As the largest city in Québec province, there’s plenty to do in Montréal. Fill up on complimentary samples at the Jean-Talon food market and then take advantage of the city’s huge variety of free cultural and outdoor activities, from festivals to art exhibits to tango. Here’s our roundup of the best free things to do in Montréal:

Head to one of the free festivals

In many cities, festivals are a special occasion; in Montréal, they’re a way of life. And, the bonus is that most of Montréal’s festivals feature free shows and performances, from stand-up comedy at Juste pour Rire to cool cats jamming on stage at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal to the blazing lights of the International Fireworks Competition.

Learn to tango

It may take two to tango, but in Montréal it also takes no money. The perennially popular Tango Libre offers free introductory classes, in various parks in the summer and in the studio in winter. Parc Jean-Drapeau also occasionally hosts free ballroom dancing lessons.

Fill up your belly and your bags at a market

Munch on stinky wedges of Québécois cheese, olives, warm bread rolls and other local samples at Jean-Talon Market and Atwater Market.

Go back to school and study the arts

Stroll through a Neoclassical stone gate to enter McGill, Montréal’s most prestigious university, which abounds with free arts and culture. The Musée Redpath showcases a top-notch anthropological collection of Egyptian mummies and coffins, dinosaur bones and marine vertebrates, as well as ancient musical instruments. Also, the campus is peppered with sculptures, most notably Raymond Mason’s The Illuminated Crowd, portraying a mass of larger-than-life people – generally faced by an equally large crowd of tourists. You can often catch free performances at McGill’s Schulich School of Music.

Partake in an art crawl

The art itself may be pricey – but to view it? Free. Numerous art museums and galleries offer free admission, including Canada’s oldest museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, with the country’s most impressive Canadian art collection. On Wednesday nights, entry is free at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada’s first museum devoted to contemporary art.

Step into Canadian and Québécois past

Delve into Canadian and Québécois history at the Musée McCord d’Histoire Canadienne (free Wed night and first Sat of month), with First Nations items like furs, ivory carvings and beadwork; the Hôtel de Ville, where General de Gaulle stood on the second-floor balcony to make his “Vive le Québec libre!” speech; and the Musée de la Banque de Montréal, the city’s oldest bank building, with an exhibit that offers a voyeuristic glimpse into counterfeit bills.

Take a hike

Walk or pedal the leafy banks of the Lachine Canal, along a well-tended path that hugs its entire length. Our favorite trip: saunter 1km west of Vieux-Montréal to Griffintown, a revitalized industrial neighborhood with antiques, art and relaxed pubs with nicely priced beers.

Go to church

As Mark Twain once noted about Montréal: “You couldn’t throw a brick without hitting a church.” He was right – and many are free. Celebrate Sunday mass at 11am at Notre-Dame Basilica, to the sounds of a choir. Also, pop in to the eye-catching Victorian St George’s Anglican Church and the Basilique-Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, where you can pay your respects to the wax-encased remains of St Zoticus, a patron saint of the poor – an appropriate icon on this free tour of Montréal.

Head underground

Scurry below Montréal’s surface in the Underground City (officially called RÉSO – a homophone of “réseau”, the French word for “network”), with 33km of passages that provide access to the Métro, hotels, shopping malls, offices, apartments and restaurants, plus a good smattering of cinemas and theatres. Everything is signposted, but it’s worth picking up a map of the ever-expanding system from the tourist office. Refuel at the inexpensive food courts on the lowest floor of most of the malls (also handy for public toilets).

Watch street performers

Cirque du Soleil somersaulted from the soil of Québec so it’s no surprise that Montréal’s performers and buskers are top-class. Walk through the old town and the sloping, cobbled Place Jacques-Cartier, originally built as a market in 1804, and check out musicians, mimes, caricaturists along the way. Also, many of the city’s theatres offer free performances, including the Théâtre de Verdure Parc Lafontaine in the summer.

Explore more of Montréal with the Rough Guide to Canada.

Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week.

More tourists welcome, but heavy planes are not

Climbers could soon be getting their crampons into five additional Nepalese peaks over 8,000m. Currently, just eight of the country’s highest mountains are accessible, but overcrowding on Everest (and an understandable desire to grow the industry) has encouraged officials to open up new mountains.

The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation is expected to make a decision about whether to approve expeditions on the new mountains at its annual summit (geddit?) this October.

If the new climbs are approved, increasing tourist numbers along the way, it’s not clear how well the country’s main airport will cope. Nepal’s civil aviation authority recently wrote to airlines using Tribhuvan International in Kathmandu, asking them to stop landing wide-bodied aircraft there. It’s thought heavier planes could be to blame for the cracks and potholes discovered on the ailing runway in recent weeks.

Blingy ringy thingies

With plenty of time left to run, an inventive Kickstarter campaign called Sesame Ring has smashed its fundraising target. The idea? To create wearable rings that act like Oyster cards, saving passengers the trouble of ever losing their travel passes. A nice twist is that the rings are created using 3D printers, making them super easy to customise.

But the thought of being married to one transport network, with a ring and everything, doesn’t sit easily with me. I can imagine promising myself to the London Underground, and then throwing the ring away to have an illicit affair with Bangkok’s Skytrain.

For anyone who travels a lot, the only alternative would be to wear a different ring for every city. As I still value the use of my fingers, I think I’ll stick to having a wallet full of travel passes.

Art or porn?

Scandinavian hotel chain Nordic Choice has stopped giving its guests access to porn through on-demand TV stations. Yes, apparently that’s still a thing.

The chain’s owner, Petter Stordalen, reportedly reached the decision after getting involved with a Unicef campaign to help children affected by trafficking and sexual exploitation. “It’s a natural part of our social responsibility to not support an industry that contributes to trafficking,” he said.

Guests staying at the chain’s 171 hotels will instead be offered access to “high-end contemporary video art”. It’s a smart move, distancing Nordic Choice from a controversial industry. But with free, in-room wifi so widespread, it’s hard to imagine this kind of ban changing guests’ viewing habits.

Northern flights

Summer is ending and tour operators are already hard at work, trying to sell us winter breaks. Buried by the latest flurry of wintry PR was the news that fledgling Norwegian airline FlyNonStop will soon be launching flights from London City to Alta, in the far north of mainland Norway.

As well as being a prime spot for watching the Northern Lights, the Arctic town has a rich Sami culture and thousands of prehistoric rock carvings on its doorstep. Best of all, the town’s sheltered location on the edge of a plunging fjord keeps temperatures mild. Well, for the Arctic.

Now for the bad news: the flights are not quite as direct as the airline’s name suggests (there’s a touchdown en-route at Bodø), and they are only available as part of a pricey package that includes a stay at the Sorrisniva igloo hotel.

Trips start in January. For information and prices contact The White Circle.

Disneyland in Africa

Hyperinflation and unrest scared tourists away, but Zimbabwe is hoping to win them back with a £193m theme park near Victoria Falls. The attraction, described by Zimbabwe’s tourism minister as “Disneyland in Africa”, is likely to include hotels, restaurants and conference facilities. Plans are still vague, but making anything manmade look good beside a natural wonder like Victoria Falls could be tricky.

New Year in North Korea

Tourists making the trip to North Korea usually arrive on flights from China, but new routes to the country could soon be opening up – including some from Europe.

Jo Song Gyu, director of the state-owned International Travel Company, promised new flights as part of a “bright future” for tourism in the impoverished country. The news follows an announcement by Koryo Tours, a British-run company based in Beijing, stating that North Korea is now open to foreign visitors all year round, including the previously ‘closed’ period between December and January.

Before you get carried away with plans for a wild New Year in Pyongyang though, remember that visitors still have to spend their trips in the company of government minders.

