See a picture of Skye, suspect computer enhancement. That’s just how it works until you get there. Then you cross the bridge, and slowly it dawns on you – Skye really does look like another world.

The grass really is that emerald green (that’ll be the rain), the mountains really are that sheer, the water really is that mirror-like. And, yes, the sky really is that theatrical, its clouds veering from disaster film leaden to romantic drama sun-streaked.

No surprise then that the latest film adaptation of Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, uses Skye as a backdrop. Here’s where you can follow in their footsteps.

For classic Skye scenery

Locals were called up to the Quiraing to appear as extras during filming here, in the scene where Macbeth is titled Thane of Cawdor, but it is the scenery that decidedly steals the show.

Arrive early (before 11am) to grab a parking spot along the single-track road between Uig and Staffin and head along the lower level path. To your left are sheer granite cliffs, exposed by a dramatic landslip that also created otherworldly rock formations including the Needle rock stack and the dramatic triple summit of the Prison.

Taking a hard left you’ll hike uphill (thousands of feet have worn it into a ladder of turf steps) for views down over the Table, a flat grassy plateau once used by locals to hide sheep from invaders. It’s a steep trail back down to road level but the shots you’ll have filled your camera with make it well worthwhile.

Great Britain, Scotland, Isle of Skye, Cuilins, Elgol, house in Highland landscape

For a challenge

The most challenging mountain range in Britain, The Cuillin also plays a dramatic role in the film, as the site of Banquo’s assassination.

But the drama doesn’t end there, as even the most experienced of hikers will find plenty to push them in this rocky range. There are 11 munros in the ridge, the easiest of which to climb is probably Sgurr na Banachdich, for which you won’t need to use your hands.

Start from Glen Brittle Youth Hostel car park and follow the path up the south side of the stream, passing a series of waterfalls. A faint muddy path leads off to the right, ascending the moor. You’ll cross a stream and head on up the back of Coir’ an Eich on a clear path zigzagging up an extremely steep scree slope before continuing along the ridge towards the summit. You’re at 3166ft up here and the views are truly spectacular, out over the tooth of the ridge towards the sea.

Don’t set out without proper gear, food and drink, a decent map and route instructions.

Scotland, Isle of Skye, Elgol, Loch Slapin and Cuillin mountain range in background

For those who want to get out on the water

“I was really foremost led by [Scotland] and [its] landscape to kind of define the look of the film”, said director Justin Kurzel. And if you want to get a real feel for the views that inspired him, you have to take to the water.

Board a Bella Jane boat trip in Elgol and it’s just a 45-minute crossing to the base of the River Scavaig, which links the loch to the sea and is said to be the shortest river in Britain.

It takes just ten minutes to walk up the river to the loch, with some rock hopping involved, and here you will get some of the best views of The Cuillin. The steep-sided mountains stare down at you from all directions, reflected in water so calm it acts like a mirror.

Don’t try to cross the river (unless you are happy to get very wet), instead stick to the left-hand side of the loch and continue further, leaping from rock to rock and following the often soggy path to get a little closer to those imposing peaks.

The boat runs continuously so you can either stay an hour and a half or three hours before catching it back to Elgol. On the crossing look out for the Small Isles of Rum, Muck, Eigg and Canna, as well as plenty of seals, and puffins during the summer.

Scotland, Isle of Skye, highland cattle grazing on the grassy hills and fields.

For a true taste of Scotland

Food might not be a focus of the film – but it should be one for your trip. Skye is known for its natural produce and restaurant menus across the island make good use of it (try Kinloch Lodge, the Three Chimneys and Scorry Breac for the best).

The freshest produce is found by getting out there among it, though, foraging on a day out with Skye Ghillie, aka Mitchell Partridge.

Every day with Mitch is different, but expect a spot of deer stalking through the forest (look out for snapped branches and hoof prints as signs of recent activity), plenty of picking of herbs such as wood sorrel and bog myrtle and a feast of foraged mussels on the beach, cooked in water from the loch.

