Summer is coming and we all know that means some horribly hot weather. It also means many of us are planning our annual getaways. We’re always on the lookout for something a bit different – gorgeous sandy beaches to while away the hours are wonderful but, let’s be honest, that can be a bit of a busman’s holiday. So, we’ve included some beaches but we’ve also sought out some slightly different destinations. All promise plenty of culture, from ancient ruins to awesome architecture, new foods to try, new people to meet, new things to learn and plenty of activity to ward off those holiday kilos. Join us on our travels across the globe this summer. We hope you’ll find something that takes your fancy.
Much has changed in the ‘Magic Kindgom’ in recent years, not least of which is its strong desire to attract tourists. The ancient city of Al Ula is at the forefront of the drive to welcome visitors. Saudia airlines and Flydubai both serve Al Ula’s International Airport, which has been newly renovated and is located 30-minutes away from the city centre.
Having major historical significance, this ancient city was once at the crossroads of the Silk Route and Incense Route. Dubbed ‘The World’s Masterpiece’, it has varied experiences to offer from archaeological attractions and adventure trails to safaris and geological charms.
The Heritage Oasis Trail is the best way to explore Al Ula. Starting from Dadan, an ancient kingdom and capital city of the Lihyanite and Dadanite civilisations, it offers an experience of the AlWadi area and the Old Town. Explore the Old Town Market, dotted with a variety of local artisan stores, cafes and more. You can pick up a souvenir from one of the handicraft stores or tuck into speciality local foods.
Exhibiting fine rock art, Jabal Ikmah, a mountain near Dadan, has thousands of inscriptions in Aramaic, Dadanitic, Thamudic, Minaic and Nabataean across numerous sites – like an open-air library. Al Aqra’a features more than 450 early Arabic inscriptions and Naqsh Zuhayr features one of the oldest inscriptions of the Islamic era, which dates back to 644 CE.
Elephant Rock or Jabal Al Fil is another major attraction. A rock shaped like an elephant, it’s a geological marvel, considering the ‘trunk’ and ‘body’ of this monolithic red sandstone beast were shaped by natural forces — millions of years of wind and water erosion.
Highlight: Visit Hegra, the Kingdom’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to more than 110 tombs carved from giant rock formations. Only three out of these tombs, however, are accessible to the public.
Top Tip: If you’re famished after all that exploring, Al Jadidah has restaurants, food trucks, art galleries and shaded seating areas.
Located on the eastern coast of the Indian Ocean – the only emirate on the east coast – Fujairah’s climate is more moderate compared to Dubai or Abu Dhabi and it’s certainly less glitzy and busy. Its shores extend for 70km along the Gulf of Oman, making it home to white sandy beaches. Nestled in the foothills of the Al-Hajar Mountains, it’s distinguished by its rugged mountains, valleys, waterfalls and oases.
There are several attractions that offer a peek into the history of this emirate. Considered the UAE’s oldest fort, Fujairah Fort was once the residence of the ruling family. Having numerous halls, towers and teak doors, this structure exhibits the traditional aesthetic of Emirati architecture. Surrounding it is Fujairah Heritage Village, which displays the early lifestyle of the locals. Overlooking Wadi Ham, Bithnah Fort is worth visiting too. It’s said to have played a key role in the emergence of Fujairah as an independent emirate.
Built in 1446 AD, Al-Badiyah Mosque, the oldest in the UAE, also exhibits the true craftsmanship of the locals of the time with its pointed domes supported by an internal pillar, prayer hall adorned with arches and ventilators and a mihrab – prayer spot that points to the Mecca. There’s a graveyard near the mosque that houses a large tomb dating to the Iron Age. You will also find other artefacts such as pieces of broken pots and arrowheads from 1000 BC.
Fujairah has many hot, cold and mineral springs. Located just outside Fujairah city is Ain Al-Madhab mineral spa, which produces warm sulphuric water. Declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, Wadi Al Wurayah is a natural attraction, offering outdoor activities such as hiking. The Wadi Al Wurayah waterfalls add to the area’s beauty.
