Three Perfect Days: Edinburgh
hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Edinburgh

By The Hub team , August 17, 2014

Story by Chris Wright | Photography by Rahel Weiss | Hemispheres, August 2014

The Scottish capital's long and sometimes troubled history, along with its dramatic physical environment, has given rise to one of the world's most glorious cities. But who knew it was so much fun?

“Edinburgh," wrote the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, “is a mad god's dream." The line says a lot about this city—its impossible clutter of architectural splendor, the dense concentration of beauty it represents.

This beauty is, at times, brooding and melancholy, reflecting the violent religious and political upheavals Edinburgh has endured throughout its history, along with the fires, the plagues and—less dramatically but more reliably—the inclement weather.

Indeed, the very effort to build an Athens on this craggy shoulder of Scotland, with the wind whipping in from the Firth of Forth and the hard volcanic rock below, seems the kind of thing a mad god might do. Mad or not, Edinburgh has always been a center of brilliance—of invention, art, literature and thought. Recently, this tradition has expressed itself in the city's food scene (it has five Michelin-starred restaurants, second only to London in the U.K.) and its renowned cultural events (the Fringe and International festivals happen in August).

As for the people—well, they can be as steely as you'd expect in this environment, imbued with amused cynicism and maintaining a tight grip on their sense of independence. That said, if you ask a local for directions, you could well spend the next 15 minutes engaged in casual conversation.

So, yes, Edinburgh is a sublimely beautiful city. The surprise is how warm and charming it can be, how open and energetic. How fun.

DAY ONE | Few places can do rain like Edinburgh. From the window of your room at The Balmoral Hotel, you look out at a sheer wall of medieval tenements, their edges blurred by hanging clouds, and beyond these the gorse-mottled bulk of Arthur's Seat. Anywhere else, a morning like this would seem drab and uninviting, but in this town it works.

That said, you're staying at the Balmoral. The hotel has been operating here for 112 years, and the indulgent, unfussy luxury it has perfected during that time is not easily abandoned, especially when it's raining outside. So you flop back onto the bed for a minute or two, taking stock of the room's mint-green walls, floral prints and ... you're gone.

Edinburgh Castle looming over the cityEdinburgh Castle looming over the city

You snap out of it and head downstairs, passing through the elegant Palm Court tearoom and into modish Hadrian's Brasserie for breakfast, where you opt to go the whole hog (literally): sausage, bacon, black pudding, etc. From here, you waddle out onto busy Princes Street, where you get your first taste of the architectural onslaught you'll face over the next few days. A left turn takes you west, into the medieval shambles of Old Town; a right leads to the orderly avenues of New Town, which was built in the 18th and 19th centuries, its neoclassical buildings and parks intended to serve as a relief from the teeming, chaotic warren to the south.

Together, the districts comprise a UNESCO World Heritage site, and both warrant first-stop status, but you opt to take a right, partly because New Town is where you'll be having lunch, but also because your pork-themed breakfast is making itself felt, and the area looks slightly less hilly.

You do a bit of window-shopping on George Street, then head one block south to Rose, which is narrower, a little rowdier and features a fiddler diddley-deeing below the orange bunting. You people-watch for a while, then pop into the Auld Hundred Pub for a sneaky pint of Deuchars IPA. After this, you continue through New Town's cobblestoned streets and geometric alleys, recharging your appetite for what promises to be a significant lunch.

The understated dining room at Restaurant Mark Greenaway belies the fanciful artistry of its food. Your eight-course meal includes a Scotch broth that's brought to the table bubbling up in a coffee percolator, and a deconstructed Eton mess, the elements of which are so precisely ordered that the dish amounts to a wisecrack. Thankfully, ingenuity doesn't come at the expense of taste—the crab cannelloni with smoked cauliflower custard is particularly good.

A doorman at The Balmoral HotelA doorman at The Balmoral Hotel

Your next stop is Edinburgh Castle, which has loomed over this city for nine centuries and which, you're pretty sure, is subject to a law stating that all visitors must include it on their itinerary. The sun makes an appearance, highlighting the city's cheerier side. You stroll through blossomy Princes Street Gardens, with a quick detour to look at the old masters in the Scottish National Gallery, before tackling the ascent of Castle Rock.

Edinburgh Castle is actually many castles, a hodgepodge of castles, a collaborative effort among a succession of regimes. The views up here are stunning, but it's the cloak-and-dagger stories that grip you—like the 15th-century “Black Dinner," at which a bull's head was served on a plate, a clear signal that things would not end with a cheese platter (bloody death ensued). At one point, moving along a passageway, you hear children's voices behind a heavy door. You rattle the latch and groan, eliciting a scream and the scuffling of little feet. Heh.

By the time you leave the castle, the blood is thudding in your feet. You zigzag down to Grassmarket and The Last Drop pub, so named for the gallows that once stood outside. The ghosts of the executed, you are told, are likely to be standing beside you at the bar. “Buy 'em a drink!" slurs an old guy propped in the corner, smiling craggily.

Dinner is at the nearby Timberyard, a fashionable whitewashed eatery known for dishing up fresh local ingredients with a twist. Your meal includes oysters in buttermilk, raw venison with burnt oak oil, duck (heart, neck, breast) and a chocolate concoction served with spiced breadcrumbs. The food is delightful, and it gives you the spike of energy needed for your last stop of the night.

