Three Perfect Days: Tel Aviv
Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Yadid Levy | Hemispheres June 2019
Tel Aviv means “hill of spring" in Hebrew, and perhaps no city in the world has a name that fits better. Western religion was conceived just a few miles away from here, thousands of years ago, but neither that fact nor the associated, ongoing complications have stopped this 110-year-old town from showing the blooming, hopeful, renewed energy of springtime. It's the super-cosmopolitan home of cutting-edge museums, world-renowned dance companies, and celebrity chefs. The only thing more beautiful than the beaches is the population that flocks to them and then later fills the bouncing bars and clubs. The tech industry is booming so fast the country has been nicknamed Start-Up Nation. If you think all that sounds like a mash-up of Brooklyn, Miami, and San Francisco, you're right. Many visitors come to Israel to learn about the past, but in Tel Aviv, all eyes look to the future.
Day 1: Rooftop views and rock 'n' roll grooves
City views at Blue Sky
The Statue of Meir Dizengoff and his horse on Rothschild Boulevard
I start my first visit to Tel Aviv the way everyone should: with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. I'm sitting on the deck at Manta Ray, a restaurant perched on the tiled promenade above Alma Beach, looking at the water and thinking about my family's short, fraught history with Israel. My grandparents moved here in the late 1940s, along with many other Jewish refugees in the aftermath of World War II. It may have been the homeland, but it was also hot and dusty and underdeveloped, and my grandmother, whose pre-war life had been a bit more refined, hated it. They lasted less than a year and soon settled in America (in that most refined borough of New York City, the Bronx).
As of today, I'm the first member of my family to return to the homeland. It's not particularly my homeland—I wasn't raised religious, and I try to steer clear of the politics—but I've always wondered how I would feel here. For starters: hungry. On my table is a scattering of mezes (roasted peppers with feta, mullet ceviche) and a tower of bagels, smoked salmon, pickled onions, and heirloom tomatoes. I work my way through it all, thinking, Pace yourself, Justin, while I take in the scenery. To my left rises Jaffa, the ancient clifftop port city from which Tel Aviv sprouted; to my right stretches a ribbon of sand below the skyscrapers of the modern metropolis; in front of me, waves lap upon the shore.
After breakfast, I set out into the city, passing through the narrow streets of Neve Tzedek, the first neighborhood Jews settled outside of Jaffa, in the late 19th century. These cobblestoned alleys went into decline for a time, but over the last few years glassy condos have joined the squat Mediterranean houses, making this 'hood the home of the city's most expensive real estate (“the bougie-est of the bougie," a young local tells me with an eye roll).
Chef Eyal Shani at North Abraxas
On the far side of Neve Tzedek, I hit Rothschild Boulevard, the pedestrian greenway that arcs through the heart of the city. The tree-lined path bursts with dog walkers, cyclists, moms and dads pushing strollers, teenagers lined up at gelato kiosks. As I stroll the long boulevard, I soak up the sun—and also the history. Israel celebrated the 70th anniversary of its statehood last year, commemorating the occasion with an itinerary of sites called the Independence Trail, including the Tel Aviv Founders Monument; a statue of Meir Dizengoff, the city's first mayor, atop a horse (he used to ride from his house to City Hall every morning); and Independence Hall, where David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.
OK, enough history—I'm ready to eat. Just a block south of Rothschild Boulevard, I snag a barstool at North Abraxas, a sunny spot created by celebrity chef Eyal Shani and film director Shahar Segal. The bartender brings me a hunk of fresh sourdough, with a dip of rich crème fraîche and chopped tomato and spicy green pepper. The guy seated next to me nudges a bowl of tahini in my direction. “I can literally drink it," he says. Next comes a head of baby cauliflower roasted to the point of melting and a skillet of chraime (tomato-fish stew) adorned with another slice of that bread. I have failed to pace myself.
A lifeguard tower on Frishman Beach
I need to lie down after all those carbs. To the beach! A short cab ride (pro tip: download the ridesharing app Gett) takes me to my hotel, the Carlton Tel Aviv, a fortress of luxury looming over the promenade and the sea. The front desk loans me a towel, which I take down to Gordon Beach, where every manner of ball you can think of is being bumped or tossed or kicked or paddled around by impressively tanned people. I skip over a stack of paddleboards to dip my toes in the Mediterranean, but the water's a bit chilly, so I retreat and stake out a patch of sand, where I close my eyes and bask in the rays.
