Travel’s rebound has revealed the depth of our drive to explore the world. Why do we travel? For food, culture, adventure, natural beauty? This year’s list has all those elements, and more.
A buzzing city ready for a coronation, a brand-new airport link and a prehistoric colossus
Between an altered post-lockdown landscape, sensational changeovers at 10 Downing St. and the death of Queen Elizabeth II, there is no doubt that London is in transition. But the city continues to juxtapose old traditions and new possibilities, offering something for everyone who loves culture, history, art and nightlife.
For fans of the royal family, and maybe a few naysayers, the crowning of King Charles III, Britain’s first coronation in seven decades, will be the main event in May. There’s also the revamping of Battersea Power Station, an iconic former coal-fired power plant, into a shopping and leisure hub, and a new line on the Underground will directly connect Heathrow Airport to the central boroughs. A cast of a titanosaur, the largest creature ever to walk the planet, will make its European debut at the Natural History Museum, and late-night obsessives can head to newly opened dance clubs like the Beams. Big changes, yes, but a wealth of new choices, too.
A walkable gem without the crowds, just a short bullet train ride from Tokyo
Until October, Japan maintained some of the most stringent travel restrictions of any major country. Now, travelers are beginning to stream back to popular destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
The city of Morioka, in Iwate Prefecture, however, is often passed over or outright ignored. Circumscribed by mountains, it lies a few hours north of Tokyo by Shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed rail lines. Morioka’s downtown is eminently walkable. The city is filled with Taisho-era buildings that mix Western and Eastern architectural aesthetics as well as modern hotels, a few old ryokan (traditional inns) and winding rivers. One draw is an ancient castle site turned into a park.
There’s also fantastic coffee, including one of Japan’s third-wave originators: Nagasawa Coffee, whose owner, Kazuhiro Nagasawa, is so committed to his beans that he uses a vintage German-made Probat roaster, which he personally imported and restored. Azumaya serves all-you-can-eat wanko soba, which comes served in dozens of tiny bowls; Booknerd offers classic Japanese art books; and Johnny’s, a jazz cafe, has been open for more than 40 years. An hour west by car: Lake Tazawa and dozens of world-class hot springs.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
The majesty and awe of towering buttes in a setting fit for Hollywood
Americans have been flocking to national parks, many of which were overrun with visitors during the peak of pandemic-related international border closures. Amid the bustle, peacefully taking in the majesty of nature can be a challenge.
Monument Valley offers a less crowded alternative. The site, known as Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaii in Navajo, has been a popular insignia for the American West ever since John Wayne rode in to film “Stagecoach” in 1939, and the grandeur of its cinematic sandstone buttes, towering above a copper-red desert vastness, elicits a feeling of reverence and awe.
The tribal park, which features a 17-mile driving loop, is open to visitors under the stewardship of the Navajo Nation. Its relatively basic infrastructure — in contrast to sites governed by the National Park Service — and its out-of-the-way location on the Arizona-Utah state line help create a more serene experience compared with other awe-inspiring US destinations.
Kilmartin Glen, Scotland
A misty Scottish Stonehenge, with all of the mystery and far fewer visitors
The sun rises over Kilmartin Glen as it has for thousands of years, illuminating an ancient landscape of more than 800 archaeological monuments sprouting in the mist. This verdant valley on Scotland’s wild west coast is one of the most significant prehistoric sites in Britain, yet it’s largely off the visitor circuit; imagine Stonehenge without the crowds.
Wander among majestic stone circles, standing slabs that jut from the earth, burial cairns and rock carvings of concentric rings, expanding like ripples from a drop of water. And now the past is getting a refresh: The Kilmartin Museum is reopening with expanded exhibits and new experiences that delve into the region’s relics and flourishing natural life, including Moine Mhor (Great Moss), one of the few remaining raised bogs in Europe, above which looms the Iron Age hill fort of Dunadd.
For full immersion into the Scotland of yore, stay at the moody 16th-century Kilmartin Castle, which was recently transformed into a boutique hotel, with vaulted ceilings, copper tubs and a wild swimming pond.
Auckland, New Zealand
Pastries that rival France’s best, with a side of adventure tourism on the North Island
Auckland is usually considered the entry point for the rest of New Zealand’s natural attractions, but travelers just passing through can miss that it’s also the culinary capital (sorry, Wellington).
Restaurants that have been germinating while the country’s borders were closed are now ready to be sampled by all. Just 10 minutes on foot from the newly renovated downtown, for instance, takes you to Hugo’s Bistro, where a regular clientele, including many lawyers, dines on unfussy French-inspired food that takes advantage of New Zealand’s fertility: Saffron, wasabi and truffles, among other delicacies, are grown in the country. Cazador, a longtime staple of the residential neighborhood Mount Eden, serves local game in its restaurant and house-cured meats in its delicatessen.
The city’s famous multiculturalism also plays a part: Omni, which opened in 2020 and whose head chef worked at Hong Kong’s Yardbird, makes high-end yakitori, and Little French Pastry’s founders, originally from France, serve up mille-feuille rivaling Paris’ best.
Palm Springs, California
Spotting stars in the streets and counting galaxies in the sky
Yes, this is the land of midcentury nostalgia, with its low-slung modernist architecture and the recent return of the 26-foot-tall “Forever Marilyn” statue. But these days, there’s another headliner: the surrounding desert, and the dark skies above.
Astrotourism is on the rise, with a constellation of ways to explore the cosmos, including at the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory, which offers tours and monthly “Swoon at the Moon” events. Unfurl a blanket on the desert floor and gaze up at the starry sky at Joshua Tree National Park. This designated International Dark Sky Park has one of the darkest skies in California, with stargazing treks and the annual Night Sky Festival.
The desert nature and history that flourish around Palm Springs are also shaping the city’s landscape, including the new Palm Springs Downtown Park, designed to reflect Indian Canyons, ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians; the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza and Museum, which, when it opens later this year, will be one of the largest Native American cultural centers on the West Coast; and new desert-inspired hotels like Azure Sky.
Kangaroo Island, Australia
A haven for koalas and other wild creatures, healing after devastating wildfires
A short trip from Adelaide, South Australia’s capital, the nearly 1,700-square-mile Kangaroo Island is known for incredible wildlife, breathtaking ocean views and its status as an ecological haven — like a zoo without fences.
