Help me get the most out of my holiday!
January 20, 2007 3:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm visting four countries within a month, what should I see, visit, taste, smell and photograph while I'm there?

Very soon, I'll be travelling to Eygpt, America, Canada, U.K. for around four weeks. Specifically, Cairo, Washington D.C., New York, Toronto and London.

The latter two I have previously visited so the essential tourist spots have been covered (i.e. Niagra Falls and Big Ben) but as I'm spending about 10 days in each location what other things do you suggest I try?

I'll have about three days at the former locations, however I've never visted any of them previously and I'm wondering how to narrow down what I see and if it's really possible to get an enriching experience from my travels there.

That being said, this is less about packing everything into every single second of every single day and more just a chance to get away from my current situation (that you'd have learnt through my previous AskMe questions).

There's also going to be a LOT of airplane/airport time, so any suggestions on how to stave the boredom away?

Thanks in advance, I'll send you guys a postcard. Hee.
posted by liquorice to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
With cities that massive and time so short, it would help to know some general interests and preferences to help narrow it down... for example, if you love (or hate) museums, that would dramatically affect what I'd recommend you do in three days in New York.
posted by scody at 3:51 PM on January 20, 2007

I love museums, especially art muesums although I'm interested in history ones as well.

I live in a place that never, ever snows and I'm in the middle of summer down here so I would love any activities that are winter-related.

I also want to do some shopping but I'm not exactly rolling around in monetary funds at the moments and I'll be with my brother who is a total car enthusiast.

Maybe I should just have a MeFi Meet-Up.
posted by liquorice at 4:03 PM on January 20, 2007

Temple of Dendur, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, New York, NY.
posted by phaedon at 4:15 PM on January 20, 2007

DC is easily doable in 3 days. Just metro down to the Mall, grab a map and wander the Smithsonian, the Archives, the monuments (but don't waste your time on the Washington Monument) and the Capitol. Everything is within walking distance of everything else.
posted by empath at 4:15 PM on January 20, 2007

Rosetta Stone, Great Russell Street, London
posted by phaedon at 4:17 PM on January 20, 2007

If you want to shop in DC, you probably want to go to Georgetown. All the designer fashion stores are there. There may be spots downtown for all of that stuff, too, but I wouldn't know where.

Also, DC's nightlife is pretty diverse and there are at least a few decent club nights that are 18+, if you're interested in that.
posted by empath at 4:23 PM on January 20, 2007

Well, I just spent some time in Cairo, so I might be able to help a little.

The museum is worth a trip if you're into ancient Egyptian art. Also if you're into completely unorganized messes (seriously, I loved it. Huge statues just crammed into dark corners, the labels hardly any help...). For some of the major pieces I just kind of glommed onto a tour group with a guide explaining it (one in a language you understand will come along shortly if you find yourself next to, say, the Japanese group).

Khan el-Khalili is great for shopping, and a fun place to see. Everything is very, very cheap if you know how to get it. Luckily I was with my sister who lives there, so I knew what the general going rates were for things. 20LE is very good for a T-shirt, 25LE is very good for one of those fake pashmina scarves. I would even spend 5LE more on each if I didn't feel like arguing as much. If the vendor doesn't want to go that low, just walk away. The next one will, or the first might very well chase you down and give you the price you want. Cafes in the Khan are overpriced (relatively), but I didn't feel as strange there as a woman as I did with some other cafes when I just wanted some tea and shisha. Which you should have. Tea with mint. Also get some koshari. Street food is the best, and cheap, although a little intimidating to order if you don't speak Arabic. Smiles and hand gestures will get you through.

If you want to try Egyptian beer (tip: it's not that good), the Hurreya bar/cafe (second one down on that page) has some of the cheapest in the city (7.5LE, I think) and is like out of another era. It's bright, and loud, and old, and has a diverse crowd. I spent a lovely afternoon there, and wish I went back.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 4:33 PM on January 20, 2007

Oooh... Egypt! Well, where you go really depends on how you're getting around. Some of my favorite places were kind of far off the beaten path, so you might not be able to get to them easily.

