Vote Now for America's Coolest Small Town!
Budget Travel knows a cool town when it sees one, and these 15 finalists—the result of weeks of nominations from BT's online audience—are now vying for bragging rights to the title of Coolest.
This year's 15 contenders—which stretch from upstate New York to Hawaii—have a few things in common: populations under 10,000, beautiful locales, thriving downtowns, outstanding community spirit, and a noteworthy food, wine, art, or music scene. One thing they can't share is the top spot in our 9th annual America's Coolest Small Town contest. CAST YOUR VOTE—up to once a day!—between now and 12:00 a.m. on February 25, when one town will be crowned Coolest.
Here, our 15 contenders for the title of America's Coolest Small Town 2014:
Berlin, MD (Population: 4,563) Like the scenery in the films Tuck Everlasting and The Runaway Bride? You'll love Berlin, MD, where both movies were shot! Downtown is a National Register Historic District that plays host to fun events all year long, from a regular farmers market to one-of-a-kind bashes like the Berlin Fiddlers Convention, Victorian Christmas, and, yes, even bathtub races.
Buckhannon, WV (Population: 5,645) Smack dab in the heart of West Virginia, Buckhannon received the most nominations of any town in this year's Coolest Small Towns preliminary round. With an artsy Main Street (with specialty shops, antiques, and galleries), historic downtown, and a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers just outside of town, Buckhannon just may be "the little town that could."
Cazenovia, NY (Population: 2,756) If Central New York isn't already on your travel radar, get ready for a big, and very pleasant, surprise! Cazenovia, on the shores of Cazenovia Lake, may make you feel like you've discovered the perfect small town you thought didn't really exist. Stroll down Albany Street for a trip back in time, and drop by the Scottish-themed Brae Loch Inn for its exceptional Sunday brunch.
Deadwood, SD (Population: 1,263) These days, the "wild" in "wild west" has more to do with gaming, fine dining, and having fun than white hats and shootouts on Main Street. Take a tour of the Broken Boot Mine, visit any number of historic homes and shops, and even visit the graves of real-life western legends Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.
Elkin, NC (Population: 4,024) Here, you'll find just about every outdoor activity you might like, including hiking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, bird watching, and cycling. But when you're ready to relax after a day in the wild, the town's galleries, historic sites, shops, theaters, wine trails, and restaurants will make you feel that you're in a town more than twice the size.
Estes Park, CO (Population: 6,017) When your town is the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park, you've got a pretty good head start on other cool burghs. Skiing and snowshoeing the surrounding mountains is a must in winter, and rafting, fishing, and wildlife viewing are on tap in warmer months (if you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of the iconic bighorn sheep with its curved horns).
Everglades City, FL (Population: 403) This lovely, tiny town is truly the gateway to the unique mangrove estuaries and 10,000 Islands of Everglades National Park, not to mention a prized destination for tasty stone crabs (reserve a table at the Seafood Depot, a nice eatery housed in the town's 1928 train station).
Galena, IL (Population: 3,400) Nestled among rolling hills along Illinois's Galena River, this bustling town, once home to Civil War general and 18th president Ulysses Grant, has a thriving downtown with unique boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Visit one of the area's three local wineries, hike the easy, beautiful hills just outside town, kayak the gentle rivers, and golf at one of the state's most prized courses.
Huntington Woods, MI (Population: 6,288) Ranked one of America's friendliest towns by Forbes and one of America's top 10 suburbs by MarketWatch, Huntington Woods is a quiet suburb of Detroit (with a small piece of the Detroit Zoo within town limits!) appropriately nicknamed the City of Homes.
Kelleys Island, OH (Population: 313) Located in Lake Erie, about 12 miles from Sandusky, Kelleys Island proves that good things come in small packages: Spend a long weekend here (it's a 20-minute ferry ride from Marblehead) and you'll likely agree, especially if you like getting up close and personal with nature.
Mathews, VA (Population: 8,884) Mathews is not just a town but also Virginia's smallest county, with just 84 square miles and no traffic lights. But we know "small" and "cool" go together like beaches and cottages. Speaking of which, Mathews includes miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline that make it a prime summer destination for beachgoers, bird watchers, cyclists, fishermen, and kayakers.
Nevada City, CA (Population: 3,046) Nevada City may be a little off the beaten path (60 miles northeast of Sacramento, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains), but residents value the Gold Country town for its music and art scene, food, and proximity to some of California's amazing rivers, lakes, and the Sierras.
Pahoa, HI (Population: 945) Located on Hawaii's Big Island not far from Hilo, Pahoa has unique shops, a retro mid-20th-century vibe, and puts you in beautiful volcano country, a short drive from dried lava fields and about an hour from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Rockport, TX (Population: 9.133) Never heard of Rockport? Well, we hadn't either, which just means it's now not only a candidate for Coolest Small Town but also for one of our best-kept secrets. Here, artists, saltwater fishermen, and birdwatchers have been lured to Texas's warm Gulf coast.
