Destinations

10 Best European Castles You Can Visit

Posted October 4, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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Sometimes romantic, sometimes sinister, Europe's best castles evoke a palpable sense of both melancholy and wonder. Their ancient stones brim with mystery and history—but not the stodgy old history of musty textbooks. Castles are the past brought to life, a visceral reminder that quests and battles and chivalry weren't always the exclusive province of fantasy novels. Go medieval on your next trip with a visit to one of these castles where ancient history is alive and well.


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Carreg Cenne Castle, Wales

Never trust any list of Europe's best castles that doesn't include at least one entry from Wales. Owing to its tumultuous history of war and rebellion, the Welsh countryside is home to more castles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Our favorite is Carreg Cennen, the only ruined stronghold to make this list. Actually, we like that Carreg Cennen has been in a ruinous state since 1462. Perched on a lonely limestone hilltop in Brecon Beacons National Park and often shrouded in mist, Carreg Cennen is easily the most evocative castle in the land. And while it may not be quite as popular as the larger Caerphilly Castle, Carreg Cennen will always be first in our hearts. It's open daily between April and October.


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Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria

Brooding high above Austria's Salzachtal Valley amid the dramatic peaks of the Berchtesgaden Alps, this stronghold has served alternately as a home to kings, archbishops, and prisoners (it was a state prison for a period of time) for more than 900 years. Today, Hohenwerfen Castle is a popular tourist draw and the site of Austria's foremost falconry center, where the royal hunting art is on full display with daily demonstrations.


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Predjama Castle, Slovenia

Predjama Castle is an easy sell to castle lovers. Most famous for being built into the side of a 400-foot cliff, it may also call to mind visions of Tolkien's Helm's Deep. But this real-world stronghold has the requisite dungeons, secret tunnels, and bloody history to make it a must-see on its own merits. Visit Predjama Castle during the annual medieval tournament, held each July, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


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Guedelon Castle, France

Who says the age of castles is over? Take a trip back in time at Guedelon Castle in Burgundy, France, where a team of 50 craftspeople and laborers are currently using 13th-century building techniques and technology (think: horses) to construct an authentic castle from scratch, deep within a secluded forest. Visitors are welcomed from mid-March to early November each year. The project has been running since 1997 and hopes to reach completion in the 2020s.


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Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

It might be the most photographed castle in the world, but there's still nothing quite like seeing Germany's fairy-tale castle in person. The brainchild of "Mad King Ludwig" (or, more generously, "The Fairy-Tale King"), Neuschwanstein has influenced everything from Disney attractions (note the similarity to Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle) to books and computer games. Take a tour of the castle grounds, but leave time for an off-site walk along the myriad nearby trails. That's where you'll find the most stunning views for photographs.


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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

One of the most iconic castles in Europe, Scotland's Eilean Donan Castle is recognized the world over from its appearances on postcards and in movies like the original Highlander ("There can be only one!"). History buffs will appreciate Eilean Donan's rich past as a key site during the 1719 Jacobite Rising, and all will enjoy the stark beauty of its surroundings, where three great lochs meet at the foot of an impressive mountain range. Today nearly every part of the castle is accessible to the public for tours and exploration.


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Hohenzollern Castle, Germany

This ancestral home to a line of German emperors would fit in with the fantastical fortresses imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. At 2,805 feet above sea level, Hohenzollern Castle really is a castle in the clouds. The current fortress is actually the third to be built on the site (the first was destroyed in battle and the second fell into disrepair). Today it is a popular tourist attraction.


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Hunyad Castle, Romania

The imposing Hunyad Castle, which once imprisoned Vlad the Impaler (Bram Stoker's inspiration for Dracula), offers plenty for castle aficionados to sink their teeth into. Marked by myriad towers, multicolored roofs, and exaggerated stone carvings, this Gothic-Renaissance castle was fully and fancifully restored after decades of neglect. What we see today may or may not be authentic (some suggest that modern architects projected their own "wistful interpretations" of a Gothic castle onto the reconstruction), but either way, the end result is memorable.


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Edinburgh Castle, Germany

One of the best examples of a fully restored medieval fortress, Edinburgh Castle towers over Scotland's capital city from atop an extinct volcano called Castle Rock. It was built in the 12th century and has passed hands between the English and the Scots numerous times over the course of its bloody history. Today, it's open to the public year-round for tours and events.