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

Iceland‘s landscapes look different from every angle and at every time of day. Whether it’s a late-morning sunrise in the middle of winter, or the aurora borealis dancing in the skies above a glassy lake, the country produces vistas that make even the most travel-weary adventurers say “wow”. The climate can be challenging, but the rewards are plenty – as these photographers from Picfair found out on their Icelandic expeditions. Here are 21 pictures of Iceland that will wow you, too.

Sunset over a glacier

Sunset in IcelandIceland Sunset by Martyn Day / Picfair

Lóndrangar cliffs, western Iceland

A windy day at Londrangar cliffs, Iceland.
Windy Swirls by Dominique Dubied / Picfair

The Strokkur geyser, part of the Golden Circle

‘Tourists look on as the amazing Strokkur geyser erupts in front of them in Iceland.’Strokkur From a Distance by Emma Sinnett / Picfair

Reykjavik taken from the tower of the Hallgrímskirkja church

‘Reykjavik taken from Hallgrimskirkja.’Reykjavik by John Metcalfe / Picfair

The northern lights over the church in Glymur

‘Northern lights over one of the many churches in Iceland.’Glymur Church – Iceland by Noel Coates / Picfair

Morning at Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, Grundarfjörður

‘A wonderful morning at Kirkjufellfoss in Iceland.’Good morning, Iceland! by Michael Schwarzmüller / Picfair

Boats in the harbour at Siglufjörður

‘Boat parking at the jetty of the town in Siglufjorour, northern Iceland.’Boat parking at the jetty of Siglufjorour by Jordan Lye / Picfair

The Northern Lights over Grundarfjörður

‘An aurora (northern lights) over the small Icelandic village of Grundarfjörður.’Aurora over Grundarfjörður by James Woodend / Picfair

A windswept Icelandic horse

‘Icelandic Horse (Equus ferus caballus) closeup, staring at camera.’Icelandic Horse (Equus ferus caballus) closeup by Stuart Gray / Picfair

Harpa, the Reykjavík Opera House

‘Harpa, the Reykjavic Opera House.’Harpa by Neil Cherry / Picfair

Kayaking on a glacier lagoon

‘Just sailing on his kayak at the glacier lagoon in Iceland. Beautiful sunset and the scenery is quite serene and peaceful.’Chillin on the ice lagoon by Jórunn Sjöfn Guðlaugsdóttir / Picfair

Inside Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier

‘Standing in the ice cave in on of Iceland’s and Europe’s largest glacier Vatnajokull.’Under roof of ice by Jórunn Sjöfn Guðlaugsdóttir / Picfair

A pink sunset by the glacier lagoon in southeast of Iceland

‘Beautiful pink sunset by the glacier lagoon in south east of Iceland. Ice on fire on the black sandy beach.’Fire and ice by Jórunn Sjöfn Guðlaugsdóttir / Picfair

The black church of Budir

‘The black church of Budir, Iceland.’Budir Church by Dominique Dubied / Picfair

Lupine field in the Vatnajokull National park, southeast Iceland

‘A beautiful purple lupine field in the Vatnajokull National park, south east of Iceland.’Purple Infinity by Jórunn Sjöfn Guðlaugsdóttir / Picfair

An abandoned US Navy aeroplane in southern Iceland

‘Abandoned US Navy airplane in southern Iceland.’Isolation by dscphoto / Picfair

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

‘Lutherian Church, Reykjavik.’Lutherian Church, Reykjavik by Neil Smith / Picfair

Sunset in southern Iceland

‘A couple walking in the desert sand and snow in southern Iceland when the sun is about to set.’Walking the Sunset by Jórunn Sjöfn Guðlaugsdóttir / Picfair

Háifoss waterfall, Iceland’s second highest waterfall

‘Standing on the edge of a high cliff facing Iceland’s second highest waterfall, Haifoss waterfall.’Feeling small by Jórunn Sjöfn Guðlaugsdóttir / Picfair

Snæfellsnes, western Iceland

‘Snow capped mountains on Iceland catching the last evening sun. Snaefellsnes, Iceland.’Snowy mountains by Michiel Mulder / Picfair

The Sun Voyager

Sólfar, the Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason

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.

