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.

coffee 1

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.

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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.

taipei street 3

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.

inside pon ding 1

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

If you’re travelling to Sydney next week, you’re in for a treat – the city is going to literally light up your life.

From May 27, Sydney will become a city of light in the annual Vivid Sydney light festival. The largest of its kind in the world, there are set to be over 80 light installations by 141 artists from around the world.

Attractions all over the city, from the famous Opera House to entire streets, will be illuminated with artistic and colourful designs for the 23-night festival. There’ll be an underwater light forest in Walsh Bay, UV lights strung up along Kendall Lane and a series of talks from influential creators, including filmmaker Spike Jonze, House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, and Orange is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan.

If these images of last year’s festival are anything to go by, it’s going to be stunning.

Vivid Sydney 2015

VIVID 2015Credit: Destination NSW

Photo Credit - James Horan/Destination NSWCredit: James Horan/Destination NSW

Dawes Point, Vivid Sydney, AustraliaCredit: Destination NSW

 James Horan/Destination NSWCredit: James Horan/Destination NSW

Vivid Sydney 2015, Intercellular, Sydney University. 25/5/2015.Credit: James Horan/Destination NSW

Vivid Sydney 2015_Arclight_Campbells Cove_Credit - DestinationNSW_ KM4659Credit: Destination NSW

Sydney Harbour Aerial – Vivid SydneyCredit: Destination NSW

VIVID 2015Credit: Destination NSW

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

Every year, Hindus around the world celebrate Holi Festival: the festival of colours. The event attracts many non-Hindus to take part, too, with hundreds of people gathering to throw coloured powder at one another – a tradition supposedly started by Krishna as a young boy when he used to throw paint over the gopis (milkmaids).

The result, of course, is a total, rainbow-coloured mess and makes for some striking photographs. Here are a few of the best photos from Holi Festival 2016.

Holi celebration in Jaipur Holi celebration in Jaipur

Holi Festival 2016, IndiaImage by Abhijit Kar Gupta on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

INDIA-RELIGION-FESTIVAL-HOLI 23 Mar 2016, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Bengal --- Bangladeshi students throw coloured powder during Holi celebrations at the Fine Arts Institute of Dhakeshwari on March 23, 2016. The Holi festival is celebrated to mark the onset of spring, with people from all walks of life coming out on the streets and applying coloured powder to anyone and everyone upon the advent of spring. (Photo by Sony Ramany/NurPhoto) --- Image by © Sony Ramany/NurPhoto/Corbis

Holi Festival of colours, IndiaImage by Abhijit Kar Gupta on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Holi festival in Bangladesh INDIA-VRINDAVAN-HOLI-STREET CELEBRATION

Holi Festival 2016Image by Abhijit Kar Gupta on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

rough guide india coverWhether you’re hurtling along in a rickshaw, eating fantastic curries, kicking back on the backwaters or hiking in the mountains, backpacking India will always be an adventure.

But you’ll need your wits about you, and preparation is key – here are our top tips to making your journey as smooth as possible.

1. Eat where the locals eat

Restaurant meals are often dampened down for tourists. If you want an authentic curry, follow the locals and find the busy places; empty restaurants are often quiet for a reason.

2. Swot up on trainspotting

Using the extensive Indian train network is an excellent way to get around this huge country. Trains book up fast and the booking system – as with many processes in India – can be highly convoluted.

The train information website The Man in Seat 61 has a comprehensive breakdown of the complex process. If you’re getting a sleeper train, try to book the upper or side-upper berths, for more privacy and security, and give sleeper class a go at least once.

While a/c is more comfortable, the tinted windows mean you won’t see nearly as much scenery, nor will you have such an interesting and diverse mix of fellow passengers.

Train in India, AsiaHelen Abramson

3. Agree a price before you do anything

When taking a rickshaw or taxi (if it has no meter), hiring a guide, staying in a hotel or going on a tour, always check what you’re expected to pay first – and, in many cases, haggle for it. If a restaurant menu has no prices on it, check how much your food will cost before ordering.

When buying a product in a shop, check the item for its MRP (Maximum Recommended Price), which should be printed on it in small letters.

