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? We can’t plan your vacations for you, but we can certainly help you narrow your wish list of destinations with our annual Top 50 Travel Destinations list. No, we don’t propose that you visit all 50 in a year – although, hey, that’s an admirable goal – merely that you take these 50 places into consideration when planning your 2016 travels.
Some of these Top 50 Travel Destinations have major events in 2016 that you won’t want to miss. Some of them are celebrating anniversaries in 2016 that make this a compelling year to visit. Some are simply places that you may not otherwise think of as great vacation destinations – and we’d like to change that.
How many of the Top 50 places we’ve selected will you visit in 2016? That’s still open to question. Wherever you end up this year, however, we hope you’ll have a splendid time. Now, in no particular order, we invite you to join us on a virtual tour of the Top 50 Travel Destinations for 2016.
With a colorful mix of Caribbean and Spanish influences, Cartagena is a jewel on Colombia’s coast and it’s only getting hotter. Adding to established hotels like the Sofitel Cartagena Santa Clara and the new Anandá Hotel Boutique, brands like Ritz-Carlton are planting their flags in this historical city, adding the allure of luxury digs to an already desirable destination. Visitors to Cartagena are hard-pressed to decide their favorite elements of this historic city. From wandering through the streets packed with vibrantly colored buildings to walking the walls of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is no shortage of cultural offerings. Then there’s lounging on the white sands of nearby Islas del Rosario, exploring the multitude of bars and restaurants and dancing salsa into the night. Need even more reason to visit? The Colombian peso plunged in the last year, getting you more than 3000 pesos per dollar. That glass of sangria at sunset just got a bit sweeter. – Katie Coakley
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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
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
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
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
Margaret River, Australia
This food and wine region about three hours south of Perth shows no signs of cooling down in 2016. Among the many new goodies to eat and drink in this “Must Visit Food Region”, as it was recently labeled by Australian Traveller magazine, is handmade pasta at Barnyard 1978, a new farm-style bistro and wine tasting room in Yallingup, and award-winning single-malt whiskies from the just-opened Margaret River Distilling Co. Garden lovers won’t want to miss the Margaret River Organic Garden Trail, a network of seven sustainable gardens, including the Spiral Biodynamic Garden at Cullen Wines, which just plucked a new chef for its acclaimed restaurant from Quay in Sydney. For a different kind of trail, a Walk into Luxury trip along the famous Cape to Cape Track might be in order, or a stroll or spin on the newest three miles of the Wadandi Track rail trail. But to really take it all in, travelers should book a tour with Scenic Helicopters or a heart-pounding, barrel-rolling alternative with Tiger Moth Adventure Flights. —Serena Renner
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Visiting the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap is tops on many travelers’ lists. But all the planning in the world won’t prepare you for the intense beauty of the Cambodian country side – and suddenly your half-day tour of the temples is never going to be enough time to really experience the region. That’s why we’re including this timeless favorite in 2016 – to encourage visitors to explore Siem Reap beyond Angkor Wat. From ziplining to countryside bike rides to floating villages, there’s so much more to discover. – C.C.
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Nashville may have long been considered the Country Music Capital of the World, but more recently it’s earned its new nickname of “Music City” as the diversity of musical styles produced here continues to grow. Tennessee’s second-largest city, Nashville is also raising its visibility on the cultural stage through the popular eponymous TV show. Some have even called it the “new Austin,” a nod to Nashville’s quirky and cool side (life-size replica of Athens’ Parthenon in the middle of a city park, anyone?). Tennessee’s bourbon trail isn’t far far away, and Nashville is also recently making a name for itself as a culinary hotspot. – J. S.
