To compile the annual list of the best places to travel in the upcoming year, the editors thoroughly and meticulously consider a variety of factors. Which under-the-radar gems are most exciting to our network of contributing writers and global correspondents? Which destinations are our A-List travel specialists fielding requests for? Which classic vacation spots are starting to emerge—but for entirely new and compelling reasons? Which global events and changes in travel restrictions have made certain destinations easier to get to?
This year’s list ranges from the Andaman Islands, off India (which impressed even the most discerning ocean-lover, Jacques Cousteau), to an unspoiled stretch of the Caribbean, and nine other beach destinations with sun, sand, and beautiful views. For food lovers, we’ve got everything from Ghent, Belgium (where a group of young chefs is leading the culinary revolution and plans for a massive food hall are under way), to the canal town of Aarhus, Denmark, which is stepping out of Copenhagen’s shadow with three Michelin-starred restaurants of its own.
Closer to home, once-overlooked spots have proven themselves worthy of another glance. The bike-friendly town of Richmond, Virginia, has standout architecture, a burgeoning art and food scene, and a brand-new design hotel. Detroit’s renewal has been on our radar for a while, and with signs of life springing up in its abandoned buildings—including a hotel that set up shop in a historic fire-department headquarters—it’s finally earned a much-deserved spot on this list. And in San Antonio, the Roman and Williams–designed Hotel Emma, in a former brewhouse, sits at the heart of the restaurant- and shopping-packed Pearl district.
In the geopolitical sphere, the recently signed nuclear deal between Iran and the UN security council has opened up opportunities for Americans to more readily visit the cosmopolitan capital of Tehran and the mosques of Kashan. And while Cuba was on last year’s list, a spate of new cruises that dock in Havana—all thanks to eased travel restrictions for Americans—mean the destination is continuing to blossom. Cruise ships are also heading to Batumi, in Georgia, with its gorgeous botanical garden. It’s a Black Sea port that’s gaining attention from the big cruise brands given the safety concerns in Ukraine.
Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway close to home, a farther-flung bucket-list trip—or even a multi-stop tour that combines, say, the art- and design-filled Taipei, the classic Chinese retreat of Hangzhou, and the hip surf community of Canggu, Bali—consider the 50 incredible destinations on this list a road map for your planning and inspiration in 2016.
With a colorful mix of Caribbean and Spanish influences, Cartagena is a jewel on Colombia’s coast and it’s only getting hotter. Adding to established hotels like the Sofitel Cartagena Santa Clara and the new Anandá Hotel Boutique, brands like Ritz-Carlton are planting their flags in this historical city, adding the allure of luxury digs to an already desirable destination. Visitors to Cartagena are hard-pressed to decide their favorite elements of this historic city. From wandering through the streets packed with vibrantly colored buildings to walking the walls of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is no shortage of cultural offerings. Then there’s lounging on the white sands of nearby Islas del Rosario, exploring the multitude of bars and restaurants and dancing salsa into the night. Need even more reason to visit? The Colombian peso plunged in the last year, getting you more than 3000 pesos per dollar. That glass of sangria at sunset just got a bit sweeter.
From Jane Austen to George Orwell to J.K.Rowling, England has played host to some of the world’s most iconic writers and with a number of key anniversaries, 2016 is the perfect year to uncover the country’s rich literary heritage. The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death will see special screenings, exhibitions and performances held in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon, where fans can visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and the famous Shakespeare’s globe theatre. 2016 also marks the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth and the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth, so expect plenty of literary-inspired events to take place around the country. There’s plenty to keep you busy between events too, from exploring cosmopolitan London to hiking in the Lake District National Park, or visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites like Stonehenge.
Germany in of itself is the place to be in 2016 to enjoy a variety of beer festivals across the country as the Fatherland celebrates 500 years of the Reinheitsgebot, or Beer Purity Law. The law was a series of regulations determining the ingredients in beer adopted in Bavaria, 1516. That said, Germany isn’t exclusively all barley, malt and hops. Frankfurt, better known as one of the primary international business hubs of the world, is also the gateway city to Germany’s wine country. The area surrounding Frankfurt is world renowned for their Riesling history, stretching back to the 1200s thanks to the cool climate producing an acidic grape that comes through in the wine. Back in Frankfurt, check out the Bahnhofsviertel neighborhood near the central train station. Traditionally this was a no-go zone or brothels, but now artists and restaurateurs are buying up the cheap space to revitalize the neighborhood. Across the river, get back to wine culture by checking out Lorsbacher Thal for some traditional Apfel Wein that owner Frank Winkler says, “tastes like the angels peed in it.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the European Capital of Culture, a designation that highlights a few cities for one year. Italy has recently started its own similar effort, and Mantua is the Italian Capital of Culture for 2016. The Lombardy city’s historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, and Mantua has long been an important city of art. Mantua (called Mantova in Italian) was ruled by the Gonzaga family for centuries, and they left behind sumptuous palaces, religious relics, and elaborately decorated churches. It’s the closest modern city to where Roman poet Virgil was born. Mantua will be part of the East Lombardy region’s designation as European Capital of Gastronomy in 2017. And it’s an easy day trip from either Venice or Milan.
Margaret River, Australia
This food and wine region about three hours south of Perth shows no signs of cooling down in 2016. Among the many new goodies to eat and drink in this “Must Visit Food Region”, as it was recently labeled by Australian Traveller magazine, is handmade pasta at Barnyard 1978, a new farm-style bistro and wine tasting room in Yallingup, and award-winning single-malt whiskies from the just-opened Margaret River Distilling Co. Garden lovers won’t want to miss the Margaret River Organic Garden Trail, a network of seven sustainable gardens, including the Spiral Biodynamic Garden at Cullen Wines, which just plucked a new chef for its acclaimed restaurant from Quay in Sydney. For a different kind of trail, a Walk into Luxury trip along the famous Cape to Cape Track might be in order, or a stroll or spin on the newest three miles of the Wadandi Track rail trail. But to really take it all in, travelers should book a tour with Scenic Helicopters or a heart-pounding, barrel-rolling alternative with Tiger Moth Adventure Flights.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Visiting the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap is tops on many travelers’ lists. But all the planning in the world won’t prepare you for the intense beauty of the Cambodian country side – and suddenly your half-day tour of the temples is never going to be enough time to really experience the region. That’s why we’re including this timeless favorite in 2016 – to encourage visitors to explore Siem Reap beyond Angkor Wat. From ziplining to countryside bike rides to floating villages, there’s so much more to discover.
Nashville may have long been considered the Country Music Capital of the World, but more recently it’s earned its new nickname of “Music City” as the diversity of musical styles produced here continues to grow. Tennessee’s second-largest city, Nashville is also raising its visibility on the cultural stage through the popular eponymous TV show. Some have even called it the “new Austin,” a nod to Nashville’s quirky and cool side (life-size replica of Athens’ Parthenon in the middle of a city park, anyone?). Tennessee’s bourbon trail isn’t far far away, and Nashville is also recently making a name for itself as a culinary hotspot.