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

Shanghai Tower, China

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

Lincoln Castle, UK

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

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA

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

IceCave, Iceland

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

Lost and Found festival, Malta

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

Dreamland, Margate, UK

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

TreeTop Crazy Rider, New South Wales

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

Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France

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

Sa Pa cable car, Vietnam

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

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

Rough Guides writer Greg Dickinson has hitchhiked in seven countries, flagging down over fifty cars, vans and lorries over a distance of 3000 miles. Here are some of his top tips on how to make the most of a hitchhiking adventure.

Hitchhiking is a disastrous mode of transport. It’s reckless, unpredictable, and at times downright nerve-wracking. But for anyone who enjoys meeting new people, eschewing the usual coach routes and – most of all – saving cash, it is also a wonderful travel option. It exposes you to the kind of spontaneous experiences that all the best travel tales are made of (Jack Kerouac didn’t invest in an annual Greyhound bus pass, after all).

In my travels I have shared a cramped driver’s seat with a chain-smoking Danish man, accidentally crossed the entire length of Spain (I was under the impression we were going 20 miles down the road to Pamplona) and hitched a ride with a very charming satan-worshipping lorry driver, whose cabin was filled with ornate skulls.

It may seem daunting, but after the thrill of your first lift you’ll be dying for the second. So build up some courage, find a mate, pack a rucksack and get ready to stick your thumb out. Here’s my guide on how to hitchhike:

1. PACK YOUR BOOTS, A MAP AND PLENTY OF PENS

There are a few items which could be the difference between a fun hitching trip and a miserable one. First and foremost, pack some comfortable shoes to walk in. You will inevitably end up hiking for miles to find an appropriate hitching spot. Another essential is, of course, a decent foldout map to help figure out where in the world you are and where prospective drivers are heading. Finally, bring something to create a makeshift sign out of (preferably something wipeable, like a whiteboard or the back of a poster) and plenty of marker pens to scrawl where you want to go – whether it be “Bordeaux” or simply “Sud!”.

2. THE ART OF CATCHING A LIFT

In the words of Phil Spencer, it’s all about location, location, location. There’s no use sticking your thumb out on a motorway slip road or a quiet country lane. The ideal spot is an out-of-town road where people are likely to be travelling longer distances. Position yourself on a long, straight stretch with plenty of room to stop – many drivers take a few moments to make a decision, pull over, and then reverse down the hard shoulder to pick you up. Some hitchers note down the number plate and car model at this point for peace of mind.

There are other subtle ways to improve your chances of catching a ride. Smiling, wearing colourful clothes and holding up a clear sign are all effective, and having a light load of luggage is more appealing to drivers than a mountain of tents and 80-litre rucksacks. No luggage at all is equally off-putting. If you’re getting desperate for a lift, a more direct method is to ask people for a ride at a petrol station; if you’re polite and aren’t too pushy it won’t be long before somebody gives you the benefit of the doubt and lets you in.

3. STAYING SAFE ON THE ROAD

The advantages of travelling with a friend are obvious – safety in numbers, of course, but also for the vital companionship during lonesome hours spent on the roadside. I’ve only ever hitched with at least one other person, and we always text someone back at home once a day to let them know how we’re getting on.

The rest comes down to common sense. Avoid getting dropped off on dangerous roads or in the middle of nowhere, keep your mobile phone charged, avoid hitching in the dark and, here’s the big one: choose your lift wisely. If the driver seems irritable, intoxicated or creepy just don’t get in the car. I’ve foolishly encountered all three and always wished I’d stayed on the roadside and waited for someone normal. One particularly shaky encounter was in northern Germany, where a wired Romanian van driver picked us up only to reveal he had been awake and on the road for 24 hours. His maniacal conspiracy theories and erratic driving were only amplified by the non-stop, 6-hour repeat of Culture Beat’s 1993 hit song Anything.

4. THUMBS UP FOR A GOOD CAUSE

Charity hitchhikes are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and are a great option for first-time hitchers. As well as being a good opportunity to fundraise, wearing a charity T shirt is likely to attract the attention of drivers; everyone loves a good cause, and charity affiliation will make you seem non-threatening. Most charities will also provide printed letters explaining the hitchhiking event in different languages (useful if trying to blag your way onto a train, for example), and an online tracking system so parents and friends can see where you’re up to. Jailbreak and Link organise annual hitches from the UK; these are primarily aimed at students, but more and more charity hitchhiking events crop up every year.