Final call

Lastly, here’s a gorgeously shot video reminding us that modern jet planes are incredibly graceful machines, capable of bringing people together – or tearing lives apart.

Wolfe Air Reel from 3DF on Vimeo.

Spotted an unusual travel story? Let us know on Twitter (@RoughGuides) or Facebook, or comment below.

If you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie before, think John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in Grease, then pump up the colour saturation, quadruple the number of dancing extras, switch the soundtrack to an A.R. Rahman masala mix and imagine Indo-Western hybrid outfits that grow more extravagant with every change of camera angle.

Like their classic forerunners of the 1970s and 1980s, modern Bollywood blockbusters demand the biggest screens and heftiest sound systems on the market, and they don’t come bigger or heftier than those in the Metro BIG in Mumbai, the grande dame of the city’s surviving Art Deco picture houses. A palpable aura of old-school glamour still hangs over the place, at its most glittering on red-carpet nights, when huge crowds gather in the street outside for a glimpse of stars such as Shah Rukh Kahn or Ashwariya Rai posing for the paparazzi in front of the iconic 1930s facade.

A sense of occasion strikes you the moment you step into the Metro BIG’s foyer, with its plush crimson drapery and polished Italian marble floors. A 2006 revamp transformed the auditorium into a state-of-the-art multiplex, complete with six screens, lashings of chrome and reclining seats, but the developers had the good sense to leave the heritage features in the rest of the building intact. Belgian crystal chandeliers still hang from the ceilings, reflected in herringbone-patterned mirrors on the mid-landing, with original stucco murals lining the staircases.

While the Metro may have had a makeover, the same quirky conventions that have styled Indian cinema for decades still very much hold sway – in spite of Bollywood’s glossier modern image and bigger budgets. So while the waistlines have dropped and cleavages become more pronounced, the star-crossed hero and heroine still have to make do with a coy rub of noses rather than a proper kiss.

Down in the stalls of the Metro BIG, meanwhile, the new decor hasn’t subdued behaviour in the cheaper seats. Shouting at the screen, cheering every time the hero wallops someone, and singing along with the love songs are still very much part of the experience – even if overpriced popcorn has supplanted five-rupee wraps of peanuts.

Mumbai’s Metro BIG Cinema is at Dhobi Talao Junction, at the top of Azad Maidan, a short cab ride from CST (VT) Station. For details, see www.bigcinemas.com.

 

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If you’re thinking of heading to Edinburgh for the festivals during August, there’s one thing you need to bring: time. Come loaded with lots of it, as much as you can, because it runs out quickly and you’ll head home lamenting the hundreds of treats you missed.

A weekend is the bare minimum, a week would be better, and if I didn’t have to work for a living I’d probably have stayed for a month.  Edinburgh itself has more than enough reasons to linger longer, but August is just mind-boggling.

During our visit there were five festivals taking place simultaneously: the Edinburgh Art Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival. The stats alone will give you a headache: 35,000 artists, entertainers and thinkers producing 1,000+ shows daily in over 300 venues.

We had around 48 hours, dove in headfirst as soon as our plane landed, didn’t stop for air and still only scratched the surface. Thankfully, most things are within walking distance and cabs are plentiful (just don’t mention the tram). Here are a couple of things we learnt along the way.

Stand-up is very hit and miss

With hundreds of comedians doing their “but seriously folks” onstage at any one time, you’ll need to choose your shows wisely. One bet-hedging idea is to see a multi-act show. The Best of Edinburgh Showcase saw four comics splitting one hour, and for every hilarious bearded man dancing to Beyoncé there was an impenetrable avant-garde duo leaving us dumbfounded. Joe Lycett and Alfie Brown were two of our favourites, relative newcomers whose gags (on the YouTube playlist below) can speak for themselves.

