The Best Urban Parks in the World

One simply cannot deny the convenience and often excitement that comes with living in the city, but for the most part these cities lack some serious green space. Luckily there are a few cities around the world that can offer a moment of peace and quiet in the midst of the urban jungle, whether you want to explore historic temples, picnic in open green spaces or discover thousands of beautiful species of plants and flowers. From the most famous park in the United States to one of the biggest parks in London to one of the most unusually landscaped urban parks in the world, check out these 6 awesome urban parks and what they have to offer.

6. Central Park, New York City

It is by far the most famous urban park in America, and maybe even perhaps the world, an iconic park that has been photographed millions of times from land and by air. It boasts over 800 acres, a space that is visited by over 35 million people a year. It is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, meander down the pathways, lounge in open meadows or take a break near the peaceful lakes. Walk through the woodland area of Ramble and spend some time bird watching, or take in a regularly scheduled concert or performance during the summer months. Art installations fill the green space and one of the most notable is a 2-acre area dedicated to John Lennon.

Central Park NY

5. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

One of San Francisco’s greatest treasures, this park is so big that one can dedicate entire days to exploring the many gardens, museums and attractions. The Conservatory of Flowers is a must visit, being the oldest building in the park and home to 1,700 species of aquatic and tropical plants, as well as an impressive Butterfly Zone and miniature garden railroad. Families with kids should head to the Koret Playground where a climbing wall shaped like waves, a rope climbing structure and many slides await, or head to the Herschel-Spillman Carousel where 62 colorful animals await riders. Or why not head to Ocean Beach for some incredible sunsets and dinner at the Beach Chalet where upstairs views are simply astounding.

Golden Gate Park

4. Hyde Park, London

It is visited by millions of locals and tourists every year, one of the largest parks in London and one of the Royal Parks. Hyde Park contains a number of famous landmarks and is the largest of the four parks that form a chain from the entrance of Kensington Palace through Kensington Gardens, past the main entrance to Buckingham Palace and to the Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall. Famous landmarks here include the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, the Speakers Corner and the State of Achilles. There is also plenty of opportunity for recreation here, row or pedal boat at Serpentine River, swim at the Serpentine Lido, get competitive at the mini-golf course or even go for a horse ride with the Hyde Park Riding School. If you happen to visit during the holiday months in the winter, enjoy the Winter Wonderland spectacle which sees the park dressed up in lights and festive activities.

Hyde Park UK

3. Beihai Park, Beijing

It is among the largest of all Chinese Gardens and since 1925 this park has been open to the public, containing numerous historically important structures, palaces and temples. The lake is the focal point of this impressive park, with Jade Flowery Islet laying smack in the middle of it and home to the imposing White Dagoba, the landmark of the park. Inside the Dagoba is the Buddhist Scriptures, the monk’s mantle and alms bowl and two pieces of Sarira. The Hao Pu Creek Garden is another popular area to visit in the park, an absolutely serene garden featuring a mountain-water structure that is designed to give seclusion from society. Don’t miss out on the Nine-Dragon Screen, a wall unlike any other where 424 seven-color glazed tiles feature 9 huge dragons coiling on each side. Interesting temples, a large beautiful lake and ancient alleyways make up this incredible park.

Beihai Park Beijing

2. Parc Guell, Barcelona

It is one of the world’s most unusual urban parks, featuring buildings designed by famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. The whimsical structures throughout the park were originally designed as a part of a housing development that was unsuccessful. These structures seem to give the park more of a theme park feel, although there is plenty of green space that covers the rest of the park. Climb to the top of the hill for a panoramic view of the bay, lounge on the serpentine bench along the main square, stare the at Art Nouveau gingerbread house or simply wander through the beautiful gardens teeming with colorful flowers.

Parc Guell Barcelona

1. Monsanto Forest Park, Lisbon

In the capital city of Lisbon lies this 2,400-acre park where visitors come for incredible skyline views of Portugal’s charming old city. The park is divided into several protected and leisure areas, along with numerous picnic areas, making it the perfect meeting spot for friends and family. The Ecological Park is one of the most noted areas, stretching 50 hectares and giving visitors the opportunity to learn about the environment through exhibitions, multimedia resources and an interpretation center. Alvito Park is also located here and is perhaps the most popular among families with kids. It is here they will find swings, towers, trains and several swimming pools, perfect for cooling down during those hot summer months. The park is dotted with historical mills, abandoned quarries and beautiful scenery, covered with vegetation and enough space to make all visitors feel welcome.

monsanto park lisbon

8 Amazing Family Destinations in Thailand

Thailand is such an ideal destination to visit as a family, no matter what age the kids are. Thais have such a robust, healthy love for children and welcome them—all of them—with open arms. Throw in that genuine national warmth, add in a huge range of kid-friendly entertainment and amenities, and you’ve got a recipe for holiday success. Swaths of white sand beaches, amusement and water parks, dynamic cities, and awe-inspiring national parks indulge families with an enormous number of choices for adventure, relaxation, and “edutainment”, a growing theme across the country.

8. Go Hiking in Erawan National Park

Erawan National Park is less then three hours northwest of Bangkok and most famous for its incredible waterfall, featuring seven cascading tiers to the pool below. This is a wild and wonderful spot for sure-footed kids, who are usually blown away by the natural wonder and love hiking from tier to tier, sliding into the pools off boulders, and making new friends along the 1.5 kilometer trek. There are three nature trails ranging from one to two kilometers, a cave to be explored with onsite guides, and bikes for rent which push distances closer. This is a destination you won’t want to miss and perfect for a day trip from Bangkok. The large population of primates, caves, and interesting flora add plenty of depth to an excursion. Kanchanaburi is a lovely town with plenty of family-friendly accommodations and attractions—stay a few nights and enjoy this mainland gem.

Erawan National Park, Thailand

7. Take Care of an Elephant at Elephant’s World

One of the best places to enjoy a close-up elephant experience—and an incredible organization to support—is Elephant’s World in Kanchanaburi. It’s a farm used as a refuge for injured or old elephants needing day-to-day help. Take your kids and spend a whole day cleaning the elephants, making their meals, feeding them and scrubbing them at their favorite time of day: bath time! There is definite joy in this experience, one that older children will likely never forget. Kids are exhilarated by this rare opportunity and in turn they are taught about authentic care facilities and wildlife conservation. Many of these elephants are “retired” from their “jobs” in the city, used by touts as a source of income, and kept in unhealthy conditions. Here, even though they’re old, most of the elephants thrive with the right amount of space, food, and friendship.

Photo by: Elephants World
Photo by: Elephants World

6. Visit the Hill Tribes in Mae Hong Son

Scenic Mae Hong Son is one of Thailand’s northern treasures, filled with beautiful vistas, friendly hill tribes, and plenty of outdoor fun. Families find the town and area an easy place to be with kids for the activities and outdoor location. Here there are homestays offered by some of the Lahu and Karen tribes where families can sleep on traditional rattan mats in dorm-style rooms. It’s a definite camp-feel and nature experience with plenty of Thai kids around for fun and games. Nearby rice plantations open up for tourists who want to try their hand at planting rice and harvesting it, the Elephant Conservation Center offers a close look at the lovely beasts, and the Karen tribe women often let kids try creating some traditional handicrafts. This is a rich, cultural experience blended perfectly with outdoor pursuits, which keeps both parents and kids happy.

Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com
Matyas Rehak / Shutterstock.com

5. Stay at a Resort on Phuket Island

Phuket has plenty of amusements to offer families with everything from babies to teenagers. There are unmistakable crowds on the island, but that can be a relief for some parents who have no intention of playing Robinson Crusoe with their kids. There are friends to be made, keeping kids busy poolside and beachside, and plenty of attractions away from the water too. Phuket is famous for family-friendly resorts packed with kid-friendly amenities and welcoming luxury for parents too. Day camps, kids’ clubs, and entertainment zones are common among island resorts meaning happy hour is on the horizon for Mom and Dad. Centara Grand Beach Resort is easily the favorite, with waterfalls and slides, a lazy river, and four swimming pools that entertain for hours. Mini golf, surf lessons, a water park, an aquarium, go karts—the fun on Phuket is most certainly enduring.

