Where will you go in 2014? We can't plan your vacations for you, but we can certainly help you narrow your wish list of destinations with our annual Top 50 Travel Destinations list. No, we don't propose that you visit all 50 in a year -- although, hey, that's an admirable goal -- merely that you take these 50 places into consideration when planning your 2014 travels.
Some of these 50 destinations have major events in 2014 that you won't want to miss. Some are celebrating anniversaries in 2014 that make this a compelling year to visit. Some are simply places that you may not otherwise think of as great vacation destinations -- and we'd like to change that.
Wherever you end up this year, however, we hope you'll have a splendid time. Now, in no particular order, we invite you to join us on a virtual tour of the Top 50 Travel Destinations for 2014.
Fans of the TV show "Game of Thrones" will recognize the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, although they may not have believed it's a real place. The walled city that serves as the setting for King's Landing - home of the Iron Throne at the heart of the story - is no Hollywood sound stage. Dubrovnik is a genuine medieval walled city, one of the most picturesque in the world and certainly the main draw in Croatia. Even before "Game of Thrones" fans started visiting, Dubrovnik already had plenty of lures for tourists - the historic city center is surrounded by the sparkling Adriatic Sea, close to several sizable beaches, renowned for its vibrant nightlife, home to several interesting museums, and a bargain compared to nearby cities in Italy. More recently, Dubrovnik has become Croatia's "see and be seen" destination, raising its profile (and cost) somewhat - a trend the "Game of Thrones" will no doubt continue.
If winter has you singing the blues head down under to the capital of South Australia, Adelaide, for what locals lovingly call "Mad March." In Australia, March is the first month of autumn, and it's still plenty warm - warm enough for it to be a month of festivals (hence the nickname). The Adelaide Fringe Festival runs from mid-February through mid-March (the largest arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere). The Adelaide Festival starts at the end of February and shares an end date with the Fringe Festival. And WOMADelaide, the Australian version of the WOMAD Festival Peter Gabriel started in 1982 to celebrate music, arts, and dance, springs to life for a few days in early March.
We're all familiar with the merits of a trip to London - and there's never a bad time to visit England's capital. But if you're looking for another English city to check out, one that lies in a region favored by the English as a vacation spot, then head for Leeds in the northern county of West Yorkshire. Leeds has consistently been one of the UK's fastest-growing cities for more than five years, and it continues to bloom with economic and cultural development making it an even more desirable place to live. The 2014 Tour de France will have its grand départ in Leeds, and foodies will appreciate the fact that the four counties that make up Yorkshire now have more Michelin-starred restaurants than any county outside London.
If China has been on your wish list, chances are good you've already got cities like historic Beijing and sparkling Shanghai on your dream itinerary. China is, of course, an enormous country with much more varied terrain than simply the big cities on the eastern coast. For another view of this fascinating country, head for the Hunan province in the southeast. The region is increasingly easy to reach with new high-speed train access, the first few lines of the Changsha Metro set to open in 2014, and direct flights into Hunan from international airports all over the world. Are you into superlative structures? Then you'll want to check out Hunan's Sky City skyscraper, officially the world's tallest skyscraper (at least for the time being). Hunan province also delivers natural beauty, too, with portions of the region still going mostly ignored by visitors - including the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage listed mountains, rock formations, and verdant valleys of Wulingyuan.
August 4, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the invasion of Belgium by German armies. World War I had broken out a week earlier when Austro-Hungarian forces had invaded Serbia, and Germany paid no attention to Belgium's neutral stance - it wanted to attack France, and that meant crossing Belgium. Germany first invaded Liege in the French-speaking Wallonia region, but some of the costliest battles of World War I took place in Ypres in the region of Flanders. The In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres - the name taken from the famous poem - recently underwent a major renovation and expansion in preparation for the 100th anniversary, and there are remembrance ceremonies in Ypres on a daily and monthly basis. This year, they take on even more significance.
