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. If you’ve got wheels, wanderlust and a spot of time, here’s some adventure fuel. Start your engines: these are the best road trips in Europe.

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

Alzette River, Luxembourg City by Wolfgang Staudt (CC license)

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 Bacharacht 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.

Alternately, 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.
Need to know: 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.

2. Surf and sun in the Basque and beyond

Biarritz by BZ1028 (CC license)

The Basque roads beg a convertible – or better yet, a colourful camper van with surfboards strapped to the roof.

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 Saint-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 and are your trophies at the finish line.

Best for: Sun-seeking surfers and foodies.
How long: 1 week.
Need to know: Check seasonal surf forecasts before you go, and look into coastal campsites if you’re on a budget. 

3. The Arctic fjords from Bergen to Trondheim

Fjords Of Norway by Howard Ignatius (CC license)

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 Fjäland 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, the down the death-defying hairpin turns of Trollstigen (literally “The Troll Path”).

After the descent, ferry across the Eresfjord to Molde and Kristiansudn. For the final stretch, drive the iconic Atlantic Road with its rollercoaster 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
Need to know:
If you plan on road tripping during Norway’s winter months, be sure to check online ahead of time for road closures.

4. The unexplored east: Bucharest, Transylvania, Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna.

Romania by Michael Newman (CC license

Embark from Bucharest, travelling northward through the Carpithian 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 architectures of Vienna.

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

5. To Portugal and beyond

Portugal by Chris Ford (CC license)

Start in Braga, before driving south to medieval town of Guimarães, a the UNESCO world Heritage site. Then it’s onward to the breath-taking “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 in 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 winos.
How long: 10–14 days, or longer depending how long you’d like to stay in each place.
Need to know: As Portugal is among the more affordable destinations in Western Europe, this can be an especially great trip for any travellers on a budget.

6. High altitude adventure on Germany’s Alpine Road

Neuschwanstein Castle by Howard Ignatius (CC license)

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 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 lederhosen aficionados.
How long: 3–8 days.

7. Godly beaches and ancient highways in Greece

The view from Cape Sounion, Greece by Nikos Patsiouris (CC license)

Start in Athens 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 like 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.

8. London to Edinburgh and the Highlands

Stormy Calton Hill, Edinburgh by Andy Smith (CC license)

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, Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds.

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 two thousand 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.

9. The secret shores of Sicily and Calabria

Catania and Mt Etna by Bob Travis (CC license)

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 as well.

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 island’s heartland for 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 for Game of Thrones. Head south-east 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 an truly authentic Italian experience, and of course, hardcore foodies. 
How long: 
6–12 days.

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

It was not too long ago that Lisbon was often dismissed as the unfashionable capital of Portugal, the ‘Poor Man of Europe’. This was harsh on a city that spectacularly straddles the River Tejo with a flurry of old world architecture, rich African cultural influences and a notoriously wild nightlife scene.

Today, savvy city breakers are finally cottoning on that budget airline flights have opened up the city. Delights such as the old world streets of the Alfama and the Biarro Alto, plus one of Europe’s most impressive urban renewal projects, the Parque das Nações, await.

Why is Lisbon great for a weekend break?

Because it has never been easier nor cheaper to get to Lisbon. Gone mercifully are the days when the only ways of getting here were ridiculously expensive flights with scheduled airlines. Budget carriers now compete, on the London routes especially, making a weekend break more tempting than ever before.

Getting around Lisbon is both easy and a joy. In fact, the city is like a giant theme park for adults. Myriad little cruisers and ferries ply the river, trundling old trams rattle on up to its landmark castle and suburban trains drift off to the Atlantic beaches at Cascais and Estoril. There are funiculars too, as well as the unique Elevador de Santa Justa, an early twentieth-century lift you go up just to take a look at the view then nip back down again.

What is there to do and see?

Kicking off in the heart of the city, the Baixa is based on an easy to navigate grid system built after the devastating earthquake of 1755. The new viewing gallery at the landmark Arco Rua Augusta lets you enjoy a bird’s eye view of the area.

The Baixa and the nearby Chiado are ideal for a shopping splurge with plenty of pavement cafés on hand for respite.

Afterwards, jump on vintage Tram 28, which snakes its way from the Baixa in a screech of metal as it lurches upwards, past the city’s cathedral and towards St. George’s Castle, which opens up the finest views of the city. They have a café where you can enjoy a cold Sagres beer or milky Galao coffee as you plan your sightseeing from this lofty perch.

