6 Perfect City Breaks to Take This Year
Giving new meaning to urban renewal, the cities you'll see here will caffeinate, oxygenate and otherwise reanimate you in ways you didn't even know you needed. And 2019 is an especially good time to visit. Read on to see why.
If you haven’t been to Seattle recently—or at all—now’s the time to remedy that. A few local icons have been so dramatically upgraded, you’ll feel no shame in visiting the traditionally touristy spots (come on, you know you want to see them anyway) in light of all the recent buzz. Of course, some of that buzz comes straight from the ambient caffeine in a city where, in Jeff Bezos’ words, “you haven’t had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it’s running.” At the scene of Starbucks’ very first storefront—Pike Place (yup, you know the eponymous roast)—a $74-million expansion has super-sized the market with new artisan stalls, a public plaza, and an additional food hall. There’s even change at the venerable and oh-so-‘grammed Pike Place Fish Market, where ye olde fish toss comes with a new feel-good story. Then there’s last year’s $100 million renovation of the Space Needle, where you’ll now find a two-level observation deck with floor-to-ceiling windows, a wine bar and a revolving glass floor. Stay close to all the action at the just-redone Kimpton Alexis Hotel, where many of the 121 guest rooms have views of Puget Sound.
Sure, this city may be best known for labyrinthine canals and Renaissance palazzi, but modernity has hardly passed La Serenissima by—and that blend of centuries and sensibilities is what keeps things interesting, no matter how many times you visit. On the island of Giudecca, for example, old industrial spaces have just morphed into the city’s first permanent arts quarter, where you’ll find galleries, working artist studios, exhibition spaces and art-themed bars and restaurants. In fact, the new Giudecca Art District launched the famed Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition earlier this year, when hundreds of works by artists from across the world went on view. The exhibition is actually spread among various neighborhoods, and you can still catch it if you show up before Nov. 24. (One must-see: Melissa McGill’s Red Regatta, an installation of 50 traditional Italian sailboats scattered along the waterfront, each painted a different shade of red.) Another good reason to show up in the fall: the Gather Venice food and wine festival (Sept 26-29) at the JW Marriott Venice, set on a private island just a quick boat ride away from St. Mark’s. On the other hand, if you get there sooner (by July 14th, to be exact) you’ll catch one of the most talked-about commemorations of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death in Italy this year: a rare showing of his Vitruvian Man at the Academia.
While you may not get the full Crazy Rich Asians experience on a visit to Singapore (unless you run with that crowd, of course), the island nation more than delivers on over-the-top wows, starting at what may seem an unlikely spot: the airport. Already a crowd favorite airport, Changi International Airport just unveiled the Moshe Safdie-designed, 10-story Jewel Changi Airport, home to the largest indoor collection of plants in Singapore (no small feat in a city-state that also has this), plus the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, the first Yotel Air in Asia—and countless other places to chill or play (an IMAX theater, kids’ Foggy Bowls, and plenty to eat and drink). Don’t be surprised if you have a time pulling yourself away—seriously, locals are already going on dates here and families are spending weekends. But leave you should, because the highly anticipated reveal of the new-old Raffles Singapore awaits. The unveiling is scheduled for the beginning of August after a multi-year closure and multi-million-dollar renovation that saw—among other things—the relocation of the legendary Long Bar. Once again occupying its original position in the hotel—which opened in 1887—the birthplace of the Singapore Sling is worth dropping into whether you stay at Raffles or not. Another way to Crazy-Rich-up your experience: Be here September 20-22 for the Singapore Grand Prix, which became the first FIA Formula One night event in 2008 and remains one of only a few.
Houston, we have a problem: so much to do in this city this year, where do we even start? Probably with NASA, which is celebrating this year’s 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing with a host of events, exhibits, and programs at the Space Center. In fact, if you can be here for the day of the landing—July 20—you’ll find concerts, astronaut appearances, book signings, and a big countdown. Back in the center of town, see why Houston’s has earned a rep as one of the country’s biggest art hubs. Don’t miss the newest art building to join the amazing Menil neighborhood—or the Museum of Fine Arts, now in the final stages of a 14-acre expansion (the largest cultural development project currently underway in the nation). The food scene here is booming, too: Hang with chef/ owners at the new Bravery Chef Hall (one of the only food halls manned by chefs themselves); savor the neo-soul food tasting menus at the James Beard Award semi-finalist Indigo; and get a bit of Creole flavor at the recently-opened Eunice. If you’re in town from September on, check out the new C. Baldwin boutique hotel, named for the woman helped cofound Houston in the 1800’s—back when a $5000 inheritance got you a down payment on a city.
Finland once again topped the U.N.’s list of the Happiest Countries in the World this year, and Helsinki is one of the best places to see why. Gauge locals’ happiness levels for yourself through the new “Rent a Finn” initiative—the official version of which has you apply to be paired with a Finnish “Happiness Guide,” and the unofficial version of which has you use the #rentafinn hashtag to find whoever’s available. Or just go meet a bunch of Finns in person: The new Helsinki Central Library Oodi, in the central Kansalaistori Square, is part cultural institution-part living room—a “non-commercial, urban public space that is open to all.” And if you go in summer, you’ll find around 3,000 events, fairs and festivals (from open-air karaoke jams to Friday night salsa meet-ups) at which to meet more locals. When you’re ready to call it a night—a tough call when 2am is as sunny as 2pm—retire to the sleek new Lapland Hotels Bulevardi (link TK; site seems to be down at the moment; but the hotel gets great reviews).
The capital of Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia, Salvador is having a moment in the sun after a five-year restoration project in the UNESCO World Heritage-designated downtown historic district. Go check out the neighborhood’s eye-popping colonial architecture (and pants button-popping cuisine)—all an exquisite blend of Portuguese and Afro-Caribbean influences. Another colorful must is the recently-opened Casa do Carnaval, an interactive museum that tells the story of Bahian-style Carnival through costume exhibits, video projections, movies, and more (don’t leave without throwing on a costume and learn some “party rhythm” moves for yourself). And once you’ve consumed all the Acarajé, moqueca and caipufrutas you can handle for one day, have a good lie-down at the new Fasano Salvador, and make sure not to doze off without taking in the amazing view of the All Saints Bay.