4. Purify your water

Tap water in India should be avoided. However, think about how many plastic bottles you’d get through buying mineral water over a fortnight, and then imagine eight million foreign tourists doing the same thing every year. That’s a lot of plastic. A greener option is to purify your own – there’s an increasingly effective range purifying filters which destroy even the tiniest bacteria and viruses.

The most advanced systems, such as the Water-to-Go bottle filters, turn the stuff of murky brown lakes into crystal clear, fresh-tasting water. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in many restaurants in India, reversed osmosis (RO) water is available – it’s free, environmentally friendly and completely safe to drink.

Temple in Madurai, IndiaHelen Abramson

5. Bring your own toilet roll

Indians use their left hand and a jug of water or a hose instead of toilet paper. Aside from in the most upmarket or touristic destinations, you shouldn’t expect toilets to have paper, and the toilet itself may be just a hole in the ground. Although getting used to using the hose is no bad thing, it’s a good idea to carry toilet paper – and hand sanitizer – around with you.

6. Be respectful

This is a country with a rich cultural heritage and strong, deep-rooted religious traditions. Your experience of travelling through India’s rich and mysterious landscapes will be much more positive if you remain mindful of local social etiquette.

Women should always cover their shoulders and wear loose fitting clothing that comes below the knee. In Muslim areas, midriffs should be covered.

Eat with your right hand (the left is for toilets), don’t point the soles of your feet at anyone, take your shoes off before entering a temple and avoid public displays of affection.

Taj Mahal, IndiaPixabay/CC0

7. An apple a day won’t keep the doctor away

Fruit and vegetables may be washed in untreated water; eat peeled fruit such as bananas and mangoes, and avoid raw veg.

8. Find the festivals

From huge national holidays to tiny village festivals, there’s always a cultural or religious celebration of some kind going on somewhere in India, often incorporating music, dance and striking costumes. If you can fit a festival into your stay, you won’t regret it.

As Hindus make up 80 percent of the population, most of the festivals are based around Hindu gods and stories, such as colourful Holi Festival, but there are dozens of others too. Try the camel fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan, every November, or the Buddhist Hemis Festival in Ladakh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

11402684_10101611479381198_3406237572446824808_nHelen Abramson

9. Stay safe

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on you, and protect your valuables in crowded places such as train stations. Take a mobile phone and get an Indian SIM card so you can make a call in an emergency.

Women especially should dress conservatively and never wander alone in the dark or plan to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. If you feel you’re being hassled, be confident rather than polite, and call loudly for help.

10. Try the street food

Sampling street food is a key part of a trip to India. Mumbai has an especially appealing range, with cheap treats such as pani puri (crispy deep-fried bread filled with tamarind, chilli and potato), bhel puri (sev, puffed rice, chopped onion, potato and chutney), vada pav (soft roll stuffed with deep-fried potato) and much more.

Make sure you can see the food being prepared in front of you and the ingredients look fresh.

Street food, IndiaPixabay/CC0

11. Take earplugs

Earplugs are a basic essential to ensure a good night’s sleep on trains and buses, or in thinly walled beach huts and noisy hotels.

Women carrying water IndiaHelen Abramson

12. Get off the beaten track

Foreign travellers tend to hit roughly the same destinations and routes in India. Branching out from these areas allows visitors to experience a side of this country that hasn’t been affected by the massive tourist industry, and thus gives a more genuine insight into Indian life.

13. Go with the flow

India can be a challenging place to travel. You’ll enjoy it to its fullest if you’re open to new experiences and can accept that strange and unpredictable things will happen every day. Patience is vital, and a sense of humour will go a long way. And if you’re invited to a wedding, accept!

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.

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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London is celebrated for many things. And rightly so; it’s up there with the most progressive, creative and historic cities in the world. But here at Rough Guides the thing we love most about London is its marvellous eccentricities.

rough guide london coverWhile editing the latest Rough Guide to London, Greg Dickinson took note of some of the barmiest goings-ons in the city.

From the overstuffed Horniman walrus, to a lamp fuelled by Savoy sewers, to a hipster clown funeral in Dalston, these are a few of his highlights.

This philosopher didn’t want to miss meetings after he died

One of the founders of UCL (University College London), philosopher Jeremy Bentham bequeathed his fully clothed skeleton so that he could be posthumously present at board meetings of the University College Hospital governors, where he was duly recorded as “present, but not voting”.

