Mexico Holidays

Mexico has everything for the perfect holiday – beautiful Caribbean beaches, lively cities, well-preserved colonial towns and amazing Mayan ruins.

Beach Holidays in Mexico

Mexico has fantastic beaches along its east coast. From the party resort of Cancun to the seclusion of Isla Holbox there are lots of options for luxury beach holidays in Mexico.

Cancun

Cancun is a city on Mexico’s Caribbean coast at the end of the Yucatan Peninsula. The area is home to over 20km of beautiful beaches and is a very popular beach resorts with a large range of all-inclusive resorts.

There are two main areas – the hotel strip along the beach and the town of Cancun itself. Among the hotels, you will find lively bars and restaurants catering to tourists, whilst the town still has some more traditional restaurants and salsa bars.

The area is good for diving and there are lots of dive shops. It also a good place to explore the rest of Yucatan from, including Mayan architectural sites, lagoons home to crocodiles, and flamingo sanctuaries.

Mayan Riviera

The Mayan Riviera is south of Cancun and stretches down the coastline for around 75 miles. The main resorts on the Riviera are Playa del Carmen and Tulum, with quieter areas and villages in between. The stretch of coast is great for a beach holiday if you want somewhere less developed than Cancun, with lots of luxury hotels available.

Playa del Carmen is towards the northern end of the Mayan Riviera. It is the second biggest beach resort in Mexico after Cancun and has lots of bars, restaurants and clubs.

Tulum is towards the southern end of the Riviera. The town is famous for its Mayan ruins as well as its beaches and offers more culture than you get in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The area is also less developed than those two resorts – the beach is much quieter but the accommodation is not as luxurious, although it has more rustic charm.

Outside of the two main resorts there are still many all-inclusive resorts lined along the beach, interspersed with some towns and villages. There are some quieter areas on the Riviera that have fewer hotels if you are looking for a more secluded holiday.

Isla Holbox

Isla Holbox is an island a couple of hours drive north of Cancun. Compared to Cancun and The Mayan Riviera the island receives very few visitors and is a much quieter and more secluded place for a beach holiday. There are no high rise hotels, instead, the island has more traditional colourful buildings, and the most popular mode of transport is golf buggies.

The island is home to lots of wildlife including flamingos, turtles, crocodiles and whale sharks. Kayak trips are a popular way to explore the islands, its lagoon and see the wildlife.

Places to Go in Mexico

Mexico isn’t just about beaches. The country has a long and fascinating history from the Mayan civilisation to Spanish colonial rule. Mexican food is world famous and the towns and cities have great restaurants, as well as lively bars.

Mexico City

Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and the largest city in North America, with a population of 26 million people. Its size can make it appear quite daunting to visitors so it is best to think of it in terms of districts. The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains and volcanoes and is 2200m above sea level.

Centro Historico, more commonly known as just Centro, is the oldest part of the city and the district with the most tourist attractions. At the centre of the district is the Plaza de la Constitucion – one of the largest squares in the world. The 14th Century Aztec Templo Mayor is one of the major sites. The Alameda Cathedral is a large, impressive cathedral at the edge of the district. Elsewhere there are lots of old colonial buildings that you will come across as you wander around.

Zona Rosa, also known as Reforma, is known for the Paseo de la Reforma – a long and grand avenue and park – and the nearby Angel de la Independencia, a monument that celebrates Mexico achieving independence in 1810.

Condesa and Roma are districts that have recently been rejuvenated and are now home to some of the best bars, restaurants and shops in the city.

The city has lots of nightlife spread across many different areas. There are modern bars and clubs in Santa Fe and Reforma, whilst many of the clubs in Centro and Roma are in old dance halls.

Merida

The colonial city of Merida is almost 500 years old and was built on the site of Mayan ruins. Today, the city is the capital of Yucatan State. The town centre is an attractive place with well-preserved colonial streets and buildings, including a cathedral, and tree-lined square. The city has a relaxed feel, with frequent free concerts and shows.

The city is a great place to explore the surrounding Yucatan sites including Chichen Itza and several flamingo sanctuaries.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is an archaeological site that is the best place in Mexico to see Mayan ruins and has recently become one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The site is less than 100miles from Cancun so can be done as a day trip if you are just on a beach holiday, or is less than two hours from Merida.

The structures at Chichen Itza are well preserved considering many of them are over a thousand years old. The most famous landmark is The Pyramid of Kukulcan, which was a temple dedicated to the Feathered Serpent God. The pyramid is designed so that the spring equinox causes it to cast a shadow resembling a serpent. There are many other temples and palaces in the area that are impressive and it is worth spending more than just a few hours here.

San Cristobal de Las Casas

San Cristobal de Las Casas is a beautiful colonial town in Chiapas. The city was founded in the 1520s but owes its name to a Dominican Friar who, in the 1540s, fought for the rights of the indigenous population, which was being exploited by the Spanish.

Today the city centre is great to wander around and explore the old architecture, or sit in the cafes and bars and soak up the atmosphere.

Palenque

Palenque is the largest of the Mayan archaeologic sites. The site was once an ancient city that covered a huge amount of land. There are many stunning and notable structures in Palenque, especially the Temple of the Inscriptions. However, its size and location are the most appealing aspects. The ruins are covered by jungle and are spread out over so much land that many of the structures and sites remain unexplored and unexcavated.

Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a 500-year-old city founded by the Spanish. It is in the south of Mexico, surrounded by traditional villages and Zapotec ruins. The centre is well-preserved with cobbled streets leading past colonial churches, a cathedral and several museums.

It makes a great place to explore the surrounding Zapotec ruins the highlight of which is Monte Alan – located on top of a hill providing great views of the surrounding area.