Locusts and meal worms can be pretty tasty

The Hendricks Carnival of Knowledge, held briefly in a imposing building on the New Town’s Royal Circus, was another bizarre sideshow and their Sunday Lunch in 2063 was pure Edinburgh. A short presentation on the future of food – and the unsustainability of eating meat – was followed by a plateful of locusts and meal worms ground up and served in dim sum parcels with soy sauce and ginger. They ended up challenging our assumptions more than our taste buds.

The venues are attractions in their own right

There can be few more striking cities in the world in which to host a month long shindig, and from Arthur’s Seat to the castle itself Edinburgh is a spectacular spot. The festivals really make the most of its venues too, so Man Ray Portraits was held in the awe-inspiring red sandstone Gothic revival National Portrait Gallery, much of the International Festival was in the equally impressive Hub building dating to 1895, and picturesque pubs and venues across the Old and New Town played host to other events.

Greg Proops is still very funny…

Whose Line Is It Anyway might be long dead (is it really 15 years since it came off air?), but the bespectacled American hasn’t lost any of his edge. His Sunday night show was packed full of gags that had us crying with laughter, and his ejection of a heckler was a master class in mean.

…as is David Baddiel

Another comic whose star has faded somewhat, albeit one who’s making new material from his predicament. Fame: Not The Musical was a brilliant reflection on the ups and downs of celebrity and how it feels to no longer be as famous as you once were. Here are a few of our comedy highlights:

The Witchery is overrated

The city’s gastronomic pride and joy is an alluring spot, but the atmospheric gloom conceals some serious crimes against food. Three Little Piggies was pork done three ways, none of them appealing. A rubbery chop was probably the worst offender and the whole meal was grossly overpriced, although the maitre d’ was entertaining.

Some of Edinburgh’s most interesting spots are deep underground

The Real Mary King’s Close is a fascinating tour underneath the Royal Mile, taking visitors on a spooky subterranean trip around abandoned streets and humble dwellings, revealing the history of the city and some of its key inhabitants along the way. Characterful guides such as the man on the right add to the atmosphere. Tours cost £12.95 (£7.45 for children) and run throughout the day; check their website for more details.

Friday’s crowds aren’t a patch on Monday’s

Alfie Brown took great pains to point out that weekenders don’t laugh as hard as the midweek crew, and several stand-ups we spoke to seemed to hold weekend visitors in gentle contempt. But what are you going to do?

The Jive Bunny approach to DJ-ing can actually work

Normally I’d run a mile from anyone jumping from track to track in a club without playing the whole record. There’s nothing more annoying than a DJ cutting a tune after the first chorus. The manic man behind Hot Dub Time Machine, however, somehow gets away with it, splicing together snippets of big songs from the ‘50s onwards with mashed up video clips – a hyperactive hit for Generation ADHD.

People are defined by hate, not by what they love

Salman Rushdie’s sold-out talk was a highlight of the Book Festival, and his thoughts on society’s pervasive negativity were particularly illuminating:

“I do think that one of the characteristics of our age is the growth of this culture of offendedness. It has to do with the rise of identity politics, where you're invited to define your identity quite narrowly – you know, Western, Islamic, whatever it might be… Classically, we have defined ourselves by the things we love. By the place which is our home, by our family, by our friends. But in this age we're asked to define ourselves by hate. That what defines you is what pisses you off. And if nothing pisses you off, who are you?"

Promenade performances are hard to get right

One of the International Festival’s flagship productions, the sold-out hot ticket Leaving Planet Earth was billed as a “site-responsive promenade production on an epic scale”, an immersive journey to New Earth that would blow our tiny minds. What we witnessed was a paper thin plot played out in a local climbing centre with the lights turned off, an ambitious but deeply flawed flop which saw audience members falling asleep and playing Scrabble on their phones at various points.

Haggis helps a hangover

Especially when served in a giant floury bap with a mug of tea in the Royal Tattoo grandstand overlooking the spectacular cityscape.

