Arts & Culture Frequent Flyer Historical Travel In-Flight Experience Packing Road Trip

10 Engrossing Audiobooks for Travelers

Stuck at home, in a car, or on a long flight? There’s no better way to pass the time than by enjoying a book hands-free. Here are some of the best audiobooks for travelers.

[st_related]9 Podcasts to Listen to on Your Next Trip[/st_related]

True West, Sam Shepard

Heading west on a road trip? Kick off the adventure with True West, a dark comedy and American classic about a sibling rivalry that plays out in the California desert. A screenplay about a film script, True West might be a better listen than it is a read, and it doesn’t hurt that actors Kit Harrington and Johnny Flynn are the narrators.

Length: 87 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Kit Harington (Games of Thrones) and Johnny Flynn (Beast) smolder and burn as sparring brothers in Sam Shepard’s darkly comic 1980 drama. The Cain and Abel conflict is a showdown of sibling rivalry, to be sure, but also bears witness to a legacy of booze-fueled family brawls.”–Amazon

Heads Will Roll, Kate McKinnon

SNL fans and comedy connoisseurs alike will love and laugh at Heads Will Roll by Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne—which is not to be listened to within earshot of kids. The SNL star and her sister steer this 10-episode theatrical audiobook comedy with the help of big stars ranging from narrator Tim Gunn to Meryl Streep.

Length: 4 hours

What People Are Saying: “The series stars McKinnon as a malevolent monarch and her sister, Emily Lynne, as a scatterbrained minion. It appears to poke fun at tired tropes of the evil queen and the hero’s journey while also relishing in their theatrical value. In terms of plot, the story focuses on McKinnon’s character, Queen Mortuana of the Night Realm, who catches wind of a potential peasant uprising and realizes that in order to put down the rebellion, she and her assistant JoJo (played by Lynne) must go on a quest.”—PopDust

The Buried, Peter Hessler

The telling of the most recent Egyptian revolution through the lens of ancient archaeology, The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution is authored by New Yorker writer Peter Hessler, who moved to Cairo with his family just before the Egyptian Arab Spring began in 2011. History, politics, and cultural norms converge through the lives of the locals Hessler meets, and link today’s Egypt with ancient times in a satisfying explainer of Egypt’s rich past and complex present.

Length: 16 hours, 44 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Seen from afar, tectonic political shifts often look as if they consume a society. But have you ever been someplace in the middle of momentous political events and found everyone around you getting on with daily life? Few reporters seem better placed to fathom the complexities of this dynamic—ripples of disquiet permeating routine existence—than Peter Hessler.”—The Wall Street Journal

The Pioneers, David McCullough

History buffs can revel in the years during which the first band of settlers set out from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin to conquer the American Northwest, with David McCullough’s The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. The real-life accounts are drawn from rare diary entries by the subjects of the novel.

Length: 10 hours, 23 minutes

What People Are Saying: “McCullough tells the story through five major characters: Cutler and Putnam; Cutler’s son Ephraim; and two other men, one a carpenter turned architect and the other a physician who became a prominent pioneer in American science. They and their families created a town in a primeval wilderness while coping with such frontier realities as floods, fires, wolves and bears, no roads or bridges, and no guarantees of any sort, all the while negotiating a contentious and sometimes hostile relationship with the native people. Like so many of McCullough’s subjects, they let no obstacle deter or defeat them.”—Amazon 

Life Will Be the Death of Me, Chelsea Handler

The latest memoir by talk-show comedian Chelsea Handler surprises audiences with its rawness that transcends comedy by addressing the state of American politics. Life Will Be the Death of Me … and You Too is Handler’s sixth book.

Length: 5 hours, 25 minutes

What People Are Saying: “You thought you knew Chelsea Handler—and she thought she knew herself—but in her new book, she discovers that true progress lies in the direction we haven’t been.”—Gloria Steinem

Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

HBO’s hit show might be over, but you can go back to the beginning with Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1. Or choose from the entire series, which are some of the best audiobooks for road trips even if you’re new to the saga—although you will need a lot of time to get through them all.

Length: 33 hours, 46 minutes (Book 1)

What People Are Saying: “There have been many fantasy sagas published in the last half century, but few can boast the scope, depth, and attention to detail of A Song of Fire and Ice.”—Common Sense Media

From Scratch, Tembi Locke

Travelers of all backgrounds will appreciate this romance about cross-cultural boundaries, love at first sight, family, food, and death. From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home also ends with a collection of recipes (included in text form).

Length: 10 hours, 17 minutes

What People Are Saying: “The writing in From Scratch is sublime. Locke allows her readers to revel in the sensory experiences of Sicily. She offers a peek into her deeply satisfying relationship with her daughter, her husband, and their family.”—The Associated Press

The Night Tiger, Yangsze Choo

A book-club favorite of late, The Night Tiger: A Novel follows a hardworking dressmaker whose small Malaysian village encounters a series of puzzling deaths and rumors of men who turn into tigers. It’s a dense but fantastical tale that makes it one of the best audiobooks for road trips spanning many hours.

Length: 14 hours, 8 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Choo narrates this richly complex novel herself, her gorgeous writing delivered in a voice that is deep and precise and lovely, both British and not quite. Her tone and words transport us.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch, Ruth Cowen

Queen Elizabeth’s early private life and public reign still read like a blockbuster movie, whether or not you’re headed for the U.K. anytime soon. Elizabeth II: Life of a Monarch is written by British journalist Ruth Cowen and narrated by respected British royal correspondent Jennie Bond.

Length: 3 hours, 47 minutes

What People Are Saying: “Wife, mother and head of state, who is the real Elizabeth? What do the headlines hide? How close to reality are the television interpretations? … Admired by many, she has reigned through a period of unprecedented change, steering the monarchy through the end of an empire, public scandals and private losses.”—Goodreads

Before She Knew Him, Peter Swanson

A tale of paranoia and unsolved murder in a suburb of Boston,  Before She Knew Him: A Novel is a complex crime novel that will keep you guessing as to what’s reality and what’s not.

Length: 10 hours, 15 minutes

What People Are Saying: Before She Knew Him is a wicked thriller that does not disappoint. Peter Swanson has written another gem that pulls the reader in and never lets go, even as the story comes to a close. This is a book that will keep you up at night and haunt your thoughts. A fun, chilling read.”—Manhattan Book Review

More from SmarterTravel:

SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram at @shanmcmahon.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Booking Strategy Budget Travel Cities Entertainment Experiential Travel Family Travel Food & Drink Group Travel Historical Travel Island LGBT Luxury Travel Outdoors Romantic Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Theme Park Weekend Getaways Women's Travel

10 Best Places to Go in Florida

The United States is home to more than a dozen cities and towns named Florida, but none can compare with the real Florida’s natural fun-in-the-sun appeal.

The Best Places to Go in Florida

From the coolest cities in Florida, like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, to top theme parks like Busch Gardens and Disney World, these must-see attractions top our list of the best places to go in Florida.

Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida

Disney Magic Kingdom

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Walt Disney should have named his Orlando theme park Disney Universe—or even Disney Galaxy. The Walt Disney World Resort is so large, in fact, that it’s difficult to narrow down which of the four main theme parks and two water parks to make time for, let alone whether to stay at a hotel within the resort confines or conserve costs with a nearby off-resort stay. Even selecting your preferred theme-park entry ticket can be daunting.

Here is some helpful Walt Disney World Resort information to get you started at this must-see Florida attraction:

Disney World ticketing options include single-day, single-park passes for Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Magic Kingdom. You can extend your Disney World family vacation with multi-day passes, which reduce the per-day rate significantly. For example, you can purchase two-day passes, three-day passes, seven-day passes, and 10-day passes. All tickets must be used within 14 days of your initial visit.

With multiday passes, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one Disney theme park. Tack on the Park Hopper option (with access to all four parks) to increase your ticket’s flexibility: Admission to Magic KingdomEpcotDisney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is included.

For some Florida visitors, it’s not a vacation without wild water play or tee time. Disney knows how to round out the visit with two water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach), a nine-hole golf course, two mini-golf courses, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Access to these extras is included in the Water Park Fun & More pass. You can also combine both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options for an additional fee.

Budget-minded travelers will easily find an array of accommodations options, with thousands of hotel rooms from “budget” to “luxury” within driving distance of Disney World. Consider a stay at a Disney Resort such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin if you want to take advantage of early-morning and late-night access to select theme parks. Guests of Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also have an added hour of play before the general public is allowed in and three hours after the parks close for the evening.

With so many parades and shows, peruse the Disney calendar to find scheduled events, plan your itinerary, and work around park closings. No matter what, you’ll find there’s plenty to do in Orlando—one of the coolest cities in Florida.

South Beach, Miami, Florida

lincoln road miami beach.

Lovingly dubbed SoBe, South Beach’s reputation as a gregarious scene for the fun-loving is well deserved among young and old visitors alike. From laid-back lounges to racy dance clubs, South Beach is world-renowned for its hot nightlife (many clubs operate until dawn). And while the robust club and dining scene is too caliente to sleep through every night, SoBe also knows how to play “grown-up” during the day.

Actually the southernmost tip of Miami Beach, South Beach is one of the best places to go in Miami Beach and home to many enriching cultural offerings, including Miami City BalletNew World SymphonyHolocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and Miami Beach Botanical Garden. And you’d be remiss to pass up a stroll along South Beach’s world-famous Art Deco District. This historical part of South Beach is easy to meander along—not only because of its vintage beauty, which is alive with more than 800 candy-colored art deco-style structures, but also because of its concentrated size: a single square mile. Learn about South Beach’s celebrated history by going on a guided art deco walking tour led by the Miami Design Preservation League.

On South Beach, both locals and tourists know how to share the sun, sand, and the occasional pickup volleyball game. Expedite a speedy hangover recovery with yoga lessons from 3rd Street Beach Yoga. Generous instructors facilitate donation-based “yoga from the heart” near the beach’s lifeguard hut.

Always a popular tourist destination, South Beach experiences its biggest influx of visitors in March (spring break), April (Pride festivities), and over Memorial Day Weekend (Urban Beach Week).

Everglades National Park, Florida

everglades national park

A visit to Everglades National Park isn’t just a must-see Florida attraction or one of the top things to do in Florida—it’s an adventure traveler’s dream. The Everglades offers canoe and hiking trails, airboat and tram tours, bird-watching expeditions, and camping.

Also a mecca for those seeking out wildlife sightings, the Florida Everglades’ ecosystem is one of the top attractions in Florida because it’s like no other in the world. Alligators, crocodiles, falcons, turtles, and even panthers are but a few of the many animals you can spot in the Everglades.

Not to be missed, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge lies on the western edge of the Everglades. This 35,000-acre national refuge comprised of mangroves and islands provides refuge to endangered wildlife, among them West Indian manatees, bald eagles, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. There’s some debate about how many islands are actually in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Conservative estimates have it in the hundreds, while more robust assessments estimate at least 17,000 islands during low tide. The Everglades National Park as a whole spans about 1.5 million acres.

Fort Lauderdale

canals with large boats in florida

Ft. Lauderdale is known by many nicknames, among them the “Venice of America” (for its vast system of canals) and the “Yachting Capital of the World” (because locals collectively own 50,000 private yachts). Regardless of what you call it, there’s no disputing that this Florida must-see is a dream destination for boaters. For more than 50 years, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show—the largest such event in the world.

But boaters aren’t the only ones docking in this local scene. Countless spring breakers flock to the city for hedonistic fun each March, beach bums bask on Ft. Lauderdale’s 23 miles of beaches, and snorkelers and divers seek out underwater adventures among the 75-plus artificial reefs.

Key West, Florida Keys, Florida

Key West Florida street.

The final stop on the Eastern Seaboard’s 2,369-mile Route 1, Key West really is the be-all and end-all. Geographically, Key West sits at the southernmost point within the continental U.S. and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. In spite of its tropical climate (Key West boasts an annual average temperature of 77 degrees) and its low-lying land, Key West is hit by hurricanes less than other coastal regions.

While Key West is enthralling in and of itself, be sure to make it out to sea when in the area. Just a few miles off the coast is the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, the Great Florida Reef. Snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing are popular area adventures. Man-made reefs offer wreck diving just a few miles offshore, too.

Key West was once home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, among other celebrities of yesteryear. These days, its most famous residents come in a more natural variety: iguanas, feral chickens and roosters, and a clutter of cats, the latter of the excessive-toe variety, nestled in Hemingway’s former home.

