Frommer's Best Places to Go in 2020
In 2020, we’re trading the overtouristed for the overlooked. With beyond-capacity crowds putting a strain on the resources—not to mention the patience—of tourism capitals across the globe, Frommer’s writers and contributors went looking for less-trampled places to go in 2020 that nevertheless have no shortage of culture, adventure, food, and scenery worth spending your vacation budget on. The search led us to dizzying elevations in South America, jungles in the South Pacific, sidewalk cafes in Europe, sand dunes next to the Great Lakes, and polar regions where amateur explorers can see the effects of climate change firsthand. When we made exceptions for certain stops on the beaten path, we ensured that the milestones, festivals, concerts, and sporting events happening there in 2020 merit the expected crowds.
And our search still isn’t finished. We’re calling on YOU, our valued readers, to choose the final destination in Frommer’s where-to-go roundup for 2020. Instructions on how you can weigh in are at the end of this list.
But first, we have a planet’s worth of ground to cover. Here, in no particular order, are the Best Places to Go in 2020.
Pictured: canoeing in Papua New Guinea
Officially designated in February 2019, Indiana Dunes National Park (hang a right at the steel mills south of Chicago) encompasses a pleasant stretch of Lake Michigan beachfront, thick forest, and a bog brimming with unique plants. In summer, visitors make a beeline for the beaches to swim near the lake’s southernmost point, but smart travelers budget time to hike up Mount Baldy, a 126-foot-tall dune that constantly changes shape. Most unexpected are the park’s waterfront model homes left over from the 1933–34 Century of Progress World's Fair. With names like the "House of Tomorrow," these structures seem lifted from a vintage magazine promising a dreamy future.
While the Dunes celebrates its first anniversary as a national park in 2020, Indianapolis (about 150 miles south) celebrates its 200th birthday. Tourism in Indiana's capital has grown beyond its iconic speedway. A rich assortment of museums includes what is arguably the country's finest children's museum as well as an important collection of Western and Native American art. Promising to be a banner year, 2020 marks the opening of Indy's Bottleworks District, a revamped Coca-Cola facility featuring a massive food hall, bars, shops, and a 140-room hotel. Over on historic Indiana Avenue, the Madam Walker Legacy Center is slated to reopen early in the year. This Egyptian- and Moorish-inspired art-deco building houses a theater, cultural events, and a museum detailing the landmark's past as the headquarters of Madam C.J. Walker’s cosmetics and hair-care empire. Walker, the subject of an upcoming Netflix series starring Octavia Spencer, held the distinction of being America's first female African American millionaire. —Andy Seifert
An estimated 80 million people will visit Spain in 2020. Few are likely to set foot in Extremadura, and that is its appeal. Landlocked in the southwest—above Andalusia, next to Portugal—it is Spain's least-developed region. Yet it's blessed with historical and natural wonders, and has four UNESCO World Heritage sites to its name. The capital, Mérida, is one of them, thanks to the finest Roman ruins outside Italy. On hot summer nights, classical plays are staged in the city's magnificent, 2,000-year-old open-air theater. Extremadura is best known as the home of the conquistadors, who left Spain for America 500 years ago. The riches they sent home still adorn palaces and churches in the perfectly preserved old towns of Cáceres and Trujillo (pictured). In this century, they became settings for the TV epic Game of Thrones. In Guadalupe, you can lodge alongside priests and pilgrims at the monastery where Columbus gave thanks for surviving his fateful voyage of 1492. And then there's the nature. The river gorges of Monfragüe are inhabited by some of Europe's rarest birds, including Spanish imperial eagles and black storks. The oak-forested countryside is where Spain's delicious ibérico ham comes from. Explore Extremadura in spring or fall, as temperatures soar in summer, and go by car if you can. Rail and air links are also firmly rooted in the past. —Peter Barron
Last year, Peru received a record-breaking 4.4 million visitors. The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu accounted for a hefty chunk of the traffic, with 3,500 tourists hitting that trail each week. In response to overcrowding, many Cusco-based tour companies are beginning to turn toward Southern Peru’s lesser-visited regions. The best of these adventures: the Ausangate Trek, a challenging, 4- to 7-day hike or horseback ride through the Cordillera Vilcanota mountain range, 100km (62 miles) southeast of Cusco. Named after the sacred Ausangate peak (the highest mountain in the region), the trek starts with a customary blessing from a local shaman and a meat-and-potatoes pachamanca meal cooked underground. Visitors then spend the week journeying to 5,000m (16,000-ft.)-high mountain passes and turquoise lakes, watching condors soar above ancient glaciers. After touring traditional Andean villages, trail-goers camp under some of the clearest skies on the planet. One highlight is seeing the Instagram-famous Rainbow Mountain—a stunning peak made up of blue, red, and ocher minerals—before the hordes of day-trippers arrive from Cusco. Unlike the Inca Trail, the Ausangate Trek doesn't require a permit, and you don't need to book the trip months in advance. Things are so quiet along the way that you’re far more likely to befriend a couple of alpacas or an Andean farmer than come across selfie-snapping tourists. —Jessica Vincent
