Almost 50 years after John Lennon and Yoko Ono promoted world peace from room 702 of the Hilton, Amsterdam’s hotels are more worthy of the spotlight than ever. Even for seasoned travellers, the Dutch capital’s accommodation options are among the most exciting in Europe.

Take your pick from handsomely converted old canal houses, sleek-and-chic boutique B&Bs and luxurious short-stay apartments, while quirkier options include houseboats, a converted tram depot and even a crane. Visitors on a budget are catered for too, with bargain beds aplenty in the city’s hostels and campsites.

rough guide amsterdam coverHowever, as in most capitals, prices soar during peak season – July and August, Easter and Christmas – especially last-minute, so booking in advance is a must. Start planning your trip with our guide to the best area to stay in Amsterdam, taken from the latest Rough Guide.

The Old Centre

If you choose to stay in the Old Centre, you’ll be a short walk from the main sights and the principal shopping and nightlife areas. Cheap hotels abound and this is the first place to start looking if money is tight, although some may find the proximity of the red light district off-putting.

On a budget: Flying Pig Downtown
This hostel is clean, large and well run by ex-travellers familiar with the needs of backpackers. It’s justifiably popular, and a very good deal, with mixed dorms, some of which have queen-sized bunks sleeping two.

No-limits luxury: Hotel de l’Europe
This elegant old-timer has plenty of fin-de-siècle charm and a central riverside location. The rooms are large and opulent, and there’s also a two-michelin-star restaurant, Bord’eau, a spa and the glamorous Freddy’s Bar.

Bike, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Pixabay / CC0

Grachtengordel West

The canal-laced streets to the west of the old centre have a number of quiet waterside hotels, though the least expensive places are concentrated along Raadhuisstraat, one of Amsterdam’s busiest streets.

A snug stay: b&nb Herengracht
This oh-so-central bed (and no breakfast) has three double rooms: subterranean bolthole, canal view or garden view.

A hotel with style: The Dylan
Hip without being pretentious, The Dylan has earned itself many repeat guests. This stylish hotel is housed in a seventeenth-century building that centres on a beautiful courtyard and terrace, and there’s a michelin-star restaurant on site.

Grachtengordel South

Ideally positioned for the plethora of clubs, bars and restaurants on and around Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein, this area is on the rise: Waldorf Astoria decided to locate their new hotel here in 2014. There are plenty of options for those on a budget too, including a number of very appealing – and occasionally stylish – hotels along the surrounding canals.

The big name: Waldorf Astoria
Housed within a series of conjoined seventeenth-century canal houses in one of the city’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, the Waldorf Astoria has 93 rooms and suites in tasteful, calming neutral shades. It’s hard to fault, except for the eye-watering cost.

A great budget option: Prinsenhof
This small one-star has been offering bed and board since 1813. The 11 rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated, making it one of Amsterdam’s top budget options, but booking ahead is essential.

Tulips, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Pixabay / CC0

The Jordaan

Staying in the Jordaan puts you among the locals, well away from the prime tourist areas. There’s no shortage of bars and restaurants here either, and some of the city’s prettiest canals thread through the district, but you’ll be at least a 15-minute walk from the bright lights. Be aware when looking for a place to stay that Marnixstraat and Rozengracht are busy main roads.

Inventive design: De Hallen
There’s plenty of buzz surrounding the stunning conversion of this 1902 tram depot. Original features, such as rails in the dining-room floor, and the vaulted glass ceiling, have been kept intact, and the 55 rooms seem to be suspended within the structure.

Beautifully furnished boutique: Maison Rika
Housed in a former art gallery, this boutique option has two beautifully furnished queen-sized bedrooms on the second and third floors and is owned by fashion designer Ulrika Lundgren, who has a shop across the street.

The Old Jewish Quarter and Plantage

Not many tourists stay in this area as it’s largely residential, with very few bars or restaurants. So you’re pretty much guaranteed a quiet night’s sleep here, and you’re only a tram ride away from the leading sights.

A simple and welcoming stay: Adolesce
A popular and welcoming four-storey hotel (no lift) in an old canal house not far from Waterlooplein. There are ten neat, if a little dated, rooms and a communal seating area.

Modern style: Arena
A little way east of the centre, this hip four-star hotel has split-level rooms in tranquil grey or cream. There’s a lovely, relaxed vibe in the bar and the intimate restaurant with garden terrace, and a lively late-night club located within the former chapel.

Dusk, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Pixabay / CC0

The Eastern Docklands and Amsterdam Noord

These up-and-coming districts have some excellent, avant-garde accommodation options, and though their industrial architecture and open expanses might feel a world away from the old centre’s medieval lanes, they’re just a short hop away by ferry or tram.

