Croatia is one of Europe’s rising tourist stars. This remarkable Adriatic country of 1244 islands, bear and wild boar inhabited forests and world-class vineyards is so much more than just a beach destination. To make sure you hit the ground running in this complex and diverse nation, follow our top ten Croatia travel tips.

1. Be picky

Avoid the temptation to cram too much of this geographically challenging country in to your first visit. If you only have a week split it between the capital, Zagreb, for a night or two and spend the rest of the time exploring the famous Adriatic coast. Longer trips allow rewarding forays further afield, where gems like the UNESCO listed Plitvice Lakes, the castles of the Zagorje and the Slavonian vineyards await.

2. Don’t only go to Dubrovnik

Yes Games of Thrones star Dubrovnik is every bit Lord Byron’s ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, but also tempting on the coast is Split, the country’s second largest city, whose city centre is remarkably a UNESCO site, the spectacular Roman Diocletian’s Palace.

Further north the old Roman hub of Zadar and early Croatian city Šibenik are lively hubs just emerging from the bitter 1990s war, where the cafes are less filled with tourists.

The same goes for the city of Pula in the northwest of the Croatian littoral, which boasts a UNESCO listed Roman amphitheatre.

3. Don’t let the bugs bite

From late spring into autumn mosquitoes are a nuisance throughout much of the country so find a good repellent that your skin does not react to. Light colours help. Avoid wearing fragrances too. Tics are a more pressing problem as they can cause serious illness so wear thick socks and cover up your legs when hiking. A simple tic remover is a good investment, especially if you may be trekking in rural areas.

4. Get the best beds

Spare beds can be hard to come by in summer especially in the most popular islands – like Hvar and Brač – and Dubrovnik. Booking ahead makes sense, but if you do get caught short look out for the sobe signs, which are essentially advertising rooms in locals’ homes. As well as being cheap, staying at a sobe can be a great way to meet Croats. If they are full, owners will often point you in the direction of another nearby.

5. Drink up

Of the big domestic brands Karlovacko is the favourite beer of many Croats and justifiably so. Croatia’s wines are seriously underrated abroad, at least in part due to the relatively small production and high domestic demand. Look out for the mighty Dingac red and the dry Posip white, both from Dalmatia. Istria is renowned for its Malvasija (great with seafood), while the Dubrovnik region’s own Malvasia is on the rise too.

6. Health matters

You should always take out decent travel insurance, even for a weekend break. If you’re an EU resident, be sure to pack a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to a basic level of state health care in Croatia. It won’t cover you for repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment though, which is where good travel insurance comes in. The emergency ambulance number in Croatia is 112.

7. Get active

Croatia may be famed as a sea and sun destination, but getting active is the best way to discover its wilder corners. Paklenica National Park offers superb hiking and climbing, while in the islands the walk to the highest point, Vidova Gora on Brač, offers remarkable views. For rafting the Cetina River tempts, while windsurfers should head to Korčula and paragliders to Mount Ucka.

8. Eat well

Croats are justifiably proud of the fine organic produce their country conjures up in such abundance and many will refer to the processed food in supermarkets witheringly as ‘cat food’. Wherever you are, a local market is never far away, so shop local to put together a mouth-watering picnic bursting with fresh flavour.

9. Talk to the locals

Be very careful when discussing the Homeland War, which ravaged the country as it became independent from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with a local. Do a little bit of research before your trip and hold back any too hastily formed views. Then when a Croat does decide to open up a little about those defining years, your knowledge and interest may help you gain an insight into the country well beyond the tourist sheen, which adds a totally different dimension to your trip.

10. Savour the seafood

Croatia’s seafood is truly world class. A bounty of fishy delights are hauled daily from the Adriatic, the cleanest corner of the Mediterranean. Even if you’re timid about bones and shells no trip to the coast is complete without a seafood feast. The best value way of sampling a range of delights is to order the riblja plata, a mixed platter of fish and shellfish, which is usually plenty for two to share.

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

Go Buggy Rollin, France

Buggy, what? Yes, that’s right: Buggy Rollin. It’s a relatively new adventure sport in which each participant wears a full body suit covered in wheels and stoppers – a bit like a PowerRanger – and then hurtles face-first down a bobsleigh track at speeds of up to 100km/h. Weird, wonderful and a little insane – but we love it. Try it at the Beton on Fire festival in La Plagne in the French Alps.

Highline above a canyon, USA

Like a giant spider’s web, a network of slacklines link one side of a canyon to another. At the centre of the net (dubbed the ‘Mothership Space Net Penthouse’ by its creators) is a hole through which base-jumpers drop while highliners perch on one-inch wide pieces of string slung 120m above the ground. The venue is the Moab Desert in Utah, USA, where these extreme sports nuts meet annually to get their kicks.

Ride the world’s steepest rollercoaster, Japan

Get ready to scream as your carriage slowly makes its vertical ascent before plummeting at 100km/h down the world’s steepest rollercoaster drop – a hair-raising 121 degrees in freefall. Takabisha is the newest rollercoaster at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park in Yamanashi, Japan, and is enough to put the wind up even the bravest of fairground thrillseekers.

