The best long-haul city breaks for 2017
It’s not all about heading to a country’s capital… Move away from predictable destinations with our guide to the city breaks you may never have considered
Published: Tuesday 25th April 2017
You don’t visit Memphis as a tourist, traveller or holiday maker – you visit as a pilgrim. This is a city that has music so ingrained into every brick, cement slab and lamp post that you can’t possibly avoid it. Whether you’re an Elvis buff making a beeline for Graceland, or just love the sweet sound of blues wafting down the bright and beaten streets, you’ll be in your tune-loving element.
Kick it all off at Shangri La Records; it looks like a house from the outside, but inside it’s a den of vinyl, which is stacked at waist height and smothers the walls. Potential to lose hours? Massive. Continue with the music vibes at Sun Studio, where you can stand on the very spot Elvis recorded his tunes, before taking a tour to learn about the history of the venue, along with its former recording artists including Roy Orbison.
For blues, brews and burgers (it’s their tagline, we’re not that naff) try Huey’s Burgers, a neon-lit Memphis institution that’s been around since 1970, with good burgers from $8 a pop. For something messier and meatier, try Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous Ribs (get ‘em with a side of red rice and beans) before hitting Alex’s Tavern, the oldest in the city. It doesn’t really get going until 1am, which should give you a good understanding of what you’re in for.
How: The Peabody Hotel is located downtown in the Blues City, and its in-room TVs screen films that are still on in the cinema. Handy if you need a few hours easing outta that hangover. Nightly rates from £180. peabodymemphis.com. American Airlines offers return flights from £600. aa.com
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
For the warm temps and sunshine of Florida, and a cool city on the sea that doesn’t have the gridlocked traffic and overwhelmingly hectic vibe of Miami, try up-and-coming Fort Lauderdale, just 30 minutes along the coast.
It’s still a full-on beach destination by day – head to the main promenade or out of town a little to the faded glamour of Hollywood Beach. It’s at night that the city comes into its own, though, and the bar and dining scene will keep you occupied until the early hours.
Try New York-Italian-inspired restaurant Louie Bossi for some of the best pizza, pasta and fish salads in the region, and absolutely gigantic portions. It’s one of the best spots in town, with queues to prove it, so book head. If you’re after meat and beer, B Square, one of the newest, coolest restaurants in the city, serves giant burgers and has a huge salad bar for those trying to be good (if good means delicious creamy dressings, croutons and big chunks of cheese).
Meanwhile, the bar scene is evolving – continue down Las Olas Boulevard or head to Stache, a two-level speakeasy with strong cocktails including the Voodoo Child – that’s #2 Ron Zacapa, Licor 43, lemon, pineapple, and nutmeg dust. And don’t leave without swinging by the FAT Village Arts District – a brand-new warehouse space that’s home to art, coffee shops and plenty more besides.
How: The Ikona hotel is one of the newest on the beach block (and there are loads more to come). Its rooms are functional and contemporary, and the small pool is a great place to hang out if it all gets a bit much. Nightly rates from £258. gzellacollection.com; Norwegian offers flights from £139 one way. norwegian.co.uk
Vancouver has mountains, Toronto has high rises and Montreal has #vibes. For a Canadian city break that offers up some European edginess, try the French-speaking city of Montreal in Canada.
The Notre-Dame Basilica is a marvel in itself, but to celebrate the city’s 375th anniversary, its grand interior will also be the site of a multi-billion dollar laser show, which will light up the columns, stained-glass windows, statues and crazily-ornate ceiling of the basilica for the entire year.
If your priority’s food, though, we’re with you. The city is littered with good eats – from doughy, eat-on-the-hoof bagels sold at St Viateur and Fairmount (they’re rivals, pick your fav) to foie gras gluttony in the form of nuggets, burgers and poutine (with a side jug of maple syrup) at Au Pied De Cochon. Book in advance.
End your night at the diviest bar in history – Bar Fly – where local bands play to revellers standing on an insanely sticky floor. Walk it all off with a climb up Mount Royal, the park-like hill/small mountain that encircles the city.
How: An old warehouse converted into a swish 45-bedroom boutique hotel you say? Auberge du Vieux-Port is the one, and it has St Lawrence river views. Rooms from £140. aubergeduvieuxport.com; Air Canada offers return flights from £450. aircanada.com
Ancient trees, wooded hillsides, a cosmopolitan vibe and a banging food and drink scene? Yep, it’s the 300-year-old city of Taipei – and if you’re going for the long haul to Taiwan, you’d be crazy to overlook this heritage city. Dining out is a big deal here – so much so that many apartments don’t have kitchens.
