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dubai aerial viewLast month, we challenged our readers to review a recent trip for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. The submissions we received were fascinating, detailing journeys to the temples of Cambodia, the lakes of Slovenia and the remote reaches of the Grand Canyon.

Choosing the best review was difficult, but in the end we went with Adrienne Lee’s Dazzling Dubai. Here’s an excerpt:

“Since we arrived at night, the city was all lit up with mile after mile of sparkling skyscrapers that could only be described as dazzling. We used that word daily as we discovered the wonders that Dubai has to offer.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give, we want to highlight a few runners-up that we also loved reading:

Angkor Wat: Incredibly Spiritual and Moving by Amelia Hesson: “We visited [Ta Prohm] early in the morning before any other tourists visited, making it the most serene of all temples for us. It is called the King of Trees because it is in pristine untouched condition, covered with crumbling stones and over powering trees. This was a very large temple, almost as large as Angkor Wat, and has not been repaired at all. The only thing done to this magnificent temple has been to build wooden stairs around the temple, as well as stairs climbing up to the top and down to the depths of this most sacred place. We were blown away by its majesty and loved seeing it in its natural state of crumbling and dis-repair.”

The Grand Canyon’s Most Remote Village by vagabondginger: “While millions visit the Grand Canyon each year, only a few thousand make the trek to this smallest Indian nation in America. The only way to get there is on foot, by horse or by helicopter. These people have lived here over 800 years and at one time the tribe was forced by the US government to give up most of their land, but almost 100 years later much of it was regained even though it is now a National Park. Of the 650 member tribe 450 live here and are self governing and they do not receive any US government stipends. They now rely heavily on tourism although they seem to resent it. This is their home we are trekking into and they consider their land to be sacred.”

Walks of Lake Bled & Lake Bohinj, Slovenia by Susan Burger: “Lake Bohinj, with steep mountains projecting straight up from the edges, is located in the Triglav National Park, and is even more serene and natural than Lake Bled. We rode the cable car to the top of Mount Vogel for a panoramic view of the surrounding Julian Alps and Mount Triglav (9,400 ft), the highest peak in Slovenia. It is also a good starting point for hiking trails, including the Bohinj cheese trail which offers samples of the traditionally made cheese to hikers starting late June.”

Feeling inspired? Read more trip reviews or share advice from your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Thanks to the strengthening U.S. dollar and the weakening euro, trips across the pond are getting more affordable — which has many of us daydreaming about sipping espressos in Italy or listening to traditional music at a pub in Ireland. But which European cities are the biggest draw?

HomeAway, a vacation rental site listing homes and apartments around the world, recently answered that question for us. The company delved into its search data to find out which European cities generated the most vacation rental inquiries from Americans between July and September 2015. The winner: Paris, followed closely by Amsterdam.

eiffel tower flowers paris


HomeAway examined the booking preferences in nine different major metro areas around the United States, identifying the top two most requested European destinations in each. Paris was the top choice in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Seattle, while Amsterdam won out in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. Rome was another popular pick, appearing second on the lists for three different U.S. markets (San Francisco, D.C. and Chicago).

There were a few outliers as well; New Yorkers and Philadelphians showed interest in Italy’s Amalfi Coast, while folks in Los Angeles, perhaps sick of all that sunshine, were hankering for a trip to Dublin.

It’s impossible to know for sure why certain destinations are more popular in some areas than others, but we suspect that the availability of affordable flights plays a role. For example, Boston’s number one pick was Reykjavik, and both Icelandair and WOW Air offer cheap nonstop flights there from Beantown. (Bostonians, take note: We found an incredible $374 roundtrip fare from WOW Air for an off-peak itinerary next month. Northern lights, anyone?)

Flights aside, it’s not hard to explain the popularity of Paris and Amsterdam, especially for vacation rentals. Imagine setting forth from your flat in Montmartre to pick up a freshly baked croissant from the patisserie on the corner, or parking your bike on your balcony after a day riding along Amsterdam’s canals. Yes, please!

canal bikes amsterdam


Check out HomeAway’s full list of popular cities below — and tell us which European destination you’d most like to visit.

