The coolest city in Britain

Earlier this year a deafening “clink” of cider glasses reverberated around Bristol when the city was voted as Rough Guides’ Top UK City of 2017, shrugging off London, Oxford and Edinburgh for the top spot in the list.

It wasn’t a hard decision. The city’s first-rate nightlife, thriving creative and tech industries and proximity to the great outdoors made it an obvious choice. Think London, but smaller and (dare we say it) cooler – or at least more committed to its offbeat counterculture, and with an enormous gorge cutting an improbable chunk through part of the city.

Bristol frequently gets voted as one of the UK’s most liveable cities, too. But for the 7,516,570,000-odd humans who don’t have the honour of living there, here are five reasons why Bristol should be your next UK city break.

 

1. There are some weird and wonderful places to sleep

Sleeping in a “bedroom” in a “building” is so 2016.

Arguably taking the glamping craze to its logical conclusion, the visionaries at Canopy & Stars have converted one of the Harbourside’s iconic 1950s cranes into a treehouse. The ingeniously designed Crane 29 offers sweeping views of the harbour and prime people-watching opportunities from a window-side hammock, while the rainforest walkway and wooden furnishings make this a truly unique stay with green credentials to boot.

You will be serenaded to sleep by the buzzing chatter of the city centre and awoken by the dawn chorus, led by the shrill trumpeting of seagulls. It’s only around until September, though – to grab one of the final spots, enter Canopy and Stars’ competition.

A permanent, but no-less eccentric option are the retro Rocket caravans that have been airlifted to the top of chichi Brooks Guesthouse, just by St Nicholas Market. There are four of these aluminium vans, each kitted out with pocket-sprung mattresses and cosy bathrooms to a design spec that meets the high boutique standards of the guestrooms downstairs. Eating breakfast in the whitewashed courtyard is a pure delight.

 

2. You can lose your tandem bike virginity

In 2008, Bristol was named Britain’s first “Cycling City”, and its reputation as one of Europe‘s most bike-friendly destinations continues to grow. As well as having a cycling lane on just about every street – including some Dutch-style segregated lanes – the city is home of the cycling charity Sustrans and is the hub of Britain’s national cycling network.

So if you’re ever going to lose your tandem bicycling virginity, it should probably be here.

The friendly, family-run Bristol Tandem Hire has a range of high-spec tandem bicycles for hire. They offer up local knowledge on the best low-traffic routes around the city, plus a quick and necessary tutorial on how to keep your balance (and relationship/friendship) on track while on the bike. They also offer the option to take a hamper on your ride, with picnic rug and all.

Consider starting your tandem adventure at Queen Square before heading to the M Shed and west along the waterside; Pickle café offers a good stop-off for a coffee. Crossing north over the Cumberland Basin, cycle along the valley floor of the Avon Gorge before climbing up into Clifton. Here you can pedal around leafy Clifton Down before crossing Brunel’s suspension bridge into the Ashton Court Estate, with its herd of semi-tame red and fallow deer.

Tips to find the best beaches in Italy

From secluded coves to lively seafronts, there are plenty of places to sun worship in Italy. But with an increasing number of hotels charging for access to the sands, it’s hard to know where to spend your money. Here are 20 Italian beaches that won’t disappoint.

 

1. Forno, Elba, Tuscany

The main five beaches on Elba can get suffocatingly packed in high season – including the popular resort of Biodola. However, Forno, set in the bay of Biodola, is far less busy and the main beach is set in a lovely cove, surrounded by villas and dense vegetation.

 

2. Levanto, Liguria

Anchoring the westernmost point of the Cinque Terre, the small, unpretentious resort of Levanto feels quite cut off by Ligurian standards. But it has a glorious sandy beach, which, despite the number of parasols, has a great surfy vibe.

 

3. Cefalù, Sicily

Despite being one of Sicily’s busiest international beach resorts, Cefalù has a parallel life as a small-scale fishing port. Naturally, the long, curving stretches of sand are the major attraction, but Cefalù is a pleasant town and nowhere near as developed as Sicily’s other major package resort, Taormina.

