You know that saying about eating dessert first because life is short? It goes for travel too.
These destinations, which include cities, rivers and one ancient trading route, demand your attention in the year ahead.
Some have opened new attractions, some are planning big parties to celebrate major anniversaries and others have prospered by staying out of trouble. Here are your 18 for ’18, in alphabetical order.
This old town in New Mexico is starting to look livelier, partly because of the boutique Hotel Chaco, which opened last year. The hotel is the anchor for the emerging Sawmill District, complete with the Sawmill Market food hall, which the developer aims to open this year.
The people behind downtown’s One Central Entertainment District (shopping, dining, bowling) also are planning to open their project this year. In 2017 the Albuquerque airport kicked off a 15-month renovation project, Delta Airlines added a nonstop flight between ABQ and LAX, and Alaska Airlines added nonstop service to San Diego and John Wayne Airport in Orange County.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which you’ve always meant to check out, is still going. The next one is Oct. 6-14.
Info: Visit Albuquerque
Some scientists believe sea-ice levels in the region reached a record low in 2017. In September, an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan calved off of the continent’s Pine Island Glacier.
Who knows what comes next? It might be wise to see this end of the Earth now.
National Geographic Expeditions and Lindblad Expeditions, working as a team, have two ships that will make as many as 14 trips each in January, February, November and December. Or you could take a Silversea luxury cruise to the same area. It has butlers.
3. Bologna, Italy
It’s less crowded than Italy’s top-tier tourist cities, but renowned within the country for its cuisine and historic architecture. And it has a faulty tower that leans even more severely than Pisa’s — prime Instagram material.
On the food scene, Bologna is home to the new FICO Eataly World, which opened in November. (FICO stands for Fabricca Italiana Contadina, or Italian farming factory. And yes, these are the same people who run the just-opened Eataly in Los Angeles.) This complex, about 15 minutes outside central Bologna, fills about 20 acres with fields, workshops, markets, kitchens, shops, classrooms and, of course, restaurants.
Some worry it will compete with the city’s traditional markets and eateries, but the buzz is upbeat. Meanwhile, there’s the Gelato Museum, founded in 2012. Florence and Venice are within 100 miles.
Info: Bologna Welcome
4. Douro River, Portugal
The Douro twists and turns for more than 500 miles through Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese part flows through gorgeous wine country and quaint medieval towns and cities, culminating in lively, historic Porto, where the river meets the Atlantic.
You can tour it by rail — Rough Guides calls the Linha do Douro “Portugal’s best train ride,” with more than 20 tunnels and 30 bridges between Porto and Pocinho.
River trips are even bigger. At least six lines now offer trips on the Douro: Uniworld has a couple of options on the Douro, and Viking has three ships plying the Douro’s waters, and a fourth under construction.
Yet another new ship, the Amadouro of AmaWaterways, will debut on the river in 2019.
Info: Visit Porto
5. Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg has two seas and three rivers close at hand, which connect the city to many options, beginning with one of the world’s great fish markets (the Hamburg Fish Market, along the Elbe River).
Hamburg has high culture too. The Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall, which opened in January 2017, and dozens of museums attract highbrows, and the bars of the Reeperbahn uphold that thoroughfare’s grittier reputation for entertainment.
You can float in a small barge on the canals that cross the Speicherstadt, a vast complex of brick warehouses full of architectural flourishes that date to the 1880s. The Fontenay Hamburg, a curvaceous luxury hotel, is due to open March 1.
6. Ireland’s Ancient East
The rest of the world is chasing after “Stars Wars” locations along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, but you might want to head to the other side of the island, home to green scenery, ancient stonework and the cities of Cork, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wicklow, not to mention Dublin.
Just outside Cork, the town of Kinsale is becoming renowned for its restaurants. In Kilkenny a Medieval Mile Museum opened last year. On June 1 in Drogheda, they’re reprising an annual festival celebrating music and camper vans (Vantastival, they call it).
In Dublin a long-awaited north-south light rail line opened in December, connecting two lines and reducing construction scaffolding in the city core.
Farther south, local leaders in March unveiled a 28-mile-long greenway cycling and walking trail (mostly flat) on an old rail line between Waterford and the seaside town of Dungarvan. The route goes over a viaduct and passes a Norman castle, Viking settlements and staggering coastal scenery.
Info: Ireland’s Ancient East
7. Montenegro coast
Kotor, a port town in Montenegro full of medieval buildings and red-tile roofs, might have only 13,000 residents, but it’s beginning to attract cruise ships, which approach on the scenic, narrow Bay of Kotor. And action is increasing elsewhere on this bit of Balkan coast.
In Budva, about 20 miles south of Kotor, a Nobu restaurant opened in 2016, neighboring the ultra-luxurious Aman Sveti Stefan hotel. The similarly snazzy One&Only hotel chain is putting its first European property, Portonovi, on Boka Bay, about 25 miles west of Kotor; opening is set for midyear.
Chedi, another luxury hotel chain, also is working toward a mid-year opening on Lustica Bay.
Info: Visit Montenegro
8. New Orleans
As part of New Orleans’ 300th birthday party (the French founded the city in 1718), the Prospect.4 contemporary art exhibition and festival runs through Feb. 25. McIlhenny, the hot-sauce outfit, is sponsoring a staging Jan. 25-28 of “Tabasco: A Burlesque Opera,” which was last heard in 1894.
The Mardi Gras party season is supposed to feature shorter parades this year but plenty of them. More than 60 krewes are to march from Jan. 6 through Feb. 13. Though most performers at 2018 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (April 27-29 and May 3-6) are yet to be announced, April 28 will feature local favorite Trombone Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue.
