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Category Archives: Travel

Getting Cheap Flights To Tasmania

Tasmania has always been just that little bit harder to get to than many other destinations in Australia. Being an Island has it’s benefits but flights can be one of the more expensive elements of an Tasmanian holiday. With that in mind here are our tips on how to score cheap flights to Tasmania.

JOIN THE MAILING LISTS

One of the best ways to score cheap flights is to be on the airlines mailing lists. Every few months most airlines will run snap seat sales where you can get sub $100 flights. These sails are usually announced via email or social media and are designed to sell seats quickly so it’s worth not hitting the spam button on these emails.

Some things to take into account with these seats especially with Virgin and Jetstar is you will get charged steep credit card fees and also things like checked baggage all cost extra. These flights also often come with specific date ranges often around off-peak times so it’s worth making sure you can do the things you want to do here in those times.

WAIT FOR MARKETING CAMPAIGNS

Tourism Tasmania runs two marketing campaigns each year, one in spring and another in autumn. These campaigns are run with partners such as an airline or a travel agent and often feature some discount pricing. Many local businesses such as accommodation providers also tend to offer better prices around these campaigns so it may be possible for you to save on accommodation and pay a little bit more in flights instead.

TRAVEL AGENTS AND TRAVEL DEALS

Travel Agents and sites such as Expedia which offer travel deals can often get you some great rates on both flights and accommodation. These sorts of organisations are part of large travel distribution networks that are able to purchase services like flights, accommodation and tours at whole sale pricing. If you start factoring in your accommodation and your flights together and compare what you can purchase online yourself you may find the agents have some very competitive deals.

PLAN A HOLIDAY OUTSIDE OF PEAK SEASON

Peak tourist season in Tasmania is from October to April, over winter many of the outdoor tour companies shut up shop but this can be the perfect time to go on a road trip or come down for a festival. Often you can find things like accommodation and even car hire at discount rates if you call the operator directly rather than going through a website like wotif or stayz.

9 Best Places to Camp Around the World

There are few more rewarding feelings than pitching your tent and spending the night beneath the stars. Whether you want to escape to a remote mountainside or find an idyllic coastal campsite, there are some spectacular locations to discover. From New Zealand to Finland, this is our pick of the best places to camp around the globe.

1. Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

You can’t talk about camping without waxing lyrical about New Zealand’s out-of-this-world landscapes. Mount Cook (or Aoraki to the Maori) is the country’s highest mountain and the entire surrounding rugged region is the South Island’s finest outdoor playground. Views from the campgrounds here are simply staggering.

2. Devon, England

The southwest of England feels a million miles from the rest of the UK. The campsites on Dartmoor and Exmoor are fantastic places to pitch a tent, while you’ll find spots with unbeatable vistas along the craggy cliffs that sweep down to the Atlantic on the north Devon coast. Come in autumn, when you can watch a huge red sun dip slowly over the horizon.

3. Loch Lomond & The Trossachs, Scotland

The scattered peaks, valleys and villages of the Trossachs – often called the Highlands in miniature – make an incredibly scenic backdrop for a camping trip. Amid these romantic lochs and glens you’ll find everything from sprawling caravan parks to remote wild camping spots; be sure to read the Outdoor Access Code before you go.

4. The Alps, France

The dominion of skiers in the winter months, the Alps transform as the snow thaws. Once the balmy spring weather arrives, so do hikers and campers. You’ll find beautifully fresh alpine air and quaint villages nestled in the foothills. It’s a magical place to camp, made all the more special by the glittering night sky above.

5. Hossa National Park, Finland

Finland’s newest national park (set to open in June 2017) is in the wild northeast of the country, a rugged landscape of rivers, lakes and old-growth spruce forests. Finland welcomes wild campers and the park is dotted with remote lean-to shelters and rustic cabins, all with spots for campfires.

6. Skåne, Sweden

Long bright summer days pass delightfully slowly in Sweden’s most southerly region. Gentle countryside backs the coastline and there are many tranquil places to camp near Skåne’s beaches, lakes or forests. As in much of Scandinavia, wild camping is positively encouraged under Allemansrätt, the “right to roam”.

7. Zion National Park, Utah, USA

Zion is one of the most spectacular parks in the Southwest, with its red sandstone cliffs, rugged plateaus and forested canyons. Watchmen and South are the established campgrounds, but if you really want to get away from the crowds you can get a permit to overnight at one of the otherworldly wilderness campsites in the park’s interior.

8. Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Vancouver Island’s mind-blowingly diverse ecosystem gets ever more wild as you head north. Pacific Rim National Park and the West Coast Trail are spectacular places to set up camp – you might catch sight of orcas breaching offshore, sea otters playing in the shallows or brant geese flying overhead.

