Beloved American writer, traveler and culinary curator Anthony Bourdain recently published a list on his Facebook account listing his 10 favorite hotels in the world. He describes himself as a “Hotel Slut” having stayed in so many different places over the years. Certainly his busy lifestyle as a traveling foodie has taken him to some far flung places and required a lot of nights away from home. The star says “A hotel where I know immediately where I am when I open my eyes in the morning is a rare joy.” Here are his favorites:
10. The Murray Hotel -Livingston, Montana
Bouradin says that if you stay at The Murray, make sure you try to book the Peckinpah suite.
9. Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor -Siem Reap, Cambodia
Grand colonial-area hotels in Asia have a certain spot in Bourdain’s heart and this one in the ancient city of Siem Reap, Cambodia is no exception.
8. Hotel Metropole -Hanoi, Vietnam
Bourdain says he’s a huge fan of English novelist and author Graham Greene and says if the writer has stayed at a hotel (like The Metropole) chances are he will stay there too.
7. The Edgewater Hotel -Seattle, Washington
The luxury Edgewater Hotel in Seattle’s downtown sits right on the waterfront. Bourdain loves watching ships slide right past your room as you look west over the water.
6. Park Hyatt -Tokyo, Japan
This posh Tokyo hotel was featured in the 2003 film Lost in Translation and as a film geek, Bourdain can’t pass up the opportunity to stay here when he visits the city.
5. Hotel Oloffson -Port au Prince, Haiti
With all his television series, books and other entrepreneurial endeavors, Bourdain can afford to stay pretty much wherever he wants. But the star appreciates more than just 5-star accommodations, ambiance is everything and he describes Hotel Oloffson as “Sagging, creaky and leaky but awesome.”
4. Hotel Continental Saigon -Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Bourdain appreciates history along with his good nights sleep, and for this reason he loves to stay at Hotel Continental Saigon; Vietnam’s very first (and consequently oldest) hotel.
3. The Raleigh -Miami, Florida
Bourdain can’t stress it enough; stay at The Raleigh for the best pool in Miami. Period.
2. Chiltern Firehouse -London, England
This old Victorian firehouse turned hotel is owned by the same team as Bourdain’s number one pick and he describes the London hotel as “pretty much perfection.”
1. Chateau Marmont -Los Angeles, California
Bourdain’s love of Chateau Marmot is clear: the author says “if I have to die in a hotel room, let it be here. I will work in LA just to stay at the Chateau.”
The tragic events of the Paris attacks and political instability in many countries has some travelers re-evaluating their upcoming travel plans. In the wake of the attacks, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office released a list of terror threat ratings by country, and the surprising part is that more than 30 countries around the world are currently sitting at a threat level of ‘high’. Vacation favorites like Spain, Australia, Thailand and much of Europe all have a level 4 (high) rating, putting them alongside countries like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. If you’d rather have peace of mind on your vacation here are 8 countries that currently have a low, level 1 threat rating as per the Foreign Office report:
If you were hoping to escape for an exotic trip through Asia this winter, you still can and Laos is one of a few countries that poses a low threat of terrorism activities. There are other dangers to be aware of in this beautiful country like drug trade and unexploded ordnance in certain rural areas but these issues are nothing new. A visit to the capital and largest city of Vientiane will allow you to enjoy the many temples and Buddhist monuments located within the city.
If you’re looking for a far-flung vacation destination with political stability, low threat of terrorism and plenty to see and do, Japan should be a strong contender. Shop in Tokyo’s Ginza fashion district, explore the Imperial Palace and gardens and dine on some of the best and freshest sushi you can get on this planet.
Another exotic Asian destination and popular place for backpackers and budget travelers, Vietnam currently has a low threat of terrorism activity. In visiting the country, you’ll quickly find it’s a place of breathtaking natural beauty, abundant in beaches, historic architecture and friendly people.
If a trip to the mysterious island of Madagascar has always seemed out of reach, perhaps now is the time to consider this popular eco-travel country for a holiday. Though the threat of terrorism is low in Madagascar, there are other safety concerns to be aware of such as political issues which sometimes result in violence. Still, thousands travel to this country annually and without issue to see the amazing scenery and wildlife that can only be found here.
Canadians and Europeans (and soon to be Americans) will be pleased to hear that Cuba is currently low on the threat level. The popular winter vacation destination is a favorite for offering an affordable escape from the chilly winter months. Visitors can opt for the popular resort life offered in many towns around the country or instead, head to the capital city of Havana for an authentic cultural experience without the worries of many other countries.
3. Costa Rica
This Latin American gem is perhaps one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Central America, so thankfully for travelers there is little threat of terror at this time. The green country famously abolished their army in 1949 becoming one of only a few nations without a standing army. It’s a perfect retreat for beach seekers, eco-travelers and adventure types looking for their next big thrill.
While bordered by higher threat countries like Colombia and Peru, Ecuador remains at a loe level 1 threat level. Good news for travelers who have been thinking of visiting this country whose popularity has been growing exponentially in recent years. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed city of Quito where every angle provides a picture perfect view, rich in colonial history.
While already wildly popular in recent years, Iceland remains a place of safe travel. The Nordic nation, like Costa Rica, has long been considered a peaceful country and has no standing army of its own. Visitors will be nothing short of awestruck when they take in landscapes that seem almost otherworldly. A visit to the famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is a must and you won’t want to miss out on the notoriously fun nightlife in the capital city of Reykjavik, not to mention catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights in action.
With over 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface covered in water and billions of years of world history, it’s no wonder that our planet’s oceans, seas and lakes hold some of the most fascinating attractions (both natural and man-made) that can be found on the planet. For those looking to flex their adventure muscles and temporarily leave behind the security of solid ground, here are 6 human contributions so fascinating, they’re worth taking the plunge for:
6. Yonaguni Monument, Okinawa
Found off the coast of Yonaguni, the southernmost of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, not much has been confirmed about the origins of the enormous rock formation. Containing step-like features, scientists dispute whether the “monument” is natural or man-made, and several theories have cropped up encompassing everything from monolithic construction to government conspiracy. Nevertheless, the site remains a popular destination for divers, providing a unique opportunity to stand on a massive underwater structure and witness an abundance of marine life brought on by the strong Yonaguni current.
5. Museo Subacuatico de Arte, Cancun
Created in 2009, the Museo Subacuatico de Arte (MUSA) is the largest underwater attraction of its kind, now consisting of 500 life-size sculptures meant to showcase the relationship between art and environmental science. Founded by the Director of the National Marine Park, the President of the Cancun Nautical Association and an English sculptor, this unique museum, while being extremely cool, serves two very important ecological purposes: to divert traffic from the increasingly over-crowded waters of the Cancun-Isla Mujeres Marine Park and to facilitate the recovery of the area’s resources by providing an alternate complex reef structure safe for marine life colonization. The site of the underwater museum is both snorkel and scuba friendly, divided into 2 sections of differing depth. The Salon Nizuc is only 4 meters deep and is viewable via snorkeling only, while the 8-meter deep Salon Manchones allows for a much more up-close and personal experience for divers (and snorkelers if they so choose).
4. Truk Lagoon, Micronesia
This remote mid-ocean location found about 1800 km off the coast of New Guinea gained international media attention after its 1969 exploration by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. The lagoon and its surrounding 125 square km landmass served as the primary Japanese military base in the South Pacific during the Second World War, a fact that has remained unforgettable by the vast amount of largely preserved sunken ships that can be found throughout the area. Despite essentially being a Japanese military burial ground (human remains can still be seen in some of the wrecks), the site has become a popular scuba diving destination, providing a unique insight to the lives (and deaths) of those killed during the February 1944 allied attack known as Operation Hailstone. Today, divers can see ship decks littered with human objects, holds with remnants of weapons, military vehicles and artifacts and, what many consider to be most interesting, the remains of submarine I-169 Shinohara, a vessel involved in the 1941 attack of Pearl Harbor.
3. Underwater Post Office, Vanuatu
For anyone who feels as though they have sent snail mail from every possible place on earth, this one is for you. Found in the waters of Hideaway Island in Vanuatu, the Underwater Post Office provides visitors with the chance to write a post card on dry land and then dive 3 meters to mail them, resulting in a truly unique postal experience. Opened for business in 2003, the official office consists of a small structure with a counter that houses postal workers during opening hours and a tiny yellow mailbox for after-hours postage. The site is accessible to both divers and snorkelers and open hours are advertised by a raised flag visible form the island’s beach.