Possible Itineraries

Most visitors to Mexico want to spend time on the beach and see some of the culture. This can range from day trips to Chichen Itza and Merida from a beach resort, to spending a few weeks travelling around. Below are some suggested itineraries but, as always, we can tailor any of these to suit your needs.

Yucatan Beach and Culture

Yucatan State has the most popular beach resorts and a lot of key cultural sites. Start off in the colonial city of Merida and spend a few days wandering around the old town before heading to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. From Chichen Itza, you can carry on to the beach resorts – choose between Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Isla Holbox.

The Best of Mexico

To see the main sites in Mexico start off with a couple of days in Mexico City before heading to the colonial city of Oaxaca and exploring the surrounding Zapotec ruins. From Oaxaca, you can head east to San Cristobal de las Casas and onto the amazing jungle-covered ruins at Palenque. After Palenque head to the Yucatan Peninsula where you can explore Merida and Chichen Itza through overnight stays or as days trips from one of the beach resorts.

Best Time to Visit Mexico

The best time to visit Mexico is in the dry season from December to April. However, during the rainy season from May to November the showers often come in the late afternoon and are short-lived, so beach or travelling holidays are still possible. There is an increased risk of hurricanes on the Caribbean coast from June to November.

Where to Stay

Mexico has lots of accommodation to suit all budgets from boutique hotels in Mexico City to laid-back beach accommodation on Isla Holbox.

Getting Around

A mixture of flights for longer distances and hired drivers to see local sites and ruins is the best way to explore Mexico.

Getting to Mexico

There are direct flights from London to Cancun and Mexico City, or from Manchester to Cancun. Otherwise, you will need to change somewhere.

Mauritius Holidays


Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean famous for beautiful beaches and clear seas. The main focus of the island is luxury resorts but it also has an interesting colonial history, as well as great opportunities for water sports, diving and boat trips.

Beach Holidays in Mauritius

MauritiusDifferent areas of Mauritius offer different things. Whether you are looking for a quiet time lying on an undisturbed beach, or a livelier holiday with great nightlife there is an area of the island for you.

Grand Baie Beach Holidays

Grand Baie, at the northern tip of the island, has the best nightlife on the island and is great for water sports. Whilst the beach in the city itself is busy with boats, there are a number of hotels and resorts around the area on quieter stretches of sand. The town is easy to reach from these resorts, giving you access to the nightlife and restaurants.

Flic en Flac Beach Holidays

Flic en Flac is one of the longest beaches on the island and hosts a large number of hotels and resorts, as well as a town of the same name. Although still lively, it is more suited to families than Grand Baie. The west coast, where Flic en Flac is situated, is great for diving and dolphin watching.

Le MorneLe Morne

Le Morne is at the south-west point of the island. Due to its slightly secluded location, it is quieter than other beaches and resorts and tends to have more luxurious hotels. The seclusion means that outside of hotels there are very few bars or restaurants. The local area is a hotspot for kitesurfers.

Belle Mare Plage

Belle Mare Plage is the longest beach on the island and is on the east coast. Its location means that it can be windier and currents can be stronger on the east coast compared to the west coast. There are a lot of resorts along here – including a number of exclusive resorts with great bars and restaurants. The wind means that it’s a great place for sailing and windsurfing, and the island’s best dive spot – The Pass – is nearby.

Day Trips and Cultural Sites in Mauritius

Iles Aux Cerfs Days Trips

Iles Aux Cerfs is a small island off the east coast of Mauritius. The islands have probably the best beaches in Mauritius and have loads of watersports available. You can also play golf on the island or go to some great restaurants.

Boat Trips in Mauritius

The generally calm seas around Mauritius are great for boat trips, whether you are going snorkelling, on a sunset cruise, or just a tour of the island. The boats come in all shapes and sizes – from speedboats to luxurious catamarans, with most offering drinks and food on board.

Black River Gorges National ParkBlack Gorges National Park

It’s not all sand and beaches in Mauritius – the island also boasts a fantastic national park. The Black River Gorges National Park is home to a number of endemic bird and plant species and is covered in a thick forest. The park has great walking trails that are the best way to see it.

Port Louis Days Trips

Port Louis is the capital of Mauritius. With a population of just 150 thousand people it is small by global standards, however, it can still feel extremely lively and busy, particularly at the Central Market. There are also some good bars and restaurants along the seafront.

Where to Stay In Mauritius

Mauritius has a range of accommodation from some good value 3-star resorts up to extremely luxurious 5-star resorts. If you go in off season you can get some big discounts on the hotels.

When to Go to Mauritius

You can go to Mauritius at any time of year. December tends to be peak time, whilst January, February and March are popular despite high chances of cyclones. The rest of the time tends to be quieter and cooler, but temperatures rarely fall below 20 degrees Celsius.

We would recommend April and May, and September to December as the best months to go to Mauritius.

Getting Around Mauritius

No two places in Mauritius are more than two hours away from each other, so you can cover a lot of the sites on the island in a day. The best ways to get around are either to hire a car and driver for the day for a reasonable price, or a hire a car and drive yourself.

Getting To Mauritius

There are frequent flights to Mauritius, although most involve a few hours stopover. Direct flights take around 12 hours, whilst those with stops tend to take 16 to 20 hours.

Malta Holidays

The country of Malta is made up of three islands (Malta, Gozo, Comino) in the Mediterranean Sea to the South of Italy. Its locations makes it a great destination for beach holidays as it is far enough south that it gets 300 days of sunshine a year and is warm until the end of October, but the flight time from the UK is only three hours.

