Tucked away between parallel rocky ranges in southern Jordan, Petra is awe-inspiring. Popular but rarely crowded, this fabled site could keep you occupied for half a day or half a year: you can roam its dusty tracks and byways for miles in every direction.

Petra was the capital of the Nabateans, a tribe originally from Arabia who traded with, and were eventually taken over by, the Romans. Grand temples and even Christian-era church mosaics survive, but Petra is best known for the hundreds of ornate classical-style facades carved into its red sandstone cliffs, the grandest of which mark the tombs of the Nabatean kings.

As you approach, modern urban civilization falls away and you are enveloped by the arid desert hills; the texture and colouring of the sandstone, along with the stillness, heat and clarity of light bombard your senses. But it’s the lingering, under-the-skin quality of supernatural power that seems to seep out of the rock that leaves the greatest impression.

As in antiquity, the Siq, meaning “gorge”, is still the main entrance into Petra – and its most dramatic natural feature. The Siq path twists and turns between bizarrely eroded cliffs for over a kilometre, sometimes widening to form sunlit piazzas in the echoing heart of the mountain; in other places, the looming walls (150m high) close in to little more than a couple of metres apart, blocking out sound, warmth and even daylight.

When you think the gorge can’t go on any longer, you enter a dark, narrow defile, opening at its end onto a strip of extraordinary classical architecture. As you step out into the sunlight, the famous facade of Petra’s Treasury looms before you. Carved directly into the cliff face and standing forty metres tall, it’s no wonder this edifice starred in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as the repository of the Holy Grail – the magnificent portico is nothing short of divine.

Petra (daily 6am–sunset) is 240km south of the Jordanian capital, Amman. The adjacent town of Wadi Musa has restaurants and hotels. Check out petranationaltrust.org.


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Hobbit Motel, New Zealand

Many who watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy doubtless had a hankering to experience the cosiness of a hobbit’s home. The authorities at Woodlyn Park in New Zealand decided there was a market there, and built two replica hobbit homes for visitors (with slightly higher ceilings though, so those as tall as Gandalf won’t be inconvenienced).

Hobbit Motel, New Zealand

Magic Mountain, Chile

The Magic Mountain Hotel in Chile’s Hulio Hulio Reserve looks like something straight out of a fairytale: a gnarled, wooden cone with a waterfall cascading from its pinnacle, approached via a wooden drawbridge and with porthole windows peeping out at irregular spaces. As if that weren’t magic enough, it’s surrounded by a pristine biological reserve.

Magic Mountain, Chile

Utter Inn, Sweden

The project of a local artist, Utter Inn is located in the middle of Sweden’s Lake Mälaren, and consists of a deck and cabin on a floating platform, and beneath that, accessible via a steep ladder, an aquarium-like bedroom three metres below the surface. Guests are taken out by boat and provided with an inflatable canoe, and are then left on their own to get familiar with the fish.

Utter Inn, Sweden

Livingstone Lodge, UK

Brits who fantasise about seeing wild safari game from a jeep and staying in a park lodge can now do it without their passport – since Livingstone Lodge, in Kent, offers exactly that. Guests are driven around a 100-acre park where giraffe, zebra and wildebeest roam, then stay in a luxury safari tent. They can’t promise the African sun though.

Livingstone Lodge, UK

Ariau Amazon Towers Hotel, Brazil

As spectacular as they come, this futuristically styled hotel is built at treetop level in the Amazon Rainforest, not far from the city of Manaus. Its various viewing towers and suites are linked by 6 miles of wooden catwalks, which allow guests to conduct impromptu canopy tours. Prince Charles and Bill Gates are among those who have stayed here.

Ariau Amazon Towers Hotel, Brazil

Crane Hotel, The Netherlands

In the sleepy maritime city of Harlingen, one of the cranes in the docks has been converted to now house tourists. Inside, the observation windows remain, but a bedroom and bathroom have been fitted with a luxurious, industrial chic feel and breakfast is delivered via internal lift. Incidentally, the crane still works, and guests can manoeuvre it as they please.

Crane Hotel, The Netherlands

Palacio de Sal, Bolivia

This must be the only hotel in the world made entirely of salt: the walls, the floor and the ceiling are composed of it, as is much of the furniture. Fitting, of course, when the great salt flats of Salar de Uyuni lie only 24km away, and provided the raw material. Over a million salt blocks were used in its construction, with salty water used as the mortar.

Palacio de Sal, Bolivia

Free Spirit Spheres, Canada

Taking treehouses to the next level, these ‘spirit spheres’ are three wooden capsules suspended by ropes among the trees in a private forest on Vancouver Island. Looking a bit like giant eyeballs from below, inside they are surprisingly cosy, with basic mod cons. The only way in and out is via a suspension bridge that links to a spiral staircase wound around a tree trunk.

Free Spirit Spheres, Canada

Benesse House, Japan

If you like the idea of spending the night in a museum, this could be for you. Benesse House was built by Japanese architect Tadao Ando to house the modern art collection amassed by millionaire Nobuko Fukutake. It has twelve rooms that form part of the museum and guests have 24-hour access, including to the sculptures exhibited outside, along the gardens and nearby beach.

Benesse House, Japan

Propeller Island City Lodge, Germany

Propeller Island is Berlin’s most zany hotel (and that’s saying something). Each of its 27 rooms is unique – a celebration of eccentricity and artistic creativity. One room is completely enclosed by mirrors; one is a prison cell; another has pieces of furniture that are all shaped like buildings. Perhaps weirdest of all is the crypt room, where you sleep in a coffin. Freaky.

Propeller Island City Lodge, Germany

Costa Verde, Costa Rica

At first glance, stationed on a concrete plinth 15 metres up in the rainforest canopy, this 1965-built Boeing 727 looks as if it’s crashed into the jungle. Not so: the jet was salvaged from San José airport, transported to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio and refurbished inside with teak panelling. A wooden viewing deck projects from the plane’s right wing. A real flight of fancy.

Costa Verde, Costa Rica

Dog Bark Park Inn, USA

In Cottonwood, Idaho, stands an enormous beagle: ten metres high and five metres wide, and made of wood. His name is Sweet Willy, and you can sleep inside him (there’s a double room in his stomach and a loft room in his muzzle). The wacky conception of his chainsaw artist owners, he is, as they say on a sign: ‘A noble and absurd undertaking’.