The world’s longest glass-bottomed walkway opened in China‘s Hunan province last week, after the old wooden panels of the Haohan Qiao suspension bridge were replaced with transparent glass frames.

Towering 180 meters over a scenic canyon in Shiniuzhai Geopark, the structure is billed as a walk for thrill-seekers and nature buffs alike.

But is it safe? Though the first batch of tourists on site said they could feel the bridge wobbling beneath them, the 11 engineers who built the Haohan Qiao swear by the bridge’s solidity. Each glass frame is 24mm thick and 25 times stronger than your average window pane. Engineers even installed thin steel beams to ensure that if the glass were to shatter, walkers wouldn’t actually fall through.
Glass Suspension Bridge, Hunan, China

But if you’re walking for the bragging rights, remember that this is just the latest of China’s increasingly popular glass-bottomed tourist attractions.

An even longer and taller glass-bottomed bridge is set to open in Hunan’s Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon later this year (measuring an extreme 300 meters high and 430 meters long). Here’s hoping that one feels a little less wobbly.

If you’ve got wheels, wanderlust and a spot of time, start your engines. From the sunny shores of Portugal to the darkest dungeons of Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, the following itineraries can be easily combined, shortened or altered to suit your wayfaring tastes. Here are 10 of the best road trips in Europe.

1. From the glamour and glitz of Paris to the glorious grit of Berlin

Leaving Paris, cruise through the gentle hills of Champagne and Reims to the quaint capital of Luxembourg City, and explore the country’s plethora of fairy-tale castles.

Trier, Germany’s oldest city, is less than an hour’s drive further north-east, where ancient Roman baths and basilicas stand marvellously intact.

Spend a night in the medieval village of Bacharach in Riesling wine country, before wandering the riverside streets of Heidelberg. Onward to Nuremberg, and then to Leipzig for a strong dose of hot caffeine with your Cold War history, classical music and cake.

Detour to Dresden, restored after ruinous bombing in WWII, before ending in one of Europe’s coolest cities: the creative paradise of Berlin.

Alternatively, try starting your engines in London and taking the ferry to France, transforming this road trip into a pilgrimage between Europe’s holy trinity of artistic hubs. 

Best for: Culture vultures looking for bragging rights.
How long: 1–2 weeks.
Insider tip: If you’re driving in France, you’ll legally need to keep safety equipment (a reflective vest and hazard signal). Additionally, keep spare Euros in your wallet to pay the occasional French road toll on the way.

Ausflug nach Luxembourg Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

2. Surf and sun in the Basque and beyond

Begin in Bilbao, where the nearby villages boast some of the world’s best surf, and drive along the Atlantic to San Sebastian: watersports wonderland and foodie heaven. Then venture south through the rugged wilderness of the Pyrenees to Pamplona. Ascend onwards to the Roncesvalles Pass before looping back to the coast. Or continue along the Bay of Biscay to the attractive seaside resort of St-Jean-de-Luz.

Travellers with a little extra money lining their pockets will be happy to spend days lingering on boho beaches in Biarritz, while those looking for gargantuan swell can do no better than the surfer hangouts in Hossegor.

Finish the trip northward in Bordeaux, “the Pearl of the Aquitaine”, where café-strewn boulevards and world-class wines are your trophies at the finish line.

Best for: Sun-seeking surfers and foodies.
How long: 1 week.
Insider tip: Check seasonal surf forecasts before you go, and look into coastal campsites if you’re on a budget. The Basque roads beg a convertible – or better yet, a colourful camper van with surfboards strapped to the roof.

Bordeaux, FranceYann Texier/Flickr

3. The Arctic fjords from Bergen to Trondheim

Kick off in the city of Bergen, on Norway’s southwest coast, and make way past mighty fjords to Voss and the colossal Tvindefossen waterfall. Then check the world’s longest road tunnel off your to-do list, a cavernous 24.5km route under the mountains.

Catch a quick ferry across the Sognefjord and carry on to the Fjaler valleys, a land of glaciers and snowy mountain peaks, to the waterside towns of Stryn or the mountain village Videster.

