48 hours in Florence

The birthplace of the Renaissance and home to famous art, architecture, and some of the world’s most delicious food and drink, Florence is a living, breathing masterpiece. Sure, 48 hours will never truly be enough, but here’s the best of where to go and what to do (and eat!) while you’re there. DAY ONE 9:00 […]

10 things you didn’t know about the Colosseum

No trip to Rome is complete without marveling at the Colosseum. But just getting close to this wonder of the world is not enough for those who want to hear its stories and secrets. To help quench your thirst for knowledge, here are 10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Italy’s iconic amphitheater. 1- It’s […]

8 amazing ‘second cities’ in Europe

Often overlooked but never underwhelming, these 8 so-called second cities give their bigger, more famous compatriots a run for their money.  What second cities lack in size, they make up for with amazing things to do, see, taste, and snap. So if you’re planning a European city break, why not look beyond the well-worn streets […]

8 megacities you have to visit

The thrill of speeding traffic, the buzz of thousands of voices, and the electricity of a skyline at night: there’s a lot to be said for visiting a new city. But let’s take things up a notch. Experience the megalopolis — worlds unto themselves, these giant cities amass some of the most exciting attractions to […]

9 best destinations for adventure-seekers

Listen up, adventure-seekers! We know the average destination won’t meet your ultimate travel desires. You need action, adrenaline, and loads of fun. Luckily, we’ve found just the places for you. From whitewater rafting in Alaska to shark cage diving in Cape Town, these nine adventure-filled destinations are sure to inject some adrenaline into your travel plans.

1- Alaska, USA
While Alaska is packed with amazing experiences like glacier hiking, snow machining, ziplining, and heli-skiing, it truly excels at water sports. The US state has some of the best whitewater rafting in the world, with class five and six rapids. You can also kayak through fields of icebergs and glacier-carved fjords or go snorkeling in the ocean. If water isn’t your thing, then perhaps a 4×4 safari around the Denali National Park will spark your interest — expect lots of bumps, mud, and superb wildlife sightings.

2- Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown is home to some of New Zealand’s most action-packed activities and has often been referred to as the adventure capital of the country. There are things to do for every level of daredevil, from horse riding and mountain biking to zip lining and jet boating. For the most fearless, Queenstown is home to the original bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge (43 meters) along with New Zealand’s highest bungy jump, Nevis, which is a whopping 134-meters high. A true adventure-seeker would also not leave without throwing themselves out of a plane from 15,000ft!

3- Interlaken, Switzerland
Whether it’s summer or winter, there is a long list of activities to get up to in Interlaken. During the summer months go canyoning, paragliding, rafting, skydiving (you can even try out a helicopter skydive) and bungy jumping. The winter months are ready-made for glacier landing, snowshoeing, night sledding, skiing, and snowboarding. There’s also Seilpark Interlaken, which is an adventure park based in the forest with wooden bridges, Tarzan swings, zip lines, and more than 90 different challenges/obstacle courses.

4- Maui, USA
While Maui has beautiful beaches, this is not the destination for lying around all day. It’s made for exploring, playing, and getting active. Snorkeling is the most popular activity here, particularly around the extinct volcanic crater of Molokini and Turtle Town where you can swim with Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. Alternately, if your budget is low: rent a SUP (stand up paddleboard) for a few hours and bob around while looking for turtles. Other adventurous activities that you can get up to include a helicopter ride, canopy zip lining tours, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, and hiking.

5- Koh Tao, Thailand
If you’re looking to get your scuba diving certification, then Koh Tao is your best bet. It’s known as the best diving spot in Thailand and for having the world’s second highest number of annual dive certifications (after Cairns, Australia). There are loads of diving schools available, and the rates are quite cheap. Some of the not-to-miss diving spots include Chumphon, the wreck of the Sattakut, Shark Island, White Rock, The Twins, and Green Rock. For the best scuba-diving experience join the bi-weekly trip to Thailand’s premium diving spot, Sail Rock.

6- Patagonia, Argentina and Chile
Patagonia is all about the outdoors – hiking, fishing, climbing, kayaking, and biking. Avid hikers will love Patagonia with its unparalleled beauty and numerous hiking tracks. From piercing peaks, thick forests, open plains, shimmering lakes and enormous glaciers, the scenery is truly spectacular. Popular parks include Torres del Paine National Park, Los Glaciares National Park and the Lakes District. For a real adrenaline-pumping experience, try ice-hiking on the Grey Glacier.

7- Rocky Mountains, Canada
The Canadian Rocky Mountains are filled with activities for outdoor enthusiasts. There’s beautiful mountains for hiking, glorious lakes to paddle around, hot springs, and a variety of wildlife (watch out for the bears!). There are some great hiking trails in the Banff, Jasper and Kootenay National Parks, including shorter day hikes. The lakes can also be explored by kayak, canoe, SUP, or whitewater rafting. During the wintertime, the area offers every winter sport imaginable including skiing, snowshoeing, and even dog sledding.

