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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Categories
Beach Luxury Travel Romantic Travel

The 12 Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the United States for 2020

Mexico and the Caribbean are famous for having some of the most luxurious all-inclusive resorts in the world, but what many people don’t realize is that some of the best all-inclusive hotels are actually located in the United States.

The Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the United States

From tropical resorts with all-inclusive rates to rustic ranches, Victorian hotels, and mountain lodges, the all-inclusive resorts in the United States are as diverse as the landscape of the country itself. Below is a list of 12 U.S. resorts that either are fully inclusive or offer special packages and promotions that include many of the features associated with all-inclusive resorts.

Bungalows Key Largo in Key Largo, Florida

bungalows key largo pool.

This adults-only all-inclusive resort in the Florida Keys is the ultimate romantic getaway. Each spacious bungalow includes a private verandah with a soaking tub, as well as a flat-screen smart TV and a comfy bed with a pillowtop mattress. Dine at one of six on-site restaurants, take a yoga class on the beach, or float out on the bay in a private tiki boat.

Amenities: Bicycles for guest use, daily group yoga classes, multiple pools and Jacuzzis, and on-site spa (cost for treatments is additional).

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Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan

Grand hotel on mackinac island, michigan - all inclusive in usa

Perched atop a bluff on historic Mackinac Island, where there are no cars permitted and the main form of transportation is horse-drawn carriage, the Grand Hotel is a true American gem. Steeped in history and home to the world’s longest porch, it’s truly an idyllic all-inclusive resort getaway.

Amenities: Individually decorated rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, nightly dancing, lawn games, and daily afternoon tea.

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Vista Verde Guest Ranch in Clark, Colorado

Vista verde guest ranch in clark, colorado - all inclusive resort the us

At the Vista Verde Guest Ranch, guests can immerse themselves in a rustic life without giving up wonderful and indulgent luxuries. Providing people with an opportunity to unplug, this authentic ranch does not have phones, TVs, or internet in the guest rooms.

Amenities: Swimming pool, common lounge area with panoramic views, fitness center, indoor riding arena, and kids’ area with ropes course.

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Woodloch Pines Resort in Hawley, Pennsylvania

Woodloch pines resort in hawley, pennsylvania - all inclusive usa

This family-owned resort provides visitors with a warm and welcoming greeting as well as ample opportunities to have good, old-fashioned fun together. This resort is famous for its extensive activities program, which has a little something for everyone. Woodloch Pine Resort also boasts a championship golf course and a world-class spa.

Amenities: Indoor and outdoor swimming pools, rock climbing wall, kayaking, snowshoeing, and nightly entertainment.

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Lodge on Little St. Simons Island on Little St. Simons Island, Georgia

Lodge on little st. simons island island, georgia - all inclusive

Those seeking peace, privacy, and natural beauty will feel right at home at the all-inclusive Lodge on Little Saint Simons Island resort. It offers more than 11,000 acres of space and more than seven miles of private beaches, yet only 32 people can stay at any given time. Personalized service in a charming setting makes this the perfect place for those looking to enjoy a slower pace.

Amenities: Meals prepared by on-site chef, boat transfers to and from the island, and naturalist-led excursions offered twice each day.

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Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, Florida

Club med sandpiper bay in port st. lucie, florida - all inclusive resort usa

Best described as one of the premier all-inclusive resorts in the United States for families who love to stay active, this resort has a little bit of everything. Similar to many of the Caribbean all-inclusive resorts, Club Med Sandpiper Bay lets guests enjoy days by the pool, water activities and plenty of food as well as drinks.

Amenities: Sports facilities with professional instructors, kids clubs, and outdoor pools.

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White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona

White stallion ranch in tucson, arizona - all inclusive hotel usa

For a vacation that offers an authentic taste of western American culture, the White Stallion Ranch is the best place to stay. Offering all-inclusive packages for its guests, this hotel is often described as a blend between a dude ranch and a luxury resort.

Amenities: Heated pool and hot tub, recreation room, movie theater, petting zoo, nightly entertainment, and a schedule of children’s activities.

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Skytop Lodge in Skytop, Pennsylvania

Skytop lodge in skytop, pennsylvania - all inclusive resort usa

Nestled in the heart of the Poconos Mountains, the Skytop Lodge transports guests to an era gone by. Built in 1928, this historic lodge offers guests an atmospheric, luxury destination where they have access to the rugged outdoor terrain. On this 5,500-acre property, there’s no shortage of things to do.

Amenities: Spa facilities, outdoor adventure activities, and culinary dining experiences.

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Travaasa Hana in Maui, Hawaii

coastal-horseback-riding-travaasana-hana.

Voted Best Boutique Hotel and Number 1 Experiential Retreat in Maui by Hawai’i Magazine readers and a winner of the Certificate in Excellence Award in 2018 from TripAdvisor, SmarterTravel’s parent site, the Travaasa Hana resort offers travelers all-inclusive and a la carte booking options. Opt for a package and select from what Travaasa Hana is hailed for: authentic Hawaiian experiences in adventure, food, fitness, culture, or spa and wellness. Each all-inclusive package immerses the guest in their preferred experiential option during their stay, from seaside horseback riding to bamboo spear fishing to spa pampering.

Amenities: Seaside luxury accommodations on Maui’s famed Road to Hana, signature experiential all-inclusive packages, and authentic Hawaiian culture.

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Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee

Blackberry farm in walland, tennessee - all inclusive resort usa

This pastoral family-owned farm estate invites guests from around the world to enjoy its intimate, luxurious accommodations set against a magnificent backdrop in the Great Smoky Mountains. While not a true all-inclusive (alcohol, in-room dining, retail purchases, and some activities are not included in the nightly rate), we couldn’t leave the 4,200-square-foot Blackberry Farm resort off the list. Consider it nearly all-inclusive.

Amenities: Farm activities, culinary tastings, carriage rides, outdoor activities, spa facilities, and historic rooms.

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Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in Tucson, Arizona

Miraval arizona resort & spa in tucson, - all inclusive usa

Striking a balance between dramatic mountain views and restorative desert air, the Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa is the premier destination for a wellness vacation. Offering all-inclusive rates as well as a variety of rejuvenating spa services, this resort is ideal for adults who need to take some time for themselves.

Amenities: Award-winning spa with expert services, such as body renewal rituals, hair care, skin care, and energy healing options.

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Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, Alaska

lodge-bay-kachemak-bay-wilderness.

The Alaskan setting is rustic but the luxury accommodations, gourmet dining, and personalized adventure packages are anything but at the all-inclusive Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge.

Amenities: Gourmet dining, luxe accommodations in a pristine setting, and individualized attention with 10 guides and naturalists to every 12 guests.

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

What to Pack

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Arts & Culture Cities Entertainment Family Travel

The 19 Best Things to Do in Houston

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Houston has such a diverse range of attractions that you’d need a week to make a dent in the supply. From NASA’s astronaut training center to funky visionary art installations and sprawling urban green spaces, you’ll have your choice of fun things to do in Houston.

Want a whirlwind tour of the major Houston attractions? It’s a snap with the Houston CityPASS, which covers five key sights at a savings of nearly 50 percent compared to the total cost of individual admission. Attractions include Space Center Houston, the Downtown Aquarium, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, as well as either the Houston Zoo or the Museum of Fine Arts, and either the Kemah Boardwalk or the Children’s Museum. Here’s what to expect from each one.

Space Center Houston

kids at space center houston.

At Space Center Houston, take a behind-the-scenes tram tour through NASA’s Johnson Space Center, checking out the historic Apollo Mission Control Center and the heaviest rocket ever flown. You can also see spacesuits from past missions, explore a replica of the shuttle Independence, and touch a rock taken from the planet Mars.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

purple tunnel museum of fine arts houston.

Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts is one of the country’s largest, with numerous visiting exhibitions complementing a strong permanent collection of works by Picasso, Gainsborough, O’Keeffe, Rembrandt, Chagall, Pollock, and many more. Don’t miss a quick stroll through the small sculpture garden across the street, which is free to explore.

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science

dinosaur skeletons at houston museum of natural science.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has something for just about everyone, from dinosaur fossils and colorful gems to Egyptian artifacts and seashells from around the world. Between the exhibits, the planetarium, and the butterfly center, there’s enough to keep you busy for a whole day.

Houston Zoo

cheetah at houston zoo.

If you’ve got kids in tow, the Houston Zoo is a must-see stop. Bears, elephants, monkeys, giraffes, and sea lions are among the creatures that roam the habitats here. Animal encounters and behind-the-scenes tours are available for visitors who want a closer look.

Downtown Aquarium

downtown aquarium houston.

Houston’s Downtown Aquarium is smaller than you’d expect—you can see the fish and other animals in less than an hour—but the on-site rides include a carousel and a Ferris wheel as added bonus fun for kids. And the whole family will love the beautiful white tigers.

Children’s Museum Houston

kids at children's museum houston.

Yet another family-friendly Houston attraction is the Children’s Museum, designed for kids up to age 12. Little ones can learn about everything from math to modern-day Korean culture in the museum’s hands-on exhibits.

