Emerging above the rolling tumbleweed of prairies or hidden below modern cities, hundreds of eerily desolate former towns are scattered across the United States. Many of the USA’s ghost towns were once thriving settlements: they grew quickly, but disappeared just as fast in the boom and bust Gold Rush years, while others have a more shadowy past. From the cursed bricks of Bodie to the everlasting fire still burning in Centralia, read on for the spookiest places to visit in America, if you dare…

Bodie, California

In its heyday, Bodie was known as one of the most dangerous and lawless towns in the west. Maintained in a state of “arrested decay” (a phrase coined by the State of California), Bodie is now one of the best-preserved ghost towns in America, with buildings furnished as they were left and shopfronts stocked with familiar brands. A true Wild West ghost town, it was once home to 65 saloons where regular brawls and shootouts made it a perilous place to live. It is said that the violent characters of its past protect the town with the “Bodie Curse”, so refrain from stealing anything, even a piece of rubble, or you may find yourself struck down with bad luck.

Texola, Oklahoma

Previously named Texokla and Texoma, Texola straddles the Oklahoma and Texas borders and switched between both states during its brief life as a popular railroad stop in the early 20th century. This identity crisis did not bode well for its future and the cotton town soon disbanded after its rapid expansion in the 1920s, aided by the arrival of Route 66. Walking through the town today, don’t miss the large painted letters on the side of a building that read, ‘There’s no place like Texola’; although the empty streets and crumbling buildings are surely not what the proud residents had in mind when painting the sign.

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Centralia, Pennsylvania

The smoky clouds billowing out of the cracked tarmac of Centralia, a former mining town, belie a phantom presence. If it weren’t for the unstable ground and carbon monoxide fumes, the area would likely be a filmmaker’s dream. The unearthly clouds are actually caused by a slow burning gas fire; the town caught alight in 1962 and hasn’t stopped burning since. Although the buildings have been condemned and the entrance to the town is surrounded by warning signs, you can view the eerie wasteland from Pennsylvania Route 61.

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North Brother Island, New York

Situated within crowded New York City, North Brother Island is an unlikely abandoned settlement with a sinister history. Originally an isolated hospital for infectious small pox victims, the island is most famous for quarantining Mary Mallon, or ‘Typhoid Mary’ for over twenty years. In the 1950s, the hospital became a treatment centre for drug addicts before its closure just a decade later. Today the area is a bird sanctuary. While it’s off-limits to the public, this doesn’t stop plenty of urban explorers wandering around the haunting hospital buildings.

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Seattle Underground, Washington

Seattle Underground is a city beneath a city. In 1889, the Great Seattle Fire destroyed many of the city’s buildings. In its wake, authorities decided to rebuild the city two storeys higher to avoid past flooding problems. At first, many of the underground stores remained open, with people climbing up and down ladders to reach the shops below. However, in 1907, the underground city was condemned, although it continued to be used for dodgy dealings and some unseemly business. Find out about the city’s frontier past by taking a guided tour around the partly-restored passages.

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Rhyolite, Nevada

Founded in 1904, Rhyolite grew quickly in the Gold Rush years but disbanded just as fast in the financial crisis of 1907. Stop by the abandoned town on your way from Vegas to Death Valley and find yourself transported back to the Gold Rush era. The best-preserved building in the town is The Bottle House, made from thousands of discarded beer and liquor bottles, a reminder of the fifty saloons the town once boasted. Once resplendent with marble staircases and stained glass windows, the remains of the three storey bank are a pertinent reminder of the short-lived highs the town enjoyed. Located in the midst of desert plains, the Rhyolite wasteland makes an eerie day trip.

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Glenrio, New Mexico and Texas

Claiming to be the first and last town to straddle two states at once, Glenrio was once a popular stop for travellers on the Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and later for motorists on the old Route 66. When the new interstate was laid in 1973, it bypassed Glenrio and forced the quiet town to be silenced altogether. Come off Interstate 40 and take Route 66 and imagine yourself as an early twentieth century motorist experiencing the long open road for the first time. Arriving from the west, a crumbling sign greets you with the words ‘Motel, First in Texas’, and driving from the east the town bids its farewell with ‘Motel, Last in Texas’.

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Christmas, Arizona

Not the commercialised holiday town you might imagine, although that may have fared better, Christmas is a derelict mining community (its name derived from the date of the mine’s reopening in 1902). Once a thriving settlement, the town’s post office was busiest in December, when people would send cards and presents from across the USA to be redirected with the Christmas postmark. It continued to receive Christmas post for twenty years after its closure, and letters with the Christmas postmark have now become collectors items. You certainly won’t get the festive holiday feeling, but climb the steep, mile-long road to Christmas and you can walk around the few derelict buildings still standing and discarded mining equipment abandoned in the 1930s.