5. AND FINALLY… DON’T OVERPLAN

A hitchhiking trip is inherently chaotic. Don’t bother planning a set route, because you won’t stick to it. Don’t pre-book accommodation, because you’ll only end up cancelling and staying somewhere a hundred miles away. And don’t be overly ambitious with your endpoint – leave plenty of time to reach wherever you’re travelling home from. There’s nothing worse than having to swallow your pride and cough up for a journey after so many free lifts.

There’s a lot to think about when embarking on a hitchhiking trip, and every hitcher has their opinions on the dos and don’ts when on the road (there is, for example, an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of the ‘sign-writing’ method that I’ve advocated). But the most important thing of all is to embrace the chaos. Hitchhiking is not a way of getting from A to B, but rather a blindfolded caper from A–Q via a load of squiggly, accented letters you’ve never dreamt of before. Enjoy the ride!

Get travel inspiration with Rough Guides. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

A bus ride through the Ladakh Range, India

Whether you love travelling by planes, trains or automobiles, we all have fond memories of at least one particular journey from our travels. We asked you to tell us the best journeys you’ve ever completed, so here are a few of your rather impressive adventures. Intrepid traveller @ukirsariabroad took an overnight bus from Manali to Leh in India, a beautiful mountainous journey through the stunning Ladakh Range.

Cycling through South America

An incredible continent no matter how you travel, South America is as diverse as it gets. Lucky Lynne Roberts (@oops_herewego on Twitter) cycled across the continent, as well as Central America and southeast Asia, for two years with her husband.

Exploring the Amazon by boat, Brazil

There may be no better way to experience the Amazon than by floating down its waters, surrounded by mysterious jungles on each side. Our Twitter follower @nphorton spent four days on an Amazon riverboat, “sleeping in hammocks and watching storms”.

Walking in the Mongolian Gobi Desert

Certainly not the fastest way to traverse the Gobi Desert, but probably one of the bravest. We’re rather impressed by Twitter follower @FarazShibli’s 1600km trek across this vast Mongolian landscape.

Sailing to the Corn Islands from Nicaragua

Sitting 80km off the Nicaraguan coast, it’s a long, three-day sail across the Caribbean Sea to the idyllic Corn Islands. Rough Guides reader Bee Barker shared her sea-faring journey with a boat full of pigs – most likely made worth it by the sight of bright, white sand beaches upon approaching the islands.

Driving mopeds from Vietnam to Cambodia

It takes a certain level of fearlessness (or perhaps it’s stupidity) to brave the Vietnamese roads on a moped: around 14,000 die each year as a result of traffic collisions. However, a few of our followers have taken to the tarmac on two wheels for the most exhilarating journey of their lives – and lived to tell the tale.

Driving from Las Vegas to New York City, USA

There are so many routes you can choose to travel from Vegas to the Big Apple, taking in Monument Valley in Arizona, the snow-topped mountains of Utah, or the urban jungle of Chicago. Rough Guides reader Josephine Turner said it was one of the best journeys she’s ever taken, and gave this advice: “Lesson learned: if stopped by police don’t get out of car!” It sounds like there’s a story to tell there…

Trundling through Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

As @allyrambles said on Twitter: “Eight hours on a train trundling up into Sri Lanka’s tea plantations is pretty special!” There is no better way to escape the humid city of Colombo than taking this train up to Kandy or Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka’s lush northern Hill Country.

Taking the train from Nairobi to Mombasa, Kenya

A rather indecisive Twitter follower named the Nairobi-Mombasa railway (among others) as one of their favourite journeys. Stay in a First Class sleeper for less than £40 (US$65) and enjoy a three-course dinner and drinks as you pass through Tsavo West National Park, in hope of spotting one of the big five along the way.

Exploring India’s Golden Triangle

A favourite among many of our followers, the journey around the Golden Triangle in India takes in some of the country’s most impressive sights by bus or train. Enjoy the chaos of Old Delhi before moving onto explore Jaipur’s stunning Amer Fort, and then bask in the glorious bright, white marble of the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Taking the Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

Over 6000 miles, from Moscow to far-eastern Russia, and passing through some beautiful scenery and remote towns and villages, the Trans Siberian Railway is the journey of a lifetime according to our Twitter followers.

Driving along the Icefields Parkway, Canada

Winding its way through two national parks, the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rocky Mountains was a highlight for many of our readers. It’s essentially 232km of snow-topped peak and pine eye candy.

Riding the Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

Foregoing the driver’s seat, one Twitter follower opted to see the Rocky Mountains on one of the country’s most popular attractions: the Rocky Mountaineer. The railway passes through the mountains, and as you sit on the top deck you can enjoy panoramic views of the beautiful landscapes whizzing past thanks to the glass roof.