Work your way northward to the well-touristed towns of Geiranger, down the death-defying hairpin turns of Trollstigen (literally “The Troll Path”).

After the descent, ferry across the Eresfjord to Molde and Kristiansund. For the final stretch, drive the iconic Atlantic Road with its roller-coaster-style bridges, and conclude with some well-deserved downtime upon the still waters and stilted homes of Trondheim.

Best for: Thrill seekers and landscape junkies.
How long:
3–7 days.
Insider tip:
If you plan on road tripping during Norway’s winter months, be sure to check online ahead of time for road closures.

8983387461_471cff8b6c_oHoward Ignatius/Flickr

4. The unexplored east: Bucharest to Vienna

Embark from Bucharest, travelling northward through the Carpathian mountains to Transylvania, and make a mandatory stop at Bran Castle (claimed to be the old stomping grounds of Dracula himself).

Take the Transfagarasan mountain road, one of the most incredibly beautiful routes in the world, towards the age-old cities and countless castles of Sibu, Brasov and Sighisoara. Then set course to the unexplored architectural gems of Timisoara.

Carry on towards the tranquil baths and hip ruin pubs of bustling Budapest, and be prepared to stay at least a few days. Depart for Bratislava – a capital full of surprises – from where it’s only an hour further to the coffeehouses and eclectic architecture of Vienna.

Best for: Anyone looking for a break from the conventional tourism of western Europe.
How long: 7–12 days.
Insider tip: Exercise caution when driving through tunnels. Though the weather outside may be fine, tunnels are often slippery.

8429373280_67a6c3d7fe_oMichael Newman/Flickr

5. To Portugal and beyond

Start in Braga, before driving south to the medieval town of Guimarães, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then it’s onward to the breathtaking “second-city” of Porto, though it’s nothing less than first-rate.

Drive east to the vineyards and steep valleys of Penafiel and Amarante before hitting the coastal road to the vast white beaches of Figueira da Foz. From here it’s on to Peniche, Ericeira and then Lisbon: the country’s vibrant capital that’s on course to beat out Berlin for Europe’s coolest city.

Drive south to Sagres, Arrifana and Carrapateira. After soaking up the sun on the picturesque shores of the Algarve, wrap this road trip up in the Mediterranean dreamland otherwise known as Faro.

But if you’ve still got itchy feet when you reach Faro, take the ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Morocco. Imagine the satisfaction of parking your ride in the desert village of Merzouga, before exploring the Sahara – that’s right, it would feel awesome.

Best for: Beach bums and oenophiles.
How long: At least 10–14 days.
Insider tip: As Portugal is among the more affordable destinations in Western Europe, this can be an especially great trip for travellers on a budget.

14282745865_37f8214526_oChris Ford/Flickr

6. High-altitude adventure on Germany‘s Alpine Road

The Alpenstrasse, or Alpine Road, is your ticket to a bonafide Bavarian odyssey: a safe route through the unforgettable vistas of Germany’s high-altitude meadows, mountains, crystal-clear lakes and cosy village restaurants. Start lakeside at Lindau and head to Oberstaufen if you fancy a therapeutic beauty treatment in the country’s “capital of wellness”.

Venture eastwards to the Breitachklamm gorge, where the river Breitach cuts through verdant cliffs and colossal boulders. Carry on to the town of Füssen – famous for its unparalleled violin makers – stopping along the way at any quaint Alpine villages you please. The iconic Neuschwanstein Castle, the same structure that inspired Walt Disney to build his own version for Cinderella, isn’t far off either.

Hit the slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen if the season’s right. Stop at Benediktbeuern on your way to the medieval town of Bad Tölz, then up through the stunning wilderness scenes of the Chiemgau Alps before ending in the regional capital of Munich. If you’re missing the mountain roads already, carry on to Salzburg and stop in the ice caves of Werfen on the way.

Best for: Outdoorsy types.
How long: 3–8 days.