9. Patagonia, Argentina and Chile

South America’s southern tip, spanning both Argentina and Chile, is as wild as it gets and a great destination for anyone with an adventurous spirit. Follow the RN-40 to discover campsites with wide open skies and snow-capped mountain vistas; this pristine landscape begs for outdoor exploration.

7 Best UNESCO Sites in Europe

The scenery is exceptionally diverse too, with white-sand beaches, ancient forests and dramatic fjords just a hop and a skip away from one another. Here are some of Europe’s best UNESCO sites.

1. Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Located on a rocky hill, the Acropolis of Athens is the greatest architectural and artistic complex of Ancient Greece. The first fortifications date back to the thirteenth century, although it wasn’t until the fifth century that the sanctuary reached its peak.

Following the Athenians’ victory over the Persians, the city’s influential statesman Pericles rebuilt the citadel, commissioning some of Greece’s most prominent architects and sculptors. Phidias was charged with the construction of the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the patron of the city – the goddess Athena.

2. Venice, Italy

With its network of picturesque canals and waterways, Venice is an astounding architectural masterpiece whose buildings contain some of the world’s greatest works of art. Founded in the fifth century, it was once a major maritime power that influenced the development of architecture across the city’s trading stations, from the nearby Dalmatian Coast to Asia Minor.

Venice’s harmonious integration with the surrounding natural environment and its magnificent medieval and Renaissance architecture make it one of the world’s most unique urban settlements.

3. Évora, Portugal

Dating back to Roman times, the city of Évora in the Alentejo region is a fine example of a city from the Golden Age of Portugal. It became the residence of the Portuguese kings in the fifteenth century, with convents and royal palaces erected around town.

Over the centuries new architectural features were added, including low whitewashed houses embellished with pretty Dutch tiles and wrought-iron balconies. The city’s architecture also influenced the construction of Portugal’s colonial cities in Brazil.

 

4. Bath, England

Founded in the first century AD, Bath was used by the Romans as a thermal spa town. The baths are today among the most important Roman remains north of the Alps. During the Middle Ages the city flourished as a centre for wool industry, while under the reign of George III it was a fine spa city with a lively arts and literary scene.

The city’s architects were influenced by Italian Andrea Palladio, constructing neo-classical buildings, squares and terraces that harmoniously blend in with the city’s Roman remains

5. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Located in the karst area of central Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park is home to sixteen terraced lakes separated by travertine barriers and connected by cascades. Surrounded by deep woodland home to deer, wolves, bears, rare birds and boars, the lakes are spread out over 8km. A series of winding paths lead to wooden walkways that cross the pools’ azure waters, offering gorgeous lake views.

6. The Western Fjords, Norway

The Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord fjords in southwestern Norway are two of the longest and deepest in the world. They are characterised by crystalline rock walls rising 1400m from the Norwegian Sea and plunging to a depth of 500m below sea level.

Their steep cliffs are home to coniferous forests, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls, and sprinkled with old and largely abandoned transhumant farms. They’re considered to be among the world’s most scenic fjords, harbouring an array of terrestrial and marine life including native deer, arctic foxes, brown bears, otters, porpoises, sperm whales and Atlantic salmon.

7. Salamanca, Spain

Founded by the Celts, the university town of Salamanca became a Roman settlement and commercial hub in the third century BC, it was later ruled by the Moors. But it wasn’t until the thirteenth century that it gained importance when Alfonso IX of León granted a royal charter to the university, which became one of Europe’s most prestigious centres for learning.

The city’s historical centre is home to Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque constructions, such as the magnificent eighteenth century Plaza Mayor, which lies at the heart of the Golden City.

6 Great Places to Visit by Train in Europe

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

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

For foodies: Lyon

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

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

For nightlife: Budapest

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

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

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

For the journey: the Scottish Highlands

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

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

For sun and sightseeing: Seville

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

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

For romance: Venice

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

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

For an autumn or winter break: Munich

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

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

Most Beautiful Mosques in The World

1. Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca sees relatively few foreign visitors despite its absorbing array of sights ranging from medieval souks to Art Nouveau mansions, strung out along an attractively windswept expanse of Atlantic coastline.

Few who visit, however, pass up the chance to explore the city’s landmark Hassan II Mosque. Completed in 1993, the mosque stands on an oceanfront promontory, its enormous minaret (the world’s tallest, at 210m) soaring above the coast like an enormous Islamic lighthouse, while the cavernous interior glows with the magical colours of blue marble mosaics, lustrous tilework and enormous pendant chandeliers.

