Listed City Guide - M
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Maine

Portland Travel Guide

Portland is Maine’s biggest city and is the state’s cultural and economic hub, attracting over three and a half million visitors each year. Originally a fishing and trading settlement, the town was destroyed three times over a hundred year period, and finally regained stability as a shipping port.

Unfortunately, over-zealous Independence Day celebrants managed to set fire to most of the city’s commercial buildings, hundreds of houses and roughly half the city’s churches in 1886, causing it to be rebuilt once again, this time in a Victorian style. Beautiful examples of this architecture can be found in the mansions set along the famous Western Promenade, and in the Victoria Mansion on Danforth Street, which offers tours of its well-preserved interiors.

Despite its tough beginning, Portland remains a beautiful city, ideally situated on a peninsula that juts out into Casco Bay, flanked by several small islands. Historic architecture blends with modern amenities and the city is a bustle of activity, making it one of the country’s top cities to live in. Resplendent in natural beauty, Portland is highly popular in summer and visitors can enjoy boat rides; sightseeing, shopping, dining and people-watching at the Old Port historic waterfront and the East End; a visit to the Downtown Arts District or to the prominent Portland Head Light Lighthouse. The home of poet Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow is also well worth a visit, as is the Maine History Gallery, and for the kids, there is the Children’s Museum of Maine.

Portland has an abundance of good restaurants, especially those offering renowned local seafood specialties like Maine lobster, clam chowder, and scallops, which are cheaper and more plentiful than in any other state. You’ll find a variety of cuisines represented though, including Vietnamese, Thai, African, Greek, and Indian food, as Portland is the most culturally diverse city in Maine. The city boasts no fewer than five microbreweries, and dozens of bars, pubs, and nightclubs.

Portland is a wonderful city to visit in its own right, with plenty of attractions, activities and sights for the visitor, and it is also a useful base from which to explore the rest of this beautiful state. Smaller towns in the area like Freeport, Cape Elizabeth, Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Kennebunkport offer their own amusements that are worth exploring on a holiday to Portland.

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Maryland

Baltimore Travel Guide

As Maryland’s biggest city and one of the USA’s busiest ports, Baltimore’s position at the end of the Patapsco River that feeds into Chesapeake Bay gives the city easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and it became an important port and shipbuilding centre. It was home to a large number of US Navy vessels as well as the famously swift Baltimore clipper ships that destroyed or captured many of the British merchant ships during the War of 1812. Unlike Washington DC, Baltimore survived the vengeful attack by Britain, and with the triumphant flying of the American flag over Fort McHenry the country’s national anthem, the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’, was born.

Since its important role in the Revolution, Baltimore has experienced a turbulent history. Its fortunes have see-sawed from post-Revolution prosperity to a city crippled by the violence of divided loyalties during the North/South Civil War; from a railroad-rich 19th century to the devastation caused by the fire of 1904; and the economic despair of the Great Depression.

Nicknamed ‘Charm City’ for its fusion of small town hospitality and city finesse, Baltimore combines an interesting mix of neighbourhoods, a diverse range of attractions, and delicious seafood specialities of the Inner Harbor that include the abundant Maryland steamed blue crabs. The distinct neighbourhoods are an attractive feature of Baltimore, among them the historic maritime district of Fells Point, the broad avenues of wealthy Mount Vernon, the village ambiance of Little Italy and the Bohemian neighbourhood of SoWeBo, or Southwest Baltimore. The dividing line between the northern and southern US states runs through the city and its southern heritage is visible in the wide front porches of the houses, and the typically laid-back attitude of its residents.

No holiday in Baltimore is complete without sampling its active nightlife. Fells Point is the most popular district for entertainment, with a large selection of restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs. The Powerplant Live! area near the Inner Harbor has several blocks of nothing but restaurants, bars and clubs. Other neighbourhoods in Baltimore with good nightlife include Canton Square, Mount Vernon, Hampden, Federal Hill, and the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

The waterfront area and Inner Harbor are the heart of this vibrant and growing city and has become a major tourist destination featuring the World Trade Center with its 27-storey high Top of the World Observation Level, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, and the Port Discovery children’s museum covering everything from art to black history and archaeology. The water taxi service, besides providing an efficient means of harbour transport, is an excellent way to experience the waterfront and affords fantastic views of the city’s skyline.

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Massachusetts

Boston Travel Guide

Boston is a truly historic city, founded by the New England pilgrims, integral to the events of the American Revolution and the fight against slavery, and home to many of the nation’s great thinkers and writers over the centuries:

The main reason to choose a holiday in Boston is the city’s vast historic importance, being one of the oldest cities in the country and, for many generations, home of the scholarly elite. Boston has been dubbed ‘the Athens of America’ because of its great cultural, political and economic influence as well as being renowned for its superior higher education institutions. A holiday in Boston will appeal to history lovers and cultural tourists who will revel in the plethora of museums, art galleries, libraries and diverse, interesting neighbourhoods. Visitors can walk the Black Heritage Trail and the Freedom Trail to get to grips with the historic wealth of Boston, and need only wander the hallowed grounds of Harvard University to feel the city’s academic energy.

Boston may be one of America’s oldest cities, but it has a remarkably young population – with something like 75 percent of the population under 45 – ensuring that the city’s lofty academic atmosphere is balanced by a vibrant restaurant scene, plenty of good shopping, lots of events and outdoor activities, and a varied nightlife.