Highlight: For a beachy adventure, head to Snoopy Island, which gets its name from the rocks that look like the cartoon character Snoopy. The area is surrounded by beautiful reefs teeming with rich marine life, ideal for snorkelling and diving.
Top Tip: Remember there are seven emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are just two of them.
Jordan offers both old-town heritage experiences and modern attractions such as a vibrant nightlife. However, you will find the latter mostly in Amman, the capital city – Queen Alia International Airport, Jordan’s main airport, is about 30km from Amman.
That being said, this largest city of Jordan also has historical significance. There are numerous archaeological sites that you can explore such as the Citadel, which includes the Temple of Hercules, the Umayyad Palace and the Byzantine Church. Nestled at the foot of the Citadel is a 6,000-seater Roman theatre, carved into the hill and still used for cultural events. A visit to the Jordan Archaeological Museum, The Folklore Museum and the Museum of Popular Traditions will offer a glimpse into the rich heritage of the city.
Featuring colonnaded streets, a vaulted terrace and the ruins of two theatres, Umm Qays, which was historically known as Gadara, was a renowned cultural centre. Home to several classical poets and philosophers, it’s perched atop a hill overlooking the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee – dine on the terrace and enjoy the breathtaking view. Ajloun offers numerous forest trails, which will appeal to the nature lover. Hit The Tourist Street in Madaba for handicrafts, mosaic and religious souvenirs.
Highlight: Explore Petra – a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s appeal mainly comes from its spectacular setting deep inside a narrow desert gorge. Access to the city is through a 1.2km-long gorge called the Siq that leads directly to Al-Khazneh, which is believed to be the mausoleum of Nabataean king Aretas IV.
Top Tip: Stay away from animal abuse – explore Petra on foot instead of using the donkey- and camel-rides. This way, you also shed the holiday calories!
Qatar Airways operate direct flights to Salalah, a land of striking landscapes, geological attractions and monsoon rains! Ayn Athum, Ayn Khor, Wadi Darbat and Ayn Gogub are popular waterfalls here and Ayn Sahalnoot, Ayn Razat, Ayn Jarziz and Ayn Hamran are popular springs that you can visit.
Known for its striking landscapes, Salalah has valleys such as Wadi Darbat where you can enjoy a paddle boat ride on the natural canal. Kayaking is also available. This valley has two beautiful waterfalls and you can find Travertine Curtains here – pockmarked rocks on the cliff’s face. Mughsayl Beach has a photogenic landscape. In addition, the long stretch of blue water and white sands also has natural fountains. It’s the perfect location for birdwatching and enjoying a mesmerising sunset. Located right beside Mughsayl Beach is Marnie Cave – a spelunking attraction – or you can simply sit in the shade of the caves. A stone’s throw from the cave is the Mughsayl Blowholes – yet another geological attraction – from which jets of water explode into the air when the sea is slightly rough.
If you’re the adventurous type, you’ll enjoy trekking the Tawi Attair sinkhole, the most popular in Dhofar. A unique experience to try is a car drive at Salalah Anti-Gravity Point – your car moves uphill at a speed of 40 to 60km/h but in neutral gear with zero acceleration.
Highlight: Jabal Samhan on the eastern side of Salalah is one of the major mountain ranges in Dhofar, reaching 2,100 metres. It offers a breathtaking view of the ‘Sea of Clouds’ and you can capture the time lapse of the moving clouds from atop.
Top Tip: Unlike much of the region, the weather here is pleasant during the monsoons from June to August, making it a great summer escape.
Everyone has to fly via somewhere as there are only two airlines flying into Bhutan: Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines. But you can get there via India and Nepal and, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to visit the country with the world’s Only Ministry of Happiness.
The flight into Paro, Bhutan’s main airport, is one of the most spectacular in the world coming in along the Himalayan range. But landing is subject to weather conditions, so, leave yourself plenty of time.
You can also drive five hours from Bengal to Bhutan’s southern gateway Phuentsholing.
