With a whole host of new attractions opening this year, from world-record-beating skyscrapers to whacky amusement parks, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. To help you decide where to visit, we’ve picked the top 9 new tourist attractions around the world. 

Shanghai Tower, China

A better symbol of China’s continuing march forward would be harder to find than the new Shanghai Tower, at 632 metres the world’s second tallest building and muscling its way in to every shot of Shanghai like a giant robotic arm. Twisted from base to tip, at about one degree per floor, it is even designed to withstand typhoons. By the end of this year the tower will also have the world’s highest observation deck, at 557 metres above sea level. Lifts will reach this in under one minute – so prepare for some ear-popping.

Lincoln Castle, UK

Want to see the document that gave birth to democracy? We’re talking about the Magna Carta of course, which reaches its 800th birthday this year. You can find out why it’s so highly lauded at Lincoln Castle. This eleventh-century Norman castle reopens in April and promises a state-of-the-art underground vault to house the Magna Carta, an ‘in-the-round’ film explaining its importance and history, a complete circular walk around the castle’s ancient walls and access to both the Victorian male and female prisons for the first time.

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA

One of the great shames of the art world is the amount of exceptional artwork kept in storage and rarely seen by the public. What is the point, after all, of owning a large art collection if you don’t have the space to exhibit it? The Whitney finally solves its space problem in 2015, with the opening of its new building; at 18,000 square feet, the largest column-free museum gallery in New York City. A cantilevered entrance beneath the High Line sets the tone for a graceful, light-filled gallery with river views – and, of course, some of the world’s greatest artworks.

IceCave, Iceland

Ever wondered what the inside of a glacier looks like? White? Deepest blue? Both? Well, wonder no more. Book a trip to Iceland this year and you can visit the country’s latest attraction, the IceCave. Here you can venture into a series of tunnels and caves running inside Langjökull Glacier, which stretch as much as 300 metres into the solid ice about 30 metres below the surface. These mind-bending proportions make the IceCave one of the largest man-made ice structures in the world – and well worth donning multiple layers of clothing to see.

Lost and Found festival, Malta

In April 2015 Malta will make its debut on the electronic music scene. From the 3rd to the 5th DJ Annie Mac will host Lost and Found, a new festival in St Paul’s Bay on the north shore and Ta’ Qali National Park near Rabat. With a line-up of international dance DJs, Lost and Found promises daytime pool and boat dance parties against an ocean backdrop and nighttime open-air raves with a chilled out vibe. You won’t even have to camp either: packages including hotel accommodation start from £148/$225 per person.

Dreamland, Margate, UK

2015 is set to be a great year for Margate, as the seaside resort’s most famous attraction, Dreamland, finally reopens. The UK’s oldest amusement park is being reimagined as the world’s first heritage amusement park by designer Wayne Hemmingway, its centerpiece the Grade II listed Scenic Railway, Britain’s oldest rollercoaster. Numerous rides from other parks are being rebuilt around it, many of which are the only remaining examples of their type. Ride the 1950s Hurricane Jets and the 1940s Caterpillar that once stood at Pleasureland Southport, before strolling past the large Tiffany lamps donated from the Blackpool Illuminations collection.

TreeTop Crazy Rider, New South Wales

Two words have never belonged together more than rollercoaster and zipline. Well, the crazy folks at Ourimbah State Forest on Australia’s Central Coast certainly think so. Their new 1km-long adventure must-do promises to combine the thrill and suspense of a rollercoaster with the flying sensation of a zipline. Strap in and swoop through the forest, twisting round corners and dropping into the bush. No special skills are required and it’s open to everyone over seven.

Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France

A new building has landed at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers – although we think it looks more like the giant foot of a crystal transformer. This is the new Musée des Confluences, a science centre and anthropology museum dedicated to pondering life’s big questions: Where do we come from? Who are we? And what do we do? No existential crisis needed though, there are said to be 2.2 million objects in the collection to answer these head scratchers, not to mention regular arts and crafts exhibitions.