Best time to visit Boston

Although some visitors relish the hot, humid summers, or even the cold, snowy winters, the best time to travel to Boston is in late spring or early autumn (May, September and October), when the weather is warm and pleasant. Autumn is particularly lovely as New England’s trees wear their colourful fall foliage. Read more on Boston’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Boston

-Visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which houses one of the world’s most comprehensive art collections.

-Catch a game at Fenway Park and cheer on the Red Sox with the locals.

-Enter a world of technological genius at the renowned MIT Museum.

-Marvel at the underwater world of the New England Aquarium.

What to do in Boston

-Tour the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, reliving the famous revolutionary event.

-Cross the Charles River into the prestigious scholarly enclave of Cambridge.

-Shop and eat your way around the Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

-Enjoy a picnic and a stroll in the Boston Public Garden, the oldest botanical garden in the US.

Beyond Boston

Popular daytrip destinations near Boston include Salem, famous for its witch trials and historic houses; Plymouth, the landing point of the pilgrims; Gloucester, known as ‘America’s Oldest Fishing Port’; New Bedford, famous for its whaling history; Lexington, where the first blood of the American Revolution was spilled; and Concord, a charming town loved by many famous authors.

Getting there

Boston Logan International Airport, situated four miles (6km) northeast of the city, is one of the busiest airports in the US, and the primary air travel hub of New England. Get more information on Airports in Boston.

Did you know?

-America’s first subway, first police department, first library and first public park were all established in Boston.

-The Boston Terrier is the official state dog of Massachusetts.

-Christmas was banned for 22 years in Boston, by the pilgrims, starting in 1659.

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Michigan

Detroit Travel Guide

The sprawling industrial city of Detroit, the oldest city in America’s Mid-West, began life as a trading post when French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac landed on the banks of the Detroit River in 1701 and established a fort. He was later removed because of bad conduct, but unlike its outpost commander, the settlement of Detroit was flourishing. In 1796 Detroit officially became American, and by the early 19th century had already earned a reputation as a centre for the manufacturing industry, particularly kitchen ranges. As most people now know, however, Detroit did not go on to become the stove-making capital of the world. The city is renowned as the automotive centre of the globe, birthplace of the motorcar and home to some of the nation’s top brands. Originally automobile empires were established by Detroit families like Ford, Olds, Chevrolet and Dodge, which have become household names, thanks to the invention and perfection of the motor vehicle production assembly line, which began in Detroit.

It is not only hard work and industrial enterprise that drives Detroit, however. The city in southeast Michigan is also famous for the Motown record label, founded by former autoworker Berry Gordy Jr, which has introduced the world to stars such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, the Temptations and Diana Ross, to name but a few.

Modern ‘Motown’ Detroit is a little decayed and shabby, having suffered a decline in fortunes, but efforts are being made to increase the city’s appeal as a tourist destination, and there are several attractions worth seeing. In the downtown area new hotels and restaurants are appearing to complement the sports stadium, and there is a focus on the arts, particularly in the city’s historic theatre district. The Renaissance Center, a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers, provides the best views of downtown Detroit.

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Mackinaw City Travel Guide

Mackinaw City, situated in Michigan’s Cheboygan County at the top of the state’s Lower Peninsula, is linked to the Upper Peninsula by one of the world’s longest suspension bridges. The city has become Michigan’s most popular vacation destination, offering many historical and cultural attractions and acting as a gateway to the scenic Upper Peninsula with its hiking trails, state parks and recreation areas, and sandy beaches.

The city itself has a rich history, having been first settled after French explorer Jean Nicolet negotiated with the local tribes in 1634. It became a fur-trading post and later the site of a busy fort and trading store. By 1882 the settlement had become a flourishing town; today it is a popular shopping destination, with many unique stores and restaurants lining its main street, and boasting more than 50 hotels and holiday resorts. Regular ferry services connect the city with historic Mackinac Island, just offshore.

The most popular time to travel to Mackinaw City is during summer (June to August), when cool breezes from the ocean moderate the summer heat, making conditions ideal for beach-going and outdoor activities. The population of this small town swells enormously during high season, so if you want to avoid the crowds holiday in Mackinaw City in spring or autumn, when days are mild and nights cool.

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Minnesota

Minneapolis-St Paul Travel Guide

Minneapolis and St Paul are the two halves of a singular metropolis bisected by the Mississippi River in eastern Minnesota. The older city, St Paul, is the state capital, smaller, quieter and more reserved than its modern sibling across the river; it has a compact downtown area sporting a variety of restored Victorian architecture among its glass skyscrapers, and is home to several major universities, and many museums and theatres. Minneapolis, founded on money made by the hundreds of saw and flour mills along the Mississippi has many contemporary buildings in a slick new downtown area with a lively, arty character and a vibrant nightlife.

The very existence of the Twin Cities is due to the only waterfall on the Mississippi, St Anthony Falls, whose hydroelectric power fuelled numerous flour and timber mills along the river, and today the Riverfront district in Minneapolis is a scenic stretch lined with old warehouses, mills and historical walking trails.

While Minneapolis and St Paul are the original ‘Twin Cities’ of Minnesota, the name now refers to the sprawling metro area, encompassing dozens of smaller towns, that extends for 30 miles in all directions. These towns have their own unique charm and identities, from the quaint 150-year-old main street of Anoka in the north to the antique stores and scenic St. Croix River valley of Stillwater to the south.

With hundreds of lakes lying within the Twin Cities area, there are endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, with miles of trails surrounding the lakes. Residents of the Twin Cities pride themselves on a high quality of life that includes sport and outdoor activities as well as top priorities such as a good education, a clean environment, excellent health care and a low crime rate. They boast a rich arts and cultural entertainment scene with more concert venues per person than any other city in the country, except New York. And the southern suburb of Bloomington is home to the largest shopping centre in the US that includes an aquarium and amusement park under the same roof as hundreds of shops, restaurants, bars and theatres.