An unusual conversion: Lloyd Hotel
Situated in the Oosterdok (eastern docklands) district, this former prison and refugee workers’ hostel has been renovated to become a “cultural embassy”, with an arts centre as well as an art library. The hotel serves all kinds of travellers, with rooms ranging from one-star affairs with a shared bathroom to five-star suites.

Getting high: Faralda Crane
Ever slept 50m in the air? The world’s first hotel in a crane offers three ultra-contemporary suites with knee-buckling city views. As you’d expect, there’s a long waiting list, so book well in advance.

The Museum Quarter

The city’s smartest quarter centres on the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum – although the nightlife around Leidseplein is also within easy striking distance. There are no canals, and two of the main drags constantly rumble with traffic, but several good hotels are to be found here, plus the leafy Vondelpark.

Back to school: College
Converted from a nineteenth-century schoolhouse, the college is an elegant boutique hotel run by hotel-school students. It has tasteful modern rooms, a first-rate restaurant, a swanky bar and a chic terrace.

To impress: Conservatorium
The capital’s most jaw-dropping hotel, this heritage building has been transformed into a contemporary design wonderland. Standard guestrooms come with Nespresso machine and free newspapers, plus access to Akasha – the city’s largest and most opulent spa.

Park, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Pixabay / CC0

The outer districts

Exciting accommodation options are cropping up in areas such as Amsterdam Oost, offering the opportunity of top-notch digs for less – and thanks to reliable and frequent trams, staying here doesn’t place you too far from the action.

Bring back the 60s: Hilton Amsterdam
Way outside the centre by a canal in the distinctly upmarket nieuw Zuid district, this hotel has all the facilities you could hope for. Mainly attracting a business-oriented clientele, it’s only really worth considering if you can afford to soak up a bit of 1960s nostalgia in its stunning “John and Yoko” suite, where the couple held their famous 1969 “Bed-in” for peace.

Hostel beds and more: Stayokay Zeeburg
Located in a former school in a residential area on the eastern outskirts of the city, this hostel has its own bar/restaurant, bike rental and laundry, and is wheelchair accessible. It shares the building with Studio/K, a multipurpose venue that shows art-house films and has a decent restaurant.

This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from The Rough Guide to Amsterdam. Header image via Pixabay / CC0.

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. You’ll need your wits about you, and preparation is key – here are our top tips to making your journey as smooth as possible. Check out The Rough Guide to India for everything else you need to plan your trip.

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, AsiaImage by Helen 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.

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.

Temple in Madurai, IndiaImage by Helen Abramson

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.

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_nImage by Helen 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 the fun 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.

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 IndiaImage by Helen 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.

The world is flat. Or so the thinking went, until someone actually went off to circumnavigate it. You may not make such a colossal discovery during your own global journey, but what awaits you “out there” is something only you can find: your very own adventure. Who knows, you may just find a best friend, even the love of your life, along the way.

rough guides first time around world coverBut before you make your plan to travel around the world, you might need a little advice. Here’s where the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World comes in, with tips on everything from visas and vaccinations to budgeting and packing.

Here, author Doug Lansky answers some of the most common burning questions.

1. I’ve just got three months. Is that too short to travel around the world?

Well, since the actual flight time to circumnavigate the planet is about 40 hours, no it’s not, but it is too short to try to see most of it. As long as you don’t attempt to visit too many destinations, you’re fine. In fact, you’ll likely have a far more enriching trip than someone who travels for twice as long but tries to see four times as much.

Morocco, Agadir, camel on hill above city and beach

2. I’ve got £4000 ($6160) saved up. Will that get me around the world?

No problem. You can find great deals on round-the-world tickets for about a third of that price, or even hitchhike on yachts for free. The more important question is what kind of trip do you want to take and how long do you want it to last? It’s important to figure out a daily budget that fits your comfort level, and to learn which countries offer the best value.

3. I hear a lot about “attractions”, “must-sees” and “wonders”. Is it tourist-bureau hype or is there something to it?

A bit of both. When the hype lasts long enough, it seems to become legend, or even fact. The classic is the “Wonders of the World” lists. Truth is there’s no such thing as a “must-see” and you’ll have a far more enriching trip if you personalize your journey and don’t construct it around seeing the major attractions.

Myanmar / Mandalay Region / Inwa / Yadanarsemi Pagoda

4. How do you know where to sleep each night, what to see during the day, and how to get around?

Carry a guidebook – or a digital version of one. It will cover all the sights in each town, with a short review of the best affordable accommodation, often accompanied by a helpful map (although getting a bit lost now and then is a healthy way to travel). In peak season, you may want to book accommodation a day or two ahead of time.

5. I want to make my journey alone, but I’m worried about travelling solo…

There are hundreds of thousands of travellers out there right now making solo journeys and most of them had just as many concerns as you do. Loneliness can be a problem, particularly at the beginning of a trip and during some meals, but you’ll find your stride and start meeting other travellers before long. Check out our list of great solo travel destinations for inspiration, and learn about the benefits of hitting the road alone.

