Three Perfect Days in Singapore
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Singapore

By The Hub team , April 24, 2017

Story by Nicholas DeRenzo | Photography by Lauryn Ishak | Hemispheres, April 2017

As countries go, Singapore is still in its infancy. Unceremoniously expelled from Malaysia in 1965 and forced to fend for itself as a new sovereign nation, the island city-state has worked its way up to being a global powerhouse in just five short decades—which is even more remarkable given its size: 277.6 square miles, about the area of Lexington, Kentucky. Having previously been ruled by both the British and the Japanese, the Lion City spent its early years under the paternalistic gaze of its popular founding father, Lee Kuan Yew (tough on crime, tougher on chewing gum). Now, after a period of literal nation-building—land reclamation has increased the country's footprint by 22 percent—Singaporeans seem to be taking a collective deep breath. There has been a renewed interest in history and folk culture among the people here, even as a hypermodern, multicultural metropolis rises around them. The next 50 years should be interesting.

Day 1 simple graphic

In which Nicholas pays his respects to a celebrity tooth, witnesses the architectural potential of soy sauce bottles, and sniffs out a great cocktail bar

With a diverse populace (and four official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil), Singapore stands as Asia's melting pot. I'll be spending the morning exploring the city's ethnic enclaves with guide Anita Sharma. We meet in bustling Chinatown, which, like all of these historic districts, is dominated by rows of shophouses, a Southeast Asian vernacular marked by a five-foot-wide covered walkway (mandated by Governor General Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles' Town Plan of 1822) and a narrow, deep footprint. From those basic building blocks, the variations are endless: ornamental tiled facades, decorative columns, colorful shutters, even Art Deco motifs.

The area used to be known for its opium dens and secret societies. More recently, a Times Square–style cleanup has rendered it tourist-friendly. “Some people say they've cleaned it up too much," says Sharma. In the distance, a group of older Chinese men and women seem to be doing tai chi on fast-forward. A closer inspection reveals they're actually line dancing to Brooks & Dunn's “Only in America." Maybe she's right.

The Supertree Grove and OCBC Skyway at Gardens by the BayThe Supertree Grove and OCBC Skyway at Gardens by the Bay

Singapore's food scene revolves around its no-frills hawker centers, with some stands even earning a star in last summer's inaugural Singapore Michelin guide. Sharma takes me for breakfast at Chinatown Food Street, where we skip Chinese in favor of roti prata flatbread with fiery chicken curry and peanut-topped rojak, a fruit, vegetable, and fried tofu salad with shrimp paste dressing.

“Welcome to durian land!" says Sharma, pointing to the spiked fruits that are so notoriously smelly they're banned from some hotel lobbies and public transit. “Some have described it as eating custard in the toilet, though I don't know how anyone would know how that tastes."

We walk a block to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, an imposing red-and-gold structure that opened in 2007 and is said to contain the Buddha's left canine. Down the street, we remove our shoes under the Sri Mariamman Temple's tiered gopuram tower and step inside Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, founded in 1827 and decorated with a deliriously Technicolor pantheon of stone deities. With its clouds of incense smoke and the pulsating rhythm of the thavil drums and oboe-like nadaswaram, it's easy to fall under the temple's spell. “Women have to cover up," says Sharma with a laugh. “Of course, the priests are seminaked."

We head across town via the outlandishly clean MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)—Sharma points out “no durians" signs—to Little India, a thrumming district of curry houses, henna painters, and stalls selling coconuts, jasmine, and grass to be offered up at Hindu temples (elephant-headed Ganesha gets the grass).

“People think it's too crowded here, but I like that it's disorganized," Sharma says. “Little India is as real as it gets; it's for all five senses." Let's start with taste. We stop at Komala Vilas, which opened in 1947, for pillowy idly rice cakes, which we dip into coconut chutney and tangy sambar lentil stew. Down the street at Azmi, we order chapati flatbread with minced mutton keema. The digs are bare-bones; the flavors are revelatory.