Weaponry at Edinburgh CastleWeaponry at Edinburgh Castle

The Devil's Advocate, tucked away in an Old Town alleyway, is not an easy place to find in the dark. It's worth looking for, though. The bar has one of the city's more impressive whisky selections—more so given that its manager, Jack, is only 21 years old. You try a selection ranging from classics like Glendronach sherry cask to a rare peated BenRiach. “This," Jack says, raising his glass, “is a beautiful whisky."

It is a beautiful whisky. It's also a beautiful night. And it's a beautiful walk back to your beautiful hotel, your beautiful hotel room bathroom (which features a large, beautiful photograph of Sean Connery) and your exceptionally beautiful bed. Hic.

DAY TWO | You're feeling a bit ragged this morning when you set out to conquer the day. First, you pause to look up at the hotel, its Scottish baronial clock tower shadowing the train terminal (the clock set two minutes fast to fool tardy travelers), before strolling along Princes toward the enormous Scott Monument, whose jagged spires and buttresses call to mind a steampunk spaceship. From here, your eyes wander to the tumbling rooftops across the park.

Old Town appears to be growing out of the volcanic rock below. Its buildings—some 12 stories high, some much smaller—rise and fall with the undulations, creating, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge put it, an “alternation of height and depth." And everywhere you look there's a gargoyle, a column, a cupola, an oriel, a turret, a gable, a spire. As you gaze at the spectacle, a scruffy guy sidles up, presumably to ask for change. Instead, he says, “Building upon building upon building." Then he asks you for change.

The crab cannelloni at Restaurant Mark Greenaway

You're having breakfast nearby, at The Pantry. You decide on the foraged East Lothian mushrooms on toast, with pancetta and a poached egg, washed down with a cup of good coffee, all of which revive you greatly. A short cab ride takes you back to the Balmoral, where an aromatherapy massage in the hotel's lush spa completes your recovery.

Walking down the Royal Mile, Old Town's main strip, your eye is drawn to an inscription above an alleyway: “Heave awa' chaps, I'm no' dead yet!" Later, you hear the story of a building that collapsed in this spot in the 1860s, killing dozens, and of the boy who emerged from the rubble days after they'd stopped hoping for survivors, uttering that defiant phrase.

Not far from here, you find your guide from Mercat Tours, who's taking you on a “Ghostly Underground" tour (see sidebar, page 72). “Edinburgh is a city of culture," he says. “It is also a city of foul weather and fouler villains." With this, he leads you into the Blair Street Underground Vaults, a sprawl of dank 18th-century chambers that once housed the dregs of Edinburgh society. Today, this “ulcer of criminality and sin" is said to be haunted by tortured spirits. You don't see any, but it's fun looking.

You pause for lunch at Blackfriars, a blink-and-you'd-miss-it eatery off the Royal Mile. The décor is minimal and the food is similarly stripped down. You have cured sea trout with apple and fennel, followed by a heaping bowl of cider-cooked mussels in a cream sauce, served with fries and washed down with a pint of Williams Scottish lager. Perfect.

A sneaky pint at The Last Drop pubA sneaky pint at The Last Drop pub

Outside, the weather has turned again—but that's okay; it'll give you a chance to test your theory about Edinburgh looking better when it's wet. You stroll the Mile for a bit, ducking into the gift shops and a pub or two, then cab it to the base of Calton Hill, which rises 338 feet and is topped by two 19th-century landmarks—the acropolis-like National Monument and the towering Nelson Monument. The hill also has fantastic views of the city, and you try to bear this in mind as you trudge up it. At the top, you get lucky: The clouds part and you catch a glimpse of Edinburgh in all its glory, the rain-soaked rooftops and streets reflecting the sun's rays. Then the torrent resumes and you trudge down the other side, where you hope to find 21212, Paul Kitching's Michelin-starred restaurant.

The first thing you think as you step inside is “Roof!" This amenity, though, is soon overwhelmed by the décor—butterfly carpets, a circular leather couch, a classical fresco, a plexiglass chandelier. The menu here changes weekly, and the descriptions don't always make it easy to decipher what's in store (listed ingredients include “exotics" and “icky sticky"). “Chef doesn't write out the menus," a waitress tells you. “He draws pictures."

Kitching likes to play with flavors and textures—you can go from crunchy to squishy to smoky to sweet in the space of a mouthful. One of your many courses, the lamb curry (no rice), has chorizo, cubes of savory custard, currants, haggis chutney and a bunch of other stuff you can't identify, topped with razor-thin phyllo. It's a memorable meal, rounded off with one of the best cheese plates you've ever had.

You're set to check into Prestonfield House—a storied hotel located two miles away—but there's time for one more stop: Sandy Bells, a tiny folk pub on the edges of Old Town. You work your way to the bar, where an old guy tells you a long anecdote that, partly due to a trio of geezers twanging nearby and partly due to the man's impenetrable accent, is lost on you. Still, you're glad for the company. “Grill gamoor!" your new friend says as you leave. “A braglargh toosh!"

Leafy StockbridgeLeafy Stockbridge

DAY THREE | James Thomson, the owner of Prestonfield House, is not known for his restrained approach to interior design. You wake up on a huge, silvery sleigh bed surrounded by riotous ornamentation—gilt mirrors, oil paintings, leopard-print carpets, zebra-print cushions. There's a candlestick shaped like a stork standing on the back of a tortoise with the head of a lion. There's also a nice-looking bottle of champagne, courtesy of the management.

Beyond your window is a cultivated garden patrolled by peacocks, and a field with longhorn cattle. After a soak in the deep tub, you go in search of breakfast. If anything, the design is even busier in the hotel public spaces: red walls, bronze stags, black roses, colonial statues, a couch made out of antlers. You take a window seat in Rhubarb, the hotel's restaurant, with Arthur's Seat so close you could touch it, and order poached duck eggs with Ayrshire gammon on a potato scone, a newspaper on your lap. That's your morning taken care of.

