10 Awesome Celebrity-Narrated Audio Tours

By Jamie Beckman
January 27, 2015
Steve Buscemi tour at Eastern State Pentitentiary
Courtesy Eastern State Penitentiary
Viewing a cool exhibit is exciting all by itself, but hearing your favorite actor describe it while you're there? Now that's an experience. Here are 10 star-studded audio tours from around the world—and insider gossip about how they were made.

We talked with the creative geniuses behind several big-deal celebrity audio tours for the scoop on how the stars were involved and what to know before you go. You can listen to four of the tours right now! In the meantime, we're holding out hope for an aviation museum tour featuring audio by Samuel L. Jackson.

1. Steve Buscemi: Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia

Believe it or not, the audio tour for the eerie, once-abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary—famous for locking up Al Capone—was recorded a full seven years before Steve Buscemi nabbed the role of mobster Knucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire (LISTEN TO THE TOUR!). As director of public programming Sean Kelley tells it, Buscemi himself volunteered to help the museum while scouting a movie at Eastern State more than a decade ago. Kelley took him up on the offer, and Buscemi recorded the tour in four hours at Carnegie Hall, after taking the subway into Manhattan from his place in Brooklyn. "He couldn't have been nicer," Kelley says. Now that Boardwalk Empire has gained so much traction, the penitentiary advertises Buscemi's tour prominently on its brochure, the website, and in the building itself. Want to hear something uncanny? When Capone was arrested and subsequently thrown into the slammer at Eastern State, he was driving from Atlantic City to Chicago, presumably after a meeting with the real-life inspiration for Knucky Thompson.

What to know: The audio tour is three hours long, so allow enough time to hear it and visit the entire property. Photography buffs, bring your smartphone and your camera. There are so many bizarre artifacts and historic nooks to shoot here (including the dilapidated prison hospital and Capone's cell, complete with oriental rug), you'll rule Instagram for the day. Professionals, consider paying the $10 tripod fee, valid all season (admission $14,

2. Sarah Jessica Parker, Naomi Campbell, Shalom Harlow: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The massively popular exhibit Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty has hopped across the pond from New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The show, which celebrates the late fashion designer's dramatic, imaginative clothes, debuts March 14. In the original audio tour, "Sarah Jessica Parker revealed how she was in awe of the designer during fittings for a custom piece, and when the two of them rode together to the Met’s ball, they remained respectively shy of one another," says Blaire Moskowitz, marketing manager for Antenna International, the company that produced the McQueen audio tour and several others on this list.

What to know: The exhibit runs through August 2, but buy your tickets now: Tickets are sold by timeslot, and some are nearly full (admission about $27,

3. Clint Eastwood: Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA

The brand-new American Western Art wing of the Tacoma Art Museum has a familiar voice. Clint Eastwood's gravelly tamber narrates classic imagery of the west, including bucolic landscapes, mountain men, prairie animals, and cowboys immortalized by painters and sculptors like Thomas Moran and Alexander Phimister Proctor, plus contemporary works from Georgia O'Keeffe and Native American artists including Kevin Red Star. 

What to know: After you've seen the art indoors, take the free Dale Chihuly mobile walking tour, which guides you through downtown Tacoma to visit the artist's glass installations. Just call 888-411-4220 on your cellphone and listen; Chihuly himself narrates part of it (LISTEN TO THE TOUR!) (admission $14,

4. Angélica Aragón: Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City, Mexico

While recording the audio tour for the bright-blue Frida Kahlo Museum, popular Mexican actress Angélica Aragón mentioned to the sound engineer that her grandmother used to be part of Kahlo's small circle of friends years ago. The museum hadn't known that! Aragon was initially hired for her gravitas and dignified voice that felt perfect for Kahlo's story—now even more so.

What to know: Complement your visit to Kahlo's museum with a trip to the Anahuacalli Museum, also in Mexico City (admission about $4), which houses pieces from Diego Rivera's large pre-Hispanic art collection (admission about $6,

5. Jeremy Irons: Westminster Abbey, London

Oscar winner Jeremy Irons has the distinction of narrating the English-language audio tour for Westminster Abbey. Fitting, considering Irons played Pope Alexander VI on Showtime's The Borgias (LISTEN TO THE TOUR!). Travelers also have good things to say about the 90-minute verger-led tours of the abbey's notable spots, including the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor, Poets' Corner (Chaucer and Dickens are buried there), the Cloisters, and the Nave. If you'd rather worship at the abbey than tour it, there is never a fee for that.