Further seawards there is evidence of Lisbon’s Golden Age, which came in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when its brave explorers sailed out of the River Tejo in search of the New World.

Catch a train or tram to Belem, the historic quarter dedicated to those days. The Belem Tower is the last thing the sailors would have seen of Lisbon as the land shrunk in their wake, while the hulking Monument to the Discoveries strikes out towards the sea, with myriad cultural events breathing contemporary life back into it.

Away from the water, the Jeronimos Monastery is easily the city’s most striking building with its elegant fairytale-esque curves and the flourishes of its Manueline architecture.

The more modern face of Lisbon is on show at the Parque das Nações site, where the Expo 98 was held. It is a model of urban regeneration and home to the Oceanário, one of the largest aquariums in the world, with everything from playful otters to hulking sharks.

There are concert venues, museums and a flurry of restaurants and bars too. Visit the Pavilion of Knowledge science museum and take a ride on the cable car, which opens up the whole site.

So the nightlife is good – where should I party?

The tight, packed old lanes of the Biarro Alto attract a mixed crowd of locals and visitors, who flock to enjoy a chaotic collage of fado groups, characterful independent bars and bustling little clubs.

Walk uphill from the Praca Luís de Camoes and embark on a bar crawl. Clube da Esquina (Rua da Barroca 30) with its live DJs is a great place to take the area’s pulse and pick up flyers for one off events.

Some of the hottest action – especially later on in the night – is out in the converted warehouses of the Doca de Santo Amaro and the Doca de Alcantara, where riverside bars, clubs and restaurants tempt. K Urban Beach is a sushi bar and club rolled into one right on the water.

The more central area around Santa Apolonia is also on the up. Legendary super club Lux, ideal for a cocktail on a sink in sofa before hitting the dancefloor with the locals.

What’s for dinner?

Atlantic seafood is a highlight on many menus in the Portuguese capital. Look out, too, for delicious goat’s cheese from the Alentejo just across the river.

The old world restaurants of the Alfama are the place for simple grilled fish dishes. For a more upmarket seafood feast though – the cod baked in salt is a stunner – head to Frade dos Mares.

Fried chicken is also something of a local budget institution – try it at El Rei d’Frango.

Make sure to enjoy the seriously underrated Portuguese wines too, especially hearty reds from the Alentejo and crisp whites from the Douro Valley.

Out at Parque das Nações, Ilha Doce dishes up the type of hearty, expertly cooked food you find all over budget pleasing Lisbon. Tuck into clams in garlic and white wine or pork Alentejo style with clams and potatoes. They dish up a mean plate of sardines with water views too.

Where can I finally get some sleep?

As Lisbon’s popularity has soared so have room rates. Look out for discounted deals at business hotels at weekends, when the besuited crowd flees the city. Apartments are a good value option. The Santos River Apartments are brightly furnished with river views in increasingly hip Cais de Sodre.

If you’re looking to splash out, the new Myriad is a sleek option at Parque das Nações. This soaring five-star tower hotel offers views of the River Tejo, as well as open plan bedrooms and in-room hot tubs. They have spa too, complete with bubble jets, a steam room and a sauna with a view.

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

Say Senegal or mention West Africa and misinformed mutterings of ebola start to spread quicker than the virus itself. Sitting on the western shoulder of Africa, Senegal is frequently overlooked by travellers – but for little good reason.

While the excellent birding and beaching in The Gambia – the country that slices Senegal’s coastline in two – attract thousands of tourists on organised tours and package holidays, Senegal simmers in the African sun with stretches of often-empty beaches (around 500km of them, in fact), with few tourists to be seen.

And it’s not just about the coastline. There are near-untouched deserts, steamy cities and some fascinating islands with captivating stories to tell. So if you’ve got no idea what to expect, let us tell you a few things you didn’t know about Senegal…

Senegalese coastline © Lottie Gross 2015

1. The Senegalese seriously know how to bake

Waking to the waft of pastry in the morning or sighting women carrying bundles of freshly-baked baguettes after breakfast is something you’d associate with a holiday in France. But this isn’t France, it’s Senegal, and the bakeries fill the early morning air with the tantalising smell of pastry and bread. A legacy left by the French, warm croissants and pains au chocolat make up the breakfast spreads in many a hotel or resort, as well as Senegalese homes. Baguettes are served with almost every meal, and patisseries showcasing impressive-looking cakes will have your mouth watering as you stroll past.