It's sunny again, so you decide to walk through Holyrood Park, skirting the yellow-green hillsides of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags and ending up at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where the Queen stays when she's in town (it was once the home of Mary, Queen of Scots). The palace, parts of which date back nine centuries, has so many rooms you lose count. The décor is only slightly less opulent than that of the hotel.

Now it's a quick walk to the Royal Mile, and then the National Museum of Scotland, the Romanesque Revival masterpiece that houses everything from dinosaur bones to 1960s kitchen appliances. The interior is dominated by a massive iron-and-glass atrium, and the curatorial style is wonderfully eccentric (an antelope skull beside a steam engine beside a suit of armor). You could spend an entire day exploring this place.

The neoclassical Scottish National Gallery holds an array of masterworksThe neoclassical Scottish National Gallery holds an array of masterworks

But, things to do: Not far from here, up toward the castle, is The Witchery, the madly sumptuous hotel and restaurant owned (surprise) by James Thomson. You take a seat in the mock-medieval dining room and order the wild pigeon followed by a dozen fresh, plump Argyll oysters. “Have another dozen!" says the waitress when you tell her how lovely they were.

It's time for a closer look at the Mile and its endless network of side streets and alleys. In The Writers' Museum, on Lady Stair's Close, you spot a sign advising people to mind the 11th step, which is an inch or so higher than the others. The step was made that way on purpose, explains the clerk, to trip up potential intruders, but today it mainly trips up visitors. “No respect for the tourism industry," he says, rolling his eyes.

West Bow/Victoria Street, an arcing row of pink and green and blue facades, has some quirky little shops selling everything from squirting flowers (Aha Ha Ha) to local art (The Red Door Gallery) to a Robert Louis Stevenson first edition (The Old Town Bookshop). It's a welcome change from the parade of kilts and hipflasks up on the Mile.

The dominant structure on the Mile is St. Giles' Cathedral, with its massive crown spire. The oldest part of the building is said to date back to the ninth century, but, like so much of this city, it has been tinkered with over time, and is now a pastiche of crypts, Gothic arches and brilliant stained glass. As you enter, you encounter a stone angel who appears to be on the verge of tears. It is an exquisitely beautiful place, but not a cheery one.

The Witchery offers fresh seafood in a mock-medieval settingThe Witchery offers fresh seafood in a mock-medieval setting

Your next stop is on the other end of the mood scale: The Lucky Liquor Co., in New Town. When you arrive, the bartenders are plating cupcakes and cookies—a surprise treat for their customers later on. The bar is known for its inventive cocktail list—you go for the Bloody Mary, in which the tomato sediment has been removed by a centrifuge. The resulting concoction, clear and served in a cocktail glass, is outrageously good. You order another.

Dinner tonight is at Aizle, a “neo-bistro" on the city's Southside. In a town enamored of envelope-pushing food, this place may take the envelope. The conceit is that, rather than a menu, you are given an ingredients list, with the words: “Expect to find some of these ingredients in tonight's dishes." Your list includes Orkney beef, apples, bee pollen, blood oranges and Clash Farm pork. Other than this, you have no idea.

As gimmicky as this seems, there is logic to it—the lack of a formal menu is meant to allow the chef to work with the freshest produce as it becomes available. And the food is hard to fault: beef tartare with beet, torched mackerel with leek, hogget (sheep meat) with bulgur. You leave the small restaurant pleasantly surprised.

You're tired, but not ready to bring Edinburgh to an end. So you make a final stop at the oddly Rococo music club The Voodoo Rooms, where you catch a set by former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford. During one Neil Young–style solo, you close your eyes and feel a tap on your elbow. “Just making sure you're alive," says a smiling woman with pixie hair and a drink in either hand. You smile back and assure her that you are, yes, very much so.

Hemispheres executive editor Chris Wright is ashamed that he didn't hike to the top of Arthur's Seat, and is including that on a to-do list for when he goes back.

This article was from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

3 under the radar places to travel to in October

By Betsy Mikel

For travelers who enjoy cooler temperatures and fall festivals, these are the perfect under-the-radar destinations to check out this October.

Stuttgart city with buildings and trees

Stuttgart, Germany

Head to Stuttgart in Southern Germany to experience a combination of German culture and a passion for fast cars and innovation. Here, you'll also find the country's second largest beer festival. It's considered the ideal home base for exploring the Black Forest mountain range and its surrounding towns. Throughout the city, historic government buildings coexist with contemporary architecture with green spaces and parks galore. Germany's sixth largest city is also home to the Porsche and Mercedes-Benz headquarters, both of which have impressive automobile museums that are open to the public.

What to do

The main event attracting visitors in October is the Stuttgart Beer Festival. Second in size only to Munich's Oktoberfest, this fairground-style festival presents more activities for all ages. There are still plenty of beer tents for adults, as well as theme-park style rides for kids. Everyone will enjoy the authentic German food stalls, music and dancing.

Stuttgart is also home to two car museums, the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum. You don't have to be a car buff to enjoy their contemporary architecture and elegant interiors, both of which feature impressive collections of pristine historic cars. Visit Market Hall Stuttgart in the city center to peruse booths and stalls from local farmers, restaurants, producers and artisans. Another unique Stuttgart attraction is the Wilhelma zoological-botanical garden, which houses the largest collection of exotic animal and plant species in Europe. Spend a leisurely afternoon strolling through Wilhelma's many gardens and footpaths, which were previously a king's private retreat.

