North America

The cosy lobby of the Whythe Hotel, New York City.
Hidden gems in America’s biggest cities
Going to great American cities and want to stay off the obvious tourist trails? David Whitley picks out the hidden hotspots in 10 key US hubs. New York City Why go: NYC is anything you want it to be. The Statue of Liberty, Broadway shows, Empire State Building, Central Park and the Manhattan skyline pull you in, but the multicultural feel, small museums and hip enclaves keep you coming back. Secret stay: The Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg is an astonishing example of industrial conversion. The exposed brickwork of the former sugar cooperage remains, but the high ceilings, huge windows and skyline views make it special. Manhattan View rooms cost from $333 a night. Secret bar: The Pine Box Rock Shop inhabits a former casket factory in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and still has the old warehouse look. The bar staff are equally at home with cocktails and craft beer, and the atmosphere is highly sociable. Secret restaurant: Fedora in the West Village is tiny, but it’s worth squeezing in for. The menu has French influences, while service is both charming and knowledgeable. It feels neighbourhood like, but works on a classy, upmarket level too. Be a local: The Manhattan Kayak Company is primarily aimed at locals, but it accepts visitors on tours too. The night-time paddles are particularly inspiring – you feel the city’s hum and get a totally new perspective on the cityscape. Washington DC Why go: The White House, Capitol Building, Smithsonian Museums, memorials and monuments. And that’s without leaving the confines of the National Mall. Secret stay: With character by the bucket load in a 19th-century senator’s house, the American Guest House is a classy take on old Washington. Period furniture, free wifi and made-to-order breakfasts elevate it above the herd. Rooms from$111 a night. Secret bar: Columbia Heights is the once-dicey area coming good, and Room 11 typifies the exciting things going on there. It’s an unpretentious, friendly wine bar that does excellent small plate food, amid a magical neighbourhood vibe. Secret restaurant: DC has a massive expat Ethiopian population, and of the scores of Ethiopian restaurants around U Street NW, Dukem is consistently a winner. There’s live music twice a week, and meals are eaten as in the homeland – small tapas-style dishes, scooped up with spongy flatbread. Be a local: For all the world-class museums on the National Mall, ask a local which is the best in town and many will say The Phillips Collection near Dupont Circle. The private modern art museum is all thriller, no filler – and sees a fraction of the Smithsonian crowds. Boston Why go: History – this is where the American revolution began and Boston is happy to dwell on it – and homeliness. The city prides itself on walkability and a certain un-American quaintness, but mixes in stellar attractions such as the JFK Presidential Library. Secret stay: The Charlesmark in buzzy Back Bay does a nice line in thoughtful extras, such as free bottled water and gratis guidebooks to explore the city. The staff are incredibly friendly and the rooms – from $135 a night – are a bargain by Boston’s very steep standards. Secret bar: Forget the Irish pubs, Boston’s at its best with small neighbourhood bars. Anchovies in the South End is a classic example – it’s always full, everyone talks to everyone else and the bar staff seem to love their job. Secret restaurant: The seafood at Lineage in Brookline is impeccably fresh – with the lobster tacos approaching divinity. Dishes are inventive, prices are reasonable and service is warm – it’s a far better bet than the touristy waterfront fish restaurants. Be a local: Take a ferry out to one of the Harbor Islands. The green Spectacle Island has plenty of walking trails, while Georges Island is the easiest to get to. It’s a mellow spot in which to catch jazz performances, kids shows and baseball games. Los Angeles Why go: Hollywood, Disneyland, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica… Lala Land is full of names that require no explanation. But Downtown’s cultural renaissance, the surf culture and scores of underrated museums take you beyond the usual. Secret stay: The Petit Ermitage in West Hollywood bills itself as a Bohemian alternative to the big name hotels. The rooftop’s the star, though, doubling as a butterfly and hummingbird sanctuary and offering 360 degree views of the Hollywood Hills from the pool. Suites from $234 a night. Secret bar: With a live Cuban band, killer rum cocktails and secret entrance through an unmarked door just to the east of the main Hollywood attractions, La Descargala harks back to exclusive prohibition-era bars. It’s a place to dress up for, though – and reservations are strongly advised. Secret restaurant: The underrated Studio City area is jammed with good Japanese joints, but Asanebo is arguably the star. It’s cosy and relaxed, but does both classic and experimental fusion dishes imperiously. Be a local: The 5.5 kilometre loop track in the Rundle Canyon Park offers super-sexy views of the city from the Santa Monica mountains. It’s also a great spot for watching celebs and yapping ratdogs take their Botoxed-up owners for a walk. Chicago Why go: The most