Climbing Machu Picchu, Peru

A trek through history, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a tough and challenging hike, but worth it according to our readers, who were bowled over by the stunning views of this ancient civilisation.

Cycling along the Danube, Europe

From its source in Germany to Black Sea in Romania, the Danube Cycle Path was top choice for @bringurownball on Twitter. It gets busy in the summer months, but the beautiful surroundings you’ll pass in Austria, Hungary and Serbia make up for any two-wheeled congestion.

Travel writer Mary Novakovich is awestruck by the beauty of mountains and rivers on a ten-hour-long stuffy train ride from Montenegro‘s capital to Belgrade.

“You’re taking the train to Belgrade? It’s at least 10 hours – if you’re lucky. Why don’t you fly?” The friendly barman in Virpazar in southern Montenegro had a valid question. By air, it was only a hop, skip and a jump from the capital, Podgorica, to its Serbian counterpart. If you were in a hurry, you would probably cough up the minimum €65 fare. But I wasn’t in a rush, nor did I want to miss out on one of Europe’s most beautiful rail journeys. And I couldn’t resist the thought of paying only €10 for the pleasure. 

Yes, €10. That works out to one euro per hour. Admittedly, it was a promotional fare, but the usual cost of €21 isn’t too bad either. The problem is that Montenegro Railways don’t make it easy for you if you’re not already in the country. Its glossy website has timetables and fares but no way of booking online. It also shows shiny new trains, not the ancient long-distance one that actually trundles slowly through the mountains and gorges of northern Montenegro and southern Serbia.

Still, as I was already in the country, I was able to get my tickets and reserve my seats a week in advance. My ticket came with a carbon copy ­– remember those? I’d been given dire warnings about the capricious opening hours – not to mention quality – of the restaurant car, so I brought enough food to sustain us through any of the horrendous delays that regularly afflict this service. The website’s tantalising promise of first-class seats for a nominal extra charge came to nothing when I was told that they’re available only on the overnight service, not the 10am one I was taking.

Podgorica station – a ramshackle, unlovely place that, in spite of its sad appearance, had free Wi-Fi and a drinking fountain – was heaving that morning. We were surrounded by crowds of people who were taking advantage of a four-day public holiday to go home or visit family. I was expecting pandemonium on the train, and I got it. The carriages were the old-fashioned sort, with compartments of six seats and a narrow corridor running alongside. It was already packed with people, and the newcomers (including us) patiently but firmly turfed out those who were in our reserved seats.

Finally we could stretch out and eat our breakfast of burek, a cheese-filled filo pastry pie we’d picked up at a bakery. The train chugged slowly through a stark but compelling mountain range of barren, scrubby peaks reaching 1700m and higher. I could see twisting mountain roads leading to remote villages of ancient stone houses, many in ruins. The Morača river was below, slicing through gorges.

Photo © Adam Batterbee

After slipping in and out of countless tunnels, the train emerged into such a vibrant landscape that it almost was like going from a desert to a jungle. The thickly wooded slopes – some still topped with snow even in May – of the Bjelasica Mountains slid down to luxuriant valleys dotted with farmsteads. It looked very alpine, so I wasn’t surprised when we passed Kolasin, one of Montenegro’s most popular ski resorts. It’s also the gateway to the Biogradska Gora National Park, whose untouched forests, mountains, glacial lakes and rushing streams made me wish I could stop and explore it all properly.

After about two hours we reached the last town before the Serbian border, Bijelo Polje, where customs officials kept us waiting for half an hour while they made their methodical way through the packed train. Those warnings of interminable delays were starting to make sense, especially as we were kept for another 30 minutes once we crossed into Serbia. I was admiring the monastery at Vrbnica, which was just beyond the platform. “You would have been able to visit it in the time we’ve been sitting here,” a young woman in the carriage remarked drily.

Photo © Adam Batterbee

After enjoying the drama of Montenegro’s mountains and gorges, we settled down to the gentler rolling hills of southern Serbia. The river Lim was our constant companion; its clear waters a particularly vivid shade of blue-green. A text from my phone cheerily welcomed me to Bosnia, but fortunately we swerved in and out of the country too briefly to warrant a visit from border guards.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in the monotonous landscape of northern Serbia’s Pannonian Basin, I was revelling in the forested hills and fertile valleys of the south. Tidy villages of red-roofed whitewashed houses and petite Orthodox churches were filled with orchards and vineyards. We passed through the Zlatibor mountain range, home to one of Serbia’s most popular spa towns and another place that I added to my list of “next time, definitely”.

