Next year sees the World Cup gracing Rio De Janeiro‘s various stadiums, and it is expected that 600,000 foreigners will flock to the country to support their favourite teams and players in football’s biggest tournament. But there is so much more to Brazil than its status as host to the World Cup 2014. There are beautiful beaches, crashing waterfalls and of course, the world’s largest waterway: the Amazon. If you’re planning a trip to Brazil, don’t miss some of these incredible sights.

Music taken from the Rough Guide to Psychedelic Brazil, by Siba (Cantando cirana na beira do mar) with thanks to worldmusic.net.

Get inspiration for your trip to Brazil here, and explore the entire country using our Rough Guide to Brazil. Book hostels for your trip here, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

From Hogmanay in Edinburgh to Bonfire Night in Lewes, Britain is home to a whole range of excellent festivals and events throughout the year. If you’re planning a visit anytime soon we recommend you build you trip around one of these memorable parties.

Notting Hill Carnival in London

Carnival Sunday morning and in streets eerily emptied of cars, sound-system guys, still bleary-eyed from the excesses of last night’s warm-up parties, wire up their towering stacks of speakers, while fragrant smoke wafts from the stalls of early-bird jerk chicken chefs. And then a bass line trembles through the morning air, and the trains begin to disgorge crowds of revellers, dressed to impress and brandishing their whistles and horns. Some head straight for the sound systems, spending the entire day moving from one to the other and stopping wherever the music takes them. Streets lined by mansion blocks become canyons of sound, and all you can see is a moving sea of people, jumping and blowing whistles as wave after wave of music ripples through the air.

But the backbone of Carnival is mas, the parade of costumed bands that winds its way through the centre of the event. Crowds line up along the route, and Ladbroke Grove becomes a seething throng of floats and flags, sequins and feathers, as the mas (masquerade) bands cruise along, their revellers dancing up a storm to the tunes bouncing from the music trucks. And for the next two days, the only thing that matters is the delicious, anarchic freedom of dancing on the London streets.

Notting Hill Carnival takes place on the Sunday and Monday of the August bank holiday weekend.

Hogmanay in Edinburgh

From the cascade of fireworks tipping over the castle rock to uninhibited displays of stranger-kissing as midnight chimes and the sight of the classical pillars of the Royal Scottish Academy being transformed into a giant urinal, Edinburgh consistently throws the world’s most memorable New Year’s Eve party. And it’s a party on a grand scale, with around 80,000 people from around the world joining in.

The evening starts with a candlelit concert in St Giles Cathedral, the hulking medieval church on the Royal Mile. From then on the tempo rises, with a massive street party on Princes Street and a boisterous ceilidh in the Princes Street Gardens, followed by a large-scale concert. At midnight, the fireworks kick off, and from Calton Hill to Salisbury Crags, from the new town to the old town, from the pubs and from the castle esplanade, the whole city looks skywards and celebrates. Auld Lang Syne is belted out, and any last shreds of Presbyterian reserve are abandoned, as people bound around hugging and kissing each other.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is now a ticketed event, so book ahead at www.edinburghshogmanay.com.

Diwali in Leicester

The biggest celebration of Diwali  outside India takes place in Leicester, one of the UK’s most diverse cities. Every autumn, tens of thousands of people – including followers of the Sikh and Jain religions, who also celebrate Diwali – crowd onto Belgrave Road in the heart of the city’s Indian community to take part in the “festival of lights”.

The celebrations start with the switch-on of the Diwali lights: after music, dancing and speeches (in English, Hindi and Gujarati) from local dignitaries, a noisy countdown starts, climaxing at 7.30pm with the switch-on of around 6500 multicoloured lights, an explosion of confetti and a cacophony of cheers. Eventually the crowd works its way down the road – dubbed the “Golden Mile” – to the nearby Cossington Street recreation ground where an extremely loud firework display ensues.

For more information visit www.goleicestershire.com.

Robin Hood Festival in Sherwood Forest

For the first week of August each year, in celebration of Nottinghamshire’s legendary outlaw, Sherwood Forest is transported back to the thirteenth century. Over a quarter of a century, the Robin Hood Festival has grown into a pop-up village of sorts, with stalls and attractions spread across about a square half-mile of woodland that can be circumnavigated comfortably in an hour or so.

The itinerary changes a little every day but archery lessons are always on offer for a small fee, and most days host high-octane jousting and rather vicious skirmishing between Robin Hood and the evil Sheriff’s men in the shade of the Major Oak, a gargantuan tree said to be over 800 years old, which attracts many visitors in its own right. The festival is a paradise for little boys and girls who have always dreamed of being Robin Hood or Maid Marian. Green felt caps, bows and arrows and garlands of flowers are ubiquitous fancy-dress props, and every day there are opportunities for children to join in theatrical re-enactments of the Robin Hood story, to the hilarity of their parents.

