just try not to reminisce about long, lazy mornings and late night cocktails. That was in a different life.

11. You have no shame

Modesty goes out the window and embarrassment thresholds leap sky high. There’s no time to worry about what people might see as you try to struggle into your swimsuit before your toddler eats another handful of sand, or what the locals think as you holler after an errant child in an otherwise perfectly peaceful village square.

South Korea, Seoul, Gwanghwamun Square, children playing in fountains

12. You’ll be able to fake fluency

You’ll nail a few basic child-related phrases – ‘acqua bollente, per favore?’ for bottle-feeders in Italia, ‘il y a one chaise haute?’ before you settle down at a French restaurant table, for example – and repeat them so many times, with such increasing confidence and nonchalance, that you’ll start to feel almost fluent.

13. You should always read the label

You may be tempted to pack a case-load of Ella’s Kitchen pouches to get through a trip with a fussy eater in tow, but no matter how large your bag, you’re always going to need to top up – and of course you and your infant would be sorely missing out if you didn’t. On Italian horsemeat paste baby food, perhaps.

14. The toilet rules all

Your itinerary (not to mention the journey itself) will be governed not by the weather, range and proximity of unmissable sights or accessibility of public transport, but by toilet breaks. Frequent, inconveniently timed, always urgent. You’ll remember the most desperate ones and their scenic locations – a pee from the old city walls in York, for instance.

Kent, Botany Bay, Broadstairs, children building sandcastles

15. Sand will get everywhere

Between their toes and in more painful spots. It will also turn up in kids’ pockets and shoes for days to come, a gritty souvenir. Brush on talc to get rid of sticky wet sand before you slather on the sun cream.

16. You should never leave home without wipes


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

What once began as a marketing ploy for a therapeutic mud found near Boryeong, a small city on South Korea’s sandy west coast, has since transformed into a unique festival that draws millions every year. But this is no spa day.

2673981718_b0f6393f00_oMud Fest 2008 by Hypnotica Studios Infinite (license)

The annual Boryeong Mud Festival is where people come to get dirty. Filthy. Caked from head to toe in wet, grey earth that is – according to Korean research institutions – exceptionally good for your skin.

Try keeping those cosmetic benefits in mind as you speed down inflatable super-slides into mud pools. Challenge others attendees to a wrestling match in the much-famed mud ring, fly high in a slimy bouncy castle, or try some marine-style mud training if you’re feeling tough. All this and more is situated right on Daecheon beach. So if you feel the need, just wash off in the placid Yellow Sea.

2682297238_1c965b8371_oMud Fest 2008 by Hypnotica Studios Infinite (license)

Boryeong Mud Festival runs for ten days, from July 17th–26th, and is open to all ages. The final weekend has proven to be the wildest in the past, kicked off by a Friday night hip-hop rave, but don’t underestimate the party-power of mud on any given day.

6019029510_338787c98a_oMuddy people 2 by Jordi Sanchez Teruel (license)

Whether you’re trying to sort out where wet earth ends and your body begins, or comprehend the paradox that mud is actually cleaning you, this festival is definitely worth the trip. Who’s up for it?

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

You’ve dug a moat, successfully sculpted a mound higher than your knees and managed to drizzle a viscous mixture of sand and salt water over the château spires (for that drippy je ne sais quoi) – then some rogue child bulldozes your beach creation back to oblivion. Well, it was never as good as it could have been, because you didn’t have a professional Sandcastle Butler to help you.

Bespoke Sandcastle Butlers are here to help you build the sandcastle of your dreams.

This is no joke. Oliver’s Travels, a family travel company that prides itself on the quirky, exquisite and extraordinary, is currently training the world’s first fleet of “Beach Butlers” to help families transform loose sand into their wildest dreams.

From securing a premium plot of shoreline, to concocting the perfect water-to-sand ratio, this new breed of VIP concierge will be grand masters in the art of sand-sculpting. No construction is too extreme. They’ll help you brainstorm, draft actual blueprints, find the right spot, and create something with a structural integrity you can be proud of along the beaches of the UKSpainFranceItaly and Greece.

Bespoke Sandcastle Butlers are here to help you build the sandcastle of your dreams.

