By Sana Butler
Next time you're in London, don't fret if you're too busy with meetings to visit the Churchill Museum. Just book a tour with the curator before opening hours. You'll see the Cabinet War Rooms, which look exactly as they did when Sir Winston and his advisers met beneath a hail of German bombs. And without the crowds you'll be able to see every map, chart and bowler hat (free with a stay at the Draycott Hotel, from $545; draycotthotel.com ).
A growing number of topflight hotels can arrange private tours of some of the world's most spectacular galleries, museums and historical sites. You can even spend an evening with King Tut; Cairo's Mena House Oberoi can schedule after-hours visits to the Egyptian Museum. The hotel has also been able to arrange private access to the pyramids of Giza, directly behind the property ( oberoihotels.com ).
Location is everything. Dublin's Merrion Hotel can arrange private gatherings in the National Gallery of Ireland, right across the street. Picture your guests sipping wine amid masterpieces by Goya and Picasso. The hotel itself has the largest private art collection in the country, including works by poet W.B. Yeats's brother, Jack ( lhw.com/merrion ). The Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin recently got its guests into a new exhibit at the nearby Nationalgalerie--with the curator as guide--an hour before everyone else. The hotel offers several VIP art packages with a two-night stay (from $565; hotel-adlon.de ).
Melbourne's Lyall Hotel has an agreement with Sotheby's that allows guests special previews of upcoming auctions. Sotheby's Australia holds 10 annually--including one Nov. 22, so call now ( thelyall.com ). You might even come home with a great souvenir.
Wax jackets have been around for ages, but they got a new lease on life when Helen Mirren's Elizabeth II wore one in "The Queen." No longer associated only with country life, wax jackets--made out of breathable, weather-resistant fabric--are increasingly the outerwear of choice among the urban crowd. J. Barbour & Sons' classic Beaufort jacket was designed as a shooting jacket and features a large rear game pocket. Its more contemporary Utility jacket, favored by women, tailors the rugged look to urban accessory (both £179; barbour.com ). Driza-Bone Australia sports a wax cotton riding coat to give you that iconic Outback look (unisex, £149.50; drizabone.com.au ). Try Mizen Head in County Cork, Ireland, for its traditional half-zip Fisherman's Smock jacket (unisex, £100; mizenhead.com ) or a side-zip, kimono-sleeve one from Roobedo in Scotland (£200; roobedo.co.uk ).
Hunting for a rare bottle of fine wine this holiday season? You may not even have to leave your desk. Top auction houses in the United States and Europe are taking online bids for December auctions. Hart Davis Hart is now accepting online bids for its Dec. 2 Chicago auction, featuring rare Bordeaux and Burgundy ( hdwine.com ). America's oldest wine shop, Acker Merrall & Condit, holds monthly live and online auctions. The Internet auction offers plenty of single bottles, while the Dec. 9 New York live auction features larger lots. Try for an original wooden case of 1982 Lafite Rothschild, estimated at $12,000 to $15,000 ( ackerwines.com ). Bid online at christies.com for vintage champagne from the cellar of Barry M. Fox--perhaps a Clos des Goisses 1952 in magnum, estimated at $2,000 to $3,000?
The Massachusetts capital is so steeped in American history that you couldn't escape it even if you wanted to. So why bother trying?
Ride an elevator to the top of the Prudential Center for a glorious 360-degree view of the city. Listen to descriptions of the city's landmarks, from the JFK Memorial Library to the South End, where generations of immigrants first made their homes (prudentialcenter.com).
Visit the stately Old North Church, where two lanterns were hung in the steeple to warn Paul Revere of the imminent arrival of British troops by sea (oldnorth.com).
Eat at the original Pizzeria Regina, a boisterous, bare-bones joint with irresistible slices and long lines (pizzeriaregina.com).
Stroll through the Boston Common, America's oldest public park, and the far more comely Public Garden, full of fountains, flowers and the world's smallest suspension bridge.
--Susan H. Greenberg
If you're driving down the long, long road to Tipperary, rest a night at this lovely country hotel, with views of the Rock of Cashel and the charming village below.
Ambience: A peat fire blazes in the cozy front room, perfect for warming yourself after strolling the 28 acres of lush gardens, complete with mulberry trees.
Accommodation: Each room is individually decorated with antiques. Beds are plush and inviting for afternoon naps. The bathrooms are spacious, with oversize tubs and powerful showerheads. For extra privacy, ask for one of the 10 rooms in the Mews, set off from the rest of the hotel.
Restaurant: The Bishop's Buttery restaurant, behind a heavy wooden door, serves delicious modern Irish cuisine in a lovely room with vaulted ceilings. Try the magret of duck breast or medallions of Irish Angus beef. On weekends, a pianist performs everything from jazz to Irish folk tunes.
Pub: No visit to Ireland is complete without a trip to the pub. The Guinness takes its name from the country's most famous export--believed to have been developed here by Richard Guinis in the 1740s.
Recreation: The hotel owns five miles along the River Suir, ideal for fishing. Golfing and shooting can also be arranged.