What to know: Prep for your visit by downloading the abbey's free podcasts (, which range from recordings of choral concerts to lectures (worship is free, admission about $30, verger tours about $8,

6. Dolly Parton: Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville, TN

Would you expect anything less than vocals from Dolly Parton herself at the Country Music Hall of Fame? Step into the Hall of Fame Rotunda, a skylighted room emblazoned with bronze plaques for each member of the Hall of Fame, and you'll hear her voice on the audio tour. As Dolly says, "This special room is round, to ensure that every Hall of Fame member has a place of equal importance, and the members’ plaques are placed randomly around the room—except for the newest members, whose plaques can be found alongside the painting." The painting she speaks of is Thomas Hart Benton's The Sources of Country Music, a canvas depicting fantasy musicians ranging from gospel singers to hoedown dancers, commissioned in 1973.

What to know: Along with the must-do rotunda portion of the museum, 2015's lineup includes separate exhibits featuring the careers of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Tanya Tucker, Ronnie Milsap, Alan Jackson, and Kenny Rogers (admission plus audio tour $27,

7. Jerry Seinfeld, Scarlett Johannson, and more: Central Park, New York City

Name your favorite NYC-affiliated personality (Susan Sarandon! Anne Hathaway! Pat Kiernan!), and chances are he or she narrates one of the 41 locations on Central Park's newly updated audio tour, accessible from your cellphone via the Official Central Park App or by dialing the guide's phone number (LISTEN TO THE TOUR!). The most-accessed parts of the tour are the sculpture of Balto the sled dog (John Stoessel), Bethesda Terrace (George C. Wolfe), and the bronze Alice in Wonderland statue (Whoopi Goldberg)—but they're perennially popular locales, guide or no guide. Still, it can't hurt to have Brooklyn's own Oda Mae Brown on your side. Fun fact: All of the celebrities recorded the tour pro bono.

What to know: When you download the Central Park app for the tour, you'll also get interactive location-based maps of the park, event listings (many of them free), a souvenir shop, and an index of points of interest with photos (free app, free entrance to the park, 646-862-0997,

8. Jamie Lee Curtis: World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Honolulu, Hawaii

Adding a very personal touch to the Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Jamie Lee Curtis reveals during the 75-minute USS Arizona Memorial audio tour that her father fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II. In her own words: "In 1945, he witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay from the signal bridge of his submarine tender, USS Proteus."

What to know: Head to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center first; from there, you can walk to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park and take the Ford Island shuttle to the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. Walk-in tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, so arrive early to boost your chances of getting in on the spur of the moment (free admission to the monument, audio tour is $7.50,

9. Joanna Lumley, Alan Rickman, David Nighy, and more: St. Mary's Church, Fairford, Gloucestershire, England

Last year, after St. Mary's Church introduced its two-hour audio tour featuring a slew of famous UK actors like Joanna Lumley and Hayley Mills, attendance doubled to 75 people per day, all eager to hear the celebrities describe the church's vibrant Medieval stained-glass windows in detail. (Rumor has it Sir Ian McKellan declined, as he's an atheist.) Churchwarden Mike Godsal says Lumley's portion of the audio guide is the most popular. Of course, that could be due to the fact that she voices the tour's introduction, but we like to think it's because everyone wants to hear booze aficionado Patsy Stone from Absolutely Fabulous talk about church.

What to know: All 28 windows date from 1501 to 1515, making St. Mary's the only church in the UK to boast a complete set. If you'd like a personal guided tour, contact the church office by phone or email (free admission, 01285-712611,

10. Kevin Bacon: NY Skyride, Empire State Building, New York City

Okay, yes, NY Skyride, on the second floor of the Empire State Building, has only one Yelp star and is rated as a "terrible" "scam" on TripAdvisor, but die-hard Kevin Bacon fans who have $42 to blow are in for a treat. Take a seat in front of an 18-foot screen, and Bacon—or his voice, anyway—"flies" you around New York City in a "virtual tour simulator" contraption for half an hour. Worth the cash? Probably not. But if it this sounds like a blast to you, we won't judge.

