BarcelonaSpain’s second city – sets the template for urban style, hip design and sheer nonstop energy. Where others tinker at the edges, time and again Barcelona has reinvented itself. Visit for the first time or the fiftieth, Barcelona never fails to surprise.

The city’s popularity means finding a hotel vacancy at any time of year can be difficult, so it’s always best to book in advance. There’s a wide range of options, though, from youth hostels and budget pensións to glam five-star-plus hotels, housed in medieval mansions and Modernista masterpieces alike.

Start planning your trip with our guide to the best area to stay in Barcelona, taken from the latest Rough Guide.

Note that while rooms with balconies may be the brightest, traffic is a constant presence and, in a city where people are just getting ready to go out at 10pm, you can be assured of a fair amount of pedestrian noise, particularly in the old town.

The Ramblas

If you hanker after a Ramblas view, you’ll pay for the privilege – generally speaking, there are much better deals to be had either side of the famous boulevard, often just a minute’s walk away.

Spain’s most famous thoroughfare, however, has its attractions, lined with cafés and restaurants, thronged by tourists and performance artists, and home to the acclaimed Boqueria food market.

Value for money: Hostal Benidorm. This refurbished pensión attracts tribes of young tourists with rooms available for one to five people.

Dramatic luxury: Hotel H1898. The former HQ of the Philippines Tobacco Company got an eye-popping refit; some of the sumptuous suites even have their own private pool, jacuzzi and garden.

Barri Gòtic

The Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, which spreads east from the Ramblas, forms the very heart of the old town. With buildings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, most of the district is picture-perfect, full of shops, bars, restaurants, museums and galleries. Alongside some classy boutique choices, most of Barcelona’s cheap accommodation is found here.

Note that the south of the the Barri Gòtic is rather less gentrified. Be careful (without being paranoid) when coming and going after dark and take care at night in poorly lit streets.

Impeccable boutique: Hotel Do. This nineteenth-century Neoclassical building, renovated by renowned Catalan architect Oriol Bohigas, seamlessly blends the contemporary with the timeless.

Eye-catching style: Neri Hotel. A delightful eighteenth-century palace houses this stunning boutique hotel of just 22 rooms and suites, featuring swags of flowing material, rescued timber and granite-toned bathrooms.

El Raval

The old-town area west of the Ramblas is known as El Raval (from the Arabic word for “suburb”) and has always formed a world apart from nobler Barri Gòtic.

Over the last two decades, however, the district has changed markedly, particularly in the “upper Raval” around Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, MACBA. Cutting-edge galleries, designer restaurants and fashionable bars are all part of the scene these days.

You’d hesitate to call El Raval gentrified, as it clearly still has its rough edges. Don’t be unduly concerned during the day as you make your way around, but it’s as well to keep your wits about you at night, particularly in the southernmost streets.

A local landmark: Barceló Raval. The USP of this hotel is its 360-degree top-floor terrace with plunge pool and sensational city views; rooms are sophisticated and open-plan with space-station-style sheen.

Sumptuous style: Hotel España. There’s been no more eagerly awaited hotel opening in recent times than the revamp of this Modernista icon – its interior has no equal in Barcelona.

Sant Pere and La Ribera

The two easternmost old-town neighbourhoods of Sant Pere and La Ribera are both medieval in origin, and are often thought of as one district, but each has a distinct character.

Sant Pere – perhaps the least visited part of the old town – has two remarkable buildings, the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Mercat Santa Caterina. By way of contrast, the old artisans’ quarter of La Ribera has always been a big draw, by virtue of the presence of the graceful church of Santa María del Mar and the Museu Picasso.

Both have a number of safely sited budget, mid-range and boutique options, and are handy for the Born nightlife area.

Budget cool: Chic & Basic Born. From the open-plan, all-in-white decor, everything here is punchily boutique and in-your-face. Chic, certainly; basic, not at all.

Wham-glam designer: Grand Hotel Central. This hotel, beloved of all the style mags has spacious, ever-so-lovely rooms, a rooftop sundeck and infinity pool.

The Eixample

North of Plaça de Catalunya, the Eixample – split into Right (Dreta) and Left (Esquerra) – has some of the city’s most fashionable hotels, often housed in converted palaces and mansions and located just a few minutes’ walk from the modernista architectural masterpieces.

The Dreta de l’Eixample acts as a sort of open-air museum, featuring extraordinary buildings – most notably by Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The Esquerra de l’Eixample is one of Barcelona’s hottest night-out destinations, with both Michelin-starred restaurants and some of the best bars and clubs.

Cheery B&B: BarcelonaBB. Lovely rooms, amiable hosts and a tasty breakfast shared with other happy travellers – what’s not to love?