Sa Pa cable car, Vietnam

Reaching the peak of Fansipan Mountain (3143m) used to mean a full-day hike at least. But from later this September the trek up will be reduced to a 20-minute flight by cable car. This will be the world’s longest and highest cable car, no less, running up from sleepy Sa Pa Town in Lao Cai Province to Indochina’s rooftop. Enjoy the view from the summit before exploring Sa Pa itself, an isolated community set to become firmly established on the tourist trail – the cable car will transport 2000 people per hour, the same number as reached the peak in an entire year previously.

For the best cities, countries, and best-value destinations to visit this year, check out the Rough Guide to 2015Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

From beach to mountain to fen, every corner of Ireland has something beautiful to discover. In celebration of this stunning country, here are 22 stunning pictures of Ireland.

Killarney, County Kerry

 Beara Peninsula, Cork

 Roundstone Harbour, County Galway

 Dog’s Bay, County Galway

 Dunguaire Castle, County Galway

 Kinsale Harbour, Cork

 Glendalough, County Wicklow

 Dublin

 Pine Island, Connemara

Kylemore Abbey, County Galway

 The Skellig Ring, County Kerry

 Tra Na Rossan Bay, County Donegal

 The Burren karst formations, County Clare

 The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

 The Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

Glenveagh National Park, County Donegal

 The Aran Islands, County Galway

 Dun Aengus, County Galway

Croagh Patrick, County Mayo

 Horn Head, County Donegal

The Skellig Islands, County Kerry

 Bantry, County Cork

Explore more of this stunning country with the Rough Guide to Ireland. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Twilight ballooning in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Few sights are more magical than hundreds of tethered, glowing hot-air balloons illuminating a dusky night sky. For many this is the highlight of Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta, a week-long festival launched in 1972, which draws enthusiasts from all over the world. Festivities start after sunset and culminate with a spectacular fireworks display.

Take in Manhattan from the Empire State, New York, USA

Watch the city that never sleeps with panoramic views from the Observatory Deck of New York’s most famous skyscraper. Perched 86 floors up, Manhattan’s twinkling skyline can be seen teeming with celebrated landmarks and aglow with streams of weaving night traffic. Take advantage of the 2am closing time and have the midnight vista more or less to yourself.

Join the early risers at a London market

Open from 3am, arrive early to catch the crack-of-dawn butchers in full swing. Housed in a Victorian market hall with arched ceilings and a curious colour scheme, Smithfield’s smart appearance belies its grisly past as a popular site for public executions. By 7am carnivores can devour a full English at the nearby Fox & Anchor.

Take a night safari in Singapore zoo

The world’s first night zoo, this veteran is still high on Singapore’s must-see list, thanks to special lighting techniques and open-concept enclosures which allow up-close animal encounters. Hop on the 45-minute narrated tram or stroll the trails to snoop on the nocturnal activities of nine hundred creatures; hang out with bats, laze with lions or act aloof with leopards.

Watch the Symphony of Light show, Hong Kong

Escape the glitzy late-night malls and snazzy restaurants for one of Hong Kong’s best free thrills. At 8pm every night, forty or so of Central District’s glittering skyscrapers dance to a synchronised routine of sweeping lasers, neon flashing lights and futuristic tunes. Bizarre yet strangely endearing, this fifteen-minute extravaganza is best seen from Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon.

Feed hyenas in Harar, Ethiopia

It’s not every night you come face to face with the snapping jaws of Africa’s second largest predator, yet in Harar this is an evening ritual. Just outside the ancient city walls these hulking beasts slink out of the shadows for dinner with the Hyena Man, sometimes snatching meat from a stick held between his, or if you’re brave enough, your teeth.

Admire the Northern Lights in Lapland, Finland

The Northern Lights may be elusive, but with 24 hours of darkness at the peak of winter here, at least time will be on your side. Embrace the long nights by heading out into the frozen darkness to try and catch this breathtaking spectacle. Streams of shimmering particles twist and twirl in a shifting, sweeping dance that illuminates the inky-black sky.

Lose yourself in Beijing’s hutongs, China

Once crisscrossing all of Beijing, now only a few hundred of these labyrinthine, narrow alleys remain. Dating back 800 years, old Beijing really comes to life at night here, as food carts and rickshaws weave past lively games of mah jong, pavement hairdressers and old men watching the world go by.

