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Enjoy a Walking Tour of New York Neighborhoods

TImes Square, New York

Alina Zamogilnykh / Shutterstock.com

Each New York City neighborhood has its own distinct vibe, and exploring the area on foot is the best way to experience this. From historic Harlem to the gory past of Little Italy, these are some of New York City’s best walking tours.

Gangster Walking Tour, Little Italy
Little Italy is known for having quite the gory past, with everything from bloody feuds to the rise and fall of the New York mafia. While the streets today may be lined with Italian eateries and small boutiques, the Gangster Walking Tour will reveal all of the neighborhood’s deepest and darkest secrets.

Harlem Renaissance Tour, Harlem
With its elegant architecture and lively ambiance, Harlem is the perfect area to explore on foot. The Harlem Renaissance, which lasted from the 1920’s to the 1930’s, was a hugely important time in this neighborhood, and is believed to be the point at which African-American culture experienced quite the rebirth. The three hour Harlem Renaissance Tour will teach you all about this, while showcasing a few of the individuals that really made this time period so influential.

Tenements, Tales and Tastes, Lower East Side
New York City’s Lower East Side is home to some truly diverse neighborhoods, from Chinatown to Loisaida to Little Italy. The Tenements, Tales and Tastes tour focuses on these tenement-lined neighborhoods, and features stories that depict the distinct culture of each. In addition to using your feet to explore everything from historic synagogues to an African burial ground, you will also be touring the area with your mouth, stopping off at various eateries to taste the local, authentic flavors from each neighborhood.

Best of Brooklyn Walking Tour, Williamsburg
Known for being one of the hipster capitals of the world, Brooklyn is packed with history, culture and creativity. The Best of Brooklyn Walking Tour is a relaxed neighborhood stroll that encompasses some of Brooklyn’s highlights, from its street art to its architecture to its innovative small businesses. You will also learn about Brooklyn’s past, and how it used to be known for immigration, beer brewing, and manufacturing, while discovering how the recent gentrification has helped the neighborhood to evolve.

High Line and Chelsea Walking Tour, Chelsea
The High Line has now become an iconic part of New York, as has the neighborhood that it runs through, Chelsea. Once an area of rural farmland, Chelsea is now known for its cutting-edge art galleries, as well as its thriving gay scene, and this two hour walking tour gives you the low down on how this change happened. The tour includes a walk along the High Line, where you will be able to take in the creative way in which this abandoned train track was turned into a beautiful landscaped park.

Each of New York’s neighborhoods are truly fascinating, and while you may enjoy a few glimpses of them as you pass by on a tour bus, taking a stroll around their streets is the best way to soak up their individuality. From touring and tasting the Lower East Side, to discovering Little Italy’s deep, dark secrets, these walking tours will give you such a unique insight into different parts of the city.

New York sparkles during the holiday season, making this the ideal time of year to pay the city a visit. For those who are trying to plan an itinerary, these are some of the top things to do in New York City in December.

Ice skating in NYC

Cedric Weber / Shutterstock.com

Ice Skating
Ice skating season is in full swing in New York City by December, and this is one of the most iconic winter activities in the city. There are a few different ice rinks to choose from, from the Wollman Rink at Central Park, which is considered to be one of the finest in the world, to the stylish rink at the Rockefeller Center. Of course, the highlight of the rink at the Rockefeller Center is that you will also be able to view the incredible Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Plaza, which weighs around 12 tonnes and glitters with 45,000 LED lights. For those who want more space to skate in, the rink at Bryant Park is one of the biggest in the city, and offers the skyline of Times Square as a backdrop.

Radio City Music Hall and The Rockettes
The Christmas Spectacular at the Radio City Music Hall dates all the way back to 1933, and even if you have caught these shows in previous years, there are always changes that make them worth seeing time and time again. The shows include everything from the Nutcracker to the Nativity, and there are even a few special Rockettes Experiences available, from dance classes to the opportunity to perform live on the Great Stage.

