It’s hard to believe, but 2016 is almost here and in keeping with my year-end post traditions, I thought I’d share a few places I think everyone should visit in 2016. Some are obvious choices, others a little more unexpected but all are amazing places to discover for one reason or another. Also, these are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. I don’t want to see anyone complaining that one destination is ranked higher or lower than another one; they all have my love and admiration.
A few weeks ago I never thought I’d be adding this small Balkan nation, but then I had the good fortune of visiting while on a Viking Star cruise and everything changed. What it lacks in size, the colorful country of Montenegro more than makes up for in spirit. From epic mountains and beautiful countryside scenes reminiscent of Scotland, to the famous Old Town of Kotor with its massive walls, there’s a lot to see and do in this quirky nation in addition to its famous beaches.
Eastern and Coastal North Carolina
Last year I took a brief road trip exploring Eastern North Carolina, a drive that brought me closer to the people and of course the food of this fun part of the state. Any great trip in North Carolina must start in the Outer Banks, not just for the fun shore side escapes, but for the history found along these barrier islands. From the old lighthouses to following in the steps of the Wright Brothers, there’s a lot to see and do in this beachy destination. But then head inland and be sure to visit some great small towns like Edenton, Kinston and Pittsboro not only to get a flavor of small town America, but to discover some of the best meals found anywhere in the country.
This city located in the German state of Hesse may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but it should be. After many years, the new Brothers Grimm Museum is enjoying its first full year of operation in 2016 and it’s the perfect starting point to explore the natural areas surrounding Kassel that originally inspired the Brothers Grimm. Kassel is also home to the massive estate known as the Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, one of the strangest yet also most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites you’ll ever visit.
Naturally no must-visit list would be complete without adding my own hometown of Washington. While I’ve always loved this politically minded city, lately we’ve been getting a lot of attention by some of the biggest names in travel, all of which have joined me in recommending DC as a great vacation spot. That’s because in recent years we’ve changed a lot, old neighborhoods have come back to life attracting some of the best young chefs in the country at the same time. Naturally we still have all of the great museums we’ve always enjoyed, but it seems like the city is just more fun to visit now than ever before.
So much of the travel love in Croatia seems to go to Dubrovnik, that I thought I should highlight a lesser-known area of the country – Istria. This region found in the northwest portion of the country is as unique an area as you can imagine. It’s actually shared by three countries, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, and has a rich history and culture all of its own. In fact, if you ask residents where they’re from, they’re most likely to say Istria first and Croatia second. There are many great towns and cities to visit here, but two I recommend are Rovinj and Pula. Each city has its own unique appeal and no matter what you do, make sure not leave Istria without sampling some of the famous olive oils and truffles cultivated around the peninsula.
Jasper National Park
I love Canada, and while I’ve never had a bad time exploring our neighbor to the north, I’ve never enjoyed myself more than when I drove around Jasper National Park earlier this year. Situated within the majestic Canadian Rockies, I honestly can’t imagine a more beautiful part of the world, but there’s a lot more to do here than just gaze wistfully at the scenery. This really is an outdoor lover’s paradise, with a seemingly endless supply of hikes and trails to conquer, and every one has its own visual rewards along the way.
Whether it’s the world-famous Fringe Festival or the annual Military Tattoo, Edinburgh always figures high on traveler’s travel lists. Add to that the fact that The Forth Bridge recently received UNESCO World Heritage status, and there’s no shortage of reasons to visit the Scottish capital. My favorite activity in Edinburgh though is probably the most touristy, wandering around the Royal Mile. From the panoramic views of the city from Edinburgh Castle, to exploring the small alleys and shops along the Mile, there’s plenty to do in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sometimes overshadowed by nearby Cape Town, Stellenbosch has a lot to be proud of in its own right. One of South Africa’s great wine regions, weeks could be spent sampling the hearty vintages along with some of the best fine dining restaurants in the country. With the ocean as its backyard, Stellenbosch also offers scenery nearly unparalleled in the country.
At first blush, Hong Kong seems little more than a flashy city full of people. But once you delve a little deeper, then you start to discover the real city that lies just beneath that shiny veneer. The best way to better understand Hong Kong is through the city’s favorite pastime, eating. Whether it’s 3-star Michelin restaurants, or some of the best dim sum in the world, you won’t walk away hungry or disappointed. Also be sure though to explore the city, visiting Lantau Island and even the new PMQ, a cultural hub showcasing some of the best emerging creative minds in the city.
Port Douglas, Queensland Australia
Spending almost a month exploring Queensland, I enjoyed nearly every moment of my time in this, one of Australia’s most interesting states. But what I enjoyed the most is a small town that also surprised me the most, Port Douglas. Just a stone’s throw from the larger city of Cairns, Port Douglas is a quiet retreat with a main street lined with shops and restaurants and an overall vibe that can only be called beachy calm. There’s also a lot to do nearby, starting with the UNESCO recognized Daintree Rainforest, where you can join an Indigenous guide for a special Dreamtime walk through the forest. If you’re a luxury lover like me, then be sure to stay at the nearby Silky Oaks Lodge, one of the best and most unique hotels you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed visiting Ireland, and with good reason. Amazingly kind and hospitable people coupled with some of the most verdant and interesting landscapes you’ll find anywhere, it’s an easy place with which to fall in love. A great way to really experience more of the Irish countryside is by tackling a portion of the Wild Atlantic Way. This driving route runs the length of the country, but selecting a 3-5 day driving itinerary will take you to some truly exceptional places you probably would have otherwise missed.
The quirky island nation of Malta in the Mediterranean has a long and important history, but it’s one not many people actually know a lot about. Long considered by Europeans as a sunny getaway, others from around the world are learning about this small country not just for its beaches and turquoise blue waters, but also for its art, architecture, cities and incredible history.
Some people love all islands, no matter where they are or what they’re like. Yeah, that’s not me. I’m picky about which islands I enjoy visiting, and Curacao was one of the few where I found myself wanting to return. Located deep in the Southern Caribbean, close to Venezuela, Curacao has the beaches and palm trees you’d expect, but a lot more as well. For a variety of reasons, the island has been able to retain its Dutch culture and spirit in a way that other islands have not, which is one reason why the colorful city of Willemstad was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wandering around town you’ll discover a culture rich in tradition, with some of the best meals found anywhere in the Caribbean.
Poor Wales doesn’t get nearly enough respect as its neighbors, but it should. Although small in comparison with Scotland and England, this feisty region packs a punch and if you love adventure travel, there are few better places to visit. From Europe’s longest zip line to coasteering along the coast, you won’t be bored exploring this beautiful country. If you’re a history buff then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all of the castles and estates dotting the hillsides; there are more than 600 castles just in Wales. So the next time you visit the UK, do yourself a favor and plan on spending a few days getting to better know this sometimes forgotten region.
Most people think that Iceland is the only place to experience the Northern Lights, but in Norway’s Arctic Circle is the real Northern Lights Capital of the world. The small town of Alta is like visiting a real world Northern Exposure, and the beautiful landscapes and active adventures draw thousands to this town every year. If you visit in the winter, then be sure to book at least one night in the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, where everything is made of ice.
Virginia’s mountain regions including the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Trail, have always been known for their rural beauty, but lately more and more people from around the world are discovering that the region’s culture is just as interesting. Start off in Roanoke, the Star City, and learn about how this city has transformed itself over the last decade. Also be sure to spend some time either driving the Blue Ridge Parkway or hiking the Appalachian Trail for your own A Walk in the Woods experience. Finish things off with a stay at the secluded Primland Resort, recently named one of the best hotels in the world.
What destinations would you add to this list?