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Coastal Maine

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Coastal Maine

  Ease into the slow pace of sea sweptMaine, atthe USA’snor the asterntip begin with Portland’s foodscene,headnorthto Rockland, withits world classmuseums, andsail around Penobscot Bay. Finally, lace yourboots for walks in Acadia National Park.
  Eat your way through welcoming Portland, from seafood landed at the historic waterfront to farm to table feasts.
  At 5pm in portland, everyone is contemplating the most important decision of the day where to eat dinner. In a city with more than 250 locally owned restaurants, it’s not an easy choice to make. At the edge of Casco Bay, Portland is the most populous city in a state with 3,480 coastal miles. Here, farms are being started at four times the national average rate, and Maine has one of the nation’s highest ratios of organic farms to conventional ones. Good food is important here, and a favoured topic of conversation with locals.
  Some prefer the classics, such as New England clam chowder at Gilbert’s Chowder House or fresh Casco Bay oysters at Eventide. Others rave about the city’s Asian influenced dishes, like the rich broth ramen bowls at Pai Men Miyake, savoury wontons and wok fried noodles at The Honey Paw, or handmade steamed dumplings at Empire Chinese Kitchen. City dwellers craving a taste of the countryside rave about Fore Street’s turnspit roasted pork loin, served with sauerkraut, and cheese plates that highlight Maine’s small dairy farms, served with quince paste and apricot preserves at Sur Lie. Everyone has a different favourite and everyone is certain theirs is the best.
  In the cobblestoned Old Port District, inside the Press Hotel (see page 46), Union is known for its artful focus on local foods, the restaurant’s name a reference to its cherished collaboration with New England’s farmers and producers. The  kitchen is wide open, so guests at the marble topped bar can talk to executive chef Josh Berry as he prepares dishes.
  The bowls lined up contain foraged mushrooms, such as chicken of the woods and maitake, as well as pears and sorrel a handful of the local bounty that will go into tonight’s dishes. Josh sends out a plate that has the season’s last rocket salad on it. ‘This dish will never be served again, he says. ‘That’s the beauty of eating seasonally.’  Then he offers up a piece of honeycomb  dripping with honey. ‘We have bees on  the roof, he says, proudly. ‘We’re the first restaurant in Portland to do that.
  His rolled up sleeves reveal tattoos of lobsters and clams. Born and raised in Maine, he says he appreciates the honest connection the fishermen have with chefs and with the people they feed. He sends me a plate of squash stuffed with brussels sprouts and walnuts in a ponzu sauce, surrounded by tender scallops harvested just offshore. The unlikely combination is rich and profound, with a little sour wildness on the tongue from the fresh sorrel garnish. ‘My job is to challenge your taste buds with each bite,’ says Josh.
  The restaurant relies on the historic Harbor Fish Market for in season seafood. It sits among a row of wharfs jutting out into the bay. With its faded red clapboard siding, it has been the site of a fish market since the late 1800s and is now a local landmark, owned by the same family since 1966. A lobster boat named Providence, with a sea foam green stripe along the side, throttles right up to the dock to unload its catch, which is then carried to the cold aerated ocean water tanks. ‘It’s all about quality and freshness, says Mike Alfiero, one of the market’s owners, who carries on his father’s business with his brother Nick. ‘We don’t sell anything that we wouldn’t take home and serve to our own family.
  Piled up on the ice is everything from snapperto swordfish, haddock to halibut, as well as an assortment of mussels and clams. The airinside is cold and clean, the lobster tank is bubbling, and customers are shouting their orders to the personnel. The Alfiero brothers pride themselves on sustainability, and being seafood provider of choice for many of Portland’s top restaurants.
  One of those, Eventide, comes to life just as the market is closing its doors forthe day. Despite the brisk breeze coming in off the  sea, a crowd is forming outside the door. It’s difficult to get a table but people don’t seem to mind the wait. Here, the talked about dish is a vivid twist on the standard lobster roll, served with a brown butter vinaigrette on a Chinese style steamed bun. It’s a perfect coming together of melt in yourmouth flavours, and a perfect symbol of the way Portland blends a love for heritage with an outward looking attitude.