Phuket Thailand

4. Relax on the Beach in Koh Lanta Yai

Koh Lanta Yai is a large, beautiful island, densely forested and spanning 25 kilometers. It has some of the longest and loveliest beaches in the Krabi province—and lots of them. Just a decade or so ago, accommodation was quite simple, but development has set in and now families can easily find a huge array of small and large resorts along the many Westside beaches and family villas for rent. The main town is at the northern tip and offers plenty of restaurants, markets, and shopping, while the south is blissfully quiet yet does still have necessary amenities. Diving and snorkeling is readily available, along with windsurfing, paddle boarding and myriad boat tours. The beauty of Lanta is that island laws forbid girlie bars and jet skis from popping up anywhere, which maintains the family-friendly vibe and keeps it from transforming into some of the racier, nearby islands.

Koh Lanta Yai, Thailand

3. Explore the City of Bangkok

While many parents want to get out of Bangkok as fast as they arrived, the city can be a really exciting place to explore with kids. Anyone with even a small sense of adventure will find tons of things to do and see. Some of the simplest and most fun outings are riding Bangkok’s Skytrain, local tuk tuks, or taking the Chao Praya River express to explore different city districts. The range in accommodation and diversity in tourist areas is phenomenal and offers varied rates, backdrops, and activities. Kid-centered attractions throughout the city include Siam Ocean World, surfing at Sukhumvit Flow Rider, Art in Paradise Trick-Eye 3D Museum in Ratchada, and ice skating at Siam Discovery Center. Siam Park City is a water/amusement park and the best place to beat the city heat with wading and swimming pools, waterslides, roller coasters, and other exciting rides.

Top Cities 2013 - Bangkok

2. Visit the City of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a northern Thai city that’s busy in a relaxed kind of way. It has kept pace with development, but this means more upgrades than crowding. Families will find a wealthy variation of accommodation choices. There are hundreds of attractions featuring animals, but most are unsustainable and involve unkind training. For wildlife encounters, visit Elephant Nature Park, where animals are rescued from harsh living or illegal logging and continue their lives in the refuge. Kids can cuddle a baby elephant, help with baths and feeding, and learn more about the majestic, social animals. White water rafting on Me Teng River is great for tweens and teens. Zip Wiring and Zorbing (basically hill-rolling strapped into a mammoth, inflatable ball) are two more hugely popular activities for kids. And don’t miss a Thai Cookery class, where you can spend days learning how to make spectacular northern Thai dishes.

TPm13thx / Shutterstock.com
TPm13thx / Shutterstock.com

1. Go to Khao Yai National Park

UNESCO designated Khao Yai National Park is one of Southeast Asia’s premier outdoor attractions and richest landscapes. Stretching over 2,000 square kilometers, Thailand’s oldest and most glorious national park holds scores of waterfalls, mountains, and jungle terrain providing habitats for an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, all reached from a expansive artery of campsites, cabins, hiking trails, and roads. Approaching the park can be a bit confusing; the easiest way is via minibus or bus to Pak Chong, and then arrange your trip from there. The town has all the necessary amenities and more for eating, sleeping, and public transportation plus motorbike rentals, taxis, and buses that will get you sorted (although not as many tour companies as one might imagine) and to Khao Yai without issue to experience night safaris, tours and trails, and a healthy dose of spry gibbons and hornbills.

Khao Yai National Park

 

12 Things to See and Do in South Korea

South Korea borders on the one of the most closed off countries in the world, but that doesn’t mean it has anything in common with its northern neighbor. This compact country offers an abundance of landscapes, activities, markets and festivals throughout the year. Get into the action at the flying fish market, attend a service at the largest church in the world or escape the urban sprawl and head for the mountains. It seems there just simply isn’t enough time to discover all that this country offers, but here are 12 things not to miss out on!

12. Visit the Largest Church in the World

The Yoido Full Gospel Church has membership numbers in the millions and is the largest church in the world. This mega-church holds seven services on Sundays with about 26,000 people each and if you want a seat in the main area, you best show up an hour early. The church itself is quite a site, a circular cathedral setting where huge TV screens flank the altar and the choir consists of over 150 members. A good tip for foreigners is to head to the 3rd and 4th balcony where headphones are provided for translation of the service into fifteen different languages. Even if you aren’t religious, experiencing the amount of people that come together at this church for one of its services is truly an enlightening experience. Plus experiencing this costs you absolutely nothing.

Photo by: Jhcbs1019 via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Jhcbs1019 via Wikimedia Commons

11. Visit the Fish Market

It first opened in 1927 on Uiju Boulevard and it remains one of Korea’s largest seafood markets. The vibrant year round market should be a must visit for anyone in South Korea. This market is not a tourist attraction though; it is a real Korean marketplace where restaurants, individuals and companies come to buy the freshest seafood. It is also insane, incredible and sometimes unbelievable. The market offers over 1,000 different seafood items and 99% of them are alive and swimming in tanks. What happens when you haggle a price with a vendor and purchase a seafood item is what makes this market incredible. You pay the vendor and then they spear the fish in the head right in front of you, load it into a plastic bag and take you to one of the restaurants in or around the market. The restaurant then cooks your fish up for you and voila; the freshest meal you have ever had.

CHEN WS / Shutterstock.com
CHEN WS / Shutterstock.com

10. Explore Seoraksan National Park

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and explore this amazing landscape packed full of jagged peaks, crystal clear streams and pools along with an abundance of flora and fauna. Hot springs, ancient temples and high mountain peaks are a hit with visitors. The best time of the year to visit may just be the fall as the changing colors of the leaves is simply amazing. Hiking is the main activity in the park as well-marked and maintained trails are throughout. It is easy to spend the day here, whether you pack a picnic or dine at one of the many restaurants throughout the park, some even being right on the trails. There is one campground located about half an hour on foot from the front gate and during peak seasons it does fill up. Plan on giving yourself at least one or two days to explore this incredible area!

Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

9. Visit a Cat Café

It is something we just don’t find in North America but over in South Korea there are literally cat cafes at every corner. Just what exactly is a cat café? Indeed these cafes are exactly what they sound like; a café with a great selection of drinks and an abundance of cute and cuddly cats. These cafes have strict rules about the cats though and visitors need to be respectful. First off, expect to pay around $8 to enter, some include a drink with that price, others don’t. Next up patrons must remove their shoes and sanitize their hands. The rules for playing or petting with the cats include not picking them up, not pulling their tails and not disturbing them when they sleep. The cats in turn will love you if you buy food for them (sold at the counter), pet them and admire their cuteness.

Photo by: Feline DaCat via Flickr
Photo by: Feline DaCat via Flickr

8. Lock in your Love at the Tower Fence of Love

This fence of love is actually located at an iconic South Korean landmark, the N Seoul Tower. This tower offers an incredible multi-colored light show every night and a number of viewing platforms inside the digital observatory. But the Tower Fence of Love may just be the most popular attraction here, at least for the overly romantic visitors. The base of the tower is where visitors will find fences with thousands of padlocks and love notes attached to it. Heart shaped chairs along the pathway set the scene for romance. It’s not just couples that visit this fence of love though, many families come and put a padlock on the fence to symbolize harmony and love within their family. Feel the love among people from all over the world at this unique attraction in South Korea.

mastapiece / Shutterstock.com
mastapiece / Shutterstock.com

7. Play at Lotte World

This huge recreation center in Seoul is home to the largest indoor amusement park in the world. It includes an outdoor amusement park, shopping malls, a luxury hotel, ice-rinks and movie theatres. The indoor amusement park is opened all year round and is the perfect thing to do when you want to head indoors. It will take you some time to explore the four floors which feature rides such as The Gyro Drop and Gyro Swing with steep drops and the feeling of being in a tornado. There is a flume ride through the jungle, a roller coaster that stops upside down and many rides for the wee ones as well. Magic Island is located outdoors with a variety of high-thrill action rides, parades, entertainments and the dazzling Magic Castle.

Photo by: Jeremy Thompson via Flickr
Photo by: Jeremy Thompson via Flickr

6. Visit Haesindang Park

Haesindang Park… also less formally called the name of the male body part it so shamelessly parades, and any visitor to South Korea has to stop here, even just to say they were here. It is exactly what it sounds like; a park that is filled with dozens of sculpted phalluses that stand erect in defiance of an old folk curse. You will see many families here, kids skipping around oblivious to what surrounds them. People of all ages come here, to take photos of this very ‘open’ park, to leave gifts at the temple to appease the desperate sea women or to simply hike through. The sculptures range from hanging arrangements to trunks of wood. They were all sculpted by Korean artists to symbolize everything from joy to sensuality to spirituality. In a country that is otherwise uptight about open expression, this is one attraction you just have to see.