Getting there

Our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer service to Stuttgart (STR) from multiple U.S. cities, including direct flights from New York/Newark (EWR).

Landscapes of Ireland. Blarney castle, near Cork

Cork, Ireland

Jazz, food and friendly locals in Ireland's unofficial capital

Often overshadowed by Dublin, you might be surprised by everything that Ireland's second-largest city has to offer. Some even refer to Cork as the unofficial capital of Ireland. The city's smaller footprint makes it easier to navigate, and Cork's genuinely friendly locals are more than happy to rub elbows with visitors at its cozy pubs and restaurants. Cork was even recently named the world's third friendliest city by Condé Nast Traveler, and October is an especially good time to visit. Cork's long-running jazz festival brings international talent and well-known acts to the stage. Lastly, Cork is known as Ireland's food capital thanks to its many world-class restaurants and delicious local specialties.

What to do

The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival held at the end of October gets a little bigger and better every year. The music festival has been running since 1978 and welcomes famous talent and up-and-coming jazz performers alike. It kicks off with a jazz parade that winds its way through the city streets. If you're not a jazz enthusiast, The Fringe Festival runs in parallel with live theater and musical performances from other genres.

The heart of the city's lively food scene is the English Market, an 18th-century covered market that's Ireland's most famous food emporium. Shop for produce, meat and other provisions alongside Cork's chefs on the ground level, or sample traditional Irish fare at restaurants on the second floor. After you've had your fill, make your way to one of Cork's most popular and peculiar attractions — Cork City Gaol — a castle-like building that was once a 19th-century prison. Ireland's famous Blarney Castle (and home of the Blarney Stone) is also just a 20-minute drive from Cork.

Getting there

United and our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer services to Cork (ORK) from multiple U.S. cities.

 Redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods State Park

Guerneville, California

An underrated Sonoma destination with rustic charm

Though Sonoma welcomes fewer visitors come October, wine country is a popular year-round destination. Do as the locals do and head to Guerneville for a charming wine country getaway, just a 90-minute drive from San Francisco. This rustic ex-logging town in the Russian River Valley has welcomed several new restaurants, art galleries and shops over the last few years. Spend your time visiting tasting rooms at the many nearby wineries. Stroll underneath majestic coastal redwoods in the 806-acre state park just a few minutes from town, or pop into the eclectic storefronts along Guerneville's Main Street. This casual, unpretentious town is an ideal destination for a couple or a relaxing getaway with a group of friends.

What to do

Guerneville sits in the heart of the Russian River Valley, where pinot noir and chardonnay grow plentifully in the cool climate. More than 50 wineries are within a 20-minute drive. Between established Champagne houses like Korbel to the many family-owned wineries dotting the region, you can easily spend a day or two sampling the region's wines while taking in the valley's scenic vineyards. Beer lovers can make the short trip to Russian River Brewing Company, one of California's most well-known craft breweries.

Back in town, enjoy the retro vibe strolling along Guerneville's Main Street. From antiques and used books to clothing and collectibles, you'll find an eclectic variety of shops and boutiques. The Main Street dining scene has many options, including San Francisco-inspired farm-to-table bistros and more casual, laid-back eateries with live music. To see the nearby redwood forest, head north, just a short drive to the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The reserve has many self-guided trails ranging from an easy one-mile walk to a more strenuous nine-mile hike. The Russian River runs right next to Guerneville, where outdoor adventurers will enjoy fishing, kayaking or swimming.

Getting there

United offers service to San Francisco (SFO) from multiple U.S. cities. Guerneville is a quick 90-minute drive from San Francisco.

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What to do in Zurich

By The Hub team

Passion Passport is a community-based website that tells meaningful travel stories and facilitates global connections. Our team hails from across the United States and Canada and is always up for an adventure. To learn more about where we're going and what we're doing, visit our website: PassionPassport.com

On the surface, Zurich, Switzerland, is known for banking and finance — but those who dig a little deeper discover just how enchanting the city really is. If you have the opportunity to visit, check out some of our favorite spots in this charming, upscale destination.

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Enjoy the view

Known for its scenic environments and outdoor attractions, Zurich is a perfectly walkable city. The waterfront is also a great location for picnicking and sailing. To refuel after your lakeside adventures, head to one of the area's charming restaurants — we loved Seerestaurant Quai 61 and Fischers Fritz.

After you've refueled, embark on a shopping trip for Swiss goods and souvenirs in Bahnhofstrasse, a thoroughfare that connects Lake Zurich with the city's main railway station. Home to an array of boutiques and department stores, this area presents countless opportunities to soak up the surrounding views.

waterfront in Zurich

Since Bahnhofstrasse is a highly popular locale, you'll get a more intimate experience if you venture off of the main thoroughfare and explore the areas of Augustinergasse and Rennweg Street. While they are home to a number of beautiful shops, they also acted as the city's most significant streets during the Middle Ages. Today, the popular areas are filled with boutiques, but photographers will attest that the historic, pastel buildings are now the streets' biggest draw.

For a closer look at Zurich's history, visit one of the city's most famous landmarks: the Grossmünster Cathedral, a Protestant church dating back to 1100. If you climb to the top of one of the building's two towers, you'll be greeted with views of Zurich's lake and rooftops beyond.

Another one of Zurich's famed churches is St. Peterskirche, which also happens to be the oldest in the region. Built in the ninth century, St. Peterskirche is home to the largest clock face in all of Europe, measuring 28.5 feet (8.7 meters) in diameter. The tower also features five bells that date back to the late 1800s. Visitors can explore the stunning clocktower and tour the church's minimal — yet historical — interior, which features remnants of a medieval mural.

