Living in New York City means there’s no shortage of things to do, places to visit and fantastic food to eat day or night. When I want an empanada at 2:30am, I get an empanada at 2:30am.
But that also means I sometimes forget a world outside of the five boroughs exists.
Every few months I need a little break from big city life to smell the fresh air and get off the MTA for a while. Luckily, there are a myriad of incredible destinations less than 8 hours from our three major airports; here are 8 bucket list-worthy options.
Driving through Iceland is like exploring the surface of the moon one minute and Mordor the next. Its landscapes are unrivaled, although New Zealand gives it a run for its money. But you don’t have to fly for more than a day to see incredible scenery. In just a few short hours you can touch down, visit the famous Blue Lagoon for an anti-jet lag mud mask and continue on your journey.
On my two week road-trip around the Ring Road, there were waterfalls around nearly every corner and majestic Icelandic horses that were practically begging for a photo shoot. Not to mention the friendly locals who welcome you to their stunning country with a smile and tales of magic fairies in the land of fire and ice. And that’s not to mention the magic of the South Coast, with its black-sand beaches, canyons, small villages and undisputed highlight, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.
Start or end your trip with a stroll past the quaint, colorful houses of Reykjavik and the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church. But don’t forget to try the cities most famous snack, a hot dog or two from Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. It was one of the tasiest and definitely the cheapest meal I had on the island.
Our neighbor to the north is worth more than just a poutine-filled weekend trip to Montreal, eh? Canada is brimming with natural beauty, majestic mountains and welcoming cities from coast to coast.
The Canadian Rockies are full of incredible hiking trails and adventure sports. Ski in Banff, kayak through the crystal clear waters of Jasper National Park and even try bungee jumping. The East Coast has charming fishing villages, otherworldly lobsters and historic port towns. And let’s not forget even farther north in the Arctic where unforgettable glacial vistas and polar bears await.
Depending on which city you fly into, flights from John F. Kennedy International airport are between 1 hour and 6 hours.
Recommended trip: Canadian Rockies and Northern Lights (11 days).
For Americans, traveling to the beautiful country of Cuba is illegal if not done correctly. But Intrepid Travel’s licensed people-to-people trip to this burgeoning travel destination will get you there with no hassle from immigration (and provides local leaders who’ll take you to all the hidden gems). Because why wouldn’t you want to see the best of this culturally-rich tropical island when it’s just a few hours away?
A Caribbean gem, it has postcard-worthy cobblestone streets in Trinidad, vintage cars in Havana and white-sand beaches near Cienfuegos perfect for chilling with a fresh mojito in hand. Try your hand at salsa dancing in the capital city or visit a rustic tobacco farm in Vinales. Whatever you’re into, embrace the digital detox and you’ll discover how much there is to love about this captivating destination.
Flights from John F. Kennedy International airport are less than 4 hours.
Recommended trip: Hola Cuba (8 days).
Peru is a country impossible to forget, so diverse in its many regions that you could spend a lifetime there and not see it all. And the Michelin-Starred restaurants of Lima, the roasted guinea pig (a specialty!) and the fresh Peruvian juices from Cusco’s San Pedro Market are just a few examples of why Peru is a gastronomic powerhouse.
During my trip to Peru with Intrepid Travel we explored dozens of villages with old world charm, stuffed our faces with ceviche, met indigenous women in local Peruvian garb, and climbed Incan ruins. Yep, it’s not surprising that visting Machu Picchu was a highlight of my visit. The Incan citadel is just as incredible as you’d imagine. (My partner and I opted to take the train there, which made for a beautiful journey, but the well-known Inca Trail and lesser-known Quarry Trail hikes are both great options, too.)
Come for the food, stay for the people. Mexico is so much more than Puerto Vallarta and Cancun; it’s a surprisingly large country with a wide variety of cuisines, landscapes and people, all beautiful in their own unique way. In other words, it’s time to venture away from all-inclusive resorts and get to grips with the real Mexico.
Explore colorful highland towns, from Patzcuaro to Guanajuato. Eat street tacos in Oaxaca that will ruin you for life. And salsa ’til you drop in hip clubs all over Mexico City. If you’re a water lover, you’ll also love to snorkel in Playa del Carmen’s azure waters and witness Bacalar’s magical “Lake of Seven Colors”. One quick trip south of the border never looked so tempting.
A tropical paradise sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is home to the second largest coral reef in the world and the world’s most famous sinkhole – the Great Blue Hole. (Whether you’re more of a diver or a snorkeler, it won’t disappoint!)
The crystal clear turquoise water is a sure showstopper, but the country’s Mayan ruins (yes, all 12 major ones!) are the cherry on top of an unforgettable destination. Often overlooked and accessible on a day trip from Belize City, Xuanatunich is not to be missed. Additionally, the town of San Ignacio is also notable for its laidback vibes (and nearby waterfalls!) and the island of Caye Caulker is worth a visit for water sports and insanely fresh seafood.
Flights from John F. Kennedy International airport are under 5 hours.
Recommended trip: Land of Belize (8 days).
Check floating in a volcanic mud pit and touring a coffee plantation in the Cocora Valley (home to the world’s tallest palm trees!) off your bucket list while in Colombia. This immensely lush and diverse country is home to unmissable hospitality, colorful 16th-century architecture, world-class museums and epic mountain ranges.
The country’s major cities including Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin are all unique in their own way and deserve a few days of exploring their cobblestoned streets. But make sure you carve out some time for stunning Tayrona National Park – it’s where jungle-clad mountains meet picture-perfect beaches, and is sure to dazzle. And whatever you do, don’t leave without your fill of arepas and ceviche.
Norway, Finland and Sweden are consistently ranked among the happiest countries in the world. Whether you’re cruising past towering fjords, enjoying a shrimp sandwich next to a Swedish lake or art gallery hopping in Helsinki, all these activities are sure to make you understand why.
Sampling fresh fish followed by strong vodka and a trip to the local sauna are a few of the local pastimes stemming from the region’s Viking past. And there are dozens of fascinating museums and plenty of picturesque villages where you can learn more about the culture of these idyllic European countries.
Ready to stop dreaming and start planning? Check out Intrepid’s top trips in over 100 countries.