While many places in Europe will be celebrating the momentous 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, in 2014 the French region of Normandy is focused on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. From June 5-August 21 there is a series of events scheduled to remember the people involved with D-Day and the Battle of Normandy - including an international ceremony at Sword Beach on June 6th, the actual D-Day landings anniversary. As the official 70th anniversary site notes, this may be "the last decennial anniversary" for which there are still living witnesses. For a completely different take on why you should visit Normandy in 2014, the region is hosting the World Equestrian Games from late August through early September. The highlight of the games may just be the day-long endurance race that will take place across the beautiful Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel on August 28th.
Scotland wants to make 2014 the year when those of Scottish descent pay their homeland a visit. They're calling 2014 the year of Scotland Homecoming, with a series of special events, exhibits, and activities planned throughout the country to highlight what makes Scotland unique. It seems fitting, then, that in mid-September Scotland will be voting on whether to become independent from the UK - there will no doubt be plenty of discussion from both sides of the debate leading up to the referendum. Not Scottish or interested in politics? Then you might be interested in the XX Commonwealth Games, which are a mini-Olympics that take place every four years between Commonwealth countries. In 2014, Glasgow is the host from July 23-August 3. And for those of you who want to get out and see Scotland's natural beauty, consider a hike along the new , a trail starting just outside Edinburgh and winding more than 45 miles along the coastline past Muir's birthplace of Dunbar.
Each year, the European Union selects a few cities to be its "Capital of Culture" destinations - and in 2014, one of those cities is Umeå, located in northern Sweden. This pretty university city - the largest in northern Sweden - is home to the Umeå Jazz Festival and Norrland Opera, not to mention a hotbed of heavy metal and punk music. The kickoff events for Umeå's year-long status as European Capital of Culture are January 31-February 2, with events and exhibits focused on music as well as theater, art, and dance throughout the rest of the year. Chances are good you'll be going through Sweden's capital of Stockholm to get to or from Umeå, which is great for culture vultures - Stockholm is a city that values aesthetics and design so much that there's an official "Beauty Board" to help preserve the city's beauty. Visit in early February to experience Stockholm Design Week.
Most music fans are familiar with the images of The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" after they first arrived in New York City, 60 years ago in February, but fewer people are aware of the strong association the group had with the city of Hamburg years before anyone in the US knew their names. From 1960-1962 The Beatles played in Hamburg (in what was then West Germany) in various clubs on a regular basis. It was in Hamburg that they all got what later became known as the "Beatle haircut," and where they honed their act enough to get noticed by US promoter Brian Epstein. Many Beatles landmarks in Hamburg still exist, including the clubs they once played, and there's a square named after them - Beatles-Platz - with sculptures representing the group. Music is still a big part of Hamburg's cultural scene, and you can check out local and international musicians at venues all over the city.
If you've been hoarding your Latvian currency from your last visit to Riga, saving it for the next time you would visit, let this be your final warning - Latvia joined the European Union as of January 1, 2014, and the deadline for exchanging your Latvian lats (the country's currency prior to this year) in Latvian banks is June 30. After that, the notes and coins are simply a souvenir. And, of course, if you've not been to Latvia before, let this be your invitation - in the same year that Latvia joins the EU, its capital, Riga, is one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2014. Riga will play host to a number of cultural events, exhibits, and performances throughout the year as a result. The city is also hosting the World Choir Games (the world's largest choir competition) in July. Whether you're visiting Latvia for the first time or the 50th, the country is putting its finest foot forward in 2014.
The European Athletics Championships take place this summer in Zürich. For one week in mid-August, athletes from 50 European nations compete in 47 different track and field disciplines. The European Athletics Championships are held every two years, and since 2014 is not a Summer Olympics year the full slate of events is on the schedule in Zürich. August is a great time to visit Zürich, too, with typically warm temperatures allowing you to enjoy the spectacular scenery and the city's many attractions.
The "Game of Thrones" story may take place in the fictional land of Westeros, but the filming locations are quite real. Many of them are in the countryside of Northern Ireland near the capital of Belfast. Some of the filming locations you can visit are the Cushendun Caves and Larrybane (The Stormlands), Castle Ward (Winterfell), Ballintoy Harbour and Murlough Bay (Iron Islands), and Inch Abbey (The Riverlands). The haunting location for the King's Road is the difficult-to-locate Dark Hedges, a tree-lined road leading to an 18th century mansion - although it's significantly easier to find these days, with all the "Game of Thrones" fans seeking it out. Many of the "Game of Thrones" filming locations can be visited in a day trip from Belfast, making the city an ideal home base for exploring Northern Ireland's very film-worthy scenery.
