It happens to most newcomers: noses flare, eyes widen and pulses quicken upon entering La Boqueria, Barcelona’s cathedral to comida fresca (fresh food). Pass through the handsome Modernista cast-iron gateway and you’re rapidly sucked in by the raw, noisy energy of the cavernous hall, the air dense with the salty tang of the sea and freshly spilled blood. As they say in these parts, if you can’t find it in La Boqueria, you can’t find it anywhere: pyramids of downy peaches face whole cow heads – their eyes rolled back – and hairy curls of rabo de toro (bulls’ tails). Pale-pink piglets are strung up by their hind legs, snouts pointing south, while dorada (sea bream) twitch on beds of ice next to a tangle of black eels.

The Mercat de Sant Josep, as it’s officially called, was built in 1836 on the site of a former convent, though records show that there had been a market here since the thirteenth century. Its devotees are as diverse as the offerings: bargain-hunting grandmas rooting through dusty bins; gran cocineros (master chefs) from around Europe palming eggplants and holding persimmons up to the light; and droves of wide-eyed visitors weaving through the hubbub. At its core, though, La Boqueria is a family affair. Ask for directions and you might be told to turn right at Pili’s place, then left at the Oliveros brothers. More than half of the stalls – and attendant professions – have been passed down through generations for over a century.

When it comes time to eat, do it here. The small bar-restaurants tucked away in La Boqueria may be low on frills, but they serve some of the finest market-fresh Catalan fare in the city. Flames lick over the dozens of orders crammed onto the tiny grill at Pinotxo, a bustling bar that has been around since 1940. Pull up a stool, and choose from the day’s specials that are rattled off by various members of the extended family, like the affable, seventy-something Juanito. Tuck into bubbling samfaina, a Catalan ratatouille, or try cap i pota, stewed head and hoof of pig. As the afternoon meal winds down, Juanito walks the bar, topping up glasses from a jug of red wine. There’s a toast – “Salud!” – and then everyone takes long, warming swallows, as all around the shuttered market sighs to a close.

La Boqueria has a website – www.boqueria.info – and is open Monday–Saturday 8am–8.30pm.

 

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Stand in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square and in a 360-degree turn, the turbulent past and present of Russia is encapsulated in one fell swoop: flagships of Orthodox Christianity, Tsarist autocracy, communist dictatorship and rampant consumerism confront each other before your eyes.

Red Square, is, well, red-ish, but its name actually derives from an old Russian word for “beautiful”. It might no longer be undeniably so – its sometimes bloody history has put paid to that – but it continues to be Moscow’s main draw. In summer, postcard sellers jostle with photographers, keen to capture your image in front of one of the many iconic buildings; but in winter, you step back in time a few decades as Muscovites, in their ubiquitous shapki fur hats, negotiate their way through piles of snow, while the factory chimneys behind St Basil’s Cathedral churn out copious amounts of
smoke.

It’s hard to avoid being drawn immediately to St Basil’s, its magnificent Mr Whippy domes the fitting final resting place of the eponymous holy fool. Should retail, rather than spiritual, therapy, be more your bag, try GUM, the elegant nineteenth-century shopping arcade, which now houses mainly western boutiques, way out of the pocket of the average Russian, but very decent for a spot of window-shopping or a coffee, or just to shelter from the elements outside. If you think that the presence of Versace and other beacons of capitalism would have Lenin spinning in his grave, you can check for yourself at the mausoleum opposite, where his wax-like torso still lies in state. Despite the overthrow of communism, surly guards are on hand to ensure proper respect is shown: no cameras or bags, no hands in pockets and certainly no laughing. Putin’s police officers are never far away, casting a wary eye over it all – perhaps having learned a thing or two from Lenin’s bedfellows and disciples (including Uncle Joe), who are lined up behind the mausoleum under the imposing walls of the Kremlin.