Dog Bark Park Inn, USA

Legoland Hotel, USA

One for kids and big kids alike: in California’s Legoland resort is a hotel dedicated to the humble plastic brick we all love. Over three million pieces were used to create the Lego sculptures that surround the hotel, and each of the 250 rooms has either a pirate, kingdom or adventure theme.

Legoland Hotel, USA

Mira Mira, Australia

Described as ‘luxury accommodation in bushland surroundings’, Australia‘s Mira Mira offers three eccentric habitats, all built by the owners. One is an underground cave, accessed through a doorway shaped like a troll’s mouth. Another is a zen retreat with a ‘bush-style’ Japanese garden and the third is a surrealist woodside cabin clearly influenced by Gaudí. As unconventional as it gets.

Mira Mira, Australia

Poseidon Undersea Resort, Fiji

“Under the sea,” sang Sebastian in The Little Mermaid. “Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.” He would have loved this hotel then, which is built 12 metres below the surface and is akin to living in an aquarium. Guests can also explore the nearby reef in the three-person submarine placed at their disposal. Just don’t ask how much it costs.

Poseidon Undersea Resort, Fiji

Mirrorcube, Sweden

Blink and you’ll miss it: Mirrorcube is one of the rooms at Sweden’s Treehotel, and is essentially a suspended cube surrounded by reflective glass (and infrared film, so the birds don’t crash into it). Blending perfectly into the surrounding forest, the panoramic views from within make for a remarkable hideaway.

Mirrorcube, Sweden

Hotel Lindenwirt, Germany

What better way to round off an evening spent wine tasting in the Rhine Valley than by dozing off inside a wine barrel? You can do so at Hotel Lindenwirt in Rüdesheim, where six huge barrels, which once held around six thousand litres of wine, have been decked out with beds and bathrooms. Diogenes would certainly approve.

Hotel Lindenwirt, Germany

Earlier this year we gave one of you a chance to customise your own round the world trip and win an iPad. Now, our lucky winner Moira Ashely is back from the USA, and she kept us updated throughout her trip. Watch this interactive presentation in full screen to follow her footsteps and read all about her exploration of the USA’s southwest:

If you fancy exploring the USA head to our destination page for inspiration and buy the Rough Guide to the USA to help plan your trip. Book hostels for your trip here and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Italy’s southern region of Basilicata is home to one of the country’s most distinctive towns: Matera. It’s a fascinating place, not least for its unique topography and intriguing history as a Mediterranean troglodyte settlement. Thanks to its biblical, otherworldly feel, it’s been used as the setting for Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ too. Rough Guides writer Kiki Deere went to discover more about Materas caves and their inhabitants.

The area around Matera has been inhabited since the Paleolithic period, and to this day it retains an age old, nearly Jurassic feel, with vast tracts of verdant land breaking off into harsh rocky limestone ravines. Matera’s main attractions are its Sassi (rocks), old cavernous dwellings that to this day remain inhabited. A myriad of monochrome stone buildings overhang a deep gorge, perching unequally on top of one another, like a messy ensemble of vintage Lego pieces. The caves spring out of a rocky area that forms part of a limestone gully, taking on a ramshackle Flintstones-esque feel.

Matera, Italy

I quickly got lost in the city’s winding alleys, which converge into small squares and then branch off into a maze of twisting streets. Stone steps climb or spiral in different directions, snaking their way through age-old properties that overlap one another.

I soon met Eustachio Rizzi, a septuagenarian grandfather who was brought up in the Sassi. Eustachio spent three years building a miniature model of the Sassi, constructing the town from childhood memory. He longs for Matera’s history not to be forgotten and is keen to act as a mouthpiece for its long and complex history.

The early morning sun lit a quarter of the pastel cream buildings, yet most still remained veiled by a cool haze of shade. Eustachio’s sunken eyes seemed to travel back in time, as he explained how parts of the town were built: “The caves have been here since time immemorial, and a great part of what is around us today was built by hand.

“The poor lived in the lower part of the city, and used pickaxes to dig into the stone. People would dig and dig, making sure to carve a concave shape into the rock, so that the weight rested on the arches on the sides, otherwise the structure would collapse. If a baby was born and a family needed more space, they would dig farther into the rock. Sometimes they would start hammering with their pickaxe and suddenly realise they were digging into another person’s home, so then they would start digging in the opposite direction”. The result is a unique city where streets, stony alleyways, uneven pavements and winding steps often coincide with the roofs of the houses that lie below.

Interior View of Sassi Church, Matera

Explore the region in more depth on our Destinations pages >

When Eustachio lived here just a few decades ago, houses had no running water and the city streets served as open sewers. Infant mortality hovered at 50% and illiteracy was rife. Families were large, often with six to ten members living in a damp room measuring little more than 50 square metres where the only form of light and ventilation was a little window giving onto the street.

Hens and their chicks nestled below a double bed, which was no more than an iron stand with wooden planks and a paillasse. Often, a drawer containing linen and clothes was pulled out and used as a baby’s cot. The kitchen was no more than a stove with a copper cauldron, while the facilities were limited to a chamber pot that was placed by the bed, or behind a little curtain for privacy. At the very back of the cave a mule provided heat to the rest of the house, and elsewhere a dug out cavity was used to store manure.

The cramped housing structures, lack of sanitation and inadequate living conditions of Matera’s urban poor reached such appalling levels that a scheme was eventually put in place to restore and renovate the Sassi. In 1952 over 15,000 inhabitants were evicted – albeit never forcefully – and relocated to purpose-built council houses on the outskirts, in what is now the ‘new town’.

Yet, many refused to leave. Eustachio told me: “At first most were reluctant to relocate, to leave their houses… the place they were brought up in, and where they had always lived. It was hard for all of us, but slowly people started to understand that living conditions in the new housing estates were better. There was running water, a heating system, toilets.”

