Pilot Travel Recommendations
Pilots spend upwards of 40 hours a week traveling to far-flung destinations around the world. Who better to recommend amazing destinations too often overlooked?
To get a new perspective on off-the-beaten path locales, I spoke with five U.S.-based aviators about where they most love to go. Together, they boast 32 years of experience traversing the globe.
Here are their must-book picks — including a remote Alaskan oasis, the most northern city in the world, and an under-the-radar isle paradise.
Located in the province of Cádiz, Rota is a resort town that too many travelers have been missing out on. As one pilot explained, “Rota is a gem most Americans have not yet ventured to unless they’ve served in the Armed Forces, since the city is home to a large U.S. military community.”
Aficionados of Spanish wine can indulge in the local variety, called tintilla, which is cheap and readily available around town. Foodies should stroll the fish markets and try the restaurant Döner Kebab Rota, a particularly good bet for lunch.
For accommodations, the Hotel Duque de Najera, located just 15 miles from the railway station and in close proximity to the airport, comes highly recommended.
Also of note? Rota is extremely walkable and celebrated for its cleanliness. Just be warned that the town’s spectacular beaches can become crowded with European tourists in the summer.
Located in Alaska’s interior, Fairbanks offers travelers an alternative to popular spots like Anchorage or Juneau. Don’t let the comparatively extreme weather here keep you from booking a trip; it will be an Alaskan experience unlike any other.
The Riverboat Discovery Tour comes highly suggested. Both aviators and non-aviators will enjoy this cruise, which features an Alaskan bush pilot who narrates part of the tour as he glides alongside the boat and broadcasts his audio through the plane’s frequencies.
The North Pole, a city that’s not to be confused with the Geographic North Pole, is a 15-minute commute from Fairbanks and provides year-round holiday cheer. The city is decked out with candy-cane streetlights and festive street names like Kris Kringle Drive and Mistletoe Lane.
The World Ice Arts Competition, an event held in Fairbanks since 1989, attracts competitors from all over the world, and yields impressive ice art displays for spectators. “The time to visit is at night, which is easy when there’s less than four hours of daylight," said one pilot who tries to attend the event every year. "The artists add lights to their creations, making these already incredible works that much more dramatic.”
During the winter months, hotels offer a Northern Lights wakeup call, so guests don’t sleep through the stunning overhead display.
The port city of Hamburg is a popular destination for Europeans, but has yet to become a go-to spot for those outside the continent. Here, the Elbe River meets Alster Lake, making this an ideal spot for regattas, sailing and river cruises.
St. Pauli quarter and the Reeperbahn area are well-known for their lively nightlife and rival the risqué entertainment of Amsterdam’s Red Light District (according to one pilot, you must be 18 years old to even walk the street).
The city is also a must-visit for Beatles fans, as it hosted many of the iconic band’s first performances. In Beatlesplatz Square, visitors can stand alongside five silhouettes of the musicians, including the original bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe.
Spendthrifts, meanwhile, will enjoy Hamburg’s plentiful high-end shopping.
North Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands
Turks and Caicos is an attractive destination for Americans in particular since English is the official language and the U.S. dollar is used (cars, however, are still driven in the left lane).
There are direct flights to the island capital of Providenciales from Miami, Atlanta, New York and many other major U.S. cities. From Provo, as the locals call it, you’ll need to take a ferry or boat to North Caicos, where beach-lovers will enjoy cerulean blue water and white sandy beaches, the perfect setting for enjoying a cold Turks Head lager.
Snorkelers and divers can revel in the diverse marine life of the ocean. North Caicos also has the largest population of pink flamingos in all of the Turks and Caicos islands. The isolated nature of the island limits food options, so it’s recommended to map out eateries and pack lunch for beach trips if not staying at an area resort.
Pilots love this remote tropical oasis since, as they say, there are fewer travelers here to disturb you. One pilot explained, “This place offers a euphoric change of pace from the hustle and bustle. You feel like you have your own island.”
(Note: For professional reasons, the pilots I spoke with asked to remain anonymous for this story.)
Foodies traveling for a distinctive culinary experience will enjoy the offerings of Taipei, where adventurous eats don’t cost much. The Huaxi Street night markets provide intriguing eats, like whole fried duck head or pig intestine soup, for those willing to expand their palate.
One pilot explained, “Comfort food in Taiwan is cheap, delicious and plentiful, like the ubiquitous beef noodle soup. Or, if you’ve ever taken off your socks after a hard workout and thought, ‘Man, that smells delicious!’ then stinky tofu will make your dreams come true.”
Another pilot advised adding Taipei 101 to your itinerary. Located in the Xinyi District and popular for its once record-breaking height and environmental sustainability and architecture, the Taipei 101 skyscraper houses financial services, shopping and a favored eatery called Din Tai Fung.
