There are few better ways to see Europe than by rail. Budget flights might abound, but nothing can match the experience of travelling by train. Forget about tedious airport transfers and unsociable departure times, by rail you’ll get glorious views, spacious seats and – best of all – the ability to hop off a train right in the centre of a new city.

Whether you’re planning an epic rail tour or just looking for a weekend break, this is our pick of the best places to visit by train in Europe.

For foodies: Lyon

France’s gourmet capital has never been more accessible, with a direct Eurostar link to London and TGV connections that will whisk you to Paris or Marseille in under two hours.

Compact and instantly likeable, the city is perfect for getting to grips with in a weekend. Stroll the old streets of Vieux Lyon, test your adventurous palate with local specialties such as tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe), then hit up the hip Croix-Rousse district for super-cool coffee bars and cocktails.

Do: Shop at the city’s famous indoor market, the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. It’s the ideal place to pick up a train picnic.

Stay: Stylish mini-chain Mama Shelter have opened their latest outpost here, offering boutique design at budget-friendly prices – including iMacs in all the rooms.

Lyon, FranceLyon via Pixabay/CC0

For nightlife: Budapest

Looking to get ruined? No, we’re not condoning bachelor party excesses, but embracing one of Budapest’s most famous attractions, the ruin bar.

These rambling bars have taken over abandoned buildings in the city’s seventh district, filling their dilapidated interiors with quirky decor, murals, art installations and more. You won’t find another night out in Europe quite like it.

As for getting there, direct rail links put you in easy reach of Vienna’s more sedate charms or the chilled-out Croatian coast via Zagreb.

Do: Take a bath. Budapest has long been known for its magnificent thermal pools; Gellért and Széchenyi baths are two of the best.

Stay: The sleek but affordable Soho Boutique Hotel is perfectly located for Budapest’s two train stations, and the best of the city’s nightlife.

Budapest, HungaryBudapest via Pixabay/CC0

For the journey: the Scottish Highlands

For more than 140 years, the Caledonian Sleeper Highland Route has run from London to Scotland’s far north, calling in at Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.

It’s undeniably one of the most spectacular journeys in Europe, passing through some of the Highlands’ most glorious landscapes, be they carpeted with snow in winter or dotted with wildflowers come spring.

Do: Allow yourself at least three days to explore Scotland’s rugged beauty. The adventurous can use “outdoor capital” Fort William as a base to climb Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak.

Stay: Splash out on a night at Inverlochy Castle, one of Scotland’s most luxurious hotels on the site of a thirteenth-century fortress.

Seville, SpainBen Nevis via Pixabay/CC0

For sun and sightseeing: Seville

Approaching Spain by train, most travellers make a beeline for Barcelona or Madrid. But those who venture further south are handsomely rewarded.

It’s just a two-and-a-half hour journey from Madrid to the Andalucían capital, one of the country’s most enchanting cities. With its Moorish architecture, majestic cathedral and narrow, atmospheric streets, Seville is a joy to wander – especially in June and July when there’s an average of 12 hours sunshine a day.

Do: Go on a tapas tour, either planning your own route or joining an organised group.

Stay: The small but welcoming Hotel Alminar is ideally located for sightseeing; it’s right by the cathedral and has a roof terrace perfect for summer evenings.

Seville, SpainSeville via Pixabay/CC0

For romance: Venice

Picture Venice and a train is probably the last image that comes to mind. Yet with direct links to Florence, Milan, Munich and more, rail is both a convenient and quick way to reach the city.

The station sits right on the Grand Canal, mere meters from the vaporetti and water taxis that will take you anywhere in the city. There no better way to crank up the romance than cruising beneath the Rialto Bridge, past some of the city’s finest palazzo and on to the famous landing stage at San Marco.

Do: Explore the other islands in the lagoon. The Lido’s beaches are great for sunny afternoons, while Murano is (unsurprisingly) the best place to pick up Murano glass souvenirs.

Stay: Boutique hotel Ca’ Pisani in Dorsoduro offers four-star service away from the crowds across the Grand Canal.

Italy, Venice, Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square) and rooftops in historic city

For an autumn or winter break: Munich

The Bavarian capital comes alive once temperatures begin to fall. First there’s the legendary Oktoberfest, which actually takes place at the end of September, and sees funfairs, beer tents and unbridled merriment overtake the city.

A few months on, as November draws to a close, the first signs of Christmas start to appear. Munich’s Weihnachtsmärkte is one the best in Germany, with hundreds of stalls radiating out from Marienplatz.

Do: Even if you’re not in Munich over Oktoberfest, make sure to visit the famous Hofbräuhaus for a stein.

Stay: Save your money for beer and glühwein by staying at the funky Wombats City Hostel (dorms and private rooms available).

Munich, GermanyOktoberfest via Pixabay/CC0

This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with here. All hotel recommendations are editorially independent. Header via Pixabay/CC0.

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding experiences out there. But where is the best place to travel alone? We’ve put together our own recommendations, but this year we thought we’d ask our readers. Here are the best places to travel solo – as voted for by you.