2. You can camp under a sky full of stars in the desert

Lodge de Lompoul sits in the middle of the Senegalese desert and it’s a world away from the big, brash city of Dakar. As the sun sets, crack open a cool Flag (West African lager), sit back, relax and watch the dunes turn from yellow to orange before they’re silhouetted against the night’s sky.

Lodge de Lompoul © Lottie Gross 2015

Three hours north of the capital, the small village of Lompoul sits on the edge of a desert of the same name. This smattering of huts and concrete and corrugated iron structures is a gateway to a strangely empty patch of yellow sand dunes in the middle of the forested landscape that backs the Senegalese coastline.

Leave your vehicle in Lompoul and jump into the camp’s 4×4 truck to traverse the steeply undulating, foliage-clad dunes – an exhilarating adventure in itself – before arriving at your luxury tent to spend a night in the wild.

3. Senegal’s natural attractions include a vivid pink lake

Blue, crystal-clear waters are beautiful, but what about bright pink? Thanks to its high salt content (up to forty per cent in places) caused by an algae called dunaliella salina, Lake Retba looks more like cloudy pink lemonade than a refreshing cool-blue pool. Don’t try swimming in it though: the salt is terrible for your skin, and the workers who gather the mineral have to cover themselves in shea butter before jumping in. It’s brighter at certain times of year (the dry season, mainly) and is made even more striking where parts of its banks are made up of bright-white salt.

The lake is a hive of activity all year round: men dig for salt under the water and women in brightly-coloured dresses carry buckets full of it on their heads from the waters to the metres-high mounds on the shore.

The Pink Lake © Lottie Gross 2015

4. The country is a twitcher’s paradise

The Gambia gets most of the attention for birdwatching in West Africa, but Senegal also has its own haven for hundreds of winged creatures. The Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie, at the southern end of a long, thin, sandy peninsula near the border with Mauritania, is a reserve for over 160 different species of birds, from all kinds of terns and gulls to pelicans and pink flamingoes. Hire a pirogue (traditional canoe) and glide through the calm waters all afternoon for some excellent ornithological observation.

5. You can visit an island made from millions of shells

In the south of Senegal, a hundred kilometres from Dakar, Ile de Fadiouth is one of Senegal’s many little islands, set in the ocean between a peninsula and a warren of lush mangroves. But it’s not like the others that dot the Atlantic coastline here – this one is made of shells. The streets are paved with them, the houses decorated with them and the adjoining mini island, housing only the Christian-Muslim cemetery, is entirely made up of them. Take a stroll to the top of the highest mound of shells in the cemetery for a glorious view over the mangroves and azure waters.

Ile de Fadiouth – © Lottie Gross 2015

6. Senegal hosts a famous jazz festival

Each year in May, the sleepy city of Saint Louis becomes overrun with strumming, scatting and singing musicians, ready to set the jazz standard high. The world-renowned Saint Louis Jazz festival has seen some of the biggest names in jazz take to the main stage in the city centre, and plenty of smaller acts performing in various venues around the city. Restaurants, hotels and bars are abuzz with musical excitement at this time of year; walk down the streets and you’ll hear jazz on every corner, whether it’s blaring out from a shop soundsystem or a jam session in someone’s back garden.

7. You can spot enormous baobabs over 1200 years old

Baobabs are everywhere in Senegal: from the national coat of arms to the city centres and the arid countryside. They’re peculiar-looking trees with fat trunks – that can grow up to 25 metres in circumference – and short stubby branches, and they can live for well over a thousand years. They’re a symbol of wisdom and longevity, the fruit is used to make a sweet, deep-red juice drink called bui and the bark makes strong rope. Whether they look as if they’re bursting from the tarmac of a busy city road, or they’re just standing silhouetted against a burning red sunset, baobabs are a bizarrely beautiful sight to be seen throughout the country.

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

Walking: just putting one foot in front of the other, right? How hard can that be? Yes, a walking trip is something that anyone can do, but it is also something that is widely misunderstood. Hiking boots that don’t fit, a water bottle that isn’t big enough, a phone battery that never lasts – these are the things that pass from mere annoyance to sheer torture – even abject danger – on a long walk. Don’t fall into these easy-to-avoid first-timer traps, stay on track with our top hiking tips.