Before I knew it, we were in the outskirts of Belgrade – and only 30 minutes behind schedule. Somehow 10 and a half hours had slipped by in a pleasant haze of astonishing scenery, books, music, writing, chat with friendly fellow passengers and an absurd amount of food. It was almost easy to forget the nasty state of the toilets (note to self: bring wet wipes next time) and the constant cigarette smoke wafting through the corridors.

Exactly a fortnight later, the worst floods in Serbia’s recorded history devastated much of the route I travelled. With admirable speed, the authorities got the line going again, but for the time being they are operating only one train a day, which happens to run overnight. It’s better than nothing – and preferable to cutting off this lifeline between the neighbouring countries where so many citizens flit back and forth across the border. Not to mention the occasional lucky tourist.

Explore more of this region with the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course has been helping people conquer their fear of flying for over twenty-five years. We sent Eleanor Aldridge to put it to the test.

Flying is one of the safest ways to travel. Last year, more people died in the UK sticking knives into toasters than in commercial aviation accidents around the globe. The odds of being killed on a commercial flight in the USA, for instance, are somewhere around one in 45 million. Yet according to British Airways, one in four of us is nervous about getting onto a plane, while one in ten has a full-on phobia.

I’ve been scared of flying for as long as I can remember. Yes, I’m a travel writer who hates getting on a plane – and I’m not the only one. Despite being a frequent flier, over the years I’ve got worse rather than better, my anxiety level and diazepam dose creeping up a notch each time.

As far as I’m concerned, a sharp turn will lead to the plane going belly-up, turbulence is going to snap off a wing and that guy hovering by the loos is about to open the door at 30,000ft. When it comes to take-off and landing, a whirr from the engine indicates certain failure, that sinking sensation definitely means we’re about to plummet and I’m pretty sure the pilot has forgotten to put down the landing wheels.

Photography courtesy of British Airways

Reassuringly named Captain Steve Allright has been helping “catastrophisers” like me for the past twenty years, spearheading British Airways’ Flying with Confidence course. The one-day programme is split into three parts: a technical presentation by Steve and fellow pilot Andy Shaw, an in-depth psychological session with Dr Keith Stoll and a 45-minute flight to conclude the day. Their success rate is astounding: of over 45,000 participants, 98% have successfully overcome their fears. “The day is really about empowerment”, Steve tells me over lunch, when course-goers are free to quiz pilots and cabin crew.

Is flying safe?

We soon learn that turbulence is the biggest myth: it’s never dangerous. Pilots class it in three levels of severity: light (like a bumpy road), moderate (enough to unsettle your drink) and severe (drops of up to 100ft). You might think you’ve experienced severe turbulence, but a professional pilot might encounter just five minutes in their whole career. The wings are one solid construct running through the fuselage; they can flex to a huge degree and certainly won’t drop off.

Photography courtesy of British Airways

A pilot is also unlikely to experience engine failure more than once in their working life, and even if they do there is always one, if not three, more engines that the plane can fly on safely. In the near-improbable event that all engines fail, a commercial aircraft can glide one mile for every thousand foot of altitude.

It turns out that the sinking sensation I hate so much on take-off is a result of changes in the rate of acceleration and steepness of climb (a noise abatement procedure); the inner ear misinterprets this as a change in altitude. And, thankfully, due to air pressure it’s impossible to open the aircraft door in mid-flight.

With unfailing humour and patience, Steve and Andy go on to explain that pilots are drilled in simulator tests every six months. What’s more, each time they get in the cockpit they plan for an aborted take-off or problem on the runway. Aborted landings are nothing to be scared of either, as air traffic controllers strictly regulate the space between planes. There is one “go-around” a day at Heathrow.

Why are we scared?

Despite all this, many of us are scared of flying. Thirty thousand years of evolution has prepared humans for a life on terra firma, and roaring through the sky in a metal tube is about as unnatural as it gets. Unfamiliarity with the sensations, concerns about a lack of control and claustrophobia can all lead to panic in the air.

Photography courtesy of British Airways

Twenty percent of my group are frequent fliers mostly upset by turbulence, around ten percent have never flown and the rest have managed a handful of flights. Where the course excels is in helping participants identify and understand their fear; the first step to overcoming it.

The root of fear lies in our propensity for anxiety, Dr Keith Stoll explains, “and we are not all equally anxious”. Some of us have a “slightly oversensitive car alarm”, often a genetic trait but something that can also be set off by a bad flight, recreational drug use and, surprisingly, having a child (a factor for around ten percent of my group).

How can you overcome your fear?

