10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2011
We analyzed a year's worth of news, trends, and statistics to identify the world's best value destinations for 2011. From China to our own backyard, here are ten places that you can't afford to miss.
Why in 2011: Two decades ago, this tiny republic was in the clutches of the Soviet Union; now it's a full-fledged member of the EU (it adopted the Euro on January 1) and it's fast becoming one of Eastern Europe's vacation hotspots. Long eclipsed by nearby (and much pricier) destinations like Helsinki and St. Petersburg, Estonia's capital offers everything from stunning architecture (in particular, the cathedrals in the medieval Old Town) to funky restaurants (one to try: Cafe VS, an Indian restaurant set in a dance club) to raging nightlife (liquor is dirt-cheap; a shot of Estonian vodka averages $1.75, and a bottle of domestic beer generally costs $2.50). On January 1 Tallinn kicked off a yearlong schedule of 7,000+ events—concerts, dance festivals, museum exhibits and more—to celebrate being crowned a 2011 European Capital of Culture. Plus, increasing flight capacity means airfares are likely to decrease—Estonian Air will double its flights to London in March and discount carriers EasyJet and RyanAir are boosting their number of trips to Tallinn.
Best time to visit Tallinn: Winters are cold and dark, and summers are packed with tourists, so your best bet is to visit in May or June, when temperatures typically hover in the 50s and 60s and it doesn't get dark until after dinner.
Price check: A recent flight search found May fares starting at $817 for one-stops out of New York (Finn Air) and $931 from Atlanta (American Airlines); a two-stop flight from San Francisco rings up at $1,031 (American).
Where to stay: Built in 1874 for a German nobleman, the von Stackelberg Hotel is still fit for royalty with its original limestone walls, heated bathroom floors and free Internet. Ask for the Zen Room, which features soothing bamboo decor and a private Jacuzzi. Vonstackelberghotel.com, doubles from $102
Why in 2011: Houston is home to Texas's biggest shopping mall at 2.2 million square feet; 56,000 acres of green space; and the third most Fortune 500 companies in the country, but when it comes to prices, the U.S.'s fourth-largest city is all about scaling down. Hotel rates have dropped 5 percent since 2009 and four-star rooms are going for $96 according to a recent Hotwire report. And while the city has 8,000 restaurants and a growing culinary scene—local restaurateurs Bryan Caswell and Monica Pope both snagged Best Chef nominations from the James Beard Foundation—good grub doesn't require a splurge. The typical meal in Houston runs $32.50, more than $2.50 cheaper than the national average. Plus, the city is flexing its cultural muscle (the Houston Zoo just unveiled its African Forest exhibit), and encouraging tourists to explore to their heart's content with the Houston CityPASS, which offers access to any combination of six attractions—Space Center Houston, Houston Aquarium and Museum of Fine Arts included—for $39 (a bargain when you consider that a similar pass goes for anywhere from $64 in San Francisco to $79 in New York).
Best time to go to Houston: The best odds for T-shirt weather and minimal rain are in late spring (April, May) and mid-autumn (October, November), but even in January, the coldest month, temperatures rarely dip below 63 degrees.
Price check: Nonstop, round-trip flights are easiest to come by in April: $157 from Denver (Southwest), $220 from Palm Beach (Continental), and $261 from Baltimore (Southwest). One-stop fares start at $209 from Chicago (AirTran) and $299 from Burbank (American Airlines). Southwest is generally a good bet, as they serve Houston nonstop from 33 U.S. cities.
Where to stay: Housed in a century-old bank, Hotel Icon brings a lavish, Euro-style vibe to downtown Houston. The 135 rooms start at $159, but if you book 14 days in advance and stay two consecutive nights or more, the hotel will shave off 20 percent. Hotelicon.com, doubles from $159