19728031982_ea351f1379_oHoward Ignatius/Flickr

7. Godly beaches and ancient highways in Greece

Start in Athens and take the coastal roads south through the Athenian Riviera to Sounion, situated at the tip the Attic peninsula. Watch a sunset at the Temple of Posseidon, then drive northward through mythic mountains to the fortress of Kórinthos before posting up in the legendary city of Mycenae (home of Homeric heroes).

If you’re craving a luxurious seaside stay, look no further than the resort town of Náfplio. If not, carry onwards through the unforgiving landscapes to Mystra, the cultural and political capital of Byzantium.

Feet still itching? Then it’s on to Olympia, sporting grounds of the ancients, and the mystic ruins of Delphi. Loop back towards Athens, approaching the city from the north.

Best for: Sun-worshipers, and anyone who’s ever read Homer or watched overly action-packed flicks such as Troy and 300.
How long: 5–10 days, though it’s easy to trim a version of this road trip down to a long weekend.

19338893149_fc29514d3e_kNikos Patsiouris/Flickr

8. London to Edinburgh and the Highlands

Leave the hectic pace of England’s capital behind. Make for Oxford, home of the world’s oldest English-language university, and a place of storied pubs where the likes of J.R.R Tolkien and Lewis Carrol regularly wrote and wet their whistles.

If you’ve got the time, it’s a quick drive to the cottages of the Cotswolds. If not, cruise up to Stratford-Upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare.

Take the two-and-a-half-hour drive north to Manchester for a city fix and watch a football match, then head to the quirky medieval lanes of York, walled-in by the ancient romans nearly 2000 years ago.

Press on to the Lake District National Park. Drink in the scenery that inspired England’s finest romantics, before making your way past tiny villages to the majestic wonders of Edinburgh. If you’re craving the rugged comforts of the highlands go to Stirling, Inverness, or the Western Isles – worth the drive indeed.

Best for: Locals that want to feel like foreigners, and foreigners that want to feel like locals.
How long: 5–10 days.

8663584897_ee256a5ff7_k Andy Smith/Flickr

9. The secret shores of Sicily and Calabria 

Hit the gas in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, the biggest historic centre in Italy after Rome and arguably the country’s most chaotic metropolis.

Adventure onwards along the Tyrrhenian coast to the golden sands of Cefalù – a great holiday spot for families, with a mellow medieval town centre to boot.

Get to the island’s heartland and the ancient city of Enna. Surrounded by cliffs on all sides, and built atop a massive hill, you’ll feel as though you’ve walked on the set of Game of Thrones. Head southeast to the shores of the Ionian Sea and dock in Siracusa, once the most important in the western world while under ancient Greek rule with much of its historic architecture intact.

Then it’s up to Catania for a trip to molten Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano on the entire European continent.

Finish the trip in Messina, or ferry across into the Italian province of Calabria where rustic mountain villages, friendly locals and the idyllic sands of Tropea and Pizzo await – refreshingly void of foreigners.

Best for: Anyone looking for a truly authentic Italian experience, and of course, hardcore foodies. 
How long: 
6–12 days.

Catania and Mt EtnaBob Travis/Flickr

The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget For more information about travelling through Europe, check out The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

Four months after two devastating earthquakes struck the country, Nepal is slowly getting back on its feet. Shafik Meghji explains how, ahead of the peak tourist season, travellers can help the country recover by booking a holiday.

Why should I go?

Tourism is a vital part of the Nepali economy, directly supporting almost 500,000 jobs, and indirectly supporting many more. “Tourism is the backbone of Nepal’s economy, the major employer” says Ramesh Chaudhary, a leading guide. “Nepal’s economic sustainability heavily depends on tourism. Tourists can help alleviate poverty by travelling in various parts of Nepal. The number of tourists decreased drastically aftermath of the earthquake, but they have started coming again.”

Is it safe?

In July the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US State Department both softened their travel warnings for citizens visiting most parts of Nepal. Although travel companies cancelled trips in the aftermath of the earthquakes, many are now running tours for the post-monsoon peak season, which runs from late September to late November.