Robin Hood Festival, Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire (www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/robinhoodfestival)

Pride in Brighton

Let’s be clear about one thing, fun-lovers: the summertime Pride in Brighton and Hove festival is not the grandest of affairs. Yes, there’s a sequin-sprinkled parade, but don’t roll up expecting miles of elaborate floats and glitzy, Rio-style dance troupes. It’s all much more down to earth than that – think gangs of friends and colleagues in thrown-together fancy dress, waving in time to cheesy pop or giggling their way through sketchy dance routines. And, yes, there’s an all-afternoon dance party in the city’s biggest park – but this isn’t Ibiza.

The one thing which Pride in Brighton and Hove has in spades is inclusiveness. Unlike Sydney, whose more militant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups have been known to spit fire at the thought of non-LGBT revellers muscling in on their Mardi Gras, Brighton is happy for anybody and everybody to join the party. You don’t have to dress up, but if you’d like your photo to grace the galleries that pop up all over the web straight after the event, you most definitely should.

The main events of the Pride in Brighton and Hove summer festival (www.brightonpride.org) are on a Saturday in early July

Edinburgh Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival is, strictly speaking, about five festivals. There’s the Book Festival, home to top authors and commentators and set in leafy Charlotte Square; the International Festival, which hosts lush, clever productions of the high arts; the Art Festival, which gathers together special exhibitions and regular galleries; and the Fringe, which is what most people mean when they talk airily of the Festival, bulging with all manner of comedy, theatre and music from pros and amateurs. The glory and terror of the Fringe – which, inevitably, has an unofficial fringe of its own – is that no one decides who becomes a part of it, performers just pay to be included in the programme. You can see students tackle Hamlet or Bouncers for a few quid, watch brilliantly clever or enormously stupid stand-up, check out splendid new work from daring playwrights or stand in a big top and watch a circus reinvent itself.

It’s possible to have a fabulous time and see no shows at all, heading instead from temporary bar to venerable pub, nattering with the performers, punters and hangers-on that come here like moths to a month-long flame. But better to feel the heat of the action, wading through the drunks and the dross in the hope of spotting that rare and wonderful beast: genius making a name for itself.

Check www.edfringe.comwww.edinburghartfestival.comwww.eif.co.uk and www.edbookfest.co.uk.

Obby Oss, Cornwall

One of the most distinctive May Day festivals in the country, Obby Oss (dialect for hobby horse) is a traditional community celebration that’s been on Padstow’s calendar for centuries.

In a unique ritual generally believed to be some sort of ancient Celtic fertility rite – May Day itself has its origins in the Celtic festival of Beltane – two Osses, monstrous, masked effigies with huge, hooped skirts, are paraded through the streets to the accompaniment of song, accordions and drums. It’s best not to get too hung up on the meaning behind it all, and instead grab a pint and a pasty and get swept away in the festive ambience. Indeed it’s impossible not to get swept away in the tangle of bunting-bedecked streets crammed with revellers.

For general information see www.padstow.com.

Chinese New Year, Liverpool

With the oldest Chinese community in Europe, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, and one of the largest in number as well, Liverpool makes an obvious destination to celebrate Chinese New Year without hopping on a plane to Shanghai. The focal point for the celebrations is the city’s magnificent Chinese arch on Nelson Street. Fifty feet tall, it was shipped piece by piece from Shanghai in 2000. With beautifully intricate decorations, including two hundred dragons, it has been positioned in accordance with feng shui principles to bring good luck to the community.

The party starts early in the morning of the first day of the New Year, the date of which changes each year, with stunning lion, unicorn and dragon dances, fireworks galore in a daytime display on St George’s Square, t’ai chi demonstrations and at least 18,000 carnival-goers who bring the centre of Liverpool to a standstill. The lion in particular is not to be missed – its red colouring is believed to bring good luck, hence the prevalence of red in all the decorations. This is a great opportunity to get acquainted with some of the spectacular Chinese street food which is made to commemorate the beginning of a new year.

For information on the events organized see www.visitliverpool.com.

Fowey and Polruan regattas

The week-long calendar kicks off with a carnival that sets the tone for good-humoured silliness. Enthusiastic pub crews, families in themed costumes and semi-professional brass bands all parade noisily down the packed, narrow high street. A local girl, decked in the hydrangeas that flourish in Cornwall in August, is crowned Queen of the Carnival, and the day culminates in partying on the quays and a firework display that fills the estuary with light, noise and smoke.

It’s this estuary, above all, that makes Fowey magic. The little town is scraped along the side of a miniature fjord that’s a fantastic amphitheatre. When bands play or guns go off to announce races, the noises swirl and bounce around. When the big yachts sail in from Falmouth, or the gig boats race, oars swinging madly, or the torchlight boat procession passes on the last night, the boats all parade in full view along the waterfront.

If wholesome homeliness is the draw, consider also visiting the little-known regatta at Polruan, Fowey’s villagey neighbour, which lies a two-minute ferry ride across the water. There’s hymn- and shanty-singing, a sand-castle competition, a tombola in aid of the lifeboat, and a race of bouncing balls along the tiny street that cascades down the hill towards the harbour. It’s like Britain in the 1950s – and none the worse for it.

