City view from the rooftop pool at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona

An MO guide to alternative city sights

Rather than going away for a break, why not set your sights on destinations much closer to home? Whether it's exploring ancient walks or dining at remote hilltop restaurants – our travel experts recommend their most-loved secret and local attractions to help inspire your staycation itinerary

A flock of flamingos on the water

Seek out nature in Abu Dhabi

A visit to Al Wathba Wetland won’t disappoint if you’re a nature lover. Located around 50 km away from mainland Abu Dhabi, it’s well-known for its large population of greater flamingos, with as many as 4,000 living there during autumn and spring. It also houses more than 250 species of birds, 37 plant species and an array of aquatic life. To catch a glimpse of the beautiful birds up close, there are two self-guided walking trails (1.5km or 3km) for you to explore.
Thao Ho, Concierge at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

Find your way in Barcelona

On the outskirts of Barcelona lies a rich variety of quirky museums, unique architecture and landscaped gardens, thanks in large part to the grand mansions that once stood here in solitary splendour. One such place is the Parc del Laberint, a leafy oasis created in the 18th century, which once formed part of an estate owned by the Marquis of Llupià. The ‘laberint’ in question is a stately cypress maze, surrounded on all sides by silver limes, myrtle, cedar and holm oak trees. In starkly modern contrast – and just a ten-minute walk downhill – is the vast pop art Els Mistos, Claes Oldenburg’s 22m-high matchbook sculpture, created for the 1992 Olympics.
Sally Davies, Barcelona-based travel writer

Vaulted nave of Church of Santa Cruz, Bangkok

Discover traces of Portugal in Bangkok

For something a little different, take the ferry across the river from the hotel to Thonburi to visit the old Portuguese quarter around the Church of Santa Cruz (pictured above). Very few seasoned residents have, yet it reveals a fascinating slice of Bangkok’s history. The Baan Kudichin Museum tells its story and has a delightful restaurant attached. Make sure to try Sappayak, a unique Thai/Portuguese fusion dish.
Kay Plunkett-Hogge, author of Baan: Recipes and Stories from My Thai Home

Enjoy panoramic dining in Lake Como

If you love culinary experiences along with magnificent views – take a day trip to the summit of Monte Generoso, located just on the border with Switzerland. To get there from Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como, hop on to the iconic red steam train to enjoy a picturesque journey through the mountains – the railway has been running the 9km route for more than 130 years. Once you arrive at the 1,704m viewpoint, take in the vistas and mountain air before winding down for the evening at the 360° panoramic terrace and restaurant, Fiore di Pietra.
Carolina Ansaloni, Guest Relations Manager at Mandarin Oriental, Lago di Como

Looking to the sky from a courtyard in Tai Kwun

Feed your mind in Hong Kong

Hop on to Hong Kong Island – located in the southern part of the city – to visit Central’s Tai Kwun (pictured above). This former colonial police station and prison has been magnificently restored and now houses one of the city’s best new arts and heritage centres – all just a short walk from The Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Explore exhibitions within its courtyards before decamping to The Armoury for an Aperol spritz before a Cantonese dinner at Madame Fu.
Tim Pritchard, Hong Kong-based travel writer and editor

Catch sight of Guangzhou by night

If you’re a first timer to Guangzhou, be sure to visit the south side of the Pearl River at least once. An evening on a Pearl River Night Cruise – ask your concierge about booking – is a fun way to see the shoreline in all its neon pomp. Easing down the peaceful 2,400km stretch is an idyllic way to watch the world go by and catch a glimpse of the city after dark. From the water, admire the glittering skyline, views of the Canton Tower and Hainxshai Island.
Pedro Jiang, Chief Concierge at Mandarin Oriental, Guangzhou

Take a dip in a former quarry in Miami

At nearly 100 years old, the Venetian Pool is the only swimming pool listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s in Coral Gables, which is about a 20-minute drive from our hotel. The pool water is refreshed daily with naturally filtered water and is perfect for cooling off in when it’s hot.
Italo Fornoni, Chief Concierge at Mandarin Oriental, Miami

Boat on the water at Beihai Park, Beijing

Hunt for treasure in Beijing

Beihai Park in central Beijing is within easy walking distance of Mandarin Oriental, Wangfujing. It’s also one of the city’s most underrated sights. A grand boating lake is encircled by Chinese gardens and historic imperial buildings, overlooked by the majestic, Tibetan-style White Dagoba. The most fun way to visit the park is by taking on the Beihai Park Scavenger Hunt, a family-friendly challenge that reveals more than a thousand years of history as you find answers to clues hidden throughout the grounds.
Tom O’Malley, Beijing-based travel writer and editor

Explore London’s oldest botanical garden

With nearly 50 per cent of the capital dedicated to green space, it would be remiss not to venture outdoors when in London. While there are no fewer than four royal parks within easy reach of Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, seek out the more curious spaces, such as the Chelsea Physic Garden. Created in 1673, it’s the oldest botanical garden in England and grows up to 5,000 different plant species – many of which are medicinal and offer a clue to the garden’s original purpose. Or, if you favour imbibing your botanicals, why not head to Half Hitch Distillery in Camden Town? Under the expert tuition of the master distiller, you’ll learn how to craft your very own gin using your favourite ingredients and flavours.
Ross Clarke, London-based travel writer and digital editor for MO Magazine

Stars fill the sky above snow-capped Atlas Mountains

Experience a night safari in Marrakech

If you’re in the mood for adventure – why not embark on a mini safari into what used to be called the Marrakech Desert? Just 30km from Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech are two majestic beauty spots: the Agafay Desert and the Kik Plateau. Here, you can enjoy an indulgent breakfast, lunch, or sunset dinner specially created by our chef – all set against the sublime backdrop of Atlas Mountains (pictured above).
Adnane Mahrach, Concierge at Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech

Uncover hidden heritage in Kuala Lumpur

One of Kuala Lumpur’s best-kept secrets lies in the heart of its oldest settlement – Kampong Bharu. To explore this century-old Malay village, take a guided bicycle tour with MikesBikes. Look out for the traditional timber houses, and Sikh temples en route, before stopping off for lunch at the Chow Kit Market. This is one of the oldest and busiest markets for fresh produce in the city, and a great place to learn about spices and herbs used in Malay cooking.
Mohd Nawawi, Chief Concierge at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur

Interviews by Elinor Stephens

Skyline view of Macau

Trips of a lifetime: touring China’s great cities

Macau, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing: together, they present an exhilarating itinerary that will feed varied interests, even if it’s your second – or third – visit