Of course, this bespoke service does come at a cost. Prices are listed at £500 for a full day, and £300 for a half. Thankfully, Beach Butlers will also be fully trained in childcare before receiving their artisanal qualifications, so you don’t have to worry about them subjecting your youngsters to the same rigorous training that they’re probably undergoing right now.

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

India varies greatly between its 29 states. Yet there are some things you’ll discover no matter where you are or how long you stay in the vast Subcontinent. If you’ve been to India at least once, you’ll relate to a few of these lessons we’ve learned over the years…

1. The street food is incredible

For 50 cents you can fill up on any number of delectable dishes, from masala dosa (rice pancake with chutney and daal) to pav bhaji (veg curry in a soft bread roll), to simple snacks like samosas and chana chaat (spicy chickpeas). You’ll never tire of what’s on offer. If you miss out on street food, you’re missing half the fun of coming here.

2. People will go out of their way to help you

This is true anywhere in the world, but is especially evident in India. Sure, some of the people you meet will be trying to pull a fast one, but others will go unexpectedly far out of their way to help you. Total strangers will share their meals with you on a train, give you their seat and make sure you get off at the right stop, or show you all the way to the front door of your tucked-away guest house. Go with your gut, and be prepared to get it wrong – everyone does at some point.

3. Chai is a blessing

Thick, milky, spicy and sweet, the ubiquitous chai (Indian tea) is usually served in a small cup for about 10 cents. It’s reviving, comforting and delicious. You’ll find it on trains, in bus stations and on street corners – they don’t make it this good anywhere else on Earth.

Meenakshi temple, Tamil Nadu, India, Asia

4. The temples are beautiful (and a great place to cool off)

Religion permeates the very core of Indian life, and as such the country is home to some of the world’s most spectacular and awe-inspiring temples. Whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian or Jain, places of worship are a great place to cool off and gain some tranquillity. Often placed at the top of hills with magnificent views, the buildings range from humble shrines to palatial marble structures with glittering spires and swirling fairy-tale-like towers.

5. You can bargain for most things

…but don’t quibble over 10 rupees. Whether it’s for a room, a trek, a rickshaw ride or yet another pair of Ali Baba pants, keep it jovial. Walking away usually brings the price down, and it’s a good idea to know what you’re willing to pay for something before you start haggling.

6. There’s always a celebration

The Hindu calendar is jam-packed with festivals. Getting involved in the major ones such as the colourful paint-throwing revelries of Holi is a great way to immerse yourself in Indian culture. However, there’s no need to fret if you miss the big hitters, as smaller local festivals take place all the time in communities throughout the country. When you hear loud drumming, be sure to follow that sound – you’ll likely discover a parade of fantastically decorated elephants and people dressed up as mythical creatures and deities.

Cochin parade, festival in India, Asia

7. Cows have right of way

Seeing cows merrily wandering anywhere they please can take some getting used to. Stopping traffic in the street, lying casually on the beach, nosing their way into people’s front doors… they are all over the place. Fortunately, Indian cows aren’t fussy eaters – most of the time they’re munching on anything they can find, from food waste to paper bags.

8. You will get asked awkward questions. Constantly.

What is your salary? How many girl/boyfriends have you had? Are you married? Why don’t you have any children? What is your father’s salary? What is your religion? Such questions are perfectly normal in polite conversation among strangers in India, and asking them does not appear negatively intrusive, as it would at home. It’s not worth getting offended – you’ll soon tire yourself out with the effort. All the same, you may want to invent a few white lies to make life easier.

9. Personal space is subjective

Joining another long queue? Prepare to be continually pushed from all angles and uncomfortably squashed between the people behind and in front of you. Standing on a train? Don’t even think about being able to move your limbs or work out an exit route. You’re going to know what your neighbours ate for breakfast, and nobody is going to give two hoots that everyone’s all up in your grill. Personal space is a luxury most Indians can’t afford.

Busy station, Churchgate, Mumbai, India, Asia

10. You are going to be a curiosity

Walking around in anonymity and gaining a fly-on-the-wall experience in India is simple never going to happen. Everywhere you go people greet you, stare intently at you, chat to you and even take photos of and with you. Travellers are intriguing and endlessly entertaining to many of the local people. You may as well enjoy the attention while it lasts.

