So you’ve gawked at the guards of Buckingham Palace, hiked up Snowdon and hit the beach – what next? From lethal motorcycle races to mountain towns that look like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, here are 8 unconventional things to do in the UK.

1. Horse about at Scotland’s Common Ridings

The Common Ridings of the Scottish border towns of Hawick, Selkirk, Jedburgh and Lauder are an equestrian extravaganza that combines the danger of Pamplona’s Fiesta de San Fermin and the drinking of Munich’s Oktoberfest. At dawn on each day of the ridings, a colourful and incredibly noisy drum and fife band marches around the streets to shake people from their sleep. It’s a signal: everyone get down to the pub – they open at 6am – and stock up on the traditional breakfast of “Curds and Cream” (rum and milk). Suitably fortified, over two hundred riders then mount their horses and gallop at breakneck speed around the ancient lanes and narrow streets of town, before heading out into the fields to race again.

By early evening, the spectators and riders stagger back into Hawick to reacquaint themselves with the town’s pubs. Stumbling out onto the street at well past midnight, you should have just enough time for an hour or two of shuteye before the fife band strikes up once more and it’s time to do it all over again.

Jethart Callants' Festival Day

2. Find Middle Earth in Northern Ireland

The mountains rise above the seaside town of Newcastle like green giants, with Slieve Donard the highest, almost 3000ft above the sandy strand of Dundrum Bay. Donard is just one of more than twenty peaks in County Down’s Mourne, with a dozen of them towering over 2000ft.

Conveniently grouped together in a range that is just seven miles broad and about fourteen miles long, they are surprisingly overlooked. On foot, in a landscape with no interior roads, you feel as if you have reached a magical oasis of high ground, a pure space that is part Finian’s Rainbow and part Middle Earth. This is ancient land and prehistoric cairns and stone graves – said to mark the resting place of Irish chiefs – dot the hills, peering through the mist to meet you.

3. Mountain bike on world-class trails in Wales

It’s not often that the modest mountains of Wales can compete with giants like the Alps or the Rockies, but when it comes to mountain biking, the trails that run through the craggy peaks of Snowdonia, the high moorlands of the Cambrian Mountains, and the deep, green valleys of South Wales are more than a match for their loftier counterparts. Indeed, the International Mountain Biking Association has long rated Wales as one of the planet’s top destinations.

Over the last decade or so, a series of purpose-built mountain-biking centres has been created throughout the country, providing world-class riding for everyone from rank beginner through to potential-world-cup downhiller. From easy, gently undulating trails along former rail lines that once served the heavy industry of the South Wales valleys, to the steep, rooty, rocky single tracks that run through the cloud-shadowed hills of North Wales, this is mountain biking at its finest.

7174028403_510f7cf652_b_MTB1662 by Dai Williams (license)

4. Explore Britain’s most mysterious beach in Scotland

Cape Wrath is a name that epitomizes nature at its harshest, land and sea at their most unforgiving. In fact, the name Wrath denotes a “turning point” in Old Norse, and the Vikings regarded this stockade of vertical rock in the most northwesterly corner of Scotland as a milestone in their ocean-going voyages. As such, they were surely among the first travellers to come under the spell of Sandwood Bay, the Cape’s most elemental stretch of coastline.

Here blow Britain’s most remote sands, flanked by epic dunes and a slither of shimmering loch; a beach of such austere and unexpected elegance, scoured so relentlessly by the Atlantic and located in such relative isolation, that it scarcely seems part of the Scottish mainland at all. Even on the clearest of summer days, when shoals of cumuli race shadows across the foreshore, you are unlikely to encounter other visitors save for the odd sandpiper. You might not be entirely alone, though; whole galleons are said to be buried in the sand, and a cast of mermaids, ghostly pirates and grumbling sailors has filled accounts of the place for as long as people have frequented it.