What to know: Buyer beware. This ride is not affiliated with the Empire State Building Observation Deck, so try it at your own risk. Many travelers say they were suckered into buying a combination ticket by a street vendor outside the building's entrance, so understand what you're getting into before handing over any cash (admission $42,

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How to Do Cape Town on a Budget

Best known for its history, culture and breathtaking scenic views, Cape Town is a must-add destination to any 2015 travel agenda. But let's face it: traveling can be expensive, especially when you're traveling abroad. Though not as cheap as traveling to other less developed African countries, if you plan ahead and plan effectively, visiting Cape Town, South Africa, doesn't have to be a daunting experience if you're on a budget. If you're able to look past the initial price tag of airfare costs on South African Airways or Delta for the 15+ hour ride, you'll find surprising value in travel to the "Mother City." The currency exchange rate of the South African rand to the U.S. dollar combined with the country's highly developed tourism infrastructure makes vacation planning and excursions for the frugal traveler easier than most may think. Budgeting for your vacay and don't know where to begin? Here are a few additions you should add to your Cape Town itinerary. Explore Kruger National Park Widely known as one of the best national parks in Africa for its wildlife and landscape, this is one of the best places to do a safari if you are interested in coming face to face with South Africa's "Big 5" (the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, and leopard). Located in the northeastern part of the country, Kruger has many different sights and a great infrastructure which makes it easy to explore. For an entrance fee of about $20, you can set your sights on this natural world wonder. Head to the top of Table Mountain Want to experience spectacular views of Cape Town and Table Bay? Arguably one of the most popular mountains in the world, Table Mountain is appropriately titled one of the world's new seven wonders of nature—and is home to one of Budget Travel's favorite cable car rides in the world. For approximately $20, you can head to the top of the mountain after a quick five-minute cable car ride offering an out of this world view. Adventure seekers can even opt to hike up and down the mountain. Visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope On the southern end of the Cape Peninsula, you will find Cape Point, part of a rocky peninsula jutting out from the Atlantic Ocean. Whether hiking, enjoying a picnic, or just taking in the views of this World Heritage site, you'll be able to enjoy some of the most spectacular views in the world. Not to mention, the Cape of Good Hope is also the southernmost point on the African continent, offering many bragging rights and photo ops for first time travelers. Open daily, Cape Point costs approximately $12 for adults and about $6 for children. Take a tour of Robben Island through the Nelson Mandela Gateway Historic Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela would go on to spend 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment during South African apartheid. As one of the world's most legendary political leaders, Mandela, affectionately known as "Madiba" is a huge contribution to the legacy of South African history, and the Robben Island museum is an important addition to any Cape Town experience. The tour, led by former political prisoners, begins at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria and Allen Waterfront, and includes a short ferry ride over to the maximum security prison. The cost of the tour is a mere $13 for adults ($6.50 for children) but the fee is priceless as it will be a lasting memory of your time in Cape Town. Walk through the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens On a beautiful, breezy afternoon, enjoy a stroll through the beautiful African gardens of Kirstenbosch, one of the most highly acclaimed botanical gardens in the world. Entrance to the garden is a mere $3.50 and features only indigenous South African plants. The 36-hectare landscaped gardens feature more than 9,000 of South Africa's 22,000 species, offering some of the most beautiful and photographic backdrops in the world. Camp's Bay A suburb of Cape Town, Camp's Bay is reminiscent of Ocean Ave. in Miami, offering the beach, restaurants, shops, and the breathtaking Twelve Apostles Mountain range. Just 15 minutes from the center of Cape Town, this outing is perfect for a day of swimming in the ocean, or an afternoon picnic along the bay. Offering more than 20 restaurants and various shops, Camp's Bay is your perfect escape for a day of relaxation and exploring. Visit Boulders Penguin Colony Home to the endangered species of a land-based colony of African Penguins, this site is a growing tourist destination for animal enthusiasts and intrigued tourists. As you walk through the boardwalks, you're able to view the penguin families in their natural habitat on the coastal beach in Simons Town. Be careful however, as you will be fined about $45 if you touch, feed, poke, or disturb the penguins while within the viewing area. Enjoy nightlife on Long Street Looking for a night on the town to wind down after a long day of sightseeing? In the heart of Cape Town, Long Street offers a vibrant and thriving nightlife scene. Enjoy live music, dance to your heart's content, or walk the strip encountering new friends and old. The bonus? Your money will get you far at clubs and restaurants. Four shots of alcohol (namely, vodka) will run you about $8. No matter what you're in the mood for—a bar, club, lounge, or restaurant—Long Street will satisfy your appetite.


Where to Go in 2015!

