10 Things to See and Do in Istanbul

Istanbul is as much a destination brimming with ancient history as it is a city filled with contradictions. Set in the heart of the Old World, it’s a city renowned for incredible scenic beauty and fascinating ancient monuments. It straddles two separate continents, bridging a gap between Asia and Europe with the Bosphorus Strait. As a crucial trading post, Istanbul has seen its fair share of strife, but it’s also a place where cultures have come together, commerce has flourished, and enticing districts have developed, perfectly blending novel ideas with steadfast traditions.

10. Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Better known simply as “Blue Mosque” for its cerulean interior, Sultan Ahmed Mosque is Istanbul’s most esteemed worshiping grounds. Circa 1603, Sultan Ahmet took up the monumental project which spanned more than a dozen years. The mosque’s exterior is a wonder; the flowing curves of the façade connect with a torrent of domes and lithe turrets creating an extremely mesmerizing image. The interior’s Iznik tiles lend the “Blue Mosque” name to the building, even though it is unofficial. The interior is incredibly ambitious, with almost 300 windows and a palatial, central prayer area. For full appreciation of the Blue Mosque’s magnitude, start your tour through the Hippodrome of Constantinople and not the neighboring park. Ahmed’s tomb is on the mosque’s northern side overlooking famous Sultanahmet Park, a great place for a stroll after a look at the Blue Mosque’s colossal courtyard, as substantial as the mosque itself.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

9. Istanbul Modern Museum

Highly rated and brimming with fascinating pieces, Istanbul Modern Museum is a seaside museum near Galata Bridge in Tophane district and housed in a former textile plant from the 19th century. Converted into a museum and dedicated to contemporary art, the idea for Istanbul Modern Museum was sparked by the inaugural International Istanbul Biennial (art exhibition) in 1987. Both temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection are featured, presenting fascinating modern art photography and paintings from Turkey illustrating the evolution of modern Turkish art from local and regional artists. Though the museum offers free guided tours, note they’re only in English. The best bet for English speakers with a vested interest in the arts, is to pick up a free audio guide for exhibition details. Apart from collections, the museum features a vast library, cinema, design store, and al fresco restaurant with commanding views of Bosphorus Strait.

Photo by: Nerostrateur via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Nerostrateur via Wikimedia Commons

8. Visit a Hamam

Istanbul’s hamams, or Turkish baths, stem from ancient bathing traditions.  A Turkish bath is simply a variation of ancient Roman baths, Russian banya, sauna, or steam baths. Different hamams across Istanbul offer various services, from a steam or sauna to massage, body scrubs and cleanses. The sole focus is relaxing, unwinding, and restoring balance. A traditional Turkish bath begins with steaming in a warm room to sweat out unsavory toxins and grime. Afterwards, depending on the type of hamam chosen, you’ll follow up with either an even hotter steam or a cold wash. During the cold wash, a masseuse will scrub you down and give you a massage, often quite rigorous, and then you’ll head off to a cool room to relax. Istanbul’s most historic hamams, such as Çemberlitaş and Galatasaray, feature incredible architecture; a great reason to linger on after the services and admire the backdrop.

FineShine / Shutterstock.com
FineShine / Shutterstock.com

7. Basilica Cistern

The Turks call Basilica Cistern Yerebatan Sarayn, which translates to “Sunken Palace”. The antiquated, underground water tank, part of a collection of cisterns from the Byzantine era, lies underneath Istanbul. Southwest of renowned Hagia Sophia Orthodox church and dropping down over 500 feet, the 6th century Basilica Cistern was constructed under the rule of Justinian the Great, whose primary aim was to restore the ancient Roman Empire. Through previously found historic writings, it’s believed the subterranean well was once home to verdant gardens enveloped by a mezzanine and adjacent to Hagia Sophia. Once an artistic, commercial, and legal center bridging the third and fourth centuries, and rebuilt after a 5th century blaze, it was restored by early Romans. One of the most enduring characteristics of the cavernous attraction are the almost 350 towering columns and intricate carvings located within it, many which were reclaimed from collapsed temples.

