With it still early in 2016, there’s no better time to begin planning your travels for the year. Make this the year you satisfy your wanderlust and explore some of the hottest up and coming destinations in the world. Whether you’re looking for ancient historic sites, tropical beaches, or rugged mountain ranges, this list has something to satisfy every traveler. Where will the road take you this year?
Closed to the United States since the 1960s, relations between Cuba and the United States finally began to thaw in 2015. The time is ripe for Americans to once more visit this gorgeous island located off the coast of Florida. From its old architecture to its unique cuisine and world famous cigars, Cuba has a lot to offer its visitors. No trip to Cuba would be complete without a stop to Havana to take in the sights and sounds. Colorful colonial era buildings, classic cars, salsa music, and an ocean view make this the city that the new generation of visitors to the island won’t want to miss.
2. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
If you’re a Sex and the City fan, you’ll remember the rising middle-eastern city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the backdrop of the second film in the series. Abu Dhabi has rapidly risen as the crown jewel of the UAE in just a few short years. The city can trace its history back to 3000 B.C. and this legacy combines with its current modern appeal to form a unique experience for visitors. With its version of Paris’ Louvre set to open later in 2016, Abu Dhabi is banking on the new unique museum to draw in tourists.
With the country’s debt crisis, now is the prime time for visitors to visit the ancient island-nation of Greece. Travel deals to the country are at an all-time low and the currency exchange is in favor of the American dollar. Home to one of the most-famous civilizations from ancient history, Greece offers visitors access to world-famous sites such as the Parthenon located in Athens, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and more. When not soaking up the history you can soak up the sun as Greece is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in not only the Mediterranean but also the world. So grab the next flight and grab yourself a gyro and explore this centuries old country while the time is ripe.
Often overlooked by other Mediterranean countries like Italy, Croatia offers tourists an affordable and fun visit. The country is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are not to be missed including the Palace of Diocletian, the historic city of Trogir, and Plitvice Lakes National Park to name a few. With its extensive history visitors can view medieval relics and the influence of ancient Rome in the buildings and monuments around the country. Home to countless museums, famous coffee houses, Mediterranean beaches and Adriatic Islands, national parks, and more there is sure to be something to suit everyone’s tastes.
5. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
As the host of the summer 2016 Olympic Games, Rio is about to have its time in the international spotlight. Plan your trip to Brazil’s second largest city before the madness of the Olmpics begins and take in the unique sights Rio has to offer before the tourists descend. Relax on one its gorgeous beaches, visit the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, or hike the Corcovado and Sugarloaf mountains. Part of the city has been designated a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO so offers a wonderful experience for history lovers.
6. Charleston, South Carolina
For decades, this Southern gem of a city resided in relative anonymity, however, in the past decade it has exploded on the tourism scene in a major way. It has topped Conde Nast Traveler’s top city list for the past four years! A history lover’s delight, visitors can stroll down cobblestone streets and tour the mansions of the wealthy cotton plantation owners of centuries past. Explore famous American Civil War and Revolutionary War sights with stops at Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie. Not into history? Numerous barrier islands surround the city and make it easy to soak up some rays on the beach. The famous King Street is renowned for its shopping and with a thriving food and beverage scene, Charleston is a foodie’s paradise.
7. New Zealand
New Zealand is the ultimate destination for a nature lover. The popular Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film series filmed on location throughout the country put New Zealand’s natural wonders on full display to an international audience. It comes as no surprise then that the most popular tourist activities in the country include sightseeing, camping, and adventure tourism. Visitors can explore the snow-capped mountains near Milford Sound, take in the sights of Tasman Valley, watch a sunset on the beaches near Greymouth, relax in the resort town of Queenstown, or take a guided tour of Lord of the Rings film locations. The options are endless for the nature loving visitor.
If you’ve made the journey all the way to New Zealand it would be silly to not make the short journey to Australia while you’re in the region. Visit the coastal metropolitan centers of Sydney and Melbourne. Perhaps city-living isn’t your thing. Australia’s outback is perhaps even more well-known than its urban cities. Plan an outback excursion to catch a glimpse of Australia’s unique wildlife (who wouldn’t want to see kangaroos and koalas in the wild?). Discover the history of the country’s Aboriginal natives or take a dip at one of the country’s famous Gold Coast beaches or snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.
9. Rome, Italy
While not a stranger to making travel lists, Rome is a city that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Why not make 2016 the year that happens? Located in the heart of Italy, Rome was home to without a doubt the most famous civilization in written history. Visitors here can expect to be blown away by the famous centuries old sights they’ve read about in history books including the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, aqueducts, and much more. When not reveling in the historic sites, there are endless shops to explore. Sip delicious regional wines as you enjoy the local culinary offerings and take in the views.
Ideal for travelers on a budget, your money can take you a long way in Ecuador. Located in Northwestern South America and lying directly on the Equator, Ecuador provides a unique tropical vacation unlike any other. While here, plan a visit to the world-famous Galapagos Islands or the historic City of Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take in a view of Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano or visit the Amazon jungle and take in wildlife you’ll find nowhere else.