Three years ago, devastating fires consumed the island, wiping out wildlife and destroying a famous luxury hotel, the Southern Ocean Lodge. Efforts to rebuild are continuing, and the island is more compelling than ever to visit. New organizations that sprang up to help with the wildlife recovery offer visitors a chance to play a part in funding that regeneration.
At the Kangaroo Island Koala and Wildlife Rescue Centre, you can book a private tour to see the animal hospital facilities, or bottle-feed a joey (a baby kangaroo). At the long-established Seal Bay Conservation Park, you can watch one of Australia’s largest colonies of sea lions frolic on the beach. And in 2023 the Southern Ocean Lodge will reopen, grander and better than before.
Vjosa River, Albania
Cycling through the canyons and valleys of one of Europe’s last untamed waterways
Protecting the Vjosa, one of Europe’s last undammed rivers, hasn’t been easy. After a decade of proposed projects that threatened to alter the waterway’s wild flow, its innumerable ecosystems and its valleys strewn with ancient communities, the Albanian government signed a commitment last June to create the Vjosa Wild River National Park.
Making good on that pledge, scheduled to become reality in 2023, will establish a global conservation model while preserving the country’s canyon-lined, 120-mile stretch of the 169-mile waterway, which runs from the Pindus Mountains in Greece to the Adriatic Sea, as well as including around 60 miles of tributaries.
For travelers — on trails like Albania’s new UNESCO Cycling Route (opening this month), which runs along the river and visits World Heritage Sites like the city of Gjirokastra — safeguarding the Vjosa and its river system, with over 1,100 animal species, encourages responsible discovery of alpine settlements, where locals welcome adventurers for coffee, raki (fruit brandy) and a chance to imbibe oft-overlooked Balkan culture.
Feast first, dance later, in a hub of innovative West African cuisine
Accra’s food scene typically consists of two schools: “chop bars” that serve traditional, cheap meals like fufu (made from pounded cassava, green plantains or yams) with tomato-based spicy soup, and pricier restaurants serving foreign fare.
Travelers to Accra, Ghana’s capital, can now see a new wave of chefs and entrepreneurs bridging this gap by emphasizing and innovating with local produce. At the Mix, a new restaurant and design hub, the West African staple gari (granulated cassava root) is dyed pink with beetroot and accompanies squid in a passion fruit sauce.
The sustainable food space in Accra is also one to watch; Ghana Food Movement, an educational group, hosts events throughout the year, including a signature Dine & Dance series in which underutilized indigenous ingredients like millet, eaten by Ghanaians almost exclusively as porridge, are made into stars over three courses. The meal is followed by a dance party, of course, in true Ghanaian fashion.
A clear-skied hot spot where aurora seekers are likely to spy their dazzling prize
After years of low solar activity, projections are looking up for travelers hoping to experience the aurora borealis, or northern lights. As the sun’s volatility increases, with more coronal mass ejections and solar flares, so, too, will the frequency and intensity of the aurora. Experts predict solar activity to peak in 2025, explained Trond S. Trondsen, an aurora expert at Keo Scientific, a designer of specialized optical instruments for space research in Calgary, Alberta. Already, he said, “the number of sunspots are climbing faster than predicted.”
One of the best places to see the northern lights, Tromso, Norway, is more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and is relatively accessible, as far as reliable viewing locations go. Travelers can get there either by plane or by a combination of train and bus. Cruise ships and ferries are also a possibility.
Most important, the town’s surrounding landscape, near the sea but with mountains nearby, offers enough distinct weather zones to make it likely that there will be clear skies most nights — a must for seeing the lights when they do appear.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
Blinding white dunes and aquamarine pools in an otherworldly natural water park
Want to feel like you’ve traveled so far that you’re only vaguely tethered to Earth? Welcome to Lençóis Maranhenses, a horizon of rolling, blindingly white sand dunes rising into the sun and descending into otherworldly green and blue lagoons filled with rainwater.
Forget your cell signal or trappings of comfort: There are few if any structures, people or even trees around, and the park’s location near the equator means it’s blazingly hot during the day. Yet almost all Brazilians will tell you they want to visit this remote area to experience the sensation of playing in a lunar water park.
Logroll down the dunes, splashing into the natural pools. Traverse the area on horseback, stopping at “oases” along the way. Or be mesmerized by its immensity via helicopter tour. It’s the antidote to that claustrophobic Covid-era feeling — a vast, borderless moonscape where you can roam wild and free.
Cliff-top fortresses and rhododendron forests on a revived trekking trail
After 2 1/2 years of pandemic isolation, Bhutan reopened in September with changes to its long-standing “high value, low volume” tourism policy. Visitors are no longer required to travel on package tours, but Bhutan’s mandatory “sustainable development fee” increased to $200 from $65 per day.
At the same time, the 250-mile Trans Bhutan Trail, a path used for centuries as a pilgrimage and communications route, reopened after a three-year restoration that mended suspension bridges, stone stairs and long-overgrown temples. The trail stretches east to west across nearly the entire country, passing through cities, villages, farmlands and wilderness. Depending on the route and time of year, trekkers might spy the snowcapped Himalayas, visit cliff-top fortresses, scale sacred mountain passes or pass through blooming rhododendron forests.
Official guides are required, and itineraries range from half a day to more than a month. Accommodations include guesthouses, home stays, luxury hotels and well-appointed campsites on each of the trail’s 28 sections. Proceeds from trips booked with Trans Bhutan Trail, the nonprofit that led the restoration, go toward trail maintenance, educational programs, guide training and other community causes.
Learn to climb a palm tree, visit a temple during an annual festival and get a sustainable taste of village life
We travel to immerse ourselves in other cultures, but some forms of community tourism put residents on display without offering benefits. Not so in Kerala — a state celebrated for its beaches, backwater lagoons, cuisine and rich cultural traditions like the Vaikathashtami festival — where the government has adopted an award-winning approach that allows visitors to experience village life while supporting the communities that host them.
