Population: 5.8 million
Foreign visitors per year: 1.8 million
Unit of currency: US dollar (US$)
Cost index: bottle of wine US$12, hotel (double) for a night US$250, Metrorail Daily Pass US$14, dinner for two (mid-range) US$70
Washington is one of the top museum and monument cities in the world and the Smithsonian Institution, a network of 19 museums, a zoo and several research centres, is a top draw. The 2015 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture marked the institution’s first new museum in more than a decade. It is the country’s only national museum devoted to African-American culture. 2015 also marked the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and, as you already know, Washington is that kind of city whose official religion is national politics.
Several mixed-use development projects are in the works – like downtown’s CityCenterDC and The Yards, along a formerly industrial stretch of the Anacostia River, both of which were opened in 2015 and beyond – with condos, hotels, retail and public outdoor spaces that are transforming the urban landscape and meeting the demands of the city’s large population of young professionals.
Add to this a vibrant gay bar scene, incredible ethnic eats thanks to thriving immigrant communities (like top-notch Ethiopian) and a venerable performing arts tradition at venues like the Kennedy Center, and the nation’s capital is looking more epic than ever.
On 14 april 2015 was the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Washington’s Ford’s Theatre by the actor John Wilkes Booth. Ford’s Theatre made a full commemorative schedule and a replica of Lincoln’s funeral train that retraced the original steam engine’s trip from DC to Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois, among other events.
Late March to early April is when the National Cherry Blossom Festival goes off, thanks to the spectacular, ethereal blooms of 3000 trees given to the city by the mayor of Tokyo in 1912. Check the National Park Service’s website for ‘peak bloom’ dates.
No one does Independence Day (4 July) better than the nation’s capital. Check out the parade, hit up one of the many block parties and barbecues around the city, then watch the red, white and blue fireworks explode in the night sky.
No one would call it uplifting and it’s definitely not for younger children, but you will never forget your visit to DC’s United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A powerful monument to the Holocaust, the permanent exhibition spans three floors, tracing an arc from the rise of Nazism beginning in 1933 to the Allied victory in 1945. A display of 4000 shoes of inmates who perished at the Polish Majdanek concentration camp and the Tower of Faces, a high-ceilinged room covered in 1500 photos taken between 1890 and 1941 in the town of Eishyshok (formerly in Poland, now in Lithuania), where over the course of two days in 1941 Nazis and their collaborators eradicated nearly all of the Jewish residents, are especially haunting.
Classic restaurant experience Jose Andres, one of America’s top chefs and a leading figure in contemporary Spanish cuisine, was born in northern Spain but moved to Washington in the early ’90s. Andres may run an empire spanning 13 restaurants (and one food truck) across five cities, but his first-ever restaurant, Jaleo, which turned 20 in 2013, is going stronger than ever. This Penn Quarter favourite is the place to go for classic and contemporary tapas in a setting with as much colour and energy as an Almodovar movie.
Best shopping :
Washington has always been more of a blazers-and-pearls kind of town, but in the last few years the city has experienced a rebirth of style thanks in no small part to a certain First Lady’s high-profile designer wardrobe. Georgetown is by far DC’s most style-conscious shopping district, with its backdrop of colourful row houses, canal and cobblestones. You’ll find everything from finely curated antiques (try Jean Pierre) and designer kids’ clothes (The Magic Wardrobe) to unique jewellery (Charm Georgetown).
Classic place to stay:
The Willard Hotel (now an InterContinental) traces its illustrious history back to 1850 when brothers Edwin and Henry Willard opened their inn one block from the White House. Having played host to nearly every US president since the mid-19th century and such luminaries as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Martin Luther King Jr, the grand dame of Washington hotels has many a tale to tell. Can’t afford to spend the night? Stroll through the opulent Beaux-Arts lobby to cocktail hour at the clubby Round Robin bar. Kentucky senator Henry Clay introduced Washington to the mint julep when he mixed one up here in the 1850s and they still use his recipe.
