Best Islands in the Bahamas to Visit

Destinations in Caribbean

There are 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, which extend 760 miles from the coast of Florida nearly all the way to Haiti. Of course, the majority of those islands are uninhabited, but those who want to visit still have practically an overwhelming number of destinations to choose from. If you’re hoping to truly get away from it all, don’t head to the most popular isles like Grand Bahama, consider one of these instead.

The Abacos

The Abacos is situated in the Northern Bahamas, made up of its own 120-mile-long island chain, with Great Abaco Island and Little Abaco serving as the “mainland,” and a string of barrier islands separating them from the Atlantic. Known as the most accessible of the Out Islands, visitors can enjoy white and pink sandy beaches as well as the four national parks, where parrots, orchids and all types of exotic marine life can be spotted. Seeing the famous swimming island pigs makes a visit to this archipelago and especially unforgettable experience. One of the most popular attractions in this remote region, you can see them adorably lounging on the beach, soaking up the Bahamian sun and treading through the clear azure waters.. There are also villages that seem locked in another time, turquoise flats, spectacular coral reefs, untouched forests and uninhabited cays, all waiting to be explored.Bahamas.jpg

Cat Island

Cat Island is one of the least frequented and the most beautiful of all the Bahamas out-islands. While it offers outstanding diving off its south shore, this remote island has hardly been touched by tourism, making it ideal for those seeking the ultimate in peace, and unchartered territory. Every inch is perfection, from the weather to the sand, and it even boasts an eight-mile stretch of pink sandy beach. It’s also managed to retain its authentic island flavor, with ripsaw music and Obeah religious practices still surviving. A clear lake known as “Boiling Hole,” is not only home to a legendary sea monster due to tidal conditions that cause “mysterious” burps and bubbles, it’s an excellent place to watch for baby sharks, rays and all sorts of birds that nest along the mangroves that surround it. The island is home to a number of historic landmarks too, including  churches, plantation ruins and old buildings, while Griffin Bat Cave was once a hideout for slaves.Cat-Island-Bahamas.jpg

Andros

The largest of the Bahama islands, Andros is also the least populated, offering the chance to own a piece of your own island without the high price tag.  Here, locals make waterproof straw baskets, batik and other crafts, and visitors will also find mesmerizing blue holes, excellent bonefishing and diving. The island is home to the world’s oldest dive shop, the second largest coral reef in the Western hemisphere, and is covered with vast areas of wetlands that create channels perfect for bonefishing. Many visitors come to experience this “Bonefishing Capital of the World,” by staying at Bair’s Lodge, a plantation style lodge situated between Deep and Middle Creek on the south end of the island offering a beachfront paradise with a picture-perfect white sand beach, swaying palms, fire pit and access to a flats skiff. The tidal paths found on this part of Andros provides water pathways to access the famous west side while offering protection from the winds, and creating a fertile, bait-rich environment that bonefish prefer.Andros-Barrier-Reef.jpg

Eleuthera

This long and slender island is the most historic of the Out Islands, with the first English settlers arriving back in 1648.  Much of the architecture and way of life was influenced by these British Loyalists. Here you will find a number of well-developed resorts, massive coral reefs that create breathtaking backdrops, and miles and miles of beautiful beach that can often be enjoyed all to yourself, with many stretches of sand relatively deserted thanks to their secluded locales. Although Eleuthera is the fourth most populated island in The Bahamas, home to about 11,000, most who live here either fish for bounty or farm the rolling acres of pineapple plantations. The bakeries lure visitors in with their mouth-watering pineapple tarts from the island’s signature crop – Henry Sands homemade bread even won him an invitation to Princess Di’s wedding.bigstock-Glass-window-bridge-on-Eleuthe-111827498-1

Long Island

This 80-mile-long island is home to one of the oldest dive operations in the Bahamas. It hosts multiple shallow and deep dive sites, but is most well known for Dean’s Blue Hole, the deepest recorded blue hole in the archipelago at over 600 feet. Friendly turtles and tiny sea horses come to the warm, saltwater pool for a break from the ocean currents, while the coral caves and sand banks on the side of the entrance harbor all types of tropical reef life, from colorful tropical fish to groupers and snappers. The western shoreline of  Long Island has soft, sandy beaches edged with rich green mangroves. With the Atlantic to the east, the island is also a fishing, sailing, and yachting paradise.Blue-Hole-Long-Island.jpg

Harbour Island

Harbour Island, part of Eleuthera, which is actually a chain of islands itself, seems as if it made specifically for romance, with the beaches on the three-mile-long isle filled with tiny foraminifera, red-shelled creatures that give the sand its rosy hue. Its hub, Dunmore Town, was once the capital of the Bahamas, and it still retains picturesque Georgian architecture, marked by pastel-hued buildings, white picket fences and bougainvillea-draped door frames. The island is home to less than 2,000, and only a small number of tourists visit at any given time, providing a laid-back atmosphere that ensures a peaceful escape from the chaos of day-to-day life.pink-sand-beach.jpg

Crooked Island

Remote and unspoiled Crooked Island has little in the way of tourist facilities, but it does boast gorgeous beaches, bat caves and flamingos, and also serves as a turtle nesting spot. One of the four islands that form an atoll hugging the striking shallow waters of the Bight of Acklins, it hasn’t much changed since Columbus sailed down the leeward side through the narrow Crooked Island Passage. There are miles of untouched, white powdery sands, coral gardens, limestone caves and cliffs, remnants of slave and cotton plantations, ancient churches, fortifications and mangrove-lined waterways.Crooked-Island-Lodge-1.jpg

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Canada’s 10 Most Beautiful National Parks to Visit

