20 Places Every American Should See
What makes a place essentially American? Besides being between our borders, of course? When the Budget Travel editors set out to compile a list of 20 can't-miss destinations in the United States, we knew there was no one right answer. A place couldn't be just historic, or only very beautiful, or merely iconic. But in the best cases, it might be all three. For days (and weeks), ideas were floated, debates were had, some favorites were voted down and others prevailed. The list we arrived at is no American-history textbook quiz—although historic sites are there, along with a sampling of cultural, nostalgic, and guilty-pleasure spots that, we think, evoke the kaleidoscopic American experience. While our list is unranked, incomplete and inherently subjective, we think it is also diverse, surprising, and informative—and well worth keeping in mind as you plan your next vacation itinerary. So why not map out a detour to one of these spots the next time you hit the road? Who knows—you might never think of this country in quite the same way again.
Highway 1, Calif.
Considering that the United States has more miles of paved roads (over 2.7 million) than any other country on earth, is it any wonder that road trips are practically a rite of passage here? One of the most meditative—and celebrated—drives you can take in the States is the 145-mile stretch of California's Pacific Highway 1 between San Luis Obispo and Monterey. Expect view after astonishing view of land meeting sea, as the road snakes and swerves high above the Pacific, past bright-green grasslands and redwood-forested canyons (byways.org).
Photo op:About two hours north of Monterey, Highway 1 crosses San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, a 75-year old marvel of engineering and aesthetics. If the bridge is totally obscured by fog, you can fake your Kodak moment in front of the giant photomontage at the bridge pavilion's new visitor's center.
Insider tip: Take a detour near San Simeon to see the mansion of William Randolph Hearst, the eccentric newspaper magnate made famous by Citizen Kane (750 Hearst Castle Rd., hearstcastle.org, tours from $25).
French Quarter, New Orleans, La.
No other American neighborhood provides as much eye candy as the cobblestone streets of New Orleans' French Quarter—known as "the Quarters" to locals—and we're not referring to the annual Mardi Gras parades, with their thousands of taffeta-draped harlequins strutting to funk, R&B, and Dixie. No, it's the architecture that's intriguing. Stroll this district, which is bounded by the Mississippi River, Rampart Street and Canal and Esplanade, and you'll glimpse nightclubs lit up in neon, French colonial townhouses draped in ivy, Creole cottages built on stilts, and antebellum mansions whose balconies are laced with intricate ironwork. The neighborhood's premiere event is the annual French Quarter Festival in April, which draws hundreds of thousands of listeners for a series of jazz performances, focusing more on up-and-coming artists than the better-known cross-town rival New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (neworleansonline.com).
Photo op: Jackson Square, a patch of moss-bearded oaks in the core of the French Quarter, is home to a striking statue of Andrew Jackson, the Renaissance- and Spanish Colonial-style St. Louis Cathedral, and Cafe Du Monde, which serves the city's signature beignets (fried dough treats).
Insider's tip: The visitor's center at New Orleans Jazz Historical Park offers free self-guided audio tours of famous music institutions, such as a favorite venue of the late trumpeter Louis Armstrong, Preservation Hall No. 4, which re-opened last year after a six-year closure post-Katrina (nps.gov/jazz).
National Mall, Washington, D.C.
There's no place in America where you get more historical bang for your buck than the National Mall—fitting, since two of its most famous memorials (to Lincoln and Jefferson) are stamped on our smallest coinage. This less-than-two-mile stretch of our capital city packs in those memorials, plus the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, among others, and it's lined with Smithsonian Institution museums—none of which cost a dime to enter. Even if politics leaves you cold, there's sure to be something at one of the Smithsonian branches to get you going, whether it's the astronaut ice cream sold in the gift shop at the National Air and Space Museum, the inaugural gowns of First Ladies on display in the National Museum of American History, or the 45-carat Hope Diamond gleaming in the Natural History Museum (nps.gov/nacc and si.edu).
Photo op: The P.O.V. rooftop bar at the W Hotel has the best view of the Mall in the city (515 15th St, NW; whotels.com).
Insider tip: The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian has the most interesting food on the Mall. Try the pulled buffalo sandwich with chayote squash slaw and the cinnamon-and-honey fry bread (mitsitamcafe.com, sandwich $11.25, fry bread $3.35).
Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, Nev.
Glass pyramids. Faux Venetian canals. The 1,148-foot tall Stratosphere Tower. A couple of $100 million daredevil circuses called Cirque du Soleil. They're all part of this neon-lit desert outpost 300 miles from Los Angeles—with a magnetic pull like no other. Every American ends up on the Strip sooner or later, whether for a bachelor party, a girlfriend getaway, a trade show, or simply lured by a shockingly cheap hotel-and-airfare deal. It's the place Americans go to let their hair down (and, okay, gamble). Aside from its new $2.4 billion airport terminal, Vegas's latest attraction is the Mob Museum (a.k.a., the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement), a tribute to the mafia in real life and in pop culture that opened in February 2012. Interactive exhibits are plentiful: Be ready to pose for a police line-up shot (themobmuseum.org).
Photo op: For a sure bet on a clear view of the cityscape, head to the Ghostbar on top of the Palms Hotel and Spa (palms.com).
Insider tip: For a retro vibe, veer off the Strip to the hole-in-the-wall Champagnes Cafe, an old-school bar complete with blood-red wallpaper, bowls of mixed nuts, and a jukebox that plays Frank, Sammy, Dean, and Bing (3557 Maryland Parkway South; 702/737-1699).
Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Wide-open space is a unique inheritance for every American, and Yellowstone is the most dramatic example of what "wide-open space" really means. In 1872, two-million-acre Yellowstone debuted as America's first national park, and visitors began flocking to soak in its hot springs, see elk and bison roam its grasslands, gawk at its geyser known as Old Faithful, and hear gray wolves sound chill-inducing howls at dawn. Amazingly, visitors can get the same thrills today for nearly no cost. For the fullest experience, stay the night. The lack of light pollution in northwest Wyoming's Big Sky country reveals an astonishing canopy of stars that is virtually unchanged from the time of native tribes, fur trappers, and pioneer explorers (nps.gov/yell).
Photo op: Take the Lake Area Elephant Back Loop Trail for a vista encompassing Yellowstone Lake, the Absaroka Range, and the Pelican Valley.
Insider tip: Enter via the less-traveled Silver or East gates for more solitude on the park's roughly 1,200 miles of trail.
Times Square, New York City
Sure, the crowds can be pushy, but Times Square—the stretch of Broadway between Manhattan's 42nd and 47th streets—delivers the most intense straight-up celebration of round-the-clock visual stimulation in the free world. Three hundred sixty-five days a year, it's all lights, cameras, and action. And in summer, when the city sets out a slew of lawn chairs in its pedestrian-only core, you can take a seat and gaze southward, imagining the scene every New Year's Eve when a million revelers watch the ball drop—an all-American tradition for 105 years.