2. Aqsunqur Mosque, Cairo, Egypt

Old Cairo is a virtual museum of mosques, with dozens of historic shrines dotted around the twisting, time-warped alleyways of the medieval centre. Amongst the finest is the stately Aqsunqur Mosque, completed in 1347. Rising above Bab al-Wazir Street, the building’s fortress-like walls are capped with minarets and intricately carved domes, while inside stands the mosque’s magnificent Mecca-facing eastern wall, entirely covered in a luminous array of azure tiles.

3. Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Soaring high above the heart of Istanbul at the meeting point of Europe and Asia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (completed in 1616, also known as the Blue Mosque) is generally reckoned the crowning example of Ottoman architecture, with a quartet of needle-thin minarets pointing dramatically skywards and a sumptuously red-carpeted interior smothered in delicate tilework blossoming with thousands of stylized blue tulips.

 

4. Masjed-e Jameh, Isfahan, Iran

If it were almost anywhere else in the world, Isfahan’s great Naghsh-e Jahan Square would be teeming with tourists. Present-day political and practical realities mean that those who make it to Iran can enjoy an authentically foreigner-free taste of the world’s most perfectly preserved Islamic architectural set-piece.

The square is home to not one but two of the planet’s most stunning mosques, the Shah and the Jameh (Masjed-e Jameh) mosques. The Jameh Mosque is the larger and the older of the two, dating back to pre-Islamic Zoroastrian times and has been rebuilt continuously over the centuries to produce the stunning complex you see today, with three stupendously huge, blue-tiled porticoes rising around a vast courtyard, and mirror-perfect reflections in the ablutions pool between.

5. Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, Syria

One of the world’s oldest and most revered Islamic shrines, Damascus’s Umayyad Mosque dates back to 715, less than a century after the Muslim faith first burst spectacularly into the world. The monumental building itself reflects the changing times in which it was built, adorned with Classical Roman-style Corinthian columns and Byzantine-style mosaics alongside the first of the great congregational courtyards which subsequently became the norm throughout the Islamic world.

6. Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Looming above the approach roads to Abu Dhabi like a vast wedding cake – with minarets – the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (completed 2007) offers a gigantic monument to the Muslim faith in a region now better known for its seven-star hotels, record-breaking skyscrapers and palm-shaped artificial islands.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Abu Dhabi’s shiny new mega-mosque boasts its own string of record-breaking attractions: the world’s largest carpet lives here, along with the planet’s largest marble mosaic. Although it’s the serene beauty of the overall conception, with vast expanses of lustrous marble and myriad dazzling domes shining snowy white in the fierce Gulf sunlight, which really lingers in the memory.

7. Jama Masjid, Delhi, India

A majestic monument to India’s great Mughal rulers, rising in stately splendour above the tangled labyrinth of hectic streets at the very heart of Old Delhi. Commissioned by Shah Jahan, creator of the Taj Mahal, the Jama Masjid remains an unequalled symbol of Islamic architecture in a largely Hindu country, with soaring minarets, delicate marble domes and a vast prayer hall – as well as peerless views across the teeming melée of the old city from its vast courtyard, raised high above the streets below.

8. Great Mosque of Samarra, Iraq

Some sixty miles north of Baghdad, the Great Mosque of Samarra is one of the oldest and most unusual in the Islamic world (although currently off limits to casual visitors, for obvious reasons). The world’s biggest mosque when it was completed in 851, the building was largely destroyed during the Mongol invasion of 1278 save for its outer walls and unique minaret, the so-called Malwiya Tower, a remarkable conical structure 52m high wrapped in a spiral staircase, like a gigantic upended telescope rising surreally from the desert sands.

The 7 Best Road Trips in Europe

1. From the glamour and glitz of Paris to the glorious grit of Berlin

Leaving Paris, cruise through the gentle hills of Champagne and Reims to the quaint capital of Luxembourg City, and explore the country’s plethora of fairy-tale castles.

Trier, Germany’s oldest city, is less than an hour’s drive further north-east, where ancient Roman baths and basilicas stand marvellously intact.

Spend a night in the medieval village of Bacharach in Riesling wine country, before wandering the riverside streets of Heidelberg. Onward to Nuremberg, and then to Leipzigfor a strong dose of hot caffeine with your Cold War history, classical music and cake.

Best for: Culture vultures looking for bragging rights.
How long: 1–2 weeks.
Insider tip: If you’re driving in France, you’ll legally need to keep safety equipment (a reflective vest and hazard signal). Additionally, keep spare Euros in your wallet to pay the occasional French road toll on the way.

2. Surf and sun in the Basque and beyond

 

The Basque roads beg a convertible – or better yet, a colourful camper van with surfboards strapped to the roof.