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
(Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)

Just like Walt Disney World Resort on the other side of town, Orlando’s Universal Studios can hang with the big boys. And planning a visit in advance yields major savings.

Multiday tickets purchased online offer as much as $20 off gate rates. For single-park, single-day passes, you can choose between Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. Single-park, multiday tickets are available two days, three days, and four days. Multipark, single-day passes are also available. Multipark, multiday options are available for two days, three days, and four days.

You can skip the lines while at the Universal Studios parks with the Universal Express Pass. A multipark, single-day Universal Express Pass option is also available; as are multiday and even annual pass options (with select blackout dates). Season passes are available that offer “red-carpet treatment.”

With so many theme parks, resorts, and other top attractions to choose from all in one place, it’s easy to see why Orlando is one of the coolest cities in Florida—not to mention one of the best places to go in the entire Sunshine State.

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island

The beaches of Sanibel Island are revered around the world as one of the best places to go in Florida by conchologists (shell collectors). The practice of shell collecting is so popular on Sanibel Island’s shores that locals have nicknamed the act of bending down for a shell “the Sanibel Stoop.”

Sanibel Islanders celebrate the seashell with an annual three-day exhibit and festival that typically runs in March. Shell enthusiasts can also learn about shells and mollusks by visiting The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The biggest prize on the beach is the junonia shell, which can land you in the local newspaper.

While shelling is serious business on the island, so is conservation. More than half of Sanibel Island is part of a designated wildlife refuge.

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine isn’t nicknamed “Ancient City” for nothing. Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. It was later turned over to Britain, then back to Spain, and finally ceded (with the rest of the Florida Territory) to the United States in 1819. Today it’s one of the coolest cities in Florida.

You can see much of its rich history infused into St. Augustine’s architecture in places like Ft. Matanzas National MonumentCastillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (once a regal hotel, now part of Flagler College and also a designated National Historic Landmark), and, of course, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. (Folklore says that Ponce de Leon was searching for the elixir of life when he stumbled upon St. Augustine.)

St. Augustine is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The park opened its doors in 1893 and now houses more than 20 species of crocodile as well as other reptiles, a bird collection, and many mammals.

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida
(Photo: Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida via Shutterstock)

For those seeking an up-close look at safari wildlife without the high price of an airfare ticket to Africa, Busch Gardens is one of the best places to go in Florida. Among the 2,700 animals that call the 335-acre zoological-themed park home are elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, kangaroos, meerkats, and lemurs.

Busch Gardens Tampa also features an adjoining water park, Adventure Island. Seek out some water-filled fun on the twisting Aruba Tuba, the 55-foot-drop Riptide, and the 700-foot-long Key West Rapids. Adventure Island closes from November through February and reopens in March; see the current calendar for more information.

All theme-park tickets provide complimentary round-trip shuttle transportation from several Orlando pickup/drop-off points.

Amelia Island, Florida

Amelia Island, Florida

Among the southernmost of the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is an easy drive from Jacksonville and only about five hours from Atlanta. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland.

Amelia Island’s seashore provides plenty of adventures for all. Scallop digging, snorkeling, and horseback riding are all quintessential Amelia Island activities. Watch for the shoreline’s playful dolphins and (if you’re lucky) perhaps even a right-whale sighting.

Amelia Island offers upscale resorts, spas, championship golf courses, a variety of festivals, and of course beaches. Amelia is routinely recognized among the top 10 U.S. islands in Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on March 1, 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information about the top attractions and best places to go in Florida. 

Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Cities Historical Travel

10 Mythical Places That Really Exist

They say there’s a grain of truth in every tale, so we went looking for it. As it turns out, there could have been a Camelot with Round Table knights. A lost city of gold. A Trojan War among Greek gods.

We’re taking you to 10 of the world’s must-see mythical places, some of which are actual archaeological sites, so you can experience the intrigue and see why scholars haven’t ruled out the possibility of their existence.

The Odyssey’s Cyclops Riviera, Sicily, Italy

Cyclops Rocks in Calabria Italy mythical places.

The Myth: An ancient Greek poem attributed to Homer, The Odyssey traces Odysseus (or Ulysses, in the Roman version of the myth) and his epic journey home after the Trojan War. A fantastic chain of events has the homesick hero battling a fierce one-eyed monster Cyclops and a six-headed sea monster, Scylla.

The Place: Along the real-life Cyclops Riviera (who knew?) that stretches from Catania to Acireale along Sicily’s gorgeous eastern coast, you’ll find seaside towns, citrus orchards, and looming Mount Etna, home of Cyclops and Vulcan, the god of fire. Scilla, the nearby Calabria fishing village, is named after the sea monster that devoured Odysseus’ companions.

Why Go: To see Cyclops Rocks, the volcanic cliffs offshore that, as legend has it, Cyclops threw at Odysseus. Ride a cable car to the top of Mount Etna, then take a special terrain vehicle to the crater area at this active volcano. Sicily is also home to the Valley of Temples, ruins of temples built for Zeus, Hercules, and other gods.

Site of the Trojan War, Troy, Turkey

Turkey trojan horse mythical places.

The Myth: Homer’s other epic Greek poem, The Iliad, recounts the brutal 10-year Trojan War between the city of Troy and the Achaeans (ancient Greeks) that sparked when the prince of Troy kidnapped Helen, the daughter of Zeus. Thanks to Odysseus’ plan to use the fabled wooden Trojan horse, he and the Achaeans penetrated the massive walls of Troy and besieged the city.

The Place: For centuries, scholars were convinced the Trojan War was entirely a Greek myth. But in the late 1800s, archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann uncovered what historians believe are the remnants of Troy near Turkey’s northwest coast. Today the 4,000-year-old ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Why Go: To wander the temples and ruins once ravaged by slaughter and widespread fire. There’s also a reconstruction of the Trojan horse at the archeological site. If you want to see the prop horse from the 2004 film Troy that starred a buff Brad Pitt, visit the boardwalk in nearby Canakkale.

Shangri-La, Himalayan Mountains, Tibet

Shangri La Himilayas mythical places.

The Myth: The name “Shangri-La” first appeared in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon as a fictional utopia high in the Tibetan Himalayas, where life is enlightened and days are lived in peace and wonder. So influential was the myth that the term now appears in the dictionary as a synonym for a remote paradise.

The Place: Several communities deep within the snow-capped Himalayas have since claimed to be the novel’s inspiration, and the China-Tibet border town of Zhondian even renamed itself Shangri-La in 2001. But any definite location of any actual Shangri-La, as with Buddhism’s enlightened Himalayan kingdom of Shambhala, is pure speculation.

Why Go: To marvel at the peace and wonder you’ll find in early morning hours at Zhondian’s Songzanlin Monastery. In the village are teahouses and Buddhist prayer flags flapping in the high-altitude breeze. Area hiking trails will lead you through paradise’s Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La Canyon.

King Arthur’s Camelot, Cornwall, England

Tintagel, England's King Arthur Court and Merlin's Cave mythical places.

The Myth: As the legend goes, King Arthur was a British leader who led his Knights of the Round Table against Saxon invaders in the 5th or 6th century CE. He took the throne at Camelot by pulling a magical sword, Excalibur, from a stone, a feat only the true king of Britain could accomplish.

The Place: British Library manuscripts suggest Arthur is based on an actual person who lived in Shropshire. That county’s Wroxeter archaeological dig site, with remains of an ancient city and castle, is believed to be King Arthur’s Camelot.

Why Go: To check out the dig site and its museum, which displays artifacts from the excavation. Explore possible Sword in the Stone evidence at Mitchell’s Fold stone circle. You can visit Arthur’s reputed birthplace in Tintagel near clifftop castle ruins and Merlin’s cave. Mecca for mystics, the town of Glastonbury now sits on what is considered the king’s final resting place, the Isle of Avalon.

Loch Ness, Highlands, Scotland

The Myth: In Scotland’s most famous modern-day myth, the Loch Ness Monster is said to inhabit the 23-mile-long and 600-foot-deep Loch Ness. A London doctor first captured “Nessie” on film in 1934. Dozens of reported sightings and hoaxes have cropped up ever since, and the mystery remains unsolved.

The Place: At this glacier-carved lake, the peaty-brown water never freezes, and in calm, warm conditions some say it’s prone to mirage. Several monster-related attractions and souvenir shops satisfy the droves of tourists that visit each year.

Why Go: For a chance to catch a glimpse of the elusive Nessie. Take a boat cruise tour with a guide who will recount stories of sightings and take you past Urquhart Castle, a medieval fortress. In Drumnadrochit, the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition presents research and eyewitness accounts of the monster. See an impressive series of canal locks at the south end of Loch Ness.

Pele’s Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, Hawaii

Pele's Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, Hawaii

The Myth: Not just a cute legend told in grass skirts at luaus, Pele, the goddess of the volcano, is a very real part of the beliefs held by Hawaiian natives. Every fiery eruption here is said to be her molten body moving across the land. According to legend, anyone who removes a piece of rock from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park suffers Pele’s wrath with streaks of bad luck, often prompting the offender to abandon the rock or return it.

The Place: Locals say Pele’s home is Halema’uma’u Crater at the national park’s summit caldera of Kilauea. In this sacred place, Hawaiians still practice the ancient tradition of giving Pele offerings—chants, dances, or leis made of native materials.

Why Go: To see the caldera, walk through a lava tube, or watch glowing lava spew and ooze after dark. Along the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive, the Jaggar Museum overlook offers the best and closest view of Halema’uma’u when it erupts.

El Dorado, Bogota, Colombia

Guatavita Bogota Lake mythical places.

The Myth: The mention of El Dorado conjures up images of a fabled city rich in treasures somewhere in the thick South American jungle. But the myth is actually linked to sunken treasure in a Colombian lake. It is said that a Muisca tribal chief, in worshipping the goddess of water, would cover himself in gold dust, load a raft with his priests and the village’s gold treasures, then dive into the lake with the offerings.

The Place: On an ecological reserve outside of Bogota, the green-hued Lake Guatavita is the sacred El Dorado ceremonial site. Since the days of the Spaniards, several expeditions have attempted to loot the gold, turning up small amounts of everything from jewelry to ornaments and armor.

Why Go: To hike the trails around the lake and imagine what still lies at the muddy bottom. At the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) in Bogota, check out the golden Muisca raft, a piece that dates to somewhere between 1200 and 1500 BCE.

Xanadu, Inner Mongolia

Xanadu Mongolia mythical places.

The Myth: Some of us hear “Xanadu” and immediately flash back to the ’80s musical with Olivia Newton-John on roller skates. Roller discos aside, the definition of Xanadu is an idyllic place of great beauty, luxury, and contentment. And that’s what English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes when he references Xanadu in his famous poem “Kubla Khan.”

The Place: As Coleridge’s poem notes, Xanadu (or Shangdu) was the summer capital of Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty after 1264. It was located in what is now Inner Mongolia, some 220 miles north of Beijing, but was abandoned in 1430. Xanadu was recently added to the list of World Heritage sites and features the remains of the city’s temples, palaces, and tombs, and a canal.

Why Go: To experience an idyllic place set among mountains and a river and planned according to traditional Chinese feng shui. At the Xanadu archaeological site, you can see how the city was laid out to accommodate Mongolian tribal meetings and hunting.

Mount Olympus, Greece

Mount Olympus Greece, mythical places.

The Myth: The setting for numerous Greek myths, Mount Olympus is known as the home of the 12 ancient gods (Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena, and other big names). According to Homer, the gods live in the mountain’s mysterious folds. Pantheon (now called Mytikas) is their meeting place, where Zeus hears heated discussions and unleashes his thunderous wrath.

The Place: From ancient days, fog and frequent storms have enshrouded this mountain in mystery, inspiring the awe and admiration of onlookers at its base. Now a protected national park, Olympus is an important sanctuary for birds and rare plants and animals.

Why Go: To experience the wrath of Zeus as you watch a tempestuous storm roll in. Well-marked trails traverse Mount Olympus, and they’re relatively easy to climb. You can follow one of several mountaineering clubs, stopping at refuges along the way.

Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England

nottingham castle Robin Hood mythical places.

The Myth: More than 600 years’ worth of ballads, plays, novels, and movies have spun the tale of this fearless, noble outlaw. Accounts vary, but most modern versions peg Robin Hood as a highly skilled archer who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, leading a merry gang against the injustices of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The Place: Once a royal hunting forest, Sherwood Forest is now a 450-acre national nature reserve with visitor-center exhibits and trails leading past some of Europe’s oldest trees. See what’s believed to be Robin Hood’s hideout: the hollow trunk of Major Oak, a giant twisted tree with a girth of 36 feet that’s estimated at 800 years old.