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

6. Topkapi Palace

Clashing with typical European castle design distinguished by gardens flanking a large edifice, Topkapi Palace is a connection of barracks, kitchens, halls, and pavilions. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, the palace was the Ottoman’s central court, settled by a congregation of calculating eunuchs, lascivious sultans, stunning concubines, and eager attendants. Fascinating stories surround the palace, giving any top Turkish museum a run for its money. The interior is a feast for the eyes, making it almost too easy to imagine what part the bejeweled Treasury, sweeping Harem, and extravagant pavilions played in ancient life. The Court of Janissaries lies just beyond the Imperial Gate alongside Byzantine cathedral Aya Irini. Take plenty of time exploring the Second Court which features beautiful gardens, sprawling palace kitchens, and the Imperial Council Chamber. Don’t miss the Harem, the unofficial den of inequity and playground of the sultan and his closest allies.

Patricia Hofmeester / Shutterstock.com
Patricia Hofmeester / Shutterstock.com

5. Ortakoy

The waterfront neighborhood of Ortakoy is little brother to popular entertainment area Taksim Square. Discerning travelers prefer the interesting and lively neighborhood over the almost-anything-goes attitude throughout Taksim Square by night. Ortakoy is artsy, trendy, and contemporary despite several historic attractions. There are plenty of hip bistros and cafes to grab a bite or coffee, fashionable boutiques where Istanbul’s trendsetters shop, and a fantastic Sunday market. Whether you want to shop, head up a culinary adventure, stroll along the waterfront, or revel in the nightlife, Ortakoy is the place for any or all of it. It’s a great stop for a few hours or a day-long excursion. Once nightfall arrives, Ortakoy comes completely alive with packed restaurants and busy bars but don’t expect to start up early. It’s customary to sit down to dinner after 9 pm and linger until almost midnight, which is when clubs and bars come alive.

Ortakoy, Istanbul

4. Aya Sofya

The slew of architectural wonders throughout Istanbul is undeniably impressive. They will suck you in and spit you out as a keen, historical buff even if you didn’t start off as one. One of the most historically important, distinctly innovative, and completely beautiful is Aya Sofya basilica (Hagia Sofya). Upon first look, you might wonder why designers receive much credit, or any at all; the exterior is unpromising and certainly incomparable to many other ancient buildings in the city. Yet enter this historic monument and its architectural significance instantly becomes evident. There are really no words, just feelings, to describe the beauty, so enjoy being completely mesmerized. Visualize Byzantines rejoicing in traditional rites and rituals, zealots thundering through central doors, crowds of Muslims venerating Allah, and finally, decisively secular first President of Turkey, Mustafa Ataturk, parading inside in 1935 and declaring Aya Sofya a museum for the people.

Vladyslav Danilin / Shutterstock.com
Vladyslav Danilin / Shutterstock.com

3. Delve Into the Golden Horn

The Golden Horn, a tributary of the Bosphorus, meanders between Istanbul’s old town and the newer district of Beyoglu. Though it doesn’t really look much like a horn, and it isn’t even called “golden” by the Turks (the local name is “Halic” in Arabic meaning “Istanbul’s Bay”), the river and surroundings played a central role as the heart of the commercial center and main harbor of Constantinople and Byzantium for almost 2000 years. Hundreds of markets flank the river banks, creating a fascinating spectacle while popular river cruises offer a look at the city from a different angle than most see. Take the historical waterway for sublime views of the famous Galata Bridge and test out some of Istanbul’s top fish restaurants. Enjoy a walking tour of the river banks for authentic Istanbul at its best and where lush, green spaces and parks dot the way.