10. Ethiopia

Ethiopia might not usually feature in backpackers’ top tens, but the country is a truly rewarding place for travel of any kind, especially travelling solo. There’s no doubt that getting around can be a challenge – transport infrastructure is basic and roads can be bad – but the kind people, fascinating historic sights and gorgeous landscapes make it all worth the effort. If you’re willing to take the leap, Ethiopia offers a true adventure.

Ethiopia national parkPixabay / CC0

9. New Zealand

It’s no surprise that New Zealand appears on this list. The country has been a favourite of solo travellers for generations, offering easy exploration and plenty of opportunities for meeting people. Whether you’re after good wine and sublime food, or landscapes that could captivate you for hours, there’s something for everyone here. If you’re planning a trip, here are our top tips for backpacking New Zealand.

Traveller overlooking lake in New ZealandPixabay / CC0 

8. Nepal

It’s probably not hyperbole to say Nepal‘s people are some of the world’s friendliest, which is why it’s such an excellent destination for a solo trip. The country was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2015, which destroyed many historic temples and sights, but tourism goes on and travellers’ dollars are helping rebuild the country’s economy.

Friendly man in Nepal, AsiaPixabay / CC0

7. Spain

Spain solves the solo foodie traveller’s ultimate dilemma: while in many countries, eating alone in restaurants means just trying one dish, tapas means you’ve got an excuse to order at least three different things – right? Beyond the cuisine – a highlight for any visitor – the other great advantage to going solo in Spain is how easy it is to get around using the country’s rail and bus networks. Plus there are some brilliant backpacker hostels for meeting fellow travellers.

Tapas in Spain, Spanish tapasPixabay / CC0

6. Cambodia

This land of temples and sleepy towns is one of the most welcoming in Southeast Asia for a solo traveller. Cambodia has plenty to offer when it comes to traditional sights, too, from sacred ruins to a coastline littered with pretty coves, not to mention the gorgeous islands flung off the mainland. Head to the capital for riverfront rooftop bars, and chill out in Battambang when you tire of temples.

Angkor temples, monks walking, CambodiaPixabay / CC0 

5. Australia

A classic backpacker destination, Australia is a solo traveller’s dream. You could spend months (if not years) exploring this diverse country, whether you’re drawn to its cool cities, famous beaches or even to the stark beauty of the Red Centre. And when Bondi Beach looks like this in summer, it’ll be nigh-on impossible not to make friends along the way.

Bondi beach busy in summerPixabay / CC0

4. Singapore

This small city state isn’t always an obvious first choice for travellers, and many pass through en route to more popular destinations like the Philippines or Thailand (spoiler alert: Thailand’s up next). But stay a while and Singapore will capture your attention, from its shiny high-rise buildings in the city to the outlying islands with their thick forests and sandy beaches.

Singapore backstreets, AsiaPixabay / CC0 

3. Thailand

Visiting Thailand has become something of a rite of passage for many young travellers in Southeast Asia, and it’s little surprise you voted it near the top of this list. The country’s tourist trail is well and truly trodden, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer a great destination (or that you can’t get off the beaten track). Thailand has it all: fresh, zingy food; pristine beaches; desert islands; opulent temples; and friendly, ultra-hospitable people.

Buddha in Koh Samui, Temples in ThailandPixabay / CC0 

2. Ireland

This little island on the edge of Europe has so much charm and such friendly people that it’s the ideal place to travel solo; you’ll find it nearly impossible not to make friends with the locals. From the Giant’s Causeway on Northern Ireland’s rugged coastline, to the rolling green countryside of rural southern Ireland, it’s also a beautiful place to explore. Scale Skellig Michael if you’re a Star Wars fan (the final scene of the latest movie was shot on this special little piece of rock), or head to Belfast to see a city reborn.

Ireland countryside, EuropePixabay / CC0 

1. Vietnam

You’re bound for an interesting experience no matter how or where you travel in Vietnam, and journeying alone is one of the most rewarding ways to explore this beguiling country. From the noodles to the night buses, there are hundreds of experiences you’ll never forget throughout Vietnam, whether you’re exploring the lovely long coastline or trekking through remote villages and meeting the hill tribes.

Bright green rice terraces of Yen Bai, VietnamPixabay / CC0

If you’re planning your first solo trip, buy the Rough Guide to First-Time Around the World.  Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. 

Snow-white beaches, giant coconut-eating crabs and karate-loving grannies: Okinawa is Japan but not as we know it. This alluring chain of sun-kissed, hibiscus-draped islands offers a blend of Southeast Asian heat, unique ‘un-Japanese’ culture and delicious, life-extending food. Andy Turner explores how to make the most of a trip to Japan’s subtropical paradise.

Find the elixir of (long) life

An hour’s drive north of Okinawa’s sprawling capital, Naha, the village of Ogimi is famous across Japan for having the most centenarians (people over 100 years old) in the country. In fact, you’re barely considered middle-aged when you hit 80 here.

This could all be down to the local diet: steaming bowls of dark green vegetables, tofu, fresh fish and muzuku seaweed, the latter hoovered up from the Okinawan seabed and exported across Japan. Or perhaps it’s the knobbly goyu cucumber, apparently packed with all kinds of medicinal goodies (and often served up fried with SPAM, of all things).