Why Go: For the Robin Hood Festival in July, where you’ll find characters in medieval costume as well as archery and jousting demonstrations. In Nottingham you can take a guided walking tour to learn about key sites, including Robin’s grave.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Cities Food & Drink Group Travel Health & Wellness Historical Travel Island Outdoors Solo Travel Women's Travel

12 Amazing Solo Vacations to Take in 2020

Don’t have anyone to travel with in 2020? That’s no reason to stay home. Solo travel is on the rise, and tour operators are expanding their offerings to meet the increasing demand. Below are the 12 best solo vacations for 2020, covering every corner of the globe. Some of these trips made the list because they’re specifically designed for solo travelers; others offer discounted single supplements or roommate matching so you don’t have to pay extra fees for traveling alone.[st_content_ad]

Note that all trips and single supplement discounts were available at the time of publication, but they could sell out at any time. If you’re interested in these solo vacations, it’s best to book early.

Explore Madeira, Portugal, on Foot

Exodus Madeira Portugal Hiking Excursion

Sweeping coastal views, sleepy fishing villages, and sheltered forests await on Exodus Travels’ Walking in Madeira itinerary. The seven-night trip includes leisurely walks of up to nine miles a day along some of Madeira’s most breathtaking hiking trails. The trip ends with free time to explore Funchal, the island’s historic capital. Exodus will match you with a roommate, or you can pay a modest single supplement for your own room. Departures are available every month throughout 2020.

See Morocco from the Mountains to the Desert

Camel Back Ride Sahara Desert Morocco

Overseas Adventure Travel is one of the best tour operators for solo vacations, thanks to free single supplements on most trips. That includes one of its most popular tours, the 14-night Morocco Sahara Odyssey, which takes you through the narrow streets of ancient medinas, over the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the dramatic peaks of the High Atlas Mountains. Unique experiences include lunch in a Berber home and a couple of nights under the desert sky in a private tented camp. This trip has available departures between April and December 2020.

Explore Northern India’s Icons

Amber Fort Jaipur India.

See the Taj Mahal and much more on this dedicated solo trip to India from Intrepid Travel. The seven-night itinerary starts and ends in bustling Delhi, where you’ll discover the city’s oldest mosque and have free time to explore on your own. Then you’ll head to Jaipur to visit royal palaces and soar above the city in a hot air balloon before visiting the 14th-century village of Karauli and touring the magnificent Taj Mahal. Intrepid will match you with a same-gender roommate so you can avoid paying a single supplement. This trip departs on select dates between April and December 2020.

[st_related]11 Important Taj Mahal Facts to Know Before You Go[/st_related]

Take a Hiking Vacation in Vermont

hiker on long trail vermont.

Escape to the pristine mountains of Vermont on a wellness getaway, hiking each morning and enjoying spa treatments and fitness classes each afternoon. New Life Hiking Spa is the perfect retreat if you need a little R&R, drawing numerous solo travelers (mostly women) of all ages. Small-group hikes, communal meals, and friendly public spaces offer ample opportunity to get to know fellow travelers. New Life’s 2020 season runs from May 14 through October 5 and is held at Killington Mountain Lodge.

Discover Ireland Your Way

cliffs of moher ireland sunset.

Not big on group tours? Consider Great Value Vacations’ Irish B&B Getaway package, which includes airfare, a rental car, and accommodations at bed and breakfasts around Ireland, allowing you to wend your way through the countryside at your own pace. Highlights include dramatic coastal roads, lively villages, and historic castles. The itinerary can be customized for six to nine nights, and you may depart any month of the year.

[st_related]15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Alone[/st_related]

Have an Adventure in Colombia

colombian coffee REI adventures.

REI’s Experience Colombia tour showcases the breadth of the country’s landscapes, from the lush green highlands where world-class coffee is grown to the sandy beaches of the Caribbean coast. This eight-night itinerary starts in Bogota and finishes in Cartagena, with plenty of adventures along the way—like mountain biking through coffee plantations, hiking to a rare tropical glacier, and sea kayaking to a colorful coral reef. If you’d like to avoid a single supplement, REI will pair you with a same-gender roommate. This trip is available between June and December 2020.

Live Like a Local in Nepal

g adventures nepal living like a local.

Get an intimate glimpse of what life is like in rural Nepal on a fascinating six-night journey with G Adventures. After a night in Kathmandu, you’ll travel to the farming village of Panauti to meet your host family. You’ll spend the next few days learning to make dumplings, tasting local wine, hiking to villages and monasteries, and even playing volleyball with the locals. G Adventures will pair solo travelers with a same-gender roommate so you don’t need to pay a single supplement. This trip is available on select dates through December 2020.

Eat Your Way Through Central Mexico

Oaxaca City Street Mexico.

Flash Pack targets solo travelers in their 30s and 40s, matching each person up with a same-gender roommate so you can avoid single supplements. If you love good food and unique culture, give Flash Pack’s Cultural Journey into the Heart of Mexico trip a try. The eight-night itinerary features tequila tasting in Mexico City, a cooking class in Oaxaca, and lunch aboard a vibrantly colored trajinera boat in Xochimilco. You’ll also go swimming in natural thermal pools at the foot of the world’s only petrified waterfall. This trip departs on select dates between April and December 2020.

[st_related]16 of the Greatest Mexico Vacation Destinations[/st_related]

Spot Rare Wildlife in Madagascar

black and white ruffled lemur madagascar.

Keep an eye out for lemurs, chameleons, boa constrictors, and numerous rare birds as you travel with Explore! through Madagascar: The Lost Continent.  In addition to wildlife-watching treks through the island’s national parks, this itinerary also features a walk along a spectacular canyon, a visit to Madagascar’s oldest palace, and a stay in a local community guesthouse. Explore! will match you with a same-gender roommate if you don’t wish to pay a single supplement. This trip has departures between April and November 2020.

Go Off the Beaten Path in Nicaragua

granada cathedral Nicaragua,

Less visited than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua has its own magic to discover. Road Scholar puts some of the nation’s most intriguing spots on display in its seven-night Exploring Nicaragua: Colonial Towns to Countryside package, with highlights such as a visit to a rum factory (complete with tastings), a cooking workshop in Leon, a walk through a cloud forest, and an expert talk on Nicaragua’s history by a former guerilla. Road Scholar is currently offering single rooms at no added cost on this itinerary. This trip has several departures between September and December 2020.

Discover the Best of Tuscany and Umbria, Italy

tuscany italy winding road.

There’s a reason Tuscany and neighboring Umbria are two of Italy’s most beloved regions. Discover them for yourself on Insight Vacations’ Country Roads of Umbria & Tuscany tour, an eight-night voyage to destinations such as Florence, Assisi, Siena, and San Gimignano. You’ll dine in the kitchen of a local chef in Orvieto, then learn about traditional textile weaving in Perugia and visit a family-run olive mill in Assisi. Single supplement discounts up to 90 percent are available on select departure dates between May and October 2020.

[st_related]3 Ways for Solo Travelers to Avoid Single Supplements[/st_related]

Have an Adventure with Fellow Women

woman standing above dubrovnik.

If you, like many female travelers, feel safer and more comfortable in the company of other women, consider booking a trip with Adventure Women, which offers active, women-only tours to destinations around the world. Most of the company’s clients come alone, so you’re sure to find common ground with your fellow travelers. Solo vacations for 2020 with availability at press time include a nine-night Tanzania safari, an eight-night sailing trip around Croatia, a nine-night culture-focused trip to Oman, and more. You can choose to be matched with a roommate or pay a little extra for your own room.

For more ideas, see The Top Travel Destinations for 2020.

More from SmarterTravel:

Sarah Schlichter wants to take every one of these solo vacations. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Cities Historical Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

Why You Should Stop Trying to Travel ‘Like a Local’

There are pretty much zero rules when it comes to travel, and that’s how it should be. Everyone plans and attacks an itinerary differently: city vs. outdoors, spontaneity vs. advance planning, budget vs. luxury. That said, one travel trend has taken on a life of its own in recent years, becoming a kind of mantra across traveler types—one that makes me cringe every time it’s brought up. It’s a line that I wish people would stop echoing in their vacation planning: How/where can I stay, eat, explore, etc.—if I want to “travel like a local”?

Maybe the phrase makes me squirm because I know first-hand how badly that thinking can derail a once-in-a-lifetime experience: I still regret several times I let locals and/or friends talk me out of visiting certain sites in Europe because of crowds and cost (we were broke students, after all).

Or maybe it’s because, as a resident of a highly visited North American city, I don’t want too many tourists in my favorite local joints. But most importantly, I know visitors are doing themselves a disservice by focusing on those places rather than going all in on the most significant sights a city has to offer. There are the obvious tourist traps like wax museums and hotel casinos to skip—but then there are true greatest-hits sites worth touristing-out over, which you should never write off in the name of being more “like a local.”

[st_related]The World’s 10 Most Popular Tourist Attractions[/st_related]

The Case Against “Travel Like a Local”

If you’re in London, you go to Westminster Abbey; when in Rome, you hit the Colosseum; in Agra, you wake up early for a glimpse of the Taj Mahal—crowds be damned. Locals don’t do that. “Travel like a local” is an oxymoron, even if you want to get off the tourist track. Hidden gems? Sure. Off the beaten path? Absolutely—weave in the hidden restaurants, shops, and cozy neighborhoods you want to blend into for a few hours. But do you really want to stay in a residential area and have to commute to all the best historic sites? Should you prioritize a dive-y local watering hole over the historic-yet-crowded pubs not found anywhere else? Probably not.

Bottom line: Time and again, the answer to “Where do the locals go?” is “Not where you, a tourist, should.”

But here’s the main problem I have with the idea that you need to travel like a local: It seems created more by fear of judgment rather than by any actual virtue. The trend toward traveling like a local seems like it was borne from the ethos that travelers are ignorant, talk too loudly, dress badly, and cause problems like overtourism. While all of those things can be true, it’s also possible to be a cultured, humble, stylish, and sustainability-focused traveler—and there seem to be more of them today than ever before. Likewise, staying in a local’s apartment or sticking only to local-approved spots won’t make you any more of a local, or any less of the tourist that you are. So you might as well embrace it.

Sure, you can come to Boston and, for fear of looking like a tourist, leave out the centuries-old sites that I’ve rarely, if ever, been to outside of a grade-school field trip. The same sites that make Boston one of America’s most storied cities: the Freedom Trail, Fenway Park, Paul Revere’s House, the Bunker Hill Monument. But you might leave feeling like you missed out on something pretty unique. There’s a balance to strike, and that balance isn’t only prioritizing what locals do, or what’s “authentic”—another cringe-worthy word travelers so often use.

An architectural feat and cultural icon, the Eiffel Tower was once so hated by Parisians that it was almost demolished. Created for the World’s Fair and serving no real purpose, it’s by no means “authentic” or local. But hindsight is 20/20, and smart travelers now know that you’d be crazy not to experience the behemoth lattice-work beauty, even if only for the view from the top, because you’re in Paris and there’s nothing else in the world like it.

Planning your trip solely around where you’ll find locals (hint: there are none at the Eiffel Tower) is a ridiculous premise that will have you missing all the tourist-frequented sites that make a destination unique. Those places are tourist-frequented for a reason. So let the locals be your compass, not your roadmap.

And go ahead and wear the embarrassing audio guide headset: Life’s too short not to.

Traveling? Consider Some of Our Favorites

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

[amazon_native_ad tracking_id=”smartrav-20″]

SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Food & Drink Historical Travel Island Outdoors

10 Fun Off-Resort Things to Do in Oahu

It’s easy to soak up the sun on Waikiki Beach for a week, sampling the area’s many restaurants and taking side trips to nearby Pearl Harbor or Diamond Head. But if you limit your Hawaiian vacation to just one area, you’re missing out. There are plenty of other things to do in Oahu, an island that spans 597 square miles of golden beaches, crashing waves, deep green forests, and laid-back surf towns.

To learn about Honolulu’s most popular attractions, see SmarterTravel’s Honolulu Travel Guide. But for the best things to do in Oahu outside the capital city, read on.