Visitors will also be amazed by the massive iron-spherical pendulum that stabilizes the enormous building during typhoons and earthquakes.
Durham, North Carolina
Travelers flying into the Raleigh-Durham airport should not bypass the most thriving city in The Research Triangle. Durham has options for all types, from culture-hounds to gourmands.
Also home to Duke University, Durham offers one of the state’s best culinary scenes; the Southern fare at Dame’s Chicken and Waffles is particularly enticing, according to two different pilots I spoke with.
Also recommended? A pit stop at the 21c Museum Hotel, to check out the art exhibits and enjoy a cocktail in a former bank vault. One pilot pointed out, “Having a cocktail in a bank vault feels very James Bond.”
You can also take a walk through Duke Gardens or catch a minor-league baseball Bulls game in the American Tobacco Historic District. Three of the pilots independently recommended the swanky rooftop bar atop the Durham Hotel in the summer months.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque gained attention as the backdrop for the popular TV show “Breaking Bad” — but it also deserves attention for its rich heritage and scenic mountains.
Aviators love the altitude at Level 5, a rooftop restaurant atop Hotel Chaco, which features gourmet cuisine and panoramic views. From here, onlookers can sometimes spot hot-air balloons in preparation for the city’s annual Balloon Fiesta.
Just 30 minutes from Albuquerque, hiking enthusiasts can explore The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument (The Tent Rocks for short), where a 1.5-mile trek through narrow canyons promises superb vistas of Sangre de Cristo, Jemez, Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande Valley, with only sporadic moments of intense ascent.
Railay Beach, Thailand
If you think a trip to Railay — a peninsula located between Tonsai Beach and Phra Nang Beach — promises a typical beach vacation, you couldn't be more wrong. According to one pilot, this is an ideal destination for, believe it or not, rock climbing. With more than 600 diverse routes, there's a climb for every rugged adventure-addict.
This imminently popular locale also offers quality street food, sandy beaches and lush jungles, where you may even befriend a monkey or two.
Just be aware: Those arriving need to ferry in to the beach since the landscape does not offer road access. But there are accommodations once you get there for staying overnight.
St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg is the most northern city in the world. According to one pilot, many tourists overlook Russia due to its colder climate, but he also said there are many attractions in the city of St. Petersburg that make the destination desirable.
The Hermitage Museum is perhaps the city’s most famous attraction, and well worth the visit. The museum is home to over 3 million items, ranging from impressionistic collections to archaeological artifacts. Admission to the main complex is reasonable, around 700 RUB (or about $11 USD).
Kuznechny Market, open daily, is centrally-located and best known for its fresh produce and meats. Several pilots independently cited the market visit as a worthwhile experience even if you have no plans to purchase goods. Shoppers can be seen haggling for their groceries, providing onlookers entertainment and an education in bartering.
Columbus is home to the beloved Ohio State Buckeyes football team. One travel tip: Avoid wearing Michigan blue in this sea of year-round fans.
Not into football? There’s still a lot to see and do here.
The Short North Arts District, an area recommended by two pilots, includes North Market and its farmers market produce, butcher meats, and food and beer vendors. Over 1 million people visit this market, open only on weekends, each year. The enclosed building is the perfect place to take a stroll, people-watch or purchase goods from local artisans.
Around the corner, don’t miss the ice cream that “The New York Times” claims is “worth the drive to Ohio.” Jeni’s ice cream’s flagship store serves up flavors like Brandied Banana Brûlée and Riesling Poached Pear.
In Dublin, a short drive from the Columbus airport, golf fans will enjoy seeing a peek of the Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Muirfield Village Golf Club, host of the PGA Memorial Tournament.
Two of the pilots I spoke with held Bozeman in high regard first and foremost for its natural beauty. The town is situated amid the rugged wilderness of southern Montana, just 80 miles from Yellowstone National Park.
In addition to Rocky Mountain views, this college town is home to some of the most welcoming people in the U.S. One pilot summed up his feelings with an experience: “You might find yourself eating at a bar and then, before you know it, you’ve met a stranger and spent the entire afternoon fishing together.”
Summertime is an ideal season to plan a visit, but skiing at Big Sky Resort and enjoying the nearby hot springs during winter is also advised.
History-buffs looking to blend in some beach time should consider booking a trip to Constanta. Romania’s fifth-most-populated city resides on the western coast of the Black Sea and is filled with captivating churches and architecture, museums, art galleries and statues. Historical highlights include The Roman Mosaics and The Great Mahmudiye Mosque.
Party-lovers will love the adrenaline-pumping dance parties at the lavish clubs of Mamaia, Constanta’s most famous resort.