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

You’ve hiked the Cinque Terre, gondola’d down Venice’s Grand Canal and got Renaissance art fatigue in Florence’s Uffizi. So what’s next? Italophile Natasha Foges picks six less-known places that offer all the charm of Italy‘s big sights.

If you like Lake Como try… Lake Iseo

Of the six Italian Lakes, it’s Garda and Como – renowned for their heart-stopping beauty and sweeping panoramas (not to mention film-star residents) that hog the limelight. But between the two, serene Lake Iseo is the region’s best-kept secret. Long, sinuous and hemmed in by mountains, the lake has drama in spades, seen to best effect in autumn, when the wooded hillsides are in glorious colour and the lake is mistily atmospheric. If you can bear to tear yourself away from the pretty lakeside villages, check out the stone-age rock carvings of the Val Camonica at the head of the lake, or drive through the Franciacorta area at the lake’s southern end, celebrated for its sparkling white wines.

If you like the Cinque Terre try… Ponza

The ruggedly beautiful fishing villages that comprise the fabled Cinque Terre, each a tumble of cheerily painted houses, have long enthralled tourists – and now lure 100 million visitors a year. If you’re hankering for salty air, sparkling seas and pastel-hued houses – but without the crowds – plump for Ponza, a pretty island that lies off the coast between Rome and Naples. Popular among weekending Romans in summer – it’s within easy reach of the city – it sees few foreign visitors. With few sights as such, it’s the perfect place for a laidback holiday. There’s little to distract you from the simple pleasures of paddling in limpid waters, sunning yourself on crescent-shaped Chiaia di Luna beach and messing around in boats.

Photo credit: View at Ponza harbor / Dreamstime.com: Aalexeev

If you like Tuscany try… Umbria

Rural Tuscany’s best bits – scenic landscapes, fantastic food and wine, winsome hill towns – can also be found in next-door Umbria. If you dream of a escaping to a rustic hill-top agriturismo, spending your days contemplating the rolling hills and eating your own body-weight in pasta (but not paying an arm and a leg for the privilege), Umbria is for you. As for where to stay, try Norcia, Spello, Todi, Montefalco, Amelia, Bevagna or Narni: all picture-perfect little towns that never get overwhelmed by tourist hordes, even in the holiday month of August, when Italians head for the sea, leaving this land-locked region blissfully quiet.

If you like Venice try… Treviso

Love Venice but not its camera-clicking crowds? For a low-key version of La Serenissima – and with not a tour group in sight – head to the city’s pint-sized neighbour, Treviso, just 40km away. The self-styled “piccola Venezia” is no mini-Venice – it lacks the showpiece sights, and its canals are pretty rather than grand – but it’s a lovely spot for a weekend away, with cobbled streets, frescoed churches and ancient waterways galore. Crossed here and there with wrought-iron bridges – with picturesque views of still-churning waterwheels – Treviso’s canals thread its walled medieval centre, encircling the town’s rowdy fish market, which sits on its own islet. Take a seat at any of the cafés here and order a glass of local fizz: in the heart of Italy’s prosecco region, it would be rude not to.

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If you like the Amalfi Coast try… Procida

There’s a lot to love about the Amalfi Coast, from its craggy mountains plunging sheer into the sea to the drama of its serpentine coast road, winding past verdant hillsides dotted with sun-bleached houses. If you’re looking for a similarly scenic spot that’s cheaper and easier to get to, try Procida, a 40-minute ferry ride from Naples. Outside August, when holidaying Italians descend en masse, this is a sleepy, unpretentious island – a far cry from the glitz of the Amalfi Coast. The director of the film The Talented Mr Ripley, Anthony Minghella, scoured Italy for a suitably lost-in-time location to act as the fictitious Mongibello and found it here – specifically in Procida’s most picturesque corner, the Marina di Corricella, whose old-school trattorias share harbour space with fishermen mending their nets. If you tire of watching the comings and goings in the harbour, you can while away your days basking on beaches, admiring the dazzling seascapes and wandering narrow streets heady with the scent of lemons.

If you like Florence try… Urbino

A ravishing hill-town to rival any in Tuscany, Urbino also has a remarkable hoard of first-class art – if Florence’s Renaissance treasures have left you wanting more, you’re in for a treat. Though well off the tourist trail in the region of Le Marche, on the other side of the Apennines from Florence, Urbino wasn’t always a backwater: under the patronage of Renaissance poster boy Duke Federico da Montefeltro in the fifteenth century, the town flourished into a cultural capital. The duke’s sprawling palace, worked on by some of the greatest architects and architects of the age, now holds one of Italy’s best galleries, the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, with a fantastic collection of works by Piero della Francesca, Titian, Uccello and local-born Raphael, among others.

Explore more of Italy with The Rough Guide to ItalyCompare flightsbook hostels or hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.  

Morocco’s tourist track isn’t well-beaten, it’s been thumped flat. Ask anyone who has been and the chances are they’ll have visited some combination of Marrakesh, the Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains and Essaouira – and they’ll probably have a small stuffed camel and a leather purse to prove it.

