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CAMBODIA

Phnom Penh Travel Guide

Legend has it that the city of Phnom Penh, the exotic ‘Pearl of the Orient’, was founded in 1372 by a local widow named Penh. It is said that she discovered four Buddha statues that had been washed up by the waters from the Mekong River and erected a temple on the hill to house them, believing that their arrival was a sign of great luck and prosperity to come. And so the city grew around this structure, becoming known as the Hill of Penh (Phnom Penh).

Considered to be the loveliest of Indochina’s French-built cities in its heyday, this rather untidy capital sprawls at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonlé Sap Rivers. Now, the colonial charm has been somewhat drowned out by modern concrete buildings and heavy traffic, but upon investigation intriguing traces of the Khmer and French eras can still be found in the details. The heart of the city, where old French villas and street-side cafes perch along tree-lined boulevards and the occasional majestic Khmer building catches the eye, is very appealing.

Phnom Penh boasts a number of Wats (temple-monasteries), museums and other places of interest for tourists, as well as sunset cruises on the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers, and a bustling market place. The city is known for having a fun nightlife, with a proliferation of cheap and cheerful bars. The cafe culture and tasty Cambodian cuisine also ensure that foodies are well-catered for. There has been a recent boom in development, with new hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs springing up to cater for Cambodia’s growing popularity with travellers, and the city is increasingly seen as a worthy travel destination in itself rather than just the most convenient entry point for a Cambodian holiday.

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Siem Reap Travel Guide

Siem Reap is the main access city for the magnificent temples of Angkor, and a popular launching pad for onward travel into Thailand. Although somewhat marred by hastily constructed modern buildings, Siem Reap does have beautiful colonial architecture, particularly in the Old French Quarter. The city offers many attractions for visitors, including Apsara dance performances, museums, craft shops and markets.

Siem Reap’s most famous feature is the Temple of Angkor Wat, dating from the 9th century. The temple complex is situated just three miles (5km) from the city centre. This intriguing and powerful site has been luring visitors for decades; it is acknowledged as one of the wonders of the world, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within the city, the Angkor National Museum provides useful historical and cultural background for the Angkor Temples and the ancient Khmer civilization. The Aki Ra Landmine Museum is also worth a visit for an understanding of the ongoing war Cambodia is fighting against these weapons.

Siem Reap is becoming increasingly popular as a holiday destination and has numerous hotels and guesthouses, both luxury and budget, as well as bars and restaurants to enjoy. Many of these venues are located near the Old Market and the nearby popular Pub Street. With so much in the way of amenities and attractions for tourists, the city of Siem Reap is a great base from which to venture into this fascinating country.

In the surrounding countryside there are silk farms, rice-paddies and fishing villages to explore, as well as the bird sanctuary near Tonle Sap Lake, which is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. The area is home to charming villages on stilts, or floating villages, built to accommodate monsoon flooding.

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CANADA

Calgary Travel Guide

Calgary is situated 200 miles (322km) north of the US border, on the banks of the Bow River, below the Rocky Mountains. Although Alberta’s second city, Edmonton, is the state capital, Calgary is the largest, offering all the trappings of urban life as the territory’s commercial and cultural centre, along with the pleasure of enjoying the dramatic countryside that surrounds the city. Splendid national parks flourishing on Calgary’s doorstep act as a magnet for hikers, fishermen and lovers of the great outdoors. The city, set on the Trans-Canada highway, is also the gateway to the Rocky Mountain resorts, which in winter attract skiers from all over the continent.

The downtown area of Calgary not only serves as a shopping, entertainment, cultural and recreation centre for locals, but it is also a tourist centre for more than four million visitors a year who come for the tourist attractions and annual festivals, wonderful parks and open spaces, and a selection of excellent shops, restaurants, cafes and bistros. The city is probably best known for the Calgary Stampede, a world-class cowboy carnival and rodeo that draws more than a million people every year to watch the action and be entertained by its accompanying festivities.

For over 10,000 years the site on which Calgary sits today was home to the Blackfoot Indians; the first European settlers did not arrive until 1860. Colonel James Macleod established the small trading post, Fort Calgary, named after Calgary Bay on his native Isle of Mull in Scotland. The Pacific Railway reached the town in 1883, but it was not until the discovery of oil in Turner Valley, 22 miles (35km) southwest of the city, that the population started to explode. Wander the streets in your Stetson beneath the sparkling skyscrapers built on the back of the oil boom, dine on a juicy steak in a saloon with country music playing in the background, and it will be hard to decide whether you are in Calgary or Texas.

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Vancouver Travel Guide

Vancouver’s natural setting will leave visitors gaping, and they will find not only one of the best urban backdrops in the world, but also a booming, well-organised modern city:

With the Pacific at her feet and mountains as a backdrop, a holiday in Vancouver offers not only beautiful views but also a variety of activities and attractions to tempt all tastes. The city has a strong culture, the cuisine is world-class, and the nightlife is energetic and diverse. There is an old quarter to stroll through, Chinatown to explore, art studios and markets to browse on Granville Island, trails to follow through Stanley Park and so much more to enjoy on a Vancouver vacation. Film buffs will delight in the strength of the entertainment industry in Vancouver, which is affectionately dubbed ‘Hollywood North’, and is second only to Los Angeles in television production. Sailing, skiing and hiking will keep active visitors fully occupied, and the many quality museums will keep culture vultures happy.