We pick up squares of carrot burfi (sweet milk fudge) at Moghul Sweet Shop and stroll past stalls selling Bollywood DVDs, Sri Lankan elephant dung stationery, and lots of gold. “Chinese, Indians, and Malays love gold," says Sharma. “It's the one thing we all have in common." We stop in front of Sajeev Digital Studio, where the owner takes portraits of locals and sends them back to India or Sri Lanka for arranged marriages. “I should have come to him years ago," Sharma deadpans.

Inside the Buddha Tooth Relic TempleInside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

From here, we hop into a taxi, and Sharma teaches me to address elders (like our driver) as “uncle" or “aunty," and then we're off to Kampong Glam, the historically Muslim Malay district, which is dominated by the gold onion dome of the Sultan Mosque. Sharma points up at a thin black strip under the dome that is made from the glass bottoms of bottles—an oddly scrappy addition to an ornate temple. “The poor donated bottles of soya sauce," my guide says, “so that it didn't look like it was only built by and for the rich."

Palm-lined Arab Street and the surrounding alleyways offer a delightful blend of the traditional (textile merchants, boutiques where you can design your own alcohol-free perfume) and the eccentrically trendy (halal Swedish cafés, coffee shops that print your selfie onto latte foam).

I say goodbye to Sharma and pop into the nearby design shop Supermama, which sells a dizzying array of souvenirs and household items, each with a story to tell about local culture, including miniature versions of the ubiquitous red chairs you'll find at hawker stands, doorstops modeled after rainbow-hued kueh lapis rice cakes, and stuffed cartoon curry puff keychains. There's also a Lucasfilm-approved series of Star Wars plates, each bearing a hidden Singaporean folk motif.

“When friends came from overseas, they'd either buy food or merlion keychains," says owner Edwin Low, referring to the mythical half-lion, half-fish national symbol, which has been honored with a 28-foot, water-spewing bayfront statue. (“To merlion," by the way, is now Singlish for being violently ill.) “But are we more than the merlion? This is a city of borrowed cultures. Because of this shared history, shouldn't there be a new archetype, a new language of products?"

One of the shophouses of SingaporeOne of the shophouses of Singapore

In this spirit, another series of plates in Low's shop is decorated with images of HDB (Housing & Development Board) public housing apartments, the high-rise blocks that house more than 80 percent of Singaporeans. “One of the best comments I've ever heard," he says, “was from a man who told me, 'For the first time, I feel proud to live in an HDB.'"

We get to talking about the role of design in a country with a reputation for strictness (see: the country's famous ban on chewing gum). “There's actually a lot of freedom of expression," says Low. “When we started, we were a nanny state. We didn't have a choice—it was for survival. Sometimes I wonder if we've grown too fast, if we robbed our country of its childhood." Judging by this shop, at least, Singapore doesn't seem to be lacking for childlike whimsy.

With my sackful of souvenirs, I head back to Chinatown for dinner at British chef Ryan Clift's ultra-progressive and comfortably chic Tippling Club. “Ten years ago, Singapore had a very different market," says Clift, who made a name for himself in Melbourne's fine-dining world. “It was either high-end or hawker. We were the first to introduce modern gastronomy and quote-unquote mixology, but people here are very quick to accept something new—that's the beauty of Singapore."

Clift doesn't like the word “molecular," but whatever you call it, his tasting menu is a lot of fun—with flavor and technique to back it up. For every perfectly saltwater-poached piece of lamb, there's strawberry cheesecake in the form of a pill. For every expertly seared diver scallop with purple Brittany garlic soup, there's a passion fruit–flavored smiley-face tab to dissolve on your tongue like … well, you know.

