As we begin the new year, it’s time to start thinking about your vacation plans for 2018. This can of course be a somewhat daunting task, leaving you wondering where to start.
Whether you’re exploring the world solo or taking a romantic trip with a significant other, travel is arguably one of the best ways to spend your time and money.
The start of a new year provides the opportunity to add to your bucket list of destinations, and in the interest of helping you do that, we rounded up some of the best spots to visit in 2018.
Glide along the rivers of Ninh Binh, Vietnam, or wander the cobblestone streets of Tbilisi, Georgia — there’s no shortage of countries to discover.
Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Known as the “Halong Bay on Land,” Ninh Binh is a small city in Northern Vietnam. Its proximity to Hanoi — 60 miles to the south — is the reason that many overlook the scenic destination.
Nestled into the country’s Red River Delta, Ninh Binh boasts impressive topography that includes mountains, limestone cliffs, and forests. Glide along the river in a traditional boat, explore caves in Cuc Phuong National Park, or visit the ancient temples and palaces in Hoa Lu.
Lake District, Cumbria, England
The Lake District is precisely what you’d imagine when you think of the English countryside. Rolling hills, serene streams, and moss-covered stones. This scenery has served as inspiration for countless famous writers, like Beatrix Potter.
The area makes up England’s most popular national park, attracting around 18 million visitors per year. However, it wasn’t until this summer that the Lake District was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is home to the country’s tallest mountain (Scafell Peak) and its deepest and longest lakes (Wastwater Lake and Windmere Lake).
Named the “Restaurant City of the Year” by Bon Appétit magazine, Chicago is a hot destination for foodies. Must eats include the Au Cheval burger — which is frequently named among the best burgers in the country — deep dish pizza from any number of the city’s institutions like Lou Malnati’s or Pequod’s, and anything from Alinea — which is considered one of the best restaurants in the country. The city also saw the opening of the first-ever Nutella Cafe this year.
Besides its buzzing dining scene, Chicago has plenty of other tourist draws: beaches, ballparks, breweries, comedy clubs, museums, and music festivals. Trivago also named the Langham Chicago the best five-star hotel in the US for 2018. Just do yourself a favour and avoid going during the brutally-cold winter.
Mexico City, Mexico
There’s a lot more to Mexico than beach resorts. The county’s capital, Mexico City, has been named the world design capital for 2018, meaning that the city will host plenty of exhibitions and events, as well as designers and architects from across the globe.
Mexico City’s history, which spans multiple civilizations, is another big draw, Waliszewski says. He says Americans will be hard pressed to find another destination with so much culture that is just a quick direct flight away from the US.
Ellen Carpenter, editor in chief ofInk‘s publications for United Airlines, Hemispheres and Rhapsody, says that the city also boasts an “amazing high-low mix of food — insanely delicious and cheap al pastor tacos on every block as well as two World’s 50 Best restaurants, Pujol and Quintonil.”
Unlike many of its other Asian neighbours, Kazakhstan doesn’t often find itself on traveler’s bucket lists. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty of draws. The country’s capital, Astana, is a fascinating city that looks almost futuristic with its tent-shaped shopping mall, glass pyramid, and a 100-meter tall tower that’s often compared to a lollipop. The recently-built Hazrat Sultan Mosque is a sight to behold, too.
The country’s former capital, Almaty, is just as glitzy and glamorous; many say it’s reminiscent of a European city. For those looking for the outdoors, there are snow-capped peaks and hiking trails bordered by tranquil lakes. Aksu-Zhabagly and Kolsai Lakes National Park are both worth a visit.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
In the last year, the dollar has increased a whole 13.5% in Argentina, which means that if you’re looking for a rich cultural experience that won’t break the bank, this Latin American country is a good bet.
Konrad Waliszewski, founder and CEO of travel app, TripScout, recommends Buenos Aires in particular.
“Buenos Aires is a cultural epicenter: delicious food and wine, sexy tango dancing, vibrant music, beautiful architecture, world class art, highly caffeinated yerba matte, and vivacious people,” Waliszewski says. “You will experience the best of Latin American and European culture all in one place. It’s a city with all the best indulgences.”
Waliszewski thinks Tbilisi is a city that is too often overlooked by most travelers.
“Tbilisi sits at the intersection of East and West, and you can feel the old trade route influences throughout this Medieval town,” he says. “Cobbled streets, centuries old churches and wine cellars, and breathtaking views are found around every corner.”
“With a unique blend of post-Soviet dilapidation and emerging modernization, and a short drive away from pristine lakes and majestic mountains, I believe that Tblisi is the most underrated travel destination in the world.”
According to Carpenter, the Caribbean should be everyone’s “top destination” next year. She says that the common assumption is that Hurricane Irma wiped out the whole region, but in reality, 70% of the Caribbean was unaffected.
Antigua is one such example, plus, Carpenter points out that any tourist dollars spent there will also help Barbuda, its sister island which was hit hard by the hurricane. Be sure to hike up to Shirley Heights for stunning panoramic views. You also won’t want to miss Nelson’s Dockyard — ideal for yacht spotting — and the numerous pristine beaches across the island.
New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s never a bad time to visit NOLA, but this year the party capital is celebrating its tricentennial — or 300th anniversary. That means that 2018 will bring plenty of special events, concerts, parties, and fireworks.
New hotels like The Ace and The Henry Howard, as well as the $10 million renovation of the historic Pontchartrain Hotel, will make a trip here more luxe than ever before.