Our path through Edinburgh was a random one, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci and ending up in a Hot Dub Time Machine, via a number of erratic detours and a trip to another planet. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book it took a unique and unrepeatable course, different to anyone else navigating this great city at the same time. There was a lot, from Hamlet to an interactive version of the cult TV show Knightmare, that we didn’t have time for. Next time, perhaps – especially if we remember to come with more of it.

 

 

Over 4000km long, the Mekong – derived from the Khmer “Mae” meaning “big”, “mother”, or “boss” – is the 12th longest river in the world, flowing from Tibet, through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Navigation remains tricky along the Mekong as many rapids and waterfalls pose a risk to those who choose to brave it, but there are plenty of safe parts to explore and important trade routes throughout.

From the giving of alms in Luang Prabang, Laos, to the floating markets of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, this vast river makes for a stunning way to navigate parts of Southeast Asia. Hover over the special interactive Rough Guides map below to discover the delights of the Mekong river, and visit our Thinglink page for more.


Explore more of the Mekong and southeast Asia with the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.

In a handful of sleepy farming villages in northern Greece, the fire-walking ritual is an annual celebration of a thirteenth-century miracle, when locals rescued icons from a burning church – without being burned themselves. By nightfall, the towering bonfire in the main square has dwindled to glowing embers. Every light is put out and all eyes are on the white-hot coals – and the cluster of people about to make the barefoot dash across them. Fire-walkers limber up for the main event with rhythmic dancing, which escalates into frenzied writhing as they channel the spirit of St Constantine, believed to shield them from harm. Clutching icons for further protection, the fire-walkers step out onto the coals, stomping on the smouldering embers with gusto, as though kicking up autumn leaves. An inspection of feet after the rite reveals miraculously unmarked soles, a sign of St Constantine’s divine protection – and an excuse for a slap-up feast.

Fire-walking festivals take place towards the end of May in the villages of Langadas, Ayia Eleni, Meliki and Ayios Petros in northern Greece.

 

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Champagne is an exclusive drink, in all senses of the word, what with its upmarket associations and the fact that it can be made only from the grapes grown in the Champagne region of northern France. The centre of champagne production is Épernay, a town that’s made much of its association with the fizzy stuff, and where all the maisons of the well-known brands are lined up along the appropriately named Avenue de Champagne.

All of these champagne houses offer tours and tastings, and one of the best places to indulge is at the maison of Moët et Chandon, arguably the best-known brand in the world. The splendid, cathedral-like cellars afford suitable dignity to this most regal of drinks, while the multilingual guides divulge the complexities of blending different grapes and vintages to maintain a consistency of flavour from one year to the next. During the tasting, an enthusiastic sommelier explains the subtleties of flavour in the different cuvées, and although the whole experience can feel rather impersonal, it’s nonetheless an essential part of any visit to the region.

For an altogether more exclusive experience, head 15km or so north of Épernay to the village of Bligny. Here, the eighteenth-century Château de Bligny is the only one in France still producing its own champagne and, if you call ahead, you can arrange a private tour. Driving through the wrought-iron gates and up the scrunchy gravel driveway, a sense of understated class strikes you immediately, and things only get classier as you’re taken through the tastefully furnished rooms and vaulted cellars, and shown the family’s cherished champagne flute collection. A tasting of several prize-winning vintages, taken in the opulent drawing room, is of course included, and as you savour your second glass, you’ll doubtless conclude that there’s no better place to get a flavour of the heady world of champagne than the home ground of this “drink of kings”.

The tourist office in Épernay (www.ot-epernay.fr) has information on touring the town’s champagne houses.

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

Whatever your budget, Kenya has no shortage of post-safari pursuits, writes Richard Trillo, author of the Rough Guide to Kenya and Kenya Programme Manager at Expert Africa. Whether you’re after a relaxing beach break or another adventure, there’s plenty to see and do in Kenya once you’ve left the wildlife behind.