Destinations in Canada

Banff National Park, Alberta

Canada’s first national park opened back in 1885, and it still overwhelms visitors with its jaw-dropping beauty today. Tucked away in a valley surrounded by jewel-colored lakes, hot springs, canyons and dramatic mountain ranges, there are few places that could be considered more stunning. Moraine Lake may be its most spectacular highlight of all. Glacially fed, it sits within the heart of the park at an elevation of about 6,000 feet, and in early summer the water levels rise and cast a striking shade of blue that you’ll never forget. This is truly an outdoor lover’s paradise, with just a few of the available adventures here including whitewater rafting on the Kicking Horse River, sky diving over the Rockies, hiking, caving, fishing, biking, zip lining and climbing. If you’d rather participate in a more gentle pursuit, head up the Banff Gondola and you’ll get a bird’s eye view of magnificent Lake Louise.Banff-National-Park-Albert.jpg

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

This UNESCO World Heritage Site on the west side of Newfoundland stretches across almost 700 square miles as part of the Long Range Mountains. It offers some of the most magnificent natural beauty on the planet. Still a work in progress, after over a half-billion years nature continues to shape this landscape of freshwater fjords, striking cliffs, lush forests and picturesque shorelines. The Tablelands, a mountain of flat-topped rock typically found far below the Earth’s surface, deep in the mantle, is particularly jaw-dropping. With some 5,000 moose calling the park home, odds are you’ll catch at least a glimpse of one of the majestic creatures, and you’ll have the chance to kayak, canoe, fish, hike or camp too.Gros-Morne.jpg

Nahanni National Park, Northwest Territories

Nahanni National Park sits across 7,000 acres, made up of true remote wilderness along the Continental Divide separating the Yukon and Northwest Territories. An adventurer’s haven, paddlers come to explore the heart of the park, while climbers head to the Cirque of the Unclimbables and hikers trek over lush meadows, karst and mountains to view the thundering waterfalls, limestone caves and practically endless number of rugged canyons. Its centerpiece is the South Nahanni river, while wildlife like grizzlies, wolves, caribou, eagles, sheep and mountain goats, all call it home. There are no public roads, so visitors must access the park via air or hike in; most do so by chartered float plane.Nahanni-National-Park.jpg

Torngat Mountains National Park, Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador’s newest national park is made up of 3,745 square miles of unspoiled wilderness that stretches from Saglek Fjord to the northern tip of Labrador, and west from the Atlantic seacoast to the Quebec border. Another great park for the very adventurous, Torngat isn’t easy to get to. There are no roads or even campgrounds, which means you’ll need to hire a charter, join a special tour or utilize the services of Torngat Mountains Base Camp. But once in this remote region, you’ll not only be able to spot animals like polar bears, gaze up at some of the highest peaks in Eastern Canada and maybe the colorful lights of the aurora borealis, but you’ll be able to immerse yourself in Inuit culture. This is the only park in the world where the entire staff is Inuit, providing the rare opportunity to learn about a culture you probably know little about.Torngat.jpg

Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia

Cape Breton offers an especially idyllic summer escape with its alluring natural beauty, picture-postcard beaches, live traditional Celtic music every night and the chance to enjoy watching whales, dolphins, seals, puffins, bald eagles and more. Its scenic 185-mile drive along the Cabot Trail is one of the most stunning stretches of road, winding by ocean-side cliffs. And, as you hug that world famous coastline, you’ll wind through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, home to lush, forested river canyons that carve into the ancient plateau that makes up 90 percent of the park. There are miles and miles of hiking trails, like Middle Head Trail, once used used as a carriage road, now offering awe-inspiring Atlantic Ocean views. You might even catch a minke or pilot whale breaking waves and you’ll never be far from a steaming plate of local lobster fresh from the frigid ocean waters.Cape-Breton-Nova-Scotia-C.jpg

Prince Albert National Park

Prince Albert National Park, located in the Saskatchewan prairie, is Canada’s most popular national park of all. The mostly flat landscape features some rolling hills of spruce, pine, aspen, and birch shelter pockets of fescue and sedge meadows. In the winter, it attracts cross-country skiers from all corners of the nation, and in the summer, countless visitors come to enjoy water skiing and wakeboarding. It’s particularly notable for a bison herd that roams along its southwestern border, the only free-range herd of wild plains bison in the country that still occupies its ancestral territory. In the summer, visitors can tag along with the Canadian cowboys who round up the park’s buffalo.Prince-Albert-National-Park.jpg

Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island, BC

Pacific Rim National Park, stretched along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, is made up of three distinct units, Long Beach, the West Coast Trail and Broken Group Islands, which protect the rugged shoreline and coastal forests. Each offers a unique experience, with those who want to hike often heading to the historic 47-mile route that features sandstone cliffs, waterfalls and beaches. Many visitors also enjoy Long Beach, a 10-mile strip of undeveloped coastline set against a backdrop of lush rain forest and distant mountains. As one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions, it draws a mix of surfers, beachcombers and marine life enthusiasts.bigstock-Wooden-path-through-temperate-135488873-1.jpg

Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes, connected to Glacier National Park in Montana, may be the country’s smallest national park, but it’s surely one of its most stunning. This is the only park in the world that’s a US-Canada peace park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biosphere reserve, sitting at a point where the plains meet the mountains with a distinct ecosystem that supports more biodiversity than anywhere in the Rockies. If you go in the fall, you’ll enjoy an especially tranquil time that’s perfect for peaceful solitude. The days are still long and often unseasonably warm, while the landscape takes on magnificent new hues as it transitions into the season. Look forward to fishing on serene lakes and hiking peaceful trails as well as enjoying plenty of wildlife watching opportunities.bigstock-Aerial-View-Of-Prince-Of-Wales-112609847.jpg

Kluane National Park, Yukon

Kluane is home to more than 2,000 glaciers, Canada’s largest ice fields, most diverse grizzly bear population, and its highest mountain peak, the 20,ooo-foot-high Mount Logan. To really experience it, you need to hike or fly. Take in the 8,500 square miles of wilderness by helicopter or prop plane for a bird’s-eye view of the icy rivers, mountains, bears ,caribou and Dall sheep. There are over 100 species of birds too, including the rock ptarmigan and the golden and bald eagle. In the Front Ranges closer to Haines Junction, Alaska, visitors can enjoy more casual strolls as well as challenging day hikes and extended wilderness backpacking trips.  Kathleen Lake Campground makes a great base  for enjoy access to a variety of short treks, interpretive programs, fishing and boating.bigstock-Kluane-National-Park-103677086.jpg