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Mississippi

Jackson Mississippi Travel Guide

Although it is Mississippi’s largest city, and the state capital, Jackson has a slow pace with a distinctly southern lifestyle, and its population of about 400,000 is spread over a large geographic area, making it seem smaller than it is. The main landmark in the city is the old Mississippi State Capitol building in the very centre of the downtown area, modelled on the US Capitol in Washington and adding an impressive dimension to the city skyline.

Jackson meanders along the banks of the winding Pearl River, having been founded in 1821 as a trading post and incorporated into the United States in 1833 for the deliberate purpose of being the state capital. It is an exceedingly well-ordered city thanks to thoughtful town planning, but because it is spread out, exploring its distinct neighbourhoods is best done by car.

Downtown are the cultural centres, historic buildings and museums, but visitors need to travel to areas like Ridgeland, a few miles out, to find good shopping, eating, lodging and nightlife opportunities. The neighbourhood of Mid North has some great recreational areas, like Le Fleur’s Bluff State Park, while to the west of Downtown is the significant Farish Street Historical District, a centre of black culture, politics, religion and business.

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Missouri

St Louis Travel Guide

Fur trader Pierre Laclede settled St Louis as a French trading post in 1764 at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. This location proved to be an ideal meeting point and it subsequently became a major port for boats on the Mississippi, and the main departure point for explorers on the West-bound wagon trails. As the ‘Gateway to the West’, St Louis became a manufacturing centre for everything a pioneer would need on his journey, such as saddles and guns, and it was here that Lewis and Clark stocked up with provisions for their famous expedition.

Today St Louis is the biggest city in Missouri and one of the largest inland ports in the country. It is a modern, commercial, industrial and cultural centre. Although a cosmopolitan river metropolis, reminders of St Louis’ frontier history are in evidence throughout the city, most visibly in the shining steel Gateway Arch that is the famous landmark of St Louis, dedicated to the pioneers of the Western frontier.

It is a city with numerous personalities: a mix of authentic America with a vaguely European air. Music from the nation’s past floats from the famous jazz and blues clubs over the waters of the Mississippi, paddle steamers dock along the riverfront where warehouses that once housed industrial cargoes now contain antique shops and restaurants as part of the revitalised Laclede’s Landing Historic District.

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Montana

Billings Travel Guide

The leisurely city of Billings, with its central location and international airport, is the gateway to Montana and the perfect base from which to explore the many attractions of this vast, northerly US State.

The small city, founded in 1882, is situated on the Yellowstone River at the base of the Rimrocks, a set of distinctive rock formations, and was named for a former president of the Northern Pacific Railway, Frederick Billings, who piloted the railway line across Montana. Today Billings remains an economic and transport hub for the state, and also serves as its welcome mat for tourism.

The city bristles with hotels, motels and B&Bs, its modern complexes like MetraPark and the Expo Center offering facilities for rodeos, concerts, the Montana Fair and a variety of other events. Its broad, tree-lined avenues also boast a variety of attractions: museums and galleries such as the unique Yellowstone Art Museum, the renowned Alberta Bair Theater, the interactive Western Heritage Center, and preserved historic buildings like the Moss Mansion. Within a day’s drive of the city are three stunning national parks, Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton.

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MADAGASCAR

Antananarivo Travel Guide

Shortened simply to ‘Tana’, Antananarivo is the bustling capital of Madagascar, set among the vast wilderness that sees an increasing number of travellers visiting this inspiring land. Meaning ‘town of a thousand’, Tana was named for the revered 17th-century King Andrianjaka who conquered several villages in the area, leaving a garrison of 1,000 men to defend his new territory.

Built on hillsides and ridges Tana is the main entry point for visitors travelling to Madagascar, although not many tourists spend more than a couple of days here, either at the beginning or end of their holiday, as Antananarivo is not an easy place for first time visitors, with surprisingly little in the way of tourist infrastructure despite being the capital. Sights worth seeing include the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, the Prime Minister’s Palace and Rova, the old shell of the Queen’s Palace which was severely damaged by arson in the 1990s.

Shopping in Antananarivo is a fun experience with stores, bustling markets, shopping centres and hawkers vying for patronage. The Zoma Market, which is held daily, was once claimed to be the second-largest in the world, and is definitely worth a visit for those wanting to get some souvenir shopping done. Tana Market is also popular and sells exquisite local handicrafts and artefacts made of sea shells and corals. Head to the top and bottom of Avenue of Independence for some fantastic stalls where popular Madagascar souvenirs such as woodcarvings, oil paintings, hand-loomed fabrics, cotton, silk, embroidery and woven straw items like baskets and hats can be found. The bright colours of the fabrics draped across tables make for an unforgettable and very colourful shopping experience. Haggling is expected but, as a tourist, be prepared to pay more for items than locals. Beware of pickpockets in the bustling markets, and brush up on your French as this can come in handy when bartering with the locals.

With a distinctive French flavour, a mish-mash of red-brick houses scattered all over the hillsides, and nineteenth-century churches dotted around the maze of small, winding streets, Tana has its own inimitable charm and is an attraction in itself. Visitors should be on guard against opportunistic crime as poverty levels are high in the city.