Only In Tokyo

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Only In Tokyo

  If you can think of it, you can probably do it in Tokyo, so join us in seeking out the bizarre in the Japanese capital, a city like no other on Earth.

Play with monsters

  To getto the Mushroom Disco, you must first enter the stomach of Mr Ten Thousand Chopsticks and pass the Sweets Go Round carousel, nodding to a unicorn and a Pikachu as you go. Once you’re positioned beneath a technicolour fungus, a monster girl will take your order, perhaps Colourful Rainbow Pasta followed by Poison Parfait Extreme. No, you haven’t inadvertently inhaled an irregular substance this is the Kawaii Monster CafŽ, which has taken the Japanese love of ‘kawaii’ (cute) and made it punk. ‘This is modern kawaii,’ says Crazy Monster Girl as she delivers a teetering stack of ice cream. ‘These bright colours, they’re like poison for Japanese. It’s not traditional at all.’ Two hundred people turned up to audition for monster girls when the café opened in 2015, and Crazy is just one of five to make the grade. They stage several dance shows a day but you may be too distracted by the jellyfish looming over the bar or the giant rabbit drinking from a bottle of milk to notice.

Get lost down alleyways

  It’s a familiar sight along the alleys of Tokyo.Work has ended forthe day, and a lone salaryman (officeworker), tie pulled loose,wanders the lane, peering into the bars that squeeze along it.Atthe end ofthe alley, he turns around and repeats the process. Finally, a decision is made, a venue is picked and in he goes, his evening sorted until it’s time to catch the train home. Tokyo’s yokochō (alleys) each have their own character, and many sprouted up illegally afterWWII, specialising in the trade of black market goods, prostitution and other illicit activities. The eightlanes of Golden Gai are officially home to 229 bars,though unofficial figures put the number closerto 300. Feware biggerthan a shed, with three orfour stools lined up atthe counter, and customers here to drink and make friends.(‘People are shy in Japan andwear a mask says events manager Yū as she sips tequila at miniscule Saru bar, its shelves crammedwith LPs, ‘but not here in the alleys.)Despite their nicknames,the focus on Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley) and Nonbei Yokocho (Drunkards’Alley)is more on eating than boozing.Drawnby the smell of barbecue, people pick theirway along lanes clutteredwith beer crates and lit by paperlanterns,to find a perch attheir chosen restaurant. Beer ordered, cigarette lit,there’s just one more choice to make will it be a bowl oframen or a plate of barbecued pork belly, orderedwith a side of crispy chicken skin orfried pigs intestines?

Make origami

  Mr Kazuo Kobayashi loves to talk, and allthe while he’s talking, he’s moving his hands around sheets of paper. By the time he’s mentioned his trip on Concorde, visitto London and meeting with Donald Trump, he has magicked paperinto a red rose, a gold ring with an emerald, a peacock, a dog, a pair of moving lips, a pyramid. Mr Kobayashi has been teaching origami his whole life, like his parents before him,running workshops at Origami Kaikan, a centre with a gallery and shop devoted to the craft. ‘Origami is not a creative action, it’s maths,’ he says between anecdotes. ‘It’s about finding the rightformula. His perpetual beaming smile seems proof enough ofthe mood enhancing qualities of folding paper. ‘I’m really healthy because of origami, he confirms. ‘My fathertoo. He lived to 100 because of it. Itis good for our brains.

Drink beer and get a massage

  If you tire ofthe all out onslaught that defines central Tokyo, Yanaka districtis the place to decompress. Here, people trundle about on bicycles, cats loll in doorways, and buildings are low rise and contain art galleries, stationery shops and temples.On a side street off a side streetlies Uenosakuragi atari, a cluster ofwooden buildings built in 1938,restored in 2015 and now protected by a preservation order. The complex is home to an olive oil shop, florist, bakery and beer hall, fronting a courtyard designed to induce maximum Zen.At Yanaka Beer Hall, customers sitwith glasses of craft beer,reading books and listening to the jazz playing in the background.Owner Hitomi Yoshida brings over a flight ofthe hall’s own brews, made usingwater from Mount Fuji. ‘This place is traditional Japanese style, very relaxing, she says, butwe serve modern beer. She points to her favourite,the Yanaka Beer Hall Original Lager,which has a smooth malty taste and is served only here. ‘Craft beeris becoming more popularin Tokyo, she continues. ‘People like to drink the beerwhere itwas made. Once slightly sloshed, punters can head upstairs and plonk themselves in a hammock,where reflexologist FutoshiKikukawa is on hand to deliver a head massage. It may be time for a doze.