Begin in Bilbao, where the nearby villages boast some of the world’s best surf, and drive along the Atlantic to San Sebastian: watersports wonderland and foodie heaven. Then venture south through the rugged wilderness of the Pyrenees to Pamplona. Ascend onwards to the Roncesvalles Pass before looping back to the coast. Or continue along the Bay of Biscay to the attractive seaside resort of St-Jean-de-Luz.

Travellers with a little extra money lining their pockets will be happy to spend days lingering on boho beaches in Biarritz, while those looking for gargantuan swell can do no better than the surfer hangouts in Hossegor.

Finish the trip northward in Bordeaux, “the Pearl of the Aquitaine”, where café-strewn boulevards and world-class wines are your trophies at the finish line.

Best for: Sun-seeking surfers and foodies.
How long: 1 week.
Insider tip: Check seasonal surf forecasts before you go, and look into coastal campsites if you’re on a budget.

3. The Arctic fjords from Bergen to Trondheim

Kick off in the city of Bergen, on Norway’s southwest coast, and make way past mighty fjords to Voss and the colossal Tvindefossen waterfall. Then check the world’s longest road tunnel off your to-do list, a cavernous 24.5km route under the mountains.

Catch a quick ferry across the Sognefjord and carry on to the Fjaler valleys, a land of glaciers and snowy mountain peaks, to the waterside towns of Stryn or the mountain village Videster.

Work your way northward to the well-touristed towns of Geiranger, down the death-defying hairpin turns of Trollstigen (literally “The Troll Path”).

After the descent, ferry across the Eresfjord to Molde and Kristiansund. For the final stretch, drive the iconic Atlantic Road with its rollercoaster style bridges, and conclude with some well-deserved downtime upon the still waters and stilted homes of Trondheim.

Best for: Thrill seekers and landscape junkies.
How long:
3–7 days.
Insider tip:
If you plan on road tripping during Norway’s winter months, be sure to check online ahead of time for road closures.

4. The unexplored east: Bucharest, Transylvania, Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna

Embark from Bucharest, travelling northward through the Carpathian mountains toTransylvania, and make a mandatory stop at Bran Castle (claimed to be the old stomping grounds of Dracula himself).

Take the Transfagarasan mountain road, one of the most incredibly beautiful routes in the world, towards the age-old cities and countless castles of Sibu, Brasovand Sighisoara. Then set course to the unexplored architectural gems of Timisoara.

Carry on towards the tranquil baths and hip ruin pubs of bustling Budapest, and be prepared to stay at least a few days. Depart for Bratislava – a capital full of surprises – from where it’s only an hour further to the coffeehouses and eclectic architecture ofVienna.

Best for: Anyone looking for a break from the conventional tourism of western Europe.
How long: 7–12 days.
Insider tip: Exercise caution when driving through tunnels. Though the weather outside may be fine, tunnels are often slippery.

5. To Portugal and beyond

Start in Braga, before driving south to the medieval town of Guimarães, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then it’s onward to the breathtaking “second-city” of Porto, though it’s nothing less than first-rate.

Drive east to the vineyards and steep valleys of Penafiel and Amarante before hitting the coastal road to the vast white beaches of Figueira da Foz. From here it’s on to Peniche,Ericeira and then Lisbon: the country’s vibrant capital that’s on course to beat out Berlin for Europe’s coolest city.

Drive south to Sagres, Arrifana and Carrapateira. After soaking up the sun on the picturesque shores of the Algarve, wrap this road trip up in the Mediterranean dreamland otherwise known as Faro.

But if you’ve still got itchy feet when you reach Faro, take the ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Morocco. Imagine the satisfaction of parking your ride in the desert village of Merzouga, before exploring the Sahara – that’s right, it would feel awesome.

Best for: Beach bums and winos.
How long: At least 10–14 days.
Insider tip: As Portugal is among the more affordable destinations in Western Europe, this can be an especially great trip for travellers on a budget.

6. High-altitude adventure on Germany’s Alpine Road

The Alpenstrasse, or Alpine Road, is your ticket to a bonafide Bavarian odyssey: a safe route through the unforgettable vistas of Germany’s high-altitude meadows, mountains, crystal-clear lakes and cosy village restaurants. Start lakeside at Lindau and head to Oberstaufen if you fancy a therapeutic beauty treatment in the country’s “capital of wellness”.

Venture eastwards to the Breitachklamm gorge, where the river Breitach cuts through verdant cliffs and colossal boulders. Carry on to the town of Füssen – famous for its unparalleled violin makers – stopping along the way at any quaint Alpine villages you please. The iconic Neuschwanstein Castle, the same structure that inspired Walt Disney to build his own version for Cinderella, isn’t far off either.