Photo by: cezzie901 via Flickr
Photo by: cezzie901 via Flickr

5. Go Bar Hopping in Hongdae

If you want to experience Korea’s nightlife the best place to head is to the university district of Hongdae. This area is well known for its urban arts and indie music scene along with an abundance of clubs and entertainment. Many well-known bands had their starts on this street and despite the explosion of brand shops; it remains true to its indie nature. The last Friday of every month eleven clubs come together to form Club Day. An admission tickets gets you into these 11 clubs and a drink at each one, where wild young adults come to party all night long. It is also on Hongdae Street where you will find the very unusual Zombie Bar, where the dead is resurrected and working as waiters and waitresses.

UKRID / Shutterstock.com
UKRID / Shutterstock.com

4. Visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The DMZ is a four kilometer wide belt that stretches 250 km, essentially cutting the Korean peninsula in half. It was put in place in 1953 as a ceasefire to the Korean War. It is known as one of the scariest places on earth, lined on both sides with tank traps, electrical fences, landmines and armies ready for battle. By joining a DMZ tour, tourists can get close to North Korea and the terrifying guards, without worrying about getting shot. This is because a joint security building exists half on the South Korean side and half on the North.  Tours range from half-day to full-day and strict rules are in place. Additionally on some tours you will be able to check out the super secret underground tunnels that have been discovered. It is not a trip to South Korea without checking out the scariest place on earth.

FiledIMAGE / Shutterstock.com
FiledIMAGE / Shutterstock.com

3. Experience the Silent Disco

The concept of a silent disco is not a new one, but South Korea has embraced this popular activity and visitors can likely find some sort of silent disco to attend on their trip. A silent disco is like any other dance party or club except that are no sound systems. Instead everyone is given a set of wireless headphones to which the DJ’s music is pumped through. What that leaves you with is hundreds or thousands of people dancing in silence. The beauty of this kind of dance party is that it has the freedom to happen anywhere. The biggest event in South Korea happens once a year in the neighborhood of Hongdae where everyone attaches balloons to their heads and dances the night away. Many other silent disco parades happen in the district of Myeongdong, one of the busiest tourist destinations in Seoul.

Photo by: KRMR
Photo by: KRMR

2. Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace

This palace was originally built in 1395 and was the grandest of all Seoul’s palaces that is until it was burnt to the grown in 1592. Luckily for visitors it was rebuilt 300 years later and is home to two of the grandest architectural sights in Seoul. The main palace building is an impressive structure, with its double-tier stone platform, open-sided corridors and flagstone courtyard. Almost as impressive as the main building itself is the pavilion that rests on 48 stone pillars and overlooks a lake complete with two small islands. An audio commentary and free guided tour are available to visitors wanting to learn more about the palace, as well visitors can watch the changing of the guards, wander through the traditional gardens and visit the National Folk Museum.

Panya K / Shutterstock.com
Panya K / Shutterstock.com

1. Discover the Jjimjilbang Spas

A Korean Jjimjilbang spa is something to be discovered in Korea and most travelers spend at least one night in one as these aren’t just regular spas. A Jjimjilbang is actually a large gender-segregated public bathhouse where visitors can not only enjoy the hot tubs, massage tables, saunas and showers but they can also spend the night. These bathhouses are comprised of numerous rooms, each designed with a theme in mind and many of them with heated floors for lounging and sleeping. Other areas are unisex and include snack bars, exercise rooms, televisions and more. Many of them are open 24 hours and prove to be a popular getaway for locals as well. One thing to keep in mind, all wet areas of the bathhouse prohibits the use of clothing in anyway.

Photo by: excursipedia
Photo by: excursipedia

7 of the Coolest Restaurants in Tokyo

The restaurant list across Tokyo is endless, from Michelin rated dining spots to tiny but excellent food stalls. The breadth of choice is absolutely astounding—and a food-lover’s paradise. No matter if you’re peckish or famished, craving something spectacular or ordinary, or if you’re hunting down the best sushi restaurant or most popular burger joint, you’ll find it with a little patience and perseverance. In Tokyo, you’ll also find some genuine curiosities—from exclusive restaurants to places with fun, quirky themes. Tokyo’s urban landscape features some of the coolest food-stops in the world.

7. Ninja Akasaka, Chiyoda

Ninja Akasaka is exactly the kind of place you might find someone like Lady Gaga—yes, she’s been here and so has Stephen Spielberg, two types who you might imagine would appreciate a ninja-themed restaurant. Outside, Ninja Akasaka looks like a clandestine hideout, featuring a jet-black door that’s fairly non-descript. Enter and you’re enveloped by black paneled walls—take a few steps in and black-clad Japanese ninjas appear, they lead you to the hidden entryway and walk you through a labyrinth into “Ninja Village”. This hidden fortress features a waterfall spilling from one side and the semi-separate rooms are Japanese style all the way. Order Japanese, Chinese, or French cuisine from the menu—it’ll be cooked up by chefs with some serious global experience. And your meal? Yup, you guessed it: ninja-shaped food and all the while you’ll be entertained by ninja antics.

Photo by: Ninja Akasaka
Photo by: Ninja Akasaka

6. Aronia de Takazawa, Minato

Aronia de Takazawa is the kind of place Foodies flock to but here, they usually don’t get a seat. Chef Takazawa runs a tight ship at his restaurant, which features only two tables and a stainless steel kitchen. Actually, its austerity is quite captivating and you’ll be wondering why it took you six months to get a reservation, but you’ll fall head over heels once you try the dishes. Find Aronia de Takazawa by looking at door handles, not signs, for the restaurant name is engraved there. Yoshiaki Takazawa is a master chef, a chef so prized people will actually make reservations far in advance—and you should too. Meals are a sensory, arty enterprise gone completely right blended with a serene, traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Akiko, Takazawa’s wife, works by his side, creating astounding, 10 course meals that will teach your palate something new indeed.

Photo by: Joi lto via Flickr
Photo by: Joi lto via Flickr

5. LUXIS Aqua Restaurant and Bar, Shibuya

Sparkling chandeliers and a massive aquarium define LUXIS in Tokyo’s Shibuya area. The restaurant, named for both “luxury” and “oasis”, doles out a lot of each. Set within the trendy Ebisu area, one can imagine that LUXIS draws in the type of people attracted to higher end luxury and sensational backdrops, and that’s just what they get. The seating is comfortable with large chairs and the décor is quite fashionable too, but the central attraction in LUXIS is the aquarium, filled with an array of marine creatures including scores of tropical fish and turtles. Dimply lit with vaulted ceilings, the open space has plenty to look at all around. With Ebisu being such a hotspot for nightlife, LUXIS is often filled with people eating and socializing their way into the night. It’s a great place to relax, enjoy, and order from their extensive menu.

Photo by: Aquarium Architecture
Photo by: Aquarium Architecture

4. Zauo, Shinjuku

In Tokyo’s Shinjuku district is Zauo, a restaurant where you snap up your own fresh fish for dinner. It features a fish tank stocked with sole and seabream that the chef will cook up to your liking. The venue is fashioned after a fishing boat, with seating on deck, where “passengers” enjoy not only catching their own fish but watching others do the same. The vibe is festive and fun, and a great place for a laugh. The experience is a thrill and though you do have to pay for your own bait, it’s rather inexpensive. There’s also an option for ordering fresh seafood off the Zauo menu to add to your meal if you don’t happen to catch something quite large enough. Patience is a virtue here because even though the tank is stocked, it can take some a little while to get a bite.

Photo by: Thierry Draus via Flickr
Photo by: Thierry Draus via Flickr

3. Sukiyabashi Jiro, Chuo

Though there’s nothing that obviously cool about Sukiyabashi Jiro at first glance, the fact that it’s run by a world-renowned, yet surprisingly humble sushi master makes it a definite restaurant to consider. You’ll be splurging here at this three-star Michelin rated restaurant in Ginza, but if you love sushi (and you’ve really got to love sushi to visit) then Jiro Ono will treat you to one of the most incredible meals you’ll have while in Tokyo. If sushi is an art form, it is most certainly seen within Sukiyabashi Jiro. At the bottom level of an office building in Ginza is where you’ll arrive and if you have expectations, you might be a little bit disappointed: the restaurant is a simple ten tables surrounding a large, wooden counter. The best sushi of your life will arrive in form of salmon roe, mantis shrimp, flounder, squid, yellowtail, and other fish varieties.