Photo op: Climb the translucent, ruby-red stairs that seem to lean atop the TKTS booth, which sells same-day discounted Broadway tickets at 47th Street and Broadway; it's a great place to snap a photo without hundreds of strangers' heads crowding the shot.
Insider tip: If you see a guy playing guitar in nothing but his underwear and a 10-gallon hat, don't be alarmed—it's just the Naked Cowboy, who makes the rounds here often.
Soaking up country music in its native habitat is an American music experience like no other. Leafy, laid-back Nashville, Tenn., deserves its nickname Music City U.S.A.: It's dotted with twang-accented institutions, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium (with its famous acoustics), and the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly live-audience radio show that has been continuously broadcast since 1925. Go boot-scootin' at one of the countless honky-tonks lining Broadway, where the line dancing is first-rate (visitmusiccity.com).
Photo op: Head to midtown to pose in front of a life-size replica of the ancient Greek Parthenon, which stands in Centennial Park (2600 West End Ave.).
Insider tip: The Bluebird Cafe is a nightly venue that spotlights the best up-and-coming talents in country. Exhibit A: Garth Brooks once performed at this nondescript club before anybody knew his name (4104 Hillsboro Pike, bluebirdcafe.com).
Grand Canyon, Ariz.
Many American landmarks inspire people to think big, but none can match the leviathan scale of the Grand Canyon (nps.gov/grca). As with anything worthwhile, a mind-melting view of the fire-hued, half-mile-long rock faces at the Grand Canyon must be earned. Take a half-day or overnight mule trip, which involves a guided ride along the canyon rim and down to the Colorado River. Space is limited, so book ahead via Xanterra Parks & Resorts (xanterra.com, 888/297-2757), the operator that has the parks concession, or at the transportation desk in the lobby of Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Lodge, on the South Rim (half-day rides $123, overnight trips $507 including cabin accommodation, breakfast, lunch, and a steak dinner). Your souvenir—aside from a newfound appreciation for more comfortable forms of transportation—will be the vivid sense of timelessness that you can only get from observing a geological wonder more than a million years in the making.
Photo op: Rent a true four-wheel-drive vehicle, such as a Jeep Liberty or a Ford Expedition, from a major chain at the airport before you drive to the park, so you can tackle the sixty or so miles of dirt road to the Toroweap overlook for its 3,000-foot, sheer-drop view ($125 per day from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, budget.com).
Insider tip: When it's open in the summer, skip the South Rim for the lesser-visited North Rim, where a quieter experience awaits.
Hollywood Walk of Fame, Los Angeles, Calif.
In 2013, Helen Mirren, James Franco, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Ron Howard, and another 19 actors and musicians will be added to the more than 2,400 celebrities who've left their handprints and bronze-engraved names in the pavement along Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street since 1958. (We imagine tourists have been posing with their hands in their favorite stars' prints for about that long, too.) Mercifully, reality TV stars are banned from the sidewalk showcase—only those who've read from a script can be included (walkoffame.com).
Photo op: For a primo view of the famous Hollywood sign, walk west from Vine toward Highland Ave., and then up to the fourth level of the bridge in the Hollywood & Highland Center (6801 Hollywood Blvd., hollywoodandhighland.com).
Insider tip: Famous animals have left their paw prints on the pavement, too. Look for Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and even Godzilla.
Disney's Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Fla.
Admire Cinderella's Castle, watch Princess Jasmine hug small children, and listen to the animated model of Abe Lincoln talk in the Hall of Presidents. Those are typical items on the agenda at Disney World, the rare American tourist trap that's worth the trip. Founder Walt Disney pioneered the use of technology to create enchanted moments that surpass the mere roll-into-town carnival. His handiwork is probably our nation's most beloved contribution to global culture. After all, has anyone in the world never heard of Pirates of the Caribbean? We didn't think so (disneyworld.disney.go.com).
Photo op: Get into the picture at Casey's Corner on Main Street, U.S.A., when the parade floats roll past at 3 p.m. daily.
Insider tip: Go clockwise around the original park, starting with Adventureland—to your left, as you enter. Most visitors head the other way, so you'll encounter fewer crowds.
Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Penn.
The Founding Fathers didn't need iPads, PowerPoint, or big-screen projectors to debate the Constitution of the United States, let alone to discuss the Declaration of Independence. So it's apt that the National Park Service keeps its tour of Independence Hall, where those famous discussions were held, free of technological gimmicks. After you pick up your timed ticket from the visitor's center, you queue outdoors and then step into a room as spare as a Quaker meeting house (appropriate for a city whose founders mostly belonged to the unpretentious religious sect). A park ranger talks briefly about how revolutionary the ideas of equality and democracy were when they were discussed more than 230 years ago in this building, which served as the Pennsylvania state house. Then you see the rooms where the treasured documents were signed. No holograms or other tricks are needed to feel a chill. When you're done, go across the street to the simple glass pavilion that houses the Liberty Bell, a two-ton bell that rang when the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud (despite a crack that formed during testing) and later became a symbol of the movement to abolish slavery.
Photo op: In Independence Hall, focus your zoom lens on the back of the assembly speaker's chair, which is emblazoned with the image of a sun hanging halfway over a horizon. Benjamin Franklin famously interpreted this sun as a symbol of the nation's rise.
Insider tip: Not officially part of the park, a slavery memorial called The President's House stands quietly beside the Liberty Bell pavilion at S. 6th St. and Market Street. The city-run site protects the ruins of the foundation of the house in which George Washington kept his slaves while working in the city.
Taos Pueblo, N.M.
At the northern edge of the artist colony of Taos and a couple hours' drive north of Santa Fe, Taos Pueblo is a set of adobe dwellings, ranging from two to five stories tall, whose walls gleam in the sun of the high desert. Some of the 2,000 Tiwa-speaking people who live on an adjacent reservation continue to use this six-century-old settlement for ceremonial rites, such as for the Deer and Matachines Dances, which are usually performed to the sound of heavy drum beats. The Taos Pueblo contains the largest collection of multi-story pueblo dwellings in the country—well worth its UNESCO World Heritage status—and provides an uncommon insight into the culture of the first Americans (taospueblo.com, admission $10).
Photo op: The main north pueblo, Hlauuma, is especially photogenic when the light reflects off its face and the Taos Mountain looms in the background.
Insider tip: It's worth the $6 camera fee to capture the sun-baked facade on film. Just leave your fancy SLR at home—they jack up the fees for folks bringing in pro-level gear.
Fenway Park, Boston, Mass.