Book a Private Game of Thrones and Giants Causeway Tour from Belfast
Not many years ago, Croatia still seemed far beyond the borders of where most travelers went in Europe. Now, Croatia is becoming quite a popular vacation spot - and it's neighboring Slovenia that can be described as an emerging holiday destination. Of course, Europeans have known about the fantastic reasons to visit Slovenia for ages - but many of us are just coming around to the idea. Slovenia is part of the EU (which means it uses the euro currency). The country shares borders with Italy, Croatia, Austria, Hungary, has a small coastline on the Adriatic Sea, and is easy to reach. It's a fairly small country, so adding Slovenia to an itinerary that includes any of its border countries could be an ideal way to explore it. And to top it off, Slovenia remains a relative bargain compared to many countries in Western Europe.
Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
There are several categories for superlatives when it comes to waterfalls. Victoria Falls, which straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, isn't the tallest waterfall in the world, nor is it the widest. It does, however, hold the title of "largest," since its height and width result in the largest sheet of falling water on earth. The sight has been drawing tourists since it was found and documented by David Livingstone in 1855 - both for its visual impact and the sometimes deafening roar all that water produces. Victoria Falls is on many a travel wish list, so here's why you should check this one off in 2014: The towns that serve the falls, Livingstone in Zambia and Vic Falls in Zimbabwe, played host to the UN General Assembly in 2013. As such, they both had massive makeovers leading up to the event, and are better equipped than ever to host visitors. Even Zimbabwe, in the news so much in recent decades for ludicrous-sounding inflation rates, is getting back on track - the US dollar is now one of the main currencies accepted, so you wouldn't even need to visit the currency exchange office.
China's largest city, and the one that continues to grow at an exceptional pace, is Shanghai. Many travelers are familiar with the sparkling skyline of Hong Kong, and have favored it for years for quick stopovers in Asia. Shanghai offers the same kinds of visitor perks - shopping, attractions, great food - and as of last year, travelers from 51 countries no longer need a visa to visit Shanghai for 72 hours or less. This makes Shanghai an excellent option if you're looking for a long layover where you can explore the city for a few days before moving on to your final destination, because as long as you're flying in and out of Shanghai's airports, you've got a 72-hour pass to see the city. Enjoy the gleaming new skyscrapers and neon lights, but don't overlook the few historic neighborhoods that remain - including some areas of the Huangpu District near the City God Temple and the former Shanghai French Concession.
There has been much talk among sports fanatics about Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup and then the 2016 Summer Olympics. But in late 2013, the International Olympic Committee announced the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics - Tokyo. Sure, 2020 may seem a long way off, but time (as they say) flies. As Tokyo begins its initial preparations to host the world's athletes in six years, it's still a bustling and fascinating city to visit today. Unlike some Olympic host cities that require major upgrades in infrastructure to support the influx of visitors the games usually draw, Tokyo is already known for its robust tourist infrastructure. With more than 13 million people calling the prefecture home, this is a place that's quite accustomed to dealing with crowds. In 2014, you can visit Tokyo without being slowed down by any of the inevitable pre-Olympics construction, and still enjoy the ease a 21st century metropolis provides.
Bhutan, the famously reclusive country that measures success in "Gross National Happiness," has long been known as a tourist destination for only the wealthy and patient. With limits on the number of visas issued per year, a minimum stay requirement, and the need to use official tour guide partners, Bhutan has been off-limits to many would-be travelers. In recent years, however, tourism in Bhutan is getting comparatively easier - the country no longer limits the number of tourist visas issued, and there are more licensed tour operators these days.
Australia is home to the world's largest sand island just off the coast of Queensland. Fraser Island is a relatively small spot in the South Pacific at only 710 square miles, but it packs quite a bit of natural wonder into that small space. While there are very few people who call Fraser Island home today, there is evidence that people have lived on the island for more than 5,000 years. It is also currently home to 25+ mammal species, 350+ bird species, and 865+ plant species. There are more than 100 lakes on Fraser Island, and a 75-mile-long stretch of beach on the eastern coast. It's a nature lover's playground. Fraser Island was added to the UNESCO list of Natural World Heritage Sites in 1992, and remains a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Queensland.
