Edit Module

The Jet-Setters’ Guide to Weekends

With more—and more affordable—direct flights than ever before, it’s easy to plan a long-weekend jaunt abroad. Here, a playbook for 10 stellar mini vacations.

Illustration: Antoine Corbineau

From ultrabudget to superplush service, an unprecedented influx of new international flights from Chicago—often priced at a steal, thanks to the beefed-up competition—makes it easier than ever to plot a far-flung, last-minute long-weekend getaway. We’ve got the skinny on 10 dream destinations—all no more than eight hours away and most accessible by direct flight from O’Hare. Why settle for another Netflix Saturday night when you can party in Panama?

Vancouver, Canada | Reykjavík, Iceland | Dublin | London | Paris | Madrid | Zihuatanejo, Mexico | Managua, Nicaragua | Panama City | Negril, Jamaica

 
Vancouver’s Richmond Night Market
Vancouver’s Richmond Night Market Photo: Courtesy of Richmond Night Market

Vancouver, Canada

Asian Street Food Excursion


Travel Time:4.5 hours

Nonstop Flights:Air Canada (daily), United (two to four daily)

When to Go:May to June, for North America’s best outdoor night market

What’s New:Air Canada added a direct flight last year for as low as $611.

What to Do:It’s all about the Chinese-centered Richmond Night Market. A street food extravaganza, this market, the largest of its kind on the continent, hawks everything from Cambodian chicken wings and ginormous barbecue squid to … socks. (They’re really cute socks, OK?) On day 2, go high: Hong Kong’s much-lauded Mott 32 opened an outpost this spring, bringing its haute Cantonese fare to the West for the first time. For dessert, tuck into the vegan Lavender Dream gelato at Umaluma in the city’s booming Chinatown.

Back to top

 
Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa near Reykjavík
Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa near Reykjavík Photo: Francesco Ricca Iacomino

Reykjavík, Iceland

Outdoor Wonderland


Travel Time:6 hours

Nonstop Flights:Icelandair (five to six weekly), Wow (four to six weekly)

When to Go:February to March, to avoid the summer crush and to see the northern lights

What’s New:O’Hare’s first ultra-low-cost transatlantic carrier, Wow launched direct flights in July, which means you can jet to the land of fire and ice for $430 round-trip. (That’s in theory: A carry-on will set you back $29; a bottle of water, $3.) Not up for no-frills? Try Icelandair’s new-last-year flights from $540.

What to Do:Embrace the permafrost of the off-season. Snowmobile on the glacier Langjökull and hike through dreamy blue ice caves with Arctic Adventures (adventures.is). Relax at night in a steamy geothermal swimming pool under the hypnotic, otherworldly glow of the northern lights. If you’re there next February 1 to 4, check out the Reykjavík Winter Lights Festival, which features live music, theater, fashion shows, and more throughout the city.

Back to top

 
Dublin’s Pearse Lyons Distillery
Dublin’s Pearse Lyons Distillery Photo: Donal Murphy

Dublin

Whiskey and Golf Getaway


Travel Time:7.5 hours

Nonstop Flights:Aer Lingus (two daily), American (seasonal daily), United (three to seven weekly)

When to Go:October to December, when fares drop and dry golf conditions peak

What’s New:American upgraded its seasonal direct route with the sleek, fuel-efficient Dreamliner 787-8 (from $578), which features improved humidity controls and robust in-flight entertainment.

What to Do:Just opened, the Pearse Lyons Distillery offers an alternative to the cliché of Guinness brewery tours. For $24, you get an inside look, three tastings, and, naturally, a church graveyard tour. Time your visit for November 25, and you’ll be able to go on a bender at Whiskey Live Dublin, which for $52 offers tastings in Dublin Castle from 40-plus distilleries. In between booze sessions, dry out on seaside courses like the 27-hole Portmarnock Golf Club (from $238 for 18 holes).

Back to top

 
Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum in London
Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum in London Photo: Lucie Goodayle/Trustees of NHM

London

Culture Boost for the Kids


Flight Time:8 hours

Nonstop Flights:American (four daily), British Airways (two daily), Norwegian (four weekly), United (three daily)

When to Go:Spring, for the widest range of airline options

What’s New:Norwegian Air is launching low-cost flights in late March that’ll get you there and back for a mind-blowing $400. Or wait until May for an upscale ride on British Airways’ luxe double-decker Airbus A380 (from $680).

What to Do:Start at the Natural History Museum’s vast, staggeringly ornate Hintze Hall, which reopened in July with a full-scale blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling. Show the kids the original social network at the new Postal Museum, making sure to ride the old-school mail railway through London’s subterranean tunnels. Sneak in some art at the Tate Modern with a photography exhibit featuring works by Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy that runs May 2 to September 16.

Back to top

 
A dress on display at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris
A dress on display at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé/Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Alexandre Guirkinger

Paris

Fashion Field Trip


Travel Time:8 hours

Nonstop Flights:Air France (five weekly), American (daily), United (daily)

When to Go:September to mid-December, when fares can drop more than $1,000

What’s New:Air France expanded its service (from $750) into winter and late fall, while American (from $660) added to its fleet the Boeing 787-9, which includes bigger windows, better climate control, and a premium economy cabin (from $1,165).

What to Do:Get to the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris, opening October 3 inside Saint Laurent’s former atelier. On display: 50 designs, including a wedding dress (a nod to the tradition of ending fashion shows with a bridal look), and a wall of jewelry. Afterward, ditch your sneakers and fanny pack for hipper duds on a guided fashion tour with style coach Aloïs Guinut ($190 for two hours, dresslikeaparisian.com).