8- Slovenia
Slovenia is a hidden adventure gem in Eastern Europe with minimal crowds and reasonable prices. You can canoe or kayak around Lake Bled or join a toboggan race during the summer months. For hiking, Triglav National Park offers various day hikes including more advanced routes for experienced climbers. There’s also a number of underground springs, lakes, caves, and dry sinkholes to explore, including the most visited cave in Europe – Postojna Cave. Other adventurous activities include whitewater rafting and canyoning in the Soca Valley, cliff jumping in Piran, trail riding in Triglav National Park, and underground kayaking in Bled.

9- Cape Town, South Africa
There’s more to Cape Town than wine tasting and sightseeing. From hiking up and around Table Mountain to sailing the open seas, there are plenty of activities for adventure-seekers. You can even take to the skies and partake in a tandem paragliding experience from Signal Hill or Lion’s Head. One of the more popular adventure activities is shark cage diving with the great white sharks of Gansbaai — make sure to choose the eco-friendly version of this experience though!

10 most relaxing beaches in the world

Long stretches of glistening golden sand, sparkling blue water, and cocktails within reach: we know what makes a good beach. If you’re seeking pure relaxation, we’ve found just the beaches around the world for you to bliss out on. We’ve also included a few beaches which are ideal for surfing, snorkeling, and other water activities — because relaxation isn’t only about lying back with a cocktail.

1- Elafonisi Island, Crete
Located on the western side of Crete, Elafonisi Island is just 200 meters off the coast. Voted several times over as home to the most majestic beach in the world, one glance at Elafonisi Island’s stunning pink sand and crystal clear blue-green waters will leave you longing to lounge on its shores. But that’s not all: you can also enjoy a peaceful swim in the shallow lagoon situated between the mainland and the island. The perfect destination for a summer day, Elafonisi Island is popular — and with good reason! Beat the crowds by heading here at the beginning or the end of the summer.

 

2- Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Actually measuring only 5.5 miles, the famous Seven Mile Beach is situated on Grand Cayman’s west shore. The clear waters and coral sands attract visitors from around the world, but that’s not all Seven Mile Beach has to offer. Enjoy lively bars and Jamaican restaurants as you soak in the Caribbean sun. Whether sipping on fresh coconut water straight from the source is up your alley, or getting to know the local wildlife on a snorkeling trip is more your speed, Seven Mile Beach has something for everyone. Oh, last but not least: a visit to the Caymans wouldn’t be complete without rum. Head to this nearby distillery and brewery to taste this spirit at the source.

 

3- Harbor Island, Bahamas
Located off the northeast coast of Eleuthera Island, Harbor Island is a quiet refuge away from the busy Bahamian beaches. Popular among couples and families who enjoy relaxing away from the masses, Harbor Island is home to pink beaches and a seemingly endless supply of sun loungers. And with no shortage of beachside bites, you’re sure to find something to your tastes. For the more adventurous folk, neighboring island Nassau is close enough and packed with beach activities.

 

4- Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Matira Beach is the only public-access beach in Bora Bora, making it the most accessible on the island. This mile-long beach features long stretches of white sand and a shallow emerald lagoon, with palm trees and thick tropical foliage in the background. For drinks and dining, you won’t have to walk far. Several casual cafes are scattered along the beach, all western-facing to enjoy the stunning sunsets. During low tide, it’s possible to swim out to the barrier reef which is a popular spot to snorkel with sharks and stingrays.

 

5- Reduit Beach, St. Lucia
Reduit Beach is situated just south of Pigeon Island National Park along Rodney Bay. For the active traveler, this beach is great for snorkeling, scuba diving, and sailing — or even joining a Segway nature trail experience. For vacationers with a slower speed in mind, never fear. There are numerous ways to luxuriate at dozens of nearby spas. And if you want to keep living the high life, Reduit Beach happens to be situated near a large yacht marina, so you can easily charter a boat to a nearby island. Anchors aweigh!

 

6- El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Home to around 50 white sand beaches, El Nido is full of fun ways to spend a day in the sun. No matter which beach you visit, you’re guaranteed dramatic limestone formations, insanely white sand, and intensely blue water. And don’t even get us started with the sunsets. While they are certainly ‘gram worthy, nothing beats being there in person. Seek out a secluded spot on El Nido (this won’t be difficult — the area is relatively under the radar), sit back, and relax.

 

 

7- Navagio Beach, Zakynthos Island, Greece
Navagio Beach is often referred to as Shipwreck Beach or Smuggler’s Cove and is located on the coast of Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands of Greece. This remote destination is notoriously difficult to get to: unless you’re the captain of your own ship, you’ll need to hop on one of several boats that go back and forth to the beach. Take the experience up a notch via a day trip and see Navagio Beach in style via speedboat, as well as the Blue Caves at Xingia Beach.