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Kemah Boardwalk

kemah boardwalk at night.

About 20 minutes outside Houston are the rides, games, and restaurants of Kemah Boardwalk, all perched right on the waterfront. You can also explore a zip-line, rainforest exhibit, and stingray reef.

Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens

bayou bend collection and gardens houston.

Part of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens displays furniture, ceramics, and other decorative arts in the former home of Houston art collector and “First lady of Texas” Irma Hogg. The stately house is surrounded by some 14 acres of manicured gardens.

The Health Museum

houston health museum exterior.

Walk through a huge model of the human body, including a 22-foot backbone, at the Health Museum. In addition to the permanent exhibits, the museum hosts a number of temporary installations and screens films in its McGovern Theater.

The Menil Collection

menil collection sculptures houston.

Looking for free things to do in Houston? Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Menil Collection, housed in the first American building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The museum is home to the eclectic collections of John and Dominique de Menil, who amassed a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and decorative objects from ancient times to the contemporary period, with an emphasis on more modern works. Artists on display include Matisse, Picasso, Ernst, and Johns.

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Discovery Green

discovery green houston.

Visitors can enjoy the great outdoors right in downtown Houston thanks to a 12-acre park, Discovery Green, located across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center. A perimeter of century-old oak trees provides a natural framework within which designers built the Great Lawn, grand-scale pieces of art, a boating pond, a giant fountain (fun for kids to splash in on hot days), dog fountains and runs, picnic grounds, a playground, an amphitheater, and jogging trails. Check out the events calendar to find out what’s going on during your visit, from yoga classes to concerts.

Sam Houston Park

historic home in sam houston park.

Another lovely green space surrounded by the high-rise towers of downtown is Sam Houston Park, where you can tour a number of historic homes maintained by the city’s Heritage Society.

National Museum of Funeral History

day of the dead display at national museum funeral history.

It may seem like a grim place to visit on vacation, but the National Museum of Funeral History is surprisingly interesting. The 15 permanent exhibits include the history of cremation and embalming, artifacts from presidential and papal funerals, and hearses dating back to the 19th century. The museum also examines how other cultures deal with funerals and death.

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Buffalo Bayou Park

biking in buffalo bayou park houston.

Need some exercise? Hit the walking, jogging, and biking trails that run along the bayou through central Houston in Buffalo Bayou Park. You can enjoy great views of the downtown skyline and even tour an eerie underground cistern that once housed the city’s water supply and now makes for a fascinating tour.

The Orange Show and Smither Park

smither park houston.

Lovers of visionary art should check out two Houston attractions located right next to each other: The Orange Show and Smither Park. The former is a funky, folksy ode to the orange, created over several decades by a retired postal worker using reclaimed materials such as iron, bricks, and tiles. Smither Park is a community project, showcasing the work of hundreds of local artists, including colorful mosaics, found objects, and even a large grotto plastered with pieces of road signs.

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Holocaust Museum Houston

dutch rescue boat at holocaust museum houston.

Fresh off a major renovation and expansion, the Holocaust Museum features a permanent exhibition on Anne Frank and other young diarists, a human rights gallery, a collection of paintings by Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak, and a Dutch rescue boat from World War II, among other moving exhibits.

Sports Venues

minute maid park houston.

Sports lovers can catch a game at numerous venues in Houston, from baseball’s Minute Maid Park (home of the Astros) to the nearby Toyota Center, where the NBA’s Rockets play. Texans football games and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are held at NRG Stadium.

Buffalo Soldiers National Museum

buffalo soldiers museum houston.

One of the lesser-known things to do in Houston is a visit to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which celebrates the military contributions of the African Americans who served in the U.S. Army after the Civil War.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

artist at houston center for contemporary craft.

Another unique Houston attraction is the Center for Contemporary Craft, where you can see rotating displays of ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, fiber art, and more. You can also meet the center’s artists in residence and get a look inside their studios.

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Sarah Schlichter was hosted by Marriott and Visit Houston. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. June Naylor contributed to this story.

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Beach Cities Family Travel Historical Travel Outdoors Road Trip

The One Thing You Should Do in Every U.S. State

If you could only choose one attraction to visit in each U.S. state, what would it be? I rounded up the top-rated cities, towns, and iconic sights in all 50 states (plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.) and asked you to decide. Here’s what you told us.

(Click to enlarge)

50 states one thing to do

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

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Arts & Culture Budget Travel Cities Family Travel Food & Drink Historical Travel Outdoors Road Trip Weekend Getaways

Cheap Weekend Getaways from 9 Major U.S. Cities

[st_content_ad]Need a vacation, but don’t have much time or money? Cheap weekend getaways are the answer. Spending two or three nights away from home can provide much-needed rejuvenation and help you scratch the itch to explore a new place at times when you can’t take a longer vacation.

Below are suggested weekend getaways from nine major metro areas around the U.S. Each getaway destination is within easy driving distance of the originating city, so you don’t need to shell out for airfare or baggage fees. Each also has well-rated, affordable hotel options.

Scroll down to see all the ideas, or click on your city below to jump straight to cheap weekend getaways from that metro area.

Featured Weekend Getaways

Cheap Weekend Getaways from Atlanta

Chattanooga, Tennessee

chattanooga tennessee aerial view

The former industrial town of Chattanooga is now an ideal spot for a weekend getaway that’s just a two-hour drive from Atlanta across the Tennessee border. Great spots for strolling include the Bluff View Art District and the scenic Riverwalk. The most popular attractions include the Tennessee Aquarium (beloved by kids and adults alike) and the Hunter Museum of American Art, housed in an early-20th-century mansion. The area is also rich in Civil War history; Chickamauga Battlefield is just a 20-minute drive outside the city.

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Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville north carolina at sunset.

About three and a half hours from Atlanta is the mountain community of Asheville, known for its artsy, outdoorsy vibe. Its most famous tourist attraction is the grand Biltmore mansion, though admission is pricey; fortunately, there are plenty of other fun things to do. Chat with artists in the River Arts District, stop to smell the flowers in the North Carolina Arboretum, or join the locals for an energetic Friday evening drum circle. The nearby Blue Ridge Mountains offer countless opportunities for hiking and scenic drives.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Boston

Provincetown, Massachusetts

Provincetown, massachusetts beachfront

Located at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is best known as a summer destination, but it makes for an appealing weekend getaway year-round. Look beyond the beaches and you’ll find the vibrant shops and eateries of Commercial Street as well as the Province Lands Bike Trail, which loops for more than five miles through bogs, pine forests, and sand dunes. And don’t overlook Provincetown’s art scene, which includes galleries and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. You can reach Provincetown via car or ferry from Boston.

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Providence, Rhode Island

Providence, rhode island riverfront.

Rhode Island’s capital city, just a quick drive or train ride from Boston, is the perfect size for exploring in a few days. One major draw is the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, which features everything from French Impressionists to a 12th-century Japanese Buddha. Not far away is the campus of Brown University, which hosts a variety of events and is a pleasant place for a stroll. Save time to wander neighborhoods like the historic downtown district and Federal Hill, also known as Little Italy.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Chicago

Galena, Illinois

Galena illinois street

This quaint historic town in the northwest corner of Illinois is about a three-hour drive from Chicago. Its well-preserved 19th-century buildings include the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant and a fascinating historical society and museum. It’s easy to spend a day wandering in and out of the boutiques and galleries on Main Street, where you can pick up everything from secondhand clothes to locally made jams. Enjoy breakfast or lunch at Otto’s Place, a local favorite.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Houston

San Antonio, Texas

san antonio, texas riverfront

Just a three-hour drive west of Houston is San Antonio, known for its vibrant history and culture. It all starts downtown, where you’ll find the city’s most famous landmark, the Alamo, and the 15-mile urban waterway known as the River Walk, lined with restaurants and shops. There are four other historical missions here, too, comprising San Antonio Missions National Historical Park—a UNESCO World Heritage site. Families will love the DoSeum, designed for kids 10 and under, and the small but fun San Antonio Zoo.

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Lake Charles, Louisiana

Lake charles, louisiana city hall
Two hours in the opposite direction is a weekend getaway destination with an entirely different flavor: Lake Charles, Louisiana. During the day you can play a round of golf, tour a Cold War-era battleship, visit the colorful Mardi Gras Museum, or drive the Creole Nature Trail in search of alligators and birds. Then top off each day with a Cajun seafood dinner and an evening at one of the area’s four casinos.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Los Angeles

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua tree national park, california sunset.

The starkly beautiful desert landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park offer a peaceful (and cheap) weekend getaway from the traffic and smog of Los Angeles. Looking to hike? The park has challenging trails, easy nature walks, and everything in between. You can also bike on backcountry roads, drive along the Geology Tour Road (a 4 x 4 vehicle is recommended), or stay late for a night of stargazing. Campgrounds and affordable motels offer cheap lodging inside and near the park.

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San Diego, California

San diego, california boats in the harbor.