China, Beijing, Yonghe Gong (Lama Temple), view of temple facade and silhouettes of people standing in an archway

6. C’mon, do I really need travel insurance?

Only if you get really sick. Or injured. Or sued for some driving accident. In short, yes.

But unless you get insurance that fits your travel plans, it won’t do much good. Which means you shouldn’t necessarily sign up for that convenient “click here for insurance” button when you buy your plane ticket online. Insurance companies rarely cover the exact same things, so you dig a little to find out if your activities and destinations are included.

7. Is taking time off going to ruin my career?

It might delay that promotion, but there’s a better chance it will improve your career prospects. Most prospective employers will find your journey an interesting topic of conversation, just make sure you’ve worked out a few life-lessons from your trip and how they might apply to the job at hand.

If you’re particularly concerned, you might see if you can plan some work-related education into your trip – such as learning a language, taking a writing course or attending cooking school. That also shows prospective employers you were cerebrally engaged during your trip and viewed it as a continuation of your education.

Italy, Eastern Tuscany, nr Borgo San Lorenzo, small red car travelling on mountain road, view from behind

8. I’ve got a smartphone. How do I use it while traveling without it costing me a small fortune?

You’re going to have to make some adjustments to your mobile usage. Exactly what depends on how long you’re staying in one spot and what you’re willing to spend for the convenience of constant connectivity. If you’re spending a couple of weeks or more in one place, it can be worth your while to pick up a local SIM card (or a cheap phone with one if your SIM is locked in). Otherwise, you’ll probably want to take a mini digital detox and shut off data roaming until you find a wi-fi hotspot.

9. Is there one thing I’m likely going to forget?

Earplugs. Hostels and cheap hotels are often located next to busy streets and nightclubs. Some buses and trains have minimal ventilation and you’ll need to keep the windows open, which lets in plenty of air but more decibels than you’d care for. And don’t forget about the snoring roommate – there’s typically one assigned to every dormitory room.

Morocco, Agadir, camel on hill above city and beach

10. I have to ask… What about travellers’ diarrhoea? What should I expect?

You should expect to get it. But if you get it checked out quickly (simple microscope analysis) you can typically get some meds at any clinic and you should be feeling fine within an hour or two. Don’t “ride it out” – total waste of a couple of days. Surprisingly, more travellers get the shits when eating from buffets (yes, even in nice hotel restaurants) than simple, cheap restaurants because so many people work with the food and all it takes is one set of unwashed hands.

rough guides first time around world coverPlan more of your first trip around the world with the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

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

McLennan_Noosa_0060 McLennan_Noosa_0046 McLennan_Noosa_0055 McLennan_Noosa_0058 McLennan_Noosa_0048 McLennan_Noosa_0045 McLennan_Noosa_0049 McLennan_Noosa_0047 McLennan_Noosa_0057

Planning your first trip around the world can be daunting. There’s an awful lot to discover out there, from retina-burning white beaches tapering off into gin-clear waters to mountain ranges hiding echo-bending canyons and fascinating wildlife.

rough guides first time around world coverTo celebrate publication of the new edition of the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World, packed with tips and insights for your first big trip, here are 20 ideas to kick-start your inspiration.

Whether you’re dreaming of kicking back on a white-sand beach, partying until dawn or leaving the tourist trail behind, read on…

1. Participate in a festival

There’s a world of opportunities to celebrate out there. Get covered in coloured dye at Holi, hurl oranges in Italy, take part in Spain’s biggest food fight or don a costume and join a Brazilian samba school.

myanmar / Eastern Burma / Taunggyi / Balloon Festival

2. Learn a language

Private and group lessons are a bargain in many countries, and are a great way to gain a greater understanding of your destination. Think about learning Spanish in South America or even try to break the ice with a few words of Mongolian.

3. Be awed by nature

Whether you want to tick the seven wonders of the world of your bucket list or get off the beaten track, there are some stupendous sights to discover. The unfathomably stunning Grand Canyon, for instance, is even still deepening at the rate of 15m per million years.

4. Take a cookery course

Even if you just learn to make one great dish, your friends and relatives will be grateful for years. You could master Indian cooking in Kerala or take a popular Thai cookery course in Bangkok.

Banh Xeo, rice pancake, green leaf salad and bowl of dressing, close-up

5. Shop at a local market

Practice your language skills, meet locals and get a good price all at the same time by exploring local markets. You could hit the bazaars of Fez and Marrakesh in Morocco, where you’ll find more than 10,000 fascinating alleys to explore, or join the crowds at Belgium’s oldest Christmas market.