Have an Adventure

atvs at kualoa ranch

Sprawling across 4,000 verdant acres on Oahu’s Windward Coast, Kualoa Ranch offers just about every adventure you can imagine, from horseback riding and zip-lining to kayaking and ATV tours. This private nature reserve is also a popular Hollywood filming spot; movie tours lead visitors past familiar landmarks from films and TV shows such as Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, and Lost.

You can also relax at Kualoa’s exclusive Secret Island Beach, where you can swim, kayak, play beach volleyball, or simply enjoy the views of Mokolii, a small island off the coast also known as “Chinaman’s Hat.”

Other adventurous things to do in Oahu include a hike or off-road expedition with North Shore EcoTours. The company operates on private conservation land, so there are no other tourists around.

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod” tours=”5132_ATV02,5132MOVIE,5132EXP”]

Hit the Beach

oahu beach

Waikiki is the island’s most famous (and most crowded) beach, but there are plenty of other golden stretches of sand on Oahu where you can lay your towel. On the island’s Windward (eastern) Coast is Kailua Beach Park, which spans more than two miles and includes bathroom facilities, picnic tables, and multiple parking lots. Its calm waters are popular for swimming and kite surfing. Nearby is Lanikai Beach, which some travelers find even more beautiful, despite its lack of facilities and limited parking.

On the North Shore are beaches with towering wintertime waves for surfing, including Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach. Or head to the Leeward Coast on the west side of the island to catch the sunset from Keawaula Beach, also known as Yokohama; keep an eye out for dolphins or whales.

Help alleviate the environmental effects of your visit by participating in a beach cleanup. The company Travel2change offers a variety of activities like a yoga class or biking trip combined with a beach cleanup after your desired activity.

[st_related]10 Best Beaches in Honolulu[/st_related]

Soak Up Local History and Culture

performer at polynesian cultural center

Oahu may be best known for beaches and natural beauty, but it’s also home to a wealth of fascinating cultural attractions. Start with the Polynesian Cultural Center, where you can watch performances and visit villages representing the cultures of Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Aotearoa. The popular attraction now offers immersive cultural experiences with locals like the Umu Making Experience. Each ticket entry (when purchased online) allows you to come back for free for three days, so you can experience other parts of the center.

Learn about the island’s history at Hawaii Plantation Village, which features restored buildings from the sugar plantation era of 1850 through 1950. Follow it up with a visit to Queen Emma Summer Palace, the former royal mountain retreat that’s now a museum housing furniture and regalia belonging to the 19th-century queen. Oahu is also home to spectacular museums like the Bishop Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, the Hawaii State Art Museum, Iolani Palace, and the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.

And don’t discount Oahu’s modern art scene; street art is increasingly prominent in Honolulu and its surrounding neighborhoods. Check out Pow! Wow!’s interactive mural map of Oahu.

Taste the Island Flavors

hawaiian poke

From fresh seafood (poke, anyone?) to shave ice, Oahu offers plenty of delicious flavors to sample throughout your trip. A great place to start is at the many farmers’ markets that take place around the island, offering locally grown produce and artisan food items. You can visit the North Shore Country Market on Saturday mornings, the Windward Mall on Wednesdays and Sundays, or a number of others supported by the Hawaii Farm Bureau. If you’re in Oahu on a Saturday or Tuesday evening, check out the KCC Farmer’s Market for fresh and local food like fried mochi balls, seafood, coffee, and more.

Also be sure to explore the island’s more modern neighborhoods like Kaka’ako for juice bars, farm-to-table dining, and its own farmers’ market. And don’t leave the North Shore without trying shave ice: Visitors line up for the famed Matsumoto Shave Ice, and it’s worth it!

And, of course, you can’t visit Hawaii without going to a luau. This traditional Polynesian-style feast typically features pork roasted in an umu, or underground oven, as well as other Hawaiian dishes such as poi (mashed taro) and poke. Some of the most popular luau events on Oahu include the Alii Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Ka Moana Luau at Sea Life Park.

[st_related]10 Great Places to Try Hawaiian Food in Honolulu[/st_related]

Take a Hike

hiker on mountaintop in oahu

Stretch your legs and enjoy some of Oahu’s best views by incorporating a hike or two into your vacation. One popular, not too strenuous option is the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, located along the Kalanianaole Highway east of Honolulu. The two-mile paved trail overlooks the ocean; keep an eye out for whales in season.

Not far away is a significantly more challenging hike, the Koko Crater Railway Trail, where railroad ties now serve as steps for a steep uphill climb. The reward for all that effort? Sweeping views of Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, and other landmarks in the eastern part of Oahu.

Other trails to consider include the Kuliouou Ridge Hike and the coastal trail at Kaena Point State Park.

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod” tours=”3326P12,20544P5,69524P11″]

Stroll Through Gorgeous Gardens

pink flowers in oahu

Nature lovers will enjoy the lush foliage and vibrant flowers in botanical gardens across the island. A particular highlight is Waimea Valley, where a walking trail winds through a mix of tropical plants and cultural sites on the way to a waterfall visitors can swim in.

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is another serene place for a stroll, spanning some 400 acres of plants from various parts of Asia, Africa, Polynesia, and the Americas. Or you can wander among the native Hawaiian plants at Wahiawa Botanical Garden, located just down the road from Dole Plantation.

You can also stop by Byodo-In Temple, a scale replica of a Japanese temple surrounded by Japanese-style gardens.

Hit the Water

surfer north shore oahu

If you wanted to, you could spend the majority of your vacation enjoying the crashing waves and turquoise waters surrounding Oahu. Learn to hang 10 with a surfing lesson at Uncle Bryan’s Sunset Suratt Surf Academy or North Shore Surf Girls. Or, for something a little different, go “canoe surfing” with We Go! Island Canoe in Kailua. On the North Shore, Sea and Board Sports Hawaii offers a little of everything, from stand-up paddleboarding to glass-bottom kayaking.

And don’t neglect Oahu’s underwater world. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, just a short drive from Honolulu, is one of the island’s most popular snorkeling spots, but you can also snorkel right off the beach at Shark’s Cove or Kuilima Cove on the North Shore.

The brave can book an open snorkeling session with famed marine biologist Ocean Ramsey and her company One Ocean Diving. The pelagic shark research snorkel teaches you about shark safety, biology, and conservation. And yes, you really get to swim in the open ocean with these fantastic animals.

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod” tours=”14778P4,5140_W0018,6845P25″]

Play a Round

golf course oahu

The spectacular views at Oahu’s courses might ruin you for golf at home, but it’s a risk worth taking. Many of the most popular courses are on the grounds of resorts, including Ko Olina Golf Club, which features a Ted Robinson-designed course with plenty of water features, and Turtle Bay, which has two 18-hole courses on the scenic North Shore.

Non-resort courses to consider include the Ewa Beach Golf Club, a challenging course on the western side of the island, and the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club, offering lush foliage and mountain views on Oahu’s eastern side.

Learn About Agritourism

giant machine cog on display at the decommissioned Kahuku sugar mill plantation on the island of Oahu Hawaii

Many of Hawaii’s former sugar plantations are getting a second life. One example is Ko Hana Distillers, which is a rum distillery set on a former sugar plantation. You can even combine a distillery tour with a hike through the company Hawaii Forest & Trail. Or experience even more agritourism with the Farm to Forest Experience, which includes a tour of a working organic farm and a hike with amazing views.

A visit to Gunstock Ranch is another agritourism experience on Oahu. The ranch is home to a Hawaiian Legacy forest and offers tours to help plant trees as well as go horseback riding or tour the ranch. 

Kahumana offers tours of its organic farm, which offers vocational training for locals struggling with homelessness or disability. You can also enjoy a delicious meal on site at the Kahumana Cafe.

Kahuku Farms offers tours as well as a cafe featuring ingredients grown on site. At the Dole Plantation, you can take a train tour, find your way through a garden maze, and sample ice cream made with the company’s famous pineapples.

Discover WWII History

uss bowfin submarine admiral clarey bridge oahu.

Of course, no visit to Oahu is complete without a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, but there are three other Pearl Harbor Historic Sites that are also worth visiting: the Battleship Missouri Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Experiences range from guided tours to climbing aboard a real WWII-era submarine. The USS Missouri Memorial and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are located on Ford Island and accessible via shuttle buses. Here you can tour the historic battleship, see the battle-damaged airfield, and even walk inside hangars with a fleet of vintage airplanes. Tours and passes are available for all four sites.

What to Pack

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod”]

Sarah Schlichter traveled to Hawaii as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines and Barclays. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. 

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this story.

Arts & Culture Cities Historical Travel

The 9 Best European Cities to Visit in 2020

Dream travel lists have become a natural accompaniment to a new year filled with possibilities.  While I’ve booked a flight based on little more than a sunny weather forecast, I have come to realize the most memorable trips are those with intention at their core. And intention can help you turn a big dream—say, a general desire to explore some of the best cities in Europe—into an actual travel plan.

That purpose need not be too serious. You might follow your taste buds in pursuit of sampling Sicily’s distinctive wines or the Baltic’s best brews. Or find inspiration exploring Glasgow’s street art or immersing yourself in Beethoven’s Viennese life. Exploring European cities—or anywhere else in the world—with intention can take you beyond the guidebook and beneath the surface of a place.[st_content_ad]

And while there’s no one-size-fits-all best city in Europe, there are nearly endless opportunities for immersion and purpose-filled pursuits in European cities, especially if you’re willing to slow down, stay in one place longer, and savor the journey.

Ready to find your inspiration? Here are nine of the best places to visit in Europe this year, and some of the many reasons you should go.

Rijeka, Croatia

rijeka croatia delta trsat

Strategically positioned where the Rječina river meets the Adriatic Sea, Rijeka (which means river in Croatian) overflows with multi-cultural richness that reflects the port city’s shipping and trading heritage.

Food and art offer portals to immersion beginning with Croatia’s biggest carnival and continuing throughout 2020 as Rijeka celebrates being crowned as European Capital of Culture (along with fellow recipient Galway, Ireland).

Experience classic influences with Violins Above Borders / Stradivari, an exhibit spotlighting violin craftsmen, paired with city-wide string of recitals and orchestral performances. Or, dive feet first into Rijeka’s famous rock and punk club scene in venues ranging from gritty to glamourous. Feast on Unknown Klimt: Love Death Ecstasy, a rare exhibit of Gustav Klimt’s early works created for Rijeka National Theatre; or, lean toward the cutting-edge with the third annual Industrial Art Biennial, poetically themed “Ride into the Sun.” For foodies, a series of Gastro Weeks spotlight seasonal cuisine ranging from sardines and squid to cherries and figs.

[st_related]Top Travel Destinations for 2020[/st_related]

Plus, Rijeka serves as gateway to the Adriatic islands Krk and Cres, making it a snap to cap cultural-hunting with a beach vacay.

Pro Tip: Hilton‘s Costabella Beach Resort & Spa opens nearby this summer as the brand’s first luxury resort in Croatia.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:304180″ /]

Paris, France

paris france cafe tables.

2020 finds the City of Light radiating irresistible energy. While sadness and hope mingle with the ongoing restoration of Notre Dame, optimism builds for the 2024 Olympic Games. This heady mix promises to feed the traveler’s mind, heart and belly, in ways only Paris is capable of.

A 60-year-quest comes to fruition as the vision of artistic team Christo and Jeanne-Claude to transform a Parisian icon is unveiled. For 16 days beginning in mid-September, L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, will shimmer with light reflected from over 250,000-square-feet of silver fabric covering the structure.

Centre Georges Pompidou traces the artists’ years in Paris (running March 18 to June 15); while celebrating the 150th birthday of another visionary with the largest exhibition of Henri Matisse’s work in nearly 50 years (running May 13 to August 31). June brings the highly anticipated opening of a stock exchange reimagined as a contemporary art palace: The Bourse de Commerce promises a grand showcase for the collection of French billionaire François Pinault.

Adding to Paris’ significant wow-factor, this year is the opening of luxury Art Deco resort Cheval Blanc Paris, featuring a restaurant helmed by three-star Michelin chef Arnaud Donckele.

“Save to splurge” is my Parisian motto. Paris Passlib’ ensures discounts on entry to attractions and transportation, along with queue-skipping. Another 2020 bonus: budget carrier Norwegian Airlines will debut a nonstop route from Austin to Paris in May.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:10328342″ /]

[st_related] The 13 Best New Airline Routes for 2020[/st_related]

Galway, Ireland

galway ireland sunset colorful houses.