2. Christ of the Abyss, Key Largo
One of three bronze statues (all cast from the same mold) created by sculptor Guido Galletti, the Christ of the Abyss statue found in Key Largo, Florida was gifted to the Underwater Society of America in 1962. The extremely popular scuba diving attraction is found about 25 feet deep in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and is weighed down by a 9-ton concrete base. A replica of the original (which is found in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of San Frottuoso, Italy), the statue stands 8.5 feet tall and depicts Christ offering a blessing of peace, with his face and arms raised upward. Aside from this world-famous attraction, this site also offers exceptional snorkeling and scuba diving for its expansive coral and marine life.
1. Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park, Grenada
Opened to the public in 2006 by British sculptor Jason deClaires Taylor, the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park (also known as the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park) is the first contemporary art collection in the world to be found completely under water. The park’s goal is to unite the area’s inhabitants with the marine world that surrounds them, and consists of several exhibits of human forms created from casts of the local population. Divers can check out several installations, such as Grace Reef (a collection of statues depicting a local woman lying on the sea floor), The Unstill Life (a take on the classic “still life” using everyday objects), and the probably most recognizable Vicissitudes (a circle of children facing outwards and holding hands). Since it’s opening, the park has added exhibits by several other sculptors and continues to grow as one of the most popular diving sites in the region.
Everyone has talked about how great it is, you have been planning and looking forward to it, you can’t wait to finally see it and then it happens. You get to the greatest tourist attraction the world has ever known, you take a look around, scratch your head and wonder what the big deal is. We have all been there, standing in line to get into some place only to wish we had skipped it. Although there are plenty of places that might disappoint, we have compiled a list of tourist attractions that live up to the hype and are totally worth visiting.
10. The Alhambra -Granada, Spain
The Alhambra fortress and palace complex in Granada is one of Spain’s main tourist attractions and well worth the visit. Construction began in the 9th century with a small fort but it was the years between 1333-1391 that the Alhambra was expanded and is what much of what visitors can admire today. The Patio of Lions is probably the most famous place at the Alhambra. Aptly named for the twelve lions around the fountain. The white marble fountain sits in the middle of the patio which is rectangular and surrounded by a gallery supported by 124 white marble columns. The Alcazaba, a fortress, is the oldest part of the Alhambra and one of the places with the best views of the city can be found in the gardens near the entrance. The number of visitors is limited daily with certain time slots given to you to visit some of the palaces. Even if you have a ticket you should plan to arrive early. One thing is for certain, you won’t regret having visited.
9. Palace of Versailles, France
From the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI Versailles was the principal residence of the French King. The opulent castle has 250 acres of manicured lawns, gardens and fountains. The hall of mirrors, containing over 300 mirrors, reflect the gardens through the 17 arched windows. You can walk the halls where French history’s famous and infamous once lived, partied and ruled the country. People like Madame Pompadour, mistress and confidant of King Louis XV, Madame Du Barry, Marie Antoinette and even Napoleon. The palace has five chapels, over 1,200 fireplaces and 67 staircases. Created in the 17th century Versailles contains Europe’s largest palace garden, an impressive site in itself with trees, flowers, status, fountains and walking paths. For a glimpse of France during the ages of Kings, courts and extravagance Versailles is certainly the place and won’t disappoint.
8. Sơn Doòng Cave, Vietnam
If you are willing to walk 10 km through a dense forest on a small path then ascend down a cliff you can be one of the few people in modern times to have ever seen the largest cave in the world. Formed over a million years ago, the cave was discovered in modern times by a local man in 1990. The path through the jungle was so dense he could not remember how to find it again until he rediscovered it in 2008. Since that time the cave has been partially explored and discovered to be over five kilometers long with sections reaching 200 meters high and contains waterfalls, flowing rivers and an abundance of wildlife. Explorers attempted to measure a lake inside the cave but the rope they used only extended 200 meters so a final depth could not be determined. A five day, four night tour will set you back around $4,000 and be led by experienced cave experts.
7. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History -Washington DC, USA
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is one of several museums that make up what is known as The Smithsonian. Opened in 1910 the museum houses over 125 million natural science specimens and artifacts. An estimated 7 million people visit the museum each year. The main building contains 325,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space. Exhibitions include meteorites and fossils, animal specimens, some extinct like the Tasmanian Tiger, stone figures from Easter Island and so much more. You have heard of the Hope Diamond? Well it is on display here as well. The blue diamond has a storied history and owners have included King George IV of England and King Louis XIV of France. The museum is open 364 days a year only closing on Christmas day and the best part is admission is free.
6. Vatican City -Rome, Italy
Vatican City is a city state surrounded by Rome and the headquarters of the Catholic Church. You don’t have to be Catholic or even religious to appreciate all this city has to offer. At just over 100 acres Vatican City attracts millions of visitors and religious pilgrims each year. Visitors to Vatican City enter through St Peters Square and line up to visit the Vatican museums. Visitors can view the Raphael Rooms where Raphael painted frescoes covering four rooms, St Peters Basilica, Greek and Roman antiquities and of course the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s ceiling and altar frescoes and painting from other masters have been restored and now visitors can see the masterpieces better than before. There are many tour companies offering guided tours but the best way to visit is to take a personal tour. A personal tour guide give you a more personalized experience and deviate from the tour schedule so you can see things when the other tours aren’t there yet.
5. Ohrid, Macedonia
Lake Ohrid is one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes and sits on the border of Macedonia and Albania in the Balkan peninsula . The lake, almost 19 miles long and over 9 miles wide, is a favorite destination in the region and home of the Ohrid trout. The Macedonian side of the lake has several towns along a 20 mile stretch of road worth visiting and spending a few days or even a week at. The town of Ohrid itself is a fabulous place to visit. The city of Ohrid traces its roots to the pre – Slavic period and attracts people from all over the world. Known as the Balkan Jerusalem, at one time Ohrid had 365 churches and was the religious center of Macedonia. One of the best examples is the St John Kaneo Church which is one of the most photographed churches in the world. The Tsar Samuels Fortress sits prominently on a hill overlooking the town where cobble stone streets wind through the city. Small shops, sidewalk cafés nearby archeological excavations and the monastery of St Naum are worth visiting also.
4. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The Temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is considered the largest religious monument in the world. Built in the first half of the 12th century it took an estimated 30 years to construct. Angkor Wat is actually one monument within the Angkor group of temples. There are 41 monuments and temples within the complex with Angkor Wat being the most famous and important. Angkor Wat covers 500 acres and has a moat with a long sandstone causeway crossing it. Galleries consisting of Bas reliefs and pavilions stretching over the temple make it an imposing site. Visitors to Angkor Wat are never underwhelmed by the site and the entire archeological site of Angkor, stretching over 400 km, can take days to fully explore and appreciate the wonders. A major cultural, religious and historical site, Angkor Wat should be on your list of places to visit.
3. Koyasan, Japan
Listed as a World Heritage Site, Koyasan is an active center of Shingon Buddhism. Located 2 hours by train from Tokyo, at the top of Mount Koya, the area is a complex of Buddhist temples, halls and pagodas. More than 100 temples form this religious city. Visitors enter the city through the magnificent 25 meter high Dai-mon Gate where two statues of guardian gods stand on either side. Each morning the chief priest and monks of the temple hold services, chanting Buddhist sutras. Visitors to the area can stay at over 50 of the temples where monks will prepare your room and serve vegetarian dishes. Temple lodging, known as Shukubo, is popular in Japan and Koyasan is the best place to get the entire experience. During your stay you can rent one of the 25 bicycles available to explore the city.
2. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The largest living structure on the planet stretching 2300 km, The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from space. If that doesn’t impress you then you are really hard to please. Consisting of 600 types of corals, over 1600 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and manta rays and over 30 species of whales and dolphins, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the worlds most treasured eco systems. Visitors to the reef can enjoy scuba diving and snorkeling to get up close to the corals and marine life or take a cruise along the most scenic parts of the reef. Other activities include hot air balloon tours and helicopter tours of the area. The nearby Daintree Rainforest is a popular attractions as well as white water rafting on the Russel and Barron Rivers. Whether you want to lay on a sandy beach and go swimming, get up close to the marine life, do something adventurous on the rivers or learn to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef has it all.