Contemporary high-spec: the5Rooms. The impeccable taste and fashion background of owner Jessica is evident here: expect gorgeously styled rooms, original artwork and terrific bathrooms.

The waterfront

The greatest transformation in Barcelona has been along the waterfront, where harbour and ocean have once again been placed at the heart of the city. Dramatic changes have opened up the old docksides as promenades and entertainment areas, and landscaped the beaches to the north.

Port Vell is the best place for waterfront views, while to the northeast the eighteenth-century neighbourhood of Barceloneta holds tightly packed streets and excellent seafood restaurants. Further up the coast is the showpiece Port Olímpic, a huge seafront development constructed for the 1992 Olympics.

Four- and five-stars also abound much further out on the metro at the Diagonal Mar conference and events site.

Chic and charming: Bonic Barcelona. This “urban guesthouse” is just a few steps from the port and Ramblas, with Gothic-Moorish decor and gorgeous tiled floors.

Stupendously cool: W Barcelona. This signature building on the Barceloneta seafront is one of the city’s most iconic structures; open-plan designer rooms have fantastic views and facilities are first-rate.

Gràcia

If you prefer neighbourhood living, then the northern district of Gràcia is the best base. It still retains a genuine small-town atmosphere and, unlike some districts in Barcelona, has a real soul.

The area is still very much the liberal, almost bohemian, stronghold it was in the nineteenth century and you’re only ever a short walk away from its excellent bars, restaurants and clubs.

Hostel with style: Casa Gracia. Though this vibrant and stylish space, spread over six floors in a Modernista building, is technically a hostel, you’ll feel like you’re staying in a hotel.

Deluxe luxury: Hotel Casa Fuster. Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s magnificent Casa Fuster is the backdrop for this five-star, with huge beds, gorgeous bathrooms and a wonderful panoramic roof terrace and pool.

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 Barcelona.

Going for a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exaggerated and preposterously warm, that a simple dip can feel borderline indecent. Venture from the capital Reykjavik as far as Reyðarfjörður in the extreme east and you’ll also find that the country hides hundreds of out-of-this-world geothermal pools and naturally-heated hot tubs.

But it first pays to know the rules. Because in Iceland, the right spa etiquette is taken deadly seriously. Here are five dos and don’ts to bear in mind.

Don’t forget to wash yourself

It may sound obvious, but unlike the rest of Europe, where most bathers make-do with a quick shower-room rinse, Icelanders have a set, strict routine when going for a dip that must be followed to the letter.

First, read the rules. They’re pinned to every changing room wall and notice-board, as well as being published in English, French, German and Danish, so you really have no excuse not to follow them.

Second, get washing. Scrub your head, armpits, feet and groin with soap beforehand, and – most importantly – do it in your birthday suit, not bathing suit. A quick rinse just won’t do, especially because most geothermal pools use freshwater and far lower levels of chlorine, even at the Blue Lagoon at Reykjanes.

And having just read the rules, you have no excuse not to get naked. You have been warned.

Do get chatting to the locals

Approaching a complete stranger in a bikini may at first seem like a coquettish, brazen thing to do, but it’s OK in Iceland.

In Reykjavík, hot tubs and pools are more like social clubs where people catch up on news and discuss politics: and they’ve done so since the twelfth century when poet, scholar and politician Snorri Sturluson built the first stone hot tub outside Reykholt.

To get the best of the conversations, go to a local’s pool such as Vesturbæjarlaug, a short walk from Reykjavík city centre, or Nauthólsvík, a geothermal saltwater pool by a golden beach.

Around seven o’clock on a weekday morning, the conversation bubbles as much as the thermal waters. There is no social hierarchy, and everyone is treated like an equal.

For something more romantic, take a date to Sundhöll, built in the 1930s, it’s open late and is one of the oldest baths in the capital.

Don’t talk too loudly (or on your phone)

Icelanders don’t like tourists who make too much noise: period. Their dose of social media may well be a get-together in the spa, but they talk quietly, which can sound as soft as whale song.

The reason? Many spas and indoor pools were built in the 1960s and loud noises echo down the corridors of the indoor pools and steam rooms.

“Our bathhouses tend to venerate tradition above anything else,” says spa aficionado Birgir Þorsteinn Jóakimsson, who visits Reykjavik’s Vesturbæjarlaug every day. “Talking loudly is a nasty habit, especially at an Icelandic spa – so you won’t be popular with the locals. It’s not a circus.”

It also pays to be alert, as hawkish pool attendants may ambush you, showing you the door. They’ve been known to throw tourists out for less.

Don’t jump straight in

Those milky-blue waters are ridiculously tempting, but also feverishly hot. Draw the cool air into your lungs and take your time by testing the water temperature first to check your skin’s sensitivity to the geothermal heat.