When Tokyo hosted Asia’s first Olympic Games in 1964, the city dazzled the world with futuristic sports venues and a newly completed bullet train hurtling at record-breaking speeds. In 2020, Tokyo is hosting the Summer Olympics again, and this time around, the Japanese capital aims to showcase the latest in technology, sustainability, and accessibility. Robots will greet visitors, give directions, and deliver concessions to spectators in the stands. Of the vehicles used to transport people between venues, as many as 90%, including driverless cars, will be electric. The goal is to achieve the lowest emissions of any former Games. What's more, all gold, silver, and bronze medals are being manufactured entirely from recycled cell phones and other small electronics donated by the public.
Many preparations will have far-reaching benefits, leaving a new cruise terminal (where docked ships will serve as floating hotels during the Olympics), more signs in English, and long-overdue accessibility improvements such as wheelchair-friendly taxis, subway station restrooms, sidewalks, and hotel rooms. With 10 million visitors expected for the Olympics and Paralympics, 130 new hotels opened in 2018, with another 190 to come by summer 2020. But there still won't be enough rooms, forcing visitors to surrounding towns and homesharing websites in search of accommodations. So book early if you plan to go. While you may not want to join the crowds at the Olympics, you’ll find Tokyo more visitor-friendly in 2020 than it’s ever been before. —Beth Reiber
Calling all Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott wannabes. Traveling to the Arctic and Antarctic is getting a lot easier thanks to a tidal wave of expedition cruises. In addition to the 7 new ships that launched in 2019, at least 26 more are on order for delivery from 2020 to 2022. Upstarts as well as established names like Lindblad Expeditions and Silversea Cruises are making plans to meet the growing demand. And the vessels are upping the luxury quotient, too, with lavish suites and over-the-top amenities such as helicopters, submarines, and butlers.
Some itineraries have become possible because of warming oceans. The Northwest Passage through Canada’s Arctic Archipelago, for example, is drawing a rising number of cruise ships through waters increasingly free of sea ice. It's the sort of last-chance place that is being altered irrevocably by climate change. But it’s not just global warming that's making the polar regions so hot. Among the most remote spots on earth, they are the ultimate bucket-list destinations. They’re also expensive. Cruises to Antarctica can cost $6,000 to $25,000 a pop—and that's excluding airfare. A cost more difficult to calculate is the risk of increased tourism to these environmentally fragile ecosystems. Not that such fears will stop the North Pole Igloo Hotel from opening in April 2020. A three-night trip will set you back a cool $120,000. —Veronica Stoddart
Let’s give Amsterdam a break this year. For a worthy alternative to the overtouristed Dutch capital, let your finger slide down the map to the southernmost tip of the Netherlands, where you’ll find the lively riverside city of Maastricht. This university town with roots in ancient Rome is best known as the site of the 1992 treaty that established the European Union, so it’s fitting that Maastricht embodies many of the continent’s most appealing features—impressive churches, cafes on cobblestone streets, and rewarding cultural experiences such as the TEFAF art fair, a weeklong March event that will showcase a staggering 7,000 years’ worth of works, including Old Masters paintings, priceless antiques, and marvels of contemporary design. Another reason to visit the city now: Airbnb data for 2019 shows a 55% year-over-year increase in Maastricht bookings, suggesting you’d better get a move on if you’re going to beat the crowds.—Zac Thompson
Visiting the largest landlocked country on the African continent is an adventure from start to finish. Leaving Chad's bustling capital, N'Djamena, you share dusty dirt roads with meandering livestock and nomadic tribes on camelback. To the north lies red-sand Saharan desert and mountains etched with ancient petroglyphs. To the south is the 1,200-square-mile Zakouma National Park, preserving one of Central Africa's last intact savanna ecosystems.
