If the Irish didn’t invent the pub, they’ve certainly espoused its cause with great vigour. The pub retains a pivotal place in Irish society. It’s the place where stories are narrated, deals and pacts are made, jokes are told and traditional music is heard.

During the 1990s, the “Irish pub” concept (albeit with “authentic” period decor manufactured in Dublin) spread to far-flung points of the globe. Yet experiencing the real thing on its home turf to a live soundtrack of traditional music is still an unbeatable experience.

The country’s musical traditions remain essentially based on the age-old practice of passing down tunes and songs by oral transmission, from generation to generation and from friend to friend. The pub session has become its core, where the richness of the musical tradition can be experienced at first hand, and the craic (or crack) – that idiosyncratically Irish, heady combination of drink-fuelled chat, banter and fun – simply takes over.

With a pint of the black stuff in hand, here are some of the best, entirely authentic pubs to experience live music from the new Rough Guide to Ireland. It’s time to get started on a lifelong love affair with bodhráns, tin whistles, pipes and fiddles. But remember, sometimes the best sessions are the  spontaneous and uproarious affairs you never expected to find.

1. The Cobblestone, Dublin

Arguably the best traditional-music venue in Dublin, this dark, cosy, wooden-floored bar is also a fine place to sample the hoppy products of the nearby Dublin brewing company. High-quality sessions take place nightly from around 9pm, and on Sunday afternoons, while the Back Room hosts a variety of gigs.


Cobblestone by indigoMood on Flickr (CC license)

2. O’Donoghue’sDublin

The centre of the folk and traditional-music revival that began in the late 1950s, forever associated with ground-breaking balladeers the Dubliners. Nightly sessions draw a considerable crowd of tourists, while the large heated courtyard is more of a draw for locals.

3. De Barra’s, Clonakilty

This is the pick of Clon’s old-time pubs, with great live music most evenings, including a popular traditional session on Monday and an acoustic session on Tuesday.

4. Buckley’s, Killarney

Entertainment’s the name of the game in Killarney, and most bars provide regular live music, of wildly varying quality. The best is Buckley’s, a smartly refurbished traditional bar with long, sociable bench seats. Come on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the traditional sessions.

Trad music in Buckley’s Bar in Killarney by Chris Brooks on Flickr (CC license)

5. Tigh Coili, Galway City

A slow crawl through the pubs of High and Quay streets is a must in Galway City, soaking up the atmosphere of their historic interiors in winter, and the buzzy street life at their outdoor tables in summer. You’re bound to find a traditional session here, although some of the best are at Tigh Coili, a welcoming, central and sociable traditional family-run pub.

6. Reel Inn, Donegal Town

The place to come in Donegal Town for traditional music, and it’s no exaggeration to say that there’s something on here every night of the week, every day of the year. Music aside, this is a real boozer’s pub with oodles of character, and characters.

7. Madden’s, Belfast

This wonderful, unpretentious and atmospheric pub is off the beaten path but well worth seeking out. Its two large rooms (one upstairs, one downstairs) are filled with locals and as well as excellent traditional sessions there’s also set dancing.

Madden’s by jon crel on Flickr (CC license)

8. Seán Og’s, Tralee

In the market town of Tralee, two big open fires and and regular traditional music are among the draws at this friendly, dimly lit and cosy pub just off the Mall. They also offer B&B, so you can even stay overnight.

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

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding ways to explore the world. Whether you’d rather spend it on a desert island or in a frenetic new city, here are the best places to travel alone.

1. Lombok and the Gili Islands, Indonesia

Not as overrun as Bali, its more famous neighbour, Lombok is gaining a sterling reputation with independent travellers who want to learn to surf, snorkel or dive in beautiful, clear waters. Inland, the lush green paddy fields stretch to the massive Gunung Rinjani volcano with its waterfalls and hot springs. The three tiny but increasingly popular Gili Islands off Lombok’s northwest coast are easy to access – Trawangan is where the party’s at.

2. Cuba

The Cuban capital of Havana conjures images of crumbling colonial architecture, 1950s Chevys, salsa and cigars. However, with the political scene inside Cuba shifting, private enterprise is being encouraged and small businesses across the country are opening and expanding. Now is a great time to visit those tiny back street restaurants and artisan shops. Homestays have always been characteristic of travel in Cuba, and this, along with low crime, means travelling alone is safe and rewarding.

Not sure where to start? Check out our list of 23 things not to miss in Cuba.

3. Guatemala

If you’re looking for the best places to travel alone in Central and South America, don’t overlook Guatemala and its ancient Maya ruins. It’s an inexpensive place to travel, which means you could stay for a while to learn Spanish or even volunteer. Come here for adventure activities like hiking, kayaking and whitewater rafting – and to explore the jungle and get up close and personal with Central America’s most active volcano. Haggling for fresh produce in one of the country’s colourful markets is an adventure in itself.