Swiss flag along stairwell in Zurch

St. Peterskirche in Zurich

Taste the traditions

No visit to Switzerland would be complete without sampling the country's sweetest delicacy — chocolate. Zurich's famous confectioner Confiserie Sprungli is a dream for visitors with a sweet tooth. With a legacy of over 175 years, the shop's popularity endures with delicious handmade desserts ranging from truffles to cakes.

Another favorite of ours is Zeughauskeller, a locale serving traditional Swiss cuisine and local beer. Built in 1487, Zeughauskeller is also historically significant, as the building was initially used to store weapons in medieval times — though in 1926, it evolved to be a welcoming social spot for hungry patrons. As an added bonus, the menu is traveler-friendly — meaning it's written in eight different languages — and includes Zurich specialities like zürcher geschnetzeltes (sliced veal in gravy) and rösti (Swiss hash browns).

Birds flying above buildings in Zurich

Bask in beauty

After taking in Zurich's stunning sights, you might want to view them from an entirely different perspective. If that's the case, consider embarking on a Limmat River Cruise. While riding a motorized boat along the Limmat River, you'll pass the quaint features of Old Town and Lake Zurich — so be sure to bring your camera along! A round-trip cruise lasts about 50 minutes and costs 4.40 CHF (roughly 4.43 USD) for adults.

Regardless of what time of year you visit, Zurich always has plenty to offer.

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Great places to enjoy a Fall weekend

By Benét J. Wilson

Just because summer is nearly over, it doesn't mean that the travel season is over. Cities across America continue their efforts to attract autumn tourists wanting to take a trip somewhere new. Here are seven cities that offer plenty of things for you to do over a weekend.

Cape Cod sand dunes

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

This region, located on a hook-shaped peninsula, is known mainly for its beaches and busy summer season. While fall is still warm enough to visit the beach, there's even more to do with less crowds and no "Cape traffic". There are plenty of fall festivals to choose from to celebrate the season. From the 6th Annual PumpkinFest to Martha's Vineyard Food and Wine Festival — there is no shortage of events. Additionally, take a free, self-guided walking tour on the 1.6 mile Kennedy Legacy Trail, which celebrates the role the family played in the history of Hyannis and Cape Cod. Or visit the Hyannis HyArts Cultural District, home to local artists, galleries, concerts, theatrical performances and classes year-round. Indulge in the bounty of the sea at restaurants like Hyannis institution Cooke's Seafood, known for its fried clam strips, or Ocean House if you want to enjoy a meal with a view.

Denver, Colorado

The Mile High City has recently become one of the hottest craft brew cities in the country. Be sure to check a few out on the Denver Beer Trail, which covers more than 100 brewpubs, breweries and taprooms. Beer lovers should plan their trip around the Great American Beer Festival that takes over Denver in September with brews from 800 breweries. Take a stroll or a shuttle bus down the 16th Street Mall and indulge in outdoor cafes, shopping and the D&F Tower, a two-thirds replica of the Campanile of St. Mark's in Venice built in 1909. Depending on the venue's schedule, you can also catch a concert at the city's famous Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre or hike the trails around the park which is especially beautiful in the fall. Other must-see places include the Colorado Railroad Museum, Denver Union Station and Punch Bowl Social, a restaurant and entertainment venue that used to house the old Stapleton International Airport's air traffic control tower.

Sunset cruise in Key West

Key West, Florida

Florida's southernmost point — a mere 90 miles from Cuba — is known for its diving, snorkeling and beaches. And visiting during the fall means the humid summer months are over, bringing cooler ocean breezes and refreshing water temperatures making outdoor activities great options. Go on a sunset cruise, take a tour of the island on a wave runner, participate in a pub crawl or rent a moped, a scooter or a bike to explore the Keys. Sunbathe at beaches like Fort Zachary Taylor, an 87-acre state park that is home to a pre-Civil War Fort. And make sure to visit author Ernest Hemingway's home, where he lived from 1931 to 1939 and where he wrote a few classics including the novel, To Have And Have Not.

Memphis, Tennessee

The tagline for this Southern city is the Home of Blues, Soul and Rock 'n' Roll. You can hit iconic locations covering all three by visiting the Blues Hall of Fame, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Sun Studio, the birthplace of Rock 'N' Roll. Walk down the city's iconic Beale Street, where you can check out bars, restaurants, clubs and shops. Take a cruise on a Memphis Riverboat and indulge in a barbecue dinner at the famous Rendezvous. Cooler temperatures also mean a variety of festivals to choose from, including Gonerfest, — Goner Records' annual music festival —Mempho music festival, Memphis Pride Festival and more. And no visit to Memphis is complete without visits to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. passed away and Elvis Presley's Graceland.

Lake Tahoe at dawn

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Located 154 miles north of San Francisco, this region is mostly known for ski resorts like Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. But there are still plenty of things to do in the fall with fewer crowds and off-season specials with lower prices. For example, take a hike along the 1.9-mile Lake of the Sky Trail, ride on the M.S. Dixie II Paddlewheeler or play a round of golf at the Lake Tahoe Golf Course. But the best way to take in all that Lake Tahoe has to offer is to do the 72-mile most beautiful drive in America, where you can take a ride on the Heavenly Gondola, visit the historic Donner Memorial State Park or try your luck at the Crystal Bay Casino.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is located 124 miles west of Washington, D.C. and one of the best places in the country to enjoy fall foliage along the 105-mile Skyline Drive. View the leaves changing colors and enjoy beautiful scenery by going on a hike in the park — home to 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail along the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Take a guided tour through Luray Caverns, a series of large rooms with 10-feet-high ceilings, stone columns and pools. Go horseback riding or do a tour of the Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop, which showcases the region's wineries, a whiskey distillery, breweries and dining.