Always wanted to experience an African safari but can’t afford the steep prices that a trip to Kenya could run you? Namibia is the best kept secret to help you scratch the African safari off of your bucket list. Etosha National Park allows visitors to host their own self-guided safaris where you can track and observe the Big Five on foot, horseback, camel, or in a jeep. When not observing the exotic wildlife plan a visit to the Namib desert (one of the oldest deserts in the world), massive lagoons, and the country’s charming capital city Windhoek.
12. Sri Lanka
This island nation located in South Asia is often bypassed by tourists on their way to visit its neighbor to the north-India. With cruise ships and more direct flights anticipated to be heading its way, Sri Lanka is a country you should keep your eye on in 2016. Visitors can expect to glimpses of the country’s past under British colonial occupation, sight an elephant or two, and find the world’s oldest living tree, Anuradhapura. Tour the country’s countless ancient temples, eight of which are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, and make time to visit the breathtaking beaches of Unawatuna.
13. Reno, Nevada
Often overshadowed by Las Vegas, Reno is fondly referred to by locals and visitors alike as “The Biggest Little City in the World”. It offers visitors the best of three geographic settings with its location in the desert at the foot the Sierra Nevada mountain range not far from Lake Tahoe. It’s also just a short drive from California so visitors can easily hop across state lines on their trip. Like Vegas, Reno is not lacking in resorts and casinos where you can try your hand at winning a big jackpot.
With the current popularity of the new Outlanders television series, Scotland is sure to be on a lot of travelers bucket list in 2016. A visit to Scotland provides a perfect blend or urban exploration and nature. Make time for a visit to the historic city of Edinburgh to discover the culinary creations unique to Scotland and see a castle or two. Explore the museums and monuments that tell the story of the country’s rich history, the Jacobite uprising, and more. Make your way out of the cities to visit the wild and still undeveloped areas including the Highland mountains, the Outer Hebrides, and more. Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for Scotland’s most famous resident Nessie if you happen to stumble upon Loch Ness lake in the Scottish Highlands.
15. Istanbul, Turkey
Turkey’s most populous city, Istanbul is an ancient city that once carried the names Constantinople and Byzantium. Turkey was founded in 660 B.C. and is today a history lover’s delight. It is a European Capital of Culture and its biggest attraction is its historic center, partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to its historic sites, visitors can look forward to unique shopping experience in the city’s bazaar marketplaces, take a sea-side stroll, and enjoy an explosion of unique culinary flavors. Fun fact: Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia which means depending on where you are in the city you can find yourself with one foot in Europe with the other in Asia. Tourists here can literally visit two continents for the price of one!
This French Caribbean island hasn’t been plundered by the touristy cruise trade yet so it still offers visitors a private and relaxing tropical get-away. The majority of the island is protected parkland untouched by man. Visitors can relax the days away on luxurious beaches. When you get bored with sunbathing and frolicking in tropical waters (as if that could happen) the island is also prime for hiking and wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the island’s still active volcano Mount Pelee. The French island uses the Euro which makes the exchange rate for American visitors nearly 1-to-1 so this tropical vacation won’t set you back too much.
17. Asheville, North Carolina
Nestled in the heart of the Southern Appalachian mountain range, Asheville is gaining popularity for its hipster vibe and gorgeous natural scenery. Visitors here can expect to experience southern hospitality at its finest in this city that still has a small-town feel to it. No trip to Asheville would be complete without a visit to the massive Biltmore Estate, America’s largest private estate and one of the city’s primary tourist draws. When you get through touring the decadence of this modern castle plan a visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway which offers up close and personal mountain views that are particularly popular in the fall when the leaves begin to turn colors.
Often overlooked by its larger neighbor Spain, travel experts predict that 2016 will be the year Portugal’s popularity explodes with tourists. Explore the country’s vineyards to the north and tasty cuisine while soaking up its history. Visit the popular historic and capital city of Lisbon, the gorgeous beaches of Algarve, or its multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Already popular with European vacationers, the time is right for American travelers to explore this unique country and all it has to offer.
19. San Antonio, Texas
Located deep within the heart of Texas, San Antonio is quickly rising as the top city to visit in the United States’ southwest. Its unique blend of Spanish, Mexican, and American cultures offers visitors an experience like none other. The city’s famous River Walk provides a relaxing and gorgeous setting as locals and visitors alike try local Mexican cuisine and explore shops. In October 2015, the city’s five centuries old Spanish colonial missions (including the world-famous Alamo) were granted World Heritage status by the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is also rapidly re-branding itself as a top destination for foodies and cocktail connoisseurs.
A place like no other, Iceland is usually not the first place that comes to mind when most people begin planning a vacation. This is a big mistake! Iceland is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural views including countless waterfalls, lava fields, hot springs, whale watching, the Kerid Volcano crater, the Northern lights, and much more. Enjoy the unique Nordic culture on your travels and explore the country’s rich Viking history.