5 Places to Visit – North America

Following on from the couple of posts last year on 5 places I’d like to visit in the UK and 5 places I’d like to visit in Europe, we come to the next continent in my bucket list of destinations, North America. For the sake of clarity and to avoid any arguments, ‘North America’ in this sense is as the UN recognises it, the continent comprised of Northern America, Central American and The Caribbean.

Austin, TX, USA

Whilst possibly less well known than the cities of Dallas and Houston, Austin is high on my list of places to visit. Famous for its culture and food, the Texas state capital is becoming a more popular destination, especially with the increase in direct flights to the city.

Some of Austin’s skyline
  • State Capitol – Constructed between 1882 and 1888, Texas’ State Capitol was at the time described as the “seventh largest building in the world” and is taller than the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C. The building is on the US National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. During ‘normal’ times, it is possible to get a tour of the Capitol, which last about half an hour and are free! It also seems that these tours occur every day of the year except for five days for major holidays.
  • Food Tour – With Austin famous for its food and drink, a food tour is a must if I ever visit the city. As with most major cities there are a number of paid tours you can join, but Visit Austin has this great self-guided tour that suggests some of the top spots to visit for great food a drink. Have a look and I’m sure you’ll be as hungry as I was after reading it… Breakfast Tacos!
  • Mount Bonnell – Located in Covert Park, Mount Bonnell is Austin’s highest point, sitting at 775 feet, about 300 feet above the rest of the city and is named after George Bonnell who served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Texas Republic. The vista from the top of the Mount is supposedly fantastic with views of the city as well as Lake Austin, part of the Colorado River, which runs below Mount Bonnell.

St. Kitts, St. Kitts and Nevis

One half of the western hemisphere’s smallest sovereign state, the island of St. Kitts is separated from its neighbour by a shallow 3km channel known as “The Narrows”. As one of the Leeward Islands, St. Kitts forms part of the Lesser Antilles, the chain of islands that separate the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, and its this climate that gives St. Kitts some of its most amazing features.

The view from Brimstone Hill Fortress – Photo from Wikimedia Commons
  • Mount Liamuiga – The highest point on St. Kitts aswell as the whole of the British Leeward Islands, Mount Liamuiga’s peak sits at almost 1,200m (3,800ft) above sea level. A stratovolcano that last erupted about 1800 years ago, the slopes of the mountain are home to villages and farmland until about 450m when lush tropical rainforests drape the slopes. Above the 900m point the slopes are covered in cloud forest, whilst the 1km wide crater at the summit is once again home to a lake that had disappeared for almost 50 years between 1959 and 2006.
  • St. Kitts Scenic Railway – Following the coast of the island for 18 miles, the St. Kitts Scenic Railway brands itself as “the last railway in the West Indies”, showing its efforts to preserve links to the past as well as supporting the modern tourism economy on the island. Originally constructed to transport sugar cane from the island’s plantations to a centralised mill in Basseterre, the federation’s capital. The railway has five double decked carriages, which have air-conditioned lower floors and open-air upper decks which allow stunning views of the island during the journey.
  • Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage site sitting on the western coast of St. Kitts, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park has been described as “the Gibraltar of the Caribbean” for its importance during the time of British occupation of St. Kitts. Brimstone Hill has been used as a fortification since 1689 during the Nine-Years war and was used by British forces until it was abandoned in 1853. The area has been a National Park since 1987 (although Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a plaque declaring its status 2 years earlier) and was designated a UNESCO Word Heritage site in 1999 as it is considered one of the best-preserved historical fortifications in the Americas.

Saint Martin

Just 56 miles to the north-west of St. Kitts, and still part of the Leeward Island chain, is the divided island of Saint Martin, which is split approximately 60:40 between the French Republic and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Whilst the southern, Dutch part, of the island is a separate constituent country, the northern, French part, is part of France itself and therefore also part of the European Union. Whilst the climate makes the island popular for tourists, it is probably most well-known for its airport runway which ends just meters from Maho Beach.

Saint Martin – photo courtesy of the St. Martin tourist board
  • Maho Beach – Located on the western Dutch coast of the island, just south of the border with the French side, Maho Beach is fairly unique due to its proximity with the runway at Princess Juliana International Airport and the size of the aircraft that fly over the beach whilst landing there. Along with the beautiful beach, tropical waters and amazing aircraft views, the beach is also home to the Sunset Bar and Grill, which makes the most of the beach’s popularity.
  • Pinel Island – Off of the eastern coast of the French part of the island is Îlet de Pinel or Pinel Island which sits a short boat ride from Cul de Sac. This sheltered island is part of the French Marine Reserve and so is protected from development with undisturbed beaches and stunning reefs. Instead of the boat, many people kayak or paddleboard the short distance from the main island and this also allows them to visit Little Key, a completely undeveloped smaller island. With the opportunity to swim with wild turtles, tropical fish and eagle rays, Pinel Island sounds like paradise.
  • Fort Louis – On the island’s northern coast, is the town of Marigot, the capital of the French Collectivity of Saint Martin. On a hill overlooking the town is Fort St. Louis, built during the reign of King Louis XVI, who also made Marigot the capital. A short but steep climb from the town, the fort has panels displaying its history as well as stunning views across Marigot and Simpson Bay and, on a clear day, all the way to Anguilla.