1. Disney World -Orlando, Florida
What? Disney World you say? Absolutely. What once was thought of as a kids theme park has evolved into a mecca of family and adult fun. Let’s look at some facts about Disney World. Disney World Resorts is actually several parks consisting of The Magic Kingdom, Epcot World, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. At over 30,000 acres it is about the size of San Francisco. Over 48 million people visit the resort each year. It’s not just for kids. The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival features celebrity chefs, mixology seminars, craft beers and wines from around the world. Some of the resorts run by Disney are geared more for adults than others with upscale dining, spas and gold courses. Stay at the Disney Yacht Club where you can dine on mouthwatering steaks at the Yachtsman Steak House and take a boat ride to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. With everything to offer it is possible to spend a couple of weeks and still not come close to doing everything.
There are some destinations that call to us for their rich history and ancient landmarks, others that beckon with the promise of delicious food and easygoing café culture, and others still so enticing for their mountains, lakes, and other adventure-ridden natural backdrops but these destinations are best known for their wow factors. Natural phenomena around the world draw visitors from far and wide, itching to catch a glimpse of something so rare and mysterious that even if there is an explanation, it’s hard to fathom nature can work such wondrous sights.
8. Hierapolis‑Pamukkale, Turkey
Pamukkale city is also called Cotton Castle, a perfect name for the magnificent site in southwestern Turkey. Terraces, travertine, and hot springs were created by carbonate minerals over centuries, leftover by streaming, calcite-weighty waters derived from a nearly 700-foot cliff overlooking the plain. The landscape is unreal, almost unfathomable in its purity and intense whiteness. Terraced basins, mineral forests, and a collection of petrified waterfalls blanket the terrain, creating the look that spawned its name. The Hierapolis thermal spas, part of this natural phenomenon, were created when the 2nd century BC came to a close during the Attalids dynasty. The Byzantine and Roman spa city, Hieropolis is one of the most fascinating ruins in Turkey, well protected and preserved by its UNESCO status. The ruins of the Greek monuments, baths, and temples are located at the UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Though visitors cannot walk directly on terraces, the small, cerulean pools are open for dips. Dodge the crowds, stay overnight, and visit at sunset for an exceptional experience.
7. Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
Guided tours have been happening at the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand’s Waitomo region since the 1800s and there’s little wonder why. Within the caves, the magical spot known as the Glowworm Grotto has received attention from around the world and is an iconic attraction in New Zealand. Across the walls and ceilings of the caves, a starry glow is ignited by innumerable glowworms, a species exclusive to New Zealand and measuring the size of a regular mosquito. Over 30 millions years ago, the Waitomo legend started with the formation of limestone in the ocean’s deepest reaches. Now, these limestone creations have become known as one of the most inspirational and incredible natural wonders on the planet. Professional guides lead trips through the cave, where visitors are guided silently across cave waters where the sight comes into full view. The glowworms dot the caves while their silks hang down from the ceilings like stringy luminous decorations.
6. Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar
One of the world’s most famous outdoor alleys, the Avenue of the Baobabs is Madagascar’s most prevailing natural wonder. The fairytale trees are found in the Menabe region, lining an old dirt road, and are one of the continent’s most impressive sights. Madagascar, one of Africa’s island countries, place laden with rainforest and featuring deserts, beaches, and fantastic wildlife–getting there is half the fun. Best known as the “upside down tree,” baobabs are also called bottle trees, boab trees, and boaboa trees, some of which are more than 800 years old. The circumference of the baobab can reach around 160 feet and the diameter of larger specimens near 40 feet, making them some of the biggest in Africa. Though most of the largest baobabs are located in Madagascar, they can also be found in other parts of the continent though Madagascar’s are the remarkable.
5. Wisteria Tunnel, Japan
Just six hours travel from Tokyo is the city of Kitakyushu where the Kawachi Fuji Garden wows visitors. Swaths of gorgeous Wisteria, spanning more than 20 unique species, flower here between April and May. This is one of the only places you can stroll through fabulous gardens and then move on to stroll through a tunnel of variegated purples, plums, whites, and lilacs, all vibrantly bursting with colour, creating a spectacular natural setting. The dreamlike setting hits its peak in April, the best time to go, but it’s still extraordinary anytime during season (the garden itself is private and does require a fee for entry). The tunnel is blanketed in the different Wisteria species, which are trained over a large, arching trellis while underneath the grass is a lush emerald, creating a passage completely enveloped in flora. I this doesn’t feel like a fairytale setting, nothing will.
4. Angel Falls, Venezuela
Most would gawk at the size of Niagara Falls on either the Canadian or American side of the cascading giant but there’s a waterfall even more immense than Niagara–Angel Falls in Venezuela located in Canaima National Park. At more than 14 times the size of Niagara Falls, it comes thundering off of Auyantepui, a tabletop mountain. The falls commemorate the first person to fly over them, U.S. aviator Jimmy Angel. The falls take the record as the world’s highest continual waterfall, cascading without one single interruption. Stretching skyward more than 3,200 feet, the total measured height consists mainly of the main plunge but also includes sloping cascades, the whitewater rapids found below, and an almost 100-foot plunge ensuing at the talus rapids. Getting there is feat: ride the Rio Churun and El Rio Carrao (rivers) for four hours, cross a broad stream, and take a 90-minute climb to the vantage point. The journey is a bonafide Venezuelan adventure and well worth any struggle.
3. Cave of the Crystals, Mexico
Located 980 feet below the Chihuahua Desert, the enormous Cave of Crystals is home to the largest formations discovered on Earth, formed over millennia, and the biggest being 39 feet long and 55 tons in weight. Massive beams of selenite dwarf human explorers in Mexico’s Cave of Crystals, deep below the Chihuahuan Desert. In 2000, two brothers were drilling deep in the mines of Naica, one of the country’s most profitable mines yielding tons of silver and lead each year. They happened upon the Cave of Crystals. At first glimpse, it was nothing they had never seen before as the silver and lead present the raw materials necessary to form crystals and several smaller crystals had previously been discovered throughout the mines. Upon closer inspection, drilling farther and farther, the brothers unearthed the geological wonder and cracked one of Mexico’s largest attractions wide open-quite literally. The 20-minute approach via a meandering mine shaft in the heat and darkness is worth every minute.
2. Sea of Stars -Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
The Maldives is home to one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful islands known in the world, Vaadhoo Island. Located on the Raa Atoll, this natural phenomena is known to the world as the Sea of Stars because of the way the luminescent blue waves drift across the water. The natural phenomenon originates from bioluminescence, a naturally occurring chemical reaction which happens when oxygen disturbs a microorganism in the water. Phytoplankton is what these marine microbes are called and they live all around the world–Vaadhoo Island is not the only place you’ll catch the vibrant show. Bioluminescence occurs in many other places (but not nearly as intensely) including Australia, Jamaica, and parts of the United States. Within the Maldives, bioluminescence also happens in Rangali and Mudhdhoo. Seeing the radiant occurrence ablaze under a sea of stars might just be one of the best ways in the world to spend an evening.
1. Dark Hedges, Ireland
If you’ve ever seen a Tim Burton movie, you might just feel like you stepped right inside one of his marvels when walking through the Dark Hedges in Armoy, Ireland. The twisted, gnarled, and massive row of beeches lining Armoy’s Bregagh Road, with their incredibly thick, barked-caked trunks create one of the most bizarre and eerie sights in the country. The Dark Hedges were planted in the 1900s by a family named Stuart as an impressive vision along the road to their estate, Gracehill House (now a golf club), up the road. Rumors of the Grey Lady, a ghost that presumably haunts the road, are ripe and word is she frequently travels the road after dusk. Ghost stories aside, 300 years after the planting of the beech trees, they have gown so much they’ve reached several hundred feet up and crossed the road, growing into each other creating an intertwined and unearthly tunnel where lights and shadows play through entangled branches. This is Northern Ireland’s most photographed site and one to have appeared in movies and TV series including Game of Thrones.
As 2015 has started to wind down, no doubt many of us are already looking ahead and planning those vacations for the coming year. If you’ve been having trouble deciding just where you want to cross off your travel bucket list next, check out this list of the top countries to visit in 2016 as per Lonely Planet’s new guidebook; ‘Best in Travel 2016’. All countries and their rankings were determined by Lonely Planet’s staff and community members.