5. Discover heaven on Earth in Cornwall

A disused clay pit may seem like an odd location for Britain’s very own ecological paradise, but then everything about Cornwall’s Eden Project is far from conventional. From the concept of creating a unique ecosystem that could showcase the diversity of the world’s plant life, through to the execution – a set of bulbous, alien-like, geodesic biomes wedged into the hillside of a crater – the designers have never been less than innovative.

The gigantic humid Rainforest Biome, the largest conservatory in the world, is kept at a constant temperature of 30°c. Besides housing lofty trees and creepers that scale its full 160ft height, it takes visitors on a journey through tropical agriculture from coffee growing to the banana trade, to rice production and finding a cure for leukaemia. There’s even a life-size replica of a bamboo Malaysian jungle home, and a spectacular treetop Canopy Walkway.

Inside the Eden Project, Cornwall, England, UK

6. Call in the heavies at the Highland Games

Throughout Scotland, not just in the Highlands, summer signals the onset of the Highland Games, from the smallest village get-togethers to the Giant Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, which draws a crowd of around 20,000. Urbanites might blanch at the idea of alfresco Scottish country dancing, but with dog trials, tractors, fudge stalls and more cute animals than you could toss a caber (tree trunk) at, the Highland Games are a guaranteed paradise for kids.

The military origins of the games are recalled in displays of muscle-power by bulky bekilted local men, from tossing the caber to hurling hammers and stones, and pitching bales of straw over a raised pole. Music and dance are also integral to the games, with pipe bands and young girls – kitted out in waistcoats, kilts and long woolly socks – performing reels and sword dances. A truly Scottish sight to behold.

7. Take bonfire night to extremes in Lewes

The first week of November sees one of the eccentric English’s most irresponsible, unruly and downright dangerous festivals – Bonfire Night. Up and down the country, human effigies are burned in back gardens and fireworks are set off – all in the name of Guy Fawkes’ foiled attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605 – but in the otherwise peaceful market town of Lewes, things are taken to extremes. Imagine a head-on collision between Halloween and Mardi Gras and you’re well on your way to picturing Bonfire Night, Lewes-style.

Throughout the evening, smoke fills the Lewes air, giving the steep and narrow streets an eerie, almost medieval feel. As the evening draws on, rowdy torch-lit processions make their way through the streets, pausing to hurl barrels of burning tar into the River Ouse before dispersing to their own part of town to stoke up their bonfires.

Forget the limp burgers of mainstream displays and lame sparklers suitable for use at home – for a real pyrotechnic party, Lewes is king.

Bonfire night, Lewes, England, UK

8. Browse one of England’s oldest markets in Birmingham

There’s enough chaos and colour to rival any frenetic southeast-Asian market here, as a stroll around Birmingham’s Bull Ring markets is an overdose for the senses. The pungent aromas of fresh seafood; the jewel colours and silken textures of miles and miles of rolled fabrics; the racket from hundreds of vendors bellowing news of their latest offerings in hopes of making a sale.

Around 850 years ago Birmingham became one of the first towns in medieval England to hold a legitimate weekly market, selling wares from leather to metal to meat at a site they named the Bull Ring, and cementing the Anglo-Saxon settlement on the map for centuries to come. But while Birmingham has much-changed since medieval times, the noise, excitement and commotion of its Bull Ring markets have barely changed at all – only now you can buy almost anything from neon mobile phone cases and knock-off superhero outfits to fresh meat, fruit and veg.

MTM3 coverDiscover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

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.


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.

Nobody does midsummer like the Swedes. They down tools and head for their summer houses on the coast for a family gathering lubricated by beer, herring and shots of the local firewater. Whether you’re a builder or a banker, it’s the one day of the year that everyone casts aside their daily routine and goes back to the land.

So if you want to party like a Swede, then head west. The best place to join the midsummer festivities is around Gothenburg and the Bohuslan coast, the archipelago of some 8000 midnight-sun islands.

Swedish Midsummer’s Eve falls on Friday, June 19 this year but how best to join in the fun? Here is an essential guide to surviving midsummer in Sweden.