In addition to a beaches and sun, Malta also has a lot of culture for a small country. It has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, lively towns and cities, and good bars and restaurants.

Malta Beach Holidays

Most people visit Malta for beach holidays. In addition to some of the cleanest beaches and seas in Europe, it also has great diving opportunities and is popular for water sports – particularly windsurfing.

Malta Island Beach Holidays

Malta is the largest of the three islands and is the administrative and commercial focus of the country. Most of the popular beaches on Malta are along the north coast stretching up from the capital – Valletta.

St Julian’s is a popular area for tourists. It has a lively town centre with lots of good bars and restaurants and a marina area. Around the town there are a number of beaches including Balluta Bay, Portomaso Bay and St George’s Bay. St George’s is a sandy beach, which is unusual on Malta (they tend to be rock beaches) and is particularly popular.

Sliema – between St Julian’s and Valletta – is another popular area. The beaches here are rocky but have lidos built in that are very popular for swimming. There are lots of sun loungers if you plan to sunbathe. Sliema has bars and restaurants as well as designer shops.

Both Sliema and St Julian’s are close to the capital Valletta (less than 20 minutes in a taxi). Just to the north of St Julian’s is Paceville, which has the liveliest nightlife on the island.

Further north and on the other side of the island is Mellieha Bay. Mellieha is the longest beach in Malta and is also sandy – making it a great destination for a beach holiday. The area is more relaxed and quieter than Sliema or St Julian’s but the old town above the beach has bars and restaurants.

Another option if you are looking for a quieter beach is Armier Bay, which is at northern point of Malta overlooking Gozo.

Gozo Beach Holidays

The next biggest island after Malta is Gozo. The island is greener and less developed than its bigger neighbour. Along the coast there are many small fishing villages, whilst the interior has isolated farms and old churches.

Ramla I-Hamra Bay is the most popular on the island and is unusual for its red sand. Elsewhere on the island there are lots of small coves and beaches.

There are two main resorts on Gozo: Marsalforn and Xlendi. Marsalforn probably has the better beach (Xlendi’s is mainly rocks), whilst Xlendi has the livelier nightlife.

Comino

Comino is the smallest island in Malta and is visited for its natural beauty – there is virtually development and the island is car free. Most people only make a day trip to the island as there is only one hotel.

The Blue Lagoon is the most popular destination on Comino. It is a sheltered area of sea that has very clear and still water – making it perfect for swimming.

Elsewhere on the island there are a few other beaches including Santa Marija Bay and San Niklaw Bay. The island has particularly good snorkelling, diving and windsurfing.

Cities and Cultural Sites in Malta

In addition to beaches Malta has a lot of culture. The islands have been inhabited for 6000 years and were ruled for hundreds of years by the Knights of St John – a Catholic military order.

In addition to its history the country has lots of good bars, restaurants and nightlife.

Valletta

Valletta is the capital of Malta and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a relatively small city (the smallest capital in Europe) and is easy to explore in a day or two. The centre is a network of narrow streets winding between medieval and baroque buildings. At the entrance to the harbour is the impressive Fort St Elmo, which was used to defend the city from many attackers over the years.

Mdina

Around 20 minutes from Valletta is the city of Mdina. This was Malta’s medieval capital, and is now one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe.

Ggantija

On the island of Gozo is pre-historic temple of Ggantija. The temple is around 5500 and is part of a complex that includes a number of other ancient temples and structures.

Where to Stay in Malta

There is a large range of hotels in Malta – from boutique hotels in Valletta to luxury beach resorts.

When to Go to Malta

From May to October is the best time to visit Malta, with the warmest weather in July and August.

Getting Around Malta

Getting around the island of Malta or Gozo is easiest by taxi – even on the main island you are unlikely to be more than an hour away from anywhere else. To get between islands you can take a boat – from the north of Malta to Gozo takes around 20 minutes.

Getting to Malta

Flights to Malta take around 3 hours and there are daily direct flights from a number of UK airports.

Italy Holidays

Italy has everything you could possibly want from a holiday: stunning beaches, iconic cities and great food – not to mention the history that goes with it all. Italy is ideal for all types of holiday – from short city breaks to beach holidays to a multi destination trips around the country.

Beach Holidays in Italy

Sicily Beach Holidays

Sicily, an island at the southern point of Italy, has over 1000km of coastline so finding a great beach is easy. There are resorts all around the island.

Taormina on the east coast has beautiful clear water, great restaurants and bars, and a wide selection of hotels to match all tastes and budgets. It is also very family friendly.

San Vito Lo Capo is a lower key destination at the north-west point of the island. The area has been used for many film sets and boasts an excellent beach.

Fontane Bianche is just outside the city of Syracuse towards the south-east of the island. This offers a great opportunity to explore the historic city during your holiday, and is one of the best places for bars and nightlife on the island, whilst still having a great beach.

Puglia Beach Holidays

Puglia is the south-eastern region of Italy, around the city of Bari. The area is less popular with tourists than the rest of the country, however it still has great beaches, culture, food and baroque cities, making it ideal for a quieter beach holiday.

There are great resorts and beaches all along the coast of Puglia from the great Baia dei Turchi in the south near the town of Otranto, to luxury resorts around Vieste in northern Puglia. The area is great if you want to relax on less busy beaches and have historic towns and cities close by for their restaurants, bars and culture.

Sardinia Beach Holidays 

Sardinia boasts some of the best beaches in Italy. The island is in the Mediterranean off the west coast of Italy. Ringed by white sand and clear water, many Italians flock here for beach holidays. The island has a mixture of luxury beach resorts, golf resorts, secluded beaches and historic cities.

The Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) on the north-east of the island has many beach resorts and is the top destination for luxury holidays in Sardinia. The area has lots of great beaches that are perfect for swimming and water sports. Along the coast there are lots of stylish towns with great bars and restaurants.

On the south coast around the village of Chia there are quiet beaches that host a range of beach resorts. The atmosphere down south is more relaxed than on the Costa Smeralda so if you are looking for a relaxing beach holiday this area could be perfect.

The west coast of the island has very dramatic scenery. There are a number of places to stay on this coast, although most are around the historic city of Alghero towards the north. This coast is ideal for water sports, and in particular attracts a lot of surfers.

Abruzzo Beach Holidays

Abruzzo is about half way down the east coast of Italy, opposite Rome. The area is less known for its beach resorts than other regions in Italy (and the rest of the Mediterranean) and is great if you are looking for a peaceful beach holiday.

The beaches around the town of Vasto in the south of Abruzzo are a great option if you are looking for a beach holiday close to a lively and interesting town. Alternatively you can stay in the town itself and use the public beach, which is much less busy than most public beaches in Italy.

Pescara and the nearby Montesilvano both have long public beaches that are a great option if you are looking for a beach holiday with good nightlife. They are also great options if you do not want to spend all of your time on the beach as they are both interesting cities.

Cities and Cultural Sites

Italy has a history that rivals any other country in the world and with this comes a huge number of historic towns and cities, as well as cultural sites. Almost every place you go in Italy has some historical significance dating back over 1000 years.

All the towns and cities also have great bars and restaurants – although the style varies by region.

Northern Italy

Northern Italy is the industrial and economic heartland of the country. Right at the north of the country are the Alps, with borders to France, Switzerland, Austria and Croatia. This area is great for trekking and cycling in summer, and skiing in winter. On the flatter ground to south of the Alps are the main cities of the north.

Milan

Milan, known for its fashion and design industries, is also the financial hub of Italy. People sometimes dismiss Milan as a business city and not as one of Italy’s best cities to visit as a tourist. Whilst Milan is more modern than other cities (Rome for example) it is still definitely worth a visit.

The centre of the city has a lot of interesting sites including the Gothic Cathedral (with great views from the top) and the Galleria Ambrosiana, which houses artwork by Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael and Botticelli, and has an amazing Renaissance library.

A 10 minute walk from the Cathedral square is the Castello Sforzesco, a large fortress built by the medieval and renaissance rulers of Milan – the Szforza family. The fortress is a great way to understand the history of Milan, and you can also see art by Da Vinci and explore its gardens.

Near to the Castello is the church – Santa Marie Delle Grazie – that houses Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.

As with anywhere in Italy, Milan has great bars and restaurants, and has a good nightlife scene due to its size.

Turin

Turin has wide boulevards laid out in a grid formation (thanks to the Romans) that makes it feel like Paris. The architecture is Baroque, in contrast to that of Genoa and Milan, and the city has lots of wide open squares.

Turin is a great place to discover on foot owing to its layout. There are some great Palazzos in Turin that are worth a visit including the Pallazzo Reale (former home of the Savoy family who ruled the city). Turin Cathedral – famous for housing the Turin Shroud – is also worth exploring.

Aside from seeing the sights, Turin is a great place to enjoy coffee or drinks in any of many cafes that line the wide boulevards and squares.

Genoa

Genoa has one of the best preserved medieval centres in Europe. The city receives relatively few visitors compared to other large Italian cities, including Milan and Turin, and therefore feels as close to a hidden gem as you can find in Italy.

Walking around the narrow, cobbled medieval streets is the best way to experience Genoa. The streets are too narrow for traffic, and if you look up you will see the buildings almost touching at the top. There are also interesting sites including the Cathedral, medieval and renaissance palaces and churches.

The Renaissance part of town has some grander buildings and wider streets that are a great contrast to the medieval area.

Genoa has a fascinating history – it was the most important port in Europe during the early Renaissance period, and in order to support the trade that came with it was home to the first bank in the world.

Venice

Venice is unlike any other city in the world. The combination of interlinking canals and historical buildings makes this one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

You can spend days in Venice without visiting any sights in particular. Wandering along the canals and looking at architecture is enough to keep most people occupied. Especially once you factor in stops at cafes, bars and restaurants. However, Venice also has more than its fair share of sights: from the Doge’s Palace (where the rulers of Venice used to live) to numerous churches, art galleries and St Mark’s Basilica.

There are also smaller islands that make for great days trips, including Murano (famous for glassmaking) and Venice Lido (Venice’s seaside resort).

Bologna

Bologna is a city of around 400 thousand people. The city is famous for its university and the lively atmosphere this gives it.

The centre of the city is dominated by the Piazza Maggiore – a large Medieval square with lots of bars, restaurants and cafes. Bologna has the best surviving examples in Italy of towers built by noble families in the medieval period. These towers were tall and thin as a family’s prestige was linked to the height of its tower. Most of these have now fallen down (both in Bologna and elsewhere in Italy), but a couple of good examples still remain standing in the city.

The Lakes

Northern Italy has a number of lakes very popular with tourists. The most famous of these are Lake Como and Lake Garda. Both are ringed by hills and mountains, but whilst Lake Como has a more stylish and exclusive feel, Lake Garda is better known for its watersports and mountain biking.

Other Places in Northern Italy

There are many other places in Northern Italy worth visiting, including the well preserved Renaissance city of Mantua; Verona (where Romeo and Juliet is set); the stylish coastal town of Portofino; and Parma, where Parmesan Cheese and Parma Ham comes from.

Central Italy

The most popular destination in Central Italy is Rome. However, there is much more to the region than the city: the rolling hills of Tuscany; the medieval city of Florence; and the city state of San Marino just to mention a few.

