It’s hard to believe, but 2017 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 2017. 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.
For whatever reason, remote destinations fascinate me and I love visiting them perhaps more than even the largest cities in the world. I usually tend to visit Northern areas though when it’s cold outside, but cold doesn’t even begin to describe the Arctic temperatures I found in Rovaniemi, deep in Finnish Lapland. This huge region is mostly woods, lakes and streams, but it’s also home to Santa Claus. In what can only be described as a brilliant marketing move, years ago Rovaniemi lauded itself as the official home of Santa Claus, a moniker that stuck. You should visit Rovaniemi not only to see Santa Claus, but also to spend time outdoors whether it’s snowmobiling, mushing with sled dogs or spending the night in a remote cabin learning about the Finnish obsession with both sauna and nature.
St. Louis, Missouri
This year I had the great opportunity to travel more around my own country, and I’m happy to include several American destinations on this list starting with St. Louis. Before my brief visit earlier this year, it had been decades since I last roamed the streets of the Gateway to the West and I was shocked by what I found. Downtown there’s plenty to do from the famous Arch to quirky and fun museums and of course the food. St Louis is home to a number of regional delicacies including Provel cheese pizza, fried ravioli and of course BBQ. A few reasons you should visit include: spending time at the new National Blues Museum, meandering through the quirky City Museum, eating your way through town and admiring a panoramic view of both Missouri and Illinois from the top of the Arch.
My first trip to China was everything I hoped it would be, but I was also surprised in a lot of ways. I traveled to Chengdu to see the famous panda bears, but I ended up falling in love with the city. Thanks to expert guidance from the staff at The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu, I discovered the robust food culture for which Chengdu is also well known. Usually erring on the side of spicy, the food around town is hot but flavorful and a fun way to get to know the local culture. Visitors to Chengdu should spend some time at the panda preserves, either as a voyeur or volunteering, tour the ancient sites in Chengdu and spend plenty of time trying the regional delicacies.
I first visited Sweden a few years ago and loved the experience, so I was pretty sure I’d enjoy my first trip to Stockholm. Much more than simply enjoy it though, I quickly fell in love with this colorful Scandinavian city and wished I had more time to explore. Although it was the middle of winter, the temperatures were cold but not extreme, allowing me plenty of opportunity to get out and see the best of the city. The museums all impressed me more than most others I’ve visited, and there’s nothing better than wandering around the Old Town, Gamla Stan, at night. Visitors to Stockholm should take a scenic boat cruise, visit the ABBA Museum, tour the City Hall (trust me) and eat a few meals in Gamla Stan. One of the world’s best hotels, Ett Hem, also calls Stockholm home, perfect for luxury travelers.
Tanzania & a Luxury Safari Experience
Going on safari is one of those special travel experiences everyone should enjoy at least once in their lives. Thanks to a few trips visiting sub-Saharan Africa, I have been on several safaris but nothing prepared me for the luxury safari in Tanzania I enjoyed with Abercrombie & Kent. A&K literally invented the concepts of luxury safari and experiential travel, so I knew I was in good hands as we toured the amazing national parks of Tanzania. Whether it was sneaking up on a herd of elephants, or admiring the power of the Great Migration, I know I will always treasure the memories from this luxury safari experience. You should take a luxury safari in Tanzania in order to get as close to wildlife as possible, enjoy amazing vistas and be pampered in high style throughout the journey, from transportation to those stunning lodges where guests spend the night.
A year ago I would never have guessed I’d be adding this to the list, but I had such a good time I think it’s warranted. While there’s a lot to see and do in Southwest Louisiana, I’ve added it to this list for one reason – the food. Frankly, all of Louisiana is known for its cuisine, but the southwest part of the state takes this obsession to an entirely new level. Comfort food is the name of the game here, including boudin, cracklins, doughnuts, and more. But fine dining is also well represented and there are many restaurants featuring creative menus by new and daring chefs. Visitors should try the boudin in Lake Charles, stop by The French Press in Lafayette and spend a few days in Baton Rouge, including a mandatory stop at Tiger Deaux-nuts for the addictive Boudin Egg and Cheese Sandwich.
Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador
Fogo Island is a place that needs to be experienced in order to be believed. I journeyed there in order to stay at one of the top rated hotels in the world, the Fogo Island Inn. But in the course of my weekend stay, I ended up falling head over heels for the entire community. Locals there care about the people who visit, and by the end of the stay I felt more like a member of the community than a stranger. That’s the beauty of the island and what makes it so incredibly special. Visitors should absolutely stay at the Inn, but also spend plenty of time exploring this quirky island from taking a boat out on the water to enjoying the many hiking trails found nearly everywhere.
I find it a little odd that I’m including this great Northern Italian city on the list, because my own experience with it is so very limited. Four years ago I spent 1 day there, but it was so impactful that I feel the need to include it on this list. In a country famous for its food, Bologna has the special designation as being the culinary heart (or stomach) of Italy. More foods started here than you can possibly imagine, including Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, lasagna, ragu sauce, tagliatella and even Balsamic vinegar. Visitors should eat everything they can in and around Bologna, spend some time at the Lamborghini factory and museum and brace themselves for a new attraction soon to be built in the area, an Eataly theme park. Also, the city of Bologna is amazing in its own right with plenty to see and do and an impressive history to learn more about.
