Sunday 11 December 2016

50 fab holidays for 2016

Where to travel this year

Anna Coogan & Emily Hourican

Published 18/01/2016 | 02:30

travel
travel
Algarve, Portugal
Street vendor in Hong Kong
Ghent, Belgium
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Sardinia
An Aerial view of Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland.
San Sebastian
Bhutan
Vietnam
Venice
Kenya

With a choice of so many destinations, there's something for families, couples and singles on all budgets.

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Best for children

1. Greece, Canaries, Mexico

Child-friendly can be difficult - how much child-focus is too much, basically? And is that worse than not enough child-focus? Thompson Holidays has the balance well worked out. From spacious family-sized rooms and a variety of a la carte restaurants, along with plenty of family-focused entertainment, it appeals to every generation. A recent review of its resort holidays has resulted in a best-of-the-best list: Kos, the five-star Blue Lagoon Village; Zakynthos, the four-star Alykanas Village; Cancun, the four-star Club Hotel Riu Tequila; Gran Canaria, the four-star Riu Flamingo; Lanzarote, the four-star Coronas Playa Hotel; or Tenerife, the three-star Sol Princess Dacil. thomsonholidays.ie

2. Camping in France

The world is divided into those who love camping and those give it a wide berth but most who've tried it are addicted. It's become so popular with the Irish that ferry sailings to France become booked up in January. A camping holiday usually combines great on-site activities for the kids - pool, water slides, kids club - and a bit of local colour in the form of a historical town or a vineyard for the parents. Benodet is typical: a charming seaside town with four sandy beaches and proximity to a medieval city, in this case Quimper. It will cost €1536 (€384 per person) from 11-24 June for two adults and two children in a standard car with chalet- style mobile home accommodation brittany-ferries.co.uk

3. Lisbon Coast

Portugal is always popular - 35km from Lisbon is the Eco Sound Ericeira resort, beside the traditional fishing town of Ericeira, with its whitewashed houses and top-class surfing beaches. Eco Sound is big into sustainability and limiting environmental impact, with lodges made from wood and clay, a fully biological swimming pool and impeccable recycling credentials. Along with regular bungalows, there are also twin-bed barrel-shaped structures to sleep in, which would appeal to kids. ericeiraecosound.com

4. Alicante, Spain

For those who prefer self-catering, with a pleasing dash of eccentricity, Casa del Mundo near Alicante, Spain, has a choice of traditional wooden Gypsy wagon, Indonesian gazebo, African safari lodge or Balinese rice hut to sleep in, with a range of sizes to cater for different families. On site is a swimming pool, basketball, boules, library and restaurant, while in close proximity are options for biking, horse riding, climbing, trekking, diving and snorkelling. The owners are Dutch, and clever in the ways of families and children. casadelmundo.nl

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5. Sardinia

The second-largest Mediterranean island has 1800km of beautiful coastline, with great beaches and interesting rock formations. A little further inland, Monte Sixeri Farm in north-west Sardinia is a 60-hectare estate 12km from the town of Alghero. Five farm buildings have been converted into spacious, rustic apartments, with washing machines, Wi-Fi and outside terraces, and the complex also has a restaurant - serving traditional dishes using produce from the farm, and pizzas from a wood-fired oven - playground and pool. Children are welcome to visit and feed the animals under supervision. justsardinia.co.uk

By the way, Aer Lingus is putting new focus around family holidays with its very welcome Family First offering, including half-price on checked baggage and advance seat selection for children aged 2-11 on short-haul flights, special baby-changing facilities on board, pre-boarding for families, generous luggage allowance for children and more, along with extra flights to many family-friendly destinations, and three new family-focussed routes for summer 2016: Dublin to Montpellier, Pisa and Murcia. aerlingus.com