If you’re looking for a less remote weekend getaway, drive a few hours down the coast to San Diego. This laid-back city is a favorite with families, who flock to the San Diego Zoo, kid-friendly museums like the Fleet Science Center, and nearby LEGOLAND California. (For more ideas, see San Diego with Kids.) But San Diego is also popular for adults-only getaways, with plenty of craft breweries, cultural institutions, and neighborhoods to explore; try the Gaslamp Quarter for dining and nightlife.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from New York City

Dutchess County, New York

Hudson valley, new york bridge

Part of the Hudson Valley region that stretches some 150 miles north of New York City, Dutchess County offers both scenic landscapes and appealing attractions year-round. History buffs can tour the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Home as well as his Presidential Library and Museum, while fans of the arts should make a beeline to spots like Dia:Beacon, a modern art center housed in a former Nabisco box-printing factory. Hikers can hop onto a section of the Appalachian Trail or enjoy the views from the top of the fire tower at Ferncliff Forest.

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Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton, new jersey dusk.

Stroll among the ivy-shrouded stone halls of Princeton University, located just 50 miles from New York City. Attractions on campus include an art museum and chapel, while the town of Princeton offers plenty of shops and restaurants along Nassau Street, the main drag. Top off your cheap weekend getaway with affordable eats at restaurants like Jammin’ Crepes and Olives Deli and Bakery.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from San Francisco

Sacramento, California

Sacramento, california bridge at night.

California’s capital, located 90 minutes from San Francisco, makes a particularly fun weekend getaway for families thanks to attractions like the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town, which features play areas for little ones based on the stories of Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella, and many more. The riverfront historic district, Old Sacramento, is a must-visit for travelers of any age, with its Gold Rush-era buildings and old-timey shops. There’s also plenty of fresh farm-to-table cuisine to savor around town at a variety of price points.

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Mendocino County, California

Mendocino county coast.

A little farther afield are the fertile vineyards, picturesque seaside villages, and jaw-dropping redwood forests of Mendocino County, about three hours north of San Francisco. Don’t miss the rugged coastal views at Mendocino Headlands State Park or the vibrantly colored blooms at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Visit Montgomery Woods State Reserve for a hike through the redwoods, or craft your own wine-tasting tour along Highway 128.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Seattle

Bellingham, Washington

Bellingham, washington water

In Bellingham, a small city located about 90 minutes north of Seattle, weekend visitors can enjoy a mix of urban and natural attractions. Start with a stroll through the Fairhaven historic district, where restored Victorian-era brick buildings house art galleries, restaurants, and the beloved Village Books. Art lovers can marvel at the sculpture collections at Western Washington University and Big Rock Garden, while hikers have plenty of options, including Whatcom Falls Park and Stimpson Family Nature Preserve.

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Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey island coast

Accessible by car and ferry, Whidbey Island is just a short distance from Seattle, but it feels like a true escape. Outdoor attractions reign supreme, from the stunning hiking trails of Deception Pass State Park to the fragrant fields at Lavender Wind Farm (come in summertime to see them in full bloom). You can paddle through Puget Sound with Whidbey Island Kayaking, go on the hunt for sculptures along the Oak Harbor Art Trail, or taste your way through the island’s many distilleries and wineries.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Washington, D.C.

Frederick, Maryland

Frederick maryland street scene

This small city 45 miles northwest of D.C. makes for a laid-back weekend getaway. Stroll the historic downtown area, keeping an eye out for murals, sculptures, and other public art installations scattered around town. The National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the Monocacy National Battlefield are must-sees for travelers with interest in the Civil War, while Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park offer dozens of wooded hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. Don’t miss the city’s many breweries and distilleries, including Flying Dog, the largest craft brewery in Maryland.

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Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis maryland sunset.

It’s hard not to fall in love with Annapolis, with its walkable cobblestone streets and sailboats bobbing gently in the harbor. The main draw here is the historic district, with buildings dating back as far as the colonial era. The city is also home to the U.S. Naval Academy, which offers guided tours of its major landmarks as well as stories about what it’s like to be a midshipman. On a sunny day, visit the beach at Sandy Point State Park, complete with a view of the Bay Bridge.

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11 Fun Things to Do in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is justifiably famous for its colonial history. The city, founded in 1682, can be credited as the site of America’s birth—the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were created here. So was the first American flag. The most popular things to do in Philadelphia include exploring Independence Mall, gawking at the Liberty Bell, and wandering along streets lined with old colonial homes.

But to think Philadelphia’s only attraction is its historic sites is to miss out on a huge part of the city’s appeal. Don’t overlook its vibrant art scene, from major museums to contemporary galleries and colorful murals, or the thriving—but not over-commercialized—waterfront, Penn’s Landing, which hosts festivals and attractions. There are also a number of fun day trips within easy driving distance. Start planning your itinerary with this list of fun things to do in Philadelphia.

Discover the Constitution

national constitution center philadelphia.

The National Constitution Center chronicles all things related to the U.S. Constitution, and its interactive exhibits make that era of U.S. history come alive. These days, the center is the diamond in the center of Philadelphia’s most important “birth of America” sites.

Visit Independence National Historical Park

independence hall in the spring.

Nearby, Independence National Historical Park is home to Independence Hall, considered the birthplace of America. Tours are free, but for most of the year you’ll need a timed ticket to enter. You can reserve in advance online or by phone (for a small fee), or show up the morning you want to visit. Arrive early during the busy summer months.

The historical park is also home to the Liberty Bell Center, which houses another symbolic Philadelphia classic, full of legends relating to America’s early days (in fact, the bell was hidden away in nearby Allentown to keep it from falling into British hands during the Revolutionary War). Entry is free, though you may find yourself waiting in a lengthy line.

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Wander Through Old City

elfreths alley philadelphia.

Beyond the usual Independence Mall attractions, the Old City neighborhood features a number of other sights to see, including the Betsy Ross House, where the first American flag was sewn; Christ Church, where George Washington and Benjamin Franklin once worshipped; and Elfreth’s Alley, a narrow cobblestone lane lined with brick homes that date back to 1702.

The neighborhood is also home to one of the newest Philadelphia attractions, the Museum of the American Revolution, which opened in 2017 and offers fascinating interactive exhibits about America’s war for independence.

Take in an Art Museum

pennsylvania academy of fine arts.

Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which houses the city’s most impressive collections, plus visiting exhibits. Be sure to stop in the lovely medieval cloister and the tranquil Japanese teahouse. It’s also got the famous set of steps featured in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky.

Just down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Rodin Museum, which showcases the largest collection of the French sculptor’s work outside of Paris. Also nearby is the Barnes Foundation, an incredible collection featuring Post-Impressionist and early modern paintings from artists such as Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, and Matisse. Finally, don’t miss the oft-overlooked Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where the artwork is rivaled only by the stunning architecture.

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Learn About Science

giant heart at the franklin institute in philadelphia.

Alongside the popular art museums on Benjamin Franklin Parkway are two family-friendly scientific institutions. One of the most fun things to do in Philadelphia with kids is to walk through the bigger-than-life human heart at The Franklin Institute, which also offers a wealth of other creative and informative science exhibits. The nearby Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is beloved by families for its collections of dinosaur bones and other wonders of natural science.

Meanwhile, the Mutter Museum may be Philadelphia’s most unique scientific attraction, exhibiting medical oddities such as a human skull collection, the livers of conjoined twins, and pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain.

Spend Some Time in Prison

eastern state penitentiary.

A trip to a prison may not top your must-do list on vacation, but Eastern State Penitentiary is a surprisingly fascinating stop. You can wander the haunting, crumbling corridors that once housed Al Capone and numerous other criminals, and learn how revolutionary the “penitentiary” concept was at the time of the prison’s founding in 1829.

Hit the Zoo

giraffes at philadelphia zoo.

A fun option for kids is the Philadelphia Zoo, America’s first, which recently added an innovative system of see-through mesh trails that run around and above the zoo, allowing animals to roam freely between exhibits. Creatures who live here include gorillas, tigers, lions, hippos, giraffes, lemurs, and many more.

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Hit the Waterfront

penn's landing philadelphia.

Adjacent to the picturesque streets and houses of historic Society Hill (home to Philadelphia’s wealthy in the 18th century) is Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia’s waterfront on the Delaware River. Aside from panoramic views and summer events, the highlight here is the Independence Seaport Museum, displaying numerous maritime artifacts.

Marvel Over Murals and Mosaics

mosaics at philadelphia's magic gardens.

Aside from its excellent museums, Philadelphia is home to plenty of outdoor art as well. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are a beloved indoor and outdoor art installation stretching along a once run-down section of South Street. Created by local resident Isaiah Zagar, the colorful installation is made of mosaic tiles, bicycle wheels, glass bottles, and other found objects.

Philadelphia also has thousands of murals—many of which you can discover on a Mural Arts tour. Travel on foot or by bike, trolley, or train to see these unexpected splashes of colorful art on walls across the city.

Cross the River to Camden

battleship new jersey.