Wing walk in the UK

In 1920s America, flying circuses travelled the country to promote aviation. Their ‘barnstorming’ pilots performed stunts like rolls and loop-the-loops while wing walkers wowed the crowds with their dangerous acrobatics on the wings of tiny biplanes. You can have a go at wing walking in Yorkshire in the UK, where, despite being fully kitted out with safety harness and parachute, none of the thrill has been lost.

Free dive in the Bahamas

In 2010, William Trubridge broke the free-diving record when he descended to a hundred metres on a single breath at Dean’s Blue Hole. It’s the world’s deepest salt-water blue hole, which is a kind of underwater sinkhole that opens out into a vast underwater cavern. Learning to free-dive in its turquoise waters is a remarkable experience, especially as the coral caves are teeming with sea life, from tropical fish and shrimps to seahorses and turtles.

Go volcano boarding in Nicaragua

It’s a steep one-hour climb up Cerro Negro, an active volcano in northwest Nicaragua. From the rim you can look down into the steaming crater, then hop on your board. The way back down takes only about three minutes: surfing or sliding, carving up pumice and coating your skin in a layer of thick black dust. Messy, exhilarating and oh so fun!

Climb cliffs without ropes, Ethiopia

The only way to access Tigray’s rock-hewn medieval monasteries is by foot, but they are high up in the Gheralta Mountains and there are no ropes to help with the climb. Visitors must traverse a narrow ledge and free-climb up a vertical rock-face. The rewards, however, are plentiful: grand views across a wide rocky landscape, striated pinnacles of sandstone and the fascinating painted interiors of the ancient churches.

Edgewalk at CN Tower, Toronto, Canada

The EdgeWalk at CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, is the world’s highest external walk on a building. Small groups that venture out onto a 1.5m-wide ledge that circles the very top of the tower are encouraged to dangle hands-free off the side of the building, 356m above the ground, trusting completely in the safety harness.

Explore the world’s largest cave, Borneo, Malaysia

You’ll soon find out if you suffer from bathophobia – the fear of depths – as you enter the Sarawak Chamber, the world’s largest cave by surface area. Beneath Gunung Mulu National Park in Borneo, an underground river channel takes you deep into the cave network. When you finally arrive at the Sarawak Chamber, the size of the space is hard to comprehend: at 150,000 square metres, the chamber is large enough to house forty Boeing 747 aeroplanes. You’ll feel very small indeed.

Base jumping from Angel Falls, Venezuela

Ever fancied jumping off a vertical cliff in a wingsuit? If so, you should head to Venezuela’s Angel Falls, the world’s highest waterfall and one of the most magnificent locations to take part in this extreme sport. Just getting here is an adventure. The 979m-high falls are located in a remote spot in the Guiana Highlands, accessible by riverboat and a trek through the jungle.

Bungee jumping from the Verzasca Dam, Switzerland

Like James Bond in the film Goldeneye, you too can leap from the world’s highest stationary bungee platform. The Verzasca Dam (or Contra Dam) in Switzerland is a 220m-high hydroelectric dam near Locarno, which holds back a reservoir containing 105 million cubic metres of water. For an extra adrenalin rush, try jumping at night.

Cliff diving at La Quebrada, Mexico

Leaping from the top a cliff into choppy seas below is a popular daredevil pursuit worldwide, but in La Quebrada, Mexico, it’s so dangerous that it’s best left to the professionals. With one swift movement, each diver soars high then gracefully turns and dives, hitting the water just as it surges up the gorge.

Flyboard in France

The sight of people hovering up to three metres above water is slightly futuristic, especially when they start flipping, spinning and diving whilst attached to what looks like a giant vacuum cleaner tube. Don’t be alarmed, this is flyboarding – a new watersport invented in 2011 by French jet-ski champion Francky Zapata, and it’s (literally) taking off around the world. A good place to try it is at La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic Coast.

Camp out in bear country, Wyoming, USA

Ah the Great Outdoors. If wild camping in a remote spot sounds idyllic, then Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA, could be for you – unless you don’t fancy your chances against grizzly bears in search of dinner… In fact, there is only about one bear attack in the park each year so your chances are pretty good, but you’ll need nerves of steel to lie all night in a flimsy tent whilst listening for bear-like rustling outside.

Swimming in Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia

Daring swimmers can bathe in this natural infinity pool just inches from the world’s highest waterfall: Victoria Falls in Zambia. Lie against the edge of the precipice and watch the Zambezi river cascade into the canyon 100 metres below, obscuring the view of the rainforest beyond with clouds of mist. This exhilarating swim is only possible in the dry season (May–October) when the waters are low enough for the natural pool to form.

Abseil from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Extreme sports professionals regularly fling themselves from South Africa’s famous flat-topped mountain, but now mere mortals can have a go too. The world’s highest commercial abseil starts at 300m above sea level from the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. On the 112m descent, look around you – if you can – at the spectacular view over the beaches and bays of the city’s glittering Atlantic coast.

Skydive over Mount Everest, Nepal

There can be no adrenalin rush quite like it. Free-falling from 29,000ft above Mount Everest in Nepal, will literally take your breath away – not just from the thrill of the jump but from the extraordinary view of the world’s highest mountain. Unfortunately, this once-in-a-lifetime experience comes with a high price tag: tandem jumps with Everest Skydive start at $20,000.