Vineyard in Napa during Autumn

Napa, California

It's a given that you'll do a wine tasting or two in this world-famous region, though keep in mind that during fall months, wineries tend to close by 5 pm so plan to start early. And even if wine tasting isn't for you, witnessing the fall foliage while driving on the Silverado Trail from Napa to Calistoga is worth it. Or indulge yourself by visiting one of Calistoga's wonderful day spas, play a round of golf at the Vintner's Golf Club in Yountville or take a sunrise hot air balloon ride. There are no shortages of delicious restaurants — the valley is home to six Michelin-starred restaurants, including Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry. Or you can scout out the next generation of dining talent at the Culinary Institute of America's The Restaurant at CIA Copia. If you're looking for a unique wine experience, consider doing the Art in the Afternoon tour at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, which pairs a tasting with a tour of its world-class collection.

Getting there

When you've decided where to go for your Fall weekend getaway, visit united.com or us the United app, and share your story on social media with the #myunitedjourney hashtag.

We view New Jersey's success and ours inextricably linked

By Jill Kaplan , September 17, 2018

As a proud resident of the New Jersey and New York area for the past thirty years, I know firsthand how vitally important Newark Liberty International Airport is to the success of the communities and families throughout the state – the jobs it creates, the economic activity it generates and the businesses and people it connects to markets around the globe.

We are one of the top ten employers in the state, with 14,000 employees as part of the United family and are Newark Airport's largest airline, together with our Star Alliance partners, account for more than two-thirds of both total flights and passengers. It's obvious that keeping Newark competitive requires a competitive United Airlines.

That's why we've invested more in Newark Airport than any other airline, making both our service and the airport better. We've committed $2 billion in unsubsidized airport investments since 2000 and nearly $400 million over the past two years alone.

Not only are we giving back at the airport, but we are also supporting the communities we call home. This July, we announced two new partnership grants totaling $1 million for the cities of Newark and Elizabeth supporting the Community Foodbank of New Jersey and Urban League of Essex County. These grants will greatly expand opportunities in each city, helping hundreds of young people and adults on the path to meaningful carriers and economic mobility. This commitment complements our longstanding support across New Jersey, from schools to local shelters, to vital community anchors such as the Newark Museum, the Liberty Science Center and New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

We view New Jersey's success and United's as inextricably linked, which is why the negative tone that's been adopted recently has been extremely disappointing. I am determined to get us back on the right track.

Case in point: the discussion regarding our recent decision to transition some of our operations from ABM Aviation to United Ground Express (UGE) has been unfair. Let me clarify a few things.

The current contract held by ABM was up for renewal and we began a competitive bidding process in order to improve our customers' experience at Newark Airport. After our review, we determined that UGE was the right vendor to achieve this for United's passengers and in turn, our overall operation at Newark airport.

To date, we've hosted seven job fairs and received hundreds of applications, many from current talented ABM employees and, we expect our employment figures to remain where they were before the transition to UGE. These newly created jobs will be represented by IAM, one of our union partners.

As a company we believe it's appropriate for the state to determine the minimum wage and as a good corporate citizen we continue to observe and comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations. We remain committed to treating all of our employees fairly, providing them with competitive compensation and benefit packages which feature a progression wage scale, paid time off (PTO), double-time holiday pay and company subsidized health care plan for full-time employees. Under UGE, employees also receive United flight benefits, which is a notable and unique addition to our employees' overall compensation.

United is important to the region. Without United's continuing investment in the airport, not only would jobs be lost, but also it would be a major blow to the state's economy and to the New Jersey taxpayer. We pay local taxes; the Corporate Business Tax (which was increased earlier this session); and the jet fuel tax and in addition, we pay more than $400 million a year in rates, charges and fees to the Port Authority to fund operations and infrastructure development at Newark airport. All told, United pays our fair share and creates nearly $16 billion in economic output in New Jersey and we're very proud to be doing our part to drive the New Jersey economy.

The stakes are too high for this issue to be turned into a political football and subject to overheated, misleading rhetoric.

We care deeply about our employees, our customers and our state and take our responsibilities as a good corporate citizen very seriously. We're determined to remain competitive so we can continue offering the service and standards our customers and this community deserve. United is proud to call Newark home, I hope you'll support our efforts to continue investing and growing in the great state of New Jersey.

Introducing Better Boarding

By United Airlines , September 17, 2018

The feedback from customers and employees was clear: we needed to improve our boarding process. As part of our ongoing efforts to put customers at the center of everything we do, we identified boarding as an opportunity to improve the airport experience. We tested a variety of different boarding processes on thousands of flights across multiple airports. Best practices emerged from each test, and combined, they now form what we are calling "Better Boarding".

Better Boarding consists of three key improvements

Less time in line:

By reducing the number of boarding lanes, there is more space for customers to enjoy the gate areas, many of which have been completely remodeled with more comfortable seating and in some airports, the ability to have food and drinks from within the airport delivered directly to the gate area. Over the years, we have invested millions of dollars in our terminals, and now with less time spent standing in line, customers will have more time to dine, shop, relax, work or enjoy a United Club℠.

Simplified gate layout

Say goodbye to the five long lines we see today

Group 1 will board through the blue lane.