Sissi, Matera, Italy

Image courtesy of Kiki Deere

By providing the inhabitants with new accommodation, their former homes became state property and, to this day, 70% of the Sassi is still publicly owned. The town was thereafter entirely renovated and it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the inhabitants began to return. Yet most preferred to stay in their well-equipped modern houses, some even refusing to visit “that filth where we once lived”. Ironically, many of these former slum homes have now become high-end hotels, some charging up to 700 euros a night for the experience of sleeping in such unique cavernous accommodation.

Today Matera attracts a fair share of Italian holiday goers, although for foreign tourists it still remains off the beaten track largely due to its poor public transport links. Yet no doubt partly because of this, southern Italy’s gem retains a true environmental and social feel, veiled by an aura of magic and underlying mysticism. As I later peered out over a stone balustrade to the Sassi that spread out into the distance, the town visibly took on a biblical dimension. A flock of black birds took flight over the town, mournfully hovering over the bewitching cluster of tumbledown dwellings below.

Explore more of Italy with our Rough Guide to Italy. Featured image courtesy of Kiki Deere.

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.

Tsukiji Market, Tokyo

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.

Asakusa, Tokyo

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.

Sumo Wrestling Tournament in Tokyo

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.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No 1

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.

You probably didn’t know Turkey’s real name, you might have been confused about which city is the capital, and you probably thought tulips came from the Netherlands. It turns out, you were probably wrong. There is a lot more to Turkey than meets the eye – between the beaches and bustling markets lies a wealth of interesting history filled with religious and literary figures, civil war and a multitude of languages. Here are 20 facts about Turkey you probably never knew.

Turkish flag

Source: Wikipedia

Bosphorus Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey

Source: Google News

Hazelnuts, Turkey

Source: UN Food & Agriculture Organisation

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey

Source: Grand Bazaar Istanbul

Antioch cave church, Turkey facts

Source: sacred-destinations.com

Patara beach, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Turkey

Source: Wikipedia

Turkish surnames, Turkey

Source: Wikipedia

Turkey, birthplace of Homer and Aesop

Source: Wikipedia

Language, Turkey facts

Source: Wikipedia

Newspapers, journalists imprisoned in Turkey

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

Istanbul Tunel, underground railway, Turkey

Source: Wikipedia

Dilek National Park, Black Sea Coast, Turkey

Source: freewordonline.com

Longest word in Turkish, Beach, Turkey

 Source: 101languages.net > It roughly translates to: “Are you one of those people whom we couldn’t make to be originating from Czechoslovakia?”

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Matador Network

Traditional house, Turkey

Source: allaboutturkey.com

Turkish alphabet, lettering, Turkey

Source: Wikipedia

Istanbul in Asia and Europe, Turkey

Source: Wikipedia 

Fez banned in Turkey

Source: clockofdestiny.com

Source: kokachi.com

Learn more and explore Turkey with the Rough Guide to Turkey.

As the summer holiday season winds down, September is the perfect time to get an off-peak deal or some late sun. Here are our choices for the best places to go on holiday in September. Add your own trip ideas below.

Surfing in North Devon, UK

For surfers steering board-laden camper vans down North Devon’s country lanes in search of perfect waves, September is a special month. The Atlantic breakers that chomp at the sandy coastline start gaining size, making flat days less likely, and the glassy water still holds some of the summer’s warmth. September is also when British kids return to school after their long summer break, bringing a welcome sense of quiet back to the beaches, B&Bs and cosy thatched pubs.

Wandering with the Berber in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco

With summer’s fierce heat fading and the winter snows yet to arrive, September is your chance to see the Atlas Mountains at their most colourful. Beyond the rug shops and sun-baked huts that dot the roads from Marrakech are gentle walking trails, which follow dry streams through plunging orange gorges and dusty mud-built villages. For longer and more challenging trips, including the taxing trek to the summit of Jebel Toubkal (4167m), you’d do well to enlist the help of the local Berber people, who know these mountains better than anyone.

Atlas Mountains, Morocco

The Feast of San Gennaro, New York, USA

It started as a small, one-day festival for Italian immigrants celebrating the martyrdom of Naples’ patron saint, but the Feast of San Gennaro is now one of New York’s biggest religious events. For 11 days each September, the streets of Little Italy fill with raucous music and sizzling street food stands, attracting around a million wide-eyed visitors. Some of these revellers are religious, but others only make the pilgrimage to gawp at the famous cannoli-eating competition, which takes place on the festival’s opening day.

Serbia’s second city without the crowds, Novi Sad, Serbia

Party people flock to Novi Sad in July, when the annual Exit Festival invades the city’s eighteenth-century fortress, which sits high above a bend in the Danube. Arrive in September, however, and the chances are you’ll be one of the only foreign visitors. Give Novi’s sad museums a miss and explore the area around Dunavska, with its busy gelato shops and quiet café courtyards. If the weather is still hot, cool off at Štrand – a wide beach with chilled bars and powder-fine sand leading down to the gently flowing river.

Slobode Square, Novi Sad, Serbia

Free access to landmark buildings in Scotland, UK

You’ll avoid the worst of the summer crowds by visiting Scotland in September, and could save yourself some cash too. Accommodation prices drop like a tossed caber after the main August rush and the Scottish Civic Trust’s yearly architectural event – Doors Open Days – allows free access to new and historic buildings every weekend throughout September. Many of the homes, churches and castles taking part in the scheme are not usually open to public, and some open their doors for just one day every year.

Annual Nature Festival, Madeira, Portugal

For decades Madeira embraced its reputation as a winter retreat for sun-hungry pensioners, without ever really capitalizing on its greatest asset: nature. Now tourist officials are quite rightly making a song and dance about the sub-tropical island’s steamy mountain peaks, towering cliffs and fragrant eucalyptus forests. The annual Madeira Nature Festival, which kicks off in September, aims to get people out into some of these rarely visited spots through activities like canyoning, paragliding and swimming with wild dolphins.

Madeira, Portugal

Surprising street art in Stavanger, Norway

Although built on an oil rush and still a popular dropping-off point for luxury cruise liners, the super-rich city of Stavanger has a surprisingly diverse street culture. For local artists the highlight of the year is September’s Nuart Festival, when some of the world’s best-known graffiti stars rock up to create elaborate murals among the city’s pretty wooden houses. After more than a dozen of these annual events, Stavanger is now attracting international attention as one of Europe’s best – and most unusual – places to enjoy inventive street art.

