Staycations are great, especially in the UAE, a country filled with glamorous five-star hotels, beautiful beach resorts and mind-blowing desert retreats. But sometimes you just need to climb aboard an aeroplane thesize of a small village to jet off to a far-flung corner of the globe. Here are our essential escapes for those suffering from some serious wanderlust. Dust off your clogs in Amsterdam The Dutch capital is known for many things, not least its impatient cyclists (cross roads carefully in this city or risk being taken out by a speeding bicycle) and, of course, its intricate system of canals. Its walkways are just as elaborate as its waterways, making Amsterdam a great city for those who enjoy wandering among beautiful architecture, quirky boutiques and interior design shops (stopping only to scoff a whole year’s worth of pancakes in one day). Then become one of the millions of visitors a year who stroll or cycle through the city’s huge green Vondelpark. Art aficionados won’t want to miss the Van Gogh Museum, while those taking a summer trip shouldn’t miss a canal cruise. Amsterdam also has one of the world’s best nightlife scenes. Obviously.
Hotel: The Hotel V Nesplein (www.hotelvnesplein.nl) isn’t the city’s cheapest, but is good value at prices starting at just over Dhs500 – and its location near Dam Square cannot be beaten.
Flight: Reach Amsterdam from Dubai with Emirates, with prices starting from around Dhs2,800.
Does your travel checklist for 2018 include journeying to another continent and taking in a faceful of culture? Your search may be over. On January 1, the Maltese capital Valletta became the European Capital of Culture. For 12 months, numerous musical, theatrical and artistic events will overflow into its streets. Valletta was founded in 1565 as a refuge for soldiers returning from the Crusades, when it was given a name translating to The Most Humble City Of Valletta, though humble it is not. Its Baroque palaces, gardens and churches are world-famous, and its beauty is such that Unesco named it a World Heritage Site. Other than wandering through the city’s narrow streets with your eyes on stalks as you take in its grand elegance, you should visit the Grand Harbour and check out the magnificent Upper Barrakka Gardens. The Maltese Carnival takes place in February, while jazz events happen all year round. So if you love live music and entertainment, this is also for you.
Hotel: La Falconeria hotel (www.lafalconeria.com), next to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, is breathtaking but at more than Dhs650 a night, is probably the choice of those with bigger budgets. The Osborne Hotel (www.osbornehotel.com) is equally well-situated at half the price.
Flight: Turkish Airlines flies to Malta via Istanbul regularly for prices that start from about Dhs2,500.
Get hip in Glasgow
The Scottish city is the new hippest place in the UK. Cool but unpretentious, it nevertheless has everything the modern hipster needs, such as vintage clothing outlets, trendy barbershops and cafés with twee blackboard messages outside. It also has more museums and art galleries than you can shake an artfully decorated stick at, and a music scene ranging from huge gigs in front of great crowds to tiny authentic venues offering a platform for tomorrow’s rock stars and tone-deaf hopefuls alike. Glasgow, built on the banks of the River Clyde, was once the largest seaport in Britain and its immense pride in its shipbuilding past still shows in its buildings and statues. The famous George Square features some of the city’s most striking architecture, with the Glasgow City Chambers at its heart. A 25-minute walk away is Finnieston, now considered one of the city’s coolest places, with excellent restaurants, stylish bars and snug pubs.
Hotel: Just outside of town is the 17th-century Crossbasket Castle (www.crossbasketcastle.com), now one of the country’s newest luxury hotels. Though with prices starting at just over Dhs1,000 a night, you might prefer to opt for one of the city’s many boutique hotels for a more manageable Dhs250.
Flight: Fly Emirates direct to Glasgow in around eight hours, with prices from around Dhs4,000.
Go island-hopping in Toronto
This beautiful city sits on the shores of Lake Ontario, a body of water so huge that from the shore it looks like a sea without waves, which is a bit of a mind-bender. Take a ferry to Toronto Island and rent bicycles to find parklands and charming beaches for a little slice of relaxation during your city-centred break, where you can also watch planes land at the island’s airport with the beautiful cityscape in the background. The North By Northeast festival in June provides a microcosm of the city’s cultural landscape with live music, film and comedy festivals, art shows and events for gamers and digital geeks. Twenty or so blocks away across the Don River is Kensington Gardens, the centre of the city’s hipster community, where you’ll find quirky restaurants and markets. Dine in the dark at Onior restaurant to experience a heightened sense of taste, smell and hearing. And if you haven’t had enough of eating while simultaneously spinning around and around… and around (excuse us, we need to leave the room for a moment) during visits to Dubai’s own Al Dawaar, Toronto’s most famous building, the CN Tower, has a revolving restaurant that gives unparalleled views of the city.
Hotel: The Old Mill (www.oldmilltoronto.com) is an elegant Tudor-style hotel and spa by the Humber River with rooms from Dhs550 a night.