Once you get there, you won’t find many other visitors, so, you’ll get certain bragging rights – many people have never heard of the place – but you’ll also need to be prepared to hand over plenty of cash.
You’ll also not catch sight of Starbucks or McDonalds on the peaceful, calm streets and the environment and culture have been preserved.
With a backdrop of mountains wherever you look, there is certainly plenty to do, from river rafting and kayaking to archery, multiple colourful festivals and the chance to get acquainted with some of the country’s wilder inhabitants on a safari – you might even be lucky enough to glimpse the elusive snow leopard!
Highlight: Take a trek to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery at Taktsang. It’s a stiff hike but very well worth it. The monastery, a series of buildings on the side of a mountain, was originally built around the early 1500s on the site of a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the seventh century. It was destroyed by fire in the late 1990s and later rebuilt in the style of the eighth century.
Top Tip: Unlike in some other countries, taking a guided tour in Bhutan will really enhance your experience.
There’s more to Finland than Father Christmas – and yes, we know, that’s Finnish Lapland. In fact, you can still visit Rovaniemi, The Official Home of Santa Clause, and cross the Arctic Circle in summer time. And this Nordic country has much to offer allround for the summer visitor.
Known as the Land of the Midnight Sun; after many months of almost total darkness, north of the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set at all between May and August and, even further south, it is visible for almost 24 hours in June and July. Thus, as you can imagine, Finns make the most of these ‘White Nights’.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of time is spent outdoors – weather during the summer is usually temperate and warm – and there is plenty to see and do. A great way to enjoy the long summer nights is to rent a cottage in the countryside near one of the almost 168,000 lakes (that’s one for every 26 people!). Take a midnight swim, go hiking or canoeing or even enjoy a round of golf in the wee small hours.
And don’t miss the festivals – there are lots of them. From the massive, such as Weekend Festival – described as “one of the wildest electronic [EDM, house and techno] parties in northern Europe” – to things like Ilosaarirock, which is mostly volunteer organised and features national and international artists.
And then there are the forests. Oh, the forests. They cover more than 75% of the land area and many are open to the public. Forest bathing anyone?
Highlight: Don’t forget the capital, Helsinki. An amazing city on the southern peninsula, it has something for everyone from shopping to a major party and festival scene not to mention beaches.
Top Tip: Drink tap water, everywhere, it’s safe, super clean and is said to taste better than the bottled varieties.
This might seem a rather obvious one but Italy is a land of so many contrasts that you really can find something to suit everyone.
Milan, the gateway to the north, is a fashionista’s paradise. Here, budget allowing, you will find virtually all the huge brands. But, you can also head off the stiletto-beaten track to discover new designers and those striving for a more ethical fashion scene through the CNA (National Confederation of Artisanship). Or visit SNAP, one of the city’s biggest second-hand stores, which also collaborates with promising new designers, because we all love a bargain, right?
Head to the lakes, such as Como and Garda for boating and people watching. Lake Como is particularly known for its popularity with international celebs and, while you might not exactly get to rub shoulders, you can certainly check out the magnificent villas they inhabit.
Further south is Rome, the ‘Eternal City’, where you will find more culture than it’s possible to fit in one visit – from museums and galleries to history and music. Of course, no visit would be complete without a trip to Vatican City, regardless of your faith. Naples and Pompeii are close together and can be covered in a couple of days. In Naples eat pizza! At Pompeii, prepare for lots of walking and a certain feeling of awe at the sight of a whole ancient city destroyed by a volcanic eruption so swift that people were caught off guard going about their daily lives.
And, if you’re looking for heat, go south where life is slower, hotter and more traditional
Highlight: The food. Seek out small eateries, watch where locals are dining. Go big on tomatoes, olives, olive oil and bread. Italy is known for its simple but superb cuisine, make the most of it.
Top Tip: Do visit the Amalfi Coast. Don’t go in high summer!