Fowey Regatta (www.foweyroyalregatta.co.uk) is usually held on the third full week of August.

Bonfire Night in Lewes

If you feel uneasy in crowds, freaked out by fire, scared of the dark or, worst of all, somewhat unsettled by sudden, ear-splitting explosions, don’t even think about coming here – but if you love noise, smoke and fireworks, you’ll be blown away. The town’s seven Bonfire Societies raise funds all year, just to send it all up in smoke. Their Bonfire Boys parade through the streets carrying blazing torches and flaming crosses to the steady beat of drums. Some drag barrels of smouldering tar, others parade huge satirical effigies of public figures, destined to be incinerated at the end of the night. Stirring speeches are read, bangers ricochet across the bonfire sites and, at the climax of proceedings, hundreds of rockets fill the sky.

Lewes’ Bonfire Society parades take place on the night of November 5; for details, see www.lewesbonfirecouncil.org.uk.

 

Get Make The Most Of Your Time In Britain for hundreds more unique travel experiences.

From synchronised swimming to same-sex dancing, the World Outgames is an Olympic-style competition with a difference – it’s one of two sporting competitions held by the world’s gay community. In August Antwerp played host to the third ever World Outgames, and Rough Guides writer Michael Turnbull went along to discover more about the city’s LGBT community.

The Belgian city of Antwerp proved to be the perfect location for this event, which is still emerging from the shadows of the Gay Games. Having two LGBT Olympic-style events might seem greedy, but it all comes down to a small tête à tête a few years back.

In 2006 the Gay Games were due to take place in Montréal – that was until the FGG (Federation of the Gay Games) and Montréal’s committee were unable to agree on the size of the event. Consequently the FGG declared the city unfit to host. Refusing to be discouraged, Montréal carried on with proceedings and as a final gesture to the FGG, simply changed the name of the event to World Outgames. So we now have two competitions.

The first event of the third World Outgames was appropriately enough Mr Gay World. It might be easy to dismiss the event as simply a pageant, but as the guidelines point out “the Mr Gay World Organisation was founded in the hope of creating a more positive image for gay people, particularly gay men, to make a ‘difference’ and be accepted as human beings with equal importance and rights as straight people. MGW also seeks to fight discrimination and stigma within the gay community, empowering and raising the visibility of optimistic gay men as well as breaking down barriers created by discriminative individuals and groups.” Something that is much needed, I think we can all agree.

Ultimately Mr Gay World must compete “in a variety of categories including leadership, sports, swimwear modelling and knowledge of LGBT world affairs” and after taking home a number of the category wins, this year’s Mr Gay World was Christopher Olwage, representing New Zealand.

But besides Mr Gay World, there were over 30 other sports to compete in with over 5000 athletes taking part. Although it is arranged by an LGBT committee the event is all about inclusivity and welcomes anyone regardless of their gender or sexuality.

One of the most liberating things was seeing gender stereotypes being challenged when it came to the various sports. Football, for example, was big with the female crowd, while same sex ballroom dancing proved very popular with the men. In fact, seeing two men dance together so intimately and competitively, in a sport that is so traditionally made up of a male/female pairing, was especially heart-warming.

But the World Outgames was not only about competing. It was also an opportunity to hold a Human Rights Conference for example, which featured talks from key speakers like Dr. Marleen Temmerman, Director of the Department of Health and Research at the World Health Organization, and Jón Gnarr, Mayor of Iceland’s capital, who recently announced plans to formally revise ties with Russia over Putin’s anti-homosexuality propaganda ruling.

The whole event culminated in Antwerp’s Gay Pride festival with floats parading around the city and headliners including Loreen and Boy George flying in to perform.

Although the World Outgames may be over, the city still has so much to investigate. Famous for its fashion, Antwerp has seen many famous faces graduate from its Royal Academy of Fine Arts including Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dries Van Noten. You can take a look at the Mode Museum or have a more hands-on experience and go shopping in one of the many boutiques the Nationalestraat has to offer.

As Belgium is famous for its chocolate, make sure you leave time (and room in your belly) for a visit to The Chocolate Line, the laboratory of Belgium’s famous chocolatier Dominique Persoone. As well as rich, luxurious dark chocolate, Dominique also specialises in more unconventional flavours like sun dried tomato, roast beef and watermelon. He also made a contraption especially for The Rolling Stones that allows them to rack up and snort lines of cocoa.

Photograph © Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres, by Jan Crab

If you’re after a night out on the LGBT scene then Antwerp has a range of bars to choose from. There are bars like Hessenhuis that are straight during the day and gay at night, gay pop bars like The Cabin and leather bars like Oink Oink and The Boots. If it’s a dance you’re after then you’re probably best off heading for Red and Blue, one of the most popular gay clubs in town, where the DJ plays a good mixture of RnB and dance hits.

