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With travel returning in style as borders open and restrictions ease around the world, there’s never been a better time to remember what drives us to travel in the first place: culture.

These five destinations all embody culture in all its forms, from history and heritage to art and music, to people and cuisine. Whenever you choose, you’ll return enriched, inspired, refreshed and reminded that cultural diversity is exactly what makes our planet so special.

1. Bangkok

Few cities can match the Thai capital for a brilliant cultural and sensory overload. Journey by long boat along the exotic and atmospheric river of kings, the Chao Phraya, to understand the Thai kingdom’s ancient royal history. Along the way, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew — the Temple of the Emerald Buddha — are iconic must-visits, but for a different cultural immersion stay on the water and head to the famed floating markets at Damnoen Saduak. You’ll see the freshest produce change hands from one boat to another — and build your appetite for the country’s famed cuisine.

Side trip: If you’re after something a bit more laid-back, check out Chiang Mai, whose creative scene is seeing it quickly develop into a regional cultural hub.

2. Kyoto, Japan

The former Japanese capital of Kyoto is another Asian jewel, crowned with stunning Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, palaces and gardens. Together they’ve given the city a reputation as Japan’s cultural heart, while UNESCO has designated an astonishing 17 spots as World Heritage Sites. Wander the waterways and lanes where geishas have entertained for centuries, feast on exquisitely presented kaiseki menus and don't miss the other-worldly beauty of Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. And if you’re lucky enough to be there in spring, then revel in the explosion of cherry blossom viewing — a Japanese cultural icon like no other.

Side trip: Kyoto is super close to Osaka and Nara, both of which are rich cultural destinations in their own rights.

3. Malta

This sun-kissed Mediterranean island offers visitors a remarkable cultural journey through more than 6,000 years of history.  It may be compact in size, but this pocket dynamo is home to countless cultural treasures: some of the world’s oldest temples, jaw-dropping castles and fortifications which seem straight out of Game of Thrones, cathedrals, museums and countless hidden treasures. Over millennia, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Knights of St. John, Napoleon and the British are just some of those who have left their architectural and cultural marks on this extraordinarily layered and diverse destination.

Side trip: If you’re feeling the island vibe, remember Corsica and Sardinia are less than a day away — the former is part of France and the latter Italy, but both are completely unique.

4. Heidiland, Switzerland

From Mediterranean heat to the cool climes of the Swiss Alps in an area made globally famous by Heidi, a beloved children's book character. Sitting barely an hour on the train from Zurich, the area boasts a local culture based on interacting with nature through stunning landscapes of high mountains and lush meadows, or visiting the historic, picturesque Alpine churches and villages that dot the green valleys. Don’t miss the healing, soothing thermal waters at places such as Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, a luxurious spa retreat and hotel that boasts a remarkable collection of contemporary art and sculptures displayed through its elegantly manicured grounds. Wandering a gallery doesn’t get more invigorating!

Side trip: Central Europe is your oyster from here: indulge in quick trips to Bavaria, Austria or drop into tiny Lichtenstein for lunch — it’s just across the river.

5. Lima, Peru

Finally we head to the Peruvian capital of Lima, a dazzling destination that reveals the country's breathtaking culture in all its glory. Start in Plaza de Armas de Lima, home to 16th-century Spanish colonial architecture with palaces, a cathedral and a park shaded by palm trees. Be sure to wander the nearby local markets overflowing with an extraordinary diversity of produce. The bohemian Barranco neighbourhood is our tip for art and design fans, thanks to galleries and museums that span all manner of styles and periods. Whether it's beautiful indigenous creations reflecting millennia of history or contemporary installations, there are countless cultural mementos to let you take a little piece of Peru home with you.

Side trip: OK, it’s a bit longer than a side trip, but for something truly unique, could you resist a hop to Santiago, Chile for some of the region’s best cuisine before the sojourn of a lifetime to Easter Island?