Manchester is Britain’s new cultural capital. No, really. The city may have been built on the heavy industry of the Industrial Revolution but since the 2002 Commonwealth Games, it has re-invented itself as a world capital of the arts.

Today Manchester dominates the headlines with a slew of galleries, venues and festivals. It’s home to some of the UK’s most forward-thinking developments, one of the coolest music scenes and a fast-expanding range of great hotels and restaurants. Then there’s Russell T. Davies’ new Channel Four series, Cucumber, set along Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village, and the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Hamlet, set to be screened in cinemas across the UK.

Is there any doubt that Manchester is starting to take centre stage in the UK? David Atkinson makes the case for why the city is the UK’s cultural hotspot.

1. It has the most intriguing art gallery

The Whitworth Gallery recently re-opened to the public following a £15m redevelopment. The new building features a glass-promenade gallery overlooking the new Art Garden in Whitworth Park. The opening show, a solo exhibition from the respected contemporary artist Cornelia Parker, runs until summer, while the permanent collection showcases the gallery’s eclectic range of fine art, textiles and wallpapers.

2. It’s about to get the country’s top arts centre

HOME, the city’s new multi-artform centre opens on the 21st May with a funfair theme for the opening weekend. The £25m development includes a 500-seat theatre, flexible studio space and five cinema screens. It will commission, produce and present a programme of contemporary theatre, film and visual art, drawing on resources of the former Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company, both of which have evolved into the HOME project.

Image courtesy of visitmanchester.com

3. It hosts the most dynamic festival

The bi-annual Manchester International Festival (MIF) kicks off in July with 18 days of premieres, performances and events. The festival, described by The New Yorker as “probably the most radical and important arts festival today” puts Manchester on the international stage. One of this year’s cornerstone events is the premiere of wonder.land, a new musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s iconic Alice in Wonderlandwhich turns 150 this year – with music by Damon Albarn.

4. It’s home to some of the best libraries

Manchester always had a rich literacy legacy – from Karl Marx observing working life in the mid nineteenth century to the UK’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy via the punk poetry of John Cooper Clarke. Manchester Central Library, reopened last March as a living-room space for the city. The nearby Portico Library is a Neo-Classical gem with a dusty-tome-filled Reading Room and Chetham’s Library is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.

Image courtesy of visitmanchester.com

5. It has the coolest music scene

Manchester has brought us bands from Joy Division to Elbow and the city’s best record shop, Piccadilly Records, remains the lynchpin of the Manchester music scene. For live bands, pick of the venues is The Deaf Institute a three-floor independent operation at the heart of studentland where you can catch bands on the way to stadium slots and cool new comedians, while supping on craft beers and tucking into tasty burgers.

6. It’s one of the best places for urban living

Looking for cool bars, trendy boutiques and lots of independent-spirited places to soak up the urban-cool vibe? Look no further than the Northern Quarter, the city’s thriving off-duty hub. Try North Tea Power for café-culture, surviving old faves like Afflecks Palace for vintage and vinyl, and Dry Bar for beers and bands.

Image courtesy of visitmanchester.com

7. It celebrates industrial heritage

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the family home of the Cranford author, reopened last year after a three-year project to restore the Grade II-listed Regency villa. Gaskell documented Manchester’s burgeoning industrial revolution from her writing desk at 84 Plymouth Grove after the family moved to the house in 1850 and her views contrasted starkly with the ideals of the Victorian era.

8. It has some fantastic places to stay 

With over 6,500 hotel rooms in the city centre, places to crash range from bijou boutique hotels to homely hostels. The Radisson Blu Edwardian, the former Free Trade Hall where The Sex Pistols invented punk in 1976, is now synonymous with urban cool while The Lowry, Manchester’s first five-star property, remains the place to see and be seen. 

Image courtesy of visitmanchester.com

9. It’s home to boundary-pushing chefs

The restaurant scene has exploded, with the Manchester Food & Drink Festival now a cornerstone of the foodie diary. Simon Rogan of Michelin-stared L’Enclume fame is currently cooking up a storm at The French in the Midland Hotel. Other highlights include Cloud 23, the panorama bar at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate, for fancy cocktails, and The Briton’s Protection, one of Manchester’s favourite traditional boozers, for local ales and spoken-word nights.

10. It’s about to get some serious investment

The government announced a £78m cash injection into Manchester’s creative economy in last year’s Autumn Statement. The cornerstone of plans for the ‘northern powerhouse’ is The Factory, a new artist-led, creative hub on a site to the west of the city centre that was previously home to Coronation Street. The Factory, a homage to Manchester’s legendary Factory Records, will combine an array of arts spaces with a permanent home for the Manchester International Festival. It’s due to open 2019.

Explore more of the region with the Rough Guide to Britain. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

We’ve just published a brand new Pocket Rough Guide to New York City, and thought we’d share a sneak preview. Want to shun the crowds? Here are five places to explore hidden New York. 

No superlative, no cliché does New York City justice. It may not serve as the official capital of the US or even of New York State, but it’s the undisputed capital of the world in many regards. High finance, media, art, architecture, food, fashion, popular culture, urban style, street life… it’s all here, in plenitude and peak form.

Best of all for visitors (and residents), you don’t have to look too hard for any of it. Often the sights, both big and small, are just staring you right in the face: the money fortresses of Wall Street; the raised torch of the Statue of Liberty; the iconic Empire State Building; the hype and hustle of Times Square; Fifth Avenue’s foot traffic; the proud lions of the Public Library. But if you want to see a different side to NYC, you’ll need to look further.