Start at a novelty, themed restaurant (noodles from a toilet bowl, anyone?), before moving on to a rèchao (stir fry) joint, where you can feast on tofu, noodles and beer. The night markets aren’t to be missed – try Ningxia for greasy snacks, dumplings, bao, roasted duck heads, sushi, jewellery, posters and, er, lamps.
Taiwan is an island sitting between the South and East China Seas, so expect the sites to be as mish-mash as the cuisine – from Buddhist and Taoist temples to the fastest lift in the world to the top of the Taipei 101 tower (although the city’s architecture is relatively low rise), and tai chi in the park to Chinese artefacts at the National Palace Museum. If you’re after a city with a little bit of everything, Taipei is it.
How: Check Inn hotel is one of the best budget boutique stays in the city, with rooms from £60 a night, checkinn.com
Mexico City, Mexico
So you’re probably not going to fly all the way to Mexico City just for its food scene – but on a trip to Mexico’s ruins, beaches or canyons, you’re sure to pass through this mad metropolis. Start with a trip to the lucha libre – a form of Mexican wrestling – where men and women dress up in horror movie masks and way too much spandex and chuck each other around a ring.
It’s quite the way to immerse yourself in the culture, and is a bargain at a fiver a ticket (details on the right). Mexico City’s food scene is exploding – from traditional grasshoppers, chilli and cream-doused corn on the cob, to funky takes on tacos. Wander the streets of Roma Norte to get your snacks, and stop off at El Moro for cinnamon and sugar-dusted churros, which you can dunk in nutmeg-spiced hot chocolate (while sitting in a rocking chair, of course).
For caffeine, try Dosis Café, which grinds Mexican beans with a backdrop of white-washed brick walls, crazy exposed lightbulbs and chunky wooden tables. Very trendy indeed. For something different and a little less ‘city’, head south and take a boat ride on the canals of Xochimilco. Peace. And. Quiet.
How: Book canal tours with delachinampa.mx and wrestling tickets via ticketmaster.com.mx; stay in pretty, eco-friendly hotel El Patio 77 for big green armchairs and geometric rugs. Rooms from £76. elpatio77.com; Aero Mexico offers return flights from £440. aeromexico.com
Middle East & Africa
Fancy dressing up as your favourite superhero and gorging on a lavish brunch with a room full of expats? Course you do.
And thank goodness you can – in Doha, Qatar, that is. Head to the Ritz Carlton on the last Friday of each month and you can eat scrambled eggs while dressed as Spiderman, or oysters as Wonder Woman… the list goes on, of course. It’s not all cosplay in this Arabian city, though.
In fact, it’s jam-packed with more serious stuff: the Museum of Islamic Art is great for about 1,000 years’ worth of artefacts and artwork (think British Museum style), while the Fire Station museum will soon be hosting six artists in residence.
It may be home to 150 high-rises (compared to just four 13 years ago) but Doha does offer authentic Islamic culture and luxury – there aren’t many places where old souqs sit side by side with shiny new shopping malls. And if you do want some high-rise action yourself, head up to the 44th floor of the Shangri-La Doha for dim sum and Cantonese cuisine right in the city centre. Costumes not advised.
There we were thinking Pompeii was a big deal. Take a five-hour flight to Amman, Jordan’s capital, and you’ll land in a city that has access to some of the most staggering Roman ruins on the planet, and some of the last remaining in the Middle East: Jerash. The mind-boggling collection of Roman arches, churches, columns and amphitheatres takes a few hours to walk around, and it’s worth paying for a guide at the entrance because this history is some of the most fascinating stuff you’ll hear.
But before you day trip out of the city, spend some time exploring Amman itself, from Rainbow Street, home to more tat than you’ll never need, to Shahrazad for the best hole-in-the-wall doner kebab in town. Diagonally across the chaotic roundabout, beneath the Bellevue hotel, you’ll find Nafisah – home to huge cheese- and honey-laden pastry desserts, which really are some of the most addictive things we’ve tasted.
Amman is great for a three-nighter, but when you’re that close to Petra and the Dead Sea, it’s worth heading there, too.
How: G Adventures offers eight-day tours from £739pp. gadventures.com; British Airways offers return flights from
London from £350. ba.com