Once overlooked and still not the hottest spot on everyone’s lips, Montenegro is quickly gaining a reputation as the place to visit… before everyone else does! With rugged mountains, mediaeval villages and a strip of beaches along the Adriatic coastline, it’s often called the ‘hidden gem’ of Europe and it’s not hard to see why.
There is much to see and do here. Tara Canyon is an amazing natural wonder and the world’s second deepest, after the Grand Canyon. For the brave, there is whitewater rafting (though the water’s chilly) and you cross the canyon on a zipline.
One of the most popular places to visit is Kotor with its old town and amazing fjord-like bay. Thanks to its long-ago Venice-citystate rulers, the place is distinctly Venetian in style and is also one of the Adriatic coast’s best preserved medieaval fort towns. A trek to the high town walls, will provide a good day’s workout. Had to the Budva Riviera for the crystalline waters of the Adriatic sheltered by a glorious mountainous backdrop and make sure to visit Old Town Budva, a 2,500-year-old walled city, that, today, has a buzzing social scene. Also make a stop at Sveti Stefan, once famous as a Hollywood hangout and currently enjoying a stylish renaissance.
For nature lovers, a trip to Durmitor National Park is a must. Home to Tara Canyon, the park boasts 18 natural glacial lakes and is home to a whole range of wildlife, from bears to wild boar.
Highlight: Head for the, still unspoilt, Lustica Peninsula to visit the Blue Grotto which is named for its spectacularly blue water. It’s only accessible by boat and there are regular tours from April to October.
Top Tip: Most local cuisine revolves around meat, so, if you’re veggie or vegan, do your research and plan ahead.
Never mind the mainland, head to what Aussies call Tassie. The cooler months in Tasmania span from May to September, making it the perfect destination for those of us on the other side of the equator. The island state is densely forested – Tarkine, containing Savage River National Park, located in the island’s far north west, is the largest temperate rainforest area in Australia covering about 3,800sq/km. Tasmania’s wilderness is best experienced on foot and if you’re someone who enjoys an adventure, hiking through the many breathtaking national parks makes a great winter activity.
Try out world-famous walks such as Overland Track, traversing Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair National Park; Three Capes Track across the Tasman Peninsula and the South Coast Track located in Southwest National Park. Some other nature-inspired adventures on the west coast include the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Strahan village and the Wilderness Railway. The walks offer a complete experience in the heart of nature replete with staggering sea cliffs, majestic mountains, rainforests abundant in flora and fauna, beautiful beaches and bays and wonderful wildlife. While a part of the walk is an actual walk, you can even expect boat rides and fly cruises where a plane will take you up and hover allowing you a magnificent view of the ground.
Highlight: Bruny Island is a popular holiday spot with beaches, walking trails and gastronomic adventures. There’s a thriving food and grape culture here and you can sample the choicest grape paired with cheese – some of the artisan varieties are known to be the finest in Australia – and oysters straight from the sea. Explore the island on a guided walk, tasting the local produce and enjoying luxurious stays. If you’re lucky, you will spot Australian fur seals, dolphins, migrating whales and sea birds during an eco-cruise or a kayaking adventure close to the rugged coast and in deep sea caves.
Top Tip: Take jungle-strength bug spray and don’t be a feast for the Aussie Mozzies!
There’s no escaping the fact that Japan is an economic heavyweight. Its capital city, Tokyo, has so much going on, it’s hard to know where to start. And Mount Fuji is iconic. But we’d suggest stepping away from the well-known spots for something a little different.
Also known as Ogasawara Islands, the Bonin Islands are an archipelago of over 30 subtropical and tropical islands about 1,000km directly south of Tokyo. Chichijima and Hahajima are the only two inhabited islands in the group. The archipelago is accessible by a 24-hour-long ferry journey from central Tokyo.
Home to more than 190 endangered species, such as the Bonin flying fox, over 400 native plant species, and a crystal-clear ocean packed with marine life, the Bonin Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sometimes referred to as the Galápagos of the Orient, the plants and animals here have evolved uniquely since these islands have never been connected to a continent. Explore the rich and rare flora and fauna here during a guided trek through the forests. You can also explore the rich marine treasures that lie beneath the surrounding waters, which are a natural habitat for dolphins and whales. There are dolphin and whale watching tours from Chichijima Island – you can spot sperm whales from May to November and listen for the songs of the whales through an underwater microphone. Scuba diving and kayaking are available for both beginners and experts.
