USA Holidays

The USA is a vast country home to countless different landscapes and some of the most famous cities in the world. Whether you are looking for a beach holiday, an adventure holiday or a cultural tour of towns and cities we can build the perfect itinerary for you.

USA Beach Holidays

The USA has some great beach holiday destinations. From the party beaches of Florida to luxury retreats on lesser-known Hawaiian islands there is a destination to suit everyone.

Florida Beach Holidays

Florida is a great place for a beach holiday and has lots of variety – ranging from quiet luxury retreats to lively party beaches.

On the west coast facing the Gulf of Mexico is the popular resort of Clearwater – great for fishing, snorkelling and dolphin watching. To the south of Clearwater is the 7km long St Pete Beach – near the city of St Petersburg.

Further south still on the Gulf Coast is the quieter luxury area of Longboat Key. Behind the beautiful beach there are lots of great shops, restaurants and bars.

Captiva Island is towards the southern end of the Gulf Coast. The island is quieter than most other resorts in Florida and is great for water sports. Near to Captiva Island is the city of Naples. There are lots of beaches in the area and it provides a great base to explore the Everglades and other parts of Southern Florida.

On the eastern coast of Florida, facing the Atlantic, is the city of Miami. Famous for its Art Deco buildings and lively South Beach, Miami is a great place for a beach holiday if you are looking for a mixture of sun, nightlife and shopping.

Fort Lauderdale is just up the coast from Miami. The long beach is backed by lots of bars and restaurants, but is more low key than Miami. Behind the beach there are lots of waterways and canals.

North of Fort Lauderdale is the barrier island of Palm Beach. The area is home to a lot of luxury hotels and is one of most upmarket resorts in Florida.

To the south of mainland Florida are the Florida Keys – a long line of islands stretching out into the Gulf of Mexico. The most popular destination is Key West – right at the end of the line of islands. You’ll find beautiful beaches, lively towns and great diving opportunities.

Hawaii Beach Holidays

Hawaii is famous for its stunning volcanic islands, beautiful beaches and surfing scene. There are 8 main islands in Hawaii and several smaller islets and atolls. Each of the major islands offers something different to visitors.

The island of Oahu is home to Hawaii’s capital – Honolulu. The island is home to over 85% of the state’s population and is home to Hawaii’s most popular resort – Waikiki. Waikiki is a district of Honolulu with over 2km of beach that is home to a lot of resorts, bars and restaurants and is the liveliest resort in Hawaii. Elsewhere on Oahu the north of the island is particularly popular with surfers for its big waves, whilst the west of the island is quieter and is a great place for snorkelling and swimming.

Big Island – officially called Hawaii – makes up over half the land mass of the State of Hawaii. The island is home to the most active volcano in the world and is great for hiking and astronomy as well as beach holidays. The west of the island – around the town of Kona – is the best area for beaches and has lots of resorts. The waves are smaller here than elsewhere in Hawaii making it great for swimming, snorkelling and learning to surf.

Maui is the second largest island in Hawaii. The most popular resorts are on the west of the island. Kapalua and Kaanapali have a range of luxury resorts that offer spas, water sports, golf and tennis. Nearby is the town of Lahaina that has lots of bars, restaurants and clubs that become very lively at night. On the south side of the island there are luxury resorts along the beautiful beaches near Wailea and Makena. These areas are quieter than the west of the island but there is still a lot to do including surfing, sailing and golf, making it an ideal place for a luxury beach holiday in Hawaii.

The other islands are less visited and tend to be quiet. Lanai is a small, scarcely populated island that is home to a few luxury resorts, whilst Molokai is one of the least developed islands – perfect for a quiet and more traditional Hawaiian beach holiday.

Where to Go in the USA

The 50 States (and other territories) that make up the USA cover a huge area and have very different climates, terrain and cultures.

New England

New England is made up of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. These states are mainly rural and sparsely populated, but are also home to some of the oldest cities in the USA.

Travelling around New England is a mixture of small-town America, some large and old cities including Boston, and rural areas with national parks such as Acadia and White Mountain National Forest.

