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Dive in to Australia’s ancient wonder – a guide to the Great Barrier Reef

It’s one of the seven wonders of the natural world, larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing visible from space. It is no wonder then that the Great Barrier Reef is a destination for millions of tourists every year.

The marine park runs parallel with the Queensland coast and stretches over 3,000km2. The reef is 65km wide in some parts and has the most vivid coral in the world, making it a scuba diver’s paradise. There are over 400 different kinds of coral on the reef and 1,500 species of tropical fish; it is also home to mussels, sponges, rays and dolphins. There are over 200 different species of birds and approximately 20 types of reptiles living in the park, including sea snakes and turtles.

Hundreds of tour operators and thousands of vessels and aircraft are permitted to operate in the marine park every year as tourists flock to see the stunning fish or the humpback whales that travel miles to reproduce there. The natural beauty of the Great Barrier Reef extends, both under the water and above it and visitors enjoy an experience of the senses as well as learn about the world heritage aspects of the park they are visiting. The Dugong and large Green Sea turtle are just two of the endangered species that inhabit the reef. The marine park was established precisely to protect such creatures from extinction.

Great Barrier Reef, AustraliaPicture: eutrophication&hypoxia

Experience Catalonia

Surrounded by Andorra and France to the north, Aragon to the west, Valencia to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea to the east, Catalonia has everything a tourist may look for: a mild climate just perfect for an unforgettable holiday; beautiful, ample beaches with fine sand and crystal waters; and the Pyrenees, a beautiful mountain range.

Climate

Catalonia’s climate is very diverse, with a Mediterranean climate affecting the provinces such as Girona, Barcelona and Tarragona located along the Mediterranean coastline; a continental Mediterranean climate characterising the inner part of the region; and an Alpine climate surrounding the Pyrenean peaks and valleys. 

Things to do and see

Catalonia is a semi-autonomous community in Spain with a unique culture easily distinguished from that of other Spanish regions. Besides its cultural heritage, Catalonia offers a wide assortment of water sports, many natural wonders, beautiful monuments and modern attractions that are well worth a visit. A few highlights include the incredible Costa Brava with romantic small coves and steep cliffs, the Golden Coast, the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, aqueducts, an amphitheatre, the birthplace of Salvador Dali, and a few outstanding monuments such as the Tomb of the Scipios, a reminder of the Roman Empire in Tarragona.

Travellers are also invited to try Catalonia’s excellent traditional seafood platters, accompanied by superior wines and famous desserts like the ‘Catalonia Cream’. Additionally, travel agencies operating within this region recommend a variety of wine tours that give tourists the chance to taste some of the best wines in the world, such as Grans Muralles and Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lodging

With hundreds of hotels, villas, apartments and private holiday rentals, Catalonia can compete against the top holiday destinations in the world. Depending on the area a tourist intends to visit, he or she can opt for an elegant villa on the coastline, a small apartment in the heart of Barcelona, or a luxury hotel with all the amenities needed for a perfect holiday.

Transportation

Catalonia has a vast network of trains, trams, metros, buses, and car and bicycle rental services that allow tourists to explore the entire region. Since a direct flight from London to Barcelona only takes about one hour and forty-five minutes, most British tourists planning to spend their holiday in Catalonia choose this route.

CataloniaPicture: Scott Wylie

Top Tourist Attractions in the USA

As one of the biggest and most culturally diverse countries in the world, The United States of America boasts some of the best tourist attractions in the world, they may not be an old and historic as those in Europe or Egypt, but they are still as stunning.

Natural wonders combine with manmade monuments and structures to form the iconic country we see today, so where should you visit first? Here are our top attractions to visit in the US:

The White House

The White House

Possibly the most recognisable residence in the world, apart from Buckingham Palace in London, the White House is an icon of the United States. Built between 1792 and 1800, the White House is the official residence and principle workplace for the President of the United States (currently Barack Obama).

Since March 2013, White House public tours have been suspended because of federal budget constraints, however if you wish to visit the White House you may be able to do so by contacting your embassy in Washington, DC.

