Sri Lanka Holidays

Sri Lanka has a huge amount packed into a small island: long beaches, ancient cities and temples, and national parks filled with elephants, leopards, bears and more. Sri Lanka is a great holiday destination if you want to combine travelling with a beach holiday.

Sri Lanka is increasing in popularity for tourists and the whole of the country is now accessible to tourists following the end of the Civil War in 2009.

Our travel experts can help you plan and book the perfect bespoke Sri Lanka holiday. All of our itineraries are 100% tailor-made so we will find the best places for you to stay and make sure every part of the trip matches your specific needs.

Beach Holidays in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has lots of options for beach holidays, ranging from small isolated beaches with a single hotel, to larger resorts with a mixture of luxury and more basic accommodation.

Sri Lanka South West Coast Beach Holidays

The south-west coast between Tangalle and Bentota is the most popular and most developed area in Sri Lanka for beach holidays. If you plan to visit Sri Lanka just for a beach holiday then this is the area to stay – it also has the advantage of being close to the airport.

The area is good for diving, with many places able to organise trips. There are also whales, turtle farms and some good beaches for surfing.

Galle / Habaraduwa Beach Holidays

Galle, and the nearby town of Habaraduwa, is surrounded by lots of beaches with a range of accommodation including lots of luxury beach resorts.

Aside from the long, palm fringed beaches (which you will find all along the south-west coast) the area is popular for its proximity to Galle (see section on Galle city below) and its turtle farms and whale watching.

Along the coast there are lots of bars and restaurants, as well as watersports. This area is probably the most developed and liveliest in the south-west and is ideal if you are looking for some nightlife.

Tangalle Beach Holidays

Further east along the coast from Galle is the town of Tangalle. The area around Tangalle is less developed than Galle, however, new luxury resorts have been opening. Fishing remains one of the main industries in the area and it is famous for its unique style where the fishermen sit on top of a wooden pole embedded in the sea floor.

Although the area is becoming more popular as a beach destination, it is much quieter than the areas around Galle.

Bentota Beach Holidays

Bentota is halfway between Galle and Colombo, making it a great place to either start or finish your holiday as it is the closest beach resort to the airport. There a number of luxury resorts in the area, but the town has not yet been taken over by tourists.

Visitors benefit from access to both the sea and the Bentota lagoon. The area is particularly good for water sports with lots of waterskiing, windsurfing and surfing.

Sri Lanka West Coast Beach Holidays

North of Colombo on the west coast there are a few beach holiday options. These are generally not as good as elsewhere in Sri Lanka, but are a good option for a few days if you are travelling around the island.

Negombo Beach Holidays

Negombo is only a few kilometres from the airport, so makes a good first or last stop on your trip around Sri Lanka.

There are hotels along the beach in Negombo itself or others to the north of the city that are more isolated. The beaches are long and safe for swimming, and there are some good dive sites nearby.

Negombo is a lively city with good nightlife, some interesting colonial architecture and a very busy fish market.

Kalpitiya Beach Holidays

Kalipitiya is much lower key than other beach resorts in Sri Lanka. Located in the north-west the area has only recently started to develop as a location for beach holidays. There are several luxury options (although all are unusual in their own way), and at only 2 hours’ drive from the airport, Kalpitiya is a good option if you are looking for a less visited location for a luxury beach holiday in Sri Lanka.

The area is great for kitesurfing, as well as whale and dolphin watching.

Sri Lanka East Coast Beach Holidays

Much of the east coast has only been accessible to tourists since the civil war ended so is less developed than the south-west, however, it has some of the best beaches on the island and several new luxury resorts have been built. So if you are looking for a quieter holiday in Sri Lanka this may be a better option than the South-West coast.

Arugam Bay Beach Holidays

Arugam Bay is at the south-east point of the island and has the best surfing on the island. Renting a board is easy, and there are lots of surf schools for those who want to give it a go. The town primarily caters to backpackers but there is some more upmarket accommodation. As expected for a backpacker town there is good nightlife.

Kumana National Park is very close to Arugam Bay and can easily be done as a day trip.

Batticaloa and Passikudah Beach Holidays

Batticaloa is halfway up the east coast of Sri Lanka. Most of the beach resorts in the area are on Passikudah Beach to the north of the city. The beach at Passikudah slopes very gently down into the sea – you can walk out a long way and still be able to stand comfortably. The water is so clear that as you walk out you won’t need snorkelling equipment to see the colourful marine life. Take a boat further out and you have a good chance of being able to spot dolphins.

From Passikudah the colonial fort city of Batticaloa is only 30 minutes’ drive away, and the ancient city of Polonnaruwa just over an hour away.

Trincomalee Beach Holidays

The consensus amongst Sri Lankans is that the best beaches on the island are around the northeastern city of Trincomalee. Most of the beach resorts are at Uppuveli or Nilaveli. The beaches are great for sunbathing, snorkelling and surfing. There are good dive sites nearby as well.

Trincomalee itself is worth a visit. The city was highly sought after by the Portuguese, Dutch and British due to its deep port. The Portuguese Fort is a testament to how important Trincomalee was to the colonial powers. The most popular site in Trincomalee is the Koneswaram Temple – originally built over 2000 years ago this Hindu temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times and is one of the holiest sites in Sri Lanka for Hindus.