Share a beach house – or rent a tree-house

Chilling on the coast is a popular way to relax after the full-on activity of a safari. There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses on the shores of the Indian Ocean, but renting a house on Tiwi Beach tops them all. The fully staffed Olerai Beach House sleeps up to ten, so it’s ideal for a tropical house party. In the huge gardens, there’s a stunning swimming pool with a water slide and landscaped caves, while the beach lies right in front of you through the palms. It’s quite remote, so there’s the option to have a minibus and driver at your disposal for trips into Mombasa and other excursions. However, if you’re on more of a shoestring budget, then Stilts Backpackers, on Diani Beach, is a great location for the budget traveller. Funky treehouses (huts on stilts), a tree-level bar-restaurant and plenty of convivial company make it a popular base, and the beach is just a five-minute walk away.

The Tiwi Beach house costs a minimum of US$700 (£470) per night for four people, including all meals and drinks, with further guests costing $100 (£70) per night (under 11s pay half). The minibus and driver is an extra $250 (£170) per day.

Stay in a rainforest lodge in the Shimba Hills – or explore a ruined city

Coastal adventures come in many shapes and sizes. Just inland from the beaches of the south coast lies Shimba Hills National Reserve. The hills, teeming with elephants and forest wildlife, house an authentic rainforest lodge, where trees grow through the wooden building, and a treetop walkway winds through the forest to a waterhole. Also in the forest, near the small resort town of Watamu on the north coast, the ruins of the stone town of Gedi lay hidden in the jungle for hundreds of years. The identity of the sixteenth-century inhabitants of the town, excavated in the 1940s, is still unknown, but today their houses and mosques can be explored and are particularly atmospheric at dusk.

Take a dhow cruise in Mombasa harbour or tour the old city on a tuk-tuk

There’s sightseeing with a difference at the coast’s main town, the island city of Mombasa. Several large vessels –big trading dhows known as jahazi – have been converted for use as comfortable excursion boats, with cushions, carpets and on-board kitchens. Embarking just before sunset, you watch the sun drop behind the palm trees and kick the evening off with a dawa cocktail (a Kenyan blend of vodka and honey; it means “medicine”). Then, entertained by a Swahili taarab band, you chug around Tudor Creek and Mombasa Harbour as you set to work on red snapper, lobster, lamb and crunchy vegetables. Some cruises include a son-et-lumière show at Fort Jesus, the city’s standout historical site (cruises can be booked through any hotel reception). If you’d rather do your sightseeing by day, and on a budget, rent a tuk-tuk or motorized rickshaw, and ask for an hour’s tour of Old Town. Most drivers will be happy to oblige, though you’ll need your Rough Guide to Kenya to navigate the small area (less than half a square kilometre).

Get off the Mombasa Highway in the Kibwezi Forest or the Taita Hills

Most visitors treat the notoriously dangerous and traffic-jammed Mombasa Highway with a degree of fear and loathing. But it has some truly worthwhile sidetracks that you’d be mad to pass up. Most impressive of these is the outstandingly beautiful Umani Springs, a designer lodge in the almost unvisited Kibwezi forest, nearly half way to the coast. Shaded by huge acacia and fig trees, three temple-like cottages, built of local lava stone, accommodate up to ten people each. There’s even a good team of staff to cook the food you bring, leaving you to watch the local wildlife or laze in the huge, spring-fed swimming pool. However, it’s tricky to manage if you’re travelling by public transport, so pause your trip to the coast at Voi and take a matatu (minibus) into the cool, fir-clad Taita Hills, with their fascinating ancestral skull caves and dramatic executions (murderers were once hurled from a cliff to their meet their death). You can stay cheaply in the friendly little town of Wundanyi.