The half-century of unrest that followed Chad's independence in 1960 decimated Zakouma's wild animal population. But thanks to a public-private alliance between African Parks and the Chad government, there's been a dramatic turnaround, with the resurgence of elephants an especially thrilling success. Buffalo have also rebounded, taking their places among lions, giraffes, and all manner of antelope. Great flocks of cranes and 25 different species of raptors make the park a birder's paradise.
Those who safari here get an old-fashioned experience in largely untrammeled bush, where you can drive for hours and never see another vehicle. The park's tented camps are comfy and fully outfitted, but don't expect to be cocooned in luxury—many camps are fenceless and ungated, so visits from hyenas and the occasional elephant are not uncommon. The U.S. State Department warns of travel along Chad's borders with Sudan and Libya, but staying in the bush should help reduce risks. For serious safari enthusiasts, Zakouma supplies a trip into the beautiful unknown and a rare chance to experience conservation on the front lines. —Alexis Lipsitz
The Bahamas is open for business. Yes, Hurricane Dorian did a lot of damage in August 2019. But remember: This is a 700-island nation spread across 100,000 square miles, meaning that roughly 70% of the country escaped unscathed. Popular spots such as Nassau, Paradise Island, Bimini, and the Exumas remain as Edenic as ever. In fact, the best thing you can do in 2020 to help the Bahamas recover from 2019 is visit. You won't be going to the Abacos or Grand Bahama, which were badly hit and still need time to rebuild. But with tourism accounting for half the country’s GDP, money spent elsewhere in the Bahamas will play a vital role in reconstructing islands affected by the hurricane. Expect enticing travel deals from resorts and cruise lines eager to welcome visitors, with some providers also offering volunteer opportunities—from preparing meals for displaced residents to chipping in on construction projects. So go ahead and live out that fantasy of snorkeling with the pigs in Exuma, frolicking with the flamingos of Inagua, or attending a local fish fry on a white-sand beach on Paradise Island. Your fun-in-the-sun vacation contributes to the Bahamas bouncing back. —Erica Bray
These days, it seems like the word "overtourism" was specifically coined for Italy. But Emilia-Romagna remains the country's uncrowded, way-underrated region. Underrated, that is, by everybody but foodies. The salumi, cheeses, handmade pastas, and meat sauces produced here are among the finest offerings of this food-proud nation. Legs of prosciutto and fat wheels of Parmigiano cheese line the shopping streets of Romanesque Parma, while noble Modena lays claim to balsamic vinegar, opera stars, fast cars, and Massimo Bottura—quite possibly the world's most celebrated chef. In Bologna, home of Europe's oldest university, students and young professionals partake in Italy’s best aperitivo scene under elegant porticos.