Photo by: Leon Brocard via Flickr
Photo by: Leon Brocard via Flickr

2. Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant, Shinjuku

Get ready to meet “Alice” at Alice’s Fantasy Restaurant, Tokyo’s most interesting theme restaurants. The front door is book-shaped, and when passing through “Alice” beckons through a whimsical passage, which is both charming and vibrant and filled with characters. The central attraction is the large, heart shaped table in the middle of the restaurant, adorned with blood-red hearts in a shade so very reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. The menus are heart shaped too, embellished with little keys and the chairs are fairytale-esque—perfect for the setting. The entire costumed staff is pretty cute, adding to the restaurant’s overall character, and the Cheshire Cat is front and center of course with his classic grin, surrounded by full scale murals. The menu—which is reviewed as decent—ranges from western spaghetti ragu to sushi and a slew of desserts…but most don’t go for the food.

Photo by: Alice's Fantasy Dining
Photo by: Alice’s Fantasy Dining

1. Aoyama Flower Market Tea House

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House is one of the prettiest, ethereal, and most unique destinations serving food in Tokyo. The tea house is just that but also a flower market exuding an enchantment that’s hard to pass up. If you happen to stumble across this little gem, you’ll be drawn in just by the look of it: green, lush, and illuminated with tiny little lights across the ceiling, spilling down onto interior columns. Inside, the entire restaurant/florist is lavishly adorned with beautiful flowers of all types and the backdrop hums with soft instrumental music. From Omotesando Station, it’s less than a ten minute walk to Aoyama and a great spot for a light meal on route to nearby attractions. The menu is nothing spectacular—on offer are sandwiches, salads and desserts along with beer, wine, and specialty teas—but it’s the perfect respite from Tokyo’s busy streets with a backdrop that can transport any busy mind to a place where time seems to stand still.

Photo by: Aoyama Flower Market Tea House
Photo by: Aoyama Flower Market Tea House

8 Destinations Putting a Cap on Tourist Numbers

It is quickly becoming a hot debate as more cities and places are talking about placing limits on the number of tourists that visit each year. While some critics argue that putting a cap on the number of tourists will hurt local economies, others argue that we are quickly destroying natural environments and overcrowding cities. The age old question remains then, what is this balance? For these eight places and cities, the solution is to begin implementing a cap on tourist numbers and from Australia to Spain, only time will tell if this is the way of future travel.

8. Bhutan, South Asia

The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan prides itself on high value, low volume tourism and lets an average of 140,000 tourists in each year. In order to visit this unspoiled landscape and culture, foreign visitors need to get a visa and book their holiday through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator. The Royal Government of Bhutan sets a minimum daily package price each month that visitors have to transfer to the Tourism Council of Bhutan; normally it is between $200-250 a day. This sounds pricey but that money covers all accommodations, meals, guides and internal transport. Part of this money also goes towards a royalty that provides free education, healthcare and poverty alleviation. There are over 75 licensed tour operators to choose from in this country and you can be promised an absolute once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you visit this awe-inspiring landscape and connect with the people here.

Photo by: EL ANDINO OUTDOOR
Photo by: EL ANDINO OUTDOOR

7. The Forbidden City, Beijing

The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City announced plans in 2014 to limit the number of visitors to this incredible site to 80,000 a day. The reason for this tourist cap is overcrowding as this museum is the most visited museum in the world, topping over 15 million people in 2014. They are certainly making it easier for more visitors to visit in the winter, offering half price tickets as right now they see the majority of visitors in the summer. New seating, bilingual signage and a ban on tour guides using amplified microphones have all been put in place in recent years to make this experience even better for tourists. Tickets will be purchased online, letting guests know what time they can gain access to the Forbidden City, and this museum should be applauded for quickly figuring out how to reduce tourism in the best of way.

Forbidden City

6. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

These 19 islands that are located approximately 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador are home to roughly 9,000 species, both on land and in water. By the year 2007 both residents and tourists had put such a burden on the ecosystems that the UN listed the destination as an endangered heritage site. Thankfully in recent years they have developed a systematic program that regulates how many tourists are visiting each island daily. Regulations require that visitors must have a trained naturalist guide with them on each island, as the trails change in order to keep them from being overrun. New rules also came into effect that allows travelers to stay for a maximum of four nights and five days per ship. Tourists visiting the islands are only allowed to travel to specific visitor sites and must adhere to the rules and regulations that are set out by the National Parks.

Galapagos Islands

5. Machu Picchu, Peru

It wasn’t long ago that visitors were allowed to roam freely around this 15th-century site, exploring the breathtaking ruins and surrounding landscapes. New regulations are currently being implemented to limit tourists due to conservation efforts. UNESCO and Peru are working together to ensure that this site remains in its pristine condition. The daily limit was once set at 2,500 visitors but recently topped over 1.2 million visitors in 2014. New regulations will require visitors to hire an official guide to enter the Inca Citadel, follow one of three routes through the complex and will face time limits at specific points to keep the crowds moving. Although many fear this will discourage visitors from coming here, it seems unlikely that at least 2,500 won’t visit; the recommended amount.

Machu Picchu, Peru

4. Lord Howe Island, Australia

This seven-square mile island is located 370 miles off mainland Australia and offers rare flora, fauna and marine life. The surrounding crystal clear waters offer more than 400 species of fish and 90 species of coral. It also just happens to be one of the cleanest places on Earth, with 75 percent of the island’s original vegetation undisturbed. Only 350 residents call this island home and only 400 tourists are allowed to visit the island at any one time. This island is geared towards outdoor recreation so plan on snorkeling, hiking, kayaking and bird-watching if you are lucky enough to visit here. There are limited accommodations, no pubs or bars and formal restaurants don’t exist here. But if you are looking to get away from it all and experience a true authentic island, teeming with wildlife, this is the place for you.

Lord Howe Island, Australia

3. Antarctica

Tourism was growing steadily and dangerous up until 2009, when finally the 28 country members of the Antarctic Treaty decided to limit tourism in the region, to prevent it from environmental damage. Recent studies have shown that even short visits to the concentrated landing sites could have an adverse effect on the environment. The main tourism restriction here is the number of passengers and boats, any boat carrying over 500 passengers will not be allowed to dock in the region. Only one boat is allowed to dock in each dock and only 100 passengers are allowed on shore. Today visitors have to travel through operators and organizers who have been approved by their national authorities. Don’t expect to spend too much time in this pristine environment as your time both on-shore and in water will be closely monitored by officials.

Antarctica

2. The Seychelles, Africa

Yes, it is where Prince William and Kate spent their honeymoon and in recent years these islands have seen a tremendous growth of tourists, reaching more than six times the number of residents. Just recently in 2015 the minister of tourism and culture for the Seychelles told the world that they are planning a cap on annual visitors. A ban has already been put in place on the building of large hotel developments and now locally small run properties are the only one granted permission to start operations. Expect to see a cap on the number of visitors by next year, as this group of islands is determined to take the issue of sustainable travel more seriously. Although tourism is the Seychelles single biggest industry, they are determined not to demean the value of these gorgeous islands.

Seychelles

1. Barcelona

Barcelona is the most recent city to consider putting a limit on tourists as the incoming Mayor is determined to put a cap on the number of tourists by the end of 2015. Believing that the city is becoming out of hand and overrun by tourists, as in the last 13 years the numbers have doubled, there seems to be no other solution than to cap the numbers. Any visitor who has been here in the last few years has certainly noticed the throngs of people in their path as they try to make their way through the city. It has also become a sort of landing ground for young backpackers who don’t always have the best intentions. As well as introducing a cap on the number of people to visit, the new mayor also wants to put a six month freeze on new hotel developments and tourist rental apartments. Barcelona wants to assess the tourist situation and understand which areas can sustain further development and increase their intake of visitors, and which places are already overrun.

Top Cities 2013 - Barcelona

The 10 Most Amazing Observation Decks in Asia

While skyscrapers and aspiring to reach the heavens have been fundamental fascinations in North American architecture and engineering for decades now, the trend has caught fire in many places in Asia, where towers now eclipse older Western buildings (and each other) on a regular basis. This development affords tourists more opportunity to get above it all and see some of Asia’s most iconic cityscapes from a dizzying new perspective. Representing a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, here are the best observation decks on the rapidly changing Asian landscape today.