These are all worthwhile destinations in their own right, but there’s a whole host of better-kept secrets to be discovered in Morocco, and Chefchaouen (often shortened to Chaouen) remains one of the most alluring of the lot.

Hidden in the Rif Mountains, half a day’s drive away from the nearest cities of Fez or Tangier, Chefchaouen is as impossible to pronounce (“shef-sha-wen”) as it is to get your head around.

Everything about it is a bit off-beat: the locals here speak Spanish, not the French or Arabic that the guidebooks prepare you for; the town has a long history of hippie-culture and hashish that is still present today; and, perhaps most extraordinary of all, the entire medina is washed in a thousand magnificent shades of blue.

photo credit: Chaouen, Morocco via photopin (license)

Time-travelling in the medina

In The Rough Guide to Morocco we describe Chaouen’s medina as “surely the prettiest in the country”, and it’s hard to imagine anyone making a compelling argument against this.

Getting lost in the old town’s narrow and uncrowded streets is a photographer’s dream, with stray cats posing in front of ornate indigo doorways – many still wet from the morning’s lick of paint – and impossibly old men shuffling up and down blue staircases in conical hooded cloaks.

There are aspects of the old town that make you feel like you could have travelled back in time: the furn, or communal bakery, still delivers warm circular loaves of bread to locals every morning, while on market day hunched-over women descend from the mountain farms to sell vats of milk. It is only when you peek into a dark room full of kids gathered around a games console, or pass a carpet store blasting out Bruno Mars, that you will be politely reminded of the century you’re in.

photo credit: DSCF1021 via photopin (license) / colours adjusted

Hippies and hashish

Chefchaouen is notable for the absence of serious hasslers and hustlers, but anyone wearing a backpack will still probably be asked “do you smoke hashish?” a few times a day. The Rif Mountains that surround Chaouen form the epicentre of Morocco’s kif-growing industry, creating a unique atmosphere in the medina where formal Islam and bohemian stoner cultures seem to coexist in harmony.

Chefchaouen attracted pilgrims in search of its legendary marijuana long before tour operators started to include the town in their itineraries, and even today you’re likely to see the occasional dreadlocked backpacker, joint hanging from mouth, who could well have walked all the way from Tarifa.

photo credit: Chaouen via photopin (license)

Overdosing on mint teas and tagines

Unlike the more cosmopolitan cities of Fez, Casablanca and Marrakesh, Chefchaouen hasn’t seen much in the way of culinary diversification over the years.

Truth be told, you’ll be lucky to find anything that isn’t tajine or brochette (grilled meat on a stick) when it comes to hot food in the medina, washed down by the obligatory “Moroccan Whiskey” (mint tea; to be ordered without sugar if you want to travel home with all of your teeth). But there are a few spots that do stand out from the crowd.

Just off the main Plaza Outa el Hammam, La Lampe Magique Casa Aladdin offers some of the best views in town from its rooftop terrace, while Tissemlal serves traditional Moroccan dishes far superior to the other restaurants in the medina – with an open fire ablaze on cold evenings.

If you crack and can’t wait a second longer for western comforts, just outside the city walls at Plaza El Makhzen there is a cosy place to eat pizza to the sound of jazz radio (Mandala Pizzeria), with a ropey hotel a couple of doors along that serves overpriced beers to desperate Europeans.

Sunset from the Spanish mosque

Wherever you are in Chefchaouen you’ll be able to turn a corner and see the bright white Spanish Mosque, perched high on a hill just east of town. Spanish colonialists started work on the mosque when they arrived in Chefchaouen in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they finally restored and opened the building to the public for the first time.

If your legs aren’t already broken from walking about the steep medina alleyways, it’s well worth making the 15-minute trek up to the mosque to catch the sunset. A wall just in front of the mosque acts as a perfect perching spot to watch the sun burn red over the distant mountains, often cloaked in low-lying clouds.

Once the show is over, resist the temptation to walk straight back to town and wait a few minutes for the call to prayer to erupt over the navy medina below, now lit only by the moon and a smattering of golden minarets.

Explore more of the country with the Rough Guide to Morocco. Compare flights, book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

We all know about the big European city breaks like Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam, but what about Maribor in Slovenia, Osijek in Croatia and Cadiz in Spain? If you’ve already been to all the big boys, or just want to venture off the well-beaten tourist track, it’s time to discover some seriously unsung cities. Here, we’ve picked seven cities across Europe that we think deserve some time in the limelight.

Osijek, Croatia

While the Croatian coast gets all the plaudits, the Slavonia region inland lies largely ignored. Visitors are missing out. The elegant city of Osijek in the east took a battering during the 1990s Homeland War, but today is back to something approaching its best; in its heyday during the Austro-Habsburg years a massive military fortress stood here and trams eased around the belle époque streets. The oldest part of town, Tvrđa, has undergone a massive revamp since the 1990s war ended with a flurry of cafes, restaurants and bars brightening up the area. In the rejuvenated centre, meanwhile, you can enjoy relaxed walks along the River Drava and try the local delicacy, fis paprikas, a spicy fish soup, in the riverside restaurants.