Catch the start of the lobster season in Bohuslän, Sweden

Cold, clean and craggy: the coastline north of Gothenburg is a sweet spot for shellfish. In late September, when the lobster season begins, you can join local fishermen as they guide wooden boats between scattered granite islands, hauling up traps from the salty depths. Bruised autumn skies and circling seabirds make sailing here a special experience, but the big reward comes after a session in the sauna, when you can finally get your claws into the day’s catch.

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

1. Harry Potter, Christ Church College, Oxford

The “dreaming spires” of Oxford have starred in many a film (The Italian Job, Howard’s End, The History Boys), but it’s the college of Christ Church that’s most recognizable in the Harry Potter films, doubling up as the inimitable Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. From the cavernous wood-clad Great Hall and the echoey sixteenth-century staircase to the spooky cloisters and quadrangles, Christ Church makes the perfect setting for magical escapades.

Harry Potter, Christ Church College, Oxford

2. Jaws, Martha’s Vineyard

The world’s most infamous fish laid claim to many innocent lives beneath the stunning turquoise waters of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, an affluent summer colony accessible by boat and air only. Local residents were picked by director Steven Spielberg to moonlight as extras in the film, including Chief Brody’s two young sons.

Jaws, Martha’s Vineyard

3. Inception, Nijo Castle

The mind-bending film, Inception (2010), flits from country to country and city to city – as dream-world scenes are apt to do – but we kick off the tale in Japan, in the ornate seventeenth-century Nijo Temple. Or rather, a staged Warner Bros. set with a design based on Nijo Castle… which is, in reality, located in Kyoto and open to the public.

Inception, Nijo Castle

4. Pretty Woman, Beverly Hills

Pretty Woman, the iconic 1990 rom-com starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, is set in Los Angeles. Gere plays Edward Lewis, a successful businessman who hires a beautiful prostitute, Vivian Ward, to be his escort at several high-flying events. She stays with him at the impossibly glamorous hotel, Beverly Wilshire, where she enjoys a luxurious week of scented bubble baths, champagne and, eventually, true love. Awwww.

Pretty Woman, Beverly Hills

5. Lord of the Rings, Matamata

J.R Tolkien’s “Middle Earth” is mocked up in New Zealand’s picturesque rural village, Matamata, in the heart of the Waikato region (North Island). The Shire’s quaint thatched cottages surrounded by idyllic countryside of flower-strewn meadows, baa-ing sheep and tinkling streams is also known as “Hobbiton” where LOR fans can take tours and pretend they too are hobbits.

Lord of the Rings, Matamata

6. Notting Hill, London

Whenever you’re feeling down, put on a Richard Curtis film: his feel-good offerings are bound to cheer you up. The 1999 film, Notting Hill, is a tried-and-tested film formula featuring classic Brit actor Hugh Grant as bumbling William Thacker, who falls in love with celeb of the day, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts). As the title suggests, the film is set in the gentrified, oh-so-pretty London neighbourhood of Notting Hill, showing off Portobello Road market and that blue door on Westbourne Park Road.

Notting Hill, London

7. The Beach, Ko Phi Phi Leh

A paradise concoction of sugar-soft white sand and translucent sea, framed by glorious mountains, Ko Phi Phi Leh was the bewitching backdrop to Alex Garland’s novel-turned film, The Beach. A fresh-faced Leo di Caprio runs amok with a beach community fuelled by marijuana-lovin’, but it’s the glorious Thai scenery that steals the show here. Following the film, visitors flocked here in their droves, leading to environmental concerns.

The Beach, Ko Phi Phi Leh

8. Gladiator, Ait Ben Haddou

Most Gladiator fans can recite the immortal lines: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius…Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next”. It’s a heady and emotional Oscar-winning film, made all the more potent by its surroundings, from the dank forests of “Germania” (near Farnham, Surrey) to the scorched African town of Aït Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate in Morocco, where Maximus is sold into slavery.

Gladiator, Ait Ben Haddou

9. Ghostbusters, New York

The Hook and Ladder 8 Fire Station in Tribeca, New York City, has enjoyed a somewhat spookier past as the headquarters for Peter, Ray and Egon, three oddball parapsychologists who set up a business ridding the city of troublesome ghoulies. The fire station is still in use today, so if you’re visiting armed with camera and questions, do be careful of fast-paced, on-duty vehicles.

Ghostbusters, New York

10. Monty Python, Doune Castle

It’s a thoroughly English story about King Arthur and his band of knights, but the 1975 film, Monty Python and The Holy Grail was filmed mostly in Scotland. Dating from the thirteenth century, Doune Castle, near Stirling, appeared as Arthur’s home, Camelot, complete with Great Hall and Round Table. The castle wasn’t just Camelot though, as due to restrictions imposed by the authorities on filming in the area, it had to step up as Guy de Lombard’s abode, as well as “Castle Anthrax” and “Swamp Castle”.

Monty Python, Doune Castle

11. Shaun of the Dead, Duke of Albany

This BAFTA-winning extravaganza combined undead zombies, irascible parents (brilliantly played by Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), long-suffering girlfriends and a directionless chap named Shaun (played by the matchless Simon Pegg). The film was shot entirely in London, mostly in the north round Finchley, Crouch End and Finsbury Park, but (weirdly) hops south of the Thames to Shaun’s “local”, “The Winchester”, actually the Duke of Albany in New Cross, now redeveloped into flats.

Shaun of the Dead, Duke of Albany

12. Angels and Demons, Vatican City

A best-selling thriller that delves deep into the murky world of a secret society, The Illuminati, Dan Brown’s first novel, Angels and Demons, was turned into a film in 2009. Tom Hanks plays protagonist Robert Langdon, who energetically romps around the symbol-strewn Vatican City – though of course, this is not the real Vatican City… it’s all film studios and substitution.

Angels and Demons, Vatican City

13. Trainspotting, Calton Street Bridge

Starring reputable actors such as Ewan McGregor (Renton), Robert Carlyle (Begbie) and Kelly Macdonald (Diane), the original Trainspotting movie is a tough and destructive story about heroin abuse in the late 1980s. The backdrop is an economically depressed Edinburgh, and the opening scene, where we meet Renton and his friend Spud running down Princes Street to the Calton Street Bridge, is duly filmed in the Scottish capital. After this though, most of the filming switches to Glasgow.