 

8- Hyams Beach, Australia
Hyams Beach has the whitest sand in the world. Don’t take our word for it — the Guinness Book of World Records says so. This, however, is just one of the reasons to visit Hyams beach. Located on the southern shores of Jervis Bay, you can join a tour from Sydney that explores all of the beaches along this coastal strip, including Hyams Beach. The bay is encircled by Booderee National Park and is also a popular spot for whale watching.

 

9- Île aux Cerfs, Mauritius
Mauritius is notorious for luxurious beach holidays — it’s a tropical paradise packed with stunning beaches and top-notch hotels and lodges. Île aux Cerfs is a privately owned island near the east coast of Mauritius and has the largest lagoon among the islands. Most travelers make their visit a day trip, soaking up the sun, snorkeling, and enjoying lunch at one of the beach restaurants. You can get to the island either by motorboat or splash out on a private Catamaran Charter.

 

10- Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
Perhaps the most famous of the Bermuda beaches, Horseshoe Bay is known for its pink sands, turquoise water, and jagged rock formations. This is a popular beach (particularly when cruise ships are in town), but for a quieter spot, travelers just need to walk a bit further east along the beach. Horseshoe Bay has everything needed for a fun beach day, including chairs and umbrellas for rental, lifeguards, a beach bar, and public restrooms. For families, there’s Horseshoe Bay Cove, which is a natural shallow pool perfect for splashing around in.

7 captivating historical cities

History can be captivating — especially when it’s directly under your feet. Explore worlds of centuries past by visiting the various cities around the globe that are home to ancient ruins, magnificent temples, and surreal palaces. Take a step back in time and marvel at the beauty that once was while enjoying the local culture of these cosmopolitan cities.

 

1- Athens, Greece
Wise and magnificent, the Acropolis is the center around which Athens still revolves. Equal parts gritty and graceful, Athens is first and foremost a city for locals, chock full of Grecian relics alongside bars and bistros rife with tiny espressos, flavorful wine, and cold beer. Eager to accommodate the many travelers who come to visit the ruins scattered throughout the city center, Athenians are warm and generous. Expect an alternative culture mixed with familial neighborhoods and a bustling nightlife — with something for everyone, Athens is a hard city to leave.

 

2- Istanbul, Turkey
Home of Hagia Sophia, a former Christian basilica turned Ottoman Imperial mosque and now a museum, Istanbul is a dynamic city full of flux — but even with its ever-changing nature, the city’s roots run deep. A melting pot of East and West, Istanbul was the final stop on the legendary Silk Road linking Asia with Europe, resulting in a region of cultural diversity that brings out the best of both worlds. Adorned with churches, palaces, and ambitious architectural projects both new and old, the skyline is one of the most impressive sights to behold. Down on the city streets, fill your days with galleries, museums, and a chance to see the Whirling Dervishes. And if it’s food you’re after, check out mouthwatering kebabs, flavorful mezes, and fresh fish.

 

3- Jerusalem, Israel
Considered a holy land for numerous faiths, Jerusalem is a treasury of diversity. A home to Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian quarters, the sacred city offers a plethora of religious experiences alongside cultural delights. Ringing with Islamic calls to prayer, visit the walled Old City and hear the concurrent church bells, chiming to the hours past and creating a harmonious vestige of sights and sounds. Explore Jerusalem’s storied streets and feel the power of one of the most historically significant cities in the world.

 

4- Alexandria, Egypt
Alexandria has long been considered an epicenter of ancient knowledge and culture. Once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the world, the Pharos Lighthouse and Great Library garnered the city much appeal; however, the ruins of these ancient architectural wonders now lie submerged under the sea. But not to worry! There’s plenty to experience above sea level, including a visit to the Catacombs of Kom el Shaqafa and a Roman Amphitheatre. Once you’ve had your fill of sightseeing, take a dip in the water of Alexandria’s public or private beaches, where beautiful teal water meets the mystique of an ancient wonderland.

 

5- Varanasi, India
One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, Varanasi dates back to the 11th century BC and brings to life all the colors and dynamism of centuries passed. Located along the River Ganges, pilgrims and travelers visit the Ghats to wash away sins in the sacred waters or say a final farewell to loved ones being liberated from the cycle of rebirth. Wander through the city’s ancient, twisting passageways or experience the fascinating and colorful place from the vantage point of an early morning boat ride. Enjoy the water and witness the Aarti ceremony while on route to explore Sarnath’s temple — a magical experience in of one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities.