In Kumarakom, one of several “responsible tourism destinations” in the state, visitors can paddle through jungly canals, weave rope from coconut fiber and even learn to climb a palm tree. In Maravanthuruthu, visitors can follow a storytelling trail and enjoy village street art before taking in an evening performance of a traditional temple dance.
Greenville, South Carolina
Adventure in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and on dinner plates downtown
Set in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Greenville has established itself on the culinary scene. The quaint city of about 70,000 has more than 200 restaurants — 85 per cent of which are local, without a tie to a national chain — in its strollable downtown area alone. Visitors may come for the access to outdoor adventures, but they will most likely leave having been introduced to flavors from around the world.
Even as the renowned Soby’s celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2022 and two food festivals — euphoria and Fall for Greenville — attract tens of thousands of people annually, restaurants continue to crop up around the city. The second location of Charleston’s acclaimed Lewis Barbecue opened to long lines in September. Mr. Crisp, with Greg McPhee as executive chef, highlights seafood, especially its crisp-yet-tender hand-battered fish and chips. Keipi celebrates Georgian khachapuri and the country’s ancient wines; Aryana delivers a taste of Afghanistan; and Califas has brought Mexican birria tacos to Greenville.
“The real heartbeat of Greenville is a creative and diverse food community that keeps reinventing itself,” said Sid Evans, the editor-in-chief of Southern Living. “The food here is adventurous, and the chefs have embraced the global influences shaping the modern South.”
A rebounding center of art and adobe with centuries-old ties to Mexico
Barrio Viejo, an area of more than 150 acres in Tucson, is the largest barrio in the United States and exemplifies Tucson’s connection to Mexico, with centuries-old Sonoran adobe architecture.
This year, the neighborhood, which has one of the most diverse racial, cultural, religious and ethnic populations in the country, will receive National Historic Landmark designation. Revival projects include the restoration of the 300-seat Teatro Carmen, built in 1915 and later converted into the Black Elks Club, and female-owned boutique hotels, like the Citizen in the former home of the Tucson Citizen newspaper and the Downtown Clifton in a once-faded motel.
Take the Tucson Origins Tour by Borderlandia, which specializes in tours of the US-Mexico border area, for a deep dive into history. Then explore the famed Etherton Gallery and Andrew Smith Gallery, both in new spaces. Don’t forget Barrio restaurants like the local coffee drinkers’ favorite EXO Roast, housed in an 1885 adobe home, and the Coronet, which moved to the neighborhood in 2019.
Creole culture, giant ferns and hummingbirds that don’t back down from a staring contest
While travel was frozen in 2020, Martinique celebrated the induction of its traditional yole sailboat — a lightweight craft kept upright by crew members, who use their body weight as ballast by sitting on poles that extend over the sides of the hulls — on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. In the fall of 2021, the entire island was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, recognizing the destination’s commitment to sustainable economic and social development.
Islanders are awaiting yet another decision from UNESCO, which they hope will name the nearly 4,600-foot volcano Mount Pelée and the Pitons du Carbet range to the World Heritage List. The region represents “the diversity of Martinique,” said Alex Dobat, who owns Natiyabel, a scuba diving and hiking outfitter (whose name means “nature is beautiful” in Creole), who described ferns the size of trees, wild begonias and hummingbirds “staring at you quietly.”
Tourism officials are counting on the UNESCO certifications to attract ecotourists to its peaks, rainforests, reefs and Creole culture.
The Namib Desert
1,000-foot dunes and crashing waves along a nearly uninhabited coastline
Along the desolate coast of Namibia, 1,000-foot-tall sand dunes descend into the sea. During low tide, intrepid adventurers can drive along the beach, past towering yellow dunes on one side and the South Atlantic’s churning waters on the other. This is the Namib, the world’s oldest desert, and the perfect place for a long road trip. After almost three years of Covid-19 restrictions, it’s hard to imagine a place where you can feel more free.
“Namib” means “vast place” in Khoekhoegowab, a language spoken in many parts of Namibia. It’s astonishingly easy to get lost in this almost entirely uninhabited expanse of sand, where you might travel for days without seeing another human.
In Namib-Naukluft National Park, travelers can go back in time at Deadvlei, where 600-year-old trees stand eerily lifeless, preserved by the dry air; challenge themselves to climb the 100-story Big Daddy Dune; observe desert-adapted wildlife like oryx and springbok; and even see mysterious fairy circles.
The Alaska Railroad
470 miles of mountains, glaciers and grizzlies from the comfort of a glass dome
Since 1923, the Alaska Railroad — the last railroad in the United States to carry both people and freight — has connected millions of passengers and trade goods over 470 miles of track, from Seward to Fairbanks. This year is the centennial of its operation and a celebration is planned in Nenana, where President Warren G. Harding drove in the golden spike on July 15, 1923, completing the railroad.
Operational well before Alaska became a state, in 1959, the railroad is an environmentally friendly way for passengers to see wilderness, and even the aurora borealis, without sacrificing comfort: Glass-domed rail cars make viewing easy. It is also the only remaining flag-stop major railroad in the country. Passengers can wave a flag to embark or disembark, gaining access to more remote locations, including harder-to-reach areas of the Chugach National Forest, through a partnership with the US Forest Service.
Sights along the way include Denali, North America’s tallest peak, and Kenai Fjords National Park. History buffs can view a special exhibit at the Anchorage Museum that runs from May to February 2024, chronicling the railroad’s history.
Savoring an endangered street-food tradition on the often overlooked island of Kyushu
Fukuoka, a subtropical city perched on the northern shore of Kyushu, is one of the few remaining places in Japan where you will see rows of yatai — open-air street-food stalls resembling boxes of neon light. Many sell traditional foods like ramen, yakitori and oden, but if you stroll along the riverfront on Nakasu, a small island that is Fukuoka’s red-light district, you’ll find some diversity with wine, coffee, and even French sausages and garlic toast.
Yatai were a common sight across Japan in the 1950s, but during the 1964 Summer Olympics, the authorities had them removed to project an image of economic recovery. In the present, Fukuoka is the only city left that’s fighting this bureaucracy. The government has acknowledged the cultural significance of yatai by increasing the safety and quality of the food and by offering more licenses in 2022. Even so, the number of yatai has fallen drastically to around 100 stalls today from more than 400 in the ’60s. Pull up a seat while you can and enjoy rubbing shoulders with strangers over supper again.