Bentham’s Auto-Icon, topped by a wax head and wide-brimmed hat, is in “thinking and writing” pose as the philosopher requested, and can be seen in a hermetically sealed mahogany booth.

You can attend a clown’s funeral in Dalston…

Iconic nineteenth-century clown Joseph Grimaldi’s annual remembrance service, held at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston, has become a cult event among hipsters and circus performers alike.

Clowns shoes

Clowns shoes by Barney Moss via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

… and if you jump over his grave, a song will play

His actual grave is set back behind respectful railings at Joseph Grimaldi Park, just off Pentonville Road, but a modern memorial nearby allows a more irreverent homage. Two bronze casket shapes set into the ground, one dedicated to Grimaldi and the other Charles Dibdin, who employed him at Sadler’s Wells, lie side by side.

Against all instincts, just take the leap and dance on Grimaldi’s “grave” – the pressure of your footsteps sets off his trademark tune Hot Codlins. Less Rest in Peace than Rest in Play, it’s a fitting, and poignant, celebration of one of the world’s wisest fools.

This 90s American artist created his own Victorian home

Just to the north of Old Spitalfields Market, you can visit one of the area’s characteristic eighteenth-century terraced houses at 18 Folgate St, where the eccentric American artist Dennis Severs lived until 1999.

Eschewing all modern conveniences, Severs lived under candlelight, decorating his house as it would have been two hundred years ago. The public were invited to share in the experience, which he described as like “passing through a frame into a painting”.

Today, visitors are free to explore the candle-lit rooms, with the conceit that the resident Huguenot family has literally just popped out: during these “Silent Night” explorations, you’ll experience the smell of food, lots of clutter and the sound of horses’ hooves on the cobbled street outside.

Dennis Severs House

Denis Servers’ house by Matt Brown via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0) – modified

Brad Pitt takes on a whole new meaning in Cockney

Cockney rhyming slang is London’s very own eccentric coded language, where a word is replaced by two or more words, the last one of which rhymes with the original. For example, instead of the word “stairs” you have “apples and pears”; a piano (pronounced “pianner”) is a “Joanna”; and pinch becomes “half-inch”.

Rhyming slang is constantly evolving, too, with public figures providing rich pickings: Brad Pitt (shit), Posh & Becks (specs) and Gordon Brown (clown).

There’s a massive, overstuffed walrus at the Horniman Museum…

Pride of place in the Horniman’s gallery of curiosities goes to the splendid overstuffed Horniman Walrus (who even has his own Twitter account). The taxidermist didn’t know he was supposed to have wrinkles, so stuffed him to capacity.

Horniman Walrus

Horniman Walrus by Bex Walton via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0) – modified

There are dinosaurs that look nothing like dinosaurs in Crystal Palace

Competing with the Horniman Walrus for best-loved Victorian curiosity in south London, the dinosaurs of Crystal Palace may look like extras from a 1970s sci-fi film, but they have an illustrious place in the history of the public understanding of paleontology.

Created by animal sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins in 1854, he consulted the experts of the day, in particular Richard Owen who had coined the term “dinosaur” in 1842. Though most are wildly inaccurate according to our current understanding of dinosaur anatomy, at the time it was an ambitious project to show to the public the latest scientific discoveries.

Only… when Hawkins didn’t know how they looked – or if the scientists disagreed – he had to be a little “creative”.

Great Britain, London, Crystal Palace Park, Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (or Dinosaur Court), sculptures

There’s a place where you can stand on a box and be heard

For over 150 years, Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park has been one of London’s most popular spots for political demos. In 1872 the government licensed free assembly at Speakers’ Corner, a peculiarly English Sunday-morning tradition that continues to this day, featuring a motley assortment of ranters and hecklers.

This family at Eltham Palace adored their pet lemur so much…

… that they gave him its own bedroom.

The ring-tailed lemur, called Mah-Jongg and alive during the 1920s and 1930s, was also notorious for biting disliked male visitors. Such was his owners’ devotion to him that Mah-Jongg crops up in numerous artworks displayed in Eltham Palace, such as the mural by Mary Adshead in the billiard room in the basement, which is set out as it would have been during the Blitz, when the family, staff and visitors sheltered there.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace by DncnH via Flickr (CC-BY 2.0)

There’s a ‘wind-powered’ lamp near the Savoy

Don’t miss London’s last remaining Patent Sewer Ventilating Lamp, halfway down Carting Lane and historically powered by methane collected in a U-bend in the sewers below. The original lamp, erected in the 1880s, was replaced by this replica after being damaged in a traffic accident.