Cycle Death Road, Bolivia

This is said to be Bolivia’s scariest road. The Yungas Road is a narrow track, barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, with a sheer drop on one side and a vertical rock face on the other. Heavy-goods trucks used to plough along it – and frequently off it – but now only thrill-seeking cyclists hurtle down the 64 kilometre route from the snowy mountains to the rainforest below.

The Northern Cape, home to diamond mining capital Kimberley and wilderness of the Kalahari Desert, remains South Africa’s least visited province. But it just doesn’t make sense, according to writer Meera Dattani. Here she tells us why it’s one of South Africa’s top destinations.

So why should I go?

If empty roads flanked by saltpans, sand dunes, rocky hillsides and quiver trees aren’t enough to tempt you into a road trip, perhaps you’ll be intrigued by the San hunter-gatherers and Khoi herders, or Bushmen, who once lived here and are now reviving lost customs.

Either way, the Northern Cape is a rich, sparsely-populated and under-visited region. So rent a car and enjoy the verdant landscapes along the Orange River as you drive towards Augrabies Falls National Park, get active in a National Park or taste wine in one of the many vineyards along your route.

Where should I go?

Covering one-third of the country, it’s impossible to see South Africa’s largest, least populated, region in its entirety.

Sand dunes and saltpans are the main sights along the Red Dune Route, north of Upington. Stay at lodges en route to small town Askham before the region’s holy grail of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where game drives weave in and out of Botswanan and South African territory. Lucky visitors will hear the roar of black-maned Kalahari lions and all can enjoy unpolluted, sparkling night sky.

Another highlight is the Green Kalahari area, between Namibia and Botswana, combining desert adventures with the Orange River and waterfall at Augrabies Falls National Park.

From Upington town, the Orange River flows west along the easily navigable Kokerboom Food & Wine Route through Keimoes, Kakamas and Marchand. Upington’s small-town charm is worth experiencing, with nearby vineyards and sunset sailing aboard Sakkie se Arkie.

From Tierberg Hill in Keimoes, see how the Orange River has irrigated an otherwise dry landscape by exploring one of the 120-odd islands; Kanoneiland is South Africa’s largest inhabited inland island.

What is there to do?

Spot wildebeest and klipspringer in rocky Augrabies Falls National Park, home to the 184ft-high Augrabies Falls, Khoi for ‘place of the Great Noise’. The park offers opportunity for river-gorge walking, white-water rafting and canoeing.

The region is also home to 10 percent of South Africa’s vineyards. Visit Bezalel in Kanoneiland, De Mas Wine Cellars in Kakamas and Orange River Wine Cellars in Upington, Keimoes and Kakamas.

In Riemvasmaak, where apartheid policies scattered Xhosa, Nama and other communities who have since returned, there’s Nama cuisine, cultural tours, hot springs and hiking.

At Kalahari Trails on the Red Dune Route, Welsh-born Professor Anne Rosa takes visitors through her 8640-acre farm and interprets the night’s wildlife action, often accompanied by resident meerkats. Rooiduin Guest Farm offers sand-surfing and dune safaris or head to Zoutpanputs game farm, home to Cape birds, meerkats and the elusive pangolin. You can also see springbok and gemsbok lick salt off the pan, go camel riding or book floating salt pool sessions and salt work tours.

At Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, so-called from Tswana for ‘waterless place’, wildlife includes the Kalahari lion, ostrich, Cape fox, cheetah, aardwolf and spring hare. Double the size of Kruger, it’s run by Mier and San communities with South Africa National Parks.

Where can I stay?

Guesthouses, lodges and tented camps are how the Northern Cape rolls. In Upington, guesthouses include A La Fugue, Riverplace and Brown’s Manor. Along the Kokerboom Route, consider De Werf Lodge, Ou Skool Guesthouse and Ikaia B&B in Keimoes or, if feeling flush, a suite at African Vineyard in Kanoneisland, run by Elmarie de Bruin and photographer husband Theuns.

En route to Augrabies Fall National Park is Lake Grappa Guest Farm in Marchand. The national park’s cabins are excellent, or you could try Kalahari River & Safari Company and luxury Tutwa Lodge.

Heading north to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, guesthouses include Kalahari Guest House & Farm Stall, Rooipan Guest Farm in Askham and Loch Maree Guest Farm. For glampers, there’s Kalahari Info & Tented Camp Rietfontein near the Namibian border and safari-style Molopo Kalahari Lodge, one of four Northern Cape Famous Lodges, offers private dinners on a nearby pan.

In Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, community-run !Xaus Lodge offers rustic luxury overlooking a huge pan. Kalahari Tented Camp and Kielie Krankie come recommended while Kgalagadi Lodge just outside the park is outstanding.

How do I get around?

You drive. This is dream driving terrain. Stop at quirky padstals, roadside farm stalls, and forget GPS. Have a good map, local phone, keep petrol topped up and ask locals. Don’t be surprised if you’re told to turn left at the tenth quiver tree when there’s an obvious landmark in situ. Traffic is unlikely, bar speeding rock rabbits.

When should I go?

