Where are you go on next holiday

Start with a stroll along Calea Victoriei, lurching with belle époque sensations and upscale boutiques. Bucharest’s oldest artery is arguably its most revealing. From the stately Cantacuzino Palace (today housing the George Enescu Museum) to the grandeur of the Romanian Athenaeum, bordering the scar-marked Revolution Square, it’s clear why the Romanian capital was once dubbed ‘little Paris’. Crowning wide, tree-lined boulevards, the city even boasts its very own Triumphal Arch.

But Bucharest is best enjoyed from the seat of a garden terrace, watching life go by. Contributing to a long-standing cafe culture, the Garden of Eden (facebook.com/gradinaeden107) – so appropriately called – boasts a vast urban garden seemingly veiled behind Știrbei Palace, complete with swings and hammocks. Come fall, sip your coffee inside the covered terrace whose artsy-industrial design scores extra points.

Before you set off into the maze-like streets of the Old Town, refuel with hearty Romanian fare at Caru’ cu Bere, Bucharest’s oldest beer house. Despite the tourist crowds, this stained-glass architectural landmark from 1897 is worth a stop, both for the food and occasional song-and-dance traditional performances.

With your belly full of beer and ciorbă (the customary sour soup), journey on the cobblestone streets of Lipscani, the area named after the many German merchants from Leipzig once retailing here. With quirky street names redolent of the craftsmen of yesteryear – such as Blanari (furriers), Covaci (blacksmiths) and Gabroveni (knife makers) – the pedestrian district will keep you entertained for hours.

On the left as you exit the restaurant, notice the OrthodoxStravropoleos Church, a magnificent example of Brâncovenesc style built by Greek monks in the 1700s. Head to the tranquil garden in the back for the masterfully carved arcades and a few minutes of silence. Moving on, the discreet courtyard of Strada Hanul cu Tei unravels a heap of art galleries and antique shops. Also in the vicinity is the Old Princely Court, built in the 15th century by the infamous Vlad Ţepeş, more widely known as Count Dracula.

But if you’d rather seek the modern, there’s plenty on that front to keep you busy. Envisioned as a cultural habitat where one can retreat to read and savour organic food and drinks, Carturesti Carusel library (carturesticarusel.ro) – an Instagram magnet in the Old Town – is an impressive six-level structure in a restored 19th-century house. Next door, the brought-to-new-life Gabroveni Inn (arcub.ro/arcub-gabroveni) is the capital’s newfangled cultural centre (renamed ARCUB), often hosting free exhibitions and events.

Finally, take a peek inside the oldest operating hotel in Bucharest, Manuc’s Inn (hanulluimanuc.ro). Here, the picturesque balconied courtyard acts as a perfect backdrop for fairs and folkloric acts, while also housing a restaurant, a few bars and a coffee shop.

Closing in a tireless afternoon of Old Town crawling, cool off with an Aperol Spritz at Bordello (bordellos.ro), a 3-in-1 hotspot thanks to its gastro pub, 1930s speakeasy and cabaret. Whether you start withForeplay snacks or Quickies, you can wine, dine and get your groove on, all in the same building.

Bucharest is known for its nightlife, and Lipscani is where the action is. Try club-hopping on the adjacent streets, a pastime that in Bucharest goes on well after midnight, or hop over to newcomer Energiea (energiea.ro) for some of the city’s most ingenious cocktails.

Start the day right at Origo Coffee Shop (origocoffee.ro), a speciality store offering the best brew in town, along with breakfast snacks and herbal teas (return at dusk for an introduction to Romanian wines, accompanied by an assortment of local cheeses and cold cuts). Properly energised, take advantage of one of the best English-language bookstores in Eastern Europe, at Anthony Frost on Calea Victoriei; it’s stocked with several titles on Romania.

If weather permits, hop on a 20-minute taxi ride north (around €3) for a unique morning outdoors at the National Village Museum. Here you can witness a page of Romanian rural life and a display of a few dozen peasant homes, barns, wooden churches and mills from all regions of the country. Stroll past tall-roofed houses, with beautifully crafted shingles and doorways, in a bucolic setting on the shores of Herăstrău Lake.