An island paradise where crater lakes change color and 9-foot dragons roam
The term “fairy-tale getaway” is overused, but what else do you call a far-off, unspoiled, Southeast Asian island with 9-foot Komodo dragons, active volcanoes, white-sand beaches, coral gardens, rushing waterfalls and color-shifting crater lakes reputed to house departed spirits?
Such are the allures of Flores, one of the roughly 17,500 islands of the Republic of Indonesia. An hour’s flight from Bali and far less visited, Flores may be seeing more visitors with the scheduled opening late this year of Kodi Bajo, a luxury resort in the fishing town of Labuan Bajo. Operated by the group behind the NIHI hotel on Sumba, a nearby Indonesian island, Kodi Bajo will offer sumptuous hillside accommodations and views of the nearby Komodo National Park archipelago — the only place in the world inhabited by the famous giant lizards.
Celebrating queer culture’s diversity and LGBTQ athletes from around the globe
Travel has always been a way to experience diversity, and in 2023 you’ll find a variety of sexual expression and shifts in traditional gender roles in Jalisco’s capital. This fall, the city will co-host (with Hong Kong) the 11th annual Gay Games. Athletes from around the world — of varying ages, sexual orientations and levels of athletic experience — will participate in 20 sports.
The city is also home to the annual Prohibido festival, during which an abandoned theater is transformed into a celebration of sexual diversity through art installations, interactive experiences, live music and talks about polyamorous and nonbinary culture. In Guadalajara, too, women take on nontraditional performance roles. On most nights, you can hear one of almost a dozen female mariachi bands from the area at Hotel Riu Plaza Guadalajara or El Patio, a restaurant. There are also local performances by female cowboys, known as escaramuzas, who present their choreography on horseback.
The city is considered by some to be Mexico’s drag capital, with numerous performers and shows. Guadalajara has also developed “anti-turista” maps, including one for LGBTQ travelers, that provide a local’s perspective on places to see and stay.
Tassili n’Ajjer, Algeria
Rock art, sandstone pillars and a glimpse at a lost Saharan history
Often overshadowed by its neighbor, tourism giant Morocco, Algeria — a stone’s throw from Mediterranean Europe and a mere three-hour flight from London — has recently relaxed its visa policies, allowing for much easier exploration of the country. While most visitors tend to stick to the coastal north, which contains some of the region’s best preserved Roman ruins, Africa’s largest country also contains its largest national park.
Virtually unknown to the outside world, Tassili n’Ajjer is eight times the size of Yellowstone. At the heart of the vast landscape of Saharan sand and stone lie the deep red dunes and pillars of Tadrart Rouge. Accessible only by a four-wheel-drive vehicle, this astonishingly striking national park is home to thousands of ancient works of rock art, stretching back to when the desert was a thriving savanna, as well as to a very much living nomadic Tuareg culture.
New flavors and ancient winemaking traditions in tiny hilltop towns and green valleys
The mountainous nation of Georgia’s 8,000-year-old winemaking tradition is at the center of several new trends in the wine world, including skin-contact (aka orange) wines, amphora fermentation and charismatic grape varieties like saperavi. As a result, Georgian wine exports to the United States recently topped 1 million bottles and are growing at almost 29 per cent annually, as Wine Enthusiast recently reported.
For wine lovers, a tasting trip to estates like Vazisubani and Kardanakhi in Kakheti offers a chance to discover new wines in a landscape of tiny hilltop towns and verdant valleys framed by the Caucasus. Many wines are made in traditional pointed qvevri clay vessels that are buried in the earth.
To complement the experience, local chefs have started offering cooking classes where gastronomes can learn how to make the meaty dumplings known as khinkali and other dishes from what Saveur magazine called “Europe’s great unsung cuisine.”
A sunny Mediterranean morsel whose charming streets are studded with Roman monuments
Nîmes is that rarest of Gallic delicacies — a sunny southern French city with great charm and fascinating architecture and museums that hasn’t yet become thronged with tourists like Arles or Avignon.
The city has a growing word-of-mouth reputation for the excellence of its dining options, which include everything from Michelin two-star restaurants like chef Pierre Gagnaire’s Duende at the recently renovated Hotel Imperator to exceptionally good lunchtime dining in Les Halles de Nîmes, a covered food market, where the Halles Auberge and La Pie Qui Couette offer first-come-first-served counter service at noon. The latest local buzz is about chef Georgiana Viou, originally from Benin, who serves up her personal and very delicate Afro-Provençal cooking at Rouge, the restaurant of the elegant new 10-room Margaret-Hôtel Chouleur in a landmarked mansion in the heart of the Écusson, or Old City. Le Coin and Menna, two excellent cosmopolitan modern French bistros — a type of restaurant that’s new to Nîmes — are not far away.
Shed some calories after a meal by taking in the sights of the Rome of France, a sobriquet explained by the most spectacular collection of Roman monuments in Europe outside of Italy.
Ha Giang, Vietnam
A two-wheeled thrill ride leads to mountainside settlements where Hmong and Tay culture lives
The several-day loop by motorbike through the Ha Giang highlands in northern Vietnam is not for the timid. Getting to the city of Ha Giang takes six hours by road from Hanoi, and the loop’s steep roads, serpentine passes and recurring switchbacks can make the journey both treacherous and exhilarating.
This remote tableau of soaring peaks and cavernous valleys inspires a deep connection to the landscape and its inhabitants. Veer off the main road onto the narrow ribbons of concrete streaking the mountainsides and into the Hmong and Tay settlements dotting the hillsides and hollows. To learn more about their cultures, you can hire a guide from QT Motorbikes and Tours.
Road improvement projects and new high-end accommodations have made the loop more accessible and inviting. Don’t miss a boat ride through the canyon on the emerald river at Ma Pi Leng Pass.
A historic frankincense-trading center where the desert erupts in waterfalls
With last year’s World Cup drawing attention to the built environment elsewhere in the Persian Gulf states, seaside Salalah offers visitors a chance to see the region’s natural beauty. Depending on when you go, the area is either lush and green and blanketed in thick fog, or basking in sunlight and a warm breeze.