Best for foodies

1. Catalonia, Spain

Dedicated followers of World's Best Restaurants lists will have known about Catalonia for a while now, courtesy of the wonderful El Celler de Can Roca (cellercanroca.com) restaurant, but the news of Catalonia's extraordinary culinary scene is reaching ever further. Catalonia has been awarded the title of European Region of Gastronomy 2016 and a campaign is currently afoot for the local cuisine to be recognised as a Unesco World Intangible Heritage site. With one of the highest concentrations of top-class dining establishments in Spain, including 50 Michelin-starred restaurants, and a host of famous food markets, it is a must for all serious gourmets. catalunya.com

2. Tel Aviv, Israel

For vegans, or anyone simply interested in exciting, ambitious food, Tel Aviv is the new hot spot for vegetarian and vegan restaurants. The abundance of local produce, combined with successive waves of culinary influence, including Russian, Polish, Arabic, Moroccan, Bulgarian and Iraqi, has resulted in an explosion of excellent meat-free restaurants. Nearly 5pc of Israelis are now vegan, the highest population percentage anywhere, with about 250 certified vegan-friendly restaurants throughout the country and substantial vegan offers in many of the rest.

Try the tofu crepes and chickpea omelettes at Café Anastasia (cafeanastasia.info), the open ravioli piled with green-pea puree, mushrooms, and green-vegetable ragu at Bindella (www.bindella.co.il), or the 14-ingredient tomato salad at the Herbert Samuel Restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Herzliya (ritzcarlton.com). uk.thinkisrael.com

3. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Seafood is the thing in Dubrovnik, specifically squid, mussels, lobster and oysters, much of which comes from the bay of Mali Ston, about an hour's drive from the city. Base yourself at the Hotel Excelsior (adriaticluxuryhotels.com/en/hotel-excelsior-dubrovnik) overlooking the Adriatic Sea and just a few steps from the old town, and explore the many fine restaurants in the vicinity.

Mali Ston itself is a hidden gem of a gourmet paradise, filled with pretty local restaurants serving delicious fresh seafood without fuss. Local fishermen offer tours of the mussel and oyster fields by boat, with plenty of opportunities for sampling built-in along the way. Try a plate of the freshest oysters, straight from the water, with a glass of the excellent local Dingac wine.

4. Bologna, Italy

It was a toss-up between Rome, Bologna and Florence, but in the end Bologna won, for being that tiny bit more off the beaten track and therefore more of a voyage of discovery. It is easy to forget Italian food in the wave of newer cuisines, but that would be a big mistake. This university town is nicknamed 'La Grassa' (the fat one) for good reason. There may be no such thing as spaghetti bolognese in Bologna, but there is a ragu bolognese, usually paired with tagliatelle, that will more than do the job. Culatello di Zibello - the finest of all cuts of prosciutto - balsamic vinegar from Modena and parmigiano reggiano are just some of the specialities, along with a fantastic ricotta and fig ice cream (try Sorbetteria Castiglione for the best; lasorbetteria.it).

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5 Hong Kong, China

The days of Hong Kong's foodie scene being divvied up between stiff, formal, rather joyless high-end dining at one end of the scale and scruffy, uncertain noodle joints at the other, are over. Now, there is a very exciting middle ground, heaving with inventive dim sum and a wave of Chinese-style sharing plates and tapas that have broken the dining scene wide open. Try Duddell's (duddells.com), which is young and fun, despite a Michelin star, serving contemporary-style dim sum and snacks, or Mott 32 (mott32.com), where farm-to-table cooking and cocktails featuring jasmine tea and poached five spice pear, are the thing.

