25 amazing travel destinations worthy of your last vacation days
25 amazing travel destinations worthy of your last vacation days
From family-friendly adventures to relaxing getaways, we've got a destination for all your vacation needs.
If you're like most Canadians, you're probably due for a vacation. One study found that while we get an average of 17 days off each year, we only take 14, leaving three much-needed days to rest, relax and rejuvenate on the table.
With the holidays fast approaching, there's no better time to use up your vacation days and book the getaway of your dreams — one that perfectly syncs with everything you enjoy doing when you're away from home (and work!).
We consulted Booking.com's travel guide to find the top destinations — rated by jet-setting Canadians and other travellers around the world — to give you the best destinations to visit if you're a foodie, looking for budget-friendly travel, up for a family-friendly trip, love to walk around cities or if you simply want to relax.
(Note: Be sure to check the Travel Advice and Advisories on the Government of Canada's website before booking your trip. The site provides up-to-the-minute advisories due to weather-related catastrophes and other serious world events.)
GOURMET FOOD TRIPS
This 2,000-year-old city is at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers, below the Fourvière and Croix Rousse hills. In this gastronomy capital you'll find everything from taverns to cafes and iconic eateries.
Where to eat: Bouchons Lyonnais is a traditional tavern that serves the most authentic local dishes you'll find in the area. They're best known for mousse-like pike dumplings ("quenelles de brochet"). Visit Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse for cured meats, regional cheese, delicious wines and fresh-baked bread. And when you need a sweet treat, head over to Palomas, the chocolatier that's been making delectable bonbons for 100 years.
São Paulo, Brazil
One of the most multicultural centres in South America and Brazil's largest city, São Paulo (located the southeast) is all about celebrations—this tourist destination holds plenty of events through the year and is the perfect tourist destination for those who love fine dining at world-class restaurants.
Where to eat: Figueira Rubaiyat Restaurant is best known for the huge fig tree that grows up through the middle of this restaurant. Try the authentic feijoada stew (a traditional Brazilian black bean stew). Mani (named after an indigenous Brazilian god) has been voted as one of Latin America's 50 Restaurants. It's in one of the city's swankiest neighbourhoods and has a stunning patio. Diners swear by the marrow with palm heart and acai. Also voted one of the best restaurants, D.O.M. Restaurant is known for the native Amazonian ingredients the chef uses, including priprioca (an aromatic root), jambu (an herb) and ants — a tradition in the Amazon region.
Taipei is the capital city of the small island nation of Taiwan (east of China). It's a modern city with nearly three million residents located in the northern part of the island between mountains. It's called an "epicurean dream come true," and there's no shortage of dishes to try while you travel through the city.
Where to eat: The Ximending District is perfect for those who love lively street culture and eccentric shops. There's a slew of must-try dishes in the district's roadside stalls, including bowls of Ay Chung noodles and large pieces of chicken cutlet. The Keelung Night Market is always bustling with crowds. There, you'll find local delicacies including rice noodle soup, butter crabs and eel stew and paopao (snow-like shaved ice that's drenched in fresh fruit jam).
San Sebastián, Spain
This tourist city — the region with the highest number of Michelin restaurants in the world — lies northeast of the Iberian Peninsula, about 30 kilometres from the border Spain shares with France.
Where to eat: The Gros District isn't a flashy area but it's home to a few amazing eateries (including Casa Senra, known for baby squid and sweet chestnut purée). You'll find all kinds of fresh shellfish, cured meat, high-quality fruit and other yummy foods at San Martin Market. Be sure to tour the "pintxo" (which means "skewer") bars in the city's old town for snack-like foods eaten with toothpicks. It's basically a cousin to tapas. Have a few bites at the first pintxo, then wander to the next one.
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Right on the Mississippi, the Big Easy is all about entertainment (hello, Mardi Gras) and good eats. Be prepared for spicy cuisine—you'll find lots of French, African and American foods that reflect the bustling city's history.