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Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
In the southwest corner of Bolivia, where it borders Chile in the Atacama desert, is a rugged transport route along the Bolivian altiplano. Now, intrepid travelers are visiting, ready to snap pics of this unusual desert landscape, dotted with lakes of improbable colors (red and green), which are an important breeding ground for several species of flamingoes. Later on in this multi day crossing usually referred to as the Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni salt lake), visitors come to the giant white salt pan, where much of the world’s lithium and other mineral salts are surface-mined. Pyramidal piles of salt dry in the sun, while vehicles drive slowly over the glassy, mirror-like surface of the lake that comes with the southern summer rains. Rustic lodging often includes a stay at a hotel made of salt slabs, and expect llama chops one night for dinner. – Eileen Smith
Following the weakening of the Australian dollar, new direct flights from the likes of Dallas and steady progress in taking back its reign as the foodie and cultural capital of Australia, Sydney is poised to shine in 2016. Not that that’s hard for the sunny, stunning “Harbour City”. The Barangaroo Reserve, a terraced finger of sandstone and native plants that juts into the harbor – the first section of the massive Barangaroo development – has been raking in landscaping and sustainability awards since opening in August. Just south is another new outdoor landmark: the AU$15-million Goods Line, which took inspiration from New York’s High Line and transformed an old rail corridor into an elevated walking and cycling path lined with greenery and metal ping pong tables. Those wishing to stay nearby can bed down at the Old Clare Hotel, the crown jewel of the emerging Kensington Street precinct, housed in the old Carlton United Brewery building. And that’s just a taste of Sydney’s new hotel offerings, which now range from the transformed Langham and new InterContinental Sydney Double Bay at the upper end to the funky-fresh QT Hotel, overlooking the turquoise waves of Bondi Beach. — S. R.
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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
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Located two hours north of Vancouver on Canada’s west coast, Whistler is North America’s largest ski resort. In 2016, the resort celebrates its 50th anniversary with lots of special events and promotions including a special 50th anniversary party, new restaurants, and plenty of special offers. Add a new privately-funded art museum is opening early in the new year — a big-city gallery for this small mountain town – and Whistler offers so much more than skiing and snowboarding. In fact, it’s also a top destination in the summer, with miles of hiking and biking trails and great year-round diversions like craft breweries and the indulgent open-air Scandinave spa. – Katie Hammel
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.
For years, the only way to get to Chiloé, the large island about two-thirds of the way down Chile’s spine, was overland and by ferry, though this didn’t stop locals and travelers from heading down to the island all the same. People come to see wooden churches declared UNESCO monuments, the palafitos, or stilt houses, typical of the island, and to try local foods, like curanto, a beach-cooked clambake-type meal, with shellfish, sausages and two types of potato bread. Now that there are multiple weekly flights from Santiago (connecting in Puerto Montt) on a local airline, you could easily go to Chiloé for the weekend, where you can also stock up on thick woven and knitted woolen goods, as well as the local tipple, called licor de oro. – E. S.
Shanghai has long been a popular tourist destination, but there are several especially good reasons to visit in 2016. A host of new museums have opened in recent years, including the Power Station of Art (a contemporary art museum and new home of the Shanghai Biennale inside a former power station) and the Yuz Museum (a contemporary art museum in the West Bund featuring the private collection of Budi Tek). One of the largest new Royal Caribbean ships departs from Shanghai bound for Japan and South Korea. And Shanghai Disneyland, the sixth theme park resort opened by Disney and set to open in Spring 2016, is three times larger than Hong Kong Disneyland and bigger than any in the United States. – J. S.
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Think of a tropical paradise and, chances are, you’re imagining exactly what the Cook Islands offer. They’re more remote and significantly less populated than Fiji. And while Fiji is a popular destination for package holidays from Australia and New Zealand, not to mention travelers on RTW trips, the Cook Islands offer a more relaxed – and relaxing – atmosphere overall. There are activities to get you out into nature, including snorkeling and hiking, but there’s no better way to enjoy the Cook Islands than by settling into a comfortable rhythm of doing precisely nothing but enjoying the views of sparkling sand and water. Don’t miss a trip to the island of Aitutaki, home to one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons. – J.S.
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.
Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Rio is often called the “marvelous city,” and with good reason. Popular neighborhoods to visit or stay, like Leblón, Ipanema and Copacabana hug the city’s beaches. Get a peek from higher up, taking an aerial tram trip up the iconic Pão de Azucar, for fabulous views over the city, or for an even more impressive view, visit the open-armed Christ-statue at Corcovado, accessed by small gauge train. Also popular in Rio are museums, libraries, theaters and outdoor nightlife, including near the aqueduct in the neighborhood of Lapa, where the famously colorful Selaron staircase is located. In 2016, tourism will be peak for the Summer Olympic games, and Brazil is planning on temporarily suspending the visa requirements for US-passport holders to facilitate visits until September of that year. Olympic opening and closing ceremonies will take place in the world-famous Maracanã soccer stadium. – E. S.