After dinner, I head for the attached bar, where the young Mancunian bartender Joe Schofield has devised the wickedly clever Sensorium menu. I'm presented with 12 blotter strips, each spritzed with a custom-made fragrance (Forest, Earl Grey, Leather). The idea: Allow the nostalgic power of scent to guide your order. I'm drawn to the vodka-and-citrus Rain, served with an edible cloud made from dehydrated yogurt sponge and charcoal powder. And then to the dill-and-anise Grass. And then to the marshmallow-topped Campfire…

Before memory-triggering cocktails turn to memory-erasing ones, I retreat a few blocks to my hotel, The Club, a 20-room boutique property occupying a row of early 20th-century Chinatown shophouses. The spacious interior is decorated with midcentury-inflected furnishings and whimsical touches like oversize bird portraits. In my room there's a nightstand reading stack that ranges from Gustave Flaubert to Danielle Steel. But at this hour, after a day of cloying humidity, the only amenity I'm interested in is the air conditioner.

Day 2 simple graphic

In which Nicholas meets the toast of the town, learns singlish, and gets in the “sling" of things

This morning, I'm set to meet a friend of a friend, Amy Long, who lived in New York, Seoul, and Hong Kong before returning to her native Singapore, where she now works in the oil industry. She's going to show me around the districts of Katong and Joo Chiat. This residential area, east of downtown, is the epicenter of a regional subculture known as Peranakan. The name, which comes from the Malay for “local born," is used for the descendants of local Malay women and Chinese (or other foreign) traders along the Strait of Malacca. Today, the area is known for madly colorful folk costumes and architecture.

We meet at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, an unfussy kopitiam (a ubiquitous Singaporean take on the coffee shop), and order the country's most famous morning meal: soft-boiled eggs with kaya jam toast (here it's a bun instead of the standard sliced bread) topped with butter and a bright green curd made from coconut milk, eggs, sugar, and pandan leaves. The stuff is so addictive I end up bringing home five jars.

“There are different schools of thought about how you eat this," says Long, cracking the eggs into individual bowls and dressing them with soy sauce and white pepper. “You either eat it with a spoon or pick it up and slurp it, which is the old grandpa way." We go with the spoons.

Amy Long, businesswomanAmy Long, businesswoman

Long is impeccably stylish. (Her converted shophouse even appeared in the New York Times real estate section.) I, on the other hand, am a puddle of sweat, a victim of the oppressive humidity, a condition exacerbated by the dearth of napkins at kopitiams.

“Lee Kuan Yew was asked what the greatest invention of the 20th century was," she says of the first prime minister, as we duck into a convenience store, just as the locals do, to buy packs of tissues and cooling scented alcohol wipes, “and he said the air conditioner. We call ourselves 'the air-conditioned nation.' It's a metaphor. We created this environment; we're in this bubble."

To aid in the cooling off, we stop into Island Creamery, which makes locally inspired ice creams and sorbets with flavors such as Tiger beer and pulut hitam (black sticky rice with coconut milk). I order a scoop of chendol—based on a regional dessert made with shaved ice, coconut milk, pandan-leaf jellies, and gula melaka palm sugar caramel—and we continue our walk, past bike repair shops and a Malay wedding procession.

As we stroll, we chat about Singlish, the name for the local patois. “It's a hodgepodge—nominally English with Chinese grammatical structure and Malay words," says Long. “Ten or 15 years ago, people were ashamed of Singlish. It's a very low language, but I love it. It's like a secret code you're tapping into. Everyone has this dual, triple identity, and you slip into and out of it all day." She might use it to order at a hawker stand. In the boardroom? Probably not.

“When I came back to Singapore, it felt like a totally new city. The pace of things has really started to pick up. There's a lot more recognition that we have to loosen the strings so people want to live here." —Amy Long

We say our goodbyes, and I finish up in the neighborhood by walking down Koon Seng Road, which has a lovely row of sherbet-tinted yellow and pink and green and blue Peranakan shophouses that call to mind San Francisco's Painted Ladies.

I head back downtown, where I check into Raffles Hotel, a crisp-white ode to British colonialism that is celebrating its 130th birthday this year with a top-to-bottom renovation. I walk past the famed Sikh doormen—white-turbaned, military-garbed—and into a lobby straight out of Rudyard Kipling (who stayed here), though it's another former guest, Joseph Conrad, who's the namesake of my grand suite for the night.