It’s true that Fiji has had a rocky last decade or so after political unrest and government instability but it seems the country has sorted all that out and can now get back to being the model for island paradise. It’s geographic location has made it a bit harder to get to in the past but in 2016, the country’s international airport will get an upgrade making the travel process much smoother. Lonely Planet says that in 2016,”Fiji’s got its groove back” so prepare yourself for warm welcoming singers at every turn.
While everyone else still seems to be hung up on Iceland, Lonely Planet insists that in 2016 it’s Greenland that arctic travelers should take note of. Part of this is due to the limited time factor, as a country that’s 80% covered in snow and ice will only last so long in a world that’s continually getting warmer. Come for the icebergs, midnight sun, dog-sledding and of course the Northern Lights, but also in March of 2016, come as Greenland hosts the Arctic Winter Games, the largest event of it’s kind ever held.
For decades Uruguay has flown under the travel radar, often being overshadowed by its boisterous neighbors Brazil and Argentina. But they don’t call this country “the Switzerland of America” for nothing; while other South American countries deal with conflict after conflict, Uruguay revels in political stability, good governance, peacefulness and prosperity. Granted safety and security does not make a top travel destination, certainly not a Lonely Planet top 10 one anyway, but the architecture of Old Town Montevideo, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the opportunity to live out a traditional gaucho (cowboy) experience do.
According to Lonely Planet, the country of Poland has superpowers. That may seem ridiculous but for a country whose economy and visitor number continue to climb through a recession that brought to rest of Europe to its knees, it may not be such a stretch after all. Wrocław, the historical capital of Silesia will become a European Capital of Culture in 2016, a designation appointed by the EU that will surely see the city in the spotlight. And it’s not the only city to see some stardom in 2016 either; Kraków will be getting a visit by the Pope for World Youth Day when arrives to kick-off a calendar of celebrations and activism.
Unless you’re from New Zealand, a trip to Australia may seem out of reach. It’s a notion that has many travelers saying “too far, too expensive” but Lonely Planet insists the 24 hours of flying time will be well spent one you experience the beauty and diversity of this land down under. The weakening Australian dollar is also another reason why 2016 is the right time for that trip you’ve always dreamed of. Several of Australia’s most renowned natural attractions are under threat, including the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmania’s astounding wilderness. With the threats of dredging and logging looming, the time to see these natural wonders is now, before they’re seemingly unrecognizable.
Latvia hasn’t always been a place you’d want to visit, mostly thanks to the shadow of Communism and oppression that blanketed the country during its Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1991. Now, on the country’s 25th anniversary of independence, the story is much different. Lonely Planet says that after over two decades of playing catch up to its neighboring European countries, it’s clearly earned the title of ‘most improved.’ This theme is evident in everything from the food to the buildings as everywhere you turn, old castles and manor houses are being lovingly restored and turned into beautiful inns and museums.
This country is more accurately described as an archipelago of over 500 islands in the Western Pacific Ocean. From that info one may have pieced together that the scuba diving and snorkeling here is unsurpassed by many other places on earth. While Australia is struggling to protect its famous reef, Palau is blazing new trails by designating 100% of its marine territory as a protected sanctuary. A move which earned President Remengesau the title of ‘Champion of the Earth’ by the United Nations. Even if you prefer to keep your head above water, this ‘underwater Serengeti’ has offerings for you too, including kayaking, sailing and wildlife watching.
You wouldn’t be alone if you’re thinking that the USA may be the odd man out on this years top countries list but Lonely Planet knows what they’re doing and there’s good reason for it. In 2016 the US National Park Service turns 100, celebrating a century of the governing body responsible for protecting the nation’s national parks and historic landmarks. It’s one of the reasons that names like Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Badlands, Zion, and Shenandoah are still accessible today. So in 2016, pack your hiking boots (and some good wool socks of course) and prepare for an outdoor adventure of natural splendor.
While Japan lands at #2 on this years top travel list, Lonely Planet insists it still “ranks number one in the world for that quintessential not-in-Kansas-anymore travel experience.” Anyone who’s been to Japan and witnessed the brightly illuminated, highly automated streets of Tokyo, already knows this to be true. But in 2016 it’s Japan’s amazing juxtaposition of old and new, modern and historic that puts it firmly on the Best in Travel list. The city of Tokyo is already seeing activity in preparation for hosting the 2020 Olympic games, including the creation of a new shopping district, an Olympic Village and the movement of the famous Tsukiji fish market to a brand new facility.
Lonely Planet describes the #1 country on this list as “Democratic, progressive, enlightened – but above all, invigoratingly wild.” The continent of Africa doesn’t exactly scream safety and political stability but Botswana is an exception to these stereotypes. In 2016 the country celebrates 50 years in independence and in those 50 years Botswana has become one of Africa’s most stable, thriving societies with a growing economy, minimal corruption (what country doesn’t have some) and a forward thinking tourism industry. Aside from economic factors, it’s Botswana’s vast, untamed and pristine wilderness (17% of the country is dedicated to national parks) that deserves your attention. Lonely Planet also says that the myths of this country being ‘too far, inaccessible, and not catering to families’ are simply not true. But as always, you’ll just have to plan a trip and see for yourself.
Designations from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are much sought after by cities around the world. Its best known one is the World Heritage Site that calls on signatories to protect and preserve important monuments from a small church to a vast jungle. Less well known but still dandy for planning itineraries is the Creative Cities Network in which cities receive a special designation if it can prove its creative specialty is unique of important cultural and economic significance and is sustainable. One of the most intriguing is Design. UNESCO has identified 15 Cities of Design that “(place) creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans.” It is about not just the urban space but the things that fill space that, to meet UNESCO criteria must enhance the quality of life for people and be environmentally sustainable. And of course make a whole bunch of seriously cool stuff. Here are, in UNESCO’s estimation the 15 most aesthetically pleasing and innovative Cities of Design.
15. Montréal, Canada
The genius of some of the world’s great architects dot the Montreal skyline despite the civic edict that no building exceeds the height of Mont Royal under whose slopes the city was founded in 1642. I.M Pei’s Place Ville Marie still dominates the downtown more than 50 years after its debut. Other stellar works include Mies van der Rohe’s Westmount Square, Buckminster Fuller’s stunning Geodesic Dome and Moshe Sadie’s Habitat, the latter two built for the 1967 World’s Fair has found new life. Old Montreal by the Old Port is a treasure of preserved 19th century buildings on cobblestone streets. It is the home of the Canadian Centre for Architecture as well as the UNESCO Chair in Landscape and Environmental Design at l’ Université de Montréal. UNESCO calls Montreal “The City of Designers” with 25,000 people in design development in one of the most stylish cities in North America.
14. Buenos Aires, Argentina
For architecture fans and design geeks, Buenos Aires is already heaven. One of its iconic historic buildings, Palacio Barolo is an homage to the Dante’s 15th century masterpiece, The Divine Comedy with the Hell, the ground floor with flame images on the walls, to the mid-level office space, called Purgatory and the upper floors with their fantastic views of the great city being ‘Paradise.” It has a stable of great works on its skyline built in a jumble of Old World Styles from Renaissance to Art Deco. The Planetarium and Women’s Bridge continue the creative tradition into the 21st century. UNESCO notes with praise the use of government incentives to grow the design industry which now accounts for almost a tenth of the giant city’s Gross Domestic Product and “contributes to turning Buenos Aires into a benchmark of design in Latin America: while fostering inclusive and sustainable development.
13. Curitiba, Brazil
This city of 3 million people in southern Brazil is at the forefront of sustainable urban development in the world. Already a cultural and design center, UNESCO singles out the city’s innovation for “Recognizing design as an agent for urban transformation.” In this context the term “design” goes beyond buildings in post-modern, futuristic shapes to the materials used to make them. The sustainable city mission was begun by architect and three-term, Curitiba Mayor Jaime Lerner and inspired similar initiatives across the country. Lerner combined an overhaul of mass transit and garbage collection with the promotion of alternative building materials to streamline costs and provide affordable housing. An, NGO (Nongovernmental Organization) Curadores da Terra or Keepers of the earth has developed a process that turns the environmental plague of plastic bottles into a popular, inexpensive building material.