Fundy National Park, New Brunswick

New Brunswick’s first national park was created in 1948 and offers more than 75 miles of hiking trails that wind through mountains, lush forest and valleys, passing cascading falls and crystal clear streams. Rent a canoe or kayak and explore beautiful Bennett Lake, or hike up to the highest tides in the world at Hopewell Rocks. You can even take a dip in the cool water and snorkel with the Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon. There are three campgrounds for staying overnight, along with a heated saltwater pool that’s ideal for relaxing after a day of hiking, paddling or other outdoor pursuits. Just outside of the park, visit the fishing village of Alma, for fantastic fresh seafood.bigstock-Moose-Horn-Trail-Fall-71820427-1.jpg

The 10 Best National Parks in the USA

Destinations in United States

Explore the great outdoors at one of America’s can’t-miss national parks.
If you’re dreaming of an outdoor vacation filled with gushing geysers, animal encounters, towering rock formations and more, odds are you’ll enjoy exploring a national park. But with so many parks scattered throughout the U.S., finding the locale that’s best for your next adventure can seem daunting. That’s where U.S. News can help. Considering factors like the uniqueness of sights, historical significance and park accessibility, we determined which of the country’s 59 national parks qualify as the Best National Parks in the USA. No matter which destination you choose, you’ll find picturesque landscapes and activities suitable for all ages and interests, such as hiking, whitewater rafting and junior ranger programs.download.jpg1. Grand Teton National Park
An area once inhabited by Native Americans and early American explorers, Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park now attracts vacationers interested in hiking and water sports. More than 200 trails are located inside the park, including several scenic waterfront paths. Plus, Jackson and Jenny lakes can be used for motorized boating. Eight additional lakes are available for activities like canoeing and paddleboarding. Animals are also plentiful here; travelers are bound to spot bison, moose, black bears and more roaming throughout the park. Winter sports enthusiasts, meanwhile, will discover prime conditions for cross-country skiing, and guided snowshoe hikes are offered between late December and mid-March.download (1).jpg2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
More than 11 million travelers come to Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year, and it’s easy to see why. Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, this national park is known for its abundant wildlife, its historic Southern Appalachian architecture and its breathtaking panoramas. Hiking is one of the park’s most popular activities, thanks in part to its multitude of options. Families can traverse kid-friendly paths like Porters Creek Trail and the Kephart Prong Trail, while experienced hikers will enjoy trekking to Alum Cave Bluffs, Charlies Bunion and Rainbow Falls. Dogs are even permitted on two walking paths: the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.download (2).jpg3. Grand Canyon National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage site worthy of any vacationer’s bucket list, Grand Canyon National Park is a must-see. Nearly 6 million visitors make an annual pilgrimage to check out this sprawling natural wonder, which spans 277 miles of semi-arid Arizona desert. You’ll have several hiking paths to choose from, but for some of the area’s best vistas, travel the South Rim’s Bright Angel and Rim trails. Or, explore some paths (like the Bright Angel Trail) by mule. You can also raft down the Colorado River, hop aboard the historic Grand Canyon Railway or shop for local artwork and authentic Native American souvenirs at Grand Canyon Village. download (3).jpg4. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Hawai’I Volcanoes National Park is undoubtedly one of the National Park Service’s most unique sites. Situated in Hilo, Hawaii, on the Big Island, this park offers a picturesque setting for hiking, camping, scenic drives and biking. You’ll have access to two of the world’s most active volcanoes here, which can be seen during guided ranger walks. Junior ranger programs are also available. If you’d rather check out the park without a guide and only have time to visit one volcano, make sure it’s Kilauea; the volcano can be seen by traveling along Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road.download (4).jpg5. Yellowstone National Park
The world’s first national park is also one of its most impressive. Spread across Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park is home to verdant forests, idyllic lakes, majestic canyons and, of course, world-renowned geysers and hot springs. Can’t-miss sights include Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring and Mammoth Hot Springs, but don’t forget to carve out ample time to hike throughout the park’s 2.2 million-plus acres. Pathways are available by all of Yellowstone’s popular natural wonders, but for some of the area’s best views, hike the South Rim Trail or Uncle Tom’s Trail at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.download (5).jpg6. Sequoia National Park
As its name implies, Sequoia National Park is named for its iconic sequoia trees. Located about 205 miles north of Los Angeles, this park features roughly 40 giant sequoia groves, the most notable of which is Giant Forest, where the park’s largest living sequoia – the General Sherman Tree – and multiple hiking trails reside. But there’s more to do at Sequoia National Park than hike and gaze at towering redwoods. Travelers can go rock climbing at Moro Rock, join a guided horseback ride or take a tour of Crystal Cave, among other activities.download (6).jpg7. Rocky Mountain National Park
Though you’ll be tempted to focus all your energy on hiking some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s 355 miles of trails, save some time for this Colorado park’s unique pursuits. History buffs can see what life was like 100 years ago at the Holzwarth Historic Site, while animal lovers will enjoy sitting in on ranger talks about bears, beavers and bighorn sheep. If you want more action, time your visit during the winter months, when you can sled and cross-country ski. But remember, winter sports equipment is not available on-site, so bring your own gear or rent it from shops situated in Estes Park and Grand Lake.download (7).jpg8. Yosemite National Park
One of America’s most popular national parks is Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Granted protection by the U.S. government in 1864, Yosemite and its natural wonders woo 5 million-plus visitors annually. Waterfalls are the main reason to visit, which are best viewed in spring. You’ll also discover massive rock formations like Sentinel Rock and El Capitan, as well as giant sequoia trees and the Crane Flat meadow. Stunning vistas are hard to miss inside the park, but for some of Yosemite’s best panoramas, hike to Half Dome or drive to Glacier Point.download (8).jpg9. Mount Rainier National Park
The main draw of Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park is its active volcano (which you can climb for a fee, weather permitting), but you’ll find more than just its namesake natural wonder here. The park is a winter haven for snow bunnies who want to ski, snowboard, ride snowmobiles or snowshoe. You can also participate in an array of activities once summertime rolls around, including fly-fishing, canoeing and cycling. Plus, Mount Rainier National Park features more than 260 miles of hiking trails.download (9).jpg10. Zion National Park
Southwest Utah’s Zion National Park appeals to fitness buffs, nature lovers and amateur archaeologists. Active travelers can break a sweat during a canyoneering trip in Orderville Canyon or a hike along Weeping Rock’s Hidden Canyon Trail, while those with kids in tow can traverse one of Zion Canyon’s less strenuous paths, such as Pa’rus Trail and the Archaeology Trail. Birdwatchers will be happy to learn the park boasts more than 200 kinds of birds, including threatened and endangered species like the Mexican spotted owl and the California condor. And tucked within Zion’s cream-, pink- and red-colored sandstone cliffs, visitors will discover archaeological sites with rock paintings and carvings, some of which date back to 7,000 B.C.download (10).jpg