Rome

As the home of the Catholic Church, the capital of the Roman Empire, and the power centre of the Medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe, Rome is one of the most interesting cities in the world. Add to that a well preserved historical centre, and great bars and restaurants, and you have a fantastic city to visit and explore.

Remnants of the Roman Empire are everywhere to be seen in central Rome. From the Forum – where political meetings and markets were held – to the incredibly well preserved Colosseum and many other smaller remains. These can generally all be seen on foot and are a great way to learn about the origins and early history of the city.

Across the Tiber River from the Forum and Colosseum is the Vatican City – the home of the Catholic Church. Consisting of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Vatican Museums and a number of other important buildings there is a lot to see here, including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling. Just on the outskirts of the Vatican City is the Castel Sant’Angelo – a medieval fortress that has been involved in numerous attacks on Rome, and has a secret passage to the Vatican for the Pope to escape along in the case of an attack.

On the Eastern side of Tiber next to the Forum is the medieval and Renaissance centre of Rome. This area has narrow cobbled streets leading to unexpected squares, lined with bars and restaurants. Sites in the area include the Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. At night the Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori have lively bars and restaurants.

Outside of the centre there are many other sites, including Renaissance villas built by Noble families. The best of these is the Villa Borghese with its extensive gardens.

Florence

Florence is the capital of Tuscany and was the cultural heart of the Renaissance. The city centre is well preserved and nowhere else has as much important Renaissance artwork and architecture in such a small area.

Florence’s political, cultural and financial peak was achieved in the Renaissance period under the rule of the Medici family. The power initially came from the important role the city played in the wool industry, before becoming a significant finance and banking centre. Power and wealth was concentrated among several noble families (of which the Medici were most powerful), and was expressed through the building of great Palazzo (palaces) and the patronage of leading artists.

In central Florence there are dozens of Palazzo of varying size and grandeur that once belonged to Noble families, as well as the Palazzo Vecchio that was centre of government in the city. The Palazzo Vecchio is the largest in the city and is worth a visit to understand the political system of Renaissance Florence. The Palazzo Medici Riccardi – home to the Medici’s in the late 15th and early 16th centuries – is now the seat of the municipal government, but can still be visited. Other major Palazzo’s include the Strozzi and the Corsi.

Across the river Arno from the main part of town is the huge Palazzo Pitti. This Palazzo was the residence of the Medici in the late 16th Century and has large gardens that are great on a sunny day. To reach the Palazzo Pitti from the main part of the city you cross the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge lined with shops.

The legacy of the Florentine families’ patronage of artists can be seen at many art galleries across the city. From the world-famous Uffizi (includes words by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Botticelli) and Galleria dell’Accademia (Michelangelo’s David), to many smaller galleries and churches around the city.

Florence has great examples of medieval and renaissance churches and monasteries. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore dominates the skyline with its impressive dome, whilst many other smaller churches populate the city centre. The Convent of San Marco (now a museum) is worth a visit for its history and art. The convent was home to Girolamo Savonarola, a preacher who ousted the Medici for a few years and turned the city into a puritanical dictatorship before being captured and executed by the Pope.

A great day trip from Florence is to the small town of San Gimignano in the hills to the south of the city. The town has spectacular views, great bars and restaurants and some Roman ruins.

Siena

Siena is a small city to the south of Florence that has an incredibly well preserved centre. Where other cities have new buildings mixed with the old, and roads running through them, Siena’s centre has managed to avoid this.

The city is on a hill top centred on the Piazza del Campo – a large square lined with restaurants and bars, and home to the Palazzo Publico. Whilst there is less to see and do compared to Florence (although the Cathedral and Palazzo Publico are worth a visit), the main attraction of Siena is wandering around and eating or drinking at the bars and restaurants in the historical centre.

Cinque Terre

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cinque Terre is on the west coast of Italy, north of Pisa. Cinque Terre is made up of five colourful fishing villages built dramatically perched on cliffs overlooking the sea.

There is a coastal path that links the five villages that can be walked in a day, although many people just aim for two or three of the villages. You can stop to eat, drink and swim along the way.

La Spezia is the gateway town to the villages, which you can reach by boat or by train.

Perugia

Perugia, like many towns and cities in central Italy, sits on top of a hill. The centre of the city is a maze of cobbled streets linking squares, churches and Palazzo. The 13th Century Palazzo dei Priori and Fontana Maggiore are some of the best sites in the city.

Perugia is a lively university town and has great bars and nightlife.

Other Places in Central Italy

Central Italy has lots of smaller towns and cities that are worth visiting, including: Pisa – famous for its leaning tower; the classicly Italian beachside resort of Viareggio (which also acts as a good base for the region); Viterbo – an ancient city that was home to the Popes of the 13th Century; and the enclaved city-state of San Marino.

Southern Italy

Compared to Central and Northern Italy, Southern Italy’s historical sites are more weighted towards ancient Rome and Greece than the medieval or renaissance periods. The climate and landscape is also different – hills are more dramatic compared to the rolling hills of Central Italy, and the weather is hotter and drier.

Naples

Naples is the major city of Southern Italy, and the historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, it is less visited than many of the cities to the north so you can expect to avoid crowds at tourist sites.

Compared to the historical centres of Northern and Central Italy (Rome, Siena, Florence), the old part of Naples is dilapidated and remains the realm of locals as opposed to tourists. The best things to do in Naples involve eating and drinking – . Naples is famous for the best pizza and ice cream in Italy.

