Looking for somewhere slightly different to visit? How about one of the places on our list? After all, it’s a big world out there…
Finding a new place to visit is tricky. There’s a lot of things to consider, right? We know how you feel! Well, we’re here to give you a helping hand, and we’ve come up with a nicely eclectic mish-mash of places to see, from former medieval capitals to locations for party animals… As well as actual animals. So get your diary out, log onto Kiwi.com and start planning!
Boulder, CO, USA
Denver has been very much in the news over the last couple of years as the craft beer industry in the city, plus Colorado’s legalisation of marijuana made it a very cool, laid-back and youthful place to be. But Boulder, around 25 miles from Denver, got there first.
In the 1960s, it became somewhat of a hippie mecca, being home to the University of Colorado (the largest in the state). That spirit of hippiedom still continues somewhat today, although in a more sanitised state.
There’s a great deal of vegetarianism and veganism, with a number of restaurants and bars to match, and the city ranks highly in art, culture, health and quality of life lists.
Downtown has a faintly European air to it, with a longish, pedestrianised shopping street – the Pearl Street Mall – home to a fair number of street artists and performers trying to draw the crowds away from their meandering between the craft shops and restaurants.
The public transport system is also good for an American town, with short-hop bus services operating regularly throughout the day, as well as having hundreds of miles of cycle lanes operating with a route-finding website to help cyclists find the quickest, safest routes across town.
Like Denver, the craft-brewing industry is thriving; a combination of good water and mountain air giving that first sip of a sharp, cold beer an extra-satisfying kick. Twisted Pine brews beers with odd flavourings (espresso, chili etc.) and offers a cookie platter to chomp on while you drink.
Fate’s open-plan bar and restaurant is hipster elegance at its finest, and there are plenty of others to refresh you after having spent a day walking in the Flatirons, or simply mooching around town.
The Mekong River, Vietnam
I always thought one of the main reasons to go to Vietnam was so that, upon your return, you could look past your friends with a glazed, faraway look in your eyes and say things like: “You weren’t there, man… You weren’t there.”
So much has the Vietnam war entered the popular consciousness through its horrendous suffering and use of shockingly barbaric tactics (even by the standards of, y’know, war), plus vivid reproductions on film, that the name of the country and places with in it – Saigon, Mekong and so forth – have become bywords for strife and devastation.
Now the whole thing is a lot more relaxed… After you’ve left the chaos and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, of course. You can choose a number of options for your tour, from larger boats shared with other travellers, to kayaks, or even speedboat jaunts through the Can Gio mangrove swamps.
Setting off early in the morning, you pass through the floating markets of the city and head out to the river delta, from where you can explore the mess of waterways and canals surrounded by villages in which you can stop for local food and fresh fruits.
If you want to go more commercial but see even more, a number of operators run cruises from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi (or the other way round, obviously), which takes about a week.
Others run further still, beginning or ending in Cambodia and incorporating a number of nights on land en route. It may not necessarily be the “real” Vietnam so beloved of backpackers and students, but it’s certainly a fabulous way to see the scenery of this magnificent country outside of the chaos of the cities.
Yorkshire is a beautiful part of England. Equal parts mountains, Victorian townscapes and endless, wind-ravished moorland, its particular gothic romance played right into the hands of many of the writers and poets who hailed from the region. One of these writers, Emily Brontë, has the 200th anniversary of her birth in 2018.
Haworth, the village in which the literary sisters grew up, now bases almost its entire economy on their heritage. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it means a plethora of new and second-hand bookshops lining its precipitous streets, as well as tea rooms and a couple of decent pubs.
It’s close enough to the cities of Leeds and Bradford to be a day-trip, but many visitors use it as a base to explore the (mainly-invented-for-tourists) Brontë Country. It’s basically a collection of stately halls and homes dotted around the south Pennines.
The aforementioned cities of Leeds and Bradford are worth seeing, but for very different reasons. Leeds emerged triumphant from the 19th century, and is now a city of students, art and music; bars, coffee and clubs.
Bradford had a much harder time of it, falling into decline that hit its lowest point in the mid-20th century. Since then, though, a number of its glories have been restored, including the magnificent Alhambra theatre; the city is also home to the National Science and Media Museum, was the location of the UK’s first IMAX cinema, has a number of other smaller, independent theatres and cinemas and, in 2009, was named the first ever UNESCO City of Film.
Oh, and it’s also the official Curry Capital of Britain, not only for the quality of the food and the service in curry houses around the city, but also for a deep understanding of the dishes and their history, topped off with city-wide charity work to help the poor of south-east Asia.
