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Iran doesn’t have the best reputation for welcoming foreign tourists, yet signs point to that changing – slowly. From 2004 to 2010 tourism to the country grew by 12.7 percent, and while most of these visits were for reasons of religious pilgrimage, a good number made the trip to see Iran’s ancient sites, to hike and ski in the Alborz mountains, and to paraglide (like these unlucky Slovak tourists who have just been released after charges of spying).
The case of the Slovak paragliders suggests that Iran still has a way to go if it wants to shake off foreign travelers’ negative perceptions of its touristic potential, but a brand new private train service may help. Read more
Is the summer heat getting to you yet? There’s relief to be found at one of these public pools in Europe. Whether it’s panoramic views of the Mediterranean, or a 295-foot-high bungee jump you’re after, these 10 municipal water parks are guaranteed to add a little excitement to your summer getaway.
1. Lava Pools, Madeira, Portugal
Naturally-occurring volcanic rock has formed a series of tiny, stunningly beautiful pools on the northwestern coast of Madeira in Portugal. These ocean-filled ‘lava pools’ are the main attraction in the village of Porto Moniz, located about an hour north of Madeira’s capital, Funchal. Despite the wild geography, the area around the pools contains tourist-friendly amenities like changing rooms, lockers, showers, a restaurant, and a team of lifeguards. Entrance fee: $2.60. Read more
Like anyone else, we love the idea of a free trip. And that’s just what major airlines are offering when they advertise a “free” stopover in one of their home cities — essentially a bonus side trip to another city while en route to your final destination.
Not to be confused with a layover (a few hours in the airport while waiting for your connecting flight), a stopover is any stay longer than 24 hours in which travelers leave the airport and go explore the surrounding city. The length of a stopover is entirely up to the traveler, and since there is often no extra cost added to the original ticket, the stopover is considered free. (In airline speak, this is known as a “dual destination vacation.”)
But how exactly does one go about booking a stopover? And is it a better deal in the long run?
First off, it is important to understand why certain airlines provide free stopovers. In almost every case, these are major international carriers based in major hubs (Emirates/Dubai; Singapore Airlines/Singapore; Japan Airlines/Tokyo; etc.) that want to lure more tourists to their destination. Enticing travelers with a “free” stopover leads to hotel bookings, restaurant meals, and other tourism dollars that otherwise wouldn’t have been spent.
To book a stopover, select “multi-destination” or “multi-city” on the airline’s website and plug in the specific dates for your desired stopover. As long as your stopover is in the airline’s home city, chances are it will cost the same price as a ticket without a stopover.
For example, if I’m looking up flights from New York to Budapest in October, Kayak tells me that Aeroflot offers the cheapest route for $808, with a 3.5 hour layover in Moscow. If I then go to Aeroflot’s website and type in a multi-destination trip that includes two days of sightseeing in Moscow, the flight is the exact same price: $808.
Here are some more examples: Read more
Eurostar recently tested service between London and Aix-en-Provence. Later this year, the TGV will begin running a direct service between Paris and Barcelona, and, starting in 2016, a new Deutsche Bahn route through the Channel Tunnel will link London to Amsterdam, Cologne, and Frankfurt. Ditching Europe’s budget airlines in favor of its railways is beginning to look more attractive. Not only is rail travel throughout Europe often as quick as, if not quicker than flying, it also has the bonus of spectacular scenery along the way.
Our favorite European rail journeys are not necessarily the fastest, but they are some of the most memorable.
The Bergen Line: Bergen to Oslo, Norway
Traveling along the 231-mile-long highest mainline railway line in Northern Europe offers you a front row seat for some of Norway’s most spectacular landscapes; think dramatic fjords, lush forests, and crystalline waterfalls. If you have the time, take the branch line that runs from Myrdal to Flåm, a village at the inner end of Aurlansfjord, an arm of Sognefjord, Norway’s biggest fjord. This 12-mile route takes around one hour and climbs more than 2,838 feet making it the steepest standard-gauge railway in Europe. Read more
Confession: I’ve never watched any of the Die Hard films. It’s understandable as the movies are in no way marketed to me (or my gender, for that matter). Sure, every once in a while I’m as game as any guy is for a high-adrenaline action film, but I’ve never felt compelled to watch them. But, with the newest installment, A Good Day to Die Hard, the allure of having it set in Russia (a place I’m eager to visit), and filmed in Budapest, Hungary (a city I’ve heard amazing things about), makes me think twice about catching the film. Below, three reasons I’m reconsidering skipping the action-packed flick. Read more
Budapest delivers all that you’d expect from Europe’s best big cities: beautiful monuments, busy museums, bustling nightlife, break-worthy bathhouses. Wait a minute, back up: bathhouses?! That’s right – Budapest is a straight-up spa city, bubbling over with more than a hundred natural underground hot springs that have been luring visitors since Roman times. With some 15 perfectly affordable bathhouses set right in the city, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to indulge in some budget-friendly R&R, where you can channel your inner “Buda” without those “pesty” bills piling up (and also wash away the cringe factor at having had to read that wordplay).