Nepal, Himalayas, Mt Everest region, yak on shore of a mountain lake

“Following the earthquake we were overwhelmed by the response from our customers enquiring after the wellbeing of the local guides and partners we work with in Nepal,” says Lloyd Kane, senior manager at Rickshaw Travel, which is running a range of trips this year.

“We have been speaking to our partners in Nepal every day since the incident and recently sent a team of senior staff members out to Kathmandu and the surrounding area to offer their support and find out what it’s like to travel in the country.

“They reported that life in Kathmandu is slowly getting back on track, hotels are open and ready to welcome guests and the country is as beautiful and hospitable as ever.”

Where can I go?

The earthquakes affected fourteen of the country’s 75 districts. Although the devastation is extensive in these fourteen central districts – they will take many years to recover, and travellers should avoid them for now – the remaining 61 survived relatively or completely unscathed and are safe to visit.

For example, the tranquil lakeside city of Pokhara, the national parks of Chitwan and Bardia – home to rhinos, elephants, tigers and a wealth of other wildlife – and Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha, all escaped major damage.

Nepal, Pokhara, boat on Pokhara Lake, sunset

What about Kathmandu?

The capital – and the surrounding valley, the country’s cultural heartland – was badly affected by the earthquakes, but is now getting back to normal. In July UNESCO decided not to put seven Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites on its “danger list”, and they are now open to the public again.

Some – including the mesmerising Buddhist stupa at Boudha and Pashupatinath, Nepal’s holiest Hindu pilgrimage site – were largely untouched. Others, such as Kathmandu’s Durbar Square and the Swayambhu Temple, suffered significant damage, but restoration work is underway.

“Generations of skilled artisans have built and rebuilt these sites over the centuries,” says Mads Mathiasen, who runs Nepal-based tour operator Himalayan Trails.

Nepal, Annapurna Range, Buddhist prayer wheels at monastery in the Himalayas

“The heritage is not only in the bricks and mortar we see today. It is also in the spirit of the place and the connection of the people who live here, worship here and maintain these areas, including rebuilding the physical structures after earthquakes, fires or other types of damage which inevitably occur over time.”

More than ninety percent of Kathmandu’s hotels and guesthouses, particularly those in the tourist hub of Thamel, have reopened. Look for one with a green sticker, which indicates that government engineers have assessed it as safe: for a list of hotels with the green sticker, click here.

Most restaurants and travel agencies are also open for business, there is electricity (though the regular pre-earthquakes power cuts continue) and internet access, and ATMS are functioning as normal.

Nepal, Annapurna Range, river in the mountains

How do I get there and around?

Kathmandu’s international airport remained open throughout the earthquakes, and continues to be served by a wide range of airlines. Most of the regional airports and the major roads are also open, and outside of the worst-affected areas, it is straightforward to get around.

Can I go trekking?

Yes. Miyamoto International, a major engineering firm, has carried out assessments of the major trekking areas. It judged that both the Everest and Annapurna regions will be safe to trek in after the monsoon.

The Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal is overseeing assessments of other trails, and says most of the other popular trekking regions – excluding Langtang, Rolwaling and Manaslu – are also safe.

Nepal, Mount Everest region, mountain views

What about insurance?

It can be a tricky getting insurance for trips to Nepal, though the situation is likely to improve over the coming weeks and months: travel agencies can provide the latest advice.

Where can I find out more?

Nepal’s tourist industry runs a useful Facebook group. The just-launched About NepalNow website, a collaboration between travel experts and the Nepal Tourism Board, will be similarly helpful when fully up and running.

Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to Nepal. He blogs at unmappedroutes.com and tweets @ShafikMeghjiCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Think of Hong Kong and what image comes to mind? Crowded streets? Skyscrapers? A forest of neon signs?

Filmmaker Stephane Ma wants to challenge your preconceptions. In this beautiful three-minute film he uses drones to put the city in perspective, sweeping above the central high-rises and out over the beaches and mountains in a series of magical dawn and daytime shots.

“I made this video because I wanted to show a different side of Hong Kong”, he says, “[to show] how beautiful it is is and how it’s actually really easy to escape this hectic city and end up surrounded by nature just minutes from all these skyscrapers.”