Red Square can be reached from Ploshchad Revolyutsii, Aleksandrovskiy Sad, Biblioteka Imeni Lenina and Borovitskaya metros.

 

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There’s nowhere on Earth like the Jemaa el Fna, the square at the heart of old Marrakesh. The focus of the evening promenade for locals, the Jemaa is a heady blend of alfresco food bazaar and street theatre: for as long as you’re in town, you’ll want to come back here again and again.

Goings-on in the square by day merely hint at the evening’s spectacle. Breeze through and you’ll stumble upon a few snake charmers, tooth pullers and medicine men plying their trade, while henna tattooists offer to paint your hands with a traditional design. In case you’re thirsty, water sellers dressed in gaudy costumes – complete with enormous bright red hats – vie for your custom alongside a line of stalls offering orange and grapefruit juice, pressed on the spot. Around dusk, however, you’ll find yourself swept up in a pulsating circus of performers. There are acrobats from the Atlas Mountains, dancers in drag and musicians from a religious brotherhood called the Gnaoua, chanting and beating out rhythms late into the night with their clanging iron castanets. Other groups play Moroccan folk music, while storytellers, heirs to an ancient tradition, draw raucous crowds to hear their tales.

In their midst dozens of food stalls are set up, lit by gas lanterns and surrounded by delicious-smelling plumes of cooking smoke. Here you can partake of spicy harira soup, try charcoal-roasted kebabs or merguez sausage, or, if you’re really adventurous (and hungry), a whole sheep’s head, including the eyes – all beneath the looming presence of the floodlit, perfectly proportioned Koutoubia minaret to the west, making a backdrop without compare.

The rooftop terraces of the Café de France and Restaurant Argana afford great views over the Jemaa el Fna. Be aware that pickpockets operate in the square; usual cautions apply.

 

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Shinjuku isn’t for the faint-hearted. But if you’re new to Tokyo and want a crash course in crazy, it’s the first place you should come to. Sure, Asakusa has more history and Roppongi has better nightlife, but neither can compete when it comes to dealing out high-voltage culture shocks.

On the west side of Shinjuku station, which heaves with commuters and the smell of strong espressos, things are typically well-ordered. This shimmering business district is home to some of Japan’s tallest skyscrapers (as well as more than 13,000 bureaucrats) and there are enough high-rise megastores to have you craning your neck in disbelief. It’s a hardworking part of the city, where success is measured by the number of hours you spend at the office, and exploring it for the first time feels like stumbling through an ultra-efficient city of the future. But cross to the other side of the train tracks, and things couldn’t be more different.

Here, chaos rules. Under the hot neon lights of Kabukichō, in the eastern part of Shinjuku, you’ll find stand-up noodle bars snuggled next to strip joints and love hotels. Huge video screens pump noisy adverts into roadside bars, Blade Runner-style, and street hawkers skulk in the shadows by jazz clubs and theatres. To escape these guys, who’ll try anything to get at your yen, head to an all-night karaoke bar where you can croon until your sake-soaked vocal chords feel like they’re on fire. Or squeeze down the oddball alleyways of the Golden Gai district, which attracts artists, musicians and filmmakers with a ramshackle heap of more than 250 bars – each with its own unique theme. Chances are, you’ll still end up singing the night away.

When the morning sunlight starts to extinguish Shinjuku’s nocturnal glow, you can take a stroll through the cherry blossom trees of Shinjuku Gyoen – Tokyo’s finest park – and give yourself a well-earned pat on the back. Consider yourself initiated.

Shinjuku’s railway station is served by the Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, and several inter-city lines.

 

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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.

As the Northern Hemisphere is getting colder in November, below the equator things are hotting up as spring gets ready to give way to summer. The cooling temperatures aren’t all bad however, as the temperature in Egypt and India becomes far more bearable, and autumn in South Korea is a sight to behold. Check out these best places to go in November.