The National Archaeological Museum is worth visiting – it contains lots artefacts from Ancient Greece and Rome, including the Farnese Marbles. Under Naples there are tunnels and passageways that lead to Roman ruins, including a theatre and churches. These can be visited by going through multiple entrances around the city.

Another key attraction is the Bay of Naples, with views of the Island of Capri and Mt Vesuvius. There are bars and restaurants along the waterfront to help you make the most of the views.

Pompeii

Around 2000 years ago Pompeii was covered in volcanic ash when Mt Vesuvius erupted. The towns’ inhabitants were killed and the buildings completely covered. It remained this way until 1748 when it was rediscovered.

The ash preserved the structures and inhabitants, and you can now get a unique view into what life was like in a Roman settlement 2000 years ago. The archaeological site is large and you could spend a whole day walking through the preserved town.

The site is around 40 minutes south of Naples by train. There are four other smaller, less visited, sites in the area that suffered a similar fate – the next biggest but much less visited one is Herculaneum.

Neapolitan Riviera

The Neapolitan Riviera, to the South of Naples, is one of the most scenic bits of coastline in Italy. Towns and villages are perched on cliffs overlooking the sea – the most famous of these towns are Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi.

These three towns are all located on the coast and slope down the cliffs to pebble beaches. The buildings are colourful and the towns have plenty of stylish bars and restaurants. Whilst it is possible to sunbathe on the town beaches, they tend to get very busy in summer. However, there are boats that can take you to quieter, more secluded spots.

The island of Capri, whilst not technically part of the Riviera, is easily reachable by boat from the area. The island has been a holiday destination since Roman times and is now a stylish and exclusive resort favoured by the rich and famous.

Matera

Matera is dramatically perched atop a hill in Southern Italy. Italy is not short of historical cities but none beat Matera – it is estimated to be the third oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. The 7000 year cave dwellings still exist under the city.

The caves – or Sassi – are the key draw of the city and are the reason it has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These caves were occupied until the 1950s when residents were removed due to public outrage amongst the poor families that lived in them. Today, you can wander through the Sassi districts.

Other Places in Southern Italy

Southern Italy’s history means there are many more towns and sites to explore. From the port of Bari on the east coast, to the Baroque city of Lecce. There are also several national parks that are popular with hikers.

Sicily

Right at the south of Italy is the island of Sicily. The island has been highly sought after over the past few thousand years and this explains its mixture of Roman, Norman, Renaissance and Baroque sites.

Palermo

Palermo is the capital of Sicily and the biggest city on the Island. The centre of town is a mixture of small, run-down alleys, tired Baroque Palaces and Norman churches. The streets are often filled with lively food markets, and the influence of many cultures can be seen here as well in the restaurants, with a mixture of Arabic, Italian and Spanish food.

Catania

Catania is an ancient port city at the foot of Mt Etna. The city centre has fewer sites of interest than Palermo, although it does still have more than its fair share of grand Palazzo and beautiful squares. What Catania has over Palermo is a livelier, younger spirit. For those looking for bars and nightlife Catania is a great place to visit.

Other Places in Sicily

Sicily has much to do outside of the main cities. There are great beaches and beach resorts around the island (see the Beach Holidays section), as well as plenty to do in the interior – including climbing Mt Etna.

Possible Itineraries

There is so much to see in Italy and so many possible itineraries. Below are a few ideas but each is fully customisable.

The Best of Italy Itinerary

If you want to see the main sites in Italy in a relatively short amount of time then this itinerary may be for you. Fly in to Milan and spend a day or two there before getting a train or driving (yourself or a hired driver) to Venice. From Venice head south to Florence (with a possible day trip to Siena). From Florence head to Rome and then on down to Naples. From Naples you go to Sicily and spend a couple of days in Palermo. If you want to add a beach holiday onto the end then Sicily or Sardinia are both great options.

Northern Italy Itinerary

If you have a short amount of time and want to take in the main sites in Northern Italy then a possible trip starts in Genoa before heading north to Turin and Milan, and finishing in Venice. This could be done in a week.

North and Central Italy Itinerary

To see the main sites of North and Central Italy you can fly to Milan before heading over to Venice. From Venice you can stop off in Bologna on you way down to Florence. Siena is not far from Florence and is a good stop on the way down to Rome.

Southern Italy Itinerary

Southern Italy is much less traveled by tourists than Northern and Central Italy, so if you want to get off the beaten track the following itinerary may suit you. Start in Naples (with a possible day trip to Pompeii). From Naples head south to the Italian Riviera with a night or two in Positano, Sorrento or Amalfi. From the Riviera head east across the country to the port of Bari. From here you can either head south to the beaches of Puglia, or head straight over to Palermo in Sicily, stopping off in Matera along the way.

Neapolitan Riviera Itinerary

If you want a more relaxed itinerary full of stylish bars and restaurants, great views and beautiful beaches then a week or two in the Neapolitan Riviera is perfect. The best way to see the area is to hire a car and drive between the towns of Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi. You could also add on a couple of days on the island of Capri.

Where to Stay

Italy has lots of hotels from luxury beach resorts in Sardinia, to stylish boutique hotels in Rome and Milan, to quirky rural accommodation in Tuscany. There are plenty of options to suit everyone.

When to Go

If you are looking for a beach holiday then May to September are the best months to go, as the weather is warmer. Outside of these months Sicily has warm weather but it may be too cool to sunbathe.

If you plan to visit cities then it is best to avoid the months of July and August if possible as it can be too hot and busy. April to June and September to November are the best times to visit.

Getting Around

Trains are a great option for getting around Italy. Most cities and large towns have stations and the trains are quick and easy. Buses are also available and tend to be cheaper, but are less comfortable.