Boston was founded in 1630 and is one of the most culturally important cities in the USA and has lots of museums and historic sites. The city is easy to explore on foot, and the Freedom Trail takes you to the most important areas of historical interest.

Cape Cod on the east coast of Massachusetts is a beautiful seaside area with great seafood and whale watching opportunities. To the south of Cape Cod is the exclusive Martha’s Vineyard – a beautiful island full of great restaurants and beaches.

The Mid-Atlantic

The Mid-Atlantic region includes New York, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The area includes two of the most important cities in America – Washington D.C. and New York City, however, the area also has a beautiful coastline and beaches, as well as interesting rural areas and communities.

New York City is one of the most famous in the world. There is so much to do in the city, from walking the famous streets of Manhattan – past Wall Street and Time Square to Central Park – to exploring Brooklyn and its many craft breweries and bars. Some of the best museums in the world are in New York, particularly the Met and the Guggenheim. Plus a trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. The city also has great bars and restaurants – it’s possible to spend weeks in New York without seeing everything you want to.

New York State has more to offer than just the city though. Upstate New York is home to the impressive Niagara Falls, and the lakes, rivers and forest around Lake Placid – home to two Winter Olympics.

New York isn’t the only major city in the area – Washington DC as the capital of the USA has the major political sights including the White House, The Capitol Building and the National Archives where you can see the original Bill of Rights, Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

The centre of Philadelphia has retained many of its original features dating back to the 17th Century with cobbled streets and old houses. The city was once capital of the USA and was where the Declaration of Independence was written. In addition to its history, Philadelphia is known for its food and particularly its cheesesteak.

Outside of the major cities the area has a beautiful coastline – best seen along the boardwalks in New Jersey or the beaches of Delaware.

Further inland there are vast rural areas, especially in Pennsylvania where large areas are dedicated to farming. There is a large Amish community in Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Wilds is a heavily forested area in northern Pennsylvania that is great for hiking, cycling, horse riding, canoeing and seeing wild Elk.

In south Pennsylvania is Gettysburg – site of a famous Civil War battle and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

South East (The Deep South)

The South East is often simply called The South or The Deep South. There are arguments over where it begins and ends, and which states it includes and doesn’t. It is separated from the South West by its history – especially relating to the Civil War. States included in the South East (or Deep South) are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Florida.

Travelling through the Deep South is a unique and varied experience. From the beaches and Everglades of Florida, to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, to the jazz-filled city of New Orleans.

New Orleans is a highlight of any trip. The French Quarter is the old part of the city and is full of colourful Creole-style buildings with balconies overlooking the streets. This area is lively both day and night – with lots of high-quality restaurants and bars with exceptionally high quality live music, particularly Jazz. The French Quarter is not the only interesting part of New Orleans though – venture into the Uptown area to see the impressive colonial style and Victorian mansions along St Charles Avenue. These are best seen from the St Charles Avenue Streetcar, which has been running since 1835.

New Orleans isn’t the only Southern city with amazing live music. Nashville in Tennessee is famous as the home of country music and you’ll find a great selection of bars with live music in the city. There is also the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum. It’s not just about music though – numerous craft breweries and distilleries have opened that offer tours and tastings.

Not far from Nashville is Memphis – the blues capital of the world. Beale Street is the main destination for tourists with lots of high-quality blues and rock n roll bars. However, the biggest draw is Graceland – the former home of Elvis Presley, which is on the outskirts of the city.

Savanna in Georgia is one of the oldest cities in the South and is the best surviving example of antebellum architecture. The city centre is full of historic houses and old streets and combined with moss trees it does give Savanna a historic feel that you rarely get in the USA. Nearby is Tybee Island – a small island ringed by beautiful beaches with lots of beach bars and seafood restaurants.

Across the South nearly all of the many cotton plantations used slaves to work the fields. Many of the plantations houses – usually large mansions – are still intact and have been converted into museums where you can learn more about the history of cotton farming, slavery and the Civil War.

Straddling the border of Tennessee and North Carolina are the Great Smoky Mountains, also known as the Smokies, which form a national park that is home to wild bears. The Smokies are part of the Appalachian Mountains that stretch down the east of the USA. The scenery in the mountains is stunning and is best seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway – a long road that passes through Virginia and North Carolina along a ridge, reaching over 1800m above sea level with frequent viewing points.