Group 2 will board through the green lane, followed by groups 3, 4, and 5.

Two groups on each side of sign indicating lanes 1 (blue) and 2 (green)

Late arriving customers in Group 1 and 2 will use the blue lane.

Customers in groups 3, 4, and 5 always use the green lane.

Better information:

We are providing customers with more information throughout the boarding process so that they feel more at ease, and more equipped with the latest information about their flight. Customers with the United app can receive a push notification once their flight starts boarding. Customers will only receive the notification if they've opted in for push notifications and have a mobile boarding pass in the app's wallet.

Enhanced communications

Be in the know about boarding

Mobile phone and smartwatch with boarding notifications

Customers will receive boarding notifications through the United app (if they've opted in for notifications).

Gate information display with boarding instructions for group 1-2 through lane 1 (blue) and group 3-4 through lane 2 (green)

Improved gate area digital signage to guide customers through boarding.

Balanced groups and better recognition:

United MileagePlus® Premier 1K® customers will now pre-board and United MileagePlus Premier Gold customers will be boarding in Group 1. For more information on our boarding groups, visit: https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/airport/boarding-process.aspx

Improved premier customer recognition

We're happy to make them happy

Premier passenger in front of boarding line

Improved premier recognition and better positioning of customers to create balanced boarding groups.

The new Better Boarding process is just one of the steps we are taking to improve the customer experience. We will continue to collect feedback from customers on ways we can further improve boarding and you may receive a post-travel survey to tell us more about your experience

Towns in the U.S. with unusual names

By Bob Cooper

You don't have to travel to Timbuktu or Dull, Scotland to check out a uniquely named place — there are plenty in the United States. It's true that you might not find much to do in Boring, Oregon, or anything peculiar about Peculiar, Missouri — and who wants to go to Hell, Michigan? But there are even more places with strange names worth seeing.

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, Massachusetts

And you thought “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" was a mouthful. The 45 letters in the name of this lake in Webster, Massachusetts, makes it America's longest-named place. The lake's name means, “English knifeman and Nipmuck Indians at the boundary or neutral fishing place." Hundreds of pricey homes on its shoreline can be seen during a ride aboard the Indian Princess, one of America's last authentic paddle wheel boats. For those looking to do more than laze along the shorelines, unique fishing spots and a range of water activities are popular attractions in this town. The nearest airports are Boston and Hartford/Springfield (Bradley), each a 75-minute drive away.

Wild Horses of Assateague Island Maryland

Chincoteague, Virginia

This easternmost town in Virginia, with a name derived from its Native American name, is the southern gateway to Assateague Island National Seashore, best known for its wild horses. About 150 Chincoteague ponies, which stand only four-and-a-half feet tall, roam the island where visitors also can tour Assateague Lighthouse, a candy cane-striped 1867 national landmark that stands 142 feet tall. The nearest airport to Chincoteague is Norfolk, Virginia, approximately a two-hour drive away.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

The Glenn Miller Orchestra's “(I've Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo" was the #1 hit song of 1942, putting the Michigan town on the map. How can you not like a song with lyrics like, “I liked her looks / when I carried her books / in Kalamazoo"? Even now, it's performed by the Western Michigan University marching band at football games. The college town is also known for being home to prestigious Kalamazoo College, many brewpubs, the nearby wine village of Paw Paw and the Gilmore Car Museum. United flies to Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport.

Emerald Lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin appear green.

Mammoth Lakes, California

Mammoth Lakes was named after the Mammoth Mining Company, which brought it into existence as a gold rush boomtown. It's a fitting name because it also describes the mammoth-sized Sierra Nevada mountains that surround it, including the famed granite rock faces of nearby Yosemite National Park. Mammoth Lakes has emerged as one of America's leading destinations for trout fishing, hiking, mountain biking — and most of all — snowboarding and skiing. The Mammoth Ski Museum is a big draw. United flies into Mammoth Yosemite Airport from San Francisco December through April.

Wahoo, Nebraska

It's not a tech company or an expression of joy. Wahoo is a town named after the native eastern wahoo shrub. The town of 4,500 is best known for being named “home office" of the David Letterman Wahoo Gazette Top-10 List after town boosters bribed Dave with a wall clock made of cow dung and free checkups at Wahoo Medical Center. Wahoo Creek feeds into the town's biggest attraction, Lake Wanahoo, where you can hike, kayak, fish and camp. The nearest airport is in Omaha, Nebraska, a one-hour drive away.

Zzyzx dry lake in California

Zzyzx, California

This spot in the Mojave National Preserve is last on any alphabetical list of places and not far behind on any list of Southern California hotspots (except literally in the heat of summer). Many drive past Zzyzx Road on road trips from Las Vegas to L.A., but few know what's at the end of the road or the history behind the small town. Today, the only thing you'll find there, after taking Zzyzx Road off I-15, is the California State University-run Desert Studies Center on the land of a former hot springs resort. But the hiking is a treat if you like desert-mountain solitude. The nearest airport is an 80-minute drive away in Las Vegas.

Getting there

United Airlines flies to these places or to airports within a two-hour drive. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your accommodations. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your trip,

Spending a week in Iceland

By The Hub team

Passion Passport is a community-based website that tells meaningful travel stories and facilitates global connections. Our team hails from across the United States and Canada and is always up for an adventure. To learn more about where we're going and what we're doing, visit our website: PassionPassport.com

Iceland is a place of incomparable beauty. We recently visited some of the country's most popular destinations and explored the stunning landscapes that it is most known for. If you have the opportunity to travel to this country full of otherworldly views, be sure to check out some of our favorite places.