New York Metro Area
1. Amsterdam
2. Amalfi Coast

Boston Metro Area
1. Reykjavik
2. Munich

Los Angeles Metro Area
1. Amsterdam
2. Dublin

San Francisco Metro Area
1. Paris
2. Rome

Washington D.C. Metro Area
1. Amsterdam
2. Rome

Chicago Metro Area
1. Paris
2. Rome

Philadelphia Metro Area
1. Amalfi Coast
2. Paris

Dallas/Fort Worth Metro Area
1. Paris
2. Amsterdam

Seattle Metro Area
1. Paris
2. Amsterdam

Vacation Rentals: A Traveler’s Guide

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

south west coast path england In this month’s winning review, a pair of retirees enjoy hiking along the South West Coast Path on the Jurassic Coast of England — powering through some occasionally iffy weather. “Once we arrived at the Old Harry Rocks, we were completely drenched,” write Carolyn Boyle. “However, we needed to walk further along the path in the direction of Swanage to have better views of the cliffs, the rocks and other offshore chalk formations, such as the Pinnacles. Despite the deluge, the views were stunning.”

Read the rest of Carolyn’s review here: Hiking the South West Coast Path on the Jurassic Coast in England. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

world destination


Hint: In addition to the contemporary cathedral pictured above (which was built in 2008), this city is home to a children’s “fairy land” and a square named after a famous author.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, September 28, 2015, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Jean Jonker, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Oakland, California. Jean has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Seville may be romanticized as the vibrant jewel of southern Spain, but for me it’ll forever be remembered as a dusty, hot and overcrowded tourist trap. My only vivid memory is of being drenched in sweat walking up the never-ending ramps of the Giralda bell tower.

Ditto for Florence, Italy, which was overrun with American tour groups and so lacking in lodging when I visited that I had to sleep in a shabby hostel where the roaches congregated at night by the drain in the shower.

There are cities that you’re supposed to fall in love with, that you’re supposed to dream of visiting over and over again. Seville and Florence weren’t among them for me, and I don’t ever think I’ll go back. (To see more staff picks for cities not worth a second trip, see 12 Places You Only Need to See Once.)

Where will I return? Most certainly these five places:

lima peru


Lima, Peru: I must admit, I wasn’t impressed during my first visit to Lima nearly a decade ago. But the city has improved — traffic seems less frenetic and neighborhoods less run down. Lima is worth the trip for its foodie scene alone; some of the world’s most noteworthy restaurants are there.

10 Best Peru Experiences

golden gate bridge san francisco


San Francisco, California: I don’t think of the City by the Bay merely as a U.S. city. San Francisco belongs to the world. Of all the cities I’ve visited, San Francisco is, hands down, the most beautiful. I never tire of the view, especially if the Golden Gate Bridge is within sight.

vigeland park oslo norway


Oslo, Norway: The two days I spent after a cruise to Arctic Norway weren’t nearly enough time in the pristine and pretty Norwegian capital. Oslo is expensive ($12 for a cup of coffee? Seriously?), but worth another visit merely for an extra day strolling through the incredible sculpture garden in Vigeland Park.

The Best Cities to See Cool Public Art

toronto skyline


Toronto, Canada: This is where I first got hooked on traditional afternoon tea (at the Fairmont Royal York) and on ice hockey (at the Hockey Hall of Fame).

segovia spain


Segovia, Spain: I’ve visited several times, always visiting the cathedral and walking along the aqueduct walls. Segovia is the Spain you imagine. Sorry, Seville.

Which places could you visit over and over again?

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

eiffel tower parisWe recently asked our staff and readers which places they believed were only worth seeing once. You can see their answers here: 12 Places You Only Need to See Once — including some eyebrow-raising picks such as Paris and Amsterdam.

Do you agree with their choices? Which places would you add or argue with? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Heights: You either love them or wither at the thought of them. If you fall into the phobic category like I do, you’re probably not apt ever to ride a glass-bottomed hot air balloon or swim in the glass-bottomed swimming pool that a British developer recently announced that he’ll construct 10 stories up, spanning two London apartment buildings.