Night dive with Manta Rays, Hawaii, USA

Gathering in pools of light cast by divers’ torches, specks of glittering plankton draw in manta rays. Hot in pursuit of these microscopic organisms, the rays perform a mesmerising dance, swooping, spiralling, somersaulting and plunging as they weave effortlessly amongst each other and stretch their 13ft tapered wings within reach of the waiting divers.

Stuff yourself at Shilin night market, Taipei, Taiwan

Food is a big deal in Taiwan, something best understood when sampling xiaochi (“little eats”) at Taipei’s biggest night market. Brave the crowds and polyphonic tunes and you will experience some of Asia’s best cuisine: syrupy grass jelly soup, sweet and chewy bubble tea, artery-clogging deep-fried meatballs, and, for the really adventurous, the rather dubiously named yet delicious “stinky tofu”.

See Petra under the stars, Jordan

Thousands of small candles light the Siq, the narrow, hidden gorge that stretches up to the entrance of the ancient city, as a single-file procession arrives at the Treasury. A Bedouin piper breaks the silence as crowds gather behind a blanket of flickering candles that cast shadows, which flit across Petra’s iconic facade.

Watch Thai kickboxing, Bangkok, Thailand

Worlds away form the kickboxing you see in a Western gym class, Muay Thai is kickboxing in its most distilled, aggressive form. With two stadiums, Ratchadamnoen and Lumphini, you can catch the action any night in Bangkok, so prepare for furious exchanges, looming tension and clamouring crowds that will leave you buzzing all night.

Catch the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market, Japan

Take advantage of jetlag and register at 4am for this famous tuna auction. By 5am, the market is frenzied, with trucks and trolleys zipping around laden with man-sized fish and feverish bidders clamouring for the best buys. As the commotion dies down, brave the queues at Daiwa Sushi for a proper breakfast dining on some of the best sushi in town.

Set the town ablaze in Lewes, England

Blazing stakes, flaming crosses and fireworks; Bonfire Night here will certainly set a pyromaniac’s heart alight. This double whammy commemorates the foiling of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and honours the seventeen Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake here in 1555–7. As the festival is steeped in history, paraders don medieval garb, grasp burning staffs and light effigies of Guy Fawkes and the pope.

Experience Hoi An’s full moon festival, Vietnam

Banish thoughts of glow paint ravers on crowded Thai beaches, Hoi An’s full moon festival is a much more sophisticated affair. Every month on the fourteenth day of the lunar calendar, the town switches off its street lights as glowing silk lanterns, performers and food stalls fill the cobbled streets and the Thu Bon River is lit up with beautiful floats.

Night skiing with vin chaud, France

Staying cosy beside a roaring log fire may seem tempting, but night skiing is an exhilarating end to a day out on the slopes. While some resorts offer floodlit runs, others embrace the frozen darkness with torchlight descents that are beautiful to watch as they snake down the hillside. Afterwards, reward your efforts as you defrost cradling a warming vin chaud.

Stargaze from Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

Boasting the world’s greatest collection of telescopes, the observatories at the summit of Hawaii’s highest peak draw space enthusiasts from around the world. However, while serious astronomers will be at home here, a free stargazing programme runs nightly at 6–10pm, introducing curious novices to an expanse of night sky wonders. Globular clusters, planets, double stars, galaxies and supernova remnants are all within reach.

Revel in the White Nights, St Petersburg, Russia

A must-see for all insomniacs, during St Petersburg’s Byele Nochy, or White Nights, from mid-June to mid-July, darkness never quite falls. Sun-filled, sticky days are followed by luminous, breezy nights that are alive with tsusovki (gatherings); vodka-fuelled revelry fills the bars, old friends stroll by the bustling canal, and the Summer Garden teems with lively, impromptu picnics.

Floodlit watering holes, Etosha, Namibia

The name of Namibia’s largest national park may mean “place of dry water”, but its watering holes offer great wildlife spotting opportunities. Okaukuejo Camp boasts a spotlit drinking oasis perfect for spying on nocturnal congregations. Safe on a raised platform you can watch as black rhinos, elephants, lions and giraffes emerge out of the darkness to head to their favourite local.

Join in Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, India

As dusk descends, the ghats teem with life as hordes of residents and saffron-clad pilgrims cluster on the banks of India’s holiest river for the nightly ceremony of Ganga Aarti. Lit by swinging torches, dancers trace slow steps to the rhythmic chanting of the crowds, while small twinkling diyas (candles) float on the dark waters.