The Golden Horn, Istanbul

2. Escape the Crowds at the Asian Shore

A visit to Istanbul’s Asian Shore (via a short ferry ride across the Bosphoros Strait) is an essential experience and ideal escape from the sometimes-frenzied tourist hubs. Discover the mosques of Üskü­dar, an ancient settlement dating back to the 7th century. The philanthropists of the Ottoman Empire invested heavily here, building beautiful structures like Iskele Mosque. The Sultans once summered at Beylerbeyi Palace, a French neo-baroque building on the north side of Bosphorus Bridge. Food lovers shouldn’t miss Kadıköy Market, a relaxed outdoor market with stalls tucked neatly into narrow streets vending coffee and tea, Turkish desserts, dried fruits, spices, and more. Amble past market stalls to discover a slew of bars, cafes, and excellent restaurants. Wander the bohemian neighborhood of Moda to come upon cool little record stores, bookstores, cafes, ateliers, and theaters and then stroll the waterfront promenade beginning at Fenerbahce.

OPIS Zagreb / Shutterstock.com
OPIS Zagreb / Shutterstock.com

1. Istanbul’s Markets

To say Istanbul’s markets are not to be missed is a major understatement. Markets all around the city present much more than local food and wares; they lead directly into Turkey’s rich cultural heritage, offering a look at local life and age-old traditions. Sample incredible ethnic food, spy artisans creating treasures on site, and delve into the wonderful world of bartering. Most impressive is Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and most venerable markets in the world with over 4,000 dynamic stalls and shops. There’s some pretty intense haggling within the bazaar’s mains streets. If it’s your first time visiting, start off on the quieter, side avenues until you get your bargaining hat on securely. Textiles, leather, antiques, spices, hookahs, jewelry, clothing, and much more is at hand. Additional, outstanding markets include the nearby Spice Bazaar, Fatih Çarşamba, the culinary carnival of Inebolu, and beloved, historic book market Sahaflar.

Italianvideophotoagency / Shutterstock.com
Italianvideophotoagency / Shutterstock.com

The 10 Coolest Observation Decks in Europe

Observation decks come in all shapes and sizes. Although many of them are located in the middle of major cities in the form of telecommunications towers, there are also natural lookout points that people have turned into attractions by constructing platforms and monuments. All across Europe, a mixture of human-enhanced lookout points and soaring skyscrapers offer panoramic views of some of the continent’s major cities and most breathtaking natural landscapes. Between cityscapes and seascapes, these 10 observation decks and lookouts are some of the best places in Europe to get a new angle on the world around you.

10. Avala Tower, Serbia

The Avala Tower in Belgrade has an interesting history. It was first built on Avala Mountain as a telecommunications tower during the 1960s. During the 1990s Balkan War, the tower was destroyed by a NATO bombing. In 2006, Serbia was determined to rebuild the tower, and the current structure was opened in 2010. Over 1 million euros were donated to help in rebuilding the tower, which is the tallest in the Balkan peninsula. It still functions as a telecommunications tower, but now has an observation deck as well. With its antenna spire, the tower is 205 meters high, meaning it’s quite a bit shorter than some of the other towers in Europe, with only 38 floors. Nonetheless, it provides awe-inspiring panoramas of Belgrade and the surrounding area. The tower’s construction is also unusual: rather than being sunk directly into the ground, it uses a triangle cross-section and stands on three above-ground legs.

Avala Tower

9. Jubilaum Swarte Lookout Tower, Austria

The Jubilaum Swarte, known in English as the Jubilee Tower, is located just outside of the Austrian capital of Vienna. Sitting atop the Gallon Tzinberg, a forested hill west of the city, the tower juts up 31 meters, with a total altitude of 483 meters above sea-level. Visitors climb a spiraling staircase, 183 steps in total to the observation deck where they can look out over the landscape, seeing up to 60 kilometers on clear days. A tower was originally constructed in 1889 to commemorate Emperor Franz Joseph’s Golden Jubilee, but the wooden structure was quickly demolished in a storm. Another tower was erected, but decayed and was demolished in 1953. The current structure was last renovated in the 1980s, and a small museum dedicated to local ecology is nearby. Admission is free, although the tower is closed during the winter months.