Versailles, France

From its origin as an unassuming hunting lodge to its height as the royal court of France under Louis XIV, the Sun King's Chateau de Versailles is arguably the grandest castle in the world. No visit to Paris is complete without at least a day trip to see the gardens, canals, and gilded halls of Versailles.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Best European Castles You Can Visit.

Follow Josh Roberts on Google+ or email her at at [email protected].

10 Best Places to Go in Florida

Posted September 5, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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 The United States is home to more than a dozen cities and towns named Florida, but none can compare with the real Florida's natural fun-in-the-sun appeal. If you're dreaming of your next Florida vacation, no trip to the Sunshine State is complete without a visit to the 10 best places to go in Florida.

 


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Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida

It's no exaggeration to suggest that Walt Disney should have named his Orlando theme park Disney Universe—or even Disney Galaxy! The Walt Disney World Resort is so large, in fact, that it's difficult to narrow down which of the four main theme parks and two water parks to make time for, let alone whether to stay at a hotel within the resort confines or conserve costs with a nearby off-resort stay. Even selecting your preferred theme-park entry ticket can be daunting.

Here is some helpful Walt Disney World Resort information to get you started:

Disney World ticketing options start at $89 for single-day, single-park adult passes ($83 for kids ages three to nine). You can extend your Disney World stay with multiday passes, which reduce the per-day rate significantly. For example, three-day passes cost $80.67 per adult, per day (about $242 total); seven-day passes cost $41.14 per adult, per day (about $288 total); and 10-day passes cost $31.80 per adult, per day ($318 total). Kids' multiday passes are $75.33 per child, per day (three-day), $38.57 per child, per day (seven-day), and $30 per child, per day (10-day). All tickets must be used within 14 days of your initial visit.

You don't have to limit yourself to just one Disney theme park. Tack on the Park Hopper option (with access to all four parks) to increase your ticket's flexibility: Admission to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) is included. The Park Hopper pass adds an extra $35 to your base single-day, single-park ticket cost and an extra $57 if you purchased multiday, single-park passes.

For some Florida visitors, it's not a vacation without wild water play or tee time. Disney knows how to round out the visit with two water parks (Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Disney's Blizzard Beach), a nine-hole golf course, two mini-golf courses, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Access to these extras is included in the Water Park Fun & More pass, which adds an extra $57 per ticket to your base ticket cost.

Combine both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options for an extra $79 per ticket.

Budget-minded travelers will easily find an array of accommodations options, with thousands of hotel rooms from "budget" to "luxury" within driving distance of Disney World. Consider a stay at a Disney Resort such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin if you want to take advantage of early-morning and late-night access to select theme parks. Guests of Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also have an added hour of play before the general public is allowed in and three hours after the parks close for the evening.

With so many parades and shows, peruse the Disney calendar to find scheduled events, plan your itinerary, and work around park closings.

 


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South Beach, Miami, Florida

Lovingly dubbed SoBe, South Beach's reputation as a gregarious scene for the fun-loving is well deserved among young and old visitors alike. From laid-back lounges to racy dance clubs, South Beach is world-renowned for its hot nightlife (many clubs operate until dawn). And while the robust club and dining scene is too caliente to sleep through every night, SoBe also knows how to play "grown-up" during the day.

South Beach is home to many enriching cultural offerings, including Miami City Ballet, New World Symphony, Holocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and Miami Beach Botanical Garden. And you'd be remiss to pass up a stroll along South Beach's world-famous Art Deco District. This historical part of South Beach is easy to meander along—not only because of its vintage beauty, which is alive with more than 800 candy-colored art deco-style structures, but also because of its concentrated size: a single square mile. Learn about South Beach's celebrated history by going on a guided art deco walking tour ($20 plus fees) led by the Miami Design Preservation League.

On South Beach, both locals and tourists know how to share the sun, sand, and the occasional pickup volleyball game. Expedite a speedy hangover recovery with yoga lessons from 3rd Street Beach Yoga. Generous instructors facilitate donation-based "yoga from the heart" near the beach's lifeguard hut.