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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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Mexico City, Mexico
A vacation in Mexico invokes dreams of sun-drenched beaches and drinks with little umbrellas in them, but landlocked Mexico City is the largest city in North America, and a cosmopolitan playground filled with great food, culture, and art. Both Adele and the Rolling Stones are visiting on tour in 2016, and the NFL is expected to bring a game to Aztec Stadium during the 2016-17 season. Discover the city by visiting a new Colonia (neighborhood) each day, from San Angel’s cobblestones streets to the museums of Coyoacán, the Venice-like canals of Xochimilco, and the upscale shopping and dining in Polanco. And if you need to take a break from the hectic city life, less than a half-hour out of the city is hiking and biking at Desert of the Lions National Park. – C. C.
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. – Z. S.
In 2014, the U.S. and Cuba shook hands (figuratively speaking) for the first time in decades. Ushering this new chapter in relations, travel restrictions for U.S. citizens wanting to visit this Caribbean island were also relaxed, allowing for guided cultural tours and opportunities for business and education. While these restrictions give you the chance to collect that previously verboten Cuba stamp in your passport, the ‘come one, come all’ sign isn’t flying over Cuba just yet. With the U.S. embassy open once again in Cuba after more than five decades, diplomatic relations with the island are looking solid. Known for its vibrant culture, pristine beaches and touches of a time gone by, Cuba will continue to gain in popularity for American visitors who were previously unwilling to risk the trip. Airlines are adding direct flights from major U.S. cities to Cuba, making travel more comfortable and, as relations continue to strengthen, hopefully 2016 will be the year that the remaining restrictions are dropped. – K. C.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Not far from Cape Town, South Africa’s Mother City, is the historic town of Stellenbosch. The only older European settlement in the Western Cape is Cape Town itself – Stellenbosch was founded in 1679. Not long after, the first grapes were planted, and the rest (as they say) is history. Stellenbosch is now the epicenter of the verdant Cape Winelands region, the second-oldest wine region in the country and particularly known for South Africa’s signature grape – Pinotage. Oenophiles could spend weeks meandering from wine estate to wine estate and never tire of the mountainous scenery and luscious wines, but as an added bonus the town is also known for fine examples of Cape Dutch architecture and some of South Africa’s best fine dining restaurants. – J. S.
Indianapolis was founded in 1821, but one could argue the Indiana capital didn’t really make a name for itself until 1911 when the very first Indianapolis 500 race occurred. The event has grown over the years to become the biggest single-day sporting event in the world, and May 29, 2016 will celebrate its 100th edition. As you might expect, there are some special events planned for this momentous occasion, including a Journey concert two days before the race and the official opening of newly-enhanced seating and VIP suites. While you’re out at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, don’t miss a tour of the Hall of Fame Museum to see a collection of historic race cars and other items of automotive interest. – J. S.
People use the phrase “Outer Mongolia” to refer to any far-flung destination, and many would have a hard time trying to picture any iconic sights of this country, or name the features of its nomadic culture. But discovering this off-the-beaten-path destination is more accessible to Western travelers now that Ulaanbaatar, its capital city, is getting a new luxury hotel. The five-star Shangri-La, with 290 rooms (that are the largest in town!) and fantastic dining options, has already started taking bookings for its opening in 2016. It’s in a prime location for shopping and sightseeing before setting out to play golf in the BogdKhaan Valley, trek in the Gobi Desert, or ride motorbikes through the Khan Khenty range. – C. C.
Many hold a particular image of Miami within their imagination. Depending on the traveler, it all revolves around the obnoxious or incredible beats of South Beach clubs. But, Miami is actually a city of culture and arts heavily influenced by immigrating Latinos from primarily Cuba just 90 miles south of the Floridian peninsula. The Wynwood neighborhood north of downtown is without question the city’s Mecca of arts and culture that feels in many respects like a Puerto Rican neighborhood. Once an industrial hub, artists have since claimed the neighborhood by converting lofts and warehouses into everything from galleries to craft breweries. The Wynwood Walls are the greatest attraction to the neighborhood, featuring some of the world’s most accomplished street and graffiti artists. But in reality, the neighborhood in of itself is a canvas to appreciate with a number of businesses allowing artists to paint and paint again over their walls.– J. B.