Optimum months are March and April, and the winter months of August and September when desert flowers explode in the westerly Namaqualand region, another astonishing sight in one of South Africa’s most unexpected regions. Avoid December to February when temperatures reach 40°C (104°F).

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

Scotland sports such a strong selection of tourist attractions – from castles and cabers to kilts and whisky – it’s easy to forget that there is much more to this land. Venture away from the cities and you’ll find that Scotland holds over ten percent of Europe’s coastline and almost 300 mountains over 3000ft-tall. Ready to explore? Here are seven Scottish places that you you’ve probably not heard of, but must visit.

1. The Isle of Harris, the Western Isles

Sitting in the far northwest of Scotland’s collections of more than 700 islands, the epic bleached-white sands on the coast of Harris have been compared to the Caribbean’s finest beaches. There are ample stretches of perfect puffy white sand to choose from: our favourites are Luskentyre, Seilebost and the wide sweep of Scarista. You will often have these beaches all to yourself, and even if someone dares to break your solitude, you can just wander along to the next one.

Isle of Harris, Scotland by iknow-uk on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

2. The Quiraing, Isle of Skye

It may look like the gnarled New Zealand countryside which doubled so superbly as the setting for the Lord of the Rings films, but this Tolkienesque landscape is actually on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Sheer rock faces, twisted stacks, piercing pinnacles and unlikely erratic boulders combine to conjure up an otherworldly scene that looks truly spectacular on a sunny day. It’s even more dramatic when Skye’s notorious mists creep in.

3. St Kilda, the Western Isles

St Kilda is an archipelago so impressive that it became the first place in the world to be recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage list for both its natural heritage (it’s home to the unique Soay sheep and the St Kilda field mouse) and its human history (its inhabitants lived a unique communal life until it was abandoned in 1930).

It’s an often (very) bumpy boat ride out across forty miles of ocean from the Western Isles to get there, but the sheer cliffs and otherworldly rock formations are worth the effort.

Cleit on Hirta with Soay lamb by Irenicrhonda on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Foula, the Shetland Islands

Few Scots have even heard of the UK’s most remote inhabited isle, which is mind-bendingly different. Take a boat twenty miles away from the Shetland mainland and you can watch as the hardy Foula locals (there are less than forty of them) help haul your ferry out so that it isn’t dashed into the rocks by the storms that frequently thrash through.

Venture out across this rugged island’s hilly wilderness and in summer you can see bonxies (huge skuas) and Arctic Terns swooping above your heads. Or, enjoy a picnic by the sea as you watch orcas hunt for seals on the rocky shores that even the Romans never made it out to. They dubbed Foula their Ultima Thule, or the end of the known world, when they spied it in the distance.

Foula post office by neil roger on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

5. Cairngorms National Park, the Highlands

Despite being the UK’s largest national park – home to what is also the largest mountain plateau in the UK – Cairngorms National Park is one of the least-visited. This vast, inhospitable wilderness often looks more like the Arctic than Scotland, with snow drifts swirling in hurricane force winds during winter, and ice and snow lingering in places right through summer.

It feels a world apart too, as you ramble across a lunar landscape where the UK’s only wild reindeer herd roam and the wrecks of crashed WWII aircraft and debris from two more modern F-16s lie frozen in time. The plateau is a paradise for well prepared walkers in summer, and skiers and snowboarders take over in winter.

6. Loch Torridon, the Highlands

Fancy a visit to the Norwegian fjords? Well, save yourself some cash and head to Wester Ross, which offers the fjord-like delights of little known Loch Torridon. This mighty sea loch spreads its tentacles from the small village of Torridon, flanked by the natural amphitheatre of the Torridon Mountains, which tower over 1000m-high.

The cobalt blue waters, lack of development and bountiful marine life – look out for seals, dolphins and, as you get closer to the open sea, whales – beguile and evoke a Nordic vibe. You can stay at the SYHA hostel, the relaxed Torridon Inn or the seriously posh mock baronial Torridon Hotel, which makes the most of its epic fjord views.

Loch Torridon, sunrise by Steve Schnabel on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

7. Thurso, the Highlands

Let’s talk surfing. We all know about Australia’s Bondi and the brilliant waves in Bali – but what about Thurso? It’s usually a case of on with the drysuit rather than wetsuit here, but the coastline around the Highland town of Thurso packs a serious punch in the world of surfing.

Unsuspecting walkers are often surprised to find the surreal spectacle of a dozen surfers lying out in the Pentland Firth, looking to catch some of the serious waves you get in these tumultuous waters, as the Orkney Isles blink back in the distance. The conditions are so good that a volley of surf championships have been held here, including two world championships for kayak surfing.

Thurso Reef by Dave Ellis on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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

Big Sur, California

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

Las Vegas, Nevada

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

Stowe, Vermont

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

Nantucket, Massachusetts

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

New York City

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

Crested Butte, The Rockies, Colorado

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

New Orleans, Louisiana

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

Kauai, Hawaii

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

Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska

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

Portland, Oregon

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

It has often had to play second fiddle to its southern neighbour, but Northern Ireland offers a diversity of attractions that frequently confounds first-time visitors. Rejuvenated and irrepressible, Belfast now rivals any of the UK’s capital cities, but in addition, the country manifests superb natural heritage – including one of the world’s great coastal road trips – remarkable cultural treasures, outdoor activities in abundance, and an increasingly vibrant food and music scene.