Where to eat: Maple Leaf Bar sounds Canadian, but it's all about southern-fried American dishes. You'll want to eat here just for the crawfish cookouts. Take your pick of delicious eateries and make sure you're hungry when you visit the Uptown District. Try the spectacular seafood at La Crêpe Nanou. If you're into meat, meat and more meat, Primitivo Restaurant is a must. A variety of meat is cooked on an open fire. Ask for the spare ribs (served with sticky apple BBQ sauce) and be prepared to lick your fingers.
Located in southern Poland on the Vistula river, Krakow is the second-largest city in the country with a ton of tourist routes and many monuments to see.
On-the-cheap to-dos: Climb Kopiec Krakusa. It's the oldest man-made structure in the city and many believe it was built by the founder of the city (a legendary king). It's free to climb and has great views of the city below. Plac Nowy is a great spot to get delicious street food. You'll find a building in the middle of the square dubbed "the saucepan," which is surrounded by people selling "zapiekanka" (a cheese-and-mushroom sandwich).
Budapest has been called the "Paris of the east" and the capital of Hungary is one of the most economical capitals in Europe.
On-the-cheap to-dos: Fisherman's Bastion has the best city views. It sits atop of Castle Hill, where you can catch a glimpse of almost all of Budapest (and it's free to walk through it all year). Heroes Square is an iconic monument (you can't miss it — it's a 118-foot-tall column). The Square is also home to Vajdahunyad Castle, an inexpensive agricultural museum. Plus, there's lots of hot springs throughout the city; admission for some of the most popular ones cost as little as $15 CDN.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is full of cobbled lanes and pretty courtyards, making it a beautiful place for those who just want to wander and take in the city. There are lots of free walking tours that touch on amazing historic locations, such as Old Town Square.
On-the-cheap to-dos: The John Lennon Wall is a must-see for Beatles' fans—it's a super-colourful wall downtown that celebrates Lennon's life and is a symbol of peace for residents and tourists. Don't miss the medieval astronomical clock at the Old Town City Hall. It was made in 1410, it still strikes every hour and if you look up at the windows above it, you'll see the moveable statues of the 12 apostles passing by.
Located smackdab in the centre of Venice, Mestre has less-expensive hotels and super-easy transportation, making it simple to get around and take in the sites.
On-the-cheap to-dos: Take in the 17th-century Cathedral of Saint Lawrence, which is said to be the most beautiful cathedral in all of northern Italy. Go and tour inside the church and the grounds outside — it's free. The Mestre Civic Tower is a bell and clock tower from the 12th century and an iconic tourist attraction. You can climb up its steps, where you'll hear the story of the tower (told by a computerized plant). Take a day to relax in Orto Botanico Locatelli, a park with dozens of medicinal plants, vegetables, fruit, trees and flowers.
Ocean City, Maryland, USA
Ten miles of free, gorgeous beach, Ocean City boasts a three-mile boardwalk, more than 200 restaurants, plenty of shopping and lots of inexpensive places to stay.
On-the-cheap to-dos: Hit the seaside. Sit on the beach and soak in the sun (don't forget your sunscreen!), then take a walk along the broad boardwalk. (Stop for cotton candy at Trimper's Carousel, an Ocean City institution.) Depending on when you're there, you might be able to catch Sundaes in the Park (which has a free fireworks show every night) and movies on the beach nights.
Orlando, Florida, USA
You already know what Orlando has to offer — three magic words: Walt Disney World! But there's plenty more for kids to do in this city in central Florida.
Kids will love: Universal Studios is a family favourite, but the Islands of Adventure is a new part of the park that kids will love discovering. Check out a secret school of witchcraft and wizardry, watch out for superheroes and magical creatures and fly above the city streets with the famous web slinger. Kids who love animals and are bugging to get up close and personal with their favourite underwater creatures will get a kick out of swimming with dolphins, come face-to-face with otters and feed tropical fish and stingrays. A visit to the Orlando Science Center Observatory will impress little scientists—they have the state's biggest publicly accessible refractor telescope that kids can look through to see Saturn's rings and Jupiter's moons.
Gold Coast, Australia
It's all about surf, sand and sun on Australia's Gold Coast. The beaches are honey-coloured, the waters clear and there are lots of day trips to keep the kids entertained.