Population: 1000(elk,that is)
Visitors per year: 3.1 million
Main town: Estes Park
Major industry: tourism
Unit of currency: US dollar (US$)
Cost index: entrance fee US$20 per car, US$10 per pedestrian, campsite at Moraine Park Campground US$20, Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park ” guidebook US$17, post-hike burger and beer in Estes Park US$10
These snowy peaks, wildflower-carpeted meadows and mirror-like mountain lakes define the glory of the American West. Here you’ll find herds of grazing elk, icy rivers teeming with silvery trout, high-altitude forests of fragrant Douglas fir trees, snowy tundra camouflaging white-tailed ptarmigan. This is a hiker’s heaven, with 355 miles of trails, including several winding their way towards the summit of Longs Peak, the park’s famed `14er’ (mountain higher than 14,000ft). In winter, you can experience almost any snow-related activity in existence – sledding, skiing, snowshoeing.
In 2015, Rocky Mountain celebrated its 100th anniversary with special speakers, activities and community events, art exhibitions, concerts of mountain-themed songs and a parade of vintage Ford Model Ts along the park’s highway. So come along and join in the patriotic fun in one of America’s most rugged and thrilling national parks.
From 10 to 16 August, Plein Air Rockies exhibits the best in Western landscape painting, in the visitors centre in Estes Park. Expect workshops, music, food and prizes.
In August, runners in the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon test their lung capacity on the high-elevation route along the border of the park. Join them for some major quad-burn.
Drive Trail Ridge Road, America’s highest continuous paved road. Described as a ‘highway to the sky’, it travels above the tree line to 12,183ft. Goggle at the jagged, glacier-covered mountaintops, all from the safety of your car. Spot a moose meandering through the willow thickets of the Kawuneeche Valley, on the park’s west side.Hike Mt Ida, one of the lesser-known yet most stunning trails in the Rockies. Expect pristine mountain tundra, with a view of Longs Peak in the distance. In summer, wildflowers turn the high meadows into a rainbow carpet.
Recent studies have suggested that pollution is altering the ecosystem of Rocky Mountain National Park in subtle but potentially permanent ways. Emissions from cars, planes, factories and farms rise up into the mountains, decreasing plant abundance in ways only obvious to scientists – for now. If unchecked, they could acidify soil and damage lakes and rivers as well. As the population of Colorado grows, the problem is likely to become more serious. So visit now, and support local environmental efforts.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park was Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shining. The hotel shows the famously terrifying movie version on a continuous loop on Channel 42 in all guest rooms.
The Grand Lake Cemetery, in use since 1892, is one of the few active graveyards within a US national park.
By the 1970s, there were almost no moose within.
The abandoned mining settlement of Lulu City is a classic Western ghost town. Built during the silver rush of the late 1870s and 1880s, it’s now a handful of decayed cabins and crumbled foundations amid the wild pines of the Kawuneeche Valley. What’s that you hear? It could be the wind. Or maybe it’s the thwack of a long-dead miner’s pickaxe?
Hardcore mountain people – climbers, hikers, ski bums – have their own lingo, which may seem like Greek to flatlanders (that’s the rest of us). `Peakbagging’, for example, is the activity of trying to complete a certain set of mountain summits – the 10 highest peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park, say, or all the 14ers in Colorado (there are 53). If you plan on peakbagging, know that a ‘technical climb’ means you need special gear like ropes or crampons to make the summit – Longs Peak is technical most of the year. And remember, the ‘vertical rise’ of a hike is the amount of elevation gain between the trailhead and the summit – ie, how much your thighs will ache the next day.
“San Francisco itself is art, above all literary art. Every block is a short story, every hill a novel. Every home a poem, every dweller within immortal. That is the whole truth” – Academy award winner William Saroyan
Mention San Francisco and all these come to mind: colourful parades, free speech, culinary experimentation, the famed Golden Gate Bridge, and historical cable car rides. Debatable issues were mainstream in this city before it hit the rest of the world, which means that social revolutions have often started here.
This cosmopolitan city is teeming with exciting and diverse events throughout the year that you’ll always have something new to see or do in town, which probably explains why it topped the charts of America’s favourite cities. Just in 2015 alone, 24.6 million visitors were reported to have visited the hilly city, with a significant 85-percent of them here for leisure purposes.
Predominantly, tourists visit for the lively atmosphere, infectious ambience, and mesmerising scenic beauty. Take the Coit Tower for example: perched atop the summit of Telegraph Hill, this 64m flutelike cylinder provides a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city. Art aficionados will likely linger about the ground floor longer while admiring the wall murals painted by some 30 local artists in 1933, with each piece depicting a different aspect of the Great Depression.
If the visit piques your interest, consider taking a trip down to the newly opened Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.