As the sun begins to fade, I retire to my balcony at the Carlton, from which I watch the sky and sea turn pink. Once the colors have faded to black, I ascend to the 15th-floor rooftop and celebrity chef Meir Adoni's Blue Sky, which specializes in seafood and incredible 360-degree views. I order a grouper fillet with bouillabaisse butter, potato cream, shoksha pepper, roasted fennel, and chickpeas. “Our chef is known for mixing flavors," the server says as she pours me a cabernet from the Israeli winery Flam, “so try to get everything in each bite." I take care to heed her advice while eating the Citrus Aromas in Kyoto, a dessert of roasted rice ice cream, white foam, matcha crumble, and citrus compote that transports me, for a moment, from the Middle to the Far East.“On the beach, every manner of ball you can think of is being bumped or tossed or kicked by impressively tanned people"
Tel Avivians are famous for partying hard, and where better to work off a few calories than at the club? I hail a cab to Beit Romano, in Florentin, a recently behipstered neighborhood on the city's south side. At first, I think the driver has brought me to the wrong place—it looks a little dodgy, with a graffitied industrial door surrounded by scruffy kids—but inside I see two stories of restaurants and bars, a radio station, and a bandstand. Soon, the smoky courtyard is full of 20-somethings bobbing their heads to the Santana-esque, afro-psychedelic band Tigris. I get my groove on, losing track of time until the musicians take their curtain call. Time for me to do the same.
One perfect day in JerusalemJerusalem is about an hour from Tel Aviv by bus (and only 20 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport thanks to a high-speed train that debuted last year). Here, a cheat sheet for a day in the Holy City—a must for any visitor to Israel.
Start with a breakfast of meze dips and muesli at the Villa Brown Jerusalem, a 24-room boutique hotel that opened two years ago in a refurbished 19th-century mansion in the centrally located Russian Compound district.
A 10-minute walk from the Villa Brown takes you to the Jaffa Gate and the ancient walls of the Old City. Hire a guide (try Hemispheres favorite Tours By Locals) to help you navigate the crowds and give context for all the sacred sites—the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the City of David, the Via Dolorosa—and then stop by one of the many Palestinian merchant stalls to buy one of the beautiful rugs.
For lunch, walk back through the city center to the Machane Yehuda Market. Snag a seat at Azura for Turkish-influenced takes on homestyle dishes like kibbeh and shakshuka.
Next, take the light rail to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, home to an exhaustively comprehensive history museum (featuring many video testimonials from survivors), as well as a National Mall–style campus dotted with public art pieces. The tragic history commemorated here is critical to understanding the modern Israeli state.
You'll need a drink after that, so head over to the Mamilla Hotel, just steps from the Old City. Taste a few local vintages at the Winery bar, which sources its roughly 120 labels exclusively from Israeli wineries, and then go up to the Rooftop restaurant for astonishing views and tasty dishes such as grouper shawarma and roasted goose breast.
For a nightcap, stop in at Gatsby, where the hostess will slide open a bookcase to reveal a Roaring '20s–style speakeasy, complete with faux-tin ceiling, bartenders in leather aprons, and a Sinatra soundtrack.
An alley in Old Jaffa
Day 2: Eat, pray, dance
Bread displays at Abouelafia
A shop at the Jaffa Flea Market
Hotel breakfasts are a big thing here, and the one at the Carlton is particularly lavish, but I skip it, because the whole city is about to become my buffet. A cab takes me along the waterfront to Jaffa, the historically Arab area that's now one of the hottest parts of Tel Aviv, where I meet Lainie Schwartz, a tour guide with Delicious Israel.
Schwartz, a bubbly 27-year-old originally from Winnipeg, starts me out at Abu Hassan, a hole-in-the-wall that's renowned for its hummus, which is eaten as a breakfast food in Israel—hot, fresh, and with a peculiar vocabulary: “We say in Hebrew that we wipe hummus," Schwartz says. “We don't say, “Do you want to go eat hummus with me?' We really say, 'Do you want to go wipe hummus?'" Following her lead, I wipe up all the impossibly creamy stuff, first using warm pita and then segments of raw onion (don't knock it till you try it).