Before I venture back out to explore, I pay my respects to the hotel's—if not the country's—greatest contribution to global culture: the Singapore Sling. Bartender Ngiam Tong Boon created the dangerously drinkable concoction—gin, cherry brandy, Dom Bénédictine, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice, grenadine, Angostura bitters—in 1915 to look like fruit punch, allowing British women to tipple without attracting disapproving attention. It's unclear, though, how they disguised the fact that this potent drink made them quite merry quite quickly.

For lunch, I'm having a Peranakan high tea at the National Kitchen by Violet Oon, an elegant dining room helmed by “the Julia Child of Singapore" and tucked away on the second floor of the new National Gallery of Singapore. Opened in 2015, the museum occupies two former hubs of British rule, the domed Supreme Court and the colonnaded City Hall, which sit on the sprawling Padang Cricket Ground. After polishing off a three-tiered tray of delicacies—including a beef sambal pao steamed bun, a hae bee hiam spicy dried shrimp floss finger sandwich, and doilylike roti jala pancakes—I head into the galleries. Many of the halls contain nods to colonialist mythmaking, such as an 1860s woodcut of an incident (probably apocryphal) in which road surveyors were attacked by a tiger.

The Cloud Forest at Gardens by the BayThe Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay

One of my favorite pieces is Malaysian artist Wong Hoy Cheong's playful yet searing 2002 installation Re: Looking, which reimagines history through a specific lens: What would have happened if Malaysia had colonized Austria? Guests step inside mock judge's quarters, built from architectural elements salvaged from the original court, where they can examine maps of the fictional Malaysian Empire or watch an imagined documentary on disenfranchised Austrian migrant workers forced to take manual labor jobs in Malaysian cities. It's a head trip.

“Singlish is like a secret code you're tapping into."

Next, I walk 10 minutes to the bite-size Peranakan Museum, which occupies a former primary school in the shadow of hilltop Fort Canning Park. The building brims with colorful artifacts: carved household altars, floral porcelain dinnerware, kingfisher-feather wedding headdresses, and a tablecloth made with one million tiny glass beads.

Dinner tonight is at the world's first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut, up on Dempsey Hill near the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where I sample homey plates like wing bean and prawn salad; braised Duroc pork cheek pongteh stew with preserved soy bean gravy; and buah keluak chicken, cooked with tarry Indonesian black nuts (which contain cyanide if not prepared correctly). For dessert, I opt for that much-maligned fruit, the durian, which appears here as a soup, an ice cream, and a puree. The flavor is sweet, funky, a little oniony—but it's hardly as offensive as I've been led to believe.

After a swift breath test, I catch a cab back to Chinatown for a nightcap at Crackerjack, a new bar by San Francisco transplant Joe Alessandroni, whose nearby speakeasy, 28 Hongkong Street, ranked 14th on last year's World's 50 Best Bars list. “The ethos of craft cocktails is to pay attention to local flavors," says Alessandroni, handing me a highball of pineapple, rum, lime, and Angostura bitters. While the menu offers a slew of tropical flavors—tamarind, coconut—I find myself drawn to the Ballgame, made with Johnny Drum bourbon, caramel corn syrup, and bitters, with a “baby beer" chaser. This “multicultural crossroads," as Alessandroni calls Singapore, really does have a way of making you feel at home.

Day 3 simple graphic

In which Nicholas falls in love with an onion, goes garden-hopping, and marvels at a merlion

In need of a caffeine boost after last night's activities, I've planned to explore the city's newest obsession: single-origin, third-wave coffee shops, like the ones you find in Brooklyn or Portland. I'm set to meet Bernice Lee, a member of the contemporary Javanese-inspired company Maya Dance Theatre. We meet at Chye Seng Huat Hardware, a coffee roastery in the new hipster enclave of Jalan Besar, just north of downtown.