Cities and Cultural Sites

Sri Lanka has been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years, with its first real kingdom – based at Anuradhapura – beginning around 2500 years ago. For the following 2000 years the capital moved around a lot as kingdoms fell due to internal and external attacks. Around 500 years ago Portugal began to colonise the island, followed by the Dutch and British. Sri Lanka gained partial independence from Britain in 1948, before becoming a full republic in 1972. This history – combined with its religious diversity – makes Sri Lanka a very interesting destination with lots to see.

South West Sri Lanka

Colombo

Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka and its largest city. Its location near the airport makes it a good place to spend a few days at the beginning or end of your holiday. The city has a modern commercial feel, but there are areas and sites of cultural interest.

The fort area contains lots of colonial buildings and hotels, including the Old Dutch Hospital that now houses several good bars and restaurants. Along from the fort is Galle Face Green, a long open stretch by the sea that is popular with kite flyers and is a good area for a walk.

There are a number of lakes in the city. Bere Lake has a small, peaceful island in the centre that you can reach by a small footbridge. At the edge of the lake is the Seema Malaka Temple, and nearby is the Gangaramaya Temple – one of the most important in Colombo.

There are a few museums in Colombo – the best is the National Museum, which covers Sri Lankan history in a lot of detail, and is the best museum of its type in the country.

Colombo is a lively city with lots of bars and restaurants. The Old Dutch hospital is a good place to start (and the Ministry of Crab in particular) but there are plenty of others spread out around the city, covering a variety of cuisines.

Galle

Galle was initially occupied by the Portuguese when they first began colonising the island. The Dutch took over and built most of what is seen in Galle today, including the fort, before the British gained control.

Galle is a very well preserved fortified colonial city. Just walking around the old town stopping in the many bars, cafes and restaurants is much of the attraction. There are also lots of shops selling jewellery and clothes. At sunset everyone heads to the ramparts of the fort, which overlook the sea and provide a great spot to watch the sun go down.

Aside from the fort there are churches and temples that are worth visiting, as well as the impressive lighthouse.

The bars and restaurants are lively at night – especially at the Old Dutch Hospital.

There are lots of beaches nearby with beach resorts, or there are plenty of hotels in the centre of the old town. Galle is one of the most popular destinations on a Sri Lanka holiday for its mixture of culture and beach.

Hill Country

The Hill Country occupies the south-central part of Sri Lanka and has been very important over the years both as the seat of power and for growing Sri Lanka’s primary export – tea. The area is now popular with visitors for its history and trekking opporunities, and has a range of destinations from the cultural capital – Kandy – to the colonial town of Nuwara Eliya.

Kandy

Kandy was the capital of Sri Lanka until the early 19th Century when the whole island became a British colony. Its location in the mountains explains why it took so much longer to be reached by colonial powers than the coastal cities. Today, Kandy is still the cultural capital.

The main attraction is the Sacred City, and at its heart is The Temple of the Tooth. The temple is around 300 years old and is made from wood with an impressive golden roof. The Sacred City, which includes other temples and a Royal Palace, sits next to a large lake that has a path all the way round.

The city centre has lots of shops and is a good place to buy jewellery as it is better value than other big cities. There are also some colonial buildings in the centre, some of which have been converted into bars and restaurants.

If you are interested in understanding the history and culture of the island, then visiting Kandy is a must for any Sri Lanka holiday.

Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is a small Colonial Hill Station around 2 hours’ drive from Kandy. The town is surrounded by quiet tea plantations and was used by the British as an escape from the heat.

Built in the 19th Century, Nuwara Eliya has been nicknamed ‘Little England’ due to its architecture and surrounding golf clubs.

Outside of the town there is great trekking through tea plantations and past waterfalls. Horton Plains and World’s End are accessible from the town, which make it popular with visitors interested in seeing some of Sri Lanka’s most dramatic scenery.

Ella

Ella is a small hill town towards the west of the hill country. There are great views from the town through Ella Gap, which is a break in the mountains that allows you to see down to the flat land heading towards the coast.

The town itself appears to mainly cater to tourists and has a backpacker feel – there are lots of bars and restaurants with live music. The main attraction is the trekking outside of the town – with lots of waterfalls and tea plantations.

Cultural Triangle

The cultural triangle in north-central Sri Lanka is the ancient heart of the country. The area was the location of several kingdoms stretching back 2,500 years and today has lots of amazing archaeological sites that rival Angkor Wat and Bagan. If you are interested in the history of Sri Lanka, and particularly the ancient history, then a few days spent in the cultural triangle on your Sri Lanka holiday will be very rewarding.

Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th Century BC. Today, there are many archaeological sites spread around the area, including both on the open plains and hidden amongst the forest. In addition to the temples and palaces there are large man-made water tanks, which are very impressive considering their age.

The most important site at Anuradhapura is the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (Sacred Bodhi Tree), which is believed to have grown from a cutting of the Bodhi tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment. The site is still used for pilgrimage – in contrast to any of the sites at Polonnaruwa – and seeing thousands of pilgrims wearing white heading to the shrine is part of the experience.

In the forest a couple of kilometres away is the huge Abhayagiri Vihara monastery. The Stupa at the centre is over 100m high and is surrounded by many other ancient buildings and ruins.

Cycling around Anuradhapura is a great way to see it, or you can hire a tuk-tuk for the day. If you just want to see a few sites around the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi then you can walk between those easily.

Sigiriya and Dambulla

Sigiriya Rock is Sri Lanka’s most famous site and a must-see on any holiday to Sri Lanka. On top of the 200m sheer-faced rock is a 1500-year-old Palace Complex – with several (now ruined) buildings and pools. The view from the top is amazing, but the most incredible part is how the palace was built – something we still don’t know the answer to. The builders somehow managed to carry enough materials to build a palace complex up a sheer cliff face.