Head south into the Rift Valley

From Nairobi, everyone thinks of the Rift Valley as north of the city, focused around tourist hotspots like Lake Naivasha with its gardens and boat trips, or Lake Nakuru with its busy national park. But, if you head south – driving yourself or in a limited selection of beaten-up buses or taxi vans – you can explore an equally fascinating but almost unvisited stretch of the Great Rift. First possible stop is Whistling Thorns – much like an English Lake District youth hostel, but with ostriches and gazelles instead of sheep. Then, as you plunge down the dramatic face of the escarpment, you head out onto arid plains where there’s a great prehistoric stone-tool site, Olorgasailie, with cheap camping and cottages. Finally, you reach the bizarre soda pans of Lake Magadi, where a factory town supports a major chemical industry. There’s a beautiful public swimming pool and excellent bird life near the hot springs, and a few options for staying if you don’t have a tent.

Explore the north in a 4×4

If you have a week, you can rent a Land Rover or Land Cruiser and head north. The fast and empty new road from Isiolo to Merille (half way from Isiolo to Marsabit) is a dream to drive, with a magnificent landscape of rocky buttes breaking the horizon. Three hours past tarmac’s end, Mount Marsabit, an old “shield volcano” emerging out of the desert, is swathed in thick forest surrounding hidden crater lakes. You can camp here, or there’s a basic lodge. The town of Marsabit itself is a cultural melting pot, as is the whole eastern flank of Lake Turkana. The drive to the lake, through the remote mission station and trading post of North Horr, is a great adventure, across stony wastes and through nomadic pastoral communities where camels tend to have right of way. If you have only a day or two with a 4×4, you could travel between Thika and Naivasha, just north of Nairobi, along a rarely used forest track where elephants push trees across the road (take a winch and an axe).

Swim with whale sharks or become acquainted with baboons

If your safari has given you a taste for close encounters of the furred (or finned) kind, you might consider swimming with whale sharks, just south of Mombasa. Wildlife immersion doesn’t get much more immersive than slipping underwater to snorkel alongside these gentle giants. In a controversial tourism / conservation project, twice a year two young sharks (a mere five to seven metres in length) are towed into a marine pen twice the size of a football pitch, just off the beach at Waa. You pay around $150 (£105) to snorkel with them for an hour, with 30% of the proceeds going to whale shark conservation. Back on dry land, at Il Polei Group Ranch in Laikipia, north of Mount Kenya, you can visit a troop of baboons in the wild, where a long-term social study of the animals has meant humans and primates can walk together during a 2-hour dawn or dusk excursion ($80 for groups of up to four).

Go clubbing in Nairobi or grab your blankets and wine

For clubbing of the musical kind, Nairobi is your best bet. The steadily reviving Central Business District has a small grid of streets that stream with revellers every weekend, encouraged by a bit of street lighting and the security that numbers bring. For city centre DJs, booze and choma (roast meat), Zanzebar, on the 5th floor of Kenya Cinema Plaza on Moi Avenue, has a very local flavour. More stylish and youthful is the pumping Tribeka, on the corner of Banda and Kimathi streets, and Tree House at Museum Hill roundabout has been a solid address for live music for the last couple of years. For something a little different, the monthly music festival of no fixed abode Blankets and Wine has become a diary anchor point for lots of affluent young Nairobians.

Train with warriors  – rigorous or lite

On most safaris in Kenya you’re likely to meet Maasai warriors, and soon realise this is no dressing-up club but a part of every Maasai man’s life. Your guide may wear shirt and trousers in town, but in the bush he’ll wear a robe and carry a spear and sword. The training for this age grade is long and arduous, but you can now sample the lifestyle at a number of camps. For the most engaging warrior training experience, sign up for a 3-to-7-day programme with Laikipiak Maasai warriors at Bush Adventures Camp. On the Il Ngwesi Group Ranch, in northern Kenya, you’ll learn to shoot with a bow, throw clubs and engage in Maasai repartee. For a quicker, low budget taste of the action, closer to Nairobi, the low-key Maji Moto Eco-Camp, in the greater Mara ecosystem, includes warrior-training – stick throwing, dancing, singing, tracking – with every stay in its tidy dome tents.

