Monthly Archives: September 2016

The best places to visit in Iceland

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.

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”.

How to find the great place in Florida

Life in the Florida Keys is dominated by the ocean. The simplest trips become postcard-worthy adventures on the Overseas Highway, the link between its countless balmy isles, while the coral barrier reef just a few miles off shore will have even the most experienced divers raring to go. From kayaking the mangroves to paddleboarding at night, here are some of the best things to do in this fascinating region.

 

1. Meet its endangered residents

Sea turtles are notoriously difficult to spot in the wild, but at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon you can meet the whole gang: Bubble Butt, Blinky, Spartacus and even the malodorous Smelly Cat.

Since firing up its first orange-and-white ambulance in 1986, the hospital has helped injured loggerheads, greens and Kemp’s ridleys, and returned over 1500 of its “patients” to the Keys. Take one of the hourly guided tours to get up close with some of the residents in the tanks, or re-enact everyone’s favourite Free Willy scene (with a less acrobatic protagonist) at one of the popular releases.

 

2. Kayak in the mangroves

The Lower Keys backcountry is full of secret waterways, accessible only to the most adventurous paddlers. For starters, join Big Pine Kayak Adventures and follow Captain Bill Keogh and canine first mate Scupper through the dense tangle of mangroves in the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.

Within live the tiny Key Deer, an adorable but endangered species, as well as all manner of curious creatures like alien-looking horseshoe crabs. The salty channels here are knee-deep and fringed with overhanging branches and roots, which are so thick in places that you’ll have to drag yourself along.

 

3. Become a night rider

You can still make the most of the ocean when the sun goes down – providing you’re using a kayak or paddleboard that lights up like a Christmas tree. A night tour with Ibis Bay Paddle Sports will see you manning one of these souped-up watercraft and sailing across the murky flats to a deep shelf on the ocean floor, spotting all manner of nocturnal critters along the way.

Look out for colourful sponges, sea cucumbers and upside-down jellyfish, as well as stingrays and small sharks. On the route back, you’ll pass shadowy mangrove islands blanketed with snoozing pelicans, ibises and herons.

Great places when isit 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 to London and TGV connections that will whisk you to Paris or Marseille in under two hours.

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

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

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

 

For nightlife: Budapest

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

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

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

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

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

Great alternative in UK

London, Edinburgh, Cardiff… These are the usual suspects when visitors are thinking about UK city breaks. But there are actually 66 other cities to be explored throughout this land, each with something different to offer. Here’s our pick of the 8 best alternative UK city breaks.

 

1. Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast rarely makes the cut on UK weekend getaway lists, but there’s plenty to lure you to Northern Ireland’s port-side capital for a 48-hour minibreak. On these lanes you can get educated at the Titanic Museum, stretch the legs along the ancient walls of Londonderry, or wet (or drench) your whistle in the pubs along Great Victoria and Donegall streets.

If the hubbub of the city overwhelms, Belfast is a good springboard to explore the rest of the region; the mountains of Mourne and the Giant’s Causeway are within easy reach. Just be sure to pack for any weather you could possibly imagine. This is a “four seasons in a day” kind of place.

 

2. St Davids, Wales

To the untrained eye, St Davids could be mistaken for yet another tiny Welsh town. But locals will be quick to tell you that this is as much of a city as London or Manchester, thanks to its handsome cathedral where Wales’s patron saint, St David, is buried.

Beyond a mooch around the cathedral and posting a cryptic status update saying “I’m in the UK’s smallest city. Where am I?”, there’s not a great deal else to do here. Try the Pebbles Espresso Bar and Gallery for a caffeine hit while looking at world-class photography, or escape to the country into nearby Pembrokeshire National Park.

Spring holiday tips

Springtime is beautiful, with its big blue skies and flowers in bloom, so there may be no better time to travel. If you’re thinking about getting away, here are our editors’ picks of the best places to go in spring.

 

Ōsaka, Japan

With the natural phenomenon known as hanami (cherry blossom), spring in Japan is simply stunning. Head to Ōsaka, one of our top 10 cities for 2017, in early April to see the city’s castle rise high above a sea of petals, or walk through the Expo 70 Commemorative Park beneath a canopy of pink.

 

Alentejo, Portugal

After years of economic crisis, Portugal is finally on the up. Spring is a beautiful time of year for the Rota Vicentina, a network of walking trails on the west coast of Portugal’s Alentejo region. There’s an inland route – the Historical Way – for the sea-scraping Fishermen’s Trail cliff-top paths stunning ocean views shrubs and flowers are aromatic beyond belief and the native storks should be returning from their winter holidays around now too.

 

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Amsterdam really comes to life in the spring, as cafés and bars spread out over the cobbled streets. Get to know the city’s ins and outs in a canal-boat ride, or take a trip to the unforgettable Keukenhof , 25km out of town, where tulips bloom in spectacular colours from late-March to mid-May.

 

The Wye Valley, Wales

This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has never wanted for visitors, and for good reason. The river itself is fantastic for canoeing and kayaking, while your inner twitcher will rejoice at the sight of the gorgeously flecked goshawk engaging in its so-called ‘sky dance’, a mate-attracting display of flying prowess that is a spring (and late-winter) phenomenon.