Today the climb is easier as they have installed steps. It takes from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how busy it is and your fitness, but there are plenty of places to rest, and plenty of monkeys to take your mind off the climb.

The ancient gardens at the foot of the rock are beautifully landscaped and are worth walking around either before or after climbing the rock.

Near to Sigiriya is the town of Dambulla. Dambulla is famous for its ancient cave system, which has been lived in and used as a shrine since at least the 1st Century BC. There are 80 caves in total, of which 5 are filled with statues of Buddha (and a few kings). There is a huge 50m reclining Buddha in one of the caves.

Polonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa took over from Anuradhapura as the capital of Sri Lanka. The archaeological site is more compact than Anuradhapura and the palaces and stupas are better preserved, however, unlike Anuradhapura, it is not a pilgrimage destination.

The Sacred Quadrangle contains many ruins packed into a small area and is the highlight of most people’s trip to Polonnaruwa.

As with Anuradhapura, the best way to see the sites is by bike, cycling between the main sites as well as exploring the surrounding jungle and stumbling upon hidden stupas.

North Sri Lanka

Until recently northern Sri Lanka has been out of bounds to tourists due to the civil war. Visitors can now access the east coast (including Trincomalee and Batticaloa) as well as the north of the island, although the infrastructure is not as good as it is in the south.

Jaffna

Jaffna is the main city in the north, and sits right at the top of the island. Jaffna is not a common part of most visitor’s holiday itineraries but this is likely to change as infrastructure improves.

The city itself has some interesting sites – including Hindu temples and a colonial fort. But the main reason that people visit is to see a different side to the island – Jaffna is predominantly Hindu (compared to the Buddhist south).

Sri Lanka Safari and National Parks

Although a small island, Sri Lanka has some of the best national parks in Asia and Sri Lanka safari holidays can be a great way to see stunning scenery and rare wildlife. The country has 22 national parks, with a history of wildlife reserves that stretches back 2300 years. There is lots of wildlife to be seen in Sri Lanka – elephants, leopards and sloth bears are particular highlights.

Yala National Park Safari

Yala is the most popular national park for a safari whilst on holiday in Sri Lanka. This is partly due to its convenient location on the south coast, and partly because it is the best place to spot leopards. Yala has one of the highest densities of leopards in the world. However, they are shy so it can be hard to spot them – the best time is at dawn or dusk.

In addition to leopards, there are lots of elephants at Yala. Sloth bears, buffalo, crocodiles and monkeys all live in the park, as do many species of bird.

Udawalawe National Park Safari

Udawalawe is just south of the hill country, making it a convenient location if you heading from Galle to the hill country (or vice versa). The park is the best in Sri Lanka for elephants, and is also very good for birds. It can be hard to spot much other wildlife (apart from the ever-present monkeys) but visitors sometimes see leopards, crocodiles and sloth bears.

Horton Plains

Horton Plains is a plateau at the south of the hill country best known for the view from World’s End – a stunning 800m drop off to the villages and tea plantations below. You will need to walk several kilometres to World’s End as they don’t allow vehicles in the national park, and to have the best chance of seeing the views you will need to get there early in the morning before the mist descends.

Wilpattu National Park Safari

Wilpattu is the best park in Sri Lanka to see slowth bears. The park is also home to barking deer and visitors can occasionally see leopards.

The park is near to Anuradhapura and can be done as a day trip if you are spending time at the archaeological site.

Minneriya National Park Safari

Minneriya is most notable for the large congregation of elephants the arrive at the reservoir in the park between August and October. Outside of these months your chances of spotting elephants is lower, but the park can still be worth a visit for its diverse scenery.

Minneriya is close to Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya and can be done as a day trip from either.

Gal Oya Safari

Gal Oya is a less visited national park towards the east coast. The park has a large reservoir that is great for spotting elephants, crocodiles and birds and there are occasional leopard spottings as well. You can do the safari in a jeep or on a boat.

Possible Itineraries

Sri Lanka is a small country with lots to see and do so there are lots of options depending on how much time you have and what you are interested in.

Sri Lanka Beach and Safari Holiday

If you want a beach holiday with something a bit different then staying at a resort on the south coast between Galle and Tangalle is a great option as it means you can easily visit Yala National Park for a day safari. If you stay closer to Galle then you can easily explore the well preserved old town as well.

South Sri Lanka and the Hill Country

If you want a bit of everything – culture, trekking, safari and beaches – in a relatively short amount of time on your Sri Lanka holiday then this could be a good option. Start in Colombo or Negombo (due to their proximity to the airport) and head up to the cultural capital of Kandy for a couple of days. From Kandy head to Ella or Nuwara Eliya for trekking through tea plantations. From there you can either head south to the coast between Galle and Tangalle (with the option of a safari at Uda Walawe or Yala), or head east to the surfers’ paradise of Arugam Bay.

The Best of Sri Lanka

If you have a few weeks then you can take in most of the sites. Starting from Negombo (with a couple of days on the beach to ease you in) head to the cultural triangle to see Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. From here continue to head north to the Tamil city of Jaffna right at the north of the island. Making your way back down the east coast, you can stop at Trincomalee for some of the best beaches on the island, before heading to Gal Oya for a safari. From Gal Oya head into the hill country, first stopping at the cultural capital of Kandy, before trekking in Nuwara Eliya. From Nuwara Eliya head down to the south-west coast to finish your holiday in a luxury beach resort.