11. Bum hoses are the bomb

You will probably scorn it at first, thinking Western toilet habits superior. But you’ll come around soon enough. Using a jet of water that shoots out of a hose means you don’t have to worry if you forgot to bring toilet paper, you don’t have to go anywhere near the disgusting overflowing waste bin, you’re saving the trees and you come away feeling much cleaner… if a little damp. Bum hoses win, hands down.

12. You are probably going to get sick

Even those who only eat in the classiest restaurants and don’t let a drop of tap water ever come near their toothbrush still often get sick. Taking probiotics can help strengthen your weak foreign stomach, but you should still always be prepared for the worst, and check in to somewhere decent when it happens.

elephants in Kerala, India

13. The Indian head wobble is an essential skill

Somewhere between a nod and a shake of the head lies the Indian head wobble, a side-to-side tilting that means “yes”, “I get it”, or acts as a sign of acknowledgement and encouragement. You’ll definitely look silly trying it, but you’ll always get a positive response.

14. Everything takes ages

Want to post a parcel but didn’t bring two passport photos, three copies of your passport, seventeen copies of your visa and numerous identical forms filled out with a heinous amount of unnecessary information? And you didn’t leave three hours to spare? The British brought some good things to India; bureaucracy was not one of them.

15. Expect the unexpected

India is one of the most bizarre, crazy, hectic, magical and sensational places on earth. You literally never know what’s going to happen next, but it’s one of the most exciting places to travel. Find out where you should start your adventure in India.

Explore India with the Rough Guide to IndiaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Having visited Rome no less than four times, Monica Woods decided it was time to see it with a fresh pair of eyes: those of her four-year-old son. Here she discovers what Rome has to offer for a family holiday.

Early spring in the eternal city. A weekend escape, a chance to get reacquainted with bella Roma. The Trevi Fountain, Campo de’Fiori, potent espressos, gelato galore, paper-thin pizza – all the usual must-sees and dos, but not the usual companion by my side.

This time, I’ve got my four-year-old son in tow – it’s a getaway for just the two of us, an altogether different kind of mini-break.

Italy, Rome, Piazza Navona, fountain

Looming ruins, huge cobbled piazzas, narrow winding streets, cascading fountains – Rome stops you in your tracks whether you’re a first-time visitor or back for the umpteenth time. But on this occasion there was something special about slowing down, shifting expectations and sharing a child’s wide-eyed view.

No doubt it helped that we’d been ploughing through an abridged Roman Myths in the weeks before, surreptitiously priming William for this surprise trip. He couldn’t wait to see Romulus and Remus, St Peter’s and the Colosseum and, more unexpectedly, the Tiber (to decide whether it was a match for the Thames, it turned out).

On the fountain trail

The Trevi Fountain might have been undergoing restoration – a €2.5 million project funded by Fendi ­– with clear plastic barriers surrounding the famous façade and access restricted, but of course the hordes were still out and William didn’t know any different. He wasn’t even deterred by the stand-in fountain, more of a puddle than a pool, erected so that you can still toss in a coin and wish you’ll return one day (preferably when the scaffolding is down).

That became the first stop on an inadvertent fountain trail – Rome has no shortage, featuring everything from fish to turtles, frogs to gods, and the fact they flow with drinking water makes them even more appealing to thirsty sightseers. The chance to fill our water bottles, sip and splash, plus count up loose change and skim over the basics of currency exchange (sort of) before lobbing coins in, kept us both happy.

From the Fontane delle Tartarughe to Bernini’s Quattro Fiumi, a fountain-based itinerary works well as a leisurely way to take in the city with kids – who could resist the drama of the sculpture above and the treasure twinkling in the watery depths below?

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi fountain, Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy

Testing the city’s transport

Another hands-down hit was a circuit on an open-top bus. Perfect when energy levels started to flag mid-afternoon it meant we could sit back, cool down and take in some of the big sights, including the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus and the Vatican.

To top it all, as we approached Piazza Venezia and the gleaming hulk of Il Vittoriano, pondering which of its many nicknames, from the wedding cake to the typewriter, was most apt, a hundred rainbow-coloured Fiat 500s zoomed past, tooting away. What more could any transport-loving bambino ask for?