No sport is more central to America's identity than baseball, and the best place to pay homage to it is at Fenway Park in central Boston. In operation for 100 years, Fenway is the nation's oldest stadium that's still home to a Major League Baseball team (it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July 2012). This field of dreams for the Boston Red Sox is a field of nightmares to the players of visiting teams, thanks to its 37-foot-tall "Green Monster," a colossally high left-field wall that gives Sox left-fielders an edge over their counterparts because of the oddly-angled rebounds it causes. The park is steeped in lore, such as for its Pesky Pole, a right-field foul rod so nicknamed because Sox player Johnny Pesky hit a two-run homer around the pole on Opening Day in 1946 (mlb.com).
Photo op: Get prime views of the park from the top of the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck.
Insider tip: The first five visitors to arrive at the Fan Services booth on the official ballpark tour may request to have their names put up on the original, manually-operated scoreboard (tours from $12).
South Beach, Miami, Fla.
Even in typically overstated Miami terms, no place in the country captures Latin-tropical chic like South Beach, with its 23 pastel-hued blocks of hotels, shops, restaurants, and cocktail bars south of Dade Boulevard. Glamorously restored art deco and art moderne hotels dominate Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, which run parallel to the Atlantic. Check out the high-rise Raleigh, with its curvaceous swimming pool; the Delano, a glossy white Philippe Starck confection; and the Mondrian, with its super-sized chess pieces standing guard near an ebony staircase. Given an average year-round temperature of 75 degrees, SoBe always draws a pretty crowd for people-watching along its ocean promenade (miamibeachguest.com).
Photo op: Sunrise casts the best light on South Beach's Creamsicle-colored hotels. Find peak times for this and other locations at golden-hour.com.
Insider tip: South Beach is home to the most authentic Cuban-comfort-food restaurants outside of Havana. Try Puerto Sagua, where waiters have served ropa vieja (shredded beef) and other staples since 1962 (700 Collins Ave.; 305/673-1115).
Civil Rights District, Atlanta, Ga.
Atlanta's Sweet Auburn neighborhood draws thousands of visitors each year to pay respects to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the renowned African American preacher and civil rights leader who was born here and whose messages on dignified protest still resonate worldwide. Popular locations include King's gravesite, the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was baptized and ordained and where his funeral was held, and the King Birth Home, a Queen Anne-style house where he lived for the first dozen years of his life. A visitor's center at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site displays many artifacts, such as the photographs from the bus boycott that King organized to fight segregation (nps.gov/malu).
Photo op: The visitors' center displays the mule wagon that carried King's body during his funeral procession.
Insider tip: If you want to tour inside King's birthplace home, arrive early at the National Park Service visitor center, as tours book up fast.
Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pa.
Compelling battlefield tours are difficult to pull off, as there's often little to see. But Gettysburg, the most visited of Civil War battlefields, manages the trick. At the four-year-old, $135 million visitor's center, a 20-minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman explains how the three-day fight unfolded, while an 1884 Cyclorama depicts an infantry assault in a 359-foot-long-by-27-foot-high wraparound oil painting. Once you're oriented, drive the park's paved roads (a rented audio guide enhances the experience). The landscape you'll see is close to what the blue and grey saw, as the park service is slowly restoring tracts of land and forest to how they would have looked during the battle. Be sure to stop at Little Round Top, where 1,600 soldiers died in just a few hours of fierce fighting—a small portion of the overall grim death toll (1195 Baltimore Pike, nps.gov/gett).
Photo op: An especially photogenic—and pang-inducing—memorial stands at nearby Soldiers' National Cemetery, where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
Insider tip: To find out whether a relative is buried here, check the Veteran's Administration website, va.gov, which has a free searchable database of burials in national cemeteries throughout the United States.
Architecture in Chicago, Ill.
Daring architecture is a hallmark of the U.S.A., and Chicago has long been the epicenter of our nation's "edifice complex." No other American city has tried to erect as many highrises spanning as many styles as the Windy City. The birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago's downtown is currently bookended by two stunning buildings, the 110-story Willis Tower, which held the title of the world's tallest structure until 1998, and the John Hancock Center, whose austere crisscross trusses leave giant X marks rising 100 stories into the clouds. More whimsical works include Tribune Tower, a Gothic fantasy of an office complex; Skybridge, a 39-story, glass-plate wonder that resembles a razor-sharp grater; and Aqua Tower, a two-year-old surrealistic structure that looks like a topographic wave or a stack of potato chips—pick your metaphor (architecture.org).
Photo op: Head downtown to the Frank Gehry-designed BP Pedestrian Bridge, which connects Millennium Park with Grant Park and Daley Bicentennial Plaza. It rises above the tree line to provide astonishing views of the city's buildings (millenniumpark.org).
Insider tip: The most fascinating architecture tour is actually in the suburb of Oak Park, Ill. Take a guided survey of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, typically departing from the late architect's Home and Studio (951 Chicago Ave., gowright.org, guided tour $25).
Ellis Island, N.J.
Four out of 10 Americans have at least one ancestor who passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954—a whopping 12 million immigrants in that 62-year period. At the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, you'll visit re-creations of the port's key spaces, such the hearing rooms where people's cases were judged, while an audio tour narrated by Tom Brokaw delivers the back story. (For another perspective, listen to recordings of oral accounts from 1,500 immigrants and island workers at 20 listening stations.) You can also peruse more than 25 million newly digitized arrival records at 11 computer stations throughout the museum (ellisisland.org, from $8).
Photo op: Ellis Island offers the best land-based view of the Statue of Liberty, from one mile away (the statue itself is closed to visitors through the end of 2012 for a $27.25 million renovation); you'll also get great photos of the Manhattan skyline from the island.
Insider tip: Ferries run daily from Manhattan's Battery Park and stop first at the Statue of Liberty (nps.gov/stli), so take an early-morning cruise to travel with smaller crowds.
Pearl Harbor, O'ahu, Hawaii
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the USS Arizona Memorial (nps.gov/usar), which honors the men who died on the famous battleship sunk in 1941's Pearl Harbor air raid. A scale model of the ship inside the monument's museum gives a sense of what it must have been like to be on the vessel while it was under attack, and public tours include a 22-minute movie presentation, followed by a visit to the Memorial itself. Nearby, a nonprofit group maintains the Battleship Missouri Memorial, which was the site of the formal Japanese surrender, while a preserved World War II submarine can be explored at the adjacent USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, run by another independent group.
Photo op: The Kilo Pier looks directly at the Memorial from approximately half a mile away.
Insider tip: Visitors may add the stories, photos, or letters passed down by their family members in the archives of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Project, which aims to make all of the stories available in audio format for generations to come (pearlharborstories.org).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, N.Y.
