The one-offs that make Edinburgh brilliant
It may be relatively hidden away on the West Coast of Ireland, but hip travellers and the fashion pack alike are wising up to the fact that Galway can give Dublin and Cork a run for their money in the style stakes.
Image © g hotel
The arrival of Philip Treacy's g hotel has sparked a flurry of trendy visitors, eager for some rest and relaxation in its award-winning spa.
But it's during one of the vibrant festivals that the city really looks likely to come into its own as a cultural mecca. The Cuirt International Festival of Literature takes place in April, with a host of workshops, debates and performances. July sees both the Film Fleadh and Galway Arts Festival. And the Galway International Oyster Festival is held at the end of September. Talking of which, fresh seafood is a speciality at many of the city's pubs and eateries: in fact, Galway has more restaurants per head of the population than any other Irish city.
More information: www.irelandwest.ie
Yes, you did read that right - we do mean Liverpool. While the city has long been known for its contribution to music, sport and the arts, it's never really been thought of as a hot city break destination. Until now, that is. Liverpool has been chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2008.
Uber-trendy hotel chain Malmaison are set to open their latest property at Princes Dock in January - a sure sign that the area is becoming achingly hip. Need more proof? Tate Liverpool hosted the 2007 Turner Prize - the first time ever that it's been exhibited outside London. And for a little retail therapy, those in the know head to the city's newest shopping district, the Met Quarter, which is home to the only MAC store outside London, plus a host of other designer names, sweetie. Plus, of course, no Liverpool shopping trip would be complete without a visit to Coleen McLoughlin and Alex Curran's favourite fashion store, Cricket in Cavern Walks.
More information: www.visitliverpool.com
Image © Chez Dominique
If you recall French president Jacques Chirac's scathing comments about Finnish cuisine back in 2005, you may feel a little sceptical to read that Finland's capital city is fast becoming a gourmet's paradise. But Helsinki boasts many fine eateries, including Chez Dominique (the proud owner of two Michelin stars), and Mecca, a trendy new port of call where diners are given a choice of chefs, but not told the actual dishes (luckily, everything's delicious). It also pays to look out for restaurants offering the 'Helsinki Menu', which guarantees mostly organic ingredients.
In the evenings, the city's hip young things see how long they can stand the cold in the Arctic Icebar (the record is 90 minutes), then head to Cafe Soda - a bar that transforms into a nightclub after hours. Need more proof that Helsinki is hip? The city centre is packed with galleries and boutiques, where you can snap up homeware and accessories by Finnish designers such as Marrimekko. Oh, and Helsinki is hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in May - but don't let that put you off…
More information: www.visitfinland.com
Known as Spain's 'windy city' - for reasons that become obvious as soon as you arrive - Tarifa has become an essential destination for kitesurfers and windsurfers alike. But even if extreme sports aren't really your thing, this Andalucian melting pot of cultures still has plenty to offer: funky restaurants, boutique hotels, Moorish architecture - oh, and 10 miles of sandy beaches. The city's hottest hangout is undoubtedly the Hurricane Hotel, where the restaurant serves salads and vegetables grown in its own subtropical garden.
February is carnival time in Tarifa, with parades and pageants throughout the city - while September sees the Fiestas de La Vergen de Luz, which for many is basically an excuse to party, party, party... Tarifa's growing popularity is partly due to the number of budget airlines offering cheap flights to nearby Jerez, Malaga and Gibraltar. So go there soon - before everybody else does!
More information: www.tarifa.net
Image Bordeaux Tourist Office/B LaFosse
Visitors to Bordeaux have traditionally come for one reason only: the region's world-famous wine. But all that is gradually changing thanks to a recent regeneration programme that's seen a rejuvenated riverfront area, improved public transport and clean-ups for many of the city's 18th-century buildings. The result? A bustling, vibrant, romantic city that can almost compete with Paris for shopping, nightlife and cultural delights.
Popular eateries include the Café du Musée on the roof of the Museum of Modern Art; student hangout Le Café Populaire, owned by footballer Lilian Laslandes; and La Dame de Shanghai, a barge posing as a Chinese junk, which turns into a nightclub after hours. Bordeaux is also a great city to shop for one-off and unusual designer pieces: head to Be You K on Rue de la Merci for trendy accessories and offbeat magazines. Further proof that Bordeaux has upped its game as a city break destination comes next spring, with the opening of the luxury Hotel Radisson, complete with spa, pool and suites by famed Parisian designer Jacques Garcia.
More information: www.bordeaux-tourisme.com/uk
As Beijing gears up to host the Olympics Games in 2008, the city is undergoing a tourist-friendly makeover, which means this once daunting metropolis is suddenly becoming an attractive option for a culture-with-comfort short break. New hotels are popping up all time time - and in a recent survey for lastminute.com, Beijing topped the list of fastest growing city break destinations, with a whopping 1471 per cent increase in the number of visitors in 2006, compared to 2005.
So why go there? As well as the must-see sights - including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and a trip to the Great Wall - there are plenty of unique shopping opportunities. Go to Silk Alley for clothes, or the weekend antiques market at Panjiavuan for Chinese treasures and trinkets. You can also sample the world's best Peking duck (naturally) at one of the city's many restaurants - or hang out until morning at an all-night bar.
More information: www.cnto.org/beijing.asp
Image © scottsdalecvb.com
Arizona may seem like an awful long way to go for a short break - but Scottsdale is perfectly placed for a trip that combines the great outdoors and the best shopping, food and hotels that America has to offer. January sees the official opening of the super-swanky Mondrian Scottsdale, billed as 'an oasis of cool in the heart of the desert.' It's grand openings such as this that have earned Scottsdale its reputation as 'the new Palm Springs' - where the bold and the beautiful trip over themselves to sip cocktails round the pool after a hard slog round the galleries, golf courses and upmarket shops. Designer addicts head to the city's Fashion Square, which boasts 40 exclusive stores including MaxMara, Kate Space and Tiffany & Co.
But it's not all about showing off and splashing the cash: you can also take a trip out to Camelback Mountain for amazing views across the Phoenix Valley and up-close-and-personal encounters with the fantastic wildlife. Scottsdale looks set to grow and grow over the next few years - so go there now for a taste of the high life before it gets too crowded.
More information: www.scottsdaleaz.gov/topic.asp?catID=21
With tourist favourites such as Venice, Florence and Rome getting way too crowded for a comfortable short break (one word: queues!), seasoned travellers are starting to look for alternative Italian cities that can offer the same experience with much less hassle. Step forward, Perugia - the Umbrian capital, which boasts galleries packed with masterpieces, a stunning medieval cathedral and gorgeous, café-lined squares where you can relax and watch the world go by.
Part of Perugia's attraction is that it's about to become far more accessible for travellers from the UK: Ryanair is set to fly there three times a week from the end of December. It's also close to another beautiful Italian city, Assisi, where pilgrims flock to see the Basilica of St Francis. The whole area is famed for its gorgeous Italian cuisine (we defy you to grow tired of pizza while you're there!) and fine wines. Plus it's a rare visitor who returns home without a 'Perugia towel' - the local nickname for the city's beautifully embroidered table linen.
More information: www.perugiaonline.com