Toronto, ON, Canada

Although the title of capital city goes to Ottawa, Toronto is the largest city in Canada and sits on the western shores of Lake Ontario. Famous for its Theatre, Culture and Sport, the city is home to teams playing five major league sports, more than fifty ballet and dance companies and Caribana.

Toronto’s stunning night-time skyline
  • Toronto Island Park – The Toronto Islands, or Toronto Island Park, are a group of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario, about a 15-minute boat ride from the city itself. Although a chain of islands, walkways and bridges mean you can walk the roughly 5km from Ward Island at the eastern end to Hanlan’s Point at the western end. In addition to the beaches and parkland, the islands are home to a small amusement park, a range of water sport activities and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. A return ferry ride to the island is $8.19 for adults, excluding tax, so if you just want to have a cheap day wandering and enjoying the parkland, this seems to be the place to go.
  • Aerial Tour – Seeing any city from above is always fascinating and in addition to the fairly standard helicopter tours, Toronto is also viewable from light aircraft courtesy of iflyToto. For $129 you can get an hour-long private tour over the city and Lake Ontario, starting from Buttonville Municipal Airport in the north of the city suburbs. iflyToto also do aerial tours of Niagara Falls and the Blue Mountains, so if you’re after a breath-taking adventure, and don’t mind paying a bit more, this seems to be ideal!
  • CN Tower – Possibly the most famous part of Toronto’s skyline, the CN Tower was, until 2007, the world’s tallest free-standing structure at 553.3m (1,815.3ft) high. Having had that title taken away by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, it retained the title for the tallest tower for another couple of years until Guangzhou’s Canton Tower claimed this. With stunning views out across the city, Lake Ontario and the wider Ontario region, the tower is well worth a visit but is a bit pricey. A ticket for entry to all three observation levels is $53 for adults, however, if you purchase the City Pass for $94 it includes entry to the tower as well as other attractions so can work out a better deal with advertised savings of almost $60.

Vancouver, BC, Canada

The final destination on this brief North American bucket list is over 2,000 miles from Toronto and lies on Canada’s western coast, just a few miles north of the US border. Vancouver is Canada’s third largest metropolitan area (behind Toronto & Montreal) and is also one of the top five cities in the world for quality of life. With just under half the city’s residents being native speakers of neither English nor French, the city is one of Canada’s most diverse, something which is apparent throughout the city.

Vancouver
  • Granville Island – Located to the south of the city centre, Granville Island is actually a peninsula that hosts a shopping district and large market as well as a marina and various performing arts venues. I’m imagining it as a massive Borough Market with added entertainment, and if it is, I’d easily spend a day exploring the sights and smells and perhaps seeing a show put on by the city’s only professional improvisational theatre company, Vancouver Theatresports League. The Island’s website has an excellent ‘Plan Your Visit’ page that gives you ideas of what to do based on the length of your visit, your interests and what’s on.
  • Seaplane Flight – With its location on the western coast of Canada near to numerous remote and island communities, Seaplanes are frequently used around Vancouver with numerous companies also offering Seaplane Tours from Vancouver. Like the Toronto aerial tours, these aren’t cheap but again are something of a bucket list item for seeing the city and nearby islands from the air. Harbour Air operate some of these tours whilst also operating a comprehensive schedule of seaplane flights connecting Vancouver to surrounding towns and cities. If you’re lucky enough to be travelling elsewhere nearby, why not have a look at flying by seaplane for part of the journey.
  • Stanley Park – At 1,001 acres, Vancouver’s Stanley Park is larger than 758 full American Football fields and became the city’s first park when the city was incorporated in 1886. With 400 hectares (215+ football fields) of west coast rainforest, stunning views and Canada’s largest aquarium, Stanley Park has something for everyone and is open from 6am until 10pm each day. There’s also a wide range of restaurants and picnic spots, so you could easily spend a full day exploring the park and everything it has to offer.

Hopefully this blog has given you a few ideas if you’re planning of travelling to North America in 2021. If you do visit any of these places, or anywhere else for that matter, please let me know what it was like and if you have any tips.

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