Best known for nightlife in Mexico

Tijuana has many different faces – it’s at once a raucous spring-break destination and a wild, escapist fantasy land. The city, in Mexico’s northwest, features in so many films and TV shows that, for many, it’s taken on a legendary aura: the town where no matter what your vice, you can get away with it.

But there’s more to Tijuana than that. With new restaurants popping up across the city, it’s becoming a serious contender for one of Mexico’s best gastronomic destinations and has an exalted art scene to match. Here’s everything you need to know before a trip.

 

Tijuana is best known for nightlife, so where should I go?

Mexico’s state drinking age of 18 and Tijuana’s proximity to Los Angeles and San Diego means it’s a mecca for young American boozers. But although this vibe certainly remains – there are enough free-pouring dive bars to satisfy the most demanding frat-squad – Tijuana’s bar scene is evolving to include gorgeous watering holes and stylish cocktail bars.

Head to La Justina for Tijuana’s top cocktails, run by San Diego’s fabulous Snake Oil Cocktail Company — the Labios Rios cocktail comes strong and garnished with fiery red chillies. Eating here is an equally exciting experience — try the octopus tostaditos as a dreamy bar snack.

Plaza Fiesta, an old (and slightly dated) outdoor mall is without doubt the best place for local brews. El Depa is small and kitsch, but the beer selection is vast and well-worth sampling. When you get hungry head downstairs to El Tigre for sophisticated cocktails and sriracha fries.

For beer with a super local soul, head to Mamut Cerveza on the newly spruced-up Passaje Rodriguez. This venue sells brews for $1.18 a bottle with the aim to making craft beer accessible to all.

Baja California is also known for its blossoming wine scene, and luckily the Valle de Guadalupe is just an hour from Tijuana.

Tacos tacos tacos. Why eat anything else in Tijuana? Visitors to the city should hunker down on one of the bright red stools at a street side taqueria at least once.The Mazateno is regularly voted the number one taqueria in the city – locals swear by the chilli shrimp taco and the super cheesy enchiladas.

Tio Pepe Tacos is also a residents’ favourite – the tasty potato tacos come with a heaped serving of fresh cabbage carnitas and the meat options are sumptuous too. For something a little different, head to Kokopelli which serves up octopus pesto tacos and squid ink ceviche – it’s one of the rising stars of Tijuana’s foodie scene.

The city is also the place to come for super-fresh mariscos (seafood). Run from popular food hall Food Garden, Erizo is the brainchild of the city’s most famous chef, Javier Plascencia. In 2013 the Food Garden grew out of the Distrito Gastronomico and became a new home for some of Tijuana’s busiest street vendors.

There’s fine dining on offer too. Mision 19 is Plascencia’s flagship restaurant and elevates border food to next-level luxury. The design here is sleek, and typical Baja Californian ingredients are crafted into dishes such as roast suckling pig, beef tablitas and grilled octopus.

A journey through San Francisco

San Francisco was the epicentre of the Summer of Love, a movement intent on changing the foundations of American society forever. Half a century later, Tamara Hinson journeys through the city to discover how much of that hedonistic era still lingers. 

In Haight-Ashbury, a Bob Marley track blares from Amoeba Music, an independent bookstore. Nearby, fragrant clouds of smoke billow from an apartment above a street art-adorned smoke shop.

Modern-day hipsters are slowly replacing those in the neighbourhood with the closest ties to 1967’s Summer of Love. But look closely and you’ll still see reminders: in the tie-dye filled windows of Love on Haight, a glitter pot-filled store owned by Sunny Powers, a local woman whose motto is “Never be afraid to sparkle”. And in Jammin on Haight, an explosion of psychedelic T-shirts and Grateful Dead music posters.

The Grateful Dead’s former publicist, Dennis McNally, is the man behind On the Road to the Summer of Love, an exhibition helping refresh the memories of those with little recollection of that heady, marijuana-fragranced summer, 50 years on.

One of the stranger exhibits at the California Historical Society’s exhibition is a sheet of LSD. Its owner avoided prosecution by claiming his glass-covered sheet of class A drugs was clearly for display, not consumption.

It’s one of several events commemorating the 50th anniversary of 1967’s Summer of Love, when more than 100,000 activists, artists and entrepreneurs flocked to the city to change the world with music, art and positive vibes. They protested about the Vietnam War, set up organic food movements and sang about healing the world. And, as the LSD exhibit suggests, they got high.