Just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia is the city of Camden, New Jersey. Major attractions include the Adventure Aquarium—the most popular exhibit there is a 40-foot shark tunnel, where viewers are surrounded on all sides by a variety of circling sharks—and the Battleship New Jersey, which served in three wars. Families can also wander through the Camden Children’s Garden. The most fun way to get to Camden from Philadelphia is to board the RiverLink Ferry at Penn’s Landing.

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Take a Day Trip

longwood gardens in spring.

Though there are plenty of Philadelphia attractions to keep you busy within the city limits, it’s worth considering a day trip outside of town if you’ve got a little extra time. About an hour west of the city are the spectacular blooms of Longwood Gardens, where you can easily spend a full day—or combine a garden visit with a few hours exploring the American collection at the nearby Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Over the summer months, Philadelphia can get hot and muggy, so a day trip to the Jersey Shore can offer a welcome respite. The city is within easy driving distance of the elegant seaside resort of Cape May, the glitzy casinos of Atlantic City, and the family-friendly beaches and boardwalk of Ocean City. For more advice, see The 8 Best New Jersey Beaches to Visit This Summer.

Other Philadelphia day trip options include a shopping excursion to King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall on the East Coast, or a drive up to the arts community of New Hope, where a bevy of galleries, boutiques, and riverside views make for pleasant strolling.

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Sarah Schlichter visited the city as a guest of Visit Philadelphia. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Carolyn Spencer Brown contributed to this story.

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Hidden Philadelphia: 10 Under-the-Radar Gems Worth Discovering

You’ve snapped a selfie with the Liberty Bell, toured the hallowed halls where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and climbed Rocky’s steps up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But that doesn’t mean you’ve seen everything the City of Brotherly Love has to offer. Travelers with extra time to explore can head off the beaten path to discover the gems of hidden Philadelphia—including vibrantly colored murals, museums full of unexpected treasures, and one of the country’s oldest candy shops. Below are a few of my favorite Philadelphia hidden gems.

Shofuso Japanese House and Garden

shofuso japanese house and garden philadelphia

Tucked away in Philadelphia’s massive Fairmount Park is Shofuso, a 17th-century-style Japanese house that was built in Nagoya in 1953, exhibited at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, and then moved to Philadelphia in 1957. Its traditional Japanese garden, complete with a pond, stone lanterns, and a small waterfall, is one of the city’s most serene spots. You can take off your shoes and walk through the house to appreciate the murals, created by contemporary Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju.

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National Museum of American Jewish History

national museum of american jewish history philadelphia

Did you know that the first permanent Jewish settlers in America came not from Europe but from Brazil, all the way back in 1654? That’s just one of many new things I learned at the National Museum of American Jewish History, which isn’t hidden so much as hidden in plain sight. It’s got a prime location just across the street from Independence Mall, and yet it was surprisingly quiet during my recent weekend visit. The museum is a fascinating place for travelers interested in history and culture, telling the stories of Jewish people in the U.S. from the American Revolution to the Holocaust and beyond.

Mural Arts Tours

philadelphia muses mural

As you wander around Philadelphia, it’s not uncommon to turn a corner and happen upon a colorful mural wall overlooking a parking lot or community garden. Many of these were created as a part of Mural Arts Philadelphia, which works with artists and local communities to produce up to 100 public art projects each year.

You can check them out on a guided tour by trolley, train, or foot, learning about the artists and inspiration behind each mural. Can’t make it for a guided tour? Mural Arts offers maps so you can take your own self-guided walking tour.

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The Rosenbach

woman at rosenbach museum philadelphia

Literature lovers won’t want to miss a stop at The Rosenbach, where you can see a re-creation of the poet Marianne Moore’s New York City living room, discover the personal letters of George Washington, and marvel over James Joyce’s Ulysses manuscript. These and other rare books and documents are displayed in a 19th-century townhouse near Rittenhouse Square, amid a collection of decorative arts and antique furniture.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

magic gardens courtyard philadelphia

Once threatened with demolition to make way for a cross-town highway, South Street has since become one of Philadelphia’s hippest districts, thanks in large part to visionaries like Isaiah Zagar—the artist behind Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. While you can spot Zagar’s mosaic artwork on hundreds of walls across the city, his most celebrated achievement is this unique conglomeration of colorful mosaic tiles and found objects such as bottles and bike tires, covering every square inch of what was once a vacant lot. Zagar began working on the site in 1991, and it opened to the public in 2008.

In addition to tours, PMG also offers special events including family programs, happy hours, and meditation workshops.

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

penn museum philadelphia with spring flowering trees

Often called simply the Penn Museum, this institution on the University of Pennsylvania campus is the spot to marvel over Egyptian mummies, Middle Eastern funerary relics, Greek pottery, Roman statues, and other treasures of the ancient world. Highlights include the headdress and jewelry of Puabi (a Mesopotamian queen) and Sumerian cuneiform tablets with some of the world’s oldest examples of writing.

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Shane Confectionery

shane confectionery shop phliadelphia

Indulge your sweet tooth at Shane Confectionery, which claims to be America’s oldest candy store. Located at the eastern edge of Old City, the store has been serving up chocolates and other sugary confections since 1863. Employees in period dress ring up your purchases at antique cash registers, just as they would have in the old days.

Be sure to go all the way to the back of the shop to the Chocolate Cafe, where you can sip drinking chocolate spiced with cinnamon, orange zest, jasmine petals, or even chili pepper. If all that isn’t sweet enough, you can stop next door at the Franklin Ice Cream Bar for a Keystone Bar dipped in chocolate from Shane Confectionery.

Schuylkill River Trail

schuylkill banks boardwalk philadelphia

Join the locals for a jog, walk, or bike ride along the Schuylkill River Trail, which follows the river for about 10 miles through Philadelphia, passing by the Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania along the way. (The full trail covers some 60 miles, extending well outside the city.) One particularly popular section is the Boardwalk, which continues the trail out over the river from Locust Street to South Street. This 2,000-foot stretch offers four scenic overlooks where you can stop, rest, and take in the city skyline.

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National Liberty Museum

national liberty museum flame gallery

The family-friendly National Liberty Museum tells the stories of inspiring figures from around the globe, including Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, and the heroes of September 11, 2001—as well as “ordinary citizens who make a difference” such as teachers and firefighters. The recently renovated Flame Gallery features a monumental, 21-foot glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly. The museum is located just a few blocks from Independence Hall and is one of the area’s hidden gems.

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South 9th Street Italian Market

south 9th street italian market philadelphia

Escape the crowds at Center City’s Reading Terminal Market with a stroll down 9th Street in South Philly. Here’s where you’ll find the Italian Market, one of America’s oldest open-air markets. Shops and sidewalk stalls offer up everything from fresh produce and meats to infused olive oils and specialty cheeses. Visiting at lunchtime? There are plenty of restaurants in the area as well, including the city’s most famous cheesesteak joints: Pat’s and Geno’s.

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Sarah Schlichter was hosted by Visit Philadelphia in her quest to discover hidden Philadelphia. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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10 Incredible European Tours for 2019

Have you booked your 2019 European vacation yet? If you haven’t, it’s not too late. Whether you’re into history, hiking, or Harry Potter, this list of the best European tours offers unique adventures across the continent.

All of the following European tours for 2019 still had spots available at the time of publication, but could sell out at any time—so book soon if you’re interested.

Visit Hogwarts on a Harry Potter Tour of England and Scotland

alnwick castle

This seven-night European tour from Great Value Vacations is a must for all Potterheads. It starts in London, where you’ll take a walking tour of locations used in the Harry Potter films, from Diagon Alley to the Ministry of Magic. You’ll also tour the Warner Bros. studio to see props, costumes, and sets. A day trip to Oxford lets you explore more filming sites on your own before you’re off to Edinburgh, where you can visit the cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote the books and then tour Alnwick Castle—which you’ll recognize as Hogwarts. Departure dates for this tour are available from April through October 2019.

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Taste Your Way Through Turkey

istanbul sweets

From delicately spiced kebabs to the famous Turkish delight, Turkey is known for its tempting cuisine—and you can try it straight from the source on this nine-night Real Food Adventure from Intrepid Travel. It starts and ends in Istanbul, where you’ll sample street food and visit a spice market. From there you’ll travel to Bodrum to visit a local winemaker, pick your own produce, and learn to make gozleme (a savory flatbread). A highlight of the trip is three days in Goreme, where you’ll take an Anatolian cooking class and ride in a hot air balloon over an otherworldly landscape filled with whimsically shaped rock formations. Departure dates for this trip run from April through September 2019.

Follow in the Footsteps of Great Composers in Austria and the Czech Republic

mozart statue vienna

Road Scholar’s 14-night Great Composers of Europe itinerary is a memorable, immersive experience for culturally curious music lovers. Highlights include a private piano performance in Mozart’s Vienna apartment; visits to grand concert halls; and lectures on the lives of Mozart, Schubert, Mahler, and others. The itinerary includes stops in Eisenstadt (where Haydn lived for many years) and Salzburg (the birthplace of Mozart) before ending in Prague, home to the Museum of Antonin Dvorak. This trip departs on select 2019 dates between May and November.

