20 Spectacular Places to Travel for in 2018

Best for culture, urban hot spots and nature.  
20 Spectacular Places to Travel for in 2018 7
In Ethiopia, Harar’s old town is a maze of alleys lined with bright pink, purple, and blue walls. Photo by David Kirkland.

Culture

Global Encounters on a Local Level

1. Harar, Ethiopia

Why Go Now: Find the most surprising city in East Africa

The busloads of tourists at rock-hewn churches and castles in northern Ethiopia haven’t yet discovered the laid-back east, anchored by the enchantingly contradictory city of Harar. With 82 mosques, three of which date back to the 10th century, Harar—which bills itself as the “City of Saints”—welcomes the devout. Yet this is no place for the ascetic. In Harar, a one-hour flight from Addis Ababa, cafés dole out spicy fava bean stew and craftswomen sell brilliantly dyed baskets. French poet Arthur Rimbaud once lived on one of these narrow streets, abandoning writing for the coffee and arms trades. Harar touts Ethiopia’s best beer, strongest khat (a ubiquitous narcotic plant), friendliest hyenas, and not least, highest quality coffee in a country renowned for its beans. Follow your nose to the aromatic factory to watch workers roast, grind, and bag coffee on old-fashioned machines. Stock up: Alleyways in Harar are rarely found twice.

Nina Strochlic

 

2. Friesland, Netherlands

Why Go Now: Feel the frisson of Dutch creativity

In Leeuwarden, a former canal dock now seats cafégoers. Photo by Ruben Drenth.

In Leeuwarden, a former canal dock now seats cafégoers. Photo by Ruben Drenth.

While Amsterdam is all frenetic energy, Leeuwarden, which was named European Capital of Culture for 2018, is a serene refuge. Birthplace of M. C. Escher and Mata Hari, the town is known for its annual flower market and its world-class ceramics museum. But in the bid for Cultural Capital, Leeuwarden stressed a larger role, as the capital of the Dutch province of Friesland, and its Frisian pride comes well earned. With its own language, flag, anthem, and regional animal (the swan, carved into farmhouse rooftops), Friesland clings firmly to its arcane traditions and does everything a bit differently. The province also offers mud walking on the Wadden Sea and the singular sport of canal pole-vaulting. Craft towns include Makkum, producing coveted tin-glazed pottery since the 17th century, and Vermeer-worthy Hindeloopen, where the furniture is hand painted with swirls of candy-coloured garlands. Frisian sugar bread, laced with ribbons of cinnamon, lives up to its sweet name, for one last regional surprise. —Raphael Kadushin

 

3. Cleveland, U.S.A.

Why Go Now: Meet up—and meat up—in a revived industrial city

Onion-domed churches and cold-brew cafés on streets a-flicker with gas porch lights might summon images of Kraków or Budapest. But this is Cleveland. The big-boned Ohio city built by Eastern European immigrants and Midwestern moxie ripples with new cultural energy. Tap into it at the eight theatres on Playhouse Square or at indie-music venue Beachland Ballroom. At restaurants the Black Pig and the Plum, young chefs bone, carve, and reimagine Cleveland’s long love affair with meat. Downtown’s deco skyscrapers, including iconic Terminal Tower, get new life as work-and-living spaces, reviving neighbourhoods like Hingetown and the Waterloo Arts District. Quirky shops offer everything from fresh-pressed vinyl to wood-fired pizza.

 

4. Vienna, Austria

Why Go Now: Honour game-changing artists

At the close of the 19th century, the upstart Secession art movement shook the Austrian capital to the core. In contrast to Habsburg-approved painting and sculpture, these progressive multidisciplinary artists, headed initially by Gustav Klimt, leaned toward applied and decorative arts, and internationalism over nationalism. They met in grand coffee-houses such as Café Sperl and erected the Secession Building, known for its “golden cabbage” leaf-work dome. In addition to Klimt, two other leading members of the Secession group—Koloman Moser and Otto Wagner—died in 1918. To mark the centennial, several museums, including the Belvedere and the MAK, will host exhibits to celebrate these outward-looking innovators.

 

5. Tétouan, Morocco

Why Go Now: Be dazzled a new by Moroccan art

The Bab el Okla gate leads to Tétouan’s medina. Photo by Lauren di Matteo.

The Bab el Okla gate leads to Tétouan’s medina. Photo by Lauren di Matteo.

Intricate carvings, handwoven carpets, and other traditional Moroccan crafts have long influenced renowned artists and designers like Henri Matisse and Yves St. Laurent. But in Tétouan, a northern port city about 65 kilometres east of Tangier, a grassroots movement is redefining Moroccan art. Contemporary artists such as Safaa Erruas, whose ethereal paper installations incorporate pins, needles, and other dressmaking elements, find community at such places as Green Olive Arts. Here visitors can meet local artists at open studio events. “I love to wander the ancient cobblestone streets,” says Green Olive Arts director of studios, Rachel Pearsey, a California transplant, “drawing the layers of history and life.”