Shanghai, China

Shanghai is actually is sinking beneath the weight of its buildings at a rate around 1.5cm a year. That aside, the skyline of China’s economic powerhouse is nothing short of spectacular. Cocktail bars in The Bund’s colonial mansions offer some of the best vantage points for admiring Pudong’s hyper-modern cityscape.

Oxford, England

Matthew Arnold dubbed Oxford the “city of dreaming spires” in his 1865 poem “Thyrsis” and his words still ring true today. This centre of academia is one of Britain’s most beautiful cities, and its skyline of dreamy domes, quads and gothic spires continues to entrance tourists and students alike.

Marrakesh, Morocco

Morocco’s “red city” has captivated travellers for centuries. Its low, dusky-pink buildings, maze-like souks and frenetic mix of hawkers, tourists and touts make it a seductive introduction to the country. Many buildings still remain from the eleventh century, including the Koutoubia Mosque and Kasbah, while modern wonders include the Majorelle Gardens and luxurious hotels in the Nouvelle Ville.

Las Vegas, USA

Short on time to see the world? Head to Vegas, where a trip down the strip takes in Paris’s Eiffel Tower, a Venetian gondola ride, an Egyptian pyramid and more. This city of excess has only existed for just over a century, yet is home over eighty per cent of the world’s largest hotels.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is the only city to straddle two continents, sited half in Europe and half in Asia. The city’s fascinating history is reflected in a slew of Byzantine churches, Ottoman Palaces and modern engineering projects. It’s hard to catch a bad angle of the minaret-studded skyline, dominated by the iconic Blue Mosque and Haghia Sofia.

Havana, Cuba

Cuba’s capital is home to over two million souls and the romantic image of vintage cars and peeling, pastel-painted buildings doesn’t ring true all over town. Still, the faded Art Deco elegance of the old city – or Habana Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage site – attracts millions of visitors each year.

Barcelona, Spain

No other city has a relationship with an artist quite like Barcelona does with Antoni Gaudí. From the Sagrada Família – still decades away from completion – to Parc Güell, his influence can be felt all over Catalunya’s capital. He’s best known for his modernist mosaics, which strike an interesting contrast to modern buildings like the waterfront W Hotel.

New York City, USA

New York is awash with impressive vistas, from the lofty heights of the Empire State and Flatiron buildings to street-level scenes on the Brooklyn Bridge and in Central Park. We’d hazard a guess that this is one of the most photographed cityscapes ever, immortalised in black-and-white posters the world over.

Venice, Italy

There’s a reason Venice attracts over fifteen million visitors annually: Italy’s most romantic city boasts over four hundred palaces, one hundred and fifty canals and nearly five hundred bridges. On any given day, there are reportedly more tourists than locals packed into its streets, traghettos and trattorias.

Brisbane, Australia

Sydney somewhat unfairly steals the spotlight down under. While the Harbour Bridge and Opera House have become iconic Australian images, the riverside vistas of Queensland’s capital are often overlooked. Head to Kangaroo Point at sunset to catch the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers reflected in the Brisbane River.

Djenné, Mali

Djenné’s UNESCO-listed Great Mosque is the world’s largest mud-brick structure and the centre of a unique and spectacular settlement. The mosque holds over three thousand people and is lovingly re-plastered by the community with a fresh coat of mud each year. Nearly 2,000 traditional houses in the surrounding streets are also recognized on the World Heritage List.

Pyongyang, North Korea

Pyongyang’s gloomy apartment blocks and eerily grandiose monuments could be straight out of Orwell’s 1984. Crowning off the skyline is the hulking, pyramid-like structure of the Ryugyong Hotel – under construction since the late 1980s yet still not complete – a much-publicised embarrassment to the regime that’s now been dubbed the “Hotel of Doom”.

Jodhpur, India

Rapid development is a challenge for town planners, and the mayhem of India’s cities is world-renowned. Delhi and Mumbai, in particular, can be a wonderful but exhausting assault on the senses. Jodhpur in Rajasthan is a different experience entirely, a jumble of romantic blue buildings perched beneath a cliff-top fort.