Hummus dispatched, we stroll past The Smiling Whale, a bronze statue that commemorates Jonah's biblical joyride (which supposedly occurred just off the coast here), and through the sandstone-walled corridors of Old Jaffa. We pause at Suspended Orange Tree, a small tree growing from a hanging jug that honors Jaffa's historic orange groves, and then at the 3,000-year-old Ramses II gate (named for the Egyptian pharaoh).
Down the other side of the hill, past the Jaffa Flea Market, I try an astonishing za'atar flatbread at the neighborhood institution Abouelafia. Then, crossing into Neve Tzedek, we stop at the Dallal Bakery to try a chocolate babka—and to meet Inbal Baum, who was born in D.C. to Israeli parents, moved here 10 years ago, and founded Delicious Israel in 2011.
The Chapel bar
“My big initial goal was advocacy, trying to get journalists to write about Israel in a way that wasn't about politics," Baum tells me. “That has changed in a big way. We now have almost no problem inviting journalists, and a lot of that is because of the way Israelis eat."
I don't think I can eat any more, but then Baum suggests we get a falafel at the Carmel Market, a bustling shuk in the otherwise sleepy Yemenite Quarter. I love falafel—I eat it three times a week in New York—and this being my first trip to the Middle East, I can't say no. At the stand, Baum asks the cook, who's rapidly forming the chickpea dough into perfect spheres and tossing them into the fryer, if we can have just the falafel, but he insists we taste it properly, in pita with tahini (at least he cuts the pita into quarters). My first bite sends me reeling. Literally, I almost fall down. “I wish I had recorded that," Baum says, laughing and handing me a craft pale ale from the Beer Bazaar stand next door to bring me back to earth.
I thank Baum and Schwartz for all the deliciousness and then walk (I wish I had Dizengoff's horse) back to Old Jaffa. It takes some looking, but at the top of the hill I find Yoko Kitahara House of Treatments & Gallery, a spa hidden behind a small iron gate marked with scarcely more than a business card. I ring the bell and enter a sparse space inside a pair of 500-year-old, arch-ceilinged Ottoman homes. My appointment begins with a traditional ashiyu (Japanese footbath) and continues with a hogushi aromatherapy massage. Afterward, I have a cup of tea while seated on a tatami mat, looking out a window at the sea and chatting with the spa's eponymous owner, who says she moved to Tel Aviv “for love."
Suspended Orange Tree, in Old Jaffa
“I wanted to do a nice place in Jaffa," Kitahara says, “but I didn't want to create a Japanese 'shrine.' We want it to be a surprise, a hidden place with some Israeli culture and Japanese culture—to make harmony."
I tend to prefer cacophony to harmony, so next I peruse the flea market, which is surrounded by bustling bars and trendy boutiques. I stop at the gallery 8 in Jaffa to gawk at grotesque ceramic sculptures by Alma Moriah-Winik, and at The Cuckoo's Nest, an antiques shop/gallery/bar, to take in a heart sculpture composed of paint brushes. Just across Jerusalem Boulevard, I reach my new digs, The Drisco Hotel, a landmark boutique hidden down a narrow street at the crossroads of Jaffa, Neve Tzedek, and Florentin. Nap time!
“My first bite of falafel send me reeling. Literally, I almost fall down."
Mushrooms and tapioca at Opa
The sun has set by the time I'm done snoozing, and I'm (miraculously) ready for dinner. It seems as though every wall and garage door in Florentin bursts with graffiti, which makes the unadorned white decor at Opa, around the corner from the Levinsky Market, even more sleek and refreshing. That description also applies to the entirely vegetarian menu: sliced pears with chervil and green garlic; a prime rib–like cut of red cabbage with grapefruit foam and white balsamic dressing; a circular presentation of mushrooms and crispy tapioca that I'm not sure if I should eat or wear on my head like a crown. Who needs protein?