 

7 of the Best Beaches in the Virgin Islands

Top visit Beaches in the Virgin Islands

Magens Bay Beach, St. Thomas

One of the most beloved beaches in the Virgin Islands, Magens Bay Beach boasts the crown jewel of stunning views. Located on St. Thomas, Magens Bay is a heart shaped beach with beautiful white sand and crystal clear waters. A one-mile stretch of paradise, this small area boasts a water sports booth where you can rent a variety of paddle boats and kayaks in addition to beach chairs, floats and snorkel gear. Perfect for families and swimmers of all skill levels, here beach goers will find warm, calm waters that are excellent for a day of floating and swimming. Ideal for when it’s time to refuel, the area also has a bar and restaurant that serves a range of casual fare and snacks.bigstock-159514778-1.jpg                                                                               Magens Bay Beach, St. Thomas

Trunk Bay, St. John

Often considered one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, Trunk Bay on St. John boasts pristine pearly sand and sparkling turquoise waters. Nestled near the Virgin Islands National Park, here beachgoers will find a serene ambiance perfect for soaking in the sunshine and gorgeous landscape. The area is known for its Underwater Trail, a 650-foot snorkeling path of colorful and diverse coral fish where even young snorkelers will enjoy catching a glimpse of the vibrant array of fish. Whether you’re sunbathing, trying your hand at underwater photography or exploring the nearby park, Trunk Bay is a must stop on your Virgin Island itinerary. Snorkeling gear can be found on the beach, in addition to well-maintained facilities and chair rentals.bigstock-159515228.jpg                                                                                              Trunk Bay, St. John

The Baths, Virgin Gorda

One of the most famous beach destinations in the world, The Baths in Virgin Gorda boasts an impressive cave system in addition to its pristine beach area. Here visitors will find a series of otherworldly mazes and steps, with rope handrails that guide you through a unique trail through colorful coves and boulders, from the Devil’s Bay beach to The Baths. Considered a must-see attraction in the British Virgin Islands archipelago, travelers will want to swim through crystalline waters through the variety of breathtaking crevices and grottoes to find a laid-back beach area with shallow waters perfect for a day of sunbathing and light snorkeling.bigstock-The-Baths-beach-area-major-tou-69045385-1.jpg                                                                                    The Baths, Virgin Gorda

White Bay, Jost Van Dyke

Nestled on the southern end of Jost Van Dyke, White Bay is a pristine beach that combines soft sands lined with beach bars consistently buzzing with activity. Here you’ll find independent yachts and boats docking in the water, where passengers are then encouraged to hop out and swim to shore. A perfect beach for those looking to unwind with a refreshing tropical cocktail in hand, White Bay offers beachgoers plenty of room to relax with their towels and chairs for a day of sunbathing. Beachgoers who are interested in exploring the lively area of the beach, however, can visit one of the many famous beach bars, including the Soggy Dollar bar where you’ll have the opportunity to taste the popular painkiller cocktail that is rumored to have originated on Jost Van Dyke.bigstock-Palm-Lined-Beach-32108402-1.jpg                                                                                   White Bay, Jost Van Dyke

Smuggler’s Cove, Tortola

Less crowded than other beaches in the British Virgin Islands, Smuggler’s Cove in Tortola is ideal for beachgoers who are looking for a tranquil beach experience away from it all. Shade is easy to come by, as you’ll find that this soft sand beach is lined with an abundance of swaying palm trees that are make soaking in the salty ocean breeze an ideal activity. You’ll have little to gaze at but the gorgeous horizon, where swimming enthusiasts will find themselves in the perfect location to explore the colorful fish and coral in the calm, bright turquoise waters. The gentle waters pair perfectly with the serene surroundings, where you’ll only find one snack bar in this northwest side of Tortola.2598740335_109e8f340c_o-1.jpg                                                                                  Smuggler’s Cove, Tortola

Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

Considered a vibrant area in the British Virgin Islands, Cane Garden Bay in Tortola is a mix of quiet beaches and lively nightlife. Located in the northeastern part of the island, Cane Garden Bay is a favorite for water sports enthusiasts, as you’ll find a wealth of the typical water-based activities here. Renting a boat or kayak is popular daytime activity in addition to indulging in the top-notch swimming and snorkeling available along the shore. Visitors to Cane Garden Bay will find low-key restaurants and bars peppered throughout the area, offering fresh cuisine and local specialties. A perfect area to explore the vibrant variety of nightlife and cuisine of the Virgin Islands, after dark visitors here can soak in the sounds of live island music booming from the open-air beach bars.15907033210_a2dfc6f111_o-1.jpg                                                                                 Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

Anegada Island

Located just 15 miles north of Virgin Gorda and part of the British Virgin Islands, Anegada Island boasts miles and the 18-mile long Horseshoe Reef, the largest coral reef in the Caribbean and the fourth largest in the world. Considered a scuba divers and snorkelers dream, here visitors will delight in the amazing reef mazes and tunnels in the area that lead to an abundance of exotic underwater marine life to explore. Visitors who prefer to keep their feet firmly on the white sandy beaches will also find an abundance of calm and quiet shores to relax on.bigstock-Beautiful-tropical-beach-with-117336833-1.jpg                                                                                                                       Anegada Island 

United Kingdom

Top 10 places to visit in the UK106521

Whether you’re just visiting or moving to the UK, this tour of top 10 sites in the UK will take you everywhere from the ‘Jurassic coast’ to royal pomp.