Red Hook

This off-the-beaten-path waterfront Brooklyn neighbourhood, a former shipping centre, was once one of the more rough-and-tumble in the city, but now holds artists’ galleries, unique restaurants, converted warehouses and, to some folks’ chagrin, twin giants in IKEA and Fairway. Cut off from the subway system, Red Hook can be reached by water taxi or bus, a worthwhile venture to hit the Red Hook Ball Fields on summer weekends, where you can sample Latin American street food and watch soccer, or to take in fabulous views of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan from the piers, while snacking on a Key Lime Pie from Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies – the best key lime pie in the northeast.

Governors Island

Until the mid-1990s, Governors Island was the largest and most expensively run Coast-guard installation in the world, but today it’s being developed into a leafy historical park, the island’s bucolic village greens and colonial architecture reminiscent of a New England college campus. Many of the buildings are being restored as art galleries and craft stores, and the Historic Landmark District at the northern end is managed by the National Park Service. Ferries arrive at Soissons Dock, where you’ll find the small visitors’ centre. From here it’s a short stroll up to the solid walls of Fort Jay, completed in 1794, and the nearby shady lanes of Nolan Park, home to some beautifully preserved Neoclassical and Federal-style mansions. Other highlights include Castle Williams, a circular fort completed in 1811, but there are also plenty of green spaces in which to lounge in the sun, an artificial beach in the summer, and a breezy promenade with stellar views of Manhattan.

photo credit: IMG_2787 via photopin (license)

Irish Hunger Memorial

This haunting monument to the more than one million Irish people who starved to death during the Great Famine of 1845–1852 was designed by artist Brian Tolle in 2002. He transported an authentic famine-era stone cottage from County Mayo, and set it on a 25ft embankment overlooking the Hudson River. The passageway underneath echoes with haunting Irish folk songs, and there is a meandering path through the grassy garden. 

photo credit: Irish Famine Memorial_2012 05 04_0143 via photopin (license)

African Burial Ground National Monument

In 1991 construction workers uncovered the remains of 419 skeletons near Broadway, a tiny portion of an African burial ground that covered five blocks during the 1700s. After being examined, the skeletons were re-interred at this site in 2003, marked by seven grassy mounds and a highly polished black granite monument, a symbolic counterpoint to the infamous “gate of no return” on Gorée Island in Senegal. To learn more, walk around the corner to the visitor centre (look for the dedicated entrance). Videos, displays and replicas of the artefacts found here are used to recount the history of the site, and shed light on the brutal life of the city’s oft forgotten enslaved population. 

Strivers’ Row

On W 138th and 139th sts (between Adam Clayton Powell Jr and Frederick Douglass blvds), Strivers’ Row comprises some of New York’s most alluring architecture and three of the finest blocks of Renaissance-influenced rowhouses in Manhattan. Commissioned in 1891 during a housing boom, this dignified development within the burgeoning black community came to be the most desirable place for ambitious professionals to reside at the turn of the twentieth century – hence its name. Today it remains an extremely posh residence for professionals of all backgrounds.

 

Explore more of New York with the Pocket Rough GuideCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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

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

See the city on canvas

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

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

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

Size-up Dublin’s fashion scene

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

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

Get a taste of Dublin’s creativity

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

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

by by David Cantwell at Cleaver East

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

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

Sleep in style

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

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

Image by The Dean

And don’t forget the Guinness…

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

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

Visit www.discoverireland.ie for more information on visiting Ireland and irishdesign2015.ie for more details on the Year of Irish Design. Explore more of Ireland with the Rough Guide to IrelandCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Sex museums are nothing new. Dozens were erected across Europe during the Swinging Sixties when the sexual revolution was in full swing. These days the orgy of sex museums has slowed to a mere mouthful, though they have been stimulated by a new breed of ‘erotic’ museum that aims to steer more towards art than pure physicality. Sex looks like it is going to be back en vogue this year with the release of a certain film, so join us as we go in search of the world’s finest sex museum.

Paris, France

In sophisticated Paris they go all posh on matters of the flesh. Here it’s not about sex, but the erotic. The Museum of Eroticism, though, lies in the shady red light district of Pigalle in the shadow of the Sacré-Cœur. Opened in 1997, the exhibits swirl around the erotic art collections of antique dealer Alain Plumey and teacher Jo Khalifa. The eclectic range of art spreads across five floors and hails from as far afield as Africa and Japan, with everything from ancient religious works, though to the avant garde, with temporary exhibitions too. The film Polissons et Galipettes sheds pornographic shorts light on the nefarious Parisian maisons closes.

Reykjavík, Iceland

Maybe it was inevitable in a land so cold and dark for much of the year, but the citizens of Iceland seems to have developed a fascination with the phallus. That is if the Icelandic Phallological Museum is anything to go by. This whopper lays claims to hoarding the world’s largest collection of penises and ‘penile parts’, with over 200 male members. There may be one human penis here (you honestly don’t want to know the story), but it’s not all about man, as there is flaccid flesh from myriad species, from polar bears to whales (they’ve got over 50 whale specimens alone).