1. Put your best foot forward

First things first: boots. Do. Not. Scrimp. This couldn’t be emphasized enough if we wrote it in neon and underlined it three times. Your boots are your best friend on the trail and you need to spend some time picking them out. Get help at your local outdoor store and test out as many pairs as it takes to find a comfortable fit.

Don’t ignore the faux mountain slopes in the store – have a walk up and down them, jump, wiggle your toes. The most common mistake is thinking boots will stretch out and a size too small is the surest way to a black toenail. Buy bigger if in doubt. And pick up spare laces too, if yours snap on the trail these will be worth their weight in Gore-Tex.

2. Stick to the path

Sounds simple, but taking a “shortcut” is how most people end up lost. It may look quicker to “cut a corner” but that corner could be hiding a swamp, thick jungle, a steep slope, anything. Follow the signs, stick to marked routes and accept that the person who marked out the trail probably really does know best.

3. Take a guide

Concerned about being alone out there? If you’re at all unsure about where you’re going or whether you can hack it, join a group. Numerous operators (Macs Adventure, Headwater, Ramblers) offer guided group walks around the UK, Europe, the USA and further afield and there is, after all, safety in numbers. Many also offer self-guided walking holidays, with all route notes provided.

4. Don’t descend into madness

Everything is flat on a map – but you and your muscles both know that this is far from reality. Learn to read the contours, the circular lines that join points of the same height together, on your map and you’ll be able to see the height change and prepare for – or avoid – steep ascents and descents. Remember that contour lines closer together mean the slope is steeper, and that downhill can be much harder on the muscles than uphill. Reduce the number of miles you plan to walk if the terrain is steep and you’ll avoid burning thigh muscles.

5. Wrap up

Clothing is your protection against the elements and thin layers are best. Pack a microfleece (the lightest you can find), good quality waterproofs (jacket and trousers) and a hat and gloves if you’re somewhere cold or at altitude, and don’t forget the suncream and a sun hat if it’s going to be hot. A thin scarf is great for covering up against the sun, sitting on, drying yourself off with and a number of other things that make it an essential.

6. Stock up

If you’re walking in a remote area you’ll need to bring everything, including water and food, with you. Pack bread, ham and cheese to make sandwiches (don’t forget a knife), nuts and chocolate as energy-giving snacks and a Camelbak hydration pack filled with water. Soluble vitamin C tablets can be added to water for an extra burst of energy.

7. Get in shape

Think you can walk 15 miles in one day because it takes you 20 minutes to dash to the train station every day? Think again. Walking for a sustained period through rough terrain is an entirely different game. So if you’ve booked the Inca Trail start with a hike in your local park and work up to build your stamina.

8. Grab a pole

Walking poles split opinion but most serious walkers carry one – and swear by it. A pole gives you an extra limb, one that you can use for additional balance, or simply to check out the depth of puddles or just how thick that undergrowth is. Not a bad thing to have to hand if stray dogs approach either.

9. Respect the mountain

How often do we hear about someone being rescued from Ben Nevis or the Rockies? Never forget that the mountain is king and cares not a jot for you the hiker. Always check the weather locally before heading out and don’t start ascending those peaks if it’s closing in or a storm is en route. Wrap up warm, and take a whistle and a torch, these will be invaluable if for some reason you do need to attract attention.

10. Get appy

There are dozens of apps out there for hikers but one of our favourites is Endomondo. Tap the play button as you start walking and it will monitor how far you walk, what your elevation gain or loss is and log your route on a map. It will even tell you how much water you should drink and how many calories you’ve burned.

11. Bring batteries

For everything. That torch, your camera, your mobile phone. Check and charge everything fully before you head out and bring spares. For your phone, which could turn out to be your lifeline, pack the MiPow Power Tube 3000. It has an integral cable and can charge your phone more than once. It will also sync with your phone, making it beep if you accidentally leave it behind.

12. Get high safely

Some of the world’s best hikes (the Inca Trail, the Annapurna Circuit) take place at altitude and this is not something to take lightly. Altitude sickness can kill, and it may start with a simple headache or nausea. If you feel mildly hungover, short of breath even when resting, or dizzy seek help immediately and descend as far as possible. There is no cure apart from descending so never try to push on. Altitude sickness can usually be avoided by acclimatizing slowly, so spend a couple of days resting at altitude before walking. Drink plenty of water too and avoid alcohol too.

Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, find tours 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.

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.

_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.

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.

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.


Discover 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:

We asked the Rough Guides team in Delhi to vote for the most beautiful places in India. After much deliberation, here are the results…

10. Chilika Lake, Odisha

Fed by fresh-water rivers and washed by the sea, this biodiversity hotspot is a wintering ground for migratory birds and home to a number of threatened aquatic species, including the Irrawaddy dolphin. A stunning place to start off our list of the most beautiful places in India.

9. Madikeri, Coorg, Karnataka

Our Delhi team voted for Madikeri as an excellent base from which to explore the lush national parks, natural beauty and gorgeous coffee plantations that abound in this scenic stretch of the Western Ghats.

8. Mawlynnong, Meghalaya

Described by one of our editors as magical, this village in the East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya is simply stunning. The surrounding areas are just as unforgettable, with natural bridges made by twisting the roots of rubber trees crossing the rivulets and streams.

7. Kumarakom Backwaters, Kerala

At number seven in the list, Kerala’s scenic backwaters, edged with coconut palms, lush green rice paddies and picturesque villages, make for a beautiful escape from hectic city life.

6. Mandu, Madhya Pradesh

One of central India’s most atmospheric monuments, this medieval ghost town is set on a scenic plateau still prowled at night by leopards and panthers.

5. Hampi, Karnataka

This vast archeological site would have been one of the largest and richest cities of its time. The design, detailing and ornamentation of the best-preserved ruins are astonishing.

4. Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

This hot and desolate landscape is reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. Situated right on the border with Pakistan, its striking white plains call out to many of the more intrepid explorers in our team.

3. Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand

From July to September, when its rolling alpine meadows are carpeted with wildflowers, this sprawling National Park is a bucket list destination for many in the Rough Guides office.

2. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This icy saline lake, cradled by stark and sombre mountains 4350m above sea level, comes second in our list. We think it epitomises the breathtaking majesty of the high Himalaya.

1. Lakshadweep

Quiet lagoons, crystal-clear waters, coral reefs teeming with aquatic life and secluded white-sand beaches… The list goes on. The absolutely spectacular Lashadweep (‘100,000 islands’ – though there are actually just 36) was a unanimous choice at the top of our list for the most beautiful places in India.

The Great Lakes comprise the largest body of fresh water on the planet and more than 35,000 islands are found in the water system. Not all are inhabited and some aren’t much more than a single rock jutting out of the lake with a lighthouse on it – but the inhabited ones provide the perfect opportunity for a weekend getaway. Here’s our list of the best islands in the Great Lakes.

Lake Huron: Manitoulin Island for First Nations Tourism

Manitoulin is largely undiscovered territory for modern travellers because it’s difficult to get to without a car or boat, but it’s totally worth the effort. Six small reserves with names like Kagawong, M’Chigeeng and Sheguiandah dot the shores of this island and are the best places to find out more about Canada’s First Nations people.

Canada’s most famous First Nations theatre group, De-Ba-Jeh-Mu-Jig (meaning “storyteller”), are based in Wikwemikong and do performances of native legends during summer.

The island is also unique for the small reddish hawberries that grow wild along its shores. Early settlers ate the berries in winter as a last-remaining food source – today, residents born on Manitoulin refer to themselves as “haweaters” as if it’s some secret club.

Lake Ontario: the Thousand Islands for history

This isn’t just one island, but an archipelago of 1864 dots of land straddling the Canada-US border on the north-eastern exit of Lake Ontario into the St Lawrence River. The islands span fifty miles from the lake into the river, with dozens of waterfront towns (and even some cities) and restaurants.

The Thousand Islands have a rich history – they were a battleground for the War of 1812, an early 1900s playground for the rich and famous, and have always been a hub of maritime activity. This history is celebrated in the many museums, castles and mansions across the islands. If you’re looking for a hands-on experience, take part in one of the re-enactments or living history demonstrations that overtake Sackets Harbor Battlefield during the summer.

One of the Thousand Islands by Benson Kua (license)

Lake Michigan: Beaver Island for hunting and fishing

Beaver Island’s history is unique: it began as a strong Mormon settlement with 300 followers of the Strangite sect, the Mormons who chose to follow James Strang instead of Brigham Young. The Strangites weren’t necessarily welcomed, and after Strang’s death in 1856, mobs from nearby communities drove the settlers off the island. So then the Irish fisherman came – earning Beaver Island the nickname “America’s Emerald Isle”. They were quickly followed by droves of outdoor-loving tourists and now the island is a hotspot for fishing and hunting.