Ireland Ancient East

Kick off in the Irish capital with an overview of the country’s history at the 1877-established National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology. Just some of its highlights are the world’s most complete collection of medieval Celtic metalwork, and four preserved Iron Age ‘bog bodies’ with intact features such as fingernails. Other exhibitions include Medieval Ireland, and Viking Ireland, featuring finds excavated at Dublin’s Wood Quay.

Brú na Bóinne

A Unesco World Heritage-listed wonder from around 3200 BC, the vast Neolithic necropolis Brú na Bóinne, 50km north of Dublin, predates both Stonehenge (by a millennia) and the Great Pyramids of Egypt (by six centuries). In fertile farmland scattered with standing stones, the complex encompasses three main burial tombs: Newgrange, a white quartzite-encircled grass-topped passage tomb measuring 80m in diameter and 13m high, which aligns with the winter solstice; Knowth, containing extraordinary passage-grave art; and sheep-roamed Dowth.

Less than 10km west, in the 18th-century town of Slane, coaching innConyngham Arms, makes a charming overnight stop.

Day 2

Hill of Slane

The Hill of Slane is where, allegedly, St Patrick lit a paschal (Easter) fire in 433 against the ruling of the Irish high king. Patrick then described the holy trinity to him by plucking a shamrock to illustrate the paradox of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one, kindling Christianity in Ireland. Only faint remnants of subsequent religious buildings here remain, but the views are sublime.

Hill of Tara

Once the home of ancient Ireland’s druids, followed by its high kings, the Hill of Tara is 24km south of Slane. This sacred site is one of the most important in Europe, with prehistoric burial mounds and a Stone Age passage tomb, dating back 5000 years. It’s steeped in Irish folklore and history, and visiting the grounds is free.

Glendalough

Glendalough’s Irish name, Gleann dá Loch, means ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’, and the Upper and Lower lakes at this spot 100km south of Tara – along with wild Wicklow Mountains scenery and a cache of religious relics – are magical. In 498, St Kevin set up here on the site of a Bronze Age tomb and the monastery later established here lasted until the 17th century. The Glendalough Visitor Centre (visitwicklow.ie/item/glendalough-visitor-centre) is a mine of information. Next door, the comfortable Glendalough Hotel, makes a convenient base.

Enniscorthy, County Wexford © Design Pics / The Irish Image Collection / Getty Images

Day 3

Moone

Amid stone ruins 50km west of Glendalough, stop off to see the distinctive Moone High Cross. Dating from the 8th or 9th century, it’s renowned for its intricately carved biblical scenes.

Browne’s Hill Dolmen

Topped by Europe’s largest capstone, weighing over 100 tonnes, the 5000-year-old granite portal dolmen (tomb chamber) Browne’s Hill Dolmen sits about 20km south of Moone and is one of Ireland’s most intriguing prehistoric monuments.

Enniscorthy

A pivotal chapter in Irish history played out at Vinegar Hill, 53km south of Browne’s Hill, during the 1798 rebellion against British rule. Nearby, the National 1798 Rebellion Centre has evocative displays. The rebels used Norman-built Enniscorthy Castle as a prison; it’s now a museum with superb rooftop views.

Wexford town

Named Waesfjord (‘harbour of mudflats’) by the Vikings, who are thought to have landed here around 850, Wexford town is 22km south of Enniscorthy. Traces of the fort built by the Normans, who conquered it in 1169, are still visible in the grounds of the Irish National Heritage Park open-air museum.

Central Whites of Wexford has stylish rooms, restaurants and bars.

Kilkenny’s Cathedral of St Canice © George Munday / Getty Images

Day 4

Jerpoint Abbey

Medieval stone carvings are a highlight of the atmospheric Cistercian ruins of 12th-century-founded Jerpoint Abbey, some 60km northwest of Wexford in idyllic rural surrounds.

