The Constant Travellers: six local jet-setters give their tips for New York, Bangkok, St. Petersburg and more
We rounded up a group of the city’s brightest artists, entrepreneurs and professional tourists and asked them for insider intel on their favourite foreign destinations
For the past four and a half years, the principal at Diamond Schmitt Architects has been working on the Mariinsky II theatre in St. Petersburg, which officially opened this spring. He tells us how to take Russia’s imperial second city by storm.
What he does: “St. Petersburg is a great city for walking. There’s so much history: Nabokov’s townhouse, the Yusupov Palace, the Winter Palace, the square where the infamous massacre of protesters took place in 1905. There’s also excellent art in St. Petersburg. The Mikhailovsky Castle just opened a permanent exhibition as part of the national portrait gallery. It has a terribly moving portrait of Peter and his son, whom Peter had executed. I also think it’s worth the trip to the Summer Palace. You need to take a hydrofoil up the Gulf of Finland, which is about a 30- or 40-minute ride. The hydrofoils are moored on the Neva, not far from the Hotel Astoria. There’s a small, charming restaurant there, which I think is a nice spot for lunch.”
Where he eats: “There are two good restaurants that I usually go to. Jérôme has an intimate ambience and really good, dense borscht. Mansarda is a rooftop restaurant, so it has great views and rich, delicious stroganoff.”
Where he stays: “I stay at the Hotel Astoria, which is where Rasputin used to stay when he visited St. Petersburg. Ask for a room overlooking St. Isaac’s Cathedral—it’s the largest Orthodox cathedral in Russia. I also like the Astoria’s wonderful buffet breakfast and excellent tea service, which makes it a good place to meet people.”
Bonus tip: “I recommend a boat trip on the canals of the city. From that vantage point, you get a great unfolding panorama of the magnitude and architectural consistency of classical St. Petersburg.”
Bruce Poon Tip
The Asia headquarters of Poon Tip’s travel company, G Adventures, is in Bangkok. He goes for work but sticks around for the curry and Muay Thai kickboxing.
What he does: “The best thing to do in Bangkok is check out the Buddhist temples, especially Wat Kalayanamit, which has a massive, 15-metre-tall indoor sitting Buddha. On recent visits, I’ve made sure to take some classes at Elite Fight Club, a Muay Thai kickboxing school. It’s a fun, combative sport, and it’s incredibly popular in Bangkok—a great way to immerse yourself in local culture.”
Where he eats: “I’m a sucker for a great view. Sirocco, on the top of the Lebua hotel, has one of the best, plus great food. Last time I was there, I had an amazing coconut milk green chicken curry. You could taste how fresh the coconut milk was.”
Where he drinks: “Bangkok has some of the hippest rooftop bars I’ve ever been to. The best is Vertigo and Moon Bar on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree hotel. You can get exotic cocktails, but I like a gin and tonic to enjoy with the view.”
Where he stays: “I like the Sukhothai Bangkok. It’s clean, elegant and locally owned—not a chain. It’s a serene retreat from the energy of the city.”
Bonus Tip: “Buy a bespoke suit while you’re there. You can pay for your trip with the money you’ll save. The best shops are along Sukhumvit Street, especially Crown Tailor. It’s run by Thai-Indian locals who will make any design you choose. They’ll even come to your hotel for the final fitting.”
The fashion mogul and founder of Joe Fresh spends a lot of time in Miami (and he’s got the tan to prove it). Here, Mimran shares some of his South Beach secrets, which include destinations for eating well, drinking better and lounging by the nicest pool in the city.
Where he eats: “The vibe at Mr. Chow is fantastic, especially for the size—it’s huge and always busy. I think they serve 700 people a night. It has that energizing Miami-chic feel. The food is good, too. I love the green prawns.”
Where he drinks: “Casa Tua is a fabulous Italian restaurant with a beach house atmosphere. The best part is the private lounge, where I like to stop in for a drink. They have live music almost every evening.”
Where he stays: “The Setai is the best place to stay in Miami. Hedges surround the three side-by-side pools, so it’s very private. You can have your own space, which is a nice break from all the people-watching.”
The award-winning filmmaker and director of Midnight’s Children has lived in Toronto for 30 years and often visits her hometown of Amritsar, India, the spiritual centre of the Sikh religion.
What she does: “Most tourists go to the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in a holy city. They serve free vegetarian meals cooked daily by devotees. Amritsar is famous for its Punjabi cuisine—dhal, fish with caraway seeds, chicken pakoras. Two of the world’s greatest Indian chefs come from here: Vikram Vij of Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver and Vikas Khanna of Junoon in New York City.”
Where she eats: “Novelty Sweets on Lawrence Road has a great brunch. I remember consuming three puris, each the size of a dinner plate, when I was 10 and still craving more.”
Where she stays: “The Golden Temple has subsidized rooms where you can get up at dawn and go hear kirtans, which are Sikh hymns. But if you want to splurge, there’s now a five-star hotel, the Hyatt Amritsar, near the temple, which has a spa to die for.”
The general director of the Canadian Opera Company has lived and worked in the world’s great cities, but his favourite place to visit is Santa Fe, New Mexico, where there’s a surprisingly vibrant opera scene.
What he does: “I go to the opera, of course. The opera house is just outside town. Driving around in the countryside is a must, too. New Mexico is astonishingly beautiful. And there’s so much art in Santa Fe. My favourite gallery is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. You can also drive to her house. It’s only an hour away.”
Where he eats: “At Geronimo, the food is lovely and as haute as it gets in Santa Fe. It also has a good wine list. I was introduced to this restaurant by Johannes Debus, the musical director of the COC. It’s where we had one of our first dinners together, in the summer of 2009, just after he was appointed. The menu changes frequently, but I remember having excellent halibut.”
Where he stays: “Don’t stay in the city. That’s the first rule of going to Santa Fe. Stay somewhere in the hills, at one of the resorts. I like the Four Seasons because it’s one of the newest, and it’s deep in the mountains, so you get the full desert experience.”
As the weekend co-host of Good Morning America, Ben Mulroney spends a lot of his time working in New York, but he still knows how to have fun in his second home. Here, he shares some of his favourite spots.
What he does: “The High Line is a former elevated railroad track turned into a city park. It’s brilliant, and flawlessly executed. I like that it’s not incredibly touristy—just New Yorkers out for a walk or on their lunch breaks. To kick back, I go to Le Bain at the Standard hotel. It’s a ’60s-style rooftop bar with a plunge pool and a view of the Statue of Liberty.”
Where he eats: “I often work around Columbus Circle, and there’s nothing I like more than lunch or dinner at Blue Ribbon Sushi. The fish is impeccably fresh, and the tempura is incredibly crispy. They even make a mean fried chicken. Philippe is not a place to go if you’re on any sort of budget, but if you’re celebrating (or expensing it), then blow the lock off your wallet and have fun. Their dumplings are fantastic. Also, when I’m in town, I always go to Shake Shack for one of the best burgers around. Throw some ShackSauce on that bad boy, and top things off with the Shack Attack frozen custard.”
Where he drinks: “When I want to feel like a VIP, I go to the Rose Bar. Getting in is no easy feat, but it’s worth the wait. Cool neighbourhood, cool bar and great drinks. I also really like Monkey Bar on East 54th Street. Fantastic pedigree—it’s owned by Graydon Carter—and classic cocktails.”
Where he stays: “Hotel on Rivington on the Lower East Side has the best views in New York. The last time I was there, I woke up to a 180-degree view of the Manhattan skyline and felt like a rock star for the rest of the day.”