Best time to visit Vancouver

Vancouver’s weather is unpredictable, but by Canadian standards it is mild. Generally speaking the best time to travel to Vancouver is between May and September, when you are likely to catch the most sunshine. In winter, between December and February, the city is usually snow-free, but the mountain resorts just outside the city get plenty of snow; the best time to ski in Vancouver is during February. Read more on Vancouver’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Vancouver

-Wander the eclectic, trendy Commercial Drive in search of treasures.

-Enjoy the Victorian architecture and cobbled streets of historic Gastown.

-Marvel at the extensive collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

-Admire sweeping views of the beautiful city from the Vancouver Lookout.

What to do in Vancouver

-Explore Vancouver’s vibrant Chinatown, a bustling, colourful commercial district.

-Shop and eat your way through Granville Island, a shopping and entertainment hub.

-Picnic in the lush gardens of Queen Elizabeth Park and the enormous Stanley Park.

-Learn about the fascinating First Nations of British Columbia in the Museum of Anthropology.

Beyond Vancouver

There are myriad attractions on Vancouver’s doorstep, a vast playground for nature lovers and active outdoor types. The San Juan Islands are a boating and sailing paradise; the Coquihalla Provincial Park is home to the Othello Tunnels, a unique hiking experience; the picturesque Gulf Islands, in the Strait of Georgia, beckon visitors of all kinds; and just beyond the city ski slopes can be enjoyed on Grouse Mountain.

Getting there

Vancouver International Airport, the second busiest in Canada, is situated eight miles (13km) south of the city centre. The airport is well-connected to major cities around the world. Get more information on Airports in Vancouver.

Did you know?

-Vancouver has regularly earned its place on lists as one of the top three cities in the world to live in.

-The West End neighbourhood is home to the largest gay community in the West.

-With the right weather and lots of energy it is possible to ski, golf, hike and sail in Vancouver on the same day.

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Halifax Travel Guide

Halifax is the provincial capital of Nova Scotia and also serves as the centre of commerce for the whole of Atlantic Canada. It is situated opposite its twin city of Dartmouth, across the Bedford Basin, on the second-largest natural harbour in the world (the largest is Sydney, Australia), and has long been an important maritime centre. Halifax Harbour extends for 10 miles (16km) and is home to North America’s oldest yacht club, Northwest Arm. Two toll bridges span the harbour and a passenger ferry connects Halifax and Dartmouth.

Halifax was founded in 1749 by the British in an effort to strengthen their presence in the North Atlantic, and the city retains its British military air. Many historic stone and wood buildings have been preserved, particularly in the restored waterfront area that has become a major tourist attraction, offering shopping, nightlife, entertainment and restaurants.

Halifax is the cultural hub of Nova Scotia and for the Atlantic provinces as a whole. It has a number of art galleries, museums, theatres, and other entertainment facilities, and is home to the Nova Scotia Symphony, and many cultural festivals like the Nova Scotia International Tattoo, Shakespeare By the Sea, The Halifax International Busker Festival, Greekfest, and the Atlantic Film Festival. Visitors can find out more about the city’s culture from its free alternative arts weekly magazine, The Coast. The city also offers a range of recreation sites like beaches, parks, and walking trails, and some ‘living history’ experiences like the firing of the noon day gun at the Halifax Citadel and the working locks of the Shubenacadie Canal.

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Ottawa Travel Guide

The capital of Canada is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River, opposite the French-speaking city of Gatineau across the water in the neighbouring province of Quebec. It’s location on the border puts it in the unique position of being truly multicultural and bilingual, with a harmonious blend of French and English culture.

Ottawa had humble beginnings as a small lumber town until Queen Victoria designated it the capital of Canada in 1857. Since then it has grown into a modern, cosmopolitan city, though it is often overlooked in comparison to its larger, more glamorous neighbours, Toronto and Montreal. Its main landmark is the 302ft (92m) high Peace Tower. The tower surmounts the imposing Parliament Buildings, which stand in Gothic splendour at the junction of the Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau rivers.

The city has a network of waterways and canals that link it to Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay. The historic Rideau Canal is used for boating in summer, and for ice sculpting and skating in winter, by locals and visitors alike. The parliament buildings and other architectural sites have an old-world European charm, and Ottawa has numerous top class museums and galleries, and the National Arts Center, which houses an opera company, theatres, studios and restaurants.

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Toronto Travel Guide

A different city in every season, Toronto’s weather is as varied as its population, making it a fascinatingly multi-faceted destination, but always polite, culturally rich and artistic.