Hiring a car is another good option. It makes it much easier to explore smaller towns and rural areas and hiring them is easy. A car with a driver is another option.

Getting There

Italy has lots of international airports with frequent flights from all over the UK.

There are a lot of beach options in Italy, ranging from less visited beaches in Puglia to the regimented sunbeds of Viareggio in Tuscany. Those further down the country are more reliable when it comes to weather, and are also likely to be warmer for more months of the year.

Indonesia Holidays

Indonesia is a large country made up of around 13,000 islands. The islands offer diverse landscapes – from the volcanic Java and Sumatra, to the dense forest of Kalimantan, to the coral island of Sumba. If you are looking for a beach holiday with plenty of other activities – including ancient cities, orangutans and Komodo dragons, and great trekking – then Indonesia is a perfect holiday destination.

Beach Holidays in Indonesia

Indonesia has great beaches – from the party resorts of Bali to secluded beaches on lesser known islands. The size of Indonesia means that you will be able to find a beach and hotel that matches exactly what you are looking for.

Bali Beach Holidays

Bali is the main island for beach holidays in Indonesia. There are lots options – from areas with a lot of nightlife, to quiet and secluded resorts, and from white sands to darker volcanic beaches.

Seminyak is a popular area for luxury holidays. It is close enough to the main nightlife centre of the island – Kuta – that you can easily head there for a night out, but far enough away to avoid the negative impacts that come with a party town. Seminyak itself has plenty of bars and restaurants.

Sanur is another popular destination, although it is quieter than Kuta and has calmer waters due to a protective reef – making it a popular destination for family beach holidays in Indonesia. The beach at Sanur is long and good for water sports – including kitesurfing and paragliding. There are lots of restaurants as well.

There are lots of other beach options on Bali, including the more secluded areas of Candidasa and Lovina.

There are good dive sites all around Bali – there are some popular ones very close to the shore, or you can go further away to find quieter sites. Bali is host to a diverse range of fish including barracudas, parrot fish, trigger fish as well as turtles.

Bali is a popular surfing spot and there are beaches to suit all levels. There are also lots of surf schools, nearly all have courses aimed at beginners.

Boat trips are easy to organise from Bali and are a great way to explore the island, smaller islands around Bali and find the best snorkeling spots.

Lombok Beach Holidays

Lombok is a quieter alternative to Bali. There is only one main resort, and even there the beach is very quiet in comparison, if you are looking for beautiful beaches without the crowds and nightlife then Lombok may be the best option.

The main resort on Lombok is Senggigi. The long beach has a number of hotels and beach bars on, but they are more spaced out than on Bali, and around the rest of the island you can find some very quiet beaches.

The water around Lombok is filled with turtles – and as the water is so clear you often don’t need snorkelling equipment to see them, and can even spot them from the beach. The diving is also amazing and the dive sites are quieter than those nearer Bali.

Gili Islands Beach Holidays

Three islands make up the Gilis. Gili Trawangan is the largest and most developed, and has the best range of hotels and nightlife. The other islands are much smaller and quieter. Motorised vehicles are banned on all three of the islands – the only way to get around is walking, cycling or on traditional horse drawn carts.

The area is great for island hopping, and getting boats between them is easy. Gili Meno – the smallest island – has a path around its coast that can be walked in under 2 hours, although that doesn’t involve stopping at any of the beaches or restaurants on the way round, or stopping to see the island’s iguanas.

As with the other islands, the Gilis have great dive and snorkeling sites.

Where to Go in Indonesia

Indonesia is a large country and there is a lot more to see and do than lie on the beach. Each island has a distinct look and feel so it’s worth visiting a few if you have time.

Bali

Bali is best known for its beaches – but it has much more. The island has over 10,000 temples, dramatic volcanoes, colonial hill towns, endless rice paddies and forests. You can see the island as part of a multi-destination trip or as day trips from a beach resort.

Mount Batur is a large volcano on the island that you can climb. Climbing before dawn is popular so that you can watch the sunrise from the top. On the way down there are hot and cold springs where you can swim.

Of the island’s thousands of temples Pura Batukaru and Pura Ulun Danu Bratan are two of the most attractive. Pura Batukaru is a large temple complex surrounded by forest on the slopes of Bali’s second highest mountain, whilst Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is a beautiful 17th Century temple on a small island in the middle of Lake Bratan.

Ubud is the cultural centre of the island. The city has lots of art studios and galleries, with a particular focus on carvings. It is also a good place from which to explore the other central sites of Bali including Mount Batur, Lake Bratan and the Sumatran Elephant sanctuary at TARO Elephant Safari Park. A lot of activites can be organised from Ubud – trekking and white water rafting are particularly popular.

Java and Jakarta

Java is the most populous Indonesian island, and the most populous island in the world. It has had a tumultuous history: around 800 years of Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms gave way to the rise of Islam in the 15th Century, before the Dutch colonised the island.

Jakarta is the largest city on the island and the capital of Indonesia. The city is very good for shopping and nightlife. And whilst it may not be the most attractive or historic city on the island, it has some great museums on the country’s history and some well-preserved colonial buildings.

Yogyakarta is an ancient city and seen as the cultural centre of Java. The city is built around the Sultan’s Palace, where you can still see attendant’s in their customary dress. Yogyakarta is famous for its arts – including carving, painting and the Ramayana ballet.

Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia. The city is very lively and has a mix of cultures that makes it unique. The city has a large China Town and lots of Chinese temples; an historic Arab quarter that contains maze like streets leading to mosques; and remnants of its Dutch colonial history.

Bandung is a hill town near Jakarta that is used as a weekend getaway due to its cooler climate. From the town you can easily explore the hot springs and geysers of the Tangkuban Prahu crater.

