Guide to a Perfect Everglades Weekend Escape

Alligator1
Crow 911, Flickr

One of the great dualities of Florida is the presence of spectacular natural places and wildlife within easy striking distance of the most people-packed urban areas. And Everglades National Park – covering more than 1.5 million acres in South Florida – is as off-the-charts-wild as U.S. parks get. While the most remote areas of the park are largely inaccessible, there are plenty of spots within a stone’s throw ofMiami and Naples (around the small towns of Florida City and Everglades City) where you can get a real feel for the “River of Grass.”

The Everglades was originally given protected status in 1947 in order to preserve its extreme biodiversity, and the vast sub-tropical wilderness here continues to flourish as a habitat for alligators, Florida panthers, manatees and crocodiles as well as hundreds of species of plants and birds. For one of the wildest Florida escapes, this is the place.

See the full itinerary on MapQuest Discover>>

Best Way to Spend a Weekend at the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon
Markusnl via Flickr

The Grand Canyon astonishes even the most seasoned travelers, but a visit here offers far more than a jaw-dropping view across a 6000-foot-deep, vermilion-streaked chasm. Park staffers point out that a significant number of visitors simply drive into the park, walk up to the canyon rim, snap a few photos and speed away. Don’t be that tourist. Give yourself 48 hours, and you’ll have the opportunity to examine fascinating exhibits on the region’s impressive human and natural history, embark on a light (or strenuous) hike and feast on local elk and trout in a grand dining room perched on the canyon’s rim. So grab your camera (and at least a 16-gig memory card) and spend some time getting to know the country’s second-most-visited national park.

See the full itinerary on MapQuest Discover>>

48 Hours In Brussels: 5 Budget-Friendly Things Not To Miss

Anna Brones

Beyond beer and the European Parliament I wasn’t sure what Brussels had to offer. Oh wait, waffles, there had to be waffles.

Brussels often gets a bad rap. Maybe it’s because one of the iconic tourist symbols is a statue of a peeing boy, or maybe it’s because in having the headquarters of several major IGOs, it has a very business feel, but either way, if you choose to skip Brussels you’re missing out.

It may not have the quaint charm of Amsterdam or the romanticism of Paris, but spend a weekend in Brussels and there is plenty to do, even for those traveling on a budget.
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Only have 48 hours? Make sure these five budget-friendly activities get added to your to-do list.

1. A visit to Cantillon Brewery
As soon as you step into Cantillon, you know you’re in a brewery. Located off the beaten path near the South Train Station, it has been open since 1900, and barely anything has changed since then. The musty smell of yeast hangs in the air and the tasting room has barrels in the place of tables. If you’re into craft and specialty beer, this is the place for you. You can taste a variety of their lambic beers and it will cost you much less than a night out on the town. Buy a few bottles to take with you on your way out.

2. Eat fries at Maison Antoine
Whether it’s midday or late night, you can’t leave Brussels without stopping by the frituur Maison Antoine for a cornet of Belgian fries. Pick your sauces of choice and eat your fries on the go, or take your cornet to one of the nearby bars on Place Jourdan, which have no problem allowing you to sit down and enjoy your fries with a beer.

3. Explore the city’s comic murals
There are over 30 different comic murals around Brussels. Print off a map of all of them and start exploring; it’s an excellent way to check out the city and get a taste for the country’s comic tradition.

4. Get a rooftop view
There are a couple of places in Brussels where you can get pretty stunning views over the city. Start with the glass elevator at Place Poelaert. In the summer, the Beursschouwburg opens up its rooftop terrace for both movie nights and a picnic space everyday at lunchtime and if you’re a fan of urban gardening, you’ll want to check out the rooftop garden at the Royal Library. You can also hit up the Museum of Musical Instruments‘ rooftop restaurant for an afternoon coffee or beer.

5. Visit Parc de Bruxelles
Created in the late 18th century, Parc de Bruxelles has a classic European park feel to it and it’s right next to the Royal Palace. It’s perfect for a picnic or an afternoon stroll. If you’re visiting in July, with all of the official festivities, it’s a good place to be for Belgium’s National Day on July 21.

In Praise of Staying Home on Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend. It’s the last hurrah of summer. Soon, it’s back to school or back to work, and in the northern hemisphere the planet tilts away from the sun as we move into fall. It’s tempting to book one more plane ticket, squeeze in one more overnight hike, one more weekend road trip. After Labor Day weekend, it’s closed toe shoes and alarm clocks and carpools and behaving like a grown up again.

Don’t give into the hype. Labor Day isn’t the last weekend ever, there’s no need to act like it. And there are a number of good reasons to stick close to home. Let’s break it down.

Campgrounds are packed. Oh, you wanted to get away from it all, but now, you’re in a parking lot of RVs and listless teenagers and that guy who won’t turn down the Bryan Adams. Sure, you might be able to snap up a last minute campsite, but if you’re going camping with everyone else, you might as well stay in town.

Traffic is a disaster. According to the National Safety Council, Labor Day weekend ranks fifth for the most dangerous driving day in the US. In addition to the dangers of sharing the road with sunburned, hungover, dehydrated lunatics, you’ll share the road with thousands of perfectly sober and sun-screened drivers, all trying to make it home for a good night’s sleep before school or work the next day. You don’t really want to spend 12 out of your 72 free hours in gridlock, do you?

Labor Day hotel rates are inflated. A random search revealed a difference of 50-75 dollars less for rooms in San Francisco on the weekend after Labor Day. Manhattan rates? About 100 dollars less a night for the weekend after Labor Day. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.

There are top notch festivals in your back yard. Seattle has Bumbershoot, four days of headline music acts, art, literature… Brooklyn has the West Indian American Day Parade & Carnival with incredible food and costumes. Sure, it’s about West Indies pride, but everyone is welcome. Check your local events site or paper; there’s something fantastic happening near you. Don’t dismiss those small town events, often, they’re an opportunity to fall in love with your home town all over again.

Your local friends and family want to see you. When did you last have everyone over for dinner? When did you go for a picnic in the park by your house? Spring was crappy, and then, you were away and they were away… It’s time you got your tribe together for grilling and shandy and making up stories about what’s next. You’re all off work; take advantage of it.

It’s a great time to take a break. Travel is fantastic, but it would be a lie to say it’s always easy and relaxing. Why not take the long weekend to just wind down? The end of summer is the perfect time to swing in the hammock and mentally write that “What I did on my summer vacation” report. Stock the cooler, park the car, and give yourself three days to just chill.

The weather is great and beer is on sale. ’nuff said.

Photo via Flickr user Myki Roventine.