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas

The number one gambling mecca of the world, Las Vegas is full of glitz and glamour. Nestled neatly in the midst of the Nevada dessert, the city bills itself as ‘The Entertainment Capital of the World’ and rightly so. The casinos are the main draw of Las Vegas, but there is much more to the city than just gambling.

Shopping, fine dining and nightlife are all bigger and better in the city that doesn’t sleep. The Las Vegas Strip is probably the most popular destination in the city, with a multitude of mega-casinos and hotels, theatres and bright lights.

Las Vegas really is one of those places you have to see to be believed and with over 40 million tourists a year you’ll be in good company.

Florida Keys

Florida Keys

For sun, sea and sand there is no better place than the Florida Keys. This 120 mile long chain of tropical islands situated on the East coast of the US is truly breath-taking. As well as a range of activities to take part in including boating, diving and surfing, the Florida Keys is also home to some of the best shopping malls and golf courses in the US.

Whether you want to sit on a beach and relax or do something a bit more adventurous, the Florida Keys has it all.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Located between the state of New York and the province of Ontario, Canada, Niagara Falls is one of the most stunning natural wonders in the world. Consisting of three different falls, American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls is a great day out for the whole family.

Prospect Point Park observation tower provides a spectacular view of the falls from its 282 feet advantage point, or if your want to experience the natural wonder from above you can purchase a ride in a helium balloon or helicopter.

Niagara Falls is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the worlds with over 14 million visitors each year.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

Spanning between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Suspension Bridge is a triumph of engineering. The bridge is a popular with pedestrians and cyclists and has walkways on each side, but the best way to view the bridge is from afar.

Hawk Hill & Battery Spencer and Kirby Cove are two of the best places to see the bridge in its full glory and offers tourists the perfect vantage point for some spectacular pictures.

Interesting fact: The Golden Gate Bridge was painted its iconic red/orange colour to make it more visible through the thick fog that frequently covers the bay.

Explore Washington State

America is a huge country and it is tremendously diverse, which is one reason and probably a very good one, why few Americans own a passport, America is the world rolled into one! However, most holiday makers’ from this country usually travel to only a couple of destinations when they visit the ”States” and they are Florida and New York, occasionally it can be California. Naturally the ski resorts of Colorado are one of the favourite destinations for a small number of British tourists, but there is a whole lot more to see.

Washington State in the North West corner of America is a beautiful area and can be described as having it all, with temperate rainforests and rugged shores. Unspoilt by mass tourism it still has all that is required for a fantastic holiday destination. You can take in the national parks of Olympic and Mount Rainier, perhaps visit some quiet beaches, take in natural wildlife and swift running rivers sporting salmon.

Seattle has a lot to offer, not the New York kind but nonetheless it is a sophisticated city surrounded by water. Seattle is a compact walking city where you can find great restaurants, downtown and on the waterfront, boat trips, including a replica Mississippi stern wheeler the “Queen of Seattle” with traditional entertainment on board during a two hour cruise through Lake Union.

America is a great holiday destination and perfect for fly drive holidays with good highways and friendly people and direct flights to Seattle are available from London and regional airports.

Picture: Ian Chaplin

Travelling to Klevan, Ukraine

It is likely that you have not heard of Klevan – a small urban settlement situated in Western Ukraine.  This city is located 50 kilometres southeast of Lutsk and 28 kilometres northwest of Rivne.  The Tunnel of Love, which is one of the most notable landmarks of Klevan, is about to turn this city into one of the most romantic holiday destinations in the world.

Landmarks

Since the Tunnel of Love is an attraction not to be missed, describing it is imperative:  Born from the interaction between nature and man, this natural tunnel is actually formed from hundreds of trees, whose branches completely surround a railway line crossing Klevan.  An urban legend says that the dreams of the couples who cross the tunnel holding hands will become reality.

More and more young couples visit this location during spring and summer, when a huge canopy of trees forms a beautiful enclosed arch over the railway track.  Three other attractions in Klevan are the Klevan Castle, Church of the Annunciation and Church of the Nativity.