Founded by Berbers in the third century B.C., Tétouan, Morocco, is home to the National Fine Arts Institute and the Tétouan Museum of Modern Art, as well as Morocco’s most complete medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

6. Labrador, Canada

Why Go Now: Get acquainted with aboriginal culture in a new national park

Following the road less travelled leads to Canada’s new Akami-Uapishku-KakKasuak-Mealy Mountains National Park Reserve. Getting around the 10,700-square-kilometre national park requires significantly more effort. No roads cross this remote northern Labrador wilderness. Though the park is in its infancy, aboriginal peoples—Innu, Labrador Inuit, Southern Inuit, and Métis—have stewarded this land for generations. Today, First Nations communities are developing visitor experiences such as boat trips, craft workshops, and guided walks. In Cartwright, tour operator Experience Labrador takes hikers along the white-sand Wunderstrand, the park’s 50-kilometre front porch.

 

7. Oaxaca, Mexico

Why Go Now: Celebrate the hues of Mexico’s most vibrant state

During a festival in Ciudad Ixtepec traditional gowns embroidered with silk flowers dazzle as brightly as a shower of fireworks. Photo by Diego Huerta.

During a festival in Ciudad Ixtepec traditional gowns embroidered with silk flowers dazzle as brightly as a shower of fireworks. Photo by Diego Huerta.

“The traditional way of tinting textiles purple involved marine snails. But was anyone on the planet still dyeing fabric like this? If so, how did the process actually work? Heartsick over Prince’s death in 2016, I decided it was time to connect my recent interest in indigenous textiles with my nearly lifelong passion for purple.
In pursuit, I head south. The Mexican state of Oaxaca is a bastion of ancient colour, a land where naturally dyed textiles still dazzle with kaleidoscopic opulence. Here pre-Columbian dyeing techniques remain in practice but are increasingly rare.”

Delve into the writer’s quest here.

 

Cities

What’s cool in urban hot spots

Tbilisi surprises with its architecture and art, such as a petal-roofed Public Service Hall and these bronze figures on Baratashvili Bridge. Photo by Jose Fuste Raga.

Tbilisi surprises with its architecture and art, such as a petal-roofed Public Service Hall and these bronze figures on Baratashvili Bridge. Photo by Jose Fuste Raga.

8.Tbilisi, Georgia

Why Go Now: Discover a modern marvel

Riding out Persian, Arab, Byzantine, Ottoman, Russian, and then Soviet occupations over its 1,500-year history has imbued Georgia’s resilient capital city with an eclectic, make-do aesthetic. Cafés and teahouses in Old Tbilisi are secreted behind cracked facades and centuries-old courtyard walls. In tree-lined Vera, adaptive reuses—such as chic Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, a former publishing house—welcome the new while preserving the past. Rampant development, however, is creating a rising sea of glass towers, reshaping the cityscape at a dizzying pace. Walk the cobbled lanes of disarmingly disorganised Old Tbilisi now to experience the city’s charms: the 24-hour sulphur baths, the plump khinkali (spiced meat dumplings), and the legendary hospitality of the locals.
—Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

 

9. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Why Go Now: Explore a kinetic capital of Khmer culture

Outside Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace grounds. Photo by Yadid Levy.

Outside Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace grounds. Photo by Yadid Levy.

Phnom Penh plays a leading role in director Angelina Jolie’s latest film, First They Killed My Father, Cambodia’s foreign-language submission for the 90th Academy Awards. Oscar buzz for the Cambodian genocide drama is boosting interest in all things Khmer. Visit the kingdom’s capital city for a full-sensory deep dive into Cambodian urban life—a chaotic mix of hip retailers and restaurants, French colonial architecture, and Khmer history and culture. Observe the spectacle from the Rosewood Phnom Penh, the city’s tallest luxury hotel. Set to open in early 2018, the posh pad occupies the top 14 floors of Phnom Penh’s tallest skyscraper, 617-foot Vattanac Capital Tower One. Discover Khmer cultural treasures in the Royal Palace compound, home of the ornate Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Keo) and its life-size gold Buddha. Then learn about the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in the harrowing Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

 

10. Sydney, Australia

Why Go Now: Applaud an urban icon

The iconic sails of Sydney’s Opera House remain as dazzlingly white as ever, but inside the performance venue major changes are debuting. A $273 million upgrade launched in May includes state-of-the-art acoustics, a hangout-friendly foyer, and other improvements that will make a night at the opera a show-stopper, both onstage and off. The first phase of the renovation wraps up in December with the reopening of the Joan Sutherland Theatre, the building’s second largest performance space, where programmes include the return of the Australian Ballet in 2018. After the show, enjoy a glass of Hunter Valley Shiraz at the Opera Bar, and watch boats come in and out of the harbour, a scene worthy of its own ovation.