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Europe’s sex capital was always going to have a sex museum wasn’t it? In fact it sports an impressive pair. You’ll find the first in the heart of the red light district in De Wallen, but the stand out is the, er, slightly more upmarket temple to sex on bustling Damrak. It has stood proudly here since 1985 and is actually fairly tame, a way of getting a taste of this sin city without actually getting involved in anything too seedy. The names of the exhibition spaces say it all: Casanova Gallery, Fanny Hill Street and a hall dedicated to the father of sadism, the Marquis de Sade.

Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Barcelona, Spain

Opened in 1997 the Erotic Museum of Barcelona is slap bang in the middle of the city on La Rambla. It promises ‘Sensuality, sexuality, provocation… Fun!’. It’s all here, too, from the sultry world of the Kama Sutra, right through to samples of erotic art that have been banned in Japan. As well as international exhibits the 800-strong collection also delves into the murky world of Spanish pornographic cinema.

London, England

If the French and Spanish choose the erotic over sex, traditionally the British are known for evading the subject of sex entirely. This nation of over 60 million sex-starved souls cannot muster up one upstanding sex museum, but being very British London’s landmark British Museum houses a secret section devoted to, well, you know what. Items deemed ‘obscene’ are said to have been stored away in the Secretum since the nineteenth century. Some have made their way into the main collections, though others remain locked away, too shocking for the genteel Brits. We’ve not yet managed to squirrel our way in, but if you do we’d love to hear what you unearth…

New York City, USA

The Museum of Sex, or MoSex as it is also affectionately known, opened in 2002 in Manhattan and has expanded to an impressive size since. Its mission statement is to ‘preserve and present the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality’ and it has a scholarly angle to its permanent and ever changing temporary exhibitions. Unlike some sex museums it weaves in lesbian and gay sexual narratives too. Even their café is designed to get you in the mood, and they sell ‘penis pasta’ and the delightfully naughty-sounding ‘dirty fortune cookies’.

Museum of Sex, New York City

St Petersburg, Russia

The Russians seem to have less qualms about all things carnal with sex museums in both Moscow and St Petersburg. MusEros in St Petersburg opened in 2004 and it’s an impressive member of Europe’s sex museum fraternity with a 3D cinema, multimedia gallery and the largest collection of sex machines in the country. It even claims to have its hands on the preserved penis of legendary man about court Rasputin. It also offers answers to ‘anything you ever wanted to know about sex, but were too afraid to ask’.

Prague, Czech Republic

Many of Europe’s sex museums are actually fairly tame. If you’re interested in something a little more hardcore head to Prague. Providing everyone in the group consents, you can visit the Sex Machines Museum. Opened in 2002 it claims to be the only museum in the world dedicated to sex machines – and we are not going to argue with them. Spread across a threesome of floors are a frankly frightening smorgasbord of around 200 gadgets and a store for seriously strange souvenirs. We’ll just mention the more, er, mainstream exhibits like ‘copulation tables’ and the trusty old vibrator. The ‘domination chairs’? Well that is an entirely different feature altogether…

Tongli, China

As China has grown to become an economic and political superpower, the country has also emerged as a willing partner on the sex museum circuit. The first sex museum swung open its doors in Shanghai in the late 1990s and has played the field a bit since, shifting between various venues before finally settling down in TongLi. Their eclectic collection is said to number over 3000 exhibits with a particularly impressive orgy of Asian erotic art. The exhibits are laid out in various buildings surrounding a sculpture garden (we reckon you can guess what some of the sculptures look like) along thematic lines such as masturbation, homosexuality, prostitution and threesomes.

Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

With a whole host of new attractions opening this year, from world-record-beating skyscrapers to whacky amusement parks, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. To help you decide where to visit, we’ve picked the top 9 new tourist attractions around the world. 

Shanghai Tower, China

A better symbol of China’s continuing march forward would be harder to find than the new Shanghai Tower, at 632 metres the world’s second tallest building and muscling its way in to every shot of Shanghai like a giant robotic arm. Twisted from base to tip, at about one degree per floor, it is even designed to withstand typhoons. By the end of this year the tower will also have the world’s highest observation deck, at 557 metres above sea level. Lifts will reach this in under one minute – so prepare for some ear-popping.

Lincoln Castle, UK

Want to see the document that gave birth to democracy? We’re talking about the Magna Carta of course, which reaches its 800th birthday this year. You can find out why it’s so highly lauded at Lincoln Castle. This eleventh-century Norman castle reopens in April and promises a state-of-the-art underground vault to house the Magna Carta, an ‘in-the-round’ film explaining its importance and history, a complete circular walk around the castle’s ancient walls and access to both the Victorian male and female prisons for the first time.

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA

One of the great shames of the art world is the amount of exceptional artwork kept in storage and rarely seen by the public. What is the point, after all, of owning a large art collection if you don’t have the space to exhibit it? The Whitney finally solves its space problem in 2015, with the opening of its new building; at 18,000 square feet, the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. A cantilevered entrance beneath the High Line sets the tone for a graceful, light-filled gallery with river views – and, of course, some of the world’s greatest artworks.

IceCave, Iceland

Ever wondered what the inside of a glacier looks like? White? Deepest blue? Both? Well, wonder no more. Book a trip to Iceland this year and you can visit the country’s latest attraction, the IceCave. Here you can venture into a series of tunnels and caves running inside Langjökull Glacier, which stretch as much as 300 metres into the solid ice about 30 metres below the surface. These mind-bending proportions make the IceCave one of the largest man-made ice structures in the world – and well worth donning multiple layers of clothing to see.