Always a popular tourist destination, South Beach experiences its biggest influx of visitors in March (spring break), April (Pride festivities), and over Memorial Day Weekend (Urban Beach Week).

 


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Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades National Park in Florida is an adventure traveler's dream. The Everglades offers canoe and hiking trails, airboat and tram tours, bird-watching expeditions, and camping.

Also a mecca for those seeking out wildlife sightings, the Florida Everglades' ecosystem is like no other in the world. Alligators, crocodiles, falcons, turtles, and even panthers are but a few of the many animals you can spot in the Everglades.

Not to be missed, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge lies on the western edge of the Everglades. This 35,000-acre national refuge comprised of mangroves and islands provides refuge to endangered wildlife, among them West Indian manatees, bald eagles, and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. There's some debate about how many islands are actually in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Conservative estimates have it in the hundreds, while more robust assessments estimate at least 17,000 islands during low tide. The Everglades National Park as a whole spans about 1.5 million acres.

 


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Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Ft. Lauderdale is known by many nicknames, among them the "Venice of America" (for its vast system of canals) and the "Yachting Capital of the World" (because locals collectively own 50,000 private yachts). Regardless of what you call it, there's no disputing that Ft. Lauderdale is a dream destination for boaters. For more than 50 years, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show—the largest such event in the world.

But boaters aren't the only ones docking in this local scene. Countless spring breakers flock to the city for hedonistic fun each March, beach bums bask on Ft. Lauderdale's 23 miles of beaches, and snorkelers and divers seek out underwater adventures among the 75-plus artificial reefs.

 


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Key West, Florida Keys, Florida

The final stop on the Eastern Seaboard's 2,369-mile Route 1, Key West really is the be-all and end-all. Geographically, Key West sits at the southernmost point within the continental U.S. and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. In spite of its tropical climate (Key West boasts an annual average temperature of 77 degrees) and its low-lying land, Key West is hit by hurricanes less than other coastal regions.

While Key West is enthralling in and of itself, be sure to make it out to sea when in the area. Just a few miles off the coast is the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, the Great Florida Reef. Snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing are popular area adventures. Man-made reefs offer wreck diving just a few miles offshore, too.

Key West was once home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, among other celebrities of yesteryear. These days, its most famous residents come in a more natural variety: iguanas, feral chickens and roosters, and a clutter of cats—the latter of the excessive-toe variety, nestled in Hemingway's former home.

 


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Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida

Just like Walt Disney World Resort on the other side of town, Orlando's Universal Studios can hang with the big boys. And planning a visit in advance yields major savings.

Multiday tickets purchased online offer as much as $20 off gate rates. For single-park, single-day passes, you can choose between Universal's Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida for $88 per adult ($82 for kids ages three to nine). Single-park, multiday tickets are priced as follows: $120 for two days ($110 for kids), $136 for three days ($124 for kids), and $146 for four days ($133 for kids). Multipark, single-day passes start at $123 ($117 for kids ages three to nine). Multipark, multiday options are as follows: $140 for two days ($130 for kids), $153 for three days ($141 for kids), and $160 for four days ($147 for kids).

You can skip the lines while at the Universal Studios parks with the Universal Express Pass. This ticketing option starts at an additional $20 for Universal Studios Florida, $30 for Universal's Islands of Adventure, and $36 for both parks. The same price applies to both single-day and multiday passes.

A multipark, single-day Universal Express Pass option is also available from $180 ($170 for kids ages three to nine). Multiday options go up from that rate. Annual passes start at $190 (for non-Florida residents), though with select blackout dates. Season passes go as high as $400 for "red-carpet treatment."

 


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Sanibel Island, Florida

The beaches of Sanibel Island are revered the world over by conchologists (shell collectors). The practice of shell collecting is so popular on Sanibel Island's shores that locals have nicknamed the act of bending down for a shell "the Sanibel Stoop."

Sanibel Islanders celebrate the seashell with an annual three-day exhibit and festival that typically runs in March. Shell enthusiasts can also learn about shells and mollusks by visiting The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The biggest prize on the beach is the junonia shell, which can land you in the local newspaper.

While shelling is serious business on the island, so is conservation. More than half of Sanibel Island is part of a designated wildlife refuge.