10. Seoul Tower, South Korea

A tower with many names, including N Seoul Tower, YTN Seoul Tower and Namsan Tower, this building stands 236 meters high and marks the highest point in Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Located on Namsan Mountain, the tower functions for both telecommunications and observation. Constructed in 1971, it is Korea’s first general radio wave tower. The tower is renowned as a national landmark, and photographers and visitors alike relish the tower for the cityscapes it provides. Every year, thousands of tourists and locals visit the tower, especially during nighttime light displays such as the “Reeds of Light” and “Showers of Light,” which are created with LED technology. In addition to the four observation decks, the tower has developed into a full-scale tourist attraction, with museums, cafes and gift shops. One of the observatories is a digital display that showcases Korea’s history. Visitors can ride the Namsan cable car to the tower.

Guitar photographer / Shutterstock.com
Guitar photographer / Shutterstock.com

9. National Monument, Indonesia

This tower stand 433-feet tall (132-meter), situated in Merdeka Square isn’t just another skyscraper built to have a claim to fame. The obelisk monument symbolizes the fight for Indonesian independence. After independence was finally granted from Dutch colonial powers in 1950, the Indonesian government contemplated building a commemorative monument outside the presidential palace in Jakarta. Finished in 1975, the national monument achieved exactly that, as it was topped with a gold-foiled flame. Today, the Monument is open to the public every day between 8 am and 3 pm. Long lines build quickly, so it’s best to go early. Ride the lift to the observation deck, 115 meters above the ground, and view the cityscape of the Indonesian capital sprawling in all directions. Afterwards, visit the National History Museum and the associated dioramas about Indonesian history and independence.

National Monument, Indonesia

8. Ushiku Daibutsu, Japan

This observation deck is a bit of an oddity on a list that includes mostly communications towers and skyscrapers, but that’s part of the reason Ushiku Daibutsu is one of Asia’s best observation decks. Rather than another spire or office building, Ushiku Daibutsu is a 390-foot (120-meter) tall statue of Amitabha Buddha, built to commemorate Shinran, the founder of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. The observation deck is located at 279 feet (85 meters), on the fourth floor of the statue. Visitors can look out over the adjacent flower garden and animal park. The three floors below the observation deck feature golden Buddha statues, scriptural studies and smoking incense, serving as a kind of museum. For almost 10 years, between 1993 and 2002, it was the world’s tallest statue; today, only two other statues surpass its height.

Ushiku Daibutsu, Japan

7. International Commerce Center, China

Built on top of Kowloon Station in Hong Kong, this development is part of the Union Square project. In 2014, it was the world’s eighth tallest building by height and the tallest building in Hong Kong. The observatory, called Sky100, is located on the hundredth floor of the building. It opened in 2011 and is currently the highest observation deck in Hong Kong, at 1,289 feet (393 meters) above the ground. Two high-speed elevators take visitors to the observation deck at 100 feet per second, making the trip about 13 seconds long. An advanced telescope provides visitors with pre-recorded views, including “sunny days,” “night view” and “fireworks.” On-screen indicators direct attention to landmarks such as Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and Tai Mo Shan, the highest peak in Hong Kong. Just above the 100th floor, visitors will find a café serving snacks and refreshments, as well as a restaurant.

International Commerce Center, China

6. Skybridge at Petronas Towers, Malaysia

Located in the Malaysian capital, the Petronas Towers held the record for world’s tallest buildings between 1998 and 2004, and they remain the tallest twin towers in the world today. Rising a staggering 1,483 feet (452 meters), the towers dominate the skyline of Kuala Lumpur. One of the main features of the buildings is the double-decker Skybridge, the highest two story bridge in the world. Connecting the 41st and 42nd floors between the two towers, it floats 558 feet above the ground, providing structural support to the towers. Visitors are limited to 1,000 people per day, and tickets must be purchased. Visitors can opt to visit just the Skybridge or to purchase a package that includes a visit to the 86th floor of the tower. As prominent landmarks, the towers have featured in many movies and TV shows and, of course, provide a stunning view of Kuala Lumpur.

littlewormy / Shutterstock.com
littlewormy / Shutterstock.com

5. Bitexco Financial Tower Skydeck, Vietnam

Sometimes called the Saigon Skydeck or simply Skydeck, this observation deck occupies the 49th floor of the Bitexco Financial Tower in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The building is mixed-use shopping, office and restaurant space, and was once the tallest building in Vietnam, although it has since been displaced. It stands at 861 feet (around 263 meters) and is said to have been inspired by the lotus, Vietnam’s national flower. The Skydeck opened in 2011 and a ticket costs around $10. Currently the tallest skyscraper in Ho Chi Minh City, it provides unparalleled views of the cityscape. The deck itself is glass-enclosed and the building’s helipad serves as the roof. Nonetheless, you’ll still want to go on a clear day to get the best visibility or to see a fantastic sunset. Restaurants in the building offer a spot to check out some authentic Vietnamese cuisine.

Photo by: Bitexco Financial Tower
Photo by: Bitexco Financial Tower

4. Oriental Pearl Tower, China

Located at the tip of Lujiazui in Shanghai’s Pudong district, on the banks of the Huangpu River, the Oriental Pearl Tower has become both a landmark and major tourist attraction in the area. Between 1994 and 2007, it was the tallest building in China, measuring 1,535 feet in height (468 meters) from bottom to the tip of its antenna spire. The tower serves telecommunications purposes, but it also has a shopping mall, a hotel, a restaurant and not just one observation deck, but three. The highest observation deck is the Space Module, located at 350 meters and has an outdoor viewing area. The building is lit up with LED displays at night, which highlight its unique construction, featuring 11 spheres, the largest of which have diameters of 50 and 45 meters, respectively. This tower isn’t just an observation deck; it’s an experience in and of itself!

toiletroom / Shutterstock.com
toiletroom / Shutterstock.com

3. Marina Bay Sands Skypark, Singapore

Billed as the best view in Singapore, the Skypark is part of the Marina Bay Sands resort on the island. Developed by Las Vegas Sands, it forms part of the integrated resort, which boasts a shopping center, a hotel, restaurants and a casino as well. The SkyPark is a one hectare terrace that sits atop the three hotel towers and features several restaurants and the world’s longest elevated swimming pool. The observation deck itself is open to the public (although you need to purchase a ticket) and sits on a cantilever. It provides a stunning 360-degree view of the Singapore skyline, which is spectacular at night and during the day. Because of the awe-inspiring view it provides, some consider Skypark a compulsory activity if you visit Singapore. A popular tip: for just a few dollars more, skip the ticket, visit the bar and enjoy a drink as you gaze out over the cityscape.

Filipe Frazao / Shutterstock.com
Filipe Frazao / Shutterstock.com

2. Tokyo Skytree, Japan

While it’s not as iconic as Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree is the landmark tower’s successor. Proclaimed the tallest building in Japan in 2010, the tower serves as the primary television and radio broadcast site for the Kanto region, replacing Tokyo Tower. It is also the tallest tower in the world and the second tallest building, with only Burj Khalifa rising higher. It stands 2,080 feet (634 meters) high, towering over all other buildings in Tokyo. The tower uses LED illumination at night and has two alternating patterns, called Iki and Miyabi. Skytree now provides the single-best point of view for panoramas of Tokyo. The tower has two observation decks, one at 1,150 feet and the other at 1,480 feet. The upper observatory features a spiral skywalk and a section of glass flooring that gives downward views of the streets directly below.

Tokyo Skytree, Japan

1. Taipei 101, Taiwan

Formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, this supertall skyscraper had the distinction of being the world’s tallest building between 2004 and 2010, when it was surpassed by Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Today, this 1,671 foot tall (509 meter) building is the tallest and greenest building in the world. It was the first building to break the half-kilometer mark. Its new name is derived from its 101 floors and its location in Taipei, Taiwan. Observation decks are located on the 88th, 89th and 91st floors; the 91st floor is an outdoor deck, while the lower floors are indoor. At 1,285 feet above the ground, the 91st floor is the highest platform in Taiwan and the second highest observation deck ever found in a skyscraper. That means Taipei 101 provides an unparalleled 360-degree view of the city skyline. Tickets can be purchased at the mall located in the building.

Taipei 101, Taiwan

The 15 Worst Airports For a Layover

While the increase of people flying means more flights, it also means more stops and connecting flights, which can be a good or bad thing depending where you stop. Having a layover is most people’s worst nightmare. There are often long lines to clear customs and security and scarce food choices along with overpriced Wi-Fi and uncomfortable seating. The following 15 airports are the absolute worst for layovers in the world. Next time you are booking a flight you may want to avoid flying through any of these airports even if it means spending a few extra dollars. Trust us, you’ve been warned.