If a national temple to the visual arts exists in America, it might just be the Met, a 13-acre venue set, appropriately, within the city's most famous living work of art, Central Park. It draws more than 6 million visitors each year, and has a permanent collection of nearly 2 million works that span 5,000 years of creativity. The museum is currently undergoing renovation and renewal. Its American Wing (which stars Emanuel Leutze's portrayal of General George Washington crossing a near-frozen Delaware River during the Revolutionary War) reopened in January 2012 after extensive refurbishment. In 2007, the Greek and Roman galleries opened in a stunning, 60,000-square-foot-hall after a $220 million renovation, and a suite of 15 wholly revamped galleries for the museum's Islamic art collection debuted in late 2011 to serious acclaim. (1000 Fifth Ave., metmuseum.org, adult suggested donation $25).
Photo op: The rooftop of the Met is open to visitors and provides one of the city's clearest views of the skyline to the east and south, including Central Park and the Empire State Building. Go at sunset.
Insider tip: While a donation of $25 is strongly suggested, entering the museum is technically free, as a way to avoid discriminating against the poor.
7 Tricks for Getting Gas for Less
With gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, every trip to the gas station is a pain in the wallet. And that's just for the commute, forget about road trips. That's no reason to stay home, though. There are lots of ways to save on the amount of fuel your car uses (obeying the speed limit, keeping your car tuned). And lots of ways to save at the pump. From high-tech helpers like websites and apps to why you can now use green instead of plastic to cut down on your gas bill, these seven strategies will help you cut down on gas prices and get you out on the road. Track Gas Prices Across the Country Fuel prices across the country can differ by as much as 25 percent. Before even planning your vacation, check out the GasBuddy's Heat Map, where you'll see just how stark the difference can be. A trip that starts in St. Louis and passes through the Ozarks, Memphis, and southern Kentucky will see fuel prices averaging $3.00 per gallon. Head north instead to Madison, WI, Chicago, and Michigan beaches, and you'll be shelling out upward of $3.70. The Savings: $11 per tank* Get Out of Town It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes driving farther to find gas actually saves you money. Some Americans in border states actually drive to Mexico to fill up their tank, thanks to government-regulated prices. Going to another country is a bit drastic, but sometimes it pays to leave the city limits. Filling your tank near downtown Seattle might run upward of $4.00 per gallon, for example, whereas just 20 miles down the freeway you'll find plenty of stations charging $3.50 or less. This strategy's a no-brainer, especially if you're already heading out of town. The Savings: $8.50 per tank* Go Low Octane Unless your car specifically requires high octane fuel, you may not need to spring for the additives. Consult your vehicle's owner's manual before pumping the high-grade—as long as premium gas is "recommended" but not "required," your car probably won't experience any (noticeable) performance hiccups. And with spreads between regular and premium gas running $.20 and $.40 per gallon these days, savings add up fast. The Savings: $6.80 per tank* Get the App for That When driving through unfamiliar territory, mobile apps can be your best friend. The iGasUp app ($0.99) lists 10 stations nearby with the least expensive gas, along with driving distances and directions for how to reach them. If you're planning to fuel up later, you can search by zip code. The prices are constantly updated and entries are time-stamped for the more than 110,000 stations in the app's system. The Savings: $6 per tank* Sign Up for Credit Cards that Give you Cash Back A growing number of credit cards offer cash back for gas purchases, but keep your eye out especially for those that award cash year-round as opposed to during specific quarters. American Express Blue Cash Everyday has no annual fee and is one of the few programs that'll refund 2 percent of all your gas purchases, regardless of when and where. Discover's Open Road card gives you a 2 percent cash back bonus on the first $250 you spend on gas and dining per month (there's also no annual fee). Cards affiliated with particular gas companies also offer savings. Get a Visa with BP and get a $.15 rebate per gallon for every $100 you spend at BP. Shell's Drive for Five card through Citibank saves you $.05 per gallon (up to 100 gallons) when you buy at least 45 gallons of Shell gas per month. Just be sure to read the fine print, and make sure there are enough branches in your area to justify the commitment. The Savings: $3.00 per tank* Get Perks from Membership Clubs and Grocery Stores Membership clubs like Costco and Sam's Club around the country entice shoppers with branded stations pumping cheaper gas—usually about $.10 per gallon less than other stations in the area. Whether or not this actually saves you money once you factor in the $50–$100 annual fee depends on how much you drive. Experts caution you need to drive well above the national average of 12,000 miles per year to come out ahead (not taking into account member savings on bulk mayo and paper towels). If you're wary of annual dues, local grocery store chains like Price Chopper and Kroger have their own free rewards programs, which typically grant "points" for store purchases that can later be applied toward gas. At Kroger, you can earn one fuel point per dollar spent at the store, with 100 fuel points earning you $.10 off per gallon at the store's gas pumps and participating Shell stations. Giant Eagle, which has locations in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, has a fuel perks program that gives you $.10 off per gallon when you spend $50 on groceries. The Savings: $2.50 per tank* Pay Cash It's widely known that merchants pay a fee to the credit card companies every time a customer uses a card to make a purchase. So basically, the store makes less money if you use a card than if you pay cash. This was the price of doing business, until an antitrust case made it possible for stores to charge less if you pay cash—and gas station owners pounced. Now you can see signs that list two prices—cash or credit/debit—and signs advertising the Cash Price. While savings vary depending on the station, discounts can run upward of $.05 to $.10 per gallon or more. Independent stores were the first to start offering the dual pricing, but chains are getting in on the action as well and typically offer the cash price if you are using their credit card. The Savings: $1.50 per tank* *Calculated savings based on a tank size of 17 gallons
10 Common Cruise Myths—Debunked
