New York City Travel Guide

New York City is the most popular destination in the world, and for good reason. With first-class entertainment options, world-famous landmarks, buzzing street activity and nightlife, it is an epicenter of culture, diversity and excitement. CONTINUE READING >> 

We are happy to reprint this post from IHG’s travel guides to provide valuable information to our readers.

 

New York City is the most popular destination in the world, and for good reason. With first-class entertainment options, world-famous landmarks, buzzing street activity and nightlife, it is an epicenter of culture, diversity and excitement.

Your choices are seemingly endless when it comes to hotels, which means deciding which hotel to book can be a challenge, as options range from hostels to ultra-luxurious global chains. IHG® can help you find accommodations that cater to your wants and needs while you explore what makes NYC so unique.

Things to See

New York City is home to a multitude of world-renowned landmarks, so prioritizing your time during your visit is essential. For the ultimate sightseeing adventure, consider one of the hotels in Manhattan, home to the Empire State Building, Times Square, Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial.

Manhattan can easily fill your itinerary with must-dos, and a short boat ride across the harbor takes you to the Statue of Liberty. After a day of sightseeing, a stroll through Central Park is an excellent way to unwind.

Trinity Church New York

Hotels in New York City

New York City hosts almost 55 million visitors each year and offers an incredible array of destinations and attractions to explore. Regardless of when you go, where you stay or what you do, there are plenty of hotels to fit your specific needs, and by booking through IHG, you are assured a great stay while you explore New York.

Where to Stay

When considering hotels in New York City, first choose your ideal borough, since each has its own character, advantages and charms. You may want to be closer to the multicultural cuisine of Queens or the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn.

Midtown Manhattan is a prime location for visitors wanting to be within walking distance of Broadway plays or 5th Avenue shops, although they can be expensive. If you want to be in the middle of the action, look for a Times Square hotel location. Luckily, there are many reasonably priced hotels inside and outside of Manhattan, and getting around is easy.

How to Get to New York City

The New York City metropolitan area is served by three key airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport, La Guardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, which is only 15 miles from Manhattan.

Those visiting the city by rail will enjoy the iconic Grand Central Terminal or Pennsylvania Station, the city’s two main railway stations. Travelers with shorter stays may find New York City hotels near major transportation hubs more convenient and more budget-friendly.

The thought of getting around the city can be intimidating for first-time visitors, but traveling throughout the city and its five boroughs is surprisingly easy, thanks to the extensive Metro subway system. Along with its low cost and vast network of routes, the Metro is an efficient way to explore the city. In addition, you can easily hail a cab for a direct route to your destination.

It’s All About the Benjamins in Philadelphia

As a teenager, Ben Franklin ran away to Philadelphia to seek his fame and fortune. A couple of centuries later, we went to Philly to retrace his footsteps.

Tracking down his landmarks was easier than we expected… CONTINUE READING >> 

As a teenager, Ben Franklin ran away to Philadelphia to seek his fame and fortune. A couple of centuries later, we went to Philly to retrace his footsteps. Tracking down his landmarks was easier than we expected, because they’re all within a few blocks of each other. Once we found the perfect IHG hotel near Old City, we were off.

Library Hall

Just a few steps past the Liberty Bell, we found America’s first public library, which good old Benjamin helped found in 1731. We couldn’t miss it because of the classic statue of Ben over the door. It looks like he was going for the Greek scholar look by sporting a toga.

Since the library is right next to Independence Hall, he invited the Founding Fathers to use the collection for study and reference, unofficially creating the first Library of Congress.

Today, the archives feature a copy of the Declaration of Independence written in Jefferson’s own hand, the original journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and first editions of Sir Isaac Newton’s “Principia” and Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species.”

B. Free Franklin Post Office

Our next stop was to check out another Franklin first. In 1775, the Continental Congress appointed him as the first Postmaster General of the United States. The B. Free Franklin Post Office commemorates that and his many other contributions to postal service in the colonies, by remaining as much like it would have been back then as possible.