He couldn’t have succeeded better: his film is our pick of the week.


Hong Kong from above from Stephane Ma on Vimeo.

Explore more of Hong Kong with the Pocket Rough Guide to Hong Kong and MacauCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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

1. Horse about at Scotland’s Common Ridings

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

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

Jethart Callants' Festival Day

2. Find Middle Earth in Northern Ireland

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

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

3. Mountain bike on world-class trails in Wales

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

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

7174028403_510f7cf652_b_MTB1662 by Dai Williams (license)

4. Explore Britain’s most mysterious beach in Scotland

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

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

5. Discover heaven on Earth in Cornwall

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

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

Inside the Eden Project, Cornwall, England, UK

6. Call in the heavies at the Highland Games

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

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

7. Take bonfire night to extremes in Lewes

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

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

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

Bonfire night, Lewes, England, UK

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

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

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


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

The fabled Pacific Crest Trail guides adventuresome hikers from the borders of Mexico to Canada, blazing across the deserts, mountain ranges and dense forests that make up America’s breathtaking Western States (California, Oregon, and Washington). It usually takes five months for thru-hikers to complete, but you’re about to make the 4286km journey in less than three minutes.

This film’s creator, Halfway Anywhere, says he quit his job to make the trip after “finally realizing that what you grow up thinking you are supposed to do and what you can actually do are two entirely different things”.

When you see the stunning clips in this video, you might just want to do the same:

If Peru’s Sacred Valley wasn’t epic enough already, now you can sleep in transparent capsules suspended 300metres from one of its towering cliff faces. With a panoramic view overlooking the mystical Andes, the rapids of Rio Urubamba and the Sacred Valley itself, Skylodge (bookable through Airbnb) is not only the world’s first hanging lodge: it might just be the coolest bedroom ever.

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Each of the three futuristic-looking capsule suites is handcrafted of aerospace aluminium and weather-resistant polycarbonate complete with four beds (sleeping up to 8 people), solar powered lights, a dining area and a private bathroom. And yes, even the view from the loo is utterly breathtaking: get ready to lord over the old Inca Empire from your eco-toilette throne.

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But if you want to sleep extreme, then you’ve got to be extreme. To reach your capsule’s cushy beds and feather down pillows, you’ll have to climb a 400m-high steel ladder, or opt to hike a mountain trail and zip-line over chasms instead.

As the night sky emerges, thank the countless twinkling stars above you that Natura Vive, the young entrepreneurs behind Skylodge, engineered it so well that you’ve managed to stay calm while dangling off the edge of a cliff.

After breakfast the next morning, you’ll rappel and zip-line back down to solid ground. You’ll also have some serious bragging rights.

All photos in this piece courtesy of Airbnb. Explore more of Peru with the Rough Guide to PeruCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Not for those without a head for heights: Rough Guides editor Ros Walford conquers one of the cliffs of the Metéora. 

This is no ordinary day. I’m dangling by a rope from a vertical rock face in mainland Greece. All around me are towers of sandstone, jutting from a wide plain – carved by water and wind and transformed by earthquakes. High up on top of these rocks sit ancient Greek Orthodox monasteries, the barely accessible homes of monks since around the ninth century AD, while cliff-side caves mark the former homes of lone hermits. When I’m not grappling with my carabiner, I’m gazing open-mouthed at the scene around me. There’s no doubt about it, the Metéora is one of the most extraordinary climbing destinations in the world.

What makes the Metéora so special?

It’s a strange and captivating landscape. I’m here in spring, while it’s lush and green, daubed with pink blossom and the air smells of fresh herbs. At sunset, the great rock pillars stand out, silhouetted against a hazy golden sky, while a soundtrack of crickets welcomes the night.

Holy Trinity, Meteora mountains, GreeceImage by Mark Dozier/Visit Metéora

The name Metéora means “suspended in the air”, which refers not only to the remarkable geology of this UNESCO Heritage site, but also to the monasteries that seem to float above it all. It’s also an extremely peaceful place (away from the coachloads of tourists at Megálou Metéorou Monastery at least) and today, even with the bustling towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki slung out along the lower reaches of the rocks, you don’t have to go far to find a quiet spot. It’s not hard to guess why medieval monks seeking isolation were attracted to the place.