During the khareef (monsoon), the valleys and riverbeds are flooded with fresh water, and the mountains flow with waterfalls. The city is also home to Al Baleed Archaeological Park and the Museum of the Frankincense Land, which provides a visual history of the ancient incense trade and the associated export routes to the rest of the world. (A nearby collection of sites, known as the Land of Frankincense, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.) Another draw is the collection of historical ports spread along the coast.
The population of Salalah, one of Oman’s largest cities, is around 330,000, so it’s easy to find oneself alone in the crystal clear waters of the area’s many tranquil beaches, including Mugsail, Fazayah and Haffa.
Noa Avishag Schnall
An island of music and white-sand beaches ripe for rediscovery as the United States eases travel restrictions
With its sea-sprayed, pastel facades, white-sand beaches and tobacco-rich valleys, Cuba sits tantalizingly close to the United States, though it often feels out of reach — especially in recent years, when the Trump administration reinstated strict rules for US citizens hoping to visit.
But a confluence of factors just made travel to the island nation a bit easier. Last spring, President Joe Biden relaxed many of the restrictions imposed by his predecessor. And in November, American Airlines resumed flights beyond Havana, adding departures to the beach town Varadero and the interior city Santa Clara, a regional capital steeped in revolutionary history. More flights from other carriers are set to begin in the coming months.
Cuba’s people are as generous with their stories — of history, family, even politics and protest — as they are with their music, an omnipresent, joyful soundtrack thrumming through the island’s cities and towns. Less than two years after historic protests were met with harsh repression, and as the country rebuilds from Hurricane Ian, travel to Cuba and support of its people may never be more valuable.
A mystical new museum and garden with all you need to write your own fairy tale
Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma & Associates, the new Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense, on the island of Funen, is more than a museum. It’s a mystical land, featuring labyrinthine gardens that double as a public park.
The museum explores Andersen’s literary interplay between real and imaginary: You can gaze up at the sky through a glass dome and feel like the Little Mermaid; roam sunken courtyards, illuminated by sunlight splintering through trees; and engage with exhibits by contemporary artists in cylindrical spaces wrapped in latticed timber that suggest the city’s traditional thatched-roof houses. The museum is as much about telling stories as it is about imagining your own: Creativity is encouraged at the magical Ville Vau children’s center, where children can paint, draw, write and play dress-up amid colorful scenes from Andersen’s fairy tales.
Time your visit with Odense’s summertime H.C. Andersen Festivals, and then find artistic inspiration, as Andersen did, by venturing across his home island of Funen, the “garden of Denmark,” with its storybook castles (the moated Egeskov is the stuff of dreams), heather-coated hillsides and misty coastline.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
The shape-shifting sandstone heart of a continent and its Indigenous heritage
At Uluru, time stretches, dissolves. Over 500 million years old, the 1,142-foot sandstone monolith in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is a shape-shifter: Aflame in pink, orange and violet through the day, its crevices gush with the rain, its surroundings erupt with wildflowers.
Now, Uluru is a symbol of urgency. In 2017, it was the site of the Uluru Statement From the Heart, which calls for an Indigenous “voice to Parliament” to be enshrined in Australia’s Constitution. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced there would be a national referendum on the issue in 2023.
Uluru is sacred to the Anangu people, who protect and manage the land, and for decades tourists climbed the rock against their wishes. Climbing was banned in 2019, and now visitors can take a 5.8-mile walk around Uluru’s base to experience its splendor. The ban was a rare victory for Indigenous rights and cultural respect, and evidence that even deep-rooted attitudes can change.
A slope-side nirvana for coffee geeks, waterfall hikers and whitewater rafters
Geisha, among the world’s most expensive coffee varietals, thrives on the slopes of the Barú Volcano, near Panama’s western border. In recent years, specialty coffee geeks the world over have gravitated here, encouraging coffee farms around the highland town of Boquete to act more like Bordeaux vineyards. New cupping rooms and bodega tours have been added at farms like Lamastus Family Estates, Chevas Coffee Estate and Finca Altieri, while coffee-themed hotels including Finca Lérida and Panamonte — have updated their facilities.
In Boquete’s town center, which acts as a base for adventure activities like waterfall hikes and whitewater rafting, noted Panama City chef Mario Castrellón has opened a branch of the coffee roaster Café Unido, as well as a restaurant and bar with seasonal menus and Geisha-infused cocktails, in the new Selina hostel. The bold, 60-room property straddles a small river, with rooms ranging from beds in concrete cylinders to luxe suites.
An unsung artsy seaport rich in well-preserved Roman ruins, and delicious tapas
Long upstaged by the flash of Barcelona, this unsung waterfront city on the Costa Daurada is a culturally rich alternative, with thriving Catalan traditions, from the famous castells (human towers, formed by people standing on one another’s shoulders) to earthy Romesco sauce, often served with grilled fish and vegetables, and best enjoyed in El Serrallo, a maritime neighborhood.
But what elevates the Tarragona experience is the past: This is one of the oldest Roman settlements on the Iberian Peninsula. The impressively preserved Tarraco ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, transform the city into an open-air museum, from the mighty Roman walls to the amphitheater framed by the Mediterranean.
Against this ancient backdrop, the city is in the midst of change: a revitalized port, new low-cost fast trains to the region and a growing contemporary arts scene. Perhaps the best way to savor it is to partake in a paseo: Stroll the Rambla Nova, grazing on tapas along the way, to the aptly named Balcó del Mediterrani observation point, where touching the iron railing is said to bring good luck.
Charleston, South Carolina
A powerful space will examine a city’s past and honor the African American legacy
Charleston’s brutal history of slavery can be overshadowed by a romanticized portrait of a city with charm, award-winning restaurants and plantation gardens. The planned opening of the $100 million International African American Museum this year will help comprehensively display the city’s complicated past.
The IAAM occupies the former Gadsden’s Wharf, where an estimated 30,000 African captives landed during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, more than at any other site. The sleek, single-story building floats atop 18 pillars clad in tabby, a kind of concrete made from oyster shells, and houses a genealogy center, a social justice action lab and 10 exhibit galleries that include stories of slavery and the Great Migration. A public outdoor space offers an African Ancestors Memorial Garden featuring indigenous plants like Lowcountry sweet grass and Canary Island palm trees.