It’s easy to see why Antwerp was chosen as the destination for the 2013 World Outgames, so next up is Miami Beach for the 2017 Games.

Discover more of Antwerp and Belgium with our Rough Guide to Belgium & Luxembourg, book hostels for your trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. For more information on Antwerp, see www.visitflanders.co.uk. Featured image © Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres, by Dave Van Laere

With sublime sushi, soaring skyscrapers and vending machines that churn out everything from eggs to ice cream, Tokyo is the planet’s most mind-boggling metropolis.

Wandering its neon-lit streets can easily eat up your time, and put serious pressure on your wallet. But as this round up of the free things to do in Tokyo shows, a trip to the Japanese capital needn’t be stressful or expensive.

Peek at the latest gadgets

Rising high above the gleaming department stores of Ginza, the ritziest district in Tokyo, is the sleek Sony Building. Ignore its high-end shops and restaurants and head straight for the free showroom, where you can get a sneak peek of Sony’s latest gadgets, including robots, laptops and high-definition TVs. 

Visit Tsukiji Fish Market

Unless you’re especially squeamish (or vegetarian), consider an early morning trip to Tsukiji Fish Market, which buzzes with traders and tourists from as early as 4am. It’s the world’s biggest wholesale fish market, and where most of the city’s Japanese restaurants source their sashimi.

Wander by The Imperial Palace

A short walk from Tokyo Station is the Imperial Palace, home to the current emperor of Japan. Surrounded by moats, cherry trees and solid stone walls, the palace buildings are rarely open to the public, but it costs nothing to wander through the peaceful and meticulously kept East Garden, which bursts into colour during spring.

Explore Asakusa for free

Tourists often pay a rickshaw driver to take them through Asakusa, the old entertainment district surrounding Sens?-ji, one of the city’s most important Buddhist temples. Our advice is to stay on foot, following wafts of sweet, smoky incense down towards the shrine. Alternatively, look out for the free, panda-shaped buses that cut through the district en route to the 634-metre-high Skytree building.

Get a taste for modern Japanese art

Art lovers looking for free things to do in Tokyo will be pleased to hear there’s no cost to mooch around the first-floor gallery of the glass-and-steel Spiral Building, where young Japanese artists exhibit avant-garde collections. In the adjoining café, beer and wine are both cheaper than a cup of coffee.

Prepare for disaster

The Life Safety Learning Center, run by the Tokyo Fire Department, is a free “disaster museum” educating people on what to do when the ground starts shaking. Visitors can learn first aid skills, step inside an earthquake simulator and even try to escape from a smoke-filled building.

Visit the Sumo Museum

With artefacts covering several centuries of sumo’s 2000-year-old history, the free Sumo Museum is located at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium, which hosts major tournaments.

Explore Tokyo on two wheels

On Sundays, the Palace Cycling Course lends out 250 bicycles – from mountain bikes to tandems – on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s free, and visitors have until 3pm to explore a designated route running around the outside of the Imperial Palace.

See Tokyo from above

For free, Lost in Translation-style nightscapes, head up to one of the two observation decks at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No 1, the tallest skyscraper in Shinjuku.

Take a free guided tour

Staffed by volunteers and designed to help promote intercultural understanding, Tokyo Free Guide gives visitors the chance to take a free tour of the city, guided by a resident. The only thing guests have to cover is the guide’s expenses.

Have you got any top tips for enjoying Tokyo for free – or even on the cheap? Let us know below.

With Diego El Cigala cleaning up at the Grammys, Catalan gypsy-punks Ojos de Brujo scooping a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award and Enrique Morente jamming with Sonic Youth in Valencia, the socio-musico-cultural phenomenon that is Spanish flamenco has never been hotter. Like any improvisational art form (particularly jazz, with which it often shares a platform), it’s most effective in the raw, on stage, as hands and heels thwack in virile syncopation, a guitar bleeds unfathomable flurries of notes and the dancer flaunts her disdain with a flourish of ruffled silk.

Those who are in serious search of the elusive duende may find themselves faced with a surfeit of touristy options, but genuine flamenco is almost always out there if you look hard enough. Madrid is home to producer extraodinaire Javier Limón and his Casa Limón label, and the capital city boasts such famous tablaos as Casa Patas, Corral de la Morería and El Corral de la Pacheca, where Hollywood actors are as ubiquitous as the tiles and white linen. Less pricey and more accommodating to the spirit of the juerga (spontaneous session) is the wonderful La Soleá, where both local and out-of-town enthusiasts test their mettle. Festivals to look out for include the annual Flamenco Pa’Tos charity bash and the Suma Flamenca event that farms out shows to Madrid’s wider communidad.

One of Spain’s biggest festivals is Seville’s La Bienal de Flamenco, an award-winning event held from mid-September to mid-October. In the city itself, Los Gallos is one of the oldest tablaos, but it’s worth scouring the cobbled backstreets for La Carbonería, a former coal merchants where free flamenco pulls in a volubly appreciative scrum of locals and tourists, or heading to the old gyspy quarter of Triana where barrio hangouts like Casa Anselma exult in Seville’s home-grown form, the “Sevillana”.