impressive architecture in the world, neighbourhoods with instantly distinctive characters and cultural big hitters that range from world-class public art in Millennium Park to globally-revered blues and comedy clubs. Secret stay: Hotel Lincoln in leafy, broadly-residential Lincoln Park is a great out-of-centre find. It has contemporary teched-up rooms, but bonuses such as rooftop yoga sessions and staff-led running tours set it apart from the herd. Doubles from $157 a night. Secret bar: The Bin Wine Café in Wicker Park straddles that border between bar and restaurant, but if it’s a drink you’re after, park up on a bar stool and start working your way through the thoughtfully-designed wine tasting. It’s educational, honestly… Secret restaurant: The recently-opened Nellcote ditches the deep-pan Chicago pizza tradition for woodfired gourmet affairs designed to be eaten with a knife and fork. Not in a pizza mood? The modern European mains offer great bang for buck too. Be a local: Whether you care about sport or not, getting tickets to see the White Sox (baseball) and Blackhawks (hockey) will get you in amongst salt-of-the-earth Chicagoans. It’s about the vibe and the talk, not the game. Dallas Why go: Charitably? It’s the gateway to Texas with a superb sporting and cultural scene. Uncharitably? Because Qantas flies direct from Australia and it’s where JFK was assassinated. Secret stay: The superbly-refurbished Belmont revels in late 1940s retro kitsch and its cocktail bar has the quintessential view of the city skyline. In the summer months, it has ‘dive-in’ movie screenings – classic films shown by the pool. Doubles from $120 a night. Secret restaurant: Oak in the Design District has currently got the locals talking, with a gloal menu. This includes Germany, Morocco, Spain and the Middle East – the chef doesn’t like being tied to one spot. However, it’s the desserts – especially the chocolate panna cotta – that are spoken of in reverent tones. Be a local: Contrary to appearances, not everyone in Dallas worships the car. The 5.6 kilometre Katy Trail is the place where walkers and cyclists go to escape the fumes and freeways. The old railway track between the West End and Knox-Henderson areas has been turned into a skate park. Miami Why go: Art deco, parties and people watching on South Beach, plus easy access to the Florida Keys and Everglades. White linen suits are optional. Secret stay: The Riviera in the heart of South Beach, matching the classic 1940s Miami deco look outside with bold, high-quality furnishings inside. It feels peacefully low key, right down to the poolside cabanas. Studios from $245 a night in high season. Secret bar: Hidden under an overpass, The Stage combines dimly-lit atmospherics with a packed schedule including live bands and small-scale theatrical performances. The patio bar outside is a great retreat for when things get too steamy inside. Secret restaurant: La Ventana in South Beach might not look like much, but the Colombian food served up inside on the little wooden tables is superb. The marinaded shredded beef patacones are dangerously moreish, and the family-run vibe is a breath of fresh air in the area. Be a local: Visitors flock to South Beach, but locals hit Key Biscayne for less frenetic weekend action. Sickeningly healthy types can be found kite surfing, cycling and stand-up paddle boarding. Lessons are available in the latter through Stand Up Paddle Key Biscayne.
Venetian Palazzo Resort Las Vegas features gondolas around the hotel
Review: Venetian-Palazzo Resort, Las Vegas
What do you get when you cross the city of Venice with the extravagance of Palazzo Versace, then plonk them both in the Nevada desert? Either the best or worst of two worlds colliding. Mark Juddery went to Vegas to find out which. Background Las Vegas’ five-star Venetian-Palazzo Resort promotes itself as the world’s largest resort, and if you discount natural features like beaches – which tend to expand resort properties – that claim appears to be true. [caption id="attachment_464" align="alignnone" width="1000"] The lobby fountain at the Venetian Palazzo Resort[/caption] The Venetian was huge when it opened in 1999, and it now has 4027 suites.   The addition of the adjoining Palazzo in 2008 meant another 3066 suites, many of them with three or more TVs, fully stocked work centres, and all-marble bathrooms with TVs of their own (in case the ones in the living area weren’t enough).   Sure, it is grand opulence – at a remarkably good price – but would staying in one of these suites truly make you happy? Answer: who cares? If I want spiritual fulfilment, I’ll go to Tibet. The room For those looking for meaningless thrills, nobody does glitz quite like Vegas – and while the exterior of this resort is indeed garish, the suites themselves are designed more tastefully than you might expect. [caption id="attachment_461" align="alignnone" width="1000"] There's no shortage of glamorous touches in guest rooms at the Venetian Palazzo Resort[/caption] In my room (like many, though not all, of the others), the generous sleeping area was linked by a few steps to a “downstairs” work/living-room zone big enough for a cocktail party. Facilities In a resort this size, the huge lobby occasionally resembles a particularly well-decorated airport ticket counter, though the cheerful staff now has it down to a fine art, ensuring that – if you’re happy to carry your own bags – you’ll be in your room before you know it. Just go through the casino (see how this works?) to the elevators. [caption id="attachment_465" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Tao Lounge at the Venetian Palazzo Resort[/caption] Other hotel facilities are generally very impressive. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub offers not just spa and fitness centres, but also physiotherapy, nutrition counselling, gait analysis for runners and the Canyon Ranch Café, a glam health bar.   Only the swimming pools are a letdown, as they’re either decorative, which makes them ill-suited for actual swimming, or open for only a few hours a day – which is fine if you plan to sleep in until lunchtime.   Of course, physical exercise is probably not the most common recreational activity in Vegas, so it is churlish to complain.   Vegas doesn’t have beaches, naturally, but it’s still synonymous with entertainment and misspent adulthood – the scene of countless Hollywood movies and TV shows, showing people having enormous fun gathered around a roulette wheel. Casino The resort’s 9755m2 casino includes 1400 gaming machines and 139 table games, so you have plenty of choice in how to fritter away your money.   For all the clichés, Vegas wouldn’t be so popular for holidays if it only had gambling dens. Visiting for a conference, I ensured that I took part in some of the entertainment on offer, but I didn’t do any of those things your mother would warn you against. Things to do Though I was there for three days, I didn’t gamble, see a drag queen (to my knowledge), watch a tribute show, or get quickly married – by Elvis or anyone else – and only once went to a funky nightclub at the Venetian-Palazzo… when I thought the queue was for the Blue Man Group show. Which explained why I had to show my ID.   Along with the casino, the lower floors of the Venetian-Palazzo are an assortment of boutiques, formidable restaurants (including Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, the Grill at Valentino and the celebrity-magnet TAO Asian Bistro), nightclubs and popular shows. This is the Pentagon of resorts.   You could spend a week here without ever going outside. When I talked about going elsewhere, one of the staff seemed surprised: “Why would you go anywhere else?” She was joking, I think, but she had a point.   The two structures, shooting into the skyline, would upstage every other building anywhere else, but this is The Strip in Vegas, where many buildings are outrageously tall and bright. Picture New York’s Times Square, only less subtle. Reproduced Venice Possibly the most interesting part of the Venetian-Palazzo Resort is… well, Venice. [caption id="attachment_15235" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Gondalas at the Venetian Palazzo Resort Las Vegas[/caption] The Grand Canal Shoppes area reproduces Venice’s Grand Canal, with cobbled walkways, “streetside” cafés and restaurants, street performers and gondoliers who sing “O Solo Mio” and ­other standards in wonderful tenor, making you fall in love with whoever is next to you in the gondola.   Above is a bright blue sky, with pretty white clouds. I did a double-take when I saw this, because it was late afternoon.   In Vegas, even the sky is artificial, though this wide ceiling, covering a wide area, is bizarrely convincing in its mimicry of nature. But Vegas deals in fantasy.   In the real Venice, it occasionally rains; the sky of Vegas’ Grand Canal remains clear and bright, though the lights are dimmed in a timely fashion to provide a romantic, early-evening feel.   The Venetian-Palazzo does fake Venice with aplomb, but does it offer a taste of the real ­Vegas?   In a city where Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty miniatures decorate the main street, where Elvis, Sinatra and the Beatles still perform, authenticity might not be the major selling point.   This is as “real” as anything else in Vegasland. The Details Where? The Palazzo is at 3325 Las Vegas Blvd S. The Venetian is at 3355 Las Vegas Blvd S. +1 702 414 4334 Notes Both hotels offer special packages from $172 per night for a luxury suite, which includes extras and a 20% discount on 60-day advance bookings. Breakfast isn’t included, but the specials allow you discounts at many of the on-location restaurants. These are remarkably good prices for what they offer. Of course, their real profit isn’t in the rooms, but in the casinos, so… best of luck! What’s the gossip? “Over-the-top room décor (multiple flat-screen TVs, sunken living rooms, and mini-bars stocked with everything from champagne to La Belge Chocolatier desserts) belies the eco-friendly construction of [the Palazzo]. With a two-storey fountain gushing in its entry, the 3066-room high-rise resort is a memorable new arrival to the hotel scene.” Travel + Leisure The IT verdict: Mark Juddery, who paid his own way, says: “It’s basically a complete manufactured holiday – the Spice Girls of travel destinations – which is, of course, the archetypal Vegas experience.”
Polar bear in Canada's arctic wilds.
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Disneyland California in the 1950s
Then and Now – Disneyland California
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