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Frommer's Top Destinations for 2009

Which 12 destinations should you seek out in the months ahead? Here's a list of value picks that'll wow you, cities that are sprucing up for big events, smart alternatives to overrun spots nearby, and destinations well worth the hype.

See Pauline Frommer discuss these picks on CNN at "Video: Top Destinations for 2009."

Where are you going in 2009? Share your spots with us.

Every year the Frommer's editorial team puts its component heads together to determine what destinations travelers should be considering in the months ahead. This list is neither "hot" nor "on-the-verge" or anything like that. It's a mix of value picks that'll still wow you, cities that are sprucing up for big events, smart alternatives to overrun spots nearby, and destinations that are justifiably hyped.

This year, we've selected the following 12 domestic and international places for you to consider:

Cartagena, Colombia

After years of strife and violence owing to the drug cartel wars, Colombia has begun to emerge as a safe and vibrant travel destination (Crime rates in major cities are now no higher than what you'd find in an average large American city like Philadelphia or Milwaukee). Cartagena has a highly developed tourist infrastructure, and it's just a short hop from the U.S. -- only a 2.5 hour flight from Miami. Cartagena sits on the Caribbean coast and is a wonderfully picturesque, walled-in fishing village of pastel-painted buildings, fine cathedrals, and plenty of Spanish colonial architecture and 17th-century forts that allow you to steep yourself in history. The white-sand beaches are sublime, the restaurants are excellent, and lodging comes in all styles and prices.

Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa is gearing up to host the worlds best football (or soccer, if you're from the U.S.) teams during the 2010 World Cup, and Cape Town promises to have one of the grandest venues for the event. Get here before the crowds do to take advantage of a spruced-up city. Truthfully, though, the city has one big advantage: Cape Town, the oldest city in southern Africa, is regularly heralded as one of the most beautiful on earth. The massive sandstone bulk of Table Mountain, often draped in a flowing "tablecloth" of clouds, forms an imposing backdrop, while minutes away, pristine sandy beaches line the cliff-hugging coast where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. You can visit African Penguin colonies at Boulders Beach along False Bay or take the ferry to Robben Island, the former prison home to political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela.

Saqqara, Egypt

Just 30 miles south of Cairo, you'll find the site of the recently discovered 4,300-year-old step pyramid of Queen Sesheshet, mother of King Teti I, the founder of the Sixth Dynasty. In fact, the site of this huge necropolis, which was attached to the ancient city of Memphis, is believed to be the birthplace of the step pyramid -- designed and constructed by the ingenious Imhotep (whose innovations are responsible for the later Giza constructions). You also find multiple other tombs, stunning wall paintings, carvings and the Serapeum, where the Apis bulls -- believed to be the god Ptah in corporal form -- are mummified and interred. The whole site is worth a day trip by taxi out of Cairo, and your driver should be able to introduce you to knowledgeable on-site (but unofficial) tour guides to the grounds.

Washington, D.C., United States

Change has come to the nation's capital, and the influx of new blood and governing energy isn't the only reason to visit. Wait till after the millions leave on January 21, and you'll discover one of the world's great budget cities. Almost every major attraction Washington has to offer -- from the Smithsonian Museums to the National Monuments to the National Zoo -- is free and transportation via the city's Metro system is fast, clean, and easy. Leisure travelers are ideally situated to snag great deals on hotel rooms on weekends, when business travelers (those dreaded lobbyists and contractors) clear out and hotels are eager to fill rooms. New for 2009: the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

Tucked neatly away in the southwest corner of the province, Waterton is the least-traveled of Alberta's Rocky Mountain Parks, and quite possibly the most spectacular. That's saying a lot: the other two, Banff and Jasper are among the world's leading international tourist destinations. But Waterton is positively otherworldly, with its abrupt shift from prairie to mountain terrain, as well as its icy-blue lake that fills an ancient gully surrounded by mountain and glaciers. Given the fact that its quaint, tiny town site vanishes a few steps down any of the many trails here, it's one of the only places in the Canadian Rockies where you can feel apart from the modern world. Plus, its relatively sparse traffic means most things are as much as 30% cheaper than Banff.

Civil Rights Trail from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, United States

What happened forty years ago between Selma and Montgomery -- the antecedent for the Voting Rights Act -- is why the U.S. will welcome Barack Obama into the White House this year. It's additionally important because the U.S. southeast is rich both historically and culturally, and the Trail provides a very accessible window to an often overlooked region by tourists. The Civil Rights Trail captures a moment in history through its many small museums -- both in Selma and Montgomery -- and also in the journey visitors take to travel from place to place. For families, it's a well-marked trail that offers changing views, numerous stops, and the type of generational discussions that great journeys are made of. Highlights include the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Slavery & Civil War Museum, the Rosa Parks Museum, and the Maya Lin-designed Civil Rights Monument.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, United States

There are hundreds of parks in our system that are thankfully protected but may not get the acclaim they deserve. Lassen is one of the oldest -- Teddy Rosevelt dedicated two monuments in 1907 that ultimately became this park -- and least-visited parks in the system. Hot springs, heat vents, sulfur ponds, and dormant volcanoes help set it apart from more pedestrian parks. (Before Mount St. Helens blew in the 1980s, Lassen Peak's eruption in 1915 had been the most recent eruption in the lower 48 states.) Visitors come for 150 miles of hiking trails, swimming, and boating and fishing (there are dedicated fishing and boating lakes). The park's open year-round, but road closures do occur due to snow. When snow hits, some areas get "snow algae" which manifests itself in snow that takes on a blood-red color, adding to the already spooky atmosphere of geothermal activity. There's only one place to stay within the park that's not a campsite, but B&Bs and chain motels surround the park and you're unlikely to pay above $100 to stay, even in high season.