Step 1: escape to the country

Most Gothenburgers escape the city for their midsummer fun, heading to the family summer house on one of the islands or staying in a cottage by a lake to get close to nature.

If you hire a car, it’s a ninety-minute drive north from Gothenburg through a bucolic landscape of grazing pasture and produce-yielding farmland to reach the central-archipelago island of Tjorn.

Alternatively, you can hire a bike and ride out of Gothenburg along the harbour, picking up a ferry at the terminal at Saltholmen to island hop around the nearer southern archipelago. It’s a two-hour jaunt through some of Gothenburg’s most interesting districts, such as historic Haga and bohemian Majorna to reach the coast. Download a map of the cycle route here.

Vrångö island, the Gothenburg archipelago, SwedenImage by Emil Fagander

Step 2: make your own Krans

The symbol of midsummer is the krans, a headband of summer flowers entwined around soft birch branches. Children head out to the fields in the morning to gather fresh flowers and no midsummer outfit is complete without your very own personalised crown.

Villa Sjotorp, a romantic, lakeside estate turned chic country hotel in the village of Ljungskile, hosts an annual midsummer banquet. The festivities begin with a class in making your own krans, followed by a traditional Swedish fika, an afternoon snack of fresh coffee and pastries.

According to popular Swedish folklore, you should place the headband under your pillow that night to dream of your future lover.

Midsummer in Sweden, krans_MG_8339 via photopin (license)

Step 3: learn the frog dance

By mid afternoon crowds are gathering in parks and on village greens around West Sweden to watch the annual midsummer dance around the maypole.

The spectacle blends elements of ancient German and British folklore but, while the phallic maypole and spiritual embracing of warming rays both feature heavily, you’ll be relieved to hear the event is a strictly Morris Dancing-free zone.

Children in traditional dresses clutch their parents’ hands while local teenagers, resplendent in their finest summer garb, exchange flirtatious glances as the accordion player strikes up a rousing chorus of folk tunes.

But beware: casual bystanders may be dragged into the ensuing series of line-dancing style displays, culminating with the quintessential midsummer routine — the squatting frog dance.

Midsummer in SwedenIMG_4609 via photopin (license)

Step 4: eat a fish supper

After the build up of the afternoon, it’s time get down to the serious business that evening of celebrating with traditional food and drink.

The essential three-course supper includes a starter of three types of herring, served with crème fraîche and new potatoes, followed by cuts of beef, chicken and lamb, served with tomato salad and a deliciously tangy smoked mayonnaise. There are fresh strawberries to finish.

Fresh strawberries – midsummer in Sweden

Most dinners are small family occasions but you can get a flavour of the festivities at Gabriel, the seafood restaurant located in Gothenburg ‘Fish Church’ seafood market, or at Villa Sjotorp.

Traditionally, the first tasty new potatoes and strawberries of the season are used to prepare the extensive spread.

Step 5: take a midnight swim

Midsummer is also about being together with families or friends reuniting for one weekend of the year. And, by the time the lights softens and the fresh breeze of summer blows across the al-fresco gathering, the schnapps will be in full flow.

By this point expect dancing on the jetty by the lakeside or on the ocean-washed beach and hearty singalongs to traditional folk tunes played on the accordion. It’s a rare moment in time when nobody has a care in the world and all feels right in life.

Midsummer in SwedenSummer Sunset via photopin (license)

“For me, midsummer has elements of light, nature, family and nostalgia. It’s a special night,” explains Bibban Ryden, of Gothenburg-based tour company Kulturbåtarna, who organise island-hopping cruises around the archipelago.

“I may no longer be young but, come midnight,” she smiles cheekily, “I’m still ready for skinny dipping.”

Featured image by Midsummer at Öland via photopin (license). Explore more of Sweden with the Rough Guide to SwedenCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Dreaming of a forum for your long-repressed artistic abilities? Hoping to construct a life-size sand-version of Elvis, Jesus or someone else close to your heart, then have it washed away with the afternoon tide?