Info: 2018 NOLA
Nicaragua, just north of Costa Rica and south of Honduras, is gaining ground as a rugged destination for travelers seeking Pacific beaches, jungles, lakes and volcanoes. Masaya Volcano (nickname: “mouth of hell”), still full of boiling lava, is big.
Info: Visit Nicaragua
Now that the din has died down from the 150th birthday parties in 2017, Canada’s capital can get back to being the underestimated treasure it is. Beyond the spectacle of the city’s epic Parliament Buildings, there’s the Rideau Canal, an early industry marvel that was completed in 1832 to connect the city center to Lake Ontario.
And there are plenty of museums, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of History, which has the world's largest indoor collection of totem poles.
Info: Ottawa Tourism
11. Pearl River Delta, China
The Pearl River Delta includes the islands of Hong Kong and Macau (the gambling capital of Asia) and Zhuhai, on the southern coast of the mainland’s Guangdong province.
Moving among those three cosmopolitan areas will get much easier in the year ahead. After nearly a decade of work, officials plan this year to open three bridges and a tunnel connecting the three, which should accelerate travel among them. (The opening date remains a mystery for now.)
Late this year a high-speed rail route is scheduled to connect Hong Kong with Guangzhou and, by extension, the rest of China’s mainland network of high-speed trains.
Info: Discover Hong Kong
12. Perth, Australia
Perth, on the continent’s west coast, has long been known for idyllic beaches, nightlife and bustle along the Hay Street and Murray Street malls and fancy shopping on King Street.
Despite its awkward name, COMO The Treasury, a 2015 redevelopment project, in October was named Australia’s best hotel in Conde Nast Traveler’s annual Readers Choice voting.
On a more intimate level, there’s a proliferation of bars such as the antique-filled Wolf Lane (at the end of a mural-covered alley that’s also called Wolf Lane).
13. San Antonio
While the French were busy founding New Orleans, the Spanish were founding San Antonio.
From Feb. 17 to May 13, the San Antonio Museum of Art will explore the city’s first 100 years through paintings, sculptures and artifacts. On April 6-8, the downtown Hemisfair park will fill with events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the venue’s debut as home to the 1968 World’s Fair.
A Commemorative Week will start May 1 with a 6 p.m. pilgrimage from Espada Park to the city’s Main Plaza.
Meanwhile, the Bottling Department food hall opened in July in the Pearl, a redeveloped riverside brewery complex. Range restaurant opened in September, focusing on steaks from Texas Hill Country, and Burgerteca opened in December, offering diners new ways to marry Mexican food to burger culture.
Info: San Antonio 300
14. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
San Miguel, home to legions of Spanish colonial buildings, U.S. expats and street after cobblestone street of appealing restaurants, shops and landmarks, didn’t suffer from the 2017 earthquake that rocked Mexico City. Although most of its architectural charms are historic, new attractions keep popping up.
Early this year Grupo Posadas is scheduled to open a high-end 135-room Live Aqua Urban Resort San Miguel de Allende, which will contend with other recently opened boutique lodgings L’Ôtel (2016) and Casa 1810 (2015).
Meanwhile, great eating, easy living and colonial attractions such as nearby Sanctuary of Atotonilco keep San Miguel atop many favorite-destination polls, including Travel+Leisure’s 2017 “best city in the world” reader survey.
Info: San Miguel de Allende
15. Shinjuku, Tokyo
This area is best known for its train station — the busiest in the world with about 3.6 million daily passengers — and its entertainment and red-light district, Kabukicho, not to mention a dizzying number of well-lighted retailers and government buildings.
In September a new museum opened celebrating Yayoi Kusama, the 88-year-old artist whose polka-dot patterns and infinity rooms have charmed art lovers worldwide.
Shinjuku is also home to the 144-acre Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a preserve of a local lord and now a public green space that blends Japanese, English and French styles.
16. Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan
Tashkent is the capital, but it’s Samarkand and Bukhara that send imaginations soaring. Those cities and others along the ancient path are full of treasures from centuries past.
Once they were crucial connections on the trading route between China and Europe. Later, they spent decades in the shadows of the Soviet empire. Uzbek leaders now are easing red tape in hopes of attracting more travelers, and there’s plenty to admire in the epic mosques and other Islamic architecture.
Many cultural tour operators have been leading trips there for years, and now more companies are joining. Overseas Adventure Travel, a longtime U.S. tour operator, last year started offering trips to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Info: Visit Uzbekistan
It’s one of the smallest countries in South America, tucked between Argentina and Brazil on the Atlantic coast. But the word is getting out about Uruguay and its capital, Montevideo; international tourist arrivals totaled about 3 million visitors in 2016.
Montevideo offers highlights such as the Ciudad Vieja (colonial buildings), the Teatro Solis (Uruguay’s oldest theater, dating to 1856), the lively Mercado del Puerto and the eccentric Palacio Salvo, a part Gothic, part Art Deco skyscraper from the 1920s.
As in Argentina, steak, tango and gaucho style are popular. But there are also many Italian and African influences, which show in the city’s vigorous annual Carnaval, which begins Jan. 25.
Info: Welcome Uruguay
This small African nation shares the Zambezi River, Lake Kariba and Victoria Falls with Zimbabwe and is a prime spot for viewing wildlife. In early 2017 the luxurious King Lewanika Lodge opened with six villas in Liuwa Plain National Park in western Zambia.
Also last year, African Bush Camps completed a major renovation of the Thorntree River Lodge, near Victoria Falls. CroisiEurope Cruises’ eight-suite river cruise ship African Dream debuted last year on the Zambezi and Chobe rivers; the company hopes to unveil an African Dream II to navigate the same two rivers in December.
Info: Zambia Tourism
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