Berlin, Germany

It's been hyped as a haven for artists and musicians for the last decade, but Berlin hasn't gone stale yet. By day enviously green Berlin has the vast Tiergarten with lakes, canals, palaces, and the eco-aware zoo at its heart. Green-fingered globetrotters stroll the oriental gardens at Marzahn. Berliners don't let a lack of sea stop them: chill on the beach at Wannsee, Strandbad Mitte, or (when it rains) Tropical Islands. There's plenty to eat, too. Whether it's pan-fresh falafel and ethnic color on Mehringdamm or Michelin-starred finery in Mitte, the German capital tastes better than ever. And almost 20 years since the fall of the Wall, Berlin is still riding the waves of Ostalgia (nostalgia for former East Germany). Tour Karl-Marx-Allee in a bone-shaking Trabant, walk the remaining stretch of the Wall at the East Side Gallery and find your own chip off the old Bloc in souvenir shops. The Stasi Suite at Ostel promises sweet Communist dreams.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

In little more than a decade, Belfast has been transformed from fractured city into a hot city break destination, moving fast towards its 19th-century accolade of Athens of the North. Premier Victorian landmarks such as the City Hall, Ulster Museum, and Ulster Hall are reopening in 2009 after being given a makeover. But towering above the city, it's the glass dome of the sophisticated new Victoria Square shopping centre that's the real emblem of the city's renaissance. The army check points that encircled the city centre during the Troubles are a thing of the past; today you can amble along the Golden Mile for relaxed drinks or enjoy Irish music in Cathedral Quarter bars. Try the Laganside for orchestral concerts at the riverfront Waterfront Hall and international cuisine from Teppanyaki at Harbour View to seafood at Tedfords. Or, for the ultimate treat, stay at the luxury Merchant Hotel, sip bubbly among the chandeliers in Cafe Vaudeville's champagne bar and savor Michelin-starred dining at Deanes.

Istanbul, Turkey

The European City of Culture 2010 has already started its build-up with street theatre, art, and music galore, representing Istanbul's upcoming and thriving arts scene: Everyone knows of its Ottoman mosques and mammoth markets, but newly-opened santralistanbul has brought a 19th-century power station, converted into a modern art gallery, firmly into the future. Want more art? Head to Misir Apartman, once an apartment block in funky Beyoglu, now chock-full of bijou galleries exhibiting local artists and sculptors. After the splendors of Ottoman mosques and frescoes in the Byzantine churches, the Jewish Museum showcases the significant role that the city has played over the centuries for European Jews fleeing persecution. Take a walking tour around neighborhoods of Balat and Fener to discover its Greek, Armenian, and Jewish history among wooden houses undergoing EU-funded restoration. Forget flea-bitten hostels from the 1960s hippy trail: Istanbul's new W Hotel and Witt Istanbul Suites have put boutique hotels firmly on the city map. And you can throw off that old image of a kebab-laden diet, with sushi bars that would do Tokyo proud, and cocktails perfect for chic rooftop bars.

Cambodia (But Not Angkor Wat)

For people who have "done" Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia seems like the next natural step. Tourism is taking off as a countrywide industry, and most people who contemplate Cambodia do so for a visit to Angkor Wat, the famed ruins in the jungle. But Angkor's tourist infrastructure is growing faster than the site itself can support it, and travelers now must be mindful of the impact they are having on the site (for more, see our new book 500 Places to See Before they Disappear). We recommend casting a net beyond the limits of Angkor Wat and seeing a bit more of the country. Among the highlights are boat trips up the Mekong River and through the jungle to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins; or perhaps spending some time in vibrant, energized Phnom Penh. Though the city's population was decimated during the brutal genocide and repression of the Khmer Rouge, it slowly rebounds, with a disarming, and sometimes troubling, frankness about confronting the horrors of the recent past. No one leaves the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum -- housed in a former Khmer Rouge prison and interrogation center -- unaffected. The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda (the latter named for the 5,000+ silver tiles that cover the floor) are more uplifting stops, and the National Museum has an impressive collection of sculpture, relics and other artwork dating as far back as 6800 BC.

Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Just a ferry ride away from cosmopolitan Auckland sits the quaint Waiheke Island. It's a favorite summer holiday spot for Kiwis, the secluded shores dotted with baches -- the equivalent of a summer cottage. If the beach isn't your thing, no worries, Waiheke is a hot spot for New Zealand's massive wine and olive industries. Growers of both grapes and olives have caught wind of all those traveling foodies and responded by building sleek and modern accommodations amongst the vines, providing high-end creature comforts, menus offering food for the sophisticated palate and spectacular views of the bay and distant Auckland.