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MALAWI

Blantyre Travel Guide

Named after Dr Livingstone’s birthplace in Scotland, Blantyre is Malawi’s commercial centre and capital of the country’s Southern Region, as well as the Blantyre District. Though the city has a smaller population than Lilongwe, Blantyre is the largest urban area in Malawi, having expanded to virtually merge with Limbe, its ‘sister city’.

Blantyre has a modest but influential expat community; with residents from the UK, other European countries and South Africa dominating. The city is also home to the College of Medicine, the Malawi Polytechnic, the Kamuzu College of Nursing and constituent colleges of the University of Malawi, making it an academic hub as well as a commercial centre.

Mount Soche and the Ndirande, Chiradzulu and Michiru mountains overlook Blantyre, forming the Michiru Mountain Conservation Area, which makes for a good outdoor playground on the city’s doorstep. Cultural sightseeing options include The National Museum, which is midway between Blantyre and Limbe and houses a collection of traditional weapons and artefacts, as well as exhibits relating to traditional dance, European exploration and slavery.

There are various restaurants and hotels in Blantyre, as well as pubs and sports bars. The last decade or so has seen much of the nightlife diffuse from the city centre to the suburbs, making taxis a necessary part of night-time jaunts in the city. Blantyre is also home to the Chichiri Mall, which is one of the largest in the country.

Business travellers in Malawi are most likely to be based in Blantyre and many tourists also end up in the city at some point, though it is seldom more than a transfer point or brief stopover on the way to somewhere else. It’s a good place to relax, do a bit of shopping, enjoy some good local food, and take advantage of banking facilities before moving to more remote areas of Malawi.

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Lilongwe Travel Guide

The capital of Malawi, Lilongwe is a very green city, with leafy trees and grassy areas breaking up the concrete. Lilongwe is also quite a laid-back town, in typical Malawian fashion; a sleepy city with social highlights revolving around visits to the local nursery, shopping in Old Town or a couple of drinks at the golf club.

Lilongwe is divided into Old Town (to the south) and New Town (to the north), with the Lilongwe Nature Sanctury between the two. Old Town is more popular with visitors as it is home to markets and craft stalls, and attractive cafes, restaurants and pubs. New Town is focused more on business, with office buildings, banks, and embassies offering little in the way of sightseeing.

Located in central Malawi, Lilongwe itself is not a major tourist draw, but a large expat population has given the city a distinctly cosmopolitan feel that makes it the perfect stopover for travellers heading to game reserves and beach resorts. Many a trip to Malawi begins at the Lilongwe International Airport and the city makes for a pleasant introduction to the country, though those not travelling on business seldom stay long.

Many tourists in transit also take advantage of the shopping in Lilongwe, which is the best in Malawi. Old Town Mall is home to impressive art and craft galleries, a grocery store, travel agencies and upmarket clothing stores. Crossroads Complex, at the Mchinji Roundabout, also boasts gift shops, a post office, ATMs and fast food outlets. It is a good idea to capitalise on these amenities, particularly for banking, as ATMs are scarce outside of urban areas.

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MALAYSIA

Kuala Lumpur Travel Guide

From the top of the world’s tallest twin towers, to the bustling alleyways of Chinatown and Little India, a holiday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s soaring city, is breathtaking:

Malaysia’s capital and largest city, Kuala Lumpur is a major trading and business hub in Southeast Asia and has developed an aura of affluent glamour and technical savvy which draws visitors to its glittering skyscrapers and culturally diverse streets. Perhaps the most popular tourist pastime in Kuala Lumpur is shopping, with well over 60 malls catering to all tastes and budgets, and a cutting-edge fashion scene which delights those seeking out new trends. Amazing restaurants and very inexpensive luxury hotels round out the city’s appeal, and the cultural diversity ensures plenty of traditional holiday sightseeing, with tranquil temples, lovely green spaces, and numerous street markets to explore.

Essentially a holiday in Kuala Lumpur is for shopaholics, who will relish the fantastic malls and street markets. Families can also have a great deal of fun in the city. While the city is not generally touted as a family destination, it is nevertheless home to a well-loved indoor theme park and pristine nature reserves on its outskirts which will thrill kids. Others will just enjoy wandering the streets between the towering skyscrapers and eating as often as possible at the city’s legendary restaurants.

Best time to visit Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is hot and humid all year round, and rain can be expected at any time. The city is a year-round travel destination, but it is best to check which conferences, festivals and cultural events are on before you travel to Kuala Lumpur, partly because an event may interest you, and partly because the crowds attracted by some of the big events make it better to avoid these occasions if you are not involved. Read more on Kuala Lumpur’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Kuala Lumpur

– Stroll around Merdeka Square, the heart of Malaysian nationalism.

– Visit the Friday Mosque and the National Mosque for a taste of Islamic Kuala Lumpur.

– Learn about Malaysia’s fascinating history and culture at the National Museum.

– Marvel at the palatial architecture of the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station.

What to do in Kuala Lumpur

– Take a tour of the iconic Petronas Towers and marvel at the cityscape from the 82nd floor.

– Shop and eat your way through the vibrant China Town markets.

– Enjoy a picnic in the refreshingly cool and shady Perdana Botanical Gardens.

– Take an excursion to the Hindu shrines of the impressive Batu Caves.

Beyond Kuala Lumpur

There are many rewarding daytrips from Kuala Lumpur, including a jaunt to the incredible old seaside city of Melaka, which has many historical attractions. The Taman Negara National Park, housing one of the oldest rainforests in the world, offers endless jungle trails and activities, and is conveniently close to Kuala Lumpur.

