Barranco, Lima, Peru | photo: Kara Walsh
We’ve dissected the top destination lists to identify the best places for your specific travel goals
by Jennifer Mitchell
At the start of the year, nearly every travel publication releases a list of the best places to travel. But who has time to peruse every list? We do. And we’ve analyzed them to find the most popular destinations across a variety of publications, including Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, CNN Travel, The New York Times and many more. We also segmented the top destinations by popular reasons for travel and type of traveler, so you can quickly find the perfect destination for your travel goals. If your travel bucket list is extensive and you’re looking for the must-do destinations of 2019, view our summary of destinations hosting an anniversary celebration and destinations making a comeback in 2019.
What’s your 2019 travel intention?
To relax and focus on wellness
Though various cities across Mexico were named as top 2019 destinations, the Chable Resort in Mérida is perfect for anyone looking to relax. This wellness retreat and world-class spa incorporates indigenous Mayan traditions into treatments. The resort is also opening a Pitch & Putt this month for those who are most at ease on the green. Not only do the restaurants serve organic food from an award-winning chef, but 40% of the produce and herbs used are grown on the resort’s farm.
With new hotels, resorts and newly added flights, Bhutan is officially a hot travel destination of 2019. Whether you’re looking for a wellness lodge like the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, which offers yoga and meditation programs and spa treatments, a journey through Buddhist temples or are looking to explore the beautiful jungles and wildlife of the Himalayan Mountains, the Bhutanese will help you find your Zen.
To experience art and culture
The city of Matera is actually built on more than 1,000 cave dwellings that were condemned and cleared in the 1950s. Since then, boutique hotels, shops, galleries and restaurants have been built in, on and around the limestone caves, giving Matera a second life. This “rebirth” was one of the leading reasons the city earned the 2019 European Capital of Culture title. Celebrations kick off on January 19th.
Bulgaria’s second largest city was the other city named as a 2019 European Capital of Culture. The city has a storied history and was, at various times, ruled by Greeks, Romans and Ottomans, leaving the city with a unique and vibrant culture. Throughout the year, the city will host a number of events and festivals, including the Opera Open festival in June and July, and the Kapana Fest in the summer and fall.
To go on an outdoor adventure
A relatively new tourist destination, Oman offers a variety of desert adventures, including camel-racing, sand-skiing and 4WD dune-bashing. Visitors can trek through the Hajar Mountains on foot or embrace the horse culture and ride through the mountains, dunes or along the beaches of the Gulf of Oman. While galloping along the beach, be on the lookout for dolphins and turtles.
Durmitor National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers so many excursions, you’d be hard-pressed not to find one you’ll love. Depending on your desired thrill level, you can go high-adventure canyoneering, whitewater rafting or attempt to climb the 8,278-foot Bobotov Kuk. Or opt to take a leisurely bike ride or hike around the lakes, which happen to be perfect for trout fishing.
To be one with nature and focus on conservation
Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique:
The Gorongosa National Park was once home to a plethora of wild animals, including buffalo, elephants, hippos and lions. However, the country’s civil war, which lasted until 1992, killed many of the animals living there. Fortunately, much the park, along with other beaches, savannas, grasslands, rain forests and bodies of water throughout the country have recently been restored, and wildlife conservation has taken the spotlight. Plan a multi-day safari through the park and then head to the coast for a few days of relaxation and exploration.
After diligent conservation efforts, the Belize Barrier Reef System was removed from the UNESCO World Heritage site danger list in June of 2018. You can now swim, snorkel, scuba dive or kayak through the reef, which is one of the most biodiverse reefs on the planet. And the government of Belize vowed to phase out single use plastics by April 22, 2019 (Earth Day) which is another important step towards protecting their marine ecosystem.
To indulge in great food and drink
Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico:
The Napa Valley of Mexico, Valle de Guadalupe is an emerging wine region and boasts a number of farm-to-table restaurants created by esteemed chefs, including Javier Plascencia and Diego Hernández.
Not only has the country been named the World's Leading Culinary Destination for seven consecutive years, but the city of Lima is home to three of the World's 50 Best Restaurants: Central, Maidoand Astrid & Gastón. Lima’s cliffside Barranco neighborhood is undergoing a renewal that makes it an ideal place for culture lovers to stay and explore. When it comes to the landscape, the country is covered with rain forests, mountains and beaches, making it an ideal destination for a foodie who loves being out in nature.
Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak | photo: Kara Walsh
To admire incredible architecture
Bauhaus Trail, Germany:
The revolutionary Bauhaus design movement celebrates its 100th birthday in 2019. The Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar and eventually moved to Dessau then Berlin. It’s reimagining of art, crafts, architecture, furniture design and fine arts attracted the genius minds of Mies van der Rohe, Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky. Cities around Germany, including Berlin, Weimar and Dessau will hold festivals throughout the year, leading up to the much-anticipated September opening of the new Bauhaus Museum in Dessau.
Over the last few years Hong Kong has been going through a period of notable development. The city recently built up two new neighborhoods that are worth exploring, especially if this isn’t your first visit. Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon is a budding arts district that was recently transformed by the architects of NYC’s High Line, and Tai Kwun is a vibrant cultural zone with a new art gallery and theater. Visitors can also travel across the newly opened 34-mile sea bridge-tunnel system connecting Hong Kong to the mainland—it's the world's longest sea crossing. Of course, this new connection to the mainland may serve to accelerate the shift away from Hong Kong’s autonomy, so traveling soon is recommended.