A holiday in Toronto provides non-stop adventure for tourists with its distinct seasons and distinct neighbourhoods each offering something different: summer cultural festivals along the harbourfront; the delightful gaudiness of the Yonge Street strip; quaint Victorian houses in Cabbagetown; heart-warming meals in Little Italy; skating on the numerous outdoor rinks in winter. A Toronto holiday is full of surprises, from the top of the lofty CN Tower to the rainforest of the Ontario Science Center. In the warm months the nightlife bursts with pent-up energy, but even in winter quality night-time entertainment can be found. Serious shopaholics will find endless shopping opportunities in Toronto, history buffs will find interesting museums, and art lovers will relish the many galleries and creative festivals. Kids are also very well-catered for, with plenty of family attractions and a friendly urban atmosphere.

Best time to visit Toronto

The best time to travel to Toronto is during the summer months (June to August), when the weather is pleasant for exploring on foot and the city comes alive with outdoor events. Winters in Toronto (December to February) are bitterly cold, but if you choose a Toronto holiday in the chilly months the underground shopping malls will provide plenty of entertainment without having to brave the elements. The most beautiful season in Toronto is autumn, when the fall foliage is riotous. Read more on Toronto’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Toronto

-Take a tour of Casa Loma, Toronto’s incongruous but intriguing medieval castle.

-See rare and wonderful animals at the world-class Toronto Zoo.

-Admire spectacular views from the lofty CN Tower.

-View the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, full of the weird and wonderful.

What to do in Toronto

-Make the kids squeal with excitement at Paramount Canada’s Wonderland.

-Shop and eat your way around the Distillery Historic District.

-Marvel at the diverse treasures in the Royal Ontario Museum.

-Visit the Harbourfront Centre, the communal heart of Toronto.

Beyond Toronto

Canada is an enormous country and the major cities are generally far apart, but both Ottawa and Montreal are within reach for a weekend getaway when staying in Toronto. Popular excursions from Toronto include the epic Niagara Falls and Lake Superior, both irresistible to travellers.

Getting there

The Toronto Lester B Pearson International Airport, invariably known just as Toronto International, is Canada’s busiest airport. It is situated 16 miles (27km) northwest of downtown Toronto. Get more information on Airports in Toronto.

Did you know?

-The coldest temperature ever recorded in Toronto was -24°F (-31°C), and the highest was 105°F (41°C).

-There are 52 outdoor skating rinks in Toronto, generally open between December and February.

-More than 21 million people visit Toronto annually.

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Montreal Travel Guide

French-speaking Montreal is romantic and elegant; those who choose to holiday in the city come for its music, art and joie de vivre.

This charming city has plenty to see and do, especially in the realm of culture, and those who plan to travel to Montreal can check out a very full calendar of events, and enjoy the many plays, ballets and concerts that spice up the entertainment scene year-round. Montreal has also earned its reputation as a great destinations for foodies, and boasts an extremely energetic nightlife.

The world’s largest inland port, Montreal was founded as a missionary village in 1642, a century after Jacques Cartier discovered the area. Despite some undeniably English architectural and cultural influences, Montreal is today one of the world’s largest French-speaking cities, set on an overwhelmingly English-speaking continent, and a metropolis of international repute, framed between Mont Royal and the St Lawrence River.

The city is in the south of Canada’s Quebec province, only 37 miles (60km) from the United States border, and is an important hub of North American trade. It is a spacious, beautiful city characterised by a series of underground shopping and recreation complexes, linked by walkways and the metro. This subterranean city contains more than 18.5 miles (30km) of office and apartment complexes, major stores, hotels, restaurants, metro stations, parking garages, movie theatres, concert halls and more, all snugly accessible during the snowy winters.

Its population is a multicultural mix, which has fostered a vibrant cultural life, showcased in a number of world-class art galleries and museums. Like most Canadian cities, Montreal has interspersed urban development with green areas. In this case pride is taken by the spacious Parc du Mont-Royal, designed by Frederic Olmsted, the American landscape artist who also designed Central Park in New York. The city boasts numerous other attractions of interest to visitors all year round, but tourists do tend to avoid the freezing winter months.

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Quebec City Travel Guide

Small cafés and cosy restaurants, charming boutiques, lively terraces, elegant squares, theatres and museums, street buskers and mimes all contribute to the charm and ambience of historic Old Quebec, the cradle of French civilisation in North America and still notably European in spirit. Perched on top of Cap Diamant, overlooking the St Lawrence River, Quebec City was first settled by the French in 1608, named for a native Algonquin word meaning ‘where the river narrows’. The ambience, lively spirit, high safety rating, and a comfortable blend of past and present make this provincial capital city worthy of its status as one of the top cultural destinations in the world.

Despite having been ceded to the British in 1759, the city’s population of more than half a million are today 95 percent French-speaking, lending a definite ‘joie de vivre’ and French elegance to the atmosphere. About four million visitors are drawn to Quebec City each year, to savour this unique charm, the famed Quebec gourmet scene, and the beauty of the historic Old City where winding cobbled streets are lined with 17th and 18th-century stone houses and churches, bewitching parks, elegant squares, and numerous monuments. The city is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and is one of the only fortified cities in the Americas.

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Regina Travel Guide

Regina is the capital of the historical Saskatchewan region; a Canadian province bordering the US states of Montana and North Dakota. The sunniest capital city in Canada, Regina is known for being the cultural and commercial hub for southern Saskatchewan and the wider region.