For travelers craving a Southeast Asia trip without the crowds that now flock to Thailand and Indonesia, however, there are other options. The tiny country of Laos, sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand, still has French elements leftover from its colonial days, but remains a far more "authentic" Southeast Asian experience than its neighbors. Laos (officially called Lao PDR) is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Luang Prabang (a city in northern Laos) and Wat Phu (the ruins of an 11th century Khmer temple complex) - and Laotians have a reputation for their relaxed lifestyles. Tourist infrastructure in Laos may not be as robust as it is in other parts of the region, but budget-conscious travelers who want to escape the crowds shouldn't let that stop them from exploring this beautiful country.
Several countries in Europe will be marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I this year, including England, France, and Belgium. The historic ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in Turkey didn't happen until the second year of the war, so that 100th anniversary isn't until 2015 - but since the outbreak of the war will be taking center stage across the continent this year, we think a 2014 visit to Gallipoli will be meaningful, too. Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand marks the date (April 25th) when Allied troops landed at Gallipoli, and the World War I battlefields have long been some of the main tourist draws. During the 100th anniversary commemorations, there are likely to be even more people visiting World War I sites than there normally are, so plan ahead - especially if you want to be at Gallipoli on April 25th.
The tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta packs a lot of vacation destination punch into not very much space. Malta is made up of three islands, although the vast majority of visitors stick to the largest of the three (also named Malta). Even so, you can explore several parts of the island in one day if you're visiting on a cruise (even the hop on, hop off bus tours of Malta visit multiple cities on each route). There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malta. The most impressive are the "megalithic temples" built from 5000 B.C.E. to 700 B.C.E., making them what some say are "the oldest free-standing monuments in the world." There are annual arts and music festivals, plenty of hiking (particularly on the smallest island, which is mostly a nature reserve), excellent sailing and diving opportunities, and the sort of "melting pot" culture that can only come from constantly changing hands from one ruling nation to another. One of the top annual tourism conferences in the UK has chosen Malta as the host for its 2014 conference, which indicates the country is on the verge of something. Why not go and find out what it is?
There are few places on earth that are simultaneously more complicated and more fascinating than Israel. This small country contains places of historic importance to three major religions - Judaism, Islam, and Christianity - as well as historic monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites that attract visitors from all faiths and backgrounds. Ever since the creation of the Jewish state in the years after World War II, however, the region has also been the scene of quite a bit of unrest. In recent years, as the peace process between Israel and Palestine remain ongoing, tourists interested in visiting some of the holy sites in the Palestinian Territories have begun taking advantage of an increasing number of guided tours that combine Israel with Palestine. This is an exciting development for visitors who want to see first-hand the many significant monuments and locations in this part of the world, but who may not be bold enough to organize a trip on their own.
Let's be honest - Barcelona is always a good bet for a holiday destination. This cosmopolitan city boasts proximity to great beaches, excellent Catalonian cuisine, a picturesque historic city center, and iconic Gaudi masterpieces. Barcelona is even more accessible now with the newly-launched high-speed rail line connecting the city with Paris in less than 6.5 hours. But what makes 2014 the year to consider a visit to Barcelona? Sports fans may be focused on Brazil this summer for the World Cup, but a trip to Spain means a trip to the country that won the last World Cup - as well as the last two European Championships. Attend an FC Barcelona match, and you'll see one of the top teams in the world playing "the beautiful game."
The destruction of the city of Pompeii is a familiar piece of history to most of us. Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., covering Pompeii and neighboring Herculaneum in ash and rocks. Both cities are still being excavated, but the far larger Pompeii is the more famous site - it's one of Italy's most popular attractions. The archaeological site is likely to see even more traffic in 2014, after the February release of the film "Pompeii." The scenes recreating what the city looked like prior to the volcano's eruption may well be useful to visitors who can't make heads or tails of the rubble in some parts of the site today, although a good on-site guide can help quite a bit in that regard. When you visit Pompeii (easy to do on a day trip from Naples, the Amalfi Coast, or even Rome), don't overlook little Herculaneum - the site may be significantly smaller, but it's better preserved and usually sees far fewer tourists.