Just back from a rejuvenating rest in Budapest, here are two of my top bathhouse picks. While they aren’t necessarily the cheapest in town, they definitely bring out the best of Budapest’s bathing culture. Read more
As far as 2012 travel trends go, river cruising is right up there, so there’s no surprise that the gays are all over it. And although it may be one of seven LGBT tour operators chartering groups aboard European riverboats this summer, newly founded Brand g is the only one that wants you to experience it for free. Contest time!
Launched just in time for Valentine’s Day, as well as the heartening strides made for gay marriage in Washington State and the repeal of Prop 8 in California, the “Share The Love” contest is encouraging adventurers to share their same-sex love story, or for friends to nominate their favorite LGBT couples, for the chance to win two spots on its 10-day Danube River Cruise, which includes a 2-night stay in Prague and port calls in Nuremberg, the Bavarian forest, Salzburg, Linz, Melk, Vienna, Slovakia, and Budapest. Read more
Many people have heard of Hungary’s Tokaj wine region – famous for its sweet wines – but did you know there are a total of 22 wine regions in the country? For an easy day trip from Budapest, head to Etyek, just over 30 minutes west of the city. Etyek is one of Hungary’s youngest wine regions, with a viniculture that dates back to the 18th century. Originally, Etyek produced sparkling wines, and it wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that wineries began making the switch to other varieties.
Today there are about 30-35 wineries in Etyek. Many are small operations whose vintages rarely leave the region, let alone wind up exported to the U.S. On my recent trip to Budapest, I visited the Rókusfalvy winery (www.rokusfalvypince.hu). The winery – with just 13.5 acres of vineyards – started as a hobby for its owner in 1999 but expanded production in 2006. The majority of grapes grown are whites, including Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot gris.
After jetting to Budapest on new non-stop service on American Airlines from New York’s JFK last month, I checked into the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus on the city’s trendier Pest side. A five-star property and member of the Leading Hotels of the World, the Kempinski is located within walking distance to the legendary Gerbeaud café, the Great Synagogue (the second-largest synagogue in the world), and the eastern bank of the Danube.
The hotel has 335 rooms and 31 suites; standard accommodations are roomy but not remarkable, though bathrooms feature glass-enclosed showers and separate soaking tubs, and high-tech perks include free Wi-Fi – a rarity at luxury brands.
Earlier this month, American Airlines debuted non-stop service from JFK to Budapest, currently the only year-round flights to the Hungarian capital from the U.S. (Delta has seasonal non-stop flights). Budapest often flies under the radar for Americans planning a European vacation, yet offers a thrilling mix of history, beautiful architecture, and eclectic restaurants and nightlife. It’s also much cheaper than other European capitals – the city was one of our Top 10 Value Destinations for 2010, and remains a relative bargain for U.S. travelers.
Fly by June 30 and AA will sweeten the deal with bonus AAdvantage miles: Earn 15,000 extra miles for round-trip business class tickets, 10,000 miles for full-fare economy, and 5,000 miles for discounted economy. Use the code NYBUD at www.aa.com/offers.
If you can, the splurge to business class is definitely worth it. At about 8 hours, the NYC-Budapest flight is a bit longer than a jaunt to London or Paris, and the extra room and near-flat seats make a huge difference. Plus, the JFK Admiral’s Club is serving a selection of Hungarian wines to promote the new flights, for a taste of Budapest before you even get on the plane.
For general trip-planning information, see our Budapest Travel Guide.
Budapest is sometimes referred to as the Paris of central Europe, and it’s easy to see why. The city was created in 1873, following the unification of Buda and Obuda on one side of the Danube River and Pest on the other. It is lined with pretty boulevards, and vacations here are typically spent strolling through picturesque neighborhoods, stopping at excellent cafés, and exploring city highlights such as the Castle District and the Danube embankments.
On a recent visit, I stayed at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, a classic luxury property with modern amenities. It is located on the Pest side of the Danube (better for basing a visit, in my opinion, than the Buda side). Winter rates are $450 per night, but the hotel has frequent specials. (At press time, rooms could be had for under $200 per night.) Other five-star properties in Budapest exceed $500 per night, so this is a smart splurge. After settling in, I recommend a morning bus tour to get an overview of the city and then lunch at Gerbeaud, a famous—and often crowded—café established in 1858. Over the next few days, visit the Fine Arts Museum, which houses many masterpieces from around the world, and the Museum of Torture, which intelligently chronicles Hungary’s turbulent 20th-century history, with exhibits on Nazi occupation, the Soviet years, and the 1956 popular uprising.
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