Hit the slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen if the season’s right. Stop at Benediktbeuern on your way to the medieval town of Bad Tölz, then up through the stunning wilderness scenes of the Chiemgau Alps before ending in the regional capital of Munich. If you’re missing the mountain roads already, carry on to Salzburg and stop in the ice caves of Werfen on the way.

Best for: Outdoorsy lederhosen aficionados.
How long: 3–8 days.

7. Godly beaches and ancient highways in Greece

Start in Athens and take the coastal roads south through the Athenian Riviera to Sounion, situated at the tip the Attic peninsula. Watch a sunset at the Temple of Posseidon, then drive northward through mythic mountains to the fortress of Kórinthos before posting up in the legendary city of Mycenae (home of Homeric heroes).

If you’re craving a luxurious seaside stay, look no further than the resort town of Náfplio. If not, carry onwards through the unforgiving landscapes to Mystra, the cultural and political capital of Byzantium.

Feet still itching? Then it’s on to Olympia, sporting grounds of the ancients, and the mystic ruins of Delphi. Loop back towards Athens, approaching the city from the north.

Best for: Sun-worshipers, and anyone who’s ever read Homer or watched overly action-packed flicks like Troy and 300.
How long: 5–10 days, though it’s easy to trim a version of this road trip down to a long weekend.

Best 7 Backpacks For Travellers

Buying the wrong bag is one of the easiest travel mistakes to make – and one of the hardest to put up with. To save you from packing pain while on the road we’ve done the heavy lifting for you. Here’s our pick of the best backpacks currently on the market for travellers.

1. The all-rounder: Osprey Sojourn 80

There’s no need to sacrifice flexibility for capacity, Osprey’s Sojourn 80 has a massive 80 litres of space for your stuff but can still be carried as a backpack as well as wheeled along as a trolley. The wheels are sturdy enough to withstand being bashed up and down steps or slung around by baggage handlers, and the straps are adjustable and made with a trampoline-style mesh for comfort. We also like the multiple zipped internal compartments and the robust handles both top and side for grabbing the bag quickly. A great all-rounder that would suit longer trips.

2. The ultimate cabin bag: North Face Rolling Thunder Roller 19

Looking for a cabin bag? The Rolling Thunder Roller 19 is designed to meet all European hand luggage requirements and is light on materials to leave your weight allowance for what you put inside it. There’s 19 litres of room here, with two external zipped compartments for easier organisation, and the handles on all sides make it easy to grab from overhead compartments or under-the-bus luggage holds. A solid, dependable bag for shorter adventures.

3. For the organised: Antler Urbanite Trolley Backpack

The numerous separate zipped pockets both external and internal on Antler’s Urbanite Trolley Backpack will keep the organised traveller happy – it feels like there’s a place for everything. Although designed to be pulled along by telescopic handle too, this bag looks more like a backpack than most trolley bags, and it’s both light and small enough to be worn comfortably most of the time. You still get 32 litres of packable space though, making this bag ideal for trips that last a week or two and take in multiple stops.

4. For the photographer: Manfrotto off road hiker 30L

Taking that bulky DSLR camera out and about can be a nightmare when you’re travelling. Manfrotto have the answer in the shape of their off road hiker camera backpack, which has a separate easy-access camera compartment as well as a camera strap across the chest. The modular dividers make carrying up to three extra lenses easy, while the water-repellent material and fold-out rain protector keep your gear safe and dry. There’s also an external tripod connection, and the bag is small enough to meet hand-luggage requirements yet still has 30 litres of space. Photographers, look no further.

5. For the hiker: Deuter Act Trail 24

Hiking backpacks should, above all else, be comfortable. The Deuter Act Trail 24 is one of the most comfortable bags we’ve seen: super lightweight and with fully adjustable straps, including mesh hip fins that keep it stable even when scrambling. The two-way zip on the main pocket means you can open the pack from the bottom to retrieve buried waterproofs or snacks, while the opening at its top makes it compatible with hydration systems. There are plenty of pockets too, including both outside and inside the lid and on the front.

 

6. The day bag: Knomo Cromwell

In some destinations security is a bigger concern, especially when you’re carrying a bag on your back. That’s why the Knomo Cromwell has a roll-top – wandering hands have no chance against this tough cookie. It’s weather resistant too, and has a 27.5-litre capacity with a padded internal pocket for laptops up to 14 inches, plus a chest harness and waist strap to spread the weight. A great carry-on and day bag option.