In Reykjavík at Laugardalur Park, also known as the Valley of the Pools, the water used to hover at a white-hot 45 degrees Celcius, punishing unsuspecting dive-bombers. Such waters have since been cooled due to health and safety regulations, but with most still nudging upwards of 37 degrees, it’s an odd juxtaposition between bathing in hell, while feeling like you’re in heaven.

To maximise enjoyment, remember to swim in an anticlockwise direction. No one can really explain why, but Icelanders swim in circles from right to left, and so should you.

Do take a local’s advice

The most sacred pools are only known by the locals – and with good reason. Places like the old pool at Gamla Laugin at Fludir on the Golden Circle – supposedly the oldest in Iceland – or Seljavallalaug, a snooker-chalk blue outdoor pool secreted up a valley near Skogar, are so sybaritic you wouldn’t want to share them with anyone else either.

“Everyone has their favourite they want to keep,” says Guðrún Bjarnadottir, a spa professional working at the Blue Lagoon. “If you talk to locals – and they like you – you may get lucky. My personal favourite is somewhere in the hills north of Hveragerdi. It’s in a mystical place known as the Smoky Valley, but the exact location and directions – well – that would be telling.”

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

Almost fifty years since 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, it’s fair to say that the city’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.

However, 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.

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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 the city’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 the city’s top budget options, but booking ahead is essential.

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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 15min 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. Consequently, 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
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.

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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 ex-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.

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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.

Heading to the Portuguese capital this year? Whether you want rich history or shops galore, these are the best areas to stay in Lisbon according to our expert.

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 olde-worlde village Lisbon where you can spend all day exploring.

Cash-strapped: The Keep
Feeling flush: Memmo Alfama

Photo courtesy of The Keep, Lisbon

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 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

The bar in Hotel Bairro Alto

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

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

Lapa Palace Hotel, Lisbon by Dan Benton on Flickr (license)

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 17-km long Ponte Vasco da Gama.

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

MYRIAD by SANA Hotel- Expo 98 – Lisbon by www.GlynLowe.com on Flickr (license)

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

This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent.

One of America’s most iconic cities, San Francisco sits poised on the 47-square-mile fingertip of a peninsula at the western edge of America.

The city has much to gloat about, from the rugged coastline and fog-capped hills to its distinct neighbourhoods, by turn quaint or hip, lined by rows of preserved Victorian houses or dotted with chic clubs in converted warehouses.

Depending on what you’ve got planned for your visit, certain parts of the city may be a better base than others. To help you decide, we’ve put together an area by area guide on where to stay in San Francisco, taken from the latest Rough Guide.

Note that if you’re looking for an out of season deal, March and November are good months for room availability and potentially agreeable weather.

Downtown

Dense with history and humanity, Downtown San Francisco comprises several vibrantly distinct neighbourhoods jammed together between the waterfront and the hills.

At the heart sits Union Square, one of San Francisco’s liveliest urban spaces, the city’s main hotel and shopping district, and the junction of its major transportation lines (including cable cars). Along the waterfront stands the elegant Embarcadero, anchored by the Ferry Building and its immensely popular marketplace, which rims San Francisco’s stalwart Financial District.

Union Square can’t be beat for its variety of options and central location, while a few hotels near the Embarcadero offer a mix of both luxury and Bay views.

For art-lovers: Hotel des Arts. This buzzy spot is a hybrid art gallery and hotel, and many rooms are custom-decorated by local artists. A fun, bargain place to stay.

For classic luxury: Hotel Union Square. One of the top Art Deco hotels Downtown, this boutique destination features brick walls, mosaics galore and an impeccable overall design; cable cars rattle by directly outside its main entrance.

North Beach and the hills

Inland North Beach was named when the area sat along San Francisco’s original northern waterfront, and is best known as home to the city’s Italian community. In recent years its original blue-collar character has been largely eroded by gentrification, but it retains an easy, worn-in feeling, and its sloping residential streets and vibrant main drags are ideal for aimless wandering.

Primarily residential Telegraph Hill and Russian Hill, meanwhile, boast beautiful old homes, as well as hidden gardens tucked away down pathways off steep hillside streets. To the south of Russian Hill lies pristine, yet historically snooty Nob Hill.

For a B&B style hotel: Washington Square Inn. 1660 Stockton St at Filbert, Overlooking Washington Square this hotel has large and airy rooms with a European flavour – some boast bay windows.

For big budgets: The Fairmont. The most famous of Nob Hill’s landmark hotels, this showy palace offers fantastic views despite being relatively low-rise for the neighbourhood.

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The Northern Waterfront and Pacific Heights

From east to west, San Francisco’s Northern Waterfront begins with crass commercialism, passes through areas of vast wealth, and ends at the city’s most famous landmark.