Shop unique

  The Japanese word ‘shibui’ (simple beauty) might have been invented forthe goods sold at Saruya. On a quiet backstreet in the commercial district of Nihonbashi, Saruya sells toothpicks, and nothing else. There are thickly hewn beasts, delicate little spindles, machine produced bundles and samurai toothpicks hand carved from spicebushes. Each is beautifully presented in a wooden box, rice paper bag or delicate fabric wrap (nihonbashi saruya.co.jp). No toothpicks are needed forthe food created on Kappabashi St. Many of the shops here specialise in sampuru, fake food made from wax, plastic orresin, displayed in restaurant windows to entice customers through the door. Fake chefs can pick up a bowl of plastic chicken katsu or a piece of plastic sushi, ortake home a kit and have a go at making something inedible themselves. Continue the theme of familiar food stuffs not being quite what they seem to be by heading to one of Tokyo’s many KitKat Chocolatory shops (nestle.jp/brand/kit/chocolatory/ginza). The Japanese go wild for a flavoured KitKat, and Nestle has produced some 200 different types overthe years. Alongside premium high cocoa bars, on sale are KitKats infused with wasabi, strawberry maple, banana, green tea and sake. Our verdict wasabi works sake does not no one needs a chocolate bar.

Visit a cat temple

  There are hints of what’s to come on the walk from the station to Gōtokuji temple. On the windowsills and doorsteps of shops and houses, small ceramic cats perch, one paw raised, beatific expressions on their faces. Inside the temple grounds, a wooden pagoda stands three storeys high, surrounded by maple, gingko and cherry trees, their leaves dripping water in the soft rain. Beyond it, it becomes clear how Go tokuji got its nickname the Cat Temple. Wherever there is space to put a cat, there is a cat on shelves, tucked into shrines, on paving slabs, in tree branches. Some are no bigger than a fingernail, others are knee high. According to legend, in the 17th century during a storm, Lord Naotaka Ii saw a cat beckoning him to join him at this  site; while he stood with the cat, lightning struck the place he had been standing, and as a sign of gratitude, he built the temple. It is still considered a lucky place. ‘Many people come here because they have a wish, maybe for a happy marriage or they want to be a doctor says guide Ms Yumiko Komatsu, sheltering beneath an umbrella. ‘They bring a cat and make their prayers. They come back and thank the cat if it came true. To help prosperity along, there are cats on sale in the information centre. Find a place to put it, and make a wish.

Go big on cute

  ‘Welcome home!’ trill the staff in unison on entry to the @home cafe, one of an estimated 200 ‘maid cafés’ in Japan. The venue takes up four floors of a building in Akihabara, the motherland forlovers of anime, manga, cosplay and video gaming. Though the short skirts and stockings worn by the maids suggest something else (not least a somewhat sketchy relationship with gender equality), the cafés are temples to the cultural phenomenon of kawaii, a love of all things cute. The maids resemble anime characters, head to toe in pastels, frills and bows, and their pupils widened with special contact lenses. ‘You have work and stress in real life, says Ms Hitomi as she diligently draws a panda face in the froth of a Magic Iced Green Tea Latte, ‘and you can come here and everyone is always happy and full of energy. It an escape.’ Young couples, tourists and a good number of teenage boys are happy to dive in, challenging a maid to a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, clapping along to some astonishingly high pitched singing, or ordering a Cute Puppy Curry Set from the heartshaped menu. Then it’s back on to the street and real life, pleasantly baffled and wondering what the hell just happened.