The primary coping mechanism, Keith counsels, is learning to control your breathing. Surprisingly the trick is to disobey your natural instinct and start by breathing out. On the inhale, he instructs us to clench our bums, overriding nervous signals in the spine. (There’s nothing like the sight of a hundred nervous fliers reciting “breathe and squeeze” to inject a little humour into the day.) Next, the focus should be on distraction: watching a movie, reciting times-tables or focusing on arrival to break the “doom loop”.

Photography courtesy of British Airways

When the time comes to show the world’s strangest boarding card (LHR–LHR) to security, 97 out of 100 participants make it onto the plane. There are surprisingly few tears and several rounds of applause as we loop down to the Isle of Wight and back across central London, the Shard, Gherkin and Walkie Talkie glittering below in the early-evening sun. Steve narrates the whole flight minute-by-minute: “5,000ft now and all normal; look out for the wing flaps; now a small turn to the left; still all normal….”

It’s an impressive conclusion to the course. A lady in her seventies has taken her first flight, others have overcome a fear of heights and some have beaten years of severe claustrophobia. As for me, it’s the calmest I’ve been in years without a pack of little yellow pills. I’ve still got a way to go, but the day has given me the knowledge and motivation I needed. The advice that resonates the most is from Dr Keith Stoll: when it comes to a fear of flying, “don’t wait until the kitten becomes a lion”.

British Airways run Flying with Confidence courses from Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Dubai and New York throughout the year, with a separate programme for teenagers running concurrently. The basics of the course are also covered in an accompanying book.

Holiday homes for stoners, electric tuk tuks, and the website that promises to freeze airfares solid: it’s the latest travel news briefing from Rough Guides.

Finding fair fares

Have you ever held back from booking a flight, only to check again later and find that the fare has shot skywards? Well check this out: a website is being developed to help travellers ‘lock’ flight prices and prevent fares from climbing higher.

Level Skies lets users cap the cost of a flight by paying a small, upfront fee, which acts as a kind of insurance policy. If the fare rises between that first day and an agreed point in the future (the maximum amount of time is four weeks), the site will refund the difference.

Another really cool thing about the site is that you don’t need to select precise dates and times. This gives you the flexibility to make minor alterations to your schedule without incurring the airlines’ usual fees for flight changes.

Of course, if the cost of your trip stays the same or even drops after you’ve paid the upfront fee, you might feel like you’ve wasted your money. And for the three return trips I checked while using the site – from London Heathrow to Dubai, New York and Paris – Skyscanner managed to come up with lower (fixed) fares. So if you know when you want to fly, and are sure you won’t be changing your plans, you may want to stick to trawling the web.

Gambling on Glasvegas

This time next year it’ll be possible to fly direct from Glasgow to Las Vegas, even if you’ve never won a jackpot. Thomas Cook Airlines announced plans for a summer service from Glasgow following a string of one-off flights. The route, which is expected to run from May–October, is the first regular service to connect Scotland with the casino capital. Return fares start at £499.

The website with high hopes

The accommodation rental website AirTHC, best described as Airbnb for pot smokers, has been renamed just weeks after its launch. TravelTHC, as it’s now known, will continue to help tourists find marijuana-friendly holiday rentals across Colorado, which legalised the sale of recreational cannabis at the start of 2014. While the drug itself is legal, smoking it in public places (and most hotels) is not. But in the privacy of a rented holiday home, tourists can smoke whenever they like. Not surprisingly, when you consider that Washington state’s first recreational weed dispensaries are expected to open this summer, the website has plans to expand.

Copenhagen gets three new bridges – for bikes

Laid-back, eco-minded and flat as a pancake: Copenhagen is well known for being a good place to cycle. By the end of this year, snow permitting, getting around the city on two wheels will be even quicker. According to a report in the Copenhagen Post, three specially built ‘bicycle bridges’ will open this December, threading together parts of the city that are currently separated by water. The bridges are part of a plan to encourage even more people to cycle in the city. By 2025, authorities want at least 50 per cent of all trips to work and school to be made by bike.

Tuk tuks… in America?

In recent years there have been calls to start replacing Asia’s spluttering auto-rickshaws, or tuk tuks, with cleaner electric versions. Gas-guzzlers are still the norm in cities across the region, but battery-powered rickshaws are slowly taking to the roads. And now, the idea of small, green passenger vehicles is gaining traction beyond Asia – and not just on golf courses.

Amsterdam’s Tuk Tuk Factory, which already sells its ‘e-Tuks’ in Europe, has just signed a deal with a company in the USA. That firm, e-Tuk USA, wants to get the vehicles approved for use on American roads. But despite the e-Tuks having a range of up to 50 miles, there’s not much chance they’ll end America’s love affair with the car; the companies’ modest target is to sell 500 units over the next few years.