In Madrid: Corral de la Morería c/Moreriacutea 17; El Corral de la Pacheca c/Juan Ramón Jiménez 26; La Soleá c/Cava Baja 34. In Seville: Los Gallos Plaza de Santa Cruz; La Carbonería c/Levíes 18; Casa Anselma c/Pagés del Corro 49.

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

Montréal was called “Sin City” in the 1920s, when Americans streamed in to drink during the Prohibition. The name still applies, albeit in a tamer form. Nightlife in Montréal is booming: in one evening, you can dance to the setting sun at an outdoor rave, sip potent cocktails from mason jars, or practice your bilingual flirting on a thumping rooftop. Here’s our roundup of the best Montréal cocktail and wine bars, old and new.

Billy Kun

Toast the ostrich heads presiding over this long-running bar that somehow never gets old. Bily Kun was doing  “barnyard-chic” before anyone else in Montréal and while this can look contrived at other bars, here it’s a casually perfect backdrop for sipping cocktails and imported suds.

Bily Kun, 354 ave du Mont-Royal est

Baldwin Barmacie

Medicine of the alcoholic sort is dispensed at this sleek yet chilled bar that takes its cues from an old-fashioned pharmacy, where the owner’s grandmother once worked. Try the signature Lionel – vodka, gin, fresh lime juice and Prosecco – followed by a grilled-cheese sandwich. Just what the doctor ordered.

Baldwin Barmacie, 115 ave Laurier ouest

La Distillerie

La Distillerie serves cocktails in mason jars (which may seem brilliant at the time, but perhaps less so the headachey morning after.) The drinks are big, but each is expertly made with seasonal ingredients, like the M’Peached (Canadian Club whiskey, grapefruit, peach purée) and the Rock ‘A’ Rula (Amarula cream liqueur, Angostura bitters, egg white).

La Distillerie, 300 rue Ontario est

Le Lab Comptoir a Cocktails

The retro-soaked world of handcrafted cocktails sometimes has a whiff of elitism. Not so at Le Lab. This low-lit lounge invites lingering rather than posing. Here, it’s only the cocktails that are the show-offs, like the Jerky Lab Jack, with Jack Daniels, Curaçao, cane sugar, orange zest, housemade BBQ bitters and a garnish of, yep, a chewy strip of beef jerky.

Le Lab Comptoir a Cocktails, 1351 rue Rachel est

Pullman

Much like the premium wine it pours, this bar hits all the right notes. The innovative interior matches the vintage bottles behind the bar, with a wine-glass chandelier, tawny woods and exposed concrete walls. Québec is known for its ice wines, but the region’s vineyards produce a lot more – this is the place to sample local reds and whites.

Pullman, 3424 ave du Parc

Whisky Café

Whisky, cigars, dark leather. Yes, there’s a clubby, muscular edge to this dimly lit bar, but it’s balanced by the friendly bartenders, playful crowd and funky soundtrack.

Whisky Café, 5800 blvd St-Laurent

Bar Salon La Porte Rouge

When you’re in one of those moods to wear flared pants and sip Shirley Temples, swing by La Porte Rouge, a trashy-turned-flashy bar with a fondness for the 70s. On a good night, the red banquettes glow, the Tom Collins flow freely and Farrah Fawcett lookalikes shimmy to synthpop.

Bar Salon La Porte Rouge, 1834 ave du Mont-Royal

Laïka

Foamy cappuccinos give way to cocktails at this mod café-lounge. By day, you can brunch on fat omelettes and crepes, while at night, the electro music is dialed up – as is the crowd.

Laïka, 4040 blvd St-Laurent

Apollon

Dodge the flying sweat at this go-go gay nightclub, loosely (and decadently) inspired by the Greek Parthenon, with two dancefloors, flashing LED lights and plenty of cocktail-fuelled flirting.

Apollon, 1450 Ste-Catherine est

Verses Sky

Like most big cities, plenty of Montréal’s hotels have rooftop bars. Verses Sky, crowning the charming Nelligan’s Hotel, is still one of the best, with well-poured cocktails, skyline views and music set at that prime level where you can talk without shouting.

Verses Sky, 106 rue St Paul ouest

Explore more of Montréal with the Rough Guide to Canada. Find hostels for Montréal here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

If you’re thinking of heading to Edinburgh for the festivals during August, there’s one thing you need to bring: time. Come loaded with lots of it, as much as you can, because it runs out quickly and you’ll head home lamenting the hundreds of treats you missed.

A weekend is the bare minimum, a week would be better, and if I didn’t have to work for a living I’d probably have stayed for a month.  Edinburgh itself has more than enough reasons to linger longer, but August is just mind-boggling.

During our visit there were five festivals taking place simultaneously: the Edinburgh Art Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival. The stats alone will give you a headache: 35,000 artists, entertainers and thinkers producing 1,000+ shows daily in over 300 venues.