Best Irish holidays

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1. Skelligs, Co Kerry

For years, boat trips out to the magnificent Skelligs, off the Iveragh Peninsula, were full of every nationality, except Irish. Perched on our doorstep, these rocky outcrops, once home to a community of monks who lived here from the 6th century until the 12th, were pretty well overlooked by those of us closest to them. And then Star Wars came to town. The impact of Sceilg Mhichíl on the big screen, as seen in The Force Awakens, is mighty impressive. The impact of the Sceiligs themselves, IRL as the kids say, dwarfs even that. This is the year to visit. skelligexperience.com

2. Kilkenny City

As far as city breaks go, Kilkenny is one of the most accessible and entertaining spots. A pretty medieval town, complete with rather magnificent castle and the 13th-century Canice's Cathedral, as well as plenty of ancient laneways and walls. There is also plenty of scope for shopping - Kilkenny Design Centre stocks great Irish craftsmanship - and food, thanks to the Michelin-starred Campagne restaurant. Close by are plenty of parks and farms to visit, as well as Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Thomastown, where Ireland's only caviar is produced from the roe of farmed trout. visitkilkenny.ie

3. Wexford

With white sandy beaches, mighty castles (Enniscorthy, Ferns, Johnstown), the wonderful Hook lighthouse and various parks and wildlife reserves (the National Heritage Park, the JFK Arboretum, the Wildfowl Reserve), as well as ever-increasing numbers of good restaurants and cafes, Wexford has plenty to keep visitors busy. Try basing yourself at Kelly's Hotel (kellys.ie) - entertainment for all ages, for every moment of the day, including spa, pool, crazy golf, cinema suite and table tennis.

4. Glamping, Westmeath

The idea of camping may be heaven - close to nature, simple, authentic - but the reality can be uncomfortable and tricky. Which is where Boutique Camping comes in - or 'glamping', as we now know it. Mount Druid in Westmeath has 100 acres of parkland, with a choice of charming Mongolian yurts or shepherd's huts to stay in. With proper beds made up with sheets and duvets, hot showers just a short walk away and a converted loft transformed into a cosy communal area with couches, wood burning stove and fully-equipped kitchen, this is all the bliss of back-to-nature, without the hassle. boutiquecamping.ie

5. Surfing, Sligo

Slightly off the beaten tourist track as it is, Sligo manages to be good value and packed with things to do, particularly of the sea-and-surf variety. Strandhill is pretty much a one-stop-shop for surfing and stand-up paddle-boarding, with all ages and abilities taken care of. From there, check out the Victorian seaweed baths in Kilcullen's, Enniscrone or head for the glorious Streedagh strand, where three Armada ships were wrecked in 1588 and from where Lord Mountbatten's Classiebawn Castle is visible. sligo.ie

Best city breaks

1. Valletta, Malta

Valletta, capital of Malta, may be pocket-sized in comparison with other European capitals, but is all the better for it. Beautiful, easily negotiated, with a rich cultural and historical background, it is currently preparing for its stint as European City of Culture 2018. From St John's Co-Cathedral to the bustling port and serene Upper Barrakka Gardens, laid down in the 17th century, Valetta is a delightful spot to visit, filled with lively restaurants, wine bars, theatres and music venues. All in a most clement, pleasant climate. visitmalta.com

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2. Donostia/ San Sebastian, Spain

Known as Donostia in Basque, but more recognisable to the rest of us as San Sebastian, and this year's European Capital of Culture, this is a charming coastal city, set in the sweep of the Bay of Biscay, the kind of place that gets travel writers into a flurry of approving adjectives. Small, but with plenty of sophisticated, international flair, there are beautiful beaches and a thriving tapas culture, as well as Michelin-starred restaurants, and this year, over 400 daring artistic projects will be showcased, alongside the film festival. donostiakultura.com

3. Abu Dhabi

With a slightly lower-profile than Dubai, 2016 is likely to be a big year for Abu Dhabi. The opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi (louvreabudhabi.ae) is bound to take the city from its current role as shoppers' paradise and parachute it into one of the top cultural attractions of the world. This 65,000 sq.ft construction, an ambitious collaboration between the Louvre Paris and Abu Dhabi, will carry exhibitions and collections on loan for the next 10 years. Alternatively, check out the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, then stroll along the beach-side Corniche, running from Emirates Palace to Mina Port.

