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The best national parks in the world – by continent

The best way to see the world’s greatest natural wonders is to visit the best national parks in the world. Thankfully, governments around the world have taken steps to preserve their areas of outstanding natural beauty, their diverse animal and marine life, and tracts of pristine wilderness.

From the plains and deserts of Africa to the waterfalls and glaciers of South America, every continent has something different to offer. Here we list the best national parks in the world by continent.

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underground cities of Cappadocia

Underground cities of Cappadocia: for trogs and hobbits

Exploring the Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu underground cities of Cappadocia is perfect for connecting with your inner troglodyte.

With so many activities on offer above ground in Cappadocia (hot-air balloon rides, hiking and horse riding to name but a few) it would be easy to overlook the maze of tunnels burrowed deep in subterranean Turkey.

The underground cities of Cappadocia offer something truly unique to the tourist in Anatolia. You won’t find any fairy chimneys or ridged valleys here. Instead, a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers await. Claustrophobes, beware! Continue reading

Horse riding in Cappadocia

Stone rangers: horse riding in Cappadocia

In his 2009 memoir, journalist Sathnam Sanghera recalls a date with a Sikh girl who describes in detail the intricacies of the movie Police Academy.

Sathnam asks how she happens to remember so much about the film and she replies, “Asian girl. Didn’t get out much in the eighties.”

I laughed because her quip so perfectly captured my early years as an Asian girl in Britain. Despite being born and bred in London, I lived (and chafed) under an extensive set of strict rules which governed what I wore, what I ate, where I went, who I saw and what time I would be home after a day at school/college/university.

I tell you this now to try and relay the small moments of wonder that tend to hit me when I’m travelling – because here I am, in cowboy gaiters, on a horse, riding through the dusty landscape of Cappadocia and the best way to describe the feeling is freedom. Continue reading

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8 short but sweet Cappadocia hikes

Hiking around Cappadocia in Turkey is a unique experience offering some of the most surreal scenery in the world. There are numerous options available, from brief walks to full-day treks and beyond. Below, we take a look at some short but sweet Cappadocia hikes offering excellent vantage points with extraordinary views.

We hired a car and sought out the trails on our own. If you prefer, you can opt to book a Cappadocia hiking tour that will cover all the below. Voyager Balloons offer customised itineraries and are a good option if you don’t have transport. Continue reading

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Cappadocia balloon ride: a fairytale flight

A Cappadocia balloon ride gives passengers an unrivalled perspective of the area’s unique landscape of fairy chimneys, towering boulders and ridged valleys peppered with caves.

We had already spent three days exploring the lunar-like environment of Cappadocia. We had hiked, driven, ‘caved’ and ridden our way around Göreme National Park (the modern encompassment of the historic region of Cappadocia) and were soon ready for a full, unobstructed view from above. Continue reading

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Visiting Pamukkale: tips to know before you go

Pamukkale, though Turkey’s most popular attraction by numbers, is barely known outside its country borders. It’s the iconic architecture of Istanbul and the cave dwellings of Cappadocia that steal the spotlight, but Pamukkale with its cascading travertine terraces deserves attention as well.

Sweeping limestone cliffs of a blinding white hue rise above pools of powder blue. Petrified stakes of limestone hang from chalky roots – like in Superman’s fortress of solitude or a Tim Burton nightmare if his nightmares were good.

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Temple of Artemis: should Britain give back its stolen treasures?

I squinted at the map on my phone, reading the tiny numbers in the afternoon glare of an unforgiving sun. The Temple of Artemis was definitely marked on the map – number 23.

We had spent the morning at Ephesus, Turkey’s iconic archaeological site, and were now in search of the Temple of Artemis, one of the famed seven wonders of the ancient world.

We had walked down three different paths and hit boundaries of the site, unable to locate the seemingly mythical temple. Eventually, we traipsed to the South Gate, arms held out at unnatural angles to let air around our sweating skin. We were welcomed at the gate by a typically gregarious Turk who cheerily told us the Temple of Artemis wasn’t in the complex of Ephesus at all but 3km away, back near town. Continue reading

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10 tips for visiting Ephesus, Turkey

Visiting Ephesus should be on every traveller’s Turkey itinerary. After more than 150 years of excavation, the city’s reclaimed and restored structures have made Ephesus Europe‘s most complete ancient city.