Final call: an Almaty influx of tourists

The American hotel brand Hyatt has revealed plans to return to Kazakhstan in 2017, with the re-opening of the hotel it ran in Almaty for more than 13 years. It’s the latest international chain to commit to a future in Kazakhstan, which was named one of the planet’s fastest-growing tourist economies in 2013. So is the country worth visiting? I’ll shut up and let these videos by Denis Frantsouzov do the talking.


Amazing Kazakhstan from Denis Frantsouzov on Vimeo.


Kaindy – Sunken Forest from Denis Frantsouzov on Vimeo.

Manly Ferry, Sydney, Australia

The views as you cross Sydney harbour from suburban Manly to Circular Quay are unrivalled. You might even spot dolphins swimming alongside the boat or the occasional whale breaching in the distance. Fast ferries complete the route in just eighteen minutes, with an onboard bar providing beers to sip on the way home.

Tokyo Metro, Japan

In the city that brought us capsule hotels and shoebox apartments, it’s no surprise that space is at a premium on public transport. Tokyo’s inventive solution is to employ oshiya, white-gloved “people pushers” who cram as many passengers as possible onto the trains. Today they’re no longer ubiquitous, but the network still runs at up to two hundred percent capacity.

Cable car, Barcelona, Spain

Linking the port with the museums, castle and gardens on the Montjuïc hill, the Transbordador Aeri isn’t a prime commuter route, but it’s a sensational journey for those that use it. Red-and-white cabins judder between the pylons every ten minutes or so, though the lofty views are certainly not for the acrophobic.

Wuppertal Monorail, Germany

Built in the 1890s by an engineer called Eugen Langen, this suspended monorail runs for nearly fourteen kilometres across Wuppertal in western Germany, and has transported over 1.5 billion people since its construction. The sensation of the carriage movement is a little disconcerting, but lovely views along the Wupper tributary go some way to compensate.

Traghettos, Venice, Italy

There are just four bridges along Venice’s 3.5-kilometre-long Grand Canal, but luckily for those who work one side and live on the other, there’s an alternative to taking a dip. Skilled oarsmen regularly ply traghettos to-and-fro, ferrying passengers for a small fee. If your balancing skills are up to it, it’s traditional to stand during the short journey.

Chicken buses, Guatemala City, Guatemala

People commute from as far away as Antigua to Guatemala’s sprawling capital, with hordes of “chicken buses” plying every route imaginable. These brightly coloured rust-buckets are old Bluebirds, US school buses retired after ten years’ service. Daubed with multi-coloured designs and decked out with sound-systems, they are an undoubtedly distinctive way to get to work in the morning.

SeaBus and SkyTrain, Vancouver, Canada

Taking just fifteen minutes to whisk commuters across the Burrard Inlet from North Vancouver to the central Waterfront Station, Vancouver’s SeaBus fleet offers both glorious views and a speedy commute. Once the boat has docked, many hop onto the automated SkyTrain network, an elevated line that zips above ground across the city.

Vespas, Rome, Italy

Long an icon of Rome (think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday), scooters are undoubtedly the best way to weave through the narrow roads of this ancient city. If you’re going to join the locals, make sure you have your horn at the ready and your wits about you.

Snowmobiling, Alaska, USA

Dog-sleds were once Alaskans’ staple rural transport in winter, when many towns are inaccessible by road, but today the snowmobile rules. Across the USA, there are nearly 1.5million registered snowmobiles, or snow machines, as they’re known locally. You’ll need a good pair of mittens and preferably a helmet before you get on your way.

Star Ferry, Hong Kong, China

A good commute doesn’t have to come at a price: a trip on the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island costs just HK$2.50, about 20p. Window seats offer the chance to snap a shot of Victoria Harbour’s iconic skyline; it’s best viewed in the evening when the neon-illuminated skyscrapers are at their most magnificent.

Moscow Metro, Russia

Stalin began construction of the Moscow Metro in the 1930s. He envisioned the stations as “palaces for the people”, a legacy of his rule of the communist USSR. Today the network might boast Wi-Fi and nearly two hundred stops, but the original architecture and design remains: high ceilings, socialist artwork and chandeliers.

Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, Japan

The world’s longest suspension bridge spans nearly two thousand metres, taking commuters and tourists alike from Iwaya on Awaji Island across the Akashi Strait to the city of Kobe on Honshu. This feat of modern engineering took ten years to construct and has been built to withstand typhoons, tsunamis and earthquakes.

