UCityGuides.com spent almost two years crossing dozens of airports on even more airlines, checking into countless hotels, eating at an endless number of restaurants, and spending sleepless nights at some fantastic bars and clubs in order to bring you the ultimate urban guides to the world's top cultural cities. In the process, we had some experiences to forget, but thankfully many more unforgettable moments, and were able to get up close and personal to some of the best that the urban world has to offer to the most savvy of cosmopolitan travelers.
The best of everything is highlighted in our city guides, but there still are experiences and services that merit extra attention, and that's how the Uwards came about. These are awards or special recognition to the best of the new ultimate urban experiences, according to the very discerning UCityGuides team.
And the Uwards to the new places that filled voids in their cities or that are simply great additions to the urban world go to:
BEST AIRPORT: BARAJAS AIRPORT, MADRID
When ranking the world's best airports, experts often look at the number of flight delays or wait-times, but at UCityGuides.com we also find that the public areas, shopping, dining, and overall service should be taken into account. With its Richard Rogers design and impressive automatic luggage-sorting system, we give our Uward to Madrid's Barajas Airport.
This airport also has easy public transport connections to the center of the city, and it's not difficult to find your way around.
Over 50 million passengers passed through Barajas in 2008, with many of them entering the new Terminal 4, one of the world's largest and best-designed airport terminals. Instead of walls there are glass panes, and its use of colors and light is meant to create a more relaxing, stress-free start to your travels. We thank them for that.
See the Madrid City Guide
BEST AIRPORT MAGAZINE: ATHENS' "2BOARD" MAGAZINE
It was love at first flight: As soon as we landed in Athens' airport last summer, we happened to find the very first issue of its magazine 2Board. Most often we head straight to the baggage claim and out the door, and most of us don't even see or care about airports' publications (when there are any). But you should look for Athens' 2Board magazine when you're visiting the Greek capital or heading to one of the islands. There is a new issue out every three months, and it also covers attractions from around the world. It's written in Greek and English, starting with a section called "Latitudes," devoted to recommending the best attractions in international destinations, while later sections present ideas for business travelers, what to do in Athens, and the best of the "Material World," meaning luxury and shopping essentials. We'd gladly buy this magazine at newsstands, but we also love knowing that we'll find it welcoming us every time we arrive in Greece.
See the Athens City Guide
BEST IN-FLIGHT MAGAZINE: TAP AIR PORTUGAL'S "UP"
While there are airlines that no longer offer in-flight magazines in order to remove some weight and therefore save on fuel, there are others that aim to do better. UCityGuides' Rio de Janeiro-Lisbon flight felt much shorter thanks to TAP Air Portugal's Up magazine. Sure, there are personal little screens in front of you, offering a wide range of in-flight video entertainment, but why not start your traveling getting to know your and other destinations around the world? In-flight magazines get you in the traveling mood and, with its excellent layout and well-designed pages, Up certainly does that. It presents some of the best of Portugal and especially Lisbon (the airline's hub) in its opening "Now Boarding" section, and goes on to provide essential tips (including hotels and shopping) for its dozens of destinations in its "Departure" and "Hand Baggage" sections, all behind highly-creative covers.
Too bad it doesn't offer its content online like British Airways' High Life or Delta's Sky magazine do, but at least we get something to look forward to every time we go to the Portuguese capital or use Lisbon and TAP Portugal as a starting point to a Brazilian city break.
Yes, we're fans of in-flight magazines, and after reading Up we were highly disappointed to find that in one of our Athens-Madrid flights on Olympic Airlines we had no such gift waiting in the pocket of the seat in front of us...
BEST HOTEL GROUP: GANSEVOORT HOTEL GROUP
The Gansevoort Hotel Group has helped transform New York's Meatpacking District into the city's hip and chic neighborhood, and has since then worked to bring sophisticated urban oases to other locations. Its goal is to create lifestyle resorts by redefining the contemporary hotel experience, and UCityGuides.com agrees that it has done that twice in New York with the original Gansevoort Hotel and then with Gansevoort Park. The cosmopolitan spirit of New York has also been planted in Miami with the opening of Gansevoort South, and there are plans to expand to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London, and beyond.
What all these boutique properties have or will have in common is strikingly stylish rooms, stunning views, sophisticated and minimalist interiors, and outstanding facilities such as rooftop pools, full-service spas, and refined cuisine and drinks at the bars and restaurants. With places like these, we can't wait to check into what they'll come up with next.
BEST NEW BUILDING: CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, SAN FRANCISCO
Looking at it from above, it looks like a golf course or a very green park, and you'd never guess that underneath it is an outstanding natural history museum, an aquarium, and a planetarium. Designed by Renzo Piano and opened in September of 2008, it has an environmentally-conscious design and is already an architectural icon. It recycles rain water for irrigation, uses natural lighting in most of the space, and there are 60,000 photovoltaic cells converting sunlight into electricity. The exhibitions inside may provide many lessons to visitors, but the building itself will certainly serve as an example for constructions we'll be seeing in the future.