This is an area that almost every visitor at least drops into. Its stunning vistas, opulent (if homogenous) neighbourhoods and even the tourist schlock seem to hold something for everyone.

Overpriced and unapologetically tacky, Fisherman’s Wharf is convenient for trips to Alcatraz and Angel Island. Things take a turn for the affluent in the Marina and Cow Hollow neighbourhoods, where yacht clubs and boutiques dominate the scene. Perched on the tall hill above stands stately, exclusive Pacific heights, home to much of San Francisco’s oldest money, and some of its new wealth as well.

For budget cool: Hotel del Sol. An offbeat, updated motor lodge with a tropical theme all the way down to its small, but inviting outdoor swimming pool (a San Francisco rarity).

For a boutique B&B: Queen Anne Hotel. Gloriously restored Victorian building enjoying its second life with gold-accented Rococo furniture and bunches of silk flowers.

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South of Market and the Tenderloin

The idea of San Francisco as a Victorian-lined utopia holds fast until you wander into the areas to the west and south of Downtown.

After languishing for decades as a warehouse wasteland, South of Market took an upswing in the mid-1990s, when its low rents attracted first art, music and tech communities. In the economic ebb and flow since, the neighbourhood has alternately languished and prospered. The adjoining Tenderloin and Civic Center districts reveal harsher realities, with heavy drug traffic and prostitution in evidence, along with a shocking number of homeless people.

If you’re on a particularly tight budget, but don’t wish to stay in a hostel, these areas are your best option, with some trendier accommodation in South of Market. Be aware, however, that the neighbourhoods can sometimes be dodgy (even during daytime), and the Tenderloin in particular has its share of seedy hotels.

For film fans: Hotel Vertigo. Famous as the place where Alfred Hitchcock filmed the dramatic stairway scenes in Vertigo, this swanky spot boasts a mix of classic French style and modern urban sophistication.

For boutique luxury: Hotel Vitale. Steps from the ferry building, this hotel boasts elegant contemporary rooms (many with bay views) and an on-site spa with rooftop soaking tubs.

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The Mission and the Castro

Together, the Mission and the Castro make up the beating heart of San Francisco, and here more than anywhere else in the city, a number of cultures exist far outside the boundaries of mainstream America.

These compelling neighbourhoods are filled with galleries, murals, one-of-a-kind local shops, vibrant restaurants and thriving nightlife. The Mission is the centre of San Francisco’s largely working-class Latino community, while the Castro is the Bay Area’s – and some would say America’s – epicentre of gay culture.

Many B&Bs here are housed in historic buildings, but the sacrifice of a private bathroom for the charms of a home-cooked breakfast can be worthwhile.

For a B&B with a view: Inn San Francisco. Superb, sprawling B&B set in two adjoining historic Victorians with stunning views across town from the smokers’ terrace on the roof.

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Haight-Ashbury and west of Civic Center

The districts between Civic Center and Golden Gate Park are perhaps the city’s most racially and economically diverse; once grubby and crime-ridden, they now make up an eclectic patchwork.

Haight-Ashbury, once the centre of the hippie movement, has adopted its peace-and-love past as a de facto marketing campaign, but is still worth visiting. If you’re really looking to connect with modern-day counterculture, however, you’re better off in the Lower Haight, immediately to the east.

Elswhere, the affluent nook of sleepy Cole Valley is a pleasant diversion, and Alamo Square is certainly worth a stop, where six restored Victorian houses and the Downtown skyline provide one of San Francisco’s most popular photo opportunities.

North and west of Alamo Square, is the Fillmore, once home to some of the city’s most notorious housing projects and still economically deprived. Grafted onto its eastern edge is Japantown, an awkwardly artificial development but the heart of the city’s Japanese community.

For a taste of Japan: Hotel Kabuki. The Kabuki strikes a sophisticated, streamlined look in architecturally drab Japantown, with tea service rituals and workshops on Japanese traditions.

For park views: Stanyan Park Hotel. Overlooking Golden Gate Park, this small hotel has 35 sumptuous rooms that are incongruous in its countercultural neighbourhood, busily decorated in country florals with heavy drapes and junior four-poster beds.

Explore more of San Francisco with the Rough Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area, the Pocket Rough Guide to San Francisco or the Rough Guide to the USA.

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Since the 1960s, foreign tourists have flocked to Goa, India’s smallest state, attracted by its palm-fringed golden beaches, glorious sunshine and distinctly relaxed attitudes. Domestic tourism has taken off enormously in recent years too, such that now almost ninety percent of visitors are from within India.

Kerala, several hundred kilometres south, draws double the number of both domestic and foreign tourists than Goa, with its dense tropical landscape, tantalising festivals and 550km of striking coastline.