1. Belfast is a city reborn

Barely recognizable from the battle-scarred city of the 1970s and 80s, Belfast is today a bona fide city-break destination, no question. Stately Victorian buildings and a rich industrial heritage hark back to the city’s glorious past, but really, it’s the revitalized restaurant scene, some rocking nightlife and a raft of excellent festivals that all serve to confirm Belfast’s welcome renaissance.

Belfast Town Hall on a sunny day by mariusz kluzniak on Flickr (license)

2. There are superb hikes to be had

Northern Ireland boasts numerous low-lying mountain ranges, but it’s the rugged Mournes in County Down that draws the lion’s share of hikers. Its highest peak – Slieve Donard – only tops 850m, but this is often testing terrain; and who needs the Great Wall of China when you’ve got the Mourne Wall, a 22-mile long dry stone wall which traverses some fifteen summits. No less fabulous, if somewhat less demanding, are the Sperrin Mountains in County Tyrone, a sparse expanse of wild, undulating moorland.

3. The Causeway Coastal Route is one of Europe’s most spectacular road trips

Stretching for some 120 miles between Belfast and Derry, this fabulous road trip has few rivals anywhere on the continent. Unsurprisingly, most people make a beeline for the Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland’s only designated World Heritage Site), with its stupendous black basalt columns. But there are diversions aplenty enroute, among them Rathlin Island, which harbours some incredible wildlife, and Portstewart, lined with a glorious two-mile sweep of golden sand.

4. The Titanic Quarter is now a highlight of Belfast’s regenerated docklands

It was, of course, from Belfast in 1912 that the Titanic set sail, and the ill-fated ship is commemorated in truly spectacular style at the all-new Titanic Quarter in the city’s regenerated docklands area. Comprising, among other things, a media centre and a scientific discovery centre, its focal point is Titanic Belfast, a thrilling and engaging interactive museum.

Titanic, Belfast by Metro Centric on Flickr (license)

5. It’s finally time to big-up the country’s cuisine

Northern Ireland’s culinary scene has taken a while to get going, but it’s certainly making amends now. In Belfast, two restaurants have recently gained a Michelin star, namely Ox, and Eipic at Deane’s, whose sumptuous menu offers dishes such as scallop with clementine and hazelnut brown butter. And don’t leave without trying the Ulster Fry, widely acknowledged to be a superior version of the great English fry-up.

6. Northern Ireland boasts two of the UK’s finest open-air museums

Two particularly fine outdoor museums are the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum just outside Belfast, which displays some thirty buildings transplanted here from around the country, and the Ulster American Folk Park, near Omagh, which brilliantly relays the historically close links between Northern Ireland and the United States. Here, too, a splendid array of vernacular architecture has been transferred from its original setting.

7. The music scene rocks

The north can certainly rival the south when it comes to musical talent. In days of yore, the leading lights were Van Morrison and the Undertones (the latter famously championed by the late John Peel), while in the 90s, it was the turn of indie-heroes Ash, from Down, and the Divine Comedy from Enniskillen. Hot on the scene right now are Two Door Cinema Club from Bangor. If you fancy attending a gig, drop in at Belfast’s iconic Limelight Complex, or there’s Open House, a unique, year-round series of gigs at various venues around the city.

8. Northern Ireland offers wonderful outdoor activities

Whether it’s mountain biking in the Davagh Forest or angling on Lough Earne, there’s loads to do here. Golfers won’t feel short-changed either, with dozens of fabulous courses to hack around, including Royal Portrush (which will stage the British Open in 2019) in Antrim, and the sublime Royal County Down course in Newcastle; indeed, Northern Ireland currently boasts one of the world’s great sporting superstars in Rory Mcllroy. Big cheers, too, for the national football team, which has just qualified for Euro 2016 in France, its first major finals since 1986.

9. Derry’s medieval walls are among the finest in Europe

Neatly positioned within a bend of the River Foyle, Derry’s medieval walls are among the best-preserved anywhere in Europe, their survival all the more remarkable having withstood three major military sieges. Enclosed within the mile-long circuit is the original medieval street layout, itself spotted with a cluster of eminently enjoyable attractions, the pick of which are the Tower Museum and the Verbal Arts Centre.

10. It has the largest lake in the British Isles

To the surprise of many, Northern Ireland ranks the largest lake in the British Isles. Lough Neagh is just to the west of Belfast but actually bordering five of the country’s six counties. Its tranquil waterways and secluded bays provide ample opportunity for boating, fishing, walking and cycling; a great way to get a handle on the lake is to tackle the 113-mile long Loughshore Trail – but don’t worry, it’s almost completely flat.

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

Few countries in Asia boasts such dramatic natural diversity and such a range of hiking opportunities as Japan. Mountains make up two thirds of the country, with beaches fringing the coast and the balmy southern islands.

There are active volcanoes to tackle, epic long-distance pilgrimage routes once smoothed by the feet of emperors, and steep hikes that take you from the beach to lofty peaks thousands of metres above the sea.