7. For the ultimate adventure: Evoc Patrol 40L Touring Backpack

Going off piste? Few backpacks can keep up with serious adventurers, unless you’ve got an Evoc. Their protective sports backpacks are built for professionals, with both ski and snowboard attachment systems, a reinforced fixation loop in the hip belt for climbing gear, and a quick-access avalanche equipment pocket complete with emergency plan information. Although this bag is perfect for the most adventurous trips, its 40 litres of packing space, rugged build and focus on ergonomic weight distribution make it a good choice for all backpackers.

The Little Visited Treasures of South India

India is undoubtedly a beautiful country. It presents such an array of interesting scenes and stunning landscapes, taking pictures is irresistible. But this vast country also poses great challenges for photographers: there are so many people, such enormous sights, such a long, rich history – how do you portray this through a lens?

On my most recent trip in central South India, I was faced with such challenges. The journey I took – overland from Hyderabad, through Karnataka and on to Goa – was overflowing with photogenic moments and mind-boggling historical sights.

Once a Muslim stronghold in a predominantly Hindu country, this area of the Deccan plateau is littered with stunning mausoleums, mosques, minarets and forts whose stories simply cannot be communicated through images alone. There are tales of love, life, war and loss to discover through the architectural wonders here; if some believe a picture paints a thousand words, it must be said that in India it only tells half the story.

Here’s the story behind some of South India’s underrated places:

1. Hyderabad

Arriving in Hyderabad – the capital of India’s newest state, Telangana – on the weekend is perhaps one of the biggest culture shocks you can get in India. Hundreds of shoppers come out to browse and barter the Laad bazaar, where thousands of bangles twinkle on the wall displays in shops and on stalls. This is the view from Charminar – a quad of minarets connected by a balcony, built by the Qutb Shahi dynasty in 1591 to mark the city’s surviving of a plague. It’s a stunning piece of architecture to behold, but the prize is reaching the top of the minarets to look out over the city’s throbbing arteries.

2. Golconda

Once the capital of the Qutb Shahi empire, the impressive Golconda Fort sits 11km west of modern Hyderabad. Spread across four square kilometres, it’s a prime example of fourteenth-century Islamic architecture in central India, with stone arches, minarets and palaces to explore throughout. The panorama from the top provides an interesting view of the old-meets-new cityscape that’s so common throughout India.

The Qutb Shahi dynasty ruled what was known as the Golconda kingdom from 1512–1687 and during that time built a number of mausoleums, mosques and fortifications. Near Golconda fort lies a complex of enormous bulbous-domed tombs that hold the bodies of the dynasty’s most important kings and their families. This tomb houses one king’s favourite dancer and sits alongside a tomb for his favoured singer – an interesting insight into the politics within the dynasty.

Among the tombs scattered across the complex are a series of small mosques. This is the interior of The Great Mosque – a small but pretty structure with charming little frescoes around its vaulted ceilings.

3. Bidar

Sitting on Karnataka’s border with Telangana, the small town of Bidar sits firmly off the beaten track, but that’s what makes it such a fun place to wander around. Strolling along one of its main roads leads to all manner of interactions, as clothes shops spill out onto the street, selling everything from saris to jeans to underwear, and vendors brew sweet cups of milky chai and street snacks from their carts. This is pau bhaji – India’s answer to the UK’s chip butty: mashed potato mixed with spices and vegetables inside a soft, sweet, butter-slathered bun. It’s the ultimate Indian comfort food.

Built by the Bahamani Sultanate in 1424, Bidar fort spreads itself out northeast of the modern town and is still used today as a thoroughfare to a residential area. After rains, the grasses are a bright green contrast to the red stones structure, while the landscaped gardens inside make for a pleasant stroll – especially in the early morning when there are few visitors around.

4. Bijapur

Bijapur (also known as Vijayapura) is a pleasantly laidback city in the north of Karnataka, which sees few visitors stick around except to see its most famous monument: Golgumbaz. But spend a little more time here and you’ll discover gorgeous green spaces and this colourful bazaar, which is teeming with local shoppers by night. These are marigold necklaces, often used to decorate the Hindu gods and goddesses in temples or as a love charm at weddings.

The main draw for visitors to Bijapur, Gol Gumbaz is visible well before you even get there, its perfectly-shaped dome crowning over the horizon like a rising sun. Completed in 1656, it took 30 years to build and is now the mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah, a sultan of the ancient city. Its enormous dome houses the “whispering gallery”, which carries even the slightest of sounds all the way along its surface to the other side.

5. Badami

In contrast to many of Karnataka’s attractions, Badami’s main draw is a Hindu site: a trio of astonishing cave temples hewn out around 550 AD. Set on a sandstone hill, the interiors are decorated with reliefs depicting Hindu gods and statues – including the only 18-armed Shiva in the country.