Photo by: Doris Antony, Berlin via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Doris Antony, Berlin via Wikimedia Commons

8. Tour Montparnasse, Paris

From the top floor of the Tour Montparnasse in central Paris, you can see 40 kilometers in almost any direction; you can watch aircraft take off and land at Orly airport. The tower, which is an office building, was built in the early 1970s. After its construction, there were complaints about how out of place it seems in Paris and shortly thereafter buildings over 7-storeys high in the city’s center were banned. The result was that, at 59 floors and 210 meters, the skyscraper remained the tallest skyscraper in France until 2011. The top floor is open to the public for viewing Paris, and the 56th floor is home to a restaurant, le Ciel de Paris. A running joke is that the view from the tower is the most beautiful in Paris—only because you can’t see the building, which has been voted the second-ugliest building in the world.

Tour Montparnasse

7. Fernsehturm, Germany

Located in central Berlin, Fernsehturm is a television tower that rises 368 meters over the city. As the tallest structure in Germany, it has become a symbol of Berlin and is often pictured in establishing shots of the city in films and TV shows. It is the 4th tallest free-standing structure in Europe, following two TV towers in Russia and one in Riga. Two elevators send guests up to the visitor platform, 666 feet above the ground, in about 40 seconds. The revolving restaurant located above the visitor deck, Telecafe, rotates once every half-hour. Visibility on a clear day is about 42 kilometers in any given direction. Since construction was completed in 1969, tourism has increased and, today, the tower receives around one million guests annually.

Fernsehturm, Germany

6. Torre Jaume I, Spain

Forming part of the Port Vell Aerial Tramway, Torre Juame I maybe isn’t the tallest tower on this list, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Standing at 107 meters (351 feet) high, the tower is a steel truss construction, and the second-tallest aerial pylon lift in the world. Built in 1931 by Carles Buigas, it stands near the harbor of Barcelona, providing gorgeous seascape views and panoramas of the city, toward Montjuic. To reach the tower’s observation deck, you ride the cable car across the city, from Torre Sant Sebastia to Torre Alta Miramar on Montjuic and back again. A one-way trip lasts about seven minutes and provides a unique, bird’s eye view of almost all of Barcelona’s iconic landmarks. The Torre Jaume I also serves as a telecommunications tower.

Torre Jaume I, Spain

5. Ostankino Tower, Russia

Constructed during the 1960s under Soviet rule and decidedly Brutalist architectural influences, Ostankino Tower in Moscow isn’t much to look at. Between 1967 and 1974, it held the world record for tallest free-standing building, and it remains the tallest free-standing structure in Europe. An observation deck, with indoor and outdoor platforms, offers visitors 360-degree views of Moscow’s Ostankino district, and a restaurant, Seventh Heaven, is located in the tower at a height of approximately 368 feet above ground, but has been periodically closed following several incidents in the tower, the most serious of which was a fire in 2000. Although the tower survived, the Russian government has taken steps to ensure the tower remains intact, especially since it is also a telecommunications station. Elevators carry visitors up to the observation deck at a speed of six miles per second. The tower has also been a popular attraction for BASE jumpers.

Ostankino Tower, Russia

4. Istanbul Sapphire, Turkey

Completed in 2011, this skyscraper is the tallest structure in Turkey, and once ranked 4th in Europe, although subsequent constructions have moved it back to 7th. The mixed shopping and luxury residence building rises to a height of 261 meters, including its antenna—which is a design feature, not a telecommunications feature. It has 54 above-ground floors and features an open roof where visitors can get a panoramic view of the surrounding Levent district. It is strategically situated on Buyukdere Avenue, a main thru way, near two major highways and a subway station, which makes it easy to get to. Its central location also means that much of Istanbul near the Bosphorus is visible. Conversely, the tower itself is visible from other districts in the city, such as Khedive Palace across the strait. Since completion, it’s become one of the most recognizable features of Istanbul’s skyline.