Portugal is something of the forgotten country on the Iberian Peninsula, Spain taking up as much room as it does, so although it's in Western Europe it's routinely listed as a good spot for budget travelers. Portugal's second-largest city, Porto, sits on the northwestern coast of the country and is a particularly popular spot for visitors - especially those who are interested in wine. It's the region around Porto that is famous for its production of the fortified wine we know as port. The historic city center is considered one of the oldest in Europe - it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site - and, if two architects get their way, it may be getting a new monument. They would like to move the historic Maria Pia Bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel and no longer in use since a new rail bridge now crosses the River Douro, into the historic city center and turn it into a monument.
The Sultanate of Oman curls around the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. It's only since the 1970s that Oman has been relatively open to tourists, and in recent years it's more of an emerging destination for intrepid travelers. There are two small parts of Oman that are separated by the UAE from the rest of the country, but once you've arrived in the capital of Muscat you can arrange for transportation to the two exclaves if you wish. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Bahla Fort, a 13th century adobe fortress, was reopened to visitors in late 2012 with very limited hours.
If you told friends in the 1990s that you were planning to visit Bogotá, you probably would have received some strange looks. Even today, people going to Colombia often hear from concerned friends and family. Today, however, Bogotá is a different place than it was two decades ago, and tourism in Colombia is increasing exponentially. The country is a bargain for budget-minded travelers, and the monuments and colonial architecture in the historic center help tell a story about a place many of us don't know enough about. In 2014, Bogotá will come alive with theater performances when the largest theater festival in the world opens in April - the Ibero-Americano Theater Festival of Bogotá takes place every two years, and attracts more than two million visitors - who enjoy more than 450 theater presentations and 150 street productions over the course of 17 days.
The Grand Canyon is on most travel wish lists - and it should be. But there are so many other excellent reasons to plan a visit to Arizona. The southwest state is ideal for road trips in almost any season (it can be unbearably hot in summer, though), with lots of interesting places to aim for on your map. Consider the funky college town of Flagstaff up in the mountains - an ideal spot for a ski trip or as a home base for exploring the Grand Canyon as well as native ruins in the area, and don't forget to check out the night sky from the observatory. Get your aura aligned in the artsy community of Sedona - or simply enjoy hiking through the region's stunning red rock formations. You can consult spirits of a different kind in any of Arizona's many ghost towns (every county has some). The new Museum of the West will open in Scottsdale in late 2014. And fans of "Breaking Bad" can continue their road trips right into Albuquerque in neighboring New Mexico, a 6.5 hour drive from Phoenix.
Yosemite National Park, USA
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, making the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove the very first protected wilderness. This created the first state park in California and set in motion the events that would lead to the creation of the National Park system in the United States. This year, Yosemite celebrates the 150th anniversary of that act with a series of events and special exhibits scheduled throughout 2014, including special ranger walks. We also think that visiting Yosemite - and any of the US National Parks - in 2014 is a great way to show support for these national treasures after they were closed during the government shut-down last year. No matter what your politics are, there's nothing like a trip to a National Park to inspire national pride.
The group of French islands known as Guadeloupe have recently stepped up their efforts to lure tourists from North America to their five islands. There is a new Guadeloupe Tourist Board office in New York City, and there are new direct flights connecting Guadeloupe with Miami, San Juan, and Montreal. As eco-tourism becomes more and more high-profile, Guadeloupe is poised to cash in on the trend, with marine reserves, several remote (and largely untouched) islands, and several sparkling beaches that are typically free from the usual Caribbean crowds. Foodies will appreciate the cultural mix that goes into Guadeloupe's cuisine. Clearly, Guadeloupe has extended an invitation to visit in 2014. What will your answer be?
Monterey and Carmel, California, USA
Enjoy a quieter side of Californian life with a visit to Monterey and Carmel. Monterey sits on a bay of the same name, and is well-known for its fantastic aquarium, an annual jazz festival, an annual classic car show, and the historic Cannery Row. Carmel (formally known as Carmel-by-the-Sea) is a pretty coastal town with a strong artistic history, having been home to an artist colony since the early 1900s. Both of these sophisticated beach towns serve as good bases from which to visit Big Sur, play golf at the famous Pebble Beach, or watch the cars at Laguna Seca. And 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of "The Grapes of Wrath," for which author John Steinbeck will be honored in his nearby hometown of Salinas.