Watching the sun set over Galway Bay or drinking Guinness in a cozy pub—those pursuits can be all the purpose one needs. However, 2020 offers even more reasons to experience the west coast of Ireland’s beauty and hospitality. As a 2020 European Capital of Culture, Galway presents over 1,900 events inspired by the fusion of Celtic traditions and natural landscape.

Highlights include high-tech illumination of the Connemara Mountains in a groundbreaking work from Finnish light artist Kari Kola. “This work will underline the beautiful nature of Ireland using light art on an unseen scale,” says Kola. “The lighted surface will be around five- to 6,000,000 meters square (approximately two square miles), so in terms of a lighted area, this is probably the largest installation ever created.”

Other ambitious projects include Borderline, a project from American artist David Best, the visionary behind the temples of Burning Man; and Mirror Pavilion created by Irish artist John Gerrard who uses LED technology to reflect and expand a 4000-year-old bog.

Fittingly, two of the most buzz-worthy events are literature-centric. The event Wild Atlantic Women welcomes Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, as part of International Women’s Day celebrations. And Arts Over Borders will stage readings of Homer’s Odyssey on regional beaches near where many believe parts of the journey took place.

The 43rd annual Galway International Arts Festival showcases blockbuster performances (including Sinead O’Conner, The Pixies, and The Flaming Lips) in July; while the International Oyster and Seafood Festival features oyster shucking and eating competitions, along with cooking demonstrations in September.

[st_related]11 Warm, Lightweight Jackets for Travelers[/st_related]

Pro Tip: Galway is a relatively small city, so book accommodations well in advance and plan to use public transportation to avoid adding to traffic congestion.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:626020″ /]

Berlin, Germany

berline germany panoramic view sunset.

Continually redefining what it means to be 21st century Europe’s cultural catalyst, Berlin ensures new experiences with every visit. “Berlin is constantly changing, constantly becoming,” says Kirsten Schmidt of VisitBerlin.  Schmidt says Berlin is welcoming “new neighborhood and scenes, and openings of major sights like the James Simon Galerie at Museum Island in 2019 and the Humboldt Forum (housed in the reconstructed Berlin Palace) in 2020.”

Powerhouse events such as the 70th edition of the prestigious Berlin Film Festival and the 11th Berlin Biennale anchor the calendar and promises that the city’s affinity for technical and artistic experimentation will shine in 2020.

[st_related]Berlin Travel Guide[/st_related]

The whole city becomes a stage when Berlin Leuchtet (Berlin Illuminated) introduces its first digital-mapping Spring Light Festival from Feb 27  to March 8; as well as with the return of beloved Berlin Festival of Lights for 10 days in October. The fall celebration illuminates the city’s most famous landmarks including Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Cathedral.

Experiment with high-tech time travel and journey to the divided Berlin with Time Ride Berlin, or enjoy new paths for old-school exploration with 20 urban hiking trails covering over 350 miles.

Use public transport and get free or discounted entry into over 200 attractions with a Berlin Welcome Card, starting at $25 for 48 hours. Autumn travelers may fly into Berlin’s long-awaited new airport.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:5252757″ /]

Vienna, Austria

vienna austria aerial view.

New energy flows through the old-world’s most prestigious coffeehouses and concert halls in Vienna.  This year, Europe’s capital of classical music celebrates the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, the visionary who called the city home for over 35 years.

Immerse in the artist’s life with a special exhibit titled Beethoven Moves from Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna from March 25 to July 5; and visit the Beethoven Museum, where the artist composed many marquee works.

Move from history to history-in-the-making with a performance by Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, led by artistic director and conductor Marin Alsop, the first woman ever at the helm. Don’t miss The Cindy Sherman Effect: Identity and Transformation in Contemporary Art, a new exhibition at Kunstforum Wien.

Pro Tip: Starting in late March, Austrian Airlines offers a nonstop flight from Boston to Vienna.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:577354″ /]

[st_related]How to Book Train Travel in Europe: 12 Essential Sites[/st_related]

Riga, Latvia

riga latvia sunset panoramic view.

Beer, beaches and an art biennial—and that’s only the beginning. With the Daugava River running through it and Baltic Sea on the horizon, Riga makes a beautiful and strategic base for exploring this fascinating former-Soviet nation.

Intrepid Travel’s European specialist Stefan Hellmuth says the city’s layers of Art Nouveau architecture, thought to be the largest collection in the world, combined with medieval guildhalls, cobbled streets of Old Town, plus lush green spaces, make Riga one of Europe’s most pleasing destinations.

For deeper immersion, Hellmuth recommends spending time in the eclectic central market set within former zeppelin hangars. “Also, make sure you try Riga’s specialty, the famous Black Balsam, a liquor made from over 20 natural ingredients, among them raspberries, birch buds, peppermint, ginger, oak bark, nutmeg and black pepper,” adds Hellmuth.

[st_related]27 Awesome Natural Wonders in Europe[/st_related]

As for those beautiful three Bs: From May to October, visitors can experience the return of one of Europe’s most anticipated art fairs, Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, also known as RIBOCA2, led by daring French curator Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel. This year’s exhibits showcase artists from the three Baltic nations in tandem with an international roster of boundary-pushing art-makers.

The Baltic’s largest beer festival returns for nine days in May with the 10th annual Latviabeerfest. Project manager Anna Vairoga says to expect over 50 breweries set up in the heart of Riga, serving over 500 brews to taste.

In July, drum beats lead to the sands of nearby beaches for Summer Sound Festival and further along the coast for buzzy Positivus Festival, this summer concert anchored by Of Monsters and Men and A$AP Rocky.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1737599″ /]

Glasgow, Scotland

glasgow university scotland sunset.

While much about the UK’s post-Brexit future remains uncertain, what we know for sure is Scotland is one of the planet’s most beautiful and welcoming places. For now, the dollar remains strong, making 2020 an exceptional year to chase those Outlander dreams.

Scotland’s cultural capital Glasgow offers an intoxicating blend of contemporary art, pedestrian-friendly streets, and whiskey. All purposes are achieved through one of the city’s walking tours. Layers of the Glasgow’s soul are revealed on a walking tour along the City Mural Trail, while UNESCO’s “City of Music” recognition rings truly during a Glasgow music tour. And, you can embrace the country-wide passion for its signature spirit with a Once Upon a Whiskey Tour.

Yearn to earn your whiskey? Embark on West Highland Way, one of Scotland’s epic long-distance walking trails, spanning 96 miles from just outside Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

Football fans will cheer as Glasgow hosts UEFA’s EURO 2020 championship matches in Scotland’s National Stadium Hampden Park.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:8820649″ /]

Catania, Sicily

catania italy sicily piazza duomo.

Deep blue sea, golden sand beaches, and rugged coastline resting beneath terraced vineyards and ancient hilltop villages. If these images fill your European vacation dreams, consider the Mediterranean’s largest island: Sicily.

Andrea Traina of My European Vacay says that for wine lovers, the terroirs of snow-capped Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanos, produce distinct wines and unforgettable tastes. To experience the full spectrum of varietals and styles of Vini dell’Etna, it’s smart to hire a guide/driver.

Traina recommends the island’s second largest city, the seaside gem Catania, as a base. Not only are wineries within easy reach, the ancient Greek and Roman ruins of Syracuse and baroque towns of Noto, Modica, and Ragusa are near.

While in Catania, be sure to visit the excellent WWII Landing Museum (Museo dello Sbarco) to discover stories of Italy’s liberation from Nazi occupation and Fascist rule.

And, for cycling fans, follow the route of Italy’s most famous cycling event when Giro d’Italia 2020 finishes a mighty stage on the top of Etna, in May.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:10731507″ /]

[st_related]11 Secret Italian Villages to Visit Before the Crowds Do[/st_related]

Cordoba, Spain

cordoba spain roman bridge.

A bright orange sun reflects the River Guadalquivir onto the arched bridges and tiled roofs of Cordoba. It’s the epitome of Andalusian magic. The city boasts four UNESCO World Heritage designations, including for the mosque-turned-cathedral Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba, its red and white striped columns and arches famously showcasing the region’s rich Moorish heritage.

Local guide José Fabra-Garrido says off-season is a sweet spot, particularly from November through March, when temperatures are mild, prices are lower, and the vibe is more relaxed.

Cordoba is the perfect place in 2020 to indulge your foodie fantasies. The city’s most acclaimed restaurant Noor, led by celebrity chef Paco Morales, recently received a second Michelin star. While coveted reservations are for the few, the restaurant has become a catalyst for a city-wide celebration of regional tastes, from traditional taberna cordobesa to hip new tapas bars.

Discover the pleasure that comes in small bites with Tapas Tours from Fabra-Garrido’s Foodie & Experiences Cordoba. Visitors can enjoy every bite accompanied by the sweet sounds of flamenco and jazz during Cordoba’s renowned International Guitar Festival, celebrating its 40th anniversary in July.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:2309330″ /]

What to Pack

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

More from SmarterTravel:

Armed with backpack, yoga mat, and laptop, writer Jess Simpson has been traveling nomadically for nearly five years. Along the way, she’s discovered that laughter is a universal language and home is a state of mind. Her work is featured by Intrepid Travel, Architectural Digest, Mental Floss and Fodor’s. Follow her travels on Instagram @lighttraveling and

Arts & Culture Historical Travel Outdoors

9 Secret Villages in Ireland

If you’d like to go beyond Dublin on your trip to the Emerald Isle, set your course for these secret villages in Ireland. From the steep cliffs of the west coast to the lush hills and historic ruins of the countryside, Ireland is worth exploring. In these small Irish towns you’ll find cozy abodes, peaceful walking trails, and deep history.

[st_related]What Spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is Really Like[/st_related]


Just thirty minutes north of Dublin in the Boyne Valley, Slane is an Irish village recognized for its Georgian architecture, prehistoric sites, and a 300-year old castle known for its high-profile concert and whiskey-making operation. Slane Castle is a sustainable distillery that employs locals, and heat from the active distilling process heats the historic castle. Its lawn has also played host to rock performances by the likes of U2, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Metallica. Although the castle is the town’s biggest attraction, you can also visit nearby ruins or stroll down main street to a local pub like the popular Boyles of Slane.

Where to stay: For a unique experience, go glamping on the castle grounds with Rock Farm Slane 

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:4436536″ /]


Near the scenic Wicklow Mountains and among the ruins of Ireland’s Ancient East, Wicklow is a small village with plenty to see and do, like taking ghost tours at an 18th-century prison or hiking to the legendary Mottee Stone. While you’re in town, you can stop for a healthy meal at the Vital Health Café or make a pit-stop in the nearby town of Delgany to try an award-winning pastry at Firehouse Bakery.

Where to stay: Keep things cozy at a bed and breakfast like the Wicklow Way Lodge.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:373471″ /]


In the county of Cork, Kinsale is a fishing village with a lot of character. Its history dates to the twelfth century, but the food in Kinsale has always been ahead of the times. Whether you go upscale at a place like Finn’s Table or indulge in seafood at Fishy Fishy, you’ll eat well in this brightly-colored town. While visiting, you could also brush up on your maritime history at the Old Lusitania Museum or pay a visit to Desmond Castle, which doubles as a wine museum. If you’re hankering for beer, stop by Blacks Brewery for a tour and a pint.

Where to stay: The Trident Hotel offers modern accommodation with gorgeous views of the River Bandon.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:212859″ /]


If you’ll be driving the Ring of Kerry, don’t pass over the adorable village of Dingle.  It’s most famous for great surfing conditions and as the bizarre home of an out-of-place bottlenose dolphin named Fungie, and you’ll have plenty of fun meandering through the town center. You can also visit nearby attractions like the ancient Gallarus Oratory or grab your boots for a hike up to the viewpoint on Mount Brandon.

Where to stay: Just a walk down the road from the main town, Pax House offers guests a beautiful space to unwind on a visit to Dingle.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:213034″ /]


On the rugged western coast of Ireland, there’s plenty of culture to be found in this secret Irish village beyond its iconic Westport House. With nearby attractions like the slopes at Croagh Patrick, Rockfleet Castle, the National Museum of Ireland, and Killary Fjord, there’s plenty to do throughout Westport. Considered among the Irish to be one of the best places to live, it’s a three-time winner of the Irish Tidy Towns Competition.