Flight: Emirates flies direct to Canada’s biggest city multiple times a week from about Dhs4,500. British Airways flies with one stop in London from about Dhs4,800. Make the long trek to Arequipa
Nested in the shadows of three volcanoes, including the active Misti, in one of the world’s most famous trekking regions is a city often considered the most beautiful in Peru. The country’s second-most populous metropolitan area is filled with beautiful 16th- and 17th-century buildings, colonial architecture and striking monuments. The culinarily brave traveller should seek out one of the many restaurants that serve guinea pig, a local delicacy. If, like us, you are horrified by the idea of eating a cute, squeaky critter, try the eatery that is devoted to potatoes (in a country that claims to grow more than 3,000 types of the starchy crop). The Colca Canyon, on the nearby Colca River, is one of the biggest on the planet – and deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Hotel: You won’t find much more beautiful bang for your buck than La Hosteria (www.lahosteriaqp.com.pe) at just over Dhs200 a night – or stay in a beautiful colonial hostel for about Dhs35 a night.
Flight: We’ll be honest – this isn’t the world’s easiest journey. With just one stop in the US, flights to Lima that are partly operated by Emirates from Dubai can be had for just over Dhs9,000, or add another stop to bring it down to Dhs6,000. The bus journey from Lima to Arequipa is part of the fun, with airline-style meals, films and low lighting overnight (or you can fly it in just over an hour).
Raise a stink in Rotorua
Let’s get this out of the way – Rotorua stinks. No, not as a holiday destination. The city on New Zealand’s north island literally stinks. A smell often compared to rotten eggs has earned the city the nickname Sulphur City (and Rotten-rua). It’s caused by hydrogen sulphide emissions associated with the geothermal activity in the area. Once you get used to the unwelcome and unique odour, Rotorua is a wonderful place to unwind due to multiple hot springs created by the sulphurous springs around the city. Relax at the Polynesian Spa or go neck-deep at one of the city’s therapeutic mud baths. The city’s Pohutu Geyser erupts to heights of up to 30 metres many times throughout the day. Rotorua also boasts a living Maori village and many other traditional activities of New Zealand’s indigenous people.
Hotel: Stay at the magnificent VR Rotorua Lake Resort (www.vrrotorua.co.nz) from just over Dhs500 a night or find cheaper spa lodges or hostels from Dhs150 a night.
Flight: In 2016, Emirates made history when its Airbus A380 flew 9,000 miles from Auckland to Dubai, making the longest non-stop scheduled commercial flight. The airline flies to New Zealand’s biggest city once a day from about Dhs7,000. You can then take a bus to Rotorua in under three hours.
Ring in the Chinese new year in Hong Kong
Book your next break sharpish and you’ll reach Hong Kong in time for Chinese New Year. The former British colony goes crackers for the ancient festival, which takes place on Friday February 16. Highlights for the start of the Year of the Dog include a phenomenal parade of floats and an astonishing fireworks show over the harbour. Once the celebrations are over, active types can climb to the top of Victoria Peak (or get crushed aboard the Peak Tram), ride a slightly terrifying cable car, or lace up their hiking boots to take on one of the city’s beautiful long walks (we recommend the Wilson Trail from Parkview to Stanley). After burning all those calories, you’ll have earned yourself an afternoon drink in the sun at Repulse Bay.
Hotel: The iclub in Sheung Wan (www.iclub-hotels.com) offers fantastic views of Victoria Peak to the south for just over Dhs300 a night.
Flight: Dhs3,500 can get you a direct flight with Emirates.
See something new in Surabaya
While Bali is beautiful and Jakarta is, er, jazzy, it’s sometimes great to go somewhere your friends have never been. The Indonesian port city of Surabaya is situated on Java, the same island as the latter of the aforementioned cities, the Indonesian capital, to which Emirates flies. The city has a thriving Arab Quarter and a buzzing Chinatown, while many buildings display the region’s history as a Dutch colony, making it an ideal spot for those who want to experience a real mix. Jump on a bus to see Mount Bromo, the active volcano in the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
Hotel: Check out the Hotel Majapahit (hotel-majapahit.com) for colonial architecture and green landscaped gardens. It costs from just Dhs246 per night.
Flight: Emirates flies to Jakarta twice a day from about Dhs2,500. The flight from Jakarta to Surabaya cost as little as Dhs100 and takes just over an hour.
Spring for a trip to Budapest
Did you know that the Hungarian capital took its name from the fact that one side of the river is Buda and the other is Pest? Yeah? Well… so did we. Thanks to its dozens of geothermal springs and a huge thermal water cave system, the city is littered with spas, including the largest medicinal bath in Europe, the huge Széchenyi thermal bath, which is kind of a party spa, if such a thing exists (we checked, it does). Budapest is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, and is best-viewed during a river cruise on the Danube in the evening. Culture vultures should not miss a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts, while the city is famous for its ruin bars, which are basically bars in ruined buildings, filled with cool artworks, twinkling fairy lights and and odd knick-knacks such as broken-down cars converted into seating.