Myth: It doesn't matter when you book Fact: There are a few ways to get the best price for your cruise. You could wait for last-minute sales, which the cruise lines issue when they fear that their ships won't fill up (although these are often only offered through certain travel agents so word doesn't get out to customers who paid much more). The drawback here is that you don't know when or if a sale is going to take place, and finding low airfares or cheap pre-cruise hotel rooms at the last minute is often difficult. Or, better yet, mark the time period between January and March on your calendar as "wave season." This is the time when cruise lines offer lower fares and better upgrades to customers who are planning for the year ahead. Myth: Cruise excursions provide the best deal Fact: Although some people prefer the convenience of a cruise line excursion, it's often much more cost effective to book on your own. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line charges $99 to take you from the dock in Civitavecchia into Rome for a driving tour and two hours of exploring time, a one-hour trip each way by motorcoach. A similar round-trip bus transfer from a private operator such as smartcruisetours.com starts at around $16. Another advantage to going out on your own? You aren't held hostage to a busload of other people. If you'd still like the benefit of a guide or driver, you can find similarly minded fellow passengers with whom you can share expenses on specialty cruising websites such as CruiseCritic. Myth: The weather is bad in the shoulder season Fact: If you travel during the off-season, you'll usually find lower airfares, pre- and post-cruise hotel rates, and excursion prices. While the savings depend on the destination, you can usually cut costs between 20 to 50 percent. Off seasons vary by destination. November or the early part of December, for example, can be a cost-effective time to cruise the Caribbean, while fall is when you can find bargains in the southern Mediterranean and the Pacific Northwest. May is a smart time to visit Hawaii, as the spring break season is over and the summer rush hasn't yet begun. If you are traveling at off-peak times, make sure to study the weather patterns in the destination. You might find Caribbean deals in late August through October, but that's prime hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Making sure that you have travel insurance during these times—and reading the fine print to make sure it covers you if your flights are delayed or if the trip is interrupted by bad weather—is a must. Myth: All restaurants on board are included Fact: More and more ships have added "premium" restaurants where you'll pay extra for sushi, steak or specialty ethnic foods. On the newer Carnival cruise ships, for example, it costs $35 per person to eat at the on-board steakhouse. Whether or not this extra is worth it is up to you. If you're a foodie, you might enjoy the chance to eat better quality cuisine and avoid the noise and crowds of the main dining room. And some lines, such as Norwegian, have "early bird" options where you can dine 2 for 1 if you eat at 5 p.m. But all signs show that specialty dining is a trend that's not going away anytime soon. Myth: Formal nights are required Fact: Worried that you don't have the right look for formal night? You don't need to buy an expensive dress or rent a tuxedo. On most ships, formal nights have become much more casual, and you'll see everything from sportcoats to sun dresses that have been glammed up with jewelry or high-heeled sandals. For those who want to stay in their shorts, many ships usually have a buffet or alternative eating venue that's open; check with your line before booking, as some ships do restrict shorts in their main dining room at night. Or make this the night to order room service in your cabin and take a stroll on the deck. Myth: Ship spa treatments are out of my budget Fact: It's hard to relax when you feel like you're paying top dollar for a massage. Many people don't know that the prices for treatments sometimes drop when the ship is in port (discounts vary by line, but expect to see deals, such as three "mini-treatments" for $99; a 50-minute on-board massage can cost around $120 to $200, depending on the line and type of treatment). Spa appointments can fill up early, so make sure you book as soon as you get on the ship. Check the ship's newsletter for daily specials that might only be available during certain hours. Still feel like it costs too much? Steam and sauna facilities in the gym are often included in your fare. Or do your research and see if there's a spa in port that has better deals. Myth: Drink packages save money Fact: This one is tricky. A drinks package or pre-paid soda card can be a huge money saver for a family, or if you're cruising in a hot climate where you go through countless bottles of water. But if you're on your own with your honey, you're better off bringing your own sports water bottle that you can fill up during the day. Another tip for the cost-conscious: Many lines do let you bring your own sodas or bottled water on board. Pack a small soft-sided cooler and pick up six-packs when you're in port. All lines frown upon customers packing in their own beer, wine, or alcohol, however; expect it to be confiscated. If you like to tipple, look for happy hour and drink specials, or buy a bottle of wine with dinner and save it for the next night. Myth: Tipping is optional Fact: Just as tips make up a large portion of a waiter's wages on land, they're also important to cruise ship employees, and many lines now include a service charge on their final bill, usually $11–$12 per person per day (which can come as a shock to customers from non-tipping cultures, such as England or Australia). If you're ordering a drink at the bar or pool, check your receipt so you don't tip twice; often a 15 percent gratuity or service charge has already been added. Myth: A balcony room is a necessity Fact: While the extra space of a balcony room can be nice, cruise lines have worked to make inside cabins more appealing. On the Disney Dream, for example, inside cabins come with "virtual portholes" that insert animated characters into real-time ocean views. Norwegian Cruise Line has designated some inside cabins for solo travelers, eliminating the need for a single supplement. And if you're prone to seasickness, an inside cabin, particularly one on a lower deck in the middle of the ship, may keep you upright. That being said, there are some areas of the world where a balcony—or at least a room with a view—is well worth the splurge (Alaska's Inside Passage, for one). And people who hate pool crowds might appreciate an outdoor space where there's room to breathe (just realize that you might have smokers next door; if smoke really bothers you, choose a line, such as Princess or Celebrity, that bans smoking in staterooms, even on private stateroom balconies). But if you're taking a cruise where you'll be spending most of your time on shore or the weather will be too breezy, then that strip of land might not be worth the extra money. Cruiser, know thyself. Myth: All on-board activities are free Fact: When you board the ship, you might be dazzled by the wide array of activities. But chances are, you'll be paying extra for that Zumba or wine-tasting class, usually between $10–$15 per person (similar to what you'd pay at home). The ship's daily bulletin usually lists the classes that are being offered, and whether or not there is a fee. Some lines allow you to make reservations, as well as sign waivers, before you board, so take a thorough look at your ship company's website to do some advance planning. The good news is that cruise ship entertainment, which usually is included in the price, has stepped up its game in the past few years. Some of the mega-ships such as Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, have brought in Cirque de Soleil-style shows and versions of Broadway musicals, and lines such as Disney have made original shows a focal point. Movie theaters, some with 3D, 4D, or 5D special effects, are also popular. Or use the time to relax and read.