Whatever the secret, it’s probably no thanks to the local hooch, awomori, ‘island sake’ which can pack a 60% alcohol punch. But that shouldn’t stop you sampling a glass – try the smooth, three-year aged version from local distillery Chuko Awamori.

Fish, Seafood in OkinawaImage by Andy Turner

Learn to be a karate kid

Not only are people incredibly long-lived in Okinawa, chances are they’re also handy in a fight. Karate was invented here in the seventeenth century (80s movie buffs may remember a certain Mr Miyagi was Okinawan), and you’ll see young and old heading to the local dojo every week (though perhaps not catching flies with their chopsticks).

Okinawan karate is less about flashy moves and more a way of life – the ‘why’ more important than the ‘how’ as they put it. Enthusiasts can arrange lessons with an experienced sensei (instructor). Alternatively drop in to Naha’s Dojo Bar, to lap up the martial arts memorabilia and an ice-cold Orion beer.

Karate, dojo, Okinawa, JapanImage by N i c o l a on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Kick back on Japan’s answer to Hawaii

Okinawa is often dubbed the ‘Japanese Hawaii’, and the comparison seems apt when you head to the outer islands or jima. With over 130 to choose from it’s tricky to pick out a favourite but Aka-jima (in the Kerama islands), a short if bumpy ferry ride from Naha is hard to beat for sheer beauty. Once the boat departs, you’re left with the sound of waves gently lapping against white sand and the scent of Ryūkyū pines in the sea breeze; you might even spot an elusive Kerama deer taking a dip.

For classic white-sand and emerald water eye candy you’ll need to hop on a plane to Ishigaki, part of the Yaeyama group of islands, 400km southwest of Naha. Here Kabira Bay is as close as Japan gets to Boracay or Waikiki Beach, with only half the level of commercialisation. There’s even a gloriously unpretentious hostel which makes for a tempting place to wake up.

Ishigaki - Kabira Bay - OkinawaImage by Visit Okinawa

Seek out some strange wildlife

The further you travel from the Japanese mainland Okinawa’s wildlife gets progressively weirder. On Hatoma in the Yaeyamas, huge armour-plated coconut crabs, up to a metre across, lumber past traffic to mate in the sea. A short boat ride away on Iriomote, tiny wild boar, half the size of their mainland cousins, roam the beaches snaffling up turtle eggs, while inland a rare miniature ‘leopard’, the Iriomote cat, prowls the forest.

coconut crab, Okinawa, JapanImage by Visit Okinawa

Explore an ancient empire

Gliding into Naha, aboard the sleek airport monorail, you could be forgiven for thinking that not a single building survived World War II (the city was devastated during the US assault on Okinawa in April 1945). Yet hidden amongst the utilitarian modern architecture are several reminders of its heyday as the capital of the Kingdom of Ryūkyū.

An independent state sandwiched between Ming dynasty China and feudal Japan, Ryūkyū developed its own culture and language, before finally being annexed by the Japanese in the nineteenth century.

The influence of its neighbours can be seen at Shuri Castle, painstakingly rebuilt in the 1990s. Here, vermillion Chinese pagodas and ornate dragons stand side-by-side with minimalist Japanese rooms kitted out with tatami mats. Look up and you’ll spot shīsā or ‘lion dogs’, glaring down from the roof. This uniquely Okinawan mascot can be seen warding off evil spirits and typhoons across the islands.

Okinawa, Nara, Castle, Japan, AsiaImage by Yusuke Umezawa on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

See an underwater Atlantis

Diving is excellent across Okinawa (check out our rundown of the best sites) but the most intriguing is off tiny Yonaguni, an edge of the world kind of place, within binocular-spotting distance of Taiwan. As well as being a hotspot for hammerhead sharks, it’s also home to a mysterious series of ‘ruins’ that resemble a mini Atlantis. With giant sandstone terraces and steps seemingly cut out by hand, it’s tempting to believe this was the work of an ancient civilization and not just a quirk of geology.

Yonaguni Ruins, Okinawa, JapanImage by Inside Japan

Andy Turner travelled with Inside Japan who offer a twelve-night island hopping trip to Okinawa as well as specialist itineraries for karate and diving enthusiasts. For a video taster of the islands see Be Okinawa.

It’s easy to be daunted by the endless choices on offer when planning a trip with kids. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of family vacation ideas that will get everyone – even jaded teenagers – excited.

For adventure: India

In the spirit of the latest The Jungle Book movie, take the kids on a tiger safari in India’s national parks. Two of the best tiger reserves are in Tadoba and Kanha national parks in central India – the latter in Madhya Pradesh which was the inspiration for Kipling’s classic story. There’s also the sprawling Satpura National Park in the same region, where you can pile into 4x4s for game drives and spot other wildlife lurking in the lush landscapes.

For seaside fun: Britain

Ignore the jokes about the changeable British weather and head for the beach for your next family vacation. For such a small island, Britain has an astonishingly varied coastline – from the rocky coves indenting Cornwall’s Atlantic side to the long sandy beaches of Rhossili bay in Wales and Cape Wrath at Scotland’s northwestern tip. Get into the old-fashioned seaside spirit in Blackpool or Scarborough, or check out the cool chic of Brighton and its exotic Royal Pavilion.

