11 Trips You Need to Take As Soon As You Retire
Blue Ridge Parkway
Billed as "America's Favorite Drive," the spectacular 469-mile drive joins Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina.
Take as much or as little time as you want on this scenic ride that averages between 3,000 and 4,000 feet in elevation. Delight in the extraordinary views from roadside pullover areas, or hike a few of over 80 trails. From campgrounds to upscale log homes, plenty of lodging is available, and you can enjoy traditional music, culture, biking, history, nature, or even golf along the way.
In Asheville, N.C., take time to explore the majestic Biltmore Estate, created in 1895 by George Vanderbilt. Self-guided tours take you through the 250-room house and garden, described as a "time travel experience." All the information you need to plan your excursion is on the Blue Ridge Parkway Association's website, plus they offer a smartphone app that includes scenic and historic sites, lodging, and activities to guide you along the way.
Want to leave the driving to someone else? A luxurious journey through the Canadian Rockies aboard one of Rocky Mountaineer's comfortable, glass-domed railway cars might be your thing. You can even add an Alaska cruise to your itinerary.
Several options are available, for example the "Coastal Passage Canadian Rockies Getaway," a 12-day trip with five days on the Rocky Mountaineer. This will take you from a tour of Seattle to Vancouver, where you board the train for stops in Jasper National Park, Lake Louise, Yoho National Park, and Banff National Park before heading back across snow-capped peaks and the Continental Divide to Vancouver.
Along the way, you can ride a gondola to the top of Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, explore the Athabasca Glacier aboard a unique Ice Explorer vehicle, and see six mountain ranges from the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park. (Did we mention all of Canada's national parks are free this year?)
Several price options are available for each itinerary, and you can plan your trip on rockymountaineer.com.
Lovers of history, religion, and current events will enjoy touring this tiny country, which is actually about the size of New Jersey. Your first stop should be Tel Aviv, known for its beaches, clubs, and thriving arts community.
Stay in the conveniently located boutique hotel The Norman, housed in a luxuriously restored historic building. Savor the house specialty schnitzel at the popular Café Noir. Be sure to visit the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv's most popular, for unique textiles, spices, tea, herbs, and fresh foods.
Less than an hour's drive north is Caesarea, a coastal town offering breathtaking views of the Mediterranean along with Roman ruins dating from its days as the area's largest port.
Jerusalem, a sacred city for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, must be on your itinerary. See the iconic Dome of the Rock shrine, Jerusalem's most recognizable landmark and example of Islamic architecture. Visit the site of the Crucifixion, the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall. The magnificent King David Hotel would be a treat, even if only for dinner or a cocktail. A range of tour groups and prices make visiting Israel convenient as well as memorable. A tip: Consider concierge service to expedite your arrival at Ben Gurion Airport.
Looking for lush green scenery, inviting pubs, and friendly folks? Want to find out more about your ancestors or discover the towns they once called home? A trip to Ireland will fit the bill.
Start in Dublin, where you can visit Trinity College to admire the architecture and ancient manuscripts, prison-turned-museum Kilmainham Gaol to hear about Ireland's history, and the Guinness Storehouse to pour a proper pint and enjoy a 360-degree view of the city. Join a pub crawl and hear traditional Irish music while you check out the lively bar scene.
There are so many lovely cities to explore — the port city of Kinsale to the south, Belfast in Northern Ireland, Dingle, and Killarney — and the green countryside of the Emerald Isle. Drive the 110-mile Ring of Kerry along the Iveragh Peninsula for breathtaking views, historic sites, waterfalls, beaches, and monuments. Wicklow Mountain National Park and Killarney National Park should also be on every visitor's list.
The seaport town of Cobh in County Cork was the departure point of the Titanic, and a tour of the White Star Line ticket office is a moving and memorable experience. If you plan to drive, remember that you'll be on the left side of the road, and vehicles have right-hand drive — a bit confusing, especially with a standard shift car. Opt for an automatic vehicle or a driver for comfortable, safer touring.
This island just off Italy's toe is another exciting locale for seeking ancestral towns, and you can do it while also sniffing out the perfect cannoli or pasta alla Norma. Many Italian-Americans trace their roots to Sicily as a result of migrations that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Palermo, Sicily's capital, is a lively city with colorful outdoor markets, spectacular cathedrals, and delectable street foods, including fried rice balls called arancini. Enjoy them with Sicilian wines, many from vineyards near Mt. Etna, Sicily's active volcano.
Unique and inviting cities along the coastline and interior offer something for everyone, including ancient ruins at Agrigento, Siracusa, Selinunte, and Taormina, testament to the history of this island which has been occupied at various times by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, and others.
Miles of gorgeous coast and beaches, impressive architecture, delicious fresh seafood, and friendly people are just a few reasons to visit Sicily. Travel between cities can be managed by train, bus, car, or private driver. If you rent a car, note that main highways are generally in good condition and well-marked, unlike some local roads. Highway speeds are fast, and Sicilian drivers seem to love tailgating. Within the cities, streets are narrow and parking is nearly non-existent. You can usually find public parking on the edge of towns in a parcheggio.