Christmas market in NYC

Cedric Weber / Shutterstock.com

Christmas Markets
New York hosts several Christmas markets during the festive period, with the Winter Village at Bryant Park being one of the most popular. The 125 boutique stalls here surround the ice rink, and sell everything from handmade gifts to the tastiest hot chocolate in the city. The Union Square Holiday Market is also worth checking out, especially if you want to sample some delicious artisan treats, from freshly made truffles to local beer to German bratwurst sausages. You will also find a holiday fair held at the legendary Grand Central Terminal, featuring over 70 stalls selling a range of unique gifts.

Holiday Window Displays
New York City’s holiday window displays are always highly anticipated, especially at Saks Fifth Avenue, where they take inspiration from famous fairy tales when putting together their windows. Other store windows that are worth browsing include Macy’s, Tiffany’s and Henri Bendel, although you are likely to see impressive displays in stores throughout the city. For those that do not want to miss out on any spectacular window displays, there are many walking tours held throughout the city that will take you to see the highlights.

Many would argue that New York City is at its best during the winter, and there are certainly plenty of festive activities to take part in. From ice skating on some of the most famous rinks in the world, to shopping for holiday gifts at the city’s Christmas markets, there is always so much to do in New York City in December.

Sydney

Many would consider the summer months to be the time of the year when Sydney is at its finest, and it is certainly true that the city seems to really sparkle between December and February. In addition to its stunning ocean coastline, which features numerous beaches and harbors, coming alive during the summer, these months are also a time for celebration in Sydney, with several cultural events held, from Christmas to Chinese New Year.

Beaches
Sydney’s beaches are world-famous, with Bondi Beach being the most well-known of them all, and, with everything from hotels to restaurants to shops located in the ‘Bondi Bubble’, this is often an area that first-time visitors choose to stay in. Bronte Beach is Bondi’s sister beach, and can be accessed by a 40-minute coastal walk. A quieter beach with plenty of swell, this is a popular spot amongst local surfers. For those with children, Balmoral Beach boasts gentle currents and enclosed swimming areas, while Camp Cove also has calm waters, as well as spectacular views. For a beach that is more secluded, head to Store Beach, which can only be accessed by water, and is home to an endangered population of Little Penguins.

Sydney Botanical Gardens

Parks and Gardens
Sydney’s parks and gardens are filled with color and life during the summer, and the 30-acre Botanic Gardens, which dates back to 1810 and is believed to be the oldest public garden in the Southern Hemisphere, is one of the best places to experience this. This tranquil oasis in the heart of the city is always a joy to walk through, and, if you have some time to spare, this is a great spot for a summer picnic. The Royal National Park is another one of Sydney’s natural highlights, with over 15,000 hectares of untouched bushland, and can be reached in under an hour from the CBD.

Cultural Events
The many cultural events celebrated throughout the city is another one of the highlights of summer in Sydney. From Christmas concerts, tree lightings and parades to artisan Christmas fares, Christmas is what usually kicks off the festive summer season in Sydney. Following on from this is New Year’s Eve, for which Sydney always puts on a spectacular show, with fireworks over the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Chinese New Year is also widely celebrated in Sydney, usually from the end of January until early February, and you will find everything from Lunar Markets to dragon boat races. Other than holiday events, the summer also sees the Sydney Festival being held in the city, which features some of the best artists in the world, with acts ranging from burlesque dances to classical concerts.

Sydney is iconic during the summer months, and, with the Northern Hemisphere experiencing the chill of winter at the moment, now is the best time to head over to the land down under. Whether you choose to celebrate the holidays amidst the festive buzz of the city, or make the most of the season by exploring Sydney’s natural beauty, this is a city that guarantees an unforgettable summer adventure.

Ruins in Comino

Jaroslav Moravcik / Shutterstock.com

The small island of Comino lies in the Mediterranean Sea between Malta and Gozo, and measures just 3.5 square kilometers. While its main attraction, the Blue Lagoon, is definitely worth seeing, the entire island is a serene slice of paradise that offers a breath of fresh air from some of the more populated islands in the Maltese archipelago.

How to Get There
Since the island does not have an airport, the only way to access it is by sea. There are a few ferry services that travel there from Malta, with the journey taking around 25 minutes, although the number of services drop significantly in low season, so it is worth booking this in advance.