 

Surf in Senegal

Quieter than the beaches of Morocco and with more reliable surf, Dakar, on Senegal’s west coast, offers surfers a chance to ride the days away while soaking up sunshine, unique culture, beautiful scenery, fresh seafood and awesome waves – all in one fell swoop. November is the beginning of the winter season, when the waves still start small, but have a larger range (0.5–3m) – good for surfers of all levels. If you want to learn from scratch, improve your skills or just fancy staying somewhere sociable with other surfers, you could try one of the surf camps around Dakar’s northern beaches, or hop over to one of the nearby islands for some bigger waves, such as the tiny NGor Island. Less than a kilometre away from the mainland, NGor is far enough from Dakar for some peace and quiet, but close enough that you can jump on a boat back the city for the evening, if you’re in the mood for something a bit livelier.

Six epic surfing spots >

Explore a national park in South Korea

Naejangsan National Park, in the mountains of Jeolla-do province, transforms into a burst of fiery colours in the autumn. The foliage – mostly maple trees, but also elm, ash, oak, dogwood and hornbeam, amongst others – flares up into a magnificent scene of crimson, green, yellow, and everything in between. About three hours from Seoul by bus, the park makes for a beautiful day-retreat, with waterfalls and lakes, 1880 different species of wildlife, several pagodas and temples, and an expansive peaked area ­– 76,032 square kilometres – to explore.

Party for Diwali in Jaipur, India

Jaipur, the “Pink City”, is one of the most thrilling places to celebrate Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of lights, which runs November 3–7 this year. The whole city comes out to celebrate, and you’d be hard pushed to find a dark spot on any of the streets, as you bathe in the glow of the seemingly infinite numbers of neon lights dangled over the buildings, and the fireworks exploding over your head. Tuck into some delicious, tooth-wrenching Indian sweets while you’re at it.

Ski in the French Alps

Can’t wait till Christmas? Or fancy getting to grips with some guaranteed snow on a cheap(er) ski pass and quiet slopes? The high-altitude French alpine resorts of Tignes and Les Deux Alpes start their seasons in November. With altitudes of up to 3200m, these are the first resorts to get the winter snows. But if, in these unpredictable days of European weather, that doesn’t work out, you can make your way up to the glaciers, where you can ski to your heart’s content – whatever the weather.

Celebrate Thanksgiving in NYC

The most widely celebrated American festival, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season in the US. Most people spend this day, right at the end of November, with their families, but New York offers plenty to keep travellers entertained too. There’s the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to dazzle you in the morning, a range of cafés and restaurants – such as Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village and The Red Cat in Chelsea – offering traditional Thanksgiving meals (as well as tempting alternatives for those who’d rather opt out of the seasonally popular big bird), before you work it off with a skate round the ice rink at Bryant Park, or spend a more leisurely few hours immersed in the plethora of arts, crafts and jewellery at Union Square Holiday Market.

Learn to kitesurf, Egypt

The feeling of the wind powering your kite and hurtling you over the open ocean at breakneck speed is like no other. If you’re after the thrill and fun of kitesurfing, Hurghada, on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, is the place to try it. It barely ever rains, it’s almost always sunny and there’s plenty of wind – perfect conditions for this sport. There are also shallow areas for beginners, and, with average highs of 26°C in November, it’s an ideal place to escape the cold, late-autumnal drizzles and get to grips with a new adventure sport. Although, learning to kitesurf doesn’t come cheap; an eighteen-hour course, which will usually be split over three or four days, will set you back about £420 ($660).

Loads more Egypt trip ideas >

Round up elephants in Surin, Thailand

Ever noticed that a map of Thailand looks oddly like an elephant’s head? Perhaps it’s time you joined the hundreds of elephants marching through the city of Surin, on the border with Cambodia, as they make their annual procession on the third weekend of November towards a feast of giant proportions: the “elephant breakfast”. The following day, the elephants perform a show in the aptly named Elephant Stadium, where they re-enact battles of the past. Frankly, it would be odd if the map didn’t look like an elephant.