This spring, the Charleston tourism board will debut a comprehensive guide to Black-owned businesses to elevate the overlooked successes of creative locals.
Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
Planting coral and counting sea turtles where there are no cars or roads
Off the northern coast of Honduras, the Cayos Cochinos archipelago, part of a marine preserve where commercial fishing is banned, encompasses about 300,000 acres, two main islands and 13 small cays, with a collective population of about 200 Indigenous Garifuna residents.
Before the pandemic, the nonprofit Cayos Cochinos Foundation, which manages the reserve, derived much of its funding to study and protect its biodiversity from the fees paid by day-trippers to snorkel there. Now, the nongovernmental organization is gently opening itself to tourism, allowing visitors to stay in basic cabins (from $45 a night) that previously exclusively hosted scientists.
Between scuba dives and hikes to see pink boa constrictors and black-chested spiny-tailed iguanas, travelers can volunteer to propagate new coral or count sea turtles. Travel to the islands, which are roadless and free of cars, also supports the Garifuna community, which offers guide services, restaurants and tastings of the local root-infused spirit, guifiti.
Burgundy Beer Trail, France
Paying homage to hops and yeast in a region where wine has long reigned
Wine lovers have long revered the great vintages of Burgundy. Now, beer lovers have their eyes on the Burgundy region, following the arrival of head-turning new breweries like Ammonite, Vif, Independent House and 90 BPM, all within 90 minutes of one another, and all rated among the best in France by fans on sites like Untappd and RateBeer.
Winemaking influences these new brewers, some of which employ solera barrel systems (like those used to age and blend sherry and Madeira wines), natural yeast, small oak barrels and other tools and techniques most often used by vintners.
For years, France has been a laggard in the global craft beer revolution, running far behind neighboring countries like Spain and Italy. The emerging beer trail in Burgundy’s wine region shows how France might soon develop an enviable beer culture of its own.
Reviving a city’s historic architecture just in time for modern Turkey’s centennial
This October, the Turkish Republic celebrates its 100th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, Istanbul’s local government has invested millions in giving historic structures new life.
Among them: Feshane, a factory that manufactured the iconic Turkish hats and one of Istanbul’s first steel buildings, will become one of its largest art centers; west of the old city, a comprehensive restoration of the stone-and-brick Mevlanakapi city walls with their 22 towers dating back to the fifth century, will transform them into a 4 1/2-mile walking path; and the Botter Apartment, one of Istanbul’s earliest art nouveau buildings, whose bottom floor was originally a studio for the sultan’s private tailor, will be turned into a fashion design center.
There’s more. Art museums are planned for the former Yedikule gasworks and the Halic Shipyard, one of the world’s oldest still in operation. And most notably, the newly built Istanbul Modern museum, designed by architect Renzo Piano, will open its doors along the Bosporus in Karakoy, showcasing the works of notable Turkish artists such as Fahrelnissa Zeid and Erol Akyavas.
Floating sky lanterns and soaring skyscrapers in a sprawling, thrumming capital
Taipei is a glorious assault on the senses, a capital with stunning natural beauty, low crime and clear air despite its immense urban sprawl. From its neon-lit night markets to its Qing Dynasty temples, visitors can feel the quiet drum of independent pride, however fragile its future.
Beijing, which sees self-ruled Taiwan as an unruly child, continues to assert its desire to reunify with Taiwan and put the island firmly back under its control. But for now, a visit to Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, offers a riot of culinary and cultural pleasures. In 2023, the island’s third-tallest skyscraper will open, and the Taiwan Lantern Festival, a beloved tradition in which thousands of glowing lanterns float skyward in tandem, will return to Taipei after more than two decades.
Taipei’s future is uncertain. But in 2023, it remains an ideal place to gape at the sheer power of human innovation.
El Poblado, Medellin, Colombia
A chic shopping district, pulsing nightlife and rainbow-colored macaws
In the 1600s, Spanish settlers established El Poblado, “the village,” along the Medellín River. Eventually, the larger city of Medellín grew to the north, and El Poblado became a rural getaway for wealthy Colombians.
Today, it is again a center of activity. The grid of two- or three-story homes has blossomed with shops and restaurants, interspersed with boutique hotels rising above the treetops. Nearby, gushing waterfalls and rainbow-colored macaws add to the lush tropical vibe.
An afternoon roaming the neighborhood, popping into Mon y Velarde for menswear or Makeno for artisanal home goods, followed by coffee at Pergamino or modern Colombian cuisine at Oci.Mde, is a worthy entry on any South American traveler’s bucket list. Stay out late enough to see the area transform into the pulsing heart of the city’s nightlife, with DJs on the rooftops and dance parties in the streets.
Spectacular views of Lake Geneva and an exploding architectural and artistic scene
Already blessed with a sublime Lake Geneva location and dramatic mountain views, Lausanne, Switzerland’s fourth-largest city, has been adding architectural and artistic beauty to its repertoire as well.
Known as Plateform 10, the city’s three-year-old arts district recently inaugurated a bold new building that resembles an artfully cracked block of white stone for a pair of museums. Photo Elysée is dedicated to exhibiting photography in all its forms, while MUDAC is a haven of five creative outlets: design, glasswork, ceramics, jewelry and graphic art. The two institutions join the new home of the city’s international art museum, the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, which moved into its ridged, rectangular building in 2019.
A hike, a stroll or a run into the Bronze Age followed by a soak in an ancient tub
Athens’ nearest active volcano, Methana, sits on a peninsula of the same name some 30 miles southwest of the Greek capital. Though largely unknown to tourists, the area is slowly evolving, in part because of its increasing popularity as a hiking destination.
In recent years, groups of locals have managed to reopen and map old walking paths, some of which date to the Mycenaean Era, creating hiking trails that attract visitors from around the world. (So far, more than 18 miles have been cleared and marked.) The Methana Volcano Challenge, first organized in 2021, offers a trail run across the peninsula’s sloping landscape.
Visitors to this volcanic peninsula can also enjoy several hot springs, the most interesting of which is an ancient (and recently renovated) tub known as the Pausanias Baths near the village of Agios Nikolaos.
