Where to go in 2018? If you love traveling the world as much as we do, you’re probably torn between roaming it in search of destinations less traveled, as well as returning to perennial favorites over and over again. To help narrow down your essential 2018 vacation list, we scoured the planet and came up with a list of places that are newly radar-worthy thanks to buzzy attractions, easier access, hot travel trends and recently re-shaped by global events. Did we leave an essential hot spot off this list? Let us know in the comments and happy travels!
Bolivia Salt Flats
We have a feeling the force will be with this otherworldly destination in the Andes, thanks to its appearance in the upcoming Star Wars movie The Last Jedi. Case in point: The Irish island Skellig Michael was featured briefly in The Force Awakens and tourism to the tiny island still went bananas. Fandom aside, the real reason to visit this heavenly haven is for the dream-like (and Instragrammable) flats whose vivid beauty is created in part by the endlessness of the horizon and also by the enchanting reflections that arise from the shallow layer of water that produces hypnotic reflections. Stay at the Hotel De Sal Luna Salada, the entirety of which (furniture, floors, walls, etc.) is made of salt.
You’d be crazy not to visit continental Europe’s westernmost country ASAP. Not only does Portugal offer huge savings relative to its pricier neighbors, it is every bit as exciting and without the over-tourism (at least for now). Hilly Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, its fishermen rise and shine at the crack of dawn to yank fresh cod from the Atlantic and serve it in restaurants and cafes alongside irresistible pastel de natas (a sweet and eggy pastry) and strong coffee while rickety trams whiz by. Nearby Sintra offers a dreamy, fairy tale day trip. Second city Porto is as postcard-like as Europe gets and the famed Algarve Coast really is the sunseeker’s paradise it portends to be.
Napa Valley and Sonoma, CA
Many less savvy travelers will fall into the trap of thinking Napa and Sonoma wine countries have been irrevocably damaged by the wildfires that struck them in October. Fortunately, they’re wrong and that’s exactly why you should go now. Not only is visiting these celebrated wine regions just north of San Francisco the best way you can assist with their recovery, but they are very much open for business. Here are the facts: More than 90% of Sonoma County was not affected by the wildfires and of the more than 400 Napa Valley wineries, as of November only one remained closed. Visitors in 2018 may choose to seek out other wine regions in the US, but their loss is your boozy gain.
Majestic, cloud-covered Kilimanjaro is every bit as jaw-dropping up close as it is in pictures and hiking it has become a bucket list adventure for intrepid travelers. But selfie-takers desiring a pretty backdrop should visit sooner rather than later. When the clouds burn off Africa’s tallest mountain they reveal a beautiful snow cap. The ice fields of Kilimanjaro are melting at a rapid pace and may be gone entirely in 20 years or sooner. The other reason to visit now is that the mountain is within a stone’s throw of Tanzania’s many natural parks, where you can view the lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras and other wildlife who inhabit them.
This island paradise has always been popular among East Coast denizens—after all, it’s only a two-hour flight from New York. But now the wider world is set to turn its gaze to this tropical beach-laden isle in the North Atlantic: The Loren, Bermuda’s first new-build hotel in more than 45 years, just opened last winter and other new hotels by Ritz Carlton and St. Regis are on the way. Carnival is expanding its Bermuda offerings, too, with a new four-day cruise on the brand new state-of-the-art Horizon slated to launch from New York this spring.
While European cities such as Barcelona and Venice are bursting at the seams with more visitors than they can handle, lesser explored Balkan coastal gems continue to quietly attract more adventurous American travelers. Gorgeous, under-explored Slovenia is especially intriguing with its majestic snow-capped peaks, ancient castles and caves, and its charming little slice of Adriatic coastline. Temperatures are mild throughout spring, summer and fall, while winter brings everyone to the slopes. If you’re looking for a memorable, affordable escape away from the crowds, this is it.