Research suggests that 40 percent of American don't take all their vacation days. We're here to change all that! We've rounded up 10 brag-worthy places that are affordable and having their moment in 2015—the year we hope you'll take ALL your vacation days. Not sure which of these 10 amazing destinations is right for you? Take our QUIZ to find out! 1. Northern Italy Best for: Big-city culture and natural beauty Why 2015. If you've always wanted to go to Italy, this is the year to do it. Expo Milano (, a World's Fair event expected to bring in more than 20 million visitors, starts May 1 and runs through Oct. 31. The theme is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life and so far more than 130 countries are participating in this global effort to promote a healthier lifestyle and sustainability worldwide. What to do. There's so much more to Milan than shopping. Stroll the easy-to-navigate streets of Milan's historic city center and visit the Duomo, one of Italy's most spectacular churches—the view from the top is well worth the $15 price of admission. Craving the countryside? Don't miss Lake Como, a beautiful natural haven home to George Clooney and hundreds of tiny picturesque towns like Gravedona, Bellagio, Brunate, and Como that are begging to be explored. For a little adventure along the Italian Riviera, try Portofino, a beautiful seaside resort town just a two-hour drive from Milan—you can also get there by taking the train from Milan to Santa Margherita Ligure, Rapallo, or Genoa and connecting to Portofino by boat, bus, or taxi. Where to stay. Hotels in Milan can be expensive, especially when conventions are going on. For a unique, authentic Italian experience, try staying in a local neighborhood rather than a pricey chain hotel—Airbnb has a number of options all over town starting at just $75 a night for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center. In Como, stay at Hotel Barchetta Excelsior for great views of the lake, the perfect spot to serve as your base for exploring the rest of the area by boat or funicular (, from $159). Stay at B&B Tre Mari Portofino for beautiful views of the Piazzetta and the Ligurian Sea below (, from $122). 2. BALI Best for: Dreamy beaches and romance Why 2015. If you've considered this Pacific paradise off-limits financially, this may be your year. Hotel prices on the Island of the Gods—the most popular tourist destination in Indonesia—are down 12 percent, according to the Hotel Price Index. What to do. Take your pick: Relax on a distinctive black-sand beach (the color comes from iron, titanium, and other minerals deposited by Bali's once-active volcanoes), get in the water for world-class surfing and diving (if you're so inclined), explore the island's jungle interior with its volcanoes and 10,000 temples (including the popular hillside temple Pura Luhur Batukau), or just hang by a hotel pool in one of the friendliest, gentlest environments on earth. When you're ready for the Balinese version of a bustling metropolis, Ubud will delight you with its stunning royal palace and traditional market. (And you shouldn't miss a chance to hear the island's unique gamelan music, played primarily on traditional percussion instruments.) Whether you plant yourself on a beach or in the heart of Ubud, remember that you've come to Bali to be soothed into a state of perfect relaxation by the natural beauty and unique music and cultural traditions of this perfect island. Where to stay. The Indigo Tree, in Ubud, is a short distance from the major sites but feels like a comfy cocoon, with coconut trees, a pool whose turquoise hue rivals the ocean's, and lovely views of the island's jungles and rice terraces. Want home-cooked meals served poolside? Just ask (, from $70). 3. NASHVILLE Best for: Music and hip neighborhoods Why 2015. The buzz about Nashville has reached a fever pitch for 2015. No longer a sleepy country music mausoleum, the newly hip city has reported 48 straight months of growth. Go now, and you'll be visiting the town at the height of its renaissance—but before everyone else is in on the secret. What to do. Anywhere you wander in Nashville—whether you're ducking into historic Hatch Show Print letterpress shop downtown or waiting for your flight at the airport—you'll hear gorgeous live music wafting out of doorways. Free music is so prevalent in the city that there's an app for finding it: the Nashville Live Music Guide (free on iTunes, Google Play). Cello, guitar, or drum, Nashville is all about that bass: Just ask Music City resident Jack White, of The White Stripes, who built an outpost of his Third Man Records here. The Nashville Symphony wins Grammys, and the Country Music Hall of Fame isn't your grandfather's museum: Upcoming exhibit Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats spotlights the city in the late 1960s/early '70s. Food-wise, fuel up with Nashville's signature hot chicken, cayenne-slathered fried bird proffered by several joints in town. Hattie B's generously provides diners with five heat options, from "no heat" to "burn notice." Where to stay. Hotels in the heart of downtown are difficult to find for cheap, but the brand-new Fairfield Inn & Suites in the Gulch comes close (, from $129). Plus, it's within walking distance of Party Fowl, a new chicken restaurant that pours $4 local drafts during happy hour and mixes craft cocktails like Kill the Wabbit. Up for something funky? Hotel Preston, halfway between the airport and downtown, can loan you a pet fish for the night (, from $101). 