The Beaver Island Wildlife Club has been active for more than 70 years working to preserve and maintain the wildlife and its habitat. In addition to many available deer, wild turkey, and small game for hunting, the island is known for excellent fly-fishing and a robust supply of smallmouth bass, carp, and walleye.

Lake Erie: South Bass Island for late-night revellers

Party-lovers rejoice: you have your place in the Great Lakes, too. South Bass Island is home to one of Lake Erie’s largest entertainment destinations, the town of Put-in-Bay. Beer Barrel Saloon claims to have the longest uninterrupted bar in the world, seating 160 people on its stools, and the Round House has great live bands daily. There’s a reason it’s called the “Key West of Lake Erie,” and it’s not just because of the sun-kissed sands.

Courtesy of www.rabbitisland.org

Lake Superior: Rabbit Island for artists

This small island once belonged to a Swedish fisherman but was recently purchased by New Yorker, Rob Gorski, and turned into a thriving artists’ colony. Gorski, an emergency room doctor, found the island on CraigsList. At the time, it only held the remains of a cabin, but Gorski saw more. Now the island has a shelter, a kitchen, and a sauna, and attracts artists from across the world to live in the wild wooded space and let Lake Superior’s moods influence their art.

Gorski hopes to eventually open an office and studio space in nearby Calumet, Michigan, to showcase the work of the island’s artists for locals and visitors interested in the robust art scene in the Upper Peninsula.

Explore of this area with the Rough Guides Great Lakes SnapshotCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

After weeks of deliberation, we’re thrilled to announce that Stephanie Dyson is the winner of the Rough Guides and Journeys are made @gapyear.com writing competition and the recipient of a £2000 travel voucher. Congratulations, Stephanie! 

The judges were particularly impressed by her fresh take on a well-known experience. The colourful language in her carefully paced piece bought the sunrise to life and made us long to jump on a plane to Bolivia.

You can read her entry below – we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Pieces by the two runners-up can be found here.

The day I’ll never forget: A visit to the Salar de Uyuni

The silence is what hits you immediately. It smudges into the darkness, extending to the edges of the world, and stopping only to encounter the weak rays of the emerging sun.

At times, the faintest of noises are perceptible: the soft lapping of the small tides of salty water as they slosh against the tyres of the jeep; the almost imperceptible hum of the engine, as if conscious not to break the majesty of that moment.

This was the climax of our trip: dawn on one of the world’s most incredible marvels, the Bolivian Salar de Uyuni, or salt flats. Over the past three days, our jeep had offered us incredible views across the dusty canyons of the wilderness surrounding our starting point, Tupiza; it had struggled through mud-saturated roads, barely wide enough for one car and flanked by vertical drops into the valley below; from its windows, we had delighted in lakes brimming with flamingos, whose pink colouring had seemed to blend into the now rose-tinged water itself.

Despite the beauty of all of these sights, nothing had prepared us for that sunrise.

With every second, our views across the unending desolation changed. Subtly at first; hues of the palest orange grew from that solitary speck of life hovering beyond the Earth, fading into whites which escaped outwards into the darkness. There they mixed to create a stain of blue above the horizon.

What was strangest was how such an ordinary moment could be so extraordinarily transformed. Never before had we been so aware of a sunrise. As the light of dawn grew, we were introduced to beauty at its most magnificent: witness to not one sunrise, but two. Rainfall the previous night had covered the salt flats in a shallow sea of water which reflected the rays of the sun as they silently opened across the landscape. The sun rose from all angles, and you could be forgiven for forgetting which way was up, and where the ground actually lay.

Like any prepared travellers, we had bought props – a family of ducks – to star in the perspective shots that have become a trademark of any trip to Uyuni. In the semi-darkness of the approaching dawn, they bobbed noiselessly in ripples cast by our footsteps.

The final rays peered above the horizon, finding their reflection far below. The moment had ended. With it, the Salar began to assume a different personality, as the water would soon evaporate to leave a blanket of unmarred salt. We welcomed the chance to finally view our surroundings: commanding volcanoes – relics of a distant age – flanked the plain from one side, whilst rippling blues and the whites of clouds continued in every other direction. We were insignificant and unimportant; mere dirty specks on this unblemished symbol of nature’s beauty.