Istanbul Sapphire

3. The Shard, UK

Just shy of 310 meters high, The Shard—also known as the Shard of Glass, Shard London Bridge and London Bridge Tower—is currently the highest building in the EU. It was completed in 2012 and its open-air observation deck, located on the 72nd floor, was opened to the public in early 2013. The elevators travel at six meters per second and use multimedia interfaces to create the illusion of the sky receding with the streets of London coming into focus on the way down, and the illusion of rising through iconic London buildings during ascent. The attraction is fully interactive, with lots of information about various landmarks and cityscapes, accompanied by a soundtrack composed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Visitors can see up to 40 kilometers from the observation deck, offering excellent views of London. Tickets can be purchased in advance.

The Shard, UK

2. Tyrol Overlook, Austria

Located at the top of Mount Isidor in Austria, this sculptural outlook was designed by Aste Architecture in 2008. Officially called the “Top of Tyrol,” it blends seamlessly into its environment, becoming almost invisible in the wintertime. Providing access to an observation point most people couldn’t reach otherwise, the Tyrol Outlook is 10,500 feet above the ground. The platform cantilevers 27 feet over the side of the mountain, providing a spectacular—if somewhat dizzying—view. From the platform, you have an unobstructed view of the Stubai Glacier, the Zillertal Alps and the Dolomites. Given the platform’s unique position on the glacier, it also has potential as a monitoring station to check rates of glacial retreat in the summer months. In any season, however, the Top of Tyrol offers an unparalleled experience of the Austrian Alps—even if it is a bit scary.

Photo by: un6org
Photo by: un6org

1. Aurland Lookout, Norway

Towering nearly 2,000 feet above the valleys and fjords of scenic Aurland, this lookout was commissioned by the Norwegian Highway Department. Designed by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wilhelmsen in 2006, it is part of a series of national tourist routes administered by the Norwegian government. Aurland, 200 kilometers inland from Norway’s west coast, is composed mainly of deep fjords, soaring mountains and rolling valleys. The lookout, known as Stegastein, offers visitors an unparalleled view of the valley floor and fjords; it juts out over the edge of a cliff. The 14 by 110-foot wooden platform plunges, but a piece of glass prevents visitors from falling over. Nonetheless, the architects say that the effect is to give people the illusion of “falling” into the landscape—some have even dubbed the construction the “ski jump” or “diving board.”

Aurland Lookout

The 15 Best New Hotels on the Planet

Travel + Leisure searched thousands of hotels all over the world in order to find the best game changer hotels that are new for 2015. The hotels were then tested out by staying a night in each and with a combination of elegance, innovation, personality of the owners and more; Travel + Leisure named their top 43 new hotels on the planet. We have gone one step further and explored these hotels picking our 15 favorites! From Israel to London to Botswana, here are our top 15 picks for the best new hotels on the planet:

15. Pikaia Lodge, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Boasted as the most luxurious and sustainable eco-lodge in the Galapagos; the Pikaia Lodge is designed for the environmentally conscious traveler who is looking for adventure in this remote area. Forget being stuck on a yacht, this lodge is land-based and offers land and water based activities through the day in small groups; allowing visitors get as close to nature as possible. With an infinity pool, spacious rooms, amazing restaurants and a spa, guests won’t have to sacrifice any amenities here. Did we mention that the lodge is perched on a small plateau on top of two extinct volcanic craters and offers some of the most spectacular viewpoints in all of the Galapagos?