Alligators are something many people associate with the Deep South and there are lots of opportunities to see them, whether it’s on a swamp tour in Louisiana and Mississippi or a tour of the Everglades in Florida.

Aside from cities, monuments and nature the South is famous for its food, drink and hospitality. Whether its shrimp and grits in Savannah or Gumbo in Louisiana; craft beer in North Carolina or whiskey in Kentucky everything arrives with a smile.

Midwest

The Midwest is the region that has historically fueled the USA through both manufacturing and farming. The area includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.

In many ways the Midwest is home to stereotypical small-town America, but it also has great cities, including Chicago, and the amazing Great Lakes.

Chicago is the largest city in the Midwest and looks out on Lake Michigan. The city has some great architecture including the Willis Tower – once the tallest in the world. The best way to see the architecture is by boat tour. Chicago is one of the best cities in the USA for restaurants – the quality of food and service is exceptional. At night the city earns its place as the start of Route 66 with lots of live music, especially blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. During the summer the beaches are a great place to spend the day.

Elsewhere in the Midwest Minneapolis is famous for its theatres and art galleries, Milwaukee has an attractive city centre and the Harley Davidson museum, whilst Detroit has the Henry Ford museum and lots of bars playing music inspired by Motown.

Outside of the cities, the Midwest is covered by farmland, national parks and lakes – including The Great Lakes, which have over 20% of the earth’s fresh water. The water is calm and clear and is great for fishing, swimming, and kayaking.

The Ozarks is a large plateau filled with mountains, rivers and man-made lakes. The Lake of the Ozarks is 92 mile long man-made lake in the northern part of the Ozarks. The area is popular with tourists for its fishing, swimming, boating and kayaking. There are lots of golf courses around the lake. Some parts of the lake are very quiet, whilst others have a party scene – either onshore at some of the many bars and restaurants, or on the lake at Party Cove.

South West

The South West is made up of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. The area is very influenced by Spanish and Mexican culture. The terrain is mainly rugged cattle ranches and empty deserts that make driving through the states a thrilling experience.

Austin is the state capital of Texas. The city is famous for its alternative cultures and the university plays a big role in the city. Rainey Street is one of the main areas for nightlife and has old bungalows converted into new bars selling local craft beers and other drinks. There is lots of live music around the city at night, and it is one of the best places to have a southern barbecue.

San Antonio in Texas is the most historic city in Texas, famous for its missions. The Alamo is the most famous mission thanks to the 1836 battle that played a pivotal role in the Texas Revolution. There are several other missions close to the city – four are located in the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

Santa Fe is a city perched high on a plateau in New Mexico. The city is the USA’s oldest state capital (founded in 1607) as well as its highest (at over 2100m). The city has a distinctive architectural style. Many of the buildings in the centre are built in the Pueblo style – an earth coloured mix of adobe bricks and sun-dried earth that gives the buildings rounded edges and a soft look. These buildings are centred on the main square, which also has an impressive cathedral. There are lots of museums in the city covering American Indian art and history, Spanish colonial art and history, as well as a museum dedicated to Georgia O’Keeffe who was a resident of the city.

Salt Lake City in Utah is known for the being the headquarters of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church. The headquarters are an impressive temple in Temple Square – the most visited site. However, the city is also a great base from which to explore the amazing surrounding countryside. There are mountains and lakes around the city that are great for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and climbing. In winter there are ski resorts near to the city – it hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The Grand Canyon is one of the USA’s most impressive natural wonders. The canyon is surrounded by a national park, and you can see it from either the north rim, south rim or on a trek through the canyon itself. The scale is hard to imagine without seeing it – in some places the canyon is over 1500m below the rim.

A key economic activity of the south-west is its cattle ranches. These cover enormous swathes of land and vary from rolling green hills to dry, rugged terrain on the plateaus of New Mexico. Many ranches welcome visitors to stay and experience the life of a cowboy, as well as exploring the amazing scenery on horseback. Going to a rodeo is another great way to understand their way of life.