Getting there

The Kuala Lumpur International Airport, one of the largest and busiest airports in Southeast Asia, is located in Sepang, 31 miles (50km) south of the city. There is an Express Rail Link which makes getting into the city easy and quick. Get more information on Kuala Lumpur’s airport here.

Did you know?

– Chinese tin miners founded the city of Kuala Lumpur in 1857.

– The Petronas Towers took six years to build.

– Kuala Lumpur is a city of many religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism.

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MALDIVES

Male Travel Guide

Malé is the bustling capital of the Maldives, but it is often overlooked by tourists who head straight for the country’s numerous resort islands. However, the packed city offers a glimpse of another side of the popular tourist destination: one more representative of everyday life in the Maldives.

Far from the tranquillity of the five-star resorts that pepper the more popular islands, Malé moves at a brisk pace as the centre of government and commerce in the Maldives. Brightly-coloured buildings, business suits and bazaars rather than beaches are the order of the day, and the independent travellers that do take a holiday in Malé can sample cultural attractions like markets, mosques and museums in lieu of jungle hikes and watersports.

The best shopping in the Maldives is undoubtedly in Malé, a city crowded with shops and markets. Most of the souvenir shops that cater to tourists are found in the business district, conveniently located close to the jetty where travellers arrive from the airport ferries. Another popular shopping district in Malé is the Singapore Bazaar, at the top end of Chaandhanee Magu, so-called because many of the products are imported from Singapore. Most of the outdoor markets in Malé are filled with fruits and vegetables rather than souvenirs, but it is enjoyable to spend a few hours browsing the colourful stalls. Though most countries’ customs agents will confiscate coconuts and papayas, it is possible to buy some wonderful local spices, which are a popular souvenir from the Maldives.

Getting around in Malé is relatively easy due to its small size. It is possible to walk around the entire city in about an hour, and most of the major attractions are clustered near each other on the north shore, about a 15-minute walk from the jetty. There is no public transportation in Malé, but taxis are plentiful and relatively inexpensive.

A predominantly Muslim city, the bars and restaurants in Malé are largely alcohol-free. The city is far from a nightlife hotspot; however, a holiday in Malé is richly rewarding for travellers looking to see the true face of life in the Maldives.

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MALTA

Valletta Travel Guide

Valletta is a gilded Baroque gem of a city bursting with history, culture and art, which attracts more tourists annually than it has residents:

The beautiful Baroque features of the city once earned it the nickname ‘Superbissima’, meaning ‘Most Proud’, among European aristocrats, and Valletta was indeed built to impress by the Knights of St John. The treasures of their palaces, churches and gathering places are still the main attractions of Valletta, but visitors are also drawn by the ancient, prehistoric remains dotting the island, and the proximity of Mdina and the historic Three Cities. Valletta has a sedate but atmospheric nightlife and some great restaurants and wine bars, and it offers some decent shopping opportunities, but the city is known for its world-class historical sightseeing more than for anything else.

Best time to visit Valletta

The pleasant Mediterranean climate makes Valletta a year-round destination. The summers (May to August) can be swelteringly hot and the winters (November to February) are mild and rainy. The best time to visit is in spring, between March and May, and autumn, especially September. Read more on Valletta’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Valletta

-Watch the Malta Experience documentary to gain insight into the country.

-Wander through the opulent rooms of the Palace of the Grandmaster.

-Learn about the modern military history of Malta in the Lascaris War Rooms.

-Visit St John’s Co-Cathedral, a magnificent medieval church.

What to do in Valletta

-Explore the prehistoric temple complex of Hagar Qim.

-Take a tour of the ancient underground world of the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.

-Take a walking tour of the historic Three Cities.

-Spend a day sightseeing in the noble ancient city of Mdina.

Beyond Valletta

There are many worthwhile attractions just outside of Valletta, including Mdina, some ancient temple complexes, and the village of Mosta with its famous St Mary’s Church. There are also some wonderful family excursions to enjoy, to amusement parks like Popeye Village and Splash & Fun Water Park.

Getting there

Malta International Airport is located three miles (5km) southwest of the capital city of Valletta. It is an award-winning airport with great facilities.

Did you know?

-Valletta was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

-The city is said to have been built ‘by gentlemen for gentlemen’.

-Valletta’s Manoel Theatre is the third-oldest working theatre in Europe.

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MAURITIUS

Port Louis Travel Guide

The capital of the island of Mauritius is a town full of character and slightly faded elegance, set prettily within an amphitheatre of mountains at the mid-point of the western coastline. Port Louis is a noisy, bustling town with a charm all of its own.

Reminiscent of its multi-faceted colonial history, the city boasts some fine French buildings dating from the 18th century, an Anglican and a Catholic cathedral, a mosque, and a fortified citadel, known as Fort Adelaide. The fort is the best place from which to enjoy a panoramic view of the town, harbour and famous racecourse (which was once a French military parade ground, and became the first racecourse in the southern hemisphere).

It may be the capital, but Port Louis is not home to the vast majority of Mauritians; the main residential areas are in the cooler, wetter highlands inland. However, Port Louis is the gateway to the prime beaches and resorts of the Mauritian coast, including Flic en Flac and Grand Baie. Although the reason most people visit Mauritius is for sun and sea, the capital city has some interesting museums and entertaining excursions to offer for those who choose to make it their base for exploring the rest of the island.

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MEXICO

Mexico City Travel Guide

A frenzied, colourful, ancient city, still spiced up by Aztec and Spanish influences, Mexico City is a fascinating but challenging destination.