15. Paris Beauvais-Tille International Airport, France

This airport is mainly used by budget airlines and is often found at the top of the list of airports to avoid at any cost. This is in due part to a number of different factors. To start with the airport is located a long and slow 88 km away from Paris, therefore count on not leaving during your layover. The airport looks more like a bus station rather than an airport and the building is run-down and dirty. It is often cramped and crowded with passengers who are unloading and trying to leave as quickly as possible. The airport also closes at night so you will want to avoid an overnight layover here, as you will be asked to leave. In saying all of this, the airports in Paris are not known for being first-class so if you are looking to save a few dollars, flying in here may be worth your while.

Paris airport

14. Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C

If you were expecting to enjoy your layover at the Dulles International Airport, think again. With one of the worst on time performances in the US, this airport often keeps passengers waiting far longer than necessary. If you think your layover was long already, expect to tack on even more time. What really irks passengers who are on a layover here is the lack of amenities and shops that can keep you entertained. If you were looking for options when it comes to dining, think again and realistically your best bet may be to slide up to the airport bar and have a beer. The good news is that the Dulles International Airport at least offers WiFi throughout the terminals; the only problem will be finding an available plug.

Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com
Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

13. Miami Airport, Florida

The biggest thing about having a layover in Miami is making sure it isn’t a long one. The reason being is that this airport moves at a ridiculously slow pace and if you need to rush to make your connection, you aren’t going to make it. Expect security lines, baggage claim lines and a frustrating lack of amenities. Shops and restaurants are limited and highly overpriced and don’t let the “free WiFi” signs fool you, it isn’t actually free to browse the net. If you are planning on spending the night here, one will be hard pressed to find a floor that is carpeted, a place where the lights are dimmed and the announcements stop. Instead sleepers are privy to noisy cleaners, brightly lit areas and chairs that have armrests, thus ensuring you have to lie on the floor. The only saving grace this airport offers is that South Beach is just 15 minutes away, therefore if you can store your bags and leave the airport, we highly suggest hitting the beach.

Daniel Korzeniewski / Shutterstock.com
Daniel Korzeniewski / Shutterstock.com

12. Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, France

It is one of the world’s busiest airports and although it is improving it is still one of the worst airports to have a layover in the world. If you want to use the internet while you are here, plan on paying big bucks to connect to WiFi. One can also plan on disorganization, chaos and rude staff who absolutely refuse to speak to you in English. You won’t find first class shopping, nice lounges or attractive dining options here either. Many complain about the size of the restrooms quoting they are ‘dirty and too small’ while others have frustrations in the all too often terminal corrections. Food here is also quite pricey and if you are planning on eating, we suggest bringing as many snacks with you as possible from outside the airport.

pio3 / Shutterstock.com
pio3 / Shutterstock.com

11. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi

It is not surprising that Africa has some of the worst airports in the world, due to the impoverishment of the country, the overwhelming heat and questionably effective security processes. Having a layover in any of these airports can often be long, tiring and downright boring. Passengers seem to expect more from this International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, but instead are faced with long lines that have been referred to as ‘cattle markets’, overcrowded lounges, dirty and run down restrooms, shabby stores and overpriced food. It is currently undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation which hopes to be open in 2017 and capable of handling 20 million passengers. For now though, when you have a layover here expect to pay loads for the WiFi, food and drinks. Expect the bare amenities and cross your fingers you are not there during a threat as that is when things really go downhill.

Photo by: Arthurbuliva via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Arthurbuliva via Wikimedia Commons

10. London Luton International Airport, England

You are most likely flying into this airport if you have booked on a budget airline but expect to spend even more money once you get here. If you stuck here on a layover everything will cost you more. If you want access to WiFi, expect to pay. If you need a plastic baggie to put your liquids in to go through security again, you will have to pay for one of those too. If you want to buy something to eat, expect to pay higher than normal airport prices. Because of the slew of budget travelers that are flying into here seating can be limited, as well as sleeping space. The carpet is hard and cold, the announcements boom day and night every 10 minutes and it’s freezing cold, all the time. Do we need to say anything more about the layover life here at Luton?

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

9. Chicago Midway Airport, Chicago, USA

If you get stuck on a layover here and it’s unexpected it is most likely due to weather. Both Chicago airports are notorious for cancelling and delaying flights because of weather and unlike O’Hare, the Midway Airport lacks in pretty much all amenities to keep you occupied while you wait. If you do have to have a layover here we suggest doing it overnight. In Concourse C this airport actually sets up cots, military style for a few hours, until 4am when they wake you up and tear down the cots as the airport is opening. It is actually your only option here as the concourses close from midnight until 4am. If you are stuck here during the day it is good to know that WiFi isn’t free, the food is bearable and you may have to fight someone for an electrical outlet.

Photo by: Chicago Midway International Airport
Photo by: Chicago Midway International Airport

8. Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii USA

A layover at this airport is almost always inevitable if you are visiting one of the Hawaiian Islands but it’s not exactly the greatest welcome to Hawaii. If you are planning to sleep there overnight it is important to note there is no real good sleeping area other than the floor. As well, many layover passengers complain about the constant Hawaiian music that plays on repeat all night loud, except for when one of the many announcements comes on. There are a few dining choices at the airport, but everything closes by 10 pm. A lot of boarding gates do not open until right before flight time which leaves many passengers roaming aimlessly around the halls as the seating is very limited. WiFi will cost you, plugs are a hot commodity and it can get quite hot in this open air airport.

cleanfotos / Shutterstock.com
cleanfotos / Shutterstock.com

7. Frankfurt Hahn International Airport, Frankfurt, Germany

First off let’s be clear in saying that this airport is not in Frankfurt, despite the official name. Don’t depend on leaving the airport and spending a few hours in the city during your layover because the city is actually located over 120 km’s away. The best way to describe this airport is downright depressing. The low ceilings, the plastic chairs, the lack of artwork or anything of color and the overall feel. The floors are dusty and dirty and if you plan on sleeping here we suggest laying some newspapers down on it. Nighttime layovers tend to be loud with lots of young people who are flying on budget airlines and if you can muster up a quiet space, the good news is security won’t bother you. Dining options are nil after about 10 pm and expect loud cleaners and announcements all night long.

Photo by: Tadekptaku via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Tadekptaku via Wikimedia Commons

6. Los Angeles International Airport, California, USA

It is safe to say that most people hate flying through this airport. It is a stark contrast to the many Asian airports it connects with and needs serious updating to compete with them. An overall lack of signage and unfriendly staff is what people complain about most. Being the fourth busiest airport in the world, this airport gets crowded quickly and not knowing where you are going becomes quite frustrating. An overall lack of cleanliness is also a major complaint and it is best to avoid staying here overnight. The food options are scarce and overpriced, the chairs are uncomfortable with armrests on all of them and the charging stations throughout are placed in areas where there are no seats. Combine all these things with the fact that some terminals close at midnight and the security lines are atrocious and you’ll understand why people hate this airport.

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

5. Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport, Italy

This airport although cheaper than the others that service Milan can be a big pain if you have a layover here. A lack of electrical outlets is a major source of irritation amongst tech savvy travelers, as well as a lack of seating. Due to the number of backpackers and other budget travelers who fly in here, there are many people trying to sleep and waste hours upon hours on layovers. It means there is not enough space for everyone. The security staff and cleaners can often be short tempered and if you were hoping for a restful sleep think again. Sleeping passengers are often woken up to move for cleaners and otherwise. The lack of WiFi is annoying and there is often loud, drunken travelers spending the night alongside with you.

Photo by: Luigi Chiesa via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Luigi Chiesa via Wikimedia Commons

4. LaGuardia International Airport, New York, USA

This worn out airport is at the top of the list for the worst airports in the US, layover or not, year after year. Even Vice-President Joe Biden compared LaGuardia to the likes of a ‘third world country’. So what makes this airport so awful for a layover? To start, the ridiculous long lines you have to wait in, to clear security, to recheck your bags, to even get a coffee. Speaking of coffee, the restaurant choices are mediocre and unfriendly at best. The décor doesn’t help out matters as it is downright depressing, as are the metal and plastic seats that don’t have any cushions. This airport isn’t overly clean either. The amount of delays this airport faces is almost embarrassing so one can expect a long layover here, even if it wasn’t scheduled to be. Spending hours in this airport is a total mind numbing experience that will have you avoiding it like the plague for the rest of your flying life.