Travelers Rest, SC (Population: 4,750) Travelers Rest gets its travel-mag-ready moniker from the pioneer days, when travelers followed a trail dotted with the occasional tavern or inn. But the town offers not only restful, comfy lodgings but also world-class outdoor activities.
6 Places To Visit In Cairo
Article by Jennifer Gilligan. With thousands of years of history tied to the area, Egypt's capital is a spectacular place to visit, especially for those seeking a historic adventure. [Editor's note: If you decide to make the trip to Egypt anytime soon, please proceed with caution. Otherwise, a little armchair travel is in order.] Here are six of our favorite must-see spots in Cairo. Pyramids of GizaWhile the Pyramids of Giza aren't technically within the city, they aren't too far of a drive and are definitely a must-see if you're in the area. The pyramids are the only one of the original seven Ancient Wonders of the World still standing today, dating back to more than 2,000 B.C. Visitors can get an up close and personal look at these incredible structures and can even buy tickets to tour the inside of the pyramids. You can begin purchasing tour tickets on-site at 8:30 daily, but tickets for each tour are limited, so make sure to get to the ticket kiosk early to beat the crowds. Cairo Opera HouseEnjoy the performing arts in Cairo at the Cairo Opera House—with seven theatres, you can catch a show almost any day of the week. If opera isn't your thing, you can always catch a ballet or musical performance, explore the art gallery, opera museum, or music library, or grab a bite to eat at the onsite restaurant. Cairo TowerMake your way to the top of Cairo Tower to enjoy a spectacular view of the city. Standing 187 meters high, the tower features an observation deck and a rotating restaurant at the top. Entrance fees cost 20 L.E. (about $3) for Egyptian residents and 70 L.E. (about $10) for non-Egyptian visitors. During the winter, Cairo Tower is open from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. and from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. during the summer. Egyptian MuseumThe Egyptian Museum in Cairo is the largest museum in Egypt and home to 160,000 items in 107 halls. Here, you can explore ancient pharaonic artifacts stretching back 5,000 years, and see mummies up close. General admission costs 4 L.E. (about $1) for Egyptian residents and 60 L.E. (about $9) for foreign visitors, but you'll have to pay a little extra to enter the Royal Mummies Room and the Centennial Gallery. Colossus of Ramesses IIMeasuring 10 meters long, the Colossus of Ramesses II is a spectacular sight. With a museum built around the lying statue to protect it, the site is especially well-preserved. You can inspect the statue up close from ground-level, or capture photos from a second-story balcony. Even though the statue is unfinished, visitors are still amazed by the craftmanship and attention to detail of this magnificent sculpture. While you're here, explore other artifacts in the museum or check out other structures outside the museum like the Alabaster Sphinx. The Colossus of Ramesses II statue is located in the Memphis Museum, located just south of Cairo in the village of Mit Rahina on the Nile's west bank. City of the DeadThe City of the Dead spans four miles and includes a wealth of tombs and mausoleums. One of the most unique aspects of the massive cemetery is the fact that some people still live there, some to be near their ancestors and others because they have no other choice. Visitors enjoy this site because of the marvelous monuments and structures, while others love discovering the cultural diversity of the area. If you want to explore Egypt's history, this is a great place to do it, where you can enjoy monuments, structures, and buildings, such as the Funerary Complex of Sultan Qaitbay.