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Often bypassed by UK visitors in favor of glitzy, glittering Dubai, Abu Dhabi has been making up for lost time in the tourism stakes and can now look its neighboring emirate straight in the eye. As capital city of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is employing its staggering wealth to up its ante, with the recent opening of a raft of beach clubs, high-end mega-malls and a sprinkling of world-class theme parks including the awesome – and line free – Ferrari World and its adrenaline-pumping neighbor, Yas Waterworld. Visitors can now enjoy year-round sunshine, gourmet restaurants and swanky hotels, plus the chance to explore the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, surely the most ornate – and certainly the biggest – Muslim place of worship in the world. Rumor has it that 2016 will also finally see the opening of the long-awaited and visionary Louvre and Guggenheim outposts on manmade Saadiyat Island. Designed by Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry respectively, they will be joining the UAE Pavilion and the galleries and theaters of Manarat Al Saadiyat, reinforcing Abu Dhabi’s self-proclaimed intention to become the cultural and heritage destination of the Middle East. – S. H.
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Turtles and iguanas and blue-footed boobies abound in this World Heritage site located off of the coast of Ecuador. Best known as the location that spurred Charles Darwin’s evolutionary ideas, the Galapagos, an archipelago of volcanic islands, is home to many unique animals that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, like the marina iguana, frigate birds, Darwin finches and blue-footed boobies. The Galapagos are one of the most popular destinations for animal enthusiasts to get up close and personal with a wide variety of wildlife. However, along with this popularity comes the inherent fragility of the ecosystem. Changing temperatures, the introduction of non-native species and the rapid increase in the human population are affecting this area. Go now, but do your research and travel responsibly. – K. C.
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. – Z. S.
US National Parks
This August, the US National Parks Service is turning 100. Help ring in the big centennial birthday by planning a trip to one of America’s national treasures. Consider a trip to Everglades, where you can ride an airboat through the Florida tropical wetlands or a bike alongside Shark Valley alligators. Or escape to Joshua Tree, California’s otherworldly forest for camping, hiking, or simply cruising through in a convertible or open air jeep. Looking for a red hot getaway? Take a helicopter tour over Volcano National Park, and say aloha to the lava bubbling up in Hawaii’s most active volcano. Want to hit them all? Purchase an America the Beautiful annual pass for $80, and see how much fresh air you can fit into one year. – Alexandra Baackes
If you’re a regular at your local pad thai place, 2016 is your year to go straight to the source. Thailand has always been one of the culinary capitals of the world, but now more than ever it’s embracing its role as the perfect destination for a foodie furlough. Swing through Bangkok for a nighttime street food tour by tuk tuk, and then hop up to Chiang Mai to don an apron and learn to DIY your favorite dishes on a market tour and cooking class. Finally, wind down with a two-day bike tour of Khao Yai, Thailand’s burgeoning wine region. The time is now to take a bite out of Thailand. – A.B.
Hokkaido is the northernmost primary island in Japan, less-visited and far less populated than the rest of the country. The region is known for great hiking and some of Japan’s best hot springs, but it’s the winter season when Hokkaido really comes into its own. Although weather conditions can be harsh, Hokkaido in winter attracts millions with the world-famous Sapporo Snow Festival each February. People flock to see the hundreds of massive sculptures made from snow and ice, illuminated and aglow. Starting in March 2016, a new bullet train (shinkansen) service will connect Hokkaido with the rest of Japan, making this somewhat overlooked island far more accessible to visitors and residents alike. – J. S.
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. – S.H.
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Everyone with a plane ticket fancies themselves a foodie. But anyone with a true appreciation for the culinary arts either has been or has Lima at the very top of their wish list. The sprawling metropolis already has three restaurants ranked as the world’s best, Central, Astrid y Gaston and Maido fourth, fourteenth and forty-fourth respectively according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Find any number of Peruvian favorites that embrace the nation’s Andean culinary culture and diversity. Along the way, make sure to stop in Miraflores, Barranco, and El Centro for the best of the city in architecture and nightlife. Connect it all with a bike ride (or hike) along Lima’s Costa Verde where you can find everything from love birds forgetting they’re in public at Parque de Amor or surfers hitting the waves of the Pacific Ocean down below. – J. B.