Where to Stay in Sri Lanka

There are luxury resorts in Sri Lanka, but the country is growing in popularity as a holiday destination, and the infrastructure is trying to catch up. There is more demand for 4 and 5-star hotels than there is capacity at the moment, so booking a few months in advance is really important.

The luxury accommodation comes in a mixture of luxury beach resorts, safari lodges and hill or tea plantation retreats.

When to Go to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a good destination any time of year, but the best places to go vary – especially if you are planning a beach holiday.

The south and south-west are best between December and April. Outside of these months the sea is rougher and the weather is less predictable. From May to November the east coast has good weather, so if you are there in those months and want some beach time Trincomalee or Batticaloa are the best options.

Getting Around Sri Lanka

Hiring a car with a driver is the best way to travel around and relatively cheap. Hiring a car is possible but the driving can be chaotic so is not advised if you are not used to it. Buses and trains are very cheap but are not always reliable, and are usually extremely busy. That said, a short train journey through the hill country is a great experience.

Getting to Sri Lanka

There are direct flights to Sri Lanka from London with Sri Lankan Airways, or plenty of other options that involve a brief stopover.

Visas and Vaccinations

A visa is required for UK Passport holders to visit Sri Lanka for a holiday. Whilst visas are available on arrival, it is better to get them online before you depart to avoid any unnecessary delays. More information can be found here: Sri Lanka Visas Information.Sri Lanka is considered a low-risk area for Malaria. No vaccines are required, but there are several you may want to consider – you can find out more here: Sri Lanka Travel Health Information.

Spain and the Canaries Holidays

Spain is a great holiday destination if you are looking for beaches, iconic cities, great food, and world-famous nightlife. Whether you are just looking to sunbathe for a few days, or travel around the country Spain is an extremely easy destination for a holiday.

Beach Holidays in Spain

Mainland Beach Holidays

Spain boasts a large range of options when it comes to mainland beach holidays. From the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca, to a combined beach and cultural holiday in Barcelona. The right choice for you depends on whether you want to be close to (or in) a city, whether you are looking for activities (e.g. golf), or whether you simply want a peaceful holiday lying on the beach.

Costa Del Sol Beach Holidays

The Costa Del Sol is on Spain’s southern coast around the city of Malaga. The area has a huge range resorts to suit all tastes and budgets, and over a hundred and fifty kilometres of beach. There are lots of watersport options, as well as the opportunity to go cycling or walking in the hills behind the coast.

Marbella, Puerto Banus and Benalmadena (and many other towns) have lots of bars, restaurants, shops and marinas.

Costa Blanca Beach Holidays

The Costa Blanca is on the Eastern coast of Spain, around the city of Alicante. The area also includes Calpe, Benidorm and Javea. The area has a mixture of quieter more authentic towns, and nightlife hotspots.

The area inland is great for hiking, cycling and there are many golf courses as well.

Costa Brava & Barcelona Beach Holidays

The Costa Brava is on Spain’s North Eastern coastline, above Barcelona. Compared to the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol, the Costa Brava is less busy and less built up, with less of a focus on nightlife. So if you are looking for a quieter holiday, then the Costa Brava may suit you better than the Costa del Sol or Costa Blanca.

Barcelona, at the southern point of the Costa Brava, offers a unique beach holiday experience. A stunning beach combined with one of the most interesting cities in Europe is hard to beat for an all-round holiday experience.

Canary Islands Beach Holidays

The Canary Islands are a group of volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the western coast of Africa. The islands are ringed by sandy beaches and have volcanoes at the centre to create a dramatic scene – particularly when you approach by plane.

The Canaries are particularly good for watersports and are regarded as one of the top global spots for windsurfing.

There are 7 main islands that make up The Canaries, with a handful of smaller islands as well. They are located much further south than mainland Spain and so the weather tends to be warmer, making it a viable beach destination for most of the year.

Tenerife Beach Holidays

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands. The south of the Island is the most popular – resorts include Playas De Las Americas, Costa Adeje, and Puerto de la Cruz. If you are less concerned by nightlife there are some beautiful spots elsewhere on the Island that are quieter. The Islands’ capital – Santa Cruz – offer great exploration options, whilst the Volcano – Mount Teide – offers great hiking and cycling opportunities.

Gran Canaria Beach Holidays

Gran Canaria has a fierce rivalry with Tenerife. Locals from both islands claim to have the best beaches, scenery and culture. In reality, it is difficult to decide who is right. Gran Canaria has fantastic beaches and a mixture of busy resorts and smaller towns and villages.

Other Canary Islands

The other Canary Islands are generally quieter and less built up. Lanzarote is popular with runners, cyclist and swimmers, and there are a number of resorts that cater to activity based holidays. Fuerteventura is seen as the best island for windsurfing, whilst others islands (La Palma, La Gomera etc.) are relatively quiet and lack the tourist resorts seen elsewhere in the Canaries.

Balearic Islands Beach Holidays

There are four main Balearic Islands – Majorca, Ibiza, Menorca and Formentera – and a large number of smaller ones.

The islands are in the Mediterranean Sea off the east coast of Spain and experience similar weather to the mainland.

Majorca Beach Holidays

Majorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands and famous for its beaches and the charm of its capital – Palma. The island has something for everyone: from great restaurants and bars to road cycling and watersports.