Paris, France

The city of lights has inspired artists, authors and playwrights for centuries. Whether gazing over rooftops from the Sacré Cœur, strolling along the Seine or picnicking with bobos in the Parc de Bellevile, it’s impossible not to be captivated by France’s capital. No wonder it’s the most popular tourism destination in the world.

Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with over 50,000 people per square kilometre. There’s no more land to build on here, so the only way to go is up: skyscrapers take up much of the 1100 square kilometre metropolis. The most iconic view is of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon.

Tokyo, Japan

Thanks to the 2003 film Lost in Translation, Tokyo has made it onto travel bucket lists around the world. The world’s largest metropolis, it’s also one of the most fascinating, home to capsule hotels, Harajuku girls, cat cafés, karaoke bars and more. Explore after dark to see the city’s famous neon illuminations at their best.

Dubai, UAE

The pace of construction in Dubai is unparalleled. The city is reportedly home to over 15 per cent of the world’s cranes and new skyscrapers seemingly spring up overnight. The tallest building in on Earth, the Burj Khalifa, might be the most impressive development, but the Palm Islands are perhaps the most characteristic of the city’s excesses.

New Orleans, USA

With buildings dating back to the 1700s, New Orleans has an atmosphere unlike any other city in the USA. Bourbon Street might have been overtaken by neon signs and drunken revellers, but beneath the flower-draped balconies of the French Quarter’s backstreets, it’s hard not to be seduced by the city’s charm.

Cape Town, South Africa

Few cities have as spectacular a setting as Cape Town, which sprawls from the lower slopes of Table Mountain down to the shores of the Southern Ocean. This metropolis is better known for the splendour of its natural setting than its architecture, but sights like the bold colours of Bo-Kaap’s Georgian terraces are still worth seeking out.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

From Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado to its carnival-packed streets and samba beats, Rio’s scale, sights and stunning natural setting justify its moniker of Cidade Maravilhosa – the “Marvellous City”. It might not be Brazil’s capital, but we reckon it boasts the best cityscape in the country.

In the late 1920s, automobile tycoon Henry Ford transplanted a little piece of the United States to the middle of Brazil‘s Amazon jungle. Complete with whitewashed American-style houses set on impeccably manicured lawns, shaded patios, and tree-lined streets dotted with pretty churches, he called it Fordlândia and it was to become the world’s largest rubber production centre. While much of the housing and machinery is deserted, it’s still a functional town and makes a fascinating detour.

My guide José, a tall thickset man, introduces me to Waldemar Gomes Aguiar, the Mayor of Fordlândia’s assistant. Waldemar warmly greets us at his office, ushering us in. He is eager for me to learn more about the history of this unusual town. “Latex was the gold of the Amazon”, he tells me. “It was expensive at the time so Ford found the ideal place to grow rubber trees.”

“Here, along the Tapajós River, Ford acquired a large tract of land. He called it Fordlândia. Let’s remember that at that time, in the early 1930’s, WWII was looming; people knew war was coming. Large supplies of rubber were needed not just for car tires, but also for war machines.” Brazilian tappers were brought in from the region to extract sap, and were provided with housing in the newly founded city.

José leads me to a rickety old building – one of the many structures that are decaying here in Fordlândia’s abandoned city – its colourful paint long faded, leaving only traces of mellow hues. The long narrow structure formerly housed single male workers, while those with families were accommodated in larger residences. The houses were built using local wood, and the rest of the materials used to construct the city were entirely imported from the United States, including the large iron structure used to build the latex factory and riverside warehouse.

Photography copyright belongs to Kiki Deere.

While Brazilian workers lived in the town centre, American dignitaries were housed on a hillside on the outskirts, their grandiose mansions sitting side by side along a pretty mango shaded boulevard. José and I hop on his motorbike to investigate. There were only a handful of houses here at the time and most are still standing, but one of the structures lies in complete disrepair, only its cemented skeleton in place. On the right flank of the hillside, hidden behind overgrown grasses, is a large empty swimming pool that has long lain forgotten.

Brazilian workers were not permitted to enter this part of town. Today, rumours abound in Fordlândia that the Americans had other hidden motives. “Maybe a metal business, or maybe they were searching for gold”, Waldemar whispers to me during our interview. But my guide José is not convinced: “I don’t think the Americans had other motives. They just lived apart from their workers and didn’t want them to come here – that’s all.”