Melbourne Cup, Melbourne, Australia

For more than 150 years, over 110,000 spectators have come to watch “the race that stops a nation” on the first Tuesday in November, as thoroughbred horses dash round 3.2km of turf track. Don’t underestimate the popularity of the Melbourne Cup – not even the world wars stopped it from going ahead. If you don’t manage to get to the race itself, there’ll be plenty of parties going on in the city, where it’s a public holiday. Make sure to pre-book accommodation (very) well in advance.

For more travel inspiration, try our Inspire Me page. Find hostels for your November trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

As the largest city in Québec province, there’s plenty to do in Montréal. Fill up on complimentary samples at the Jean-Talon food market and then take advantage of the city’s huge variety of free cultural and outdoor activities, from festivals to art exhibits to tango. Here’s our roundup of the best free things to do in Montréal:

Head to one of the free festivals

In many cities, festivals are a special occasion; in Montréal, they’re a way of life. And, the bonus is that most of Montréal’s festivals feature free shows and performances, from stand-up comedy at Juste pour Rire to cool cats jamming on stage at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal to the blazing lights of the International Fireworks Competition.

Learn to tango

It may take two to tango, but in Montréal it also takes no money. The perennially popular Tango Libre offers free introductory classes, in various parks in the summer and in the studio in winter. Parc Jean-Drapeau also occasionally hosts free ballroom dancing lessons.

Fill up your belly and your bags at a market

Munch on stinky wedges of Québécois cheese, olives, warm bread rolls and other local samples at Jean-Talon Market and Atwater Market.

Go back to school and study the arts

Stroll through a Neoclassical stone gate to enter McGill, Montréal’s most prestigious university, which abounds with free arts and culture. The Musée Redpath showcases a top-notch anthropological collection of Egyptian mummies and coffins, dinosaur bones and marine vertebrates, as well as ancient musical instruments. Also, the campus is peppered with sculptures, most notably Raymond Mason’s The Illuminated Crowd, portraying a mass of larger-than-life people – generally faced by an equally large crowd of tourists. You can often catch free performances at McGill’s Schulich School of Music.

Partake in an art crawl

The art itself may be pricey – but to view it? Free. Numerous art museums and galleries offer free admission, including Canada’s oldest museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, with the country’s most impressive Canadian art collection. On Wednesday nights, entry is free at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada’s first museum devoted to contemporary art.

Step into Canadian and Québécois past

Delve into Canadian and Québécois history at the Musée McCord d’Histoire Canadienne (free Wed night and first Sat of month), with First Nations items like furs, ivory carvings and beadwork; the Hôtel de Ville, where General de Gaulle stood on the second-floor balcony to make his “Vive le Québec libre!” speech; and the Musée de la Banque de Montréal, the city’s oldest bank building, with an exhibit that offers a voyeuristic glimpse into counterfeit bills.

Take a hike

Walk or pedal the leafy banks of the Lachine Canal, along a well-tended path that hugs its entire length. Our favorite trip: saunter 1km west of Vieux-Montréal to Griffintown, a revitalized industrial neighborhood with antiques, art and relaxed pubs with nicely priced beers.

Go to church

As Mark Twain once noted about Montréal: “You couldn’t throw a brick without hitting a church.” He was right – and many are free. Celebrate Sunday mass at 11am at Notre-Dame Basilica, to the sounds of a choir. Also, pop in to the eye-catching Victorian St George’s Anglican Church and the Basilique-Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, where you can pay your respects to the wax-encased remains of St Zoticus, a patron saint of the poor – an appropriate icon on this free tour of Montréal.

Head underground

Scurry below Montréal’s surface in the Underground City (officially called RÉSO – a homophone of “réseau”, the French word for “network”), with 33km of passages that provide access to the Métro, hotels, shopping malls, offices, apartments and restaurants, plus a good smattering of cinemas and theatres. Everything is signposted, but it’s worth picking up a map of the ever-expanding system from the tourist office. Refuel at the inexpensive food courts on the lowest floor of most of the malls (also handy for public toilets).