Find a festival – at Lake Turkana, the Rift Valley or Lamu

Talking of festivals, Kenya has fewer major events than you’d perhaps imagine, or hope for, but the handful of reliable annual fixtures is worth pinning a safari round. Pre-eminent is the Lake Turkana Festival in May, a colourful cultural jamboree in one of the country’s most remote towns. Much easier to reach is the Rift Valley Festival in August, a more European-style music festival on the shores of Lake Naivasha. On the far-flung shores of the Indian Ocean, the Lamu Festival, held every November, sees the whole of this old Swahili town taking part in donkey and dhow races, traditional stick fights, processions, beach barbecues and crafts displays.

The 10th edition of the Rough Guide to Kenya was published in May 2013. 

A canny bit of marketing may lie behind the origins of the Galway International Oyster Festival, but Ireland’s longest-running and greatest gourmet extravaganza continues to celebrate the arrival of the new oyster season in the finest way possible: with a three-day furore of drinking, dancing and crustacean guzzling.

Just after midday in Eyre Square, Galway’s mayor cracks open the first oyster of the season, knocks it back in one gulp, and declares the festival officially open – just as he has done since the 1950s, when the festival’s devisers were searching for something that could extend the tourist season into September. A parade of marching bands, vintage cars, oyster openers, dignitaries and the like then makes its way down the town’s main street and along the bank of the River Corrib, its destination the festival marquee, and the World Oyster Opening Championship.

All this pomp, however, is purely a sideshow, albeit a colourful one, to the weekend’s main attraction, the Guinness Oyster Trail – the real backbone of the party and one of the greatest Irish pub crawls ever devised. The Trail consists of some thirty boozers dotted around the town, each providing a host of live music, comedy and dance acts over the entire period and, more importantly, offering free oysters with a pint of Guinness – every pub on the Oyster Trail employs a full-time oyster-opener throughout the weekend, who frantically and ceaselessly liberates the delicious creatures from their shells.

The traditional objective is to down a pint and a couple of oysters in every pub along the Trail over the three days – that’s around thirty pints and up to one hundred oysters. If you can do this and still make it down for breakfast on the Sunday morning, you need never prove yourself again.

See www.galwayoysterfest.com for event information and booking forms.

 

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Empty buildings, decrepit houses and economic decline – the newly-bankrupt Detroit has been hit by a barrage of bad press of late. The Guardian, Time and others have all run (admittedly fascinating) “ruin porn” galleries of the city’s fall from grace.

We thought we’d show you some of the more beautiful sights of Detroit instead, as a reminder that this great US city does have a few roses among the thorns.

Eastern Market

Each week up to 40,000 people flock to this over-100-year-old public market. It is a colourful display of fruit, vegetables, flowers and locally produced goods set in a wonderful red-brick building.

Belle Isle Park

This 982 acre island park, situated on the Detroit River, has a beautiful nature centre, where visitors can stroll wooded trails and see wildlife in its natural habitat.

Detroit River

The ecological and economical importance of this 28-mile-long river means vast restoration efforts took place after the waters became toxic, and now it is home to a variety of wildlife and used for recreational activities.

Detroit Riverwalk ­

Not just a pleasant walk along the river, this path is home to plenty of summer fun and festivals, from yoga to a reading and rhythm program.

Detroit Zoo

More than 3300 animals and 280 species reside in this 125-acre zoo made up of various naturalistic habitats. Major exhibits include the Arctic Ring of Life and the Butterfly Garden.

Campus Martius Park

This is the commercial centre and heart of downtown Detroit and has a 2.5 acre public square that acts as a year-round entertainment venue, hosting everything from music festivals to movie nights.

Detroit Institute of Arts

Beauty can always be found in the arts, so the Detroit Institute of Arts is a good bet for some stunning creations. With over 100 galleries, 60,000 works and a 1,150-seat auditorium there’s bound to be something please they eye (or ears).

Guardian Building ­

Inside and out, this building is the Detroit definition of Art Deco. Standing out in the city among tall white concrete office blocks, this one has a distinct design, elaborate murals and dramatic interior architecture.

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