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Indulge Body and Soul on a Wellness Trip to Iceland

woman blue lagoon iceland

Need a restorative getaway? Consider this six-night wellness-focused trip to Iceland with G Adventures. Do yoga on a black sand beach, turn your focus inward during guided meditation sessions, and let the therapeutic hot spring waters of the Blue Lagoon relax away every ache and pain. In between wellness activities you can enjoy adventures such as whale watching, hiking on a glacier, and making rye bread in a geothermal bakery. This trip begins and ends in Reykjavik, and departs on select dates between May and September 2019.

Get Off the Beaten Path in Poland

gdansk street sunset

Looking for picturesque medieval towns, stately castles, and fascinating history—without massive crowds? Head to Poland. The 10-night Best of Poland tour from Trafalgar gives you an excellent sampler of what the country has to offer, including a visit to the world’s largest castle near Gdansk. Memorable experiences include dinner with a local family in the Polish Highlands and a chance to bake your own traditional gingerbread. The itinerary also includes a haunting visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp. This trip departs on select dates between May and September 2019.

Live Like a Local in France

aix-en-provence church

For travelers seeking a more immersive experience than a one-week vacation can give you, Smithsonian Journeys is offering the chance to live for three weeks in an apartment in the sun-soaked French city of Aix-en-Provence. The program includes a mix of free time and organized tour experiences to places like the Luberon Valley and Avignon, a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can also choose one or more enrichment tracks focused on French language lessons, cooking classes, or arts and culture. This trip is available in May or September 2019.

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Look for Brown Bears in Romania

brown bear in romania

Europe isn’t known as a hotbed for wildlife, but this seven-night trip from Exodus Travels takes you to a place in the Carpathian Mountains where you can still spot brown bears. The itinerary includes a visit to a bear sanctuary as well as an evening spent watching for bears from a forest hide. During the rest of your vacation, you’ll tour Bran Castle (also known as Dracula’s castle), hike along pristine alpine trails, and go bird watching outside the medieval town of Brasov. This trip departs between May and October 2019.

Bike the Back Roads of Sicily

siracusa alleyway sicily

Soak up the sights, sounds, and orange-blossom scents of Sicily on a five-night biking trip with Backroads. You’ll discover ancient cave dwellings, taste fresh olive oil on a working farm, and tour the Baroque towns of the Val di Noto, a World Heritage site. And because you’re cycling at least 13 miles every day, you can sample all the pasta and gelato you want without guilt. (If that amount of cycling sounds like a lot, give yourself a boost by opting for an electric-assist bike, included with the price of your tour.) This trip departs between April and October 2019.

Discover Traditional Christmas Markets in Germany

frankfurt christmas market

There’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than by taking a Classic Christmas Markets river cruise with Uniworld. During this seven-night trip, you’ll warm yourself with mulled wine as you wander along cobblestoned streets through festive markets selling homemade treats and artisan crafts. Stops include the fairy-tale village of Rothenberg, Wurzburg with its stunning Baroque-era palace, and Nuremberg, famous for gingerbread and Germany’s largest Christmas market. This trip departs on three different dates in December 2019.

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Hike the Unspoiled Julian Alps

hikers in julian alps

Combine an exhilarating physical challenge with jaw-dropping mountain views on this eight-night hiking trip with National Geographic Expeditions. The trip starts and ends in the charming small city of Ljubljana, Slovenia, with stops in the cozy village of Kranjska Gora and in picture-perfect Bled, where a medieval castle looms over a pristine mountain lake. Dramatic mountain hiking trails take you across the border into Italy and Austria at various points during the trip. You’ll eat well the whole way, with cheeses from local cheesemongers and dinner at the countryside villa of Chef Ana Ros. This trip departs in June, August, and September 2019.

For more ideas, see Top Travel Destinations for 2019.

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7 Fun Things to Do in Wilmington, NC

Wilmington, North Carolina made headlines last year when Hurricane Florence hit the region, flooding the city with nearly two feet of rain and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. But the area is bouncing back. While some local residents are still waiting on housing assistance and repairs, most hotels, restaurants, and attractions in the Wilmington region have reopened and are eager to welcome back visitors.

On a recent trip to Wilmington, I discovered not a disaster zone but a friendly Southern city with a growing riverfront district, a burgeoning food scene, and streets full of gracious historic homes with rocking chairs on their front porches. The city is within a quick drive of several beach towns, making it easy to combine an urban getaway with a day or two of sun and sand. Below is a sampling of the many fun things to do in Wilmington, NC.

Explore Downtown and the Riverfront

historic downtown wilmington nc

The heart of Wilmington is its historic downtown, which runs inland from the Cape Fear River. Shops, galleries, eateries, and a 1.75-mile-long wooden Riverwalk make this area an excellent spot for a stroll. While it’s fun to wander on your own, a good guide can offer context and local color to bring the area to life. Consider a spooky ghost walk, a literary tour with Old Books on Front Street, or even a horse-drawn carriage ride. You can also get out on the river with Wilmington Water Tours.

One of the best downtown shopping spots is the Cotton Exchange, a collection of boutiques and restaurants housed in a 19th-century building that was once home to the largest flour mill in the South. Recommended stops here include Down to Earth for aromatherapy oils, Heart of Carolina for local gifts, and Two Sisters Bookery for books (while you’re there, say hi to Katie, the bookstore cat).

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Visit Battleship North Carolina

battleship north carolina

This WWII-era battleship is one of Wilmington’s most famous landmarks, docked on the opposite shore of the Cape Fear River from downtown. The ship earned 15 battle stars during action in Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and other encounters in the Pacific.

The battleship is bigger than it looks from across the river: It stretches the length of two city blocks and has nine different levels for visitors to discover. Wear comfortable shoes for climbing from one deck to another as you explore the engine room, bridge, mess, and berthing areas. Keep an eye out for Charlie, an alligator who lives in the swamp surrounding the battleship.

Tour Historic Homes

bellamy mansion

There are three historic homes-turned-museums within easy walking distance of each other in downtown Wilmington. Bellamy Mansion was built on the eve of the Civil War, and the family who owned it had to flee to escape the war. Today it’s notable not only for its grand architecture and attractive gardens, but also for its well-preserved urban slave quarters—a rarity in the U.S.

Just a few blocks away is Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens, which dates back to 1770 and is the only colonial home in Wilmington that’s open to the public. The house is furnished with elegant antiques, while the gardens include colonial-era culinary herbs as well as flowering trees and plants.

Also worth a stop is the Zebulon Latimer House, built in 1852 and now the headquarters for the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society. Tours are available to guide you through the house’s 14 rooms and tell you about the lives of the people who once lived here.

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Check Out Local Museums

wilmington railroad museum

Want to learn something new? Visit the museums of Wilmington, NC. The Wilmington Railroad Museum details the history of what was once one of the city’s key economic drivers: the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Exhibits include a 100-year-old steam locomotive, more than 20 scale-model trains, and even a Thomas the Tank Engine play area for kids.

The Cape Fear Museum is another must-visit, with wide-ranging collections of all things regional, from Native American artifacts to 20th-century photographs and toys.

Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Cameron Art Museum, which hosts a rotating slate of exhibitions as well as select objects from its own collection of regional, national, and international artwork. Leave time to stroll the museum’s sculpture garden and nature trails.

If you’ve got kids in tow, you won’t want to miss the Children’s Museum of Wilmington, where little ones can enjoy hands-on activities like playing on a pirate ship and going “shopping” in a market exhibit.

Stroll Through Airlie Gardens

airlie gardens

The lush wooded grounds of Airlie Gardens are just a short drive from downtown Wilmington. Scattered across the garden’s 67 waterfront acres are sculptures, ponds, historical buildings, a chapel made entirely of bottles, and the Airlie Oak, the state’s largest oak tree, which dates back to 1545.

Come in early spring to see camellias, azaleas, and flowering trees, or in the warmer months (mid-May through mid-October) to explore the seasonal Butterfly House.

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Get a Taste of Wilmington

oysters at surf house carolina beach

For a small city, Wilmington has a wide variety of great food. Sample it for yourself with Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours. The company runs afternoon and evening food tours to restaurants around Wilmington. Another option is Tasting History, which offers food tours in nearby Carolina Beach and Kure Beach.

Beyond the tours, you’ll want to make time for full meals at some of these popular local spots: Savorez (for vibrant Latin American flavors), Manna Ave. 123 (the city’s only AAA Four-Diamond restaurant), Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria (for pasta, wood-fired pizza, and other Italian delights), and Indochine (for authentic Thai/Vietnamese cuisine).

Hit the Beach

boardwalk onto kure beach

There are three beach towns within a half-hour drive of Wilmington, each with its own unique vibe. The closest is Wrightsville Beach, known for watersports, spas, and chic boutiques. Here you can go stand-up paddleboarding, take an eco-cruise with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours, or simply relax on the sand.

A few miles south is fun-loving Carolina Beach with its family-friendly boardwalk and a state park where you can see Venus flytraps growing in the wild. There’s also a lake in the center of town where you can rent paddleboats or watch outdoor movies in the summer. Don’t miss a meal at Surf House, one of the region’s best restaurants.