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Panama City is fresh off hosting the Summit of the Americas where the Central American capital had a chance to show off its modern and colonial charm. Looking ahead to 2016, expect to see the Panama Canal expansion completed, allowing even larger ships to traverse the link between the seas. Throughout construction, travelers and admirers could marvel at the project at the new Expansion Observation Center in Colon. Once the project is completed, the area will be turned into another viewing point as ships enter the canal from Gatún Lake below. Traveling the canal by the old train with tracks as old as the original French effort is the best way to see all of man’s greatest engineering feat in just half a day. Spend the second half in Casco Viejo (also known as Casco Antiguo), a historic neighborhood whose colonial charm pours out of the architecture as area leaders continue to invest in the rehabilitation to bring it back to its original glory. – J. B.
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Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Cancún, Cozumel, Tulum – the main resort towns of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera – get a lot of love from tourists who are looking for their moment in the sun. But those in the know go to Playa del Carmen, which while offering the same gorgeous beaches and fine weather is also less crowded, more European in feel, and has a relaxed vibe that won’t make you need a vacation after your vacation. It’s a walkable beach town, with the pedestrian-only, cobblestoned Quinta Avenue a popular stroll, but it also welcomes bikes as a way to get from place to place. From beachside ceviche to foil-wrapped arrachera nacional in a down-home setting, you will leave Playa, as it’s called by locals, dreaming of your favorite dish. Make sure to get in a siesta so you can dance the night away at a beach club, or check out the starlit skies from a rooftop lounge. – C. C.
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. – E. S.
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A pocket of tranquility beside the towering skyscrapers and glitzy resorts of the United Arab Emirates, Oman has long been dubbed the rising star of the Middle East. For 2016, Oman deserves an upgrade from stopover or day trip destination – instead, check into one of Muscat’s lavish hotels and set out to discover the endlessly fascinating country. From the lively souks and dazzling architecture of the capital to the desert dunes and traditional mountain villages, there’s plenty to see and do in Oman. Admire the magnificent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, tour ancient Nizwa and visit the UNESCO-listed Bahla Fort. Alternatively, embark on an off-road adventure in the wild Hajjr Mountains, ride a camel through the dunes of the Wahiba Sands or plan a trip to neighboring Dubai or Abu Dhabi. – Z. S.
Try the less explored country of Namibia, a former German colony where English is the official national language and a mix of cultures give it an open, vibrant feel. Feast on exotic game meats and marvel at the German Imperial and Art Nouveau architecture in Windhoek, its capital. Experience wildlife during a visit to Etosha National Park or Waterberg Plateau Park in the north. Explore Kolmanskop, a beautifully creepy ghost town just outside Lüderitz, or the Skeleton Coast, the site of hundreds of shipwrecks – both equally a photographer’s dream. Or to get in touch with true wilderness, visit the truly untouched Kaokoland, a blend of rivers, desert and mountains that is nothing short of stunning. – C. C.
Turks & Caicos
Some may argue that any Caribbean vacation is a good one, but when a specific island is voted by TripAdvisor readers as the #1 island choice then you definitely stop and take note. The Turks and Caicos island of Providenciales received that vote in 2015, and it’s not hard to see why. Called “Provo” by locals, Providenciales has established itself as a luxury beach resort capital in recent decades – but because development has come relatively late to the island, it has also managed to maintain its undisturbed natural beauty outside the main resort areas. Relax in the lovely resorts around Grace Bay, but don’t miss a chance to explore away from where the people are. Take advantage of the island’s world-class diving to see the coral reefs. – J. S.