Trainspotting, Calton Street Bridge

14. Forrest Gump, Savannah

With a narrative to melt the hardest of hearts, amplified by a wonderful soundtrack, Forrest Gump (1994) opens with a contemplative Forrest sitting on a bus stop bench in Chippewah Square, Savannah, Georgia, telling his story to anyone who will listen. Now in The Savannah History Museum, not far from the square, the bench is where Forrest utters that immortal line, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know which one you’re gonna get”.

Forrest Gump, Savannah

15. The Shining, Timberline Lodge

You may or may not have plucked up the courage to see Stanley Kubrick’s pyschological horror film, The Shining, but you’ll have certainly heard of it. The terror takes hold within creepy “Overlook Hotel”, where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is employed as a winter caretaker, accompanied by his wife and psychic son, Danny. The hotel’s interior was filmed in Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England, though the exterior is actually the Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, northern Oregon.

The Shining, Timberline Lodge

16. Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney

We are in Punxsutawney, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania… again and again and again. It’s February 2nd and arrogant weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is inexplicably trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day, until he manages to break the spell by capturing his love interest, Rita’s, heart. The film’s “Punxsutawney” is actually a city in Illinois called Woodstock.

Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney

17. Amityville Horror, Amityville

The subject of no less than ten films – the first dates to 1979 – the Amityville Horror is based on a novel by Jay Anson, which detailed the story of the Lutz family who move into a ghoul-ridden, Dutch Colonial-style house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville. They stay just 28 days, supposedly tormented by ghosts of the victims of Ronald DeFeo Jr, who murdered six family members there in 1974.

Amityville Horror, Amityville

18. Skyfall, Glencoe

Number 23 in the Bond series, Skyfall welcomes back Daniel Craig as the one and only Agent 007. But we say goodbye to beloved M, played by Judi Dench, who (spoiler alert!) is killed. Filming locations included London and Turkey, as well as Scotland – where Skyfall, Bond’s family home, is sequestered away in the misty glens of Glen Coe (though the house itself is a plywood and plaster creation knocked up in Surrey).

Skyfall, Glencoe

19. Argo, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning offering tells the story of six Americans who escape a besieged embassy in the middle of Tehran, Iran in 1980. They are forced into hiding, until Tony Mendez (Affleck) helps them escape, using an elaborately concocted ruse. Of course, filming in Iran was an impossibility, so the film-makers opted for the chaotic, colourful bazaars and crowded streets of Istanbul in Turkey to substitute.

Argo, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

20. The Hunger Games, DuPont State Forest

The science fiction hit of 2008, The Hunger Games was written by Suzanne Collins and adapted for the movie screen in 2012. Violent, imaginative and hugely compelling, the “Games” take place within the beautiful pine forests, craggy mountains and rushing waterfalls of DuPont State Forest in North Carolina.

The Hunger Games, DuPont State Forest

21. Star Wars, Hotel Sidi Driss

The ancient troglodyte building, Hotel Sidi Driss, in the Berber village of Matamata in the Tunisian desert, is also known as the Stars Wars Hotel. Consisting of five pits connected by a series of underground tunnels and staircases, it was where Luke Skywalker grew up with his aunt and uncle Lars in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The connection with the “galaxy far, far away” has ensured the hotel’s popularity – at least as a day-trip, if not an overnight stay.

Star Wars, Hotel Sidi Driss

22.The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Tabernas Desert

It needs no introduction: this acclaimed Spaghetti Western stars Clint Eastwood as Blondie (“The Good”), Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes (“The Bad”) and Eli Wallach as Tuco (“The Ugly”) and involves tense gun duels, violent hangings, Confederate v Union forces, stolen gold and relentless heat – the latter provided by fierce sunshine in Tabernas Desert, in Andalucía, Spain.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Tabernas Desert

23. Avatar, Hawaii

A mind-blowing mix of live action and computer-generated sequences, Avatar (2009) is predominantly set within a rainforest backdrop populated by a nature-loving, blue-skinned race, the Na’vi. It’s difficult, therefore, to tell what’s a real-life location and what’s “technified”, but one thing is for sure – Hawaii looks pretty amazing in Cameron’s hectic motion picture.

Avatar, Hawaii

24. The Sound of Music, Salzburg

The hills are alive in and around Salzburg, where much of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, written by Robert Wise, was filmed – and where the Von Trapp family story originates. There are lots of historical inaccuracies in the film (for example, the family didn’t really live in this magnificent mansion), but who really cares, when this musical spawned tuneful classics such as “Do-Re-Mi” and “Edelweiss”.

The Sound of Music, Salzburg

25. The Dark Knight Rises, Mehrangarh Fort

As he successfully escapes the depths of the dingy underground prison, Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) is confronted by the sight of the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort. Balanced superbly on a cliff overlooking the city of Jodphur in Rajasthan, the fifteenth century palace makes a suitably terrifying setting for the “Pit” that once imprisoned indomitable Bane.

The Dark Knight Rises, Mehrangarh Fort

26. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Rudolfinum

Prague stars as the movie location of the 2003 comic-book caper, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The “London Club”, where the League is assembled by M, is the grand Rudolfinum, Prague’s erstwhile House of Commons and now concert venue, home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Rudolfinum

27. Mamma Mia!, Skiathos

A toe-tapping extravaganza of ABBA hits belted out by actors like Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried, and, um, Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia! is bound to make you want to hop on a plane and get to Greece, fast. The sunshine, sea, sandy beaches and tavernas are donated courtesy of Skiathos, a gorgeous island in the Aegean.

Mamma Mia!, Skiathos

28. The Avengers, Cleveland

In The Avengers, a medley of superheroes – think Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor – join forces to stop Thor’s villainous brother Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) from conquering and ruling Planet Earth. The city of Cleveland in Ohio doubles up as New York City, scene of some especially chaotic battle scenes; “Stuttgart Square”, where Loki forces the public to kneel to him, is Cleveland’s Public Square.