The Czech Republic
The Czech Republic celebrates not one, not two, but three important anniversaries in 2018.
It’s one hundred years since Czechoslovakia gained independence from Austro-Hungary; 25 years since the (generally) amicable Velvet Divorce, which saw the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia; and 50 years since the Prague Spring of 1968 in which Alexander Dubček’s noble but misguided attempts to loosen Soviet-imposed restrictions on speech, travel and the media resulted in an invasion by Soviet-backed Warsaw pact troops.
The Czech Republic is seen as one of, if not the, state that has made the move “west” more successfully than others. Prague lies further west than Vienna as it is, and don’t you dare call it Eastern Europe. Prague’s delights have been covered more times than is necessary to rehash here, so what else is there to see?
About an hour west of Prague lies Plzeň, home of the original Pilsner beer. The brewery tour is comprehensive and entertaining; just watching a team of their in-house coopers crafting vast beer kegs for storage by hand makes you thirsty, so you’re taken through the process of brewing (including getting the chance to try “young” beer – delicious) before decamping to the pub.
Český Krumlov, in the south-west, is a fairytale delight; Brno is studenty and laid-back, with a whiff of hipsterism in the air, and Ostrava is shedding its bleak, industrial image to become something of a focal point for art and music, especially during the summer when its Colours of Ostrava festival attracts bands and artists from around the world.
Leeuwarden, the Netherlands
Where? The European Capital of Culture 2018, that’s where. Leeuwarden is a town of just over 100,000 people, and is the capital of the region of Friesland in the very north of the country.
Part of the reason it was named Capital of Culture is the sheer number of festivals held in the city throughout the year. They vary wildly in size and content, from visual arts festivals based around film and photography (graphic artist M.C. Escher was born in Leeuwarden) to the country’s biggest flower market, via rock, tattoo, and motorsport festivals. Eclectic, eh?
Even if your visit doesn’t coincide with a festival, there’s still plenty going on. The centre is a nice cluster of buildings dating predominantly from the 15th century, though some are older. It is, like many other Dutch cities, built on water.
The Fries Museum has many exhibits, including an extensive Escher collection, as well as a section on Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod, better known as Mata Hari, the Leeuwarden-born exotic dancer and courtesan who became a First World War spy.
It’s within easy reach of other northern towns and cities of the Netherlands too, with Heerenveen to the south and Groningen to the east. So why not explore some of the laid-back charm of this unexplored region of Europe?
The Margaret River Wine Region, Western Australia
Australian wine is world famous for being flamin’ superb, for the simple reason that it is. The Margaret River region produces 25 per cent of Australia’s premium wines, from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc blends.
Three hours’ drive south of Perth in the south-western corner of the continent, it’s one of the most isolated wine growing regions in the world.
In the mid-1950s, a professor of viticulture named John Olmo from the University of California was over in Australia, studying the soils and climate of Swan Valley vineyards.
While they still to this day grow good grapes, it was he who first recognised the potential of the sites on the very south-western tip of Australia, on the banks of the Margaret River. Since 1967, the region has grown into the powerhouse of Aussie wine it is today.
Over 95 wine cellars call the Margaret River region home, and all are happy to show you around and let you taste their wares.
Towns such as Busselton, Dunsborough and Yallingup, as well as the town named after the river, will accommodate you; otherwise there are bed & breakfast options, campsites, chalets, cottages, hostels and even villas to rent. Something, namely, to suit anyone on any budget.
If you tire of exploring the vineyards, there’s basically a bit of almost everything available to do around and about.
On top of all that cosmopolitan Perth has available, the region around the Margaret River offers cycling, rock-climbing, swimming, surfing, whale-watching, golf, hiking, or simply eating, drinking and enjoying fine Aussie hospitality. What’s not to love?
Turku and the Archipelago Sea, Finland
Often seen as a land of long winter nights and Arctic tundra, Finland comes into its own in the summer, when the glorious opposite becomes true. Away from the capital city of Helsinki and heading west to the medieval capital of Turku, keep going until you hit an expanse of clear, ice-cold water containing over 40,000 islands.
Some of these islands are tiny, some have maybe a single cottage perched on them, but the majority are uninhabited. Couple this with Finland’s Everyman rambling rights and you have the perfect place to escape to. It’s very likely that you’ll be able to find an island all to yourself from where you can camp, kayak, fish and cook outside on open fires.
Some of the larger islands have jetties at which to moor your craft, but the majority will rely on your own common sense. If you see a house or a cottage, a flag flying outside means the owner is in residence. Oh, and don’t necessarily expect electricity or running water. Internet? Forget it.