Where to stay: At the family-owned Hotel Westport you can stay in comfort and style on seven acres of private woodland.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:287712″ /]


Another secret Irish village on the Wild Atlantic Way, Bantry is a lively harbor town packed with history. Best known for being surrounded by rolling hills and stunning vistas, the village of Bantry puts on annual Walking Festival; a weekend of organized hikes worth checking out if you’re traveling to Ireland in the spring. In addition to the beautiful surroundings, visit the historic Bantry House, shop at the farmer’s market, or take a boat out to Garnish Island to explore its all-encompassing gardens.

Where to stay: A modern hotel on a large property complete with landscaped gardens, a duck pond, waterfalls, and nature trails, the Westlodge Hotel is a relaxing retreat.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1146016″ /]


Smack-dab in the middle of Ireland, Birr is a unique Irish town famous for Birr Castle, Georgian architecture, and the Leviathan of Parsonstown—which at one time was the largest telescope in the world. In addition to visiting these nearby attractions, you can also use a trip to Birr to take a foraging workshop or pay a visit to the unique Lough Boora Discovery Park, a sprawling bog that is part nature reserve and part sculpture gallery.

Where to stay: For great hospitality and comfort in Birr, book a bed and breakfast like the Emmet House in the center of town.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:2098684″ /]


With major historical chops like being the site of the first transatlantic radio transmission and the landing site of the first transatlantic flight, Clifden has a lot to boast about. Here you’ll find many Irish traditions are still alive thanks to the region of Connemara’s historical isolation from the rest of the country. Tack on cultural sites like Kylemore Abbey and the Marconi Radio station, or just enjoy the town and take a walk up to Monument Hill for a picturesque view.

Where to stay: Built in the style of a traditional railway building, the Station House Hotel is unique and close to town.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:568422″ /]


If you’re venturing westward in Ireland you’ll probably be drawn towards Donegal County’s dramatic coast, but no visit would be complete without a visit to Donegal Town. In this small Irish village, you’ll find the remains of 15th-century Abbey and Donegal Castle right in the town’s center. Located on the River Eske, Donegal has been occupied by humans since prehistoric times and there are many unique sites to visit nearby, like ringforts that date back to the bronze age.

Where to stay: Embrace history and spend the night in a castle at the Lough Eske Castle.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:858355″ /]

More from SmarterTravel

[st_deals_search search_type=hotel]

Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto. 

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Entertainment Experiential Travel Family Travel Food & Drink Historical Travel Island Outdoors Romantic Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends Weekend Getaways

10 Best Things to Do in Aruba

The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba sees more than a million visitors per year—and not just for the beachfront resorts and romantic Aruba hotels. Travelers from the U.S. and beyond know Aruba for its bright blue waters and white sand, but there’s also rugged outdoor adventure and colorful Caribbean culture to break up your beach lounging.

The Best Things to Do in Aruba

Below are 10 of the best things to do in Aruba, including some lesser-known gems. And before you pack your bags, also consider these things you should know before traveling to Aruba.

Visit Arikok National Park

boca prins aruba.

Did you know almost 20 percent of Aruba is a protected national park? Arikok National Park stretches from the island’s arid center to its eastern and northern coasts, where it meets tropical blue shores and steep ocean cliffs.

Inside Arikok you’ll see centuries-old cacti and rock-face paintings. Cooling off means heading to its breezy coastal inlets, like Boca Prins (pictured) for far-flung ocean views.

Opt for a hike of the trails to see bright quartz peeking through the desert soil and succulents like aloe flourishing; then head toward the wind turbines in the distance (which create a significant portion of the island’s electricity) to experience the nearby sea cliffs and swimming spots.

Explore Caves

guadirikiri cave aruba.

At the edge of Arikok National Park are shady caverns rife with ancient paintings, stalactites, skylights, and (only a few) bats that are sure to make you feel like a true explorer. Unlike Aruba’s beaches, these caverns rarely fill up with tourists—giving you a unique up-close experience with the island’s natural formations. Guadirikiri Cave is a favorite for its two large main caves connected by a “Tunnel of Love,” lit by skylights and dotted with thousand-year-old Arawak Indian cave paintings and hand prints.

Discover San Nicolas

baby beach aruba.

Most Aruba visitors stay in the resort-saturated Palm Beach area on the north coast, but the opposite side of the island has some of the best local beaches and cultural things to do in Aruba.

The San Nicolas area is home to colorful street murals, local art galleries and artisan shops, and Baby Beach—which earned its name for its calm, clear bay that’s fit for babies to splash in. You’ll get equal parts nature and culture in San Nicolas.

Go Snorkeling

sea turtle and snorkeler in aruba.

The clear, calm waters of Aruba make snorkeling a can’t-miss activity, and there are plenty of animals to see outside the water as well. Head to Arashi Beach or Boca Catalina for pristine waters full of tropical fish, or pick one of the many hotels on the island that have their own snorkeling and wildlife areas.

The Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital) has its own private island complete with snorkeling, plus iguanas and vibrant flamingos that lounge on the beach with you.

Visitors can feed the flamingos the provided treats, although food isn’t necessary for the pink residents to walk right up to you on the soft sands. Colorful iguanas and blue lizards lounge on the beach next door as well, and a regular boat shuttle takes you back and forth from the hotel.

Celebrate Carnival

carnival performers in aruba.

Caribbean destinations like Aruba celebrate traditional Carnival annually, taking to the streets in ornate costumes and masks. The colorful events go on for weeks in Aruba between early January and late February. Locals and visitors alike honor the tradition with music, food, dancing, and parades—just in time for spring-break season. It’s one of the best things to do in Aruba if you want to experience the island alongside locals.

Most Arubans speak the local language of Papiamento, plus Spanish, Dutch, and English. It’s a treat to hear all the languages co-exist on this one happy island, and the friendly Arubans are welcoming of visitors.

Taste Aruban Flavors

mahi mahi meal in aruba.

The Dutch-Caribbean food scene is a unique one that includes both rich European flavors from Holland as well as spicy Caribbean flavors like seasoned seafood and fried plantains. For the latter, Zeerovers’ seaside picnic tables and fried fish baskets are island-famous and perfect after a long day at the beach. Local coffee, beer, and quick bites are a favorite at Craft Aruba.

For romantic dinners, Wilhelmina in Oranjestad offers Dutch-influenced dishes, local seafood options, and international fare. Papiamento Restaurant also stays true to local and Dutch flavors, and is located at a historic local house with intimate tables both inside the home and on its open-air patio.

Don’t leave the island without trying fresh local fish like red snapper, mahi mahi, and Caribbean rock lobster.

Learn About Aruban History

fort zouman aruba.

Aruba might be tiny, but it has a long history that dates back beyond the Arawak Indians, who drew Arikok National Park’s cave paintings about 1,000 years ago. You can learn about the original Arubans and see 4,000-year-old pre-ceramic artifacts at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, or hear about the Dutch settlers and pirates that landed here in the 1700s at the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum.

Go Sailing

tranquilo tours sailboat aruba.

Take to the Caribbean Sea with a sailing expedition that will give you the full view of the island and an opportunity to experience various swimming spots all in the same day. Try Tranquilo Tours for a locally led daytime cruise around the island, with onboard lunch and off-boat swimming included.

Hit the Beach

divi divi tree on eagle beach aruba.

Aruba has over a dozen idyllic public beaches worth exploring, from Eagle Beach‘s white sand and Palm Beach‘s cabanas to Boca Prins‘ sea spray.

Locals and visitors alike take to Druif Beach for relaxation closer to downtown, while the calm waters of Baby Beach or watersports at Palm Beach might also be worth the trip for some water lovers.

Buy Local Goods

shopping in oranjestad aruba.

A haul of all your favorite Caribbean and Dutch goodies makes for great Aruban souvenirs, from European cheeses and chocolate to local spices and tropical jams—best found at local grocery stores. While retail shopping can be pricey on Aruba, especially near resorts, just strolling colorful Oranjested’s shopping district is worth the view.

Local crafts and goods made in the Netherlands or the greater Caribbean are worth getting since they’ll be cheaper than they are in the States. Look out for authentic items like Caribbean-made papaya hot sauces and Dutch sweets. Just be sure to declare cheeses and similar food items at customs if you do indulge.

More from SmarterTravel:

Associate Editor Shannon McMahon visited Aruba as a guest of Aruba Tourism Authority and JetBlue. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Search Aruba activities and where to stay on

Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Budget Travel Cities Entertainment Food & Drink Historical Travel LGBT Outdoors Senior Travel Student Travel Weekend Getaways Women's Travel

9 Best Things to Do in Miami Beach (That Aren’t the Beach)

While most people head to Miami Beach for, well, the beach, there are plenty of activities off the sand as well. In Miami Beach you’ll discover fascinating history from the Al Capone era told through architecture, plus some of the best dining experiences in Florida. Here are nine of the best things to do in Miami Beach that don’t have anything to do with the actual beach.

Explore Art Deco Architecture

art deco buildings in miami beach.

One of the best things to do in Miami Beach is to discover its art deco architecture and history. The Miami Design Preservation League sponsors a 1.5-hour daily walking tour through Miami Beach’s historic district. Explore the history of Miami Beach through its architecture and style while visiting hotels, restaurants, and other buildings relevant to the art deco, Mediterranean revival, and Miami modern eras.

Hang Out by the Pool

pool at national hotel miami beach.

You don’t have to be rich and famous to enjoy some of Miami’s hottest hotels; many five-star and luxury properties offer a day pass for their pools, so you can lounge in style at a fraction of the nightly room rate. Hotels on Miami Beach offering day passes include The National Hotel Miami, Delano South Beach, Mondrian South Beach, and SLS South Beach.

Attend an Event

art basel miami beach.

One of the best things to do in Miami Beach is to go for an event. Because of its year-round warm weather, locals and tourists alike flock to the area’s famous annual festivals.

Standouts include Art Deco Weekend in January, the Miami International Boat Show in February, Ultra Music Festival and Music Week in March, Gay Pride in April, and Art Basel in December.

Visit a Museum

jewish museum of florida.

Miami Beach—which doesn’t even include the popular Wynwood neighborhood, downtown Miami, or the design district—has plenty of museums worth exploring. In the South Beach area you’ll find The Bass (contemporary art), the Art Deco Museum, Wolfsonian-FIU (art and design), the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, and the ArtCenter South Florida.

Sample the Culinary Scene

chicken watermelon and waffles at yardbird miami beach.

Miami Beach has a varied culinary scene that ranges from well-known steak houses to incredible Cuban cuisine. Notable dishes include the Giant Chocolate Chunk Cookie from Big Pink, the Chicken ‘n’ Watermelon ‘n’ Waffles from Yardbird, and the famous Key lime pie from Icebox Cafe. And if you’re a seafood lover, one of the best things to do in Miami Beach is try the stone crab claws from Joe’s Stone Crab.

Play Golf

aerial view of miami beach golf club.

The Miami Beach Golf Club is a public golf course right in Miami Beach. Formerly an under-utilized course, Bayshore, it’s now regarded as one of the premier golf clubs in South Florida, and is one of the best things to do in Miami Beach outside of the beach.

Go Shopping

lincoln road miami beach.

Strolling along Lincoln Road is a must-do for anyone in the mood to shop. This pedestrian-friendly promenade is packed with trendy shops, restaurants, and entertainment. You’ll also find boutiques such as The Webster as well as high-end designer stores at the Bal Harbour Shops. With a style all its own and plenty of retail options, you’ll have a hard time leaving Miami Beach without buying something.

Enjoy the Nightlife

dj equipment.

One of the main attractions of Miami Beach is its nightlife, and South Beach and Ocean Drive don’t disappoint. From 24/7 venues to hotel nightclubs, you’ll find endless entertainment spots that stay packed into the wee hours of the night. Notable nightclubs include STORY, Basement (at the Edition Hotel), and LIV (at the Fontainebleau).

Or if you want a different type of nightlife, check out the events schedule for the historic Colony Theatre or The Fillmore Miami Beach—both host comedy, music, dance, opera, and films.

Hit the Boardwalk

miami beach boardwalk.

While some might consider this the beach, the Miami Beach Boardwalk is still one of the best things to do in Miami Beach—and it’s free. The 40-block path is great for running or walking, and part of the path is bike-friendly as well. A decent portion of the path is covered by palm trees, so you have some relief from the sun. Hop on and off the boardwalk and enjoy the shops, bars, and restaurants along Ocean Drive.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Arts & Culture Beach Booking Strategy Cities Food & Drink Historical Travel

Portugal vs. Spain: Which Country Is Right for You?