Here’s what to expect from each of these captivating states, and how to decide whether to visit Goa or Kerala first.

What’s the local culture like?

Goa was a Portuguese territory from the sixteenth century until 1961, and a quarter of the population remain Christian today. Though Hindus still make up the majority of the population, unusually for India you’ll find churches in pretty much every town, some of the best of which are in Old Goa, the state’s former capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kerala is intensely ritualistic, with numerous ancient indigenous practices that are unique to this region and which make a visit here far more alien to Western perceptions than Goa. All-night festivals are frequent occurrences at temples across the state, with fireworks, splendidly adorned elephants and deafening drums combining to create magical spectacles.

A performance of kathakali, Kerala’s most famous form of ritual drama, is well-worth experiencing to see the elaborately made-up and fantastically dressed performers act out ancient stories with astonishing intensity.

Which is best for food?

Goa and Kerala are renowned for their excellent cuisines. South Indian curries are generally much spicier than those in northern India, and use simpler, tangier ingredients often including copious amounts of coconut, fresh chillies, tamarind and curry leaves.

Masala dosas originated in southern India, and are a breakfast staple across both states. Rice usually replaces bread in family homes of both states, though in touristy places – and especially in Goa – naans, chapatti and parathas are readily available.

Yet despite these similarities, Goan and Keralan cuisines differ more than you might think.

Idli, steamed rice cakes, are a staple in Kerala, usually served with sambar, a lentil-based vegetables stew. Vada, deep-fried lentil doughnuts, are also immensely popular here, where meals are often served on banana leaves. The vindaloo, meanwhile, is a Goan creation. Vinegar, one of the key ingredients, is a Portuguese legacy, and these ultra-hot curries are traditionally made with pork.

Keralan food is traditionally vegetarian, but you’ll find meat in most places, and fresh, delicious seafood is ubiquitous, as it is in Goa.

Where can I party?

When hippies flocked to Goa in the 1960s, parties spread like wildfire. By the 1990s, Goa Trance was in full swing, attracting partygoers from all over the world to dance till dawn on the sand or in beautiful jungle settings. At the turn of the millennium, the authorities clamped down, banning loud music after 10pm, and with it went the rave scene.

These days parties do still exist (if the police are successfully paid off), and Goa still has a reputation as the party capital of India, particularly around Anjuna and Vagator. Beer as well as local and imported spirits are widely available at beachside restaurants, and cocktails are especially popular in the early evening happy hours.

Kerala, by contrast, has never had much in the way of nightlife, unless you count all-night kathakali performances. Some hotels and restaurants catering for tourists do serve alcohol (amusingly sometimes disguised in tea pots in unlicensed places). In coastal resorts such as Varkala, you’ll find plenty of cheap booze, and even the odd impromptu party which carries on till the small hours.

Where will I find the best beaches?

Goa’s beaches tend to be wider and cleaner than that of Kerala, and are, overall, more tourist-friendly. You can take strolls down the beach and continue for hours, connecting from one resort to the next, which isn’t possible in most places in Kerala. Beachside accommodation is plentiful, from budget shacks to glitzy resorts. There are coastal yoga retreats galore and shops selling the usual hippy tat wherever you go.

Though Kerala’s beaches tend to be smaller, and the beach-shack culture is pretty much non-existent, “God’s Own Country” is home to numerous pretty shores, particularly in the far north where you’ll find some gorgeous quiet coves scattered among little fishing villages. Kerala is also queen of Ayurvedic treatments – if you’re interested in some alternative therapies, this is the place to for you.

What sights are there to see?

Old Goa is home to some lovely examples of whitewashed churches, and the Dudhsagar waterfalls near the southern border with the state of Karnataka manage to draw curious tourists inland. But it’s Goa’s beaches which brings most people here, rather than any specific “sights”.

The main attraction for visitors to Kerala is Fort Cochin, with its European-era architecture, spice markets, iconic Chinese fishing nets, art exhibitions and hip cafés. Another Keralan allure is the chance to ride a boat through the myriad of narrow backwaters that weave their way through lush forests and offer a glimpse into traditional rural village life that’s barely changed for centuries.

Where should I go in a nutshell?

If you’re up for some serious sun worshipping, plenty of boozing and some yoga to cleanse your soul the morning after, your best bet is Goa. If you’re looking for a quieter, more culturally immersive trip, try Kerala. And if you have a weakness for punchy curries, extend your trip and go to both.

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

Few regions of the world have been as idealized and mythologized as California – and yet it seldom fails to live up to the hype. The glamour, surf beaches and near-endless sun of the Southern California coast are rightly celebrated, with Los Angeles, the second-most populous city in the US (after New York), at their heart.