The Avengers, Cleveland

29. The Godfather, Savoca

The ultimate gangster movie, The Godfather (1972), is a violent and complex story of family loyalties, murder, coercion, drugs, Dons and offers “he can’t refuse”. The Corleone family, headed up by Vito (Marlon Brando), come from the town of Corleone in Sicily, however due to its overdeveloped look, the filming shifted over to the prettier, more atmospheric villages of Savoca (pictured) and Forza d’Agrò, near Taormina.

The Godfather, Savoca

30. Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum

A rust-red valley hewn into the sandstone east of Aqaba in Jordan, Wadi Rum has long been inhabited by humans, who have left their mark on the rocks and valley walls since prehistoric times. A more recent connection is to Lawrence of Arabia, the 1962 movie based on the life of T.E. Lawrence (who passed through the area during the Arab Revolt in 1917–1918), which was mostly filmed here.

Lawrence of Arabia, Wadi Rum

31. Les Misérables, Gourdon

It’s a French story by thoroughly French novelist Victor Hugo, but epic musical “Les Mis” was shot pretty much entirely in England, including the dockyards of Portsmouth, a chapel in London’s Little Venice and the elegant Naval College at Greenwich. There is one unquestionable French scene, however, and that’s the lovely hilltop town of Gourdon in the Alpes-Maritimes, where main man Jean Valjean secures his redemption.

Les Misérables, Gourdon

32. The King’s Speech, Ely Cathedral

Westminster Abbey, site of real-life coronations, is played by Ely Cathedral in director Tom Hooper’s 2010 oh-so-British film, The King’s Speech. Stammering Duke of York (Colin Firth) is “cured” of his vocal affliction by Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, and successfully conquers his first radio broadcast as King George IV, following the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII.

The King’s Speech, Ely Cathedral

33. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Cambodia

Kick-ass adventure- and archeology-lover, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is on an Illuminati-thwarting mission in Cambodia – in the beautiful temple complex of Angkor Thom, to be exact. The full splendor of the area is on very much on show, including the 54 incredible towers carved with enigmatic smiling faces.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Cambodia

34. Rain Man, Caesar’s Palace

Rain Man tells the heartwarming tale of two brothers who embark upon a cross-country car trip from Ohio to Los Angeles. Dustin Hoffman plays autistic savant, Raymond (“Rain Man”) while Tom Cruise is his abrasive brother Charlie, who, once he learns Raymond has an excellent memory and mental calculator, carts him off to win at blackjack in the Las Vegas casinos in Nevada. Caesar’s Palace is where Charlie teaches Raymond how to dance.

Rain Man, Caesar’s Palace

35. Planet of the Apes, Malibu

Planet of the Apes has popped up in a few forms over the years – including a 1970s TV series and a Tim Burton re-hash in 2011. The original film (1968), complete with a bewildered and craggy-looking Charlton Heston, comes to an end on delectable Westward Beach in Malibu (between Zuma Beach and Point Dune), a gorgeous strip of yellow sand lapped by frothy waves.

Planet of the Apes, Malibu

36. Rebel Without a Cause, Griffith Observatory

Representing James Dean’s zenith as cultural and acting icon – he was to tragically die in a car crash before the release of the film – Rebel Without a Cause is a stark social commentary on the moral corrosion of 1950s American youth. The influential school trip and explosive final shootout takes place at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, where a bust of Dean has been erected in the building’s grounds.

Rebel Without a Cause, Griffith Observatory

37. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Petra

The Last Crusade (1989) is the third installment in the popular Indiana Jones series, and here we head to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. The Holy Grail is supposedly housed in the “Canyon of the Crescent Moon”, actually – in real life – the Al Khazneh. The intricate sandstone carving and Greek-influenced architecture make it an exceptionally beautiful structure.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Petra

38. Shawshank Redemption, Ohio State Reformatory

Ohio State Reformatory is an imposing nineteenth-century building in Mansfield, Ohio, that shows off a mix of architectural styles – Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne and something called Richardsonian Romanesque. Behind this impressive facade huddled the inmates of Shawshank State Penitentiary – Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) among them.

Shawshank Redemption, Ohio State Reformatory

39. X-Men, Gooderham Worts Distillery

Though it’s set in New York, the 2000 blockbuster featuring comic-strip favourites such as Wolverine and Magneto, is filmed for the most part in Ontario, Canada. The Gooderham Worts Distillery, once one of the largest distillers in the British Empire and now an entertainment district in downtown Toronto, appeared in the opening scene as a Polish concentration camp.

X-Men, Gooderham Worts Distillery

40. Saving Private Ryan, Curracloe Beach

Steven Spielberg’s horrifying and emotional depiction of the 1944 D-Day Landings in his Oscar-winning war epic, Saving Private Ryan, used windswept Ballinesker and Curracloe beaches in Wexford, Ireland, to stand in for Omaha Beach in Normandy. The beaches are Blue Flag beauties known for bird-watching.

Saving Private Ryan, Curracloe Beach

Equipped with her compass, Helen Abramson goes treasure hunting on manmade Lake Alqueva and discovers the joys of GPS during a geocaching adventure.

On the map, Lake Alqueva appears as a fierce artery, stretching out into countless capillaries offering countless opportunities to get lost. I feel prepared though; I’ve brought my compass. I’ll be staying on a houseboat for three nights with two other shipmates, navigating our way from village to village to find small plastic boxes hidden in the most unsuspecting places, and exploring the cosmos with some stargazing along the course – a veritable navigation bonanza.

We pull up at Amieira Marina after a two-hour drive from Lisbon, and the lake looks vast in the dusk light. It’s wonderfully peaceful. About a decade ago, Alqueva, in the eastern part of Portugal’s south-central Alentejo Province, went through a dramatic change. The creation of the largest man-made lake in Europe, covering 250 square kilometres, provided irrigation to one of the country’s most arid areas – committing the village of Lux to a watery grave in the process. New homes were provided in a replica Lux, but the promise of a much-needed industrial boom following the building of the dam has yet to materialise, and tourists usually overlook this quiet, picturesque region in favour of Lisbon and the Algarve.