Watch street performers

Cirque du Soleil somersaulted from the soil of Québec so it’s no surprise that Montréal’s performers and buskers are top-class. Walk through the old town and the sloping, cobbled Place Jacques-Cartier, originally built as a market in 1804, and check out musicians, mimes, caricaturists along the way. Also, many of the city’s theatres offer free performances, including the Théâtre de Verdure Parc Lafontaine in the summer.

Explore more of Montréal with the Rough Guide to Canada.

From gramophones to bright pink dresses to Art Deco lighting, you can find it all here in London. As part of the Rough Guide to Vintage London we took to the streets, armed with cameras, to capture the vintage way of life here in the city. We took a trip to 328 Portobello Road where Glen Hargrave, owner of Erno Deco, gave us his thoughts on vintage London.

When you’ve worked up a thirst from digging out those perfect platform shoes, you can visit Hannah Turner Voakes, owner of Paper Dress Vintage bar and boutique in East London. She told us more about what makes London a vintage mecca.

 

For more shops, bars and eateries buy the Rough Guide to Vintage London here >

We’re pleased to announce the release of The Rough Guide to Vintage London, a comprehensive guide to vintage shopping, culture and lifestyle in London. You can find out more about the book – including some thoughts from contributing editor Wayne Hemingway  – and take a peek inside the cover on the Rough Guides online shop.

In the meantime, this interactive map plots some of our favourite vintage spots in East London.

Find out more about the Rough Guide to Vintage London >

Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

They come in many guises and we’ve all been prey – or at least witness – to some of them at some time or another. Cheap tricks and scams surround tourists and travellers like trinket peddlers round an air conditioned coach, and much of your time in many places will be spend trying to dodge them.

Some, like the fake police ruse or the over-enthusiastic money changer, are relatively easy to spot and avoid, but others are more pervasive. My particular bugbear is the “chance to visit a factory” bolted on to many a journey to somewhere more interesting, where the “factory” is in fact a few poor artisans toiling behind a glass screen in the annex of a yawning gift shop – all the more annoying as it’s practically unavoidable.

I’ve been to more of these attractions than I care to remember. The jade factory in Beijing was a particular annoyance, a mandatory stop on the way to the Great Wall of China, where a handful of uninterested workmen could be spied on the way into a palace of unaffordable sculptures. I had no intention of coming home with a six foot Spanish galleon for my London flat, but I had to spend half an hour looking at them – and swatting away GBP-enamoured salesmen – nonetheless.

A private driver in Marrakesh, meanwhile, turned out to be a whistle-stop tour of hard sells masquerading as education. Within a hectic morning we visited carpet workshops (a deserted loom left in the corner of the room full of rugs and overbearing assistants), argan oil cooperatives (five local girls crushing nuts on the floor and a sixth whisking us around various bottles for sale) and a “craft fair” that looked suspiciously like a Moroccan version of Habitat.

Other tricks I’ve fallen for once and learnt a lesson. The “helpful porter”, encountered in a daze after 11 hours of Virgin Atlantic at LAX, who helped me navigate the disorientating motorway that is the arrivals area, then demanded a $20 tip in return is one bitter memory.

Some are obvious, especially to anyone who’s had a even a cursory read of their Rough Guide on the way over, and yet no less irritating. Take the Beijing Tea House Hustle for example. You know the girls approaching you on Wangfujing pedestrian street only want to drag you into a tea shop to spend a monthly’s salary on an elaborate series of infusions, so you speak gibberish back to them, but they’ll still be there tomorrow. I probably made it worse for myself loitering with a camera so many times.

What are your worst tourist scams? Which have you fallen for, and which have you seen coming from a mile away?

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