With more than a few weeks to spare, you could also explore further; The Rough Guide to Central America on a Budget has all the information you’ll need on travelling in the region.

4. Kenya

With its incredibly diverse ecosystem and reputation for the “Big Five” (elephant, black rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard), Kenya is the place for safaris. You can easily join a big group or arrange for a guide to take you out into the wilderness alone. The country has a good infrastructure and it’s easy to get around and find accommodation – and it’s not uncommon to get offers to stay in people’s homes too. Take care of your belongings, particularly in Nairobi; but don’t hide away in your hotel when it gets dark or you’ll miss out on the city’s burgeoning nightlife scene (though taxis between venues are recommended).

We’ve put together three itineraries to help you start planning.

5. South Island, New Zealand

The list of solo activities you can do on New Zealand’s beautiful South Island is endless: zorbing, horse riding, skiing, hiking, kayaking, bungy jumping, skydiving, jet boating, whitewater rafting… With jaw-dropping scenery around every corner, the small country is one big outdoor playground. Mountains, glaciers, lakes and craggy coastline form the backdrop for a place that is regularly voted one of the most beautiful in the world.

Planning your trip on a budget? Here’s our advice for getting the most from backpacking around the country.

6. Barcelona, Spain

Busy Barcelona is one the best places to travel alone. Its café-lined boulevards are perfect for people watching, or you can escape the hustle and bustle by heading out to one of the city beaches on the super easy-to-use public transport. In the evening you can avoid eating alone in a stuffy restaurant by doing as the Spanish do: grazing on tapas in one of the city’s cool bars.

7. Ireland

Ireland is famous for the welcome it extends to strangers; pull up a stool in a traditional Irish pub, offer to buy your neighbour a pint and you’ll have a friend for life – or at least the evening. Stay a while and you might get lucky and catch a traditional Celtic music session. If you don’t have your own transport, then it can be tricky to get out to the remote west coast, though some people still hitchhike (of course not without its dangers). Here you’ll find some of the country’s most sacred sites including Skellig Michael, Rock of Cashel and Croagh Patrick.

8. Nepal

Although earthquakes have recently rocked Nepal, many of the regions famous for hiking are largely unaffected – and the country is in desperate need of your tourist dollar. If you’re an experienced altitude trekker, the Annapurna circuit can be tackled independently, but it’s wise to hire a porter or set out with an organised group. Hiking this Himalayan circuit typically takes three weeks and it’s a great way to get up close to traditional mountain people; you need very little gear as you stay in comfortable teahouses along the way and buy food as you go.

9. New York City, USA

Explore the streets of Manhattan and the outer boroughs with no arguments over which world famous museum, cutting edge art gallery or iconic landmark to visit. If you aren’t as brave as Carrie Bradshaw and don’t want to face a restaurant alone, then there are plenty of gourmet food markets to eat on the hop. You could also browse a Brooklyn flea market, people watch in Times Square, go rollerblading in Central Park or take a sightseeing cruise on the Hudson.

Just remember to take The Pocket Rough Guide to New York City along to guide you to all the best spots.

10. Hokkaidō, Japan

Japan is a very friendly country and outsiders, especially those travelling alone, are made welcome as a matter of course. Hokkaidō is the most northern and least developed of the country’s four main islands and although its capital city hosted the 1972 Winter Olympic Games and brews the famous Sapporo beer, Hokkaidō is best known for the great outdoors. Hiking, skiing and birdwatching are top activities if you want to embrace the elements in a remote and unspoiled landscape.

Get prepared with this guide to the things every gaijin (foreigner) will learn in Japan.

11. Jordan

Jordan is a gentle introduction to the Middle East, so follow in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia to explore evocative ruins and ancient cities, stargaze in the desert or float in the Dead Sea. On your travels, be ready to accept a few offers to drink tea or eat a meal in someone’s home. You’ll find it impossible to go anywhere in Jordan without experiencing some of its famous hospitality; it’s one of 21 highlights of visiting the country.

12. Southern Thailand

Thailand’s beaches and islands are on the traditional backpacking route and whether you choose the Gulf coast to the east or the Andaman coast to the west, you are bound to find people to chat with over a cold Chang beer if you’re travelling alone. The land of smiles is also fifteen degrees north of the equator so there’s a tropical climate with plenty of sunshine almost year-round.

For more detailed advice, check out our tips for travelling solo in Thailand.

13. Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a predominantly a Buddhist country, and its residents are friendly and welcoming to all. In the interior of this island nation, undeveloped hill country is home to tea plantations, ancient cities, forest reserves and sacred mountains. On the coast you’ll find beautiful sandy beaches, quiet resorts and labyrinthine lagoons. Support local communities and get to know your hosts by staying in an ecolodge or a homestay, and take The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka for details of the best restaurants, tour operators and more.