Lost and Found festival, Malta

In April 2015 Malta will make its debut on the electronic music scene. From the 3rd to the 5th DJ Annie Mac will host Lost and Found, a new festival in St Paul’s Bay on the north shore and Ta’ Qali National Park near Rabat. With a line-up of international dance DJs, Lost and Found promises daytime pool and boat dance parties against an ocean backdrop and nighttime open-air raves with a chilled out vibe. You won’t even have to camp either: packages including hotel accommodation start from £148/$225 per person.

Dreamland, Margate, UK

2015 is set to be a great year for Margate, as the seaside resort’s most famous attraction, Dreamland, finally reopens. The UK’s oldest amusement park is being reimagined as the world’s first heritage amusement park by designer Wayne Hemmingway, its centerpiece the Grade II listed Scenic Railway, Britain’s oldest rollercoaster. Numerous rides from other parks are being rebuilt around it, many of which are the only remaining examples of their type. Ride the 1950s Hurricane Jets and the 1940s Caterpillar that once stood at Pleasureland Southport, before strolling past the large Tiffany lamps donated from the Blackpool Illuminations collection.

TreeTop Crazy Rider, New South Wales

Two words have never belonged together more than rollercoaster and zipline. Well, the crazy folks at Ourimbah State Forest on Australia’s Central Coast certainly think so. Their new 1km-long adventure must-do promises to combine the thrill and suspense of a rollercoaster with the flying sensation of a zipline. Strap in and swoop through the forest, twisting round corners and dropping into the bush. No special skills are required and it’s open to everyone over seven.

Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France

A new building has landed at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers – although we think it looks more like the giant foot of a crystal transformer. This is the new Musée des Confluences, a science centre and anthropology museum dedicated to pondering life’s big questions: Where do we come from? Who are we? And what do we do? No existential crisis needed though, there are said to be 2.2 million objects in the collection to answer these head scratchers, not to mention regular arts and crafts exhibitions.

Sa Pa cable car, Vietnam

Reaching the peak of Fansipan Mountain (3143m) used to mean a full-day hike at least. But from later this September the trek up will be reduced to a 20-minute flight by cable car. This will be the world’s longest and highest cable car, no less, running up from sleepy Sa Pa Town in Lao Cai Province to Indochina’s rooftop. Enjoy the view from the summit before exploring Sa Pa itself, an isolated community set to become firmly established on the tourist trail – the cable car will transport 2000 people per hour, the same number as reached the peak in an entire year previously.

For the best cities, countries, and best-value destinations to visit this year, check out the Rough Guide to 2015Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

As visitors slowly return to Egypt after years of political instability and unrest, Keith Drew traces the history of Cairo, the largest city in the Arab world. 

Midan Tahrir was strangely peaceful. A handful of tourists milled around waiting for the Egyptian Museum to open its doors for the day. Taxis, trucks and donkey carts jostled on the far-off fringes, inching towards the Corniche road that would carry them south alongside the Nile. But the square itself was empty.

It’s been nearly four years since crowds of emboldened Cairenes gathered here in the heart of Downtown Cairo, at the height of the Arab Spring, and we watched on the nightly news as the thirty-year reign of Hosni Mubarak crumbled before their will. And yet this is the picture of Egypt that still burns brightly in most people’s minds. There have been many false dawns in the years since and the road ahead is far from smooth, but Tahrir is the Cairo of 2011. Beyond the square lie thousands of years of urban history and a gloriously confusing city of fables and pharaohs, Coptics and caliphs.

Around 2650 BC: The Pyramids

Not the famous pyramids that don one thousand and one postcards. At least, not yet. Whilst the city of Cairo as we know it today was still centuries away from its first foundations, the first pharaohs of Egypt constructed their capital at Memphis, some 24km further south along the Nile, and buried their royalty at nearby Saqqara. It’s here, on the blanched plateau of North Saqqara, that you’ll find the first ever pyramid (indeed, the first ever building made of stone), the Step Pyramid, created for the Pharaoh Zoser over 4650 years ago. It’s an amazing sight, one side covered in fragile wooden scaffolding, it’s roughly hewn bleached blocks ascending into a rich blue sky.

The techniques developed at Saqqara were perfected at the Pyramids of Giza. No matter how many times you’ve seen them in photographs, no matter that the encroaching outskirts of Giza City threaten to swallow them up at any minute, this last remaining wonder of the ancient world has that rare ability to exceed expectations. The scale is intimidating, the numbers mindboggling. It took a hundred thousand workers nearly thirty years to build the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the largest of the trio, which was erected for the eponymous pharaoh’s death around 2566 BC. The blocks, some weighing as much as fifteen tons, were transported here, all 2.3 million of them, and the whole thing was once cased in white limestone so that it glinted in the sun.

From 2650 BC to 250 AD: The Egyptian Museum

Inside the pyramids, there’s little to see in the dark, airless tunnels that lead to nowhere. For an idea of the treasures that once lay within, you’ll need to head to Downtown Cairo and the Egyptian Museum. Vast, dusty and with paint peeling off the walls, this is the kind of place where you’d expect to stumble across the Ark of the Covenant lurking in an unopened crate in the corner. It is also the finest museum of its kind in the world – the odds and ends randomly scattered around the entrance garden would grace most collections anywhere else – but with over 130,000 exhibits, you’ll need to focus your visit.