The city itself is a frenetic collection of highways, coastline, seedy suburbs, high-gloss neighbourhoods and extreme lifestyles – all hemmed in by sandy beaches and snowcapped mountains rising above 10,000ft.

The area you decide to stay can have a big impact on your trip, so here’s our guide on where to stay in LA from the latest Rough Guide to California.

Downtown

Downtown, the historic heart of LA, has experienced something of a renaissance. Graceful old banks and hotels have been turned into apartments. The $2.5-billion shopping and entertainment complex, LA Live, has brought cinemas, upper-end hotels, numerous restaurants and clubs.

It remains a diverse neighbourhood however, with, in the space of a few blocks, adobe buildings and Mexican market stalls, skid row (one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the US), avant-garde art galleries and high-rise corporate towers.

Accommodation here ranges from basic beds to plush hotels. But bear in mind that while Downtown is the hub of the MTA networks and public transport, getting to the beaches isn’t simple.

For a bargain: Jerry’s Motel. This hip, remodelled motel offers neat, stylish rooms and free parking just outside Downtown.

For sporty types: Los Angeles Athletic Club. The top three floors of this exclusive club make up a hotel with 72 nicely furnished rooms; a real bonus is free use of the club’s gym, plus a whirlpool and sauna.

Downtown LA / Pixabay / CC0

Hollywood

Ever since movies and their stars became international symbols of the good life, Hollywood has been a magnet to millions of tourists and an equal number of hopefuls drawn by the prospect of riches and glory.

In reality, this was a densely populated, low-income residential neighbourhood, and movie stars actually spent little time here – leaving as soon as they could afford to for the privacy of the hills or coast.
Things have brightened up in the past few years, with the construction of new tourist plazas and shopping malls.

The contrasting qualities of freshly polished nostalgia, corporate hype and deep-set seediness today make Hollywood one of LA’s most diverse areas – and one of its best spots for bar-hopping and clubbing.

For a quirky stay: Hollywood Bed & Breakfast. This B&B is set in a 1912 home that looks a little like something out of Dr. Seuss. It’s close to all the action with four cosy rooms and a small pool.

For modern simplicity: Magic Castle Hotel. Justly popular hotel boasting rooms and suites in a neat, modern style – with heated pool and free soda, candy and cookies 24 hours a day.

Hollywood / Pixabay / CC0

West LA

What is loosely called the Westside of Los Angeles begins immediately beyond Hollywood in West LA – which contains some of the city’s most expensive neighbourhoods.

Bordered by the Santa Monica Mountains to the north, the Santa Monica Freeway to the south, Hollywood to the east and the beach cities the west, this swath of the city best embodies the stylish images that Los Angeles projects to the outside world.

Highlights include the restaurants and boutiques of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and the outstanding Getty Center, positioned high above the LA basin.

For Midwestern kitsch: Farmer’s Daughter. Conveniently located across from (naturally) the Farmers’ Market, this is a handsome boutique property with elements of “country styled” Midwestern kitsch.

For unbridled luxury: Bel-Air. The poshest hotel in LA bar none, built in 1946 and now owned by the Sultan of Brunei, in a lushly overgrown canyon and themed like an Arabian oasis.

Rodeo Drive / Pixabay / CC0

Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu

For many Angelenos, Santa Monica represents the impossible dream – a low-key, tolerant beachside town with a relaxed air and easy access to the rest of the city.

Set along a white-sand beach and home to some of LA’s finest stores, restaurants and galleries, this small community is friendly and liberal – a compact, accessible bastion of oceanside charm.

Immediately south lies quirky Venice, where you’ll find an eccentric mix of skaters, street acts, buskers and more. Gentrification has had an impact, but there’s still an edgy feel in some areas.

Malibu, to the north, has long been immortalised in surfing movies and is perfect for soaking up beach culture, with its ramshackle surf shops and fast-food stands along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

For a bed back from the beach: Ambrose. The best choice for inland Santa Monica, with Arts and Crafts-styled decor and boutique rooms.

For a romantic getaway: Channel Road Inn. The B&B rooms here are nestled in lower Santa Monica Canyon (northwest of the city of Santa Monica), with ocean views, a hot tub and free bike rentals.

The south bay

Head south of LAX and you’ll come to an eight-mile strip of enticing beach towns – Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, part of the region known as the South Bay – which are quieter, smaller and more insular than the Westside beach communities.

Manhattan Beach is a likeable place with a healthy, well-to-do air. Hermosa Beach retains a lingering bohemian feel of the Sixties and Seventies in certain spots. Redondo Beach is less inviting than its relaxed neighbours with condos and hotels lining the beachfront, and the yacht-lined King’s Harbor off limits to curious visitors.