Bamboo trains, Cambodia

Known to locals as norry, these bamboo platforms shoot along abandoned railway tracks at speeds of up to 40km per hour. The “trains” run on old tank wheels, powered by small electric engines. Routes from Battambang are open to tourists, but norry are still a key form of local transport.

Cycling, Copenhagen, Denmark

According to Visit Copenhagen, the city has more than three hundred kilometres of bike lanes, which provide more than thirty percent of the population with their route to work. You won’t just find Lycra-nuts zipping past the canals here though, well over half of the Danish parliament takes to two wheels each morning.

Cable Car, San Francisco, USA

San Fransciso’s cable car network was created by Andrew Smith Hallidie in 1873. Even though buses and cars have now made the hilly city easier to navigate, there’s no beating a leisurely journey to work on one of these historic lines. Around fifteen kilometres of pulley-system track remain today, and the iconic cars are a National Historic Landmark.

Habal-Habal, Philippines

Common in the Southern Philippines, habal-habal are modified motorbikes with planks of wood providing precarious seats to the side and rear of the driver. You might spot a group of four or five sharing a ride to work in rural areas, or as many as a family of eight crammed onto one spluttering bike.

Mallaig–Inverie Ferry, Scotland

Inverie is the sole settlement on the isolated Knoydart Peninsula, accessible over land only by a two-day hike. The hamlet might be home to the UK’s most remote pub, but otherwise job opportunities are sparse; a ferry takes residents to the closest settlement, the small town of Mallaig, which has the nearest train line (and mobile phone signal).

Buses, Chongqing, China

The bus system in Chongqing at first appears like any other. But in the summer of 2013, with soaring temperatures making commuting unbearable, the local government came up with an ingenious idea. They installed mist machines in 26 of the city’s bus stops to spray water vapour onto unsuspecting passengers, lowering the local air temperature by around five degrees.

Mumbai Suburban Railway, India

Mumbai, home to twenty million people, has an understandably chaotic and overcrowded train network. Yet your homemade lunch will follow you through the melee. The city’s four thousand or so dabbawallahs deliver more than 150,000 tiffins each day, loading them on and off trains using an astoundingly reliable system of colour-coded markings: they only lose one every few months.

Walking the South Bank, London, UK

From this author’s one-time home in Borough, it was a thirty-minute stroll along the South Bank to Rough Guides HQ. Taking in some of the capital’s best-known landmarks, from the Shard and Somerset House to St Paul’s cathedral and the London Eye, this commute tops a ride on a Routemaster any day.

It’s less than 100 days until the Tour de France begins, and the organisers of the opening stages are already gearing up for the Grand Départ with the announcement of 17 spectator hubs earlier this week. The race begins in Yorkshire, making it the first time the Tour has ever visited the north. Prepare yourself for some stunning scenery and beautiful landscapes as the route winds through the Dales, departing from Leeds, taking in Harrogate and Sheffield via Ripon and the Peak District, then finishing up in London during Stage Three, the route for which is yet to be confirmed. All of this means you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picturesque spots from which you can watch the cycling, either in person or on huge screens provided at some of the hubs. See the map below for our favourite stops on the Tour de France in England:

Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database rights 2014

Explore more of England using the our destination page for England. Book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Our writer Steve Vickers brings you the latest from the world of travel, including news of direct flights from Europe to Indonesia and an update on the surf park that’s making waves in northern Spain.

Pirate films inspire Chinese theme park

More details are beginning to emerge about the new Shanghai Disney Resort, and there’s some good news for film fans. The vast park, which opens in December 2015, will feature an entire zone themed around the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise – a series of films which was actually originally inspired by a ride at Disneyland in California.

Disney says ‘Treasure Cove’ will include a state-of-the-art boat ride with characters and scenes “derived directly from the movies”. Ironically, many Chinese visitors will never have had the chance to see every film in the series; the second movie – Dead Man’s Chest – was buried by Chinese censors.

Europe to Jakarta non-stop

Indonesia’s national airline – once banned from landing within the EU because of safety concerns – is about to launch direct flights from Jakarta to Amsterdam. The reinvented Garuda Indonesia, which joined the Skyteam airline alliance earlier this month, will start operating non-stop flights between the two capitals on the 30th May using its fleet of brand-new Boeing 777s. The same planes will eventually continue to London Gatwick before returning to Jakarta (again via Amsterdam), but if you want to fly that stretch you’ll have to wait until September.

Scotland and the “joy of missing out”

A few years back, while researching a book for Rough Guides on the Isle of Mull, I had a head-on crash with another car. No one was hurt, but both cars were wrecked and it was miles to the nearest village. We looked to our mobile phones for help. No signal.