Among the Old Kingdom relics recovered from the Pyramids are the (tiny) life-size statue of Zoser and the Treasure of Queen Hetepheres, exquisite jewellery belonging to the mother of Cheops and buried with her at Giza. The highlights, though, belong to the New Kingdom and an Egypt beyond Cairo: the legendary Tutankhamun galleries (gold shrines, gold thrones and the boy-king’s famous funerary mask) and the gruesome mummified bodies of some of Egypt’s most famous pharaohs, embalmed in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor some 3500 years ago and several still sporting quiffs of matted hair.

500 to 600 AD: The Coptic churches

As pharonic rule faded, Persian invaders founded a new city on the banks of the northern Nile: Babylon-in-Egypt, today’s Old Cairo. It was here that Christianity first began to take root in the first century AD and where Egyptian Christians (known as Copts) built several magnificent churches, which remain the focal point of Cairo’s Coptic community. This is an area of narrow, twisting lanes, enclosed by high walls – a world hidden away from the bustle up on the main streets nearby. The Church of St Sergius and St Bacchus, founded here in 500 AD, is the oldest in Egypt, and reputedly the hiding place of the Holy Family when they fled from Palestine. But it is bettered by the incredible Hanging Church, seemingly levered in between neighbouring buildings, two graceful white towers gleaming out from its dusty-brown surroundings. Built around 600 AD over the ruins of a Roman fort, it appears to suspend in mid air, an architectural trick you can appreciate through glass panels in the floor inside. Its darkly atmospheric interior is a rich riot of faded frescos and gilded icons, including a venerable portrait of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, drawn on deerskin and known as the “Coptic Mona Lisa”.

1171 to 1848: The Citadel

When Muslim armies invaded in 641, they created a new settlement slightly north of Babylon-in-Egypt. Successive caliphs followed suit, and it wasn’t really until Saladin assumed control in 1171 that a single, unified Cairo began to take shape. Saladin’s greatest legacy to the landscape is the brooding hulk of the Citadel, a hillside bastion that looms above the cluttered, cacophonous district known as Islamic Cairo. This is the Cairo of your imagination, a medieval warren of mosques, bazaars and street vendors hawking hibiscus water and aromatic kebabs. From the Citadel, you can gaze down upon it all, the barbed tips of the city’s thousand slender minarets puncturing the hot hanging smog.

For nearly seven hundred years, the Citadel remained the seat of power in Egypt, undergoing a late renaissance in the mid-nineteenth century, when Mohammed Ali built the enormous mosque that rises from within its walls to dominate the modern city skyline. Outside of prayer times, you can venture inside to admire the intricately decorated interior and to sit beneath a star-studded ceiling loaded with chandeliers whilst around you groups of kneeling worshippers gently touch their foreheads on the soft red carpet.

1919 to today: Tahrir Square

Northeast of the Citadel, following the traffic that snarls its way up Sharia Qalaa and Sharia al-Bustan will bring you back to Downtown Cairo, rebuilt in the 1860s to mimic the wide boulevards of Paris. At its heart lies Midan Ismailiya, nicknamed Midan Tahrir (or Liberation Square) after an uprising against the British in 1919 and renamed officially following the revolution of 1952. Nearly sixty years later, it truly lived up to its name, and only really in Tahrir are the legacies of the 2011 revolution still visible today. A couple of armoured vehicles squat outside the entrance to the Egyptian Museum, and behind it the scorched headquarters of the former NDP Party stand as a permanent testimony to how the previous regime vanquished years of incriminating evidence with the stroke of a single match.

The years since have been hard for Egyptians, but the election of President el-Sisi in May 2014 has renewed hope that, for the first time in a long time, they can be optimistic about their future. Tahrir may be quiet, but it’s a Friday, and other squares nearby are busy with families gathering and gossiping and getting on with life. Patisserie stores throughout Cairo are doing a roaring trade as people stock up on mounds of sticky treats, and the call to prayer peels like a wave across Islamic Cairo and beyond, all the way out to the shadowy forms of the pyramids.

EgyptAir flies direct from London Heathrow to Cairo twice daily. Your Egypt Tours and Talisman Travel run recommended tours of Cairo.

El Salvador’s Mayan ruins can’t be compared with the great Mayan centres in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, but they have their own powerful charm – and on most days you’ll have the sites completely to yourself. Stephen Keeling went to explore El Salvador’s rich but oft ignored Mayan heritage.

Joya de Cerén

Around 1400 years ago, a small Mayan village in Central America faced disaster. Black smoke had been spewing from the nearby volcanic peak of the Loma Caldera for several days, and violent tremors shook the ground. The people here were simple manioc and maize farmers who had settled in the village only a few decades before, and in desperation they decided to flee, leaving virtually everything they owned behind. Soon after, the volcano blew its top and the village was buried under more than six metres of burning hot ash in just a few hours. The villagers never returned.

For hundreds of years the site lay abandoned and overgrown. And its secrets would have remained hidden if not for an accident: in 1976 a bulldozer levelling ground for the construction of grain-storage silos exposed a mysterious clay-built structure, and archeologists were called in. Excavations were interrupted by the El Salvador civil war, but resumed in 1989 and have been continuing ever since.

Quezaltepeque volcano

Today Joya de Cerén, an hour or so north of the capital San Salvador, isn’t quite the “Pompeii” it’s hyped up to be, but it does offer a totally different perspective to all the other great Mesoamerican ruins.