Ibiza Beach Holidays

Whilst Ibiza is world famous for its nightlife, there is much more to it than drinking and dancing. Away from the major cities of San Antonio and Ibiza Town, there are quieter places where you can find secluded beaches and authentic restaurants.

Menorca and Formentera Beach Holidays

Formentera and Menorca are quieter than their neighbours, but still extremely beautiful. The islands are viewed as the more family-friendly destinations in the Balearics. These two islands are great for watersports, snorkelling and diving.

Cities and Cultural Sites

Spain boasts a huge number of great cities and cultural sites, from the iconic cities of Barcelona and Seville, to lower key gems such as Bilbao and San Sebastian. There are also more rural options, including the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route, or cycling holidays in the Pyrenees.

Barcelona

Barcelona has it all – great restaurants and bars, beautiful Gothic streets and buildings, world-class art galleries, and a stunning beach. A few days or more in Barcelona will be packed full of activity: visit Gaudi’s awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia, eat in one of the many amazing tapas bars (and enjoy the excellent Spanish wine), and spend some time sitting on the beach or in one of the many beach bars.

Seville

Seville is a beautiful and historic Spanish city famous for its old town architecture, tapas and oranges. Whilst there is a lot to do in the city, the real attraction comes from wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere of this amazing city. Take a stroll through the stunning Plaza de Espana, stop off for lunch or drinks in any of the numerous bars restaurants and cafes, and try to catch one of Seville’s famous festivals held throughout spring.

Madrid

Spain’s capital is a vibrant city and is more modern and cosmopolitan than Barcelona. There is plenty to occupy you for a few days, including numerous museums and art galleries, and a good nightlife scene.

San Sebastian

San Sebastian is the capital of the Basque region of Spain, in the North West of the country. The city is famous for food – its restaurants boasts more Michelin Stars per capita than any other city in the world. The city has a wonderful old town closed to traffic. A few days spent in the bars, restaurants and food markets is extremely enjoyable.

Possible Spain Travel Itineraries

Spain has so much to do that covering the whole country in a single trip is very difficult. Unless you have a lot of time we would recommend focusing on a particular region. Travelling around the North West (or following the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route) is a popular way to see parts of Spain that are less touristy. Covering Madrid, Barcelona and some of the southern cities (e.g. Seville, Granada) is another potential itinerary that can be done in around 10 days. Whatever it is you are looking for, and however much time you have we can help you build an itinerary perfect for you.

Where to Stay in Spain

Spain has a great selection of hotels to suit all budgets, as well as some great options outside of cities (mountain lodges, farms etc.). Demand for beach resorts are at their highest in July and August, so booking ahead should mean lower prices and no disappointment. Some cities are quieter in July and August (e.g. Seville) due to the heat, so cheaper hotel rooms are possible.

Best Time to Go to Spain

If you are in search of sunshine and beaches then May to September is the best time to go to Spain. As a general rule, the Canaries (Tenerife, Lanzarote) are the hottest, followed by the Balearics (Ibiza, Fuerteventura, Menorca) and the mainland tends to be coolest. If you are in search of winter sun then the Canaries are an option, with average temperatures around 17-20 degrees Celsius from November to April.

If you are more interested in visiting cities or the interior then any time of year can work, however, you may want to avoid July and August if going to Barcelona or Seville as it becomes very hot and humid. Winter months can be cold on the mainland, but still significantly warmer than the UK.

Getting Around Spain

Spain is easy to travel around. Large towns and cities are well connected by train lines, and for the towns that don’t have a station intercity buses are nearly always an option. Hiring a car is very easy in Spain, and for longer trips could be the best option if you want to explore outside of major towns.

Getting to Spain

A large number of flights go daily from a range of UK airports to all of the key destinations in Spain. Flight times vary from 2 to 4.5 hours depending on final location.

Russia Holidays

Russia is a fascinating country. Ruled by one of Europe’s leading monarchies for hundreds of years until 1917 when the Russian Revolution to led Lenin seizing power on behalf of the Bolsheviks. After a period of civil war, the USSR was formed and lasted until 1990. This mixture of history – from the indulgence of the royal family to the totalitarianism of Stalin – has left a country that is full of contradictions, but one that has lots of stories to tell through its museums and architecture.

Cities and Cultural Sites in Russia

Russia’s most visited cities are in European Russia to the east of the country. These cities have a mixture of grand royal palaces, orthodox churches, museums and art galleries, and less grand remnants of communist rule. Fortunately, the city centres are relatively well preserved and full of shops, bars and restaurants.

Moscow

Moscow is a large city with a population of over 13 million people, however, the majority of the main sites are within walking distance of each other in the centre, whilst the outskirts have the brutalist architecture of the Soviet period.

The city is centred on Red Square – the location of military parades and Lenin’s Mausoleum. The city’s most important buildings are located around the square including the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral. One side is lined by GUM Department Store, which has a number of cafes and restaurants on the ground floor where you can sit outside in the square.

The Kremlin is a large 15th Century fortress that is the current home of the President of Russia. Within its high walls there are palaces, churches, an armoury, squares and gardens that can all be explored. At midday in summer there is the Mounting Parade of the Kremlin’s Guard, which is a must see.

St Basil’s Cathedral was built in 16th century by Ivan the Terrible. The Cathedral is famous for its colourful design and bulb-like domes on the top of each of its 9 towers. These towers each contain a chapel and are connected on the inside by maze-like passages. It is now a museum but occasionally religious ceremonies are still held there.