East Sussex, Brighton, Royal Pavilion

For activities: Costa Rica

Cloud forests, jungles, volcanoes and tumbling waterfalls – the natural beauty of Costa Rica is inexhaustible, and even better appreciated when you’re in the thick of it. Strap the family into zip wires for an unforgettable ride above Monteverde’s cloud forest, and hold on tight for a white-water rafting adventure in the jungles of Arenal. For a gentle comedown, take a leisurely boat cruise through the green waterways and lagoons of Tortuguero National Park.

For exotic culture: Morocco

Choose your transport – camels, 4x4s, mules or your own two feet – for guided treks through the Atlas Mountains surrounding Marrakesh. Along the way, you get to stay in Berber villages to unplug yourself (and the gadget-glued kids) and discover a completely different way of life. After a family vacation spent riding the sand dunes or biking along dusty trails, finish in relaxing style on the beach at Essaouira.

Morocco, Erg Chebbi dunes, shadows in the desert sand

For history: Rome

People of all ages can’t help but wonder at the ancient marvels that are casually strewn all over Rome. The Forum and the Colosseum are the big-hitters, of course, but there’s also the miracle that’s the Pantheon, which has been standing in Piazza della Rotonda since AD125 despite all that history has thrown at it. Children who are fans of Roman history will get a thrill from wandering through the ancient ruins of Ostia Antica. They’re only about 30 minutes from Rome and attract only a fraction of the tourists you’ll find in Italy’s capital.

For a road trip: America’s West

Start in Los Angeles – maybe squeeze in a visit to Universal Studios or Disneyland while you’re there – before hitting the road. Get a taste of the desert while driving through Joshua Tree National Park before crossing the border into the dusty red landscapes of Arizona and New Mexico. The area around Tucson, Santa Fe and Albuquerque is rich in colonial Spanish history and Native American culture, including the terracotta-coloured Unesco World Heritage Site of Taos Pueblo. At this point it’s very tempting to continue north towards the Grand Canyon.

USA, Arizona, dawn over Monument Valley

For food: Vietnam

Stick a plate of noodles in front of children and most of them would be happy. Go a step further and let them discover how to cook it themselves in the bewitching surroundings of Hoi An, preferably in one of the cooking schools that’s in a scenic riverside spot. The kids will be whipping up a classic Vietnamese pho in no time after spending the morning scouring the local markets for fresh ingredients for their lunch. Hoi An is street-food heaven, with stalls mingling influences from both the north and south of the country.

For wildlife: Kangaroo Island, Australia

More than a third of this peaceful South Australia island is covered in national parks where you can get comfortably close to wildlife – that means lounging with the sea lions on the beach and feeding the kangaroos in the aptly named Kangaroo Island National Park. There are also wallabies and koalas too, of course – not to mention possums, bandicoots and other native creatures. You’ll spot another exotic species in any of the five surf bays too, as the long sandy beaches and waves attract surfers from all over the world.

Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image Pixabay / CC0. 

Reykjavík is one of Europe’s smaller and saner capitals. If you’re more used to the traffic-clogged streets of other major european cities, the sense of space and calm here will come as a breath of fresh air.

Even in the heart of this Reykjavík, nature is always in evidence – there can be few other cities in the world, for example, where greylag geese regularly overfly the busy centre – and escaping the crowds and finding a spot of peace and tranquillity is relatively easy.

From the new Pocket Rough Guide to Reykjavík, here are a few of our favourite places to get away from it all.

1. Hafnarfjörður

Hop on the bus for the short ride to Hafnarfjörður, Reykjavík’s southern neighbour. In comparison with the capital, the streets here are all but empty of visitors.

Sunset in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland

2. Víðey

For just 1100kr you can ride the ferry to Viðey for great views of Reykjavík and the surrounding coastline. Viðey boasts some great hiking trails, too, offering a real chance to commune with nature in the city.

3. Reykjanes Peninsula

With your own transport, a drive around the southwestern point of the Reykjanes Peninsula, through the lava landscapes between Gríndavík and Hafnir, is especially rewarding.

Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland – by Lottie GrossImage by Lottie Gross

4. Öskjuhlíð

The forested slopes of this city park south of the centre are the perfect place to escape the crowds. Pack a picnic and find your own shady glade among the trees.

5. South of Hallgrímskirkja

The streets south of Hallgrímskirkja, notably Njarðargata, Baldursgata and Óðinsgata, are relatively unexplored by visitors to the city. A stroll here is a chance to see residential Reykjavík.

Reykjavik at sunrise by Lottie Gross

6. Sun terraces, Sundhöllin

Sheltered from the wind, the outdoor terraces at the swimming pool here are a wonderful spot to catch the rays (in the buff) on a warm day – and they’re little known to visitors.

Explore more of Reykjavík with the Pocket Rough Guide to ReykjavíkCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. 

Split and Dubrovnik are the stars of Croatian tourism. Both have an ancient core historic enough to be listed by UNESCO yet vibrant enough to remain home to a sizeable local population. Both have beaches backed by clear waters, fresh local seafood and plentiful bars with Adriatic views.