For the height of luxury: The Beach House. Two-room suites with fireplaces, wet bars, balconies, hot tubs, stereos and refrigerators. Many rooms overlook the ocean.

For ocean views: Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club. The best choices at this suite-hotel by the ocean have hot tubs and nice views over the elite playground of King Harbor.

Los Angeles beach / Pixabay / CC0

Orange County

For most visitors Orange County means Disneyland (even though it only exists on roughly one square mile of land, it continues to dominate the area) and you should only look at staying here if you’re heading to the park or travelling along the coast.

For a surfer’s paradise: Huntington Surf Inn. Right on the beach and close to the pier, with nine simple but super cool rooms featuring a pop-art theme based on Southern California beach and surfing culture. Lots of pro surfers really do stay here.

For oceanside luxury: Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. A stunning Ritz-Carlton, this one is perhaps the best in town for its oceanside beauty (on the cliffs overlooking the sea around Dana Point). Rooms and suites are chock-full of luxury.

Dana Point Sunset / Pixabay / CC0

Explore more of Los Angeles with the Rough Guide to California or the Rough Guide to the USA.

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 California. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Ritmo Cuba salsa festival

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

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

3. New tours and operators

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

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

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

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

4. Gran Teatro reopens

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

5. Cruise liner companies launch Cuba itineraries

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

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

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

6. Manana music festival

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

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

7. New ferries and flights from US

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

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

8. Rock legends in concert

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

9. Hay Literary Festival comes to Cuba

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

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

10. New luxury at Hotel Manzana de Gomez

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

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

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

Nearly one in four couples now have a destination wedding abroad. But there are a whole host of practicalities to consider before simply jetting off somewhere exotic and saying ‘I do’.

From the legalities and visas to stowing your wedding dress on the plane, Lucy McGuire shares her ten essential tips for getting married overseas.

1. Check it’s legal

Marriage laws vary between countries, so find out if it’s legal to get married in the country of your choice and if it will be valid in your local and international law.

France for example, requires 40 days’ residency before you can legally marry there and your ceremony must take place 10 days after your marriage banns. Other countries have no residency requirements. Laws for same-sex marriages vary again, so check with foreign embassies first.

If you’re set on a destination but the laws won’t allow it, consider a quick registry office wedding in your hometown, then hold a blessing overseas.

2. Decide on tailor-made or one-size-fits all

Once you’ve picked your wedding destination, decide whether you want a wedding package, or if you’d like to tailor-make your day independently or through a wedding planner.

Many travel companies offer a ‘menu’ of wedding packages held within a hotel resort. They’ll often have a wedding planner on speed-dial and they’ll manage every detail of the day – handy if you have lots of guests.

For a more personalised set-up, research local wedding planners to find out what they can offer and check out their reviews and photos of past weddings they’ve done before you commit.

3. Use your wedding planner

If you decide to use a wedding planner, make sure you get the most from them. They should be your local expert on the ground, suggesting beautiful locations to tie the knot, secure the marriage officer or registrar and sort all the logistics surrounding your big day.

Negotiate a fee that works for you and tap into their expertise on the best hotels, local vendors, photographers, musicians, and venues. Keep in regular contact and schedule at least one call or Skype chat before your big day.

4. Pick the right time of year

National holidays and festivals can affect the demand on flights and accommodation. So expect to pay more during busy times.

Try to plan your wedding just outside of peak periods. You’ll have more choice for your wedding date and you’ll stand a better chance of a flight upgrade. Hotels, restaurants and local attractions will be quieter too.

5. Consider the weather

While September may be a beautiful time to marry in Santoríni, it’s monsoon season in parts of the Caribbean and the Far East. If you’re having an outdoor wedding, choosing the right season could be the difference between a sun-kissed paradise and a hurricane disaster. Make sure to have a contingency plan in case of downpours.

6. Check flight times

Check which days the key airlines fly to your wedding destination and leave at least 48 hours between the day you land and the date of your wedding day. Even if there’s no legal waiting period, this should give you enough time to get over any jet lag and discuss final details at your location.

7. Check your baggage fee with your airline

Most airlines allow you to take your wedding dress onboard a flight as hand luggage but it will most likely be at an extra cost. Contact your airline in advance to check this and buy a good quality dress bag that can be hung or folded. If you have to check your wedding dress in, pack it up securely in a box and mark it as fragile.

8. Keep a checklist of legal documents

Check all the legal documents you’re going to need for your wedding overseas. Some countries require a certificate of no impediment (CNI) from your local register office as proof of your single status and all will most likely need a copy of your birth certificate.

Check visa requirements well in advance, too, and don’t forget to make sure you have six months left on your passport.