Just outside of Red Square is the beautiful building of the Bolshoi Theatre. The theatre is still the home to the Russian Ballet and Opera, and there are frequent performances.

Despite most of the sites being very close to each other, many tourists still use the Moscow Metro due to its unique design. The grand stations have beautifully ornate carvings, statues, and mosaics, as well as large paintings of famous battles. The metro – which carries millions of people a day – feels much more like a museum than a transport system.

Moscow has a lot of bars and restaurants – there are a number around the Red Square, and the area just to the south of the river from the Red Square has a large selection of restaurants as well as lively bars.

St Petersburg

The construction of St Petersburg was started by Peter the Great who wanted a capital to rival the other great cities of Europe, something he definitely achieved. St Petersburg has wide streets, a canal network to rival Venice’s, and grand buildings of pastel greens and blues decorated with white and gold.

St Petersburg was the imperial capital of Russia until the Revolution and this imperial legacy is evident in the palaces located around the city. The most famous is the Winter Palace – where the main event of the 1917 revolution took place. The Palace is now home to the State Hermitage Museum, which contains over 1000 rooms and millions of pieces of art – including paintings by Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. The collection was started by Catherine the Great and increased when the Bolsheviks confiscated artwork from rich Russians.

Peter and Paul Fortress is the original site of St Petersburg and sits just across the Neva River from the Winter Palace. The fort initially served as a garrison but quickly became a prison and held many famous prisoners including Trotsky, Tito, Dostoevsky, and Bakunin. Today the fort is primarily a history museum and is beautifully located on an island in the river. On the east end of the small island there is an open space with a few bars and restaurants, that provide great views over the river to the main part of the city.

Another palace worth visiting in St Petersburg is Yusopov Palace. It is extravagantly decorated but its main claim to fame is as the site of Rasputin’s supposedly long and drawn out assassination in 1916.

The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is a large church with a colourful design and façade similar to that of St Basil’s in Moscow. The unusual names comes from a shrine within the church that marks the spot of an assassination attempt on Emperor Alexander II. St Isaac’s Cathedral is another church in the city and provides great views over the city from the top.

The best way to see the city and its main sites is by the canal network. There are frequent boats that take you on a tour around the city.

At night there is a lot to do in St Peterburg. The city has lots of good quality restaurants, and lively bars often with live music – jazz is particularly popular. There is also the Mariinsky Theatre that can seat 2000 people and hosts the famous Mariinsky Ballet as well as operas.

25km south of St Petersburg is Pushkin Village – the site of the summer residences of the Russian Royal Family. The Catherine Palace and the Alexander Palace are the main sites in the area and have changed little since they were built in the 18th Century.

To the west of the city is the palace of Peterhof. The Palace was constructed for Peter the Great and is surrounded by gardens reminiscent of those at the Palace of Versailles. In summer you can reach the Peterhof Palace by hydrofoil from St Petersburg.

The Golden Ring and Suzdal

North East of Moscow is the Golden Ring – a group of several medieval towns filled with churches, monasteries and forts. The churches have onion-shaped domes similar to St Basil’s. If you only have time to visit one of the towns then we suggest visiting Suzdal. The riverside town was built in 1066 and was once the capital of Russia. The medieval churches and monasteries are very well preserved.

Suzdal and the Golden Ring can be visited as a day trip from Moscow, but to see the area properly it’s worth staying overnight.

Possible Itineraries

To see the best of European Russia, we suggest flying to Moscow and staying there for a couple of nights, before heading to the Golden Ring and spending a night in Suzdal. After heading back to Moscow, catch the high-speed Sapsan train to St Petersburg and spend a few nights there before catching an onward flight from St Petersburg airport.

Where to Stay in Russia

Moscow and St Petersburg have a good selection of upmarket and luxury hotels. Outside of these cities there is much less choice.

When to Go to Russia

You can visit Russia any time of year, however from October to April it gets very cold. From May to September the days are longer and the weather warmer, with July and August the warmest months. Although visiting in winter is very cold, seeing the cities in the snow is a great experience.

Getting Around Russia

The best way to get from Moscow to St Petersburg is by train. Getting to the Golden Ring and Suzdal is best done by private tour or a car and driver.

Getting to Russia

There are frequent flights from the UK to both Moscow and St Petersburg.

Portugal Holidays

Portugal is one of the most popular places in Europe for a beach holiday – it’s easy to get to and has over 300 days of sunshine a year. However, a holiday in Portugal does not just have to be lying on a beach in popular seaside resorts. There are quieter beach areas and historic cities, as well as the Atlantic Islands of Madeira and The Azores.

Portugal Beach Holidays

The Algarve on Portugal’s south coast is the main beach holiday destination in Portugal. However there a few other sites, including the coast near Lisbon and a small island north of Madeira.

The Algarve Beach Holidays

The Algarve is Portugal’s most popular destination. Most of its beaches are safe for swimming and many of them are Blue Flag certified. There are lots of golf courses along the Algarve, as well as other sports including tennis and water sports. Behind the beaches there is a mountain range that is great for walking and cycling, and has beautiful old towns.

There are several resorts along the coast. Quinto do Lago is towards the eastern part of the Algarve and has some of the best golf courses in the area.

To the west of Quinto do Lago is the resort of Vilamoura. The centre point of Vilamoura is a marina with lots of bars and restaurants, as well as some nightclubs. There are beaches either side of the marina.

Next to Vilamoura is the lively resort of Albufeira, which has long beaches lined with bars and restaurants, and good nightlife.