Where to Stay
With only one hotel on the island, most people visit Comino on a day trip, and if they choose to stay over, it is usually just for one night. Although the Comino Hotel would not be considered luxury accommodation, they offer exclusive beaches and a range of water sports, as well as panoramic sea views from the guest rooms. For those who want to spend the night closer to nature, there are some great camping spots to be found, with the most popular being at the north of the island and overlooking the Santa Marija Bay, as it has all of the facilities that you could need.

Blue Lagoon, Comino

Artesia Wells / Shutterstock.com

Things to Do
Comino’s main attraction is the Blue Lagoon, a beach that is considered to be the most beautiful in the Maltese archipelago. A picturesque narrow bay, the Blue Lagoon’s waters are so clear that you can see the white sand lying at the bottom, making it the perfect spot for swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling. The warm, shallow waters are ideal for children who want to play, while the deeper parts are where adrenaline-seekers try their hand at some water skiing. Other than the Blue Lagoon, there are plenty of other scenic beaches to be found on Comino, from Santa Marija Bay to San Niklaw Bay, as well as several water sports centers where you can rent everything from canoes to pedaloes to windsurfing equipment. Santa Marija Bay is also home to the Santa Marija Caves, which can be accessed by a small tunnel from the bay, and boasts a stunning expanse of clear blue water. For those who want to stay on land, Comino has a mountain bike rental service, offering the ideal way to explore the island’s hidden gems. Hiking is also another option, with the small size of the island meaning that it will only take a couple of hours to cover it, and since the Santa Marija Tower is visible from just about every spot on the island, you never need to worry about getting lost.

Comino is an island that has always been sparsely populated, and with its current permanent population standing at just four people, it usually feels as though you have the island all to yourself. With no cars or urban areas, the island is able to offer a sense of tranquillity that is difficult to find these days, giving you a little taste of true paradise.

Cenote Samula, Mexico

The Yucatan Peninsula is a beautifully distinct part of Mexico, because until the 1960’s, when road and rail networks were finally established, the region had more contact with Europe than it did with Mexico. Home to everything from beaches and wildlife to historic Mayan ruins, those who take the time to explore the Yucatan Peninsula are rewarded with an unforgettable experience that will leave them wanting to see so much more.

Beaches and Cenotes
Miles of soft white sand and sparkling blue water is what you will find at just about every beach in the Yucatan Peninsula, but each beach still stands out for its own unique reason. Some of the very best beaches can be found around Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum, but for those seeking out a quieter, more paradisaical world, the region’s cenotes are what you should be exploring. Cenotes are natural swimming holes that usually contain fresh water that has been filtered by the earth, making it extremely clean and pure. Some of the most stunning cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula include the Cenote Yokdzonot, which is near Chichen Itza, Cenote Ponderosa, which you can also dive in as it is 15 meters deep, and Grutas de Loltun, which boasts the largest caves in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Chichen Itza

History and Archaeology
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to several world-famous ancient Mayan archaeological sites, as well as a sprinkling of lesser-known, but equally fascinating, smaller sites. Chichen Itza is always the most popular, as here you will find the Kukulcan Pyramid, the Maya Observatory and the Sacred Cenote. Izamal also boasts several remains of large Mayan pyramids, as well as a colonial convent, while Chetumal is home to the Mayan Cultural Museum. Xpujil is a small inland village that has Mayan ruins scattered throughout, making this a great region to explore if you are traveling by car, as you will easily be able to stop off along your journey at the various points of interest.

Culinary Traditions
The cuisine that you will find in the Yucatan Peninsula is famous throughout Mexico, as these culinary traditions are a tantalizing combination of ancient Mayan and Spanish influences, making the region quite the foodie destination. Some of the trademark dishes that you simply must try here include Pibil, which is chicken or pork that has been wrapped in a banana leaf and then barbecued to perfection, Poc Chuc, which is a tender pork dish featuring onions, lime juice, and a colorful array of spices, and Pollo Motuleno, a chicken dish that makes use of orange juice, achiote and plantains. While the glitzy holiday resorts all over the Yucatan Peninsula may serve up some tasty local dishes, you need to sample some street food fare in order to really experience the authentic flavors of this ancient region.