8 Reasons To Visit Yangon, Myanmar
This article was written by Melissa Reichwage, an avid traveler and international development and health professional currently living in Colombia. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Emory University in Atlanta (USA). With familial ties in Myanmar, she has a special affinity for the beautiful landscapes and people of Myanmar. As you probably know, Myanmar has had its share of difficulties, but there's finally some good news: the tourism ban that caused many travelers to steer clear of the nation for over a decade has been lifted. In many ways, being cut off from the globalized world has allowed Myanmar to retain its cultural authenticity, making it an ideal destination for the more adventurous at heart. In 1898, Rudyard Kipling wrote the famous words, "This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about." The same still holds true. The streets of Myanmar's largest city are stained red with betel nut, and filled with horse drawn carriages and bicycles, men wearing longyi traditional skirts, and women and girls with thanaka smeared on their faces. ATMs, internet, and cell phone connections are few and far between. Colonial buildings have hardly been touched since their British heyday. Now, more than ever, people from around the world are beginning to see Myanmar for what it is: a truly fascinating and unique place to visit. Abundant in unspoiled landscapes, rich cultural authenticity, and friendly people, Myanmar is strikingly different from its neighbors in Asia and there has been a sudden influx of international investment since the government has begun making reforms. It is now possible to buy some imported goods, stay in a luxurious hotel, and hail a taxi off the street. Yangon is likely to be your first stop in Myanmar, and it's not a bad option. Flying into Yangon International Airport (RGN) is recommended as land and sea border crossings can still be a tad insecure. Touching down in the country's largest city of more than five million people, the main economic hub feels nothing like Bangkok, Hanoi, or other Southeast Asian cities. The main sites in the tropical city actually cover a fairly small area and are manageable on foot, although taxis are available. Here are eight of my favorite places to visit. Shwedagon Pagoda: The most important religious site in Yangon stands atop Singuttara Hill. While built and rebuilt several times since the 6th century, the large gold pagoda remains popular with local Buddhists and tourists alike. Sule Pagoda: In the center of the city, the Sule Pagoda serves as a traffic circle in downtown Yangon. This 46 meter high octagonal-shaped gold pagoda is hard to miss. Inya Lake: The largest lake in the city has a nice walking path around its perimeter. It is also the most popular date spot for young lovers. Kandawgyi Lake: Located northeast of the city center, the lake is best known for the Karaweik, a replica of a traditional Burmese royal boat. Enjoy a drink at the small restaurant located at the water's edge for a view of the sunset and Shwedagon Pagoda in the distance. Buffet Dinner and Dance Show: The National Theater hosts folk and royal dance shows as does the Karaweik located on Kandawgyi Lake, mentioned above. A night out to one of these two shows is guaranteed to please your eyes, and ears, and fill your belly with a wide array of food. Chinatown: Located in the center of the city, Chinatown spans a few blocks. Street vendors sell a variety of items from goldfish to colonial coins. Bogyoke Aung San Market: A good market to buy Burmese souvenirs, such as wood carvings and traditional fabrics. Thingyan Water Festival: The most important public holiday, the Burmese New Year Water Festival, usually lands around mid-April. The Buddhist festival is celebrated for four or five days with intense water fights which metaphorically wash away sins from the previous year. It is the hottest time of year and a good dousing is welcomed by most. Turn back the clock with a trip to this time-warped country, enjoy simple pleasures, and discover a culture unlike any other. Here are some good reads to learn more about Myanmar: The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason, Burmese Days by George Orwell, and Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings by Aung San Suu Kyi. **Note: In 1989, the capital was renamed to its original Burmese name, Yangon, from Rangoon**
7 of the U.K.'s Best Christmas Markets
Sophie Gackowski writes for HomeAway UK You don't have to go to Vienna to enjoy the magic of a European Christmas: Here in the U.K., we have hundreds of events both big and small, taking place across Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Whether you want to pack your suitcase full with gems and trinkets, woodwork and crafts, or an array of festive delicacies, here's our guide to seven of the United Kingdom's most wintry and wonderful events. Bath. As a World Heritage City, there are plenty of reasons to visit Bath aside from just its Christmas market. That said, the festive display—which sits in the shadow of grand Bath Abbey—is certainly one of the U.K.'s best. Held from the last days of November until the second week of December every year, it comprises 150 wooden chalets adorned with handmade crafts, decorations and food, including Christmas favourites like caramel and gingerbread. And when you've shopped till you've dropped, Bath's spas will surely revive you. Lincoln. It may only take place over four days in December, but Lincoln's Christmas market—set in the city's atmospheric medieval square—encompasses over 280 stalls, making it one of the largest in Europe. Needless to say there's too much on sale to list here (though keep an eye out for the German-made wooden toys), but with the ferris wheel, classical music concerts and host of traditional events on offer, there's plenty to keep you busy. And as if that wasn't enough, the imposing Gothic cathedral is sure to set the stage. Cardiff. Cardiff doesn't just have a Christmas market; it has an entire Winter Wonderland. Including an open-air ice rink, children's carousels, food and gift stalls and a 60-metre high ride—which features spinning chairs, making it the only of its kind in the U.K.