Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
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Where will you go in 2016? To help you plan epic adventures this year, we’ve put together a list of the top 50 destinations to visit in 2016. Here, we’ve segmented it into the best destinations in Europe. If you’re an intrepid adventurer planning a Eurotrip, check out these awesome places on the continent, or see the whole list of top 50 destinations here.
San Sebastian, Spain
This coastal Spanish city goes by two names – San Sebastián in Spanish and Donostia in the Basque language. It’s got an enviable position on the gorgeous Bay of Biscay on the northern coast of the country, not far from the French border, and it’s a European Capital of Culture for 2016. Despite the small size of the town, San Sebastián has established itself as a cultural and culinary hub in Spain, and the Capital of Culture designation gives the town an opportunity to show off. There are special events scheduled throughout the year, so check with the tourism office when you arrive to see what’s going on when you get to town. If you’re there in September, don’t miss the world-famous San Sebastián International Film Festival, founded in 1953.
Throwing off stiff competition, the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana celebrates its title of European Green Capital in 2016 and is using the award to further its intention of being a zero-waste city by 2025 – it is the first European capital to announce such a plan. Pint-sized Ljubljana has spent the last decade implementing a range of urban green measures, introducing free electric cabs and the building up of an impressive public-transport network. It has morphed from a car-centric city to a pristine one with extensive pedestrian and cycling networks; the magical Old Town is now closed to traffic and is a joy for visitors who explore its old-world, pastel-hued charms on foot. Silver public bikes can be hired at 30 stations dotted around Ljubljana and there are extensive way-marked cycle paths throughout the city, including the circular Path of Remembrance and Comradeship, along which more than 7,000 trees were planted after the fall of Communism in 1989. Indeed the city has preserved many of its green spaces, from natural parks to manicured botanical gardens; even the forested slopes leading up to its landmark red-roofed Baroque castle are crossed with hiking trails and the landscaped banks of the River Ljubljanica are a tree-lined eco-haven to wander. .
These nine small Portuguese islands in the middle of the ocean lie between Boston and Lisbon. A history of lucrative whaling has given way to whale watching for tourists, with humpbacks and sperm whales common sightings, especially from Pico, an island named for the perfect peak that dots its center. Other points of interest on the islands include on Faial, where the Capelinhos volcano expanded the landmass from 1957-1958 by pumping lava up to the surface. On many islands there are shoulder-high walls protecting white grapes that are grown for Azorean wine, and the islands are also known for their tea plantations and several types of intensely-flavored cheese. In between there are winding drives up and down the lava flows and past numerous black and white churches, with (at least) one for every community. Now’s a better time than ever to visit the Azores, as prices on inter-island flights have fallen in the last year.
Discover the Azores
From Jane Austen to George Orwell to J.K.Rowling, England has played host to some of the world’s most iconic writers and with a number of key anniversaries, 2016 is the perfect year to uncover the country’s rich literary heritage. The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death will see special screenings, exhibitions and performances held in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon, where fans can visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and the famous Shakespeare’s globe theatre. 2016 also marks the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth and the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth, so expect plenty of literary-inspired events to take place around the country. There’s plenty to keep you busy between events too, from exploring cosmopolitan London to hiking in the Lake District National Park, or visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites like Stonehenge. – Zoe Smith
With the Greek economy on the run and the migrant crisis engulfing much of eastern and southern Europe, many hitherto idyllic Aegean islands such as Lesbos and Kos have seen visitor numbers – needlessly – plummet. Not so Crete, which is recording an upward surge in bookings for 2016. It is far enough from Turkey to remain virtually unaffected by the turmoil that is the present-day tragedy of the Middle East. While endless sunny days and buzzing seaside resorts such as Agios Nikolaos and Chania are part of the Cretan vacation experience, the island also has way more than its fair share of cultural diversions, from the Bronze Age Minoan ruins at Knossos to the classical remains of Aptera. Coupled with a vibrant café-and-bar culture, it is fast becoming the Greek island destination of choice for summer 2016. The capital city of Heraklion is open for business all year around and its bars and restaurants never close; couple that with Crete’s gentle climate and visitors can enjoy perfect winter and spring breaks too.
With Disney officially announcing that a sequel is in the works for 2013 megahit Frozen, Norway’s glittering glaciers and fairytale fjords will soon be enchanting viewers all over again. The movie might not be due until 2018, but there’s no reason to wait that long! Not only is Norway renowned for its dramatic scenery, but it’s a hotspot for winter sports and activities, from snowshoeing and snowmobile rides, to husky sledding and cross-country skiing. Head to the arctic town of Tromso, one of the best places in the world to witness nature’s dazzling lightshow—the Northern Lights. Alternatively, leave the tourist trail behind and embark on a trip to the remote Svalbard archipelago, which lies between Norway and the North Pole. Discovering the wild landscapes is a real adventure and you’ll have the rare opportunity to spot reindeer, arctic fox and the increasingly endangered polar bear in their native home.
As a key filming location for HBO’s hit fantasy drama Game of Thrones, Northern Ireland has stepped into the spotlight in recent years, proving that it’s much more than just Ireland’s diminutive neighbor. Season 6 is due to premiere in April 2016, so there’s no better time to take a Game of Thrones tour of Northern Ireland and discover wonders like the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway, the Dark Hedges road and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The capital is full of highlights too, with recently opened tourist attractions including the Crumlin Road Gaol, the Titanic Belfast and the SS Nomadic, and the WWI warship HMS Caroline set to open its deck to visitors in 2016. That’s not all—vibrant Belfast is also renowned for its glittering waterfront, fascinating murals and electric nightlife.