Traveling with a group or flying solo?
Best destinations for families
We hope that the Grand Canyon is on every family’s must-see list, but 2019 is the year to cross it off. The Grand Canyon National Park is celebrating its centennial anniversary in 2019 and is planning special events throughout the year to celebrate. If you’re hoping to add a little adventure to your trip, consider a hike—or mule ride—to the bottom of the canyon. The Grand Canyon Railway also offers fun and educational family tours.
2019 marks Alaska’s 60th year of statehood and the Anchorage airport is adding more direct flights to get people there to celebrate. In recent years, an Alaskan cruise has become a popular way for families to explore the beauty of the state. But the allure of seeing sea otters, puffins, bison, reindeer, brown bears and sled dogs at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska SeaLife Center and Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) is enticing some families to drive or take the Alaska Railroad across the state.
Because the city is playing host to the 2020 Olympics, tourism infrastructure improvements have been made, but the intense crowds won’t arrive for another year. Not only will you expose your kids to a new culture, new food and new ideas, but there are tons of kid-friendly museums and attractions. Play with hedgehogs at the Hedgehog Home and Café, see pandas at Ueno zoo and, of course, make a stop at Disneyland Tokyo.
Typical Vietnam city street | photo: Kara Walsh
Best destinations for solo travelers
Over the last year, Vietnam has seen a huge boost in tourists and that is expected to grow through 2019 and 2020. Travelers are drawn to the country’s incredible food, beautiful scenery (be sure to visit the Hoang Lien Son National Park and Muong Hoa Valley) and the museums, temples and activities in the capital, Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam is considered to be a safe destination for solo travelers with friendly locals, but Inside Asia Tours suggests traveling with a small group or an English-speaking guide to help you get around and plan activities. For solo female travelers looking for adventure, Sapa Sisters is a trekking adventure organization owned by local Hmong women.
Toronto is a diverse city that celebrates multi-culturalism. Roughly half of the city’s residents are immigrants and more than 200 languages are spoken there. The city has 140 neighborhoods worth exploring that celebrate the city’s diversity. In September of 2019, Toronto will launch the Toronto Biennial of Art, which will highlight multidisciplinary contemporary art along Toronto’s waterfront for 90 days.
Margeret River Region, Australia:
Australia is widely considered to be a safe place for solo travel, and the friendly, English-speaking locals are welcoming to visitors. As the only town in Western Australia with more than 100,000 residents, Perth has largely been kept a secret, until now, when new direct flights from London will allow tourists to get there more easily and use Perth as a base to explore all this remote region has to offer. See the stunning wildlife and landscapes, surf and sun on the world-class beaches and wine and dine at the Margaret River restaurants and Swan Valley wineries. Foodie travel questers may want to plan their visit around the Margaret River Gourmet Escape in November.
Best destinations for the LGBTQ community
Though always a popular destination for tourists, New York City will host World Pride this June. The event will be the world's biggest LGBTQ celebration and is planned in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
This unique city has a reputation for being simultaneously laid-back and cosmopolitan. Explore the emerging hip-hop scene, devour the world-renowned food, take part in the city's tattoo culture and enjoy the incredible displays of fashion and art throughout the city. Though the LGBTQ population in China faces a number of political challenges, Chengdu embraces and celebrates the community, making it a safe place to travel.
Las Vegas, Nevada:
2019 is the year to visit this popular tourist destination. The new Park MGM hotel just opened and plays host to residencies from two music legends: Lady Gaga and Aerosmith. The hotel is also home to incredible eats including Bavette's and Korean BBQ joint Best Friend by Roy Choi. Sin City is also hosting the seventh annual Life is Beautiful in September, which brings in an array of musicians, artists, comics, chefs and influencers to celebrate unity, optimism and creativity.
Destinations celebrating an anniversary in 2019
This small but mighty country is celebrating its 300th year as a principality in 2019. The country has a variety of celebrations planned throughout the year.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There are a number of cemeteries, beach tours and museums that individuals can visit to remember the immense sacrifices given and freedoms won on that day.
Cape Canaveral, Florida:
Celebrate one giant leap for mankind at the Kennedy Space Center 50 years after man first walked on the moon.
2019 comeback cities
Canterbury Region/Christchurch, New Zealand:
In 2011, the city of Christchurch was tragically leveled by an earthquake. However, the city has rebuilt itself and is now home to colorful street art about hope and resilience and hosts regular music performances throughout the city. After spending a few days in the city, head out to stargaze, hike and “freedom camp” on public lands. If you can plan your trip in mid-March, watch the epic GODZone expedition-style race. The largest race of its kind, GODZone includes trekking, mountain biking, climbing and kayaking across the alps-to-ocean terrain.
Barts, French West Indies:
After being hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017, St. Barts had to rebuild its luxurious resorts and charming businesses over the last year. Most of the island is back open and extravagant New Year’s Eve celebrations are rumored to be in the works for the end of the year.
Listed as the number one place to visit in 2019 on the New York Times 52 Places list, Puerto Rico is making a big comeback after Hurricane Maria. One of the main attractions: see Lin-Manuel Miranda reprise his role in the hit musical “Hamilton”.
Where will you travel in 2019? Drop a note in the comments below or share on social with the hashtag #NoSmallPlan. Still having trouble deciding? Ask yourself these questions to help you narrow down the list. And don’t forget to update your No Small Plan map with your new 2019 travel destinations.
Jennifer Mitchell is a blogger, comedian, freelance copywriter and travel enthusiast.