And some trivia for you Rough Guides fans out there – the building behind the lamp at 80 Strand is Rough Guides HQ!

rough guide london cover Explore more of London with the Rough Guide to LondonCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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, Naked Man Festival

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:

It’s safe to say, most people’s preconceptions of Hull aren’t brilliant. In the past it has been named Britain’s worst city and the least romantic place in the UK. But Kingston upon Hull, to use its proper name, has come into its own in recent years.

Designated the UK City of Culture for 2017, Hull is finally showcasing to the world what a vibrant and intriguing place it really is. With exhibitions and celebrations all over the city this year, culminating in the September Freedom Festival, there’s plenty to interest every visitor. But even without all these special events, it remains a brilliant weekend away.

Here are just a few reasons to love this misunderstood city.

1. Its historical charm will surprise you

You might expect to see industrial factories and high-rise concrete blocks throughout Hull, but while much of the city was flattened by bombing during the blitz, some of its oldest streets remain.

Head to the Old Town, where cobbled roads are lined with charming old houses and visit the 700-year-old Holy Trinity Church for some typically British Gothic architecture.

The Victorian indoor marketplace and shopping arcade also evokes a past age; there are a handful of vendors still inside selling fresh fish and coffee, and the shops range from electronics to a quirky old joke store.

Hull Victorian shopping arcade, Yorkshire, EnglandShopping arcade by Lottie Gross

2. It’s full of cosy drinking holes

There’s nothing better than, after a long day of exploring, settling into a comfortable corner with a good old pint of English ale. Fortunately, there is plenty of opportunity for this in Hull.

Try the Lion & Key whose walls and ceiling are colourfully covered in beer mats, the Minerva, which is steeped in maritime history, and Ye Olde Black Boy, whose facade was painted pink for the Freedom Festival to signify that “colour doesn’t matter”, for local ales and snug seating.

The seventeenth century George Hotel has a lovely, wood-panelled bar, and just outside you can find what’s purported to be the smallest window in the world.

Need something to soak up that hangover? Look out for patties on any pub, restaurant or take-away menu. These deliciously deep-fried discs of mashed potato seasoned with sage are the perfect cure to the morning after your historic pub crawl. Try a pattie butty – yes, that’s two slices of bread with a pattie in the middle – if you need a carb overload. For something a little more upmarket, but equally comforting, try 1884 Dock Street Kitchen’s Sunday roasts.

3. There are brilliant museums – and they’re free

From street life and art to geology and archaeology, Hull’s free museums cover it all. There’s something for all ages, whether it’s climbing atop old trams and trains, or delving into the city’s maritime history.

Head to The Hull and East Riding Museum to travel through time: you’ll walk through a reconstructed iron age village, explore Roman bathhouses and see ancient Viking artefacts.

One of the city’s more poignant exhibitions is Wilberforce House, once the home of William Wilberforce who helped abolish slavery in the nineteenth-century British Empire. His pretty Georgian house in Hull’s Old Town High Street is now a museum about slavery, with films and interactive displays, as well as the work of Wilberforce himself.

If you’re looking for something a bit more hands on, hop aboard the Arctic Corsair (located behind the Streetlife Museum) for a guided tour of the city’s last remaining sidewinder fishing trawler – one of the most important vessels in the city’s deep sea fishing fleet.

Hull Street Life Museum, YorkshireThe Streetlife Museum by Lottie Gross

4. It’s played home to some of Britain’s greatest figures

Poet Philip Larkin is one of Hull’s most famous exports, but there’s a whole host of big names that have grown up or settled in Hull. William Wilberforce – the man who helped abolish slavery in the UK – lived in Hull and his old home, a creaky, red-brick house, is now a museum dedicated to the fight against slavery.

There’s an entire book, titled The Famous Side of Hull, published by locals listing all the celebrities from the area, and even a hall of fame in Spin It Records inside the market building.

Statue of William Wilberforce, at Wilberforce House, Hull, YorkshireWilberforce House by Lottie Gross

5. The city knows how to throw a party

The Freedom Festival is the highlight of the Hull calendar – a long weekend of performance arts, installations, street food and some seriously impressive fireworks.