Kilkenny

Set on the swirling River Nore with a web of narrow laneways, Kilkenny is a 20km hop north of Jerpoint Abbey, and a contender for Ireland’s most spectacular city. Its ‘medieval mile’ stretches between 12th-century-established Kilkenny Castle and its monumental Cathedral of St Canice, on the site of a 6th-century abbey founded here by St Canice, Kilkenny’s patron saint. Today, it’s a creative hub, with works showcased at the National Craft Gallery.

Dunmore Cave

Glittering stalagmite- and stalactite-filled Dunmore Cave is a quick 10km zip north. History runs deep here: in 928 Vikings slaughtered 1000 people at nearby ring forts, and survivors sheltered here until the Vikings smoked them out. Excavations in 1973 uncovered their remains, along with Viking coins.

Sea and serenity in Oman

In many ways, Muscat (meaning “anchorage”) is all about the sea and fishing remains an important industry. Walk along Mutrah Corniche, from the new fish market to the souq, and it is easy to see how the capital is defined by its busy port, with naval vessels and cruise ships jostling with traditional wooden dhows, fishing boats and flocks of terns for space in the harbour. For the visitor, some of the capital’s best experiences revolve around the sea, such as bathing in the calm waters of the Shangri-La’s Barr al Jissah Resort & Spa, sampling grilledhamour at award-winning fish restaurant, The Beach, or enjoying a sea-view sundowner at one of the city’s five-star hotels.  For a gull’s eye view of the shore, head to Marina Bandar al Rowdha; boats leave at dawn, escorted by dolphins, for the snorkelling hotspots of Bandar Khayran.

Learn about Oman’s past

Built on the revenues of oil and the benefits of good governance, Oman’s history of rags to riches over the last half-century is nothing short of a miracle. The brand new National Museum in the heart of old Muscat charts the rise of Oman, under the leadership of the country’s highly respected leader, Sultan Qaboos, from a forgotten backwater to the dynamic, modern country that it is today. Pose for a selfie in front of the whimsical Sultan’s Palace or visit nearby Bayt al Zubair, a traditional villa housing a fine collection of Omani crafts, to get a feel for Muscat’s living history.  Or for a more domestic view of the capital’s recent past, spare an hour for a little-known gem, Ghalya Museum of Modern Arton Mutrah Corniche, which offers a glimpse of Muscat life before the present sultan ushered in the Omani Renaissance in 1970.

Finding a shady spot in the corridors approaching the Sultan’s Palace © Jason Jones Travel Photography / Moment / Getty

Dine out – the local way

Anyone with a taste for local flavour will enjoy Muscat’s new trend in promoting Omani cuisine. Until recently, sampling local food was restricted to traditional halwa (a gelatinous sweetmeat) and dates withqahwa (cardamom coffee), served at official functions. At best, it meant trying shuwa (roasted lamb or goat, traditionally cooked for a day in the sand) in pan-Arab restaurants like the delightful Kargeen Cafe. While you can still sit cross-legged on a dubious communal carpet at Bin Ateeq for authentic Omani fare, there is a finer dining experience now to be had at Bait al Luban. Housed in a renovated trader’s house in Mutrah, the menu at this atmospheric new restaurant includes a wide choice of national dishes, including the porridge-like harees.

Shop for gold, frankincense and myrrh

It’s no secret that Peninsula Arabs love shopping and the region is home to some of the world’s most extravagant malls. Muscat may not boast the retail excesses of neighbouring Dubai but what it lacks in brand names it makes up for in character. No visit to Muscat would be complete without getting lost in the labyrinthine Mutrah Souq where Indian traders have been plying their wares for centuries. The alleyways are perfumed with luban (frankincense), grown in the southern province of Oman, and dazzle with the gold of a bride’s dowry. Elsewhere in town, especially around Qurm, look for camel-bone boxes and chocolate-covered dates, carpets from Persia and rugs from Azerbaijan, beads of semi-precious stones and pashminas that fit through a wedding ring. Less easy to find, except in the Omani Heritage Gallery in Qurm, are local crafts such as camel-leather baskets, earthenware pots and goat-hair rugs.