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Visit the capital city

Reykjavík may not be a large city, but it still offers plenty to do and see. The capital's relatively small size makes it easy to visit its most notable attractions on foot or by bicycle. Architecture enthusiasts should stop by Harpa Concert Hall to marvel at the iconic glass building, while music lovers should check out the hall's events and enjoy its array of shows, such as Iceland's Symphony Orchestra performances.

For great photo opportunities and gravity defying architecture, seek out Hallgrimskirikja, the largest church in all of Iceland. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1937 and inspired by the shapes that emerge when lava cools, the church can be spotted from almost anywhere in the city. Visitors can also climb to the top of its tower for the best views of the city below — so don't forget your camera! Once you've seen this architectural beauty, explore the city center on foot. If you're looking for a place to shop, visit Laugavegur Street, Bankastræti, Skólavörðustígur, and Lækjargata.

One of the many swimming pools in the Reykjavik area.

If you want a truly Icelandic experience, visit one of the many swimming pools in the Reykjavík area. Located behind Hallgrimskirikja, Sundhöll Reykjavíkur is the country's oldest public bath. Or, take some time to relax at Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, located just 30 minutes from the capital city by car — though, if you're not looking to rent a car, you can also take a bus from Reykjavík to the spa. The locale is open year-round, and the water in the large lake is always warm and beautifully hued. Experience the seemingly magical powers of geothermal seawater at this natural spa and enjoy a mask bar, a massage, an in-water bar, and a sauna and steam room. Note: this is a popular activity, so be sure to book in advance.

Travel along the Golden Circle

If you want to road-trip around iceland, the Golden Circle is the perfect route for you. It features three of Iceland's most popular destinations: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. There are also many Golden Circle tours to choose from, if you prefer to sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery without the hassle of driving.

Your first stop will likely be Thingvellir, which became a national park in 1930 and later, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to Thingvellir's fascinating geology and unique history, visitors are often enchanted by its proximity to tectonic plates, lava rocks, and surrounding volcanoes. Interestingly, the land was once used as a meeting place for the parliament of the Viking Age commonwealth (its name actually means "the fields of parliament"). Today, the park is also a popular draw for those interested in bird-watching, diving, snorkeling, and viewing the Northern Lights (come winter).

Thingvellir national park in Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

The second stop along the route is Gullfoss Waterfall, a stunning waterfall located in an ancient valley. The two-tiered fall is beautiful during both the winter and the summer, offering cascades of ice in cold weather and an abundance of rainbows just after the spring thaw.

From here, Geysir Hot Springs Area is just a short drive away and a 50-minute trip from Thingvellir. Although the geysir is a famous hot spring, it isn't the only geyser in this geothermal area. Keep an eye out for the region's most active, Strokkur, which sprouts hot water approximately every few minutes. Have your camera ready and keep a safe distance from the boiling eruption.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Immerse yourself in beauty

Stunning vistas are not uncommon in Iceland. It seems like everywhere you look, there are natural wonders to observe and photograph. One of Iceland's most beautiful destinations is Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, an area filled with blue waters dotted with glistening icebergs. What's more, this particular location is also popular among those aspiring to spot the Northern Lights. If you want to get up close and personal with the frozen landscape, the lagoon hosts amphibian boat tours, which allow you to sail alongside the icebergs. You might even spot some seals leading the way. While the lagoon is nearly six hours from Iceland's capital, it's a beautiful drive, which offers roadtrippers the chance to observe a range of Icelandic scenery along the way.

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Update on Tropical Depression Florence

By United Airlines

September 17, 2018

Today, we've resumed normal operations at all impacted airport locations with the exception of Wilmington (ILM), which is expected to reopen Thursday, September 20 once power is restored.

See below for a full list of our current operations:

AirportMonday, 9/17Tuesday, 9/18
Asheville, NC (AVL)Normal operationsNormal operations
Columbia, SC (CAE)Normal operationsNormal operations
Charlottesville, VA (CHO)Normal operationsNormal operations
Charleston, SC (CHS)Normal operationsNormal operations
Charlotte, NC (CLT)Normal operationsNormal operations
Charleston, WV (CRW)Normal operationsNormal operations
Fayetteville, NC (FAY)Normal operationsNormal operations
Greensboro, NC (GSO)Normal operationsNormal operations
Greensville, SC (GSP)Normal operationsNormal operations
Wilmington, NC (ILM)No operations

No operations;
Expected to resume on
Thursday, 9/20
Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR)Normal operationsNormal operations
Norfolk, VA (ORF)Normal operationsNormal operations
Raleigh/Durham, NC (RDU)Normal operationsNormal operations
Richmond, VA (RIC)Normal operationsNormal operations
Roanoke, VA (ROA)Normal operationsNormal operations
Savannah, GA (SAV)Normal operationsNormal operations
Shenandoah Valley, VA (SHD)Normal operationsNormal operations

September 16, 2018

We continue monitoring the latest weather forecasts, airport conditions, road closures and other activities as a result of Hurricane Florence which has been downgraded to a tropical depression. We are resuming normal operations at all stations today, with the exception of Myrtle Beach (MYR), where we expect to resume service Monday and Wilmington (ILM) which is expected to reopen Tuesday. A travel waiver is in place for customers traveling to, from or through locations impacted by the storm, offering additional flexibility to change or cancel their travel plans, and waiving baggage and pet-in-cabin fees.

Our thoughts are with all those impacted by the storm. We continue to encourage customers to check their flights on united.com or the United app for the latest flight status prior to leaving for the airport.

Stay tuned for more information as the storm progresses.

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