Minneapolis in winter? We kid you not. While the Twin Cities are admittedly at their best in summer when visitors can fully take advantage of the beautiful parks, inner city lakes and world-renowned public arts scene, winter beckons this year thanks to Super Bowl LII. The city will show off its striking new U.S. Bank Stadium and entertain visitors with a 10-day celebration held at venues citywide like Mall of America and Paisley Park, Prince’s home and studio. Football aside, Minneapolis’ star was already on the rise, riding travelers’ growing interest in mid-sized cities (tier 2 airports saw 15% growth between 2013 and 2015). The city will additionally get a boost in April 2018 from Spirit Airlines, as the low-cost carrier opens a new direct route between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Seattle.
2018 is going to be a resurgence year for Mazatlan, a port city on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Once a heavy spring break destination back in the ’90s, rife with Señor Frogs and body shot culture, Mazatlan is staging a comeback for what it truly is: a visually stunning colonial city on the sea. With the 75-block Historic District of Mazatlan receiving a mega-makeover, visitors can immerse themselves in fine dining, art walks, shops and historic architecture, all of which culminates in the eight-mile boardwalk that hugs the rugged Pacific.
If you haven’t heard the news that Nashville is America’s new hot city, then the cave you’re living in must also have crappy Wi-Fi. Music City is rising, so much so that you can hate country music and still have the time of your life. Let’s talk about its food scene: While every city is rushing to claim the mantle of “foodie mecca,” Nashville is actually earning that title in earnest with a dizzying spate of entries including Bastion, the Mockingbird, Josephine, the Catbird Seat and countless others. Meanwhile, the Gulch is the city’s new epicenter of upscale cool and boasts its own Thompson Hotel, urban running path and indie boutiques—but just about everywhere you go the city is crushing it hard.
When you think of China, there’s a good chance you picture the soaring highrises and bustling streets of cities like Shanghai and Beijing. But there’s plenty more to explore in this land of 1.4 billion. A great place to start is Chengdu, the 2,000-plus-year-old capital of Sichuan, which boasts the fifth fastest-growing tourism market in the world. China’s fourth-largest city is home to 14 million people, making it nearly twice the size of New York City. Here you can visit with giant pandas, stroll wide leafy boulevards, browse upscale boutiques and sample modern Sichuan cuisine. But nature’s never far away: Set aside time for day trips to visit sites like the 8th-century Leshan Giant Buddha, which is carved into a cliff, and Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park, known for its cascading waterfalls and tree-lined lake.
Pardon our double negative, but we’re never not madly in love with N’awlins. Take equal parts French, African and American culture, stir in a sub-tropical climate, add a dash of jazz and generous amounts Cajun and Creole cooking and sprinkle with drinking and debauchery and the results are irresistible. The city has rebounded nicely post-Katrina with a surging population, new energy in neighborhoods like the Bywater and South Market District and a fresh batch of hotels including the Ace Hotel New Orleans and the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery. In 2018, the city celebrates its 300th anniversary with a slew of celebrations and soon the renovation of Bourbon Street will be complete.
South Korea’s ramp up to host the Olympic games in PyeongChang in February is going swimmingly well, with construction and budgets mostly on target. The games are a great chance for Korea to showcase its culture and natural beauty to the world but there’s just one problem—will the sports fans actually come? Overall, tourism in South Korean was down 27.2% from last year, mostly due to tensions with China and North Korea. Recent figures show that just 100 days before the games were to open February 9, only about 30% of the targeted 1.1 million tickets were sold. The upside for sports fans—or anyone interested in visiting South Korea, really—is that tickets and hotels are still widely available, and going for prices well below what you would expect during a peak event like the Olympic games.
Quebec City, Canada
While everyone seems to talk about Montreal or Toronto, Quebec City has quietly been turning into the real star. The mostly French-speaking city offers all the charm of Europe without crossing the pond. Cozy sidewalk cafes line the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Beyond its rich history, Quebec City has become a huge foodie destination attracting a wave of great new restaurants, like the much anticipated Italian trattoria, Battuto Madness. Another attraction is the year-round appeal. Of course, outdoor activities abound in the warmer months, but come winter, Quebec City’s Christmas Market is second to none in North America.
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