Visitors travel from all over the world to explore the Yucatan Peninsula for a number of different reasons. Whether this may be its tropical beaches and otherworldly cenotes, its fascinating ancient history, or its incomparable culinary traditions, this is a region that really has so much to offer.

Each year, certain destinations become travel hotspots, and this happens for a variety of different reasons. Whether due to a changing economy or relaxed travel restrictions, these are set to be some of the top destinations of 2017.

Greece

Greece
Greece has spent the past few years suffering from a serious debt crisis, but, thanks to the relatively stable political scene in the country now, tourism has really been picking up, and 2017 is looking to be its best year yet. Greece, with its cliff-side towns, picture-perfect islands, and deep cultural and historic roots, really does make for an unforgettable vacation, and there are a number of different appealing destinations within Greece to choose from. Whether you opt for the sunny beaches of Crete, the ancient ruins of Athens, or the spiritual monasteries of Meteora, there is so much to see and do in Greece, so plan your trip for 2017, before the tourism sector gets much busier.

Cuba

Cuba
Now that travel restrictions to Cuba have been relaxed, this Caribbean island, which is packed with history and culture, is already experiencing quite the tourism surge. While a trip to Cuba does need a fair bit of advance planning, this is a destination like no other. With no internet access and international fast food chains, visitors to the island immediately delve into Cuba’s traditions and culture, with warm and friendly locals always happy to step in with advice. There are several options when it comes to the different regions of Cuba, with Old Havana being home to vibrant cafés, bars and a must-see vintage book market, while the smaller cities, such as the easily walkable Santiago de Cuba, or the colonial Trinidad, provide a unique insight into a part of Cuba that many visitors still have not seen.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka
An island nation just south of India, Sri Lanka is a tropical island that, for many years, has been overshadowed by its nearby neighbors, India and the Maldives, leaving large parts of the country relatively unexplored. In order to keep up with its competition, Sri Lanka has recently been undergoing quite the cosmopolitan upgrade, with everything from luxury resorts to world-class facilities. Depending on your interests, there are various regions in Sri Lanka that are worth exploring. The larger cities are usually the first point of call for a tourist, from the capital of Colombo to the spiritual city of Kandy to historic Galle, which is home to an impressive Dutch fort. For those who are seeking out history, Anuradhapura is home to over 1000 years of the country’s history, while those who want to check out Sri Lanka’s stunning beaches should consider Mirissa, Beruwela and Trincomalee.

Travel expands your horizons, providing you with experiences that will help you to grow as an individual. With 2017 almost upon us, now is the time to begin making your travel plans for the next year, so be sure to spend some time looking into each of these three destinations further, as you will be guaranteed the vacation of a lifetime.

 The City of Vigan
Located in the city of Vigan on the west coast of Luzon island, the historic Mestizo District, also known as Calle Crisologo, stands out for the way in which it manages to beautifully merge Chinese and Spanish aesthetics. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, taking a walk through the five blocks of the Mestizo District is the best way to truly soak up its unique ambiance.

The Architecture
The colonial-era architecture all over the Mestizo District is usually what first captivates visitors, as all of the magnificent mansions and ancestral homes have been wonderfully preserved. With Chinese merchants being the first to settle in the area, and soon becoming the city’s elite, and then the Spanish colonizing the city later on, both of these cultures have had huge influences on the designs and styles of the architecture you will see. From stone walls to capiz-shell windows to leafy inner courtyards, the merging of Chinese and Spanish styles makes the Mestizo District architecturally unique. Most of the mansions here are now private homes, but there are a couple that are open to the public to tour, and still feature original decor and furnishings. From the Syquia Mansion, that used to be the home of the sixth president of the Philippines, to the Quema House, both of these houses will provide you with a great insight into what the interior of a Chinese-Spanish home would have looked like at the time.

The Mestizo District

Akarat Phasura / Shutterstock.com

Shopping
With the ground floor of many of the colonial houses now being used as shops, the streets of the Mestizo District become a hive of activity during the day, with traditional goods spilling out onto the streets, and plenty of haggling taking place. The majority of the products that you will see are traditional to the city of Vigan, with everything from antiques to wine to wood crafts to the famous Vigan vinegar.