6. Take a literary journey

Connecting the sites from your favourite foreign book or following in the footsteps of an author is a great way to see another side of a country. Get started with our 10 great literary journeys or try one of these 20 breaks for bookworms.

7. Find your own dream beach

There’s nothing like finding a hammock with your name on it and staying still until you’ve recharged your wanderlust. Thailand doesn’t have a monopoly on Southeast Asia’s great beaches, but many travellers simply can’t seem to return home without an obligatory white-sand sizzle on one of its palm-tufted strands.

Beautiful and definately Caribbean, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

8. Attend a sporting event

Don the local team’s colours and make a few new friends as you attend a match or game, be that rugby in New Zealand, cricket in India or ice hockey in Canada.

9. Try the street food

Street food meals may be the most memorable of your entire trip. We’ve picked 20 of the best street foods around the world to whet your appetite.

10. Climb a mountain

Start slow by taking on a classic trekking route or take a mountaineering course and scale a more intimidating peak. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is a popular first challenge: the storybook mountain silhouette you first learn to draw in primary school, it’s typically hiked in five or six days.

New Zealand, Taranaki, Mt Egmont, Mt Taranaki, New Plymouth

11. Sample the local firewater

Leave the backpacker bar behind at least once to try something new. It could be an unusual beer in the Czech Republic, a daiquiri in Havana or gintonic in Barcelona. You could even making learning about the local drinking culture the focus of part of your trip on one of these 20 boozy breaks.

12. Try out a new sport

This is the time to give a sport a go that you’ve always been curious about – or even one you’ve never heard of. Try these extreme sports and daredevil experiences for ideas.

13. Spend a few days in the jungle

Whether it’s in Costa Rica, Peru or Indonesia, you’ll learn a lot by spending at least a few days in the jungle. Just be sure to go with a guide who can both tell you about the indigenous animals and plants – and help you find your way back.

Costa Rica, Monte Verde, Monte Verde Cloud Forrest, Rope Bridge

14. Sleep somewhere unusual

A night suspended 300m high on a cliff face sound a little nerve-wracking? Don’t worry, there’s lots more unusual accommodation out there, from magical treehouses to desert campsites.

15. See a performance

Tickets for plays and concerts might be pricy, but the experience is one you’ll never forget. Even at Australia’s famous Sydney Opera House, seats are readily available for many performances.

16. Get to grips with ancient history

From Bagan to Tikal, the opportunities to get lost in your own historical adventure are endless. No round-the-world trip would be complete without spending some time discovering an ancient civilisation or lost city.

Myanmar / Western Burma / Bagan / sunrise from Shwesandaw

17. Marvel at some of the world’s finest architecture

Architectural wonders abound, although few match the splendour of Agra’s Taj Mahal in India. Built in 1632–1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal,
the Taj is an architectural marvel that has been crafted down to the most minute detail.

18. Go on a great journey

Embark on an epic road-trip in the USA or Europe, spend a week on the Trans-Mongolian Railway or embrace the concept of slow travel with a gentle boat journey among Kerala’s backwaters.

USA, California, Amboy, Route 66, car on cracked highway

19. Book a safari

But make sure you also get out of the minivan and view the wildlife on foot, or even from a canoe. The Maasai Mara in Kenya is one of the most fantastic destinations for wildlife-spotting, stretching for 3000 square kilometres and home to elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes among numerous other photogenic species.

20. Spend some time in the world’s great museums

The Louvre could eat most sports stadiums for breakfast and still have plenty of room left over, London’s British Museum houses an astonishing 70,000 exhibits, and New York’s Met is home to a whopping 2 million artworks.

rough guides first time around world coverPlan more of your first trip around the world with the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts more than 700 million people, in excess of 450 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. This means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip…

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, many travellers see this city as a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Metéora, GreecePixabay/CC0

4. Row down the Danube, Hungary

Rowing and kayaking are both possible on the Danube. In Budapest, you can rent boats, kayaks or canoes on Margaret Island or along the Romai River Bank.

5. Sip an espresso in Tirana, Albania

Albania’s colourful capital, a buzzing city with a mishmash of garishly painted buildings, traditional restaurants and trendy bars is better for strolling than sightseeing – but there’s plenty to keep you occupied.

6. Admire Kotor, Montenegro

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Kotor is Montenegro’s only major tourist spot, with tiled roofs and a clear Venetian tilt to its architecture. This is not a sunbathing destination, but there’s plenty to keep you busy.

Montenegro, Bay of Kotor, view from the Ladder of Cattaro road

7. Have a night out in Belgrade, Serbia

Explore the nightlife and café culture of Serbia’s hedonistic, hectic capital – at its best in spring and summer when all ages throng the streets at all hours.

8. See the northern lights, Norway

You don’t need to head up to Hammerfest as Bill Bryson did in his book Neither Here Nor There; this celestial show can be viewed across the country (October, February and March are ideal, but the rest of winter is also good).