They take this authenticity so seriously that there is no need to look for the stars and stripes when trying to find this post office. It’s the only one in America that doesn’t fly the flag, because back when it opened, the U.S. was still a British territory and didn’t have a flag yet.

Franklin Court

Ducking through a small tunnel near the post office, we popped into a courtyard where the house that Franklin lived from 1763 until 1790 once stood. The original building is long gone, so now a “ghost house” of steel beams outlines its location.

Researchers excavated the site in the 1950s and 60s and installed windows in the ground to allow a peek at the foundations, walls, and even a privy below the surface. Talk about getting personal with a patriot!

Ben Franklin’s Print Shop

The courtyard also includes a replica of the print shop Franklin used when he produced many of his newspapers and political pamphlets, along with his famous wit and wisdom in “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” The type settings and printing press are exactly as they would have been in revolutionary times.

Since this is part of the National Park Service, rangers demonstrate the 18th-century printing techniques. When we looked in, we were lucky enough to see the Declaration of Independence being printed out as a souvenir for a group of schoolkids.

Benjamin Franklin’s Final Resting Place

We finished our day at Franklin’s grave at the Christ Church Burial Ground. He is laid to rest here next to Deborah, his common-law wife of 44 years.

It struck us as odd to find the tomb covered with pennies, until we learned that the coins stem from a longstanding Philadelphia tradition. Tossing a cent on the tomb is believed to bring good luck.

Certainly seems as though the man who said, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” would not approve of throwing money away like this, but the church doesn’t mind. In fact, the church collects thousands of dollars every year from the ritual. Now that’s turning some Lincolns into Benjamins!

Meanwhile, we collected a newfound admiration for the great statesman, inventor, printer, and patriot whose face adorns the C-note. The famous Philadelphian’s legacy practically requires us all to visit the City of Brotherly Love.

This article was created in collaboration with InterContinental Hotels Group.

Cycling Through Sacramento

We’re always on the lookout for new places to explore, especially if they’re easily accessible via bicycle, our favorite way to get around. With that in mind, we examined the pedaling possibilities in Sacramento. It turns out that California’s capital is quite a cycling city. CONTINUE READING >> 

We’re always on the lookout for new places to explore, especially if they’re easily accessible via bicycle, our favorite way to get around. With that in mind, we examined the pedaling possibilities in Sacramento. It turns out that California’s capital is quite a cycling city.

In no time at all, we figured out that near the river in Old Sacramento was the place to stay for bike enthusiasts like us. We found all kinds of great hotels in the old town, along with several good places to rent bikes.

Old Sacramento

Old Sacramento
Image via Flickr by Prayitno

The entire area is protected as a State Historic Park and a National Historic Landmark District. Harkening back to the gold rush days, the boardwalk-lined streets cover 28 acres along the waterfront. Much of the area is open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic only. Should we feel the need for alternative transportation, stagecoaches still clatter across the cobblestones, and steamboats still whistle on the river.

The original ground level of Sacramento remains hidden beneath the surface. After devastating floods in the 1860s, rather than move the city, the residents raised it. In an amazing feat of engineering, the street level was brought up by 13 feet.

Old Sacramento’s forgotten basement is part of the Sacramento History Museum, which, along with the California Automobile Museum, Maritime Military Museum, Wells Fargo Museum, Schoolhouse Museum, and the California State Railroad Museum, has revitalized the historic center of California’s oldest incorporated city.

California Railroad Museum
Image via Flickr by Marcin Wichary

As a well-documented train nut, David is by far the most excited by the last on that list of attractions. Not only can he get the scoop on the first transcontinental railroad and the rich history of railroading in the Golden State, but he can also take a ride behind a live steam engine on the Sacramento Southern Railroad.

But biking is our inspiration, and the city is remarkably bike friendly with an incredible array of lanes, trails, and paths dedicated to those of us who prefer to get around on two wheels. Of these many trails, two stand out.

American River Bike Trail

Guy West Bridge
Image via Flickr by ** RCB **

Officially known as the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail — a name we know from a prior visit to the redwood forests in northern California — this trail is Sacramento’s most popular. Here, old Jed begins in the historic district and runs 32 miles north and east along the American River to Folsom Lake.