Obviously when you're in Cairo you'll have to go to the Egyptian Museum & see the Tut exhibit & Ramses mummy & whatnot... that's mandatory. DEFINITELY go to the Khan al-Khalili & sit at El Fishawy with a tea and smoke some apple tobacco if you want to try it. (That last link has a lot of other GREAT Cairo tips too!) The pyramids were really cool & I had a surprising amount of fun riding my camel, but you couldn't pay me enough to climb under that pyramid again. If you pay extra you can explore under the Greater Pyramid (most people just see the Lesser Pyramid), but I didn't want to explore either. MAN that tunnel was just too claustrophobic for me. Not like there's any art down there... meh.

I spent time in Alexandria & it was nice, but the highlights of my time there were the Nile cruise I took from Luxor to Aswan, walking the tombs & temples in the Valley of the Kings, staying at The Old Winter Palace in Luxor, & walking around Abu Simbel.

My VERY favorite part was the time I spent in the Siwa Oasis though. It's just so remote and unique and was such a great experience. I went on a jeep safari out into the Great Sand Sea and it was something I will never forget as long as I live. It's hard not to imagine Alexander the Great galloping over the horizon. If you can splurge for a few nights, I TOTALLY recommend as a once-in-a-lifetime thing to stay at The Ecolodge there. It's pretty freaking amazing. The food's really good too.

Regarding London, I have an online photography album of five days I spent there in 2003, maybe it'll inspire you for some things you'd like to see too.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:50 PM on January 20, 2007

I love museums, especially art muesums although I'm interested in history ones as well.

Ah, then, you're in for a feast in New York and D.C.! In New York, get thee straight to MoMa and the Met. In D.C., you have the whole Smithsonian system to choose from; my top choices would be the Natural History Museum and the American History Museum, and the Hirshhorn, but take your pick!
posted by scody at 4:54 PM on January 20, 2007

By the way... just read over your other questions. I'm really so sorry about your mom. :( Travel is a great, amazing way to put life into perspective. My visit to Egypt in April was tribute to my godmother who passed away a year ago December. I decided to celebrate life instead of sit around and mourn her. It's hard, I still miss her immensely.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:01 PM on January 20, 2007

whoops, meant to link to this, too: the Smithsonian's directory of musuems.
posted by scody at 5:03 PM on January 20, 2007

I can spend all day in the British Museum, and if modern art is your thing, the Tate Modern can't be beat.
posted by zamboni at 5:26 PM on January 20, 2007

I'll second zamboni's suggestions and add the Victoria & Albert - depending on when you're in London you could catch the Sixties Fashions exhibition (ends 25 February). Or how about a walk around a section of London?

Also, if you're in London for 10 days, do you want ideas for (relatively) short trips out of the capital?

It's a good idea to pick up a copy of Time Out when you arrive, just about everything that's going on in London will be listed there.

Finally, paging k8, tourist information needed in this aisle please!
posted by ceri richard at 7:00 PM on January 20, 2007

I'm visting four countries within a month, what should I see, visit, taste, smell and photograph while I'm there?

What I would be most interested in seeing pictures of would be of ordinary street life of all the different places that you visit. Food markets, cheap local restaurants, local people etc. Especially if i you could maintain the same kind of similar style or narrative through the whole thing. And if you do it right, you should be able to do the taste and smell things at the same time.

There is enough pictures of the pyramids already... :)

Other people can give you advice on what to see, of the places you mention I've only been to London and only had time to rush by the major tourist spots... (yeah, not following my own advice... but I was much younger then :))

But try to avoid focusing on the traditional "must see" spots and just enjoy the normal life of the city you're in. If you already visited the so called essential spots, don't feel the need to do something special. Just walk around and eat at strange places, get lost in the non-tourist parts of the city, etc. (as long as you feel safe of course).

Think about what would create the best stories to tell after the trip is over...
posted by rpn at 7:51 PM on January 20, 2007

If you want street life in Toronto, my favourite spots are Queen West and Kensington area (currently Augusta near College is the most vibrant part of Kensington, with lots of great restaurants of every type and price range to choose from).