What leaps to mind at the Mention of Bilbao, is the beautiful jumble that is the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry, one of the most famous and renowned pieces of architecture since it opened in 1997. In fact the whole process of reclaiming former heavily industrial urban areas that are in decline or abandoned has come to be called “The Guggenheim Effect, the great Museum reclaimed a derelict section of the old port for a sustainable addition to the city’s tourism infrastructure. The policy continues with the Alhondiga, a beautiful wine warehouse from 1909 on the verge of demolition but rescued and turned into a multi use cultural facility in 2010. Bilbao’s approach using design and technology to transition from an old industrial economy to a modern service economy is the model UNESCO wants more cities to follow, the creation of “major cultural facilities contributing to the economy in terms of wealth creation, employment and social well-being.
11. Turin, Italy
Italy has been at the forefront of global design since they built the Roman Senate in 753 BCE. Turin has been called the Detroit of Italy, the home of great automotive brands like Fiat and Alfa Romeo. And like its American counterpart it experienced economic crisis and depopulation in the 1980’s. Still with about the same GDP as the country of Croatia, Turin has used its accumulated wealth expertise and world class schools to move upstream into more sustainable, knowledge based industries, most notably aerospace. Several of the International Space Station modules were designed here. The greatest symbol of the city’s rejuvenation and transition is the fabulous Lingotto Fiere,which remains futurists despite being nearly a century old. Even Le Corbusier the great French architect raved about it.The old Fiat plant opened in 1922, but then became outmoded in the seventies and eventually closed in the 80’s. It reopened as a multi-use complex, including a hotels, concert halls art gallery shopping mall and a campus for the world renowned Polytechnic University of Turin.
10. Graz, Austria
Graz is already home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Eggenberg Castle is a grand historical work in the Baroque style. The Old Town is an impeccably preserved wealth of centuries of buildings in wide range of architectural styles. But the small city of 300,000 isn’t resting on those fortunate laurels of the distant past. UNESCO’s website is prone to thick bureaucratic gibberish, but the spirit of the initiative comes through in statements like noting a fashion festival “is committed to cultural exchange on the textile level.” It’s just an example of the injection of sustainability into everyday goods that is providing the basis of The Next Economy in First World places that can afford to lead the way. Consider it the next Industrial Revolution. The Creative Sector in Graz has almost 5,000 companies, mostly small and medium size that generate about $700,000,000 in additional revenue allowing the city to commission innovative, iconic works of architecture that goes beyond fancy buildings for the sake of being fancy to making intelligent design that “and values both the aesthetic component of design as well as its ability to make daily life more livable.”
9. Berlin, Germany
Berlin has been one of the creative centers of the world for centuries and is now becoming leader in Design with some 2,400 companies been over $400,000,000 in annual revenue. Its International Center for Design is focused on what it believes is the way of the future: “Environmentally-conscious design is thus the key to a sustainable society.” At its heart is the emerging consumer behaviour called LOHAS “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability” as individuals seek out healthier lifestyle and environmentally sensitive choices. They have become a world leader in ‘eco-design…to optimize energy efficiency, to minimize pollution emission and waste production.” There are 5000 Design students in the city’s elite schools. Berlindesign.net acts as an independent, fair trade platform for hundreds of independent Berlin designers from fashion to furniture to food. It’s all based on a highly innovative business plan called the “Triple Bottom Line,” in which design marketing and pricing reflect not just profit margins but ecological, economic and social concerns as well.
8. Helsinki, Finland
Design is embedded in the Finnish soul. Or as the Guardian wrote “Design is to Helsinki as literature is to Dublin and samba is to Rio.” Scandinavia in general is known for its modernist, minimalist furniture but Finland itself with a population of 5.5 million has given the world two of its greatest architects, Eero Saarinen and Alvar Aalto. The Finnish capital is an architectural garden of delights. Volumes have been written about the Finns creativity but UNESCO pointed to two things in particular that propelled Helsinki to 2012’s World City of Design status. One, Design is a government priority. The Finnish Innovation Fund stimulates the sector to design solutions to a wide variety of public policy issues from sustainability to education. It especially notes the inclusion of passengers in the process of designing the seats on the transit system.
7. Dundee, Scotland
A charter member of the global Rust Belt of once vibrant juggernauts of heavy industry, Dundee was made the United Kingdom’s first Creative City of Design. It is a case study in urban reinvention in knowledge based economic sectors and an example of just how broad the discipline of design has become. The booming shipbuilding and textile industries have given way to biotechnology and digital media. Dundee is home to one of the largest teaching hospitals in the world as well as the company that produced the hugely popular video game called Grand Theft Auto. The city is spending 1.5 billion dollars on revitalizing its waterfront, including a striking Museum Of Design with the goal of making the city an international design center, creatively financed by government and private sector funding.
6. Shenzhen, China
Shenzhen’s skyline shimmers with stunning, cutting edge architectural design as befits to an emerging innovative powerhouse of 11 million people. The Stock Exchange, the Asian Cairns and the Oct Museum push the design envelope. In southern China close to Hong Kong, design is a multi-billion dollar business employing 100,000 people. A generation of Chinese designers were trained here and excel in a wide spectrum of disciplines, women’s fashion being the most notable but that includes crafts, jewelry and toys. The city has moved upstream into creative, knowledge-based sectors, finance primarily among them as integration with the wealth creation machine that is Hong Kong.
5. Shanghai, China
The Shanghai Design Show is Asia’s biggest and most important attracting the world designing elite, from Jaguar to Nike to Cognac giant Martell. A truly international city home to 25 million people faces enormous challenges in sustainable development. But it has a huge creative sector to meet those challenges and develop sectors that add about $40 billion to the city’s GDP. UNESCO notes that the city was the Chinese leader in creative sectors such as film and music. It takes one look at Shanghai’s dynamic skyline to grasp the tremendous creative power the city is harnessing under the aegis of the Municipal Commission of Economy and Technology. Shanghai’s Creative Cites page boasts 87 Creative Clusters, over 4,000 innovative design-related agencies and institutions, 283 art institutions, 239 art and cultural community centers, 100 museums, 25 libraries and 743 archive institutions. It is perhaps Exhibit A of a city growing its economy by investing in Design.
4. Kobe, Japan
There is a 21st century about the Kobe skyline partly because of its innovative nature and sadly, from a major rebuild after the catastrophic earthquake in 1995. But in one form or another the city has been adept at self-reinvention through history. As an open port it has absorbed the influence of many cultures and has long been regarded as a cosmopolitan city. There is an old saying that says, “If you can’t go to Paris go to Kobe.” Like the French city to which it’s compared, Kobe is a fashion design center. Kobe Biennale is a major annual art and design event that aims to use the twin disciplines “not only to promote the arts, but also to contribute to the enrichment and environment of Kobe.” In 2015 a number eclectic competitions were held for Art-in-a Box, using old containers as a kind of urban canvas; creative toys, ceramic art, comic illustration and ‘green’ art.
3. Nagoya, Japan
One of the rare cities that has managed to retain its blue collar and artistic pedigrees. It is home to major Toyota and Mitsubishi auto plants as well as traditional Japanese theater, cuisine and craft work dating back to medieval times. All under the magnificent watch of the fabulous 17th century Nagoya Castle. Even the modern manufacturing systems are based on the old Japanese principle of Monozukuri which Toyota defines as “manufacturing which is in harmony with nature and that is value adding for the society… the older sister of sustainable manufacturing.” Also unlike many others on the list, Nagoya can claim a design specialty. An army of engineers advance robot technology as well as a sector that discovers and designs new materials. UNESCO lauds its combination of tradition and the philosophy of Humanism with advanced technology.
2. Seoul, South Korea
The economy of South Korea is an aggressively powerful export machine barging into giant-dominated sectors like cars and cellphones. Seoul, the dynamic capital, is home to three-quarters of the country’s designers. Seoul’s design sector is heavy on IT related products now honing fashion and digital home appliance design. City government policy acts as a facilitator linking design companies with its thriving industrial base. Dongdaemun Design Plaza is like a modern Silicon Valley of design and creative expertise that not only serves as an incubator for innovation, but transformed one of the city’s oldest, most historic districts.