12 Most Colorful Towns in the World
Ever notice how many of the world's great cities and monuments are, well, a bit bland? The pharaohs obviously skimped on the paint budget for the pyramids. And today, the Parthenon looks regally monochrome from its perch on the Athenian Acropolis. But there are some bright spots. Thankfully there are the candy-colored towns of Italy's Cinque Terre and vibrant neighborhoods from Buenos Aires to Cape Town to keep your vacation photos from looking a little beige. Or take a trip north of the Artic circle to a Norwegian town that brightens up the lunar landscape with charming orange, blue, and red dwellings (be sure to say hi to Santa Claus while you are there). Join us on a tour to five continents as we explore a dozen of the world's most vibrantly colorful towns, and we'll let you know exactly where to go to get the best view. SEE THE MOST COLORFUL TOWNS! MANAROLA, ITALY Manarola is the oldest of the Italian towns known as the Cinque Terre—the Five Lands along the country's northwestern coast that cling, lichen-like, to the rugged rocks above the Ligurian Sea. All five localities—Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare—are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site recognized for its "harmonious interaction between people and nature." UNESCO obviously knows its color wheel: The sea's rich blues complement the sunset-colored shops and Genovese-style tower homes of Manarola with panache, and the buildings appear almost cultivated, like a flower garden tucked into the craggy slopes. Particularly stunning is the vista from the narrow rock ledge across the harbor at Punto Bonfiglio, when the retiring sun deepens and perfects the town's palette. JODHPUR, INDIA That wash of blue on the horizon isn't a sunny sky (though Jodhpur has plenty of those, too—with barely a foot of rain each year). Rather, the wave unfolding from the foot of the massive fortress Mehrangarh is a cornflower-colored settlement, aptly termed the "Blue City." The color may originally have had social and cultural significance, indicating the habitations of upper-caste Brahmins (today, it is less prone to indicating religious boundaries). Few communities are this coordinated: Steady blues give the settlement an airy, fantastical look, like a magical town drawn from the spiritual pages of the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. Towering Mehrangarh completes the mythological look. Begun in 1459 and expanded over the centuries, the fortress is now open to visitors and provides panoramic views of the old city's heavenly patchwork. LA BOCA, BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA From its humble beginnings as a slave settlement in the 16th century, Buenos Aires's La Boca neighborhood has become one of the capital's most culturally diverse districts—and certainly its most colorful. Paint-by-numbers conventillo homes, built by Italian immigrants and daubed with vibrant primaries, give the neighborhood a lively air. Caminito Street, La Boca's most popular drag, is particularly rich in these shared tenements—but it's also rich in oglers. Away from Caminito's throngs, the colors might not be quite as loud, but creativity abounds throughout the district—painters and sculptors of all stripes have transformed the neighborhood into an artistic hub. For a look at modern La Boca art, head for the galleries at Fundación Proa, which also offers a library, restaurant, and rooftop terrace for a birds-eye perspective on Buenos Aires's luminous playground. ITTOQQORTOORMIIT, GREENLAND Scattered across the bleak lunar landscape like a handful of candy drops, the barn-like homes in Ittoqqortoormiit (pronounced it-doc-cut-door-meet) lend a surprising touch of domesticity to one of the world's most desolate regions. Even the interior of the circa-1928 church is as richly colored as its façade. Perched dramatically on a fjord-laced peninsula, the town is the entryway to Northeast Greenland National Park, the world's most northerly and flat-out hugest national park—topping 240 million acres, the park could accommodate more than a hundred Yellowstones. But even without wandering into the beyond, Ittoqqortoormiit provides a keen glance into frontier life in Greenland. The 70 colonists who arrived in the area in 1925 speckled the rugged coastline with houses painted in burnt ochers and royal blues. With a winter that never ends—the sea here is frozen seven months of the year—those warm colors aren't just pretty, they're a psychological necessity. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA Diverse and unrepentantly eccentric, the City by the Bay wears its colors proudly, from the displays of elaborately embroidered cheongsamin Chinatown windows to the Seven Sisters, the famous lineup of delicately-tinted Victorian homes on Alamo Square. For more freestyle paint jobs, check out the murals at Clarion Alley, a narrow sliver connecting Mission and Valencia Streets. A multiplicity of art styles drawn in innumerable hues covers the walls and fences of the alleyway, providing the (mostly) consenting community with a dynamic gallery of homegrown creations. If that's still too restrained for your tastes, join a million other revelers at the annual San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade (usually held on the last full weekend of June). It's the biggest LGBT event in the country, and, as such, one of the biggest tsunamis of color on the planet. WILLEMSTAD, CURAÇAO From a distance, Willemstad's waterfront looks positively unreal, like a doll city plunked down into the Caribbean. The oldest section of Curaçao's capital dates back to 1634, and the commingling of Dutch architecture and a Caribbean palette has resulted in a riotous cityscape rivaling the town's own Carnival for vibrancy. One island legend claims that the painting began in earnest when a Dutch governor proscribed white houses, believing the tropical sun's powerful glare a medical risk. See the buildings up close and then cross the Swinging Old Lady (the local name for the pontoon-supported, 1888 Queen Emma Bridge) for a view from the across the river. Gouverneur de Rouville restaurant has a terrace with the perfect vantage point (the wide selection of rums is also a plus). LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD, NORWAY At Longyearbyen's latitude, about the only warm things around are the rusty reds of many of this coal-mining town's homes. The capital of the Svalbard archipelago lies a full 12 degrees north of the Arctic Circle—which means it's not just Nordic, it's the most Nordic of all Nordic lands (according to its proud inhabitants, anyway). The rows of identically constructed homes—done up in rich, Crayola oranges, blues, and reds—stand out starkly from the snow-strewn hills and crevasses of Longyearbyen's otherworldly surroundings. The entrances to some defunct mines remain open to visitors, with Mine No. 2B being particularly endorsed. "As a matter of fact," Norway's official tourism guide blithely asserts, "this mine is where Santa Claus lives." Those rosy homes? That's where the elves work. BO-KAAP, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA Settled by the successors of African and South Asian slaves brought by the Dutch beginning in the 1500s, and subsequently influenced by the migration of Islam, Cape Town's Bo-Kaap district has over time developed into a candyland of lemon, lime, and grape-tinged houses. For more on the neighborhood's past, head to the Bo-Kaap Museum, housed in a historic building largely unchanged from its original 1760s form. Then trek up Wale Street and turn off onto Chiappini Street for a particularly striking row of Dutch and Georgian terraces, cheery aquas and pistachio greens, and glimpses of the surrounding cloud-draped hills. BERLIN, GERMANY For a once-shattered city, Berlin has a reputation as an art destination that hinges on a somber irony: The postwar apportioning that divided the city into East and West was, and is, a driving force for its creative spirit. The East Side Gallery, slapped onto a .8-mile remnant of the Berlin Wall, displays the political and occasionally absurdist imagery of a world torn asunder—a vibrant visual paean to a society in flux. A rich collection of Berlin's art resides in the city's 180 museums, but the real draw for color junkies is the public art scene. Pieces like Jeff Koons's sculpted, ocean-blue Balloon Flower populate Berlin's plazas, while unauthorized artworks—some, like the artist Blu's mask-ripping mural in Kreuzberg, massive in scale—adorn urban surfaces everywhere. The Tacheles art house, converted from a derelict building built early in the 20th century, is a gallery inside and out: Combining planned exhibitions and the colossal canvas of the building's own façade, Tacheles remains a work in progress, just like its chameleonic mother metropolis. TENBY, WALES The city walls of the seaside resort town of Tenby might have kept attackers out during the Middle Ages, but today they can't quite contain the pastel Georgian buildings spilling right out onto the sand. The view from the harbor is rightfully renowned, but you can get an even better taste of Tenby's medieval past by taking a ramble down one of its narrow, winding alleys—like the quirkily named Lower Frog Street, a canyon of color. (No amphibian greens, though-Tenby's hues skew lighter.) The town is always popular with holidaymakers, but it's getting an extra boost this year with the recent opening of the Wales Coast Path, an 870-mile meander along the country's edge that includes Tenby on its route. Trekkers can enjoy shades as sweet as the seaside treats sold by candymaker Lollies. GDAŃSK, POLAND A millennial city that wears its age proudly, Gdańsk has a dazzling collection of preserved structures that tower above the cobbled streets of the Główne Miasto (Main Town). While the Baltic port has more than its share of stoic structures (check out St. Mary's Church, which, with its 256-foot tower, is purportedly the largest brick church on earth), parts of the city are draped in surprisingly upbeat tones. The sentinel-like mansions along Długa, the main pedestrian drag, form solid walls of peach, olive, and mauve. Their combination of jovial colors and dignified sculpture and ornamentation reflects Gdańsk's split personality: Centuries after the height of its prosperity as a trading hub in the 1500s, the city fell hard under the spell of collectivism. The Solidarity movement that eventually helped topple communism in Europe began in the city's shipyards, and today Gdańsk is still on the ascent after its postwar dreariness. QUIAPO, MANILA, PHILIPPINES At the center of the Philippine capital, the market-rich neighborhood of Quiapo packs in a bewildering variety of cultural, culinary, and corporeal colors that makes the rest of Manila pale in comparison. On any given day, the rugged streets fill beyond bursting with vendors hawking traditional gold-trimmed barong tagalog shirts, sweet sun-yellow mangoes from the island of Guimaras, and fierysiling labuyo (birds-eye chilis) in Christmassy reds and greens. But the real star of Quiapo's dappled streets is the classic Philippine jeepney. Modeled after American army jeeps, the flamboyant minibuses are ubiquitous on the capital's crowded roadways, and each is a unique work of art. The vehicles are painted with slogans, patterns in blaring primary colors, and gaudier-than-life portraits of pop stars and cultural icons—think Mother Mary riding shotgun, with Madonna bringing up the rear.