Now Magazine has lots of stuff about what's going on in any given week, in terms of shows and nightlife and such.
posted by carmen at 9:55 PM on January 20, 2007

Wow, Cairo, my favourite city - between holidays and work I've spent about two months there. It's a magical place.

If you take a look at a few pix from my last trip you might see something that appeals to you. I'd suggest the City of the Dead; for some reason I really enjoy walking around that place.

In terms of the pyramids at Giza don't even both going inside - just get on a horse and ride (I grew up riding horses and so have never gotten on nor ever will get on a camel, but some people enjoy it).

I live in London, and like Highgate Cemetery to take take visitors there as an offbeat destination. Full of Victorian monuments, it's totally stunning, and a place I enjoy spending time. You can look at a few pix of my last visit, and see if that would appeal to you.
posted by Mutant at 1:11 AM on January 21, 2007

I always go to the Cabinet War Rooms when i'm down in London -- it's a wonderful little slice of WWII history and doesn't seem to be as touristy as other bits.

For time in airports, my PSP is invaluable, especially as it also has internet access if i'm in a terrible pinch.
posted by ukdanae at 2:57 AM on January 21, 2007

I seem to say this everytime there's a London question, but here are two good days out/walks which are fairly cheap and steeped in London history: they both involve crossing the river, too. As a native sarf landoner I'm always a little disappointed when visitors spend their whole time in norf landon.

Get the train to Charing X, walk to Embankment down Villier's street, then cross the river at the footbridge turn left then walk along the south bank of the Thames to Tate Modern. You'll pass the Royal Festival Hall (concrete monstrosity skateboarder's favourite) and the OXO building and the views across the river are great. Tate Modern is a fantastic building, even if you don't like art. You can stroll across the footbridge to St Pauls if you want, but my preference is to continue along the south bank once you're done gallerying. Continue along the south bank (past "The Clink", and all sorts of fragments of history) till you hit southwark cathedral, then find The George for a historic pint, cross to borough market for some fresh veg or some sort of gastro-snack (borough market being rather posh these days), and you must drink a pint in the Market Porter (but don't expect a seat). You're within spitting distance of London Bridge train/tube to get wherever you're going for the evening (unless, like me, you have a tendency to get stuck in pubs).

Greenwich is another south london gem totally worth a visit. Get the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to Island Gardens. The DLR journey is something else, taking you through the "regenerated" east end, under Canary Wharf, past the docklands. At Island Gardens look across the river at the maritime museum, and the royal observatory in Greenwich park, and the cutty sark, and then walk under the foot tunnel and visit all three. I like to walk up to the observatory to start (and look back at Island Gardens - there's a great view of London from the top of the hill). The observatory is fascinating. The maritime museum is also good, but if you're only going to do one, do the observatory. Down in Greenwich itself, there are three or four craft market/flea market type things on a saturday and sunday, and there's the cutty sark which is great if you like boats (I do). For lunch, or just a restorative beer, the">Trafalgar has a great location, and the Yacht does too. I slightly prefer the Yacht, less pretentious, and whilst it is just round the corner from the Trafalgar (like, 20 metres) it is a little harder to find so tends to get less busy. Both have great views of the river and the dome.

The cutty sark costs money, I think all the other museums and galleries I've mentioned are free, if that's a consideration.
posted by handee at 3:17 AM on January 21, 2007

What a mess of HTML. Many apologies. Here are the pubs:

The George historic galleried coaching inn, expensive, but friendly, and the only surviving one in London. A must-see in my book.

Trafalgar Slightly posh but great views. Worth stopping for one, but pop next door to the Yacht if it's busy or you want to stop longer.
posted by handee at 3:22 AM on January 21, 2007

In Toronto, the things I adored were the Exploratorium (if they still have the Tactile Dome, it is quite an entertaining experience), the CN tower, and the Bata shoe museum.

DC: The Smithsonian museums are quite wonderful, but can take a very long time go through. Something else fun to do would be to hit up Ben's Chili Bowl.