Best routes in Canada

Rugged and vast, Canada is a road-trippers dream. Driving gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace – pull over and drink in the scenery along the way or break up the journey with hiking and kayaking.

Whether you’re into mountains, beaches or urban heritage, here are five of our favourite routes.

 

1. The Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia

The Cabot Trail loops 298km around the north of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. The route winds along the coast for much of its length with viewpoints overlooking the North Atlantic.

Locals tout fall as the best time to travel, but the dramatic landscapes of Cape Breton Highlands National Park look good throughout the year. Moose roam the park, where walking trails give you the opportunity to stretch your legs and breathe in the crisp sea air.

Islanders here are proud of their French-influenced Acadian heritage and Celtic ancestry, and love to celebrate it with loud live music in local pubs. Experience it in Chéticamp, a fishing village where you can tuck into locally landed lobster and seasonal seafood.

Be sure to park up in Pleasant Bay and join a cruise to spot whales and seals, and don’t miss the chance to kick off your shoes on the sand close to Ingonish.

 

2. The Icefields Parkway, Alberta

You can motor along the 232km route of the Icefields Parkway in just four hours, but that wouldn’t do justice to the magnificence of the woodland wilderness, waterfalls and jagged mountains either side of the highway.

This route runs between Banff and Jasper, cutting through the Rocky Mountains and skirting through two national treasures, Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. They are the home to the vast Columbia Icefield. Learn about the region’s geology during guided hikes on the Athabasca and Saskatchewan glaciers.

Overnighting at one of Jasper National Park’s campsites means being able to stare at constellations in one of the world’s biggest dark sky reserves.

On sunny days, the sight of snow-capped mountains and blue skies reflecting on the surfaces of the Peyto and Waterfowl will have any keen photographer stopping every five minutes.

The otherworldly landscapes of Namibia

From the spectacular dunes of the Namib Desert to the serpentine chasm of the Fish River Canyon, the rugged mountains of the Great Escarpment to the acacia-studded sands of the Kalahari, Namibia has no shortage of stunning landscapes.

Desert and semi-desert covers most of the country, but Namibia is far from devoid of life. The wetter northern strip hosts Etosha, one of Africa’s premier national parks, brimming with lions, rhinos and elephants, while the rivers – including the majestic Zambezi – mark the nation’s northern and southern borders and promise glorious sunsets and exotic birdlife.

To celebrate the release of The Rough Guide to Namibia, author Sara Humphreys has picked fifteen of the country’s most incredible landscapes.

 

1. Dead Vlei in Namib-Naukluft National Park

Featured in many a wildlife documentary, the giant sculpted apricot dunes round Sossusvlei are justifiably one of the country’s major attractions. Not only are they extremely high, but they magically change colour in the early morning and late afternoon light.

At the foot of “Big Daddy” – the area’s tallest dune, and a deceptively long climb – lies Dead Vlei, an eerie, white clay pan dotted with skeletal trees several hundred years old.

 

2. Kwando River

More than 450 bird species inhabit the lush, sub-tropical Zambezi Region, Namibia’s curious panhandle that stretches across the top of Botswana.

Head for one of the idyllic lodges along the beautiful Kwando River, which meanders through the Bwabwata, Mudumu and Nkasa Rupara national parks. The parks offer an enticing mix of woodland, reed beds and floodplains, brimming with spectacular birdlife and home to hippos, crocs, buffalo and rare antelope.

Best places to travel alone

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 going it 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.

The ways to lose the crowds

Yellowstone. The name alone conjures images of grizzly bears, bubbling moonscapes and the frontiers of the Old West. But in the face of surging visitor numbers – a record 4.25 million in 2016 – you’re now just as likely to see crowds.

It’s no surprise, considering the world’s first national park has long been a wish-list staple, though it does make getting away from it all more difficult. Here’s how you can forge your own path in America’s greatest wilderness.

 

1. Go off-road

There’s an old saying in Yellowstone: 97 percent of visitors use three percent of the park. Whether or not that’s still strictly true these days, you’re definitely going to find yourself with company if you solely stick to the roads. Instead, ditch the tarmac and traipse the trails.