10 Incredible World Landmarks You Haven't Seen (Yet!)
SkyPoint Climb and Observatory Deck Gold Coast, Australia Talk about the high point of a trip to Australia. In January, the country opened SkyPoint, its tallest external building walk, located about 500 miles north of Sydney on the Gold Coast. To climb SkyPoint, first hop an elevator to the 77th floor of the Q1 Resort, which looms above a 25-mile-stretch of flour-fine-sand and turquoise-blue sea. Make sure you're wearing rubber-soled shoes for the 298 stairs, which rise to a soaring spire. While wearing a jacket harnessed to the building, you'll feel a rush as you spiral 360 degrees, taking in views that range from the surf churning off the Pacific to the impossibly green canopy of rain forest that's just a 30-minute bike ride away. Before you know it, you're 885 feet above sea level, peering down on the neighborhood called Surfer's Paradise, with its epic breakpoints and a shimmering network of canals that wend their way around a range of high-rise resort towers. Best done at twilight, this is how buildings were meant to be climbed. Surfers Paradise Blvd., Surfers Paradise, 253/779-8490, skypoint.com.au. Ninety-minute climb: adults $88, kids 12-15 $68. General admission: adults from $21, kids 12-15 from $12. Make It a Day Trip: The Gold Coast, near Brisbane airport, never gets too cold—thanks to the South Pacific current—so outdoor activities are always on tap. Pick up surfing through some classes, or shred if you can. Rent a bike and head to the mountains. LeMay-America's Car Museum Tacoma, Washington Before millionaire Harold LeMay died in 2000, he put plans into place to transfer the bulk of his singular, Guinness-record-breaking automobile collection to a then-unbuilt exhibition space. When his LeMay-America Car Museum finally opened in May 2012, it instantly became the country's largest automobile shrine. Underneath a corrugated aluminum roof that gleams like a fender, this sprawling complex displays more than 700 iconic cars, trucks, and motorcycles—such as a 1930 Duesenberg Model J, a 1951 Studebaker, and 1969 Ford Thunderbird—across its three-and-a-half acres of floor space. Feeling less like a gallery than like a well-appointed sales showroom, the museum will host upcoming themed exhibitions, such as ones on iconic British vehicles from the 1960s and racecars that lapped the Indianapolis 500. During warm weather, the pretty grounds outside will do double-duty as an additional display area. 2702 East D. St., 253/779-8490, lemaymuseum.org, adults $14, kids 5-12 from $8. Make It a Day Trip: Take the hour-long train ride from Seattle, passing lush mountain-and-sea views. Then walk the few blocks from the Amtrak station to the museum, beside the Tacoma Dome. After your museum visit, hop the Tacoma Link Light Rail downtown to see the city's next-best collection: The Tacoma Art Museum, which features Pacific Northwest works, some modern, some ancient, including the premier permanent collection of native son glass artist Dale Chihuly. National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement Las Vegas, Nevada In 1950-51, federal hearings blew the lid off organized crime during testimony at a Las Vegas courthouse. Just this year, the historic building re-opened following a $42 million renovation and is now officially dubbed the National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement. Today it's less dry-as-dust court testimony and more pop-culture fantasy that draws crowds (experience the life of a criminal yourself by taking part in a simulated police line-up). Stories of real mobsters are mixed with movie legends, and sometimes it's hard to tell where Al Capone's legacy ends and The Godfather begins. About 41,000 square feet of exhibits include grim mementos of the mafia's violent subculture, such as a 38-caliber Colt revolver recovered from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, a notorious Prohibition-era gangland battle in Chicago that killed seven people. But visitors can also gawk at pop culture memories, such as the Hawaiian shirt donned by TV mobster Tony Soprano. 300 Stewart Ave., themobmuseum.org, adults, $19.95; children ages 5-17 and students ages 18-23 with a valid ID, $13.95; seniors ages 65 and up, $15.95; Nevada residents, $10. Make It a Day Trip: It's Vegas, baby, need we say more? That said, if you're feeling paralyzed by the choices, start with a Sin City walkabout. Head round the corner and stroll two blocks to the Fremont Street Experience, four blocks of the city's best concentrations of fashion shops and children's arcades all gathered together under a 90-foot-high transparent canopy. Expect an hourly light show in the evening. Tokyo Sky Tree Tokyo, Japan The Japanese capital has begun to rebuild its reputation for futuristic, outsized architecture, defying gravity with the Tokyo Sky Tree—a white steel-and concrete landmark that has seized the title of the world's tallest freestanding tower. The gleaming structure is almost seven football fields high (twice the height of Paris's Eiffel Tower) and it catches your eye in the northeast quadrant of a city that is otherwise relatively free of skyscrapers. The tower, which was under construction during the 2011 earthquake, emerged from the disaster unscathed, giving it the potential to symbolize Japan's recovery from past traumas. Opened in May 2012, the city's TV and radio broadcasting beacon is popular for its twin observation decks, especially the higher of the two, Tembo Galleria, a 1,476-foot-high glassed-in balcony that puts the city's jumbo HD flat-screens to shame for its views of eye-catching grandeur. The floor plan of the indoor balcony somehow conjures the illusion that visitors are walking across the sky. More than a million people visited Sky Tree during its first week of operation. Lines will stay as monumental as that for years to come, so block out more than two hours if you want to get to the top. Tokyo Sky Tree Station, tokyo-skytree.jp/en. Adults from $25 plus an additional $12 to go to the highest observation deck, Tembo Galleria; kids 6-11 from $18, plus $6 for higher deck. Make It a Day Trip: The tower is part of the Tokyo Sky Tree complex, which, at its base, is connected to a major eponymous train station and which also includes the new Sumida Aquarium (the country's largest indoor tank), showcasing 10,000 mostly Pacific-based sea creatures that you're unlikely to ever see Stateside, including several fur seals. The Sky Tree complex also has a planetarium and plenty of restaurants and shops selling souvenirs. Brooklyn Bridge Park Pool Brooklyn, New York Both the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty reveal their finest sides from a slight remove, namely, across the East River at the three-year old Brooklyn Bridge Park, an 85-acre waterfront archipelago that consists of a half-dozen grassy plazas. In summer 2012, the city opened an aboveground, 3.5-foot-deep public pool a stone's throw from the 129-year old bridge. If the 30-foot-by-50-foot pool gets crowded, cut across the trees to one of the benches set among grass slopes dotted with public artworks, a refurbished 1920s carousel in a pavilion by architect Jean Nouvel, and roving ice cream vendors. The plan is to keep the pool open for the next five summers, at least, meaning plenty of chances to catch a sunset over Manhattan's new One World Trade Center. 