Maribor, Slovenia

Just next door to Croatia, bijou Slovenia boasts more than just its glittering city-break star Ljubljana. In the country’s east, Maribor is no longer content to play second fiddle to the capital. Its large student population is putting serious life back into the grand historic streets of its chocolate-box pretty old town. River strolls along the Drava, as well as one of Europe’s oldest synagogues and what is reputed to be the world’s oldest vine await. The best time to visit is during the two week Lent Festival in summer. And if you want to get out of town, nearby Maribor Pohorje offers skiing in winter and superb hiking in summer.

Tartu, Estonia

These days the Estonian capital attracts a swathe of stag and hen parties, but mercifully the second city of Tartu is not similarly blighted. This vibrant student town – considered by many Estonians outside Tallinn to be the country’s true intellectual and cultural heart – offers superb nightlife without a stag night in sight. Tartu’s picturesque old town is home to all sorts of theatre, film and art happenings, as well as fittingly the country’s oldest university.

Utrecht, The Netherlands

If you love The Netherlands and you love canals make a beeline for Utrecht. In this inland Dutch charmer you will find a web of canals lined with cafes, bars and restaurants – in parts the country’s fourth largest city is almost a dead ringer for the Dutch capital. Explore further and you’ll come across a rich volley of churches, the country’s largest university and a delightful network of cobbled lanes to get lost in.

Cádiz, Spain

Madrid and Barcelona are mere upstarts compared to Cádiz, said to be the oldest city in Europe. This Spanish city, the country’s most densely populated, has a treasure trove of history and dramatic architecture hidden in its tight warren of streets. No wonder, given that it has been visited by everyone from the Greeks and Romans, through to the Carthaginians. Yet you’ll need to wait until night time for this balmy Andalusian charmer to really come alive. In summer you can take a bus right along to the end of city’s main beach and lose hours wandering back popping into the myriad bars that line the sands.

Perth, Scotland

Edinburgh and increasingly Glasgow attract the lion’s share of city breakers to Scotland, but what about the country’s newest city, Perth? Although Perth was only granted city status in 2012, it served as the ancient capital of Scotland, the place where monarchs were crowned on the semi-mythical Stone of Destiny. Today there are relaxed parks and walks along the River Tay, plus the sparkling Perth Concert Hall, a millennium project. Then there’s a thriving food and drink scene, which has mushroomed lately with Perth becoming the first place in Scotland to be awarded Cittaslow status.

Torun, Poland

Forget the obvious charms of Krakow. This is the year to delve deeper into Poland‘s north to discover Torun. Handily located between Kraków and Gdansk, Torun is a real looker with a riot of red brick architecture dominating its distinctive medieval old core. There are churches galore to explore, seriously cheap bars and cruises on the Vistula River. Stargazers are in good company too: Torun was the birthplace of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. In short, the city offers a slice of Krakow without the crowds.

Explore more of Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a BudgetCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Gilly Pickup discovers the enduring allure of Cuba’s bright and breezy capital, Havana, the island’s cultural heart.

Havana’s effervescence is palpable. The city is reminiscent of an old picture postcard come to life – awash with faded grandeur and crumbling ice-cream coloured buildings. Bartenders mix up mojitos in time to the hip-swaying, hypnotic sounds of salsa and straw-hatted, cigar-puffing men driving vividly coloured vintage Cadillacs, Pontiacs and Buicks.

Habana Vieja and beyond

Havana’s UNESCO listed Habana Vieja or Old Town, almost an open air museum, was once the Caribbean’s main Spanish settlement. With a glut of castles and baroque churches it has more old colonial buildings than any other city in the New World. Head to the Camera Obscura in the Plaza Vieja for the best views.

Of course there are countless museums to explore, too. The most famous is probably the Museum of the Revolution in Centro Habana. This big blast from the past is housed in what was once the Presidential Palace, headquarters of the Cuban government for forty years. Besides plenty of rusty revolvers and a life size wax figure of Che Guevara, it contains maps tracing the war’s progress, innumerable photos of Fidel Castro and some blood-stained uniforms.

Behind the museum are parts of a plane shot down during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, a surface-to-air missile and the yacht that brought Guevara and Castro together with eighty plus revolutionaries to Cuba from Mexico in 1956 – today rather incongruously kept in a glass enclosure.

Another important landmark is the Capitolio Nacional. Once Cuba’s seat of government, the building is similar in appearance to the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. It is home to the National Library and Academy of Sciences and houses a planetarium and museum. Under the dome, a 24-carat diamond – an imitation – is set into the floor. This is where distances between Havana and other sites in the country are measured.