Embracing, even sometimes subverting, the clichés of a Roman holiday seemed to be the order of the day. Aboard the top deck of the sightseeing bus and awaiting departure, we got a pleasant whiff of orange blossom and spotted the ripe fruit within reach in the treetops – not something mentioned in the audio-guide.

A photo op with a bored-looking gladiator was shunned in favour of a good mooch around, including half an hour spent deliberating over Vespa-based fridge magnets at the kind of stall I’d normally march right past.

Yellow Fiat 500 parked in street, Rome, Italy

Gorging on gravity-defying gelato

Tucking into a gravity-defying double scoop of blackberry and lemon gelato, on the other hand, was a plain and simple pleasure, an Italian essential – although I was surprised that William managed to polish off the lot.

There was still space for dinner, of course. We descended on Piazza Navona – not the place for hidden culinary gems or hole-in-the-wall local favourites maybe, but pretty good for fountains and people-watching and perfect for a runaround on the cobbles in between courses.

The night sky was lit up by what looked like UFOs – little plastic LED toys, flogged for a couple of euros, fluttering down like sycamore helicopters and entrancing all the kids nearby. A beguiling modern spectacle set against an ancient backdrop.

Pantheon at night, Rome, Italy

But then Rome has a habit of effortlessly conjuring up memorable scenes: en route to dinner we had raced past the Pantheon and, through the grille above the enormous closed doors, glimpsed the great hole in the centre of the dome and a disc of starry twilit sky beyond.

However magical, a jam-packed weekend away can somehow still entail an awful lot of hanging around, at hotel check-in desks, in restaurants, at the airport – enough to test the patience of weary travellers of any age, and certainly make me hanker for the comparative ease of the Eurostar to Paris.

Don’t underestimate the allure of flying (or of snacks) for kids though. A new series of children’s books by Captain Rob Johnson, a BA pilot-turned-author and father of two, doesn’t make that mistake, with plenty of detail about flying a plane as well as an introduction to a different European city with each title. Something to pack on your next mini-break.

British Airways offers flights to Rome from £39 each way from both Gatwick and Heathrow. Pilot Ollie’s Amazing Adventures: Rome and Pilot Polly’s Amazing Adventures: Madrid by Captain Rob Johnson are available now. Explore more of the Italian capital with the Rough Guide to Rome

About two hours east of Los Angeles awaits a landscape so starkly foreign, it’s like landing on another planet. The 3000-square-kilometre Joshua Tree National Park sits at the meeting of two deserts, the Colorado to the east and the Mojave to the west, and those two ecosystems are home to a wide array of curious animals and unusual plants.

Tarantulas and spiny cacti aside, it’s likely the park’s giant rocks that will take your breath away first. Ponderously large boulders crop up from the arid landscape and ask to be explored, climbed, and picnicked beneath by visitors of all ages. Winding paved roads take visitors past these rock piles, the result of long-ago volcanic activity that pushed molten monzogranite up through the earth’s layers. A process of cooling, cracking, chemical weathering, and soil erosion produced the awe-inspiring formations seen today.

Top Park Sites

The beauty of a national park like Joshua Tree is in the unfettered exploration, so pull over and scout wherever the landscape strikes as long as it’s safe to park. You’ll encounter the namesake Joshua trees on the western half, and the craggy-limbed yucca with its spikey evergreen leaves makes for poignant photo-ops.

Keys view, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Apart from the trees, there are several park highlights, including Keys View at an elevation of over 1500 metres. To reach the summit, take a 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard to be rewarded with a 365-degree view that includes the Salton Sea, Santa Rosa Mountains, San Andreas Fault, and Coachella Valley.

Of all the park’s rock formations, Skull Rock is the crowd-pleaser for its towering granite rock that has eroded to resemble a human skull. On temperate weekends, the warren of rocks, crevices, and tiny trails around the formation will be crawling with park visitors trying to get a leg up on nature.

For an easy but interesting hike for all ages, take the two-kilometre Barker Dam trail, which was built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining. Due to the drought, there’s not much water, but the hike still offers ample time for lizard and bird spotting (be on the lookout for hummingbirds and the cactus wren).