Over velvety nitro cold brew coffee and green pandan pancakes—served with kaya jam, vanilla ice cream, and gula melaka palm sugar syrup—we discuss the country's multiculturalism. “Our identity has always come first from our national point of view," says Lee, noting that while someone in the U.S. might call herself, say, Italian-American, here the Singaporean part always comes first. The government, meanwhile, is so committed to the melting-pot model that HDB housing is designed specifically to mix different ethnicities and prevent groups from sticking to their own kind. “We're all tribal in some ways," Lee says, “so it makes sense to acknowledge that and work against it."

But, as I saw yesterday with the revival of Peranakan folk culture or with Edwin Low's reverence for folk motifs, there is also an increasing emphasis on tradition—“an effort to reclaim our narratives," as Lee puts it—especially among the youth. A whimsical expression of this impulse sits just across the street, at the Thekchen Choling Tibetan-style Buddhist temple, which contains a beatific cardboard cutout of the Dalai Lama standing behind a spangly Buddha-ful altar (I count dozens).

Jason Tan, chef, Corner HouseJason Tan, chef, Corner House

My next stop involves a tradition that never went away. In 1963, Lee Kuan Yew publicly planted a tree to initiate a plan to make Singapore a “Garden City," but the local love of plants is much older. A case in point is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a 10-minute drive from downtown, which was named the country's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Founded in 1859, the gardens are spread over 183 wooded acres. Hidden among them is the National Orchid Garden, and within this is the VIP Orchid Garden, a collection of hybrid flowers named for dignitaries: the white Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana, the stylishly speckled Papilionanda Vanda William Catherine (named for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), and the Dendrobium Margaret Thatcher, which has petals shaped (appropriately?) like screws.

It's a quick uphill ramble to lunch at the Corner House, which occupies a black-and-white 1910 bungalow tucked among the lush vegetation. I grab a seat on the veranda and dig into chef Jason Tan's French-inspired tasting menu, which earned him a Michelin star last year. While the succession of dishes is filled with luxe ingredients—Japanese A4 Toriyama beef, foie gras, Kristal de Chine caviar—it's the humblest of ingredients that get starring roles. A salad of more than 40 herbs, vines, flowers, roots, and tubers is served on a pea-green leaf-shaped plate, while Tan's signature dish is a celebration of the unappreciated onion.

“When I first started, there weren't enough great restaurants. We all have to improve together to keep up. For me, the Michelin guide doesn't change anything." —Jason Tan

A former veg-o-phobe, Tan tried the super-sweet Cévennes onion, from the hills of Southern France, and liked it so much he changed his entire approach to cooking. Four and a half pounds of the onions are required per diner for his signature four-part “The Onion Revealed": a whole baked onion filled with onion puree and confit, a sous-vide egg, sea salt, chives, and black truffles; a tart; a dehydrated chip; and an Earl Grey–infused onion tea. The dish is such a knockout that I look out the window and make can-you-believe-this eye contact with a bright green pigeon plucking berries off a tree.

“Every cuisine uses onions," Tan says, “but they're always just a garnish, a condiment, or in a stock—never a true hero. Singaporeans still look at menus and want luxury premium ingredients, so a lot of people were like, 'Are you sure? Onions?' But if you do it right, anything can shine." He claims to have converted all but one onion-hater (who found the dish too sweet). His next project? Carrots.

I'm off now to Gardens by the Bay, a futuristic representation of the Garden City idea that opened in 2012 on 250 acres of reclaimed land. I wander through two undulating glass conservatories, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, which encompasses a 115-foot artificial mountain swathed in orchids and bromeliads (as well as the world's tallest indoor waterfall). James Cameron would love it here.