9. Cycle across the Netherlands

You can easily rent a bike and find your way around Amsterdam, but there’s really no reason to stop there. Dedicated signed trails lead you from town to town.

Bike, AmsterdamPixabay/CC0

10. Get a sense of history in Kraków, Poland

This southern city emerged from World War II relatively unscathed, making it one of UNESCO’s 12 greatest historic cities in the world and an architectural treasure trove. It may look like a history lesson, but the city is very much alive and buzzing.

11. Spend a weekend in Venice, Italy

Venice is sinking (possibly under the weight of all the tourists), and there’s a chance the water may be knee-deep in St Mark’s Square by the time you visit. But go now and stroll around the city when the crowds are at their smallest (off season, or at sunrise), and it’s sure to be every bit as magical as you’d imagined.

12. Go wine tasting in Slovenia

Slovenia has been making wine since the time of the Romans, so it’s not surprising that they figured out how to do it well over the years. There are 14 distinct wine-growing regions to explore here.

Slovenia, vineyardsPixabay/CC0

13. Soak up the sun in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Situated near the southern border with Serbia, this 1300-year-old architectural city gem has been lovingly rebuilt, stone by stone, since the intense shelling in 1991, and is looking better than ever.

14. Discover Mozart’s Salzburg, Austria

This famous border town is not only worth a visit to pay homage to the man, but also has churches so cute you want to pinch them, plus plenty of art, pretty city squares and chocolate galore.

15. See the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Resting majestically atop an enormous citadel in the centre of Granada, the Alhambra is a visual overload. The structure’s Moorish columns and domes and light-reflecting water basins inspire even the weariest traveller.

View of Alhambra and Sierra Nevada from Mirador de San Nicolas Granada, Granada Province, Andalucia

16. Be wowed by Bruges, Belgium

The most popular tourist attraction in Belgium is this entire town, the best-preserved medieval city in Europe. On some streets you feel as if you’re wandering through a museum’s thirteenth-century installation.

17. Be awed by the Palace of Versailles, France

Louis XIV certainly knew how to live. There’s the grand entrance, endless gardens that require an army of pruners, and a hall with more mirrors than a Las Vegas magic act. It’s good to be king.

18. Bathe on the Black Sea Riviera, Bulgaria

Arguably Bulgaria’s greatest asset, the beaches of the Black Sea rightfully fill up during the summer holidays. The best ones can be found northeast of Varna.

Bulgaria, Sinemorets, people on narrow beach on lush Black Sea coast

19. Stroll Prague’s Staromestske namesti, Czech Republic

You can probably count on one hand the number of people who’ve visited Prague, and never seen the Old Town square. This 17,000-square-meter centerpiece is the heart of the city, and has been since the tenth century.

20. Be a big kid at Legoland, Denmark

The little plastic snap-together blocks have got a good deal more sophisticated than they once were, but their simplicity is still their strength, and a visit to their Danish birthplace should cap off any lingering childhood fantasies about an entire Lilliputian Lego city.

21. Wander Tallinn’s Old Town, Estonia

Often compared to Prague, Estonia’s capital is an up-and-comer on the budget travel scene, as is its burgeoning nightlife. Check out the area round Toompea Hill, where the aristocracy and clergy once lived.

Estonia, Tallinn from aerial view, showing red rooftops, Niguliste Church tower and spire, Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky and Dome Church spire

22. Soak in Baden-Baden, Germany

Germany’s most famous spa lies in the heart of the Black Forest. Its famed curative mineral waters bubble up from thermal springs at temperatures over 68°C.

23. Surf Portugal’s Atlantic coast

Portugal’s waves aren’t in the same league as Hawaii’s, but there are enough breakers around the country to keep most beginner and intermediate surfers happy.

24. See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe, England

A reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse, the Globe Theatre in London is Shakespeare’s backyard. The season runs from April to October.

Gate outside Shakespeare's Globe, London

25. Visit the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Guinness may look like discarded brake fluid, but this thick stout with a scientifically measured head of foam is worshipped like a minor deity. And the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is the high altar.

26. Make a beeline for Bratislava, Slovakia

Low-key charm, a museum of wine, and pavement cafés aplenty can all be found in the Old Town centre of Bratislava, Slovakia’s “little big city“.

27. Visit Bran Castle, Romania

Also known as “Dracula’s Castle”, this popular castle actually has no ties to Vlad Tepeş, the medieval prince associated with the vampire extraordinaire, but none of this seems to deter visitors from coming.

Bran Castle, Bran, Transylvania, Romania

28. Hike Sarek National Park, Sweden

The glaciers, peaks, valleys and lakes of this remote northern park cover 2000 square kilometres. Note that the trails are demanding and best suited for advanced hikers.