Add an extra day

An excellent road network is one of the many blessings of the Omani Renaissance so with an extra day, it is easy to take a day trip from the capital to explore the legendary ‘interior’. One of the best excursions covers a loop around the Batinah Plain, beginning in the castle town of Nakhal. Visit the fort, watch brilliant-winged Indian rollers dart through the date plantations, and pause by the hot springs.  Continue along the base of the imposing Hajar Mountains to the former capital of Rustaq, crowned by another of Oman’s many forts. Return to Muscat via Sawadi, famed for a beach carpeted in pink top shells and punctuated by islands accessible on foot at low tide.

When to Go

Unless you view travel as an extreme sport, avoid the intensely hot and humid summer (May to September inclusive). Even the locals abandon Muscat at this time as temperatures soar above the bearable.

What to Wear

While you’ll see the odd pair of shorts and a strappy top in the malls and along the beach, Omanis prefer visitors to respect the local culture and cover shoulders and knees.

Best experiences of the scenic barrier islands

download-9This semitropical string of islands is rife with opportunities to enjoy the landscape at a leisurely pace – after all, you’re on island time and in the South. Though degrees of development and infrastructure vary from island to island, encountering nature on each one is a great way to find solace in a bit of solitude.

Tybee Island: Savannah’s offbeat enclave

Twenty miles east of Savannah’s historic district, Tybee Island (known by locals – or at least the ones dwelling on the mainland – as ‘Savannah Beach’) features five miles of easily-accessible public shoreline, popular to visitors from other parts of Georgia and beyond.

Enjoy surfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding or jet skiing with your own craft or rent from a local outfitter (tybeeisland.com/water-sports). The lively pier on the south end of the island is popular for picnicking and people watching – but if you prefer to peep birds and wild dolphins rather than humans, head to North Beach off Strand Avenue. You’ll also find the oldest and tallest lighthouse in the state here.

If you’re seeking seclusion and feeling adventurous, try a jaunt to Little Tybee Island. It’s completely uninhabited and perfect for camping, beachcombing, birding and hiking. It’s within easy eyeshot of ‘big’ Tybee and might seem close enough to swim to, but the currents can be treacherous, so don’t attempt it. Kayak if you’re experienced or look into boat charter services (visittybee.com).

McQueen’s Island Trail: amble down an ex-railroad track

McQueen’s Island Trail (parks.chathamcounty.org) is a hit for travelers who want to bike (bring your own), hike, or jog along what used to be a stretch of the Savannah & Atlantic Railroad Line. The scenic six-mile path is fringed with cordgrass, cabbage palms and coastal cedar trees. Terrain ranges from hard-packed dirt to pebbly crushed limestone and the western portion of the trail was recently restored due to erosion, so tread with care on this fragile turf.

The McQueen’s Island Trail, also known as the ‘Rails to Trails’ path, runs along the marshes near Savannah © Joseph Shields / Getty Images

Paralleling the Savannah River, the trail takes you right up to its marshy banks at some points. These are great resting areas for a deep breath of sea salt-air and a glimpse of the river’s impressive breadth, where massive ships drift out to sea. Spot native wildlife like dolphins, turtles and the occasional bobcat or alligator. A bit of island kitsch awaits at the end, where you’ll encounter an oak tree adorned with buoys, flags and trinkets. The trailhead is just off US Highway 80, 15 miles east of Savannah – keep your eyes peeled for the Fort Pulaski National Monument (nps.gov) sign and park along the road or at the fort for free. The only animals allowed are the ones who dwell here, so leave your pups at home.

Off-the-beaten-track island odysseys

Set southward to see under-the-radar islands that get overshadowed by big hitters like Tybee, St Simons or Jekyll. These tucked-away natural treasures take a little more effort to get to but their unmarred and primordial beauty is worth the trek.

Coastal Georgia features a rich, complex system of rivers and estuaries © Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

Take Wassaw Island, for example. What it lacks in development is made up for by an experience of primitive grandeur while birding, hiking and biking along 20 miles of trails and seven miles of seashore. Visitors can explore diverse wildlife in their unique habitats year-round and national refuge regulation ensures all species are protected.