4. GREAT BARRIER REEF Best for: Diving with beautiful coral and tropical fish Why 2015. Flight prices to Cairns have dropped nearly 30 percent, and package deals are down more than 40 percent, according to Expedia. What to do. Get up close and personal with the planet's biggest coral reef system, including more than 1,000 varieties of tropical fish, plus dolphins, reef sharks (totally harmless to divers!), sea turtles, and more. The Great Barrier Reef offers more than 1,400 miles of snorkeling and scuba diving, and you don't have to be an experienced diver to drink it all in. Hop aboard a catamaran or sailing ship from the coastal city of Cairns to the reef, then get as adventurous as you wish—explore in a glass-bottom boat or try snorkeling with the help of experts. Experienced scuba divers can sleep on a boat for several nights (known as a "liveaboard" excursion in these parts) and spend most of their days in the water exploring the depths that snorkelers can't. And don't forget that the nearby Whitsunday Islands offer sugary beaches that rival the underwater spectacle! (For day trips and liveaboard trips from Cairns, visit To explore the Whitsunday Islands, including snorkeling and kayaking the reef, visit Where to stay. Cairns is the closest major city to the Great Barrier Reef, and airfares to Cairns from Cali, though always pricey, are as low as they've been in years. In between reef adventures, relax at the Hotel Cairns, which feels like a traditional Queensland plantation, with elegant rooms and some private balconies (, from $97). 5. ISTANBUL Best for: High style and world-class shopping Why 2015. Istanbul was named the world's No. 1 travel destination by TripAdvisor, but paradoxically, hotel prices are falling because of unrest in other parts of the Middle East, according to the Hotel Price Index. What to do. Immerse yourself in the intoxicating environment of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar (a souk that includes dozens of ancient streets and thousands of shops) and you'll realize that there's a whole other level of shopping to aspire to! The city so nice they named it thrice (Constantinople, Byzantium, and now Istanbul) straddles Europe and Asia and is the world's greatest coming-together of Eastern and Western cultures, food, and music. Don't miss the Hagia Sophia, a cathedral-turned-mosque that's now a UNESCO World Heritage site; the iconic minarets of the Blue Mosque; and gorgeous Greek and Roman ruins. Take your pick of cuisines, including Asian fusion and Italian—but to truly savor Turkish food like a local we strongly recommend authentic kebabs and fresh-caught fish. And don't forget to get outside the big city, too: We love the Turkish Riviera on the country's southwestern Mediterranean coast (long popular with Eastern Europeans), and the wild, otherworldly mountains of Cappadocia—where you can hike from village to village filled with structures that were carved out of volcanic rock, or get above it all in a unique hot-air balloon ride! Where to stay. The Ascot Hotel, on Istanbul's Büyükada island, delivers affordable opulence and a resort-like vibe, with crystal chandeliers, private balconies, a beautiful pool, and a Finnish sauna, just a short ferry ride from the city's bustle (, from $118). 6. BARCELONA Best for: Food and art Why 2015. Americans finally seem to be flocking to a sweet spot that's long been a great vacation getaway for Europeans: Cataluña (Catalonia), a region in southern Spain that includes trendy cities like Barcelona as well as off-the-beaten-path places like Sitges, Figueres, and Montserrat. Rates are on the rise, but still more affordable here than in other parts of Europe. What to do. Get your Gaudí on by visiting La Sagrada Família, Park Güell, and La Pedrera at Casa Milà—just be sure to book your tickets online ahead of time to avoid being locked out of something you came all the way to Barcelona to see. The options are endless: Stroll La Rambla, get your fill of tapas and sangria, visit La Boqueria market, relax on the beach at Barceloneta, watch the free Magic Fountains of Montjuic light, music, and fountains show, or see a flamenco show at Tablao de Carmen. Viator offers several day trips from Barcelona for those wanting to visit nearby Montserrat Mountain, Sitges, or artist Salvador Dalí's former home in Figueres ( Where to stay. Use Barcelona as your base for exploring this part of Spain, as most places can easily be done as day trips from the city. Hotel Novotel Barcelona Cornella (, from $87) is located midway between downtown and Barcelona-El Prat Airport, but there are lots of other Accor Hotels that offer budget-friendly options throughout the city, and the metro is really easy to navigate. 7. CAMBODIA Best for:  Exotic, spiritual sites like nowhere else Why 2015. It doesn't get more exotic than Cambodia, with its enchanting ruins and intoxicating blend of cultures. The good news is that, according to the Hotel Price Index, hotels in Siem Reap, gateway to the unforgettable Angkor Wat temple complex, are down 10 percent, while hotels in the capital Phnom Penh are down 3 percent. What to do. Angkor Wat, in northern Cambodia, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest religious monument in the world, covering nearly 500,000 acres. With archaeological relics that date back as far as the 9th century and Cambodia's distinctive Khmer architecture on display, Angkor Wat represents Cambodia's Hindu and Buddhist heritage. We suggest you set aside at least three days to take in Angkor Wat's splendor at a relaxed—and respectful—pace that leaves time for peaceful contemplation. Get there via taxi, which will run you about $25. And, yes, you can take an elephant ride around some of the structures for about $10 to $20. Cambodia offers at least two drastic contrasts to Angkor Wat: Spend a few days in Phnom Penh for the unforgettable sights and tastes of the big city, or get way, way, away from it all on Koh Rong, or "Monkey Island," said to be the site of a real-life King Kong and home to one of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in the world. Where to stay. Hanuman Alaya Boutique Residences, Siem Reap, with its traditional Khmer decor, includes an outdoor pool (perfect for a post-temple cooldown!), and on-site spa and Khmer-style restaurant (, from $81). 