Not only is this home to an impressive contemporary art collection, it also comes with a gift shop fully equipped with quirky gift ideas or unique home décor pieces.
Cutting down on time-consuming transfers to make your trip more enjoyable, Singapore Airlines has recently relaunched its non-stop flight between Singapore and San Francisco, which will operate on a daily basis with effect from 23 October 2016. The 14-odd- hour flight is timed conveniently to leave Singapore in the morning and arrive in San Francisco in the morning as well to help you maximise your daylight hours. Pick up Lonely Planet’s San Francisco city guide for more great tips on how to uncover the best of this colourful city (US$21.99).
Bagan – Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar)
Visitors Per Year: Around 2.1 million
Among the plains of central Burma lies ancient Bagan, the remains of a kingdom comprising some 2,000 Buddhist temples. Until recently, visitors were scarce but now the secret’s out…
Front Door: A fee (25,000MMK/£14.44) is charged upon entering the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Most visitors arrive via a short-hop flight at Bagan Nyaung U Airport. From there, the town of Nyaung U is a ten-minute taxi away, but the majority stay in the resorts scattered among the temples of Old Bagan.
Back Door: Stay in Nyaung U for more of a local feel; it’s also not far from the Irrawaddy River, so end your day with a quiet cruise. Rent an E-bike to explore the temples of Old Bagan away from the tours, while hot-air balloon flights are also a good way to skip the crowds. Be sure to book at least a month in advance; it’s also worth paying extra for the smallest (four-person) basket. Bear in mind also that access to the upper levels of temples is now banned in all but five pagodas.
For the most popular temples (Dhammayangyi, Shwesandaw, Ananda), arrive just after sunrise. The tours leave shortly after the sun comes up and the touts are too drowsy to bother you. After, rent an E-bike and head into the plains to discover smaller sites such as the Nandapyinnya, near Minanthu village, which has some of the best-preserved wall paintings in Bagan and is usually empty.
Head down to the jetty in Nyaung U and hire a boat (from 150,000MMK/£9) to take you up the river to a pair of temples (Thetkyamuni and Kondawgyi) not easily accessed by land. Plan this as an afternoon excursion and you can spend the sunset on the Irrawaddy as well.
“Thisawadi (near New Bagan) is a quiet alternative to catch sunrise/sunset. There are several levels on the way up it, but the highest offers the best shots. This is also one of the few temples still open for visitors to ascend, but less popular than the likes of Shwesandaw.”
Located off the west coast of Malaysia, the island of Langkawi is known as a jewel in the country’s tourism crown thanks to its natural beauty in which verdant, jungle-clad mountains and shimmering turquoise waters feature strongly. It’s already home to several well-known five-star resorts, but the opening of a prestigious St. Regis luxury resort in April this year is set to attract even more luxury-seeking travelers from around the globe.
With 85 suites and four water villas, each boasting a spectacular view of the Straits of Malacca, guests can expect the five-star luxury and bespoke services for which every St. Regis property is known, including British-trained personal butlers on hand around-the-clock. Incredible pampering treatments and specialty massages are available in the Spa Salon, while three restaurants and three bars will cater to every culinary and libationary whim. The resort’s signature bar also serves up the hotel group’s legendary Bloody Mary cocktail, born at the flagship St. Regis New York hotel in the early 1900s. stregis.com/Langkawi
“It’s my experience that most folk who ride trains could care less where they’re going. For them it’s the journey itself and the people they meet along the way”. Author David Baldacci was writing about a train journey in the USA, but could just as well have been writing about the luxury train journeys offered by Belmond, the name behind the iconic Orient-Express. Renowned for its journeys through Europe and Thailand, plus the Royal Scotsman, which runs through the wilds of Scotland, Belmond has now launched its first train journeys in Ireland.