Rocky Mountains, Canada
Canada makes a great candidate for a long-distance train trip - particularly on the Rocky Mountaineer tourist trains in Western Canada. The glass-topped train cars allow you to take in the spectacular scenery of the Rocky Mountains, and of course during a train trip you're free to move around as much as you like (rather than being strapped into a confining coach seat on a plane). Get there in style - and more relaxed - with a train trip through the Canadian Rockies.
The South Pacific island nation of Fiji is incredibly remote, and the name alone conjures up images of the kind of high-priced over-water bungalows you might see in an article about celebrity honeymoons. Sure, Fiji can be that version of paradise, if you've got the vacation funds. If not, however, rest assured that Fiji can actually be relatively budget-friendly, too. There are two small chains of islands (among Fiji's more than 300 islands), the Mamanucas and Yasawas, with resorts even bargain hunters will be pleased about. In addition to the multitude of activities Fiji offers on and around its beaches (including some excellent diving in coral reefs), you can exercise your green thumb with a visit to the Botanical Gardens of Thursten in Suva, and check out one of the newest entries on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites - the historical port town of Levuka on the island of Ovalau.
With South Africa to the south and Botswana to the east, Namibia is in good safari company - but the Namibia ranks among the least densely populated countries on earth, and less popular with tourists than its neighbors. In Namibia, you can see zebra, antelope, baboons, wildebeest, African buffalo, elephants, lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Not only that, Namibia has a well-earned reputation for its eco-tourism efforts. Add to that the fact that the Namib Sand Sea has just been added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites, and you've got more than enough reasons to visit Namibia this year.
Of all the reasons to visit Chicago, few would fault you if you went solely because you love baseball. Chicago is home to two Major League Baseball teams, and locals are sometimes defined by their allegiance to one or the other, but only one of those teams is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its home stadium in 2014. That's right - in 2014, Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, turns 100 years old, and the Cubs have planned a series of special events in honor of that milestone. The team will highlight 100 great moments in Wrigley history, honor former Cubs players, and give away special souvenir mementos to fans. On the actual 100th anniversary of the first game at Wrigley (then called Weeghman Park) in 1914, the team will wear a uniform that's a replica of their 1914 kit, and other replica uniforms will make appearances through the rest of the season. No matter what the scoreline says at the end of each game, 2014 is a winning year to be in Chicago at Wrigley Field.
One of the last great frontiers, Antarctica isn't really such a frontier anymore. With regular cruises leaving Ushuaia, Argentina these days, it's the sort of experience that really can be a "once in a lifetime" trip instead of an impossibility. Of course, when we say "cruises," we're talking about those sturdy expedition ships that are tasked with crossing one of the roughest stretches of water on earth, so it's the very opposite of smooth sailing. Luckily for those of you with severe seasickness, there's a relatively new fly-in option to reach Antarctica - you can fly from Tierra del Fuego to King George Island in the South Shetlands, and sail to Antarctica from there. You'll avoid the treacherous Drake's Passage, and cut your travel time. And in 2014, the 100th anniversary of the year when Sir Ernest Shackleton set off on his expedition to the South Pole, that sort of easy travel is even more of a marvel.
South Africa was in the news in late 2013 with the death of legendary anti-apartheid activist and former South African president Nelson Mandela. Those interested in learning more about Mandela's legacy in South Africa can do that in a more poignant and powerful way by visiting the places where Mandela lived, worked, and was exiled. One of the most moving stops on a Mandela-focused tour of South Africa is an island just off the coast of Cape Town. It was on Robben Island where Mandela spent nearly 30 years in prison - you can even visit the cell where he lived. On a less somber note, Cape Town is undergoing something of a facelift at the moment, as it prepares for its status as World Design Capital for 2014. A year's worth of special events tied to many different aspects of design are on the calendar.