Japan is well set up for hikers, with the ultra-efficient rail network making getting around the country a breeze, and a handy system where you can forward bags for little cost between hotels. Here are seven of our favourite places to go hiking in Japan.

1. Shikoku Henro

This is an essential pilgrimage for those with an interest in the roles that tradition and religion play within Japanese culture. This island adventure is both a fascinating physical and spiritual journey, which is undertaken by many religiously-minded Japanese, as well as overseas hikers.

You will need plenty of time on the smallest of Japan’s main islands, Shikoku. If you want to conquer the whole route – taking in a whopping 88 temples in the process – you are going to have to hike for over 1000km. You can do it in just over a month, but most devotees allow closer to two. Savvy hikers and pilgrims alike can use public transport to cut out some of the sections and skip a few temples too.

2. Kumano Kodo

Another pilgrimage route, the Kumano Kodō is so highly rated that its temples have been placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Battling across the thickly wooded slopes in the Kii Peninsula on Japan’s main island of Honshū was a task emperors themselves used to often undertake. There are three main routes, all are challenging but rewarding. A large part of the fun is staying in traditional ryokans (inns) en route where your nightly feast will be preceded by an onsen (communal hot spring bath).

3. Mount Fuji

One of the world’s most famous mountains does not disappoint. It is Japan’s most iconic peak, unmissable on any bullet train trip south of TokyoIt is a 3776m-high volcanic monster, famous for often being capped with a dusting of snow, which isn’t ideal for hikers – note that it’s only open for trekking between July and mid-September.

Fuji can be tackled in a day trip, though altitude sickness can be an issue even when you do an overnight in the area, so going easy on your body is advised.

4. Japan Alps

Honshu’s most impressive mountain scenery comes in the form of the deeply dramatic Japan Alps. There are myriad options for getting your boots on here. Relatively gentle hikes are can be found in in the Kamikochi Valley, though you can also use the valley as a staging point for tackling more serious ascents, such as Yarigatake (3180m) and Hotakadake (3190m). The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route uses a mixture of walking and public transport to cover a swathe of the finest scenery in the Alps.

5. Nakasendo Trail

A route with serious heritage, which has been walked since the eighth century, this ancient highway from Kyoto through what are now Shiga, Gifu and Nagano Prefectures culminates in Tokyo’s predecessor, Edo.

Venture on it today and you are following in the footsteps of the Tokugawa Shoguns (Japanese military chiefs), who used it to travel through the mountains on their military campaigns. It would take them around three weeks to cover the 533km distance, which was split into 67 stages.

Today you can take on the various stretches of it that survive, using public transport to link sections. En route you, stop at charmingly-preserved old towns, where weary travellers could rest up and enjoy a bed for the night before moving on, such as Tsumago and Narai.

20120829-DSC_0031 by inefekt69 on Flickr (license)

6. Daibutsu Hiking Course

This popular three kilometre hiking trail opens up a short, but scenic landscape of temples and mountains and can be tackled in between one and two hours. To really get the most out of the area, extend this walk with a detour to the cave-shrine dedicated to the goddess Zeniarai Benten, known as the ‘Money-Washing Benten’. This goddess was said to be associated with good fortune, music and water.

7. Yakushima

The UNESCO World Heritage listed island of Yakushima is worth visiting whether you are a hiker or not. Its beaches are lovely, as are its onsen, which are ideal after a tough hike.

The biggest challenge is taking on the towering 1935m high mountain of Miyanoura-dake, which is southern Japan’s highest peak. The island actually boasts six mountain peaks over 1800m. Make sure to fill in a form with your route on it before heading out; this safety system has saved many lives on the island over the years.

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

In far-off lands, largely undiscovered by travellers today, there are fires eternally burning; some natural and some man-made. These impressive fire craters can be found across Central Asia, fed by the vast oil reserves that lie beneath this region. They’ve featured in both local folklore and Hollywood movies as the entrances to Hell.

If you’re brave enough to risk meeting the devil at one of these give, then you are almost guaranteed to have a great big bonfire all to yourself.

“The Door to Hell” in Derweze, Turkmenistan

Locally referred to as “the door to hell”, the Derweze fire crater has been, until recently, off-limits to man for over 45 years. This gigantic flaming hole in the arid Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan would be more at home in a big-budget science fiction blockbuster than in the back garden of one of the world’s least-explored countries.

The impressive flaming crater first appeared in 1971 when Soviet geologists drilled an oil test well in the area; little did they expect the oil rig to collapse and a 70 metre hole to engulf their equipment. The geologists decided to burn off the oil to prevent future explosions and the fires have been burning ever since.

Golden Eagle Silk Road by Martha de Jong-Lantink on Flickr (license)

The Derweze site lies in a tiny village of 350 people, a 162 mile off-road self-drive across rocky desert terrain. Other than the village, there is no sign of civilisation within a day’s driving distance. Adding to the desolate feel, the Aral Sea – with its eerie abandoned rusting ships – lies to the north.

