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2017’s best trips for culture seekers

Seek a deeper experience by understanding the locals – via their history and stomachs, on these extraordinary trips, including holidays in Vietnam, Egypt, Malta and Japan

Geisha with umbrella in Kyoto, Japan (Dreamstime)

Wanderlust Top 50 trips 2017

Click HERE for the full Top 50 Trips 2017 list

1: Explore the Maldives beyond the resorts

Uninhabited island in the Maldives (Dreamstime)

Uninhabited island in the Maldives (Dreamstime)

Peer behind the golden sands and resorts of Southeast Asia’s idyllic atoll on All Points East’s Hidden Maldives trip to discover more about local life here. Spend time with NGO Save the Beach to see how local initiatives are helping battle rising sea levels. There are also plenty of opportunities to mingle with locals on trips to markets, mosques, fishing villages and tea shops in capital Malé.

Meanwhile, reef snorkelling around the islands brings you closer to the incredible marine life off shore, swimming with hawksbill turtles, whale sharks and manta rays off its powder-white beaches.

Who: All Points East

When: Year round

How long: Five nights

How much: From £920 (excl intl flights)

2: Join Malta’s culture club

Valletta, Malta (Dreamstime)

Valletta, Malta (Dreamstime)

With 7,000 years of civilisation at its fingertips, it’s little surprise that Valletta has got the nod for European Capital of Culture 2018. Get one step ahead of the scenesters with Battered Suitcases’s newly revamped Malta and Gozo trip. 

Pick and choose an itinerary of the country’s cultural big-hitters, whether wandering its tiny UNESCO-listed capital, established by the Knights of St John in the 1500s, or exploring the Megalithic Temples on Gozo island, or even scrabbling the medieval catacombs beneath Mdina. Tick off the sights at your leisure.

Who: Battered Suitcase

When: Year round

How long: Six nights

How much: From £550 (incl flights) plus tour expenses

3: Take a bite out of Vietnam

Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi (Dreamstime)

Tran Quoc Pagoda, Hanoi (Dreamstime)

Expand your knowledge and your waistline on Collette’s Taste of Vietnam tour, soaking up a soupçon of local culture in the process. 

From Ho Chi Minh City, explore the Cu Chi Minh maze of underground passages dug by the Viet Cong before heading to rural Ky Sona to learn about culinary traditions and take a cookery class in tranquil Hoi An.

Satisfy your aesthetic palate with trips along the Perfume River, overnighting on a junk boat in Halong Bay and travelling the vertiginous Van Hai Pass, stopping en route to sample the local markets and flavours that define the cuisine of each region. 

Who: Collette

When: Selected dates from 12 May 2017

How long: 13 nights

How much: From £1,949 (excl intl flights)

4: Korea beyond the kimchi

Gwangjang Market in Seoul (Dreamstime)

Gwangjang Market in Seoul (Dreamstime)

Grab some ‘Seoul’ food on Intrepid Travel’s Real Food Adventure in South Korea. From browsing barbecue joints to honing your own cooking skills in the country’s culinary capital of Jeonju, the waistline onslaught doesn’t stop, even when you spend a night in a Buddhist monastery, where you’ll get to ponder the simple delights of a traditional temple meal.

As well as village visits and soju liquor-sampling, discover Busan’s craft beer revolution alongside street food tours, farm visits and even more cooking. Leave your belts at home.

Who: Intrepid Travel

When: 20 Apr, 18 May, 15 Jun, 28 Sept, 26 Oct, 9 Nov 2017

How long: Seven nights

How much: From £1,480 (excl intl flights)

5: Make a Japanese pilgrimage

Gates tunnel, Inari Shrine, Kyoto (Dreamstime)

Gates tunnel, Inari Shrine, Kyoto (Dreamstime)

Most travellers are familiar with Europe’s pilgrim trails (from St Cuthbert’s Way to the Camino de Santiago), but far fewer know of the ancient walks of Japan. 

