How to get there
The gleaming new Suvarnabhumi Airport on the eastern edge of Bangkok is a substantial improvement on the old Don Muang entry point, notwithstanding the decision by one of Thailand’s feisty political groups to take it over last year. The airport train link is not expected to open until later this year, leaving travellers with a choice of the airport limousine service at Bt1,200 ($36, £22) or taxis at approximately Bt300-400. For taxis, go to exit door two and tell the desk just outside your destination: the charge is the meter plus Bt50 airport tax and Bt70 for tolls. The ride to the centre of town can take 30 minutes in good traffic.
Where to stay
There is no shortage of hotels, but the choice tends to fall into two categories: those by the river, which is close to most of the tourist sites, or in the centre of town. Of the former, the cream of the crop is the legendary Oriental Hotel, which is regularly voted the best hotel in Asia, if not the world. The Sheraton, the Shangri-La and the Peninsula are also nearby. All the big hotels run their own boat service to the quay near the skytrain stop at Saphan Thaksin, making it easier to get around. For those wanting to stay close to the river but looking for a less packaged option, the small Arun Residence has magnificent views over the river and the Temple of the Dawn. In the centre, try the Sukothai, the Banyan Tree or the Metropolitan Hotels. The boutique S15 hotel on Sukhumvit Road is also establishing a strong reputation, but ask for a room away from the main road to avoid traffic noise.
Where to eat
Thailand is home to one of the world’s great cuisines, and although it helps if you are not put off by thermonuclear doses of chilli, most restaurants will happily accommodate a foreigner’s request for nidnoi pet – a little spicy. In Bangkok, more expensive is not necessarily better, and some of the best food is to be found in small street-side restaurants and stalls. The tiny six-table Chote Chitr (146 Praeng Phuton Rd, not far from the Democracy Monument) is hard to find, but worth the trouble for those in search of authenticity. For a more cosmopolitan experience, try the Face Bar, tucked away down Sukhumvit Soi 38. It has excellent Thai, Japanese and Indian restaurants in a teak house. If you like a view with your dinner, try Vertigo on the roof of the Banyan Tree Hotel, 60 floors above the city, or the even higher Scirocco, 63 floors up on the top of the State Tower in lower Silom.
What to do
No visit to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to the country’s spiritual heart, the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace, but there are other less visited palaces and temples that are also worth finding: try the Vinanmek Palace, billed as the world’s largest golden teak building, or the more intimate Suan Pakkad Palace. The river is the old heart of Bangkok: take a long-tailed boat through the klongs (canals) and visit the floating market early in the morning. For those with a day to spare, many hotels run tours that bus visitors up to the ruins of Ayutthaya, the old capital, before boarding a boat for a three-hour cruise back to Bangkok with a late lunch on the boat. For epicures, a day at a cooking school, such as the Blue Elephant, is a good introduction to the cuisine and the cornucopia of Bangkok’s produce markets. Thailand produces some of the world’s most spectacular silks, and Jim Thompson’s house is a good place to get some souvenirs. The country is also one of the world’s biggest gem cutting centres, but you are unlikely to find any real bargains at the gem warehouses recommended by taxi drivers: for bespoke jewellery try a company such as Lambert Gems just off Silom Road. Similar caution needs to be applied when having clothes made: visit a reputable tailor such as Rajawongse Clothier near the Landmark Hotel on Sukhumvit Road for suits and shirts.
How to get there
Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport is so cool it is almost a destination in itself. From its hardwood floors to its streamlined sculptures it exudes Scandinavian chic. More importantly, it works. Voted Europe’s most-efficient airport twice in a row, Kastrup is a pioneer in adopting new technologies to make life easier for travellers. Online, mobile phone or self-service check-in? No problem at Kastrup. Business traveller in a hurry? The average time needed to clear security is just three and half minutes. Those flying SAS business class and economy extra have an exclusive and even speedier security checkpoint. Copenhagen city centre is a 20-minute ride away in a taxi that is clean, roomy (usually a Mercedes or BMW) and invariably accepts credit cards. There is no need to book taxis in advance – there are always more than enough waiting outside. The sleek and driverless Metro trains that depart from inside the terminal are a fun alternative. Departing every four to six minutes from inside the terminal they will whizz you to the city in 15 minutes flat.
Where to stay
Copenhagen is a compact city, so hotel choice is best governed by ambience rather than proximity to your business destination. The Marriott, the Admiral and Nyhavn 71 all combine waterfront views with a central location. The grand old dame of Copenhagen hotels, Hotel D’Angleterre, blends 19th century charm with 21st century service. Hotel Skt. Petri, tucked away in an unassuming former department store, is a haven of five-star Danish design and is a block away from the central metro station.
Where to eat
Babette’s Feast, Gabriel Axel’s Oscar-winning vignette of piety and feasts, foreshadowed the evolution of Danish gastronomy. Mirroring the movie, the Danes have cast aside their traditional peasant stodge to become experts in Scandinavian modern – a new style of cooking that retains the freshness and delicacy of the wholesome fish, meat and berries of the Nordic region. Local chefs have been picking up Michelin stars at a remarkable rate. In the latest round of awards they received 14, placing Copenhagen higher than such stalwarts as Rome, Madrid, Berlin and Vienna. The pick of the bunch in Copenhagen is the two-starred Noma whose chef, René Redzepi, has previously worked in California’s French Laundry and Spain’s El Bulli. Eschewing the traditional high-end ingredients of warmer climates (foie gras, olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes), Noma’s team has made it its mission to comb the Nordic region for exclusive and fresh ingredients including Faroese deep-sea crabs and langoustines, Icelandic wild salmon and seaweed and musk ox, mountain berries and pure glacial water from Greenland. Demand from foodies has soared since Noma was this year chosen as the world’s third best restaurant – book well in advance. Alternatives for a memorable dinner include Ensemble, The Paul, Kiin Kiin, Kong Hans and Era Ora – all Michelin-starred. With punters shunning ostentatious displays of consumption, wily chefs are also rediscovering the merits of bistro fare. Oubaek, Bistro Boheme and Pastis all offer a satisfying selection of French-accented classics. If you absolutely must sample Denmark’s famous open-sandwich cuisine, Ida Davidsen and Schønnemann Restaurant are both worth a try. But be warned – rye bread and raw herring are not to everybody’s taste.