Hotel: The Gerloczy (www.gerloczy.hu) is great value at under Dhs300 and has a great location in the centre of the city.
Flight: Emirates flies to the city once a day for just under Dhs3,000.
Soak up the sun in the COte D’Azur There’s nothing more glamorous than a getaway to the super-chic Côte d’Azur. The coastline, which includes Saint-Tropez, Nice and the state of Monaco, was one of the first modern resorts, and was especially popular with the British upper class and royalty in the 18th century. Today it’s a haven for celebrities and stars looking for some sun in a sophisticated location. Visit the famous beach clubs of Saint-Tropez (where’s there’s a sister of Dubai’s Nikki Beach), or explore the city of Nice where there are plenty of museums for art-lovers including Musée des Beaux-Arts. Cannes is also a popular destination with plenty of trendy nightclubs and restaurants including a sister of Dubai’s soon-to-open Gotha and trendy al fresco club La Baoli.
Hotel: The JW Marriott in Cannes (www.marriott.com) is set right on La Croisette in the heart of the hustle and bustle, starting at Dhs800. Meanwhile, boutique property Hotel Canberra is an easy walk away, plus has a quaint pool and well-furnished rooms. Prices start from Dhs500 a night (www.hotel-cannes-canberra.com).
Flight: Emirates flies direct to Nice for around Dhs3,100. Take a flier on Torquay
One suspects the term “English Riviera”, used to describe a stretch of coastline in the south-west of England, was coined with tongue at least partly in cheek. But despite it featuring as the location of John Cleese’s classic British comedy Fawlty Towers, this seaside resort takes its reputation as a must-visit spot seriously. With long stretches of golden beaches and a marina filled with huge, glamorous, yachts, visitors could squint and think they are in one of the Mediterranean’s more famous retreats. Not many towns can boast both a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants and some of Britain’s best fish and chips, while walks into the Devon countryside from Torquay are the perfect way to work off your big meals. Every September, Torquay hosts the Agatha Christie Festival in honour of the legendary British author, who was born in the town.
Hotel: A room at the Yardley Manor Hotel (www.yardleymanorhotel.net), built on the site of the 1903 Torquay Winter Gardens, is great value at under Dhs250 a night.
Flight: KLM flies to nearby Bristol with a stopover in Amsterdam for under Dhs3,000. Take a tour of Zurich
Zurich is well known as a hub for banking and business, but the city also boasts a rich vein of culture, with outstanding museums, galleries, theatres and symphony orchestras. Visit in August and the open-air swimming pools, or “badis”, are filled with bathers both local and visiting. You’ll also catch its world-famous Street Parade, a huge festival of dance music that is the biggest techno parade in Europe. Those with expensive tastes should collect their credit cards and head for the Bahnhofstrasse, known as one of the planet’s most expensive shopping streets. It might be best to save up for a while before this holiday – although at least the bicycle “rental” is free. There’s also a delightful, cavernous Thermalbad & Spa Zurich, with a massive rooftop al fresco hot tub, which offers up a great vantage point of the city. Don’t forget to stop off at Sprüngli for some world-famous Swiss chocolate to take home.
Hotel: The previous statement on spending money applies as much to the price of your accommodation as anything – though there are plenty of budget(ish) hotels. Hotel Olympia (www.hotelolympia.ch) costs about Dhs400 a night.
Flight: Swiss International Air Lines flies from Dubai to its home country’s biggest city regularly for about Dhs4,000.
View New York City as seen on TV
We’ve all been to New York City –whether we’ve actually visited the world’s most famous city or not. That’s because we all miss spent at least part of our youth watching American TV shows such as Friends or movies including When Harry Met Sally, Manhattan and Home Alone 2. It lends any visit to the Big Apple an air of familiarity that’s not totally unlike déjà vu. Take it one step further with a tour of the city’s most famous spots from movies and TV. Onlocationtours.com lets you see the apartment building in which Ross and Rachel were on again, off again, visit The Original Soup Man from Seinfeld and spot McGee’s Pub from How I Met Your Mother. Movie buffs can visit the Plaza Hotel on the edge of Central Park, where Kevin McCallister went on a rampage in his second adventure, and Macy’s in Herald Square, famously used in Christmas faves Miracle on 34th Street and Elf. If you’re dragged to Manhattan by a movie-loving better half and you prefer stage to screen, you should insist on seeing Frozen on Broadway from February. Aside from the movie tours, make sure you don’t miss a trip up the Empire State Building or to Staten Island to see the Statue of Liberty, or just take a wander around the giant mass of greenery that is Central Park.