While the region may lack the blockbuster sights of Rome, Florence, and Venice, Emilia-Romagna gives travelers the chance to see Lamborghinis roll off the assembly line, visit a museum dedicated to one specific cut of cured pork (culatello), sip sparkling red Lambrusco at a winery, and take in a performance at a historic opera house—all in one day. If that sounds too ambitious, do as the Emilia-Romagnans do and take your time, savoring the one-of-a-kind food, wine, and cultural offerings of Italy's breadbasket. —Elizabeth Heath
A lot of places claim to be off the beaten path, but Papua New Guinea isn't kidding—the South Pacific nation has the world's lowest tourism density, meaning that locals vastly outnumber visitors. If you're lucky, you might just have the beaches, coral reefs, and lush rainforests here to yourself. But don't pass up the chance to explore some of the traditional villages where indigenous peoples maintain the customs and languages they've been safeguarding for generations. Despite its faraway feeling, P.N.G. isn't as hard to reach as you might think, with direct flights from nearby Australia and, coming soon, new routes from Fiji. Cruise lines and tour operators such as Princess Cruises, Cunard, and Intrepid Travel have all added more P.N.G. trips to their rosters recently as well. The country's first five-star leisure and dive resort (the newly opened Loloata Island Resort) and the jungle's rare and colorful birds-of-paradise (featured in Kirk Wallace Johnson’s riveting true-crime book The Feather Thief) are other lures that are likely to begin drawing bigger crowds to this biologically and culturally diverse destination. Note: Due to civil unrest in certain areas, it's important to exercise increased caution when it comes to safety. We recommend going with a tour group or hiring a private guide to help navigate the nuances of a place still getting used to the presence of outsiders. —Ali Wunderman
Woodstock's 50th fizzled in 2019, but England's most iconic music event will sail into its sixth decade as the ne plus ultra of outdoor summer parties. Held in Pilton, Somerset (25 miles south of Bath), the annual Glastonbury Festival marks a half-century of showcasing popular trends—from hippies to hip-hop—with a banner five-day event in June. The United Kingdom may be locked in turmoil over Brexit, but here, in the open hills and vales of Worthy Farm, 200,000 celebrants will come together for a once-in-a-generation “I was there when” milestone. Glasto is already legendary for iconic surprise performances—New Order catapulting the electronic age in 1981, Oasis and the Chemical Brothers mainstreaming Britpop and raves in the early '90s—so the music world has high expectations for the golden anniversary. Diana Ross is confirmed, but rumors are strong that Paul McCartney, The Kinks, Coldplay, and Taylor Swift could grace the famous pyramid-topped main stage, and Mel B has teased a reunion of the Spice Girls. Last October, most tickets sold out in less than half an hour, but new tickets will be released in April. Secondary markets and packages also exist, or, if you’re in Britain, you can always watch the festivities on the BBC. Even if concerts aren’t your jam, visiting England is more affordable than it has been for a while, with the economic uncertainty surrounding the Brexit hubbub dragging the pound down 20% against the dollar in the past few years. Rock on! —Jason Cochran
The massive devaluation of Argentina's peso over the last two years has once again brought prices down drastically in the land of tango, beef, malbec, and soccer. A full-course meal with wine and dessert at a great local restaurant in Buenos Aires costs an average of just $15 per person. But that’s not the only reason to take the long flight. Rebuilding efforts since the last economic downturn, in 2001, have brought interesting developments to a number of the city's neighborhoods. Villa Crespo, nicknamed Villa Kreplach because of its large Jewish population, is today a place of hole-in-the-wall craft-beer bars, underground art spaces, hidden late-night lounges, and an enormous billiards hall with peeling walls where locals sip gin-and-tonics and play ping-pong and chess into the wee hours. On the other side of town, San Telmo, a neighborhood already well known for its Sunday antiques fair in Plaza Dorrego, is in the middle of a gentrification process that exploded this past year. The Old Market, built in 1897, now has new cafes, patisseries, and wine bars selling sips from small family farms. A bohemian community of artists has formed cooperatives and taken over stores in the area, making it a mecca for artisanal goods. And Buenos Aires remains South America's most European city, with its broad boulevards, cosmopolitan fashions, and high-octane nightlife. —Richard Shpuntoff