There’s never really a bad year to visit Rome, but 2016 includes two very good reasons to make this the year you head to the Eternal City. Pope Francis just opened the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, heralding the start of the Holy Year of Mercy – otherwise known as a Jubilee Year. The city may be a bit more crowded with pilgrims during a Jubilee Year, but Rome is also typically a bit more spruced up in anticipation of the influx of visitors. That, plus the unique opportunity to witness a Holy Year in person, make 2016 a potentially interesting time to be in Rome whether you’re a pilgrim or not. On a less religious note, the famous Trevi Fountain has just reopened after more than 500 days under scaffolding while it was being restored. It’s positively drop-dead gorgeous right now, white and gleaming, so it’s an even more photogenic backdrop when you throw in your coins. – J. S.
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Think of it as Bordeaux’s more-laid cousin. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015, the Burgundy region of France has been producing wine since the Middle Ages. Known for its terroir and the area’s climat system, Burgundy produces several notable wine varietals like Pinot Noir, Chablis and Beaujolais. The World Heritage area consists of two parts: the vineyards and production areas including several villages, the town of Beaune and the historic center of Dijon. Though a visit here is clearly centered on the wine, there are also historic chateaux, cycling routes that meander along the canals and through vineyards and a world-class dining scene. It’s the perfect blend for an unforgettable vacation. – K. C.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the European Capital of Culture, a designation that highlights a few cities for one year. Italy has recently started its own similar effort, and Mantua is the Italian Capital of Culture for 2016. The Lombardy city’s historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, and Mantua has long been an important city of art. Mantua (called Mantova in Italian) was ruled by the Gonzaga family for centuries, and they left behind sumptuous palaces, religious relics, and elaborately decorated churches. It’s the closest modern city to where Roman poet Virgil was born. Mantua will be part of the East Lombardy region’s designation as European Capital of Gastronomy in 2017. And it’s an easy day trip from either Venice or Milan. – Jessica Spiegel
Greenland has long been top of the wish list for adventurous travelers and there are few places on earth as compelling – a vast, glacial wilderness, where icebergs loom and polar bears roam. Until recent years, the world’s largest island remained firmly off-the-beaten-track, but as arctic destinations like Iceland and Lapland surge in popularity, many intrepid travelers are now heading even further north. Greenland’s highlights are plentiful, from hiking and whale watching in summer, to dog sledding, glacier climbing and Northern Lights excursions in the winter. Not only that, but with increasing worries about climate change and the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, there’s no time like the present to explore the UNESCO-listed icefjords. If you need another excuse to visit Greenland this year, the country will also be hosting the 2016 Arctic Winter Games in March, with events including skiing, snowboarding and ice hockey. – Z. S.
With new air routes into Szczecin, Katowice and Gda?sk, exploring the many delights of Poland just got a whole lot easier in 2016, which also sees the 30th anniversary of the European Capital of Culture award, which has bought cities such as Riga, Rotterdam and Porto to world attention. This year the spotlight turns on Wroc?aw in Poland’s Lower Silesia. This cultured and compact city rose again from the ashes of World War II and sits alongside the River Oder; it is often overlooked in the headlong rush to gorgeous Kraków but is just as enchanting. Wroc?aw has a dreamy ensemble of architecture from medieval to modern, an immaculately restored Market Square, a Gothic cathedral, red-brick churches and tranquil backwaters on Tumski Island. A host of exhibitions, fairs and public concerts are slated to take place across the city in 2016, along with literary events as it also takes on the mantle of UNESCO’s World Book Capital City. And Kraków gets its moment in the limelight this year too, with the arrival of Pope Francis to mark World Youth Day between July 25–31; this has a profound significance for the Poles as their beloved Pope John-Paul II regarded Kraków as his spiritual home. Thousands of young Catholic pilgrims will flock into the historic city to witness Francis celebrating Holy Communion and to parade the World Youth Day Cross and Icon through the streets. – Sasha Heseltine
Germany in of itself is the place to be in 2016 to enjoy a variety of beer festivals across the country as the Fatherland celebrates 500 years of the Reinheitsgebot, or Beer Purity Law. The law was a series of regulations determining the ingredients in beer adopted in Bavaria, 1516. That said, Germany isn’t exclusively all barley, malt and hops. Frankfurt, better known as one of the primary international business hubs of the world, is also the gateway city to Germany’s wine country. The area surrounding Frankfurt is world renowned for their Riesling history, stretching back to the 1200s thanks to the cool climate producing an acidic grape that comes through in the wine. Back in Frankfurt, check out the Bahnhofsviertel neighborhood near the central train station. Traditionally this was a no-go zone or brothels, but now artists and restaurateurs are buying up the cheap space to revitalize the neighborhood. Across the river, get back to wine culture by checking out Lorsbacher Thal for some traditional Apfel Wein that owner Frank Winkler says, “tastes like the angels peed in it.” – Joe Baur
Many visitors to France have a hard enough time pulling themselves away from Paris, let alone exploring the far reaches of the country. But it’s worth taking the high-speed TGV train down to the southwest of the country, using Bordeaux as your base. Tour a few of the 9,000 vineyards to the east and find your favorite labels to drink back in town. Head west to the coast and climb the eerie Dune du Pyla before heading into Arcachon for delectable local oysters. Or just take a city break in a place that is beautiful, lively, and full of fantastic bars and restaurants, incuding an influx of wine dining options from notable chefs such as Joël Rubuchon and Gordon Ramsay. – Christine Cantera