Wassaw’s live oak and slash pine trees converge to form canopies where rookeries of herons, egrets and other local birds dwell, and endangered loggerhead sea turtles swim ashore to lay eggs on summer nights. Ensure wildlife here continues to thrive by adhering to all signage and don’t venture beyond areas marked off-limits. Wassaw is open daily from sunrise to sunset and only accessible by boat. Charter services can be booked with eco-conscious outfitters like Savannah Coastal EcoTours (savannahcoastalecotours.com) or Wilderness Southeast (naturesavannah.org).

Sapelo Island sits right in the middle of Georgia’s string of barrier islands and is well worth a visit for die-hard naturalists. Tours of the island’s extensive system of estuaries must be booked in advance through the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR) Visitors Center (sapelonerr.org) and ferry service runs from the nearby mainland town of Meridian, accessible from I-95. Camping is also available for groups of 15-25 on close-by Cabretta Island.

Sapelo Island Ghost Crab © Lisa Santore / Getty Images

Other than science and research workers, the only residents on Sapelo dwell in the community of Hogg Hummock (sapeloislandga.org). Its inhabitants are the only remaining collective of the Gullah and Geechee peoples, direct descendants of the West African slaves brought to the area 1802. This remaining permanent group of around 50 people proudly carry on the unique culture, language and traditions of their forebears despite their dwindling numbers.

The Golden Isles: retreat beyond the resorts

Halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville are the popular barrier islands known as the Golden Isles, dubbed as such by Spanish explorers in search of gold over 400 years ago. Though popular for their resorts, exclusive residential communities and some of the best golfing in the state, there are alternatives for imbibing the natural beauty of these islands.

Dublin’s best pubs

Home to one of Dublin’s most popular beer gardens, the Bernard Shawalso houses an Italian cafe and a big blue bus, which whips up freshly-made pizza out back. If it looks thrown together, it acts like it too, hosting everything from a flea market every Saturday afternoon to regular pub quizzes, gigs, paint jams (to refresh the colourful graffiti) and even the world’s first coffee-throwing championship. If you want to explore further, head south across the bridge and you’ll find yourself in the trendy Rathmines neighbourhood.

Pet spaniels and eat spuds at MVP

With a wonderful combination of strong, original cocktails – ever heard of a Poitin Colada? –  and fresh baked potatoes to protect you from said cocktails, MVP (mvpdublin.com) is in vibrant Portobello, a stone’s throw away from the beautiful, tree-lined Grand Canal (and the childhood home of Leopold Bloom). It’s one of the few dog-friendly watering holes in Dublin, so you might meet some furry friends up until 10pm. Beat the barman at chess on Tuesday for a free pint and keep an eye out for regular Sing Along Socials where you can screech your heart out to your favourite songs without being judged.

Make yourself at home in House

Located across two former upper-class residences, House (housedublin.ie) is decorated in an eclectic Georgian style yet still manages to be both elegant and welcoming. Choose to hide beside the fire in the library, enjoy the sunlight through the bright windows of the conservatory or perch on a stool in the pantry. Surrounded by historical townhouses on charming, residential Leeson St, it has one of the nicest beer gardens in the city, with a cover that can withstand the temperamental weather. Open late Monday to Saturday and attracting an older, upscale crowd,  it’s a peaceful place to have a gin and tonic in the evening while enjoying the boppy swing soundtrack and sampling a cheese board.

Sing along in the Cobblestone

Simply the best place to catch some Irish traditional music in Dublin city centre, the Cobblestone describes itself as a ‘drinking pub with a music problem’. It’s popular with Dubliners and tourists in equal measure, and everyone is welcome to join the free nightly music sessions. If you want to sit near the musicians, you’ll have to be quiet and respectful – head to the back of the bar for a chat. Use your visit as an excuse to explore the revitalised Smithfield area, complete with restaurants, cafes and the Old Jameson Distillery.

Get inspired at Toners

Popular with Dublin’s after-work crowd, Toners (tonerspub.ie) is the perfect place for a Guinness after visiting the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology or taking a stroll around Merrion Sq. A deceptively snug interior lined with dark wood leads out to Toners Yard, an incredibly spacious outside area where you can enjoy relaxed table service. Personally recommended by literary giants Patrick Kavanagh and WB Yeats, it doesn’t get more Dublin than this.