Try the route to Trout Lake, an easy half-mile track that’s perfect for first-timers. After a short, steep climb through dense forest, you’ll come across a lake with a surface as smooth as glass. Watch bison grazing beneath the snow-dusted peak of Mount Hornaday, and look out for black bear prints around the rim.

 

2. Avoid peak season

There are plenty of reasons why summer is a magnet for the masses – not least more reliable weather, longer days and the opportunity to try llama trekking. But you shouldn’t underestimate the crowds, particularly if you’re hoping for an escape from the hubbub. In 2016, more than a quarter of the park’s annual visitors were recorded in the month of July.

If you’re after a quiet break, try visiting another time. Spring is best for wildlife, with baby animals galore and both grizzly and black bears descending from the mountains. Winter is ideal for adventurous types, as most roads close and you’ll have to get around using snowmobiles and skis.

Trail in South America

Elegant and artsy Buenos Aires and humid, hedonistic Rio de Janeiro are some of South America’s biggest urban draws, notching up hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

But for each city flush with tourists, there are plenty still under the radar. For those looking to escape the crowds, here are six South American towns and cities you’re guaranteed to fall in love with.

 

1. Jardin, Colombia

Few guidebooks even mention Jardin, a charming Colombian town that by all accounts has changed little since it was founded more than 150 years ago.

As per tradition, each morning locals occupy the main square to sip a cup of rich, Colombian coffee, seated on colourful chairs that are painted in vibrant hues to match the exuberant facades of the town’s colonial houses. Across the plaza, the extravagant neo-Gothic Basilica Menor, with its striking turquoise interior, offers another excuse to tarry here.

Encircled by the mountains of the Cordillera Occidental and boarded by surging rivers and streams, Jardin’s colourful streets are matched by its surroundings. A short cable car passing over lush plantations of coffee and banana – the region’s principal crops – brings visitors to Mirador Cristo Rey and the best views over town.

 

2. Punta Arenas, Chile

The gateway to the splendid mountain landscapes of Torres del Paine National Park further north, Punta Arenas is a city that most pass through quickly.

But it’s the historic heart of Chilean Patagonia; a city of neo-classical mansions that belonged to the merchants at the centre of the international wool trade in the late 1800s. The most extravagant, Palacio Braun-Menéndez is evidence of the wealth that once poured into the region.

Situated on the shores of the brooding waters of the Strait of Magellan, the Patagonian wilderness is never far away here. For panoramic views across colourful painted rooftops and beyond, climb to Mirador Cerro. Afterwards, recover from the chill with a cup of the locals’ favourite: thick hot chocolate from La Chocolatta.

The reasons to stay a while

Most visitors race through Guatemala City, keen to get to Antigua’s colourful colonial streets, visit the country’s Mayan sites or explore its spectacular volcanic landscape. But stay a while in the capital and you’ll experience a buzzing modern city that’s emerging from the shadows of its recent past.

Inaugurated as Guatemala’s capital following an earthquake that levelled Antigua in 1773, Guatemala City has grown quickly after internal refugees flocked here during the civil war. Since then, crime has tarnished the city’s reputation and there are still some areas to avoid (ask any local).

But locals also feel that the city is returning to the “golden era” of their parents and grandparents – and it’s worth discovering for yourself. Fresh from her trip, Freya Godfrey picks seven reasons to give Guatemala City a chance.

 

1. Dancing in the main square is a thing

In the Parque Central, you’ll notice an imposing bandstand covered by an arched roof with swirling decorations. Twice a week, marimba and other music is performed live, and you can join locals dancing in front of the stage.

The Parque Central is also the city’s cultural hub. The National Palace here – often referred to as “The Big Guacamole” for its green exterior – now houses the Palacio de Cultura and regularly puts on events in the square.

 

2. You’ll find Guatemala’s biggest brewery here

Craft beer has just begun to emerge in Guatemala, with small breweries starting to pop up across the country. But, for the original Guatemalan beer, head to the Cervecería Centro Americana. The brewery has been running for more than 125 years and there’s even a museum, the Museo de Cervecería Centroamericana.

Take a tour around the museum’s red-brick interior walls, lined with large barrels and outdated equipment, from typewriters to original machinery.