With just one stoplight and no full-service hotels, Kure Beach is the quietest and most laid-back of the Wilmington, NC-area beaches. You can see the remains of a Civil War-era fort at Fort Fisher State Historic Site or learn about local marine life at the North Carolina Aquarium. Fort Fisher State Recreation Area features nearly six miles of pristine, undeveloped beach.

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Sarah Schlichter traveled to Wilmington, NC, as a guest of the Wilmington and Beaches CVB. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Cities Luxury Travel Miscellany Romantic Travel

9 Best Places to Propose That Are Worth Traveling To

So, you’re ready to pop the question and you want it to be special … really special. You already know you want to do it on your next big trip, but there’s one major factor you haven’t figured out yet—where should you go?

The perfect place to propose can’t just be romantic, it also has to be an amazing destination that you and your partner want to visit. (That way they’ll never see it coming.) It has to be exciting, picturesque, and maybe a little bit over-the-top—depending on how much money you have left over after you buy the ring.

The following places make it easy to plan a proposal and can supply the perfect backdrop for the story you’ll be telling for the rest of your life.

[st_related]8 Unforgettable Ideas for a Unique Destination Wedding[/st_related]

New Orleans, Louisiana

Having recently had the chance to witness a friend’s proposal in New Orleans, I can personally say that this city was made for spontaneous romance and celebration. Not only does its flower-filled French Quarter provide an intimate backdrop, New Orleans is also a city that’s more than ready to celebrate your big day with you. Whether you hire a marching band for a spectacle or plan something simpler like proposing mid-stroll in Jackson Square, New Orleans offers plenty of romance and many places to party afterwards.

Where to Stay: For a big trip like this, you can live it up at the Ritz-Carlton. Located just outside, but not too far from, the French Quarter, you can stay close to the party while also geting your beauty rest. Let the front desk know about the proposal and they’ll make sure to have champagne in-room when you get back.

New York City, New York

If you’re a high-roller looking to plan a big gesture, it doesn’t get any splurgier than New York City. With so many iconic places to choose from (Central Park, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.), the island of Manhattan is chock-full of show-stopping proposal settings. But if you’re looking for something truly remarkable, check into the Jewel Suite at the Lotte Palace. This sparkling 5,000-square-foot suite was designed in partnership with renowned jeweler Martin Katz and displays jewelry valued at over 1.5 million dollars. Call ahead of time and the hotel will plant the ring in the display case so you can give your partner the surprise of their life when you open up that million-dollar case and ask them to marry you.

Where to Stay: Can’t swing the Palace, but still want your New York City proposal to be special? Book a night or two at the Park South Hotel, a boutique hotel in the fashionable NoMad neighborhood, for an affordable hotel with luxury touches.

[st_related]SmarterTravel Spotlight: The Beekman Hotel in New York City[/st_related]

Santa Barbara, California

If you think your partner might sense something is up if you suggest a huge trip, plan a weekend getaway instead. For West Coasters, Santa Barbara is the perfect example of a laid-back but romantic destination. There are plenty of good question-popping spots, from the beach to Kapp’s Castle, but if you’re looking for something more private, check out the rooftop at the Kimpton Canary Hotel. With 360-degree views, you can time your proposal for sunset to match this Mediterranean-inspired hotel. The staff of the hotel can help you craft and customize your proposal, so you can be sure your privacy will be guaranteed and your partner will be romantically surprised.

Where to Stay: Whether or not you take advantage of the rooftop as an option, the Kimpton Canary is still a good choice for accommodations since it’s right downtown and has the only rooftop hotel pool in the area.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

For East Coasters looking for a casual-seeming weekend getaway to the beach, the Outer Banks in North Carolina is just the place for plotting your proposal. If you’re not feeling a beach proposal, you can also propose at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or among the dunes at Jockey Ridge State Park. Or consider the gazebo at the Sanderling Resort, which faces westward toward the sunset and extends over the Currituck Sound. The resort’s staff can help you arrange the perfect proposal and hook you up with a local photographer to capture the moment.

Where to Stay: The oceanfront Sanderling Resort in Duck, North Carolina doesn’t just come with the perfect proposal backdrop, it also offers a spa, two pools, and private beach access.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

If you want to time your proposal with a snowy Valentine’s Day trip, head to Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva. Visit for Winterfest, a nine-day festival featuring the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship and illuminated jaw-dropping ice castles that are big enough to walk around in. The festival would make a great place to propose, but if you want to really wow your loved one, you can sign on for a helicopter ride over the Grand Geneva Resort and fly over the heart-shaped pond, where you can customize a message written in snow. It’s only big enough to fit 15 characters, but that’s still enough for “Marry me?”

Where to Stay: When you book the helicopter proposal package at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, it also comes with breakfast in bed, a five-course dinner, and a private winter photoshoot.

 [st_related]The 10 Best Lake Towns in North America[/st_related]

Finland 

Finland might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of taking a romantic vacation, but it should be—especially in winter. For the majority of people living outside the polar circles, seeing the Northern Lights is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it’s one worth booking a few days for to account for the possibility of poor visibility or weather.

Where to Stay: You won’t miss a moment of the light show when you stay in a geodesic domes like the ones at Torassieppi. These romantic see-through cabins are the perfect place to cozy up with your partner and celebrate your engagement. You can book them here.

Italy

Good wine, delicious food, and those soft yellow sunsets you always imagined Italy would have … need I say more? Italy is already a romantic destination, but if you don’t want hordes of tourists to be part of your picture-perfect proposal, you can forget about proposing on a gondola in Venice or in front of Rome’s Trevi Fountain. Instead, get yourself out of the major cities and into a villa. Propose among the vines or in an olive tree orchard and treat you and your partner to a week of good food, wine, and idyllic landscapes.

Where to Stay: La Cucina Sabina is a culinary resort located just thirty minutes north of Rome. It has seen many successful proposals on its property over the years and the owners can offer guests a personalized experience and help you scout out the right place and time for your proposal.

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Playa del Carmen, Mexico


There’s nothing suspicious about suggesting a well-deserved vacation in Mexico—and little will your partner know you’re also packing a ring. A tropical vacation is the perfect decoy and with so many Mexican hotels made for romance, it won’t be hard to find a private moment to pop the question. Not far from Cancun, but far from the crowds, Playa del Carmen has beautiful white-sand beaches and a colorful and lively town center. You can plan a classic proposal on the beach or propose during a day-trip to one of the less-crowded Mayan ruins.

Where to Stay: When in Mexico for a romantic trip, it’s best to go for the adults-only resort option. At the Hilton Playa del Carmen, all the rooms are suites, which means the two of you can enjoy your own private balcony and hot tub. There’s even an on-site romance concierge who can help you plan a candlelit dinner on the beach or set up a private sailing trip at sunset.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

The luxe Alpine ski town of St. Moritz is a place that seems more fairy-tale than reality. Whether you ask the question during dinner on top of the world at Corviglia Ski Resort or on a romantic horse-driven carriage ride through the snowy landscape courtesy of the Carlton Hotel, you won’t have any trouble finding the perfect spot, since practically everywhere in St. Moritz is the best place to propose.

Where to Stay: In addition to the carriage rides, the Carlton Hotel St. Moritz’s romance package includes a couple’s massage in the hotel’s stunning spa plus an exclusive five-course dinner.

More from SmarterTravel:

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

Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Historical Travel Luxury Travel

SmarterTravel Spotlight: The Beekman Hotel in New York City

When walking around New York City’s Financial District, aka FiDi, it’s hard not to gawk at the titanic skyscrapers and shiny new buildings that make up this neighborhood on the tip of Manhattan. But if you keep your eyes level, you’ll find plenty of historical gems worthy of your attention—including the luxurious Beekman Hotel.

[st_related]New York City Travel Guide[/st_related]

History 

The Beekman, which opened in 2016, is a modern luxury hotel that inhabits one of the city’s most overlooked historic buildings. The address originally was home to the Chapel Street Theatre in the original New York City theater district until it burned down, and in its place, the Temple Court building was built in 1883. It housed law offices during the Victorian era and was one of the city’s first tall buildings, but it was shuttered and largely ignored for the majority of the 20th century until it was declared a landmark in 1998.

The Atrium

The Beekman’s most notable feature is its nine-story atrium. Soaring above the lobby bar, the ornate and symmetrical atrium is awe-inspiring, and if you’re not afraid of heights, I recommend paying a visit to the top floor and looking down for a dizzyingly cool perspective. Even if you’re not staying in one of the hotel’s 287 luxury rooms, seeing the atrium is worth making a trip to the Beekman. You can grab a late-night cocktail in the lobby or stop in for brunch and live music on Saturdays and Sundays. As you can imagine, the tunnel-like shape of the atrium provides amazing acoustics.