Joshua Tree National Park, USA

For yet another otherworldly experience, head to the Cholla Cactus Garden nestled between the two deserts. The short, spikey, furry-looking cacti (nicknamed “teddy bear” cholla) spread as far as the eye can see, and there’s a quarter-mile trail that loops you through them.

Where to eat and drink

Most of the best places to eat and drink in Joshua Tree are clustered on Twentynine Palms Highway near Sunset Road. For a casual sit-down meal, the charmingly eclectic Crossroads Café is the epitome of a small-town café. It’s open seven days a week for breakfast (until 2pm), lunch, and dinner and is as friendly to carnivores (try the corned beef hash or the BLT) as it is to vegans (soy-rizo hash, seitan tacos).

Across the street is Pie for the People, a counter-service pizza joint with tables inside and out on a shaded back patio. While you can get your pie plain, it’s best to get into the shop’s funky spirit and order something like the David Bowie, a pizza topped with mozzarella, bacon, roasted pineapple, jalapeños, and caramelized onions that’s surprisingly good. Connected to the patio is the Joshua Tree Coffee Company, which roasts its own beans, and sells them alongside cold-brew and pour-over coffee and espresso drinks.

sunset in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Where to Stay

For those who want to experience the magic of Joshua Tree by moonlight, camping is the answer. There are nine campgrounds at the park. Only two have water and flushing toilets (Black Rock and Cottonwood), and none have showers. Reservations up to six months in advance are available at Black Rock and Indian Cove, October through May, while the rest are first-come, first-served. Visitors without reservations arriving on Friday or Saturday will likely not find an open spot.

The towns of Joshua Tree and 29 Palms are dotted with local motels and national chain hotels. The Best Western Gardens Hotel at Joshua Tree National Park has suites available with a separate bedroom and kitchenettes, as well as a pool. 29 Palms Inn on 70 acres next to the park books up fast, and room options include a 1930s adobe bungalow and a 1920s wood frame cabin. There’s an on-site pool and a restaurant that makes take-away picnic lunches.

Park Blvd in Joshua Tree National Park 6, USA, California, Joshua Tree National Park, motorcyclists passing the Cholla Garden

Explore the surrounding area

Squeeze in a Hollywood sideshow at Pioneertown, a 30-minute drive from the town of Joshua Tree. The replica 1880s Old West town was built in 1946 as a place to film Westerns, among them The Cisco Kid and Annie Oakley. Don’t be surprised if you run into Wild West reenactments on Mane Street on weekend afternoons. For entertainment in Pioneertown, head to Pappy & Harriet’s, a famous all-ages honky-tonk with live music, pool tables, and a steakhouse-style menu.

To experience the quirkier side of the area, make a reservation in nearby Landers for a private or group sound bath at the Integratron, a self-described “resonant tabernacle and energy machine sited on a powerful geomagnetic vortex in the magical Mojave Desert.” And don’t let the sun set without checking out the World Famous Crochet Museum, created by artist Shari Elf. The lime-green ode to everything crochet is behind the Art Queen sign on Twentynine Palms Highway in Joshua Tree.

Need to know
The harsh landscape mimics the weather, which can be brutally hot June through September, while dipping into the 30s (Fahrenheit) at night December through February. Bringing plenty of water, dressing in layers, and liberally applying sunscreen are all musts. As well, be sure to stop by one of the park’s three visitor centers – Joshua Tree Visitor Center and Oasis Visitor Center on the north side and Cottonwood Visitor Center on the south – to check out exhibits, attend ranger-guided programs, and get park maps. Kids can grab a Junior Ranger booklet; upon completion, youngsters get sworn in as rangers and receive a badge. Admission for non-commercial vehicles is $15 for a 7-day pass or $30 for an annual pass.

Explore more of the USA with the Rough Guide to the USA.  Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Combloux, France

A dip in the ecological lake at Combloux, with Mont Blanc in sight, is about as far away from school swimming lessons as you can get. No whiff of chlorine here – aquatic plants keep the water crystal clear and pure, and the natural temperature can reach 26°C. After a hike through alpine pastures and mountain forests, nothing could be better.