Our jeep was waiting. Still, we piled in slowly, savouring every last breath of that now lost moment of dawn.

The sky is lightening. Squint and you can just about make out a change in the colour of it, a shift from inky-black to blue-black. As the sun rises further it changes more, until it pales enough behind the stonework that you can begin to make out a hulk on the horizon.

You breathe in and get ready to experience one of travel’s true once-in-a-lifetime moments. And then a selfie stick springs up in your eyeline, a bright screen illuminating the darkness. You are jostled from behind and suddenly you can’t see a thing. The stone pinkens in the sunrise ahead but you’re marooned the wrong side of the camera-swayers. You miss the window, those crucial moments, in which Angkor Wat is at its most beautiful.

Yes, there is very much a wrong way to do Angkor Wat. It’s Cambodia’s most visited tourist attraction with more than two million cameras-on-legs passing through every year. But do it right and you can have it to yourself. Find out how below, but remember: it’s a secret.

How to avoid the crush at the big three

Angkor is not just one temple, but a complex of hundreds spread over a vast area that was once a city home to more people than London. To most visitors though it is three temples at most: Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Ta Prohm.

First up is Angkor Wat, the iconic temple whose name is often confused with the name of the complex as a whole. Although you’ve seen this a thousand times on film and in pictures, nothing can prepare you for the beauty of its five perfectly aligned towers, each one like a corn on the cob.

Nothing can prepare you for the crowds at the West Gate come sunrise either and these are best avoided. Get your guide to take you to the East Gate instead and you’ll walk through the temple from its back side, scuffing along empty stone corridors in the dark and wondering where everyone else is. Watch the sun rise from here, lighting up the stones as it ascends, before heading out of the West Gate for coffee and breakfast at one of the stands nearby.

By the time you’re finished, the worst of the sunrise crowds will have gone but it will still be early enough to explore in relative peace.

Angkor Wat Sunrise North Lake via photopin (license)

The Bayon, with its pyramid covered in hundreds of half-smiling faces, is packed from sun up to sun down and seems to magnetically pull the very worst of the shuffling crowds to its giant stone terraces.

Fortunately, these crowds appreciate a good long lunch and between about twelve and two in the afternoon you may be able to clamber just about high enough among the faces to get them to yourself for a minute or two. Just don’t forget the sun cream, there’s very little shade here.

Ta Prohm, which featured in Tomb Raider, is a contrast, its shady jungle-cloaked ruins most popular during the hottest part of the day. This makes dusk the perfect time to visit, as everyone else heads en masse to Phnom Bakheng hill to see the sunset. Don’t even think about following them, wait a while and you should have no competition for the perfect photograph of this most atmospheric of the temples.

Don’t miss the undiscovered beauties

The big three will take a full day to see properly so buy the three-day ticket ($40 instead of the $20 for one day) to allow enough time to step away from the hordes and see some of the temples you won’t have heard of.

Ta Keo is within selfie stick swinging distance of Ta Phrom but it wasn’t in Tomb Raider and so it is not on most visitors’ itineraries. Even better, this entirely sandstone temple is almost impossibly steep, making the climb up its chunky steps arduous enough to put off most people. The result? A view over the temple-dotted landscape from 21 metres up, and away from everyone else.

DSC_0163 via photopin (license)

If the jungle-claimed Ta Phrom – one of the big three – most grabs your imagination, don’t miss Preah Khan, a massive complex once home to upwards of 10,000 people and today a tumbledown heap of lichen-covered stones and imposing tree roots as thick as houses. Few people wander its ruins, enclosed by a moat so placid it appears like a mirror and surrounded by jungle so quiet you feel like you’ve stumbled on something nobody ever has before.

Get the right guide

However much research you do in advance, Angkor is just too much to take in on your own, especially at around 400 square kilometres.

To really get away from the coach parties you need a private tuk tuk that can navigate the temples and a knowledgeable guide who is willing to be flexible and suggest quiet areas you won’t find in the guidebooks. This isn’t a destination where you can wing it, so book with a specialist operator who has local expertise and is up to date on the best places to get away from the ever-expanding crowds.

Helen Ochyra travelled with Experience Travel Group (0203 468 6268; www.experiencetravelgroup.com), who offer a seven-night trip to Cambodia including a private tour of Angkor Wat from £1,119 per person (including transfers, B&B accommodation in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, flights and taxes).

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