The festival name hails from the link between William Wilberforce and Hull, but – according to the festival website – it’s as much about freedom of the people as it is about “exploring local, national and international representations of freedom, independence of spirit and creative expression.”

20150905_183622-01The Deep and the Humber by Lottie Gross

6. It’s going to be City of Culture 2017

We’ve long championed Hull as a travel destination – but in 2017 the city will be given a real change to shine as the UK’s Capital of Culture.

There’ll be something to see or do every day of 2017, and millions of pounds of investment flowing into the city.

7. It’s not that unromantic after all

We challenge anyone to stand in the tip of The Deep, watch the sun turn the sky a fiery orange as it sets over the Humber, and not feel even just a little wooed.

A photo posted by Lottie Gross (@lortusfleur) on


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

Record numbers of visitors have been racing to get to Cuba ‘before it changes forever’ since President Obama’s historic announcement in December 2014 that diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba were to be restored.

Since then the relationship has continued to warm, but there has been more speculation than tangible change as a result – though significant developments have included the re-opening of embassies in both countries, Airbnb’s entry into the Cuban market and a broader, more flexible set of rules governing US visitors to Cuba. Whilst US visitor numbers are up they still accounted for little more than 150,000 of the more than 3.3 million international arrivals in 2015.

Though change has been in the air for some time now – much of it the result of new domestic policies – the really transformative changes may well take place in the coming year.

2 cuban men playing music in havana street

This might well be a truly momentous year for Cuba – and though fears that McRice and Beans will soon be appearing on menus around Havana may be unfounded panic, the Cuban Government unlikely to embrace capitalist changes to that extent in the foreseeable future, by the end of 2016 Cuba really could look quite different to how it looked at the start.

Here are a few new and exciting things happening in Cuba this year.

1. The capital’s dining scene will continue to break new ground

Cuba, but more precisely and strikingly Havana, is rapidly shaking off its out-of-date reputation for bad food. Its increasing kudos in foodie circles is sure to take another step forward this year when internationally-renowned chefs Massimo Bottura, Enrique Olvera and Andoni Luis Aduriz open a restaurant in the Cuban capital. Said to be called ‘Pasta, Tapas y Tacos’, after the national cuisines of their respective homelands. With a new restaurant opening seemingly every week and a swathe of exciting openings last year, this year could see Havana break free from that old reputation once and for all.

2. Ritmo Cuba salsa festival

Dance schools have popped up all over the island since the laws governing private enterprise in Cuba were relaxed five years ago. The most ambitious project to have emerged from this new wave of businesses is Ritmo Cuba, an international salsa festival to take place from 18–24 April 2016.

Drawing on the expertise of a whole host of Cuba’s most renowned dance teachers, the festival is a packed week of workshops, dance classes and shows, guided tours and dance parties suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced salseros.

Cuba, Camaguey, Camaguey Province, City view looking towards Iglesia De Nuestra Se–ora De La Soledad

3. New tours and operators

The current ceaseless demand for travel to Cuba has seen new organised tours popping up left, right and centre, many offered by US agents who can provide itineraries that meet one or more of the twelve criteria set out by the US Government for any of its citizens travelling to Cuba.

Among the newest of these so called ‘people-to-people’ tours is insightCuba’s four-night Weekend in Santiago de Cuba Tour, with an emphasis on music and the history of the Cuban Revolution, launching in January and already selling out fast.

Central Holidays’ ten-day, themed Afro Cubanismo tour, visits Havana, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba, and Coda International Tours’ introduce what they bill as “the only all-gay trip to ‘Unexplored Cuba’”.

Luxury travel agent Abercrombie & Kent is amongst the operators visiting Cuba for the first time this year whilst at the other end of the scale, Cuban-based Havana Supertours add the Mob Tour to their original and diverse set of day trips around the capital, tracing the history of the Mafia in pre-revolutionary Havana with transportation, as with their other tours, in a classic 1950s American car.