1. Beijing, China
Far and away the most controversial and debatable of UNESCO’s designations is Beijing, China. However, UNESCO notes the city’s 3000 years rich with history. The architecture and design of the venues for the 2008 Olympics were spectacular but remain underused and unable to be integrated into the city fabric. Meanwhile the brutally bulldozing of the city’s legendary hutongs or traditional neighborhoods of narrow alleys have been documented in books and documentaries. UNESCO cites the huge number of museums and creativity clusters “bearing in mind their relevance for sustainable development.”
Hostels were once regarded as shady, filth ridden places that most people agreed should be avoided at all costs. While this may still true of some places out there, thanks to the internet gifting us all with access to immense amounts of information, including hotel reviews and visitor testimonies, lodgings around the world have been forced to step up their competitive game. Staying in a clean, comfortable and centrally located room no longer means forking out hundreds of dollars a night or greatly compromising on quality. It also means that tons of creative, one of a kind accommodations have come out of the woodwork, offering visitors an experience that is so much more than just a bunk-bed dorm and shared facilities. So for those on a budget and looking for a truly unique stay, here are 12 of the world’s most amazing budget hostel accommodations:
12. Hostel Old Plovdiv – Plovdiv, Bulgaria
You can let your old soul shine through and reminisce about days gone by in this boutique-style hostel furnished almost exclusively with antiques. Housed in a historic building in an ancient part of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the property exudes an old-world vibe that is in keeping with its surroundings, and provides a truly unique home base as you explore this beautiful city. While the hostel maintains character from top to bottom, architecture to décor, the hosts make sure to offer a wide variety of amenities for the convenience of their guests, including free breakfast, WiFi and parking, as well as a host of organized adventure and culture-based daytime excursions.
11. Dawson City River Hostel – Yukon, Canada
For those of you who are looking to explore the Canadian North and for whom the idea of “unique” translates to “rustic”—and we do truly mean rustic, not just exposed beams and wood trim—Canada’s northernmost hostel is the place for you. Located on the western side of the Yukon River, overlooking the city of Dawson, the region is not connected to the city power grid or water supply, allowing owner Dieter Reinmuth to stay true to his vision of providing a true northern-living experience. This place will bring out your adventurous side as you disconnect from those newfangled notions of electricity and technology, and immerse yourself in the nature of simplistic cabins, outdoor cooking and fire-wood heated bathing facilities. Visitors also have access to bikes, canoes, and heaps of information on what to explore in the area, making it a must-visit for anyone looking to broaden their horizons and/or break out of their modern-living comfort zone.
10. Capsule Ryokan – Kyoto, Japan
In true Japanese-style efficiency, the Capsule Ryokan in Kyoto offers the very traditional style of hostel bunk beds with a very unique twist. Each bunk can actually be enclosed “capsule style” and transformed into your very own quarters, complete with personal air conditioning, a wall-mounted flat screen TV and a storage locker. The hostel also offers traditional Japanese-style private rooms, a common lounge area and a refreshing dose of culture—daily kimono fittings!
9. City Hostel Seattle – Washington, USA
This artistic paradise is unique not only in concept but in its very décor –each room is one of a kind, decorated by a different local artist. The fact that it’s housed in the historic Lorraine Hotel (popular celebrity haunt of the 1930s) and offers free movies in its in-house movie theater only adds to its super eclectic vibe. This, along with its free breakfast, extremely helpful staff and a central location has earned it a place as one of the best-rated budget accommodations in the city of Seattle.
8. Ottawa Jail Hostel – Ontario, Canada
If you’ve ever had a hankering to spend the night in the slammer (you know, without all of those pesky legal and ethical hurdles), take a trip to Canada’s capital city and live your dream! The Ottawa Jail Hostel is a 150 year old converted prison in heart of the city, and provides accommodation in cells themselves (dorm-style) and in former officers’ quarters (private rooms, usually for families). The hostel also offers a variety of freebies; WiFi, breakfast and daily jail tours are all included, as well as the priceless feature of awesome hosts, who, on their website state, “If you are lucky, you can also meet a ghost…free of charge! No need to thank us.” Free ghosts AND a touch of sass? Sold.
7. Clayzy House – Ko Lanta, Thailand
Attention all free-spirited, adventure-seeking, eco-conscious music and art lovers (yep, that’s right), because the Clayzy House hostel community on Thailand’s west coast just might become your second home. Built entirely by hand from local materials such as mud, bamboo and driftwood, the hostel provides both tree house style and dorm accommodations and exudes a laid-back, artsy vibe for travelers who love nature and don’t mind “roughing it” (floors are made of mud and washroom facilities are shared.) The place also offers frequent open mic nights, seemingly endless floor-to-ceiling artwork and a pristine location that is just steps from the beach. Additionally, the on-site bar, common area slung with hammocks and steady stream of reggae and rock music have helped solidify the hostel’s reputation as having one of the best shared accommodation atmospheres in the world, with many past lodgers admitting they stayed much longer than initially planned.
6. Tulia House Backpackers – Mombasa, Kenya
While much of this hostel on Mombasa’s coast fits the bill for standard budget accommodation, with both private and dorm-style rooms, it offers one truly unique (and extremely cool) opportunity—the chance to spend an African-style night. Visitors have the option to forego typical bunk bed dorms and stay in a traditionally constructed building that is complete a sand floor and curtained exterior walls, and sleep on a suspended Funzi hammock (linens and a mosquito net are provided for comfort). The hostel also has a stellar social scene, with outdoor movie nights, poolside BBQs, beer pong tournaments and speedboat excursions to nearby beach bars.
5. Fauzi Azar Inn – Nazareth, Israel
Housed in a 200-year-old mansion in the heart of Nazareth’s Old City, The Fauzi Azar Inn provides a stunning home base for travelers interested in exploring Galilee. The inn offers uniquely decorated dorms and private rooms and is centrally located within walking distance to all major sites, including the souq (open air market), the Basilica of Annunciation and the White Mosque. The hostel building itself is also a sight to behold, featuring a hand-painted ceiling and marble floors, and the hospitality and endless efforts of the hosts are unparalleled, offering visitors free breakfast, free daily walking tours and free cake!
4. Mushroom Point – Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Exactly as the name implies, both the communal dorm and the private rooms in this small hostel are straw huts shaped to look like mushrooms, earning it a place as one of the most creative hostels out there. Another distinguishing feature is that there is not one bunk bed to be seen across the entire property, with sleeping facilities equipped with rattan-made round beds (big enough for two) draped in mosquito netting. The few bungalows on the property each offer private bathrooms and small patios, and the place as a whole boasts top-rated food, beautiful gardens and a prime location just minutes from the beach.
3. Kadir’s Tree Houses – Olympos, Turkey
Have you ever considered switching lives with a sometimes-drunk, extremely well-fed squirrel living in a forest? If so, here is your chance. In all seriousness, Kadir’s is a one of a kind budget accommodation found in a truly stunning location in Turkey’s Antalya region, just minutes from Olympos beach. The hostel offers the choice between bungalows (air conditioned and standard) and its most unique feature: traditionally-built tree house dorms. The property also has 2 bars, a seafood restaurant and a snack bar, as well as an extremely lively social scene. Breakfast and dinner are also included, proving that despite all of the recent positive publicity and rapid expansion to Kadir’s, travelers remain the number one priority.
2. Jumbo Stay – Stockholm, Sweden
For you long-range flyers perpetually wondering if you will EVER be able to sleep comfortably on a plane, wonder no more. The answer is still obviously “no,” but you can definitely pretend in Sweden’s Jumbo Stay. The hostel-hotel offers accommodation in a converted Boeing 747, ranging from dormitory style quads to a converted cockpit suite with panoramic views. It’s also conveniently located at the city’s Arlanda Airport, making it extremely handy for travelers who want a cool place to stay as they pass through.
1. Chateau Bahia – Quebec, Canada
If you’ve been meaning to satisfy your childhood dream of living in a fairy tale castle but just can’t seem to remember where you put that spare 2 billion dollars, your troubles are behind you. This wooden castle, which took 18 years to construct, offers both dorm-style and private rooms, and comes complete with a banquet room, 4 towers and 7 turrets. Your stay includes free breakfast and—for an added fee—a nightly candlelit dinner in the banquet hall, as well as a slew of activities both in the castle and in the surrounding forests of the Gaspé Peninsula. For those who consider themselves handy and have at least 2 weeks to spare, the hostel also offers free stays for anyone willing to help with additional construction.