Climate

Klevan is characterized by a temperate-continental climate, with warm summers, cold winters and occasional rain and storms throughout the year.  The best time to visit this location is from May through August.

Travel and lodging information

A traveller coming from London must book a flight to Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, and then, travel to Klevan by car. The entire journey takes about eight hours.  Upon arrival, you can find a variety of lodging options around this location, including hotels, resorts and holiday apartments.

Picture: iSavoch

Airport hacks

One of the most stressful things about travelling for most people is the airport. It’s the transitional place where you’re just waiting to get to your destination, and it often seems like so many things can go wrong. Here are some ways to make that experience that little bit easier.

If you’ve got a bit of a wait at the airport, or if you’re transferring flights and have a gap in between, put a bit of money towards getting a lounge for the time. It’s much quieter than being out in the departure lounge, you’re bound to get a comfortable seat and some even have food, drinks and WiFi included in the price. When you consider the benefits you get, it’s worth the small amount you pay.

If you’re spending some time in the airport, you’re likely to be using some electronic equipment, be it a phone, camera, laptop or iPad, and it’s likely that you’ll be draining the battery on these. Most airports now have hidden hubs for charging your equipment. Search on the internet beforehand to find out where these places might be.

Finding your luggage on the carousel can be stressful if yours looks the same as everyone else’s. It might seem simple, but just tying a ribbon around the handle in a bright colour will help you to identify yours and get out the airport more quickly.

airport trolleys

Picture: Bentley Smith

Sunshine Deals for Families

Getting away needn’t break the bank, there are some wonderful deals for holidays to get some winter sun so you can escape the dreary UK weather. A good idea for families stuck on a tight budget is a cheap holiday package deal, with all-inclusive accommodation. This enables you to pay up front for many of your holiday costs such as transfers and food and drink.

Popular Winter Sun Destinations Include:

Canary Islands

The Spanish Canary Islands are a great year round destination. Off the coast of Africa these tiny volcanic Islands are popular with many British tourists. Most visited are Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. They benefit from great beaches, (volcanic and sand which is shipped in), great natural sites to see and plenty of food and drink to enjoy.

Egypt

When heading to Egypt for some winter sun, the best place to stay is the popular tourist resort of Sharm el Sheikh. It’s known as one of the best places for diving and snorkelling as well as benefitting from beautiful golden sand beaches and warm waters. The resorts here are still relatively safe and offer a wide selection of shopping, eating and drinking.

Cape Verde

Just off the coast of Africa, the small windswept islands of Cape Verde make a great winter sun holiday, in relative seclusion. The two main islands Sal and Boa Vista have a scattering of hotels, the towns are quiet but there are a number of guided tours available. Many of the hotels are all-inclusive so you really can relax you cares away.

Mexico

Both sides of the Mexican coastline are perfect for a winter holiday, with the best times to travel being November to February for the best weather. On the east coast popular resorts such as Cancun and Playa Del Carmen pull in the tourists with their Americanised hotel chains mixed nicely in with local history. On the West Coast you get to see a different quieter side of Mexico such as Puerto Vallarta.

Florida

You won’t be short of things to see and do in Florida. If the sights in this fun and vibrant city weren’t enough, think fabulous restaurants and great beaches, then how about a couple of days at Disney World Florida and Orlando Universal Studios. Temperatures do cool down over winter, but it’s still scorching for us Brits. It also makes a great destination for a fly drive holiday for a family, which can be quite affordable.

Picture: Colin Bowern

Best nights out in Europe

The end of university exams every year, around May and June, is the time when many people around the world head off on holidays to celebrate the end of the academic year and to party in the sun. If this is something you’re thinking of experiencing for yourself this year, here is a list of some of the best places to go for a night out in Europe.

Barcelona is an up and coming destination for partying. Known for a long time in Spain as the hub of nightlife, it’s only just being recognised by tourists. Head to El Raval and the Gothic Quarter for the best bars and clubs, but make sure not to get there too early; the party doesn’t start around here until about 3am!