The south-west is the home of the old Wild West and nowhere brings the Wild West to life like a ghost town. There are many of these dotted around the desert and plateaus of the south-west – often left almost exactly as they were back in the 19th Century. Wander around the deserted buildings and down the dusty main streets to get an idea of what life was like in south-west a few hundred years ago.

Although not everyone’s idea of a good destination, Las Vegas, Nevada is one of America’s iconic cities. Even if you don’t fancy playing poker in one of the casinos, Las Vegas can still be worth a visit to see this surreal city. There are lots of good bars and restaurants around the city, as well as the famous pool parties. It is also a good place to explore the Grand Canyon from.

The Great Plains

The Great Plains contains some of the least densely populated states in the USA – North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

There are a number of interesting cities including Oklahoma for its museums, Lincoln for its alternative feel and live music, and Sioux Falls for its city centre waterfalls that give the city its name. However, the main reason to visit the areas is to escape cities and explore the vast and empty countryside.

The Great Plains is a huge area of flat land covered by grasslands and prairie that stretches across these states. The area is primarily used for farming and ranches and has an interesting Native American history.

The Badlands National Park in South Dakota contains canyons, domes and jagged rock formations climbing out of the Great Plains. The rugged terrain is one of the richest fossil beds in the world – including fossils from rhinos and sabre-toothed cats.

The Black Hills are a mountain range also in South Dakota. Their name comes from their forest cover and dark rock. The area has lots of caves – Wind Cave National Park claims to have the densest cave system in the world. There are also lots of rivers and waterfalls that are great to explore on hikes, and at night the lack of light pollution makes this an excellent place to star gaze.

Mount Rushmore is an iconic monument in South Dakota. The monument has the faces of four presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln – carved into the white rock. Each of the faces is around 60ft high. The monument took 14 years to complete – starting in 1927 and finishing in 1941.

The Rocky Mountain States

The Rocky Mountain States of Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Idaho are named for the Rocky Mountains that run through them. The area is famous for its national parks and outdoor activities.

Towns and cities in the region are mainly used as bases to explore the surrounding countryside. That said, Denver is a lively and fast growing city with lots of museums, and Boulder attracts a lot of serious athletes as well as alternative cultures.

The biggest attraction in the area is Yellowstone National Park, which straddles Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It was the first national park in the world and contains lots of geysers and hot springs. The park has over 300 geysers – two-thirds of all the geysers in the world. It’s not just thermal activity that attracts visitors though – the park is home to bears, wolves, lynx, elk, moose and many other mammals.

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado contains some of the best archaeological sites in the USA amongst its desert landscape and canyons. The park contains the remains of 1400-year-old dwellings built into caves.

Other national parks in the region include the Glacier National Park in Montana that has the most scenic mountains lakes in the whole of the USA, and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming that is particularly popular with climbers.

Custer in Idaho is a great example of a ghost town. Founded in 1879 it prospered thanks to mining, growing to a population of 600 in the 1890s. However, the mining declined and so did the town, which was abandoned by 1910.

In winter the Rockies are a great place to ski. There lots of resorts in the mountains including the famous Aspen.

Pacific North West

Oregon and Washington make up the Pacific North West. The interior is filled with forests and mountains, whilst the coastal areas have beautiful beaches and cosmopolitan cities.

Seattle is the largest city in the northwest. The city is surrounded by water, with Elliot Bay to the west and Lake Washington to the East. Pioneer Square is an area with cobbled streets and lots of bars and restaurants at the centre of the city. The city is famous for its art and music and has lots of museums.

Portland, Oregon has a great music and art scene and is one of the best places in the USA for craft beer and wine – with other 70 breweries in the city.

Mount Rainier National Park surrounds the huge Mount Rainier volcano, which rises to 14,410 ft. The park has lots of hiking trails and is not far from Seattle. There is also the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington that commemorates the 1980s eruption of the volcano.

Oregon is a great place for outdoor activities. Mount Bachelor and Mount Hood are ski resorts in winter, and popular hiking destinations in summer. Wallowa Lake attracts visitors who want to go boating, fishing and hiking.

California

California has the highest population of any state in the USA. From north to south the state is over 800 miles long and its terrain is hugely varied – from mountainous forests to arid deserts. California is also home to some of the USA’s most visited cities and national parks.