The only luxury train in Ireland, Belmond Grand Hibernian will offer a selection of journeys from Dublin for only 40 passengers in 20 en suite cabins. Visit Dublin, Belfast and Cork, and you can enjoy daily excursions such as a private tour of the Jameson Distillery, a tour of the Lakes of Killarney by pony and trap, a private tour of the Titanic Experience and a visit to the Old Bushmill’s Distillery. This is just a sample of the daily excursions on offer, which have been designed to suit a vast range of interests. The journeys are a unique opportunity to immerse in the fascinating historical, musical and literary history of this bewitching country. belmond.com
LA’s hoteliers and restaurateurs must spend many a sleepless night thinking about how they can tap into the public’s eternal obsession with Hollywood. One of West Hollywood’s original luxury boutique hotels, the Mondrian on Sunset Boulevard, has recently opened the Ivory Restaurant. The 700msq-space takes full advantage of Mondrian LA’s classic setting and sweeping city views – and inspiration from Hollywood’s golden age. Delicious Californian cuisine from a menu designed by Chef Brian Malarkey; a selection of house-infused signature cocktails; a globally inspired, robust wine list; an oft-played grand piano and a relaxed-yet-refined ambience of lounge seating and varied indoor-and-outdoor dining options all combine to create a venue that’s a must-visit when in LA. With a glamorous and quintessentially “old Hollywood” vibe, the restaurant – and indeed the hotel – have wide appeal to locals and visitors alike, but as such, early bookings are essential. ivoryla.com
Founded in 1872, America’s (and the world’s) oldest national park is best known for its geothermal features – remnants of its tumultuous volcanic past that Rudyard Kipling described as “the uplands of Hell.” Visitors flock to the Upper Geyser Basin in the southern half of the park to see 150 geysers, which together with the park’s 10,000 bubbling mud pools, hissing fumaroles, and steaming hot springs act as pressure valves, releasing the heat and steam below.
Yellowstone has 300 geysers total (about half of all the geysers in the world), but of them all Old Faithful is the superstar, sending a spray up to 184 feet into the air every 68 to 98 minutes. It’s the world’s most famous geyser, synonymous with Yellowstone in the minds of people everywhere.
The Old Faithful Inn was built on this site in 1904 and is still the largest log building in existence. Its creature-comforts-in-the-midst- of-utter-wilderness style set the fashion for all the great lodges of the national park system.
Unless you’ve booked a year in advance, it’s not likely that you’ll find room at this rustic, landmark inn, but at least peek in to see its awesome six-story lobby and massive four-sided fireplace and chimney made from 500 tons of volcanic rock. The restaurant’s food is not remarkable, but the nearly face-to-face views of Old Faithful are. Among the park’s nine properties, the more elegant Hotel on Lake Yellowstone is the oldest, completed in 1891.
Geothermal curiosities aren’t the only thing Yellowstone has to offer: The second largest of America’s national parks outside of Alaska, its natural diversity and abundant wildlife are some of the greatest on earth. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River provides some of the park’s most breathtaking views.
Twenty-four miles long and up to 1,200 feet deep, it begins with the dramatic Lower Falls, which cascade 308 feet (nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls) into the river below. Bear and bison roam the Hayden Valley, the park’s largest meadowland, alongside the 25,000 elk, 1,000 moose, and 148 bird species that call the 2.2-million-acre park home. Bald eagles soar overhead, and even the gray Rocky Mountain wolf – which the park did its best to eradicate in the 1930s – has returned, reintroduced in 1995.
Ninety-nine percent of the park’s visitors never stray more than 3 miles from the road into the wilderness, and thus miss out on 1,200 miles of hiking trails and some of the most pristine wilderness in America. However, if you lack the time and/or inclination to hike, the figure-eight, 142-mile Grand Loop tour can’t be beat, linking up with each of the park’s five entrances and coming within sight of most major attractions.
In the embrace of a remote valley surrounded by the Shoshone National Forest and a 52,000-acre game and fish wildlife refuge, Mel and Bayard Fox own and operate this 1,300-acre horse ranch, breeding and training their Arabian beauties exclusively for the use of their twenty-eight guests, who bunk in hand-hewn log cabins scattered along the river that runs through the ranch.
Horse-loving visitors will think they’ve died and gone to heaven. The availability of more than 100 prize specimens means guests can change horses frequently so mounts remain fresh and ready to go throughout the season. Within minutes, guests are totally immersed in a wilderness setting, in the competent hands of guides who know it intimately.
Terrain is extremely varied: Riders pass from sagebrush plains and grassy meadows to rocky gorges that give way to forested mountains and alpine clearings.
A former fur-trading cow town at the foot of “America’s Alps,” Jackson has evolved into a delightful tourist town that borders on the cosmopolitan. The feared faux glamour they call “Aspenization” has so far been kept at bay, and the town’s plank boardwalks, old storefronts, and folksy small-town friendliness remain.
