Where are you going in 2010? Share your spots with us.
We're excited to announce this year's list of top destinations. As in years past, they represent a mix of emerging spots, under-appreciated cities, and places we think you need to experience before they're overrun by tourist crowds. While authors and editors again contributed their suggestions, this year we reached out for some additional advice: During October and November readers from around the world nominated their favorites and then voted for this year's inaugural Reader Favorite. The one element that connects all of these? We can't wait to go.
While northern Tunisia is a hot spot for European tourists, it's still new to Americans, who tend to visit Morocco instead. Tunisia -- and especially the areas around the capital Tunis -- are a microcosm of North Africa's charms: Islamic culture mixed with Mediterranean spirit and beauty, modern colonial remnants from the French and ancient colonial remnants from the Romans. The capital Tunis has the best of both local architecture, exemplified by its sprawling and bustling medina, and colonial remnants of wide boulevards and straight lanes that stretch eastward from the Porte de France.
Denmark's capital rarely gets the attention it deserves, so it's been quietly focused on sensible city planning with comprehensive bicycle paths, free bikes, and a new metro line in the works to deal with the expanding city center. Residents are also trying on a host of new public buildings -- an opera house, a cutting-edge library, and a concert hall -- and an environmental program that's turning the rest of Europe green with envy. And despite the often gloomy northern climate, residents are routinely rated as some of the happiest people in the world. They'll have the opportunity to show off their city when it hosts the COP 15 Climate Change Conference in December 2009, a high-profile, international assembly of politicians looking for ways to reduce greenhouse emissions. They won't have to look much further than the host city for compelling ideas.
Top Destinations 2010 Reader Favorite
Vietnam's bustling capital may be a 1,000 years old, but it's a thriving metropolis with a French colonial soul. A cultural center littered with pagodas, temples, and historic monuments, Hanoi offers plenty for the traveler seeking an authentic yet eclectic Asian experience. The eating scene is colorful with excellent meals available at both street-side stalls and fine eateries. Nightlife won't disappoint with the labyrinthine Old Quarter and the area around Hoan Kiem Lake housing dozens of bars from Western ex-pat establishments to disco-infused nightclubs -- plus the legendary Minh's Jazz Club. There's also a cool and contemporary art gallery scene showcasing young artists along Pho Trang Tien. And if you love to shop, try the funky boutiques on Nha Tho, or Cho Hang Da, the huge Dong Xuan market that transforms into a night bazaar on weekends.
|"Hanoi also happens to be Asia's most Asian city." -- Ron Emmons, author Frommer's Thailand, co-author Frommer's Southeast Asia|
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Generational changes in Miami have diminished the anti-Cuba lobby's strength, as have changes in the U.S. capital. This means that 2010 may be the year that everything changes for Cuban tourism and the Europeans, South Americans, and Asians that have taken advantage of the island's charms while Americans stayed home. What better way, then, to get a look at Cuba today than with a visit to where everything began to change just over five and a half decades ago. It was here that Castro surfaced for the first time with his failed attack on the Moncada military barracks in 1953. He wasn't the first revolutionary to cause trouble here: the city's known as cuna de la Revolución ("cradle of the Revolution") for its history of slave uprisings and attempts to overthrow its Spanish oppressors. It's not all political firebrands, though. Santiago is a culturally rich and scenic city that retains the intimate, friendly feel of a provincial capital, with peaceful neighborhoods where men play dominoes outdoors on hilly streets.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
While all the focus has been on its neighbor Dubai, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the seven city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates, has pursued similar global playground goals, but with more restraint and focus. Which is why when Dubai cried "uncle" to its creditors in late November, everyone looked to Abu Dhabi to help set it straight. This fiscal crisis will give the world the opportunity to see how a gulf state that didn't spend all its money on indoor ski resorts and a palm tree-shaped island can weather a crisis. For travelers -- especially business ones -- it will be the year that defines whether Abu Dhabi will be a flash in the pan or the next serious entrant on the global stage. In our guidebook to the region we said, "Abu Dhabi can seem a little slow and perhaps even a bit boring. But its beaches are just as beautiful, there's less traffic and more greenery, and the character is distinctly Emirati, preserving much of the conservative heritage that its northeastern neighbor has begun to toss off."
Hawaii (the Big Island), United States
Few tourist destinations in the United States have been hurt during the current recession as badly as Hawaii. As hotels and resorts struggle to come up with smart deals, we're looking beyond the lei-wrapped packages this year to the islands' most quintessential Hawaiian destination -- especially to Hawaiians. In place of vacant beach-front high rises visitors are greeted by a wealth of options for water sports, hiking, cycling, diving, and golf. It's an island of extremes, from its size (the biggest of the chain), to its age (the youngest), to its population (the smallest), to its natural wonders (highest peaks, most active volcanoes, glacial lakes, and snow). The beauty isn't of the white sand beach variety (the sand is black here after all), but rather the look of a destination that's survived relatively untouched --just the way it should be.