While not a celebrated tourist destination in itself, the city is the main transport hub of the region and therefore a common stop for travellers. Those spending a day or two in Regina will find a few interesting museums, good shopping opportunities, and some vast neighbourhood parks. It is said that there is more open space per person in Regina than in any other Canadian city, which makes it a popular choice for those interested in outdoor activities such as biking, cross-country skiing and long walks. The Wascana Lake occupies the centre and makes for an ideal spot for boating activity in the warm summers and skating in the icy winters.

Regina is also known for its famed Wascana Centre which remains one of its most popular attractions. The centre is home to the Provincial Legislative Building, both campuses of the University of Regina, the Provincial Museum of Natural History, the Regina Conservatory, an art gallery, as well as the Saskatchewan Centre of Arts.

There are cafes, bookshops and a few good restaurants located in the Cathedral District of the region, and for those in search of local talent, there is substantial cultural wealth to be found in the local theatre, music and dance scene.

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CHILE

Santiago Travel Guide

The towering Andes provide an awesome backdrop for the sprawling Chilean metropolis of Santiago. The population of Chile’s capital numbers more than five million but, with its pretty leafy suburbs and well-oiled infrastructure, it is not an intimidating city.

Santiago is a curious mix of skyscrapers and 19th-century European architecture, with some Spanish adobe bungalows thrown in for good measure. Threaded through this architectural tapestry are numerous green areas, busy markets, and quaint old squares. Street life is vibrant, and adding to the vibe is the presence of numerous chic sidewalk cafes, outside of which traditionally dressed women hawk their wares hoping to catch the eye of the tourists. There are also some impressive museums, great accommodation options for all budgets, excellent restaurants and some good shopping opportunities. The public transport is very good, making getting around in the city centre a pleasure.

Santiago exudes an aura of health and wealth in the inner city and fashionable suburbs, with a distinctly cosmopolitan and first-world atmosphere, but those who explore beyond the thriving centre will find that the glittering skyscrapers slowly give way to shabby shantytowns. The city is also one of the 10 most severely polluted in the world, thanks to its position in a bowl of mountains, which comes as a surprise in a country known for its pristine natural landscapes. Luckily, air pollution is only likely to be a problem in Santiago in the winter months, peaking between May and August, and the city tends to be beautifully clear in the sunny summers.

Santiago is an excellent base for exploring the Central Valley of Chile, with the lovely wine country on its doorstep and the artistic port city of Valparaiso a short drive away. National parks and even ski slopes are also within easy reach. Visitors may find, however, that the delights of the city itself make them loathe to leave.

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CHINA

Beijing Travel Guide

With traditional hutongs and temples a stone’s throw from immense skyscrapers, Beijing is a sprawling metropolis as historically rich as it is alive with modernity.

China’s huge capital city is a perennial favourite with tourists and backpackers, as it has a wide range of unusual sights, sounds, smells and tastes to offer. The city’s unique cultural elements are alive and well and can be experienced first-hand in Beijing’s indigenous cuisine, temples and traditional performances. Beijing is nevertheless more than up-to-date with modern trends and fashions, partly as a result of its cosmopolitan expat population and partly because China is increasingly an international trend-setter in its own right.

A global hub of business, culture and entertainment, Beijing has an incredibly diverse nightlife that will keep even the most demanding of socialites satisfied at all hours. Especially during the summer months, areas like the Sanlitun bar street are buzzing from dusk till dawn. Visitors hoping to lighten their pockets will also have no shortage of shoppingopportunities; from bustling markets like Silk Street (Xiushuijie) to colossal shopping malls like the 13-storey Xidan Joy Center, Beijing has it all.

China is a teeming medley of more than 50 officially recognised ethnic minorities and Beijing, as the country’s capital, is suitably varied and representative. The city’s many attractions are testament to this, and visitors will find exploring everything fully a near-impossible task.

Best time to visit Beijing

Beijing’s climate is one of extremes. With hot, humid summers and chilling, dry winters, travellers will find that spring and autumn (April to May and September to October) are the best times of year to visit. The weather during these seasons is pleasant, temperate and highly conducive to sightseeing. Read more about Beijing’s climate and weather.

What to see in Beijing

-The breath-taking and historically poignant Tiananmen Square is a must-see for those visiting Beijing.

-It is practically an obligation for travellers to journey out of the city to see the Great Wall; tourists can stroll along the historic landmark at a number of different locations.

-The Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest during the 2008 Olympics, is a spectacular feat of modern architecture.

-Experience the thriving Beijing art scene in 798 Space, a notable gallery in the city’s famous art district. Read more about China attractions.

What to do in Beijing

-Hire a pedal boat and relax on the majestic waters of Beihai Park.

-Experience the beauty of Chinese culture in the Summer Palace.

-Take a tour of the cryptic reminder of cold-war fears that is The Underground City.

-Learn about the diversity of aquatic life at the Beijing Aquarium.

-Travellers can learn about early humans and see the remains of the famous ‘Peking Man’ at the Zhoukoudian Cave, just south of the city.