In the evenings, it never really gets dark until around midnight, so a pinkish glow reflected in the water, the gentle slopping and splashing of waves, and the occasional, eerie cry of a circling European loon will be all the company you have. It really can feel like you’re a lifetime away from the rest of the world.
When you need to get back on the grid, you could do a lot worse than heading into Turku. It’s a university city, with the institute established in 1640. It’s also a centre of the Finnish technology industry and was European Capital of Culture in 2011, holds two rock festivals and an electronic music festival and, due to the large student population, has a vibrant bar and nightlife scene.
Let’s hear a bit of love for Zaragoza. A Spanish city without a coastline is always going to struggle slightly for recognition compared to places like Barcelona, Valencia, Málaga, Seville (it’s close enough) or San Sebastián, so let’s take some time to appreciate what it has.
Like many Spanish cities, it’s been conquered and controlled by a number of people since its initial flourishing during the Roman period.
Architecturally, what strikes you as having lasted from early periods, are a number of structures from the Taifa period, when the city was an independent Muslim state in Moorish Al-Andalus.
The solid, imposing Aljafería Palace stands testament to the power the city had at this time, before becoming capital of the Kingdom of Aragon under Alfonso I in 1118.
The city’s centrepiece, however, is the vast and towering Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar that stands between the main square and the River Ebro. To the south-west of the cathedral, a sprawl of lanes fans out, containing tiny museums to local folklore, art and culture who seem to be elbowing each other aside for space between the bars, coffee shops and family-run restaurants.
Heading out further from the ancient centre, you see Zaragoza for what it has become; a very 21st century city, with wide boulevards stretching away, lined with international names; none more so than Paseo de la Independencia, a gleaming payen to the new money that arrived in the city with the 2008 World Expo.
It may not have the glamour of Barcelona or the status of Madrid, but 2018 should be the year you discover one of Spain’s more overlooked cities.
Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya and others have held sway as the places to go to experience what a lot of people think of as Africa; namely, safaris and such like. But the country nicknamed The Warm Heart of Africa is slowly coming into its own.
A largely rural country, generally untouched by foreign visitors (fewer than a million visit every year), the fact that almost all travellers need a visa to enter the country has re-directed a few would-be visitors to neighbouring nations.
This would be a mistake, however. Malawi has nine national parks, numerous wildlife reserves, and the mighty Lake Malawi, a perfect destination for snorkelers, water-skiers, boaters and fishing enthusiasts alike.
As mentioned, the people are traditionally rural, with a fair amount of the country’s income coming from farming such things as sugarcane, tea and cotton. Due to a lack of centralization up until the early 20th century, the country was very much a tribal society, although, curiously, many have adopted the idea of nationhood with the minimum of problems, and Malawians are generally a conservative and non-violent society.
Local arts, crafts and culture still hold a great deal of sway, with dance being particularly important, so much so that in 1987 the government formed the National Dance Troupe to showcase the country’s talents.
Basketry and wood carving are traditional local skills as well, with some of these products being sold to tourists in the more urbanized areas. The cuisine is also diverse, incorporating varieties of tea, fish from local lakes, as well as sugar, coffee, beef and goat meat.
Our final selection is, like many places on this list, rather an unknown quantity to many travellers. Playing second-fiddle not only to Lima in the city stakes, but to other reasons most tourists visit this part of South America. How to compete with Machu Picchu or Cuzco? Well, become something other.
Unlike most other Peruvian cities, with their indigenous features and landscapes, Arequipa is overtly, proudly, Spanish colonial. This, perversely, gives it its pride in being very much its own city.
It has one identity; so much so that other Peruvians sometimes joke that you need a passport to visit. This pride was so strong that there was an almost militant feeling against the rise of centralism in the country. “Arequipa is a gun pointed at the heart of Lima,” in the words of historian Jorge Basadre.
And they have much to be proud of. The food is unlike anywhere else in the country, with a wide selection of fine local dishes; spicy stuffed peppers; Chupe de Camarones, a thick, spicy soup similar to gumbo, containing chilis and prawns; and, oddly, trout, caught in the rivers supplied by fresh, crisp water from the snow melting in the mountains.
The city is also a UNESCO World Heritage site – not unusual in Peru, I grant you – but it was given the title due to the sheer number and breadth of its museums.
From pre-colonial artefacts and national archaeology to a museum on colonial banking, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Vargas Brothers photography studio, the University Museum, as well as collections by the Alliance Française and the Peruvian Centre for German Culture there’s almost literally something for everyone.