Not only is it one of the world’s biggest cities, but it is a hip, happening place to be, so it is not surprising that trendy travellers are increasingly choosing to holiday in Mexico City. It’s a sprawling, untidy modern metropolis with ancient Aztec undertone. People are attracted to the city by its inexpensive restaurants, wild and varied nightlife, dozens of wonderful museums, and colourful craft markets. Anyone who enjoys a fast-paced urban playground will relish a holiday in this rambunctious capital, but some travellers may find the polluted metropolis a bit overwhelming.

Mexico City is a day-trippers paradise, and many use it as a base for excursions to the nearby ancient city of Teotihuacán and the numerous charming colonial towns within easy reach. While some travellers visit the city as a transit point on a resort holiday, it is so vast and has so many worthwhile attractions that it is impossible to cover everything in a single holiday, let alone a single weekend.

Best time to visit Mexico City

The climate of Mexico City is generally mild year round. The best time to travel to Mexico City is during spring, in the warmest months, April and May. Winter (December/January) can be rather cold and the city’s smog is at its worst during this period. The rainy season runs from May to October, but if you choose to holiday in Mexico City during this period you should still have plenty of sunny days in between the downpours.

Read more on Mexico City’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Mexico City

– See the cathedrals, palaces and artisans at El Zocalo, Mexico City’s historic centre.

– Visit the impressive Templo Mayor, once the principal temple of the Aztecs.

– See the impressive stained glass hallways and fascinating displays at the National History Museum in Chapultepec Castle.

– Marvel at the UNESCO-listed ancient city of Teotihuacan, one of Mexico’s must-see attractions.

What to do in Mexico City

– Stroll, picnic and museum-hop in the enormous Bosque de Chapultepec park.

– Take a bus to the picturesque colonial town of Guanajuato.

– Explore the charming suburb of San Angel, an artsy district full of cafes, museums and markets.

– Enjoy the bars, restaurants and dance clubs of Mexico City’s party district, the Zona Rosa.

Beyond Mexico City

Mexico City is the main travel hub of the country and a common starting point for all sorts of Mexican holidays. One of the advantages of using the city as a base is the plethora of great daytrips made possible by the proximity of many interesting towns and natural attractions. Nearby towns like Guanajuato, Tepotzotlan, Tlaxcala and Puebla are notable for their colonial features; a breathtakingly scenic road winds to Cuetzalan, 113 miles (182km) east of Mexico City; and Tepoztlan, an hour’s drive south of the city, is wonderful for hiking and a taste of Aztec culture.

Getting there

Mexico City International Airport, officially called Benito Juarez International Airport, is situated six miles (10km) east of Mexico City, and is the busiest airport in the country. In fact, it is so busy that it can be a frustrating airport and visitors should anticipate long queues. There are direct flights to Mexico City from London and a number of European cities, and numerous cheap flights from all over the US.

Get more information on Airports in Mexico City.

Did you know?

– Perhaps jealous of the coastal resorts, Mexico City has several artificial beaches.

– The National University of Mexico is the oldest university in North America.

– Mexico City is one of the most populous cities in the world.

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Cancun Travel Guide

One of the most famous beach resort cities in the world, just mentioning Cancun conjures images of perfect white beaches, colourful reefs, mysterious Mayan ruins and big parties.

Although it is best known for all-inclusive package holidays offering all the glitz and glamour of upmarket beach hotels, complete with a wonderful variety of restaurants and many options for shopping, Cancun is also situated in the region once inhabited by the ancient Mayan people, which adds a seductive historical element to lounging on the beach. Cancun is nestled on the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, which entices travellers not only with its gorgeous coastline, but also with relics of the proud ancient culture of the Mayans still strewn throughout the jungled peninsula. Cancun is adored by sun, sea and sand fanatics for its incomparable beaches; by scuba divers and snorkellers for its colourful coral reefs; by young party animals for its enviable nightlife; and by adventurers seeking out what is left of the Mayan kingdom.

Best time to visit Cancun

Cancun’s peak tourist season runs from December to April, when the weather is pleasant, storms are least likely, and the sea is generally calm. The Yucatan Peninsula can be hit by hurricanes between June and October, making this a period many prefer to avoid. Essentially Cancun is hot and beautiful year-round but those that prefer to avoid crowds should be wary of travelling during Spring Break (March) when hordes of teenagers descend on Cancun. Read more on Cancun’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Cancun

– Marvel at the impressive Mayan site of Chichen Itza, once a thriving ancient centre.

– Visit the Museo Maya for some insight into the ancient history and art of the region.

– Lounge on the numerous stunning beaches that are Cancun’s main attraction.

– Ferry across to Isla Mujeres for a day of sleepy island fun.

What to do in Cancun

– Take a boat or submarine ride from Playa Linda.

– Explore the fascinating Mayan ruins of San Miguelito.

– Enjoy a fun day with the family at Cancun’s Wet n Wild waterpark.

– Go swimming with dolphins at Dolphinaris.

Beyond Cancun

The Yucatan Peninsula provides many attractions on Cancun’s doorstep, including Mexico’s biggest island, Cozumel, which is one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world. The Yucatan is also home to several other wildly beautiful beach resorts including Playa del Carmen and Puerto Costa Maya.

Getting there

International flights to Cancun land at Cancun International Airport, Mexico’s second busiest airport, situated nine miles (17km) southwest of the hotel and resort area.

Get more information on Airports in Cancun.

Did you know?

– Cancun generates about a third of Mexico’s tourism revenue.

– The white sand of Cancun is made from crushed coral which resists the heat of the sun.

– Cancun boasts the second largest coral reef in the world, the Great Mayan Barrier Reef.

