We've boiled down the top "top destinations" lists to make your travel planning easier
by Jennifer Mitchell
At the start of the year, nearly every travel blog, publication and booking platform released a list of the top places to travel in the coming year. And if you’re someone who subscribes to almost every one of them, it becomes overwhelming to skim though the 200+ destinations across 10 different lists. So we did the work for you. We combed through the major lists released this year and found the destinations that were talked about most. We distilled those down to the places that are most travel-worthy this year. Whether you’re looking to take a trip in the U.S. over a long weekend or if you plan to take a few weeks to explore the other side of the world, there’s a recommendation here to help you answer the question “where should I go next?”.
THE TOP THREE
Here’s where we have a consensus: these three destinations were on almost every list we looked at. They offer a good mix of experience types and each lends itself to different groups of travel companions. Here are the top three places to visit in 2018.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Not only was NOLA on multiple lists, but it sat at the #1 spot for several, and was almost always in the top ten. Though the parades, hurricane drinks and gumbo always draw a good crowd, this year New Orleans is celebrating its tricentennial. That’s right, New Orleans is throwing its 300th birthday party all year long. There will be special tricentennial celebrations scheduled, a citywide art exhibition and streetcar service expansions so you can explore more of the city during your stay. So even if you’ve experienced the Big Easy, it might be worth a return trip this year.
Carmel-by-the-Sea | photo: Kara Walsh
Road trip on Highway 1
If road trips are your thing, you’ve no doubt dreamt of taking the classic road trip down Highway 1. Though portions of the highway have been closed in the last year due to mudslides, many sections are reopening, and now is the perfect time to support the local businesses that were cut off from visitors. This year’s popular spots include Big Sur, Monterey County and Paso Robles. The driving portion should only take three to four hours, but with stops at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, looking for your dream house in Carmel-by-the-Sea, hiking in Big Sur and a wine tasting at a vineyard in Paso Robles, your week will fill up before you know it. If you’re worried about mudslides affecting your trip, stay up to date by checking for road closures.
Off the beaten path in Spain
Though the ever-popular Barcelona received a few mentions again, we also saw some recommendations for destinations in Spain that were off the beaten path, including the historic Seville and the beaches of Nerja, which are roughly three hours apart by car. Ribera del Duero, Spain’s “second” wine region, was also a top pick. And with the recent protests of tourists in Barcelona, we’d recommend visiting at some of these lesser-known, but highly endorsed cities.
THE THREE-STAR TIER
Though the three cities listed above may be the most popular of the year, they may also attract the most touristy crowds and drive up costs. The destinations below were on no less than three destination roundups. So though they’re still highly recommended, you may be have a little more elbow room once you get there.
Cartagena, Colombia | photo: Kara Walsh
Buzz about Cartagena has been building for a few years, but after a 2016 peace treaty ended the Colombian civil war, other parts of the country have become increasingly popular destinations. 2018 is the perfect time to visit — new areas are becoming accessible and safe, but the tourism boost hasn’t yet affected travel costs, so your dollar will take you far. Whether you’re interested in the cosmopolitan foodie scene of Bogotá, the gorgeous beaches of Capurganá or an adventure in the Pacific Coast rainforests, Colombia can deliver.
Mexico City, Mexico
Calling all foodies! This is the destination for you. Everything from the Michelin-starred feasts to the taco cart cheap eats will leave you feeling full yet wanting more. Mexico City was also named the 2018 World Design Capital — the first city in the Americas to ever receive this honor. So in between meals, you can check out the urban gardens, bike sharing program or admire the award-winning architecture.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
2018 should be a big year for Buenos Aires. Though the gorgeous street murals, sexy tango dancing, empanadas and chimichurri are always solid selling points, art lovers and sports fan alike will have a special reason to visit Buenos Aires this year. The city will host both the Art Basel cities program and the Youth Olympics in 2018. And if you’re unimpressed by that, perhaps you’ll enjoy the food at Tegui, which was recently named one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Art and architecture is the name of the game in Abu Dhabi. The city is in the midst of a number of projects that will result in groundbreaking architecture, tourist attractions and art galleries. The newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi has encountered nothing but high praise, and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will become the largest Guggenheim museum in the world once it opens its doors later this year.
Valletta, Malta | photo: Anne Crays
As if it weren’t enough to be a picture-perfect island and the filming locations for much of the first season of Game of Thrones, Malta has now become the apex of culture. The nation’s capital, Valletta, was named the 2018 European Capital of Culture. The city has more than 400 events and 140 projects by 1,000 local and international artists, curators, performers, writers, designers and filmmakers slated for this year. So no matter when you go, you’re sure to see something astounding.
TWO THUMBS UP
Though not on every list, the following cities made at least two appearances on popular travel site lists. And for us, that’s enough to give them two thumbs up.
Seoul/Pyeongchang, South Korea
Both Seoul and Pyeongchang were listed as popular 2018 travel destinations. As you’ve likely seen in the Olympic coverage, Pyeongchang has incredible ski slopes. It’s also a major destination for whitewater rafting. But if spa saunas and karaoke are calling your name, then Seoul is the place for you.
Go to Brussels for the museums and stay for the beer. In fact, you can kick off your cultural pursuit at a contemporary arts museum housed in a former brewery, The Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art (MIMA), which opened in 2016. Then if you time it right, you can also see the highly anticipated Citroën Cultural Centre, set to open this year. And after taking in some art, you’ll be ready to stop by Belgium’s famed breweries like Brasserie de la Senne or Brussels Beer Project, which use experimental microbrewery techniques.
Luang Prabang, Laos
If your friends enjoy travelling as much as you do, pictures of elephant sanctuaries have no doubt made an appearance in your Instagram feed. Luang Prabang is home to not only elephant sanctuaries, but Buddhist temples, waterfalls and hiking trails. And this is the year to go. With new resorts and more convenient modes of transportation popping up, you’ll want to get there before the crowds do.
Washington, D.C., United States
Washington, D.C. is no longer just for cherry blossoms, museums and school trips. The mile-long District Wharf just opened and offers access to new parks, music venues, shops and 20 restaurants. And after the Michelin Guide launched in D.C. in 2016, D.C. has proven that its restaurant chops are on par with other major foodie destinations.
So there you have it. The roundup of all roundups. We hope you were able to find at least one new destination to add to your 2018 travel plan. And if not, we’ve dropped our favorite lists below so you can dig deeper to find the perfect destination for you. Be sure to create or update your personal travel map with your trips at No Small Plan so you can share it with your friends and fellow world travelers.
Our favorite place-spotters
Jennifer Mitchell is a blogger, comedian, freelance copywriter and travel enthusiast.
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