Combloux, France

New Forest, England

Challenge your little ones to perfect their den-making skills in the New Forest (but reserve a campsite pitch or bijou B&B as back-up). England’s smallest national park has something for everyone, with 3000 resident ponies, a deer sanctuary and countless walking and cycling, not to mention horse-riding, tracks – plus welcoming pubs a-plenty and the dubious delights of Peppa Pig World close by.

New Forest, England

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has it all, and much of it can be soaked up for free: wandering through the Gothic Quarter, lazing around the city beaches, marvelling at modernist architecture and practising for that imminent GCSE Spanish at La Boqueria food market. All this means you might have saved enough Euros for a family ticket to Camp Nou (for the stadium and museum tour at least, if not an actual game).

Barcelona, Spain

Festival fever, Scotland

Rock up at a summer festival before your baby can crawl (read, get into mischief) or eat solids (turn their nose up at the festival menu), and you’re laughing. That said, each year sees more family-friendly festivals added to the calendar, with everything from puppet shows to hula hooping to keep kids entertained, and many don’t charge for under-twelves. A small festival in beautiful surroundings, like Doune the Rabbit Hole in Stirling, is just the ticket.

Festival fever, Scotland

Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

Take to the Wild Atlantic Way (on four wheels or two, or secure the roof rack and use both) and experience the drama of Ireland’s west coast. The surfers, if not the Fairy Bridge, at Bundoran will leave the kids awestruck, while the rugged north Donegal coast and Achill Island’s Blue Flag beaches will win over the whole family.

Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

Isla de la Graciosa, Canary Islands

Escaping the winter gloom doesn’t have to mean following the crowds. A minuscule Canary Island, Isla de la Graciosa is a short boat ride from Lanzarote, but feels much further away. No cars clog up the sandy tracks here, there are only a handful of shops and restaurants around the main harbour, Caleto del Sebo, and the landscape beyond is stark and striking, a reminder of the islands’ volcanic origins, and ripe for exploration on foot or mountain bike.

Isla de la Graciosa, Canary Islands

Berlin, Germany

City breaks can be exhausting at the best of times, but with kids in tow it’s guaranteed – unless you pick a super-kid-friendly city and adjust your pace, that is. Try Berlin. Rent an apartment in Prenzlauer Berg and enjoy rifling through the Mauerpark flea market, strolls across Kollwitzplatz, cycling along the river Spree and hanging out in cafés like Goodies which go out of their way to welcome families – no disapproving looks or lack of high chairs here.

Berlin, Germany

Rhossili, Wales

The many steps down to breathtaking Rhossili Bay make take little legs a while, but the descent is worth it: a three-mile mile curve of golden sand, blessed with the fabled Gower microclimate and a destination for surfers, sandcastle-makers and sun-worshippers alike. If you can bag a stay at the National Trust’s Old Rectory right in the middle of the bay, you could be lucky enough to be waking up to this sensational view.

Rhossili, Wales

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Most treks around Chiang Mai will be more than suitable for older kids or teenagers. Memories of the adrenaline rush of a bamboo raft trip through (relatively gentle) river rapids, with monkeys calling in the lush forest on either side, are sure to stick with them for years to come. Travel in the cool season and your trip may coincide with January’s National Children’s Day.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dalmatia, Croatia

Camping is deservedly popular in Croatia, especially on the coast, but head inland and you won’t feel like quite such a sardine. Pitch up in Krka National Park and get close to the torrents of the River Krka, as it cascades towards the Adriatic Sea, and closer still to all sorts of butterflies, beasts and birds.

Dalmatia, Croatia

Lyme Regis, England

Lyme Regis is perfect bucket and spade holiday territory but it’s also got rainy days covered. What Dinoursaurland Fossil Museum lacks in state-of-the-art interactive displays, it makes up for in the enthusiasm of its palaeontologist founder and the ever-growing collection, including many sea-dwelling ichthyosaurs, whose fossilised remains are a famous feature of this stretch of the Jurassic coast.