Next week, on June 20th, the annual Sandcastle Contest in Cannon Beach, Oregon, offers just the opportunity – along with the chance to have your creation gawked at by thousands of onlookers. Others may have surpassed America’s oldest sandcastle-building competition in size since its debut in 1964, but there’s something to be said for taking part in the original.

The field is limited to 150 entrants, so you may have some qualms about taking the place of an expert, but don’t worry too much; unless you’ve won in a comp before, you won’t be eligible for the “masters” competition – where the architects get serious with their sand.

Here are some of the mind-boggling entries from previous years’ competitions.

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: foreclawsure via Flickr (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: what now? via photopin (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: dragon castle, haystack rock via photopin (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: st. bernard via photopin (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: sandpuppy via photopin (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: sandmeowth via photopin (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: Sand Split via Flickr (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: sand art via photopin (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: fleur via photopin (license)

Sandcastle competition, Cannon Beachphoto credit: Sandcastle at Cannon Beach via Flickr (license)

Make Most Your Time On Earth coverDiscover more unforgettable experiences around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

With events to rival America and Europe, Africa is now drawing music festival fiends in their thousands. Harriet Constable finds out more.

Demand worldwide for music festivals shows no signs of slowing, and Africa – home to the most diverse cultures, sounds and achingly beautiful locations on earth – is starting to host some of the most exciting festivals on offer.

Even though festival-lovers nowadays have options galore, the big international events still hog a lot of the limelight. Hip Californian festival Coachella, for instance, has been attracting an international crowd keen to flaunt their fringing to the Empire Polo Club since 1999.

Similarly, Burning Man has created one heck of a dent in the festival scene since its small beginnings on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. Last year the event attracted 69,613 ‘citizens’ to experience its ‘culture of possibility’ in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Lake of Stars festival, MalawiStanley Odd / KB Mpofu / Image courtesy of Lake of Stars Arts Festival, Malawi 

Sure, these belly button brandishing, crowd surfing, hippy havens have their place. But hop over to Africa and you’ll find a burgeoning festival scene that’s still relatively raw. It’s like discovering a secret rooftop bar that only you and a couple of pals know about.

From steam train parties through Botswana, to DJ dance sessions in the middle of a national park, sunset celebrations over Malawi’s gigantic lake and sunrise sets on Zanzibar’s beach, Africa has well and truly joined the party.

These events have everything you’d expect from a big international festival: incredible settings, bags of atmosphere and internationally renowned artists. But they’re also lesser known, lesser commercialised and – this is a big ’un –incredibly cheap when compared to their western counterparts.

These are some of the highlights.

Lake of Stars

Malawi’s Lake of Stars has been hailed as one of the “world’s best music festivals” in the international press. It’s held on the eye-wateringly stunning shores of Lake Malawi and offers a combination of global artists (hip hop act and Mercury prize winners Young Fathers are playing this year), local talent, inspirational TED-style talks and colourful cultural events in the middle of one of the most beautiful countries on earth. Add to that the fact that tickets are only £45 and attendance is a bit of a no brainer.

Lake of Stars festival, MalawiZone Fam / KB Mpofu / Image courtesy of Lake of Stars Arts Festival, Malawi 

Vic Falls Carnival

Festival arrivals don’t get much better than at the Vic Falls Carnival, where attendees travel on a party steam train from South Africa, which stops en route for an epic dance party in a secret location in the middle of a national park.

Ticket holders get to enjoy all the game-viewing that a few days of safari in the Serengeti would offer on the way, then, once there, they can simply stroll from their tent to one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites, the mind-blowing flumes of Victoria Falls.

And this is all before the music – solely and proudly a line-up the best artists Africa has to offer – has even started. Vic Falls Carnival is in a different league.