To the west of the city of Lagos, the Algarve is much less developed and the beaches are quieter. At the western point of the coast is the resort of Sagres, which has the best surfing and windsurfing in the Algarve.

Lisbon Coast

The Lisbon Coast, also known as the Cascais-Estoril Coast, is on Portugal’s west coast. The coast consists of ten beaches broken up by several towns.

The coast doesn’t have the sort of beach resorts that you get on the Algarve but it does have some boutique hotels with pools that are not far from the beaches. The closest beaches are only half an hour from Lisbon.

Of the ten beaches Praia da Rainha is the best for sunbathing, whilst Carcavelos is closest to Lisbon and has lots of bars and restaurants but gets busy. Guincho has some of the best surfing conditions, and as it gets less busy than the others is probably the best one if you are looking to surf.

Porto Santo

The small island of Porto Santo sits in the Atlantic Ocean to the north of Madeira. The island has 10km of sandy beaches (its total area is only 42 square kilometres) and is a great place for a beach holiday if you have been visiting Madeira (which has pebble beaches).

There are a few hotels on the island, and although it has not developed as a luxury destination some of these make a great place for a secluded beach holiday.

Cities and Cultural Sites

Portugal has much more to offer than just beaches. Lisbon and Porto on the mainland are great historic cities, whilst the islands of Madeira and The Azores offer dramatic scenery.

Mainland Portugal

Lisbon

Lisbon is a historical city that has several distinct areas, each with their own character. Comércio Square is a large café lined area overlooking the Tagus River. Behind the square is a network of straight streets with many churches and museums. This area was rebuilt in the 18th Century following a large earthquake and is in contrast to the Alfama neighbourhood next to it, which has lots of older, narrow alleys linking buildings exhibiting Moorish architecture.

Lisbon has lots of great bars and restaurants, and is very lively at night.

Porto and the Douro Valley

Porto is an old city on the coast in the north of Portugal. The river Douro flows through the city and the valley it has created is famous for producing port. The city’s walls date to the 14th Century, and the old town is full narrow alleys climbing steeply up the hill from the river.

From Porto you can explore the Douro Valley – travelling amongst rolling hills and through vineyard and olive groves. There are lots of wine tasting opportunities – the region produces port, red and white wine. One of the best ways to see the area is by boat.

Madeira

Madeira is a group of four Atlantic Islands and is closer to Africa than to Europe. The islands are popular for hiking and spa holidays. The interior of the main island (Madeira) contains a network of canals used for irrigation that are very popular walking routes. The islands do have beaches, but most of these are pebble beaches as opposed to sand. Porto Santo, an island a few miles to the north has sandy beaches – see the beach holidays section for more detail.

Funchal

Funchal is the capital of Madeira. The old part of Funchal has cobbled streets and historic colonial buildings, whilst the more modern part of town is centred around the marina.

From Funchal you can take a cable car up to Monte, which has great views over the city and the Atlantic.

Canico

Canico is a village to the east of Funchal that is set on rocks overlooking the sea. The area is popular for hiking and golf, and there are good dive sites near the village.

The Azores

The Azores are a group of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic a two-hour flight from Lisbon.

Sao Miguel is the largest island and has the main airport so is most visitors’ first stop. The interior of the island is great for walking, with lots of lakes and waterfalls. The island has several golf courses.

Other islands are quieter and are also great for trekking through their volcanic interiors. From most of the islands you can go on boat trips to spots whales and dolphins.

Although not known as a beach holiday destination, there are plenty of beaches in The Azores. Santa Maria is the most easterly island and has a number of undisturbed beaches. However, there are no real luxury beach resorts.

Possible Itineraries

Mainland Portugal

If you are looking for more than just a beach holiday or a city break then start off in Porto with a few days exploring the city and tasting port in the nearby Douro Valley. From Porto you can head south to Lisbon before finishing off your holiday with some time on the beach on the Algarve.

Madeira

If you want to explore Madeira but also want some time on the beach then you can spend a few days in Funchal, including treks around the island, before flying or taking the ferry to Porto Santo for its sandy beaches.

Where to Stay

Portugal has a range of accommodation from luxury beach resorts on the Algarve to Boutique hotels in Lisbon.

When to Go

Portugal is best from May to October when the weather is warm. The hottest months are July and August.

Getting Around

Hiring a car is the easiest way to get around if you are travelling longer distances, otherwise you can hire taxis.

If you want to travel between islands on the Azores there are frequent ferries.

Getting There

There are frequent direct flights to Lisbon, Faro (for The Algarve), Porto and Funchal from the 

UK. There is one direct flight to the Azores each week, otherwise you can change in Lisbon.

Montenegro Holidays

Montenegro is a small country (about the size of Northern Ireland) on the Adriatic Sea, bordering Bosnia, Albania, Croatia and Serbia. For a small country, Montenegro packs a lot in – it has a dramatic coastline, stunning lakes and beautiful mountains, as well as historic towns and cities.

Beach Holidays in Montenegro

The Montenegrin coast is a mixture of small beaches and coves broken up by rocks and cliffs. Along the coast there are several medieval and renaissance fortress towns, many of which form the basis for the resorts. The coastline is a continuation of Croatia’s but has fewer tourists.

Budva Beach Holidays

Budva is the most popular beach resort in Montenegro and is centred around a peninsula on which the old town sits. There are lots of beaches in the area, with a range of accommodation. The area has lively nightlife, with lots of bars and nightclubs – the centre of the resort is not the best place for a family holiday.