Eat the food of monks

  Down an unassuming street in the residential district of Azabu Ju ban lies a discrete door, partly obscured by pot plants and noren curtains, behind which some of Tokyo’s most intriguing food is served. Itoshoø specialises in shōjin ryōri, the vegetarian and vegan food traditionally eaten in Buddhist temples. Sprightly nonagenarian chef Hiroharu Itō welcomes guests and, once their shoes are removed, shows them to one of three rooms divided by paper screens, seating them on tatami mats at low tables. What follows is a multi course Michelin starred menu of mystery, each dish a delicate artwork on the plate bright green slices of matcha jelly served with swirls of creamed tofu deep fried vegetables coated in puffs of rice flour soba noodles with seaweed and wasabi. In a city where pig rectum and horse meat sashimi are fairly easy to get hold of for dinner, it’s quite the revelation.

Spend the night with robots

  Were Liberace alive today, he’d be a big fan of the lounge bar at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. There are gold chairs in the shape of shells, swirly  patterned carpets, whirling rainbow lights,  mirrored walls and ceilings, and a band of droids in the corner singing Backstreet Boys covers and Disney medleys. It’s a lot to take in, but this is just the warm up to the main event the Robot Show. Several times a day, an audience made up largely of out of towners is ushered to the main performance space, taking their seats either side of a long central stage. What follows for 90 minutes is likely to leave all of them slightly dazed in wonderment.
  Drummers ride in on dragons, girls swish swords atop giant prawns and are eaten by giant snakes, Transformers do battle with one another in a blaze of lasers, and gangly legged parrots dance on cheerful chickens. One of 40 professional dancers, Ms Nene Kinoshita has worked at the Robot Restaurant for four years. ‘I decided to become a performer when I came here for the first time, she says. ‘The show unfolding in front of my eyes was totally unexpected. Tokyo is full of unique and colourful people who are not afraid to try new things, and this is one of them. Her favourite part of the show is the knowledge that she has become part of visitors’ memories of travelling in Japan. As with much in the city, once experienced, there’s little chance of anyone forgetting it.

Norway’s Most Beautiful Valley (Innerdalen)

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Norway’s Most Beautiful Valley (Innerdalen)

  Everyone including the tourist board calls Innerdalen ‘Norway’s most beautiful valley’. I wanted to go to get a deeper understanding of what’s so special about it, and what it’s like to live here. Most people who visit do so to climb its famous pyramidal peak, Innerdalstårnet and afterthat, they leave.   The people I met here were surprised to find I had no interest in climbing the mountain. Instead, I spent my week hiking up the valley sides, finding hidden glacial lakes, streams and upland meadows.
  The unique, almost alien, shape of Innerdalstårnet is a distinctive recurring motif but what a camera can’t capture is that you can hear waterfalls everywhere in the valley. There are so many of them, and their sound is dominant, especially that of the main cascade, which runs from the glacial lake Storvatnet. Much of the valley is blanketed in pristine woodland and, every now and then, I came across huge boulders, called erratics, covered in thick layers of moss, which had been deposited by retreating glaciers.
  I visited in autumn, when there are golden leaves on the trees and the forest flooris littered with mushrooms, like in a fairytale. I got crazy lucky with the weather. It was one of the hottest Septembers in years, which made wild camping a dream. Parking my tent whereverI pleased gave me a sense of freedom and really immersed me in the landscape I could choose the view I wanted to wake up to each morning. Travelling this way, cooking my meals on a fire and falling asleep to the murmur of a stream, I felt both freer and more connected to nature.  
  The rule is to always leave each place as you find it and, if you’re on your own, to be sure someone knows youritinerary. You have to carry all the supplies you’ll need, but there are always moments that make the extra work feel worthwhile. One morning I awoke and climbed to the foot of a glacierto drink meltwaterthat had probably been frozen since the last ice age.
  At the heart of the valley is Renndølestra, a working dairy farm that offers hikers beds in its grass topped bunkhouses, as well as a ready supply of its excellent waffles, served with homemade blackcurrant jam and soured cream. I learned about the valley’s history from the farm’s friendly owner, Eystein Opdøl, whose family has worked this land for nearly 300 years. He believes there has been a farm on this site since the 15th century and on the farmland itself there are a lot of Viking graves. Eystein’s mother even found a 1,000 year old Viking artefact a stone tray that had been used in the hen house to feed the chickens.
It now takes pride of place in the living room.
  The valley is not accessible by road you  have to walk the last few miles to reach it, which only makes it feel more special and secluded. It was so rewarding, coming over the top of a hill and seeing Innerdalen for the first time. That reveal, and the effort of getting here, is very much part of the experience and it’s something the Opdøl family have striven to protect. They have fought plans to lay a road into the valley, just as back in the 1960s Eystein’s grandfather opposed a scheme to create a hydroelectric dam at Innerdalsvatna. His campaign to win state protection for the land succeeded and, in 1967, Innerdalen became Norway’s first nature reserve. As long as there is a farm at Renndølestra, Innerdalen will remain a place of sanctuary for those who love adventure.
  F Innerdalen is roughly a three hour drive from Trondheim airport, which can be reached via direct flight from London Gatwick (from £80 norwegian.com). Drive the RV 70 from Sunndalsøra to Tingvoll, turn off at Ålvundeid and park in Nedal. It’s an hour’s stroll to Renndølsetra, which offers private rooms and camping (private room from £215 full board, camping from £15 innerdalen.com).