Photo by: La Guardia Airport
Photo by: La Guardia Airport

3. Islamabad Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Pakistan (ISB)

This airport has been referred to being more like a prison than an airport and having a layover here is definitely not recommended. If you do happen to be stuck here, it is recommended you don’t leave the airport as taxi drivers and touts like to loot the unknowing customers. This airport is often overcrowded and there is seemingly no crowd control throughout the entire place. Complaints range from corruption to aggressive security checks to an overall lack of cleanliness to non-existent technology. Officers will outright ask for bribes and this is generally just not the place to be stuck on any type of layover. Filthy, crowded, and hot are all words used to describe this awful airport. The good news, apparently they are building a new airport that will be finished in 2016, let’s hope it’s not as corrupt as this one.

Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com
Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com

2. Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, USA

Passengers can’t say enough bad things about the Newark airport. It is awful being stuck here on a layover, whether it was scheduled or a result of weather delays. The biggest complaints are about the unfriendly staff who work at this airport, from security that kicks you out of the terminal at ungodly hours to the service staff at the restaurants. Using the WiFi here will cost you, although it probably won’t work or be too slow for your liking. We also suggest bringing along a heavy sweater as even during the summer it seems this airport is freezing. Chairs with solid armrests force travelers to sleep on the floor and make sure you watch out for cockroaches as they constantly roam the terminals. And don’t even think about trying to make it into NYC to waste some time, it’s at least an hour and half by public transit, and that’s on a good day.

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

1. Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila

This is by far the worst airport in Asia and has been continuously at the top of that list for years. Luckily they are doing things to improve conditions but clearly not fast enough. First off passengers will want to fly into terminal three and only terminal three, but if you have the problem of being stuck in any other terminal on a layover than this is what you can expect. Dirty, filthy, cramped toilets that smells awful. This is one of the most widely-known complaints about this airport. Metal seats, spotty WiFi and a lack of dining and shops are some of what passengers can experience. Plan on waiting in lengthy lines and be sure to grab any seat available as they don’t come up often. Don’t plan on sleeping on this layover as the announcements every 10 to 15 minutes will keep going all night long, along with the three beeps before and after, just to make sure you are listening.

Photo by: Mithril Cloud via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Mithril Cloud via Wikimedia Commons

The 10 Best Airline Reward Programs

Is there anything more frustrating than having a whole slew of reward miles from an airline and not being able to book a seat on a flight? A recent survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal looked at the availability of seats that could be purchased through reward programs on 25 international airlines. What it found was that some airline reward programs far exceed others in terms of seat availability, particularly airlines that have switched to a points system based on the number of dollars you spend, rather than miles flown. If you are looking for the best reward programs where you can actually spend your points/miles, look no further than the following ten airlines.

10. British Airways (Executive Club)

Although this airline rewards program doesn’t use points, it also doesn’t use miles. Avios is the name that they have given to the ‘currency’ that is collected and spent via their rewards program. Flyers earn a certain number of Avios depending on the following: which airline you fly, how far you fly, the cabin you fly in, the type of ticket you hold and your Executive Club tier. Basically what that means is the easiest way to find out how many Avios you will earn is to use their online calculator. You will also earn points on certain car rentals and hotels by flashing your card. Spending the Avios isn’t hard. The study mentioned above found seat availability to be at 80% and flexible options allow flyers to pay partly in cash and partly in Avios if they do not have enough Avios collected.

Bychykhin Olexandr / Shutterstock.com
Bychykhin Olexandr / Shutterstock.com

9. Alaska (Mileage Plan)

The good news is you will earn miles on every Alaska Airlines flight you take, as well as eligible flights with one of their partner airlines. The bad news is that this company is still using miles instead of points, which has proven to be the better option for consumers. However, seat availability for reward users has increased 21.4% since last year and the study found it to be at 80%, which means this airline was paying attention to the demands of flyers. Miles can also be earned through 13 different hotel partners and numerous retail stores. The more you fly the more you earn with this reward program and the upgrades just keep on adding up, including free luggage check, first class, complimentary drinks and more. For the infrequent flyer, once you have saved enough for a seat, at least there will be plenty to choose from.

Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com
Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com

8. AirAsia (BIG)

AirAsia comes in at number eight with their BIG reward system that is based on points not miles. The reward program entitled BIG came out a few years ago and has been a popular program with those who fly the airline frequently. Points are earned based on the amount of money you spend on a flight, including add-ons. Once you have reached 500 points you can start to spend them. Just recently they announced a fixed points system that will allow guests to know how far they are able to travel with the amount of BIG Points they have earned. The BIG Fixed Points range from 4,500 BIG Points for flights that are less than an hour, up to 30,000 BIG Points for flights that are more than six hours. With an 85% rate of seat availability for reward users; the opportunities to fly are endless.

Kushch Dmitry / Shutterstock.com
Kushch Dmitry / Shutterstock.com

7. Lufthansa (Miles & More)

This program may have started with just Lufthansa but is now the primary reward program for 13 European airlines. The program can be quite confusing for newcomers as earning miles depends on which country you are flying into/within, which airline you are flying on and sometimes the distance matters as well. This reward program works in miles and this year it saw a jump by 5% in the increase of seats available to purchase through miles. The study by the Wall Street Journal found them to have an 87% availability rate. Miles on this program can also be earned and spent by booking certain hotels or car rentals. Like many other mile reward programs, the more you fly the better you benefit from this program. Benefits include free luggage check, priority check-in, complimentary upgrades and no expiration date on your miles.

VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com
VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com

6. JetBlue (TrueBlue)

JetBlue and their TrueBlue rewards system lets flyers book flights without blackout dates and points that never expire. JetBlue recognized that many of their passengers weren’t flying frequently enough to redeem points without them expiring first. So, JetBlue changed their program and introduced family pooling, no expiration and opened more seats up to reward users. This friendly points system lets passengers earn points for every dollar spent on flights, vacation packages and hotel partnerships. The nice thing about this reward program is the amount of points a certain trip requires is directly tied to the current fares, and when flight fares are lower, so are Award Flight point fares. With a seat availability rate of 87%, it is easy to use these points when booking with JetBlue.

JetBlue

5. Singapore (KrisFlyer)

Although this program works in miles and it has been said that points programs are the way of the future; Singapore’s award program is one of the best and most fascinating. This is perhaps the most connected program out there and offers ways to earn miles on countless partner airlines. The award chart can be overwhelming though and it’s best to use the mileage calculator online. Redeeming your miles is easy on Singapore Airline, SilkAir and 32 partners worldwide. With a 90% seat availability for reward users, it is even possible to book the highly sought after suites and these actually give you the best bang for your buck. Long haul flights are the best deal in terms of value when using your reward miles through this program and passengers can also use the handy cash plus miles option for some flights.

Pincasso / Shutterstock.com
Pincasso / Shutterstock.com

4. Air Canada (Aeroplan)

The only Canadian airline rewards program to make this list is Air Canada with their Aeroplan program. Aeroplan works in miles but that hasn’t set them back in giving passengers ample opportunity to earn and spend these miles. They boast that ‘an Aeroplan Member takes off every 20 seconds on a reward seat’ and with the study discovering that they have a 90% seat availability for reward users, we don’t doubt that statistic is true. Miles are awarded based on distance flown and the fare option you purchase and users can earn additional miles with hotels, car rentals and select flights operated by Star Alliance members. With flights offered pretty much anywhere in the world, it is easy to fly Air Canada using your reward miles.

Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com
Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com

3. Virgin Australia (Velocity)

Virgin Australia’s reward system is right up with the best of them in terms of seat availability, ease of use and point earning ability. This rewards system works on points versus miles which seems to benefit passengers more. Velocity is divided into four tiers and as always, the more you fly the better the benefits. Points are collected in the air via Virgin Australia flights and selected partner airlines or on the ground with car services, participating retailers and travel insurance. Points can be spent on flights, upgrades, hotels, vacations and even at their rewards store which offers gift certificates, electronics and more. The overall seat availability for reward users was found to be 96%, thus making it easy to fly when you want and where you want on with this airline. As an added bonus this reward program lets families combine their points or transfer them to one another and even rewards pets for flying.

Peterfz30 / Shutterstock.com
Peterfz30 / Shutterstock.com

2. Air Berlin (Topbonus)

Air Berlin comes in tied with Southwest for having 100% seat availability and thus making them one of the best reward programs for spending your miles. Earning miles with Topbonus is as easy as flying with them or partner airlines, using one of their co-branded credit and debit cards or booking one of the many hotel or car rental partners. Redeeming the miles is also quite easy, along with the high seat availability users can also redeem their miles to cover the taxes and fees, an option that hardly ever exists in reward programs. They also have a generous 50% discount companion program in which users can book a ticket for their traveling partner for just 50% of the miles needed. Miles do expire after three years and if you don’t fly far and often it is harder to earn such miles, but after all is said and done, you will have no problem using your miles to fly on Air Berlin.