—it's a great event for the whole family. And, taking place between mid-November and mid-January, you can experience a festive Wales without having to forgo an American Christmas. When you've admired all that, why not visit Cardiff Castle or the 12th-century Llandaff Cathedral? York. Yorkshire goes mad for yuletide. With no less than seven distinct Christmas markets—including the Crafts and Children's Fayres and St. Nicholas Medieval Market—there's much to see and do when taking a festive break here. Pick up historic crafts (think pottery and jewellery) at the latter, while enjoying a glass of spiced mead. Baroque and medieval music fills the city's churches from the start of December, carol singing awaits in York's spectacular cathedral, and intricate ice sculptures will be displayed at the Festival of Angels. London. You don't need to attend Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland to visit the Big Smoke, but it's as good a reason as any. Running from late November to early January (except Christmas day, of course—that's reserved for gifts and gluttony!), this lovely event encompasses everything Christmassy. You can grab a bite to eat at the Bavarian Village or Nordic Bar, flash your cash at over 200 wooden chalet stalls, and view the capital from the sky on the Giant Observation Wheel. Travelling with little ones? Don't miss Zippo's Christmas Circus! Salisbury. Salisbury's Christmas spirit comes alive as Father Christmas enters his grotto, the lantern procession begins, and the sound of local choirs fills the air. Set in the city's Guildhall Square, there's an enormous tree decorated with candy canes and baubles, which overlooks dozens of stalls adorned in tinsel and lights. From fudge and hand-blown glass to oil paintings and organic soap, there's just about everything you could possibly imagine gifting. And the next day, take a trip to nearby Old Sarum, an incredible Iron Age hill fort. Edinburgh. Lastly, running from mid-November to early January, Edinburgh's Christmas market is yet another you don't have to actually visit over Christmas. For almost two months, the market below the Mound is decorated with a range of tempting treats, arts and crafts, many of which have travelled all the way from Germany. Sink your teeth into juicy schnitzels washed down with mugs of glühwein (mulled wine, or literally 'glow wine' in German), before riding the illuminated ferris wheel. And, if you decide to hang around until it finishes, make sure you check out my next blog post: In December, I'll share the definitive guide to an Edinburgh Hogmanay! Follow Sophie Gackowski on Google+
6 Ways to Travel the Amazon by Boat
This article was written by Andreas Ambarchian, a freelance journalist from England who writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife and sports. This article was written on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge offering a home-away-from-home in the Peruvian Amazon. The dense jungles of the Peruvian rainforest make boat travel the most common form of transport in the region. The final frontier before the Amazon in Peru is the city of Iquitos, unreachable by road and often the starting point for river trips in the area. Long Distance TravelWhile there are regular flights between international Amazonian cities, the cheapest way to traverse long distances is by river. Boat services are available on a regular basis from the Bellavista Nanay Port. Although departure times should be treated as little more than approximations, most services leave within an hour of the advertised schedule. Booking is not necessary—and not possible—while payment is usually made upon reaching a passenger's chosen destination. CollectivosIn the main, collectivos are used by locals transporting rainforest goods around the area. Raw materials such as coal and wood can often be seen stowed up on the roof of such a vessel. The boats also take general passengers and, although they travel slowly, are very reasonably priced. From Nanay Port, as well as several other smaller departure points in Iquitos, the boats travel throughout the northern rainforest region, making a number of stops at various, obscure ports along the way. When attempting to confirm a route, it is a good idea to enquire on consecutive days, just to cross check the information. The best part: $2 is enough for almost all trips, even for the longer journeys, which can last several days. RapidosThese high powered boats travel the more popular river routes in the region, such as the one-hour trip upstream to the town of Tamshiyacu, located roughly 19 miles from Iquitos. The ride is quite loud and bumpy but, owing to the extra rate of knots, travel need only be endured for around a quarter of the time as would be necessary on a collectivo: in a rapido, the Brazilian border is only a matter of hours away, rather than days. On the flipside, the cost per ride in a rapido is around three times that of a collectivo, yet even that is still less than $10 for speedy transportation to your next destination. LanchasLanchas travel to the neighbouring areas of rainforests in Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia. The larger ferries make slower progress, particularly when they travel against the current, meaning that the journey from Iquitos to the Brazilian border takes about three days at a cost of around $20. For this price, passengers are given hammocks and small meals, and can find cleaning facilities onboard. Private cabins are also available at an extra cost. Plug sockets can be found to connect electrical equipment but, while security is not a major issue, it is wise to keep an eye on your valuables. Day ExcursionsHiring a boat out for the day is a great way to get to know the Amazon and its tributaries. Boat hire for a day costs around $100 per vessel (including the services of a driver) from the Bellavista Nanay Port. If no overhead shelter is present on the boat, then sunscreen is a very good idea as the Iquitos sun can be relentless. Picnics also make a very pleasant accompaniment.Other than a leisurely jaunt along the various rivers in the region, there are a few areas of interest that can be visited to give a trip a bit of direction. Monkey Island is a wildlife sanctuary located on the island of Timicurillo, about a 45-minute boat ride from Nanay Port, while day-time beach parties can be also found on many islands, improbably as it may seem in such an thinly populated region of the world—unless on a private beach, it is perfectly possible to moor and step on land for a drink. The area's famous pink dolphins can be found where the Nanay and Amazon rivers meet. CruisesCruises offer a mixture of short distance and long distance trips with standard and custom itineraries. Tour companies can be found in Iquitos, but bookings should be made in advance online as organization can take some time. From the Nanay Port, day trips can be taken down the river while longer voyages can last over a week and will take passengers deep into the jungle to visit some of the region's most treasured natural reserves. Costs can be quite high, upwards of $1,000, but, in general, passengers are travelling in relative luxury, with expert guides for company.