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Tijuana Travel Guide

Tijuana is the largest city on the Baja California Peninsula and an important metropolitan centre in Mexico. A sprawling border town, Tijuana is not suited to everyone’s holiday taste, with plenty of noise and frenetic activity. Its location on the American border and proximity to San Diego and other southern Californian cities ensures a steady stream of curious day-trippers and souvenir hunters from up north.

Tijuana’s notorious ‘sin city’ image of prostitution and sex shows has now taken a back seat; the sleazy element, the drugs and violence that seems to be the lot of a border town, is still there but the focus has shifted in an effort to clean the town up a bit, and Tijuana has become something of a shopper’s delight along with the intense nightlife and non-stop entertainment. This is the place to shop, drink and dance the night away; there are souvenir stalls, numerous duty-free shopping malls and markets selling goods from all over Mexico, as well as countless bars, restaurants and dance clubs. The centre of the activity is the bustling Revolution Boulevard, crowded with shops, bars and restaurants and their pushy touts, who do their best to get you into their establishments. Female tourists should avoid entering bars alone, as safety can occasionally be an issue.

Tijuana has some more traditional Mexican diversions as well, including bullfighting and Jai Alai (a Spanish ball court game), but travellers to the city are generally not looking for an authentic Mexican experience so much as a playground south of the border. Tijuana does, however, make a fun starting point for a holiday aimed at exploring the Baja California peninsula, and the beaches and resorts to the south. While Tijuana has been a popular and safe place in the past, in recent years violence between law enforcement authorities and drug cartels has escalated, particularly along the US-Mexican border. Visitors who still wish to travel to Tijuana are advised to exercise extreme caution and check the safety situation with local authorities and those of their home country.

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MONACO

Monte-Carlo Travel Guide

Monte-Carlo, unofficial capital of glamorous and lavish Monaco, is the epitome of wealth and glamour. The capital is a blend of towering high rise buildings and narrow windy roads, boasting the legendary Monte-Carlo Casino, luxury hotels, elegant nightclubs and restaurants, views of the sparkling Mediterranean and of course, the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Established in 1866, Monte-Carlo was named in honour of Prince Charles III and is the richest of the country’s four quarters. For years, Monte-Carlo has been the playground of the rich and famous, from Hollywood starlets to royalty from all corners of the globe. It is also one of Europe’s foremost holiday resorts, but certainly not for the humble backpacker. The city has several attractions, such as the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, the Monaco Cathedral and the Prince’s Palace, several gardens, and other attractions centred on the country’s famous Royal Family, such as an exhibition of HSH Prince of Monaco’s private collection of classic cars.

There are many interesting diversions for the adventurous, such as catamaran trips, watersports, yachting and the Azur Express tourist train that links up the city’s attractions, accompanied by multi-lingual commentary. Worth exploring is the Old Town, with its attractive City Hall, and of course when one is bored of sightseeing, the best diversion (and the cheapest) is merely to settle down with a fancy cocktail and people-watch in this fascinating and glamorous part of the world.

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MOROCCO

Marrakech Travel Guide

Affectionately labelled the ‘Paris of the Sahara’, Marrakech is one of the most alluring urban travel destinations in the world:

A mysterious, labyrinthine medina, snake charmers, acrobats, colourful bazaars, and ancient Moroccan architecture await travellers in Marrakech. The intoxicating city was once an ancient caravan trading post, and retains its traditional atmosphere alongside a lively, modern tourist trade which draws millions of visitors to Marrakech every year.

Marrakech is not always an easy destination. It can be a chaotic city which even the most seasoned travellers can find bewildering; however, the challenge is part of the appeal for many adventurers. The city’s souks and restaurants are a treat for travellers, making Marrakech a great stop for foodies and shoppers. History buffs will find plenty to interest and enchant them, and those in search of a vibrant nightlife will not be disappointed. Anyone who has a yearning for exciting cultural destinations will be charmed by a holiday in Marrakech, which can feel like a trip back in time to medieval Morocco.

Best time to visit Marrakech

The sun shines nearly all year in Marrakech, which has a climate similar to the Mediterranean. Those who enjoy the heat should holiday in Marrakech during July, but the best time to travel to Marrakech is during spring (April to June), when bright, blue skies contrast with the tangerine hue of the city’s clay buildings, and temperatures are sublime. Read more on Marrakech’s Climate and Weather.

What to see in Marrakech

-Marvel at the incredible interiors of the Ben Youssef Madrasa, once an Islamic college.

-Watch street performers and browse stalls at Djemaa el-Fna, the city’s main square.

-Wander through the Museum of Marrakech, housed in the Dar Menebhi Palace.

-Explore the ruins of the once magnificent El Badi Palace.

What to do in Marrakech

-Enter the medina through Bab Agnaou, the most ornate of the city’s ancient gates.

-Stroll through the gardens of the famous Koutoubia Mosque and hear the haunting call to prayer.

-Take refuge from the heat in the stunningly colourful Majorelle Garden.

-Visit the Saadian Tombs, a 16th-century necropolis with beautiful mosaics.

Beyond Marrakech

Marrakech is a fantastic base for excursions into the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert and there are numerous popular daytrips from the city. Visitors in search of a beach break head to the popular resort city of Agadir; for an experience of ancient Morocco visit the UNESCO-listed Ait Benhaddou; to appreciate the natural beauty of the mountains explore the Todra Gorge; and for a touch of skiing in the winter months head to Oukaimeden.