14. Copenhagen, Denmark

This laidback capital city makes a brilliant weekend destination for a solo traveller. It’s a compact city that’s easy to explore on foot or by bike – there are cycle paths everywhere – there’s a lovely Scandi café culture, great art museums and cool, low-key nightlife. In summer, you could hit the nearby beaches, one of the harbour baths or an outdoor city pool for a swim.

15. The Greek Islands

Yes, there are party islands and whole coastlines dedicated to package tourism, but it’s easy to escape the crowds and find a lonely and unspoilt beach or traditional Hellenic village, particularly if you travel off season and aim to stay with locals. The ferry timetables easy to work out, so spend time hopping between islands or zone in on somewhere like Crete and explore every inch.

Start planning with our author’s tips for travelling in Greece and his five favourite islands.

16. Newfoundland, Canada

Wild and craggy, Newfoundland is dotted with remote traditional fishing settlements that have been there for centuries. St John’s – a lively port city with plenty of nightlife – is a great place to start any solo trip. Get “screeched in” on George Street, a touristy but fun initiation for all newcomers (which basically involves kissing a cod and drinking rum). But the real reason to visit is to find peace in the remote wilderness of the interior or spend time on the coast viewing icebergs, whales and seabirds.

17. Dubrovnik, Croatia

An historic walled city jutting out into the deep blue waters of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik has plenty to offer the solo traveller. Try to avoid high summer when cruise ships dock and passengers spill out into the narrow streets; the best times to visit are April and September when the weather is warm and the cafés and restaurants are open for the season. Walk the city walls, visit the islands by ferry and go sea kayaking around the stunning bay.

18. Southwest USA

The American Southwest is famed for its spectacular landscapes and although there are pine forests and snow-capped mountains, the region’s best-known vista is the deep red sandstone desert dotted with flat-topped buttes and towering pinnacles. A range of great tours make this the perfect place to strike out solo. You can even star in your own Western in Monument Valley, joining a horseback tour along the valley’s many trails. Be sure to stop at the viewpoints and photograph lengthening shadows in the atmospheric early morning or late afternoon light.

19. The East Coast, Australia

Australia’s east coast is a popular route with backpackers who typically travel overland in either direction between Melbourne and Cairns – which is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. It’s easy to meet fellow travellers on this stretch as everyone is in holiday mode, taking time to hang out in hippie retreats, surf towns and national parks. A great way to meet people is to join a sailing trip to the pristine Whitsunday Islands off the Queensland coast.

Looking for more tips? Check out our complete guide to solo travel in Australia.

20. Rajasthan, India

Rajasthan is a wonderful introduction to India if you’re travelling alone. The Land of Kings is packed with forts and palaces, it’s easy to travel between the major sites of Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, and you’ll be spoilt for choice for atmospheric and inexpensive places to stay and eat. Spend time in the desert on the back of a camel and don’t miss the camel fair in Pushkar (held in October or November).

Old Havana, or Habana Vieja, oozes history. There’s nowhere else quite like this living museum of Cuban culture – a city where time stopped short and you’ll find stop-and-stare images everywhere you turn.

1950s American cars in blazing colours are parked on the edge of the road. Cycle rickshaws glide swiftly through the traffic. Narrow side streets hide buildings painted in every shade of pastel. Plants tumble over the side of crumbling balconies.

The area is a photographer’s dream, but it lends itself even better to film. In our video of the week below, Roland Cadieux expertly captures its energy and colour.

“There’s a place I go to where no-one knows me, but it’s not lonely” Matt Simons’ lyrics ring out as the film begins – we can’t think of a better introduction to Cuba’s beguiling capital.


Havana, Cuba from Roland Cadieux on Vimeo.

Four months after two devastating earthquakes struck the country, Nepal is slowly getting back on its feet. Shafik Meghji explains how, ahead of the peak tourist season, travellers can help the country recover by booking a holiday.

Why should I go?

Tourism is a vital part of the Nepali economy, directly supporting almost 500,000 jobs, and indirectly supporting many more. “Tourism is the backbone of Nepal’s economy, the major employer” says Ramesh Chaudhary, a leading guide. “Nepal’s economic sustainability heavily depends on tourism. Tourists can help alleviate poverty by travelling in various parts of Nepal. The number of tourists decreased drastically aftermath of the earthquake, but they have started coming again.”

Is it safe?

In July the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the US State Department both softened their travel warnings for citizens visiting most parts of Nepal. Although travel companies cancelled trips in the aftermath of the earthquakes, many are now running tours for the post-monsoon peak season, which runs from late September to late November.