8. DENVER Best for: Kicking it "Amsterdam style" Why 2015. Denver first made news back in 2013 when Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana; since then, a number of cannabis tours and "420-friendly" hotels have sprung up to accommodate the initial tourism surge. Also worth checking out are Denver's booming brewery and food scenes: Take a free behind-the-scenes tour at The Great Divide Brewing Co. or Breckenridge Brewery, or check out several neighborhood hotspots on the Denver Brews Cruise for $42 per person. Don't miss Denver Restaurant Week Feb. 20 through Mar. 1, where you can score fancy multicourse dinners from $30 per person. What to do. Art lovers can view contemporary masterpieces by Matisse, Picasso, and O'Keeffe at the Denver Art Museum free of charge the first Saturday of the month (tickets are normally $13 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, $5 for ages 6–18). Get back to nature at Denver Botanic Gardens, a beautiful place to visit in every season—be on the lookout for intricate displays by visiting artists like Dale Chihuly ($12.50 for adults, $9 for children ages 3–15). Kids will love the Denver Zoo, which has several free admission days in 2015. Admission is $13 for adults, $9 for children ages 3–11. Where to stay. The Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Denver is located just three blocks from the 16th Street Mall, a 1.5-mile-long pedestrian plaza lined with more than 350 shops, bars, and restaurants—keep an eye out for street fairs and festivals here year-round. Sports fans will love the hotel's proximity to Coors Field, the Pepsi Center, and Sports Authority at Mile High (, from $149). 9. COLOMBIA Best for: Adventure and colorful festivals Why 2015. Vibrant festivals, exotic flora, acclaimed coffee plantations, and diverse terrain from rain forests to Caribbean beaches are all authentically Colombia. Security in large cities has improved in recent years, the U.S. State Department says, and thanks to increased supply, hotel prices in Bogotá are down 11 percent. Go now and use the hashtag #colombianotcolumbia to broadcast your whereabouts: Execs dreamed it up this year to promote a country eager for visitors. What to do. Catch a glimmer of Colombia's mining tradition via pre-Hispanic artifacts at the Gold Museum in Bogotá before snapping a panoramic shot of the metropolis from Mount Monserrate's summit. Crime and cocaine have given Colombia a bad rap that tourism officials want to shake; that said, if the country's gritty history and/or TV's Entourage have piqued your curiosity, Pablo Escobar tours exist in Medellín. For a gentler experience, August's Medellín Flower Fair celebrates the "city of eternal spring" with a silleteros parade—participants carry blooms on their backs. Romance your partner amid bay views from the walled city of Cartagena, then scan its plazas for vendors selling arepas de huevo (fried cornmeal bread with an egg tucked inside). A packed itinerary calls for a swig of caffeine: Colombia's Coffee Triangle, in the rural Paisa region, has UNESCO World Heritage status. Tour a finca (coffee plantation) like Hacienda Venecia in Manizales to see beans go from plant to mug.  Where to stay. Go affordable, isolated, and eco-friendly by living on a coffee farm—Hacienda Venecia's shared-bathroom lodgings start at $35 a night; the Colombian Coffee Cultural Landscape guide has more options ( In Bogotá, travelers like Hotel Augusta's central location (, from $66). Five-star digs are a bargain at Cartagena's La Passion Hotel Boutique, a Spanish Colonial house with a rooftop pool (, from $139). 10. EGYPT Best for: History and brag-worthy sights Why 2015. Recovering from political unrest after 2011's ousting of president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt saw its worst tourism numbers in decades in 2013, with hotel occupancy in some cities at zero percent. The country is poised for an uptick in visitors this year, and you can be a part of the recovery by taking advantage of rock-bottom hotel rates, bargains at bazaars, and short lines for legendary antiquities—as long as you take safety precautions. What to do. Float along the Nile in a traditional sailboat called a felucca for a few hours—or a few days. Ask your hotel to book one, or negotiate a rate with a tout at the docks in Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan. Now that you have practice haggling, bargain with vendors at Cairo's Khan Al-Khalili market, a souk stocked with everything from exotic perfumes to toy camels; just be prepared to get the hard sell. Reward yourself with a cup of mint tea at El Fishawy café. Marveling at the Great Pyramids of Giza is a quintessential postcard experience, but indoor exhibits deliver too: The Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo houses artifacts unearthed from King Tutankhamen's tomb, including his iconic blue-and-green-striped burial mask. Have a staring contest with its obsidian and quartz eyes...if the curse doesn't faze you. Where to stay. Major hotel chains like the Marriott, Hilton, Fairmont, Starwood, and Radisson all have outposts in Egypt, many for less than $125 a night. Want an unforgettable vista when you wake up? The American-owned Pyramids View Inn B&B looks out onto the Sphinx and the Great Pyramids (, from $30). One reliable way to ensure that you have a safe trip is by booking your vacation through an operator, like Your Egypt Tours (day trips from $20, A special note on safety in Egypt: Although there is no current Travel Warning about Egypt in effect, staying alert and practicing good personal security measures is imperative, says a U.S. State Department official on background. Be vigilant in crowded tourist areas, and avoid demonstrations as well as dark isolated areas, especially if you're a woman—female tourists have reported being groped in public places and taxis. Traveling outside of the Cairo metropolitan area can be unsafe, and the northern Sinai area is dangerous. The Egyptian Tourism Authority recommends sticking to cities like Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, and Aswan for cultural tourism and the beach town Hurghada for watersports. Before you go, read through the U.S. government's Traveler's Checklist (