Drop by time-worn hangouts like Bubba’s Bar-B-Que (on Broadway) and the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar on the town square, where lots of local folk fill the house (and whose collection of Wild West Americana is worth a look-see).
Jackson’s location in the deep, scenic 48-mile long Jackson Hole (“hole” is what settlers called a high, enclosed mountain valley) puts it within viewing range of some of America’s most astounding scenery and prolific wildlife, while the valley’s twisting Snake River, one of the country’s cleanest, is well known to anglers and rafters.
Summer finds a steady stream of park goers here to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but in winter all attention turns to the area’s three major ski resorts, particularly the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Twelve miles from Jackson, it has one of America’s greatest vertical drops (4,139 feet), some of its most varied terrain and longest runs, and a fearsome reputation for being extreme, cold, and tough.
The deranged find pleasure on the vaunted east face of 10,450-foot Rendezvous Mountain, but half the resort’s seventy-six named runs and 2,500 acres of awesomely skiable terrain are perfect for intermediates and even novices.
Across the mountain, the snow quality at Grand Targhee (45 miles from Jackson, connected by shuttle bus) is regularly voted best in the nation, with 500 inches of powder falling annually – a full 15 feet more than Jackson Hole.
On a spectacular expanse of 25,000 acres set aside by the government in 1912, the National Elk Refuge is the winter home for thousands of migrating elk, the largest herd in North America.
You’ll first start to hear them bugle in the fall during mating season, and from mid-December through March you can get up-close glimpses of them via a horse-drawn sleigh ride offered by the Fish and Wildlife Service in Jackson Hole.
If you stay in any of the elegant log cabins scattered about the 1,000-acre grounds of the Spring Creek Ranch, the only thing that can compete with the view is the ranch’s acclaimed restaurant, The Granary, whose award-winning menu (think elk medallions and buffalo tenderloin) is especially perfect when the outdoor deck is open during warm weather.
Hotel junkies who collect the special properties of the world the way some souvenir hunters do swizzle sticks know all about Amangani, the long-awaited first North American property of Asia-based Aman Resorts.
An elegant vision perched at 7,000 feet on the edge of the East Gros Ventre Butte, it became an instant celebrity-magnet the minute it opened, living up both to its hype and its name, a mixture of Sanskrit and Shoshone that means “peaceful home.” The Amangani’s Asian siblings are known for pampering service, minimalist decor that celebrates the exotic and ethnic, and a sense of Asian serenity. Here the design of the three-story complex of stone, glass, and wood is cool and modern, and both reflects and blends with the natural surroundings.
Its spare lobby is marked by a 36-foot ceiling and a two-story glass wall that brings the outside in with larger-than-life westward views of Jackson Hole’s mountain meadows and the snow-capped peaks of the Snake and Teton Ranges (a view that’s also available from each of the forty suites).
Sunsets here are a religious experience, but days aren’t so far behind, whether you drink in the valley panoramas from the cliff-side year-round heated pool, allow yourself to be wrapped and kneaded at the adjacent spa, or partake of the four-season smorgasbord of outdoor diversions.
The Cowboy State’s capital city was once nicknamed Hell on Wheels, and during the annual ride-‘em-cowboy Frontier Days celebration you’ll understand why. It was first held in 1897, a mere fifteen years after William Frederick Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, created the rodeo tradition with his traveling Wild West Show.
Today’s event is a ten-day carnival of rodeos, wild-horse races, marching bands, big-name country and rock concerts, inter-tribal Indian dancing, a chuck-wagon cook-off, free pancake breakfasts (at which more than 75,000 flapjacks and 475 gallons of syrup are consumed), and a parade that’s been led by some memorable names over the years – Buffalo Bill himself in 1898, and an enthusiastic Teddy Roosevelt in 1910.
Rodeo is a major sport these days, with big-name sponsors and growing television coverage, so its no surprise that Frontier Days brings upward of 500,000 visitors to Cheyenne every year, many decked out in their finest Western wear. More than 1,800 of the toughest cowboys from across the nation compete in standing-room-only events such as bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling (also called bulldogging), and the classic saddle and bareback bronc riding, with a purse of $1 million being split up among the winners.
In addition to Cheyenne’s events, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association sanctions about 680 rodeos yearly, including those in Houston (March); Cody, Wyoming (July 4th); Pendleton, Oregon (September); and the year’s finals in Las Vegas (December).