From the caves you can see the town spread out westward, with ancient temples and mausoleums dotting the landscape.Badami’s old town makes for a pleasant walk in late afternoon. It’s a chance to see small-town living in India up close: modest, low-rise homes are tightly packed together along the edge of the reservoir, where locals go wash their dishes and clothes.

7 Great Ways to Explore Colombo for Free

 Colombo is more than just a gateway to the resorts and surf breaks of Sri Lanka’s south coast. Despite the noise and crowds, this is a city of vibrant colours and rich culture, offering fascinating insights into the national psyche of Sri Lanka.

Many people rush through Colombo and make straight for the beaches, but linger and you’ll find a city full of history, where stately British colonial buildings jostle for space with Sri Lankan dagobas (stupas), palm-shaded parks and Dutch colonial churches. Here are 10 great ways to explore this constantly evolving city for free.

Snake charmers charm at Viharamahadevi Park

Colombo is spoilt for choice when it comes to places to chill out, but beautifully maintained Viharamahadevi Park is a city favourite. The parades of palms and fig trees are spectacular, the lawns are dotted with statues and fountains, there are views of Colombo’s colonial-era Town Hall, and there’s always the chance of catching the odd snake charmer in action. Find a shady spot and you can people-watch for hours.

Join the locals on Colombo’s favourite promenade

Whilst it might not be quite as green as it once was, Galle Face Green is still frequented by locals in search of some relaxing downtime. There’s a tacky but loveable charm to this seafront park, which is animated by bubble-blowers, bouncing beach balls and vibrant kites swooping across the sky. It’s also a great spot for a snack – street food traders congregate on the waterfront at sunset, serving delicious Sri Lankan treats, including crispy egg hoppers and the island’s signature kottu, a griddle fry-up of chopped noodles, eggs and spices.

Dive into an open-air gallery at Kala Pola Art Market

On any non-rainy day of the week, you can catch a cohort of talented local artists as they transform the streets of Nelum Pokuna into an open-air gallery with their latest creations. The Kala Pola Art Market is the oldest art market in town, and traders have been holding court here for over a century. Some of the work on display is touristy and generic, but there are some gems to be unearthed here if you look beyond the clichéd depictions of elephants and tigers. If you feel like investing, paintings are usually on canvas and can be rolled up to carry away.

Engage with Sri Lankan contemporary art at Paradise Road Gallery

The Paradise Road Gallery (paradiseroad.lk) is a piece of art in itself. This upscale gallery is a beautiful space that exhibits contemporary Sri Lankan artists of high renown and is considered one of the most important art spaces in the country. The general ambience, decadent aesthetic and renowned Gallery Café add to its charm. With monthly rotating exhibitions, it’s definitely worth popping back again for a second visit before leaving the island.

Zen out and meditate at Bellanwila Temple

It’s a pretty tough job finding a temple in Colombo that doesn’t charge tourists nowadays, but for anyone venturing down south to Mount Lavinia, the Bellanwila Temple is a top detour. This is a real locals’ temple, where visitors can experience the authenticity of the Buddhist tradition without having to share it with camera-toting crowds. Unsurprisingly, it’s a great spot for meditation. The temple is famed for its bright and bold Buddhist statues and its revered bodhi-tree – one of thirty-two saplings taken from the sacred bodhi in Anuradhapura.

Love the sunset on Mount Lavinia Beach

Just a forty-minute bus ride from the centre, Mount Lavinia beach is the perfect refuge for travellers wanting to escape the city hustle. Whilst the main drag of Mount Lavinia beach is often dotted with litter, there are plenty of tucked away spots that remain unspoiled and the sunsets here are simply spectacular. As you make your way onto the golden sands, watch for locals taking the back route, walking fearlessly along the coastal railway tracks.

Graffiti in 3D at Diyatha Uyana

Colombo’s most happening public park, Diyatha Uyana, has become an outdoor hub of cultural activity. Created by unknown local artists, trompe l’oeil graffiti artworks that seem to burst into 3D are the latest addition to the park’s artistic legacy, creating dizzying optical illusions in front of the beautiful view over Lake Batturumullam. Make a day of it and explore the serene grounds, scan the vegetation for tropical birds or check out the Good Market held on Thursdays, selling healthy snacks and Sri Lankan crafts.

Best Place to Visit Iceland in Summer

 Iceland is famous for majestic glaciers and snow-covered houses, for the Northern Lights and blue-lit ice caves. Visit in summer, though, and it can feel like a different country.