Kids will love: The SkyPoint Observation Deck has a cool elevator and amazing views. It's wrapped around the top of the building and will give kids a neat look of the city. Surfers Paradise Beach is a good place to hang out and catch some rays while the kids make sandcastles. Seeing the country's unique animals up close might just be the highlight of your trip when you go to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. You'll see kangaroos hopping around, koalas on gum trees and lorikeets flying through the trees.
Branson, Missouri, USA
It's not an obvious pick, but Branson (a.k.a. the Silver Dollar City) is great for those into the wild, wild west.
Kids will love: The Silver Dollar City theme park has something for kids of all ages (adults too), including rides, a museum, circuses and street shows. The showboat Branson Belle is an old-style riverboat that cruises around Table Rock Lake. They offer dinner-and-show cruises (magic shows, variety acts and singalongs) and there's pirate and princess cruises for the younger crowd. If you have fans of Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, try the Dixie Stampede Dinner and Show, where you'll eat with your fingers while horseback riders perform daredevil acts.
Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Sure, Niagara Falls is kind of ostentatious (Lundy's Lane, one of the city's most historical areas, is super-kitschy) but there's a ton to see and do.
Kids will love: The Hornblower Niagara Cruise (which, until recently, was known as the Maid of the Mist) is one of the best ways to experience the Falls. You'll put on a raincoat then chug around the American falls, the Bridal Veil falls and the glorious Horseshoe falls. (You're bound to get wet but it's worth it!) The Niagara SkyWheel offers another vantage point of the Falls — from way up in the sky. Sit in pods and take in the scenery. For the slightly older crowd who love a good thrill, try the Whirlpool Aero Car, an antique cable car that transports folks across the Niagara river rapids on the Canada-US border.
Singapore, Singapore (yup, Singapore is the capital of Singapore)
Singapore is in the southern part of Singapore Island, between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. It's extremely clean (there are laws that ensure the streets stay super-clean) and meshes Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western cultures in everything from cuisine to the sites.
Kids will love: The National Museum of Singapore is packed with cool art, fashion and even a movie theatre. The Glass Passage is four storeys high and it's one of the world's biggest outdoor self-supporting glass structures. Head over to the Sands SkyPark, take the elevator 57 levels above the city to find the world's largest rooftop infinity pool and check out the skyline while the kids float around. Next take in the Singapore Flyer — a massive, 550-foot-high Ferris wheel that takes a half-hour to make a full turn, and word is that you can see parts of Indonesia and Malaysia on clear days.
Lace up your sneakers or grab a bike: Cyclists and pedestrians take over Amsterdam. There are plenty of areas to stroll through (with lots of shopping and cafes to stop at) and walking tours to sign up for.
Where to walk: Dam Square is truly at the heart of Amsterdam. You'll find the Royal Palace (which is open to the public and is definitely worth seeing). Kalverstraat and De Bijenkorf are must-visits for shoppers. It's not for everyone but if you don't mind a trip to the city's risqué centre, saunter through the infamous Red Light District. Here you'll find lots of side streets filled with coffee shops and red-lit windows that, yes, feature adult entertainment. For a less salacious tour, hit up the flower market. Founded in 1862, vendors sell their beautiful blooms from houseboats that line the canals. There's nothing like Dutch tulips and freshly cut chrysanthemums as you check out the sites.
A UNESCO World Heritage city, Bruges is full of history and heritage trails. It's the perfect city to get to know on foot.
Where to walk: Go to the Grote Markt and walk through while you check out the stalls that sell souvenirs and fresh food. Jan van Eyckplein is a small square named after the famous Renaissance painter. It sits against the backdrop of the Spiegelrei Canal and gingerbread-style houses. You can continue to stroll along the canal after your visit. And one of the most iconic buildings and must-see attractions is the Belfry of Bruges — it's a medieval bell tower that you can walk up (350-plus steps) but it's worth it when you see the view from the top.