9. Buy wedding insurance

It’s important to take out extra wedding travel insurance that covers your wedding dress, rings or gifts in the unlikely event they are lost or stolen. Always check the small print for the value you are covered up to and the details on excess payments.

10. Tie in your honeymoon

Try and plan your wedding so that you have enough time to relax and enjoy your honeymoon. You could go island hopping, escape to a retreat or mix safari and city.

Either way, see your destination wedding as a stepping-stone to your honeymoon travels. You’ll get your money’s worth and it’s the chance to enjoy the trip of a lifetime. We’ve compiled a list of top honeymoon destinations and collected ten essential planning tips to get you started.

Big Sur, California

Dizzying views of the Pacific Ocean are awarded at every bend of the 90-mile stretch of craggy coastal road between California’s Carmel and San Simeon. Rent a convertible and hit the highway in true Californian style. This is a sparsely populated region, so for it’s ideal for romancers seeking seclusion. Don’t miss the stunning McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Beach.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Rising out of the Nevada desert like the emerald city of Oz, fabulous Las Vegas flaunts its reputation as a destination for high rollers and thrill seekers. Notions of romance are vast and varied in this neon Mecca, so clasp hands and take your pick from gondola rides in the Venetian, a spin on the high-flying SlotZilla zipline or a late-night stroll along The Strip to the spectacular Fountains of the Bellagio.

Stowe, Vermont

Frank Sinatra crooned over moonlight in Vermont, but autumn in this New England state is the real showstopper. As the weather turns chilly, the landscape, which is thickly carpeted in forest, erupts into riotous shades of amber and gold – a spectacle of colour to make any pair of autumn-lovers swoon. Stowe is particularly picturesque, a classic American town with friendly locals and a backdrop of rolling hills.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

It’s a two-hour ferry from mainland Massachusetts to the beachy isle of Nantucket, where long stretches of sandy shore and wild heathland will certainly bowl you over. Inland, dreamy clapboarded houses – many still standing strong after 150 years – line the charming cobbled streets into Nantucket Town. Pick up supplies from a local deli, rent bicycles and pedal your way to the iconic lighthouse at Brant Point for a picnic in the dunes.

New York City

New York City is arguably the ultimate city destination. Home to some of the world’s most venerated galleries and museums, even the most discerning culture vulture will be awed. The iconic skyline, bursting with recognizable landmarks, will delight city wanderers hunting photo opportunities. And for foodies planning a memorable meal? Dine under the arches of The Grand Central Oyster Bar, a city institution opened over a century ago, which boasts a whispering gallery famous for hushed propositions.

Crested Butte, The Rockies, Colorado

Outdoorsy couples seeking activity and alpine summer air should head to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. From June through August the meadows and forests of Crested Butte are blanketed in colourful arrays of wild flowers. Bike through woodland trails into a rugged wilderness of snow-capped peaks, or hike the 12-mile distance to Aspen and spend the night in one of the town’s luxury lodges – balcony hot tubs are, of course, de rigueur.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Colonised by France, briefly ruled by the Spanish and bought by the US in 1803, The Big Easy embraces cultural fusion like no other city in America. Perhaps best known for its music scene, and arguably as the hometown of jazz and blues, New Orleans is imbued with a spirit of festivity. Come nightfall the seductive French Quarter buzzes with romance. Think balcony dinners, red-hot Creole cuisine and buskers playing nightlong on street corners.

Kauai, Hawaii

Tropical island life doesn’t get more laid-back than Kauai. The palm-dotted beaches of this most northerly Hawaiian Island, famous for its surf and remarkable volcanic landscapes, offers pure paradise for any duo searching for a tranquil escape. Test the waters of Kiahuna beach – best for beginner surfers – or if catching waves isn’t your thing, head to Ha’ena on the northern shore, where trails through the State Park will lead you to ancient Hawaiian sites.

Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska

Begin your trip by taking in the ethereal spectacle of the aurora borealis, best observed from the skies above Fairbanks during winter months. Here, temperatures can drop to heart-aching sub zero levels, but the Northern Lights (and a cuddle or two) will surely set frozen pulses racing and leave you starry-eyed. Next, ride the rails south from Fairbanks to Anchorage in a glass-topped train, the ideal vantage point to soak up that dramatic scenery in comfort.

Portland, Oregon

Artsy and vibrant with outstanding green spaces, Portland is the ultimate hangout city. Having planted itself on the map as a haven for keen cyclists and coffee lovers, there’s now a burgeoning street food scene and commitment to craft beer, with more local breweries than any city in the world. Spend an evening bar hopping and banish any resulting hangover with a trip to the enchanting Multnomah Falls, where a gentle amble leads you to the cascading waterfall and fairy-tale bridge crossing.

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