4. Gran Teatro reopens

The Gran Teatro, one of Havana’s most magnificently ornate buildings, home to the Cuban National Ballet, reopens to the public on January 3 after several years of closure. Now known as the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso, this cathedral of dance has been meticulously restored and is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in Habana Vieja. See it at night when its shining regal exterior, which has been cleaned so thoroughly you’d think it had only just been built, is now captivatingly lit and the new jewel in the Parque Central crown sparkles above you.

Gran Teatro, Great Theatre, and Capitolio building, Havana, Cuba

5. Cruise liner companies launch Cuba itineraries

Cruise ships have been a rare sight in Cuban harbours over the last five decades but in 2016 they are set to become a regular feature in the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Cyprus-based Celestyal Cruises have been sailing their 1200-passenger Celestyal Crystal on seven-day circuits around the island since last December, whilst Italian-owned MSC Cruises has become the first major cruise ship company to use Cuba as a starting point for cruises, operating from the Cuban capital until 12 April this year.

The world’s largest cruise line, Carnival, an American company, will join in in Spring 2016 when it commences sailing to Cuba for the first time – though technically, according to US law, the ship’s passengers will not be permitted to sunbathe on the beach as this does not qualify as an activity which supports the Cuban people.

6. Manana music festival

Manana 2016 is the first ever international electronic music festival on Cuban soil, taking place in May (4–6) in Santiago de Cuba. The brainchild of Londoners Harry Follett, Jenner del Vecchio and Cuban musical artist Alain Garcia Artola, the festival will feature an unprecedented mixture of mostly UK, US and Cuban-based musical talent.

There will be boundary-breaking collaborations between Cuban musicians of various musical genres and foreign electronic artists. Among the confirmed performers are British-born electronic and Latin music DJ and producer Quantic, UK dubstep pioneer Mala, and Cuban rumba innovators Obba Tuke.

Cuba, Cienfuegos province, Cienfuegos, Punta Gorda, landing stage of the Yacht Club (Club nautico)

7. New ferries and flights from US

Cuba and the US might have seemed like a world apart for most Americans over the last fifty years or so but there has been just 90 miles between them the whole time. For travellers from the US it should become startlingly apparent over the next twelve months just how close Cuba is, with three-hour ferry services from Florida to Havana likely towards the end of the year, and scheduled commercial flights for the first time in over half a century due even sooner.

Catching a direct flight between the US and Cuba currently means booking a relatively expensive and often complicated charter flight, but, after an agreement reached between the two countries in December last year, American Airlines, JetBlue and United Airlines are set to be amongst the carriers ready to operate a total of more than twelve flights daily from the US to Cuban airports.

8. Rock legends in concert

Listening to Western pop and rock stars in the first couple of decades after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 was considered anti-revolutionary and became an underground activity. So whilst there have been occasional performances from left-leaning rock groups like the Manic Street Preachers and Audioslave over the last twenty years, there is a greater significance, in some respects, to the performances said and set to take place in 2016 by Sting, Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones.

Puerto Rican singer Olga Tanon concert in Havana

9. Hay Literary Festival comes to Cuba

It’s a long way from South Wales to Cuba and the cultural gap is perhaps even wider, but the organisers of the Hay Festival are planning to demonstrate again this year that good literature bridges divides.

Having already launched in Spain, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, the literary festival comes to Cuba on January 25 and 26. Attendees will include Jon Lee Anderson, American reporter who wrote the definitive English-language biography of Che Guevara, esteemed Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel and English novelist Hanif Kureishi. Cuban writers at the event will include Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, author of Dirty Havana Trilogy, one of the most internationally successful Cuban novels of the last twenty years, alongside Antón Arrufat, Mirta Yáñez, Reynaldo González, Marilyn Bobes, Dazra Novak and Rafael Grillo.

10. New luxury at Hotel Manzana de Gomez

They can’t build hotels quick enough to meet the rising demand for visitor accommodation and a slew of new hotels around the island is due in the next year. The highest profile of these is the Hotel Manzana de Gomez on Havana’s increasingly splendid Parque Central, right in the epicentre of the changing capital and due to open in late 2016.

When it does open, this grandiose five-floor, 246-room neoclassical landmark, occupying an entire block and with a rooftop pool, will be one of the largest in the old city and transform the eastern side of the square, bringing back to life an imposing edifice which stood largely derelict and decrepit for much of the last decade and whose alluring street-level commercial galleries, cutting diagonally through the building’s belly, will provide some new public spaces too.

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

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