The great city was built in the 10th century BC during the Classical Greek era and began to flourish after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. It’s estimated that the population of the city was at one point between 33,000 and 56,000 people. Continue reading

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Bosphorus Cruise: what not to miss

A Bosphorus cruise provides the best way to see Istanbul’s epic architecture along the European and Asian shores of the Bosphorus Strait.

The 32km (20mi) natural waterway of the Bosphorus in Turkey connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and – by extension via the Dardanelles – the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. It is one of the most significant waterways in the world and has been for centuries if not millennia of maritime history. Continue reading

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Ayasofya: 7 tips for visiting

Ayasofya (or Hagia Sophia in Greek) is one of Istanbul’s most iconic structures. It graces travel brochures and glossy magazines and has even made a cameo in video game Assassin’s Creed.

The 1,500-year-old structure is considered the most important of the Byzantine era and is one of the world’s great monuments. Completed in 537 AD, Ayasofya was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.

Ayasofya and its central dome, a giant 32 metres (105ft) in diameter, stands sentry over Istanbul, offering beguiling views both inside and out. Here’s how to make the most of your time there.  Continue reading

Risky travel: how much is too much?

On Tuesday 7th June 2016, a bomb went off in central Istanbul, killing 11 people and injuring 36 others. The news was particularly sobering because we had been in the city only a day and a half before.

We had spent a few weeks travelling through parts of western Turkey, stopping in Istanbul, Selçuk and Ephesus, Denizli, Pamukkale and Cappadocia and finishing off in Istanbul. On the flight back to London, I mentally planned the post I wanted to write: a call for tourists to start visiting Turkey again, to experience the iconic landscapes, historic architecture, delicious food and amazing people of Turkey. Continue reading

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The Blue Mosque dress code and tips for entry

The third or maybe fourth time I met Peter’s parents, I spent 10 minutes beforehand fretting that my top was too low.

Peter rolled his eyes. “For God’s sake, my mum wears lower-cut tops than that!”

I laughed, flung on a cardigan and readied to leave. His family are thankfully far more liberal than mine.

My neurosis about modesty – a hangover from my Muslim roots – sees me pinning together anything lower than a vicar’s collar any time I visit my Mum. Knowing this, you’ll understand why I was in a tizz over the Blue Mosque dress code and associated etiquette during our recent trip to Istanbul. Continue reading

The oldest cities in the world

There’s a certain aesthetic attached to the oldest cities in the world: bustling souks beneath a bright blue sky, flowing garments made of whispery white cotton, stone masonry painted yellow by the sun.

In reality, however, the oldest cities in the world have faced deep unrest throughout their long histories. Tragically, some are still uninhabitable. The Syrian town of Aleppo, for example, is likely the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world but rages with civil war today. Damascus too is categorically off limits.
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The biggest buildings in the world

Modern architecture has made relentless and remarkable progress over the past century, and with construction of the world’s tallest and first one 1km high building beginning this week in Saudi Arabia, it doesn’t look to be slowing any time soon. The biggest buildings in the world continue to grow and not just higher into the sky. On the ground they are expanding in all directions too.

Architects continue to overcome structural hurdles and make history with innovative and groundbreaking designs. Here are some of their biggest and grandest: the biggest buildings in the world. Continue reading

natural wonders: pyramids of Giza

10 most visited countries in the world

Have you dreamed about a romantic kiss atop the Eiffel Tower? Perhaps you’ve thrown a wish into the Trevi Fountain or stopped and stared at the Sistine Chapel. If so, you’re certainly not alone. According to the UNWTO Tourism Highlights report, France and Italy are two of the most visited countries in the world. Together with the rest of the top 10, they make up a whopping 43% of overall global tourism. Here’s the complete list of the most visited countries in the world. Continue reading