It is extremely difficult to select just 10 top destinations in Great Britain – a country of rich history and varied culture, a mixture of nations and traditions, and heir to one of history’s most powerful empires. Nevertheless, with a mixture of both cultural and natural sights, as well as a combination of well-known landmarks and sights away from the tourist mobs, discover the true British spirit as you travel the country to see the top 10 sites in the UK.

1. The Stonehenge mystery

Marvel at one of the wonders of the world, Stonehenge. Although no one knows for certain who built it and why, this magnificent monument has a history spanning 4,500 years. Speculation on the reason it was built ranges from human sacrifice to astronomy. This prehistoric structure is situated in the English county of Wiltshire, about 8 miles north of Salisbury and just two and a half hours’ drive away from London.

The great age, massive-scale and mysterious purpose of Stonehenge draws hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, and several thousand gather on the summer solstice to watch the sunrise over this ancient and mystical site. Although the original construction has suffered a great deal from both weather damage and human pillage of its rock over the millennia, it is still a breath-taking sight and an ardently recommended destination in the UK.  A GBP 27-million visitor centre opened at the end of 2013 featuring a permanent exhibition of some 250 prehistoric objects and treasures (many previously unseen), a forensic reconstruction of a man who was here 5,500 year ago, a regularly changing programme of special exhibitions, café and shop.504940

2. Fossick the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site

Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site covers 95 miles of truly stunning coastline from East Devon to Dorset, with rocks that have recorded 185 million years of the Earth’s history depicting a geological ‘walk through time’ spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The area is home to the natural limestone arch of Durdle Door – the coast’s most photographed landmark and Lulworth Cove – one of the finest coves in England. In addition to the astounding landscape, the Jurassic Coast is also a place of ‘outstanding universal value’ selected by UNESCO. It’s also where Victorian fossil hunter Mary Anning found the world’s first ichthyosaur, two plesiosaur and other important fossils. You can go fossil hunting yourself; one of the best places is Charmouth, where a visitor centre offers fossil walks and shows you how to find fossils.504941

3. Cambridge’s pure English essence

A good stop on any UK tour is the university city of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, where one can get in touch with the pure essence of the English spirit. The beautiful buildings are well preserved and the timeless city seems straight out of the 1950s. As it is said in an advertisement trying to lure tourists, ‘breathe in a land of lazy waterways, rolling countryside, majestic cathedrals, magnificent stately homes, bustling market towns, quaint villages and the unforgettable city of Cambridge’. Give in to the atmosphere of the town and freely admire the majesty of one of the most renowned world universities. Gaze up at the awe-inspiring 16th-century King’s College Chapelhire a punt (flat bottomed boat) to explore the tranquil waters of the College Backs or have a cup of English tea at the Copper Kettle.504942.jpg

4. England’s largest national park: Lake District

Set out to the mountainous region in north west England known as the Lake District. England’s largest national park is a very popular holiday destination and famous for its lakes and mountains, as well as its associations with the early 19th-century poetry and writings of William Wordsworth and the Lake Poets. Nearly 16 million people visit the national park each year. Also located here is the deepest lake in England – Wastwater which, though a bit further away, is definitely worth seeing.504943.jpg

5. Giant’s Causeway

Legend has it that an Irish warrior built the Giant’s Causeway to walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish nemesis. Located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, it is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which were the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. Some of the structures in the area, having been subject to several million years of weathering, resemble objects, such as the Organ and Giant’s Boot. The Antrim coast is also popular for cliff top walks – it offers some of the finest and atmospheric cliff scenery in Europe.505078.jpg

6. The great wall of Hadrian

Hadrian’s Wall is a World Heritage site marking the northern border of the Roman Empire. Its history dates back to 122 AD, when Emperor Hadrian visited Britain and ordered a wall to be built between the Solway Firth in the West and the River Tyne in the east ‘to separate Romans from Barbarians’. The wall was the most heavily fortified border in the Empire, to defend it from the constant invasions of the northern tribes. Today, remnants of the wall can be found for about 73 miles – a lot of those remnants forming stone fences, stone barns and the cobbles in stable courtyards.504945

7. Find ‘Nessie’ at Loch Ness

Loch Ness may be best known for the alleged sightings of the crypto-zoological Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as ‘Nessie’, but it has much more to offer. The loch or lake, which extends at approximately 37 km, is a favourite tourism spot in Scotland and attracts visitors from all over the world with its delightful natural parks and sights. One can also admire the only island in the lake, Cherry Island, visible at the southwestern end of Loch Ness.504946.jpg

8. Snowdonia National Park: bottom of an ocean

For terrific country terrain for mountain walks and activities such as riding, cycling and pony trekking, Snowdonia National Park in North Wales offers it all. It is also among the most dramatic landscapes in the UK, and has the most rapidly changing weather. It is thought that five million years ago this was a sea bottom, evidenced by the fossil shell fragments found there. You might think that British country scenery holds no more surprises for you but the way the brooding mountain bulk hangs over wide, U-shaped valleys will mesmerise you at first sight. You can walk up to the top – there are several established paths of varying difficulty ­– or take the Snowdon Mountain Railway. At the summit you can have a drink and a snack while you take in some of the most breathtaking views in the UK at the Hafod Eryri visitor centre.504947


9. Regal ‘pomp’ at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton

Brighton is a popular British coastal town, and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton is another landmark you should not miss. The famous seaside residence was built as a pleasure palace for King George IV, and was also used by his brother William IV and their niece Queen Victoria.