Never fear, if you’re a die-hard ‘Burner’ there’s an event right up your street. Afrikaburn is affiliated to Burning Man and follows the same ‘Burner’ principles, but is hailed as being “Burning Man 15 years ago” – before it got too big and too popular. This is the authentic burn experience. And with ticket prices starting at just R641 (£35), it’s also far cheaper at about an eighth of the cost of Burning Man.

Afrikaburn festivalphoto credit: Afrikaburn 2011 #119 via photopin (license)


If world music is your thing, head to the three-day Bushfire in Swaziland. Attendees are encouraged to ‘bring the fire’ to the scenic farmlands of the Malkerns Valley.

Sauti za Busara

Tanzania’s Sauti za Busara in the Zanzibar’s Stone Town features more than 200 artists from 32 countries. The focus here is celebrating traditional music from East Africa and beyond.


Zimbabwe’s HIFA is the granddaddy of African music festivals and one of the biggest on the continent. It’s held in Harare every year and involves a weeklong celebration of art, music, dance and drama from across the world.

HIFA festival ZimbabweWillom Tight via Flickr (licence)

The Firefest Route

For the ultimate experience, festival-goers can join the Firefest Route – a Southern Africa festival tour which takes place throughout May. It includes HIFA, AZGO, Fireball, Africa Day, MTN Bushfire and Safiko Musik.

So get your tickets, and get ‘em now. A whole new world of festival fun awaits.

With so many different religions, cultures and traditions around the world, on any given day there are a multitude of exciting celebrations. This month we’ve rounded up the pictures that capture them best. From image-sharing website Picfair here are fifteen shots covering everything from a torch-lit procession in Sri Lanka to a music festival in EnglandNext month’s theme is landscape, so upload your images to Picfair and tag them RGlandscape for your chance to be featured by us.

Hot Air Balloons and Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, England

5. Hot Air Balloons and Clifton Suspension Bridge Bristol by Alison Zak-Collins / PicfairHot Air Balloons and Clifton Suspension Bridge Bristol by Alison Zak-Collins / Picfair

The Castell (human tower) at Contest Castellers, Tarragona, Spain

10. Castellers by Carlos Sanchez Pereyra / PicfairCastellers by Carlos Sanchez Pereyra / Picfair

Culture Festival at Meiji-jingu Park, Tokyo, Japan

11. Musketeer Samurai 2 by Leo Hartadi / PicfairMusketeer Samurai 2 by Leo Hartadi / Picfair

Independence celebrations, Turkmenistan

19. Celebrating independence by kapelki / PicfairCelebrating independence by kapelki / Picfair

Yi Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

4. Yee Peng Festival by Prawin namuengrak / PicfairCelebrating independence by kapelki / Picfair

King’s Day, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

18. King's Day, Amsterdam by JJPerspectives / PicfairKing’s Day, Amsterdam by JJPerspectives / Picfair

Girls wearing traditional Hmong clothes at New Year, Vietnam

12. Hmong Little Girls wearing traditional clothes in their New Year by Pham Le Huong Son / PicfairHmong Little Girls wearing traditional clothes in their New Year by Pham Le Huong Son / Picfair

Bagpipers at Surva, Bulgaria

6. The Young Bagpiper by Light Captured by Damian / PicfairThe Young Bagpiper by Light Captured by Damian / Picfair

A decorated horse at the Feria del Caballo, Cadiz, Spain

2. Feria 3 by Andy Armfield / PicfairFeria 3 by Andy Armfield / Picfair

Bonfire parade in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, England

1. Robertsbridge Bonfire 2013 by Gavin Davis / PicfairRobertsbridge Bonfire 2013 by Gavin Davis / Picfair

Festival confetti

14. Festival Confetti by Laura Jane / PicfairFestival Confetti by Laura Jane / Picfair

A holy festival, Bhutan

15. Bhutanese holy festival by Grethe / PicfairBhutanese holy festival by Grethe / Picfair

Glastonbury, Somerset, England

16. View from The Park, Glastonbury by Charlie Burness / Picfair View from The Park, Glastonbury by Charlie Burness / Picfair

