Glaciers, thermal baths, island vibes, majestic mountains, exotic frankincense and kitschy K-pop—there are so many reasons to take to the skies and go exploring this year.
So stop travelling vicariously via an Instagrammer’s thigh gap and add these travel destinations to your 2018 bucket list.
Seoul, South Korea
In Seoul, the ancient coalesces with ultra modern design, high-speed Internet and catchy K-Pop to create something truly unique. Here, temples sit alongside high-rise buildings and neon, all under the watchful eye of its surrounding mountains. Hang at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, visit temples and shop yourself silly at the traditional Gwangjang markets or Myeongdong Shopping Street. Re-fuel after long days exploring with some stuffed chicken in broth at Tosokchon Samgyetang or with a session at one of the city’s tent bars. Steam and soak your hangover away in a jjimjil-bang (sauna and spa) and visit the fascinating Demilitarised zone, which splits North and South Korea.
Iceland is the Promised Land for bibliophiles, nature lovers and those who just love a good chunky knit. Spend time exploring the country’s devastatingly beautiful landscapes—glaciers that cut through mountains, active volcanoes, spectacular waterfalls, gushing geysers and impossibly green hills alongside dark volcanic sands. Settle into the 5 Million Star Hotel for front row seats to the electric skies of aurora borealis, soak in the steamy blue waters of the Blue Lagoon and behold the eerie Midnight Sun. And Iceland’s cultural life is just as rich in its offering—the city of Reykjavik is a hub for artists, authors, epicureans and musicians. Expect lots of live music, book festivals, art and crafts. Bliss.
Hungary’s capital city is a wondrous mash-up of history, natural beauty and grand architecture—from neoclassical to baroque to art nouveau. It’s pretty much the stunt double of Paris. Walk through this exciting city and see the reminders of it’s past at every turn, including Roman ruins and bullet holes from WW2. Visit Millennium Underground, the 100 year old train station and UNESCO World Heritage Site, walk the cobbled streets of the charming Castle Hill, learn how to say ‘cheers’ in Hungarian (Egészségére) at ruin-style bar Szimpla Kert or unwind in one of the city’s many thermal baths and spas. And of course, no visit to the ‘Queen of the Danube’ would be complete without a sunset stroll along its namesake river.
Myanmar, formerly Burma, has tradition and culture in spades. This sacred land is a fresh breath of air for the soul, even for the world-weary traveller. Here there is a reverence for Buddhist history and tradition that can be seen at the city’s many temples and effigies. Hop on a steamer or luxury cruiser through the Bay of Bengal, kick back at the pristine Ngapali Beach, see the standing fisherman on Inle Lake, grab a snack at the colourful Nyaung U market, hike through the small villages in Shan Hills and visit the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. And don’t forget to stop and meet some of the famously friendly locals, who are not yet weary of finding a traveller on their doorstep.
British Columbia, Canada
There are few places where you can feel like the only person on this earth but this slice of land between the Pacific Coast and the Rocky Mountains may well be one of them. Hiking, fishing, biking, skiing, canoeing, zip lining—BC offers ever kind of off-the-beaten path adventure. Just bring your bear spray. Here, the green mountain ranges and ice fields are teeming with wildlife—orcas, moose, sea otters, humpbacks and grizzlies. Kayak with orcas on the frigid waters of Canada’s West Coast or explore the Great Bear Forest and mirror-like lakes. You could hop in a float plane and visit Lake Lovely Water, rent a cute lakeside cabin and finish off that novel or discover remote islands like a true explorer.
Since the economic embargo was lifted, the doors to Cuba have swung wide open, and travellers have been enticed in by the promise of white sands, island rhythms, mojitos and hot, steamy nights. Take a trip back in time to Habana Vieja (Old Havana), where vintage cars rumble by colourful buildings, saunter down the El Malecón Boardwalk for spectacular ocean views or the buzzing Calle Obispo for live music and souvenirs. Of course, nighttime is when the city really comes to life. Get things started with a few Cuba Libres from art/live music bar Fabrica de Arte Cubano before dancing the night away at one of the city’s many salsa bars.
The Mediterranean sun, bleached limestone buildings, cobbled streets and the haunting sounds of Fado music – Portugal is a juicy fruta that’s ripe for the picking. Here, tourists are welcomed to the city by the open arms of the Cristo-Rei Monument, where you and giant concrete statue Jesus can enjoy impressive views. Visit the Hieronymites Monastery in Belém and say to a passerby ‘you know, this is a great example of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style.’ Then hightail it to the water for a sunset cruise on the Tagus River. Spend your nights being a little bit wild as you street-drink sangria down cobbled lanes, hopping in and out of tapas bars – or dance until dawn at the salacious cocktail bar Pensao Amor.
Still, clear waters, tropical rainforests, white sandy beaches, hippie shacks, watering holes and palm trees—it’s hard not to feel like you’re in a postcard in Oahu. There’s so much to do on land or in water in this tropical paradise. Explore the turquoise waters of the islands many beaches or settle into the sand at North Shore to witness world famous surf. Get your thrills cliff jumping at Waimea Bay, swim with turtles in Hanauma Bay or snorkel in Sharks Cove (for free!). Sunset cruises and Pina Coladas in Waikiki are a good time too. Head for the hills and hike to Lulumahu Falls, passing through verdant rainforest and the King Kamehameha Summer Palace Ruins along the way.
New York, New York
They don’t call it the centre of the universe for nothin’. NYC still offers a plethora of big city delights, and there’s always something exciting happening on every corner of this concrete jungle. Stay high above the High Line at the iconic Standard Hotel, snag some tickets to see Book of Mormon on Broadway (they’ll be harder to lock down than your flights), line your stomach at Crif Dogs before entering the phone booth to undercover cocktail bar Please Don’t Tell (oops). Frequent local live-music venues like Rockwood Music Hall as well as museums and galleries. Shop in stylish Soho or cruise by Lady Liberty on the Staten Island Ferry. Head to Brooklyn to hang with the hipsters at McCarren Park or Let the good times roll at Skee ball bar Full Circle. Catch a Yankees game at Yankee Stadium or karaoke on St. Marks – GAH! There’s just so freaking much to do and not enough money time. Most importantly, walk around—because NYC is a living, breathing movie set.
Located just south of Dubai, Oman is by turns cosmopolitan and ancient. It’s a treasure trove of natural wonders—seas, mountains, natural springs, sinkholes, hot springs, coral reefs and stunning dessert landscapes. But the wild and diverse terrain is also part of a rich culture that can be explored within its ancient forts, colourful mosques and art. Take a camel ride through Wahiba Sands, kick back poolside at Luxury resorts like Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, explore the majestic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, swim in the aquamarine waters of the Bimah sinkhole, dive into the coral reefs of Muscat and fall in love with this magical place.
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Image credit: Jakob Owens via Unsplash