A cigar stop-off

No trip to Cuba would be complete without a cigar, and close by the Capitolio is one of the city’s most famous cigar factories, Real Fabrica de Tabaco Partagas.

Here, a reader is employed to entertain workers while they make the cigars – the reason why some cigars are named after literary characters. Tours allow visitors to see how cigars are made and, of course, there is the opportunity to buy some from the little shop at the end.

In the footsteps of Hemingway

While in Habana Vieja, it makes sense to pay a visit to El Floridita, one of the bars where Ernest Hemingway liked to have a bite to eat and down daiquiris.

Nothing much seems to have changed here since the thirties, when he was sometimes snapped at the bar with Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper, though it was a favourite meeting place for expat Americans before Hemingway made it famous.

Hemingway’s celebrity status has never dimmed in the eyes of the locals and his favourite stool is cordoned off almost as if he is expected to walk back in at any minute. The bar even created a daiquiri in his name, ‘The Papa Hemingway Special’. One story goes that he once sank 13 doubles in one visit. Who knows for sure, but if he did, he must have had a serious hangover next morning.

Fans of Hemingway can also visit his home, Finca Vigia, which lies just outside town. Now also a museum, it is kept just as it was when the man himself lived there. This is where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and today visitors can see his huge book collection and his typewriter.

Along the sea spangled waterfront

And speaking of the sea, every visitor to Havana should head to the Malecón, the eight kilometre sea spangled waterfront promenade popular with locals and tourists, swimmers, joggers and musicians.

Although it was built in 1901 to protect the city from rough seas, today a party atmosphere abounds, especially during evenings and weekends.

Feisty bands and fizzing nightlife

You’ll learn to expect continual music here. It emanates round the clock from the city’s shady squares and cobbled streets. Havana is a feisty rainbow explosion of live bands. They’re everywhere: in the airport, restaurants, bars and on the streets – and at night the experience is out of this world.

Many local musicians play the ‘tres guitar’, a rhythm instrument with three double strings, while the pulsing African ‘son’ music and Timbal drum beats are bound to get your feet tapping.

Nightlife is full on and fizzing – and there are plenty of clubs and bars where visitors can party like a local. Dress to impress, as the locals do, and head to open-air cabaret Tropicana, a great place to soak up the sounds and shake that booty. This is no ordinary cabaret, complete with a 32-piece orchestra.

Festivals galore

It’s also an idea to plan a visit to Havana to coincide with some of the popular celebrations and festivals. These include the cigar festival in February, Carnival in July, the ballet festival in October and film and jazz festivals are in December.

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

Tasmania has shaken off its reputation as a sleepy backwater. Australia’s smallest state is buzzing with art, nurturing an exciting foodie scene and cutting the ribbon on new hiking trails – all against a backdrop of rich history and remarkable wildlife. Here, Anita Isalska gives ten reasons why you should give in to the island’s lure. 

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

A ferry ride up the peaceful Derwent River doesn’t seem like the obvious start to explore your dark side. But in the subterranean galleries of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art you’ll find some of the most confronting creations in Australia. Passion, death and decay are explored in unflinching detail in this controversial museum in the northern suburbs of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Test your limits with maggot ridden installations, X-rated sculptures and obese automobiles, all from the private collections of arty eccentric David Walsh.

2. To raft the Franklin River

Quicken your pulse in Tasmania’s wild west on a white water rafting adventure. In this glacier carved terrain, thick with Huon pine forests, experienced guides will navigate you down the frothing Franklin River. You’ll stop to cook on open fires and pitch a tent under the stars. There’s nothing like being part of a crew paddling a raft through the Franklin’s thunderous rapids to instil a lasting respect for Tasmania’s formidable wilderness.

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

Tas’ most famous critter is most often experienced through its nocturnal scream. But Tasmanian devils can be seen up close at sanctuaries across the state, like Bonorong. Don’t be fooled by their puppy-like appearance and lolloping gait. Time your visit for feeding time and you’ll see these marsupials screech, squabble and chomp straight through wallaby bones. On a more serious note, make sure you spare some time to learn about the devastating facial tumour disease threatening these Tassie natives.

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

Mainland Aussies flock to the annual Taste Festival in Hobart. But you can undertake a year-round gastronomic extravaganza on Bruny Island, an easy day-trip by ferry from Hobart. Start by slurping fresh oysters at Get Shucked, before perusing the unctuous delights of Bruny Island Cheese Company. You’ll want a bottle or two to accompany those garlic-marinated, vine leaf-wrapped delights, so stop for pinot noir at Bruny Island Premium Wines. Finish off with jams and ice creams at the berry farm.

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

The silhouette of Cradle Mountain, reflected in mirror-clear Dove Lake, is one of Tasmania’s greatest natural icons. Lace up your hiking boots in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and discover Pencil Pine Falls or the neck-craning Ballroom Forest. Some are easy wooden walking trails that spiral around picnic spots like Wombat Pool; others vertiginous hikes that require experience. For hardened adventurers, there’s the six-day Overland Track.