After Dark
For those who plan their walk for the evening time, you will be able to enjoy the pleasure of experiencing the Mestizo District once the sun goes down. With the cobblestone streets, the lack of traffic, and the traditional lamps that cast spooky shadows on the historic buildings, the Mestizo District takes on even more of an 18th century atmosphere at night. The perfect way to round off your evening walk here is by stopping off at a local restaurant for dinner, such as Café Leona, which is housed in one of the colonial mansions. For those who want to spend the night, you will find that a few of the mansions have been converted into inns, giving you the chance to sleep in a piece of history.

Being closed to traffic and only measuring around 500 meters, walking through the Mestizo District really does make you feel as though you have stepped back in time. With its historic Chinese and Spanish architectural influences, combined with the energetic buzz from enthusiastic shoppers and vendors on the cobblestone streets, the Mestizo District is a part of Vigan that is definitely worth taking the time to explore.

The Philippine mountains of Ifugao are famous for being home to rice terraces that were carved into the mountainside over 2000 years ago, by ancestors of the indigenous people. While there are many rice terraces to be found around the Philippines, the Banaue Rice Terraces are distinctly unique, showcasing an ancient yet living landscape that has now been designated a National Cultural Treasure, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Rice Terraces of the Philippines
The Rice Terraces
The rice terraces of Banaue were most likely carved into the mountain by hand, and were done so to solve a serious problem that locals were facing at the time. With nothing but vertical slopes of mountain to grow their food on, the rice terraces provided a practical solution to this, and not only are they incredibly functional, but they also have a beautiful surreal quality to them. When it comes to irrigation, this was also thought about in great detail, and the rice terraces boast a complex irrigation system that harvest water from the mountain mist – an engineering technique that has allowed the terraces to thrive for over 2000 years.

Abandoned and Revived
For many farmers that were based around the Ifugao mountains, the rice terraces were their sole source of income and survival. Sadly, with a daily wage of less than US$6, more and more locals began migrating to the cities, soon leaving the rice terraces completely abandoned. This then led to their deterioration, but, fortunately, in recent years, there has been quite the revival in the region. With the price of rice once again rising, the younger generation has been returning to the rice terraces to cultivate this staple crop once again, meaning that around 90% of these ancient terraces are now back in action.

Rice Terraces of the Philippines
Visiting the Rice Terraces
With many Filipinos referring to the rice terraces as the eighth wonder of the world, it comes as no surprise that they make for quite the popular tourist attraction. When it comes to deciding when to visit, keep in mind that June and December are usually harvest times, meaning that the terraces will be covered with a golden sheen, and there will be a constant buzz of activity around. For those who would prefer to visit at a quieter time, April to May, or October to November, is when the terraces will be a splendid shade of green, but be sure to stay away between July and August, as this is the rainy season and your view of the slopes will not be as impressive. Banaue itself is easy to access from many parts of the Philippines, with a direct train and bus from Manila, or jeepney rides from other nearby provinces.

With the average Filipino consuming around 120kg of rice each year, rice is most definitely one of the most important food staples in the country, making it no surprise that ingenious ways of growing this crop had to be sought out in the mountainous regions. Whether you choose to take a guided walk along the rice paddies, stopping off at the natural swimming holes along the way, or enjoy the splendid view from a distance, the Banaue Rice Terraces are definitely a must-visit for those who want to experience a sense of living history.

Lantern festival
An annual celebration in the Philippine city of San Fernando, the Giant Lantern Festival is held on the Saturday before Christmas Eve, meaning that it falls on the 19th of December this year. As you would expect from the name of the festival, the event features massive lanterns that are an attraction in themselves, and are why the city has earned itself the nickname of the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.

The Festival’s Beginnings
The roots of the Giant Lantern Festival can be traced back to Bacolor, where a much simpler celebration used to be held. However, when San Fernando became the provincial capital in 1904, the event moved to this vibrant city, and has been held here ever since. The lanterns used at this time were a mere two feet in diameter, which was much smaller than the lanterns seen today, but these evolved over the years, with the lanterns becoming much larger and more intricate. In 1931, electricity was introduced to the San Fernando lanterns, with the lights being controlled by switches, and each barangay, or region, would co-operatively create their own lantern for the competition.