I finish my meal just in time to make the curtain at the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, a performing arts hub that sparked the renaissance of Neve Tzedek and is home to the famed Batsheva Dance Company. On stage tonight is The Hill, in which a trio led by choreographer Roy Assaf enacts a visceral portrayal of the experiences of veterans—a particularly relevant topic in a country that has compulsory military service and has been through numerous conflicts with its neighbors. The depiction of PTSD, in which one of the dancers repeatedly hits himself in the head while one of the others tries to restrain him, is breathtaking.
Spices at the Carmel Market
After the show I stop by the center's chic new restaurant, Cordero, to have a glass of Burgundy with Claudio Kogon, the deputy director of the center. “We are only 8 million people, but the amount of culture per capita is huge," says Kogon, who was born in Buenos Aires but moved to Israel 32 years ago, at the age of 22, to live on a kibbutz. “Tel Aviv is very vibrant. In every corner, something is going on. And in dance, we are a superpower."
Next, I seek out another corner where something is definitely going on. The Chapel, at The Jaffa hotel, is the most beautiful bar I've ever seen—and the most appropriately named, as it's inside a 140-year-old hall of worship with 40-foot-high arched ceilings. I order a smoked, shaken mezcal Negroni and lean back in my seat to fully take in that soaring ceiling. The soundtrack in here may be techno, but somehow all I can hear is Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah."
Day 3: Bauhaus Beach Babylon
An art installation on the Bauhaus exterior of the Center Chic Hotel
Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv guide Alisa Veksler
I'm standing in the city center, a block east of Dizengoff Street, amid a group of tourists staring up at a curvilinear house. Tel Aviv is home to about 4,000 International Style buildings, designed in large part by architects who fled the Nazis in the 1930s—a period when the population here, not coincidentally, boomed—and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the White City. As we look at one of these houses, Alisa Veksler, a tour guide from the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv, explains to us the particularities of the Tel Avivian style, which occasionally strays from the Bauhaus ethos that function must dictate form.
“A round facade gives it the association of a ship," Veksler says of the house in front of us. “This was a desert, and when these immigrants came from Eastern and Central Europe in the '30s and built their houses, they put a ship in the middle of the desert."
The artsy interior of Kuli Alma
We continue on for a few blocks, with Veksler explaining the reasons for various architectural details—slit balconies to offer relief from heat, roof gardens to encourage social interaction—finishing at the recently restored Dizengoff Square.
“In 1934, they did a competition for the design of this area," she tells us, “and the winner was a young woman named Genia Averbuch. She was only 25—wow!—and she designed a big circle with a garden and a fountain in the middle, surrounded by Bauhaus buildings with the same unified facade. It instantly became the coolest spot in Tel Aviv. This is a huge milestone in the culture of Tel Aviv. Once Dizengoff Circle was built, we were not immigrants from different countries anymore—we were suddenly people of our own city."
The group gives Veksler a round of applause, and after picking up a White City tote bag at the center, I walk a couple of blocks east to Hakosem, a falafel joint that takes its name from the Hebrew word for magician. It's just after noon, and a long line stretches across the patio and out to the sidewalk. I'm line-averse, but y'all know how I feel about falafel, and soon a tattooed Israeli line cook—“I have eight!" he proudly says when he sees the ink on my arms—is stuffing a pita with falafel, hummus, chili sauce, sauerkraut, pickles, and eggplant. When I take a bite, I have to admit, it really is magic. Also: My life is ruined. I'm never going to be able to eat falafel in New York again.“When immigrants came from Europe and built their houses, they put a ship in the desert."
After breaking free of Hakosem's spell, I move on to take in another architectural marvel, the nearby Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which has a geometric exterior that looks a bit like a broken Rubik's Cube. Inside, a series of ramps carry me from gallery to gallery. The holdings in the Impressionist and post-Impressionist collection read like an art history syllabus—Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Chagall—but I'm drawn to contemporary works such as Following You, Following Me No. 1, a breathy, haunting video piece by 37-year-old Israeli artist Yasmin Davis.
As I wander west, back toward the beach, I happen across Rabin Square, where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli ultranationalist in 1995, a year after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords. As I watch a few kids chasing pigeons around a fountain and a Holocaust memorial, I find myself reflecting on how inextricable this nation's psyche is from existential threats past and present.