The skyline-dominating Marina Bay Sands resort and casinoThe skyline-dominating Marina Bay Sands resort and casino

I challenge my fear of heights by climbing the 72-foot-high, see-through OCBC Skyway, which weaves through some of the gardens' showstopping Supertree Grove. These 18 vertical gardens look like alien steel baobabs, standing up to 164 feet tall and covered in 162,900 plants, such as ferns and flowering climbers. Aside from being an Instagrammer's dream, these structures serve many other purposes: They collect rainwater to irrigate the park, harvest sunlight to convert into solar energy, and regulate heat in the domes. They look a bit sci-fi, but that's the point. The future, after all, is green.

As I stroll out of the gardens and along the sidewalk that skirts Marina Bay, I have a front-row view of the city's changing face: the 541-foot Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, which opened in 2008; the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum, which followed in 2011; and the skyline-dominating Marina Bay Sands resort and casino. When it opened in 2010, the 656-foot behemoth was the most expensive resort ever built, at $5.7 billion. It looks like an immense surfboard balanced atop three towers, or an alien rendition of Stonehenge.

To continue the forward-thinking theme, I take a cab to Wild Rocket, chef Willin Low's “Mod Sin" spot, which ranked No. 38 on this year's S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna Asia's 50 Best Restaurants List. The vibe here is pure Japanese—the space is modeled after a traditional chashitsu teahouse—but the flavors are all Singaporean.

Onion four ways at the Corner HouseOnion four ways at the Corner House

I sit at the counter for an omakase tasting menu with sake pairing, and each dish is a playful deconstruction of a local staple. Low's bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) trades out pork for lightly torched chopped tuna belly atop glass noodles cooked in pork fat. A pomelo and prawn salad is dressed with a scoop of savory ice cream made with coconut milk, fish sauce, and chilies. Black truffles liven up a posh take on the hawker classic, Hainanese chicken rice.

“While chef was studying in the U.K., he would see 'Singapore fried noodles' on Chinese takeaway menus," says my server, Yane Goh, as she sets down a plate. “But there's no such thing in Singapore! So he took ownership of the name." His version is a spin on Hokkien mee noodles cooked with ebi miso (made with fat from prawn heads), sea kelp kombu, lobster oil, and prawn stock, and topped with a massive king prawn and a tiny calamansi lime. Throughout the meal, chatty servers keep bringing over a laptop to show me images of the original dishes, so I'll fully understand the scope of Low's inventiveness. A pre-dessert snack tops pineapple sorbet with mint sugar, chili flakes, and soy sauce salt, the crystals that form along the edge of the vat when soy sauce is brewed the traditional way.

As I begin to notice the first signs of a food (or, more accurately, sake) coma, I head toward my bed for the night at the grand Fullerton Hotel, a fortresslike former post office building that was erected in 1928 near the spot where city founder Sir Stamford Raffles first set foot on land. Before turning in, I take the hotel's underground walkway out toward the bayside Merlion Park, which is centered on that famous water-spouting statue.

Inspired by the city's fishing-village past and the tale of a mythical Malay prince who encountered a lion, the Merlion statue serves the same role in Singaporean culture as Copenhagen's Little Mermaid—part point of pride, part tourist trap. With the glitzy bayfront skyline before me and the hulking remnants of British colonialism behind, I can't help but feel this hybrid creature is a perfectly apt metaphor for the country itself: an invention, sprung fully formed from the heads of 20th-century nation-builders, cobbled together from diverse parts, powerful, and utterly fantastical.

Hemispheres executive editor Nicholas DeRenzo is seeking seed money for his new artisanal kaya jam company, The Toast with the Most.

Rio: A dream come true

By The Hub team

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By HOU Quality Control Aircraft Inspector Rey Sacueza

When I was a schoolboy, I wished and dreamt of visiting Rio de Janeiro. But wasn't sure it would ever happen. Though everything changes when you make a goal for yourself in life and pursue your dream. This dream finally became a reality a few days ago, and I thank United for giving us the opportunity for it to come true.