London: The Tower of Londonwarning: music on that page is quite a bit of fun, especially seeing the crown jewels. Something else I was quite fond of was the London Dungeon. More torture devices than you can shake a stick at. There's also an entertaining ride that you can take. (Last time I was there, it was a story about what happens once you were sentenced to die in Victorian I think) court. The British Museum is quite lovely too, but like the Smithsonain, it can take an incrediably long time to go through.

Something that might be useful is the CityPass. It's basically a little mini booklet that you has tickets in it. These things are often quite helpful because they usually speed up your entrance time. (One I used in SF had a free public transportation voucher which I used to get around). There's also coupons and such in the back, often for merchandise at the places they offer tickets to. One drawback is that it can be somewhat pricey. It's up to you to decide whether or not it would be worth buying.
posted by sperose at 5:01 AM on January 21, 2007

Ironically, I'm writing this from my hotel in Cairo. Fishawi's coffeehouse is great, and for a half or day-long trek, I'd recommend starting at Khan al Khalili and Fishawi's, head south to Bab Zuweilah (the southern gates of medieval Cairo), and then keep going to the Mosque of ibn Talun (oldest in the city, from before 900 C.E.) and the adjoining Gayer-Anderson Museum.

n.b.: the Museum of Islamic Art is currently closed for renovations.

The Citadel offers great views of the city, but the museums are kitschy at best. The Egyptian Museum is a must-see, of course, but it gets quite monotonous as it's really a greatest hits of ancient Egyptian art. If you go to the pyramids (and you'll have plenty of time to do so) make sure to go further and hit Saqqara (home of the oldest pyramid, Djoser's stepped one) and Dashur, home of the bent pyramid and red pyramid, which are much further off the tourist track (but really not that much physically more distant).

If you have a couple of days to get out of Cairo, I would hit Luxor for a couple of days (the Amon el-Gezira hotel on the west bank is nice), and make sure to take the convoy to the Seti Temple in Abydos and the Temple of Dendera (I'm biased as I do archaeological work out of Abydos, but both of those temples are hard to beat, and are FAR more interesting than Dendur in NYC, save for the fact that Dendur is in the Met and the other two are in the desert). In Luxor, both Luxor and Karnak Temples are great, as are the Ramsesseum and the Valley of Kings.

Back in Cairo, I just visited the Egyptian Museum of Modern Art in Gezira. I wouldn't recommend it. Just go to the Whitney in NYC. I hear the Sufi dancers at the Citadel (a couple of nights a week, I think Saturday, Monday, and one other) are great.

For eating, get to Zamalek, on the island in the middle of the Nile; Maison Thomas has some amazing pizza, and Abu as-Sid has the best Egyptian food in the city (some may quibble, but I've never had better lentil soup), with the best decor around. Downtown has some good restaurants, particularly some koshari joints, but little else of real note.

And, as my Egyptologist friends note constantly, don't buy papyrus downtown or in the bazaar; it's just banana leaves!

As for NYC, check out the Whitney Museum, The Met, the AMNH, shop in SoHo (if you've got the $$$), go to the Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park, and Park Slope (more shopping and restaurants, and an NYC that tourists don't often see), get a beer at the Astoria Beer Garden or Zum Schneider, get trashed at Library Bar or Odessa in the East Village if you're into trashy bars, hang out around Washington Square and the West Village. Take the Staten Island Ferry at sunset for gorgeous city views (it's free, just take it out and back). Definitely visit the Cloisters (part of the Met, check their site for details, just don't take the bus from there to the Met because it takes 3 hours). Go to Jackson Heights in Queens for great Indian food. Don't linger in Staten Island, whatever you do.
posted by The Michael The at 6:50 AM on January 21, 2007

The National Cathedral in DC is where I take everyone. Awesome building, and you get a great view of the city from the towers.
posted by princelyfox at 9:25 AM on January 21, 2007

oh hey, the exploratorium is in san francisco. the toronto version is the ontario science centre (not quite as cool as the exploratorium, but definitely worth checking out with childen in tow. without children, its a little more hit-or-miss, but sometimes still excellent. check out the featured exhibit, which may well be worth a look.)
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:02 PM on October 9, 2007

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