29. Ski in Zermatt, Switzerland

This glam skiing and mountaineering resort is tied to the fame of perhaps the most visually stunning Alp: the Matterhorn (4478m).

30. Shop in Helsinki’s Stockmann Department Store, Finland

You can’t miss it in Helsinki: it’s one of Europe’s largest department stores, selling everything you need and even more that you don’t.

Plan more of your first trip to Europe with The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe

Cuba’s cocktails chart the country’s ambivalent relationship with its neighbour to the north, America. This is most obviously demonstrated by the Cuba Libre – a blend of Cuban rum and Coca-Cola with lime – but it’s the Daiquiri that most associates with the capital, Havana.

In the year when American visitors are finally allowed to fly directly to Cuba, there is no better time to look closer at this legendary drink.

The history of Cuban rum

The Cuban writer Fernando G. Campoamor wrote: “There never has been and never will be rum as good as ours.”

This isn’t strictly true: in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Cuban rum had a terrible reputation. The Spanish didn’t want alcohol producers in their colonies to compete with brandy and wine from the mother country so whilst the Jamaicans and Barbadians were perfecting rum distillation and learning how wood ageing mellowed their product, production in the Spanish empire remained primitive and strictly for local consumption.

Cuban rum

Things changed in 1862 with the arrival Spanish immigrant, Don Facundo Bacardí. At Santiago in the south of the island he made a lighter and smoother style of rum using technology from the cognac industry. Spain had relaxed its protectionist laws and Bacardi took full advantage of the the opportunity to exploit the export and home markets. By this time, Havana was one of the richest cities in the Americas.

But Cuba was politically unstable, most of Spain’s other American colonies had become independent following a series of wars in the early nineteenth century, and Cubans of all backgrounds were itching for freedom including a certain Emilio Bacardi, son of Don Facundo. There were a series of uprisings against Spanish rule culminating in the involvement of America in a short war of 1898.

The birth of the Daiquiri

The Spanish lost and free Cuba, or at least an American-dominated Cuba, prospered.  According to Cuban writers Carlos Eire: “Havana had a large and expanding middle class. Over one million Europeans migrated to Cuba between 1900 and 1950.”

Americans too poured into the country, including a mining engineer named Jennings Cox. The legend goes that he was entertaining some guests and having run out of gin, the standard American tipple, resorted to the Bacardi mixed with lime juice, sugar, water and ice. He named his invention, the Daiquiri, after a nearby town.

Invention is perhaps a bit too strong a word for his concoction. The Royal Navy were drinking Grog, a mixture of rum, lime juice, water and sugar, as early as 1740. All over the Caribbean there are similar drinks based on mixing something sweet, something sour, some water and, most importantly, rum.

Havana, Cuba

The Daiquiri may have been named by an American, but it was in Havana at a bar called La Florida (later called La Floridita) where it was perfected. There the barman Constantino Ribalaigua came up with the the classic version where the ingredients are shaken with ice and the strained into a cold glass.

Hemingway became a regular. Ribalaigua prepared a special Daiquiri without sugar because Papa was diabetic. It also handily had much more alcohol in it.

The next step in the Daiquiri’s evolution came with the invention of the blender. This meant that ice and fruit could be smashed up quickly. The credit for the frozen Daiquiri goes to Emilio Gonzalez at Plaza Hotel.

The Daiquiri in film and literature

During Prohibition, Havana became a playground for Americans: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra were regular visitors. This glitzy era was epitomized by the art deco splendour of the Hotel Nacional which opened in 1930.

Much of the trade in vice and entertainment was in the hands of the Mafia in collusion with the Batista regime. One of the best evocations of this febrile time is in the Godfather Part II when Michael Corleone visits the city for a mob summit at the Nacional on the eve of the Revolution. At a café Alfredo, Michael’s brother and betrayer, asks: “How do you say Banana Daiquiri in Spanish?” Michael replies “Banana Daiquiri.”

The film not only recreates Havana in all its sleazy glory but also shows how the Daiquiri had strayed from its simple beginnings. From the drink of the jet set it would decline further until it meant something that came out of a machine flavoured with syrup like a Slush Puppie for adults. Bubblegum Daiquri anyone?

Passion fruit daquiriPixabay / CC0

The Daiquiri today

Following Castro’s seizure of power in 1959, Havana too declined. The Bacardi company who had supported the revolution soon found themselves leaving for Puerto Rico when their business was nationalised. One of the grandest cities in Latin America was left to decay.

There has been some restoration since visitors returned in the 1990s. And this year more and more tourists will soon once again be lapping up the Daiquiris in the bars of Havana.

The frozen variety has all but pushed out the original, even at La Floridita. If you want something non-frozen ask for a Daiquiri Naturale. Other good places to drink include the Churchill bar at the Hotel Nacional and, for a younger crowd, Bolabana in Miramar.