334 Furman St., brooklynbridgepark.org. Make It a Day Trip: Opt for a (free) walk across the Brooklyn Bridge [LM5] to take in the glorious views of Manhattan's skyscape. Then explore the Brooklyn neighborhoods of DUMBO and Cobble Hill. Time your visit to catch the sunset over the Statue of Liberty, then linger to witness Manhattan light up at night. ArcelorMittal Orbit London, United Kingdom Locals have called London's monument for the 2012 Summer Olympics many things: the Helter-Skelter, the Colossus of Stratford (which refers to the neighborhood's name), and—our favorite—the Eyeful Tower. But the official name of this trumpet-shaped, tomato-red, stainless-steel monument is ArcelorMittal Orbit, designed by Anish Kapoor (the artist behind the so-called Millennium Bean in Chicago's Grant Park) and architect Cecil Balmond. The highest sculpture in Britain, the 37-story monument is taller than the Statue of Liberty. Its 300-foot high observation deck allows visitors to peer into the 193-foot-high Olympic Stadium next door. After the closing ceremonies of the Games, the tubular tower was temporarily shuttered while the Olympic Village is re-developed into a sports center for the general public, along with a planned museum dedicated to the three Olympics that London has hosted. In the meantime, the structure will remain a landmark seen far and wide. 2012 Olympic Park, Stratford, arcelormittalorbit.com. Make It a Day Trip: London Walks, one of the city's premier tour groups, offers daily tours of the Olympic Park and surrounding area, before, during, and after the Games. Learn about the interesting art galleries and start-up restaurants that have popped up in the past few years as the area renovates. walks.com. Sea Life Aquarium Kansas City, Missouri Landlocked Kansas City landed a big one in April with the debut of a $15 million aquarium, run by the global franchise Sea Life and part of the new downtown complex, Crown Center. Awash with more than 5,000 fish swimming in 260,000 gallons of water, the complex takes visitors on a virtual educational trip, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi and then onward to the Caribbean. Get nose-to-nose with the star attractions: manta rays and sharks. Then simulate the experience of being underwater by wandering through a tunnel between sections of a giant tank filled with a Technicolor cluster of exotic fish[LM6] . The aquarium's touch pool, an interactive exhibit, lets kids (carefully) pet small animals like starfish. 2475 Grand Blvd., visitsealife.com/Kansas-city. Adults from $18, kids 3-12 from $15. Make It a Day Trip: Next door to the aquarium is a just-opened Legoland Discovery Center, with children's' rides themed on the popular toys and a building area for kids. Kamppi Chapel of Silence Helsinki, Finland A stately wooden chapel in a beehive form, the Kamppi Chapel of Silence opened in May in the quiet Narinkka Square in the heart of Finland's capital. The windowless structure captures the essence of Scandinavian design in its use of natural materials and minimalist aesthetics. Think: indirect sun via skylights, a timber roof, oiled alder walls that slope, and a set of spare, solid wood benches. Opened in May 2012, the cozy 2,900-square-foot nondenominational chapel doesn't hold services, but it does have representatives of congregational services and city counseling services on hand, in case any visitor wishes to speak to someone in a hidden room off the main space. The award-winning structure is intended to serve as a place of contemplation without any religious message—a place where stress and heartache go to fade away. Narinkka Square, Simonkatu St. Make It a Day Trip: In 2012, Helsinki was the World Capital of Design, and the city showcased the latest in architecture, fashion, and the graphic arts around town. Luckily, the capital is small enough that you can master the lay of the land in an afternoon by rental bicycle. The Arch Cultural Center Mandal, Norway The Arch, or Buen in Norwegian, is a 48,500-square-foot performing arts complex that includes a concert hall, a theater, a cinema, a library, a contemporary art gallery, and a "food laboratory" (or venue for locals to try out unusual new concoctions by national chefs). Designed by Danish architecture firm 3XN, the $30 million building has a low-slung swooping shape that resembles a summer duvet. It was unveiled in April on a river in Mandal, Norway's most southerly village of about 14,000 residents. The structure's white walls are meant to fit in with the white historic wooden houses adjoining it on the waterfront. Factoring in eco-friendly requirements, a grassy roof arcs 46-feet high over the building, beckoning children from this town to play, and making for a fresh contrast with the abandoned industrial zone that previously stood on the site. Tall, southern-facing windows maximize sunlight exposure to the lobby. Under construction is a 525-foot-long pedestrian bridge linking The Arch to the town center across the Mandel River (Mandalselva). Buen Mandal, buen.mandal.net. Make It a Day Trip: A four-and-a-half-hour drive from capital city Oslo, Mandal provides an opportunity for visitors to see Norway's rural, un-touristed side. Explore the country's finest stretch of sand at Mandal's 2,600-foot-long beach. The swimming here is invigorating, given that the stunningly clear ocean only reaches the low 60s at its mildest. Aizhai Suspension Bridge Hunan Province, China Stretching three-quarters-of-a-mile more than 1,100 feet above the base of lushly green Dehang Canyon, Aizhai Bridge (pronounced ai-jai) became the world's highest and longest tunnel-to-tunnel suspension bridge when it opened in March. The grey-and-orange steel bridge links two tunnels that connect the major cities of Chadong and Jishou via a four-lane expressway (two lanes in each direction), chopping travel time in a big way [the accounts vary sharply by how much]. A pedestrian walkway at least partway along the bridge leads to dramatic views of the natural surroundings of the steep-walled box Dehang, which translates as "beautiful valley" in the language of the local Miao people. At night, the bridge shines in the dark thanks to 1,888 white lights. 20 minutes-drive outside Jishou, a city in Hunan. Free. Make It a Day Trip: Go beyond the urban experience of China that most Western visitors settle for and see the gorgeous country's natural diversity. Dehang is where Chinese tourists enjoy affordable domestic tourism, with campsites near waterfalls and forested bluffs.