With hundreds of holidays to choose from, and seemingly endless destinations, sometimes a little insider info can go a long way in helping shape your decision. That's why we've turned to our in-house experts for their advice on their favourite destinations, to help you think about your next holiday. For this special post, we interviewed USA Destination Specialist Andy Hawke, to ask him what makes America one of the most popular destinations to visit, and to give his insight into the best places to go.
Q: Why do you love the USA as a holiday destination?
America was actually the first place I ever visited abroad. I'd never left the UK before, and the first place I went was New York! It was amazing - it's such an immersive city, and so iconic, it feels like everywhere you walk is the set of a movie. The food was phenomenal, too; there's this huge diversity of cuisine to explore, all within a single city.
Q: Speaking of food, do you have any recommendations?
If you're in New York, definitely check out Little Italy. It's this wonderful region of Manhattan that has the best Italian cuisine in the States. Outside of NYC, it depends what you're looking for. Seattle's Pike Place Market is fantastic for fish, and a bit of a show! The fishermen toss the fish to each other - it's quite famous, but it's still a surprise when you see it up close. New Orleans has a lot of creole and Cajun influences that are just fantastic, and their crawfish is great, though if you're looking for lobster, stick with cities on the Atlantic Coast.
Q: That's a breadth of cities you covered there! Speaking of which, do you have a favourite?
New Orleans, by far. It just feels like a constant party - there's a vibrant atmosphere, and the streets are full of life. There's also a real connection here with southern history - you'd be missing out if you didn't take a paddlewheeler down the Mississippi, it's such an iconic southern experience. I also love the New Orleans music scene. Steer clear of Bourbon Street - it's too touristy and loud. Go to Frenchman Street instead, and you find a whole collection of live music bars - this is where the locals come to watch jazz. It's magical.
Q: The US really does have a rich musical tradition. Any tips on musical sights to visit, or where to go for gigs?
Nashville is the first place that comes to mind when I think of music in the States. In my head, I had it down as this dustbowl of a place - but when I got there, it turned out to be this incredibly modern city. The first night I was there, I remember leaving the hotel and wandering in the middle of the city - and a portion of the streets around the centre had been closed off. It was an open-air gig, right in the heart of Nashville! It was absolutely electric, the atmosphere. Aside from lucky stumbles, though, the best place to go for live country music in Nashville is the bars on Broadway. The range of talent is exceptional - this is where all the big country stars start out. It's easy to find something special to listen to in those bars.
Speaking of Nashville - I've done the Johnny Cash experience. It's in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and his nephew, Tommy Cash, is the one performing. People forget, Tommy Cash had his own musical success in the 70s, and seeing him in this intensely private gig, it's mesmerising. As for sights - Graceland was pretty surprising to me. I had this impression it was going to be really tacky, but it's actually, oddly, like going back in time to Elvis's heyday. Fascinating, really.
Q: History is another big draw for America - are there any historical highlights for you?
I really like the way that the cowboy era of American history is evoked in Texas. You go to Dallas, and it's all very modern - very contemporary, a lovely place to be. But then you take a steam train out to Fort Worth, and it's like stepping back in time, from the moment you get on the train, to this period that doesn't quite feel like it belongs in real history; a place where cattle drives still happen, and men in Stetsons chew tobacco. A time that feels more like a movie than a reconstruction of fact. I guess that's true of a lot of America, though; it's all a bit set piece, all these vastly different stories brought together in one place, just waiting for you to walk right through them. That's why I think it's the best place to visit.