12/26/2012 07:19 am ET Updated Feb 25, 2013

Destinations To Watch In 2013

Here's the best New Year's resolution: Travel more. We've looked into the 2013 crystal ball and found destinations to dazzle in the year ahead. Find out why you're invited to the Emerald Isle, how the City by the Bay is making the most of its waterfront, and which country is set to make a dramatic solo debut into the European Union next year. These 10 picks will inspire your travel adventures and finally give you a New Year's resolution you can stick to.

Irish by ancestry or simply in spirit? Then you're invited home for The Gathering Ireland 2013. This yearlong celebration of Ireland and its people includes festivals, concerts, clan gatherings, and special sporting events. With more than 70 million people around the world claiming Irish descent (including 44 million Americans), this is shaping up to be the ultimate family reunion.

An entire year devoted to welcoming travelers is clearly an ideal time to visit. Want to go big? Join the revelry on St. Patrick's Day in Dublin. Ready to sing and dance the night away? Head to the Temple Bar TradFest. Take a more introspective journey and explore the ghost towns that remain as legacies of the diaspora, or trace your own family roots across the rolling hills of the island.
Still sporting an Irish name, say, McKenna, Fitzgerald, or Gallagher? Then you can even join a clan gathering, which will take place all over the country next year.

San Francisco
2013 is shaping up to be the year of the waterfront in San Francisco. The already popular stretch between the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate is getting some high-profile additions. Pier 27 will be the center of the action for the America's Cup events (the Louis Vuitton Cup from July 4 through September 1; the America's Cup Finals between September 7 and 22; and the Red Bull Youth America's Cup in August and September). After serving as the America's Cup Village, Pier 27 will become the new James R. Herman Cruise Terminal.

Spring at Pier 15 brings the opening of the newly located Exploratorium. The influential hands-on science museum will open on April 17 with a massive new space that has 600 exhibits and 1.5 acres of public outdoor space. In early summer, the Aquarium of the Bay literally brings new life to Pier 39 with the opening of its river otters exhibit. To top it all off, the western span of the Bay Bridge debuts a 1.8-mile long light sculpture in March, and the long-awaited new eastern span is tentatively set to open on Labor Day 2013.

Next year, Amsterdam won't just be a destination to watch, it'll be a destination to party with. Add up all the birthdays to celebrate in 2013 and the city would have a bonfire of candles to blow out. Throw in the grand reopenings of two of Europe's most beloved museums and you've got the makings of one very big year.

2013 marks 400 years of Amsterdam's iconic canal system. Anniversary events include special tours, exhibitions, and ice skating. The Artis Royal Zoo turns 175, and the Royal Concertgebouw celebrates 125 years. The year also marks 160 years since the birth of Vincent van Gogh, a fact visitors can celebrate when the Van Gogh Museum reopens in the summer after extensive renovations. And on April 14, after nearly a decade of renovation, the Rijksmuseum will throw open its doors and once again invite the world to marvel at its 80 halls full of art from the Middle Ages through today.

Happy 500th, Florida! In 2013, the state will celebrate a half millennium since Juan Ponce de Leon landed on its shores. Heritage trails and paddling expeditions are among the already announced events, and more will be finalized on the Viva Florida 500 website as the year draws closer.

It's not just anniversaries that are big in 2013; giant things are afoot on Florida's Space Coast. In July, the space shuttle Atlantis will be put on permanent display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The $100 million interactive exhibit complex offers an up-close view of the famed shuttle. Nearby Port Canaveral has just opened a new cruise terminal complex, making it one of Carnival Cruise Lines' largest home ports.

Next summer, the much-anticipated Transformers: The Ride--3-D will open at Universal Studios Orlando. And coming in 2014, it will be easier for Orlando-area visitors to explore the region with the new SunRail regional train.

Voted one of China's top five destinations in TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice 2012 awards, Hangzhou has long been regarded as one of the country's most beautiful cities. Its fans span the ages, from Marco Polo to UNESCO (which named its famed West Lake a World Heritage site in 2011). In 2013, with a new train station, high-speed service to nearby Shanghai, and a new metro opening phase by phase, it will be easier than ever to explore this undiscovered gem of China.

The Hangzhou East Railway Station looks likely to open in the next few months and will serve as the new hub for current high-speed rail services to Shanghai and other cities. The Hangzhou Metro just opened the first of 10 eventual subway lines connecting the city. Line 1, a 30-mile transit corridor running south to north through the city, has 31 stations, including stops for bus and train stations and the West Lake Culture Square.