“Following the earthquake we were overwhelmed by the response from our customers enquiring after the wellbeing of the local guides and partners we work with in Nepal,” says Lloyd Kane, senior manager at Rickshaw Travel, which is running a range of trips this year.

“We have been speaking to our partners in Nepal every day since the incident and recently sent a team of senior staff members out to Kathmandu and the surrounding area to offer their support and find out what it’s like to travel in the country.

“They reported that life in Kathmandu is slowly getting back on track, hotels are open and ready to welcome guests and the country is as beautiful and hospitable as ever.”

Where can I go?

The earthquakes affected fourteen of the country’s 75 districts. Although the devastation is extensive in these fourteen central districts – they will take many years to recover, and travellers should avoid them for now – the remaining 61 survived relatively or completely unscathed and are safe to visit.

For example, the tranquil lakeside city of Pokhara, the national parks of Chitwan and Bardia – home to rhinos, elephants, tigers and a wealth of other wildlife – and Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha, all escaped major damage.

What about Kathmandu?

The capital – and the surrounding valley, the country’s cultural heartland – was badly affected by the earthquakes, but is now getting back to normal. In July UNESCO decided not to put seven Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites on its “danger list”, and they are now open to the public again.

Some – including the mesmerising Buddhist stupa at Boudha and Pashupatinath, Nepal’s holiest Hindu pilgrimage site – were largely untouched. Others, such as Kathmandu’s Durbar Square and the Swayambhu Temple, suffered significant damage, but restoration work is underway.

“Generations of skilled artisans have built and rebuilt these sites over the centuries,” says Mads Mathiasen, who runs Nepal-based tour operator Himalayan Trails.

“The heritage is not only in the bricks and mortar we see today. It is also in the spirit of the place and the connection of the people who live here, worship here and maintain these areas, including rebuilding the physical structures after earthquakes, fires or other types of damage which inevitably occur over time.”

More than ninety percent of Kathmandu’s hotels and guesthouses, particularly those in the tourist hub of Thamel, have reopened. Look for one with a green sticker, which indicates that government engineers have assessed it as safe: for a list of hotels with the green sticker, click here.

Most restaurants and travel agencies are also open for business, there is electricity (though the regular pre-earthquakes power cuts continue) and internet access, and ATMS are functioning as normal.

How do I get there and around?

Kathmandu’s international airport remained open throughout the earthquakes, and continues to be served by a wide range of airlines. Most of the regional airports and the major roads are also open, and outside of the worst-affected areas, it is straightforward to get around.

Can I go trekking?

Yes. Miyamoto International, a major engineering firm, has carried out assessments of the major trekking areas. It judged that both the Everest and Annapurna regions will be safe to trek in after the monsoon.

The Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal is overseeing assessments of other trails, and says most of the other popular trekking regions – excluding Langtang, Rolwaling and Manaslu – are also safe.

What about insurance?

It can be a tricky getting insurance for trips to Nepal, though the situation is likely to improve over the coming weeks and months: travel agencies can provide the latest advice.

Where can I find out more?

Nepal’s tourist industry runs a useful Facebook group. The just-launched About NepalNow website, a collaboration between travel experts and the Nepal Tourism Board, will be similarly helpful when fully up and running.

Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to Nepal. He blogs at unmappedroutes.com and tweets @ShafikMeghjiCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

With the new university year about to start, ABTA (the UK’s largest travel association, representing travel agents and tour operators) have revealed the top 10 gap year destinations for 2015.

This year’s list doesn’t come with many surprises. New Zealand has pushed Thailand out of the number two spot and Vietnam has jumped into fifth position – but Australia remains the most popular.

Interestingly, the balance between budget-friendly destinations, such as Thailand and India, and more expensive countries like the USA and Canada is quite even. This may be a reflection of the kind the gap years people are looking for. “Although a gap year still represents an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves, increasing numbers of gappers are looking to gap year specialists to provide them with opportunities to gain work experience”, ABTA say.

Other trends they highlight are a move to adventure gap years oriented around trekking, biking and rafting, and the popularity of volunteering trips – from hands-on environmental work to aid panda conservation in China to teaching English in Ecuador.

Here’s the full list – click through for our top experiences in each country

1. Australia
2. New Zealand
3. USA
4. Peru
5. Vietnam
6. Thailand
7. Canada
8. Brazil
9. Argentina
10. India

The southernmost territory of SpainAndalucía is the part of the Iberian peninsula that is most quintessentially Spanish. The popular image of Spain as a land of flamenco, sherry and ruined castles derives from this spectacularly beautiful region.

Andalucía’s manageable size also makes it easy to take in something of each of its elements – inland cities, extensive coastline and mountainous sierras – even on a brief visit. Plus the proliferation of dramatic historic buildings mean there are plenty of unforgettable places to stay. From humble family-run pensiones and hostales to five-star luxury hotels, these are some of our favourites from the new Rough Guide to Andalucía.