 


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St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine isn't nicknamed "Ancient City" for nothing. Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. It was later turned over to Britain, then back to Spain, and finally ceded (with the rest of the Florida Territory) to the United States in 1819.

You can see much of that rich history infused into St. Augustine's architecture in places like Ft. Matanzas National Monument, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (once a regal hotel, now part of Flagler College and also a designated National Historic Landmark), and, of course, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. (Folklore says that Ponce de Leon was searching for the elixir of life when he stumbled upon St. Augustine.)

St. Augustine is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The park opened its doors in 1893 and now houses more than 20 species of crocodile as well as other reptiles, a bird collection, and many mammals.

 


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Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida

For those seeking an up-close look at safari wildlife without the high price of an airfare ticket to Africa, Busch Gardens is the perfect setting. Among the 2,700 animals that call the 335-acre zoological-themed park home are elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, kangaroos, meerkats, and lemurs.

Regularly priced single-park, single-day tickets cost $85 for adults and $77 for children ages three to nine. The ticket gets you admission and either a complimentary second visit to be used within seven days of your initial park visit or an all-day dining pass.

Busch Gardens Tampa also features an adjoining water park, Adventure Island. Seek out some water-filled fun on the twisting Aruba Tuba, the 55-foot-drop Riptide, and the 700-foot-long Key West Rapids. Adventure Island single-day tickets cost $46 for adults and $42 for children ages three to nine. Adventure Island closes from November through February and reopens in March; see the current calendar for more information.

Annual Busch Gardens single-park passes start at $149 for those ages three to 64. All theme-park tickets provide complimentary round-trip shuttle transportation from several Orlando pickup/drop-off points.

 


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Amelia Island, Florida

Among the southernmost of the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is an easy drive from Jacksonville and only about five hours from Atlanta. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland.

Amelia Island's seashore provides plenty of adventures for all. Scallop digging, snorkeling, and horseback riding are all quintessential Amelia Island activities. Watch for the shoreline's playful dolphins and (if you're lucky) perhaps even a right-whale sighting.

Amelia Island offers upscale resorts, spas, championship golf courses, a variety of festivals, and of course beaches. Amelia is routinely recognized among the top 10 U.S. islands in Conde Nast Readers' Choice Awards.

 

Read the Entire Story: 10 Best Places to Go in Florida

Follow Patricia Magaña on Google+ or email her at [email protected].

 

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Go Beyond the Grave in York, England

Posted November 17, 2010 by Kate Hamman

York York exudes English charm, especially along its winding medieval street called the Shambles. However, don't be fooled by its picturesque setting, as the city has plenty of secrets lurking in the shadows, including its reputation as one of the most haunted cities in Europe. Get to know the town by walking through its spooky history, dining with its ghosts, and drinking its tea inspired by an infamous ocean liner.

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The Ghost Trail of York: The Ghost Trail of York takes you along darkened streets at night, while you listen to tales of murder, plague, heartbreak, and revenge beyond the grave. A costumed guide waits in front of the York Minster every night at 7:30 p.m., regardless of weather, to reveal the gruesome and tragic events of York's past. Tickets cost £4.00 (about $6.00 U.S.; check XE.com for current conversion rates) and the tour lasts about one hour and 15 minutes.

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Golden Fleece: When you go to a pub for spirits, it's unlikely you're thinking of the dearly departed variety. The Golden Fleece, however, typically serves both. Built in 1503, you'll find York's most haunted drinking establishment across from the historical Shambles. Skip the drinks and go right to the main attraction of comfort foods, such as homemade Yorkshire pudding. Try not to be too alarmed if you catch sight of Lady Peckett, one of the five resident spirits. For a haunting good time, you can also rent one of the four rooms and spend the night with your newfound friends. Entrees start at £6.25.

Drink
Bettys Café Tea Rooms: Bettys Café Tea Rooms on St. Helen's Square captures the elegance of afternoon tea with absolute precision. Inspired by the founder's maiden voyage aboard the Queen Mary in 1936, the ornate and extravagant interior is reminiscent of the grand ocean liner which, incidentally, is haunted. A cup of the Tea Room Blend costs £2.95, but order Yorkshire Cream Tea, served in a piping hot pot with two scones, preserves, and clotted cream for £7.95, for a truly authentic experience.