Browse our South Africa tours
Speculators in the travel world has had "US lifts ban on travel to Cuba" among their year-end predictions for several years now, with the predictions getting louder after Fidel Castro stepped down from the presidency in 2008. But the ban remains - at least for now. Of course, Americans can get around it the same way Beyonce and Jay-Z did (with a license from the Treasury Department) or risk it by sneaking in via a third country. Don't be surprised, however, if you can soon book tour packages to Cuba the same way you can any other island in the Caribbean. If that happens this year, book your ticket ASAP - Cuba just lifted its 50-year ban on the import of new vehicles, which will change the 1950s time-warp scenery of the island dramatically. And, of course, if you're not a US citizen, you've got no excuses not to book a trip to Cuba right now.
Auckland, New Zealand
From the first sweeping shot of "The Fellowship of the Ring" that we all saw back in 2001, hearts around the world were set on visiting New Zealand. The country's stunning scenery almost became a character in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and led to the creation of a host of Tolkien-inspired tours of the film locations. Now that we're two films into the trilogy of "The Hobbit," also filmed in New Zealand, our collective hearts are set on seeing Middle Earth for ourselves yet again. Some of the filming locations for "The Hobbit" are the same ones Jackson used in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, but there are new ones as well - and many of them are included on LOTR tours in New Zealand. Auckland, the largest city in the country, is a great place to begin your Tolkien tour of New Zealand - Hobbiton is about two hours from the city center.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Once you've seen the photos of the forest slowly taking over the temple ruins, it's hard to not want to walk among the buildings at Cambodia's Angkor Archaeological Park. But even people who have Angkor Wat on their "must-see" list don't always know much about the city at its edge - Siem Reap. This town used to be relatively quiet, until the temples at Angkor were popularized as a tourist destination in the mid-19th century. Today, it's a bustling hub of tourist activity - which is a cause of some concern, as the Angkor site is somewhat fragile. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, and UNESCO has worked to preserve and study the ruins ever since. While in Siem Reap, don't miss a stop at the Angkor National Museum to learn more about the Khmer culture responsible for building it. And, for something completely different, visit in early December when the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon runs right through the famous ruins.
Nepal was in the international news late last year as political demonstrations and rallies sprung up around the country's elections. The US State Department even issued a travel warning in early November, but that warning expired in mid-December and the situation in Nepal has quieted back down again - which means plenty of people are planning a trip to Nepal in 2014. The mountainous country is home to 10 of the world's highest peaks, including the tallest peak in the world at Mount Everest. 2013 marked the 60th anniversary of the first official ascent of Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary. In addition to climbers and adrenaline-junkies, Nepal also attracts hikers and spiritual travelers who simply want to soak up the rugged natural beauty of the country and the warmth of its people.
You might think first of intensely crowded cities when you think of India, but if you head for the state of Rajasthan in the northwestern part of the country you'll find nature reserves, national parks, one of the world's oldest mountain range, an enormous desert, and historic hill forts. There are six forts that, collectively, make up one of the region's UNESCO World Heritage Sites - these forts were built between the 5th and 17th centuries, and some of them are remarkably well-preserved. Other UNESCO sites in Rajasthan include the Keoladeo National Park, a famous bird sanctuary, and a collection of 18th century astronomical buildings in Jaipur called a Jantar Mantar. Rajasthan is also home to the Dilwara Temples, five 11th-13th century temples that are pilgrimage sites for Jains. And animal lovers can rejoice at the two tiger sanctuaries in Rajasthan - Sariska Tiger Reserve and Ranthambore National Park - where you can go on tiger safaris to see the gorgeous cats in the wild.
Read more about things to do in India
Komodo Island, Indonesia
You don't have to be a kid to be fascinated by monster stories, right? So if the main reason you want to go to Komodo Island in Indonesia is to see the enormous lizards named after the island, we can't blame you. Komodo dragons, the largest lizards on earth, can grow to 10 feet long, and can easily overpower large deer (one of their diet staples). There were stories of fire-breathing dragons on Komodo Island as recently as the early 20th century, when a large lizard was finally captured and analyzed. In more recent years, the Komodo dragons have become the main reason people visit the island (they are also found on a few other nearby Indonesian islands, too), although they've also been listed as "vulnerable" by one conservation group. Komodo National Park was founded in 1980 (and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991) in an effort to protect these impressive creatures.