Our houseboat awaits us. I’ve always wanted to stay the night on one. I had a romantic notion of waking up to the gentle rocking of the boat in serene waters, and, free to go wherever took my fancy, I would cruise off in the bright morning sunshine with the wind in my hair and just my compass and wits to guide me.

Houseboat, Lake Alqueva, Alentejo Province, Portugal

We are woken on our first morning by highly unusual conditions for late spring. Heavy rain batters the windows, and the howling wind is creating a far from tranquil atmosphere.

During our boat-driving lesson from José, the marina’s friendly, helpful instructor, I discover that GPS is much easier than using a compass; all you have to do to plot a course is make sure the green triangle (that’s you) stays on the black line (the route). If you really want to test your girl-guide skills (which I did), you can still check the GPS is working by getting your compass out to verify your direction. Should you stray from the route, you risk crashing into rather surprising obstacles, such as underwater windmills, which were left intact when the dam was built.

You’re also probably better off sacrificing the wind in your hair for the security that you’re going the right way; the outside deck steering wheel has none of the gadgets you get indoors, such as GPS, sonar device, fuel gauge, emergency phone and – crucially – the gauge that tells you when the toilet waste is about to overflow.

Lesson over, our teacher disembarks and we’re off, bikes securely fastened to the deck, and canoes – less securely, we later discover – tied to the back of the boat. With a well-stocked fridge, a fully kitted-out kitchen and a few bottles of local wine aboard, we aren’t even that concerned about our somewhat questionable parking skills.

The wind has its advantages; the weather changes fast, and we are treated to several sunny periods. We take the bikes out for a scenic ride in Estrela, where I also have my first geocaching experience. This global outdoor game involves using a smartphone app or GPS-receiving device to locate the caches nearest to you and plot an as-the-crow-flies route to find them. A cache is usually a small plastic box, but it can be anything, so long as the log of who’s found it can be securely contained. It’s essentially a techie treasure hunt, except the treasure isn’t in what you find, but in the thrill of discovering a place you may not have otherwise, and knowing that others before you have shared your experience. There are several caches in the Alentejo region, all set down by locals (as each needs to be maintained by its “owner”). This comes as a surprise to me, but geocaching is a worldwide phenomenon, and where there are adventurous people keen on orienteering, it’s more than likely there are caches.

Geocache container, Lake Alqueva, Alentejo Province, Portugal

That evening we dine at Sabores da Estrela, where the magnificent food is washed down with fantastic local wines from vineyards dotted around the rolling hills. If you’re a fan of olive oil and garlic, you’ll enjoy Alentejo cuisine, as almost everything is cooked in generous amounts of both. Highlights of the local specialities include a dangerously moreish sheep’s cheese, cod and chickpea salad, grilled octopus and pork cheek with walnut purée and apple sauce.

Well fed, the next morning we walk up into the ancient walled village of Monsaraz, which has been occupied since pre-historic times, and where a medieval castle affords excellent 360-degree views of the surrounding area, including a superb perspective on the jagged-edged lake. As evening falls, the weather clears, and we get a perfect view of the sky. The Alqueva region has been given the first Starlight Tourism Destination award; it has cloudless nights for over half the year, excellent clarity due to low light pollution, good atmospheric conditions, and the Dark Sky association loans telescopes to several hotels in the area.

Monsaraz view of Lake Alqueva, Portugal

A local amateur astronomer, Vitor, shows us the dramatic craters of the Moon, Saturn with its glorious rings, a blue star, a globular cluster, the donut-shaped Ring Nebular and my absolute highlight, although visually the least exciting – M81 and M82 neighbouring galaxies. They are twelve million light-years away. My mind is blown. On a much less exciting scale, but a very useful one, Vitor also shows us how to find north by tracing a line from the Plough to the North Star. So simple, and yet I was never quite sure how to do it before. My compass is becoming yet more obsolete.

Our final stop takes us to the city of Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 55km west of the lake. On the drive there, after a sad farewell to our boat, I notice that many of the trees have been stripped of their bark – for cork, our guide, Olga, explains. We see the product of these exposed trunks in Évora’s old-town shops, in the form of notepads, wallets, bags, shoes – you can even get a cork wedding dress. Who knew the stuff of bottle stoppers could be so versatile?

Évora is home to one of the most extraordinary chapels in the world: the Bone Chapel, filled floor to ceiling with the bones and skulls of 5,000 people whose corpses had been taking up space in valuable land in and around the city. The monks who founded the chapel in the early 16th century wanted to emphasise the transitory nature of life’s journey. The place is as eerie as you might expect, but well worth the visit, and a reflective way to end our journey.

Price from £887 per person, based on 2 sharing. Includes return flights with TAP Portugal from London Heathrow to Lisbon, car rental, 3 nights on a houseboat (self-catering) and 1 night at Hotel M Ar De Ar MuralhasÉvora (bed and breakfast)For more info contact Sunvil Discovery.

Explore more of Portugal with the Rough Guide to Portugal.

From the beautiful yet little-known volcanoes of Kamchatka in Russia to the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal, we round up 20 of the most overlooked UNESCO World Heritage sites you should visit.

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Just off the coast of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean, the island of Cocos has a tropical rainforest. In fact, it’s the only island with a tropical rainforest in this neck of the woods, which makes it a fascinating anomaly. The surrounding waters hold even more wonders, with divers reporting superb conditions in which to goggle at sharks, rays and dolphins.

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Studenica Monastery, Serbia

As the biggest and best of Serbia’s Orthodox monasteries, complete with two white marble churches (the Church of the King and the Church of the Virgin), Studenica reflects the country’s medieval boom time. The remains of the first Serb kings lie in rest here, and inside the churches are breathtaking Byzantine paintings.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia

St Kilda, Scotland

The last residents were evacuated from the Outer Hebrides island of St Kilda in the 1930s, no longer able to sustain themselves in tough, remote conditions. It’s now given over to seabirds, who have rendered this place Europe’s most important seabird colony. Along with the puffins and gannets are the remains of abandoned villages, and these are now protected by a team of conservationists and volunteers from the National Trust.

St Kilda, Scotland

Mazagan, Morocco

Morocco is already a top tourist destination, and almost everyone has heard of the big draws like Marrakesh, Fez and Essaouira. Mazagan, 90km southwest of Casablanca, is an often overlooked city brimming with rich historical significance. Originally built by the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century, it was taken over by the Moroccans in 1769 and today exhibits a special architectural amalgamation of the two nations.