Some may call them gondolas, others may call them cable cars or aerial tramways but we call them trams. By tram, we aren’t talking about the light-rail or streetcars that run through most of Europe; we are talking about the cable-suspended cabins that seamlessly float through the air. All over the world these trams offer incredible sweeping views of oceans, mountains and cities. From trams that offer free public transportation to those with glass floors, here are 12 of the best tram rides in the world.
12. Roosevelt Island Tram – New York City, United States
It is one of America’s only aerial tramways used for urban mass transit and that fact alone makes this tram pretty incredible. It serves more than two million commuters and tourists a year connecting Roosevelt Island to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Each cabin can hold up to 110 people and the trip only takes three minutes. The draw for tourists seems to be the sweeping views of Manhattan and the East River it provides from 230 feet in the air. This Tram has been featured in many television shows and movies and continues to be one of the most loved trams in the world.
11. Gibraltar Cable Car – Gibraltar, Spain
Many people have never heard of Gibraltar mainly because it is a very small British Overseas Territory that is located on the south coast of Spain, often referred to as “The Rock.” One of the highlights here is a trip on the cable car. It has been around since 1966 and not summiting the top via cable car would be like going to the Grand Canyon and not looking over the rim. The ride to the top only takes six minutes, but visitors are provided with an audio guide that talks about the history of the area. Sweeping views over the strait and into Northern Africa accompany riders. At the top visitors will be privy to the view of two continents, three countries and the meeting point of two great bodies of water. There is only one hitch to being at the top of this rock and that is the thieving resident apes that are waiting for you. Make sure to leave all food below and hold onto your camera as these apes love to steal right from your hand.
10. Table Mountain Aerial Cableway – Cape Town, South Africa
It is one of three trams in the world where each circular cabin rotates a full 360 degrees during the ascent to Table Mountain. The five minute trip up provides spectacular views and has been enjoyed by over 20 million people. A quick fact about this cable car, it was actually one of Cape Town’s first tourist attractions and opened in 1929. On the ride up and at the summit visitors are granted 360-degree views of Cape Town, Table Bay, nearby mountains and the rest of Table Mountain National Park. Also at the top is where you will find three hiking trails, a guided walk, self-serve restaurant and souvenir shop. One of the more popular times to ride this tram is sunset as there seems to be no better place in Africa to watch the sun sink away than on top of Table Mountain. If you are feeling really adventurous, skip the cable car ride back down and rappel down the cliff face.
9. Sandia Peak Tramway – Albuquerque, United States
It is hailed as North America’s longest aerial tram and has the world’s third longest single span. That alone is enough for us to want to get to Albuquerque and ride it today. At 2.7 miles long the tram provides sweeping views of the steep rocky terrain. The trip starts off in the suburbs of northeast Albuquerque and spends 15 minutes taking visitors up to the high desert peaks of the Sandia Mountains. Riders should expect an elevation change of about 4,000 feet and a temperature drop of 30 degrees. It works on a double system where one tram ascends and the other descends, each being able to hold up to 50 people. When this tram was first constructed in 1966 the engineering company touted it as being one of the most difficult tramway construction projects because of the terrain. You can just imagine what those views look like from 3,000 feet in the air.
8. Telluride Gondola – Colorado, United States
This ultra laid back ski town offers an equally cool form of public transportation. It offers a 13 minute tram ride between Telluride and Mountain Village. What makes this tram even better, riders can ride it as many times as they want for free. Since it opened in 1996, this tram has always been free and motors along leisurely at 11 mph operating from 7 am-midnight. This tram offers incredible 360 degree views of the San Juan Mountains and locals refer to it as the “best commute in the country.” Everyone is welcome on this tram including your four legged furry friends as long as they are on a leash. Equipped with ski and snowboard racks in the winter, bike racks in the summer and blankets all year round. This tram has truly thought of everything to make your ride unforgettable.
7. Skyline Gondola – Queenstown, New Zealand
The views from this gondola, the steepest of its kind in all of the Southern Hemisphere, are epically amazing. This tram takes visitors 450 meters above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu to the top of Bob’s Peak. You can even take your bike up on it. But what awaits visitors at the top is what makes this tram one of the best. Besides the awesome viewing platforms and outdoor terraces, there is a plethora of activities that await visitors on this peak. For the adrenaline seekers, paragliding, bungee jumping and luge racing are all offered at the top. For those not quite daring enough, there are plenty of mountain biking trails, stargazing tours and scenic dining options as well. The 222- degree view of the Remarkable Range, the town center looking like a Lego city and the plethora of activities at the top make this one amazing tram ride.
6. Dubrovnik Cable Car -Dubrovnik, Croatia
Soar up above Dubrovnik’s orange-roofed walled Old Town on this amazing cable car that goes 1,329 feet up into the air. The original cable car that was opened in 1969 was actually bombed out during the 1991 Balkan conflicts, but has since been replaced and re-opened in 2010. It only takes four minutes to do the entire run, but it remains one of the best ways for visitors to take in the Dalmatian coast anytime of the day. It is possible to buy a one-way ticket up and that often gives visitors the best of both worlds, as the walk down is just as scenic and only takes a mere 30 minutes. We suggest aiming for sunset as the sky lights up with color when the sun sinks beneath the Adriatic Sea over this twinkling city with its snaky roads and rocky islands.
5. Hakone Ropeway – Hakone, Japan
With over two million riders a year, the Hakone Ropeway is hailed as the world’s busiest gondola, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. This 30 minute journey takes visitors 2.5 miles from Togendai Station on the shores of Lake Ashi to Sounzan Station in Hakone, an area known for its hot spring baths. It makes two stops along the way and promises views of the snowcapped Mount Fuji, the crystal clear blue waters of Lake Ashi, the volcanic fumes of Owakudani and forested mountains. The trams run at one minute intervals to the tourist busy town of Hakone, where locals tell visitors to eat a hardboiled egg that has been soaked in the sulfur rich water in order to add seven more years to their life. We aren’t too sure about the jet black egg, but we are sure about making this tram ride a must do while in Japan.
4. Langkawi SkyCab – Langkawi, Malaysia
The SkyCab is located at the oldest part of South East Asia and whisks visitors over jungle and rock that is 550 million years old. There are actually three parts of this tram ride, first the base station located at the foot of the Machincang Mountain where visitors catch the tram. The second station is in the middle at an elevation of 650 m above sea level that provides panoramic views of the main island. There are viewing platforms available and here is the chance to get up close to the unique flora. The top station sits at an elevation of 708 m above sea level and features two viewing platforms that offer dramatic views. The entire journey takes about 15 minutes if you choose not to get off and takes you to the island’s second highest peak, Mount Machincang.
3. Ngong Ping 360 – Hong Kong, China
It is hailed as being one of the world’s best cable car experiences and with its choice of cabins, incredible views and cultural village, it is easy to see why. The journey is 3.5 miles one way and takes visitors between Tung Chung Town and Ngong Ping on Lantau Island. To start off the gondola makes a hard turn to begin its journey over the stunning Tung Chung Bay and into the lush green mountains of Lantau Island. The views include the South China Sea, the Tian Tan Buddha Statue, the International Airport and the flora and fauna of North Lantau Country Park. For those visitors wanting to splurge, book the incredible crystal cabins that are outfitted with a glass floor, giving you a bird’s eye views over all the sights. You will end up at the touristy Ngong Ping Village where you can visit the monastery, see the giant Buddha statue and explore the museum of cable car replicas from around the world.
2. Stanserhorn CabriO – Stans, Switzerland
It is the world’s first double-decker, open-top tram in the world and for those of you who are afraid of heights – you may want to skip it. Opened in June 2012, this cable car zips visitors 3,737 feet to the top of Stanserhorn. The lower level of the car with floor to wall windows fits a comfortable 60 people. Taking the staircase to the top is most recommended where an additional 30 people can fit. Fresh mountain area, 360 degree panoramic views and the wind in your hair is what you can expect up here. It takes just six and a half minutes to reach the top and before you know it the rolling green hills, towering mountains and bright blue waters will be below you. It may be the first open-air tram but we doubt it will be the last.