Highlight: Minamijima Island is the jewel in the crown of this archipelago. A striking rock arch over a turquoise blue lagoon serves as the gateway to this uninhabited island, where a maximum of 100 visitors are allowed to enter for no more than two hours at a time. This landscape is so unique and rare in the world that it is designated as a natural monument.
Top Tip: Japan has some pretty strict social protocols, do your homework to avoid offence.
Certainly, we’ve all heard of Cancun, with its perfect sandy beaches and, occasionally, shady reputation. And Mexico City itself, one of the liveliest cities in the world, teeming with culture and a high-octane buzz. But, as always, there’s more to this Central American destination.
If you’re fascinated by architecture, head to Puebla, which is peppered with ornate churches and cathedrals, magnificent houses, colonial buildings and the more modern museums, libraries, art galleries and government buildings. The state promotes 12 tourist routes, seven in the capital city of Puebla de Zaragoza – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and five over the rest of the state.
Details to watch out for include the use of Talavera ornamental tiles, as found in Casa de los Muñecos. Commonly spotted in Puebla city, the tilework renders facades beautifully colourful. Many churches and buildings exhibit folk baroque architecture and the Museo Internacional del Barroco is worth a visit. Other attractions include Museo Amparo, which is set within two colonial buildings and houses the finest collections of Mexican art, and Fuertes de Loreto y Guadalupe – the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe – which were originally built as chapels in the 16th century but fortified in the 1800s to protect the city during its independence struggle. The Battle of Puebla which took place here on May 5 1862 is celebrated every year as the Cinco de Mayo holiday.
Tour the beautiful colonial city of Cholula, home to the Great Pyramid of Cholula – an archaeological site. Also take a volcano tour. Hike the mountains and take in the spectacular natural scenery of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl.
Highlight: While you’re there, don’t forget to try the traditional mole sauce – mole poblano, one of the most popular, is named after Puebla city.
If you’re looking for respite from the summer heat, head to the Cordillera region in Luzon Island in the Philippines for culture, adventure and mummies! Sparsely populated, it is the perfect getaway. Known among the Filipino community as the Shimla – an Indian hill station – of the Philippines, the region is landlocked and primarily mountainous with cool temperatures.
Hailed as the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio City in Benguet province of the Cordillera Region rarely experiences temperatures higher than 26 degrees Celsius even during the warmest season of the year. Burnham Park, Wright Park and Baguio Cathedral are some sightseeing spots. You can even visit a local strawberry farm at La Trinidad, capital of Benguet, and pick your own strawberries – the strawberry taho (hot silken tofu with sweet syrup and sago pearls) is a must-try. Benguet is home to natural and scenic landscapes. Mount Pulag, the highest mountain peak in Luzon, almost 3,000 metres above sea level, offers breath-taking views and is home to rich highland flora and fauna. Mines View Park offers striking vistas of Benguet’s mountain ranges.
Cordillera Region is home to many ethnic tribes commonly referred to as the Igorot. You can learn about the indigenous culture and people at the Bontoc Museum. Dap-ay or Ato is a historic site steeped in the tribal culture. Visit to learn crafts such as basket and fabric weaving and buy souvenirs to take home. A spelunking adventure awaits at Sumaguing Cave in the Sagada municipality of Mountain Province – beautiful rock formations and natural pools make the physically daunting descent underground worth it. Additionally, you could scale the 2,000-year-old Banaue Rice Terraces – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – in Ifugao province, where the famous Tinawon rice grows.
Highlight: Mountain Province is popular for its hanging coffins, where the mummified remains of the local ancestors are found!
Top Tip: You will need to provide up-to-date proof of Covid-19 vaccination to enter the country. Make sure you check restrictions before you go.