José accompanies me to the former rubber production plant. It now lies in ruin, its panes no more than fragments of glass precariously lodged into window spaces; shrubs push through the building’s concrete, branches are upflung in disarray. Under my feet, I hear the crackle of broken glass and tinkling metal. Inside, age-old machinery lies forgotten, the American names still very much legible: Brown & Sharpe, reads one of the panels. José’s voice echoes in the vacant surrounds: “There are some elderly people in town who worked here during Ford’s era; they’re very old but they still remember how to operate the machinery after all these years.”

An abandoned white car and a truck are parked inside the plant, cobwebs wrapping themselves around the steering wheels. Further along, bed frames sit, one on top of the other, like a messy puzzle. “These were brought over from the hospital; it was abandoned too,” José informs me, a slight hint of sorrow in his voice.

He leads me upstairs to a large attic room with scattered metal tools. Cobalt boxes and crates long sit on shelves laden with tools eaten by rust. The morning light gently penetrates the splintered windowpanes and fills the room, dancing unequally on the dusty surfaces. The factory lies neglected, yet I can picture it full of life; I imagine the hundreds of workers processing latex at full speed, ready for export to the United States.

The Americans certainly imposed order and rigorous discipline among their workforce, with strict routine, stringent timetables and number tags. By the main entrance, layers of dust have accumulated on rows of pigeonholes that neatly sit side by side. I can’t get any closer to them as this area is fenced off, but I can see the metal number tags hooked above each slot used to identify the rubber tappers. They even hired nutritionists to devise canteen menus of a balanced diet that would provide each worker with enough calories to toil in the plantations.

“The workers were provided with everything they needed: schools for their children, electricity, food, and so on. But there wasn’t much freedom”, Waldemar reveals. The suffocating environment eventually led the labourers to rebel, demanding better treatment and work conditions. But the demise of Fordlândia had long been near: the rubber trees were struck with a fungus that stumped their growth; the blight stricken plants never grew; and Ford’s project was ultimately a complete failure.

Unwilling to give up, Ford established Belterra, literally ‘pretty land’, a tract of land downstream that he deemed more suitable for the rubber trees. Here, too, Ford built rows of pretty neat houses, schools, sports centres and even South America’s best equipped hospital for the project’s thousands of administrators and workers. Schooling was compulsory and free afternoon workshops gave all the opportunity to learn new trades.

Yet, Ford’s dream here was short lived too. About ten years after the new town was established, just as the rubber plants started to grow and produce latex, scientists created synthetic rubber, leading the price of latex to collapse and Ford’s utopian dream of an Amazonian rubber powerhouse – that he would never even set foot in -­ to crumble once again.

The hub of this region is Santarém, located about mid way between Belém (at the mouth of the Amazon River) and Manaus, further upstream. There are regular flights to Santarém from Belém and Manaus. To get to Fordlândia from Santarém, there are slow boats (10-12hr) as well as fast boats (4hr30min). The best (and pretty much only) place to stay in Fordlândia is Pousada Americana, a family-run guesthouse with spic and span a/c rooms and tasty home cooked meals.

Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Sophisticated, globally minded and perfect for late-night parties – Madrid can be an expensive place to enjoy. So if you want to see the sights on a budget, timing is crucial. Many of the city’s best museums, galleries and historic buildings are free to visit but only for a few hours at a time, so it always pays to check before turning up. Here are ten things to do in Madrid for free.

Take a stroll through Parque del Buen Retiro

For centuries it was a royal retreat, but Parque del Buen Retiro is now open to everyone – with museums, galleries and monuments dotted across 350-or-so acres of green space. If you visit in May, it’s worth seeking out the Rosaleda (rose garden), where fragrant blooms explode in shades of peach and cherry.

Make the most of the free admission to galleries

Some of Madrid’s best galleries offer free admission at certain times of the week. For example, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, which houses works by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, is free at weekends and after 7pm on weekday evenings.

Browse the El Rastro flea market

Every Sunday morning, El Rastro takes over the rambling streets south of Plaza de Cascorro, with thousands of shoppers coming to try on clothes, flick through old books or rummage for antique jewellery. The sheer size of the market makes it worth having a look, even if you don’t want to buy anything.