But should Split or Dubrovnik be your first Croatian port of call? Here’s our lowdown on what they have to offer.

Where’s best to soak up some culture?

Outdoorsy types rejoice, neither Split nor Dubrovnik are best discovered through museums. These are living, breathing cultural sites that beckon you outdoors onto sun-soaked streets.

Split first sprouted around the Diocletian’s Palace, a medieval hotchpotch of buildings superimposed onto a Roman blueprint that dates back to 295 AD. Wandering its spaghetti mess of alleyways and courtyards is the best way to get to grips with the city. Climb the bell tower of St Domnius for views across the red roofs to the harbour beyond and settle in on the steps of a café to watch local life pass by.

Dubrovnik’s old town is still home to about 1000 people and a walk along the 25m-high medieval city walls means peering down over people’s washing lines and into their kitchen windows.

All is peaceful now but in 1991–2 the city was under siege and there’s no better insight into this painful chapter in its history than the War Photo museum, a moving collection of photojournalism that pulls no punches.

It’s also worth taking the cable car up lofty Mount Srđ to see where the local population defended their city from the Serbs.

Old Cathedral, Dubrovnik, CroatiaPixabay /CC0 

Where can I find the tastiest food?

Croatian food is fabulous, making creative use of the country’s excellent local produce.

Both Split and Dubrovnik are port cities, with easy access to superb fresh seafood, and grilled fish is a staple of the menu in both cities. You’ll also find the Dalmatian classic, pašticada (beef stew), served up in every konoba (traditional restaurant) and, in Dubrovnik, plenty of fresh oysters from the country’s oyster capital Ston.

In Dubrovnik, a good general rule for finding authentic Croatian food is to stick to the restaurants south of Stradun (Prijeko to the north is particularly tourist-trap heavy) and, for the very best seafood, head out to Gruž, home to the fish market and some great seafood restaurants.

It’s even easier to find authentic food in Split, especially in the streets to the west of the palace, towards the Varoš neighbourhood.

Delicious SeafoodPixabay /CC0

Where can I find a party?

The perfect night out in either city starts with finding the perfect pavement table to sit at and watch the world go by.

In Split you’ll most likely find this on the Riva, where the strip of bars with their large harbourfront terraces are the perfect place to wave off the day’s cruise ships. Afterwards head into the Diocletian’s Palace with the locals to find a place to perch on the steps and order a glass of local wine – keep heading upwards to find the quieter, less touristy spots.

In Dubrovnik, sundowners are best at one of the Buza bars. Buza means “hole” and both Buza I and Buza II are tucked away in the city walls and accessed by a small doorway – beyond you’ll find tables balanced on the rocks and stunning Adriatic views. From here head back to Stradun and follow the alleyways running off it to find tiny wine bars such as long-running D’Vino.

Bar in CroatiaDubrovnik Photography/Flickr

Where can I go for a dip?

The Adriatic has some of the cleanest, clearest waters in Europe and no visit to Croatia is complete without a swim.

In Split, head to Bačvice beach, a short walk east of the city centre, for shallow waters and – unusually for Croatia – a sandy ocean floor, or escape to the facilities-free Kašjuni beach, on the southern coast of the Marjan peninsula some 4km west of the city.

In Dubrovnik, few experiences beat swimming from the rocks at one of the Buza bars, returning to flop onto the warm rocks and order a cold beer. Banje beach just outside the city walls to the east is another good bet, with the chic Banje Beach lounge bar providing lounge beds on the sands.

Croatia, Dalmatian Coast, Split, Bacvice, people on sandy beach

Which is the best base for day trips?

Split is located in the middle section of Croatia’s lengthy Adriatic coastline and so is in a far better location than Dubrovnik when it comes to seeing more of the country (it also has better international flight connections).

Croatia’s fast motorways make it possible to visit the Plitvice Lakes national park from Split, some 250km away (2.5hrs drive). This is Croatia’s most popular natural attraction, a wonderland of tumbling waterfalls and idyllic lakes. Shorter trips can be taken to the beautiful ancient town of Trogir, some 20km drive up the coast, and across to the island of Brač, a 50-minute ferry journey from Split and home to the country’s most famous beach, the golden sandy spit of Zlatni Rat.

Dubrovnik lies in the far south of Croatia, but still has plenty of options for day trips. Perhaps the best is over to the island of Lokrum, a 15-minute ferry ride from the old harbour and home to monastic ruins, unspoiled woodland and plenty of peacocks.

Even more unspoiled are the gorgeous Elaphite Islands, with their olive groves and quaint hamlets, to which several full-day boat tours run. Ston is another great day trip option, its ancient city walls and abundant oyster beds just an hour’s drive along the coast.

Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park, view of the Lower Lakes

So, what’s the verdict?

That depends – how good are you with crowds? Dubrovnik heaves with cruise-ship passengers and holidaymakers in summer. Split suffers less with overcrowding so in high summer we say head here. Off-season, though, Dubrovnik is far quieter and there’s no denying that this Croatian stunner is the country’s crowning glory for a reason – it is truly spectacular.