1. Convento la Almoraima, Castellar de la Frontera

Just above the Bay of Algeciras, this is a magical hotel is housed inside a renovated seventeenth-century convent with a stunning patio and imposing Florentine tower. The rooms are elegantly furnished to four-star standard and there’s a pool and tennis court. The hotel is also surrounded by vast tracts of wooded walking country in the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales, making it hard to imagine a more serene stopover.

P1010005 by Antonio via Flickr (CC license) / cropped

2. La Casa del Califa, Vejer de la Frontera

This enchanting hotel, created inside a refurbished, part-Moorish house (reflecting the town’s Moorish origins), has magnificent views towards the coast far below. Individually styled rooms are decorated with Moroccan lamps and fittings, and guests have use of two patios, a terrace and a library.

3. La Seguiriya, Alhama de Granada

A charming hospedería rural and restaurant in an eighteenth-century house with fine views over the tajo from its back garden. The amiable proprietors – he a former flamenco singer, she a wonderful chef – make a stay here very special – the perfect end to any Andalucía trip.

Casas Blancas in Vejer de la Frontera by Li-Mette via Flickr (CC license)

4. Hospedería La Cartuja, Cazalla de la Sierra

A former Carthusian monastery transformed into a charming hotel surrounded by rolling hill country. As well as eight elegantly styled rooms in what was formerly the monastery’s gatehouse, the evocative ruin of the fifteenth-century monastery behind contains an art gallery.

5. La Casa Grande, Arcos de la Frontera

Perched on a clifftop, this former casa señorial has a spectacular columned patio and sensational views across the vega from a terrace bar. Some of the beautiful rooms (and more expensive suites) come with their own terrace, too.

Arcos de la Frontera by Joan Sorolla via Flickr (CC license)

 6. Los Pinos, Andújar

Secreted away in the densely wooded Parque Natural Sierra de Andújar – home to the threatened Iberian lynx – this is a very pleasant hotel with cosy en-suite rooms, apartamentos rurales and cottages arranged around a pool. There’s plenty of good hiking nearby.

7. Palacio de la Rambla, Ubeda

In Ubeda’s old quarter, this upmarket casa palacio owned by the Marquesa de la Rambla is the last word in understated taste. The lavish interior – with eight palatial rooms set around a stunning renaissance patio designed by Vandelvira – contains valuable furnishings and artworks.

Palacio de la Rambla by Cayetano via Flickr (CC license)

8. Alquería de Morayma, Cadiar

The cortijo (farmhouse) of an extensive estate is now a superb hotel set in 86 acres of farmland. Rooms are rustic and traditionally styled, plus there’s a pool, mountain biking and horse-riding on offer. You can even watch its organic farm in action, producing the wine, cheese and olive oil served in its restaurant.

9. Hotel Rodalquilar, Rodalquilar

In a former gold-mining village in Almería’s desert, this modern spa-inn with lofty palms and makes a great base to explore a dramatic gulch-riven landscape. Rooms are arranged around a sunken courtyard; a restaurant, pool, spa, sauna and gym plus free loan of mountain bikes are just a few of the facilities on offer.

Hotel de Naturaleza Rodalquilar by Toprural via Flickr (CC license

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

Walking: just putting one foot in front of the other, right? How hard can that be? Yes, a walking trip is something that anyone can do, but it is also something that is widely misunderstood. Hiking boots that don’t fit, a water bottle that isn’t big enough, a phone battery that never lasts – these are the things that pass from mere annoyance to sheer torture – even abject danger – on a long walk. Don’t fall into these easy-to-avoid first-timer traps, stay on track with our top hiking tips.

1. Put your best foot forward

First things first: boots. Do. Not. Scrimp. This couldn’t be emphasized enough if we wrote it in neon and underlined it three times. Your boots are your best friend on the trail and you need to spend some time picking them out. Get help at your local outdoor store and test out as many pairs as it takes to find a comfortable fit.

Don’t ignore the faux mountain slopes in the store – have a walk up and down them, jump, wiggle your toes. The most common mistake is thinking boots will stretch out and a size too small is the surest way to a black toenail. Buy bigger if in doubt. And pick up spare laces too, if yours snap on the trail these will be worth their weight in Gore-Tex.

2. Stick to the path

Sounds simple, but taking a “shortcut” is how most people end up lost. It may look quicker to “cut a corner” but that corner could be hiding a swamp, thick jungle, a steep slope, anything. Follow the signs, stick to marked routes and accept that the person who marked out the trail probably really does know best.