Beyond Beijing

Despite its size, travelling within China is relatively simple. This is especially the case from its capital city, as there are frequent buses, trains and flights going to all corners of the country. From Beijing, travellers may enjoy meandering down to Xi’an, resting place of the remarkable Terracotta Army, or to Chengdu, home of the world’s largest Panda Breeding and Research Center.

Getting there

All international flights to the city will land in Beijing City International Airport, located 17 miles (28km) north of the city. From the airport, visitors can either take a taxi, shuttle service or express train to the heart of the city and beyond. Beijing’s extensive public transport system, while generally crowded, is reliable; visitors should not experience much difficulty navigating.

Did you know?

-Despite being called the ‘kingdom of bicycles’, the number of cyclists in Beijing has more than halved in the past 15 years; this is largely a result of the city’s growing middle-class, who consider owning a car to be a greater status symbol.

-Beijing’s signature dish, Peking Duck, is a carefully prepared delicacy that has been around since the imperial era and is a favourite of Henry Kissinger.

-Beijing’s subway is one of the busiest in the world, with more than 11 million trips on a busy day.

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Guangzhou Travel Guide

Guangzhou is one of China’s largest cities, with an appealing mix of retail frenzy and capitalist energy tempered by ancient traditions and well-preserved historical districts. Capital of the Guangdong Province in southern China, adjacent to Hong Kong and Macau, the city of Guangzhou was formerly known in the West as Canton (the home of Cantonese cuisine) and has a rich heritage in tea production as well as delicious food. Today the city skyline is dominated by massive skyscrapers, which play host to vast business and trade enterprises, but this ancient trading hub was once a major terminus on the maritime Silk Road and it is a great destination for history lovers as well as businesspeople.

Guangzhou has numerous shopping malls, as well as cultural and historical attractions, and shopping is a serious business in the city; some of Guangzhou’s best shopping areas include Shangxia Jiu Lu, Beijing Lu and Renmin Nan Lu. Cantonese cuisine and opera are highlights of the Guangzhou social scene, and the city’s history (dating back to 214 BC) can be discovered at sites such as the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, the Guandong Folk Arts Museum and the Museum of the Western Han Dynasty.

Travellers to Guangzhou will probably find the summer season a bit hot and rainy, but the winters, from December to March, are mild and sunny and a wonderful time to explore this fascinating city. There are a number of buses and taxis to transport tourists in the city, and there are frequent flights and trains from Guangzhou to other major Chinese destinations, such as Beijing and Shanghai. The city receives more than 100 million visitors each year and it is well-equipped to accommodate them.

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Shanghai Travel Guide

A bustling coastal metropolis, Shanghai is the perfect destination for travellers keen on an exciting experience of China’s modern face.

China’s largest city is a thrilling hub of international activity that has been developed extensively over the past few decades. As the first Chinese port open for trade with the west, Shanghai has a history of integrating foreign cultures and sensibilities with its own. This element has largely survived the country’s tumultuous politics, and visitors will notice that many of the city’s buildings, particularly along the Bund, are reminiscent of spectacular colonial-era architecture.

With such a cosmopolitan global atmosphere, travellers will feel welcome and at home among the colourful crowds of Shanghai’s celebrated street life.

Once a notoriously naughty city – the almost inevitable result of being built around a booming port – Shanghai is famous for its energetic and vibrant nightlife, with a near-endless selection of bars and nightclubs to keep visitors entertained. Furthermore, as such a crossroad of cultures, Shanghai caters for the truly international pallet, boasting a diverse restaurant scene and offering some of the best shopping in the world.

Best time to visit Shanghai

The best time to visit Shanghai is in the spring (March to June), when temperate and amicable weather makes for happy sightseers. Shanghai’s climate is generally humid and subtropical, with four very clearly defined seasons. Autumn (September to November) can also be a great time for travellers to visit Shanghai; however, typhoons during this time are a possibility and visitors are advised to keep an ear to the ground. Read more about Shanghai’s weather and climate.

What to see in Shanghai

-Travellers should check out The Bund waterfront area for its unique architecture, entertainment, and shopping opportunities.

-Learn about the history of Chinese culture and more at the Shanghai Museum.

-Enjoy the many beautiful temples in Shanghai, such as the Jade Buddha Temple and Longhua Temple. Learn more about Shanghai attractions.

What to do in Shanghai

-Visitors trying to cope with the summer heat can visit Jinshan City Beach, a conveniently located stretch of man-made beach that is nearly one mile (1.6km) long.

-Travellers can relax in the idyllic and intricately designed Yuyuan Gardens, which have a history stretching back to the Ming Dynasty.

-Those with a penchant for haggling should browse Shanghai’s many street markets, where bargaining is expected and can be a fun activity in itself.

Beyond Shanghai

Shanghai, being a city where east meets west, can be a great transitional place for visitors starting their journey into China. Guilin and Hangzhou, both renowned for their natural beauty, are easily accessed by train or plane and offer tourists a different sort of experience of China, especially the Elephant Trunk Hill and West Lake.

Getting there

Most international flights to Shanghai land in Pudong International Airport, located 18.6 miles (30km) outside of the city. There are plenty of transportation options from the airport into the city, including taxis, buses, and the lightening-fast Shanghai Maglev train.