See a piece of ancient Egypt

Madrid has plenty of old buildings, but in terms of sheer antiquity there’s nothing quite like the Temple of Debod – an ancient Egyptian complex built near Aswan more than 2,000 years ago. The enormous stone blocks were dismantled and sent to Madrid in the 1960s (as a thank you for Spain’s help in protecting other Egyptian temples from flooding) then reassembled in the city’s Parque del Oeste.

Look skywards at the Planetario de Madrid

It’s always free to look around Madrid’s planetarium, which has audio-visual exhibitions looking at all aspects of space and its exploration. There’s a hands-on area for kids, and a domed projection room (which costs extra) that guides visitors through the night sky.

Get lost in Madrid’s barrios

Take a short walk away from Puerta del Sol and you’ll discover some of Madrid’s most colourful barrios (wards). Try multicultural Lavapiés, where shisha bars and Indian restaurants line the graffiti-daubed streets, or hipster-packed Malasaña, known for its nightclubs and vintage clothing shops.

Party on the streets

Street parties and festivals are an important part of Madrid’s social calendar. One of the wildest events is February’s Carnaval, a six-day festival of music, theatre and dance that opens with a fantastical procession of floats and costume-clad performers.

 Visit the Royal Palace

Time it right and you can visit the Spanish king’s official residence for free. Unlike his predecessors, Juan Carlos I doesn’t actually live at the Royal Palace, a treasure trove of art and antiquities inspired by the Louvre in Paris, but it is still used for state events. Admission is free for EU residents on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

See flamenco for free

Okay, so you’ll need to buy a drink, but the late-night restaurant Clan gives you the chance to see authentic flamenco performances for free. The music starts sometime after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and dancing carries on until 3am.

Take a free walking tour of Madrid

You might need to tip your guide, but the three and half hour walking tours offered by Sandeman’s New Europe are officially free. Tours start outside the tourist office on Plaza Mayor everyday (at 11am and 1pm), taking in popular sights like the Royal Palace and Plaza de la Villa.

 

The ruins of Ani are a traveller’s dream – picture-perfect scenery, whacking great dollops of history, and almost nobody around to see it. While Turkey as a whole has been enjoying ever more popularity as a tourist destination, the number heading to its eastern reaches remains thrillingly low, lending an air of mystery to its attractions. Of these, none are more enchanting than the rosy-pink ruins of Ani, spectacularly located amidst a grassy expanse of undulating hillocks.

In 961, Ani became capital of a Bagratid Armenian kingdom that ruled over much of what is now southeastern Turkey. Though now firmly under Turkish rule, the ruins lie a stone’s throw from the modern-day border – macho types may find it impossible to resist sending a projectile over the stunning gorge that divides Turkey from Armenia. However, the two nations are still at loggerheads on certain issues, and Ani is patrolled by the Turkish jandarma; whole areas remain out of bounds despite the recent political thaw.

Considering the centuries of neglect, some of Ani’s buildings are in amazing condition, a testament to the masterful Armenian stoneworkers of the time, and the inherent qualities of duf. Still used extensively in Armenia today, this pinkish rock can assume near-transcendent hues of rose, tangerine and cinnamon during sunrise and sunset. Most visitors find themselves pointing their cameras at Prkitch, an eleventh-century church that’s mercifully a lot easier to photograph than it is to pronounce: known in English as the Church of the Redeemer, it was cleaved in two when struck by lightning in 1957, making it quite possibly the only church in the world that can be seen in cross-section with the naked eye.

Time has been kinder to Tigran Honents, a fresco-filled church just down the hill from Prkitch, and cathedral located just to the west – the latter is topped with a minaret that the brave may choose to ascend for an eagle-eye view of one of Turkey’s most unspoilt areas.

Ani is 45km from Kars, a town accessible by bus from many Turkish cities, as well as twice-weekly trains from Istanbul. The ruins are best visited by taxi – aim for three hours at the site plus two getting there and back, and bargain hard. After paying the small entry fee the ruins are yours, though the sun can be fierce, so bring water.

 

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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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Sitting in the middle of Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island is a World Heritage listed location with a wealth of history to uncover. In search of some truths about the island’s dark past as the Australian answer to Alcatraz, Sara Chare follows the Cockatoo Island Convict Trail.