3. Take a guide

Concerned about being alone out there? If you’re at all unsure about where you’re going or whether you can hack it, join a group. Numerous operators (Macs Adventure, Headwater, Ramblers) offer guided group walks around the UK, Europe, the USA and further afield and there is, after all, safety in numbers. Many also offer self-guided walking holidays, with all route notes provided.

4. Don’t descend into madness

Everything is flat on a map – but you and your muscles both know that this is far from reality. Learn to read the contours, the circular lines that join points of the same height together, on your map and you’ll be able to see the height change and prepare for – or avoid – steep ascents and descents. Remember that contour lines closer together mean the slope is steeper, and that downhill can be much harder on the muscles than uphill. Reduce the number of miles you plan to walk if the terrain is steep and you’ll avoid burning thigh muscles.

5. Wrap up

Clothing is your protection against the elements and thin layers are best. Pack a microfleece (the lightest you can find), good quality waterproofs (jacket and trousers) and a hat and gloves if you’re somewhere cold or at altitude, and don’t forget the suncream and a sun hat if it’s going to be hot. A thin scarf is great for covering up against the sun, sitting on, drying yourself off with and a number of other things that make it an essential.

6. Stock up

If you’re walking in a remote area you’ll need to bring everything, including water and food, with you. Pack bread, ham and cheese to make sandwiches (don’t forget a knife), nuts and chocolate as energy-giving snacks and a Camelbak hydration pack filled with water. Soluble vitamin C tablets can be added to water for an extra burst of energy.

7. Get in shape

Think you can walk 15 miles in one day because it takes you 20 minutes to dash to the train station every day? Think again. Walking for a sustained period through rough terrain is an entirely different game. So if you’ve booked the Inca Trail start with a hike in your local park and work up to build your stamina.

8. Grab a pole

Walking poles split opinion but most serious walkers carry one – and swear by it. A pole gives you an extra limb, one that you can use for additional balance, or simply to check out the depth of puddles or just how thick that undergrowth is. Not a bad thing to have to hand if stray dogs approach either.

9. Respect the mountain

How often do we hear about someone being rescued from Ben Nevis or the Rockies? Never forget that the mountain is king and cares not a jot for you the hiker. Always check the weather locally before heading out and don’t start ascending those peaks if it’s closing in or a storm is en route. Wrap up warm, and take a whistle and a torch, these will be invaluable if for some reason you do need to attract attention.

10. Get appy

There are dozens of apps out there for hikers but one of our favourites is Endomondo. Tap the play button as you start walking and it will monitor how far you walk, what your elevation gain or loss is and log your route on a map. It will even tell you how much water you should drink and how many calories you’ve burned.

11. Bring batteries

For everything. That torch, your camera, your mobile phone. Check and charge everything fully before you head out and bring spares. For your phone, which could turn out to be your lifeline, pack the MiPow Power Tube 3000. It has an integral cable and can charge your phone more than once. It will also sync with your phone, making it beep if you accidentally leave it behind.

12. Get high safely

Some of the world’s best hikes (the Inca Trail, the Annapurna Circuit) take place at altitude and this is not something to take lightly. Altitude sickness can kill, and it may start with a simple headache or nausea. If you feel mildly hungover, short of breath even when resting, or dizzy seek help immediately and descend as far as possible. There is no cure apart from descending so never try to push on. Altitude sickness can usually be avoided by acclimatizing slowly, so spend a couple of days resting at altitude before walking. Drink plenty of water too and avoid alcohol too.

Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, find tours and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tuscany harbours the classic landscapes of Italy, familiar from a thousand Renaissance paintings, with its backdrop of medieval hill-towns, rows of cypresses, vineyards and olive groves, and artfully sited villas and farmhouses. It’s a stereotype that has long held an irresistible attraction. Nowadays Tuscany is among Italy’s wealthiest regions, but it remains predominantly rural, with great tracts of land still looking much as they did half a millennium ago.

It’s not possible to see everything that Tuscany has to offer in one trip – but this selection of the region’s highlights is a great place to start. From the new Rough Guide to Tuscany and Umbria, this is our pick of the best things to do in Tuscany.

1. Taste truffles in San Miniato

Tuscany offers plenty of opportunities for sampling this perfumed and pricey fungus. San Miniato, a brisk little agricultural town more or less equidistant between Pisa and Florence, is particularly renowned throughout Italy for the white variety.

2. Take a day-trip to Cortona

The ancient hill-town of Cortona is the major attraction on the agricultural plain of the Valdichiana, its steep streets giving an unforgettable view over Lago Trasimeno and the Valdichiana. In the wake of the film of Under the Tuscan Sun, Cortona was briefly the second most popular Italian destination for US tourists after Venice, but although it still attracts busloads of tourists nowadays, its steep little streets have not yet lost their charm.

