Stateside: A tale of three cities

When it comes to weekend breaks, long haul is the new short haul. With the continued growth of competitively priced premium cabins and all-business carriers such as Eos and MAXjet, UK travellers are increasingly looking across the pond for their weekend kicks. We have chosen three US cities (one East Coast, one central and one West Coast) that fit the bill.

Each city has culture, nightlife, great food and shopping. All three have excellent public transport serving the major tourist areas as well as the airports. And what’s more, the current strength of the pound against the dollar makes them all superb value.

Short-haul: Boston – 7 hours

Minimum spend: flights to Boston start from about £350 on Icelandair via Reykjavik and £400 direct on British Airways.

A central midtown hotel in Boston starts at about £60 per person. The city has some fabulous restaurants in every price range – a budget meal around the Downtown Crossing area starts at just £10 a head.

Why go? Boston seems to cram more history into a few square miles than the rest of the US put together. The city also promotes itself as the US’s walking city, so it is ideal for a weekend break.

The Freedom Trail takes visitors past some of the key historic buildings and the site of the infamous Boston Tea Party, which sparked off the US War of Independence. Shopping in the city is tremendous – no self-respecting retail enthusiast should miss Filene’s Basement for designer bargains.

Foodies will adore the restaurant choices. The North End is predominantly Italian, with places to gorge on every street corner; the Four Seasons does one of the world’s great gourmet burgers for just $17; and the Union Oyster House is the oldest restaurant in the US. The Omni Parker Hotel on bustling School Street has hosted Charles Dickens, seen President Kennedy propose to Jackie at table 40; employed Ho Chi Minh as a pastry chef, and Malcolm X as a busboy. Not at the same time, obviously.

When to go? Boston is good any time of year. If clients can face freezing temperatures the city is at its most pretty when covered in winter snow. However, autumn is the best time to visit, particularly for trips to the country to see the foliage.

Boston boathouse skylineWhat not to miss: Boston Common, a vast green city-centre expanse that dates back to the city’s birth, is the starting point for the Freedom Trail. It is overlooked by the twinkling gold domed Statehouse, and Boston’s most historic district Beacon Hill.

The world-class Museum of Fine Arts, housed in an imposing classical revival building, is second only in the US to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Don’t miss the John F Kennedy Library and Museum.

Copley Square represents the coming together of the US; architects borrowed styles from France, Italy and England with some bold Russian gothic touches. Pride of place must go to Trinity Church, one of the finest in the US, which sits in the shadow of the John Hancock Tower. Lovers of classic hotels will want to stay at the Grand Dame of Boston properties, the Copley Fairmont Plaza. This imposing but gracefully restrained 1920s hotel oozes class from the moment you enter its dazzling foyer.

Who would it suit? Anyone who loves food, culture, architecture and shopping.

Sample product: America As You Like It offers three nights at the Fairmont Copley Plaza from £625 per person. Prices include return flights with British Airways from Heathrow and transfers.

Mid-haul: Atlanta – 9.5 hrs

Atlanta skylineMinimum spend: return flights start at £403 with British Airways from Gatwick and from £446 with Delta from Gatwick and Manchester. Rooms at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead start at £60 per person.

Why go? While Atlanta many not win any awards for classic architecture, the capital of the ‘new south’ has top-class attractions and some of the world’s best shopping. Most visitors choose to stay in the Buckhead area of the city rather than the soulless downtown or midtown. All the areas of interest and the airport are connected by the excellent MARTA light-rail system.

When to go? Avoid mid-June to September – it’s mid-summer and the heat can be stifling. The mild winter months are the best time to visit.

What not to miss: downtown, visitors flock to Centennial Park, a 21-acre legacy from the 1996 Olympics; World of Coca-Cola (due to move to midtown in 2007); and Underground Atlanta for shopping in the heart of the city. However, the downtown highlight is the Sweet Auburn district, the birthplace of Dr Martin Luther King. The area was once the heart of black Atlanta and sites include the Ebenezer Church (where Dr King preached), the King family home and the Martin Luther King Junior National Historic Site. If you need an architectural fix, visit the resplendent classical renaissance Georgia State Capitol. Fans of Gone with the Wind can head straight to midtown to visit the Margaret Mitchell House where she wrote the novel in a small basement apartment.

Nearby is the Georgian Terrace Hotel where many of the stars of Gone with the Wind stayed for the premiere of the movie in 1939. Midtown is also the museum district, the best being the gleaming futuristic High Museum of Art. Don’t miss the Georgia Aquarium – the world’s largest – which opened in November. Highlights include five Beluga whales and two whale sharks. Uptown in Buckhead the name of the game is shopping. Not one but two mega-malls, Lennox Square and the adjacent swanky Phipps Mall, vie for your hard-earned dollars. The stylishly elegant Ritz-Carlton offers guests various shopping packages.

Who would it suit? Anyone with an interest in southern history and culture – or serious shopaholics.

Sample product: North American Travel Service offers three nights’ twin-share in a deluxe room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, including flights with Delta from Gatwick or Manchester, starting at £689 per person.

Long-haul: San Francisco – 10.5 hrs

Minimum spend: return flights start at £469 with United Airlines or £475 with Virgin Atlantic. Hotels start from as little as £22 per person for a two-star hotel. However, with places such as the stately Fairmont or the quirky Triton (with rooms designed by the likes of Jerry Garcia and Carlos Santana), visitors might be tempted to splash out.

Why go? This April sees the centenary of the Great Earthquake that all but destroyed the city, and San Francisco will be hosting a number of events commemorating the earthquake over the coming months.

Today, San Francisco stands shoulders above the competition. Overlooking the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, the city is stunning and the surrounding hills add to its allure. With enough museums and galleries to satisfy the most demanding of culture vultures, San Francisco is still a walking city. Cable cars help visitors up and down the staggering hills. Clients can even rent electric carts and follow in the tyre tracks of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt car chase.

When to go? It’s a year-round destination, but April to October is best.

What not to miss: that’s a tough one. Clients should start with the Barbary Coast guided walk which takes in the heart of old San Francisco, highlighting everything that survived the earthquake. A boat-trip to Alcatraz is a must, as is an exhilarating walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Downtown there’s plenty of high-end stores and boutiques clustered around Union Square. Fisherman’s Wharf is great for tourist shopping and if you’re after the bizarre, then head for the old hippie enclave of Haight-Ashbury.

Who would it suit? All free-spirits, lovers and liberals, and anyone who appreciates architectural eye-candy.

Sample product: Gold Medal Travel offers a four-night city break at the Fairmont from £735 per person twin-share including return flights with United Airlines.

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