To search for flights and compare prices to Leeds, which is home to York’s nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: VisitYork.org)

Take It Slow in Glen Ellen, Sonoma

Posted November 11, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Sonoma Just north of San Francisco, leave your hectic workaday pace behind as you encounter farms with grazing cattle, meadows of wildflowers, and especially rows of grapevines. This is Glen Ellen, Sonoma, where Jack London found his inspiration and agriculturists work the soil to produce top-notch wines, vegetables, and even flowers. Taste the fruits of their labor with a glass of Cabernet and a gourmet meal while you unwind and let the chaos slip away.

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Glen Ellen Inn: Looking for a place to hide from the outside world? Look no further than the secret cottages of Glen Ellen Inn. With creekside views, fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, and a lack of in-room phones, these private, free-standing bungalows are just the place to lay low. Because of the inn's location close to downtown Glen Ellen and many of the area's vineyards, you can still get in a day of wine-tasting and shopping without having to travel too far. If you decide you never want to leave your little hideaway, the on-site Glen Ellen Inn Oyster Grill & Martini Bar brings the local scene inside with California-fusion inspired dishes paired with regional wines. Prices start at $149 for weeknights and $239 for weekends during high season.

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Valley of the Moon Winery: If you want a different type of escape, take a walk in the Valley of the Moon, where the wines are heavenly. Operating since 1863, this winery is the oldest in Glen Ellen, and pairs contemporary wine making with time-honored traditions. Free tours of the expansive grounds run twice daily, taking you through historical stone buildings, ancient trees, and fertile land. Complimentary tastings are offered between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m, and you'll find classic Sonoma-style reds and whites, as well as a smooth vintage port.

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Oak Hill Farm of Sonoma: Though it sells much of its bounty to local restaurateurs and markets, including San Francisco's famous Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, Oak Hill Farm welcomes visitors to eat off the fat of the land, too. With the Mayacamas Mountains as a backdrop and set among 700 acres of protected wildlands, the Red Barn Store, a 100-year-old dairy barn, sells vegetables, fruits, and herbs, as well as flowers and wreaths produced on its 45-acre organic farm. Prices reflect the quality of the produce, but it doesn't cost a thing to inhale a more agrarian-side of life.

Use our price-comparison tool to search for flights and compare prices to Oakland, San Francisco, and Sacramento, which are home to Glen Ellen’s nearest major airports.

(Photo: Oak Hill Farm of Sonoma)

Uncover Washington, D.C.'s Hidden Secrets

Posted November 3, 2010 by Kate Hamman

DC When it comes to a politically charged atmosphere, Washington, D.C., has the market cornered. Not only is it the place our president calls home, but you can uncover hidden secrets by taking a ride through its history or eavesdropping over cocktails in a local lounge. After you've finished your sleuthing, you can dine on organic dishes to clear your conscience.

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Bi-Partisan Tour Company: Honor our country's freedom of choice by choosing to be the driver and navigator of your own tour of the nation's capital. The Bi-Partisan Tour Company encourages either side to ride in their very own red-and-blue electrical roadster, in which historical facts and scandalous secrets are revealed at almost every turn. You can even don a rubber mask of your favorite political figure and hit the streets as a true leader. Tours run a bit steep at $75 per person, but the direction-savvy can ride for $40 without the added benefits of GPS navigation and storytelling. Don't forget to bring along your mobile phone, as the company offers free two-to-four minute recorded tours.

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Lounge 201: With dynamite drink specials Tuesday through Friday, this hip Capitol Hill lounge adds new meaning to "happy hour." On Tuesdays, you can choose from a range of sweet and savory martinis to suit almost any taste, including the Tiramisu Tini and the Red Caramel Apple, for half the original price. Grab a cocktail and listen to the lively political discussions by White House aides who hang out here, because you never know what you might overhear. Martinis start at $9, but don't forget to ask about the daily specials to get the best deal.

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Restaurant Nora: America's first certified organic restaurant, Nora has been enticing the District's environmentalists and politicians with fresh seasonal dishes since 1989. It's rumored to be a Clinton favorite. Originally a grocery store in the 19th century, the main dining room has always been home to food. Antique Mennonite and Amish crib quilts decorate the walls as you dine on dishes such as fragrant Amish veal with cashew curry. Entrees start at $25.