Madrid Cultural capital

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Madrid Cultural capital

Both in the capital city and its wider region, Madrid offers a holistic  view of Spain at its best.
  When tackling Madrid, there’s plenty to be said for starting on the inside and working your way outwards. The capital city tells the nation’s vivid and fiery story through art, history and architecture, while at night it invites all walks of life to come together in the savouring of simple pleasures. But what makes the Community of Madrid more than just a city break is the celebrated surrounding countryside. Here you’ll find a contrasting, but equally rich, picture of Spain, revealing remote villages, mountain trails, impressive biodiversity, and opportunities to explore via outdoor pursuits. Read on to discover how to experience the best of both.
  In the art world, Madrid’s status is akin to royalty, with a collection of masterpieces that has visitors returning again and again. The city is home to world famous works by the great artists Picasso, Velázquez and Goya that are well worth seeing in the flesh. The most renowned galleries are the Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen Bornemisza but you’ll come across plenty of smaller museums and galleries as you wander the honey hued streets.
  Something of an Instagram hot spot, Madrid has more excellent views than you can shake a (selfie) stick at. But its architecture is not just pretty to look at it sets a wonderful scene of Spanish culture. In fact, the city is like an exhibition in itself, with medieval mansions, quaint apartment blocks adorned  with balconies, royal palaces, grand Baroque buildings and inviting plazas from all different periods in history.
  The labyrinth of streets that makes up the centre of Madrid will inevitably lead you to the grand central square of Plaza Mayor, one of the few truly open spaces in a city used to coexisting at close quarters. Also worth seeking out for a break from the crowds is the Parque del Buen Retiro, where you can admire marble monuments from the comfort of the landscaped lawns, take a rowing boat out onto the lake at sunset, and people watch over a refreshing drink at one of the open air cafés.
  Madrid’s menu is an irresistible blend of tastes, traditions and techniques. Discover the bold creativity behind Spain’s gastronomic revolution, the culinary personalities of different regions and the flavours of Spanish staples as you join the locals in appreciating the luxury of a fine tapeo (bar hopping in search of the best tapas) in the company of others.  
  With a slew of bars paying tribute to different eras from the history of drinking, Madrid has certainly earned its reputation for mesmerising nightlife. With a tide of fellow revellers enticing you from barrio to dancefloor, all you need to do is choose your tipple and try to keep in time with the beat.
  Away from the infectious energy of Spain’s capital, you’ll find sanctuary in the region’s rural landscapes and protected natural areas. Lose yourself in the ancient and enchanting forest of Hayedo de Montejo, a Unesco World Heritage site, or go on the lookout for the protected species that live in the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park. Within the Peñalara Summit, Cirque and Lakes Nature Reserve is the highest point in the entire region, while the Cuenca Alta del Río Manzanares Biosphere Reserve is a Specially Protected Bird Area with a wonderful regional park inside it.
  Arguably the best way to make the most of Madrid’s naturally diverse  and captivating scenery is to immerse yourself in it through the many activities on offer. In addition to countless hiking trails and 480 miles of signposted cycling routes, you can try your hand at skiing or paragliding in the Guadarrama Mountains, climbing in La Pedriza, water sports in the San Juan Reservoir, or even climb aboard a hot air balloon.