The British have an expression for too much of a good thing – it’s ‘over the top’ they say. If ever a building exemplified the concept of ‘over the top’, it is the Royal Pavilion. Designed by John Nash, it’s an oriental fantasy, combining Regency grandeur with the exotic glamour of India and China. Nowadays, it is a possession of the Brighton municipality and is the home to some of the finest collections and examples of the chinoiserie(Chinese) style in Britain. The Pavilion is right in the centre of Brighton – sometimes called London by the sea – a city famous for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and exciting gay scene.504948

10. Time travel in the Cotswolds 

You really feel as if you’ve stepped back in time in the quaint honey-coloured towns and villages of the Cotswolds in the heart of England. The area covers 800 square miles across five counties – Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire – and is the largest of England’s 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This is archetypal English countryside: go for a bracing walk in the rolling hills (‘wold’), drink a pint of beer by the fireside in a pub, sleep in a four poster bed in a country house hotel or stroll around one of the many picture-postcard villages and towns. You’re spoilt for choice: Bibury, Broadway, Bourton-on-the-water, Painswick, Burford, Upper and Lower Slaughter; take a crust of bread for the ducks.504949.jpg

Netherlands

Top places to visit in the Netherlands

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From atmospheric cellar bars and historic windmills to tulip fields and world-renown art, discover the delights of the top things to do in the Netherlands.

There’s more to see in the Netherlands than its cosmopolitan and laidback capital of Amsterdam. The Netherlands may be a small country but it’s packed with history, has beautiful countryside bursting with wildlife and unique flora, and a mind-blowing amount of world-class art and museums. It’s well worth venturing beyond Amsterdam’s limits to discover an array of top sites and things to do around the Netherlands.

Hip Rotterdam

Culture vultures should head for Rotterdam. It’s got outstanding contemporary and historic art collections, hosts the summer North Sea Jazz festival and International Film Festival, has plenty of lively clubs and bars, and boasts innovative architecture. According to the New York Times, “Rotterdam is increasingly to architecture what Paris is to fashion, or Los Angeles to entertainment.” Much of the city was destroyed in World War II paving the way for a selection of bold modern architecture, such as the 1980s Cube Houses, the Erasmus Bridge (nicknamed ‘The Swan’), the Kunsthal Museum, and since 2014, Market Hall (Markthal), the strikingly curvaceous marketplace with an 11,000sqm mural ceiling over a mix of grocery stalls, restaurants and bars. For a more historic atmosphere, head down to the tall and narrow harbour-side buildings around Delfshaven.776357.jpg

Haarlem: the Dutch Golden Age

Only a stone’s throw from Amsterdam is the charming city of Haarlem, in the middle of the Netherlands’ tulip-growing region. As you walk the cobbled streets and take in the ornate 17th-century architecture or sit sipping a coffee on Grote Markt square among rising monumental buildings, it’s easy to imagine the city as it was in its heyday during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. It was a powerful place: a thriving commercial centre, an inspiration for artists, the tulip capital and producer of huge quantities of beer. You don’t have to imagine what the citizens looked like – check out their vivid portraits by the Dutch master Frans Hals and others in the eponymous museum. St Bavo Church, the eclectic collection in the Teylers Museum, and the city’s almshouses are also worth a look.776359.jpg

Kinderdijk windmills

When you think of the Netherlands, you probably conjure up windmill images. Historically they were a vital part of the water management system designed to prevent flooding in this low-lying land. Come to the village of Kinderdijk (which means ‘children dike’) not far from Rotterdam to admire the spectacular sight of a network of 19 fully functioning windmills on the polders. They were built around 1740 and were awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 1997. Today you can see them in operation during the summer months. If you’re visiting in winter, bring your ice skates and join the skaters on the frozen canals.

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Cultural Utrecht

The once fortified city of Utrecht is packed with buildings from the early Middle Ages – it’s even got a moat running around it. Founded by the Romans in 48AD, Utrecht has been the religious centre of the country since the 8th century, which makes its main landmark – the almost 700-year-old Gothic Dom Tower – seem positively modern. Take a stroll along the curved Oudegracht (old canal) and stop for a drink at a converted cellar cafe. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed Rietveld Schröder House exemplifying De Stijl (‘The Style’art movement of the 1920s. To relive your childhood head to the Miffy Museum (open February 2016), or the Dick Bruna House, dedicated to the creator of Miffy.776362.jpg

Back to nature at the De Hoge Veluwe National Park

Jump on one of the 1,700 free white bicycles that are on hand to explore the 41km (25 miles) of paths around 5,400 hectares of sand dunes, woodland, heathland, peat bogs and an al fresco sculpture area in the De Hoge Veluwe National Park. Home to rare Red List species such as the Wheatear, the Wryneck and the Moor Frog, you might also see wild boar, red deer and nearly 500 different species of plants. In the heart of the park is the Kröller-Müller Museum, which contains a large collection of Van Goghs. Not far away is the beautiful city of Elburg, with its medieval buildings, and Arnhem, where the famous Battle for Arnhem took place.776363.jpg

Den Haag: ‘City of peace and justice’

The Hague or Den Haag is the seat of the Dutch government and home to the Dutch Royal family. This elegant city has wide leafy streets, several palaces, fantastic restaurants, smart hotels, luxury shops, loads of museums and a whole clutch of beautiful and historic squares such as the Plein and Grokte Markt, where you can enjoy a coffee by day and go clubbing by night. Take a tour of Het Binnenhof, the home of the Dutch parliament since 1446. Art fiends can view the world’s largest Mondrian collection in the Art Deco buildings of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (Municipal Museum) as well as a selection of Golden Age masterpieces in the Mauritshuis museum. If you have kids (or you’re a big kid yourself) a day in the miniature world of Madurodam should keep everyone happy.776364.jpg