While there are still plenty of icy natural wonders, you can also party with the locals at summer festivals, hike across flower-strewn moorland and soak in hot springs under the midnight sun. Here are our picks of the best places to experience summer in Iceland.

To get off the tourist trail: the West Fjords

Summer is the perfect time to hike through the stunning Icelandic scenery, and if you can camp, so much the better (and cheaper). Dynjandi is a particularly good spot to pitch up – the waterfall may not be as famous as Gullfoss, but it still attracts plenty of visitors. Stay the night and you may well get the thunderous falls, glittering in the early-morning sun, all to yourself.

For a more remote West Fjords experience head to Hornstrandir, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle and barely accessible out of summer. This peninsula in Iceland’s far northwest is entirely wild, its inhospitable but beautiful terrain preserved as a nature reserve.

It’s the perfect place to escape the crowds of the southern coast – though even in the middle of summer the weather is unpredictable, so hikers should take precautions to stay safe.

For wildlife: Vestmannaeyjar, the Westman Islands

One of Iceland’s biggest draws is its wildlife and the Westman Islands are the prime place to go for puffin spotting. Every year between April and August, the archipelago becomes the biggest puffin colony in the world. The friendly town of Vestmannaeyjar is located on the only inhabited island, Heimaey, and is the best base for seeing these cute orange-beaked birds.

Visit in early August and you might be lucky enough to witness a truly heart-warming event: local families collect lost baby puffins, or “pufflings”, who’ve found their way into the town by mistake, and bring them to the shore to safely release them.

The summer festival, Þjóðhátíð, is also held in early August; its popularity among Icelanders is reflected in the fact it’s known, quite simply, as “The Festival”.

 

For a rugged adventure: the Interior

The Interior (also known as the hálendið, or highlands) is generally only accessible in summer, and the window can be as short as a few weeks.

If you’re not keen on carrying a tent, try staying in one of the huts (sæluhús) which dot the highlands; book ahead, as Icelanders and visitors make the most of the short season.

However you choose to do it – day-hike, camping, staying in huts – if you’re a keen walker you shouldn’t miss the chance to explore the Interior on foot. It’s the archetype of Icelandic nature, with a bleak and otherworldly beauty you can find nowhere else: smooth glacial valleys; colourful, iron-streaked earth and milky sulphur springs.

Be sure to also take advantage of these warm rivers and hot springs for a traditional dip. Hveravellir is a good option, but perhaps the most isolated spot for outdoor bathing is Viti, a small crater lake in the Askja caldera. However, the volcano is still active; while this definitely adds a bit of extra excitement to your swim, it also adds some real danger.

To take a hike: Siglufjörður

In Iceland’s northwest is the small fishing town of Siglufjörður (or Sigló). This is the most northerly town in the country, and the road here – usable only in summer – is the highest in Iceland.

The town’s laidback, low-key feel and dramatic setting are reasons enough to visit – not to mention the freshly smoked kippers and summer Folk Music Festival. But it’s also a perfect base for hiking in the surrounding area.

Eyjafjörður, the fjord to the east of the town, is the best place to go to spot wildlife. Hrísey, the island at the mouth of the fjord, is renowned for its birdlife – and it’s not only twitchers who’ll be charmed by the sight of its famous ptarmigans casually wandering around town.

Alternatively, head to the villages of Ólafsfjörður and Dalvík for a whale-watching trip – some operators even run midnight sun tours.

Try to time your visit to coincide with the local summer festival, the Great Fish Day: a popular event that draws the whole community together for delicious (free) food and warm Icelandic hospitality.

For a festival: Reykjavík

Around Iceland National Day (also called Independence Day; June 17) there are parties throughout the country, but the biggest and best are in the centre of Iceland’s charming capital city. Expect parades, poetry readings and dancing all night long. After all, the sun hardly sets.

For some background on Iceland’s history, head to Reykjavík’s Árbæjarsafn (Open Air Museum). The big draw on Independence Day is that anyone wearing national dress gets in for free. So if you happen to own your own upphlutur you can save on the entry fee.

For a different kind of festival, book tickets for Secret Solstice, set up in 2014 with the rationale that the sunny nights of the Icelandic summer are perfect for a weekend-long party. The line-up is consistently brilliant, and every year they hold special events away from the main Reykjavík venues. Who doesn’t want to dance inside a glacier?

For bathing in the buff: Reykjadalur

Falling shortly after National Day, midsummer can get a bit overlooked in Iceland. However, there’s one tradition well worth trying out if you’re brave enough: bathing naked in a river at night.

The most convenient place to head – not far from the capital – is Reykjadalur (“Steam Valley”). The river running through this valley is warmed by a geothermal spring, making it a popular spot for an alfresco dip.