Capitals of Culture
Capitals of culture, sports, food, music and more are popping up all over the world. A variety of organizations bestow honors on more cities each year, offering new reasons to visit, since the designations inspire plenty of festivities. The pack is impressive and includes Marseille, France, as a European Capital of Culture; Bogota, Colombia, as a UNESCO City of Music; and Jeonju, South Korea as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.

We're giving these capitals a spot on this list, but since we think they're pretty great, we've also given them their own story. Discover our top 10 picks for new worldwide Capitals of Culture.

In 2013, Nashville will throw open its arms in a great big country embrace. A new events center, a museum, a hotel, and multiple restaurants offer plenty of reasons to make the trip to Music City. And as a pick as one of the 10 best budget destinations for 2013, you can do it all for less.

The new Music City Center will open early in the year, serving not just as a massive (and LEED-certified) convention center but also, in true Nashville fashion, as a public space for art and music. 2013 will add two new hotels to the wave of new development in Nashville: The Downtown Hyatt Place, opening late in the year, and the Omni Nashville Hotel, which will host multiple floors of the soon-to-be-dramatically-expanded Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Other big debuts for 2013 include the 18,000-square-foot Johnny Cash Museum, set to open next spring, and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium, which is set to reopen in its new venue soon.

It's been a long and rocky road for Croatia in its quest to join the European Union, but in July, the Eastern European country will become the 28th member of the EU. What does membership mean for travelers? A large initial influx of EU funds will help Croatia recover from its recent economic woes and strengthen its tourism infrastructure. The last two years have already brought new hotels and improvements to popular tourist attractions, and the country's stated goal is to make travel easier for foreign visitors in the coming years.

Travelers will also benefit from standard EU passenger protections on flights, trains, and ferries, as well as access to the Europe Direct, which helps travelers understand their rights in the event of a cancelled or delayed flight. Croatia won't be adopting the euro immediately, which is good for travelers looking to keep costs low, but it does add an element of inconvenience for anyone coming from a eurozone country.

Turkey is soaring. This gateway between Europe and Asia has long been on the radar of travelers looking for the flavor of both continents, but its rise as a global air hub is set to make it a crossroads to the world. Add a flood of new hotels and off-the-charts tourism growth, and it's easy to see why Turkey is on the rise.

Turkey is already seeing serious growth in tourism from the U.S. And the country is ready for it, having grown its tourism infrastructure by a whopping 67 percent in the last decade. Hotel chains that have recently opened or are soon to debut new properties include Hilton, Marriott, Marti, Starwood, and Wyndham. And Turkish Airlines' recent addition of dozens of new destinations, many in Africa, makes it not only easier to visit, but more likely that travelers connecting through the country will pause to explore its delights.

Increased air service and hotel growth have set the stage, and Istanbul is clearly ready for its time in the spotlight. The New York Times hailed the city as "having a moment of cultural rebirth," and recently named Istanbul the "coolest city in Europe."

You presume correctly if you think Zambia has some big things to celebrate in 2013. The country has emerged as one of Southern Africa's best safari and adventure-activity destinations. This coming year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of famed explorer David Livingstone, whose namesake city of Livingstone is a popular gateway to the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls.

Between March and November, the city of Livingstone celebrates the bicentennial with events including an international cultural festival involving 16 nations that Livingstone visited, a Victoria Falls ultramarathon trail run, a full-moon concert featuring well-known Zambian-Scottish singer Namvula Rennie, and on November 16, the day that Dr. Livingstone first viewed the falls he named, a grand finale event.

More Reasons, More Destinations

New Airports
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: The Caribbean nation is scheduled to complete its new Argyle International Airport in mid-2013.

Berlin: Berlin-Brandenburg Airport will open on October 27, 2013—two years after its original scheduled opening date.

Qatar: New Doha International Airport seems likely to open mid-year 2013.

Openings and Events
London: Olympic Park will reopen as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on July 27, the one-year anniversary of the Opening Ceremony. The park will include parkland and sports and entertainment venues.

Las Vegas: Late next year, Las Vegas will unveil SkyVue Las Vegas, the largest observation wheel in the Western Hemisphere.

Melbourne: In March, 56 countries will send their best baristas to battle it out at the World Barista Championships.

Victoria: A new permanent public market will open in April. Shops in the market will include local favorites like Silk Road and Salt Spring Island Cheese Company.

New York City: February 1 marks the 100th birthday of Grand Central Terminal. The day will be marked with performances and the opening of the New York Transit Museum's "Grand by Design" installation.

Kenya: 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the country's independence. Expect celebrations across the country to celebrate the Golden Jubilee.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The town is marking the 150th anniversary of both the Gettysburg Address and the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest Civil War battle, with activities and events in late June, early July, and November.

-- By Christine Sarkis

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