Flower power

Back in the 17th century, the world’s financial markets went tulip-mad. The price of Dutch tulip bulbs skyrocketed and then plummeted, and fortunes were made and lost in the world’s first recorded speculative ‘bubble’. Flowers are still the country’s major industry. The floating flower market (Bloemenmarkt) on Amsterdam’s Singel canal, Utrecht’s flower market and the Aalsmeer flower auction are all must-sees. To see the tulips growing in in the spring, head to the bulb fields behind the North Sea dunes between the cities of Leiden and Den Helder, or to Keukenhof where you can see an amazing seven million flowers – tulips, narcissi, daffodils and hyacinths – in bloom during March to May.776365.jpg

Cosmopolitan Maastricht

In the south of the Netherlands Maastricht seems ‘less Dutch’ than other Dutch cities; it has Spanish and Roman ruins, French-influenced architecture, an international atmosphere (perhaps because it’s so close to Belgium and Germany) – and it’s even surrounded by hills. Set either side of the Meuse river it’s a truly beautiful place, with a historic centre filled with churches, squares (have a beer in the cobblestoned het Vrijthofsquare), old houses, fortifications and museums above ground, and miles of tunnels and caves (the Caves of St Pieter and the Casements) underground. Maastricht is also renowned for its world-class restaurants (five Michelin-starred restaurants within five miles of the centre), so come hungry and equipped with a credit card.776371.jpg

Wading in the Wadden Islands

Off the northern Dutch coast are the five Wadden islands, part of a chain of 50 islands encircling the Wadden Sea between Den Helder in the Netherlands and Esbjerg in Denmark. Texel has long, sandy beaches, Terschelling has huge colonies of birds in the Boschplaat nature reserve, Ameland has a history of whaling, the forested Vlieland is the most remote and Schiermonnikoog is the smallest. Boat hop between the five or if you’re up to the challenge, try wadlopen or mud-walking – sometimes through thigh-high mud or waist-high water – ­­across the seabed at low tide. This is definitely not for softies: some people call it ‘horizontal alpinism’.776375.jpg

Delectable Delft

Old master Johannes Vermeer, one of the greatest painters of the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age (The Girl with the Pearl Earring is one of his), lived and worked here, and it’s also where the famous hand-painted, blue and white Delft Blue earthenware has been made since the 17th century. Like Amsterdam, Delft is a city built on canals (the word delft comes from delven meaning ‘to dig’) that were designed as lifelines and defences. You can easily spend a weekend here wandering around the historic centre, exploring market stalls, visiting the Prinsenhof Museum (associated with William of Orange – you can even see the bullet holes in the wall where he was assassinated in 1584), the Renaissance style City Hall and the churches, including the Oud and Nieuwe KerkClimb to the top of the latter’s tower to see Rotterdam and The Hague on a clear day.776392.jpg

Spain

Top places to visit in Spain

Select from an eclectic plethora of historic Spanish cities, diverse landscapes, famous artworks, quirky festivals and delicious food from all over Spain. Here are some of the best places to visit in Spain.781753

Wherever you plan to travel in Spain, you will find many top places to visit – and, even better, in each region many top Spanish foods to try. Spain is an addictive destination with its laid-back culture and focus on living the good life, wild Spanish festivals, diverse landscapes and impressive historical architecture everywhere you look. Scattered between distinct landscapes of beaches, plains, deserts and mountains lie impressive Spanish cities, with well-preserved historical centres, cobbled streets, stone buildings and imposing fortresses, castles and city walls.

Some of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions have reached international fame, from Barcelona’s beach culture and Valencia’s Fallas effigy burning, to the infamous Running of the Bulls and tomato-throwing festival La Tomatina. But Spain still offers plenty of off-the-beaten-path experiences, such as exploring the Costa Brava coastline or hiking the Camino de Santiago. Whether you’re planning a beach holiday, city break weekend or long tour of the main Spanish cities, there’s always a lot to see and do in Spain. To whet your appetite, here are a few of the best places and things to do in Spain.

The secret Costa Brava

The stunning Costa Brava coastline stretches from Port Bou on the edge of the French Pyrenees down to Blanes, in the north eastern province of Girona. It’s been popular with holidaying Brits and other tourists for years but there are still wonderful places to discover away from the crowds along its 214 km (133 miles).

You’ll find soaring cliffs, lush vegetation, sandy beaches, picturesque villages and rocky coves and hidden bays only reached by boat. Some of the top places to visit include Cadaques, chichi Begur and Port Lligat, where Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala lived and worked. Go inland to Figueres where Dalí was born, and visit the famous Dalí Theatre-Museum and Púbol where he bought a castle for Gala. If you’re interested in culture of a much earlier era, then visit Ampurias (or Empúries), Spain’s most important Greek archaeological site.766688

Guggenheim in Bilbao

Frank Gehry’s spectacular Guggenheim Museum, in the north western city of Bilbao, has been described as the most important structure of its time and is a must-see site in Spain. Its soaring, titanium curves will blow your mind – and that’s before you even step inside to view its amazing collection of modern art. Bilbao, on the Bay of Biscay in the Basque country, is an architectural hotspot and main Spanish city for tourism, with a metro designed by Norman Foster and an airport by Santiago Calatrava. Enjoy the local custom of chiqueteo – a plate of pintxos (speciality appetisers) with a drink – in a bar or café, before a meal. And what should you eat? Cod, of course: Bilbao is the cod (bacalao) capital of Spain with hundreds of delicious recipes.766655.jpg

Spaghetti Westerns in Almería

Film buffs won’t want to miss visiting this top Spanish attraction amid the arid desert and mountains of Almería in southeast Spain. This is where some of the world’s best loved films were made – Lawrence of ArabiaCleopatra, Indiana Jones and Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Following a 66-kilometre route through the Tabernas Desert and Sierra Alhamilla Mountains, you can still see some of the sets and pop-up western towns that were built for filming in an area that has now been turned into a type of theme park called Parque Oasys or aptly, Mini Hollywood.766672.jpg

Seville and its famous fairs

The capital of Andalusia is the fourth largest city in Spain and boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Reales Alcázares palace, the Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral (containing the remains of Christopher Columbus) and the General Archive of the Indies. Wander around narrow cobbled streets, breathe in orange blossoms, peer into tiny courtyards with tumbling bougainvillea and tinkling fountains, and you might just come across a lone flamenco guitarist. It’s a city that likes to eat and drink outdoors and part of the city’s charm is its vibrant social life and buzz; enjoy a free tapa with the local beer, Cruzcampo.