Christmas done properly

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Christmas done properly

  Whether you’re calling for the ultimate authentic German Christmas market or simply a wintercity break.
  The growing global popularity of Christmas markets is largely down to theirwonderful nostalgic charm.And among the many to choose from in Germany, Nuremberg is perhaps the most special. One ofthe old est Christmas markets in the country, Christkindlesmarkt dates back to 1628 and bears allthe hallmarks of Bavarian festive joy. Just a 15 minute underground ride from Nuremberg airport,the market takes place in the open town square.
  What greets you beside thewarmly lit Old Town Hall are more than 180 traditionally decorated stalls selling festive decorations,toys and high quality arts and crafts.Aswell as traditional Bavarian stalls, more than 20 cities and regions are represented atthe Market ofthe Partner Cities, alltheway from Kalkudah in Sri Lanka to Glasgowin Scotland.
  Families can also enjoy the nearby Kinderweihnacht, or children’s Christmas market, packedwith fun hands on activities for kids, including craft works hops and ice skating in the Playmobil Fun Park.The lantern procession is a moving spectacle that sees some 1,000 school children carry lanterns of all colours through the Old Town towards the castle.
  Even if you’re visiting outside the festive season, Nuremberg makes a great city break. Discoverthe city’s proud railway history at the Deutsche Bahn Museum,where among other exhibits you’ll find Germany’s oldest railway carriage.The Kaiserburg castle complex above the Altstadt (Old Town) serves as a grand reminder of Nuremberg’s medieval strength,while the 13 thcentury St Sebalduskirche is Nuremberg’s oldest church its pinkish sandstone exterior givingway to detailed religious sculptures and carvings on the inside.

Dubai & Abu Dhabi’s Highlights

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi’s Highlights

  The Arabian emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the most rich and powerful of the  seven city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates, offer the best of East and  West Arab culture, Bedouin heritage and Islamic architecture, alongside excellent shopping, sophisticated dining and luxurious hotels. Dubai is divided by its bustling Creek and skirted with white sand beaches, while Abu Dhabi is situated on a splendid Corniche.

Dubai Museum 

  A visit to Dubai would be incomplete without a tour of this cleverly planned museum. It offers a vivid picture of how Dubai has crammed into a third of a century what most cities achieve in several. Located near the creekside historic Bastakiya district, the museum is housed within and beneath one of the city’s oldest buildings, Al Fahidi Fort. It traces the city’s meteoric development from small desert settlement to centre of the Arabian world for commerce, finance and tourism. Visit here to gain a sensory insight into traditions past and present.

Dubai Creek 

  Dubai Creek, fed by the waters of the Arabian Gulf, is the lifeblood of old and new Dubai a vibrant mix of the past and the present. The contrast of traditional wooden dhows being unloaded at the wharf side against stunning modern architecture, such as the glass dome fronted Bank of Dubai and the giant ball topped Etisalat building, is fascinating. The two sides of the Creek are Deira (north) and Bur Dubai (south) and a walk along either is an enjoyable way to discover this multi faceted city. Getting across the Creek is easy the nearest bridge for cars is Maktoum Bridge but the cheapest  and most authentic crossing has to be by abra.

Bastakiya 

  The old and atmospheric Bastakiya conservation area has benefited from extensive renovation work in recent years by Dubai Municipality It gives a picturesque glimpse into the city’s past in sharp contrast to the futuristic architecture and construction boom elsewhere. Traditional sandcoloured windtower houses, often built from coral stone, with elegant courtyards, can be explored as you wander the maze of shady narrow streets and alleys. The facades have been restored to their original state, with Arabesque windows, decorative gypsum panels and screens. This area is now home to art galleries, museums and stylish cafés.

Jumeirah Mosque 

  Dubai’s culture is rooted in Islam, a fact that touches all aspects of everyday life. Virtually every neighbourhood has its own mosque, but the jewel in the crown is undoubtedly Jumeirah Mosque. This fine example of modern Islamic architecture was built in 1998. It is a dramatic sight set against blue skies and especially breathtaking at night, when it is lit up and its artistry is thrown into relief. Built of smooth white stone, the mosque, with its elaborately decorated twin minarets and majestic dome, is a city landmark and an important place of worship.