Explore more of Croatia with The Rough Guide to CroatiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Although the news has been full of negative stories about the financial and immigrant crises which have engulfed Greece in recent years, there are still many reasons to visit. Its stunning beaches, superb mountain scenery, great food and warm Hellenic welcome are just a few.

Our first ever Rough Guide was to Greece, 35 years ago. As we celebrate our 35th birthday, co-author of The Rough Guide to Greece, Nick Edwards, shares his tips for travelling around this beautiful country.

1. Share the wealth

Try to use independent accommodation and dining options as much as possible. Resort packages, especially all­-inclusive ones, can be very cheap but little of the money you spend stays in Greece.

The economic crisis has actually led to most villa, pension and small hotel owners lowering their prices and being more prepared to bargain on spec.

And who wants to eat the same resort buffet every day, when there is a choice of authentic tavernas close by?

Santorini, GreecePixabay/CC0

2. Avoid peak season

Unless you have to go in high summer because of school holidays, try to visit outside the peak season of late July to the end of August. During this period, the weather is blistering hot, prices soar and everywhere gets overcrowded because the Greeks themselves are on holiday.

May and June see warm days, with a proliferation of flora, and fresh nights, while September and early October offer golden days and the sea still holds its summer heat.

3. Meander around the mainland

Don’t fall into the trap of associating Greece solely with its islands. The mainland has a great deal to offer, from the imposing Pindos mountain range in the north to the empty golden beaches of the western PeloponneseIt also boasts the greatest number of archaeological sites.

Travelling between the main towns is easy on the comprehensive KTEL bus network, with local services radiating out to villages.

You can also make use of the limited but extremely cheap national rail service for a number of key destinations.

Monemvasia, GreecePixabay/CC0

4. Eat and drink like a local

Eating is invariably a casual affair in Greece. Look out for the restaurants that the locals dine in as the food will be much better. Just remember that Greeks eat late – often after 10pm.

Always ask for local barrelled wine, which is cheaper than bottled, or try a fiery spirit such as ouzo or tsipouro. Likewise, don’t be fobbed off with bottled water, as what comes out of the tap is perfectly potable.

5. Go island hopping

There’s no doubt that the golden age of island hopping was in the 70s and 80s, and most people now stick to one island per holiday.

But ferry services are still plentiful and mostly reliable through the warmer months, so why not choose a group of islands like the Ionians, the Dodecanese or the postcard pretty Cyclades and see as many as you can?

Always plan to return to your departure airport a day or two ahead of your flight though.

Naxos, GreecePixabay/CC0

6. Embrace Greek time

Punctuality is not held in the highest esteem in Greece. There is a healthy Mediterranean belief that most things can be put off and nothing needs to be done in a hurry: Spanish “mañana” equals Greek “avrio”.

So don’t expect service in a restaurant to be too snappy or transportation always to run like clockwork.

7. Be culturally sensitive

Most younger Greeks regard themselves as modern and open­-minded – but the older generation have an ingrained conservatism and the Orthodox Church still holds great sway.

Nudity is frowned upon away from designated beaches and it is better not to visit churches or monasteries in skimpy shorts or tops.

orthodox church, GreecePixabay/CC0

8. Beware of directions and regulations

There’s a good deal of truth in the maxim that if you ask five Greeks how to get somewhere you’ll get five different answers. But don’t worry – getting a bit lost is all part of the fun.

It’s similar with rules and regulations such as having to wear seatbelts or crash helmets, or not smoking in public places. These are all regularly ignored but it’s up to you whether you follow suit.

9. Take care in the capital

Athens may come across as a concrete jungle, but it is also rich with sights, including the ancient Acropolis and some superb museums.

It is where you are most likely to encounter the effects of the twin crises, however, with an increasing number of shuttered buildings and homeless people.

Although it is not generally unsafe, you should watch your valuables, especially when travelling on crowded transport such as the metro.

Athens, GreecePixabay/CC0

10. Don’t be shy

Greeks are mostly extrovert types and love exchanging views and opinions with anybody and everybody. So don’t hold back on asking people about their beliefs and opinions or expressing your own.

If you are travelling with kids, you’ll soon see how much they are indulged. They can often act as natural ice­-breakers, especially at restaurants, where nobody minds them running around and making a bit of a noise.

11. Learn a little of the language

Greeks generally do not expect foreigners to know any Greek, and levels of English are good throughout the country.

On the other hand, they love it if you do learn at least a few words. Any effort will be rewarded by your status being elevated from a regular tourist to an honoured “xenos”, which means both “foreigner” and “guest”.

Inspired? To celebrate our 35th birthday, we’re offering our readers 35% off all ebooks with the code RG35YEARS.

Explore more of Greece with The Rough Guide to GreeceCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

The ICEHOTEL, constructed from snow and ice each year, has long been Swedish Lapland’s blockbuster attraction. It features in our list of the top 21 things to do in Sweden, and crops up on bucket lists the world over. Yet when the weather warms in the spring, this extraordinary hotel just melts away.

This year, things are set to change. The team behind the hotel are set to build ICEHOTEL 365, three times the size of its seasonal sibling, which will remain open throughout the year.


Image by Pin Pin Studio

The sustainable addition aims to make the most of the region’s near-constant daylight, running solely on solar power for part of the year. Here, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for 100 days straight between May and July. .