Photo by: Pikaia Lodge
Photo by: Pikaia Lodge

14. Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge was actually re-built from an existing lodge and offers one of the most architecturally stunning safari camps. It blends seamlessly into its surroundings, the forest canopy of wild palms and fig trees with an abundance of wildlife nearby. 12 Cocoon like suites complete with wood burning fireplaces, private plunge pools and solar-power air conditioning hover on stilts above the floodplain reserve. World-class dining, breathtaking furnishings and an open-air dining room that is absolutely breathtaking set the mood for the ultimate safari adventure.

Photo by: Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge
Photo by: Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge

13. Viña Vik, Millahue, Chile

It looks more like a spaceship that touched down in the lush hills of Chilean wine country than a winery complete with a retreat recently added on the hillside above it. Viña Vik is home to only 22 rooms, each one designed by a different artist, adding to the allure of the place. Activities here are endless from taking a private guided tour through the winery, taking a dip in the stone infinity pool or eating the delicious food at the Pavilion Café.

Photo by: Viña Vik Hotel
Photo by: Viña Vik Hotel

12. The Norman, Tel Aviv, Israel

This boutique hotel blends 1920’s elegance with luxury services and facilities including a rooftop pool, wellness center and first-class dining. The Norman spans across two historic buildings that have been restored to their unique architectural heritage and furnished with a combination of classic and modern furnishings and fixtures. With 30 individually designed guestrooms and 20 one-of-a-kind suites the choice is endless as to where you can lay your head down at night.

Photo by: The Norman
Photo by: The Norman

11. Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard, London

This hotel isn’t just attracting tourists but locals themselves as they come to gawk at the Shangri-La Hotel located on floors 34-52 of the tallest building in Western Europe. Floor to ceiling windows in your room give you a breathtaking view of the vibrant city of London and the River Thames. The infinity pool, the incredible suites, the intimate bars and the amazing dining options are just a slice of the many luxuries offered here.

Photo by: Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London
Photo by: Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

10. Four Seasons Resort Orlando, FL

It is Disney’s first five-star resort and it manages to incorporate enough trademark Disney traditions such as character breakfasts without sacrificing any of the luxury one would expect from a five-star resort. With a total of 443 rooms, there are options for both families and grownups including huge balconies, pullout sofas and oversized closets; all done in neutral colors to please anyone. Luxury amenities include the 13,000 square foot spa, the championship golf course and the adults-only pool. Count on dining on the roof top restaurant which features incredible views of the nightly fireworks.

Photo by: Four Seasons Resort Orlando
Photo by: Four Seasons Resort Orlando

9. Adler Mountain Lodge, Dolomites, Italy

Located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Adler Mountain Lodge is truly a wood-built hideaway at the heart of nature. This lodge promises breathtaking views across the mountain meadows and soaring peaks, as well as an innovative guest experience and superior holiday experience. From the heated outdoor pool to the alpine spa to the sauna with incredible views, this lodge is like no other and creates the perfect base for exploring nature.

Photo by: Carlos Muela
Photo by: ADLER Mountain Lodge

8. Belle Mont Farm, St. Kitts

The passion for sustainable living is at the forefront of Belle Mont Farm hotel, along with making sure luxury amenities are still available to guests. Accommodations have been designed to fit in with nature and feature spectacular views of the ocean and forest. The guesthouses are loaded with amenities including rainwater showers, film-stocked iPad, projector screens and fresh fruit crates that get delivered daily. The personalized attention from the owners and the farm-to-table approach is what really wins guests over here.

Photo by: Belle Mont Farm
Photo by: Belle Mont Farm

7. Maalifushi by Como, Maldives

It’s not over the top luxury that got this hotel on our list, as the Maldives are packed full of that. It’s actually the family-friendly vibe that caught our attention. Maalifushi by COMO offers every choice of accommodation from two-bedroom suites to private pools to direct beach access to private butlers; giving families a wide range of options. Amenities such as a kid-friendly lagoon, kid’s club with outdoor cinema and babysitting services complete the experience. Don’t forget about the spa suites over the water, surfing lessons on nearby legendary breaks and amazing dining options for the grownups.