This is the granddaddy of bike paths, as it dates back over a century. It wasn’t long before automobiles became commonplace, and the trail was left to overgrow. In the 1970s it was resurrected and paved, and now it’s used by about 5 million people each year.

A highlight lies a few miles east of Old Sacramento, where the Guy West Bridge spans the river on the campus of California State University, Sacramento. The suspension bridge was designed as a miniature Golden Gate, right down to the international orange paint job.

The Sacramento Northern Bikeway

Sacramento Northern Bikeway
Image via Flickr by jmf1007

This is a rail trail, our favorite kind. It uses the former right-of-way of a railroad, in this case the Sacramento Northern Interurban Railway. We love these because they are always very level and often incorporate many of the cool bridges, tunnels, and structures from their train track days.

The bikeway breaks off to the north from the American River Trail and runs 10 miles up to Rancho Elverta. This allows for a little glimpse of the suburban countryside around the city.

Now that we know what a cycle-centric city Sacramento has become, all that’s left is for us to pack our bags.

We were happy to write this in collaboration with hotelplanner.

Walking with Hemingway in Madrid

We began our jet lag fueled first day of exploring in what Ernest Hemingway called “the most Spanish of all cities” with a walk in the park.

While wandering the tree lined paths we came upon…

CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this adventure. As always, all opinions are our own.

Amazing street performer in front of our hotel.

For a city of over three million people Madrid is surprisingly walkable. That was good for us, because we didn’t have a car, and our two days here were meant to be a warm up for our walking tour of the Basque country with VBT.

Another good thing was that our hotel, the NH Paseo del Prado, was right in the heart of the best that the city has to offer. The famous Prado Museum is directly across the street and, just beyond that, the Parque de El Ritiro.

We began our jet lag fueled first day of exploring in what Ernest Hemingway called “the most Spanish of all cities” with a walk in the park. While wandering the tree lined paths we came upon the Palacio de Cristal.

Just as the name sounds, this is a glass palace. It was originally a green house in this former royal retreat, but now plays host to an avant-garde art exhibit that includes a sinking Titanic and an upside down Empire State Building.

Exiting the park via the Puerta de Alcalá, a gateway that opens into the Plaza Cibeles, we were blown away by what must be the most spectacular city hall anywhere in the world.

Built as the headquarters for the postal service in 1919, the Palacio de Cibeles now hosts the city council in high style. Hope they appreciate the digs.

From there we headed up Madrid’s main thoroughfare, Calle Alcalá, leading to the city’s two main squares, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.

Along the way we took a slight detour down Gran Via, which Hemingway compared to Broadway and Fifth Avenue combined. This is the high end shopping and entertainment strip and certainly looked to live up to its name, the Great Way.

By getting back on the main drag we found the sun, or at least its plaza, Plaza del Sol. This is truly the center of town, actually for all of Spain, since it is where the mile markers begin for all of the roads across the country.

It is also known for a statue of a bear and madrono tree, which has been a symbol of Madrid for centuries.

Even though he has appeared on the city’s coat of arms since the early twelve hundreds, we couldn’t find a definitive answer as to why, or what the bear represents.

Just off the square we noticed a churreria and recalled our daughter, Decibel, describing the phenomenal churros she found on her trip to Madrid several years ago. That was more than enough motivation for us.

Unlike the ultra-sweet, donutesque versions we are used to, these are lightly fried crispy bread with almost no sugar. A cup of melted semisweet chocolate is served alongside for dipping and the result is subtle, yet out of this world.

Since we already got started on the snacking, we decided to take a Tapas break, as well as a break from the afternoon heat. We had noticed that many places have water misting over the outside seating and it felt heavenly to escape the hot Spanish sun.

We opted to blindly order a combination plate of five tapas and take our chances as to what might show up. Classic Iberian ham, fish with garlic, crab, salmon, and some ridiculously strong blue cheese arrived, so we were thrilled.

Well, maybe not so much with the blue cheese.