Back to top

 
Christmas Market at Plaza Mayor in Madrid
Christmas Market at Plaza Mayor in Madrid Photo: Anouchka

Madrid

Never-Ending Holiday


Travel Time:8 hours

Nonstop Flights:Iberia (daily)

When to Go:December to January, for the ultimate Christmas blowout

What’s New:Attention, modestly big spenders: Iberia added a premium economy class (from $1,389), easing transatlantic travel with wider seats that generously recline and two checked bags included.

What to Do:Nobody does the holiday season quite like Madrid, where elaborate Nativity scenes (think special effects and live animals), festive markets, and intricate light displays pepper the city. If you’re a real Christmas junkie, though, you’ll want to be there January 5 and 6 for the larger-than-life Three Kings festivities: Madrileños kick things off with a nighttime parade worthy of Macy’s and then open gifts in honor of the Magi and nosh on doughnut-like roscón de reyes cakes covered in glacé cherries.

Back to top

 
Zihuatanejo’s La Casa Que Canta resort
Zihuatanejo’s La Casa Que Canta resort Photo: Courtesy of resort

Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Cliffside Oasis


Travel Time:5 hours

Nonstop Flights:United (weekly), Volaris (weekly)

When to Go:January to March, for prime beach weather

What’s New:In November, the ultrabudget airline Volaris launches direct flights seasonally on Sundays from $180 round-trip. United will bring back its seasonal direct Saturday flights in late December ($597).

What to Do:Overlooking Zihuatanejo Bay, the cliff-top resort La Casa Que Canta unveiled a new look in September with eight revamped suites. Top draw: lounging by saltwater pools with ocean views for miles, bucket of Corona on ice and ceviche at your side (from $410). If you absolutely must move around, stroll through the waterfront Paseo de Pescador in the early morning, when fishermen hawk the latest catch to local chefs. From there, hoof it to a full-on sensory overload at the Mercado Municipal, an exciting city-block-size labyrinth of stands selling fruit, whole skinned chickens, and Día de los Muertos skulls of every shape and size.

Back to top

 
A floating dock at Jicaro Island Ecolodge in Managua
A floating dock at Jicaro Island Ecolodge in Managua Photo: Courtesy of Jicaro Island Ecolodge

Managua, Nicaragua

Luxe Nature for Two


Travel Time:7 hours (including layover)

One-Stop-Flights:American (three daily), Avianca (daily), Delta (one to four daily), Spirit (daily seasonally), United (one to six daily)

When to Go:January to March, the comfortable dry season

What’s New:Post-revolution, high-end boutique resorts abound—for half what you’d pay in better-known locales.

What to Do:The nine-casita Jicaro Island Ecolodge (from $620 for two) sits on its own isle, so arrive in Managua at night for a boat ride across the massive Lake Nicaragua under starry skies. The next day, kayak at sunrise or take a three-and-a-half-hour road trip to sandboard down the black volcano Cerro Negro, then return to the resort to eat dinner on a private floating dock. For a more adventurous stay, head to Nekupe Sporting Resort and Retreat ($1,300 for two), opened last year on a 1,300-acre private nature reserve in the tropical hillsides of Nandaime. There, you can go on a Nicaraguan-style safari (hello, ATVs and monkeys) in the shadow of the volcano Mombacho.

Back to top

 
Smoked green plantains at Intimo in Panama City
Smoked green plantains at Intimo in Panama City Photo: Juan Lee Lui

Panama City

Impromptu Party Weekend


Travel Time:5.5 hours

Nonstop Flights:Copa (two daily)

When to Go:December to February, when it’s summer there and the bar scene peaks

What’s New:Copa begins doubling its daily flights in November.

What to Do:Roam the colonial-era neighborhood of Casco Viejo, Panama City’s answer to River North. Start with dinner at the, well, intimate Intimo (only 28 seats), known for its cocktail pairings. Then head to the semihidden Mula (it’s above a restaurant) for a few low-key pours before going full-scenester at the Strangers Club, opened in July by the team behind New York City’s popular bar Employees Only. (Try the Angie, a zippy, botanical gin cocktail infused with maracuyá.)

Back to top

 
Yoga pavilion at the Cliff Hotel in Negril
Yoga pavilion at the Cliff Hotel in Negril Photo: June Pascocello

Negril, Jamaica

Fitness Bonanza


Travel Time:4 hours

Nonstop Flights:American (daily seasonally), Southwest (daily from Midway), United (daily seasonally)

When to Go:November to April

What’s New:Southwest upped its frequency this year, making it the only carrier offering year-round direct flights (from $547) to Montego Bay (90 minutes by car from Negril). But you’ll find cheaper fares from O’Hare on United (from $438) and American (from $506).

What to Do:If you are workout-obsessed, check in at the 166-room Hideaway at Royalton Negril (from $402), an adults-only resort opened in March that offers dozens of fitness classes weekly, ranging from boot camps to yoga, plus massages on the beach to recharge you in between. Want a more tranquil option? Try the Cliff Hotel, opened in 2015, where you can lounge in a saltwater pool embedded in the rocky shore or take classes in an open-air yoga pavilion, which will forever ruin your sweaty, windowless Bikram studio back home.

Back to top

Share

Edit Module
Edit Module
Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.