“Burning Mountain” in Yanar Dag, Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan – nicknamed the “land of fire” – the Yanar Dag (translated as “Burning Mountain”), is a flaming hill. Legend says that the hill, where highly flammable gas continuously seeps through the surface, was accidentally set alight by a shepherd in the 1950s. Now the hill’s flames reach up to three metres tall throughout the year, all visible from the capital, Baku.

Locals bathe in the warm spring waters across the hillside, which can also be ignited with a match as they are full of sulphur. The spooky glow across the hills at night attracts Zoroastrians from across the world, who come to the area to worship. Nearby, mud volcanoes dot the landscape and erupt regularly, spurting mud balls high into the air.

Yanar Dag – Asheron – Baku by Rita Willaert on Flickr (license

“Flaming Stone” in Yanartaş, Turkey

Just outside of the popular Turkish tourist resort of Antalya, near the Olympos Valley, vents in the rocky mountains spurt out fire in every direction.

At night, and especially in the winter months, the dark skies create the best environment to see the small craters in the mountainside to spurt out fires; some lasting for seconds, and others for days.

Many people visit the “flaming stone” to see the majestic ruins of the Temple of Hephasistos located at the foot of the mountains, and to sample traditional Turkish tea brewed by locals on the mountain fires.

“Fire on Biblical Proportions” in Baba Gurgur, Iraq

In the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, just outside of the city of Kirkuk, the world’s second largest oil field surrounds an eternal fire pit. The deep fire crater has been burning for thousands of years and is believed to be the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament.

Women sometimes visit Baba Gurgur to ask the fires to allow them to conceive a baby boy; thought to date back to a time when the Kurdish people worshipped fire.

The nearby city of Kirkuk, with its 5000-year-old citadel ruins, remnants of the ancient city of Arrapha, makes for an interesting visit. Kirkuk lies some 147 miles north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and Baba Gurgur is just a short walk out of the city. As the area is an operational oil field, many sections are fenced off and there’s a tight security presence.

The fire temple of Ateshgah of Baku, Azerbaijan

Just a short walk from central Baku stands a seventeenth-century stone temple, at the centre of which a fire has burned almost-continuously since it was built. The flames were once fed by a natural gas field located directly beneath the temple, but exploitation of this resource led to the fire being extinguished in 1969. It has since been replaced by mains gas, and is burning again today.

The fire is believed to have been first lit as a shrine for local Zoroastrian fire worshippers, and as a Hindu pilgrimage site, but today is a protected historical reserve.

See more of our weird and wonderful world with this gallery of strange and surreal placesCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Thailand is the quintessential backpacker destination. Here you can make the first footprints on secluded sands, dance shoeless under a full moon and swim beneath cascading waterfalls.

Running through Thailand’s rainforests and temples and looping around its islands and beaches is the so-called “banana pancake trail”, a well-worn, tried and tested backpacker route that has seen the sandals of thousands of independent travellers over the decades.

They’re still coming in their droves and you’re a part of the action as soon as you strap on that backpack – the accessory that ensures you won’t even have the chance to get lonely.

Must-see destinations

For a frenetic introduction to Thailand, head straight to Bangkok where the neon lights and market stalls of Khao San Road still serve as the country’s main backpacker hangout. Slurp noodles, sip local beer and visit the gilded Grand Palace and Wat Pho’s giant gold reclining Buddha with your new friends.

For impressive Thai temples, head to Ayutthaya in the north, the country’s ancient capital now scattered with temples in varying stages of decay. The brooding red-brick ruins are best viewed at sunset, when the golden light makes this atmospheric city a photographer’s dream.

If you’re after something a little more laidback, Kanchanaburi is the spot for you. You can take a train along the famous Death Railway, built by prisoners of war during World War II, see the Bridge over the River Kwai and swim at the tumbling seven-tiered Erawan Falls.

Ko Pha Ngan is where the sands of Hat Rin see up to 30,000 people arrive each month for the famous full moon parties. The party starts at dusk, when thousands of lamps are lit, and continues through the night, with dancing, fire twirling and, of course, drinking.

If you want to get to know the locals, head to Chiang Mai, the jumping off point for numerous guided multi-day treks and short walks in the country’s remote north. Here you can visit small local communities and hill-tribes.

Getting around

A journey by tuk tuk is an essential Thai travel experience and you’re sure to use these noisy, fume-cloaked but very fun vehicles to get around, especially in Bangkok. Fares are the same no matter the number of passengers so team up with one or two (three is the safe maximum) other travellers to save money. Agree the fare before setting out (expect to pay 100-150 baht for short Bangkok hops) and be sure to have the right money ready on arrival.

Solo travellers can make good use of the motorcycle taxis that ply all common routes in both major towns and more off-the-beaten-track parts. These only seat one passenger and are no good if you’ve got luggage, but short journeys across town or the island can be good value (as low as 20 baht).

Thailand is a sizeable country and distances between large towns can be great (it’s 700km from Bangkok to Chiang Mai). An overnight bus or train is a good way of getting from A to B while also saving the cost of a hostel.

The overnight trains are operated by the State Railway of Thailand and run on four useful routes out of Bangkok, including services to Ayutthaya, to Chiang Mai and to Surat Thani (a jumping off point for many of the southern islands).

Second-class berths are the best bet for solo travellers, with the communal comfortable seats converting into fully flat curtained-off beds come nightfall.