Lyme Regis, England

Olhão, Portugal

Not such an obvious Algarve base, but stay in bustling Olhão and you have the choice of two unspoilt islands on which to while away your days. The glorious beaches of sandbank islands Armona and Culatra being a short boat ride away only adds to the sense of anticipation and discovery – and the further along the coastlines you wander, the more deserted they become.

Olhão, Portugal

Vermont, USA

Make green-living Burlington your base for exploring Vermont. Scoot, Segway or cycle round Lake Champlain, take a cruise – little ones can look out for Champy, the Loch Ness monster equivalent – or simply relax on one of the lakeside swing seats. The nearby Shelburne Museum could keep families entertained for days, with an impressive collection ranging from a 4000-piece model circus to the steamboat Ticonderoga. Round off your trip on a sweet note at the local Ben & Jerry’s factory.

Vermont, USA

Normandy, France

Slow down in rural Normandy, enjoying the picture-perfect forests, orchards and meadows, and filling your picnic basket with delicious local apples, cheese and perhaps a sneaky flask of cider for the grown-ups. One way to work up an appetite is aboard the vélorail, riding a special four-person contraption along a disused railway line from Pont-Erambourg, south of Caen. Kids will relish the novel form of transport, and the fact that they sit back while parents pedal!

Normandy, France

Dalyan, Turkey

A fun boat-taxi ride from riverside Dalyan, İztuzu beach is famous for its nesting loggerhead turtles – tread carefully (between May and October) and deliver a real-life lesson in the challenges of balancing ecology with tourism. On a less serious note, Dalyan is also handy for some pampering or mess-making – whichever way you look at it, a visit to the sulphur mud baths is a must.

Dalyan, Turkey

Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada

Let the kids be your guides on one of several trails around the rolling expanse of Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Younger children will love looking out for the blue arrows marking the way, not to mention chipmunks and beavers; intrepid teenagers might be more tempted to explore by kayak, reaching parts of the park otherwise inaccessible.

Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada

Kent, England

Create your own Canterbury Tales with a holiday in Kent – with England’s oldest cathedral and a Norman castle, not to mention a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Canterbury is a firm family favourite. And with the history lessons ticked off you can head to Herne Bay for fish ‘n’ chips, or to Diggerland, for construction-machinery-based fun, with a clear conscience.

Kent, England

Lake Iseo, Italy

Experience the famously warm welcome Italians grant to bambini in the breathtaking surroundings of Lake Iseo, less overwhelmed by visitors than its neighbours Como and Garda. You can explore the shore by road or (on the eastern shore) rail, or hop on and off the regular ferries. Monte Isola, Europe’s largest lake island, is a unique stop – no cars are allowed here so discover its winding roads on two wheels, cooling off with a plunge or paddle when needs be.

Lake Iseo, Italy

Asturias, Spain

This region of northern Spain may not get the guaranteed sunshine of the Med resorts, but a spot of rain grants it a lushness – and a name, the Costa Verde – that the south lacks. On a sunny day, beaches like Torimbia can’t be beaten, and, should shelter be required, there are appealing harbour towns like Ribadesella and the astounding prehistoric caves near Puente Viesgo to explore.

Asturias, Spain

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

If bracing family walks are your thing, try stretching your legs in northwest Slovenia. Surrounded by the majestic Julian Alps, Lake Bohinj has an otherworldly calm. Walking trails lead you round the 4km lake circumference or on various routes up into the mountains, where your efforts are rewarded with magnificent views. Alternatively, you can opt to canoe across the tranquil water instead.

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Tasmania has shaken off its reputation as a sleepy backwater. Australia’s smallest state is buzzing with art, nurturing an exciting foodie scene and cutting the ribbon on new hiking trails – all against a backdrop of rich history and remarkable wildlife. Here, Anita Isalska gives ten reasons why you should give in to the island’s lure. 

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

A ferry ride up the peaceful Derwent River doesn’t seem like the obvious start to explore your dark side. But in the subterranean galleries of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art you’ll find some of the most confronting creations in Australia. Passion, death and decay are explored in unflinching detail in this controversial museum in the northern suburbs of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Test your limits with maggot ridden installations, X-rated sculptures and obese automobiles, all from the private collections of arty eccentric David Walsh.