Photo by: Maalifushi by Como
Photo by: Maalifushi by Como

6. Raffles, Istanbul

This 21-storey hotel houses 181 guest rooms that are elegantly designed with Turkish influences and feature fine details you won’t find elsewhere. Floor to ceiling windows fill the rooms with light, private terraces, spa-like bathrooms and walk-in closets are just a few examples of these. The hotel is decked out with over 200 pieces of contemporary art that create a refined, modern sense of style. Whether you are enjoying the 33,000 square foot spa, dining in one of the seven on-site restaurants or sipping on Turkish coffee in the lounge, this hotel proves to be unforgettable.

Photo by: Raffles Istanbul
Photo by: Raffles Istanbul

5. Hotel Sahrai, Fez, Morocco

Gone is the notion that one must hole up in a budget hotel when visiting the medieval city of Fez with the introduction of this hotel. Loaded with terraces, outdoor bars, dining areas and an infinity pool; Hotel Sahrai embraces the notion of open space and natural light. The 50 guest rooms feature glass walls, soothing colors, exclusive furnishings and elegant details. Delicious food in an elegant setting tops off this hot new hotel of 2015.

Photo by: Hotel Sahrai
Photo by: Hotel Sahrai

4. Vines Resort & Spa, Mendoza, Argentina

Vines Resort is set amongst 1,500 acres of private vineyards and offers 22 private villas ranging from one to two bedrooms units. The huge windows allow for visitors to watch the incredible sunrises and sunsets that take place in the Uco Valley. Outdoor hot tubs, luxury linens, gas fireplaces, rooftop terraces and spa-inspired bathrooms complete the villas. Guests here can choose to dine inside, outside or in front of the open kitchen where they can watch skilled chefs cook with locally sourced ingredients to create five star dishes. Paired with award-winning boutique wines; this is one experience you won’t forget.

Photo by:The Vines Resort & Spa
Photo by:The Vines Resort & Spa

3. 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin

25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin is certainly one of the most unique hotels on this list as designers have created a hotel that blends nature with culture in one of the most interesting designs we have seen. Think 10-speed bikes dangling from the hallway ceilings and hammocks lining the third floor lobby. The location cannot be beat and if you feel like watching the apes play in the city zoo all day, why not book a room overlooking it or head to the rooftop bar. Rooms are playful with their polished concrete floors, black-tiled showers and colorful fabrics throughout and this will truly be one unique hotel stay.

Photo by: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin
Photo by: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin

2. Namiri Plains, Tanzania

The eastern edge of the Serengeti has been off-limits to visitors for over 20 years, as its status as a wildlife refuge took precedence. The game-rich region is full of big cats including the ever elusive cheetah. Namiri Plains was created to cater to the wildlife enthusiast that was seeking a deeper experience, secluded surroundings and excellent wildlife experiences. This camp was created to minimize the impact on the environment and comprises of only eight tents that are perched in the shade of the giant acadias. Daily game drives, sunset picnics and the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebra make this an unforgettable vacation destination.

Photo by: Namiri Plains
Photo by: Namiri Plains

1. The Brando, Tetiaroa, French Polynesia

The Brando is made up of 35 ultra-private villas, each constructed with sustainable local wood and cooled by seawater-powered air conditioning. They face their own secluded private beach complete with visits from sea turtles and exotic birds. If you are looking to escape reality for a week, this is the hottest new hotel to visit this year. Two restaurants, a luxurious spa and wellness center, an organic garden, lily pad pond and two bars make up the rest of the property. Don’t forget about the tennis court, infinity pool and cultural center. Guests can expect to snorkel or dive with the tropical fish, take a sail into the lagoon, kayak above coral gardens, paddle board out to a nearby island or just relax on the breathtaking white sand beaches.

Photo by: The Brando
Photo by: The Brando