First-class cabins are set up for two so only book these if you’re happy sharing with a stranger. Bring snacks and drinks and settle in for a long journey.

Don’t fancy the long journey alone? There are plenty of internal flights, with Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, Nok Air (Thai Airways’ budget arm) and Thai Lion Air all offering daily Bangkok-Chiang Mai flights with a flight time of 1hr 15min. Flying also means not having to go back to Bangkok – trains and buses use the capital as a hub meaning you will keep ending up back there.

Where to eat

Eating alone in Thailand doesn’t need to mean a table for one. The best food is often found at the local night market, where mobile kitchens sell noodles, fried rice, sticky rice cakes, pancakes and fresh juices, and seating is communal and lively.

Almost every large town will have street stalls selling noodles day and night, so you can fill up without even sitting down.

Many hostels have cafés or restaurants, where you won’t stand out as a solo diner and may even meet fellow travellers in search of dining companions. Most travellers love nothing more than discussing where they’ve been or are going over a bowl of noodles or a beer.

How to meet people

If you want to meet people, sticking to the main backpacker destinations (including those listed above) is the best bet. Stay in hostels rather than hotels – choose to stay in a dorm so you’ll be sharing with other people and not holed up alone.

In Bangkok stay on or near the Khao San Road for the best chance of impromptu Singhas with your new friends – NapPark is a good choice, with its communal tamarind-shaded courtyard and TV room.

In Chiang Mai, Diva Guesthouse has six­-bed dorms and a sociable café on the ground floor, while Kanchanaburi’s Jolly Frog has a communal atmosphere and hammocks in the central, leafy garden.

Compass Backpacker’s Hostel by James Antrobus on Flickr (license)

Group activities are a great way to make friends fast. You can try everything, from day trips to Thai cookery courses. If you want an insight into Thailand through food, in Bangkok try Helping Hands or the vegetarian May Kaidee, and in Chiang Mai the Thai Cookery School.

For more of an adventure, take a zipline tour through the rainforest near Chiang Mai with Flight of the Gibbon or learn to scuba dive with The Dive Academy on Koh Samui.

A girl’s guide: is it safe for solo female travellers?

Thailand is largely safe for solo travellers of both genders, and despite the country’s prolific sex industry, women are unlikely to attract any more attention than men when travelling alone.

When travelling alone in Thailand, the standard rules apply: don’t take unlicensed taxis and don’t go home with strangers. As long as you use your common sense, Thailand is a perfectly safe place to travel.

Many hostels will have female-only dorms, which may be safer, not to mention a great way to meet other female travellers.

Unfortunately drug-muggings are known to sometimes happen in Thailand, but these are easily avoided. Don’t eat or drink anything a stranger gives you, especially on a train or at a full moon party. Trains and buses are ripe for petty theft so keep all your valuables with you when you travel.

Get more advice on your solo trip to Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Scattered like shards across a million square kilometres of the North Atlantic, west of Portugal the nine islands of the Azores are unmistakably volcanic.

For now, this green and breezy archipelago is snoozing in the temperate embrace of the Gulf Stream; the last significant onshore eruptions were in 1811. However, over thirty of its volcanoes remain active, and regular tremors and underwater seismic events serve to remind that every crag, crater and cave was sculpted by geothermal forces.

Central São Miguel by David Stanley (CC license)

This might seem like a perilous place to live, but Azorean foodies embrace their role as volcano-dwellers, growing hothouse pineapples, bananas, guavas and passionfruit in the fertile soil and harvesting plump, meaty clams from volcanic lagoons.

In the picturesque caldera village of Furnas on São Miguel, famous for its hot springs, they take things further by using natural volcanic energy to slow-cook a stew that’s a signature local dish, cozido das Furnas. To make it, the chef lines a heavy pot with layers of meat, vegetables, chorizo and blood sausage, covers it and lowers it into a steamy hollow in the ground to simmer for five or six hours.

Underground oven by David Stanley (CC license)

Order this hearty dish at a local restaurant, and you may be invited to the springs to watch the pot being unearthed. At Canto da Doca, a casual, contemporary place, you can enjoy a little DIY volcanic cooking.

Waiters bring a platter of fresh meat, squid, tuna, vegetables and sauces to your table, along with a piping-hot slab of lava stone. You drop morsels onto the slab one by one to cook, inhaling the delicious aromas as they sizzle. When the temperature dips, a fresh slab will miraculously appear.

Cozido das Furnas by David Stanley (CC license)

While traditional Azorean cooking tends to be solid peasant grub – regional cheese to start, stewed or grilled meat or seafood as a main course, custardy puddings, fragrant Azorean tea as a pick-meup – there’s a move afoot to bring out the islands’ gourmet side. Check out 10 Fest Azores, an annual ten-day gastronomic festival featuring Michelin-starred chefs from all over the world.

Several restaurants in Furnas offer cozido. As it takes so long to prepare, it’s best to order the day before. Canto da Doca is on Rua Nova in Horta on Faial. 10 Fest Azores (taste.visitazores.com) is hosted  every June by Restaurante Anfiteatro in Ponta Delgada, São Miguel (efth.com.pt). Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

 

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