Australia, Tasmania, view of Hobart from Mount Wellington

2. To raft the Franklin River

Quicken your pulse in Tasmania’s wild west on a white water rafting adventure. In this glacier carved terrain, thick with Huon pine forests, experienced guides will navigate you down the frothing Franklin River. You’ll stop to cook on open fires and pitch a tent under the stars. There’s nothing like being part of a crew paddling a raft through the Franklin’s thunderous rapids to instil a lasting respect for Tasmania’s formidable wilderness.

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

Tas’ most famous critter is most often experienced through its nocturnal scream. But Tasmanian devils can be seen up close at sanctuaries across the state, like Bonorong. Don’t be fooled by their puppy-like appearance and lolloping gait. Time your visit for feeding time and you’ll see these marsupials screech, squabble and chomp straight through wallaby bones. On a more serious note, make sure you spare some time to learn about the devastating facial tumour disease threatening these Tassie natives.

Tasmanian devil sign

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

Mainland Aussies flock to the annual Taste Festival in Hobart. But you can undertake a year-round gastronomic extravaganza on Bruny Island, an easy day-trip by ferry from Hobart. Start by slurping fresh oysters at Get Shucked, before perusing the unctuous delights of Bruny Island Cheese Company. You’ll want a bottle or two to accompany those garlic-marinated, vine leaf-wrapped delights, so stop for pinot noir at Bruny Island Premium Wines. Finish off with jams and ice creams at the berry farm.

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

The silhouette of Cradle Mountain, reflected in mirror-clear Dove Lake, is one of Tasmania’s greatest natural icons. Lace up your hiking boots in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and discover Pencil Pine Falls or the neck-craning Ballroom Forest. Some are easy wooden walking trails that spiral around picnic spots like Wombat Pool; others vertiginous hikes that require experience. For hardened adventurers, there’s the six-day Overland Track.

Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain. Tasmania. Australia. : Stock Photo View similar imagesMore from this photographerDownload comp Caption:Dawn reflections on calm fresh water lake. Mist over mountain peak. Dove Lake. Cradle Mountians. Tasmania. Australia. Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain. Tasmania. Australia.

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

One of Australia’s most hotly-tipped new attractions for 2015 is the Three Capes Track. Due to open in November 2015, this 82km coastal trail promises a touch of luxury for bushwalkers. Instead of stooping under the weight of your camping gear, you’ll be able to bed down in furnished huts at three different spots along the track and make use of on-site cooking facilities. That leaves more time to focus on what’s really important: jaw-dislocatingly good views of Australia’s tallest sea cliffs.

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

Each night at dusk, a parade of little penguins pops out of the waters of Bicheno Bay and waddles ashore to their burrows. A guided walk is the best way to admire these dainty seabirds without disturbing them. They’ll hop between your legs, preen their inky black coats and jab their beaks at toes (don’t wear open-toed shoes).

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

Stomach-plummeting views await at Cataract Gorge, just 15 minutes’ drive from Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Tiptoe over the suspension bridge or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of forested hillsides from the longest single-span chairlift in the southern hemisphere. Picnic spots are scattered around the gorge’s First Basin (and stalked by curious peacocks), ideal for you to soak up some rays and the tranquil atmosphere.

Australia, Tasmania, Launceston, Cataract Gorge,

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

Two centuries ago, a ticket to Australia was a terrible fate. The most harrowing final destination was Tasmania’s Port Arthur, one of Australia’s 11 penal colony sites. Port Arthur was thought inescapable: only a narrow band of land, Eaglehawk Neck, connected it to the rest of the island, and this was fiercely guarded by dogs. Today, Port Arthur has been conserved as an open-air museum. You can explore the former prison wings and convict-built chapel, board a boat to the lonely graveyards on Isle of the Dead and linger for a ghost tour if you dare.

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

There’s an unforgettable reward for taking a steep forested trail on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. At the Wineglass Bay overlook, you’ll see a perfect arc of sand glowing against the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea. Cool off from all that bushwalking with a dip or kayaking trip, or simply gaze out over the dusky pink granite boulders dappled with lichen, one of Tasmania’s most surreally beautiful sights.

Explore more of Tasmania with the Rough Guide to Australia or our Tasmania Snapshot. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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