Mazagan, Morocco

Lumbini, Nepal

The birthplace of Buddha, Lumbini in southern Nepal is currently being developed, with temples under construction and gardens cultivated around pre-existing archeological sites. As this is where Buddha lived till he was 29, Lumbini is already a very holy place, yet the expansion is aiming to attract larger numbers of pilgrims.

Lumbini, Nepal

Tubbataha Reef, Philippines

A diver’s paradise, for Tubbataha Reef, southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, literally teems with precious marine life. From multicoloured coral and hammerhead sharks to silvery barracudas and thick-lipped Napoleon wrasse, the icing on the cake is undoubtedly seeing Hawksbill and Green Bill turtles. It’s an isolated reef, so to visit you’ll have to set sail on a liveaboard boat.

Tubbataha Reef, Philippines

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

This exquisite Silk Road city is over 2000 years old and lays claim to being the most complete medieval city in Central Asia. Some of its monuments and buildings would alone be enough to secure World Heritage status, but it’s the integrity and unity of the conglomeration that’s truly startling. A highlight here is the famous tomb of Ismail Samani, a magnum opus of Muslim architecture.

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Russia

Gloriously peppered about the glacial Kamchatka region in eastern Russia, these volcanoes are thought to be some of the most beautiful in the world – yet not many people know about them. Perhaps that’s because they’ve never been particularly destructive, though many are active. The area supports some wonderful wildlife including sea eagles, sea otters and peregrine falcons.

Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Russia

Vredefort Dome, South Africa

A place of superlatives, as South Africa’s Vredefort Dome, 120km southwest of Johannesburg, is not only the oldest astrobleme (literally “star wound”) but the largest as well. Over 2000 million years ago, an enormous meteorite thumped into the Earth’s crust, creating a gigantic hole measuring 190km across. The effects must have been devastating. Today, visitors come to gawp at the depth and size of the crater, an impressive reminder of quite how old our planet is.

Vredefort Dome, South Africa

Gebel Barkal and the Sites of Napatan, Sudan

Together with the small mountain dubbed the Gebel (or Jebel) Barkal, the five Sites of the Napatan straddle the River Nile and spread over 60km. These sites are seriously, seriously old, representing both the Napatan (900 to 270 BC) and Meroitic (270 to 350 AD) dynasties. You’ll find ancient pyramids, tombs, temples and palaces here – some still worshipped by the locals today.

Gebel Barkal and the Sites of Napatan, Sudan

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Hidden deep beneath scrubby New Mexico land, the 117 caves that make up Carlsbad Caverns National Park have a wonderful, magical feel to them, despite the fact you have to be decontaminated before entering. Carlsbad Cavern is the biggest and most exciting chamber in the park, housing all sorts of delightfully named stalactites such as the “Witch’s Finger” and the “Totem Pole”.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Le Havre, France

Compared with more traditional French sights like Arles and the Canal du Midi, some might dispute the inclusion of the northern town of Le Havre on the UNESCO list. However, that would be to disregard the monumental achievements by a certain Monsieur Auguste Peret, who rebuilt the town to a spectacularly unified and consistent design, following its flattening during World War II bomb raids.

Le Havre, France

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Canada

This badland park in Alberta has the richest deposit of dinosaur bones and fossils in the world. From being doused by great rivers and later covered by a thick sheet of ice during the Ice Age, to switching to swampy grove and morphing into today’s drier, rocky land, the area has undergone perfect conditions to preserve many species of reptilian beasties.

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Canada

Saltaire, England

Saltaire near Bradford in West Yorkshire was founded by eminent Victorian industrialist Sir Titus Salt, who built a textiles mill and village to house his workers on the banks of the River Aire. Hence the name: Salt-aire. Far from being a stuffed model, it is still a living village. Salt built a concert hall, hospital, gymnasium and washhouses with running water for his employees.

Saltaire, England

Aigai, Greece

We all know Greece is loaded with ancient archeological sites, but Aigai, near modern-day Vergina in the north of the country, is a particularly important find – and relatively overlooked. Touted as the first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia, the site features a massive palace plastered with amazing mosaics, and a huge burial ground with over 300 tombs and graves.

Aigai, Greece

China Danxia, Southwest China

China Danxia is a catch-all term referring to several UNESCO World Heritage sites in the southwest of the country that are typified by incredible rock formations erupting from red sedimentary beds. Weathering has contributed to the creation of odd-shaped ravines, waterfalls, caves, towers and pillars, all soaked in mesmerising colours like russet, burnt orange, rose pink and apricot.

China Danxia, Southwest China

Rohtas Fort, Pakistan

It’s hard to take in the sheer size of this majestic fort with its vast, bastion-lined walls stretching out 4km long. The fort, situated near the city of Jhelum in northern Pakistan, dates back to the sixteenth century and is the best-known example of early Muslim military architecture.

Rohtas Fort, Pakistan

Gulf of Porto, Corsica

Created in 1975, Corsica’s Regional Natural Park covers nearly 40 percent of the island and includes the wild Gulf of Porto on the island’s western coastline. This part of the island, particularly around the so-called Scandola peninsula, features a mass of rust-red porphyritic rocks, spiked islets, gaping caves and sea stacks.

Gulf of Porto, Corsica

Shibam, Yemen

An incongruous sight, this (and an endangered one, too): tower blocks soaring several stories high, encompassed by a fortified wall and plonked in the middle of the South Arabian plateau. But these are no ordinary towers; dating to the sixteenth century, these amazing buildings are made entirely out of sun-dried mud. It’s no surprise that Shibam is nicknamed the “Manhattan of the Desert”.

Shibam, Yemen

Rock paintings, Baja California

The people who created these magnificent rock paintings have long gone, but the figures of animals and humans are as dramatic and brightly coloured today as the day they were daubed, in pre-Hispanic times. The dry heat of the Sierra de San Francisco and the inaccessibility of the caves have ensured their remarkable preservation, though a visit is certainly possible – just be prepared for long journeys involving driving, hiking and mule-riding.

Rock paintings, Baja California

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