San Diego is a city at the southern end of the Californian coastline. Pacific and Mission Beaches are in the centre of the cities coastline and are great beaches backed by restaurants, lively bars and nightclubs. To the south is the laid-back Ocean Beach, and to the north is the more upmarket beach area of LaJolla. The beaches offer water sports, including surfing and sailing.

To the north of San Diego is Los Angeles. The main attractions in the city are Hollywood (including Universal Studios Theme Park) and the area around Venice Beach, where the seafront has the iconic outdoor gyms and behind the beach there is a beautiful network of canals and boardwalks. Technically outside the city, but still considered part of Los Angeles is Santa Monica Beach and its famous pier, and slightly further away is the surfer’s paradise of Malibu. In the hills behind the city are the famous mansions of Beverley Hills.

Santa Barbara sits further up the coast from Los Angeles. The city dates back to 1782 making it one of the oldest in California. Originally founded by a Spanish Priest, the main sight in the town is the beautiful 18th Century Santa Barbara Mission.

Between Santa Barbara and San Francisco is the region of Big Sur. Big Sur is famous for its dramatic scenery and cliffs as you drive along next to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way there are lots of quiet, small beaches and coves that you can stop at. Away from the coast it is a great area for hiking with lots of mapped out routes. Carmel is a town at the southern end of Big Sur – it has beautiful beaches, golf courses, spas and is a great place to hike from.

San Francisco is an iconic city in northern California. Famous for the impressive Golden Gate Bridge, steep city streets, Alcatraz Prison and a very liberal attitude there is a huge amount to see and do in San Francisco. In addition to that city has famously good nightlife, with lots of bars and restaurants.

North of San Francisco are the famous redwood forests and the Redwood National Park. Some of the trees are over 2000 years old and the national park is a great place to go hiking through these historic forests.

Away from the coast in northern California is Napa Valley. Napa Valley is the most important wine growing region in the USA. You can explore the valley by bike, stopping off for tastings at vineyards along the way.

East of San Francisco is the Yosemite National Park – one of the most visited national park in the USA. The park is famous for its dramatic granite cliffs, waterfalls and bears. There are lots of hiking trails in the park.

Death Valley National Park is in the Southern California Desert. It is the largest National Park in the USA and is one of the hottest places in the world, with temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius common in summer. The park has mountains that rise to over 11,000 feet near to Badwater Basin – the lower point in the park at almost 300 feet below sea level.

Alaska

Alaska is the largest state in the USA and is popular with people looking for outdoor adventures. Hiking is the most popular thing to do, although other activity based holidays are possible including rafting.

The state has lots of national parks with incredible wildlife and scenery including Denali – the USA’s highest mountain. Wildlife is everywhere in Alaska with a huge population of black and grizzly bears, lynx and wolves. In the sea around Alaska you may catch sight of a humpback whale, whilst the rivers are home to salmon. If you’re lucky you’ll see the brown bears catching the salmon as they descend the rapids.

Possible Itineraries

Most holidays to the USA involve self-drive either in a car or an RV. This means that itineraries can be extremely flexible. It’s generally best to stick to one region to limit the amount of time you need to spend driving.

One popular itinerary is down the coast of California, stopping at Napa Valley, San Francisco, Yosemite, Los Angeles and San Diego.

If you are big on jazz, blues and country music then travelling from Nashville to New Orleans via Memphis and Clarksdale is a great trip.

Let us know what you are looking for and we will tailor make an itinerary for you.

Where to Stay

The USA has a vast range of accommodation from boutique city centre hotels in New York to luxury spa retreats in Napa Valley.

Getting Around The USA

If you plan to travel around a particular region then hiring a car or an RV is a great option. You can drop these off either where you picked them up or at a different destination. If you plan to visit a few of the larger cities only then flying is very easy.

Getting to The USA

There are lots of daily direct flights from the UK to many cities around the USA.

When to Go to the USA

You can visit the USA anytime, however, the north gets very cold in winter. The hottest months are July and August, for travelling around the south April or May are great months as there is lots of sunshine but it doesn’t get too hot.

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.