The fortified old town dates from the 15th century and has narrow alleys linking squares and parts of the fort.

A mile or so down the coast is the resort of Becici, which has one of the best beaches in the area and an old fishing village at the south end of the beach.

A few kilometres outside of the main resorts are the luxury resorts of Sveti Stefan and Miločer that are based around quieter beaches.

Petrovac Beach Holidays

Petrovac is further south than Budva and has been a holiday destination since Romans started building their villas here. Today the beach is guarded by a 16th Century Venetian fort.

Petrovac is much more family-friendly than Budva and has a horseshoe-shaped beach, with a promenade lined with bars and restaurants.

There are some bars and nightclubs in the town, or Budva is a 20-minute taxi journey away if you want something livelier.

Ulcinj

Ulcinj is towards the south of the coastline close to the Albanian border. Unlike the rest of Montenegro, the beaches here are long and sandy, making this a great destination for a beach holiday.

The town itself is a mixture of various architectural influences – Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and even Oriental. The fort, Venetian Palace and mosques provide plenty of cultural diversions, whilst great bars and restaurants will keep you occupied at night.

Cities and Cultural Sites in Montenegro

Montenegro’s beach resorts are only part of its draw for tourists. There are also historic towns and cities, archaeological sites, natural parks and lakes that make Montenegro a great all-round destination.

Kotor

Kotor is a medieval fortified town located in the dramatic, mountain-ringed Bay of Kotor. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the narrow streets were designed in a maze-like way to confuse attackers. The attackers have now been replaced by lost tourists, but there are worse ways to spend a day than aimlessly wandering the streets.

The town has plenty of bars and restaurants and lots of live music at night.

A 20-minute drive from Kotor is the town of Perast. Perast is smaller and quieter than Kotor and has some great restaurants. The main appeal of the town is the Our Lady of the Rocks – a church built on an artificial island in the Bay of Kotor close to the town. Taxi boats will take you out to the church and the museum built alongside it.

Lake Skadar

Lake Skadar is the largest lake in the Balkans and is at the heart of the national park named after it. The lake is surrounded by mountains and is home to hundreds of bird species, making it a popular location for walking.

On islands in the middle of the lake there are several medieval monasteries. A popular way to reach these, and explore the lake, is by kayak.

Ostrog Monastery

Ostrog Monastery is a series of monasteries and churches in the Zeta valley, culminating in the amazing Upper Monastery that is built into caves 900m above the valley floor. The monastery appears as though it is part of the sheer rock face.

The Upper Monastery was built in 1665 and is the holiest site in Montenegro. Pilgrims walk up the steep road to the top, but there is a car park closer to the Upper Monastery if you prefer to drive.

The Monastery is in central Montenegro, an hour’s drive from Podgorica or 2 hours from Kotor.

Stari Bar

Stari Bar or ‘Old Bar’ is an ancient town located about an hours’ walk from the modern port of Bar. Stari Bar has been fought over many times and has been taken over by Venetians and the Ottoman Empire. Today the town is in ruins and is often referred to as Montenegro’s Pompeii. You can wander around the old town along the cobbled streets and enjoy the views of the new town and the bay below.

Podgorica

Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro – although it is still relatively small at 200 thousand people. Compared to other towns and cities in Montenegro, Podgorica is less attractive and its history is less obvious.

The city has a long history, including times when it has been occupied by Romans, Austro-Hungarians and the Ottoman Empire. However, due to extensive damage from WWII the city is now a mix of new and old buildings.

Some people choose to spend a few days in Podgorica looking at the art galleries and what is left of the old town, but it is often used only as a stopover on the way to Lake Skadar or the Ostrog Monastery.

Durmitor National Park

Durmitor National Park is in the north of Montenegro. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has fifty peaks over 2000m high with lots of lakes in between. The most stunning scenery is provided by its canyons. The park has plenty of wildlife from golden eagles and peregrine falcons to bears, wolves and wild cats.

In summer the area is popular for hiking and rafting, whilst in winter it is a ski resort.

Cetinje

Cetinje was the capital of Montenegro until 1946 and was home to the royal family. It is now a relatively small town of around 12 thousand people. Cetinje is a mixture of small-town architecture interspersed with old palaces and mansions, and has been through an identity crisis of whether it wants to be an old royal capital or modern industrial town.

Possible Itineraries

Montenegro is a small country and most key sites are within a few hours’ drive of each other. Therefore, if you are mainly planning a beach holiday it is possible to see most of the sites whilst staying in one place.

If you want to explore in a bit more detail a possible itinerary starts off in Kotor (due to its proximity to Tivat and Dubrovnik airports), before heading down to Budva for some time on the beach. From Budva you can carry on down the coast to Stari Bar, and then spend some time at Lake Skadar. After Lake Skadar you can head to the Ostrog Monastery, and up to Durmitor National Park if you have time.

Where to Stay in Montenegro

Montenegro has a range of accommodation options. There are a few luxury resorts although these tend to be outside of the main towns. In the main towns there is a mixture of 3 and 4-star hotels.

When to Go to Montenegro

The best time to go to Montenegro is from May to September when the weather is warmest.

Getting Around Montenegro

The best way to get around is to hire a car, although the driving can be chaotic. Otherwise, the country has good intercity bus and rail networks.

Getting to Montenegro

There are two international airports in Montenegro – Tivat and Podgorica, whilst Dubrovnik just over the border in Croatia acts as a third. There a few direct flights a week to Tivat and Podgorica, with many more going to Dubrovnik.