A rising LGBTQ scene with quilts, drag shows, the Derby and, of course, bourbon
One of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains, and arguably among the most beautiful, Louisville somehow flies under the radar. This despite its graceful 19th-century park system, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and its bourbon-fueled convivial spirit.
Today, its LGBTQ scene is also thriving, with hot spots like Chill Bar and Play Dance Bar, which hosts regular drag nights featuring touring artists. (The city has also earned top marks from the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index for seven years running and is home to two new LGBTQ community centers.) This spring brings Hotel Genevieve, from the Texas-based Bunkhouse Group, which offers Louisville-inspired touches like decor that pays homage to the city’s rich quilting heritage, an on-site market selling work from local artists and an art garden with rotating murals and bourbon selections from neighboring Rabbit Hole Distillery.
Make plans for 2023, because the city might not stay below the radar much longer: 2024 will draw the masses for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby.
Paul L Underwood
River-to-table cuisine and ancestral recipes in the heart of the Amazon
Michelin-starred restaurants in Sao Paulo use Amazonian ingredients to appear exotic, but in Manaus, where you can sip steamy gourds of tacacá from a stand in front of the Teatro Amazonas or wander past plastic bottles of tucupi, the juice squeezed from grated cassava, in Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market, Amazonian ingredients are a fact of life.
At the Indigenous-owned Biatüwi, a restaurant that pays homage to ancestral recipes and cooking techniques, drinks are made from fermented purple yams, and chiles are used to purify river fish in piquant stews like quinhampira.
Then there’s chef Felipe Schaedler, who has helped threatened Yanomami communities commercialize their native mushrooms and runs two restaurants of his own: Banzeiro and Moquém do Banzeiro. Steering away from traditional preparations, Schaedler re-imagines ingredients like lemon-grass-flavored ants and tambaqui ribs in a modern format, as do the bistros Caxiri, set in a colonial building overlooking Largo de São Sebastião, a grand plaza, and Fitz Carraldo, in the boutique hotel Villa Amazonia.
A 700-year-old survivor ready to party like there’s no tomorrow
Lithuania’s cobblestoned capital has a long history of bootstrap survival. Occupied once by the Nazis and twice by the Soviets, Vilnius has a story that is complex and fascinating to explore. Its architectural riches span from Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque; grand churches rub shoulders with quaint timber homes on leafy streets.
In 2023, the resilient city celebrates its 700th birthday with a full year of revelry. A light festival, free music performances and the first Vilnius International Biennial are all on the calendar. Artificial intelligence will resurrect one of the city’s first operas from the 17th century, and an exhibition space will allow visitors to virtually explore Vilnius’ streets as they looked more than 200 years ago.
Ringing in its eighth century, Vilnius reminds travelers that, when viewed through the long lens of history, our own uncertain times are fleeting.
<em>1,100-year-old Native American mounds and deep rock ’n’ roll roots</em>
The area around Macon has been home to multiple Native American tribes for 12,000 years. That history will be acknowledged this year, when Georgia is expected to get its first national park: The Ocmulgee Mounds, some of the most significant prehistoric Indigenous mounds in North America, date to the year 900, and are now a national historical park.
The national park will include the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, for a total of 50,000 acres, and offer a network of exquisite hiking trails and artifacts from American Indian culture. Management will be shared by the Muscogee Nation and the National Park Service.
Additionally, the city, whose musical roots run deep — Little Richard, the Allman Brothers and Otis Redding all got their start here — is celebrating its 200th anniversary with a new 10,000-seat amphitheater. Visitors can check out the Hotel Forty Five, a boutique hotel that opened downtown last year and that was named both for the angle of the street on which it sits and as a nod to musical history.
Kicking off a worldwide tribute to Picasso in a place that’s a masterpiece unto itself
If art is a universal language, as travel often reveals, Pablo Picasso’s anti-war “Guernica” might be one of its most potent symbols.
The Spanish and French governments recently announced the Picasso Celebration 1973-2023 in front of the famous painting at the Reina Sofia museum, kicking off a transnational commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. The worldwide tribute, from Madrid to Paris to New York City, includes some 50 exhibitions, many of which explore the artist through the lens of the present day. Madrid leads the way, with tributes throughout the year, including “Picasso. The Sacred and the Profane” at the Thyssen-Bornemisza; “Picasso 1906. The Turning Point” at the Reina Sofia; and an exhibition exploring Picasso and El Greco at the Prado.
During Picasso’s anniversary year, it’s worth noting that the city’s artistry isn’t just within its museums, but outside as well: Madrid’s cultural core is an urban masterpiece of art, nature and light, and in 2021, the entire area of the Paseo del Prado and verdant Parque del Buen Retiro, called “Landscape of Light,” was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Grand Junction, Colorado
A bonanza of canyons, arches and cliffs, without the hordes of tourists
On Colorado’s Western Slope, arid Grand Junction offers attractions similar to those of Moab, Utah, the gateway to Arches National Park, without the throngs.
The area around the Colorado alternative has the second-largest concentration of natural arches in the country in Rattlesnake Canyon, where some 35 sandstone spans are part of the roughly 123,700-acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, reachable via off-road vehicle or a strenuous 14-mile round-trip trek. More convenient hiking trails in the Colorado National Monument — where geologic uplift and erosion formed monoliths of the same Entrada sandstone found at Arches — lie within about 10 minutes of town.
The 2021 opening of the Palisade Plunge adds a 32-mile descent — from the world’s largest flat-topped mountain, 10,000-foot Grand Mesa, down to the Colorado River — to the area’s biking challenges. All trails lead back to downtown Grand Junction, filled with shops, craft breweries, locavore restaurants and wine-tasting rooms from area vineyards.
La Guajira, Colombia
An unspoiled land of orange-sand beaches and flamingo-lined lagoons
The remote and arid La Guajira peninsula, straddling Colombia’s border with Venezuela, remains largely unknown to international tourists, despite its dramatic salt flats, flamingo-lined lagoons and orange-sand beaches.
Terrorist activity made this area mostly off limits until 2016, but eco-minded hotels, including La Casa del Pavo Real and Hotel Waya Guajira, have spread along the peninsula, relying on increased flights to Riohacha, the regional capital, and nearby Santa Marta.