While both Portugal and Spain occupy the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe, you may be wondering: Which one should you visit? The best answer is both, of course, but which one to choose depends on what kind of vacation you want to have. Here’s the ultimate rundown on Portugal vs. Spain so you can make the best decision.

Portugal vs. Spain: Language

Portuguese is the official language of Portugal. It’s fairly similar to Spanish, but a word that goes far is obrigado/a for “thank you” (not to be confused with the Spanish gracias).

Spain gets a bit more complicated. While the predominant language is Spanish, and you can hear and see that everywhere, Spain has several semi-autonomous regions that are proud of their heritage and language. I once hopped into a cab in Barcelona and received a grouchy “Catalan or English—no Spanish!” when I tried to give my address. Catalan is spoken widely in places like Barcelona and Valencia, but there’s also Galician in Galicia, and Basque in places like Bilbao.

The good news? English is also widely spoken in both countries, especially in the bigger cities.

Winner: If you speak Spanish, Spain is much easier to navigate. But for simplicity’s sake, Portugal wins this round.

Portugal vs. Spain: Food

pasteis de nata portugal.

Portugal offers some of the best seafood in the Mediterranean, with delicious cod, octopus, prawns, and sardines. It’s less known than other “fine dining” destinations like France, so as a result, incredible multi-course dinners are fairly affordable. This is changing quickly though, with Michelin awarding its first stars to Portuguese restaurants in 2019.

Most restaurants open late—if you can get in at 7:00 p.m., you’re likely in a tourist spot—with dinners stretching into the wee hours of the morning.

One famous dessert you can find in Lisbon is pasteis de nata, an egg custard tart sprinkled with the tiniest bit of powdered sugar. It’s heaven in a bite, and worth the long wait at Pastéis de Belem, around the corner from Jeronimos Monastery.

Spain is globally known for its delicious food, especially its avante-garde fine dining scene made famous by Ferran Adria. But Spanish food is equally delicious in its simplest form: cured meats, cheeses, and olives. You’ll find regional specialties from jamon iberico in Andalusia to paella in Valencia and sea urchin in Costa Brava.

Like Portugal, restaurants are open late. But Spain also enjoys a thriving tapas and pintxos scene—small plates at tiny standing-room-only bars—where you can start your dinner as early as 4:00 p.m.

Winner: This one is close—you won’t go wrong! Portugal is easier for vegetarians and pescetarians, but Spain continues to produce globally renowned restaurants and high-quality food across every region, making it the winner.

[viator_tour destination=”562″ type=”3-mod” tours=”16637P1,25359P1,16168P1″]

Portugal vs. Spain: Wine

In Portugal, head north to Porto, the birthplace of port. You can take a river cruise through the Duoro Valley and sample not just tawny but also ruby, rose, and white port. While you’re there, try vinho verde or “green wine,” which is crisp, acidic, and perfect to pair with seafood, not unlike a sauvignon blanc. Or you can explore the island of Madeira for a wine you’d rather drink than cook with (trust me!).

Spain is known mostly for bold, fruity tempranillos from the Rioja region (similar to a pinot noir or a cabernet sauvignon, depending on how they’re aged), but you’ll also find sparkling cava in Penedes and bright sherries from Jerez. You’ll generally find delicious, surprising options anywhere in the country.

Winner: This one depends on your wine preferences! If you’re a red wine drinker, Spain. If you’re a white wine drinker or into fortified wines, it’s Portugal all the way.

[viator_tour destination=”26879″ type=”3-mod” tours=”7372P30,30924P6,8413P19″]

[st_related]Tipping in Spain: The Spain Tipping Guide[/st_related]

Portugal vs. Spain: Key Destinations

beach near lagos algarve portugal.

Start your Portugal trip in the capital city of Lisbon. Covered in tiles and palm trees, it doesn’t feel like the major metropolis it really is. Climb up to the historic Alfama neighborhood, listen to fado fading through the alleyways, ride an iconic yellow tram, or head to Belem to explore monasteries and palaces of old.

Portugal’s charm comes from its laid-back cafe culture. Nearby Sintra offers colorful castles and palaces that inspired Hans Christian Andersen. You’ll find delightful small towns across the country, especially Cascais, Sortelha, and Amarante. Explore medieval Obidos or the Roman ruins in Coimbra.

Portugal’s coastline boasts deep cliffs and gorgeous views. Whether you explore the caverns of Lagos, surf or sea kayak in Albufeira, or hop over to the Azores Islands, you’ll find less crowded beaches than elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

In Spain, you’ll have your pick of big cities between Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid offers cosmopolitan hustle and bustle, world-class museums, and imperial palaces; Barcelona has funky Gaudi architecture, wide-open avenues, and plenty of delicious food.

Head south to Andalusia to slow down and experience Moorish architecture or Granada’s famous Alhambra. Another alternative: Head north to Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls or make the pilgrimage by foot on the Camino del Santiago to the Santiago de Compostela. Try your hand at world-class rock climbing in the Pyrenees, cheer for your favorite team at a soccer match in Barcelona, or watch flamenco dancers twirl and stomp in Seville.

Then, when you’re ready to relax, head to the beach: Spain has nearly 5,000 miles of coastline for you to choose from. Whether you want to hang out in the sleepy fishing town of Cadiz or island hop to nightlife centers like Ibiza or Mallorca, you’ll find perfect cliffside beaches across the country.

Unlike Portugal, Spain struggles with overtourism, which has made it more difficult to visit due to long lines and crowds from cruise ships dropping thousands of visitors overnight. All that really means is you’ll have to adjust your expectations, be willing to pay for a tour to skip the lines, or travel during the shoulder or off-season.

Winner: This one also depends on what you like. For big cities with medieval charm and pristine, relatively empty beaches, Portugal’s the winner. For outdoor enthusiasts and art and architecture lovers, Spain wins this round.

[viator_tour destination=”554″ type=”3-mod”]

[st_related]Tipping in Portugal: The Portugal Tipping Guide[/st_related]

Portugal vs. Spain: Cost of Travel

I’ll use two of the most popular destinations in both countries as a proxy for cost—it does vary between high season and low season, and depending on whether you’re in a more popular tourist area. Porto, Portugal, for example, is much cheaper than Lisbon; the little white village of Ronda in Spain is much cheaper than bustling Madrid.

Is Portugal cheaper than Spain? Overall, yes. In Lisbon, you can find a great hotel for around $100 a night depending on the neighborhood, averaging out around $175/night. The average hotel in Barcelona is closer to $200 or $250 depending on the neighborhood.

For restaurants, you’ll pay between 10 and 15 euros for a main course in Lisbon, while Barcelona tends to be between 20 and 30 euros, especially if you’re trying to bag bucket-list dining experiences like a table at Tickets.

Attractions in Portugal also tend to be cheaper—for example, a ticket for the Tile Museum in Lisbon costs 5 euros, while the Prado in Madrid costs 15.

Winner: If you’re on a budget, you won’t beat Portugal’s value. While Spain is definitely still on the cheaper side for most of Europe, Portugal’s the winner.

[viator_tour destination=”538″ type=”3-mod”]

The Bottom Line

mijas spain street with plants.

Both Portugal and Spain offer a wide variety of exciting attractions and delicious food.

Head to Portugal if you’re a seafood fanatic wary of crowds, or if you’re on a budget. Portugal is an up-and-coming destination that will surprise you.

If you’re really into fine dining, world-class museums, or rock climbing and hiking, Spain is a great choice. It’s the type of destination you can visit again and again and experience something new.

More from SmarterTravel:

[viator_tour destination=”566″ type=”3-mod”]

Always in search of adventure, Kayla Voigt hails from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can usually find her at the summit of a mountain or digging into a big bowl of pasta. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.

Beach Cities Historical Travel Weekend Getaways

How to Do a Weekend in Charleston and the Isle of Palms

Coined the World’s Best City by Travel + Leisure in 2019, Charleston is having a moment and everyone is booking a ticket to the colorful metropolis. From the blooming architecture and flourishing culinary scene, the city of Charleston offers a slew of hotels right in town. But what many tourists don’t realize is that just outside downtown are spotless beaches and ocean views good enough for celebrities like Bill Murray and Stephen Colbert.

The Isle of Palms is a place where you can have it all: ocean, golfing, tennis, and of course, proximity to Charleston. So if you love city-living as much as you love relaxing on the beach, follow this weekend itinerary and experience the best of both worlds in Charleston, South Carolina.

Hotel: Located twelve miles from downtown Charleston on the Isle of Palms, the Wild Dunes Resort, is a peaceful and leisurely retreat from the bustling city. With access to tennis courts, bike rentals, two top-rated golf courses, restaurants, and beautiful beaches, Wild Dunes has plenty of options to entertain families. You can book a room at the newly renovated Boardwalk Inn or rent one of their properties located within the resort and have the golf course and beach right in your backyard.

Friday: Once you’ve checked in, take the day to explore your new home at Wild Dunes. You can ride a bike through the resort and check out some of the glamourous vacation homes or rent some tennis rackets and enjoy a quick match. Don’t forget to get in at least a good hour or two at the beach, where the warm water is clean and the waves are gentle.

If you’re feeling adventurous, sign up for an eco-tour at the front desk to explore South Carolina’s barrier islands and learn more about their environments. Have dinner at Coastal Provisions, a high-class restaurant located on the first floor of The Boardwalk Inn—you can even choose to eat poolside or enjoy cabana service. After dinner, head to the nightly bonfire and pick-up s’more supplies at Hudson’s Market.

Saturday: If you’re traveling to South Carolina for golf, Wild Dunes is a great place to get an early tee time at either the Harbor or the Links Course. If you’re not a golfer, you can wake up early to enjoy a beautiful sunrise on the beach before heading into Charleston for the day.

To get a ride into the city, forget Uber and call Captain Bob, a town car service that will give you a ride from Wild Dunes to downtown for just $20. (Ubers are hard to come by on the Isle of Palms.) If you’re lucky, you may even get to ride with the affable Captain himself, who is more than happy to make recommendations for what to do, see, and eat in town and he’ll even customize a special tour just for you.

Once in Charleston, sign up for a carriage tour of the city. This is great for kids and the best way to explore its offerings at a leisurely pace. You’ll be able to buy tickets for the carriage rides in town but can also book ahead online. After the carriage ride, take some time to explore the rest of Charleston, but don’t leave without stopping for dinner and drinks at the stunning 5Church restaurant. Located inside a renovated mariner’s church, this is the perfect place to enjoy the harmony of old and new in Charleston.

Sunday: Make the most of your last morning at Wild Dunes by relaxing by the pool or beach. After checking out (and depending on how much time you have before your flight), head back downtown for the afternoon and grab lunch in Charleston, or make a stop on the way to the airport to tour the magnificent Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. For lunch, I recommend the Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar and if there’s time, visit the Old Slave Mart Museum or Nathaniel Russell House.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Jamie Ditaranto traveled to South Carolina as a guest of the Wild Dunes Resort. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Cities Historical Travel

Pedralbes Monastery: Barcelona’s Best Kept Secret

On the first day of a recent trip to Barcelona, Spain, I found myself elbow to elbow with a mob of fellow tourists outside Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, one of the city’s most famous attractions. A few hours later, I shouldered through the hordes at a Christmas market in front of the cathedral. And the next day I discovered a line stretching out the door of the Basilica in Montserrat (a popular day trip from Barcelona), where hundreds of travelers waited to touch the hand of the revered Black Madonna. I’d hoped to miss out on crowds by traveling in early December, part of Spain’s winter low season, but that wasn’t the case—with one exception.

During an hour and a half at Pedralbes Monastery, located in a leafy residential area just a 15-minute subway ride from the center of the city, I wandered through the world’s largest Gothic cloister, peered into small cells where nuns once embroidered and prayed, and marveled over a chapel adorned with colorful 14th-century frescoes. The best part? I had this serene spot almost entirely to myself.

Known in Catalan as Reial Monestir de Santa Maria de Pedralbes, the monastery was founded in 1327 by Queen Elisenda de Montcada as a home for the Poor Clare Sisters, an order of Franciscan nuns. While the sisters lived lives of quiet contemplation, they also accumulated a surprising number of religious treasures, from altarpieces and alabaster sculptures to gold and silver chalices. (My favorite? The massive, richly illustrated choir books.) Many of these artifacts are on display under the vaulted ceiling of what was once the nuns’ dormitory.