Oh, and I almost forgot, they brought out some of the best olives we have ever tasted. Seriously, ever! Those easily made up for the cheese.

Our big plan for day two was to make like Papa Hemingway and have lunch at Sobrino de Botín. In addition to being mentioned in his novel, The Sun Also Rises, Botín is certified by Guinness as the oldest continually operating restaurant in the world. They haven’t missed a meal since 1725.

To get ourselves in the mood for some serious eating, we stopped at the Mercado de San Miguel on our way.

If browsing the mouthwatering offerings didn’t build up an appetite, nothing would.

It was all we could do to fight back the urge to snarf down every tapa we saw in the vast array of meats, cheeses, olives, breads, and seafood.

Quick, we better get to Botín!

It was imperative that we have their signature dish, cochinillo asado, which is roast suckling pig. After all, that is what Papa ate and wrote about.

Another house specialty is sopa de ajo, a garlic soup laced with sherry and with an egg poached in the broth. Both were more than worthy of their fame and accolades.

For good measure, we also added some artichoke hearts with Iberian ham… unbelievable. They must not have had this dish back in Hemingway’s day or it would have deserved a whole chapter.

Over the rest of our time in Spain we learned the valuable lesson that absolutely everything is better, no, not just better, fantastic with Iberian ham.

An easy walk from the restaurant, we did come for a walking tour after all, brought us to the Catedral de la Almudena.

This massive cathedral was built directly across from the royal palace in order to bring the seat of the Church together with the government, but it took some time.

Even though the political capital of Spain was moved from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, it took until well into the eighteen hundreds to get started on the church. It seems that the monarchs were too busy with their vast overseas empire to get around to allocating the funds until then.

Across the huge courtyard from the church that could wait, it sure didn’t look as though they had any trouble finding the dough to build quite a house for themselves. The Palacio Real is one of the biggest palaces in Europe but, even though it is the official residence of the Royal Family, they live outside of town and use the palace only for ceremonial functions.

As far as we were concerned, considering the afternoon sun and the stretch in our bellies, siesta back at the hotel was the only ceremonial function that we were very interested at the time.

Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

After a nap, we hopped on the metro for a short ride to get a peek at The Plaza de Toros Monumental de las Ventas, regarded as the cathedral of bullfighting. Now we can’t say that we condone the sport, but we could hardly follow in Hemingway’s footprints without coming here.

Don Ernesto, as he was known to the Spaniards, was most definitely a fan. He told his biographer, A. E. Hotchner, “Many a morning I’d get up at dawn and come down here to watch the novilleros, and sometimes even the matadors themselves coming in to practice…”

This is the largest ring in Spain, seating twenty-five thousand spectators, so it has a history beyond bullfighting. It has served as the venue for many momentous events, including a performance by The Beatles in 1965.

Behind the arena we found el Museo Taurino, the Bullfighting Museum. Paintings, sculptures, and artifacts depict the greatest moments of the Plaza de Toros. Perhaps the most popular displays are the bright suits and capes worn by the matadors, especially the famous suit of lights worn by the legendary Manolete the day he died from being gored.

On our way back to the hotel we debated that we should have disobeyed the no photography rule for a picture of that, but we were good.

For a final toast to Madrid, and Hemingway, we headed next door to the bar at the Palace Hotel. Due to its location so near the Prado, this was another of Papa’s favorite haunts.

While he would have hoisted a martini, we chose a refreshing cava.

¡Salud!

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See our entire VBT adventure through Spain here.

A big thank you to VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations for providing this adventure. As always, all opinions are our own.

Brooklyn Travel Guide

The distinct culture, deep-rooted history and magnetic energy of Brooklyn make it one of the most beloved and revered destinations in America.

Celebrated around the world for its big-city excitement and unique brand of authenticity, this buzzing New York City borough… CONTINUE READING >> 

We are happy to reprint this post from IHG’s travel guides to provide valuable information to our readers.

The distinct culture, deep-rooted history and magnetic energy of Brooklyn make it one of the most beloved and revered destinations in America. Celebrated around the world for its big-city excitement and unique brand of authenticity, this buzzing New York City borough–the city’s most populous–constantly attracts visitors from around the globe, and you’ll find amazing hotels in Brooklyn to fit your travel needs.