The Turret Penthouses

If you think the atrium is impressive, the hotel’s turret penthouses will blow all your expectations of a New York City hotel room out of the water. After riding the elevator up to the top floor, you’ll find the suites, which are located in the building’s iconic turrets, slightly separated from the rest of the hotel. These twin suites, each with two floors, wood-paneled walls, and a stone fireplace, are like a fairy-tale cabin in the middle of the Manhattan. Plus, each suite comes with an 800-square-foot private terrace, so you can enjoy skyline views. At $6,500 per night, the penthouse suites are beyond the budget of most travelers, but they are fun to fantasize about.

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

Categories
Active Travel Arts & Culture Budget Travel Cities Historical Travel Island

8 Trips You Didn’t Know You Could Afford in 2019

Your next vacation might not be as expensive as you think. In some of the destinations below, the U.S. dollar will go further in 2019, with unexpectedly reasonable rates for lodging, activities, and dining; in others, I’ve unearthed hidden gems that are actually affordable. And while the cost of flights is never as low as most travelers want it to be, I’ve even found budget-friendly flights to many of these spots. Plan your next escape to one of these surprisingly cheap places to travel.

Hawaii

garden in hawaii

[st_content_ad]Affordable airfare is making the everyman’s bucket list trip a reality for 2019 (and we’re not just talking about flights from the West Coast). According to Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, some flights to Hawaii actually cost less than $500 from East Coast and Midwest cities in 2018. The reason? Multiple major airlines announced new routes to Hawaii, creating fierce competition for the best fares—a trend that’s expected to continue in 2019.

Hawaiian Airlines will soon offer Basic Economy fares, while budget carrier Southwest Airlines is expected to launch service to Hawaii soon. And while you can easily spend a pretty penny at luxury resorts, you can just as easily save with vacation rental properties steps from the beach.

Where to stay: Enjoy affordable accommodations at the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel, located across the street from world-famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.

[st_related]The 9 Best Cheap Hotels in Hawaii[/st_related]

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

kuala lumpur at night

Kuala Lumpur and other parts of Malaysia offer an exotic vacation destination with a not-so-exotic price tag. “Although the country is relatively more well developed than its neighbors around Southeast Asia, the Malaysian capital has some of the world’s cheapest rates for five-star hotels,” says travel blogger Bino Chua of I Wander. You can stay at luxe hotels for under $200 a night—and at three- or four-stars for even less.

Currently, one Malaysian ringgit is equal to 24 US cents, which means your dollar will go a long way when it comes to meals and activities, too. And in many cases, you won’t even need to pull out your wallet—admission-free museums, walking tours, religious sites, and parks make it easy to save. As for transportation, “a 10- to 15-minute car ride within Kuala Lumpur will cost around $3 USD (or even less),” says Chua. If you hop on one of the purple GO KL buses, you’ll pay nothing.

Where to stay: You can regularly find rates under $100 per night at the newly opened Hyatt House Kuala Lumpur, which offers accommodations with kitchens and complimentary breakfast.

London, England

london at night

London is calling in 2019. “The fall in the value of the British pound means foreign visitors get more bang for their buck when visiting the U.K., with competitive prices on hotels, attractions, and shopping,” says Freddie Julius of Tourist England. “The U.K.’s political instability, the result of a lack of clarity in the Brexit negotiations, means this situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”

Airfarewatchdog predicts more flight deals to the U.K., too, noting that airfares have been decreasing with competition from low-cost carriers and the introduction of basic economy pricing. London also offers a wealth of free museums and parks that have always made a trip across the pond a decent deal.

Where to stay: The Ibis London Shepherds Bush – Hammersmith Hotel offers above-average breakfast at no additional cost, and is about a 10-minute walk from the nearest Tube station.

[st_related]9 Ways to Experience Luxury in London on a Budget[/st_related]

Israel

dome of the rock jerusalem

“Israel—which had its best year ever thanks to more than four million visiting tourists in 2018—meets the needs of every type of traveler, including the budget-conscious visitor, because of its delicious yet inexpensive food options, wide range of hotel choices, many free historical sites, and wonderful outdoor activities,” says Ellen Shapiro, North America PR Director for the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Explore the ancient biblical sites and colorful flea markets of Jerusalem; stroll Tel Aviv’s vibrant neighborhoods; go for a hike and sample wine in the north; or float in the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth) and Red Sea in the south—all of it can be done on a budget. Another way you’ll save? Many of the Holy Land’s hotels offer lavish, complimentary buffet breakfasts so you can eat shakshuka to your heart’s content (and, of course, you can fill up on cheap and delicious hummus and falafel everywhere you go).

Where to stay: Tal by the Beach Hotel Tel Aviv is a boutique hotel that won’t break the bank. Complimentary amenities include happy hours with hors d’oeuvres and bike rentals to explore the city.

Curacao

curacao beach

Curacao is seriously underrated, and not just because of its beautiful beaches and candy-colored capital of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Dutch-Caribbean island is also affordable, especially during the summer, when you can score round-trip flights in the $300 range from many major U.S. cities. Luxurious beachfront resorts are surprisingly affordable, too—think less than $200 per night. The food is surprisingly cheap as well, considering the island has one of the best culinary reputations in the Caribbean.

Where to stay: The Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort has a Four Diamond rating from AAA, yet it offers rates under $200 per night almost year-round. It also offers an all-inclusive option.

[st_related]8 Dreamy Curacao Hotels for Every Type of Traveler[/st_related]

Lake Como, Italy

lake como

You don’t need to bring home John Legend’s and Chrissy Tiegen’s paychecks to vacation in Lake Como. Save by staying in the historic city of Como, which offers reasonably priced lodging and is the area’s transportation hub. “The Romans first identified Como as a holiday destination,” explains Shelley Clark, spokesperson for Como-based Lario Hotels. “Today, in addition to being the gateway to what many consider the world’s most beautiful lake, Como remains a world-class destination loaded with quaint charm and an impressive array of historical, cultural, retail, and dining options.”

Free and low-cost activities include exploring the nearby nature trails and fairy-tale villages that surround the lake and riding the inexpensive Como-Brunate funicular to the Brunate, the “balcony of the Alps.” You can even enjoy a bit of luxury for less at the Lido di Cernobbio, which offers a glamorous poolside experience for less than $25 per person.

Where to stay: You can find reasonable nightly rates at the hip Posta Design Hotel, located in Como’s medieval old town just a short stroll from the waterfront promenade.

El Salvador

volcano in el salvador

Did you know the official currency of El Salvador is the U.S. dollar? Not only does this take the guesswork out of budgeting for a vacation, but everything is also very affordable in El Salvador, Central America’s smallest country. Admission to two of the country’s most famous sites—Joya de Cerén, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (known as the “Pompeii of the Americas”), and San Andrés, a pre-Colombian site—costs less than $5.

You can also hike the country’s highest volcano, take an inexpensive surf lesson at Playa del Tunco, and learn about the country’s coffee culture at El Carmen Estate. Bonus: More than a dozen U.S. airports offer direct flights to El Salvador; from New York, it’s only five hours.

Where to stay: The luxe Sal & Luz Hotel comes at a reasonable price, with a quiet location and fabulous on-site restaurant.

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Iceland

northern lights in iceland

While Iceland is a relatively short flight from the East Coast, its pricey reputation has also kept many travelers at a distance. But that should change in 2019. “Right now, the U.S. dollar is worth 20 percent more than it was in early 2018,” says Mero Geesey of Carpe Mundo, a travel agency that specializes in Iceland. “There have also been a lot of new hotels and guesthouses that have opened up within the last year, and several new tour operators offering glacier hikes, snorkel tours, and more.”

Hidden Iceland, for example, provides travelers with intimate alternatives to overcrowded and overpriced experiences. “Instead of the Blue Lagoon, you can explore an ice cave as part of a two-day trip to a glacier lagoon that also includes searching for the northern lights,” says Ryan Connolly, cofounder and marketing manager of Hidden Iceland. “In the spring, travelers can play with newly birthed lambs at an authentic farm guesthouse.”

Where to stay: About an hour outside of Reykjavik, Lambastadir Guesthouse is located on a farm and features an outdoor hot tub and sauna.

For more ideas, see Top Travel Destinations for 2019.

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[st_newsletter]

Amanda Norcross is the editor of Family Vacation Critic. Her travel expertise has appeared on NBC News, The New York Times, TODAY.com, The Travel Channel, WhattoPack.com, and more. Follow her at @amandafromafar for more travel tips and inspiration.

Categories
Oddities

Ghost Hunting at Rolling Hills Asylum

As the sun sets in Genesee, New York, low-hanging clouds cast ominous shadows behind Rolling Hills Asylum. I’ve just arrived to find a surprisingly big crowd outside this abandoned asylum at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday night. The place is packed with ghost hunters. A long line of flashlight-wielding and glow stick-wearing visitors is lined up at the door, waiting to get inside and hoping to encounter something paranormal. Tonight, I am one of them.

[st_content_ad]Rolling Hills opened as the government-run Genesee County Poorhouse. The building was later used to house not only the needy but also orphans, people with disabilities, and people with mental illness. In its near-200-year history, thousands of unfortunate souls passed through the halls of Rolling Hills, and it is widely believed that many of them are still there. One of the most popular stops on the Haunted History Trail of New York State and a favorite filming location for television shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, Rolling Hills is considered one of the most haunted places in the United States.