Anyway, I need to lighten things up a little bit—both emotionally and physically, given how much I've been eating this week. So, after moving my bags to the Miami-esque Brown Beach House hotel, I slap on my sneakers and hit the promenade, running north to three side-by-side beaches that illustrate the surprising diversity of Tel Aviv: one that flies rainbow flags to welcome gay beachgoers, one that's walled off for Orthodox Jewish swimmers, and one that's populated by dog owners. Few things will brighten your mood like watching a sandy dog take a shower on the beach.
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art
Running a 10K does wonders for the appetite, so after cleaning up—no, not at the dog showers—I head to Mashya, one of the city's hottest restaurants. The space, on the first floor of the Mendeli Street Hotel, features a bright green living wall and an intricately patterned black-and-white ceiling. The food is just as attractive: I order a fresh fish crudo with labneh and mint; an arugula salad with medjool dates, pineapple, and avocado; and a six-hour-braised oxtail terrine. Something about the whole experience feels celebratory, so I top things off with Israel's finest bubbly, the Yarden Blanc de Blancs.
For a nightcap, I walk to the nearby Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, which has appeared on the World's 50 Best Bars list and slings complex drinks inspired by the city. As a hoopshead, I'm compelled to order a Red by Heart, a mix of amaro, banana syrup, and lime juice that's dedicated to the outdoor court the city's popular Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball team once called home. It's smoky, bitter, and delicious. Nothing but net!
Old Jaffa, seen from Alma Beach
As I leave the bar, I look at the Brown Beach House, right across the street. I have a 12-hour flight tomorrow … but I can't quite put myself, or this city, to bed. So I hop in a cab to Florentin, where I descend a stairwell decorated with a comic-book style mural and a giant red neon heart into Kuli Alma. I wander through the labyrinthine space, sipping a Goldstar beer and taking in the murals and prints and paintings that decorate every surface as dancers twist to thumping music. This place just feels right somehow, and I can't help but wonder what my grandmother would say about today's Tel Aviv. Something tells me that if she had experienced three days like these back in the '40s, I would have been born an Israeli.
A dog takes a shower on the beach
Where to Stay
Carlton Tel AvivThis Brutalist building overlooking the marina was designed by Israel Prize–winning architect Yaakov Rechter and opened in 1981. A recent $12 million renovation included an update to 268 guest rooms and suites, the addition of a rooftop pool, and redesigns of Meir Adoni's two on-site restaurants. Don't miss breakfast on the beachfront deck. From $370, carlton.co.il
Brown Beach HouseIn a city that gives off plenty of Miami vibes, few hotels feel more South Beach—note the three live palm trees and the neon flamingo in the terrace lounge—than this 40-room boutique one short block from Jerusalem Beach. Pedal out to the promenade or into the city center on one of the free bikes available to guests. From $250, brownhotels.com
The Drisco HotelThis 42-room-and-suite boutique property opened last year in a 150-year-old building that once housed the city's first luxury hotel. The Drisco is walking distance from the restaurant-studded neighborhoods of Jaffa, Florentin, and Neve Tzedek, but don't miss the hotel's recently reimagined Mediterranean eatery, George & John. From $360, thedrisco.com
Eric Rubens (@erubes1) is a MileagePlus member based in Southern California. He is a photographer/videographer who loves meeting new people and traveling the world.
When planning a vacation, one of the first steps is picking a theme. If you're in search of mountains, many look to the Rockies, Swiss Alps, or Dolomites. If a tropical vacation is desired, Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean may be calling your name. There are so many beautiful destinations in this world, but is it possible for one of them to be blessed with incredible mountains, picturesque beaches, and some of the best wildlife viewing in the world?
Cape Town is one of the few places I've found that seems to have it all. With the iconic Table Mountain and Lion's Head rising out of the city, there are hikes leading up to majestic views down the African coastline. The beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay are some of the most incredible beaches on this planet. If wildlife peaks your interest, there's Boulder's Beach, home to one of the only land-based penguin colonies in the world. Did I mention the safari is a short trip away? Add in an exchange rate that is very favorable and you have all the makings of a trip you'll never forget.