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

One of Australia’s most hotly-tipped new attractions for 2015 is the Three Capes Track. Due to open in November 2015, this 82km coastal trail promises a touch of luxury for bushwalkers. Instead of stooping under the weight of your camping gear, you’ll be able to bed down in furnished huts at three different spots along the track and make use of on-site cooking facilities. That leaves more time to focus on what’s really important: jaw-dislocatingly good views of Australia’s tallest sea cliffs.

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

Each night at dusk, a parade of little penguins pops out of the waters of Bicheno Bay and waddles ashore to their burrows. A guided walk is the best way to admire these dainty seabirds without disturbing them. They’ll hop between your legs, preen their inky black coats and jab their beaks at toes (don’t wear open-toed shoes).

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

Stomach-plummeting views await at Cataract Gorge, just 15 minutes’ drive from Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Tiptoe over the suspension bridge or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of forested hillsides from the longest single-span chairlift in the southern hemisphere. Picnic spots are scattered around the gorge’s First Basin (and stalked by curious peacocks), ideal for you to soak up some rays and the tranquil atmosphere.

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

Two centuries ago, a ticket to Australia was a terrible fate. The most harrowing final destination was Tasmania’s Port Arthur, one of Australia’s 11 penal colony sites. Port Arthur was thought inescapable: only a narrow band of land, Eaglehawk Neck, connected it to the rest of the island, and this was fiercely guarded by dogs. Today, Port Arthur has been conserved as an open-air museum. You can explore the former prison wings and convict-built chapel, board a boat to the lonely graveyards on Isle of the Dead and linger for a ghost tour if you dare.

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

There’s an unforgettable reward for taking a steep forested trail on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. At the Wineglass Bay overlook, you’ll see a perfect arc of sand glowing against the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea. Cool off from all that bushwalking with a dip or kayaking trip, or simply gaze out over the dusky pink granite boulders dappled with lichen, one of Tasmania’s most surreally beautiful sights.

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

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

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

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

1. It has the most intriguing art gallery

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

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

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

Image courtesy of visitmanchester.com

3. It hosts the most dynamic festival

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

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

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

Image courtesy of visitmanchester.com

5. It has the coolest music scene

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

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

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

Image courtesy of visitmanchester.com

7. It celebrates industrial heritage

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

8. It has some fantastic places to stay 

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

Image courtesy of visitmanchester.com

9. It’s home to boundary-pushing chefs

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

10. It’s about to get some serious investment

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

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

Kris Griffiths takes a tour of the birthplace of reggae, following in the footsteps of Jamaica’s most famous son, Bob Marley, on what would have been his 70th birthday.

Reggae music was born in the downtrodden townships of this Caribbean island. It’s a genre that has managed to captivate most of the globe with its bouncing riddims and One-Love jubilation, thanks largely to its chief ambassador, Robert Nesta Marley.

Despite cancer stealing him at age 36 in 1981, he’s still very much part of Jamaica’s collective consciousness, and in the city he grew up in, he has almost attained the status of a prophet. Murals of his dreadlocked visage abound and his tunes can almost always be heard floating on the breeze.

For fans of Marley and the genre he helped globalise, one of the most fitting times to visit is ‘Reggae Month’ every February, when his birthday is celebrated with tribute shows and exhibitions. But Bob’s Kingston is alive all year round, for anyone from reggae pilgrims to more casual admirers just seeking some ‘positive vibrations’.

It all began here.

Growing up in Trenchtown

Although he was born in the village of Nine Mile in north Jamaica, Bob moved to Kingston’s Trenchtown as a young boy with his mother after his father died. It was in this impoverished neighbourhood his musical journey commenced. He learnt the guitar while listening to R&B from American radio stations with housemate Bunny Wailer, with whom he would later form eponymous group The Wailers.

The restored tenement block is now a National Heritage Site and fascinating cultural centre, where reggae musicians congregate to record and perform. A striking new statue of Bob has also been erected here to mark his 70th birthday.

Some tourists are deterred from visiting by a prejudice about local ‘ghetto’ culture, at odds with reality – visitors are welcomed warmly by locals promoting Bob’s peaceful message. Visiting also generates vital revenue for the still-deprived community that spawned him.

Recording at Tuff Gong Studio

Located in downtown Kingston, Tuff Gong is the label Bob founded in 1965 (named after his nickname ‘The Gong’ and being a ‘Tuff’ cookie). Today, its HQ is not only one of the biggest studios in the Caribbean but one of the most famous in the world, attracting not just reggae luminaries like sons Damian and Ziggy but superstars of other genres from Kenny Chesney to Sinead O’Connor.

Housing vintage analogue equipment alongside newer digital technology, the studio allows intimate access to the spaces where Bob recorded hits like Redemption Song and Buffalo Soldier. The label went on to sell millions of records, while Bob’s posthumous best-of Legend became the biggest-selling reggae album of all time.