Getting there

Marrakech-Menara International Airport, situated about four miles (6km) southwest of Marrakech, is among the busiest airports in Morocco and can be a bit chaotic. There are direct flights to Marrakech from a number of cities in Europe and the UK and indirect flights from the United States.

Get more information on Airports in Marrakech.

Did you know?

-The name Marrakech means ‘Land of God’.

-The classic Hitchcock movie, The Man Who Knew too Much, was filmed in Marrakech.

-Somewhat unexpectedly, there are a handful of golf courses in Marrakech.

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Fez Travel Guide

Fez is the cultural and spiritual centre of Morocco. It was founded in 790 AD by Idris I and is the oldest of the three Imperial Cities. The main attraction in this ancient city is the larger medieval Medina, Fes el Bali, which has been continuously inhabited since the 10th century and still bustles with a bewildering throng of colourfully costumed locals: from olive-dealers and veiled women on their way to the baths, to industrious merchants and traditional, bell-ringing water-sellers. This medina is the most complete medieval city still in existence, the preservation of which began under French occupation. The more modern part of the city, like Marrakech, is known as Ville Nouvelle, and has a decidedly French influence.

A guided tour is the easiest way to tackle the buzzing hive that is Fez. A visit to the souks will undoubtedly lead to a stopover at Fez’s famous tanneries where one of the oldest arts in Morocco (and the world) is practiced, and where tourists can buy premium, soft leather products to take home as souvenirs.

The best vantage point over the ancient walled city, which lies at the eastern end of the plain of Saiss. From here it is possible to view the skyline with its profusion of satellite dishes, and to pick out some of the magnificent palaces, green-roofed holy places and the Karaouine Mosque, all hemmed in by workshops and tenements, souks and squares. Fez is a wonderful destination for those looking to have a real, cultural experience during their holiday in Morocco.

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Casablanca Travel Guide

Just looking at the city, there’s no need to guess where the port-city of Casablanca, meaning ‘white house’ in Spanish, got its name. Made famous by the eponymous classic film, starring Humphrey Bogart, this cosmopolitan, white-walled city is Morocco’s largest and most modern city. Casablanca is not oriented towards tourists as much as Morocco’s other large cities, but under the hustle, bustle, and grit lies a unique and charismatic history waiting to be discovered.

Founded by Berber fisherman over two thousand years ago, Casablanca was used by both the Phoenicians, Romans as a port. The Portuguese then took over but after destroying the city and rebuilding it, they abandoned it in the aftermath of an earthquake. The city went on to be rebuilt as Daru l-Badya (Arabic for Casablanca) by a Moroccan sultan, and was then given the name Casablanca by the Spanish traders who used the port, and it retains this function today as one of Africa’s largest and most important ports.

As a centre for trade and, consequently, the mixing of cultures, Casablanca is unlike any other Moroccan city. Many women ditch the conservative clothing and dress themselves in the latest designer accoutrement. The infrastructure is modern and the city sophisticated. Casablanca is where Morocco’s youth move to make something of their lives and is the centre for international trade and big business. For a glimpse of its history, downtown is the perfect place to admire the blend of French colonial architecture and traditional Moroccan design.

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MOZAMBIQUE

Maputo Travel Guide

The sprawling capital of Mozambique was, under Portuguese influence in the 18th century, one of the most beautiful and fashionable cities on the African continent, with a sophisticated multi-national atmosphere, elegant buildings, and wide, shaded avenues. Maputo, or Lourenzo Marques as it was known before independence, became the capital of Mozambique in 1898 and the city was established as a major trade and industry centre, boasting the country’s most important harbour.

Following the process of decolonisation, the 17-year civil war that raged during the 1970s and 80s had a devastating effect on Maputo, reducing the proud city to a state of grubby disrepair, with thousands of immigrants taking over from where the wealthy socialites left off. The city has worked hard to recreate some of its former grandeur, with the five-star Polana Hotel once again abuzz with the gossip of the rich and famous, and restaurants serving up their famous peri-peri prawns.

Today, the city is a lively mix of people, with lots of markets and street vendors, a vibey café culture, buzzing nightclubs and live music venues, and a relaxed pace of life. It is run-down and still somewhat dilapidated, but Maputo can be a fun and interesting stop on a Mozambique holiday. Many visitors to Maputo are simply passing through on their way to popular coastal regions and islands like Inhaca, situated just off the coast and a popular spot for diving and snorkelling, but it is worth spending at least a few hours walking around the city. Those who decide to use Maputo as a base for further travel will discover many beautiful beaches and lakes just beyond the city.

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MYANMAR

Yangon Travel Guide

Yangon is Myanmar’s largest and most interesting city, and its economic and diplomatic centre despite the 2005 creation of remote Naypyidaw as the official capital.

The city was occupied by the British in 1852 when it became the centre of the Burmese Raj. The resulting influx of traders, diplomats and wealth transformed the city into a glorious regional hub. The legacy of this time is evident in the decaying though stately colonial buildings found along the Rangoon River and toward the centre of town. The city has myriad tourist attractions, most notably the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, which justifies a visit to the city all by itself and is the country’s most beloved landmark. There are also markets to explore, and Yangon is a glorious city to trawl for jewels.

Yangon is hot and humid, especially at midday when most of the population takes refuge indoors or in the shade of a temple or banyan tree. It is a noisy and chaotic place too, with congested traffic, orange robed monks, neon signs and golden temple spires clashing in a visual landscape of uniquely Asian contradictions. Yangon is also considered one of Asia’s safest big cities as far as travellers are concerned, meaning that the bustling chaos can be explored with little fear of crime.

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