Lanterns
The Lanterns
Today, the Giant Lantern Festival features a spectacular array of different lanterns. The largest measure around 20 feet, and are made with a steel frame, before being lined with cardboard and then fitted with between 3000 and 5000 light bulbs, but there are also many simpler designs that make the festival accessible even to those without complex lantern creation skills. These consist of a lightweight bamboo frame wrapped in rice paper, and this minimalist design is always just as breathtaking and captivating as the more complex lanterns out there.

The Significance of the Festival
The Giant Lantern Festival has, for so many years now, marked the start of the Christmas season in the Philippines. In addition to this, it also portrays the holiday message of light and hope, and the kaleidoscopic beauty of the lantern designs highlight the festivities of the season. This is a festival that is extremely popular amongst the locals, and always has a huge turnout, so be sure to prepare for this if you are planning on visiting.

Lantern Exhibitions
Once the Giant Lantern Festival has kicked off this year, there will be several Lantern Exhibitions held around San Fernando, so that the public has the opportunity to check out this year’s lanterns in more detail. From Essel Park to Greenfields to Robinsons Starmills, each of these San Fernando locations will be showcasing some of the finest lanterns from this year’s festival.

The islands of the Philippines are home to a wide range of unique Christmas traditions, but the Giant Lantern Festival has to be one of the most popular. While there is a competitive element to the festival, with winning lanterns being picked each year and Barangay Dolores having won for the last two consecutive years, this is secondary to the joy and excitement that the festival brings to the city each December, and it is likely that this is a Philippine tradition that will stick around for many more years to come.

The Seef Mall

Philip Lange / Shutterstock.com

Bahrain offers a wonderfully diverse shopping experience, and will no doubt quickly become one of your favorite shopping destinations. With everything from glitzy sprawling shopping malls to authentically traditional souks, this guide highlights some of the very best shopping in Bahrain.

Shopping Malls
While not a traditional place to shop, there is no denying the elegant and sophisticated appeal of modern shopping malls, and Bahrain certainly has plenty to choose from. Bahrain City Centre is the largest in the kingdom, and not only has a wide range of international stores, but also a 20-screen cinema, two hotels and the largest indoor and outdoor waterpark in the region. The Bahrain Mall is another popular shopping mall, and manages to combine international brands with local favorites, such as Arabian Oud and Tarbouche Express. Nearby to the Bahrain Mall is the Al A’ali Shopping Complex and the Seef Mall, making the area quite the high-traffic retail district. Other malls worth a mention include Marina Mall, which is home to several mega-stores, the exclusive and high end Moda Mall, and Dana Mall, home to a range of unique local brands.

Traditional Souqs
Located in the labyrinth of streets behind Bab Al Bahrain, the Manama Souq bursts into life in the evenings, and is known for being the best place to go for electronic goods, bargain clothing, spices, nuts, and other local essentials. Within the Manama Souq, you will also find the Spice Souq, situated in a quiet corner, and the Gold Souq, with hundreds of glittering rows of stalls that guarantee to dazzle your eyes. The Muharraq Souq is also worth a visit, and you will find it on Muharraq Island. Within this souq is the Suq al Qaisariya, which features a newly renovated collection of traditional stores that will soon form a significant part of an important heritage pathway being built on the island.

Pottery for sale in Bahrain
Carpets, Pearls and Pottery
While Bahrain is famous for a variety of things, the three most popular items that tourists tend to usually purchase from the kingdom when visiting are pearls, red clay pottery, and carpets. Pearls are the item that first put Bahrain on the map, and, in addition to being able to dive for pearls themselves, visitors can also purchase some gorgeous pieces from local stores, safe in the knowledge that Bahrain is one of the few countries in the world that sells natural, rather than cultured, pearls. Bahrain is also known for creating some of the most beautiful carpets in the world, with some of the finest carpet shops being found in Adliya and Manama, while those who want to purchase some local handmade pottery should head to A’Ali Pottery, which is the largest pottery handicraft center in Bahrain.

When it comes to retail therapy, Bahrain offers nothing but the very best. Whether you want to haggle for local spices at a bustling souq, or browse the latest couture fashions in a gleaming mall, you will not be disappointed by the unique shopping experience that you will discover in Bahrain.