Challenge your friends in the Square Ball

Tucked away down the street from the Grand Canal Quay, the Square Ball (the-square-ball.com) is in one of those curious Dublin neighbourhoods full of council housing and the world’s biggest tech companies. Chill with a craft beer in the front lounge or watch every major sports fixture in a back room kitted out with fake turf. When you’re ready to compete yourself, head to the vintage arcade upstairs to challenge your drinking buddies.

Travel tips and what is the happiness

I travel because… Away from home, everything – from road signs to what snacks people are eating – suddenly becomes fascinating. It’s so much fun to have every day feel like a series of mini-adventures.

Travel highlight of 2016: I visited the Latvian capital of Riga during the depths of winter when its cobbled streets are dusted with snow. It was absolutely freezing, but one evening I found the best place in the city to warm up. Tucked into a basement in the old town, Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs is a traditional tavern that hosts weekly folk dances. Though I planned only to watch, over beers I got chatting to one of the band members – a charming violinist and former Eurovision star – and she convinced me to take a turn around the floor. It was full of young people who knew all the moves, but they were extremely patient with the mal-coordinated novice in their midst. Mercifully the steps were quite repetitive, and I had more fun than I could have thought possible!

Next on my travel wishlist: Austria and Kenya

I travel because… It frees my mind. The brain shifts into autopilot in a familiar environment; I suppose that’s just the way we’re designed. Travel isn’t the only way to jolt yourself back into manual, but it might well be the most enjoyable method.

Travel highlight of 2016: Island-hopping in Bohuslän, West Sweden, edges out stiff competition to top my list this year. I just adored the laid-back atmosphere of this region, which stretches from Gothenburg up the coast to the border with Norway. It’s a beauty parade of fishing villages cum summer resorts – Lysekil, Smögen and Fjällbacka among them – that share a distinctive look and feel: red wooden huts, pink granite boulders, deep blue sea.

Up near the border, you can catch a ferry to the car-free Koster Islands, which lie at the heart of Kosterhavet, Sweden’s only national marine park. I joined a kayak tour of the archipelago at dusk, which is a magical time of day to explore the tiny islets and secret bays uninterrupted by a single sound apart from your paddle entering the silky, clear water and the occasional sea bird flying home to roost.

Next on my travel wishlist: Namibia, Madagascar, Alaska

Gemma Graham – Destination Editor for Northern Europe

I travel because… For me, travel is the best way of offsetting the stresses of living in a busy city. My favourite destinations are places where I’m surrounded by nature, and that needn’t be in a far-flung land (although that always seems more adventurous); it could be a day trip to the countryside just a few hours’ train ride from home.

Travel highlight of 2016: I’d count the experience of taking an aerial safari in a six-seater plane over the Greenlandic ice cap as the travel highlight of a lifetime. I’d hiked on the ice cap the day before and been in awe of its perspective-shifting vastness then, but witnessing it from above was genuinely breathtaking. The endless jagged white expanse stretched out beyond the horizon and then hundreds of kilometres more, interrupted only by the piercing blue of crystal-clear meltwater lakes. Looking down, I felt like a giant and a tiny, insignificant creature at the same time. Having experienced somewhere so remote, stepping off the plane at a very busy Heathrow was quite a shock to the system.

Next on my travel wishlist: Japan, Canada and Iran

Tom Hall – Editorial Director

Favourite countries: Slovenia, Iceland, Tanzania

I travel because…  Everything about travel is exciting. The movement, sense of discovery and constant promise of what might be round the next corner. There’s nothing better than the chance to meet new people and see incredible things.

Travel highlight of 2016: I thought I knew Italy well, then I spent a week exploring Lazio, a province that hides in plain sight just north of Rome. It’s home to painted palaces, precariously-balanced hill towns and the ancient ruins you’d expect. All come with the bonus of much sparser crowds than you’d find in Rome or Umbria and Tuscany in the north. This being Italy, fortifying espresso and unbeatable gelato were never more than a few steps away. I was travelling with my family, and having this retinue in tow meant we were thoroughly spoilt by everyone we met.