4. Reykyavik, Iceland

During Bjork's heyday, Reykyavik was a popular destination and we're predicting a return in popularity. It has all the usual city break options - shopping, churches, museums, great pubs and restaurants and Yoko Ono's Imagine Peace Tower - but, unusually for a city break, there are extraordinary natural wonders within easy reach of the city, including the spectacular solfatara fields of Krysuvik. This is an enormous expanse of volcanic vents and hot springs set into the surrounding hills. Or you could choose to just splash around in the many hot springs dotted around the city. Great Airbnbs and regular flights make this an easy destination. reykyavik.is

5. Ghent, Belgium

A pocket-sized version of Brussels, with a more vibrant (ie less euro-focused) scene, Ghent has a great mix of historical architecture and culture - St Bavo Cathedral and Van Eyck's painting of The Mystic Lamb - along with more creative, contemporary outlets for the city's energy. A young, student population means plenty of nightclubs, music venues (remember this was the birthplace of techno), cafes and unusual restaurants, along with exciting shops. Great for festivals, including the 10-day multi-arts extravaganza Gentse Feesten in the summer. visit.gent.be/en

Best for romance

1. St Lucia, Caribbean

The charm of St Lucia is both immediate and abundant. Small in size, but with plenty of lush rain forests, volcanic peaks, blue seas, golden sand beaches, snorkelling, scuba diving and hiking. The four-star Coco Palm Hotel is a family-run, award-winning romantic hideaway, a boutique resort in Rodney Bay Village, just five minutes from Reduit Beach, that manages to be both elegant and relaxed, but with plenty of old-world Caribbean charm. coco-resorts.com

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2. Venice, Italy

With the remarkable quality of light, narrow streets and confusing, winding web of canals, Venice is a city for lovers far more than groups or families, a place to be explored a deux, where there is plenty of time and no real destination. Visit the Scuola Grande Dei Carmini in Dorsoduro, decorated with nine Tiepolo paintings of the Virgin Mary and the tower at San Giorgio Maggiore, with its sweeping views over the city. Then, for a dash of exoticism, camp at Glamping Canonoici, about half-an-hour from Venice, in an African safari tent set up in an orchard, with Balinese day beds, Oriental lamps and Sicilian antiques. glampingcanonici.com

3. Loisaba, Kenya

A night under the stars of the Kenyan sky, surrounded by the open plains and wildlife of Africa is probably the deluxe version of romance. At Loisaba in Northern Laikipia, Kenya, couples can sleep in Star Beds overlooking a popular watering hole. These are placed on a raised wooden platform partially covered with thatched roof and complete with ensuite bathroom. Watch out for wildlife, raft down the Ewaso Ngiro and Ng'are Narok rivers, or take a guided star safari on horseback. loisaba.com

4. Amano'I, Vietnam

Vietnam is a hot destination for everyone from back-packers to silver surfers, but for romance, head for Nui Chua National Park, overlooking the South China Sea, and the Amano'i resort. With 36 beachfront villas, a restaurant and bar set in an open-air mountain top building, and spa using the resort's own all-natural products, this is somewhere to sink right in, leaving only with reluctance. aman.com/resorts/amanoi

5. London, England

There are many Londons - a city for shoppers, clubbers, diners, music lovers and more. But for romantic London, base yourself at the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill (portobellohotel.com) - try and bag the tiny but charming attic room, No 16, where Kate Moss and Johnny Depp partied with a bath full of Champagne - and sketch out a full programme of visits. Delacroix And The Rise of Modern Art at the National Gallery, February 17-May 22, is well worth a look, as is Funny Girl at the Savoy theatre. Then, do what Londoners don't do - simply wander around markets, shop and eat. visitlondon.com

Best activity holidays

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1. Ice fishing, Aspen

For the sturdy of body, Aspen offers snowshoeing, ice fishing and snowmobiling. In the summer, you can show off your physique by hiking, fly-fishing, horse riding or mountain biking. The Little Nell is Aspen's only 5-star ski-in, ski-out hotel and is located at the base of Aspen Mountain and in the heart of downtown Aspen with its swanky shopping, dining, nightlife and galleries. It is open year-round and has innovative winter and summer programmes for guests. Suites offer panoramic mountain views or, if you're splashing out, you can have a three- or four-bedroom residence with spectacular rooftop pools. thelittlenell.com