Burj Al Arab 

  So iconic that it instantly became an international symbol for modern Dubai, the Burj Al Arab (meaning “Arabian tower”), completed in 1999, is an exclusive all suite “seven star hotel” and also the world’s tallest hotel. With its helipad on the 28th floor and a restaurant seemingly suspended in mid air, at a soaring 321 m (1,053 ft), it takes the trophy for being the world’s tallest hotel. It is set on its own artificial island against the backdrop of the turquoise waters of the Gulf and is dazzling white by day and rainbow coloured by night when its façade is used as a canvas for spectacular light displays.

Madinat Jumeirah 

  The spirit of old Arabia is the inspiration for Madinat Jumeirah, an extravagant resort located on the beachfront comprising two luxury hotels, Al Qasr and Mina A’Salam, and the exclusive Dar Al Masyaf, 29 traditional courtyard summer houses. The charm of the place lies in its detailed Arabian architectural styling sand coloured windtowers, arches, columns and terraces as well as its ingenious construction around a series of man made waterways. As a result, navigation around the resort is Venetian style, in oldfashioned abras. This extensive resort also has an Arabian style souq.

Dubai Souqs 

  Shopping in Dubai is a shopaholic’s dream there’s almost nothing you can’t buy here but away from the air conditioned marble floored shopping malls is another experience the souqs. Many of these, such as the gold, textile and spice souqs clustered beside the Creek, date back to Dubai’s beginnings as a palm fringed trading port. Exploring these through their warren like alleyways is a delight and a visit to the UAE would be incomplete without spending time in at least some of these fascinating bazaars. Generally, each type of stall, be it spices, crafts, perfumes or clothing, are located close together, making it easy to spot a good deal. Bring cash and keep in mind that bargaining is expected.

Emirates Palace 

  Abu Dhabi’s stupendous Emirates Palace hotel dominates the horizon. While its staggering size is impressive, the lavish interior is breathtaking, with gold, marble and crystal throughout. Owned by Abu Dhabi government and operated by Kempinski hotels, Emirates Palace was built over three years by the architects responsible for London’s Claridge. While the Burj Al Arab is touted as a “7 star” hotel, a rating that doesn’t exist, Emirates Palace classifies itself as just that, a “Palace”, with the opulent furnishings of a royal palace, regal service and a palatial experience like no other.

Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation & Al Hosn Palace 

  Emiratis proudly refer to Abu Dhabi as the New York of the UAE and Dubai as its LA. They see the city as an intellectual and cultural centre (whereas Dubai is all about the glitz and glam). No two buildings exemplify this more than the Cultural Foundation and Qasr Al Hosn. The Cultural Foundation aims to make the UAE heritage and culture accessible to the city’s residents and visitors the historic Qasr Al Hosn is being converted into a museum.

Desert Escapes 

  The Emirates’ desert is sublime in parts and a trip here is incomplete without experiencing its myriad textures and colours. Not far out of the cities, camels graze on desert grass. If you don’t have a 4WD and off road driving skills, the best way to experience the desert is at the magical desert resorts Al Maha or Bab Al Shams, or on a popular desert safari. While desert safaris are touristy, they’re lots of fun and allow you to tick off a range of experiences you otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to do. If you have time, stay overnight, sleep under the stars and enjoy the silence.