 

6- Beijing, China
Compelling and complex, Beijing has been captivating travelers with its ancient and increasingly modern beauty for over 3,000 years. Home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Chinese capital has no shortage of royal palaces, sublime temples, and gorgeous gardens to visit. Experience the walled mystery of the Forbidden City — a royal palace from the Ming dynasty that acted as the home to 24 emperors over the centuries. From there, head to the socialist realist monuments of the 1950s. Once you’ve soaked in Beijing’s history, enjoy a meal at one of the thousands of tiny restaurants scattered on every corner. A voyage from past the present — Beijing has it all.

 

7- Cusco, Peru
Once the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco is a unique and cosmopolitan city. Believed to be built in the image of a puma, a sacred animal to the Incas, Cusco is indisputably the archaeological capital of both South and North America. Explore a lush landscape of ancient history right outside the city center, as many of the ruins stand in contrast to their modern surroundings. The gateway to Machu Picchu, this historical place offers a glimpse of the rich heritage that once acted as a hub for advanced mathematics, ahead-of-its-time astronomy, and calendar systems. More than the cozy alpaca sweaters the city is known for, Cusco offers a glimpse of history directly at your feet.

Meet your guide to Edinburgh

Who better to show us around the cobbled streets of Scotland’s age-old capital than Tania Dron of Mercat Tours? With seven years of tour-guiding experience to her name, Tania knows exactly what to see, eat, drink, and snap. From beaches and baths to views and vaults, here’s how to experience the best of Edinburgh.

What makes Edinburgh so special?
Edinburgh is a small city with a real bustling, energetic vibe. It’s easy to navigate, and regardless of the time of year you choose to visit, there is always something exciting happening. Edinburgh is made up of the Old Town and the New Town. Considering the New Town dates from the 18th century, you get an idea of just how much history the city holds.

What’s your favorite place in Edinburgh that tourists rarely visit?
Portobello Beach. Tourists always seem surprised when I suggest a day at the beach. It’s located in a very well connected suburb of the city, so you can easily get there with public transport. Once there, you can enjoy a stroll on the promenade, a dip in the sea (weather permitting), or a relaxing afternoon in the historic Victorian ‘baths.’ Finishing your trip with a bite to eat at a local restaurant or café and enjoying an ice cream cone is a must, regardless of the season.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Edinburgh?
The views and the walks! There are so many spots in Edinburgh to take in some magnificent views, and quite a few of them involve beautiful walks. For example, the view from Calton Hill as the sun is setting is really special. Just further afield, Blackford Hill provides you with a beautiful cityscape image. If hills aren’t your thing, the Water of Leith walkway is brilliant for an afternoon stroll, and it makes it hard to believe you’re still in the city center.

Where’s the best place to eat dinner in Edinburgh?
I love Cannonball House, which is situated right next to Edinburgh Castle. Their locally produced food is amazing. They have a great family business ethos, like Mercat Tours, and offer a really warm welcome. It’s the perfect location for wonderful food, traditional Scottish storytelling, and a nip of whisky. That’s why we created the Scottish Storytelling Supper with them.

Where’s the best place to shop in Edinburgh?
I like Stockbridge. It has some great independent craft shops mixed with charity thrift shops so you can pick up a unique bargain or two.

What gift should visitors take home?
Whisky – I’m always going to say whisky! As well as being world famous, it’s such an important part of Scottish culture and is a great way to bring people together. I introduce visitors to Scottish whisky on one of my tours, and there’s always so much interest and love for our national drink.

What are the most Instagram-worthy places in Edinburgh?
The Royal Mile has some real insta-worthy gems but not always where you expect. I recommend venturing down to the lower half of the Royal Mile, called the Canongate. I’ve taken some amazing photos of the Canongate while exploring locations for our Treasures of the Old Town tour. The views inspired the name of the tour!

Nobody should leave Edinburgh without having visited…
The National Museum of Scotland – it’s a treasure trove of artifacts, just choosing ten objects for our tour of the museum was a  challenge – albeit a wonderful one!

What is the best activity to do on a rainy day?
Rainy days are perfect days to visit the Underground Vaults of Edinburgh. So few people, even locals, realize the warren of passageways and vaults that are right beneath their feet.

What should visitors say when greeting a local?
“Is this seat free?” The best place to say this and really get to know the locals is in a pub, preferably with live music!

What’s your favorite thing about being a tour guide?
Meeting people from all over the world and introducing them to the history of Edinburgh and Scotland. On any day, I meet people from different parts of the globe who are all on tours to find out about the city’s past.

Can you tell us more about Mercat Tours?
Mercat Tours was founded 33 years ago by a local history teacher, and we are very proud of our family heritage. Our tours are delivered by talented, accredited storytelling guides. Our history tours explore the Old Town of Edinburgh, from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the National Museum of Scotland. Our ghost tours appeal to all ages and uncover the city’s darker past in the Edinburgh Underground Vaults and The Canongate graveyard. We offer tours in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.