This wouldn’t be a list of the best places to go for a night out in Europe without a mention of Ibiza, would it? The party capital of the world, it is brimming with clubs, bars and parties. It is home to the world’s largest club, Privilege which boasts a swimming pool in its centre and is allegedly big enough to house all the other clubs in Ibiza inside it! Other fantastic nights out are the superclubs such as Space, Pacha and Amnesia. Every night offers something different from silent discos, to live music and foam parties – take your pick!

No matter what time of year it is, the party is always raving in Amsterdam. Not necessarily known for its sunny weather, many people head here to spend the nights, and even until noon the next day, partying. Some of the biggest names are Club Up, located in a narrow two storey building which often forms long queues outside where you’ll hear a mixture of underground hip-hop, soul and deep house music and Supperclub, which has a more stylish and refined atmosphere for the young, arty crowd with Amsterdam’s newest and coolest DJs.

Marmaris in Turkey is perfect for a clubbing holiday with friends. There are a huge number of bars and clubs, making it impossible to choose which one to visit first! It is home to the infamous Bar Street where the party spills out onto the streets. Most places are very wallet-friendly, even the Moonlight Cruises which take you out to sea with the music pumping starting at 10 Turkish Lira.

Picture: Roberto Castano

A trip to see the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights, the natural ones that occur and not the famous man made display at Blackpool each year, are predicted to be at their most spectacular in December this year. Scientists at NASA are confidently predicting that our current solar activity will reach a new peak in December and this will allow us to see these phenomena at their best for the next ten years.

 The best possible way to see the Northern Lights it to travel into Canada or into northern Scandinavia, but there are some other ways that they can be viewed and will depend on your budget and the time available. Obviously it would be better to arrange for this to be combined with other activities in what can be sub zero temperatures, but there are plenty of travel companies that cater for this. Also a number of airlines do arrange flights from airports the simply take you to the area and you can view the spectacle from the aircraft. This way the trip will only take in a few hours and will be cheaper.

Of course seeing the “lights” is possible from this country, but it is entirely weather dependant, northern Scotland is an ideal place, although these can be less spectacular and during these periods of maximum activity that we have now, it is possible to see them from southern England.

Picture: dan.kristiansen

Things to consider when booking your summer holiday

Going on holiday can be expensive, especially during the summer, there are a number of important aspects to consider when going on holiday with your family, to make sure you get the best deal possible.

Getting the Best Deal

Because holidays are so expensive, you want to make sure you get the best deal possible. To do this you can use comparison sites, to make sure, for the destination and hotel, you want you get the best possible price. If you like booking through a travel agent, its best getting quotes from a number of different ones in your local area, sometimes you can haggle the price down, even with prices found online.

Transfers

Some holidays such as package holidays come with transfers included, however if your opting for a DIY holiday where flights and hotel are booked separately then you will have to also book your own transfers for when you at the resort. You can find some of the most affordable options on AirportTransfers.co.uk, for destinations all around the world. Making sure this is booked before you go will ensure you the cheapest deal and a lot less hassle.

Currency Exchange

There is a lot of variables in currency exchange, it can change from town to town, shop to shop. You can compare currency exchange rates online and order you currency there. Or you can visit all your local currency exchange places in your local town such as banks, post office, supermarket and travel agent to get the best exchange rate, as the all compete with each other.

Insurance

Before traveling abroad, you should always take out insurance. For standard travel insurance, if you have no pre-existing medical conditions you can use online comparison sites to find the best option for you and your family. It’s also worthwhile, if travelling within the EU to also have an E111 card which entitles you to some form of free national medical care in the country you visit.

Safety

Finally for your own safety its worth reading up on your chosen destination, from recent terrorist activity to violent protests, you could end up having to cancel your holiday or coming home early and this can cost you. It’s also a good idea to read up on cultures and traditions to make sure you don’t end up with any unexpected fines. And finally read up about crime, such as thieves and other types of criminals.

Picture: John Meyer