Holi Festival of Colours

17. Dance by Ahmer / PicfairDance by Ahmer / Picfair

Esala Perahera, Kandy, Sri Lanka

7. Great balls of fire at the Kandy Perahera by Jurriaan Teulings / PicfairGreat balls of fire at the Kandy Perahera by Jurriaan Teulings / Picfair

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Last week saw India celebrate Holi Festival, one of the most well known and colourful festivals in the annual Hindu calendar. Powdered paint of all colours was hurled between friends, families and worshippers across the country as they celebrated the beginning of spring. We’ve scoured GettyImages for the best shots to show you Holi Festival 2015 in pictures.











For more inspirational travel photography check out our photography section on Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

This is the year to discover the Irish capital’s burgeoning creative scene. The country’s designers are stepping into the limelight to celebrate the Year of Irish Design, and Dublin is taking centre stage as 2015’s World Design Hub. Visitors already arrive in their droves for the city’s the literary connections, the Guinness and that intangible but utterly beguiling thing known as the craic – and now design is set to become another major draw.

So, why does Dublin deserve this accolade? Here, Helen Ochyra gives us the low-down.

See the city on canvas

For Irish art with pedigree visit the relocated London studio of Irish-born Francis Bacon at the Hugh Lane Gallery. Painstakingly moved here in 1998, right down to the dust on the floor (yes, really), the gallery is home to more than 7000 items, including photographs, drawings and some 100 slashed canvases.

If you want to discover the next big thing, head to Green on Red Gallery to see work by contemporary Irish artists such as Damien Flood and Gerard Byrne. Or call in to Project Arts Centre, Dublin’s busiest arts centre and home to an ever-changing array of visual arts exhibits and cutting-edge theatre and dance performances.

If you’re in the city on a Sunday, get some fresh air and inspiration with a walk around St Stephens Green, turned into an ad hoc open-air art gallery as local artists hang their paintings from the railings. Can you spot the next Bacon?

St Stephen's Green park, Dublin, Ireland

Size-up Dublin’s fashion scene

For fashion, visit the Creative Quarter, which stretches from South William Street to George’s Street and from Lower Stephen’s Green to Exchequer Street. Here up-and-coming fashion designers collate at The Loft Market, where you’re sure to pick up some inspiration from the ultra-hip shoppers along with the vintage jewellery. The ShoeLAB at Buffalo hosts niche footwear brands you won’t see anywhere else.

If you’re on an A-list budget head to the Design Centre at Powerscourt Town Centre to shop Jill De Burca’s embroidery-driven debut collection or select an utterly individual headpiece (“hat” just doesn’t do these justice) by Philip Treacy, whose creations have been seen everywhere from the Harry Potter films to the Royal Wedding.

Inside the St. Stephens Green Shopping Center, Dublin, Ireland.

Get a taste of Dublin’s creativity

Nothing is done by half measures in Dublin and haute cuisine here is as ample as it is attractive. You won’t find fussy dishes surrounded by smears: think high quality beef and fresh local seafood served with personality and style.

At Cleaver East the wagyu striploin is topped with bright red tomatoes on the vine and nothing more, while the highlight of the menu at Fade Street Social is hiding in the flatbreads section, a delicious blend of roasted and raw fillet of Irish beef with a truffle béchamel, sprouting with brilliant green broccoli.

by David Cantwell, Cleaver Eastby by David Cantwell at Cleaver East

Pick of the restaurants has to be The Greenhouse, where hand-dived scallops are served with Jerusalem artichokes. The passion fruit soufflé is a thing of beauty, topped with lemon-yellow ice cream and ginger sauce.

If you’ve got more time, head out to Aqua in the fishing village of Howth – because there’s nothing more beautiful than a freshly cooked lobster.