1. Grenoble-Bastille Cable Car – Grenoble, France
Since 1934, a steel cable has connected Grenoble to the summit all year round, in the world’s first urban route that opened with 12-sided cabins painted blue. Nowadays the cable cars look a little different in their ultra modern bubble shape with floor to ceiling windows in a cool silver and red color. Made of plexi-glass and steel these cabins fit six people each and are responsible for taking visitors from the banks of the Isere River to the ancient Bastille fortifications, in just four minutes. Safety is their number one priority here and in January these cable cars shut down for 20 days in order to perform drills, checks and maintenance. On a clear day, not only will visitors have sweeping views of the city of Grenoble but can also see the gorgeous Alps including the iconic Mont Blanc.
Small homes, going off-the-grid and the popularity of figures like lumberjacks show that Western culture is reaching back to its roots to reinvent itself, especially in terms of the way we live and the spaces we inhabit. The current popularity of the “log cabin” and its associated “rustic” appeal is evidence of that nostalgia. But log buildings don’t need to be a little log cabin in the woods. As these 10 examples show, log buildings have been around for a long time, they came in all shapes and sizes—and they continue to diversify.
10. Hans Liberg Recording Studio, Netherlands
Hans Liberg is a Dutch composer and like many artists, he finds the modern world distracts him from his art. In his case, the sounds of sirens and phones ringing play havoc with his ability to create. Enter a log cabin in the woods: an escape, a true retreat from the noisiness of modernity to the solitude of nature. But Liberg’s log cabin isn’t like any other. No, this construction is designed to look like a woodpile, the kind you’d find stocked for keeping the fire stoked during the long, cold winter. Not only that, but this log cabin is mobile; Liberg decided to set his studio up so he could move it around if, say, one place gets too noisy. Inside is a sound recording studio, where Liberg can create his art—albeit while making noise to disturb everyone else when the windows are open!
9. Victory Lodge – Sierra Nevada, United States
The American motto has long seemed to be “go big or go home,” and that’s certainly the motif behind Victory Lodge near June Lake, in the Sierra Nevada region of California. This enormous log cabin thoroughly stretches the definition of “cabin” with its magnitude. Nominally a single-family dwelling, the cabin features nine bedrooms and nine baths. The building, while privately owned, is rented out, occasionally as a wedding venue. It comes with all the amenities of modern life: 11 fireplaces, a six car garage, a sauna and even its own private casino. Coupled with sweeping views of the mountainous landscape surrounding it, Victory Lodge is truly an amazing example of what you can do with a few logs and a bit of cash—the property is valued at over $14 million and a weekly rental will run you nearly $5,000.
8. Biskupin – Lake Biskupin, Poland
Biskupin is an Iron Age settlement and fortress in Poland. When the site was discovered in the 1930s, it became famous and was used by Polish nationalists to show that prehistoric “Poles” had held their own against the Germans; the site was only 70 kilometers from the German border. A life-size model was constructed in the 1930s, but was destroyed by the retreating German army at the end of World War II. They also flooded the site, hoping to destroy it, but the water actually helped preserve the ancient timber—which was then used to date the site and to reconstruct a new, open-air museum. The Iron Age settlement was dated between 747 and 722 B.C., with over half of the wood being dated to 738–37 B.C. by dendrochronology. The ramparts and several houses have been reconstructed for visitors.
7. Chateau Montebello – Quebec, Canada
If you think log buildings are limited to log cabins, the Chateau Montebello in Quebec, Canada, invites you to think again. This hotel sits on a 65,000-acre, forested wildlife sanctuary on the shores of the Ottawa River. It has been a popular destination for Canadian leaders hosting international summits; many world leaders have visited the chateau for conferences and meetings. The plot, which had originally been granted to a bishop of New France in 1674 and subsequently sold and resold, ended up in the hands of Harold M. Saddleman in the late 1920s. Under the direction of a Finnish master builder, the Scandinavian-style log buildings were constructed in the early 1930s using red cedar shipped in via the Canadian Pacific Railway. The chateau remains a popular private retreat, in part because of its blend of luxury and rustic appeal.
6. Gakona Roadhouse – Gakona, Alaska
In 1904, the U.S. Army was in the midst of building the Trans-Alaska Military Highway between Valdez and Eagle. During construction, they put up a number of buildings to house workers, including what is now the Gakona Roadhouse. It sits at mile 205 of the Glenn Highway, which is located at a point where the new military highway diverged from the old trail that had been frequented by miners on their way to the Yukon River fields during the gold rush of the late 1890s. Today, travelers are welcomed into structures dating to the 1920s, while the 1904 building is used for storage. It has a 1-1/2 log structure and a gabled roof made of corrugated metal. The building was listed on the American National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
5. Shoso-in – Nara, Japan
Say “log building” and many people would think of a rustic construction made by pioneers somewhere in frontier America. Log cabins have been built around the world though, just in different styles. Take, for example, the Japanese azekura: joined-log structures typically made of cypress. The style was used for buildings like granaries and storehouses during the first millennium A.D. Perhaps the most famous azekura is Shoso-in, the treasure house at Todai-ji in Nara. It was built after 756 to house 600 items Empress Komyo had donated to the Great Buddha at Todai-ji in remembrance of her husband, Emperor Shomu. It is the oldest azekura building in Japan and the treasury holds some 9,000 items. The collection items are shown once a year at the Nara National Museum. Shoso-in is also home to a silk collection donated by the current Empress of Japan.
4. Church of Transfiguration – Karelia, Russia
If you want to see several cool log buildings in a short amount of time, visit Kizhi Pogost in Russia’s Perm Krai. Kizhi Pogost is an open-air museum that was founded in 1969; it has been welcoming visitors since 1980. The museum is dedicated to wooden architecture of the Ural region and includes 23 unique monuments, all of them constructed between the 1600s and the early 20th century. All of the structures are native to Perm Krai, although they were moved to the museum. A traditional Russian izba is on display, as well as a windmill. Perhaps most impressive is the Church of the Transfiguration, originally built in 1707 in the Cherdynsk District, complete with all its spires. The museum is one of the most important attractions in Perm Krai and regularly hosts festivals and holidays.
3. Vlkolínec Village – Vlkolínec, Slovakia
Not just one or two log buildings, Vlkolínec in central Slovakia is an intact village with some of the best examples of folk architecture in the Northern Carpathians. The village is one of 10 Slovak villages to have been granted status as a folk architecture reservation and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993. The village, a remarkable example of the traditions of central Europe, consists of more than 45 traditional log houses. Houses Number 16 and 17 function as a folk museum dedicated to showcasing lifeways, complete with tools and other artifacts. A wooden belfry and a baroque-style chapel are also intact, dating from at least the 18th century. Vlkolínec has been described as “picturesque” and offers us a peek into how the mountain-dwelling peoples of central Europe lived centuries ago—and a chance to see how their traditions have influenced Slovak culture today.
2. The Hess Homestead – Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
The Hess family immigrated from Germany in the early 18th century to Pennsylvania where they purchased a farm from the family of William Penn. The homestead functioned as a meeting place for Pennsylvania’s early Mennonites, until 1856 when the Mennonite church was built in Lancaster County. The early buildings on the land, including the 1740s log farm house, are fine examples of the German tradition of blockbau building, which the Hess family brought with them. In 1785, a log cabin was also built on the property. In 1985, a Hess descendant purchased the historic family property, and began relocation and conservation of several historic buildings that had been threatened with demolition. The former Reading Railroad line now forms a walking trail that adjoins the farmhouses. In 1999, the Warwick Township installed historic markers in the log farmhouse.
1. Heidal Church – Heidal, Norway
Heidal, Norway, is a valley and parish in the county of Oppland. Relatively unassuming and very rustic, the valley has a long history of carpentry and wood carving, and many historic buildings. Some, like the Bjostad farm are not open to the public, but are private property. Others, such as the Sore Harildstad farm allow guided tours. One of the places that visitors can tour are the Heidal Church, which was built between 1937 and 1941, as an exact replica of an 18th century log church that had burned down in 1933. Near to the church stands the Bjostad Chapel, another log building. It predates the church, being constructed in approximately 1531. Other log buildings are also scattered about the town, which makes visiting Heidal almost like stepping back in time. The church and chapel are excellent examples of local traditions merging with trends imported from elsewhere in Europe.