To search for flights and compare prices to Washington, D.C., please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Index Open)

Amelia Island Takes You Back in Time on a Dime

Posted October 29, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Amelia Once a Victorian seaport, Amelia Island has a fascinating past. Experience pieces of the island's history in the Fernandina Beach district, where you can stay in Florida's oldest operating hotel and drink at the state's longest-running bar. And when you get hungry, a funky restaurant will bring you back into the 21st century without charging too much inflation.

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Florida House Inn: The Florida House Inn is the oldest surviving hotel in the state, and once housed famous guests like Ulysses S. Grant and comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. These days, the hotel hosts a slew of different activities, ranging from Carolina shag dance lessons to bluegrass jam sessions. Ten of the 22 rooms come with fireplaces. Prices start at $109 per night, and include breakfast and free scooter rentals.

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The Palace Saloon: The Palace Saloon is not only the oldest continuously run bar in Florida, but it also holds the title as the first hard-liquor joint to serve Coca-Cola. Once the gathering place of sailors and captains docked along Fernandina's harbor, the Palace still welcomes patrons with a thirst for adventure. Pull up a stool and order a cocktail as you listen to the live entertainment that plays daily.

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Cafe Karibo: This eclectic restaurant may not be the oldest in town, but its broad menu is one for the history books. You can support the island's thriving shrimp industry with a plate of shrimp and grits, or sample items ranging from turkey meatloaf to seared ahi tuna. Eat inside or under the large oak trees on the garden patio. Dinner entrees start at $14.

To search for flights and compare prices to Jacksonville, which is home to Amelia Islands’s closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Amelia Island Tourist Development Council)

Watch Your Footsteps, Not Your Wallet, in Boulder

Posted October 20, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Boulder With mountains to hike, open spaces to bike, and a heartfelt concern for Mother Earth, Boulder is an outdoor enthusiast's dream come true. Come eat at a cafe that goes above and beyond its green practices by creating hearty and satisfying dishes. Then shop at an REI with an eco-friendly attitude and design before returning to an inn where you can relax knowing that the innkeepers are doing their part to help nature. Plus, you won't have to go broke to appreciate the splendor of the area.

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The Kitchen: The Kitchen prides itself on being green by recycling or reusing 100 percent of everything it discards, using only biodegradable paper products, and relying on wind-powered energy. The bistro's dinner menu, featuring dishes like braised pork cheek ravioli, changes nightly depending on what's fresh. Upstairs, there's a comfortable wine-and-beer lounge, where food is prepared in a wood-fired oven. Dinner features over 20 shared plates and you can dine family-style for $47 per person.

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REI: As a prototype for green retail stores, Boulder's REI goes beyond selling outdoor gear and aims to reduce its environmental footprint. The shop is LEED certified and incorporates recycling, composting, water and energy conservation, and indoor air quality improvement into its design. Come shop for all of your adventure needs while taking comfort in how the store is keeping Mother Earth fit for all your future outings. Prices vary from item to item.

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Briar Rose Bed and Breakfast: Besides being an eco-friendly place to stay, where recycling and composting are at the top of the list, the Briar Rose aims to bring tranquility and peace into the heart of Boulder. You can have a cup of tea anytime throughout the day next to the wood-burning fireplace, snuggle into organic cotton sheets, and enjoy a full-service organic breakfast. Rooms start at $139 per night.

To search for flights and compare prices to Denver, which is home to Boulders’s closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(photo: iStockphoto)

Austin Entertains on a Student's Budget

Posted October 13, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Austin With movies, music, or art around nearly every corner, Austin is a student's dream getaway. However, whether you're in school or just young at heart, you don't have to be rich to have a good time. Come watch a movie in a theater with a killer beer selection, shop in a store filled with offbeat antiques, and eat pancakes at 4 a.m. at an all-night diner.

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Alamo Drafthouse Cinema: Find a film to fit any mood at one of the three Alamo Drafthouses in Austin. Once you're seated, you can order drinks and food during the show. There's an impressive selection of beers on tap and in the bottle. And if you're in need of sustenance, you can order standard fried pub fare, pizzas, and sandwiches. Each seat comes equipped with a table and order forms.

