San Juan, Puerto Rico: The sight of towering tropical palm trees and the inescapable sound of music coming from almost every colorful and slightly aged street corner cafe can quickly start to give you the sense that this is a place trapped — beautifully — in time. And that is mostly true of the old city of San Juan, where the streets are cobblestone, bars and restaurants are bare, and old men sit playing backgammon in café fronts. But the narrow streets of the old city do take on a lively transformation on weekends where bars become busy with young locals and music ranging from live salsa to reggaeton is turned up, eventually spilling into the streets to create an almost unified festival environment. With an abundance of casual local cuisine and beverage options (mostly variations of plantain-based dishes and rum) and easy access to colonial era forts and museums, this part of the city is easy to explore on foot requiring very little planning ahead of time.
New San Juan is an entirely different experience where big name resorts hang over large stretches of sandy beach and life takes on the more familiar tone of a 21st century city with its slightly quicker pace and inequalities. Beaches are arguably the most poignant selling point for visiting Puerto Rico, where smooth sand abruptly meets the lush greenery of a tropical island, and they are in no short supply in San Juan. The further you venture away from the city’s hotel strip, however, the more idyllic of a Caribbean coastal experience you’ll be able to secure for yourself and maybe for a moment reconsider a return flight. (Note: Puerto Rico was battered by a deadly category 5 hurricane (Hurricane Maria) in 2017 that devastated much of the island’s infrastructure. They have been rebuilding since and are on their way to recovery).
A little hygge for a change: The Danish lifestyle embraces a concept known as “hygge,” which is the cozy, comfortable feeling you get when relaxing with friends or being in a scenic calm place. Their love for hygge is embodied in everything from Danish architecture, interior design, style of living, and even the way of treating people. Danes are largely fluent in English, so visitors don’t need to worry about a language barrier getting in the way. Denmark is a series of islands, so almost all destinations will boast both lush waters and green landscapes. For the foodies: Danish cuisine is definitely one we count among our favorites, with Danes almost religiously using locally sourced ingredients to create culinary masterpieces that you won’t get anywhere else. The only downside? Denmark runs on the expensive side, so prepare to loosen your purse strings a bit if you’re planning on visiting.
The kingdom that invented pizza: Renowned for more than being the birthplace of pizza, the Italian city (and once kingdom) of Naples is one of the most distinctive places in the world. Naples’ false and often exaggerated reputation might tell you to avoid the city. Skeptics claim it’s unsafe for tourists, full of shabby areas, and run by the mysterious Camorra. But there are a hundred reasons why you should and ought to, while of course remaining aware of the possibility of petty crime, visit Italy’s third largest city.
In short, it’s not a bad strategy: Naples has something for everyone. If you land in Rome, you’re likely to feel the pressure to visit every landmark in the city within your first few days in Italy (and there is an abundance). An induction into Italy from Naples will give you the chance to lay back and spend a day or two walking around Centro Storico, one of the oldest city centers in the world. From there, you’ve got options. You can explore Pompei and the breathtaking Mount Vesuvius, take your beachbody down to the Almalfi coast or one of the southern islands, or continue venturing south through towns and cities in the Calabria region all the way into Palermo. Alternatively, you can plan an excursion up north beginning with a one-hour train ride to Rome and the glorious Roman-era landmarks.
Looking to unwind? Try Estonia: We know Estonia is by no means the most widely recognized country, but the small, recently independent, secluded state actually has a lot to offer. Estonia is known to house one of the best kept old towns in Europe. And with a population of 1.3 mn people and thousands of kms of forests, you can find yourself in a small house away from the regular travel destination. Once you get there, make sure you visit the open museum just outside the capital Tallinn and the Estonian National Museum in Tartu.
London, still the best a city can offer: It’s easy to forget in the dash to find spots off the beaten path for your city getaway, how rewarding a short trip to London can still be. The availability of and accessibility to everything is what makes the city so satisfying. Sure, many European cities have those precious few standout spots that make a whole trip worthwhile, but how many can still offer up a buffet of pubs, theatres, galleries, concerts large and small, movie houses, and yes world-class eateries from, yes, every corner of the globe? Sure it can be a tad pricey, but hey — you’re on vacation.