Public transport in Shanghai is highly developed, and travellers should have no difficulty getting around. It may be useful, however, for those not proficient in reading Chinese to plan their journey ahead of time to avoid getting lost.

Did you know?

-Shanghai cuisine is usually on the sweet side, as more sugar is used in Shanghai than any other city in China.

-English is currently a mandatory subject for children going to school in Shanghai, encouraging a high level of bilingualism throughout the city.

-Shanghai has one of the largest metro systems in the world, stretching a lengthy 334 miles (538 km).

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Xi An Travel Guide

Xi’an, in ancient times known as Chang’an, is situated prettily in central China in the southern part of Guan Zhong Plain in Shaanxi Province, with the Qinling Mountains to the north and the Weihe River to the south. In ancient times the city of Xi’an was a major crossroads on the trading routes from eastern China to central Asia, and the beginning point of the famed Silk Road; in recent years this 3,100-year-old city, that was once seen as comparable with Rome and Constantinople, has come back into its own as one of China’s major tourist destinations.

In 1974, on the city’s eastern outskirts, archaeologists stumbled across a treasure trove: an army of terracotta warrior figurines in battle formation standing in underground vaults. Hailed as the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an have brought visitors from around the world flocking to the city to soak up its historical and cultural heritage, and perhaps embark on an adventure tour along the ancient silk caravan route.

Besides the terracotta warriors, the city has many historical relics of interest, including museums and temples, which is unsurprising considering that Xi’an was the capital city of China through the rule 12 dynasties. The city wall is one of the widest, highest and best preserved in the world, and the Forest of Steles, with its collection of more than 3,000 ancient stone tablets, is both the largest and oldest in China.

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COSTA RICA

San Jose Costa Rica Travel Guide

San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, loses many tourists to the beauty of the country’s jungles and beaches. But those who venture to the urban heart of Costa Rica will find a lively city of more than 300,000 people that offers the best selection of shops, restaurants and nightlife in Costa Rica.

San Jose is a modern city, but tourists will want to head to pretty areas like Barria Amon and the bustling Mercado Central for a sense of the city’s culture and history. A number of museums dedicated to gold mining, pre-Colombian jade, contemporary art and insects will teach visitors of all ages about Central America, and the large selection of restaurants serving delicious local cuisine will give you the energy to see them all.

Although there are plenty of things to see and do in San Jose, the city’s location in the middle of the country makes it ideally situated as a base to explore the natural attractions of central Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio National Park, Fortuna, and the Tilarán mountain range are all within three to four hours’ drive of the city. Public transport in Costa Rica also uses San Jose as a hub, making it a convenient stop on any holiday.

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CROATIA

Dubrovnik Travel Guide

Despite a turbulent history during which it has been occupied and conquered by a succession of its neighbours and European colonial powers, Dubrovnik is now a city at peace, allowing visitors to make the most of its historic architecture, white pebble beaches and crystal-clear sea. Political upheaval has at times temporarily discouraged travel to Croatia, but it is also true that this uniquely lovely Adriatic port city has been luring travellers for centuries, known for its fine accommodation, excellent cuisine, beautiful surroundings and recreational opportunities. George Bernard Shaw is quoted as describing Dubrovnik as ‘heaven on earth’. Over the last few years, the establishment of a stable and prosperous peace in Croatia has ensured Dubrovnik is a booming travel destination once more.

The old town, dating from the 7th century, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enclosed by city walls built in the 13th century, the buildings represent a cross-section of medieval architectural styles and remain well preserved. Onofrio’s Fountain, situated just inside the main entrance to the old city at Pile Gate, is one of Dubrovnik’s most famous landmarks and a popular meeting place. The centre of the old town is the Stradun, its main street, which was originally a channel separating an island from the mainland, and was filled in to join two towns into the merged city of Dubrovnik. There are numerous churches, monasteries and museums to explore; the old town boasts plenty of restaurants, bars and shops; and the coastal belt is awash with pretty marinas, coves and promenades. Most of the hotels and the best beaches are located northwest of the old town, at Lapad, or in Ploce to the northeast.

Dubrovnik is a favourite on European cruise itineraries and many tourists arrive by sea, ferrying in to the charming old port. Although Dubrovnik will delight cruise passengers with only a few hours to kill, it is incredibly wealthy in history and culture and can easily occupy travellers for a few days. The city is also well situated as a travel hub for exploring the towns and islands that stretch along the dramatic Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.

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Split Travel Guide

The pretty city of Split has a rich history. Since ancient times it has, in various guises, served as the economic and administrative centre of the beautiful Croatian Adriatic coastal region, today called Dalmatia. The city sits mainly on a peninsula on the eastern part of the island of Ciovo, although it has nowadays spread onto the mainland and encompasses the mouth of the River Cetina. From the 5th to the 2nd century BC Greek colonists settled the mainland and adjacent islands. Later came the Romans, in particular the Emperor Diocletian, who, being of Dalmatian origin, elected to build a huge palace at a spot then called Salona, in the year 303. A town grew up around the palace and eventually, by the Middle Ages, the city of Split had begun to develop.