Visit a less-discovered part of Latin America, in California-sized Paraguay, sometimes called the “heart of South America.” The vast Paraguay river divides the country, and the Paraná river, which also feeds Iguazu falls, is dammed at Itaipu, where visitors can take a guided tour to the this, the second most productive hydroelectric project in the world. Other highlights include visits to the UNESCO-registered Catholic missions in the town of Trinidad and nearby, dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. Nearby, you can also visit a mate plantation, where the grassy herbal tea you’ll see everyone drinking hot and cold out of gourds with sieved straws is cultivated. In between, listen for snippets of the indigenous language Guaraní, which nearly everyone speaks some of, in addition to the country’s other official language, Spanish. – E. S.
The tiny country of Rwanda in central Africa has been steadily increasing in popularity as a tourist destination since the end of the horrific genocide in 1994, but it’s still nowhere near as visited as nearby countries like Tanzania or Kenya. One of the main tourist draws in Rwanda is its wildlife, and particularly its population of giant gorillas. Going on a safari trip to see the gorillas of Rwanda is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s especially thrilling since you can often get up close to the great animals. Pay your respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and then embrace a culture that’s not only survived but is now thriving.—J. S.
Auckland, New Zealand
Air New Zealand has increased flights to and from Asia and the US in the last year, making it easier and more affordable to get to than ever before. And although you could spend a lifetime discovering both of the country’s islands, we recommend basing yourself in Auckland to have the widest breadth of experiences without the schlep factor. There is adventurous fun to be had, from the SkyWalk right in the city to the Waitakere Ranges to ziplining on Waiheke. Leisure pursuits include harbor cruises and wine tastings at vineyards. And film nerds rejoice: Yes, you can actually visit Hobbit Town! – C.C
Explore things to do in Auckland
Known for being inexpensive with a wealth of culture and history, and less visited than Bangkok, Hanoi is a favorite destination that takes visitors by surprise – and keeps them coming back for more discoveries. And as the city becomes a top destination for conventions and conferences, it’s easier than ever to navigate the city while still being able to soak in the history of the Old Quarter and the traditional street food that has foodies swooning. There’s also plenty of opportunity to get out of the city and explore the incredible countryside, from Halong Bay to the rice fields of Hoa Lu. – C. C.
See tours in Hanoi
The first UNESCO World Heritage City in the United States is gearing up for a fantastic 2016, making it tops on our list of favorite destinations for the coming year. The One Liberty Observation Deck opened in late 2015 for a great view over the City of Brotherly Love. Summer will see both the Democratic National Convention and the 200th anniversary of the African American Episcopal Church, both of which will bring visitors and excitement. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation will host major international art exhibitions, and live music will take center stage now that Philadelphia has been named the best North American city for live music! – C. C.
Explore Philadelphia’s attractions
Bigger than Germany and Switzerland combined, the state of California stretches from Mexico to Oregon, from the Pacific Ocean to the desert of Death Valley. With 840 miles of coastline and more “bucket-list” activities than you could do in a lifetime, it’s a destination that lures visitors from far and wife. While major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego and iconic destinations like Big Sur and Napa Valley continue to lure visitors, there are so many more places to explore off the proverbial beaten path. Head north of San Francisco to Mendocino for rugged beaches and laid-back wineries, or go south along the Central for sandy beaches, a castle, gourmet restaurants and the “happiest city in America,” San Luis Obispo. – K. H.
Explore California’s sights
Alaska has become more accessible to non-cruisers as flight routes open up and people start to take RV/road trips through the great American wilderness. That means you can experience ziplining, whale watching, and trekking on your own time, instead of rushing to get back to port! And you can use Juneau as a base from which to head out by seaplane, helicopter or less exotic modes of transportation to explore the stunning natural beauty of the largest state in the Union. – C. C.
Find activities in Juneau
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. – J. S.
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. – S. H.
Busan, South Korea
Seoul gets almost all the attention in South Korea, but there’s much more to the country. Busan is South Korea’s second-largest city, and as it’s also on the southeastern coast it’s also an important port city. One of the huge new Royal Caribbean cruise ships recently began sailing from Shanghai to Busan, and there is regular ferry service to and from Japan. The city is known for its beaches, parks, temples, and excellent shopping. It’s also home to some of the biggest hot spring resorts in all of Korea. But although Busan is certainly a tourist destination for Westerners, it’s far less visited than Seoul. Take advantage of South Korea’s exceptional tourist infrastructure and get off the usual tourist trail with a visit to Busan. – J.S.
– Viator Travel Team