Sleep in style

Designer Dublin doesn’t end at the hotel room door. Brand spanking new design hotel The Dean opened last November and it’s already making waves. Sound waves that is, with retro record players in the rooms, original local artwork with a musical theme on the walls and a lobby bar that’s a place to linger over cocktails. Flick through the in-room LPs, lay into the old-school mega-munch hamper (scampi fries, anyone?) and lie back on the super-sized bed to watch Dublin’s skyline darken through the vast windows.

Alternatively, stay at stylish The Clarence, with its classic Shaker oak beds, Irish-designed leather seating and all-white linens, or The Dylan, for five-star style in rooms overflowing with all the latest mod cons, from Bose docking stations to Bang & Olufsen telephones, even hand-carved wooden beds.

Dean Hotel, design hotel Dublin, IrelandImage by The Dean

And don’t forget the Guinness…

Few TV adverts have had such an impact as Guinness’s inventive ads – from white stallions galloping in the surf to a toucan with a bright orange beak – and you could say this is Irish design at its very best.

You could also say that a pint of the black stuff is an unmissable Dublin attraction. Either way you need to visit the Guinness Storehouse, the home of Ireland’s most famous brand. Ascend the staircase through the pint glass shaped atrium to find out how the brewing process works, how to make a barrel and how to pull the perfect pint. Finish in the Gravity Bar, with 360-degree views over the city – and a pint of Guinness, of course.

Visit for more information on visiting Ireland and for more details on the Year of Irish Design. Explore more of Ireland with the Rough Guide to IrelandCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Europe has it all: sprawling cities and quaint villages; boulevards, promenades and railways; mountains, beaches and lakes. Some places will be exactly how you imagined: Venice is everything it’s cracked up to be; springtime in Paris has even hardened cynics melting with the romance of it all; Oxford’s colleges really are like Harry Potter film sets. Others will surprise, with their under-the-radar nature or statement-making modern architecture.

rough guide europe budget coverWhether you’re planning to see it all or explore the hidden corners of the continent, these are our top 12 tips for backpacking through Europe, taken from our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

1. Pick your season wisely

If you decide to travel during the peak summer season, try heading east – the Balkan coastline, the Slovenian mountains and Baltic cities are all fantastic places for making the most of your money. When tourist traffic dies down as autumn approaches, head to the Med. The famous coastlines and islands of southern Europe are quieter at this time of year, and the cities of Spain and Italy begin to look their best. Wintertime brings world-class skiing and epic New Year parties. Come spring it’s worth heading north to the Netherlands, Scandinavia, France and the British Isles, where you’ll find beautifully long days and relatively affordable prices.

2. Take the train

Getting around by train is still the best option, and you’ll appreciate the diversity of Europe best at ground level. Plus, if you make your longest journeys overnight and sleep on the train, you’ll forego accommodation costs for the night. Most countries are accessible with an Interrail Global pass or the equivalent Eurail pass. Depending on your time and budget, choose one corner of the continent then consider a budget flight for that unmissable experience elsewhere. Make sure you check out our tips for travelling by train in Europe.

Rail travel Europe


3. Be savvy about accommodation

Although accommodation is one of the key costs to consider when planning your trip, it needn’t be a stumbling block to a budget-conscious tour of Europe. Indeed, even in Europe’s pricier destinations the hostel system means there is always an affordable place to stay – and some are truly fantastic. Homestays will often give you better value for money than most hotels so they are also worth considering. If you’re prepared to camp, you can get by on very little while staying at some excellently equipped sites. Come summer, university accommodation can be a cheap option in some countries. Be sure to book in advance regardless of your budget during the peak summer months.

4. Plan your trip around a festival

There’s always some event or other happening in Europe, and the bigger shindigs can be reason enough for visiting a place. Be warned, though, that you need to plan well in advance. Some of the most spectacular extravaganzas include: St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, when Dublin becomes the epicentre of the shamrock-strewn, Guinness-fuelled fun; Roskilde in Denmark, Glastonbury’s Scandinavian rival with a mass naked run thrown in for good measure; and Italy’s bizarre battle of the oranges in Ivrea.