Singapore Guided Tours & River Cruises

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Singapore Guided Tours & River Cruises

  Although Singapore is one of the world's easiest cities for self navigation, guided tours can open up the city and its history in unexpected ways. Tours and cruises span everything from fun, family friendly overviews to specialised themed adventures.
Neighbourhood Tours
Original Singapore Walks
  These popular tours (6325 1631; www.singaporewalks.com; adult S$32-60, child 7 12yr S$15-30; 9am 6pm Mon Fri) deliver irreverent, knowledgable on foot excursions through various districts and war related sites, lasting from 2½ to three hours. Most tours do not require a booking; simply check the website for meeting times and places.
Chinatown Trishaw Night Tour
  This Chinatown tour (in the US 1-702-648-5873; www.viator.com; adult/child under 13yr S$88/66) includes dinner, a traditional Chinese medicine hall visit, a trishaw ride through the night market and a bumboat river cruise. Hotel pick ups and drop offs are provided.
Trishaw Uncle
  An old fashioned trishaw ride ( %6337 7111; www.trishawuncle.com.sg; Albert Mall Trishaw Park, Queen St; 30min tour adult/child from S$39/29, 45min tour S$49/39; mBugis) through Bugis and Little India, with the 45 minute tour also taking in the Singapore River. The trishaw terminal is on Queen St, between the Fu Lu Shou Complex and Albert Centre Market and Food Centre.
Hop On, Hop Off Tours
City Sightseeing
  This double decker, open top tourist bus (www.singapore7.com; adult/child S$43/33) runs several routes, passing major tourist areas such as Orchard Rd, the Botanic Gardens, Little India, Kampong Glam, Boat and Clarke Quays, Marina Bay Sands and Chinatown. Tickets are valid for 24 hours, allowing you to hop on and off as many times as you like.
SIA Hop On
  Singapore Airlines' tourist bus (6338 6877; www.siahopon.com; Suntec Hub, Suntec Mall; 24hr ticket Singapore Airlines passengers adult/child S$19.50/14.50, non-passengers S$39/29) traverses the main tourist arteries every 15 to 60 minutes daily, over four different lines. Trips start from Suntec Hub, with the first bus departing at 8.30am and the last bus departing at 6pm, terminating back at Suntec Hub at 7.10pm. Buy tickets from the driver; see the website for route details.
River Tours
Singapore Ducktours
  Jump into a remodelled WWII amphibious Vietnamese war craft for a surprisingly informative and engaging one-hour tour (6338 6877; www.ducktours.com.sg; 01-330 Suntec City, 3 Temasek Blvd; adult/child under 13yr S$37/27; 9am-6.30pm; mEsplanade) that traverses land and water. The route focuses on Marina Bay and the Colonial District.
Singapore River Cruise
  The 40 minute bumboat cruises (6336 6111; www.rivercruise.com.sg; bumboat river cruise adult/child S$25/15; mClarke Quay) that ply the stretch between the Quays and Marina Bay depart from several places along the Singapore River. The running commentary is a little cringe inducing, but the trip itself is relaxing, with spectacular views of the skyline and Marina Bay.
Themed Tours
Betel Box: The Real Singapore Tours
  These insider tours (6247 7340; www.betelboxtours.com; 200 Joo Chiat Rd; tours S$50-80; mPaya Lebar) include culture and heritage walks, city kick scootering and food odysseys through historic Joo Chiat (Katong), Kampong Glam and Chinatown, and a Friday night tour through red light Geylang.
Jane's SG Tours
  Specialising in tours (www.janestours.com; group tours S$30-80) of colonial black and white private homes across the island, Jane offers rare insights you may not usually be afforded as a tourist. Her other tours, covering architecture, history, religions, botany and culture are also popular it's best to book a month in advance.
East West Planners
  Exploring the city's iconic dishes and where best to eat them, these bespoke, top end tours (9674 5861; www.eastwestplanners.com; 03-03 Tan Chong Tower, 15 Queen St; 8.30am-5.30pm Mon Fri; mBras Basah, Bencoolen) are aimed at the more affluent visitor prices and itineraries are available on request.
Walking Tours
Bukit Brown Tour
  Take a walking tour (www.facebook.com/groups/bukitbrown) through one of Singapore's most historic, wild and beautiful cemeteries, currently under threat from development.
Charlotte Chu Tours
  See how locals live, work, eat and play on these tours (8101 1003.; charlottechutours@gmail.com; 3hr tour S$240) of lesser known aspects of Singapore's history, heritage and culture.
Diana Chua
  Offers tours (9489 1999; dianachua1999@yahoo.com.sg; 3hr tour S$240) that uncover Singapore’s history, architecture and religions; tours often align with festivals. Diana also touches upon more esoteric and less touristy subjects.