This region is the home of the Indigenous Wayúu people, who have expressed concerns that giant development projects may irreparably alter their ancestral lands. Tour operators visit Wayúu weavers known for their chinchorros, the colorful hammocks that take months to make, and their rustic kitchens, where cooks like Zaida Cotes showcase traditional cuisine based on salted fish, goat meat and purple corn.
Bergamo and Brescia, Italy
Open-air theater, art, music and a plateful of local delicacies in a cultural crossroads
Milan may outshine Bergamo and Brescia, but in 2023 a spotlight will fall on these two Lombardy cities after they were jointly named the Italian Capital of Culture. More than 100 art projects, music and theater events (some open-air), nature walks and new bike routes are meant to map a way forward after the tragic headlines this northern region generated in 2020, when it was more ravaged by the coronavirus than anyplace else in Italy.
Bergamo is distinctive for its ancient, walled Città Alta (Upper Town) and modern Città Bassa (Lower Town), the two connected by narrow roads, a funicular and a footpath. Brescia, around 30 miles southeast, is a handsome crossroads of Roman, medieval and Renaissance sites.
Outstanding food is another draw — it’s Italy, after all — with menus in both areas featuring creamy, nutty polenta taragna and variously stuffed crescents of casoncelli swirled with butter and sage — little pasta miracles that prove how good life can still be.
American Prairie, Montana
A vast, and growing, swath of nature where you can still feel tiny
With its wide-open skies and boundless horizons, American Prairie is ideal for visitors seeking a respite from the fast pace of modern life. A vast nature preserve founded by a Montana nonprofit, AP has been accumulating grasslands since 2004. It currently consists of 455,840 acres — and the preserve continues to expand by acquiring private properties that connect to surrounding public lands. The goal: to create a contiguous, 3-million-acre reserve and restore a disappearing ecosystem.
AP offers a broad range of activities, including leisurely walks, cross-country skiing and expert-level hiking, biking and paddling. Paved roads lead to Antelope Creek Campground, which features an interpretive trail and distant views of the Little Rockies. Buffalo Camp, accessible by gravel roads and situated among the reserve’s largest bison herd, is a little farther off the beaten path and provides a chance to see a buffalo jump, a cliff traditionally used by Indigenous peoples to harvest bison.
Eastern Townships, Quebec
A leisurely journey through the countryside with stops for wine, cheese and poutine
This is slow travel at its best: Pedal across the quiet Quebec countryside, refueling on local cheese, wine and, yes, poutine. Montreal and Quebec City are the stars of the region, but the bucolic, lake-laced terrain between them is often relegated to fleeting glimpses from the windows of a rental car.
The Eastern Townships — Canada’s New England, with French flair — deserves a visit all its own, and especially now, with the recent debut of the Véloroute Gourmande. The 150-mile cycle route traces the Route Verte and Trans Canada Trail across this charming region dotted with flower-festooned villages, and features more than 100 epicurean stops along the way, from farmers markets to maple groves to fromageries to vineyards.
Try the lush, sweet vin de glace (ice wine), made from ripe grapes that have frozen naturally on the vine, at Le Cep d’Argent, and the buttery Brise des Vignerons at the family-run Fromagerie des Cantons, one of the first in the area to develop cheese exclusively from Jersey cows, a nod to the region’s British influences.
New Haven, Connecticut
A home to tinkerers and rebels, and a treasure trove of contemporary art and architecture
Connecticut’s third-largest city is a historic, mostly walkable and bikeable seaside town with distinctive neighborhoods, an encyclopedic collection of great American architecture, a thriving cultural life and one of the best food scenes in the country for a city of its size (134,000).
Founded in 1638, it’s a place where people have always tinkered with, mused about and challenged the status quo, which is why the New Haven Preservation Trust is now looking at saving the modernist buildings of the 1970s, which many see as disastrous examples of urban renewal. Discover one of the best of these brutalist concrete buildings by checking into the new Hotel Marcel, named for its architect, Marcel Breuer. Recently renovated, it’s become the first completely solar-powered, energy-neutral hotel in the United States.
Check out NXTHVN, a cutting-edge, community-focused arts center founded in 2019 in two abandoned factory buildings in the Dixwell neighborhood that has become the heart of a vibrant African American artists’ community. And then treat yourself to a great meal — maybe crispy artichokes with Parmesan aioli and pork belly with Tuscan cabbage and apple mostarda — at the recently opened Villa Lulu.
The Black Hills, South Dakota
Pine forests, powwows and a climb up to Crazy Horse’s giant granite face
The Lakota people trace their creation to the He Sapa, or Black Hills, a mountain range of dramatic peaks and pine forests in an area that is South Dakota’s chief tourism attraction.
Now, representatives of all nine tribes in the state — working as the South Dakota Native Tourism Alliance — are having a say in how to experience Native American sites with the publication of a new tribal nations’ visitors guide, including destination suggestions and tips on visitor etiquette. The assembly helped identify the Great 8, eight sites and experiences — among them powwows, or dance celebrations — that are significant to Indigenous culture, with a concentration in the Black Hills. These include Bear Butte State Park where hiking trails may lead past prayer cloths tied to trees, 7,244-foot Black Elk Peak, the state’s highest, and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
The massive sculpture of the Lakota warrior turns 75 next summer, when the biannual Volksmarch will allow hikers to ascend the carving, still under construction, and stand beneath Crazy Horse’s more than 87-foot-tall granite face.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
A living museum of resilience where empires and cultures have long intersected
Sarajevo’s history lives in the present. There is the Latin Bridge, where a certain archduke was assassinated, catalyzing World War I. There are buildings still pockmarked by shells from the siege three decades ago. And there is the intricate interplay of empires, from the Ottoman to the Austro-Hungarian, that allows visitors to tour a mosque, a cathedral, an Orthodox church and a synagogue all within a few blocks.
These layers of history, of course, can detonate as easily as they can coexist. Bosnia’s multiethnic capital remains on edge. Look up to the hills, and there are the artillery positions built on the grounds of the 1984 Winter Olympics. But Sarajevo’s splendor comes from this intrusion of the past. It remains a living museum that hints at how a Ukraine or a Syria cannot only survive but perhaps one day flourish anew.