We had around 48 hours, dove in headfirst as soon as our plane landed, didn’t stop for air and still only scratched the surface. Thankfully, most things are within walking distance and cabs are plentiful (just don’t mention the tram). Here are a couple of things we learnt along the way.

Stand-up is very hit and miss

With hundreds of comedians doing their “but seriously folks” onstage at any one time, you’ll need to choose your shows wisely. One bet-hedging idea is to see a multi-act show. The Best of Edinburgh Showcase saw four comics splitting one hour, and for every hilarious bearded man dancing to Beyoncé there was an impenetrable avant-garde duo leaving us dumbfounded. Joe Lycett and Alfie Brown were two of our favourites, relative newcomers whose gags (on the YouTube playlist below) can speak for themselves.

Locusts and meal worms can be pretty tasty

The Hendricks Carnival of Knowledge, held briefly in a imposing building on the New Town’s Royal Circus, was another bizarre sideshow and their Sunday Lunch in 2063 was pure Edinburgh. A short presentation on the future of food – and the unsustainability of eating meat – was followed by a plateful of locusts and meal worms ground up and served in dim sum parcels with soy sauce and ginger. They ended up challenging our assumptions more than our taste buds.

The venues are attractions in their own right

There can be few more striking cities in the world in which to host a month long shindig, and from Arthur’s Seat to the castle itself Edinburgh is a spectacular spot. The festivals really make the most of its venues too, so Man Ray Portraits was held in the awe-inspiring red sandstone Gothic revival National Portrait Gallery, much of the International Festival was in the equally impressive Hub building dating to 1895, and picturesque pubs and venues across the Old and New Town played host to other events.

Greg Proops is still very funny…

Whose Line Is It Anyway might be long dead (is it really 15 years since it came off air?), but the bespectacled American hasn’t lost any of his edge. His Sunday night show was packed full of gags that had us crying with laughter, and his ejection of a heckler was a master class in mean.

…as is David Baddiel

Another comic whose star has faded somewhat, albeit one who’s making new material from his predicament. Fame: Not The Musical was a brilliant reflection on the ups and downs of celebrity and how it feels to no longer be as famous as you once were. Here are a few of our comedy highlights:

The Witchery is overrated

The city’s gastronomic pride and joy is an alluring spot, but the atmospheric gloom conceals some serious crimes against food. Three Little Piggies was pork done three ways, none of them appealing. A rubbery chop was probably the worst offender and the whole meal was grossly overpriced, although the maitre d’ was entertaining.

Some of Edinburgh’s most interesting spots are deep underground

The Real Mary King’s Close is a fascinating tour underneath the Royal Mile, taking visitors on a spooky subterranean trip around abandoned streets and humble dwellings, revealing the history of the city and some of its key inhabitants along the way. Characterful guides such as the man on the right add to the atmosphere. Tours cost £12.95 (£7.45 for children) and run throughout the day; check their website for more details.

Friday’s crowds aren’t a patch on Monday’s

Alfie Brown took great pains to point out that weekenders don’t laugh as hard as the midweek crew, and several stand-ups we spoke to seemed to hold weekend visitors in gentle contempt. But what are you going to do?

The Jive Bunny approach to DJ-ing can actually work

Normally I’d run a mile from anyone jumping from track to track in a club without playing the whole record. There’s nothing more annoying than a DJ cutting a tune after the first chorus. The manic man behind Hot Dub Time Machine, however, somehow gets away with it, splicing together snippets of big songs from the ‘50s onwards with mashed up video clips – a hyperactive hit for Generation ADHD.

People are defined by hate, not by what they love

Salman Rushdie’s sold-out talk was a highlight of the Book Festival, and his thoughts on society’s pervasive negativity were particularly illuminating:

“I do think that one of the characteristics of our age is the growth of this culture of offendedness. It has to do with the rise of identity politics, where you're invited to define your identity quite narrowly – you know, Western, Islamic, whatever it might be… Classically, we have defined ourselves by the things we love. By the place which is our home, by our family, by our friends. But in this age we're asked to define ourselves by hate. That what defines you is what pisses you off. And if nothing pisses you off, who are you?"

Promenade performances are hard to get right

One of the International Festival’s flagship productions, the sold-out hot ticket Leaving Planet Earth was billed as a “site-responsive promenade production on an epic scale”, an immersive journey to New Earth that would blow our tiny minds. What we witnessed was a paper thin plot played out in a local climbing centre with the lights turned off, an ambitious but deeply flawed flop which saw audience members falling asleep and playing Scrabble on their phones at various points.

Haggis helps a hangover

Especially when served in a giant floury bap with a mug of tea in the Royal Tattoo grandstand overlooking the spectacular cityscape.