Bon Appétit also named Turkey and the Wolf, one of the city’s sandwich shops, the best new restaurant in the country. Go for the fried bologna, and then stop by the famed Café du Monde for beignets.
Liuwa Plain National Park, Zambia
Considered one of the last truly wild places in Southern Africa, Zambia is the ideal destination for adventure seekers looking for an uncrowded safari experience. King Lewanika Lodge just opened in Liuwa Plain National Park, and it’s the park’s first ever permanent camp. The lodge is named after King Lewanika, a member of the Lozi tribe who was the first to declare Liuwa a protected area back in the late 1880s; it has remained untouched since.
Try to time your visit so that you’re there in early April, when the Kuomboka Festival occurs — a time when thousands of Lozi people gather at the end of the rainy season to watch their king move his compound from the floodplain to higher ground. 2018 marks one of the first years this festival is accessible to tourists.
Nosy Ankao, Madagascar
An astounding 90% of the mammals found on Nosy Ankao — a secluded private island sanctuary that’s part of the Loky Manambato Protected Area — are not found anywhere else. Guests who stay at the island’s new and first luxury development, Miavana, can choose from lemur walks, helicopter tours, whale watching, and scuba diving.
Miavana’s 14 private villas border crystal clear waters, and the five-star eco resort even has its own museum filled with fascinating artefacts from the island.
Emilia Romagna, Italy
A culinary gem that’s often overshadowed by other regions in the country, Emilia Romagna sits in northeastern Italy with Bologna as its capital. Thanks to its strategic location between the River Po and the Apennine Mountains, Emilia Romagna is one of Italy’s most fertile regions.
Wander through the cobblestone streets and enjoy the scenery of the region’s small medieval villages, then tour the authentic restaurants of larger cities like Bologna and Modena. Don’t forgot Parma — the birthplace of both Parmesan cheese and Parma ham. Bologna is also home to the recently-opened Eataly World, a massive food-themed park.
Seville — the capital of Spain’s southern Andalucía region— has traded heavy traffic for bicycles and trams in recent years, making it an enjoyable city to visit and get around. Lonely Planet also named it the No. 1 city to visit in 2018.
Seville is known for its beautiful Moorish architecture, and this year it’s celebrating the 400th anniversary of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, a baroque painter and Seville native. The city is also hosting the 31st European Film Awards, and will appear in the upcoming season of “Game of Thrones.”
Portugal is every bit as much of a hotspot as Iceland. American Express Travel reports that planned travel to the country is up 86% year over year for the first quarter of 2018. And that’s probably because Portugal offers a plenty of things to do, from the postcard-like beaches of the Algarve to the red-tiled rooftops of Lisbon, a city whose medieval past is well-documented through castles and cathedrals.
There’s an endless array of seafood and other local delicacies to enjoy throughout the country, and the friendly locals and safe atmosphere make for a great solo travel destination. If wine is your vice, don’t miss Porto, the birthplace of port wine.
Malta’s capital, Valletta, will be the European capital of culture in 2018, which is a great excuse to go see this well-preserved city. It was founded in the early 16th century and to this day remains a breathtaking time capsule from that time period.
With a total of 320 monuments on a tiny peninsula with an area of just 136 acres, Valletta was called “one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world,” by UNESCO (the city is also a world heritage site). Don’t miss the grand master’s palace, the city gate, and St. John’s Cathedral.
The country itself is a small archipelago situated in between Sicily and the North African coast, bordered by the clear waters of the Mediterranean — which means that you’re never far from the beach.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The Louvre’s first ever branch outside of Paris opened its doors to the public in early November 2017, and it’s impressive to say the least. Perched on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island overlooking the serene Persian Gulf, the museum will have 700 exhibits. The building itself is an architectural wonder, with a 180-meter dome that’s made of around 8,000 metal pieces, which allow beams of sunlight to stream into the museum during the day.
The UAE capital offers other attractions for travelers — both contemporary and more traditional. The iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the largest in the world, boasting 82 domes. The Qasr al-Hosn palace is the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi. Families will love Ferrari World (home to the world’s fastest roller coaster), and Yas Waterworld.
Sweden is by no means cheap, but the dollar has increased 4.6% in the last year, making it more affordable than it’s been in the past. The Scandinavian nation is also a very well-run country: it ranked in the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s annual competitiveness report, which analyzes country’s economies and their level of productivity.
Thanks to the country’s high-quality infrastructure, it’s easy to hop around Stockholm’s 14 islands. And English speakers won’t run into any barriers here — most locals speak English and almost every sign is written in both Swedish and English.
If you’re looking to explore the countryside, go at the end of June, when you can join in on midsummer celebrations — a holiday that prompts Swedes to leave the city in droves.
Durban, South Africa
An hour flight from Johannesburg, the ocean side city of Durban remains unknown to many travelers. But that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of things to do. In fact, Fodors included the city on its “Go List” for this year.
Surfers will love the area’s rugged coastline and big waves, while risk takers will want to try shark diving. Instead of bungee jumping, the city’s ultra-modern Moses Mabhida Stadium offers a ride on the world’s largest swing.
Families will enjoy taking advantage of uShaka Marine World, a theme park and aquarium all in one. There’s also the Durban Botanic Gardens, which are full of beautiful, exotic plants. Station Drive Precinct, a neighbourhood that was once full of factories, and is now a hipster Mecca filled with artsy cafés and boutiques, as well as a tattoo parlor, brewery, and distillery.