How to Do L.A. on a Budget

A glitzy getaway to Los Angeles doesn't necessarily require a hefty price tag that only celebrities can afford. Savvy visitors can soak in the City of Angels like the locals do—and find some hidden budget-friendly surprises along the way. In fact, the city of Angels offers an array of great freebies and activities that are easy on the wallet, offering a fun and relaxing escape for the entire family. Catch a show: LACMA Jazz nights Who says you can't find culture in Los Angeles? Locals make it a point to head over to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art every Friday night, as this stunning cultural center hosts an outdoor jazz night under the stars. Visitors bring their own blankets, snacks, and wine, and spread out on the massive lawn (or relax on benches) listening to various types of jazz throughout the evening performed by several bands—you'll hear everything from smooth sounds to big band music. This family-focused event captures the cool vibe of the art scene in L.A. and gives visitors the chance to check out the many art exhibits. In 2015, the Jazz Night program starts April 23rd. Surf's Up: Enjoy a day at the beach You just can't visit sunny SoCal without spending a day hanging out by the Pacific Ocean and playing by the waves. Although the Los Angeles area boasts a number of beaches, each with its own distinct personality and amenities, a go-to family-friendly spot is the Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach. Steeped in history and a former private escape for the rich and famous, the beach house is now open year-round and free to everyone. It features easy beach access, a swimming pool, a children's play area (called a splash pad), showers, and changing rooms among other perks. With a casual beach café complete with tables on the sand along with plentiful parking, it's an ideal family destination for all. Get back to nature: Hike Runyon Canyon—and take a free yoga class! It's easy to embrace the fitness lifestyle in L.A. and get your adrenaline pumping. In the heart of the city, Runyon Canyon is a popular, centrally located hiking spot that attracts throngs of health-conscious celebrities, locals (along with their canine pals), and tourists alike. Hiking here is totally free, as is street parking, and on a clear day the city views are priceless. From easy to challenging, there are several trails to choose from. What's more, this park offers an added bonus—visitors can enjoy free outdoor yoga classes that take place several times each day. Donations are encouraged; check the link above for schedules and details. Don't Miss: Happy Hour at the Napa Valley Grille In L.A.'s Westwood neighborhood, the Napa Valley Grille is all about an affordable happy hour, which is offered every day in the cozy bar as well as the outdoor patio. A favorite among locals and tourists alike, the restaurant's specialties include small bites and signature favorites like chorizo mac n cheese, turkey meatballs, and a chopped kale salad. The prices are as friendly as the staff, and range from $4 to $10. Select California wines by the glass, local beer, and cocktails are available starting at $5. The best part? The Napa Valley Grille's happy hour takes place every day: Monday to Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m. and then 9 p.m. until closing. On Sunday, the happy hour specials run almost all day (from 3 to 11p.m.) Where to stay: Culver City A convenient base to explore Los Angeles and the surrounding neighborhoods is the Courtyard Marriott Los Angeles Westside in Culver City. This chic, mid-priced hotel is in close proximity to the LAX airport, as well as walking distance to plenty of restaurants, shopping, such as the Westfield mall, and art galleries. Recently renovated, the rooms are affordable, modern, spacious, and offer an array of amenities that make visitors feel at home. This property's friendly staff is accommodating and helpful, while the on-site restaurant serves up casual fare at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And what's a trip to L.A. without spending an afternoon poolside? The hotel's swimming pool area is a mini oasis for sun-seeking guests, featuring lounge chairs, tables, and luxe beach-sized towels. Courtyard Marriott Los Angeles Westside, 6333 Bristol Parkway, Culver City, CA 90230.