I don’t see those activities in my future. But maybe one day I could stroll across a high-in the-sky glass skywalk. Here are six skywalks I’d like to cross, in order from highest to lowest, if I ever find the nerve:

tianmen skywalk


Tianmen Skywalk, China
Before you jaunt across the glass-bottomed walkway hugging the cliffs of Tianmen (“Heavenly Gate”) Mountain in the Hunan Province of China, you must wrap your shoes in protective booties. This ensures the glass stays clean, so that you can clearly see all 4,700 feet down. (But is it slippery?)

grand canyon skywalk


Grand Canyon Skywalk, U.S.A.
Run by the Hualapai Nation on the western side of the Grand Canyon, the Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped glass walkway that juts 70 feet from the edge of the canyon and 4,000 feet above the riverbed below.

shanghai world financial center observatory


Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory, China
The observation deck of this skyscraper contains a 180-foot-long glass-bottomed walkway that soars more than 1,400 feet in the air.

glacier skywalk jasper


Glacier Skywalk, Canada
In a horseshoe shape like the Grand Canyon skywalk, this walkway overlooks the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies. It’s only 918 feet to the valley below. Only.

dachstein glacier skywalk


Dachstein Glacier Skywalk, Austria
This alpine walkway sits aside a glacier 820 feet up the side of a sheer rock-walked mountain. You have to take a steep gondola ride to get there, and there’s a gut-churning suspension bridge too.

tower bridge glass floor


Tower Bridge Glass Floor, England
It sits a mere 138 feet above the River Thames in London, but looking down on the zooming-by bridge traffic below you will make you feel dizzy. One of the coolest times to be there is during a bridge lift.

If a glass walkway is too much for you, maybe you could instead handle a peek through a glass floor at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Skytree in Tokyo or CN Tower in Toronto.

Or, if you’re extra bold, try the glass-enclosed boxes that jut out from a ledge at the Willis Tower in Chicago or the side of Chamonix Peak in France. I know I won’t be.

Photos: 9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Photo of Tower Bridge Glass Floor used and shared under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. Original photo copyright Flickr user Bex Walton.

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

neuschwanstein castle evening


Population: 81 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: Ich verstehe nicht (I don’t understand)

Fun Fact: Ever wanted to study abroad? German universities are tuition-free for undergrads, even those from other countries.

We Recommend: Bike along the Berlin Wall — a fun way to get exercise and learn about the city’s history.

12 Best Germany Experiences

Have you been to Germany? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

making spring rolls vietnam In this month’s winning review, a traveler and his wife return to Vietnam three years after their first visit. “There is so much to see in Vietnam we knew that we would be going back to visit places that we just did not have time to see,” writes John Rybczyk. One of the highlights was a hands-on culinary experience: “On our way to Hoi An (with our driver and guide) we stopped and visited Tra Que Herb Village. We had the opportunity to work the farm and learn how to prepare and cook Vietnamese food. So Barb and I and the cook made our lunch; we each had a turn cooking.”

Read the rest of John’s review here: 2nd Time Vietnam – Even Better. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Maybe you’re sick of summer’s heat and humidity. Or maybe you’re blissfully reading this from an iPad on the beach. But whether you love it or hate it, summer’s days are numbered — and that means it’s just about time to look ahead to fall.

Where will you travel in the coming months? Here are four fall trips to consider, depending on your interests.

lake district autumn


Looking for leaf-peeping? Consider a jaunt across the pond to England‘s Lake District, whose forested hills come alive with color in the autumn months. There are plenty of places for a stroll in and around Lake District National Park.

lighthouse prince edward island


In need of a little relaxation? Combine lobster, lighthouses and laid-back charm on a road trip around Prince Edward Island, Canada. Famous as the setting for the “Anne of Green Gables” novels and miniseries, the island’s rolling farms and red sandy beaches are the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the simple beauty of the landscape.

grand knip beach curacao


Not ready to let go of summer? Head down to Curacao, known for its pastel-colored capital and peaceful white sand beaches. As one of the ABC islands (along with Aruba and Bonaire), Curacao is far enough south to miss most of the hurricanes that plague other Caribbean islands this time of year.

Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

oryx namaqualand south africa


Want to watch wildlife? Journey to South Africa for a taste of spring south of the equator. South Africa made it into our list of 12 Places That Shine in Shoulder Season for several key reasons: Safaris are often a little cheaper this time of year, temperatures are a little more comfortable and wildlife watchers can partake in an annual Whale Festival in Hermanus.

Photos: 10 Best South Africa Experiences

Where are you headed this fall?

— written by Sarah Schlichter