Relaxing at home

Little did young Bob know, the home he would later buy a few miles uptown would become Kingston’s most-visited tourist site, the Bob Marley Museum.

The colonial-era clapboard house, where he lived for his final six years, is now a preserved shrine. Utensils in the kitchen date from his last days; his unpretentious bedroom left exactly as it was, his favourite guitar still by the bed; and poignant family photos hang on the walls. More dramatic are bullet-holes from the infamous 1976 assassination attempt, a grim reminder of the evil confronting Bob’s non-violent philosophy.

There are also museum spaces literally wallpapered with press clippings that exhibit his vast collection of Gold Records. And you can try Bob’s favourite drink, Irish Moss (made with seaweed extract), in the One Love Café, or a hearty vegetarian stew typifying the Rastafarian ‘Ital’ diet.

Retreating to Strawberry Hill

Following the shooting, Bob often withdrew to a retreat nestled high in the Blue Mountains overlooking Kingston, which is as special a spot to visit today as it was 40 years ago. Now a boutique hotel, Strawberry Hill was then owned by producer Chris Blackwell, who’d signed Marley and found his songs an international audience. Subsequently many famous artists visited, including the Stones, Willie Nelson and Grace Jones – personal photos of whom still hang on its walls alongside various Marley platinum discs.

For those with the budget to stay here, high-end features include a negative-edge infinity pool offering vertiginous mountainside views down to the city. For the rest of us, a traditional afternoon tea will do just fine.

Performing at National Stadium

Jamaica’s Wembley, built during Bob’s teenage years, has for most its lifetime served as a temple for the sport he held dear – football – which he regularly played. Home of the national team, internationally-known as the ‘Reggae Boyz’, it backdropped a significant moment in Bob’s career.

In 1978 the Wailers headlined the massive ‘One Love Peace Concert’ here, Bob’s first homeland show since returning from self-imposed exile, at a time when Jamaica was riven by deadly political civil war. During the song Jammin’, however, peacemaker Bob called for the leaders of both warring parties to join him onstage and shake hands, in a plea for national unity. For that night at least, peace reigned on Kingston’s streets.

Three years later Bob would return to the stadium, for his funeral. A commemorative statue of him – one of several around the capital – still stands outside, wielding a guitar.

Kingston has celebrated his life every year since on his birthday, but for visitors that musical high is on offer here perennially. As his son Ziggy said recently, Bob is more alive today than ever.

Kris stayed at Spanish Court Hotel. For further info on visiting Kingston go to www.visitjamaica.comCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Wherever your itinerary takes you, travel in Myanmar (Burma) is sure to provide a wealth of new experiences – whether you’re air-kissing at your waiter in a city teahouse or witnessing your first nat ceremony. To mark the release of our first guide to the country, co-author Jo James shares fourteen of her essential things to do in Myanmar.

Breakfast in a Burmese teahouse

From Yangon’s traffic-choked streets to dusty village lanes, Myanmar’s teahouses are local institutions. Enthusiastic tea boys dodge between the tables, slopping tea into saucers and serving up deep-fried snacks. Patrons air kiss loudly to attract the staff’s attention, their eyes on the football match on TV and their minds on teashop gossip. Stop for a bowl of mohinga – the nation’s favourite noodle soup, or refuel with a char kway (a Chinese-style doughnut) dunked in a delicious cup of sweet, milky tea.

Float down the Irrawaddy

The Irrawaddy River curls south from foothills of the Himalayas, unfurling past Mandalay and Bagan’s temple-covered plain before spilling its silt-rich waters into the Andaman Sea. Myanmar’s most important waterway is plied by everything from luxury teak-decked steamers to ponderous government ferries and leaking speedboats. Climb aboard your vessel of choice and float downstream to see a slice of riverside life – and remember to keep an eye out for rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

Relive the Raj

From streets lined with peeling colonial-era buildings and afternoon tea at The Strand in Yangon, to ghostly locations from George Orwell’s novel Burmese Days in Katha, echoes of British Burma reverberate in a handful of places around Myanmar. Nowhere are these echoes louder than in Pyin Oo Lwin, a former hill station, where horse-drawn carriages trundle past mouldering teakwood mansions and a bell cast for George V’s Silver Jubilee still chimes from the town’s Purcell Tower.

Revive yourself with tealeaf salad

Enthusiastic tea drinkers, the Burmese are one of the few cultures to eat tea as well, in the form of lahpet thouq or tealeaf salad. Fried garlic and broad beans, chopped tomato and whole green chillies are added to piles of deep green, slightly pickled tealeaves, creating something like pesto with a strong caffeine kick – a popular pick-me-up for sleepy students and flagging sightseers alike.