Diocletian’s Palace still stands in the very heart of the old part of Split, which charms visitors with its cobbled streets and classical architecture. The greater Split area is characterised by its lush vegetation and green areas, particularly Marjan Hill on the west of the peninsula with its ancient indigenous forest. The city makes an ideal base from which to explore the islands, beauty spots, and historic villages in central Dalmatia.

Split is also world renowned among seafarers for the quality, and quantity, of its marinas. There are about 44 of them in the city area altogether, drawing yachts and catamarans from all over Europe and making it a great cruising destination in the Adriatic.

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Zagreb Travel Guide

Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is the country’s economic centre and the gateway to Western Europe. The picturesque city is situated on the slopes of Medvednica Mountain, along the banks of the Sava River, in the north of Croatia.

The core of Zagreb consists of the Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and Donji Grad (Lower Town). The Upper Town is home to the well-preserved medieval city, known as Gradec and Kaptol, while the residential area covers the southern slopes of the Medvednica Mountains. Since the 1950s the city has grown appreciably to the south of the Sava River, and the main industrial area is in the southeast.

Besides being a commercial hub Zagreb is a popular tourist centre, and an established international conference venue. Zagreb has a history dating back nearly a thousand years but it is also an efficient modern city; it is rich in historical monuments, museums and galleries, has modern shops, restaurants, sport and recreation facilities, and good transport infrastructure. The city’s tourist attractions are largely historical, ranging from the Palaeolithic Veternica Cave, through the vestiges of Roman culture, to the fascinating medieval old town.

Zagreb is well-situated as a springboard for exploring the picturesque medieval towns of northern Croatia, including Samobor, Vrbovec and Karlovac. There are also great hiking opportunities on nearby Medvednica Mountain, which casts its 3,280-foot (1,000m) shadow over the pretty city.

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CUBA

Havana Travel Guide

Situated on the north coast of the island, and built around a natural harbour, Havana (La Habana) is one of the most lively and colourful cities in the Caribbean. Much of the city’s charm can be found among the narrow, derelict streets packed with crumbling buildings and fascinating people. Every open door and overhanging balcony allows glimpses of rocking chairs and colourful washing, accompanied by strains of music. On the streets Chinese-made bicycles, yellow, egg-shaped coco-taxis and two-humped camello (camel) buses weave among the melee of 1950s cars.

The historic old town, Habana Vieja or Colonial Havana, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a major tourist destination. The Spanish left behind some superb colonial architecture, and many of the great buildings and grand plazas are being restored to their former glory, although ironically the general dilapidation of the great buildings of Havana contributes enormously to their charm. Central Havana (Centro Habana) boasts some of the most important museums and architectural highlights of the city, including the Revolution Museum and the National Capitol, which resembles the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. The trendy suburb of Vedado boasts high-rise buildings and modern hotels, and draws locals and visitors alike with its theatres, art galleries, restaurants, cafes and cabaret shows; however, most of the city’s sights are in Habana Vieja and Centro Habana. The five-mile (8km) seawall, or malecón, stretches from Vedado to Habana Vieja, and is lined with architectural gems in various states of dilapidation and restoration.

Havana’s nightlife will exhaust even the most seasoned partygoer. After dark, nightclubs and bars come alive and the famous rum cocktails flow freely. For travellers needing rest from all this revelry, the lovely beaches are only twenty minutes east of the city.

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Trinidad Travel Guide

One of the most visited towns in Cuba, Trinidad maintains a charming colonial atmosphere with its uneven cobbled streets, quiet plazas, churches, red-tiled roofs, wooden shutters and wrought-iron grilles. Bicycles and horse-drawn carts bump along streets lined with somewhat dilapidated pastel-coloured houses, where open doors afford brief views of folk on rocking chairs and wooden birdcages, and the strains of salsa music drift out from cool courtyards where the intricate steps of the dance are practiced.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, Trinidad has largely escaped the modern tourist infrastructure and large hotels usually accorded a popular destination, and retains its welcoming and tranquil atmosphere.

Surrounded by sugarcane plantations, and situated between the Topes de Collantes Mountains and the Caribbean Sea, Trinidad’s location also provides easy access to the beach, the mountains, and the beautiful surrounding countryside, where vestiges from the 18th and 19th centuries in the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) testify to a time of prosperity during the sugarcane boom. The Valley and its old sugar mills are interesting historically, as well as scenically, because the slave trade was a huge contributing factor in the sugarcane industry’s success. It was after the abolishment of slavery that the boom ended and the area drifted into picturesque tranquillity.

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CYPRUS

Larnaca Travel Guide

Larnaca is the international gateway to Cyprus, thanks to its busy international airport and seaport. It is only Cyprus’s third largest coastal city but it is a popular tourist hub. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and has plenty of historical sightseeing on offer to complement its deep-blue sea, bright sandy beaches and reliably sunny skies.

The city was called Kition in the days of the Old Testament and the ruins of the ancient city can still be seen. Much of its rich archaeological heritage has been preserved and is showcased in two of its main museums.