TransIndus’ Sacred Trails follows easily the most famous of the country's trails: the UNESCO-listed Kumano Kodo, where trekkers criss-cross the Kii peninsula on a 1,000-year-old route connecting Shinto and Buddhist shrines, cedar forests, soaring mountains and traditional ryokan inns.

Expect plenty of uphill walking, while the trip is also bookended by visits to Kyoto and Nara, the latter boasting a wild deer park in its city centre.

Who: TransIndus

When: Year round

How long: 13 nights

How much: From £4,465 (incl flights)

7: Romania’s cultural wilds

Barsana monastery (Dreamstime)

Barsana monastery (Dreamstime)

The hiking trails of Eastern Europe are still undiscovered country for many, and while cheap short-haul flights have opened up Bucharest to many a short break (and stag do), few venture into the traditional communities, monasteries and hills further afield. 

Thus, Tucan Travel’s Hike Romania trip ticks a fair few cultural boxes, as you set off on an overnight train from the capital to Bucovina.

Trek through woodland and fields to reach picturesque monasteries famed for their ‘egg painting’ techniques, before continuing on to Maramures, where wooden churches, long villages, forests and dazzling frescoes await.

Who: Tucan Travel

When: 20 May, 24 Jun, 1 Aug, 4 & 30 Sept 2017

How long: Eight nights

How much: From £699 (excl intl flights)

8: Grab a taste of the Basque

Pintxo in San Sebastián (Dreamstime)

Pintxo in San Sebastián (Dreamstime)

Eat your fill on Pura Aventura’s Basque Cultural Adventure, as you begin your culinary journey in Guernica, 80 years after it was decimated by the German Luftwaffe. Today, the busy town is the heart of the region’s celebrated cooking scene, its markets humming with visitors and local produce.

Sate your hunger before setting off on a self-drive through the region, sampling local Idiazabal cheese on a shepherd’s walk, meeting the harvesters of the salt pans and learning how to create authentic Basque pintxo (tapas) in historic Pamplona. End in the gastronomy capital of Spain, your belly purring in the dining clubs of San Sebastián.

Who: Pura Aventura

When: Year round

How long: Ten nights

How much: From £2,060 (excl intl flights)

9: Embrace Egypt - but without the crowds

The pyramids. Empty. (Dreamstime)

The pyramids. Empty. (Dreamstime)

Once famed for its queues and tour buses, recent events have made Egypt synonymous with the negative headlines that have kept visitors away. But with flights restarting and FCO advice not extending to the Luxor Valley, G Adventures’ revamped Highlights of Egypt trip offers a chance to explore a country not packed to the gills with tourists.

It also squeezes trips to Alexandria and the Siwa Oasis into a tour that already racks up the bucket-list ticks, including trotting into the Valley of the Kings on a donkey, gliding the Nile on a traditional felucca sailing boat and wandering the Pyramids of Giza and Abu Simbel. Count us in.

Who: G Adventures

When: Flexible dates, from Feb 2017

How long: 14 nights

How much: From £1,169 (excl intl flights)

10: Cycle southwest Tanzania

Bicycle leaning against mud hut (Dreamstime)

Bicycle leaning against mud hut (Dreamstime)

Gear up for a challenging pedal across the mountainous south-west of Tanzania with Explore’s Cycle Tanzania - Kilimanjaro to Ngorongoro adventure. 

Rattle along dirt trails and tarmac alike, taking in eye-filling views of Mounts Kilimanjaro and Meru, and detouring through Maasai land and villages, resting up with a trio of game drives through Tarangire, Manyana and Ngorongoro Crater National Parks to spy lions, rhino, buffalo and elephants in the wild. The real joy on this trip is in seeing the landscape change over the 216km.

Who: Explore

When: 16 Jun, 3 & 24 Nov 2017

How long: Seven nights

How much: From £2,350 (incl flights)


More Top Trips for 2017

9 extraordinary wildlife encounters you’ll want to book now

6 great journeys to take in 2017

12 trips to 2017’s new frontiers

2017’s best trips for festivals and events

2017’s best active adventure trips

2017’s best learning trips


Main image: Geisha with umbrella in Kyoto, Japan (Dreamstime)

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