Explore Buddhism’s quirky side

Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhism is shot through with a thick vein of mystery and magic, with enough offbeat sights and stories to revive the interest of the most jaded temple-goer. Climb to the Golden Rock, a precarious gold-crusted boulder held in place for centuries by a few strands of Buddha’s hair, meet alchemist monks searching for the secret to eternal life at Hpa-An’s crag-top pagoda and clamber through the insides of a vast concrete Buddha outside Mawlamyine.

Image by Jo James

Join a nat ceremony

Transvestite natkadaws ply a middle-aged lady with whisky as she gyrates to music from a traditional orchestra. Members of the audience tuck 1,000-kyat notes into her clothing to propitiate the nat who has possessed her. Although Myanmar’s native belief system – that the world is suffused by a collection of unruly nats who require frequent mollification with alcohol, music and money – contrasts sharply with Buddhism’s emphasis on restraint and quiet reflection, many Burmese people happily believe in both. Catch the country’s largest nat ceremony in Taungbyone each August, or head to Mount Popa, Myanmar’s most important centre of nat worship.

Take your time on a Burmese train

Journeys on Myanmar’s antiquated narrow-gauge rail network are often uncomfortable and comically bouncy, and timing is unpredictable in the extreme. However, in exchange for risking a bruised bum and a late arrival, train travellers are rewarded with a fantastic chance to interact with local people, from friendly fellow passengers and holidaying monks, to the poised ladies who sway down the aisle selling snacks from trays balanced precariously on their heads.

Try thanaka

Each morning Burmese women and children daub their cheeks with powdery yellow swipes of thanaka, a natural sunblock and cosmetic made from the ground bark of the wood apple tree, with its sandalwood-like fragrance. However you feel about its beautifying abilities – that tawny shade of yellow isn’t for everyone – freshly applied thanaka is wonderfully cooling, and makes your face smell great for hours.

Rock a longyi

Once you’ve sorted out your thanaka, the natural next step is to get yourself a longyi – a tube of fabric worn by men and women across Myanmar. The male version (a paso) is often nattily checked or striped, and tied with a knot in front, while the female version (a htamein) is more richly patterned, and tucked into a fold around the waist. Pick out your favourite design and take it to a tailor, who will sew it up for you and you’re all set – just ensure that it’s tied tightly enough to avoid any inadvertent flashing…

Nurture a jaggery addiction

Irregular, caramel-coloured lumps of jaggery are one of the great pleasures of a Burmese meal. Made from boiled toddy palm sap and jokingly called “Burmese chocolate”, jaggery is exceedingly addictive whether plain or flavoured with coconut shreds and sesame seeds. However unhappy it might make your dentist back home, cultivating a serious jaggery habit is certainly healthier than Myanmar’s other great tooth-rotting pastime – chewing kwoon-ya, lip-staining little parcels of betel nut, tobacco and slaked lime.

Image by Jo James

Get tipsy on toddy

All over Myanmar, you’ll see spindly bamboo ladders disappearing into spiky palmyra palm trees – a sure sign that a toddy tapper is at work nearby. The palm’s sweet, white sap ferments naturally into toddy, a cloudy, lightly alcoholic beverage also called palm wine or tan-ye. Myanmar’s only home-grown alcoholic drink (Mandalay Brewery’s “anti-aging” spirulina beer notwithstanding), toddy is only available from low-key village bars close to where it’s made, making it an unmistakable taste of the Burmese countryside.

Sample village life

Take to the hills in Shan State and trek along the now-classic Kalaw to Inle Lake route, or head north to explore the less-visited area around Hsipaw and Kyaukme. Whichever hike you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to stay overnight in Shan and Palaung villages along each trail – something that isn’t yet possible elsewhere in Myanmar – and to experience rural life first-hand, with roosters for alarm clocks and water buffalo for trail mates.

Image by Jo James

Go to market

Barefoot porters pad down crowded aisles shouldering crates of limes, stallholders lean against sacks of onions lazily smoking cheroots, while prospective buyers prod green mangoes and examine glistening fish. Go for a stroll through any messy morning market and you’ll discover something new, from the novel (Burmese herbal shampoo) and delicious (crispy bein moun pancakes smeared with jaggery syrup), to the malodorous (shapely piles of ngapi fish paste speared with smoking incense sticks).

Get wet during Thingyan

While in theory, Thingyan – the week-long Burmese New Year festival – is a time to solemnly reaffirm one’s Buddhist beliefs, to the outside observer it seems more like a raucous, countrywide water fight. As temperatures soar each April, everyday life grinds to a halt and children and teenagers take to the streets to soak each other and passers-by (foreigners are singled out with particular relish) with buckets and out-sized water pistols. Festivities reach fever pitch in Mandalay, where streets are lined with makeshift stages from which revellers hose down passing motorists to a booming soundtrack of local hits.

 

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

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

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

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

Red Hook

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

Governors Island

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

photo credit: IMG_2787 via photopin (license)

Irish Hunger Memorial

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

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

African Burial Ground National Monument

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

Strivers’ Row

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

 

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

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