What remains of sites like Copán and Tikal is spectacular but ceremonial – there is very little evidence of the houses where people actually lived in these cities. At Joya de Cerén you can wander around the beautifully preserved earth homes of Mayan farmers from the sixth century AD, as well as a sweat bath (temazal), excavated from the ash and dirt, in situ.

In total some eighteen structures have been identified and ten have been completely or partially excavated. One of the most intriguing is thought to have been a religious building where a shaman practiced. Cerén was probably home to about two hundred people, and although no human remains have been discovered, everyday objects found here include petrified beans, maize, utensils and ceramics.

San Andrés

A few kilometres southwest of Joya de Cerén, in an open field surrounded by simple farms and dense jungle, lies the once mighty city of San Andrés. Originally supporting a population of about twelve thousand and reaching its peak as the regional capital around 650–900 AD, it was later occupied by the Pipil people.

Joya de Cerén

The ruins were partially buried by another volcanic eruption in 1658, and today only sections of the ceremonial centre have been excavated – seven crumbling but enigmatic structures including the Acrópolis complex and a seventeenth-century Spanish indigo works. You can stroll freely around most of the site, which is also a popular picnic spot for locals at the weekends, though the tallest pyramid (“La Campana”) can only be viewed from a distance. The small Museo Sitio Arqueológico includes a good model of what the city would have looked like in its heyday.

Tazumal

El Salvador’s most impressive pre-Colombian site lies outside the small town of Chalchuapa, some 80km northwest of San Salvador. All that remains of another powerful Mayan city is the Tazumal complex, primarily comprising a vast fourteen-stepped ceremonial pyramid, influenced by the style of Teotihuacán in Mexico and gradually extended over many generations.

Today, vendors from the local neighbourhood line the pot-holed street outside, with the site itself surrounded by a simple metal fence – it’s all relatively compact and low-key, like a small blossom-filled park, but with the great pyramid looming over everything. Most visitors simply roll up and park right at the entrance.

Tazumal, Chalchuapa

The site was occupied for over 750 years, mostly in the Late Classic period (600–900 AD). Earlier remains, dating back to 100–200 AD, have been found beneath the pyramid. The Mayan abandoned the city around the end of the ninth century, during the collapse of the Classic Mayan culture, and, unusually, Pipils moved in and occupied the site, building a pyramid dating back to the Early Post-Classic (900–1200 AD) and another pelota court, in the northwest corner of the site. Tazumal was finally abandoned around 1200 AD. The Museo Sitio Arqueológico here displays artefacts discovered during excavations in the area, including some stunning ceramics, but you’ll need to read Spanish to make the most of it.

Aficionados should also check out the closely related but smaller, grassy ruins of Casa Blanca, an important Mayan centre between 200 BC and 250 AD, just a five-minute taxi ride from Tazumal (it’s right on the main highway on the north side of Chalchuapa). Visit in mid-winter and the site is smothered in pink madrecacao blooms.

Need to know

To see all three Mayan ruins it’s best to rent a car, taxi or take a tour from San Salvador. All three sites are usually open Tues–Sun 9am–4pm and entry costs US$3 at each (parking US$1). For more information visit www.fundar.org.sv.

 In amongst blushing couples and giggling grannies, Nelson Groom gets a sex education at Jeju Loveland, South Korea

South Korea has a prudish past. It was only in the 70s that police were patrolling the streets with rulers, measuring the length of ladies’ skirts. Gauging from my time there, South Koreans remain vastly conservative, especially compared to their pre-owned panty purchasing neighbors in Japan.

It seems South Korea’s sex education leaves much to be desired, as teenager Sao Jung told me that “students are forced to learn sex-ed for themselves”, which can’t be easy when they are even banned from the Gen Y mode of learning; viewing online porn is a criminal offence.

One could appreciate my bewilderment then on hearing that South Korea has a “sexual theme park”. Loveland is situated on Jeju province, a volcanic island on the southernmost tip of the country, and its official website says: “Loveland is breaking down the traditional taboos surrounding sex.” I knew I needed to see it for myself, so I booked an impromptu flight from Seoul. Upon arrival, I was taken aback by the scenery. When it comes to viewing vibrant coloured erotica, snow-capped volcanoes and tall pine trees are one hell of a backdrop.

Image by Nelson Groom

It turns out the locale has quite the backstory. After the Korean War, much of the nation’s populace were forbidden from overseas travel (this law was only lifted in 1988), so with its warmer climate and picturesque views, Jeju became the country’s honeymoon haven. The island is teeming with often sexually naïve newlyweds, so in turn, the local hotels offer lap-dance services to help their guests break the ice.

Jeju has always been a place for exploring new horizons, and Loveland hopes to continue this narrative, but while punters are greeted by some friendly mascots at the entrance (a penis with mittens and a sunhat-sporting vulva) it’s quickly apparent that Loveland is more gallery than theme park. Sculptures are the bulk of what’s on offer, all 140 of them fitted with despairingly awful puns, such as “Alice in Wondickland”. Those hoping to ride a boner-coaster will be sadly disappointed. The closest you will get is the “masturbation bike”, a stationary unicycle with paddles attached to the wheel.

Image by Nelson Groom

Owner Lee Sung-hyung told me: “It’s supposed to be a bit of fun. The sculptures are bright and overblown. People can openly talk about sex here, which is something that seldom happens otherwise. Koreans are still very shy about sex.”

The glass exhibition domes feature new displays each month, and in the Loveland café, rather than traditional dishes like kimchi or bulgogi (marinated beef), custard filled genitalia cater to a rather different palate. As I sat there, nibbling on a pastry penis, I learned where the true Loveland experience lies: in observing the crowds.