Yet while the new hotel will even offer ice-sculpting classes and a champagne ice bar in summer, some of the magic of bedding down in a giant igloo is certain be missing.


Image by Pin Pin Studio

Instead, guest can hike under the midnight sun, raft along the Torne river or learn more about the Sámi through cultural experiences. It’s not quite a year-round winter wonderland, but it could be an exciting alternative.

Explore more of Sweden with the Rough Guide to SwedenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Header image by Pin Pin Studio.

Backpacking Thailand can mean staying in fun-packed hostels and idyllic beach bungalows, eating noodles so tasty and so cheap you’ll swear off all other food groups and climbing aboard everything from an overnight train to a lolloping elephant.

But it also means following a well-worn route – one that has sprouted an entire industry to service it, and sometimes, sadly, to take advantage of it.

Sidestep those scams and dodge the dangers with our top tips for making the most of backpacking Thailand.

1. Be respectful – know the etiquette

Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason, but those smiles can quickly disappear if you don’t respect the culture. The feet are considered the lowest part of the body so never point them (especially the soles) towards somebody, especially if that somebody is a statue of Buddha. The head is considered most sacred so don’t touch people on the head, even children.

2. Eat bravely

One of the best things about travelling in Thailand is the food and you’ll find the tastiest – and cheapest – Thai noodles and curries at the street food stalls.

Be brave and follow the locals, they know which places have the highest standards, and the more people eating means more turnover and fresher ingredients.

Street food, Thailand

3. Embrace public transport

Yes, the tuk tuk is an experience you mustn’t miss but to get proper mileage under your belt (and to get between Bangkok and the highlights of Chiang Mai, the southern islands and Kanchanaburi) you’re going to need to get to grips with the Thai bus service (Baw Khaw Saw or BKS).

Government-run, it’s reliable and extensive, with a BKS station in almost every town. Book your tickets here the day before you want to travel if and take the overnight first class bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

These generally stop somewhere en route for you to eat and will have reclining seats and a toilet on board. Bring a warm jacket to wrap up in, earplugs and an eye shade and prepare to arrive very early in the morning.

4. Timing is everything

The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the monsoons finish for the year and temperatures are at coolest. This is also peak season though so if saving money and avoiding crowds is more important to you than sunbathing, the wet season (May to October) could be a better bet. To see all the highlights at a reasonable pace you’re going to need at least a month, though two is better.

Phuket, buses, Thailand

5. Don’t be fooled

That tuk tuk driver stopping you on the street to tell you it’s a national holiday and that temple you’re about to visit is closed? It’s almost certainly not, he or she may just want to take you to their cousin’s carpet factory or sister’s gem shop.

Don’t be fooled by official looking uniforms, cheap or free tuk tuk tours or one day only gem sales either – unfortunately all are scams set up to part you from your travel funds, usually in exchange for a worthless ‘gem’ you can sell when you get back home

And don’t even think about getting involved in the sex industry – prostitution may be rife in Thailand but one thing it’s not is legal.

6. Agree a price before you ride

Be it a taxi or a tuk tuk, you need to agree a price for your journey in advance. Taxi drivers are meant to use the meter so ask them to and if they say no move on along the rank to the next driver.

Tuk tuks should be haggled over – ask your hostel for a rough estimate on current rates and stand firm. Though it also pays to remember that haggling over 20 baht is about equivalent to getting in a stress over 40p or 60 cents – sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

Morning Alms Round, Young monks on alms round, Mae Hong Son, THAILAND

7. Pack light

You’re going backpacking for the freedom – so don’t weigh yourself down. Buy a light backpack and fill it only with the essentials.

You’ll need layers for those chilly bus journeys, a few items of underwear you can wash repeatedly, a waterproof jacket, earplugs, your phone charger and adaptor and insect repellent. Here’s a backpacking checklist to help you plan your backpack.

8. Use hostels

Thailand has a great network of hostels and you’ll not only save money over hotels, but also meet more people and get more local recommendations. Hostel staff are also a reliable source of advice and information on everything from avoiding the latest scam to where to get the best noodles, so talk to them.

9. Go with the flow

Thailand is a place to chill. So stay on somewhere if you love it, move on if you don’t, and if you hear about a cool new bar or restaurant, or a party on the beach, go. Unpredictable sometimes, unforgettable always.

setting off hot air balloons, Loy Krathong festival

Explore more of Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Among a certain segment of travellers, cruising is sometimes maligned: the dismal buffet and watered-down cocktails. Those kitschy lounge acts. The contrived shore excursions. But that, as they say, was then.

Cruising today, and especially river cruising, offers an entirely different experience, from celebrity chef-driven cuisine to stargazing lounges to bike rides along leafy canals.

River cruising is, in a way, ideal for those who don’t consider themselves cruisers: the ships are relatively small and intimate; land is always in sight, offering daily access to villages and towns; and dinners are elegant affairs at linen-topped tables, instead of noisy group melees.

Here are our five top picks for European river cruises, where the experience is the destination and the journey.

