Visiting Florence and have a day to spare? Head to Cinque Terre! (Photo: Thinkstock)
How many times have you found yourself in a new city with a day to spare? You could hole up in the hotel with your Wi-Fi and some bad coffee, or you could opt for the better option — have an adventure.
Leaving your hotel and stumbling into something awesome isn’t always easy, especially when you’re traveling abroad. In fact, it can be downright scary to take the leap into the great unknown of a strange place. We’re travel editors, and even we still find it daunting at times — navigating maps of a new place, wading through online reviews, and then negotiating foreign payment and booking systems.
It takes quite a bit for us to toot a horn for a company, but on five recent occasions, Viator has seriously pulled through when we needed to find a truly awesome day trip in a strange new place, both at home and abroad. The booking is seamless and easy, and all of the trips are vetted so you know you aren’t getting ripped off.
Here are five last-minute day trips that knocked our socks off:
I was traveling to the City of Light on a much-needed vacation, and as a newlywed, I was desperate to learn to prepare something other than pasta, salad, and grilled cheese.
Learn to be a master chef in just a day. (Photo: Jo Piazza/Yahoo Travel)
There is no shortage of cooking lessons in Paris these days. The French will have you believe that the art of cooking was actually invented here. Don’t bother to mention the Italians. They’ll scoff at you and refuse to serve you another baguette.
Visitors to Paris can find a class that will teach them just about anything, from classic French cooking with enough butter to burst your arteries to the creation of the perfect macaron or croissant. I wanted to be able to cook a whole meal for eight people, and I wanted to do it well. And then I wanted to tell all those people who came to my dinner party, with a flip of my ponytail, “Oh, of course I learned this recipe in Paris.” But I also wanted to have fun while I did it, which was why Le Foodist seemed so appealing.
The whole point of Le Foodist founder Fred Pouillot’s cooking classes is to pair cooking with conversation. So over the course of six hours together, we not only learned how to make coq au vin, Poire Belle Hélèn, and Jerusalem Artichoke Velouté, but also we also learned the origins of goat cheese in France, the importance of the rooster to the French, and the fact that the Jerusalem artichoke is neither an artichoke nor from Israel.
A day safari in Nairobi. The Nairobi National Park is just a short drive (4 miles) from the bustling city’s center, and it practically borders the Nairobi and Wilson airports.
Despite its location right in the middle of Nairobi’s sprawl, the park’s 28,963 acres is home to more than 400 species. Most visitors to Kenya use Nairobi as a jumping-off point for more far-flung safari locations around the rest of East Africa and are completely unaware that the city even has a national park, much less one with such a wide array of animals.
Zebra crossing, right in the city limits. (Photo: Jo Piazza/Yahoo Travel)
Even if you only have a day in the Kenyan capital, it’s worth a trip. Viator offers a nine-hour game drive through the national park with Urban Adventures, and the tour also includes a visit to the Karen Blixen Museum and the Langata Giraffe Center, a must for anyone coming to Nairobi.
Cinque Terre hiking trip from Florence. Once visitors figure out how to properly pronounce the names of these five adorable Italian villages, they immediately want to hike them. But everyone thinks you need to spend days doing it. Not so, my friend.
This tour takes you by bus to Florence and gives you the whole day to explore Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, and Riomaggiore — the unspoiled fishing villages that make up what some refer to as the Italian Riviera.
A seaplane ride over Seattle. If you’re looking for an even better view than the one from the top of the Space Needle, hop into one of Kenmore Air’s seaplanes on Seattle’s Lake Union, and take a scenic ride over the houseboat communities (including the one in Sleepless in Seattle), magnificent lakeside and seaside estates, Seattle’s professional sports stadiums, and the downtown skyline on Elliott Bay.
A private plane to Niagara Falls. There are some things you simply cannot replicate in pictures. One of those things is the complete awesomeness of Niagara Falls. Sure, it looks great on Instagram, but the falls are really best enjoyed in person, in order to fully soak (literally soak!) in the incredible natural beauty, the intense sounds, and the fabulous kitschy-souvenir shopping.
Trust us, this is the most civilized way to see Niagara Falls. (Photo: Jo Piazza/Yahoo Travel)
Most folks don’t realize just how far Niagara Falls actually is from New York City. “They’re both in New York,” people tend to say. “We can do it in a day from Manhattan. We can do it in a day!” Sure you can — if you factor in at least 14 hours of driving time. Without traffic, the drive from NYC to Niagara is about seven hours, and with traffic, it can take as long as 10 hours.
So why not take a private jet to Niagara Falls this weekend? Does that sounds crazy?
And they give you Champagne when you land! (Photo: Jo Piazza/Yahoo Travel)
It isn’t that nuts. We swear. If you break down the cost of driving to Niagara Falls and staying overnight, including gas, hotel, meals, and tolls, it can end up getting pretty pricey. Viator tours can get you in and out of the falls quickly and efficiently in about 14 hours.
Viator gives you a full five hours to explore whichever side you choose, U.S. or Canada. If you’re speedy, then you can probably sneak across the Rainbow Bridge to do both. Fair warning: Cross the border on foot. Customs can have delays for cars.
Don’t forget to take a souvenir picture before you get on the boat. Trust us. You want the souvenir picture.
Then it’s back to your plane, a quick flight over the falls for some final pics, and then a quick and easy trip back to New York and a (hopefully) snappy bus ride back to the city.
We understand that this option might not be for everyone. But if you don’t have the extra day to spare on the commute and Niagara Falls is on your bucket list, a private jet is simply a civilized way to check it off.