Salta Province, Argentina
While many a traveler's Argentine gaze rarely moves off Buenos Aires's bountiful charms, visitors seeking a genuine gaucho experience in one of the country's most visually stunning regions have been schlepping the nearly 1,000 miles from the capital to Salta. A forward-thinking government has spent the last decade focused on connecting the region's colonial-era towns, encouraging agricultural modernization (like the young but robust wine industry), and making it easier for tourists to get an eyeful of scenery that rivals the American Southwest in natural beauty -- especially along the road from Salta to Cafayate, which is dotted by red rocks and cliffs and some two dozen wineries. The Tren a las Nubes ("train to the clouds") reopened in 2008 and now ferries passengers 13,842 feet above ground, over 269 miles on the day-long journey through mountains and desert, colonial towns and adobe villages, crossing the paths of gauchos, Indians, and European winemakers along the way. For an urban experience, Salta City's restaurants serve local cuisine that's inspired rather than parochial, and folk taverns fill with dancers and musicians playing along to the region's Salteña soundtrack.
Isles of Scilly, England
Call them the Isles of Scilly, or just Scilly, England's smallest official "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" lies sprinkled in the Atlantic 28 miles southwest of Land's End. Scilly is an administrative part of Cornwall (owned, in fact, by the Duchy of Cornwall) easily accessible by boat, helicopter, or plane from the mainland. The islands are a collection of secluded sandy beaches, Bronze Age burial chambers, and rocky promontories, and a smattering of beautifully located cafés ensure plenty of diversions -- such as kayaking, sailing, and windsurfing -- en route. There are five inhabited islands: St. Mary's, Tresco, St. Martin's, St. Agnes, and Bryher, along with more than 150 uninhabited ones that lay scattered across the shallow turquoise seas. Fringed with beaches of soft, pale sand, the archipelago has the exotic appeal of some faraway holiday paradise, an impression enhanced by the balmy, frost-free climate and colorful subtropical plants. While the sometimes harsh winters scare people off, summers do anything but: You're advised to book well ahead as Scilly's limited accommodations are reserved solid for much of the year. May sees the islands largest gathering of temporary visitors, as the annual gig-racing champions bring spectators intrigued by the 19th century vessels used by the competing teams.
Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico was hammered by bad press in 2008 and 2009. First the drug-related violence in a few border towns was blown out of proportion in the U.S., the number one source of tourists. Then swine flu hit, and everyone blamed Mexico. On top of that, the global financial crisis meant that Americans who were snapping up second homes in resort areas realized their home equity lines of credit were now dry. Mexico City responded by doing well what it's done well for over four centuries: by serving as the crossroads for Mexico and highlighting its best assets: top museums, amazing archaeology, and perhaps the best food of any city in North America.
You can't help but fall in love with this southern city that boasts a vibrant cultural scene, a sports crazy population, and culinary indulgences aplenty. While not getting as much international tourism or media attention as its northern neighbor Sydney, Melbourne's sublime appeal lies in its laid-back attitude, its distinctive cosmopolitan flavor, and a rich calendar of events from Formula 1 to comedy festivals. The center of the city is a great starting point with Victorian architectural gems; myriad hidden lane ways; and hole-in-the-wall shops, bars and restaurants. Venture bayside to St. Kilda for a roller-blade along the beach, a slice of cake on Acland Street, and some serious people-watching, or head to funky Fitzroy for more fine food, art galleries, and nightlife. Make sure to drag yourself away from the city itself and explore the coastline along the rugged Great Ocean Road, one of the world's best road trips.
Florida Panhandle Beaches, United States
Like the Rodney Dangerfield of the American Southeast, Florida's panhandle never gets the respect it deserves. Dubbed the "Redneck Riviera" by dismissive northerners, northwest Florida, in fact, contains some of the most diverse recreation choices along Florida's drastically under-appreciated Gulf coast, and some of the best options for visitors seeking an affordable family vacation. From Destin to the west, where you can hire a fishing or sailing charter, to the smattering of National Seashores as you move east, there's really something for everyone. Seaside's planned community is so "perfect" it was the setting for the The Truman Show, yet you'll also find old-school Florida towns with funky shops, tiny hotels, pristine beaches, and the perfect cottage to rent.
Far from the crowds and seeming chaos of India's megacities, the coastal state of Kerala is a welcome respite filled with tranquil moments and some of the country's best food. The flavors come from a rich mix of Hindus, Muslims, Syrian Christians, Jews, and Chinese who've been passing through or settling down here in relatively multicultural peace for six centuries. Formal cooking classes in resorts and more casual affairs arranged for home stays have made Kerala's premier city Cochin the center for Indian culinary tourism. It's not all food, though: Locals and foreigners alike seek out its palm tree-lined, squeaky-clean white sand beaches and the crystal clear waters of the Arabian Sea. There are several well-known beaches, like Kovalam's Lighthouse Beach and surrounding rocky promontories; Varkala, a stunning stretch of coastline that is also a Hindu pilgrimage point; and the idyllic Kappad Beach. Three airports service Kerala making access from major cities easy and affordable.
View a slideshow of this year's Top Destinations.
Read more about past Top Destinations winners.