The majority of people here seem to be aged Koreans who howl with laughter and timid young couples who truly seem exhilarated by it all. In a place where porn is against the law, the adult statues in Loveland are palpably intoxicating.

Image by Nelson Groom

Much to their dismay, I began to accost the blushing lovers. The young and fresh-faced Kim Woo said he and his girlfriend chose to come to Loveland “to learn more about sexuality” and Seo Jung and her partner said that every couple they know has been here.

The Loveland park answers to this lack of sex education with a range of scholastic content. While some of it may look like bad 80s porn, the number of visitors are tangible proof that there’s more to the park than merely having a giggle.

Sean Han was honest enough to tell me that it was his parents who brought him here. “They came when they were younger, and they suggested that my girlfriend and I come to see it for ourselves.” It seems Korean parents use Loveland to spare themselves the awkward birds and bees chat with the kids.

Loveland is a sight to be seen and there are a wealth of other attractions in Jeju to help justify the trip. The island has three stunning UNESCO heritage sites: Hallasan Mountain, which rises in the centre of the island; Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, an enormous crater formed by volcanic eruptions; and the finest example of a lava tube cave system, with multi-coloured floors and ceilings and dramatic stalactites jutting from its surfaces.

Tickets for Jeju Loveland are ₩9,000.00 (£5.00), and last minute flights won’t cost more than ₩120,000 (approximately £70) for a round-trip from Seoul. Explore more of South Korea with the Rough Guide to Korea. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

From 1947 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, secret bunkers sprung up across Europe in an effort to protect capitalist and communist states from potential nuclear attacks. Adam Bennett explores a secret metropolitan bunker in the Essex village of Kelvedon Hatch.

During the Cold War, the prospect of a nuclear attack was widely believed to be imminent. If a nuclear bomb had been dropped on London, millions would have perished and the few survivors would have struggled in residual temperatures of -20˚c, suffering from symptoms of radiation sickness and battling against each other for scraps of food.

When you visit the Kelvedon Hatch secret bunker it is left almost exactly as it was during the Cold War. Over 2000 telephone lines are still plugged into switchboards, gas masks hang on the walls and bunk beds are made for the 600 strong work force who would have fled to here in the wake of a deadly nuclear strike.

Photo by Adam Bennett

Whilst exploring its three floors escorted by an audio guide, you can learn how the bunker has been operated during the last 60 years. Firstly, it served as a ROTOR (air defence radar system) station where a team of WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) would plot the position of aircraft, and later it became the Regional Governmental Headquarters when it was often used for two-week mock war game exercises, as the government prepared for the worst.

Hidden away beneath a small farm cottage, the bunker was built in 1952, 30 metres below ground within walls of three-metre-thick concrete. It would have been the place where civil servants, scientists and key members of government – possibly including the Prime Minister – communicated with survivors and managed a nuclear survival program.

“In theory this would have withstood a bomb about half a mile away, however if it were to stand up to a biological and chemical attack now, I’m not so sure” explains Mike, whose father apparently sold the land to the Government for just £250 back in the fifties.

Photo by Adam Bennett

The bunker would have provided relief to those who could be saved whilst putting others out of their misery. It was from the communications room, complete with BBC radio studio, where civilians would have been told where food supplies were and where medical help could be found. As the commander in chief, the Cabinet Minister would have also had the power to issue euthanasia orders for the mentally handicapped, old, infirm and others deemed expendable.

You gain a sense of how much pressure would have been put on those assigned to work here after an attack. It is likely that their families were most likely dead or dying. There was also a strong possibility that, once all of the rations had been consumed, those in the bunker would not last much longer either.

With 600 staff working 7 days a week, it is likely that somebody would have fallen ill. As the nearest hospital would have been the other side of Manchester, the bunker had its own sick bay and operating theatre which also doubled up as a morgue. Dead bodies would have been put into a body bag and then a cardboard coffin. When the radiation levels outside had dropped sufficiently, it’s likely that dead bodies would have just been dumped out the back door.

Photo by Adam Bennett

Many who visit the nuclear bunker today suggest that there is paranormal activity here. So much so that much of the bunker’s visitors come for this exact reason – it was even included in hit show Most Haunted. However, owner Mike Parrish does not believe there to be any ghosts. He says, “I’m a total disbeliever. Everybody who brings a medium down here picks up somebody. It doesn’t mean to say they’re not here just because I don’t see them.”

Until 1994, when the bunker was decommissioned and opened to the public, it was under watch 24 hours a day by armed guards. A stream of British Telecom and other maintenance workers also visited every week to ensure that electronic and communications equipment were kept in a permanent state of readiness; should the unimaginable tragedy of a nuclear attack have occurred.

Four more bunkers to feel the chill of the Cold War:

Rennsteighöhe Nuclear Bunker, eastern Germany
Formally the East German Ministry for Security, the Rennsteig bunker was built during the 1970s and operated by the infamous Stasi. Visitors to the Stasi bunker can take part in a 16 hour overnight reality experience, donning the uniform of a National People’s Army, inclusive of gas mask to guard the bunker against attack, basic training and breakfast sports.

Plokstine Missile Base, Lithuania
Once a top secret base for Soviet nuclear weapons, Plokstine was built by 10,000 Soviet soldiers who used nothing more than shovels to dig out the missile silos. Four R12 nuclear missiles were kept here, aimed at different western countries including Great Britain, Turkey, the former West Germany and Norway. It was also from here where the missiles were transferred to Cuba fuelling the Cuban missile crisis.