It’s a common problem in rural Scotland, where the infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the mobile revolution. But now the PR folks at Visit Scotland are hoping that this lack of connectivity – which they’re calling JOMO, or the “joy of missing out” – will attract tourists, rather than scaring them away. According to a recent trends report released by the tourist board, Scotland’s off-grid locations give visitors the chance to reject technology and seek ‘meaningful and emotional experiences’.

Though as the report itself admits, the majority of tourists would not see a forced digital detox as something desirable. And for as long as sites like Facebook and Tripadvisor remain a part of the modern travel experience – not to mention unfortunate mishaps like my car crash – that looks unlikely to change.

Airbus A380 feeling the squeeze

When the A380 superjumbo first took to the skies, much of the publicity centred on how spacious its economy class felt, compared with smaller planes. That could be about to change. According to a report on Runway Girl Network, Airbus is planning to raise the floor of the aircraft’s cabin slightly, giving airlines the opportunity to squeeze another seat into each row, increasing the total number from ten to 11. The change would leave enough room for 18-inch-wide seats (with a block of five in the middle) and make it possible for airlines to sell around 40 extra economy tickets per flight. Will the temptation be too much?

New waves on the horizon

Huge artificial wave pools could soon be appearing across Europe, making it possible for surfers to hang ten year-round, even in places hundreds of miles from the nearest natural break. The first Wavegarden is currently being tested at a lagoon in northern Spain, and is kicking out consistently clean waves that peel for more than 200m. Similar centres are already being planned for Bristol in England and Varberg in southern Sweden, and there are rumours of wave parks opening in Portugal and France: two nations with no shortage of natural waves.

Russian visa rules could be relaxed

Western nations reacted to the tense situation in Crimea by imposing travel bans on high-profile Russians. Then, with impeccable timing, Russia announced it would be moving in the opposite direction – relaxing its visa rules in a bid to attract more visitors, including tourists from Europe and the USA. According to the Russian political newspaper Pravda, government officials will soon start reviewing a bill that proposes to streamline the visa application process and increase the maximum stay from 30 days to six months – which is, let’s face it, a much more practical amount of time exploring the world’s biggest country.

Final call

This month’s steaming slice of travel inspiration comes from Chris Arnold, who captures Vietnam’s tourist hotspots through a soft haze of rain, smog and lantern light.

V I E T from Chris Arnold on Vimeo.

See the ultimate travel inspiration here. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

The Carretera Austral – Chile’s Southern Highway – begins nowhere and leads nowhere. Over 1000km in length, it was hewn and blasted through the wettest, greenest and narrowest part of the country. This sliver of Patagonia is a majestic land of snowcapped volcanoes, Ice Age glaciers, emerald fjords, turquoise lakes and jade-coloured rivers, set among lush temperate forest where giant trees seem to drip with rain the whole year long. The Carretera was built with the very purpose of settling this damp, secluded sliver of territory, but the only way to reach it from the rest of Chile is by boat or plane or overland from Argentina. Few roads can feel more remote.

Although some picturesquely rickety buses ply the route, they are irregular, unreliable and can’t take you everywhere you’ll want to go. It’s far more rewarding to rent a 4WD pick-up truck, pack a can of fuel and plentiful supplies and drive yourself. The slippery, loose-gravel surface demands the utmost respect, so don’t expect to average more than 50km/h. As the locals will tell you: hereabouts, if you hurry, you never arrive! Lashing rain, gales and passing vehicles – albeit few and far between – are the only likely hazards.

The pleasures, however, are many and varied: make pit stops to wallow in the thermal springs at Cahuelmó after the bone-rattling ride, enjoy the warm hospitality and delicious cakes at Casa Ludwig in Puyuhuapi, or feast on roast Patagonian lamb by the fireside at El Reloj in Coyhaique. Most of the route affords incredible views of the Andean cordillera, and along the way you’ll see dense groves of southern beech and immense lakes like miniature seas, as well as the amazing “hanging glacier” in the Parque Nacional Queulat and the Capilla de Mármol, a magical grotto carved into the blue and white limestone cliffs looming from Lago Carrera. But the best bit is the feeling of driving through utterly virgin lands – especially the southernmost stretch that leads to pioneering Villa O’Higgins, completed only in 2002. The road seems to fly over the barren crags to the place where, according to local legend, the devil left his
poncho.

Jan and Feb are the best months to drive the route. Casa Ludwig, Av Otto Uebel, Puyuhuapi; El Reloj, Baquedano 828, Coyhaique.

 

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