Colorful steps in Rio

Our journey started when we flew to Rio de Janeiro from Houston, an overnight flight crossing the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, northern South America and part of Brazil. We landed late in the morning and, upon arrival, the adventure began. Everything was smooth, from the airport to our hotel, located in the center of Copacabana beach at the Avenida Atlantica. Along the way, the views were fantastic with both mountains and water in sight, which made me excited.

A few hours after arriving, I was so eager to explore and stroll the streets of Rio, which displayed different mosaic designs on sidewalks. We attended late afternoon mass at the Our Lady of Copacabana church and ate dinner at Marius Degustare, a Brazilian seafood and steakhouse located on the northern end of the beach, a few blocks from our hotel. Here, we drank local beer with our sumptuous meal and went back to the hotel with full stomachs for the night.

Over the next few days, we toured and explored the city with our first stop at the famous Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is located on the peak of the Corcovado Mountain, and there you can experience the amazing view of the city and surrounding area. The statue itself is unbelievable in size, and people from around the world, from all walks of life, come to see it. It is indeed one of the world wonders and an experience of a lifetime just to be there.

Tijuca Rainforest

Next, we went to the Sugarloaf Mountain -- just hop on the cable car to reach the top. Along the way, on display at the Morro da Urca hill, you can see the cable car used in the making of the James Bond movie "Moonraker." At the top, we explored the 360-degree vista and unforgettable views of the Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer at the peak of Corcovado Mountain, Macaranã stadium and more. The view is amazing and picture perfect, it could've been a postcard.

We then headed to Macarana stadium, the venue that hosts Brazil's most popular sport, soccer, and where international, national and local games are held year round. We walked the Sambadrome, where samba parades are held during the carnival every year. Tens of thousands of people participate as either spectators or performers during this major event in the city. We also toured the cone-shaped cathedral known as the Metropolitan Cathedral, a major landmark and a masterpiece of modern art. We climbed the Escadaria Selaron, probably the most fascinating staircase in the world, where tiles from around the world were collected or donated for the project and now make up one of Rio's top attractions and touristic spots. The last place we visited on this tour was the Sao Bento Monastery, which is one of the most beautiful architectural complexes in Brazil.

Our adventures continued as we did an early morning hike through Tijuca Rainforest with our guide at the Bom Retiro trail, hiking through narrow trails, towering trees, passing by the waterfall and making our way to the "Pico da Tijuca." At 3,353 feet, it's the highest point of Rio de Janeiro. From this unparalleled vantage point, we enjoyed spectacular views of Rio, Guanabara Bay and other city sights like the Maracanã and Engenhão stadiums and surroundings. On the way down, we passed "Vista Chinesa" from where you can view the Corcovado and Two Brothers Mountains and the other part of the city.

Brazilian dancers

During the evening, we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat feast at a Brazilian steakhouse and washed our food down with the famous local drink caipirinha. Afterward, we experienced the Ginga Tropical, a Brazilian samba and folklore Show, with authentic Brazilian music and dance styles including samba, bossa nova and lambada. We got to experience the vitality of Carnival with dancers, festive costumes, live drumming and rituals from various regions of Brazil.

In search for a hang gliding experience, we took a trip to São Conrado Beach. The launch point is at Tijuca Forest National Park. You glide over the lush, verdant Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Forest) and touch down on the beach of São Conrado. During the glide, you see some of Rio's most famous landmarks such as Sugarloaf Mountain, the Rocinha Favela and the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado Mountain. It's an unforgettable and amazing experience with a bird's eye view of the city.

United employee and wife on Sao Conrado Beach

After days of exploring and adventures, we wound down with an early walk to one of the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana Beach. We decided to stay and relax and enjoy the beach, sights and surroundings. At the beach, be prepared to see more skin than clothes – on men and women of all ages! There were also many peddlers trying to sell things to tourists. We swam in the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean and later slept with the sound of splashing waves on the shore. What a wonderful feeling, ending this trip on such a positive tune.

The city of Rio de Janeiro has a lot to offer, and there is never enough time to experience it all, but with the time we had we created a lifetime of wonderful memories in this amazing city.

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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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