As you walk through the monastery, you’ll see the sepulcher of Queen Elisenda, the refectory where the nuns took their meals, the abbey room (the oldest part of the building), and even the kitchen, where I loved the colorful tiles added in the 19th century. It’s easy to imagine what life may have been like here, especially when you stand in the center of the cloister with its trees, fountains, and medicinal garden. It’s a perfect place for quiet contemplation—and a balm to anyone seeking to escape the crowds at Barcelona’s top tourist spots.

How to Get to Pedralbes Monastery

To reach the monastery, you can take the FGC train (which connects easily to the Metro) from Placa Catalunya to the Reina Elisenda station, a 10- to 15-minute walk from Pedralbes. Barcelona’s hop-on, hop-off bus and several public buses also run out to the monastery.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Cities Experiential Travel Historical Travel Romantic Travel

11 Secret Italian Villages to Visit Before the Crowds Do

Rome? Been there. Venice? Done that. Florence? Bought the statue-of-David postcard. While this triumvirate of tourist destinations is a must-do for any first-time visitor to Italy, many of the country’s greatest charms can only be experienced in small Italian villages—places where you can slip away from the crowds, wander down deserted cobblestone lanes, and get a first-hand look at how the locals live.

Secret Italian Villages

These Italian villages are scattered all over the country, from the mountains of the north to the sun-soaked islands in the south.

1. Tellaro, Liguria

The famed Italian villages of Cinque Terre have become so congested in recent years that local authorities have considered limiting visitor access. Luckily, there’s an equally charming—but much less crowded—alternative just a few miles down the Ligurian coast.

You won’t find any major sights in the fishing village of Tellaro, but its pastel-colored buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, and sweeping sea views offer their own simple pleasures.

Where to stay: I Tette Sul Mare occupies a refurbished villa set in olive orchards overlooking the sea.

2. Pitigliano, Tuscany

Nicknamed Little Jerusalem, the medieval hill town of Pitigliano was once home to a large Jewish community that settled there in the 16th century. While Pitigliano’s Jews were nearly all gone by the mid-20th century—due mostly to migration for economic reasons but also because of persecution by the Nazis—you can still tour the old Jewish ghetto, which includes a restored synagogue, traditional bread ovens, and a small museum.

Also worth seeing are Palazzo Orsini, a 14th-century fortress that houses a collection of historical artifacts; and Vie Cave, a walking path to a series of Etruscan caves.

Where to stay: The Hotel Relais Valle Orientina is set in the countryside near Pitigliano, and offers comfortable rooms, a wellness center and underground thermae, and plenty of nearby hiking.

[st_related]Tipping in Italy: The Italy Tipping Guide[/st_related]

3. Procida, Campania

Encompassing just 1.6 square miles, Procida is the smallest island in the Bay of Naples, and visitors often bypass it in their rush to see nearby Capri and Ischia. But if you prefer your villages in Italy sans crowds, consider hopping on the Procida ferry from Naples.

With its vibrantly colored buildings overlooking a picture-perfect harbor, the island is a photographer’s dream. Climb to the Terra Murata, the highest and oldest point on the island, where you’ll find crumbling ruins and magnificent views.

Where to stay: The 11-room Albergo La Vigna has a wine bar serving varietals from its own vineyards. One room even features art by a local Procida artist.

4. Chioggia, Veneto

What would Venice look like if it were still a traditional fishing port, without the massive cruise ships and teeming tourist crowds? It might look a little something like Chioggia. Accessible by ferry and bus from Venice, Chioggia is built around canals the way Venice is, but it offers a humbler and slower way of life.

Get there early to visit its traditional fish market, then wander through its water-lined streets and stop for lunch at one of its many excellent seafood restaurants.

Where to stay: Hotel Grande Italia has been hosting travelers in the heart of Chioggia for more than 100 years. Rooms are comfortable and modern, with air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi.

[st_related]What Locals Want You to Know About Venice[/st_related]

5. Locorotondo, Puglia

As you walk through Locorotondo, you’ll constantly be reaching for your phone to snap pictures of pink and red geraniums spilling out of window boxes against whitewashed walls.

One of several white hill towns in this part of Puglia, Locorotondo’s skyline is dominated by the Chiesa Madre San Giorgio, a cathedral whose dome and tower you can see as you approach the town from the valley below. Don’t forget to sample the area’s famous white wine.

Where to stay: You can stay in your own little trullo (a cone-roofed house typical of the region) at Leonardo Trulli Resort. Inside are exposed stone walls; outside is a lawn with loungers where you can relax.

6. Viterbo, Lazio

Located about two hours from Rome by train, Viterbo has a walled medieval core that’s perfect for strolling. The town was once the papal seat back in the 13th century, and you can still visit the impressive Palazzo dei Papi in the historic center.

But be sure to make time for one of Viterbo’s most relaxing attractions: its thermal baths, which have been enjoyed for centuries by locals and visitors alike.

Where to stay: Past guests of B&B Medieval House rave about the property’s central location and friendly host. The carefully restored historic building features exposed stone walls and wooden beams in the guest rooms.

7. Noto, Sicily

Noto’s elegant baroque churches and palaces were built in the aftermath of an earthquake that leveled the original town in 1693.

An ideal day in Noto includes plenty of time to spend strolling the streets, admiring the cream-colored architecture, and treating yourself to a sweet treat from one of the historic center’s many ice cream parlors. Got some extra time? Relax on the region’s golden sand beaches.

Where to stay: The stylish Gagliardi Boutique Hotel is located in a restored palazzo in Noto’s old town. On sunny days you can relax on the rooftop bar and terrace.

[st_related]The 12 Best Cities for Art Lovers[/st_related]

8. Saluzzo, Piedmont

Located near Turin, this is one of the rare Italian towns that see relatively few tourists—but those who do visit get to enjoy Saluzzo’s handsome historic center and views over the nearby Alps.

Don’t miss the Casa Cavassa, with its colorful frescoes and antique furniture, or the tranquil botanical garden at Villa Bricherasio.

Where to stay: San Giovanni Hotel Resort offers 13 rooms in a restored monastery dating back to the 15th century. Don’t miss a stroll through the gardens in the former cloister.

9. Spello, Umbria

Escape the crowds in Assisi with a visit to one of the region’s less-traveled Italian villages. Spello is just a 15-minute drive from Assisi but feels a world away as you explore its well-preserved Roman walls and quiet churches.

Spello is also known for a unique cultural event called Le Infiorate, a late-spring festival in which murals made of flower petals are laid out throughout the town’s streets and piazzas.

Where to stay: Once a medieval fort, then a hunting lodge, Agriturismo Il Bastione is now an elegant place to stay just outside of Spello. The grounds have inviting places to unwind, including nature trails and a pool.

10. Bosa, Sardinia

This riverfront town in western Sardinia is distinguished by a jumble of hillside houses painted every color of the rainbow, with a 12th-century castle looming above.

Visitors can enjoy seafood or drinks on an outdoor terrace, snap photos of boats along the waterfront, and ramble down narrow alleys where laundry hangs out to dry overhead.

Where to stay: Located within walking distance of the center of Bosa, Palazzo Sa Pischedda offers Art Nouveau-style rooms, some with original fresco paintings.

[st_related]Forgotten Europe: 10 Places Where Time Stands Still[/st_related]

11. Chiusa/Klausen, Trentino-Alto Adige

Located in the mountainous region north of Venice, near the Austrian border, Chiusa (also known as Klausen) offers stunning views in all directions. Charming shops, winding cobblestone lanes, and friendly locals await visitors to this uncrowded medieval town.

Take time for the uphill climb to the Sabiona Monastery, one of the region’s most important historical sites.

Where to stay: You can enjoy mountain views, hiking trails, tennis courts, a sauna, and three swimming pools at Hotel Gnollhof.

There’s no better place to rediscover the simple pleasures of vacation than in a laid-back village in Italy. Move at the pace of the locals, indulge in local foods, and explore the surrounding areas, and you just may find a new home-away-from-home.

More from SmarterTravel:

Sarah Schlichter never met a medieval village she didn’t like. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Historical Travel Luxury Travel Romantic Travel

SmarterTravel Spotlight: Monteverdi Tuscany, Castiglioncello del Trinoro, Italy

Monteverdi Tuscany isn’t just a hotel, it’s the revitalized heart of a village. And in many ways, it is the village. Created over two decades, Monteverdi Tuscany has arisen out of the proverbial ashes of a once-thriving but long-abandoned Tuscan hilltop town. Walking along the charming and well-preserved main street, you see a wine bar, a cafe, a restaurant. All are part of the hotel. Rooms and villas are scattered around the village, tucked into beautifully restored houses. The village piazza, which offers inspiring views out over the famed Val D’Orcia, is maintained by the hotel, and the former church has found new life as a concert space. Nearly all the people in the sleepy village are either guests or work for the hotel. The entire Monteverdi experience is charming and otherworldly; it feels outside of time, and simultaneously not quite real and utterly authentic.

The Location

Monteverdi Tuscany village aerial

Monteverdi Tuscany occupies a prime location in Tuscany’s Val D’Orcia. It’s just a few minutes’ drive from the famed garden of La Foce, and is driving distance to many of Tuscany’s most beautiful cities. From Monteverdi Tuscany, it’s 10 miles to Montepulciano, 56 miles to Siena, and 74 miles to Florence.

There are two ways to reach the town of Catiglioncello del Trinoro: the main route and the back way. If you want to avoid rutted dirt roads and a wild ride up the side of the steep hill, follow the very clear and helpful direction provided by Monteverdi Tuscany. This is one of those times when it’s better to not use Google Maps—if you do, you risk being sent on overgrown dirt roads.

The Rooms

Monteverdi Tuscany Room 4 interior

Monteverdi Tuscany’s rooms and villas are spread out in the town, offering a taste of village life with every stroll. Five luxury rooms and 13 suites (seven Village Suites and six Luxury View Suites) share amenities such as hand-dyed linens, rainfall showers, air conditioning, complimentary Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TVs. But each space is unique in a way that speaks both to the individual houses and buildings that have been lovingly converted into the Monteverdi Tuscany and to the design aesthetic that informs every inch of layout, every bit of the rooms’ individual color palettes, and each carefully selected piece of furniture.

In addition to the 18 rooms and suites, Monteverdi Tuscany offers three villas around the village. Villa San Pietro is a two-bedroom villa with a modern kitchen. Villa Amiata is a three-bedroom villa with a private garden. And Villa Muri Antichi is a six-bedroom villa with a library, large fireplaces, and outdoor terraces.

[st_related]10 Gorgeous Hotels Made for Instagram[/st_related]


Enoteca Dining in the Piazza Sant'Andrea at Monteverdi Tuscany

Monteverdi Tuscany totally reinvents hotel dining. There’s no dismal hotel dining room here; rather, the hotel’s dining options are the village’s restaurant, bars, and cafes. Oreade, the fine dining restaurant, offers breakfast and dinner. Enoteca is the wine bar in the piazza. The Library Bar, just across the street from Oreade, offers a cozy space with great views and plenty of books. And occupying a gorgeous vaulted room and grand terrace that looks out over the valley is the Lobby Lounge and Terrace Bar. For serious cooks (and the people who love them), there’s also the Culinary Academy at Monteverdi, a teaching kitchen and dining area in the village’s former school.


Monteverdi Tuscany Spa

The Spa at Monteverdi feels like a sanctuary and offers a range of unique experiences that sets it apart. The underground heated pool is carved out of the bedrock of the village, but still manages to offer an inspiring view out the large window that sits at one end of the pool. Hammam treatments take place on marble slabs in a heated room. Other treatments include wine therapy, Tuscan olive oil massage, and candlewax massage. There’s also a private terrace with two travertine tubs with views of the Val d’Orcia valley.

Monteverdi Tuscany hosts musicians and visual artists in residence as part of its Monteverdi Music and Arts Program. Concerts are held in the 14th-century church in the piazza, and exhibitions are on display at the Monteverdi Gallery, just off the piazza.

The Culinary Academy hosts cooking classes during which guests can learn classic Tuscan dishes like pici pasta, and then savor their new knowledge over lunch. There’s also a twice-weekly Chef’s Table, during which guests watch Chef Giancarla as she prepares a multi-course menu and pairs each dish with regional wines for the small group.

Price and How to Book: Nightly rates at Monteverdi Tuscany start at about 600 euros. To reserve, book online.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:2686906″ /]

Check Out the Stunning Property

More from SmarterTravel:

[st_deals_search search_type=hotel]

Christine Sarkis visited Monteverdi Tuscany as a guest of the resort. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.