Of of the main events in Seville’s calendar is Holy Week, or Semana Santa, the week-long Easter festival of elaborate religious processions where statues are carried through Seville’s narrow streets as crowds of believers and tourists press to catch a glimpse of these magnificent religious artworks.

Visit in April and you’ll be treated to Seville’s other main spectacle, the Feria de Abril, which is a top Spanish festival held for a week on the banks of the Guadalquivir river. Sevillanos of all ages, dressed in flamenco finery, stroll around or ride on horseback or in carriages along ‘streets’ of colourful marquees. The party continues all night long: dancing the Sevillanas, drinking jerez (sherry) and manzanilla (chamomile) wine andeating tapas. Best of all: you can join in.766660.jpg

Buzzing Barcelona

For art and culture, nightlife and shopping, it’s got to be Barcelona. The capital of Catalonia (Catalunya) is a cosmopolitan city on the Mediterranean coast, with an ancient history: the Barrio Gótico (the Gothic quarter) is the site of the original Roman city. Don’t miss Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical (unfinished) La Sagrada Familia Cathedral and Parc Güell, the Picasso Museum (his early work) and the Joan Miró Foundation. There are great shops, great bars (and tapas) and great clubs either side of Barcelona‘s famous avenue called Las Ramblas. Read about the 10 best things to do in Barcelona.

Out of town, check out the gay-friendly seaside resort of Sitges or take a cable car up to the National Park of Monserrat, a mountain with an unique stegosaurus-like profile, great hiking and climbing trails, a monastery and amazing panoramic views.766669.jpg

The Way of St James (Camino de Santiago de Compostela)

Since the ninth century, people have been making their way through northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim’s route to the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia. Today, the 500-mile (800km) journey is popular with walkers and cyclists, both local and international, although you can choose how much of the path you want to walk. Certain trails and accommodation can get busy during high season, typically during June to August as many pilgrims time their trip to arrive in Santiago de Compostela by St James Day on 25 July, one of the top Spanish festivals. Hiking in May, June, September and October typically offers moderate temperatures and lower hiker volume.

There are a network of different routes but perhaps the most spectacular runs between the northern Spanish coastline and the mountains – and was first used by pilgrims in the Middle Ages wanting to avoid Muslim territories. The network, passing through great historic cities and awe-inspiring landscapes, was given World Heritage status in 1993.766670.jpg

Running of the Bulls (San Fermin) in Pamplona

Pamplona, capital of the Navarre region in northern Spain, is steeped in history, with gothic, baroque and neo-classical buildings, churches and medieval walls in every direction. Visit the city during the week-long Fiesta deSan Fermin to join its citizens in honouring their patron saint. Festivities include brass bands, alfresco dancing under strings of fairy lights, fireworks and, most famously of all, the running of the bulls through the town’s cobbled streets. This is the (some might say foolhardy) tradition of running in front of a herd of stampeding bulls around the city’s narrow, cobbled streets. It really is as dangerous as it sounds. If it all proves too much, slip away and enjoy a classic meal of lamb cooked with tomatoes and peppers, washed down with a Navarre wine.

The festival officially starts on 6 July at 12pm by firing the pyrotechnic chupinazo (or txupinazo in Basque), a rocket that shoots from the balcony of the town hall, while everybody throws wine and eggs at each other in the town square below, staining the traditional white and red festival clothing (if you don’t have yours, you can buy it once there). This is one of Spain’s top festivals, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, so booking early is essential.766675.jpg

Alhambra in Granada

Granada, in eastern Andalusia, was the last place in Spain to be re-conquered by the Catholics after hundreds of years of Moorish rule in 1492. Granada is a top Spanish city for its impressive Moorish architecture, and the undoubted jewel in the crown is the elegant and intricate palace and gardens of Alhambra, declared a World Heritage site. Moorish poets described it as ‘a pearl set in emeralds’, alluding to the colours of the buildings and surrounding woodland.

It was originally built as a fortress and later converted into a royal palace by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada, and today is a stunning complex of buildings decorated with Arabic inscriptions and geometric motifs, and peaceful gardens (called Generalife) with rectangular courtyards, fountains and tree-lined walkways. The winding streets of Albaicín (or Albayzín, also UNESCO World Heritage) on a steep hillside facing the Alhambra lead to houses and old churches built on mosques, and magnificent views of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains.766684.jpg

Magnificent Madrid

Situated dead centre in the middle of Spain, people have lived in the Madrid area for more than two million years – since the Stone Age – but the city’s heyday came in the 16th and 17th centuries after King Philip II made it the capital of his empire. While many tourists brush over Madrid for Spain’s beaches or laid-back Barcelona, Spain’s capital is a top destination for offering it all: some of the world’s top museums and artworks, gourmet restaurants, vibrant nightlife, a grand historic centre and large pedestranised zones lined with shops, restaurants, cafe terraces and bars, which usually offer a free tapa when you order una caña (small beer).

Visit the historic old town, Madrid de los Austrias, the city main square Plaza Mayor and the embellished Royal Palace to see the remnants of Madrid’s heyday. Today, Madrid is famed for its art and culture, with more than 70 museums including the world-famous Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofia National Art Centre. See the 10 best things to do in Madridhow to spend a weekend in Madrid like a local, or Madrid’s tourism site.766685.jpg

The Sierra Nevada

Down in the far south, just to the east of Granada, is the Sierra Nevada, a national park where you’ll find the highest peaks in the whole of the Iberian peninsula, and some of its most exceptional flora and fauna (including the Spanish ibex). It was declared a UNESCO Biosphere reserve in 1986. Facing the Mediterranean, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada lies Las Alpajurras, an area with thermal springs and spas. Tiny white cube houses cling to the hillsides, goats still scamper about wearing little bells, serrano hams are cured and almonds grow on trees – Spanish bliss.766664.jpg