Camps Bay Beach
Planning a trip to Africa for the first time can be both intimidating and a bit challenging. I found very few of my friends or family had been, which made my voyage to South Africa even more exciting. Cape Town is home to a hip urban scene, a vibrant melting pot of culture, and jaw dropping landscapes that'll make you wonder why you didn't visit sooner. There's no city quite like it, and this list of top things to do will make sure you maximize your time in the Mother City. Several theories exist regarding the origin of Cape Town's nickname as "The Mother City." Some say it can be traced back to the beginning of the city's history as a trading hub in the 17th century, or its status as South Africa's first metropolis. But many locals have their own theories – one running joke is that it takes nine months to get anything done in the very laid back city.
View from the top of Table Mountain
#1: Take a hike or tram up to the top of Table Mountain
This iconic mountain rising from the city is arguably home to Cape Town's best views. The 2 to 3-hour hike to the top makes for a fun activity if you're up for it. Otherwise, take in the view from the aerial cableway, complete with 360-degree rotating floor and running every 5 minutes from the base. Once up top, there's plenty of walking trails, souvenir shopping, and food and drinks. Table Mountain is known for the blanket of fog that rolls over the peak, so weather at the top can change quickly. Make sure to check the weather before heading up and bring a jacket, since the wind can be intense!
Penguins at Boulder Beach
#2: Visit the penguin colony at Boulder's Beach
Even though it's an hour or so drive from the city, visiting Boulder's Beach and its nearly 2,000 penguins is an unforgettable experience. Watching the penguins lounge on the beach and come in and out of the waves makes for some incredible pictures and a unique encounter. You can also swim in the nearby waters and will often come face to face with members of the colony.
#3: Wake up for a sunrise hike up Lion's Head
One of the most bucket list-worthy activities on a visit to Cape Town is catching sunrise atop Lion's Head. It's a challenging hike and not for those with a fear of heights, but you won't soon forget the view from the summit. If you're willing to scramble and make your way up the final ladders, 360-degree views of the city await, and the sunrise over the city is one for the ages.
#4: Explore the Cape Winelands and the beauty of Constantia
South Africa has some of the best vineyards in the world. Even though the towns of Franschooek and Stellenbosch get the majority of the press, nearby Constantia is home to the oldest wine estate in the country, Groot Constantia. Its proximity (just 15 minutes from the city center) makes it perfect for a day trip. The city sightseeing "Hop-On Hop-Off" bus tour has a purple line that connects through this region, so getting here is easy! If wine tasting isn't your thing, the Alphen Trail is a beautiful trek through the countryside and sure to put you in a relaxing mood.
Chapman's Peak Drive
#5: Take a road trip down Chapman's Peak Drive
One of the most beautiful drives awaits just south of Cape Town. Carved into the cliffs and winding along the ocean, this road between Hout Bay and Noordhoek offers majestic views of the coastline. Just make sure to keep your eyes on the road since the sheer beauty can be distracting!
#6: View the diversity of flora throughout Kirstenbosch Gardens
The flora and fauna of South Africa is some of the most diverse in the world, and no place showcases it better than Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Tucked along the slopes of Table Mountain and widely recognized as one of the most impressive gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch is home to over 7,000 species of plants. The newly completed Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway allows you to walk above the tree line. If you visit in summer, try to make one of the Sunday concerts in the gardens, which are a hit with locals and visitors.
V & A Waterfront
#7: Shop your heart out along the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Known as one of the biggest tourism hubs of the city, the always bustling V&A Waterfront is home to many of Cape Town's finest restaurants, shopping, and the launching point of many tours. There are countless ways to spend your time here, but make sure to stop by the V&A food market, where over 40 vendors sell gourmet street food from around the world.
#8: Make your way to the Southern tip of Africa
If you're up for an adventure, take a trip to The Cape of Good Hope. You'll most likely encounter penguins, baboons, and who knows what else along the 1.5-hour drive. The weather can be very unpredictable, so make sure to check it before making the trip south. While there, visit the lighthouse and if you're hungry grab a bite at the appropriately named Two Oceans Restaurant.
#9 Take a tour of historical Robben Island
Even though the prison has been shut down since 1996, a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Cape Town's most popular tours. Tours take around 4 hours including a ferry ride to the island famous for housing Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.
-Use the "hop on hop off" bus for an easy guided tour of the city. The route takes you to many of the best spots throughout Cape Town and allows you to explore at your own pace. Buy tickets ahead of time to save on fare!