Bogor is a small town on Java surrounded by mountain villages. The town was originally built as a Dutch hill station and has popular botanical gardens.

To the east of Java is the city of Malang, which is surrounded by volcanoes. The city centre has a Colonial feel and a cooler climate, but the main draw is the volcanoes – and in particular Mount Bromo.

Borobudur is an amazing collection of ancient temples often compared to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Bagan in Burma. The temples were built in the 8th and 9th Centuries but fell into disuse and were covered by ash from volcanic eruptions for hundreds of years. The complex is built in a concentric pattern surround a central Stupa. There are hundreds of Buddha statues decorating the complex.

Prambanan is a Hindu temple complex that was built around 50 years after Borobudur in the 9th Century and is also worth a visit.

Java has a number of volcanoes (many of them still active). The most famous is Krakatau, which is in the sea off Java. Krakatau’s fame is due to its 1883 eruption that is said to be the loudest sound ever made – it was heard as far away as Australia. The volcanic ash remained in the sky for 3 years, and was seen all over the earth, whilst the Tsunami it created had an impact as far away as the English Channel. A new volcano ‘Child of Krakatau’ has now been formed that neighbours the original. You can visit the island – there is no wildlife or plants, but it provides a unique swimming opportunity.

Sumatra

Sumatra is a large island to the north of Java. The island is less densely populated than Java and is heavily forested. These forests are home to the island’s most famous inhabitants – orangutans. Sumatra is one of the last places that you can see the primates in the world and the island is a great choice for nature lovers.

Kalimantan

Kalimantan is the Indonesian part of Borneo Island. It is home to the best national park in Indonesia – Tanjung Puting. The park is a mixture of forest, mangroves and rivers. The best way to see it is by boat, travelling along the quiet backwaters, where you can see crocodiles and lots of birds. The main draw of the national park is the orangutan – it is one of the best places in the world to see them.

Komodo National Park

The Komodo National Park covers 29 islands – including Komodo itself and its neighbour Rinca. Komodo dragons live on many of these islands – although Komodo Island is the most popular place to spot them. There are around 3000 dragons alive in the wild today, and the national park is the only place you can see them.

Apart from seeing the famous lizards, the islands themselves are beautiful and have dramatic scenery. The best way to reach Komodo island is from the island of Flores (which itself is home to some of the dragons).

Sumba

Sumba is one of the least visited islands in Indonesia. The island sits to the south of Indonesia, and is formed from coral reefs and sedimentary rock, in contrast to the volcanic origins of the most of the Indonesian islands.

Colonialists didn’t take much of an interest in the island as it was seen as too inhospitable for their purposes. This means that the culture of the island is more traditionally Indonesian, and has had less western influence than other islands.

The west of Sumba is the best area to visit and experience the traditional animist belief system, including visiting its many tombs.

Lombok

In addition to quiet beaches, Lombok is a good place for trekking and cycling. The most popular trek is up Mount Rinjani – an active volcano that can be seen from anywhere on the island. The trek to the top takes around 7 hours and starts in thick forest, which thins out as you reach the top and are rewarded with fantastic views. Many people camp at the top (with a guide) and wake up to catch sunset before descending.

Cycling around Lombok is a great way to explore the island, and in particular the indigenous Sasak villages that have survived its tumultuous history.

Sulawesi

Sulawesi is one of the larger Indonesian islands and has a densely forested and largely untouched interior that makes it great for wildlife. The island is home to pig deer, dwarf buffalo, and the world’s smallest primate – the tarsier.

The sea around the island also has the best diving in Indonesia.

Possible Itineraries

Indonesia is such a big country, has so many different islands, and so many different things to see that the itinerary possibilities are endless. Below are some suggestions, but we can tailor any itinerary to your specific needs.

Bali Beach and Culture

If you are mainly after a beach holiday but want to see some culture, we suggest a trip to Bali. You could stay in the resort of Sanur on the south coast, before travelling to the cultural centre of Ubud, and then onto the quieter northern coast for some more time on the beach.

Java and Sumatra

If you want to understand and explore the culture and history of Indonesia then a trip around Java and Sumatra could be perfect. Start off with a few days in the capital Jakarta to understand the history of the country and visit Krakatau, before heading to the ancient city of Yogyakarta. From here you can explore the amazing temple complex of Borobudur, before heading onto Melang in the east of the island. From Melang head to Sumatra to see the orangutans.

Best of Indonesia

If you want to see as much of the country as possible then you can start in Jakarta, and head to Yogyakarta and Borobudur. From here you can fly to Kalimantan to go on a safari through the Tanjung Puting national park to see crocodiles and orangutans.

After Kalimantan you can head to the beach – either Bali or Lombok depending on if you are looking for nightlife or something more peaceful. From either of these you can explore the Gili Islands, and then head over to Flores – the gateway to the Komodo National Park – to see Komodo dragons.

Where to Stay in Indonesia

Java, Bali and Lombok all have a good range of luxury hotels and resorts. Outside of these islands, and outside of the main tourist destinations on these islands, there is less choice but there are some good eco-resorts on lesser known islands.

When to Go to Indonesia

Indonesia is a good place to go from May to October, with July and August having the best weather. Temperatures are hot all year round, but from November to April there is frequent rain and it is often cloudy.

Getting Around Indonesia

For longer distances (between islands or cities on a big island) a flight is the most practical to get around, whilst shorter distances between islands can be done by boat. If you are visiting sites or travelling between cities on a smaller island, the best way to get around is using a car and driver.

Getting to Indonesia

There are no direct flights at the moment from the UK to Indonesia, however there are lots of connecting flights with short stopovers.