Music festival


5. Eat like a local

You’ll come across some of the world’s greatest cuisines on a trip to Europe, so make sure to savour them. A backpacking budget needn’t be a hindrance either. If you shun tourist traps to eat and drink with the locals, you’ll find plenty of foodie experiences that won’t break the bank. Treat yourself to small portions but big flavours with a tapas dish or two in Spain; relish the world’s favourite cuisine at an Italian trattoria; or discover the art form of the open sandwich with smørrebrød in Denmark. Don’t skip breakfast, either – an oven-fresh croissant or calorie-jammed “full English” are not to be missed.

6. Find the freebies

Being on a budget doesn’t mean you should miss out, even in some of the world’s most sophisticated cities. Many iconic European experiences are mercifully light on the pocket: look out for free city walking tours, try the great Italian tradition of aperitivo in Rome, make the most of the free museums in London and try cooking with local ingredients rather than eating out. We’ve got lists of the top free things to do in Paris, Barcelona, London, Dublin and Berlin to get you started.

7. Get outdoors

It can be tempting to focus backpacking through Europe on a succession of capital cities – but you’d be missing out on a lot. Europe offers a host of outdoor pursuits that animate its wide open spaces, too, from horseriding in Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains and surfing on Portugal’s gnarled Alentejo coast to cross-country skiing in Norway and watching Mother Nature’s greatest show in Swedish Lapland.

Rila mountains, Bulgaria

Filip Stoyanov/Flickr

 8. Allow yourself the odd splurge

One advantage of budget travel is that it makes splurging all the sweeter – and for a little “flashpacking” guidance, we include Treat Yourself tips throughout our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. If you’re mostly staying in dorms, splash out on the odd private hostel room or boutique hotel; swing by a speakeasy for cocktails in Paris; gorge yourself on pasta in Rome; and allow yourself a day of watersports in Croatia.

9. Stay up late

Whether it’s Berlin and London’s hipster dives, flamenco in Seville, Budapest’s ruin bars, or the enotecas that celebrate Italy’s rejuvenated wine industry, there are countless reasons to stay up till sunrise. Europe lives for the wee hours and you’ll be following in some famous footsteps. Think about ordering a knee-buckling Duvel beer at Brussels’ historic La Fleur en Papier Doré, a time-worn café once the favourite hunt of Surrealist painter Magritte and Tintin creator Hergé, or sipping a pint in one of Oxford’s historic pubs, like the Eagle and Child, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s old haunt.

10. Hit the beach

Clubbed and pubbed out? It’s time to hit the beach. If you’re looking for heat, Formentera’s beaches are quieter and wilder than on neighbouring Ibiza, while Croatia and Italy have a slew of beautiful stretches of sand. If you want to head off the beaten track, consider Mogren in Montenegro, part of the so-called “Budva Riviera” that stretches either side of Montenegro’s party town par excellence.

Puglia, Italy


11. Go under the radar

If you’re looking for Europe’s charm without the crowds, you’ll want to consider straying from the well-worn routes. Some of our favourite under-the-radar towns include Olomouc in the Czech Republic, a pint-sized Prague with less people and more charm (and cobblestones), and Berat, a gorgeous Albanian town where row after row of Ottoman buildings loom down at you from the sides of a steep valley.

12. Stay safe

Take some basic precautions to stay safe. It’s not a good idea to walk around flashing an obviously expensive camera or smartphone, and keep your eyes (and hands if necessary) on your bags at all times. Exercise caution in hostels and on trains; padlocking your bags to the luggage rack if you’re on an overnight train increases the likelihood that they’ll still be there in the morning. It’s also a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport and keep it safe somewhere online.


rough guide europe budget coverFor a complete guide to backpacking through Europe, check out our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image via Agustin Rafael Reyes/Flickr.

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