Things to See in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Bridge
Image via Flickr by Marcos e Sislande

 You should have no problem finding things to do in Brooklyn, an iconic destination that has inspired many of the world’s most famous citizens. As soon as you cross the East River on the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll immediately know you’ve arrived in one of the world’s great cultural epicenters. This National Historic Landmark connects Brooklyn to Manhattan, and has been heralded in film, television and literature for generations. Visit the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park for great Manhattan skyline views, public art installations, athletic fields and playgrounds for children and adults alike, and even a restored 1920s-era merry-go-round called “Jane’s Carousel.” For local history, see the four-story Brooklyn Historical Society building, where you can peruse archives of photography, newspapers and a large library of research from borough’s past. Other museums and family-friendly places to put on your must-see list include Prospect Park Zoo, New York Transit Museum, Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Coney Island Cyclone historic wooden roller coaster.

Ride an East River Ferry to get off your feet for awhile and see the city from the water. Or, head to Brighton Beach for a day in the sun and the chance to walk along the picturesque boardwalk. Nearby, Russian restaurants and bakeries serve up delicacies you’ll savor to the last bite. More delicious eats can be found on Smith Street, a hotspot for foodies and grumbling stomachs across the city.

Coney Island is another beach destination you won’t want to miss; it’s the widest beach in the area and boasts amusement rides and entertainment that will bring smiles to the young and the young at heart. Hear the soaring chorus of voices at the famous Brooklyn Tabernacle. Stroll the rolling hills of Green-Wood Cemetery, where you’ll find monuments and tombstones of a surprising number of famous figures.

For a full day of outdoor and cultural activity, head to Prospect Park where the Zoo, Museum of Art and Botanical Gardens all offer great ways to spend a few hours. The Brooklyn Museum is the second largest in New York and features artifacts that stretch from ancient Egyptians to modern day, while the Transit Museum, housed in a 1930’s subway station, has interesting displays all its own.

Brooklyn is also a hotspot for new residents of New York City. The neighborhood of Williamsburg has attracted an impressive array of new restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, and varying in cultural diversity. There are also many bars, lounges and performance venues where you can make unique discoveries to make your visit unforgettable.

Find the Best Hotels in Brooklyn

Your choices for Brooklyn Hotels range from rooms between culturally rich and trending neighborhoods to business-friendly establishments that put you close to downtown Manhattan, and many of the area’s central locations for business and government. You can expect around-the-clock amenities and services at many Brooklyn hotels, including 24-hour restaurants and room service, as well as all-day business center access.

Where to Stay in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Heights, the area’s oldest neighborhood, and downtown Brooklyn are usually preferred locations for business travelers looking to stay near Manhattan. Diverse neighborhoods like Fort Greene offer amazing architecture, reputable cafes, arts, entertainment and cultural experiences that put New York City’s reputation as a cultural melting pot on display.

The neighborhoods of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights both offer boutiques and cafes, while Cobble Hill is worth walking through for the houses and neighborhood buzz alone. Williamsburg is the city’s creative hub, home to some of the best restaurants and most talented live entertainment. The nightlife here needs no introduction and party-goers won’t have to look far to find a cold drink and a bumping bass line.

How to Get to Brooklyn

The New York City metropolitan area is served by three key airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.  JFK, at just 11 miles distance, is the closest airport to Brooklyn. It offers convenient service to Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Bushwick via Air Train, with less than an hour of travel time. LaGuardia Airport (LGA) is 16 miles away from central Brooklyn. Taxi or private transportation services are advised to and from LaGuardia, as there is no direct public transportation into Brooklyn. Newark Liberty is 21 miles from Brooklyn, with arrival times usually within an hour using the Air Train, then the Path train or NJ Transit to either Penn Station, the World Trade Center or Manhattan’s 33rd Street. Another option is the Airport Express Bus which goes to subway-connected Manhattan locations like Grand Central Station, Bryant Park and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.