Our path through Edinburgh was a random one, beginning with Leonardo da Vinci and ending up in a Hot Dub Time Machine, via a number of erratic detours and a trip to another planet. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book it took a unique and unrepeatable course, different to anyone else navigating this great city at the same time. There was a lot, from Hamlet to an interactive version of the cult TV show Knightmare, that we didn’t have time for. Next time, perhaps – especially if we remember to come with more of it.

 

 

From historic bars pouring the finest whiskies to gastropubs serving up gourmet burgers, Edinburgh has a drinking den to satisfy every craving. There are some world-class establishments here but also plenty of duds. Follow our guide (and steer clear of the Grassmarket) for the best night out the Scottish capital has to offer.

Best for beer: The Caley Sample Room

A more extensive drinks menu we challenge you to find! The Caley Sample Room, named after the Caledonian brewery just up the road, has dozens of craft beers by the bottle including the English Camden Pale, American Anchor Steam and Little Creatures from Australia, plus keg beers such as Guinness, Staropramen and Hoegaarden. And then there are the taps. There are nine in total: one cider, four for guest beers and four dedicated Scottish brewery taps – Caledonian’s Deuchars, William Brothers, Tempest and Black Isle. Ask the incredibly knowledgeable staff for advice if you don’t know where to start.

Best for pub games: The Sheep Heid Inn

Said by some to be the oldest pub in Scotland – and generally considered the oldest in Edinburgh – the Sheep Heid is a proper local’s pub in a village now subsumed into the city. Here you can drink real ales straight from the cask or revel in the wine list – more a book of well thought out recommendations and suggested wine flights, which coaxes you into trying something new with its tasting notes. But the real reason to make the journey out here is the skittles alley, again alleged to be Scotland’s oldest and built around 1870. You can hire the whole thing for just £2 per person per hour so why not settle in for a night of racking them up and knocking them down?

Best for meeting the locals: Mathers

Old school, traditional and attracting a mixed local crowd, this is a no-nonsense boozer with not one whiff of pretention. The interior dates from the early 20th century and is quietly spectacular, with stained glass windows, green tiled walls, chandeliers and a proper wooden bar adorned with etched mirrors. Call in for a wee dram and you won’t be leaving for a while – there are more than 100 whiskies on offer here and once you try one you’ll want to explore the rest of the list, which runs the gamut from peaty Islay malts to easy drinking Juras. This is also a great place to watch the football, with numerous television screens dotted around the walls.

Best for food: The Holyrood 9A

This stylish modern pub serves up an all-day menu of what they call “two-handers” – gourmet burgers stuffed to the gills with everything from Swiss cheese and smoked bacon, to pickled jalapenos and fresh green chillies. The meat is sourced locally and everything is customisable – you could swap your sourdough bun for brioche or switch your fries for sweet potato. There’s a fantastic range of drinks to wash it down with too, including house craft beers and a crowd-pleasing array of wines. And it’s fantastic value too – two courses for £12 and half a litre of house wine for £14.

Best for atmosphere: The Café Royal Circle Bar

Unassuming from the outside, spectacular within, this fine Victorian pub is all elegance from the tip of its stained glass windows to the top of its ornate plasterwork. Step up to the central circular bar to order a glass of wine from the high quality list before settling in to one of the booths along the wall to guess the sports shown in the stained glass windows and check out the tiled Royal Doulton murals which depict great Scottish inventors.

Best for whisky: Whiski

Yes, it’s on the Royal Mile and yes, it’s got an obvious name, but this is no tourist trap. Whiski specialises in – surprise – Scottish whisky, and has more than 270 of them on its books, including every brand name big and small and plenty of malts from distilleries we guarantee you’ve never heard of. Everything is available by the nip and there are some whiskies here from distilleries no longer in operation. You can even try a nip of the Black Bowmore – a toffee-tasting Islay distilled in 1964 – if you email in advance. This is the place to learn about Scottish whisky. Other drinks are available including draft beers, wine and cocktails – but why would you want them?

Best for cocktails: City Café

Opened in the 1980s but harking back to the 1950s, this place was doing Americana – and doing it well – before most people even knew what it was. Open all day, it serves a good range of American food and drinks but the real draw is the cocktail list. Try a Southern-style mint julep, made with gin instead of bourbon, or knock back a bacon Mary – a bloody Mary mixed with homemade bacon vodka. The classics are also all available of course, and you can sit in an authentic American diner booth.

Explore more of Scotland and Edinburgh with the Rough Guide to Scotland and more.

It’s a sweltering Saturday night in Santiago de Cuba, and the entire barrio seems to be packed into La Casa de las Tradiciones. A mist of rum, beer and sweat fills the air of the much-loved club, while dozens of pairs of feet pound the flexing plywood floors. The wail of a trumpet rides above the locomotive percussion – maracas, congas and guiros all chugging along in rhythmic, rumba unison.

The cajón player raises his hand, silencing the band and the room. From somewhere among the revellers, a reed-thin voice salvages the melody, this time with less urgency but more emotion. The aged cantor takes the stage, his voice bolstered by an upright bass, violin and tres. Momentary transfixion melts into sinuous shuffle-steps as the audience swoons to his rousing son. The rest of the band joins in again, and soon the crowd is echoing the singer’s refrains as his voice soars with the vigour and vibrato of someone half his age.