Does a world’s fair still have relevance in an era when humanity is already connected—and, arguably, divided—by the internet? Dubai is betting on yes. Starting in October, the United Arab Emirates metropolis will be hosting the first world’s fair ever to take place in the Middle East. Dubbed Expo 2020, the 173-day mega-event will sprawl over 1,000 acres stretching into the desert near Dubai’s international airport. Some 190 countries (plus the United Nations, celebrating its 75th anniversary) are expected to participate, creating whiz-bang pavilions with architecture so avant-garde, it'll make the new Star Wars movie look old-fashioned. One structure, the Mobility Pavilion, looks like the world’s largest, most glamorous fidget spinner. Inside dazzlers like that, fairgoers will find exhibits showing off countries' achievements; demonstrations of new technologies relating to opportunity, movement, and sustainability; performances of all sorts; and foods from around the globe. What's less polite to point out is that Dubai could use the sort of boost an event with international attention could provide. A glut of ultramodern skyscrapers has led to a drop in real-estate prices, and the mistreatment of foreign workers has tarnished the U.A.E.'s global reputation. Amid those concerns, Dubai is hoping that the expo will not only present an image of a bright future, but help secure one for the city as well. —Pauline Frommer
Get ready to party like it's 1620. Throughout the year, festivities commemorating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage will span four nations: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Wampanoag Nation. The biggest events are anchored in the seaside towns of Plymouth, England, and Plymouth, Massachusetts—the starting and ending points of the Pilgrims’ historic journey. As part of the U.K.'s Mayflower 400 and New England's Plymouth 400 celebrations, both towns will spend the months leading up to Thanksgiving hosting a cornucopia of culturally inclusive festivals, exhibitions, parades, concerts, tours, and interactive demonstrations. Among the highlights: Plymouth Harbor will welcome the return of the newly renovated Mayflower II, a replica of the 17th-century ship. Alongside the pomp and circumstance, venerable attractions such as Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation (pictured), a living history museum where costumed interpreters take guests back in time, are essential stops before attending America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in November. —Erica Bray
It has been 50 years since President Richard Nixon authorized bombing Cambodia during the Vietnam quagmire, tossing this little Southeast Asian nation into a terrible trajectory. But in the half-century since—and as living memory of that cataclysm recedes—Cambodia has been reborn as a welcoming, must-see nation for tourists. Now it's about to be changed again. Last July, Thailand resumed rail service from Bangkok to the Cambodia border, and already-laid tracks await the day when the Royal Railway finds funds for trains to travel into the country's heart again. Previously isolated at the far end of long plane trips and bumpy bus rides, Siem Reap, the northern gateway to the rediscovered jungle city of Angkor Wat, has already been transformed, even with the transit obstacles, from a backwater town to a resort destination, going from dusty streets to satin sheets in a matter of years.
Now it seems that expansion will be unleashed nationwide—not just because of improved rail service but also due to increased interest from China, which is consolidating its influence on the region. On Cambodia's warm southern beaches, the sleepy and satisfying burg of Sihanoukville, once a little-visited secret among backpackers as a low-key alternative to Thailand’s island party zone, is already showing signs of strain. Chinese tourists are pouring in to gamble at the metastasizing proliferation of small casinos (Cambodian residents, meanwhile, are forbidden from gambling). For vacationers, the signs are clear: Cambodia is on the cusp of joining the global tourist circuit in earnest, and the original character of its national appeal will change. So if you want to be able to say you experienced this magical place when it was still somewhat divorced from overtourism, 2020 is the time to go. —Jason Cochran
Pictured: Kampot Province
The Big Island made a big splash in the news in 2018, when a billion cubic yards of lava rolled through lush rainforest and across remote neighborhoods into the sea. After the 5-month flow stopped—marking the official end of 35 years of eruption from Kilauea volcano’s Puu Oo vent—media interest evaporated, missing perhaps an even bigger story for visitors than the return of beautiful blue skies. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Halemaumau crater is now three times as wide (1.5 miles) and four times as deep (more than 1,600 feet) as it was before, and an unusual freshwater lake has begun to form on the crater's floor. While the park’s closed Jaggar Museum may be beyond repair, visitors can now hike trails that give up-close views of the altered landscape and formerly closed areas. The popular Thurston Lava Tube (Nahuku) is expected to reopen by early 2020 with redesigned parking. Outside the park, local officials have been busy repaving miles of lava-covered roads, restoring access to sights in the rural Puna district, including the recently reopened, much beloved Kalani wellness retreat and the new black-sand beach and lagoon at Isaac Hale Beach Park in Pohoiki. While a new county law restricts some vacation rentals, the dramatic decrease in visitors during and after the lava flow means it’s easier than ever to find budget lodgings in Puna, the hamlet of Volcano, or bigger Hilo. Other reasons to visit in 2020: The Mauna Lani resort debuts in January amid the historic fish ponds and petroglyphs on the Kohala Coast, and Hawaii’s oldest food festival, the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in November with 10 days of tastings, tours, contests, and entertainment. —Jeanne Cooper