Air Berlin
Nordroden / Shutterstock.com

1. Southwest (Rapid Rewards)

It is certainly easy to spend your reward points here as the study showed that seat availability was at 100%. This may be because this airline promises no blackout dates, unlimited reward seats and no expiry dates on rewards. Redeeming points is easy as passengers use them like cash. Which means is there happens to be a seat sale; fewer points will be required to book that flight. Earning points is easy too, both in the air and on the ground with hundreds of partners all over the world. A user friendly website allows customers to discover the easiest ways to earn points and book online without having to pick up the phone. Southwest also happens to remain one of the only airlines who don’t charge fees, such as bag fees, cancellation fees and phone booking fees.

 

Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com
Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com

If you enjoyed this, check out our best airlines ranking 

Tips on Tips: Tipping Customs Around the World

It’s easily one of the most contentious issues you’ll face when traveling: when should you tip and how much should you tip? Even within single countries and cultures, there is a huge amount of debate about who, when, where and how much you ought to tip—and why. When you begin to travel outside your own country, you begin to realize that the debate isn’t one that’s only going on at home; it’s one that’s being replicated in almost every culture and country on the planet. Customs and rules vary widely between cultures and even from state to state, and the practice of tipping service workers is no exception to that rule. As you begin globetrotting, one of the most valuable pieces of information anyone can offer you is insight into the unspoken “rules” of tipping etiquette in your destination country. Knowing when to tip, who to tip and how to tip is almost essential for any traveler: it will show your knowledge and respect of the culture, sometimes obtain you better service and, in some cases, even get you ahead.
That said, it can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around all the nuances and variables involved in what seems like, at first glance, a rather straight-forward custom. Like most social situations, however, there are complex rules and exceptions to every rule.

North America

We start our trip in North America and the countries most readers will be familiar with. In the U.S., tipping is widely debated, but the most common practice is to tip restaurant wait-staff, hairdressers and a handful of other service workers, such as taxi drivers, spa employees and hotel staff. Some people, such as government employees, are never to be tipped, as this can be seen as a form of bribery and is actually illegal! The decision about whether to leave a tip or not is entirely at the customer’s discretion, although a tip of between 15 and 20 percent is considered the norm. Some people argue that customers are not obligated to leave tips, especially if the service is bad, while others contend that certain workers should always be tipped, as service workers are generally poorly paid. In Canada, similar arguments are made, especially since service workers such as wait staff have lower legislated minimum wages than other workers as a result of the culture of tipping. In Canada, a minimum tip is usually 15 percent, although some businesses include a service charge. South of the U.S., in Mexico, you can expect to add 10 to 15 percent to your bill—and most Mexicans would prefer you to tip them in pesos, not American currency; national pride rails against the common view that Mexico is, in some ways, a colony or even a part of the U.S. Tipping in U.S. dollars is often seen as insulting, as though the person leaving the tip views Mexico as American territory.

tipping usa

Caribbean

The nearby Caribbean, another popular holiday destination for North Americans, is a veritable medley of practices, often reflecting the country’s European heritage, which may be French, Spanish, Dutch, English or another background. In Dominica, a service charge is typically added to the bill, but the customer is expected to tip 10 percent as well. A few islands over, in St. Barthes, there are no service charges, but customers will be well-advised to tip 15 percent.

Kamira / Shutterstock.com
Kamira / Shutterstock.com

South America

Further south in Latin America, the general rule of thumb is simply to add a percentage to the bill rather than to tip. Percentages vary between countries in South America. If tips are given, the percentage is usually low, around 5 percent as in Bolivia, where a tip might be given in addition to the service charge included in the bill. In Argentina, however, a more common practice is for customers to round up the bill and add 10 percent.

sunsinger / Shutterstock.com
sunsinger / Shutterstock.com

Africa

Hopping over the Atlantic to Africa, you’ll find that although tipping is commonplace, the actual practice of it varies widely between the multitude of countries and cultures that make up the continent. In Egypt, for example, most restaurants include a tip but customers are still expected to add between 5 to 10 percent on top. The situation is similar in South Africa, although you may be charged a service fee and if the service is bad, you’re not expected to tip. In some African countries, such as Tanzania, you won’t necessarily be expected to tip per se, but you might offer to exchange watches, brand-name clothing or other items for artisanal crafts. These kinds of items can also be offered as gifts for exceptional service. Cash is sometimes welcome as well, although in some cases, an offer of a meal or offering to help pay for something such as school fees is more readily acceptable. This is especially if one is dealing with children, who may be pulled out of school to beg otherwise.

Nick Fox / Shutterstock.com
Nick Fox / Shutterstock.com

Europe and Mediterranean

Continental Europe and the Mediterranean is another story yet again. In this region, tipping is not required, although it is considered customary and acceptable to leave a percentage of the bill. However, the most common way to tip someone is to “round up” the bill, often to the nearest euro. In Germany, for example, it’s not uncommon to get a bill for, say, 13 euros and hand the server 15—and get no change. Another way of doing this is for the customer to simply declare what they want to “round up” to, usually to avoid getting small coins. Spain and Italy have a similar culture to Germany when it comes to tipping. France is the anomaly in this case, where “service compris” on the bill means there’s no need to tip, as you’ve already been charged for it.

tipping euros

Northern Europe

Northern Europe presents another set of customs around tipping. In the U.K., North Americans will find the rule of 10-to-15 percent tips quite familiar. Service charges might be automatically added to the bill by some establishments. In Norway and Denmark, a gratuity is included in the bill, and in Sweden and Finland, a gratuity is often included. If the bill doesn’t have a gratuity already factored in, Swedes will tip, generally by rounding up or leaving small change, similar to their counterparts in Germany.

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

Eastern Europe

Traveling to Eastern Europe, attitudes toward tipping are quite different from their Western European counterparts. In most of the Balkans and other Eastern European countries, such as Hungary, tipping is not only customary, it’s expected. In Albania, customers are expected to leave at least 10 percent of the bill or, in some cases, provide duty-free alcohol to service workers, although one needs to be careful with this practice, as it can be insulting to some, especially Muslims. In Croatia, tips are usually between 3 and 5 percent of the bill.

Bellhop

Middle East

We travel next through the Middle East, which, in some ways, has a lot in common with North American cultures when it comes to tipping. Virtually every country in the Middle East has a tipping culture, and it is expected that you will tip. However, figuring out how and when to tip in this region can be a complex process. Called baksheesh, tips generally make up a good portion of a worker’s salary. Baksheesh can be expected for just about anything, such as holding a door open or pointing out something in a museum (even if you can see it for yourself!). Don’t be surprised if someone reaches out to be tipped; the culture is very forward about asking for a tip. You don’t necessarily have to give a tip, however, just because someone asked for one. If you didn’t like the service, there’s no need to tip. This attitude is also seen in India, but not in Dubai, where a 10 percent service charge is automatically added to bills.

UAE currency

Asia

In Southeast Asia, the culture is radically different from North America when it comes to tipping. In countries such as Korea and Japan, leaving a gratuity for someone is not only virtually unheard of, doing so can cause confusion. Some people even see it as rude. Some places, especially those that routinely serve foreigners, will include a gratuity on the bill, such as in Singapore where 10 percent is routinely added to hotel and restaurant bills. Other places allow customers to tip certain service providers, such as taxi drivers in China.

Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Australia

In the land down under, tipping isn’t a common practice at all. Neither Australia nor New Zealand add service charges to bills, and as a general rule of thumb, tips aren’t left for servers unless dining at a higher end restaurant or if you feel you received excellent service.

NigelSpiers / Shutterstock.com
NigelSpiers / Shutterstock.com

While tipping, in one form or another, is an almost universal practice, it quickly becomes apparent that “tipping” isn’t practiced in the same way in every country and different cultures have different expectations and approaches to the practice. What might be considered rude in one country may be generous in another or even expected in another still. For that reason, whether you agree with the practice of tipping or not, it’s best to study up on the various practices and expectations you’ll encounter in the places you’re likely to travel to. Whether you believe tips should only be left for good or exceptional service or whether you believe tips must always be left, or even if you’re in the camp that argues tipping is a detrimental practice that drives down real wages for workers, the reality is that, while you’re traveling, knowing the tipping culture and playing by those rules is going to work in your favor almost every time.