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If your goal is to be spoiled and rejuvenated in luxurious surroundings, The Canyon Suites at The Phoenician Hotel might be just the place for you. This on-property 60-room boutique hotel offers a complimentary breakfast buffet, infinity pool, daily cocktail hour, exclusive dining choices, spa services, and exquisite service throughout. It's just eight convenient miles from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, so you can start relaxing as soon as you land.
When you tire of lying by the pool and admiring spectacular Camelback Mountain, you can hike, bike, or shop at the nearby Scottsdale Fashion Square. If you feel daring, take a lesson on their trapeze, or if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, explore their library's stock of current best sellers, stroll through the cactus garden, or catch a movie in the on-site theater.
Even if you don't play golf, you can still enjoy the views of local flora and fauna, wildlife, and nature on their "golf course safari," with no worries about hitting that little white ball.
With a flight time between 16 and 21 hours from the U.S. and a huge area to see, a visit to Australia doesn't fit most vacation schedules – until you have no schedule, that is.
In metropolitan Sydney, tour the iconic opera house and then see it from another perspective on a harbor cruise. Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or climb to the apex of its steel arch if you have lots of energy and an extra $200. Get up close and personal with Australia's unique wildlife on Kangaroo Island's nature reserve, called Australia's Galapagos, and see koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, fur seals, penguins, and kookaburras. The island is a short flight or ferry ride from Adelaide, in southern Australia.
For marine wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia is home to countless species of colorful fish, mollusks, starfish, turtles, dolphins, and sharks. Melbourne's Great Ocean Road, at Australia's southeastern tip, is the place to see rugged seashore, jagged cliffs, sandy beaches, and even the dense Otway rainforest.
Cruise the Yarra River in Melbourne for great views of the city's landmarks and skyline. Seasons are opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, so most travelers to the southern part of Australia time their visits during summer, from November through March.
Looking for pura vida? The motto, meaning "Enjoy life and be happy," is a favorite saying in this Central American country for good reason. Natural surroundings of rain forest, jungles, Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, volcanoes, and hot springs make it a fascinating place to visit.
Lovers of wildlife can see monkeys, sloths, wildcats, whales, reptiles, and sea turtles in their natural habitats. And after a day of hiking, diving, surfing, playing golf, or exploring nature, you can look forward to relaxing on an unspoiled beach or in a lush rainforest.
Five-star hotels and luxurious resorts are located throughout the country, so you can choose the locale to ensure you find what pura vida means to you. Costa Rica has two international airports, Daniel Oduber Quirós in Liberia (LIR) and Juan Santamaría in San Jose (SJO). Be sure to check the most convenient airport and ground transportation when choosing your hotel.
Southeast Asia River Cruise
If this part of the world is new to you, a river cruise offers adventure, luxury, convenience, and all the arrangements made for you. Several companies offer excursions that include Hanoi, Vietnam's capital city where you'll see colonial architecture and ancient temples and Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, once known as "Paris of the Orient." An overnight stay on a boat in Ha Long Bay to see the magnificent limestone rock formations is another unique experience.
Since you're in "the neighborhood," hop a short flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia and tour Angkor Wat, a massive temple complex built in the early 12th century. In Phnom Penh, you can enjoy the French Colonial architecture, local crafts, and vibrant nightlife or take an excursion to the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum, eye-opening testaments to the country's tumultuous history. The major river cruise companies offer excursions and side trips of various lengths and itineraries.
So far away and such a huge expanse of land with several major cities, a trip to China had to wait until there was time to explore it properly. Now is that time.
Start your visit in Beijing, China's imperial capital where you can view historic Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, the world's largest surviving ancient palace complex. Walk along the 4,000-mile-long Great Wall, enjoying the panoramic views and contemplating its role in China's long history.
Take a short flight to Xi'an to see the wondrous Terra Cotta Warriors, thousands of unique statues buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Your next stop is Shanghai, China's largest city and financial center where you can stroll along the Bund, its famed waterfront promenade lined with colonial-era buildings. Be sure to sample the specialty xiao long bao, soup dumplings, at a few of the restaurants that claim theirs to be the best. You can be the judge.
U.S. Coast-to-coast Road Trip
"See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet!" If you're retirement age, you've undoubtedly heard the song, and it's still good advice for travelers with lots of time.
There are so many sights to see and so many ways to drive across America. Of course, you can take Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles. For nostalgia, small towns, kitschy landmarks, and a view of the Grand Canyon, this is the way to go.
Or try the southern route linking San Diego, California and Savannah, Georgia, passing through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Cutting across the middle on Route 50 linking Maryland and Northern California, you'll see the Sierra Nevada, Appalachian, and Rocky Mountains, deserts, plains, and farmland. Washington D.C., the world's tallest arch in St. Louis, and Lake Tahoe are among the sights on this route.