Lacking the hipster cred of Berlin and the Bavarian charm of Munich, this one-time German capital on the Rhine River often gets bypassed by tourists. But not in 2020, when the city celebrates the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth. Bonn is going all out to fete its native son with concerts, exhibitions, film projects, lecture series, dance performances, a sound-and-light show, a procession, parties, and youth events. The composer’s music will be performed by world-famous conductors, orchestras, and soloists throughout the city. Most unusually, some 2,500 concerts will be performed in private households throughout Germany, which should be a wonderfully personal and fascinating way to experience the master's works. In the greater Bonn area, Beethoven pilgrims will find 22 new informational panels that mark the most important events of the 22 years that he lived here. The center of Ludwig mania will be the Beethoven-Haus, where the composer was born and grew up. Now a museum, the building was refurbished and expanded in time for the anniversary. Fans can check out Beethoven's love letters, ear trumpet, and a piano that was custom-made to amplify sound. Bonn also boasts one of the largest natural-history museums in the world, a prestigious university where Karl Marx studied, and one of Germany’s oldest cathedrals. —Veronica Stoddart
The Mexican state of Oaxaca hasn’t received the same international attention as the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico City, or Baja California Sur. But with the arrival of more regular and more affordable flights from Mexico City and the United States, Oaxaca is finally having its moment. And rightly so. Not only is this the country's most culturally diverse state, but it's also one of the most biodiverse. Just a couple hours' drive from Oaxaca City, community-led ecotourism is beginning to flourish, allowing outdoor adventurers to explore the Sierra Norte—a tranquil pine-oak forest perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Further south along Oaxaca’s pristine Pacific coast, you'll find wide, quiet stretches of sand bordered by lush jungles and thatched-roof cabanas selling fresh fish tacos and ice-cold cervezas. Puerto Escondido is a surfer’s paradise, while the laid-back towns of Mazunte and Zipolite are perfect for long beach walks, outdoor yoga sessions, and meals of just-caught seafood.
The state's capital, Oaxaca City, is a vibrant cultural hub that's home to some of the country’s best-preserved colonial architecture as well as a host of art galleries, craft workshops, world-class restaurants, and elegant boutique hotels. The city knows how to throw a party, too—the annual Guelaguetza folklore festival in July and legendary Day of the Dead events in early November attract thousands of visitors each year. Don’t leave without trying Oaxacan mezcal or mole negro, made with smoky poblano chilies, dark chocolate, and ground nuts and spices. —Jessica Vincent
When Donald Trump announced in the summer of 2019 his interest in buying Greenland, the massive island's Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that Greenland, a Danish territory, was "open for business, not for sale." Denmark, meanwhile, did the diplomatic version of eye-rolling. According to travel operators, the strange episode resulted in a huge spike in interest among tourists wondering what all the fuss was about. Intrepid Travel alone saw inquiries about Greenland soar 237%. Huge in size yet small in population, the island is a wild, icy beauty with archaeological sites, glaciers, spots for northern-lights viewing, hot springs, and a great little capital in Nuuk (pictured). With the addition of new air routes, Greenland may be poised to be as big a destination as Iceland—just 3 hours away by plane.
You may wonder why such a staggeringly scenic part of the world has remained relatively obscure. A big reason is that 80% of Greenland's land surface is blanketed by ice. The place is filled with fjords and glaciers, and it burps up more icebergs than anywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. That makes getting around a challenge. Consider the roads, for instance—or the serious lack of them. To get from one town to the next, you either fly, boat, or harness your pack of sled dogs and get mushing, using indigenous Greenlandic dogs with a 9,000-year-old pedigree.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to undertake an Arctic adventure like that in 2020 is the accelerating ice melt brought on by climate change. Greenland's once-formidable ice sheet is turning to slush, revealing all sorts of mineral riches beneath the surface, from oil reserves to diamonds (see Trump's interest, above). Go now. —Alexis Lipsitz
Those were our authors' choices for the top places to go in 2020. But where do you want to go?
For the last month, you sent us your nominations. Now it's time to pick a winner. What should we crown as the 20th and final Best Place to Go in 2020?
Our top 5 nominees are listed below in alphabetical order. Vote for the one—and only one—that you think deserves the world's attention in 2020. The polls will be open from now until 11:59pm ET on Sunday, January 19. The champion will be posted right here.
Let the best destination win!