For climbers though, all this forms an impressive backdrop to a giant playground. With around a thousand routes that steer well clear of the sacred spots, there’s something for all abilities, including the professionals who come for the international events held here. Many locals are climbers too: don’t be surprised if your waiter is also an expert.

Monastic mountaineers

People have been climbing here for centuries. It’s easy to forget that the monasteries were built by engineers who reached the peaks without modern equipment, cranes and scaffolding. So how on Earth did they get up so high? And why would they want to?

Varlaam Monastery, Metéora, GreeceImage by George Kourelis/Visit Metéora

Local people started climbing in the Metéora during the second century BC, using the impenetrable location as protection against a succession of invaders, including the Romans, the Ottoman Turks and the Serbs (and, much later, the Nazis). In about the ninth century, hermits began living in caves accessed by a system of retractable ladders and ledges. No harnesses and carabiners for them; just complete faith and a lot of skill. By the fourteenth century, more solid buildings were established. Twenty-four religious centres were built in total (of which six remain active), complete with Greek Orthodox chapels ornately decorated in gold, icons and moralistic torture scenes. Access became more advanced: there were drawbridges, steps were carved into the rock and a system of ropes and pulleys was used to winch the monks up and down in baskets – they were, literally, “suspended in the air”.

Blind faith at 400 metres

Mountaineering in the Metéora really gives you a sense of how great the monks’ achievements were. I want to see how I stack up against my 600-year-old predecessors so I’m tackling the via ferrata (iron road) to Great Saint rock – a harnessed scramble up a steep valley using ropes attached to iron hooks set into the rocks.

Rocks behind Kastraki town, Metéora,Image by George Kourelis/Visit Metéora

The day starts off gently: my guide Kostas takes me and a small group of beginners on a hike through the forested lowlands, passing shepherd’s huts and sheep pens. We emerge at the base of the “Spindle” where experienced climbers are scaling the 40-metre-high bulging column. From here, we can also see some others crawling up the 300-metre-high cliff on the other side of the valley passing a hermit’s cave halfway. I start to wonder what I’ve let myself in for. Kostas beckons us to follow him up a steep slope. Our footsteps dislodge loose rocks and he shouts out “STONES!” to warn those below of a potentially fatal hazard.

Further up, Kostas clips my carabiner to a rope that’s attached to a hook in the rock. Now that I feel safer, I traverse the slope with more confidence. At the top is a narrow ledge above a vertical drop. As I inch along the ledge, I don’t look down. I have blind faith in the skills of my guide and the safety of modern climbing equipment. Fortunately, without mishap I reach a set of carved steps that once led to the (now long-gone) monastery of the Twelve Apostles. At the top, there are views in all directions. I’d be happy to stay here but we press on, passing an ancient cistern that was used to collect rainwater in times of siege.

Climbers on top of rock in Metéora, GreeceImage by Nikolaos Ziogas/Visit Metéora

The final push involves an abseil, then a climb to a narrow pass with a white cross on the edge of a cliff overlooking Kalambaka and the vast plain beyond. This is it: we’ve reached the summit and I’m feeling rather pleased with myself – until some local teenagers scuttle up to the ridge, light as mountain goats and with not a rope or harness in sight. Initially, it’s a mild blow to my ego but I realise that these boys grew up here: extreme climbing is in their blood. Personally, I’m more than happy to be fully kitted out with safety gear. Although I’ve done quite a good job of the via ferrata, I know that I couldn’t have cut it as a cliff-dwelling hermit.

Need to know
Tours: you can arrange a climbing, hiking or sightseeing tour with Visit Metéora – offices in Kalambaka and Kastraki town centresAccommodation: stay at the Hotel Metéora near Kastraki, which has an outdoor pool and gorgeous panoramic view of the Metéora range. For travel from Athens, trains can be booked through trainose.gr. Explore more of Greece with the Rough Guide to GreeceCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image by George Kourelis.

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