Australia itself was once considered to be one big prison, what with the transportation of thousands of British convicts to the country between 1788 and 1868, and on 23 February 1839, sixty prisoners arrived on Cockatoo Island after Governor George Gipps decided it would be a good place for a new jail. Today, the island welcomes tourists, family day-trippers, and stylish Sydney locals who have come to sip wine and nibble pizza at the Island Bar.

After a 15-minute ferry ride from Darling Harbour, I arrived on the island, which has been a prison twice, the site of a girl’s school, home to Australia’s largest shipyard, and is now a World Heritage listed site because of its intrinsic historic value. There are a number of self-guided walks charting its history but I had already settled on following the Convict Trail, so after picking up my map I set off.

The first building I came to was the Engineers’ and Blacksmiths’ Shop, a large industrial space held up by steel girders and bricks, and which smelled of pigeons and dust. Built in the 1850s, and despite housing only machinery and empty space, it is a strangely fascinating place that makes you want to whip out your camera and take arty, industrial-chic photographs.

I exited through a tiny blue door reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, keeping my eye open for the red signs pointing the way, and soon spotted Fitzroy Dock, built over a decade by shackled convicts toiling waist-deep in water. The surrounding buildings were made of sandstone quarried by the first arrivals, and it was here that 550 men were housed in a space meant for 300. Conditions were atrocious: no washing facilities, little or no ventilation. It’s little surprise that riots broke out, during which wardens would take potshots at the inmates from the safety of the guardhouse (now a roofless shell). Any ringleaders would be confined for up to a month in one of the twelve underground isolation cells – known as “graves for the living” – with only the rats for company. I shuddered at the thought and moved on, only to discover what remains of some of the six-metre-deep grain silos hewn out of the rock using just hand tools; it’s said that if a prisoner did not reach his daily quota of stone, he was not lifted out that day.

Biloela House is the last stop on the trail before taking the stairs back down to ground level. Perched on the highest point of the island it was intended for the superintendent and his family, and sitting on its wide, shady veranda, watching the sailing boats and listening to the sound of seagulls squawking and the ferry horns, I pondered Cockatoo Island’s convict history. With conditions on the island so deplorable and with Sydney so tantalizingly close and visible, most would think about escape, but few tried it. Many of the prisoners couldn’t swim and those that could knew the waters were teeming with sharks as well as rowboat patrols.

The most famous escapee, however, was Frederick Ward, better known as the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, who was at Cockatoo for seven years for stealing horses. In 1863 he swam successfully to shore after his devoted part-Aboriginal wife Mary Bugg had swum to the island to leave him the tools needed. Mary waited for him on the opposite shore, equipped with her trusty white steed, and the pair eventually rode away to freedom. The law didn’t catch up with Captain Thunderbolt until 1870 when he was shot near Uralla in New South Wales. Luckily for me, I don’t have to wait for a moonless, foggy night to leave the island, there’s a ferry in 30 minutes. That’s just enough time to buy a coffee from the Airstream cafe, admire the harbour and enjoy the fact that times have changed.

If you want to explore Sydney and this enormous country, use our Rough Guide to Australia. Book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Visiting this charming, relatively little-visited region in the north is one of the best things to do in Italy. It has a wealth of attractions and activities to entertain, from majestic cathedrals and castles, to fine food and wine. Here are seven of our favourite highlights of Bologna & Emilia-Romagna:

Bologna’s restaurants: a meal out in the gastronomic capital of Italy is a rite of passage for any true food-lover.

Modena’s Duomo: one of the finest Romanesque buildings in Italy, with some magnificent decoration inside and out.

Parma and its food: Parma is inextricably linked to two great delicacies, Parma ham and Parmesan cheese, both of which can be sampled in the city or in the surrounding region.

Rocca Viscontea: northern Emilia-Romagna’s most majestic castle.

Brisighella’s festivals: this medieval village is known for its truffle, polenta and olive festivals in autumn.

Ravenna’s mosaics: unrivalled both in beauty and preservation, these mosaics are unmissable.

Rimini’s nightlife: the hottest, loudest, wildest and fastest-changing in the country.

You can buy the Bologna & Emilia-Romagna Rough Guides Snapshot Italy for your device here for only £1.99 >

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