What to do
For most visitors, chill winds, low skies and even lower temperatures take the gloss off outdoor pursuits between December and February. That said, going native in Copenhagen in the snow can be exhilarating. Kongens Nytorv outside Hotel D’Angleterre, houses an outdoor ice skating rink during winter. Skating is free, skates, if you don’t bring your own, can be hired for a small fee. Follow up with a hot chocolate or something stronger in one of the many canal-front cafés a few metres away in Nyhavn. Perhaps the best way to combine an hour’s sightseeing with sheltering from inclement weather is a boat tour in one of the many barges that circumnavigate the city’s picturesque canals. The biggest autumn extravaganza of all is undoubtedly the annual Night of Culture, when more than 200 museums, churches, galleries and political institutions fling open their doors for nocturnal visitors. Drawing some 60,000 guests every year, the night features everything from insiders’ guides to Masonic lodges though displays of Greenlandic dance to backstage tours of parliament. For a more traditional pastime, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek can be recommended. Founded by the brewer to house his collection of European antiquities and artworks, this museum is stunning. A haven of tranquility and calm, it is the perfect place for a quiet de-stress in the heart of the city. The Little Mermaid statuette on the harbour front is on some visitors’ lists, but leaves many underwhelmed. Furthermore, the fishy lady may not even be around when you come to call – between April and November 2010 she will desert her perch in favour of fame at the Shanghai World Expo.
How to get there
Miami International Airport (MIA) is just over three hours from New York and about two from Washington DC by air. British Airways and Virgin fly direct from London. The 15 to 20 minute taxi-ride to downtown Miami is about $22 and to Miami Beach about $32. The city sits at the bottom of the I-95 – the main east coast highway – and is also the end of Amtrak’s east coast line, but at 1,300 miles from New York a cheap flight is the only sensible conveyance from the north-east of the US and for much of the rest of the country, making up in speed and value what it lacks in adventure.
Where to stay?
Downtown Miami has a number of acceptable options, with the Conrad a stand-out for its sleek skyscraper elegance. South Beach has rows of art deco hotels overlooking white sand and shallow Atlantic waters. Ritz-Carlton has spent millions of dollars revamping its art deco property here and boasts two other hotels at Key Biscayne (the most northerly of the Florida Keys) and Coconut Grove, 20 minutes drive from downtown Miami. The Delano has a similar glitz – though its drape-adorned lobby and Rose Bar can feel a bit try-hard. The Shore Club hotel seems more at ease with its upmarket style and has one of the most attractive bars on the strip, set in a garden by the pool. The Standard, a mile back from the beach, boasts a great pool overlooking the bay, but the spa and “adult playground” (children are not welcome) are slightly marred by the hit-and-miss service that can infect the whole city. As most of the best hotels on South Beach are as known as much for their nightlife as bedrooms, seekers of tranquility should choose their rooms carefully in peak season.
Where to eat?
Joe’s Stone Crab at the tip of South Beach is an institution dating back to 1913, specialising in local crustaceans with mustard sauce. Be aware that after May the crabs are frozen and that the restaurant closes for the off-season at the start of August. Trendier establishments include Table 8 for Californian cuisine, Nobu for celebrity-spotting over sushi. Away from the beach, Xixon Café is a popular tapas hang-out (with more of a Spanish than Latin American feel, but decidedly non-Spanish early closing hours). Hakkasan, the sexy Chinese cuisine London restaurant of Alan Yau, has just been exported to Miami at the Fontainebleau hotel. The Green Turtle Inn at Islamorada is a great stop-off point on the way to Key West for a delicious fried oyster sandwich and a welcome break from the pretensions of some of Miami’s establishments.
What to do?
Flying into Miami tells you all you need to know about its geography: flat, wet and sprawling. Taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced, but if you have more than a couple of days, a car is desirable and it is advisable to book ahead outside peak months (January to April), when many of the vehicles mysteriously migrate to more populous cities. The beach is alluring enough to distract visitors from colder climes for some time and, although it is at its busiest in the early spring, the weather can be largely clear and not unbearably hot into August. Then hurricane season takes off. Apart from sand, South Beach also offers luxury shops on Collins Avenue, including Versace, whose founder was murdered in Miami in 1997. Gianni Versace’s mansion itself sits on Ocean Drive, the main celebrity stretch, which on a good day can be a good place for a drink or Art Deco building-spotting. On a bad day the street can become rammed with celebrity gawkers and restaurant hawkers. Away from the beach, Little Havana offers a different, colourful world with cigar smoke wafting out of cafes and Spanish dominant among the Cuban exiles. Eighth Street (Calle Ocho) caters for smokers and party goers in March, when it is the centre of the Cuban part of Miami’s carnival. A more sedate pace is on offer at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, an Italianate house next to Biscayne Bay. With time to spare, the Florida Keys makes for a great (four hour) drive across narrow islands and spectacular bridges over the sea to Key West, the most southerly point of the continental US, which is nearer to Havana than to Miami. A closer alternative is the Florida Everglades with a giant 100-mile long stretch of subtropical wetland – home to both crocodiles and alligators.