As dawn steadily approaches and the performance winds down, word arrives of a nearby wedding reception. Eager celebrants spill outside and navigate the barely lit streets between tiny houses, cement bunkers with corrugated tin roofs and the flickering eyes of stray dogs. Along the way, party-goers rush into their homes and emerge with bottles of bootlegged ron and a cornucopia of musical instruments.

Arriving at the scene, they’re welcomed with cheers and the neighbourhood fiesta surges with renewed energy. One man hammers away at a bata drum while a teenage girl plonks a pair of wooden claves. An older fellow raises an ancient trumpet to his lips; it’s dented, with only the memory of a sheen left, but sits in his hands as if he’s held it since birth. Then he wades into the roiling descarga, horn crowing wildly as morning begins to glow at the edges of the sky.

La Casa de las Tradiciones, between Rabí no.154 and Princesa y San Fernando, Santiago de Cuba, features live son and other varieties of Cuban music.

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

New boutique hostels, quirky nightlife and a medley of world cuisines are making Santiago stand out among the crowd of popular Latin American capitals.

After spending a long time in the shadows of its more illustrious South American neighbours like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, Santiago is finally coming into its own. The Chilean capital’s economy continues to expand – as evidenced by the new 300m Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest building in Latin America – fuelling a burgeoning eating, drinking and nightlife scene. The city also has a selection of great hotels and some idiosyncratic and thought-provoking attractions.

Accommodation

New boutique hotels (and indeed “boutique hostels”) are springing up all the time in Santiago, and there are options for every budget. If you’re short on pesos, head to Happy House in the bohemian neighbourhood of Barrio Brasil, a classy hostel in an atmospheric turn-of-the-century townhouse. At the other end of the scale, despite the presence of glamorous outposts of global chains like The W and the Ritz-Carlton, the more intimate and no less luxurious Aubrey gets our vote. Located in lively Bellavista, it combines stellar service with effortlessly stylish rooms.

Eating out

Santiago’s eating out scene has really taken off in recent years and you can find a surprisingly diverse range of cuisines, including Peruvian, Mexican, Cuban, Indian, Japanese, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, French and Italian, as well as – of course – Chilean.  Highlights include: Kintaro in the historic centre, where Chile’s superlative seafood is turned into exquisite sushi and sashimi; and Ciudad Vieja, also in Bellavista, which has turned sandwich-making into an art form (the home-brewed beer is a perfect accompaniment).

Sometimes, however, the classics are the best. Travelling gastronome Anthony Bourdain said the best food he ate in Chile was at the traditional El Hoyo, near the Estación Central. Hearty pork dishes are the specialty here, as is the deadly Terremoto (Earthquake), a potent blend of white wine, pisco and pineapple ice cream.

Drinking and nightlife

The bohemian neighbourhoods of Barrio Brasil and Barrio Yungay are popular night spots at the moment, though – rather more surprisingly – the historic centre is also home to some gems. It is here that you’ll find The Clinic, a quirky joint run by the satirical magazine of the same name (imagine a bar run by Private Eye and you’re on the right track).

Over in Bellavista, Santiago’s traditional nightlife district, Etniko transforms itself from a swish pan-Asian restaurant during the evening into a hip, blue neon-lit bar-club later on – the sake-based cocktails are particularly good. (Although it may look closed, you just have to ring the doorbell to enter).

Attractions

Santiago’s striking location – the city is situated on a plain at the base of the Andes – is best admired from the summit of Cerro San Cristóbal, an 806m-high hill covered with parks, botanical gardens and – perfect for the summer months – outdoor swimming pools.

Due to reopen at the end of 2013 following a major revamp, the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino has one of Latin America’s finest collections of pre-Columbian art, with a collection spanning 10,000 years.

This September marks the 40th anniversary of the violent Pinochet coup that overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende, so a visit to the moving Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos is a must. Housed in an impressive glass building, this modern museum is dedicated to the victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, during which over 3000 people died or “disappeared”.

Another echo of the Pinochet years, though lighter in tone, is the former home of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, a prominent Allende supporter. Known as La Chascona (“The Tangled-Haired Woman”, a tribute to the thick red hair of Neruda’s wife, Matilde), the painstakingly restored house is an evocative tribute to Neruda – highlights include a library of around 9000 books and a portrait of Matilde by Diego Rivera. (Two other of Neruda’s homes have also been turned into museums, one in Valparaíso, the other in Isla Negra.)

Day and overnight trips

And if you tire of city life, the vineyards of the Casablanca Valley, world class ski runs at Portillo and Valle Nevado, and Pacific beaches of the Litoral Central are all within easy striking distance of Santiago.

Shafik Meghji is the co-author of The Rough Guide to Chile. He blogs at www.unmappedroutes.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @ShafikMeghji.

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

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