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Uncommon Objects: Whether or not you love to shop, pay a visit to Uncommon Objects to appreciate its range of oddball antiques and vintage collectables. You never know what you may find buried amongst the purses, jewelry, photos, dolls, and the like. And with an amazing array of quirky and unique items like mannequin hands or vintage family portraits, this store is all about uncovering your own kind of treasure. Prices vary, but you may just unearth a steal if you dig deep enough.

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Magnolia Cafe: Magnolia Cafe is so serious about offering top-notch diner food "24 hours, eight days a week" that they've hung a neon sign outside apologizing for being open. The two locations in Austin serve a wide range of pasta, burgers, fish, steaks, and breakfast items. So, no matter what hour of the day you're craving pancakes, Magnolia is there with a stack of your favorite fix. Pancakes will set you back a mere $4.75, and almost everything else on the menu costs under $10.

To search for flights and compare prices to Austin, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Terry J Alcorn)

Greensboro LEEDs the Way as an Affordable and Sustainable Destination

Posted October 5, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Greensboro With a name like Greensboro, it's not surprising that this North Carolina city is turning its focus to sustainable practices. Here, you can stay in an over-the-top-green hotel, dine on upscale farm-to-table dishes, and support local vendors at a farmers' market, all the while keeping your savings intact.

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Proximity Hotel: Designed and constructed following Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's (LEED) standards, the Proximity Hotel is green from the ground floor up. More than 70 sustainable practices have been incorporated into the hotel, including a solar-paneled rooftop and recycled materials. Each room features seven-foot-tall windows that offer ample natural lighting and views of the outdoors. Rooms start at about $189 per night.

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Green Valley Grill: As a sister property to the Proximity Hotel, the Green Valley Grill uses fresh local ingredients in its European-inspired cuisine. By upholding the belief that "the nearer the farm to the fork the better the flavor," the restaurant creates tantalizing dishes such as parmesan-crusted chicken and lemon-rosemary duck breast. You can also sample North Carolina wines to pair with your dinner. Entrees start at $15.95.

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Farmers' Curb Market: Opening in 1874, the Farmers' Curb Market is one of the oldest in North Carolina and to this day becomes a veritable smorgasbord of local crafts, produce, meats, and treats every Saturday morning during the summer. Many vendors' goods come straight from the farm, where they were handpicked fresh that morning. Items are priced accordingly, but the way you'll feel about supporting the local industry is priceless.

To search for flights and compare prices to Greensboro, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Proximity Hotel)

Get the Presidential Treatment in Independence, Missouri

Posted September 27, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Independence With a name like Independence, it's not surprising that a president was born, raised, and retired in this Missouri town. You can walk in Harry S. Truman's footsteps at a museum dedicated to his life and legacy, sit at a soda fountain on the site where he once worked, and shop in the same square where he launched his career. Best of all, Independence is so very affordable, you may decide to stay.

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Harry S. Truman Library and Museum: Pay a visit to the Harry S. Truman museum to learn more about the man behind the presidency. Explore the ongoing exhibits of Truman's experiences before, during, and after his years in the White House. You can also discover more about his life through letters exchanged between him and his wife, Bess. The museum also features a nearly exact replica of the Oval Office, so you can see what it's like to be president for a day. Admission costs $8 per person.

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Clinton's Soda Fountain: History always tastes a little sweeter with an old-fashioned malt to go along with it. At Clinton's Soda Fountain (no relation to Bill or Hillary), you can sit at an old marble counter and imagine what it was like when Harry S. Truman worked at the original Clinton's Pharmacy and Soda Fountain on the same location. And though the original shop is no longer in service, you can still treat yourself to Harry's Favorite, a butterscotch sundae with chocolate ice cream for $4.19. The cafe also serves a range of sandwiches and hot dogs.

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The Independence Square: This historic, preserved square, where Truman began his political career, is the perfect place to spend a day browsing and taking in the sights. Wander through buildings dating back to 1827, where more than 30 antique and specialty shops sell one-of-a-kind crafts, art, and homemade goods. Prices vary according to shop, but the real value is walking in the footsteps of history.

To search for flights and compare prices to Kansas City, which is home to Independence’s closest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism)


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