Opa! A Sweet Petimezi Syrup Recipe from Greece, Plus an Athens Taverna You Must Visit!

If you're a Grecophile, visiting Bronze Age Greece's ruins is probably on your bucket list if you haven't already checked it off, specifically the island of Crete's ancient Palace of Knossos, with its dolphin frescoes and proto-theater. Touring Crete's mountainous landscape and gorgeous beaches is one way to get a sense of Minoan civilization—but you can have an actual taste of it by trying petimezi, a non-fermented grape molasses used as a topping for everything from seafood to salad, or as substitute for honey. Sweetening food with the syrup was standard practice in Ancient Greece—evidence exists that even the Minoans used it.  Greek-born chef Michael Tzezailidis is bringing "Hellenic" food back at his new New York City restaurant Death Ave with modern spins on old-world dishes, like crostini troufes ($9) and fig ice cream ($8), and traditional Greek preparation techniques, such as brewing coffee with a Hóvoli (hot sand) system and squashing grapes in house for the petimezi. To tide you over until your Grecian adventure, we asked Chef Tzezailidis to share his petimezi recipe, below, which you can make at home with just one ingredient—and a little patience. And if your trip takes you closer to Athens than to Crete, Tzezailidis has two must-dos to squeeze into your itinerary: • Tsi Tsi taverna, in Glyfáda, Greece (near Athens). "Their souvlaki is excellent!" • Lalária Beach, on Skiáthos, Greece. "It is only reachable by boat, but it’s completely worth it! The beach is entirely made up of round white rocks that go from small-sized at the beach to large in the deep water. The clarity is incredible, and the colors are fairytale." Death Ave Petimezi Recipe Ingredients:10 pounds of ripe grapes 1 Tbsp wood ash (optional) Yields:Approx 1 1/2 cups petimezi Steps: 1. Thoroughly crush grapes by hand in a large bowl one bundle at a time. 2. Pour crushed grapes over a strainer to separate juice from pulp and stems. Repeat until you have all the grape juice. 3. Optional (but traditional) clarification step: Place 1 Tbsp of wood ash into a tied cloth and put it in a pot with the grape juice. 4. Bring the grape juice to a boil, and then set it to simmer for 1 hour, taking care to skim all foam. At the 1-hour mark, you can start checking the consistency of the syrup with a spoon. Boil it down until it has the consistency of maple syrup. If you added wood ash, you may remove it at this point and discard it. 5. Continued optional clarification step: Allow the syrup to sit in the pot overnight without being moved around. The wood ash helps the liquid rise and the sediment fall.   6. Pour the petimezi into another bowl. (If you took the optional steps, you would at this point disregard the sediment on the bottom of the pot by slowly pouring until you see sediment. Whether or not you added wood ash and allowed it time to settle, which is a quality-grade issue, does not really matter; the end product will be delicious. Although, the extra steps do tone down the bitterness.) How to Use Petimezi As a salad dressing: Mix it with red wine vinegar, and then later mix it with olive oil. With dairy products: Pour it over ice cream, yogurt, or artisan cheese. In tea: Use it instead of honey. On meats: Pour it over spice-rubbed pork or chicken. On seafood: Drizzle on grilled spicy shrimp, or as a salmon glaze. For breakfast: Use it on toast, pancakes, or french toast. With desserts: Eat it with bread pudding, rice pudding, or anything that needs a sweetener.