3. Go wild in the Monti dell’Uccellina

The protected environment of the Monti dell’Uccellina is one of Italy’s last pristine stretches of coastline. The Maremma region in which it lies was long Tuscany’s forgotten corner, its coastal plains, marshes, forest-covered hills and wild, empty upland interior having been a place of exile and fear for much of the last five hundred years, but in this regional park efforts have been made to preserve these natural treasures.

4. Make a pilgrimage to La Verna

St Francis’s mountaintop retreat, still a thriving Franciscan monastery commanding wonderful views of the Apennines, is Tuscany’s major pilgrimage site. Some come here to pay homage, others to stay in the guesthouse adjoining the monks’ quarters and some merely out of curiosity. Unlike at the basilica at Assisi, however, sightseers rarely obscure the purpose of the place.

5. Get lost in The Uffizi

Italy’s finest collection of art and the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in Florence has recently doubled in size. There are so many masterpieces collected here that you can only skate over the surface in a single visit – set aside at least half a day to explore.

6. Go walking in the Alpi Apuane

Famous for their marble quarries, the Alpi Apuane of Northern Tuscany are also something of a botanical wonderland, with vast forests of beech and chestnut, and a profusion of wildflowers in spring. A network of clearly marked footpaths and longer trails thread the steep forested valleys, and there are some three hundred species of birds to spot as you hike – including the golden eagle, kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks.

7. Visit the Piero della Francesca masterpieces in Arezzo

Exquisite Renaissance works adorn almost every place of any size in Tuscany, but the stunning fresco cycles in Arezzo by Piero della Francesca are some of the finest of the region’s riches. Only 25 people are allowed into the choir of San Francesco at a time, so to be sure of getting in at the hour you want, check the Rough Guide for details of how to book a place in advance.

8. Wander the streets of San Gimignano

San Gimignano – “delle Belle Torri” – is famed for its amazing skyline which is dominated by fifteen medieval towers. The beautifully persevered streets are a vision of medieval perfection, but visit out of season if you can; the town’s magic can be compromised in summer by huge numbers of day-trippers.

9. Be a tourist in Pisa

It might be the subject of millions of postcards, but the Campo dei Miracoli in Pisa is still worth visiting. There’s a breathtaking array of buildings here: the Leaning Tower, Italy’s signature building saved from collapse in the nick of time, the vast Romanesque cathedral, the magnificent baptistery and the Camposanto with its beautiful frescoes and impressive tombs.

10. Walk the city walls in Lucca

Lucca has some of the most handsome Romanesque buildings in Europe, but tourism here is very much a secondary consideration. Get to know the town by walking or cycling the fortifications that still completely encircle the old city – the mid-afternoon shutdown is perhaps the best time to follow the 4km circuit, which is lined with plane, lime, ilex and chestnut trees.

11. Wine down in Chianti

Some of Italy’s finest vintages are produced in these celebrated vineyards between Florence and Siena. The region can seem like a place where every aspect of life is in perfect balance: the undulating landscape is harmoniously varied; the climate for most of the year is balmy; and on top of all this there’s some serious wine tasting to get stuck into…

12. Embrace open-air art

Located 5km southeast of Capalbio is one of Italy’s oddest collections of modern art, Il Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden), a whimsical sculpture garden of prodigious works by Niki de Saint Phalle. The brightly coloured, Gaudí-esque opus took the artist almost seventeen years to complete and the result is a truly staggering sight – sheer fun that children love and adults marvel at.

13. Sample island life on Giglio

Out in the Tuscan archipelago, Giglio is relatively unspoilt by the sort of tourist development that has infiltrated – though certainly not ruined – nearby Elba. This little jewel of an island boasts citadels, stone villages and panoramic mountain hikes, as well as beaches and watersports.

14. Hit the spa

Tuscany has some of the swankiest spa towns in all of Italy, but at Bagno Vignoni you can soak without paying a cent. This tiny and atmospheric village has a wonderful natural hot spring and Medici-era pool in place of a central piazza – sadly this is now out of bounds, but you can take a dip in the free outdoor sulphur pools nearby.

15. Go rural

Staying in Tuscany’s hill-towns obviously makes sightseeing easier, but the quality and variety of the region’s rural accommodation is outstanding. If you want to splash out, try a top-price hotel in a sublime setting such as the Castello di Velona. This twelfth-century “castle” 10km south of Montalcino is now a superb 46-room five-star hotel, set in lovely open countryside on its own hill and ringed by cypresses.

 Get the complete guide to Tuscany with the Rough Guide to Tuscany and UmbriaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

The allure of Istanbul is hard to beat. This thrilling city bridges two continents with a history spanning more than 2000 years. And with Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport hitting an all-time record for flight traffic this July, its status as a top city-break destination has been further cemented.

But what about the rest of the country? “More often than not, people spend all their time in Turkey mostly in Istanbul”, says entrepreneur and filmmaker Pete R, “but Turkey has much more to offer”. 