Explore more of Havana 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.

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”.

Know someone who loves to travel? Perhaps you’re after something special for the loved one in your life. Whether it’s a birthday, the festive season or you’re just feeling generous, here’s our pick of the top gifts for travellers.

GoPro HERO4 Silver

GoPros are quickly becoming an essential in many traveller’s backpacks and this model is no different. The Hero4 has so many features packed into its tiny, ultra-portable body, including image quality of 12mp, incredible 1080p HD video, an after dark setting and time lapse mode. Plus, Bluetooth and wi-fi for instant sharing and editing. The touch display makes this genius piece of kit is even more user friendly and ready to go wherever you journey takes you.

GoPro Hero4

Shure sound isolating earphones

We’ve all been on that flight where the baby just won’t stop crying. And there’s nothing worse than a hotel with paper-thin walls. That’s where sound isolating earphones come into play. These earphones block out 90% of background noise, so you are free to concentrate on your in-flight entertainment. With a reinforced cable and detachable earbuds these are the perfect, durable earphones for any intrepid traveller.

The ultimate packing checklist

It’s happened to the best of us: you’ve packed your bag, raced off to the airport, and arrived in your next destination to find you’ve forgotten your pants. So you need a little help next time? This 60-sheet pad has a list of everything you should take for any type of trip, perfect for those last-minute packing marathons. You can even list the quantity of individual pieces of clothing, so no need to lay it all out before it goes in the bag.

Knock Knock Pack This pad

Bluesmart suitcase

A a suitcase you will want to brag about, this cabin-sized bag can be controlled with your phone. Why? you ask. It features tons of tech, including location tracking, a digital lock, distance alerts and built in scales. But don’t worry if your phone runs out of charge, you can fully replenish the battery up to six times via the case’s USB port – now that really is a smart suitcase.

SurgeCube surge protector

It’s not the most exciting travel gadget of all, but it’s practical as hell and may well save your beloved smartphone or tablet from combustion. The device, with its two USB ports, will keep your electronics protected from electricity surges, spikes and generally dodgy sockets. It can also charge 40% faster than a normal USB port, so no more long waits for your phone to be fully charged again. SurgeCube also give a £10,000 Equipment Warranty away with each protector just in case anything does get damaged.

Cork globe

Whether you want to keep track of all your past trips, or you’re planning a round-the-world adventure, this small cork globe is a great addition to any traveller’s desk. You can pin your favourite pictures to their location, or map out your next trip.

Cork Globe with Rough Guides

Instax Share mobile printer

These days all your travel photos probably end up online for you to admire from anywhere in the world, but if you’re feeling a little retro, this is the gadget for you. Print any of your smartphone snaps on the go, whether it’s to send back home, to give to friends you meet around the globe or to add to your travel journal, via the Instax Share app. You can add different filters and text before printing off a high quality credit card sized image.

Tortuga travel backpack

Everyone needs a good backpack when travelling, but what if you’re only taking cabin baggage? The Tortuga cabin-sized backpack is the ultimate carry on bag, combining convenience and organisation. It’s front-loading, with mesh pockets and a 17inch padded laptop compartment.
Tortuga backpack

Jackery Mini charger

Sometimes we all need a little extra charge – especially when smartphones are notoriously quick to drain in battery. With a 3200mAh rechargeable power capacity this lipstick size portable charger packs a punch. The Jackery Mini is ultra compact, has an extremely fast charge and is available in four different colours. It’s compatible with smartphones, GoPros and even Google Glass.

Water-to-go bottle

Staying hydrated while travelling is important – especially as it helps with that pesky jet lag. Water-to-Go bottles have a clever 3-in-1 filter, which eliminates over 99.9% of bacteria – meaning you can drink safely from any non-salt water source. Each filter lasts around two months (or for 130 litres) and is easily replaceable. No more will you be buying and wasting hundreds of plastic bottles along your journey – saving the planet and saving cash, that’s a bottle we can get on board with.

A Rough Guide!

Whether you want to inspire someone’s next trip with a country or city guide, help them plan a short weekend with a pocket guide, or give them a coffee-table title to pore over for years to come, there’s nothing like the gift of the printed word. Buying for someone creative? Check out Colour the World.

Colour_the_World_Front_Cover_RGB-(1)

Heading to the Portuguese capital this year? Lisbon’s accommodation scene has exploded in recent years, so there is no shortage of places to stay, from historic buildings and palaces to excellent independent hostels.

pocket rough guide lisbon coverThere are real bargains to be had in the off-season, though between June and September, prices are at their highest so book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Whether you want rich history or shops galore, these are the best areas to stay in Lisbon according to our expert and latest Pocket Rough Guide to Lisbon.