1. The Romantic Rhine, Germany

The Rhine has been immortalized for centuries: it inspired Richard Wagner to write his first opera, and the river’s famous Lorelei rock – supposedly helmed by a swirling-haired siren – has starred in poems, rock songs, and even as a Marvel Comics character.

Germany’s longest river is also one of Europe’s most beautiful cruise routes, particularly the 65-kilometre Middle Rhine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Romantic Rhine.”

During the Roman Empire, the Rhine was a strategic waterway, and looming over its banks are castles and crumbling fortresses that date back a thousand years.

The Rhine scenery is stunning – hilltop castles presiding over terraced, fragrant vineyards. Plus, there’s Riesling-tasting galore, the Mechanisches Muskikkabinett (Mechanical Museum) in Rüdesheim and a stop in Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town.

Sunset on The Romantic Rhine, GermanyPixabay / CC0

Travel with: CroisiEurope. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2016, the family-owned CroisiEurope offers affordable prices, but amenities are on par with the highest-level ships: spacious decks, hotel-style beds, and elegant dining rooms with French menus developed by notable chefs Paul Bocuse and Marc Haeberlin.

2. The River of Gold, Portugal

The traditional fado songs of Portugal are soulful and poetic, much like cruising the country’s waterways. Explore the river Douro and sip aromatic port in the country’s birth city, Porto; explore the lively Spanish university city of Salamanca; and, ease into the evening to the mournful sounds of fado.

A cruise down the Douro glides past looming rock formations and the Valerian and Pocinho Dams, to Barca d’Alva, with an excursion to Castelo Rodrigo, surrounded by almond trees, and on to Pinhão and the Douro Wine District.

Along the way, sample Portuguese specialties like salt cod, caldo verde stew, and the country’s famous port wine.

Viking River Cruises shipImage by Viking River Cruises

Travel with: Viking River Cruises winds through Portugal on the Douro River, from the capital city of Lisbon to Porto and its Baroque cathedrals. Their Scandinavian-themed vessels also maximize scenery-watching, with panoramic windows throughout.

3. The Canals of Burgundy, France

Best known for its centuries-old winemaking traditions, Burgundy is going through a rebirth, with wine-tasting salons that are spotlighting the latest oenological tech products and new farm-to-fork restaurants and upmarket B&Bs.

A cruise here floats lazily through the heart of Burgundy, stopping at family wineries like Domaine Briday in the northern Côte Chalonnaise, which is known for its white wines and the sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne.

Highlights include the Chateau de Rochepot, crowned by Burgundian multicoloured glazed tiles; the medieval wine capital of Beaune; and, above all, the barge’s slow pace. The full trip is around 75 miles, which you could cover in a morning drive in a rental car. Instead, this cruise can be spread out over six days, and the hypnotic movement of a barge is a powerful sedative, especially after a glass of Burgundy red.

Burgundy, canals, FrancePixabay / CC0

Travel with: French Country Waterways. The oldest U.S.-owned barge company operating in France, French Country Waterways is the elegant godmother of the canals. The ship interiors are done up in dark-wood paneling, plush sofas with tasseled pillows, and a grand communal dining table, laden with heavy silverware and flickering candles.

4. The Danube: Prague to Budapest

It’s shortly after that first beer lands on the table, with views of the city’s famous bridges glinting beyond, that Kafka’s famous quote hits home: “Prague never lets you go. This dear little mother has sharp claws.”

After a couple of days in Prague, it’s hard to escape its grip, but the Danube awaits. The river’s history unfolds along the way, with stops at medieval Regensburg; the Benedictine Abbey of Melk, one of the largest monasteries in Europe; and Passau, which rises over the convergence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube rivers.

The cruise culminates in Vienna – where you’ll sample the famous sachertorte and ink-black coffee – and Budapest.

Enjoy sausages and a beer (or five) at Historische Wurstkuchl, Germany’s oldest restaurant in Regensburg; an evening of opera in Vienna and crossing beneath the 1849 Chain Bridge in Budapest.

Avalon_DanubeImage by Avalon Waterways

Travel with: Avalon Waterways. Launched in 2003, Avalon Waterways has among the newest ships on Europe’s waters, with ample rooms with sliding glass doors, a sky deck with whirlpool, and stylish dining quarters.

5. The Norwegian fjords

Few sights accompany the morning coffee better than the sun rising over Noregian fjords. Greet the first light of day on the deck, as your ship glides around a bend and Norway’s cliffs come into focus, rising like skyscrapers over the waters.

Embark on a twelve-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes, which includes Ålesund, with its Art Nouveau architecture, and Tromsø, the capital of the Arctic.

Norway, fjords, EuropePixabay / CC0 

Travel with: Hurtigruten. On most other cruises, you’ll see the same passengers day in and out, but take the Hurtigruten ship and the faces change daily, since it also functions as a commuter route, with locals hopping on for short jaunts up and the down the coast.

And, don’t underestimate the allure of nostalgia: one of Hurtigruten’s most popular ships is the MS Lofoten – it launched in 1964, and little has changed since then. The ship celebrates the vintage era, with cargo loaded by traditional crane; gleaming wood and brass throughout, as well as oil paintings of coastal Norway; and sherry served on silver trays.

Explore more of Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image: Pixabay / CC0

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