The Kimberley, Australia
The state of Western Australia takes up nearly half the continent, but contains a fraction of the Australian population. The region known as The Kimberley in the northern part of Western Australia has a particularly scattered population - owing partly to its rugged terrain. This region has some of the oldest evidence of civilization in Australia, dating back more than 40,000 years, and is often called one of Australia's "last wilderness." If you can tear yourself away from the gorgeous coastline, The Kimberley's heart is made up of deserts, gorges, red rock canyons, and rivers. The Kimberley is remote and rugged, which means it's not easy to navigate without a 4WD vehicle and a guide, but the effort of securing both will reward intrepid tourists with scenery and stories most travelers to Australia will never see.
The city of Oaxaca is an incredibly popular tourist town, but this inland capital doesn't have any beaches to boast. Instead, Oaxaca's claim to tourist fame is its colonial architecture and well-known food scene. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its historic buildings, and not far from Oaxaca is another UNESCO site at Monte Alban - the ruins of an impressive Zapotec city dating from 500 B.C.E. Foodies have been flocking to Oaxaca for years for the region's distinctive mole sauces, among other things. In between meals, you can shop for local ingredients at the city's markets - or take a cooking class in Oaxaca to learn how to make some of the famous dishes yourself.
Most of Australia is unpopulated - or so sparsely populated that it might as well be people-free. You have to go all the way to the west coast of the country to find the fourth-largest city of Perth, capital of the state of Western Australia. One of the benefits of a visit to Perth is being able to enjoy both city and countryside essentially without leaving the city limits. From central Perth you can head east into the area known as The Hills - this is Perth's wine country, as well as the John Forrest National Park. Only a half-hour outside Perth's bustling downtown, you can be strolling between rows of grapes or exploring the bush environment of the park. And in April 2014 there are two particularly Australian reasons to visit Perth - the city will play host to both the World Vintage Rugby Carnival (for "mature" rugby players) and the World Boomerang Cup.
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
When Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands in 1835, he returned home with specimens and observations that led to his famous "The Origin of Species." Today, nearly 180 years later, scientists have used the reptiles living on the Galápagos Islands to add further credence to one of Darwin's assertions - that animals living on remote islands are more tame than their mainland cousins. Of course, this is one of the main reasons we still love to visit the Galápagos Islands - to get close to exotic animals like Galápagos green turtles, blue-footed boobies, Galápagos penguins, albatross, and marine iguanas. Efforts have been made since the 1930s to protect the unique environment of the Galápagos, with the creation of the Galápagos National Park in 1959 and the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1978. Tourism remains a threat to the ecosystem, and so it is strictly regulated - which means you'll need to plan ahead to get on one of the tours.
Book a trip to the Galapagos Islands
New York City, USA
New York is constantly changing, offering new reasons to visit even if you've been there before. In 2014, there are some poignant reasons to add New York City to your travel plans. One year after the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are once again open to visitors. There are still some exhibits at Ellis Island that are being repaired, but most of the museum is open. These are just two examples of recovery more than a year after Sandy - the signs of rebuilding are all over New York and other nearby states, and the influx of tourist dollars helps further those efforts. Another momentous opening scheduled for March 2014 is the Museum at the 9/11 Memorial. The above-ground portions of the memorial opened in 2011, but opening dates for the museum have been pushed back a few times. There's no doubt the 9/11 Museum will be a top draw for travelers in 2014 and beyond.
Walt Disney World, Orlando, USA
What kid (or inner child) doesn't want to go to Walt Disney World at some point? If you're the kind of person who wants to enjoy the amusement park but doesn't want to have to choose between a Disney vacation or a luxury trip, then take heart - starting in 2014, you don't have to make that choice anymore. In July, Four Seasons is opening the doors to its Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World. That means you can have your cake (AKA all the Four Seasons luxury you've come to expect, including an on-site spa and a golf course) and eat it, too (AKA the resort property is right outside the Disney entrance). Yes, there are Disney touches at this new Four Seasons, but once ensconced in your room or the spa or the restaurants it's easy to forget you're anywhere near the Magic Kingdom. Which, in between rides on Splash Mountain, might be just what the doctor ordered.
- Viator Travel Team