2. Rodeo, American South

Hang on tightly, making your way through 11 of the USA's southern states in only 13 days on Contiki's high-energy Southern Adventure tour. You'll be whisked off on heli-rides across the vistas of the Grand Canyon and party amidst the bright lights of Las Vegas. You'll get on down with cowboys at a rodeo and dig into finger-lickin' good ribs at a Texan BBQ. You'll take a steamboat down the mighty Mississippi and learn to cook the New Orleans way. Contiki prices start from €1804pps. contiki.com

3 Camel Trek, Africa

The Ebola virus in West Africa had an unfortunate knock-on effect for tourism for the continent in 2015. The result is some amazing deals for 2016. From Casablanca to Cape Town, Africa offers some of the greatest travellers' treasures to be found anywhere. It is is home to modern cities and nomadic villages alike and there's something for you, whether you're after a peaceful sunrise on an Africa safari, a camel trek with Berber tribesmen, or a photo op with mountain gorillas. sunway.ie

4. Walking, Japan

Japan's booming tourism industry has been partly attributed to excellent value Japan Rail Passes and Airbnb-type accommodation. Of course, there's also the beauty of the country. The Nakasendo Walking Trail is known as "the road through the mountains" and weaves its way along the mountain valleys that sit between Tokyo and Kyoto. Along the route, travellers rest at juku (post towns) by day and stay at the small local minshuku (guest houses) by night. The Nakasendo self-guided trip involves five days of village-to-village walking. adventure-holidays.ie

5 Cross-country skiing, Austria

Austria gave us famous classical music composers Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Strauss, and Mahler. And a lot of people come home with a love of skiing, as well as of music. Dobbiaco is a town set amid the unique scenery of the Dolomites, in the Alta Pusteria region of Austria. Skiers follow a variety of ski tracks, amid towering limestone walls and jagged peaks of coloured stone. The Tschurtschenthaler family run a hotel where warm hospitality and comfortable surroundings provide a balance to an active itinerary. abbeytravel.ie

Best on-trend destinations

1. Any Hipster Neighbourhood

The hipster lifestyle of beards, bicycles and craft beers is well documented. And now hipsters are changing the face of travel too, by going off the beaten track in European cities. You won't find them at main tourist sites, like the Eiffel Tower or Rome's Colosseum. Instead, they are searching out the neighbourhoods which are less well known and where they are not likely to bump into your average tourist. Favourite spots are anywhere filled with microbreweries and trendy restaurants, with Airbnb providing the accommodation. Among Europe's leading hipster capitals are Berlin's Kreuzberg neighbourhood, District VII in Budapest and the Malasana district in Madrid.

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2. Brunch in New York

Forget Skype, you can now plan to meet your New York-based buddies for brunch. Aer Lingus will reintroduce an early-morning flight from Dublin to JFK New York, operating from June 9 to August 31, 2016. The daily flight will depart Dublin airport at 7.50am and will arrive into JFK airport at 10.20am local time - just in time for you to get to a restaurant downtown. The airline will also expand its Dublin to Washington service for summer 2016, with daily flights adding an extra 10,000 seats. aerlingus.com

3. Solo travel

Okay, this isn't so much a destination as a state of mind. According to the New York Times, a Visa Global Travel Intentions Study in 2015 found that solo travellers skyrocketed from 15pc in 2013 to 24pc in 2015. It can't be just Americans who are travelling on their ownio. Indeed, Travel Department caters for travellers who like to have their own hotel room on holiday, without the expense of paying a single-room supplement. Its Solo Friendly Holidays destinations include Moscow and St Petersburg, Iceland and the Northern Lights, Costa Brava and Barcelona.traveldepartment.ie