In this film, our pick of the week, he heads out across the country, paragliding in Pamukkale, hiking in Cappadocia and swimming in Lake Van. “Turkey is definitely one of its kind”, he says, and “I [encourage] you to go further east to see the real Turkey!”

Inspired? Check out our list of 20 things not to miss in Turkey and our “wild east” itinerary to kick-start your trip planning.


More to Turkey than Istanbul from Pete R. on Vimeo.

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

Taken from the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget, these are our top 11 tips for backpacking Southeast Asia.

With its tempting mix of volcanoes, rainforest, rice fields, beaches and coral reefs, Southeast Asia is one of the most stimulating and accessible regions for independent travel in the world. You can spend the day exploring thousand-year-old Hindu ruins and the night at a rave on the beach; attend a Buddhist alms-giving ceremony at dawn and go whitewater rafting in the afternoon; chill out in a bamboo beach hut one week and hike through the jungle looking for orang-utans the next.

In short, there is enough here to keep anyone hooked for months. Here’s our advice for getting the most out of backpacking Southeast Asia for the first time.

1. Plan around the weather

Southeast Asia sits entirely within the tropics and so is broadly characterized by a hot and humid climate that varies little throughout the year, except during the two annual monsoons. Bear in mind, however, that each country has myriad microclimates; for more detail see our “when to go” pages for Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

2. Get off the beaten track

Though Southeast Asia has long been on the travellers’ trail, it doesn’t take too much to get off the beaten track – whether it’s to discover that perfect beach or to delve into the lush surrounds of the rainforest. Think about visiting the overlooked city of Battambang in Cambodia, taking the railroad less travelled in Thailand or exploring Myanmar’s unspoiled southern coast.

3. Try the street food

This is the home of the world’s tastiest cuisines, and the really good news is that the cheapest is often the best, with markets and roadside hawkers unbeatable places to try the many local specialities. Night markets, in particular, are great for tasting different dishes at extremely low prices – sizzling woks full of frying noodles, swirling clouds of spice-infused smoke and rows of glistening fried insects all make for an unforgettable gastronomic experience.

4. Budget carefully – but have the odd splurge

Your daily budget in Southeast Asia depends on where you’re travelling and how comfortable you want to be. You can survive on as little as $20 a day in some countries, but for this money you’ll be sleeping in very basic accommodation, eating at simple food stalls, and travelling on local non-a/c buses. Think about where paying a little more will really enrich your trip.

5. Learn from the locals

Tribal culture is a highlight of many visits to less explored areas, and among the most approachable communities are the tribal groups around Sa Pa in Vietnam, the Torjan of Sulawesi in Indonesia, known for their intriguing architecture and ghoulish burial rituals, and the ethnic minority villages surrounding Hsipaw in Myanmar.

6. Embrace the great outdoors

Up for getting active? There’s plenty to keep you busy. You can tackle world-class surf at G-land in Indonesia, take a mountain-bike tour of Vietnam’s far north or discover your own lonely bays and mysterious lagoons on a sea-kayak tour of Krabi in Thailand. And that’s just for starters…

7. Make time for temples

Southeast Asia’s myriad temple complexes are some of the region’s best-known attractions. The Hindu Khmers left a string of magnificent monuments, the most impressive of which can be seen at Angkor in Cambodia, while the Buddhists’ most impressive legacies include the colossal ninth-century stupa of Borobudur in Indonesia and the temple-strewn plain of Bagan in Myanmar.

8. Get high

No, not that kind of high. Every visitor should make an effort to climb one of the spectacular mountains, whether getting up before dawn to watch the sun rise from Indonesia’s Mount Bromo or embarking on the two-day trek to scale Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia.

9. Hit the beach

The beaches here are some of the finest in the world, and you’ll find the cream of the crop in Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, all of which boast postcard-pretty, white-sand bays, complete with azure waters and wooden beach shacks dotted along their palm-fringed shores. The clear tropical waters also offer supreme diving opportunities for novices and seasoned divers alike.

10. Take local transport

Local transport across Southeast Asia is uniformly good value compared to public transport in the West, and is often one of the highlights of a trip, not least because of the chance to fraternize with local travellers. Overland transport between neighbouring countries is also fairly straightforward so long as you have the right paperwork and are prepared to be patient.

11. Stay healthy

The vast majority of travellers to Southeast Asia suffer nothing more than an upset stomach, so long as they observe basic precautions about food and water hygiene, and research pre-trip vaccination and malaria prophylactic requirements – but it’s still vital to arrange health insurance before you leave home. Some of the illnesses you can pick up may also not show themselves immediately, so if you become ill within a year of returning home, tell your doctor where you have been.

For a complete guide to backpacking Southeast Asia, check out The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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