—Alexandra E. Petri

 

11. San Antonio, U.S.A.

Why Go Now: Party like it’s 1718

The Alamo isn’t the only thing to remember about San Antonio. The south-central Texas city lassoes three centuries of history—reason enough to throw a big-as-Texas Tricentennial Celebration. Kicking off the year-long fiesta are an epic New Year’s Eve concert and a fireworks extravaganza. More than 550 arts and cultural events follow in 2018, most highlighting San Antonio’s confluence of cultures, including indigenous, Canary Islander, Spanish, Mexican, and German. “I find it fascinating when people come together to make cities. That is the nature of San Antonio,” says 2013 Texas Poet Laureate Rosemary Catacalos, who is curating forgotten histories of San Antonio for a tricentennial story wall. “It has been a completely international and intercultural city from the beginning to now.”

 

12. Santiago, Chile

Why Go Now: Discover South America’s spiciest new art scene

Murals animate the walls in Santiago’s Barrio Bellavista. Photo by David A. Barnes/Alamy Stock Photo.

Murals animate the walls in Santiago’s Barrio Bellavista. Photo by David A. Barnes/Alamy Stock Photo.

In Chile’s capital and largest city, buildings are fair game for vivid graffiti. “Santiago’s recent history—since the 1960s—is expressed on its walls though the use of colour and style,” says Al Ramirez, founder of the city’s Stgo Street Art Tours. Top neighbourhood “galleries” for walking tours include bohemian Bellavista as well as Brasil and Yungay, hotbeds of the Chilean-style street art known as BRP (Brigada Ramona Parra). In long-neglected San Miguel, an open-air mural “museum” is inspiring community revitalisation. “Many people can visit Santiago and see only the historical sites and viewpoints from the top of pretty buildings. Street art is perfect for people who love to soak in the local culture and understand what Chile is really like,” adds Ramirez.

 

13. Malmö, Sweden

Why Go Now: Taste global flavour at a Swedish smorgasbord

Backed by fertile Skåne Province farmland and home to nearly 180 nationalities and more than 700 restaurants, Malmö is a United Nations of food. “Copenhagen considers Skåne its own kitchen garden,” says Titti Qvarnström, Sweden’s first female chef to earn a Michelin star, when she headed the kitchen at Bloom in the Park. “We do have strong influences from the Danish capital with its cutting-edge Nordic cuisine, but this doesn’t limit the variation and creativity in Malmö food.” Case in point: traditional Scanian äggakaga—an egg pancake served with smoked bacon and lingonberries—remains a local favourite, but the number one street food is falafel.

Swedish design studio Wingårdh recently converted an abandoned freight depot to house Malmö Market Hall. Food stalls and cafés include Favvo Glass for ice cream, Poms for sandwiches, and Holy Greens for salads.

 

14. Dublin, Ireland

Why Go Now: Befriend locals in the world’s cheeriest city

Greater Dublin is home to some 1.3 million people, but its core, as in the pub-filled Temple Bar area, remains engagingly intimate. Photo by Delpixart.

Greater Dublin is home to some 1.3 million people, but its core, as in the pub-filled Temple Bar area, remains engagingly intimate. Photo by Delpixart.

“Dublin’s charm isn’t breaking news, of course. The path between Guinness, Trinity College, and the Book of Kells is well-worn. But its secret lies in the spaces between. I’ve known that since I was a student here, writing stories and playing in bands and squandering food money on Friday nights. Cleaved in two by the River Liffey (and with a juicy northside-southside rivalry), Ireland’s capital is an intimate and wonderfully walkable puzzle.”

Discover more about the charms of the Irish capital here.

 

Nature

Wild experiences in the great outdoors

At the Andringitra Massif in Madagascar, the endangered ring-tailed lemur can be spotted on exposed rock. Photo by Pete Oxford.

At the Andringitra Massif in Madagascar, the endangered ring-tailed lemur can be spotted on exposed rock. Photo by Pete Oxford.

15. Madagascar

Why Go Now: Leap for lemurs

Madagascar makes memories unlike anywhere else on Earth. The world’s fourth largest island, located in the Indian Ocean about 480 kilometres east of Mozambique, split from India about 88 million years ago. Being a continental castaway allowed Madagascar’s plants and animals to evolve in a relative bubble.
A mind-boggling 90 per cent of its plant and animal life exists only here. Among the homegrown bunch, the lemur plays a starring role. Roughly 100 species of the nimble primates are found on Madagascar, and almost all are endangered due to widespread deforestation, climate change, and other threats.

—Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

 

16. Jordan Trail

Why Go Now: Hike a newly marked historic route

The Jordan Trail highlights the country’s most scenic sights. Photo by Pascal Mannaerts.

The Jordan Trail highlights the country’s most scenic sights. Photo by Pascal Mannaerts.

Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad all walked this path, followed by generations of nomads, merchants, crusaders, and pilgrims. Today the newly minted 650-kilometre Jordan Trail transects a modern-day kingdom, in eight separate sections. Linking ancient trade routes, the Jordan Trail cuts through the mystery of the Middle East, leading travellers through flowering forests, deep stone canyons, and ruddy deserts, culminating at the turquoise shores of the Red Sea. Along the way hikers explore Greek and Roman ruins, impressive biblical sites like Mount Nebo, the Ottoman outpost of Dana, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petra, and the strangely Martian landscape of Wadi Rum. Camels and towering castles add a fairy-tale ambience straight from the pages of the Arabian Nights, while hikers get a true taste of boundless Jordanian hospitality in village homestays, friendly guesthouses, and Bedouin campsites lit by flickering candles and a thousand stars. “The trail has a power over all those who walk it,” says thru-hiker Muna Haddad, who completed the trek in 44 days. “You surrender to the stories that it evokes.”

—Andrew Evans

 

17. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Why Go Now: See lions to help save them

Ruaha National Park is where the wild things are—and where hordes of safari-goers are not. Located in central Tanzania, the country’s largest park is home to about one-tenth of the world’s threatened African lions. Few tourists and a relatively untouched landscape boost opportunities to spot the big cats—some grouped in supersize prides of 30 or more. “[Seeing a lion in the wild] is one of the most inspiring and incredible experiences you can have,” says Amy Dickman, director and founder of the grassroots Ruaha Carnivore Project, which promotes sustainable wildlife management in and around the park. “There is nothing like that moment when a lion looks up from close by and looks at you.”

 

18. Albania

Why Go Now: Dive into an underwater treasure trove

Off the Albanian coast, a diver examines amphorae, cargo from a Roman-era shipwreck. Photo by Elaine Ferritto Calip.

Off the Albanian coast, a diver examines amphorae, cargo from a Roman-era shipwreck. Photo by Elaine Ferritto Calip.

In Albania it’s still possible to boldly go where few tourists have gone before. Decades of isolation under Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha kept most development at bay. As a result, areas such as Butrint National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site—with sunken aqueducts and shipwrecks—remained relatively untouched. Off the southern Albanian coast, Hoxha inadvertently preserved underwater cultural heritage and coastal ecology by banning scuba diving (to prevent people from escaping). “As a cave diver, I have explored virgin caves that no one has dived in, a rarity in many parts of the world,” says underwater archaeologist Peter Campbell of the Albania Center for Marine Research. Diving tourism remains uncommon, but an underwater sculpture park for divers, snorkelers, and glass-bottom boats is in the works.

 

19. Jujuy Province, Argentina

Why Go Now: Roll with rainbow rocks

Nature-made rock stars are the main-stage attraction in remote Jujuy Province. Located in the outermost limits of northwest Argentina, Jujuy is home to the visually stunning Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow mountainous valley and UNESCO World Heritage Site. A colourful geological quilt, crafted over millennia, cloaks the landscape. Elevate your Instagram with sunrise or sunset shots of the multihued rock bands—including pinks, whites, purples, reds, oranges, and browns—tinting Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours) and Paleta del Pintor (Painter’s Palette) in Maimara.

In Argentina’s geologically spectacular, stratified Jujuy Province, saddle up a Peruvian Paso horse and ride into the sunset-like landscape. Outfitters include Ampascachi Horse Riding Holidays, which offers an eight-day trek.

 

20. Oahu, U.S.A.

Why Go Now: Taste the land in Hawaii’s most delicious island

Oahu Hawaii

Not far from Waikiki’s high-rises and high-end shops, the Koolau Range inspires a natural high—what native Hawaiians call mālama ‘āina, respect for the land. Photo by Ryan Moss.

“The lychees look like alien gumballs. Spiky and mottled red, they dangle in thick clusters from the tree in front of me. All around on this hillside farm, mangoes ripen by the thousands on long, arching branches, and squadrons of avocados hang fat and heavy overhead. Citrus, papayas, figs, breadfruit: I’ve spotted them all, along with a jackfruit the size of a soccer ball. And in the distance, at the far fringe of the broad Waialua district, I see a turquoise ocean fronting the fabled big-wave surf beaches of Oahu’s North Shore.”

Read about this regained paradise here.