-Cape Town has some incredible boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts. My favorites are: Tintswalo Atlantic, 52 De Wet Luxury Boutique Hotel, and Derwent House Boutique Hotel.
-Make sure you don't carry too many valuables on you if you're walking around at night. Although beautiful and mostly safe, there is still a good amount of opportunistic crime throughout the city. Always pay attention to your surroundings.
Opinions expressed by the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of United.
Planning a Caribbean vacation around hurricane season isn't necessary if you head to Dutch-affiliated Curaçao. The southernmost of all Caribbean islands — just off Venezuela's coast — is rarely even grazed by hurricanes. It also has an ideal tropical climate with average winter highs in the 80s (and water temperatures to match) and only about one inch of rain a month.
Curaçao will be more accessible beginning December 7, 2019, when weekly nonstops begin from New York/Newark on United Airlines. The new seasonal service on 737-700 aircraft makes Curaçao the 21st Caribbean island destination for United, which already flies to the other two nearby "ABC islands" — Aruba and Bonaire. Why choose Curaçao? Because like the island's famous blue liqueur, it's colorful, exotic and appealing.
Jet lag won't be an issue for Americans flying to Curaçao because it's in the same time zone as New York. Nor is it a long flight — about five hours nonstop from New York/Newark. Upon arrival you can take a taxi, rental car or hotel shuttle from Curaçao International Airport to your accommodations — a resort (reserve early), boutique inn, vacation house or B&B. Most are in Willemstad, a coastal city only five miles from the airport.
Forts above the port
Straat Curaçao Getty Images/iStockphoto
The historic city center and harbor areas of Curaçao's only city of Willemstad are designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site, mostly for the 17th to 19th century Dutch colonial architecture of the houses and forts. The houses are painted a rainbow of bright colors in the Caribbean tradition, and the city is packed with forts — Fort Amsterdam (built in 1636), Fort Beekenburg (1703), Fort Nassau (1797) and Fort Waakzaamheid (1803). All four offer stellar views and are free to visitors.
On the waterfront
Curacao colorful houses Getty Images/iStockphoto
Along with forts, the harbor area is home to the oldest continuously operating synagogue (and museum) in the Western Hemisphere, an African art museum that tells the story of the slave trade through West African art and artifacts, and a maritime museum. These visits can be followed by a tour and tasting at the Curaçao Distillery, where you'll see how the peels of the native Laraha bitter oranges are turned into curaçao liqueur.
Snorkel from the sand
Two people snorkeling off coast of tropical island Getty Images
The chief allure of this 38-mile-long island is, of course, the ocean. Besides sunbathing at any of the dozens of powder-sand cove beaches, you can wade right in and snorkel in the turquoise, bathlike sea, usually around 80 degrees. Visibility is up to 100 feet, a snorkeler's dream. More adventurous types can snorkel or dive from day boats that head to prime diving sites like the Mushroom Forest (mushroom-shaped coral), Blue Cave and several shipwreck spots. There's also a nice aquarium on the shoreline where marine life is seen up close in their natural habitat —from land or aboard a minisub that dives 1,000 feet.
Curaçao is a convenient tropical destination for Americans because U.S. dollars and credit cards are commonly accepted, English is widely spoken and no visa is required. But the local culture and cuisine are still exotic enough to be intriguing with local specialties like stewed iguana and cactus soup served in restaurants and from food carts in Willemstad.
If you go
One of our most treasured events of the year is here – Fantasy Flights! Our Fantasy Flights bring holiday cheer to children in need by taking them on a special trip to the "North Pole." Each station creates a North Pole with care, in preparation for all the children who will soon be there…
Our participating stations this year are HNL (Honolulu), FRA (Frankfurt), CLE (Cleveland), DEN (Denver), IAD (Washington Dulles), LAX (Los Angeles), SFO (San Francisco), MCO (Orlando), ORD (Chicago O'Hare), GUM (Guam), EWR (New York/New Jersey), NRT (Tokyo-Narita), PHX (Phoenix), IAH (Houston), MCI (Kansas City) and SAT (San Antonio).
Please stay tuned for stories, photos and more from these magical events. #UAFantasyFlights