Best for the historic centre: Baixa and Chiado

Lisbon’s Baixa, or ‘downtown’, is an appealing oblong of handsome buildings flanked by the squares of Rossio, Figueira and the grand riverfront Praça do Comércio. Its an impressive example of late eighteenth-century town planning in which many of its traditional shops survive. Most of its banks and offices have now been converted into hotels and guesthouses: a plethora of them have opened up in the last couple of years, so wherever you stay, you’ll be right in the thick of it. Consider adjacent Chiado, too, the chic shopping district that’s home to the famous café A Brasileira.

Cash-strapped: Florescente
Feeling flush: Hotel do Chiado

Best for romance: Alfama

The city’s oldest quarter is a fascinating warren of steep, winding streets that thread their way past densely packed houses where life carries on much as it has for centuries. Heading uphill towards the castle, you’ll get some of the best views Lisbon has to offer, across the terracotta roof tiles and the cruise ships that anchor on the broad Tagus estuary. Fado restaurants and souvenir shops are moving in, but this is still an alluring old-world village Lisbon where you can spend all day exploring.

Cash-strapped: The Keep
Feeling flush: Memmo Alfama

Alfama, LisbonRaphaël Chekroun/Flickr

Best for designer shopping: Avenida da Liberdade

The wide, palm-lined Avenida da Liberdade is a mile-long strip of Portugal’s most expensive real estate, where embassies and consulates sit above top glitzy designer shops. Gently sloping downhill from the spaces of the centre’s main park, Parque Eduardo VII, to the central Baixa, the Avenida is also a short walk from most of Lisbon’s attractions.

Cash-strapped: Dom Carlos Parque
Feeling flush: Heritage Avenida

Best for nightlife: Bairro Alto

Spread out across a hill above the old town, the ‘high district’ has long been the city’s bohemian quarter. Its grid of densely packed streets are an intriguing medley of boutiques, bars, restaurants and graffittied houses. Relatively quiet by day, the district comes to life after midnight when on warm summer nights, it gives the impression there’s a permanent street party taking place until the small hours. This is not the place to come for a quiet night, but ideal if you want some serious nightlife. Stay on the fringes of the central grid to be clear of the noisiest streets.

Cash-strapped: The Independente
Feeling flush: Hotel Bairro Alto

Lisbon nightlifedamon jah/Flickr

Best for hip and happening: Cais do Sodré

The once seedy Cais do Sodré has had a makeover, and the bars and clubs that once attracted sailors and street walkers now attract the hip and trendy. There’s an appealing riverfont promenade, tasteful warehouse conversions and the Mercado da Ribeira, the main market, much of it now given over to food stalls serving top cuisine. Cais do Sodré also has plenty of fashionable restaurants and bars, but many of its budget establishments remain; it hasn’t quite thrown off the earthiness that is part of its appeal.

Cash-strapped: Oasis Hostel
Feeling flush: LX Boutique

Best for sophisticates: Lapa and Madragoa

West of the centre, the well-heeled districts of Lapa and Madragoa contain some of the city’s finest mansions and embassies, many with dazzling views over the Tagus. This is a quieter, more residential side to Lisbon, yet you’re only a short tram or bus ride from the city centre one way and the historic sites of Belém the other. This is also where you’ll find the splendid Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, an art gallery featuring the likes of Hieronymus Bosch, Dürer, Rodin and Cranach.

Cash-strapped: Fado Bed and Breakfast
Feeling flush: Olissippo Lapa Palace

Lisbon at sunsetPixabay/CCO

Best for culture: Belém

In 1498, Vasco da Gama set sail from Belém to open up trade routes to India, a feat which established Portugal as one of the world’s superpowers. To give thanks, the king built the sumptuous Jerónimos monastery, the centrepiece of a raft of impressive monuments and museums in this historic suburb west of the centre. These include the Torre de Belém tower, the impressive Maritime Museum and the unmissable Berardo Collection, one of Europe’s top modern art galleries.

Cash-strapped: Casa Amarela
Feeling flush: Altis Belem

Best for early morning flights: Parque das Nações

Close to the airport and a short metro ride from the centre, the Parque das Nações was built for Lisbon’s Expo 98. It’s a futuristic new town of modern apartments and gardens flanking various tourist attractions, including a casino, science museum and its most famous site, the Oceanarium, one of the largest in Europe. You’ll also find a range of international restaurants, bars, concert venues and the giant Vasco da Gama Shopping Centre. All of this faces out onto the Tagus, here crossed by Europe’s longest bridge, the 17km-long Ponte Vasco da Gama.

Cash-strapped: Pousada de Juventude Parque das Nações
Feeling flush: Myriad by Sana

Ponte Vasco da GamaFotografo HDR/Flickr

This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from our latest Pocket Rough Guide to Lisbon. Header image via Valerio Roman/Flickr.