4. Cannes

Cannes in the South of France is back with a bang and not just with Russian billionaires and Mid-East moguls. Being smaller than its Côte-d'Azur neighbour Nice, it is appealing to the well-heeled who want a bit of chic glamour. A popular destination for more and more Irish people is the Mimozas Resort, a 4-star resort just 7km outside Cannes city centre. It's run by Splash Hospitality, which is headed by Ray Byrne of the Wineport Lodge. Cannes city centre is just a 10-minute drive from the resort and the picturesque village of La Napoule is a 10 minute stroll away. mimozascannes.com

5. Olympics in Brazil

If you're looking for that perfect Brazilian getaway - possibly to coincide with the Rio 2016 Olympic Games - a 12-day Rio Waterfalls, Beaches and Sunsets tour could be your cup of tea. You'll spend your first few days exploring the sights of the capital, Rio de Janeiro, then continue to the Iguaçu Falls. Round off the trip swimming or snorkelling through the turquoise waters of Paraty and the island paradise of Ilha Grande. Packages starts from €1,385pp, excluding international flights. evaneos-travel.com

Best long-haul

1. Madagascar

A hugely popular 2005 animated movie about Central Park Zoo animals shipped back to the island of the same name introduced this fabulous island country off the coast of Southeast Africa to a young audience. Turkish Airlines recently launched flights from Dublin to Madagascar via Istanbul. Madagascar's culture has been influenced by Europe, Africa and the East. You can explore national parks, stroll through heritage towns and spot wildlife not found anywhere else on this earth. Turkish Airlines fly three times weekly from Dublin from €1,370 incl. taxes. turkishairlines.com

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2. Dubai

RedFest Dubai is a two-day music festival which takes place from the February 11-12 and which will feature Rita Ora, 50 Cent, Steve Aoki, The Vamps, Redfoo and many more. There are two direct flights from Dublin every day with Emirates and you're guaranteed sunshine, beautiful beaches, good restaurants, golfing, exotic markets and a spot of skiing, if the mood takes you. Also, with Emirates economy-class fares starting from €504, Dubai may be more affordable than you think. emirates.ie

3. The Nam Hai in Hoi An, Vietnam

Southeast Asia remains hugely popular with young travellers travelling on the cheap. Luxury is often more affordable in this part of the world too. The Nam Hai is a complex of stunning villas situated on the picturesque white sandy beach Ha My and near the historic town of Hoi An. Facilities include a luxury spa, fitness and yoga centre, two gourmet restaurants, an Organic Farm, cookery school, Kids' Club and a Colin Montgomerie designed 18-hole golf course. ghmhotels.com

4. Mexico

Tour operators Falcon Holidays and Thomson will operate direct non-stop flights from Dublin to Cancun in Mexico from June, offering a range of exclusive holiday packages. The new charter programme, with a Thomson Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner, starts on June 13 and runs weekly for six weeks. The Dreamliner is promoted as being extra comfy and the idea is travelling on it reduces the effects of jet lag and ensures your holiday experience starts as soon as you step on board. falconholidays.ie

5 Jamaica

A definite for Bob Marley fans, but also Ireland and Jamaica's connections go back a long way; potatoes there are commonly referred to as 'Irish potatoes' or simply 'Irish'. It's also been pointed out that the Jamaican accent is reminiscent of a southern Irish accent. A number of places on the island have an Irish twist to them, such as Dublin Castle, Ulster Spring and Irish Town. sunway.ie

Best for adventure

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1. Cycle Girona

TDactive will bring riders up into the Pyrenees for some of the most epic and challenging rides Europe has to offer. The tour mirrors the route and structure of the Volta Catalunya, one of the oldest Grand Tours, and contains a mixture of rolling terrain and high mountain passes. It's a fully guided trip, so you don't have to worry about navigation or where to stop for lunch. It departs May 18 from Dublin for four nights. Cost from €549pp including return flights, transfers, accommodation and three days' bike rental. tdactive.ie