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spooky hallway inside rolling hills asylum

When the doors open, the line shuffles along as our bags are checked at the door. There are absolutely no weapons allowed inside the asylum, and management maintains a zero-tolerance alcohol policy—two stipulations I’m incredibly grateful for as I get ready to roam a spooky asylum in the dark with 50 or so strangers. Once inside, our group is led to “the green room” to sign our waivers and get the low-down on our ghost hunt. As we sit around a table covered in a Halloween-themed tablecloth, our guide for the night and Rolling Hills’ proprietor, Sharon Coyle, enthusiastically gives us advice for our ghostly encounters.

“Make sure you talk to them about interesting things,” she says. “Don’t talk to them in the past tense and definitely don’t ask them if they’re ‘stuck.’ They’ll get bored of that pretty quickly.”

She emphasizes that patience is key and reminds everyone in the room that when ghost-hunting professionals on television shoot an episode, it’s usually done over multiple days. For our ticket, we just have tonight.

Sharon leads us through the asylum for the first hour, telling us the history of each room and some of the more noteworthy encounters that have been recorded at Rolling Hills. Mediums and ghost-hunting professionals have catalogued hundreds of personalities and located portals to alternate dimensions. After the tour, our group is free to split up and explore the massive facility on our own, and we’re encouraged to interact with everything we see. The rooms are dressed for different themes, and our massive group thins out pretty quickly as groups split off to begin the ghost hunt. In the classroom, some ask trivia questions out loud hoping for an answer. In the morgue, braver souls lay on the metal autopsy table.

Rolling Hills is one of the few haunted locations where visitors are allowed to “free roam,” meaning they don’t need a guide leading them the whole time. And depending on the ticket they purchase, visitors are allowed remain on the premises until 4:00 a.m.

Did I see any ghosts? I can’t say that I did. Did I feel like I was in a horror movie? Absolutely. Visiting a haunted place like Rolling Hills Asylum is nothing at all like visiting a haunted house. There are no actors, no fake cobwebs, and no one hiding in the corner trying to scare you. Whether you’re a true believer or a horror-film junkie, Rolling Hills is an authentic way to get yourself spooked.

[viator_tour destination=”23068″ type=”3-mod” tours=”74389P594,7045FARM,48548P1″]

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Jamie Ditaranto visited Rolling Hills Asylum as a guest of the Haunted History Trail of New York State. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Weekend Getaways

How to Do a Weekend in Albuquerque

Made famous by Breaking Bad, New Mexico’s largest city makes for a quirky weekend trip. I found my trip here to be relaxing and inspired by the elements. From Native American influences to a Main Street that’s part of Route 66, the city offers a variety of architecture, cuisine, and culture. Here’s how to do a weekend in Albuquerque and get a glimpse of it all.

[st_related]7 North American Cities Perfect for a 3-Day Weekend[/st_related]

The Hotel: Los Poblanos Ranch & Inn

As you make the turn down the tree-lined road to Los Poblanos Ranch & Inn, you’re instantly hit with the smell of lavender and enchanted by this working farm from the ’30s. Accommodations range from rooms at the original inn to the newly built farmhouses that skirt the lavender fields and roaming llamas. The property has an outdoor pool, event space, an onsite restaurant called Campo, and a farm shop that sells goods made with in-house harvested lavender. Inside the shop is a cafe stand that sells unique drinks like iced lavender lattes. It’s hard to want to leave the property, but when you do, here’s a suggested itinerary for a weekend in Albuquerque.

Itinerary: How to Do a Weekend in Albuquerque

weekend guide to albuquerque

Friday

  • Afternoon: Arrive and check into Los Poblanos. If you arrive early, take a ride on the Sandia Tram. Fun Fact: Sandia means “watermelon” in Spanish, and the mountain is named after the pink color it turns during sunrise and sunset.
  • Night: Head to the Casa Rondeña Winery tasting room, which only a few minutes’ drive away. For dinner, go to El Pinto, which is known for its free-range “hen hotel.” It’s the only animal welfare-approved restaurant in the U.S. Try the world-class margaritas and homemade (and generously distributed) salsa.

Saturday

  • Morning: Rise early for a hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders. Afterward, check out the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, located at Balloon Fiesta Park, where the city’s famous annual hot air balloon festival takes place.
  • Afternoon: Orient yourself with the city on a bike tour with Routes Bicycle Tours. You can pick from several themes, like Breaking Bad, Bike & Brew, and more.
  • Night: Eat at Farm & Table, where you literally can see the farm where the fresh ingredients in your food come from. Then head to downtown Albuquerque and see a show at the historic KiMo Theatre (and if no show is playing, you can take a tour).

Sunday

  • Morning: Enjoy breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, Campo. The avocado toast and lavender latte are to die for.
  • Afternoon: Pick a day trip. I went to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Leave plenty of time to hike the trails and take photos in the slot canyon. If you have time, go to nearby Cochiti Lake for a swim or stand-up paddleboarding.

Other

Restaurants & Cafes

Day Trips

Attractions

Highlights from my Weekend in ABQ:

 

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SmarterTravel Editor Ashley Rossi traveled to Albuquerque courtesy of Visit Albuquerque. Follow her adventures (big and small) on Twitter and Instagram.

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Categories
Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Budget Travel Cities

This Tool for Planning Europe Train Travel Is the Secret to an Affordable Dream Trip

As an American traveler, I too often let airlines dictate my life. When am I going on that cross-country trip I’ve been planning? Whatever dates the Big Three (Delta, United, American) or Southwest decides are cheapest. With few other modes of affordable transportation in this vast country, airfare reigns supreme.

So the perfect antidote to stressful high-season airfare hunting and one too many connecting flights this summer seemed clear to me: An airfare-free jaunt around Europe by train, hitting all the E.U. cities at the top of my bucket list—and being able to do it for cheap, even during the summer high season, with a Eurail pass.

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[st_content_ad]For me, Eurail meant one week split between Prague, Vienna, and Budapest—each one home to its own unique language, people, and cuisines, yet a mere few hours apart via train. Hopping a scenic Europe train ride directly to the city center is perhaps the most relaxing way to complete your dream Euro trip: no early airport arrival, security lines, or public transit into the city. Just rolling hills, a few hours to plan what you’d like to do, and the occasional dog seated nearby thanks to the many smart Europeans who refuse to fly with their pets.

My personal favorite part of Eurail passes is the option to add on extra time in cities without the hassle of rebooking (or paying for) new tickets. You have a months-long period to complete your travel—so you’re free as a bird rather than tied to plane schedules or delays. It’s easy to pick any assortment of countries and the length of time you prefer by using Eurail. The ticketing agent for various European rail lines, Eurail’s online trip planner is the easiest way to traverse Europe by train.

How to Plan Your Dream Europe Train Trip Online

If Europe train travel is a foreign beast to you, like it was to me, you’ll be happy to know that it’s much easier (and cheaper) than you probably thought. On Eurail’s trip planning tool, simply choose your dream European cities and how long you’d like to stay at each stop to see the best option for you. My trip journeying from Prague to Vienna to Budapest with two nights in each hub starts at $300 round-trip with a two-month period to complete the travel and plenty of leeway to decide which week to travel depending on airfare to Europe and the cheapest hotel rates.

 

Eurail.com/en
Eurail

Eurail, formerly known as Euro Rail, offers Global Passes for travel throughout 28 European countries. Select passes are cheaper and include two to four countries, while one-country passes are typically the cheapest option. Eurostar high-speed trips are included on the Global Pass. Reserving a first-class seat can cost just a few dollars extra, or up to about $25 extra, depending on the route. And youth and partner discounts are also available with a Eurail pass.

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On top of the flexibility of choosing your own route, it’s also uber affordable to visit Central and Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe hubs like Paris and London. Hotels for under $75 per night are both easy to find and comfortable: Prague’s cozy Hotel Adler or historic Park Inn Prague are under $70 per night, Vienna’s hip Ruby Marie Hotel & Bar is around $80 (and includes data-serviced smartphones you can take around the city with you), and Budapest’s sleekly designed Anna Hotel Budapest is about $60 per night.

Meals and, of course, beer, are comparably cheap, and the stunning Austro-Hungarian architecture and vibrant nightlife scenes in all three cities will give new meaning to the words “Eastern Europe.” While you might be picturing small cities or countryside travel when you hear those words, the Czech, Austrian, and Hungarian capitals are bustling and beautiful enough to rival Paris. Prague’s Gothic spires, Vienna’s grandiose State Opera House, and Budapest’s sprawling white Parliament are worth traveling for on their own.

But those three cities are just the beginning of the possibilities with Europe train travel. String a few, or several, of your dream destinations together and let the low cost and high flexibility of a Eurail pass take you away. Eurail’s planning tool will have you wondering why you haven’t planned your dream Euro trip yet—one without any dreaded air travel.

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SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon traveled to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest as a guest of Eurail. Follow her Europe travel adventures and more on Instagram @shanmcmahon.