San Francisco, California, USA
In northern California, San Francisco is a super-hilly city best known for the colourful Victorian-style homes and cable cars lining streets.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Montreal's one of Canada's biggest cities, but it truly has a neighbourhood feel. You'll want to take your time strolling while stopping at trendy cafes and stylish boutiques.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
In Argentina's capital, more and more of the city's central streets are being pedestrianized (reducing the number of cars and emissions), complete with more green spaces, better street lighting and free walking tours.
Where to walk: The San Telmo neighbourhood is full of history — it's one of the city's oldest neighbourhoods. You'll find cobblestone streets lined with churches, restaurants and bars (don't be surprised if you see tango dancers making their way outside from the bars). La Boca neighbourhood is also bustling with souvenir shops and cafes (plus street performers). If you want some serenity in the city, Palermo forest is a beautiful retreat. There are picturesque lakes, a scenic wooded area, manicured lawns and pretty flower beds.
ALL ABOUT RELAXATION
Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
Part of the Gili Islands (it's the largest one), Gili Trawangan is basically paradise. Think tropical vibe with swaying palms and stunning white-sand beaches, paired with amazing spas and a booming yoga scene.
Where to relax: The Villa Almarik Resort & Spa is accessible only by boat, making it a super- exclusive report. Spend your time getting massages, lying on loungers on the beach or taking a dip in the pool. The Exqisit Villas Spa has amazing outdoor pools and Balinese massages. Or head over to the Aston Sunset Beach Resort, where you can take advantage of the turquoise waters from their private beach.
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
You'll want to say aloha to this capital city, famous for its historic landmarks (including Pearl Harbor warm memorials) and Waikiki Beach.
Where to relax: Ala Moana Beach Park is said to be perfect for lovers. Romantics hold hands and cuddle while watching the rainbow-hued sunset. Waikiki Beach has a different vibe. This is the pearly-white-sand beach that's synonymous with hanging 10. Try surfing or just lounge and bask in the sun on one of the world's most iconic beaches. If you're looking to take a stroll, take the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. It's a walking route that features ocean waves crashing against volcanic rocks and amazing panoramas.
Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Nestled in the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains, Canmore is the perfect place to relax whether you're looking to get away in the summer or winter.
Where to relax: Elevation Place is great for folks who love a good workout. This place has a big climbing wall and a huge pool, plus there's a lazy river to relax in and a 25-person hot tub. The Canmore Nordic Centre was built to host sporting events when Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics. It's a provincial park that's used for biking, skiing and hiking. Be sure to visit the Rat's Nest Cave—it's a 3,000-year-old cave you can explore. Take the private Solitude tour if you're looking for peace, quiet and serenity. You'll have the entire cave to yourself (with a guide, of course) and will be able to spend four hours rappelling, meditating, napping — it's up to you how you want to enjoy your time.
Set along glacial Lake Bled, this city is all about moving at your own pace. Not only is it romantic, but the fairy-tale scenery is positively captivating.
Where to relax: Lake Bled is a must-see. It's the ideal place to go if you're looking for lakeside walks beside quiet, calm emerald-green waters. Go out to Bled Island, where you'll find a 17th-century church. (The locals say that you'll be granted a wish if you ring the church's bell.) Bled Castle has stunning views of Lake Bled and an amazing mountain backdrop. The castle has a winery where you can personalize your own bottle of wine. The Pokljuka plateau offers paths that lead to a 40-metre-deep ravine, full of walkways, hidden gardens and bridges. It's a tranquil place where you can rejuvenate.
Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
Feel like being pampered? This small town — full of hot pools, mountain scenery and tranquil spas — should definitely be on your list.
Where to relax: With a mountain backdrop and alpine air, Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa is said to steam your stress and worries away. It's built on natural hot springs and has lots of whirlpools, waterholes and waterfalls. Take advantage of the private saunas if you want some alone time. Marble Point Winery has views of the Waiau River and snow-capped Southern Alps. Have a gourmet meal and stick around for a divine tasting session. The Weka Pass Horse Treks & Riding Centre offers peaceful horse-riding tours of the limestone that wraps around Hanmer Springs. You're bound to relax while taking a ride, even if you're a first-timer.