In addition to its rich history, the Larnaca region is known as a hotspot for partying on the Mediterranean, and is home to Ayia Napa, one of the most popular resort areas in Cyprus, as well as lively villages like Protaras, Kapparis, and Paralimni.

Away from the action in the towns, the region offers miles of unspoiled wilderness to explore; the Cape Greco peninsula is a government-protected conservation area with dramatic cliffs and abundant indigenous flora and fauna.

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Limassol Travel Guide

During the Crusades Richard the Lionheart visited the Cypriot city of Limassol (then known as Lemesos) to free his betrothed from the Byzantine sovereign. The subsequent wedding became a party that remains legendary today, which is probably why modern Limassol is still a centre of joie de vivre. This lively ambience is also aided and abetted by the fact that Limassol is the centre of winemaking on the island.

Today Limassol is Cyprus’ second-largest city with around 200,000 inhabitants. Many people travel to Limassol to enjoy its lovely beaches, sidewalk cafés, and lively nightlife. Visitors can take an evening stroll on the seafront Akti Olympion, followed by a visit to a traditional buzukia tavern for live music. The Old Town radiates from the fishing harbour, with narrow streets lined with shops and boutiques.

The foothills of the Troodos Mountains lie north of the city and offer charming country walks that meander through friendly villages. A quick drive to the Kourion, only nine miles (15km) away, also offers historic sites such as The House of Achilles, the Altar of Apollo, and Curium Beach.

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Nicosia Travel Guide

The bustling city of Nicosia (Lefkosia) in the northern interior has been the capital of Cyprus since the 12th century. It stands today as Europe’s only divided city, being split in two by the ‘Green Line’, a United Nations buffer zone that divides the government-controlled Republic of Cyprus in the south from the Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus.

The modern city centre of Nicosia is surrounded by elegant tree-lined suburbs, but the favoured tourist sector is the Old Town, which is being extensively renovated. The Old Town is a picturesque fusion of 16th-century walls, pedestrian precincts, pavement cafes and squares, brimming with charm, character and sightseeing opportunities. There are many things to see and do in Nicosia, with a variety of museums, performance venues, cinemas, restaurants, bars and nightclubs to choose from.

The city, on the Mesaoria Plain, is the centre of the Nicosia District that includes the valleys of Solea and Pitsilia and parts of Marathasa with its mountain villages, orchards, hill resorts and plethora of Byzantine churches and monasteries. These are within easy reach and make for pleasant day trips from the city. While Nicosia doesn’t have the stunning Mediterranean beaches to offer visitors, it is a great base from which to explore the mountainous regions of Cyprus, which are very beautiful in their own right and offer numerous hiking trails.

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CZECH REPUBLIC

Prague Travel Guide

Welcoming about six million tourists every year, the City of a Hundred Spires is like something out of a Gothic fairy-tale, with enough history and magic to bewitch visitors from all walks of life:

Prague has come alive and undergone a modern renaissance as one of Europe’s most desirable destinations, with its cobblestone streets and lofty spires giving the whole city the feel of an outdoor museum. Thankfully, Prague’s Old Town (Stare Mesto) was virtually undamaged during both world wars, allowing the old city to show off a cross-section of centuries-old architecture unseen even in Europe’s most famous capitals. Complementing this buffet of well-preserved history, Prague boasts a feisty nightlife which attracts young revellers from all over the continent, and a trendy assortment of new galleries, clubs, restaurants, cafes and shops. Prague is therefore a great combination of traditional charm and vibrant, trend-setting youth.

Best time to visit Prague

Midsummer is high season for a holiday in Prague, with droves of visitors coming to bask in the sunny weather. The best time to travel to Prague for those not wanting to join the crowds is in spring (April/May) or autumn (September/October) when the crowds have thinned and the weather is still pleasant. Read more on Prague’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Prague

-Stroll over the iconic Charles Bridge and photograph the city.

-Admire the oddly beautiful Dancing House designed in part by Frank Gehry.

-See the Old Town Square, Prague’s heart since the 11th century.

-Watch the amusing medieval Prague Astronomical Clock chime the hour.

What to do in Prague

-Visit the Museum of Communism for a taste of Prague behind the Iron Curtain.

-Explore the many attractions of Prague’s stately Castle District.

-Learn about the history of Prague’s Jewish population in The Jewish Museum.

-Tour the Vysehrad hill fortress, thought to have stood since the 10th century.

Beyond Prague

The Czech Republic is not a large country and Prague is fairly central, meaning that many of the country’s attractions are within reach of the capital. Pilsen, the birthplace of Czech beer, is just beyond Prague, as is Kutna Hora, which fascinates travellers. The spa resort town of Karlovy Vary and even the more distant medieval town of Cesky Krumlovare popular options for weekend getaways from Prague.

Getting there

Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport is conveniently located just 10 miles (16km) northwest of the city centre and is the Czech Republic’s main air transport hub. Get more information on Airports in Prague.

Did you know?

-Prague Castle is said to be the largest castle complex in the world.

-There is a famous graffiti shrine to John Lennon on Mala Strana.

-During the Middle Ages alchemy was very fashionable in Prague, with assorted ‘magicians’ practicing the art.

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