Photo by mogello via Flickr Creative Commons 

Bunkr Parukarka, Prague
Designed to accommodate 5000 people in the event of a nuclear strike, on a tour of Prague’s nuclear bunker visitors to learn about the history of Communism in Czechoslovakia. Descend 15 metres underground and hear tales of spies, espionage, cold war refugees and political prisoners from a knowledgeable guide and take part in a gas mask workshop.

Bunker-42, Taganka Nuclear Bunker, Moscow
Built to house prominent Kremlin figures and their families, Bunker 42 is hidden 65 metres beneath the streets of Moscow. Entered through a hidden subway door, those visiting the bunker are escorted by knowledgable tour guides dressed as KGB Officers. There are also opportunities to try on nuclear survival suits.

Explore more of these destinations with the Rough Guide to Europe. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Yorkshire boasts a wealth of big-hitting tourist attractions, but hidden away there are a few entertaining oddities which would be a shame to miss. Here, in no particular order, are ten of the best.

The Teapottery

Housed on an industrial estate just outside Leyburn, the Teapottery calls itself, with justification, the “home of eccentric teapots”. Though the main reason for visiting is to buy teapots in the shape of guitars, police helmets, valve radios, toasters and wheelbarrows, you can also tour the workshops and see each carefully explained step in the production line.

The Mart Theatre

With echoes of Shakespearean inns, Skipton’s animal auction mart doubles as a theatre. On certain nights, the main show ring becomes an auditorium, mounting plays, opera, folk music and stand-up comedy. Barriers are removed, the concrete apron is scrubbed down and the exhibition hall becomes a theatre bar. How do thesps and Dales farmers get on, you might wonder? Like a house (or barn) on fire. Farmers love the animal-enhancing lights while the theatre company gets quirky accommodation. It’s win-win all the way.

Spurn Head

East Yorkshire’s Spurn Head is an amalgam of wild nature, nautical significance and military history. As you drive along its windblown single-track road, the Humber Estuary to your right, the ships riding at anchor in the North Sea to your left, and three generations of light-house, the pilot’s control tower and a jetty ahead, it really does feel like the end of the world.

Ampleforth College

Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire is, unlike most ruined English monasteries, in surprisingly good health. It’s not only a working monastery, but also the country’s premier Roman Catholic public school, whose alumni include Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, actor Richard Everett and sculptor Antony Gormley. In addition to viewing its Roman Catholic worship and tradition, visitors can also walk in the grounds, use the Sports Centre, or attend spiritual classes.

The Cold War Bunker

To those who lived through the Cold War, this bunker, west of York’s city centre conjures up mushroom-clouded Armageddon. To younger visitors, it’s just a jumble of risible old technology set in echoing reinforced concrete. Commissioned in 1961, and one of twenty-nine such facilities, it was manned 24/7 by the Royal Observer Corps, tasked with monitoring nuclear explosions. Here’s a chilling thought: had it ever been used, most of us would have been dead!

Nellies

Nellies (officially the White Horse), in Beverley, reminds us how much the British pub has changed. A seventeenth century coaching inn, its warren of small rooms glory in stone, tile and wood floors, have open coal fires, gas lighting, and a hotchpotch of scuttles, fire-irons, brasses and old pictures. There’s not a carpet, fruit-machine or jukebox in sight.

Eden Camp

Eden Camp in North Yorkshire started life as a Prisoner of War facility during World War II. Having become a derelict eyesore, it was acquired during the 1980s by local visionary Stan Johnson, who converted it into a fascinating museum. A perfect fusion of form and content, its original huts are devoted to different aspects of the war – the rise of Hitler (Hut 1) for example, or the Home Front (Hut 2). Displays are graphic, and even vibrant.

Image courtesy of Eden Camp

The Forbidden Corner

A huge puzzle of spirits and giants, with monsters and myths strung out along labyrinthine paths and tunnels, The Forbidden Corner near Middleham has follies and riddles and mysterious voices galore. Built in the grounds of Tupgill Park, by its owner C. R. Armstrong, to amuse his children, and subsequently opened briefly to the public to raise money for charity, The Forbidden Corner was so popular with visitors that it has now become a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s easier to enjoy than describe – so check it out.

Fort Paull

The pentagonal Fort Paull, just outside Hull, is a ‘Palmerston’ Fort built in the 1860s and named after the then Prime Minister. After its 1960 decommissioning it seemed destined to subside into brambled dereliction. Then a local group took it in hand, and, in 2000, opened it as a military museum. Don’t look here for a coherent recreation of the World War II. Enjoy instead a ragbag of wartime memorabilia, tanks, guns, planes and exhibitions on the Women’s Land Army, child evacuees and the use of carrier pigeons. It’s chaotic, but oddly charming.

The Peace Museum

The only British representative of an international movement, Bradford’s Peace Museum is tucked away at the top of a steep staircase in an old bank in the centre of the city. Its collections include books, cuttings, works of art, posters, banners, photographs, letters and film, all relating to the Peace movement – there’s even a piece of Greenham Common’s perimeter fence. But its greatest resource are its development officers – if you visit, pick their brains.

Explore more of this northern area with the Rough Guide to Yorkshire. Teapot photograph courtesy of the Teapottery.

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month