German Fairy Tale Route
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015, the German Fairy Tale Route is a 370-mile route that starts in Hanau and ends in Bremen, featuring the cities, natural landscapes and landmarks that both celebrate the Brothers Grimm as well as inspired them. The German countryside doesn’t often get the attention it deserves, just one of many travel revelations I had during my week road tripping along the route. You should make the drive to enjoy small towns, and villages, beautiful forests and mountains, grand castles and some of the best food in the country.
The South Pacific has been on my own personal travel bucket list for as long as I can remember. Those crystal-clear waters and verdant green mountains called to me in the same way as the fictional Bali Hai called out in “South Pacific.” I braced myself for disappointment, to have my dreams dashed but that never happened. No, if anything Tahiti surpassed even my own lofty expectations. But Tahiti is Tahiti for a reason, and I realized that almost immediately upon arriving into Papeete. Over the course of a week my appreciation of how just idyllic and perfect the islands are grew, and the experiences I enjoyed there really were a dream come true. Visitors should go to enjoy a cruise around the islands, spend the night (or 7) in an overwater bungalow on Bora Bora and take the time to look past the beach chairs and learn more about real Polynesian culture.
Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Otherwise known as Nevada State Route 375, this is a 98-mile stretch of road that starts at the intersection of U.S. 93 and the Extraterrestrial Highway and continues west to the intersection of the Highway and U.S. 6. Thanks to the fact that Area 51 rests along the highway, this area has long been known for alien sightings and a fierce belief in life from other worlds visiting the remote Nevada desert. Over the years the road has developed into what it is today, one of the quirkiest but also one of the loneliest stretches of road in the country. Visitors should go to admire the desert landscapes, enjoy fantastic blueberry pie at the Little A’Le’Inn, visit (sort of) Area 51, and spend the night at a haunted hotel in Tonopah, Nevada.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
I enjoyed my time in Northern Ireland more than I thought I would and a lot of that is thanks to the fascinating city of Belfast. Twenty years ago, Belfast was as far away from being a tourist destination as any place could be, but today it’s enjoying a revival as more and more visitors discover what makes it truly special. The Titanic experience is fascinating and an entire day could be spent exploring the museum on the site of where the doomed ship was originally built. But there’s a lot more to the city than the Titanic, and taking a walk through Belfast’s many neighborhoods is a fun way to learn more about the city. Visitors should take a Black Cab Tour to learn about the history of The Troubles, visit the Titanic Museum and try some of the new restaurants that keep popping up featuring some of the best food anywhere in the British Isles.
Westman Islands, Iceland
I’m thankful I made the decision to spend a day visiting the Westman Islands, because it counts amongst my all-time favorite experiences in Iceland. Easy to reach from the south coast, the ferry ride is a short 30-minutes, but it feels like a world away. The Westman Islands are small and the only inhabited island, Haimaey, is just 7 square miles in size. 4,000 people call this rock home, but as I discovered on a tour around the island, it’s one of the most beautiful places not only in Iceland, but arguably the world. When you visit be sure to take a tour of the island, play a round of golf at one of the most beautiful courses in the world and explore the colorful and quirky town on the main island.
I’m embarrassed to say that although Philadelphia is pretty close to where I live, it had been many years since I last played tourist there. I corrected that mistake in 2016 and I’m glad I did because I discovered a beautifully vibrant city that I think everyone should visit. Choosing a well-located hotel like The Logan as home base, there’s a lot to see and do in the city from its legendary history to more modern attractions. Visitors should take a tour of the colonial-era Old City, but then spend some time exploring Philly’s museums and modern attractions. Also round out your visit with a stop at Reading Terminal Market for a crash course into classic Philadelphia comfort food.
I love Australia, a lot. So much that more than once I’ve seriously looked into relocating to the Land Down Under. Until I can figure out the immigration rules I’ll just have to manage with visits to this remarkable continent, including one of my favorite states – Queensland. Queensland is what I usually call Australia in a nutshell. The state has everything a visitor could want from the dusty outback and rural ranches to stunning coastlines and even rainforests. There are also some fun cities and towns to visit including Brisbane, Cairns and Port Douglas. Visitors should go to Queensland to swim along the Great Barrier Reef, enjoy some fun in the sun on the Gold Coast, trek into the Daintree Rainforest and be amazed by the stunning surprises around every bend in the road.
Canada’s National Parks
2017 is a special year in Canada, there are lots of anniversaries going on including the 150th birthday of the Canadian Confederation. From coast to coast, these parks are some of the most beautiful places on the planet and two in particular – Banff and Jasper – rank among my favorite travel destinations. 2017 is the best year to explore Canada’s national parks because, in light of this celebration, all parks will be free to visitors for the duration of the year. No one does this ever, so take advantage of this rare chance to see the best of Canada’s natural treasures for free. Some highlights of Canada’s National Parks include: the Icefields Parkway, Maligne Lake, Bay of Fundy, Gros Morne, Kootenay, Prince Edward Island and many, many more.
All of Wales is great and I personally think it’s one of the world’s most underrated travel destinations. Although I’ve never had a bad experience in the country, I especially loved my visit to the capital city of Cardiff. Enjoying a very compact center city, it’s a walkable city with tons to offer. To best experience it, I joined a food tour of Cardiff and nearby Cardiff Bay, enjoying great food along with a crash course into the city’s history. Castles, pubs, museums and more, there’s a lot to love about Cardiff. Visitors should also take a food tour, walk around impressive Cardiff Castle, join a quick boat ride out to Cardiff Bay and drive over to nearby Penarth not just to admire the gorgeous seascape, but to also eat at the newly Michelin-star awarded Restaurant James Sommerin.
What other destinations would you add to this list?