See the San Francisco City Guide
BEST NEW BODY & SOUL EXPERIENCE - DIOR INSTITUT AT THE PLAZA ATHÉNÉE, PARIS
Located in the most stunning of all Paris hotels, the Dior Institute at the Hotel Plaza Athénée offers innovative beauty treatments to both men and women, including the signature L'Or de Vie for the ladies. The fashion shows projected on the walls as you enter give an idea of the kind of clients it attracts, but you don't have to be the most fashionable of people to step into the VIP treatment room or use the fully-equipped fitness center. The white Patrick Ribes-designed space also includes a sauna and relaxation lounge, and you may make an appointment with a personal coach for tailor-made workout sessions.
See the Paris City Guide
BEST NEW ROOFTOP BAR - SILK CLUB, LISBON
It's a mystery how such a stunningly-sited city, offering such grand vistas, has so few rooftop attractions. The bars at the top of the Hotel do Chiado and Bairro Alto Hotel are attractive places for drinks, but for a full-blown clubby lounge atmosphere overlooking the Tagus there was nowhere to go in the city until the opening of Silk Club in March of 2008. Now you can get an almost 360-degree view of one of the world's most beautiful cities as it's lit up at night, and sip a cocktail as you relax in a sophisticated and exclusive chill-out ambience. What took so long?
See the Lisbon City Guide
BEST NEW MEMBERS' CLUB - PARAMOUNT CLUB, LONDON
Did London need another members' club? Apparently yes. Last october the Paramount Club opened on the top three floors of the West End's Centre Point building. That's where members (and that's strictly members-only) and their accompanying guests find a sleek Tom Dixon-designed space mixing a retro-60s and futuristic look, and can enjoy a 360-degree view of the city. At the very top is a very attractive champagne bar, while the two levels below are a lounge and dining area, and private event space.
See the London City Guide
BEST NEW CONCEPT - KARRIERE BAR, COPENHAGEN
It's one of the city's hippest addresses but no one's quite sure how to classify it. It's a cutting-edge gallery, but also a restaurant, a hotspot for socializing, a place for artists and admirers, live performances, and a bar serving some excellently strong cocktails in a sophisticated but informal environment. It's surely pioneering a new concept that we're just waiting to see copied all over the urban world.
See the Copenhagen City Guide
BEST NEW CAFÉ - DESIGN LIBRARY CAFÉ, MILAN
Unquestionably the most attractive new café in the world last year was found in Milan's Design Library. No, not just because of the designer décor but because you can be served fresh and organic Mediterranean cuisine at any time of the day AND get to take a look at quite an attractive space. Browse through the library entirely dedicated to design, and continue your study of the subject at the café with a meal and while reading one of the major design magazines and books. The minimalist interior is lit up by a delicate LED lighting system, a space that can be enjoyed from 7AM to 1AM, making it also an attractive stop for breakfast.
See the Milan City Guide
BEST NEW RESTAURANT - KATSUYA, LOS ANGELES
When Katsuya opened its second L.A. location just over a year ago, it become an instant Hollywood hotspot, offering imaginative Japanese cuisine in a sensual space designed by Philippe Starck. It's a place where you can enjoy master sushi chef Katsuya's refined creations at the bar or candle-lit dining room, or try the excellent cocktails at the lounge, all as you're overlooked by the provocative images of the lips and stares of a geisha.
See the Los Angeles City Guide
MOST WELCOMED NEW OPENING - ABADES TRIANA, SEVILLE
After Barcelona, Bilbao, and Valencia, it's time for Seville to challenge Madrid (and the rest of Europe) in urban sophistication. The city is finally taking advantage of its riverside location and embracing contemporary architecture and design. The first exciting new project showing Seville's new direction is Abades Triana, a recently-opened glass box serving as a restaurant offering river views from floor-to-ceiling windows. The menu consists mostly of seafood, but if you're just looking to chill out with a drink, head to the terrace and enjoy a glass of champagne.
See the Seville City Guide
BEST NEW BUSINESS HOTEL - MARMARA SISLI, ISTANBUL
Opened in September of 2008, the Marmara Sisli offers contemporary interiors for cosmopolitan business travelers. In addition to the well-designed rooms, there are fitness facilities, four meeting rooms, and panoramic views of Istanbul.
See the Istanbul City Guide
BEST NEW BOUTIQUE HOTEL - GREENWICH HOTEL, NEW YORK
Having a celebrity owner helps create plenty of buzz around a new opening, but New York's Greenwich Hotel opened last April hoping to be the next hot address in the Big Apple thanks to its stylish rooms and public spaces, and not just because it's owned by Robert DeNiro. Located in the Tribeca neighborhood, it's the place to be for the TriBeCa Film Festival but also a sophisticated choice at any time of the year, when you can experience the exclusive spa opened last summer or the outstanding "Ago" Italian restaurant.
See the New York City Guide
BEST NEW HOTEL - MONDRIAN HOTEL, MIAMI
After the best new business hotel and the best new boutique option, the Uward to the best new hotel option for all kinds of travelers goes to the Mondrian South Beach Hotel in Miami. It opened in late 2008 and was designed by Marcel Wanders, in an ultra-modern fantasy style making you feel like you're in some kind of urban fairy tale. There are oversized features around the entire space, such as the seats in its stunning Asia de Cuba restaurant, but there are also some intriguing details in the bedrooms and lobby. After taking a look at all of that, head to where everyone will be found, the ultra-hip rooftop lounge and pool area where you can also be offered cocktails and spa treatments. More relaxing moments can be had at the Agua Spa, where you can enjoy the signature Milk and Honey treatments and a private terrace.
See the Miami City Guide