2. Trek Bhutan

The Tourism Council of Bhutan has proudly announced the formation of two new trekking routes, which will be launched early this year. It seems both treks will cover a section of the Bumthang district in central Bhutan, with one taking three days to complete and the other slightly longer at six days. The treks have been designed to offer visitors fantastic scenic views of the Himalayas and Bhutan's national parks. tourism.gov.bt

3 Safaris in Rwanda and Uganda

Founded in 1997, Volcanoes Safaris is an intimate collection of eco-luxe lodges in Rwanda and Uganda, which was at the forefront of reviving tourism near the great ape parks. From tracking the endangered mountain gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to summiting volcanoes or simply sharing the heritage of the indigenous Batwa tribe, the unrivalled expertise of the Volcanoes guides guarantees a truly unique experience. All lodges have inspiring views of the soaring Virunga volcanoes, the expansive Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Mountains of the Moon. volcanoessafaris.com

4. Hike the Grand Canyon's South Rim

A 22-day Big West trip, with prices starting at €3,414pps, going from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon and from Vancouver to Vernon, will be filled with extreme adventures such as hiking along the Canyon's South Rim, exploring one of Whistlers' many trails, picnicking in the Rocky Mountains and going on a gondola ride in Banff. Aimed at the young ones, it's one of Contiki's holidays for 18-35 year olds. contiki.com

5. Dogsledding in Finland

Over 70pc of Finland is forest and there are 188,000 lakes, so it's a magnet for trekkers and adventure holiday hunters. A Finnish 'wilderness camp' is an ideal base for arctic holiday activities, such as dogsledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Free from the icy clutches of the winter, summer in Finland reveals a stunning new landscape of crystal-blue lakes and pine forests as far as the eye can see. exodustravels.eu

Best cruises

1. France/Netherlands

This is for when you fancy a cruise, yet don't have much time to spare. Royal Caribbean International has two Short Getaway sailings on board its new ship, Harmony of the Seas. The three- and four-day holidays sail roundtrip from Southampton and include a visit to Cherbourg in France and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The cruises are an exclusive chance for Irish passengers to experience the ship ahead of her inaugural sailing to Barcelona, from where she'll sail the Mediterranean throughout the summer. It could be an opportunity to try out cruising to see if it's your bag. Cost from €519pp for the three-night Short Getaway, departing in May 2016. royalcaribbean.ie

2. Western Mediterranean

Based in Palma for summer 2016, the cruise ship Thomson Majesty will be exploring the Western Mediterranean, with the introduction of evening stays in Ibiza and Barcelona on the Catalan Promise itinerary. This itinerary, with no sea days, builds on the promise of maximising customers' time ashore and with the late-evening stays allowing for a leisurely dinner and the chance to soak up the post-sunset atmosphere. Huelva (for Seville) in Spain and Mahon in Menorca are new additions to the line-up on the Moorish Delights and Treasures of the Mediterranean itineraries respectively. thomson.co.uk

3. China, Tibet & the Yangtze

A growth in China's sharing economy has seen growth in companies similar to Airbnb and Uber. Yet you don't have to worry about such trifles as accommodation and transport while aboard a Uniworld 14-day cruise from Beijing to Shanghai. Everything is laid on for you, including a visit to Tiananmen Square and to the Forbidden City. Excursions include a walk of the majestic 2,000-year-old Great Wall and a visit to Xi'an to see the famous Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses. uniworld.com

4. Miami & Caribbean

Fly Dublin to Miami on board the MSC Divina and cruise to the US Virgin Islands, visiting St Thomas, the capital. Visit San Juan in Puerto Rico and the idyllic island of Great Stirrup Cay, a small island that is part of the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. topflight.ie

5. Arctic

Not everyone wants bustling sun-drenched ports while cruising. If you're seeking splendid isolation, try circumnavigating the North Pole with stopovers in ports in Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Nature lovers will be enthralled by wildlife such as Arctic hares, lemmings, Arctic fox, caribou and polar bear. At Greenland, you'll watch the graceful whales around the Godthab Fjord and see the Northern Lights. cruise1st.ie

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