The New Year brings renewed wanderlust and a fresh haul of vacation days to put to good use. We’ve tapped our top travel insiders, got the scoop from destination experts and engaged in some heated office debates to present our 14 hottest destinations for 2014
Home to Europe's biggest market (housed in former zeppelin hangars) and oldest zoo, Riga may be a city of little-known superlatives but this Baltic beauty is stepping into the spotlight next year as the European Capital of Culture 2014. Open-air gigs, multimedia operas, summer solstice parties and light installations will take to the cobblestone streets as part of the year-long celebration and hotel heavyweights, Sheraton and Kempinski, will be making a mark on the fairytale skyline with the opening of new digs. Travel tip: Take a fistful of Euros with you; Latvia is saying Atā (goodbye) to its national currency (the Lat) come January 1.
Downtown LA, USA
Whereas most cities’ downtown districts have long been no-brainer buzz zones for art, culture, and food, L.A.’s downtown is finally reaching the height of its urban renaissance. After a period of postwar decrepitude, DTLA, as locals lovingly call it, has filled its vacant streets and Deco structures with gastropubs, galleries, and even a spankin’ new Ace Hotel — set to open mid-January in the 1927 United Artists building. And then there’s the new Broad Museum, a 2000-piece contemporary art museum that will open (free to the public!) come late 2014. For now though, there’s plenty of culinary diversion to whet your downtown appetite: from rattlesnake sausages at Wurstküche and black truffle cavatelli at Bestia, to blue crab hand rolls at Sugarfish and bottled craft cocktails in Honeycut’s newly opened disco den.
With a string of thumping live music venues, a sartorial scene to rival London's and a skyline shaped by starchitects, Glasgow is Scotland's creative capital and longtime hipper sister to tourist-packed Edinburgh. And next summer, the world's fittest and fastest will descend on the city as it hosts the Commonwealth Games from July 23 - August 3. In addition to new sporting hubs, including the spaceship-esque Hydro Arena, a billion-pound regeneration project is transforming the industrial harbor area, which is now home to the striking Zaha Hadid–designed Riverside Museum.
On the banks of Lake Michigan, Wisconsin’s largest city is going through a quiet renaissance while hanging on to its Old World outlook. In the city’s rapidly changing Downtown, Brewhouse Inn & Suites stole the hipster crown from the Iron Horse Hotel when it opened in the old Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery in May, while a short hop south, the historic Third Ward District is seeing ever-growing foot traffic along its riverside walks and in newly popular restaurants — crowds that will only grow when Kimpton makes its debut in 2015. South of the river, the Walker’s Point area is becoming an unofficial foodie hub, with Great Lakes Distillery, Indulgence Chocolatiers, the cultish Purple Door Ice Cream and Braise Restaurant all featuring on Bon Appetit’s Top 50 list this year.
Hainan Island, China
Riding the wave of China's economic boom, Hainan Island, the country's answer to Hawaii, is adding a gnarly selection of upscale hotels to its arsenal of surfer hostels and beach bum bars. Sofitel, Langham and Westin are all muscling in on the scene, bringing high-end hotels to the high seas in 2014. For when the surf's not up, head inland to hike the central highlands under a thick canopy of forest, explore the volcano park and ancient lava rock villages, or pay a visit to one of the island's Buddhist temples.
Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
The wildest region of one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, the Osa Peninsula is an unblemished corner of Costa Rica where sloths and monkeys dangle from trees and tapirs cool off in jungle mud baths in the crowd-free Corcovado National Park. A new superhighway between Rincon and Puerto Jimenez (a frontier-like town and gateway to the peninsula) has slashed drive times from San Jose to six hours, and two new luxury hotels, Oxygen Jungle Villas and Kura Design Villas, are helping to put the region on the world map.
Lesser Antilles, Caribbean
“Getting there is half the fun” is a travel cliche rarely used during layover-laden journeys from the US to the Caribbean. Bad connections, small airports and frequent delays turn time-poor travelers away from the harder to reach isles in favor of direct-flight hubs like the DR and St. Thomas. This year, however, JetBlue is adding a new service from New York JFK to Trinidad and Tobago (from Feb 24), with a second route from Fort Lauderdale taking flight in May. And over on St. Vincent & the Grenadines, the island chain’s long-delayed $240 million international airport will open in the spring, with capacity for Boeing 747 jumbos and an anticipated four-fold increase in visitors.
Papua New Guinea
More than 750 tribes. Eight hundred languages. A ninth of the size of Australia with just as many mammal species. Oh and only about 5,000 Americans visit each year. Papua New Guinea is one of the great secrets of the South Pacific. Its reputation for cannibalism scared off more than a few tourists (though the practice largely ceased by the 1950s) and lack of infrastructure has kept travel to a trickle. But with the Pacific Games and the 40th anniversary of its independence on the horizon for 2015, the island nation has stepped up its tourism game with new hotels, upgraded airports and modern cruise ports. Two new luxury trips launching in 2014 — one a collaboration between National Geographic and Linblad Expeditions and the second a trek by Kensington Tours — will get you there ahead of the curve.
The elegant introvert among South America’s flamboyant capital cities, Santiago has felt like the starlet ready to take center stage since recovering from a 2010 earthquake with renewed arts and culture programs and an every-rising skyline. LAN’s new Los Angeles to Santiago route is making it an accessible destination for west coasters seeking out-of-season skiing. The hotel world is also ready for the new visitors with a slew of boutique openings: In bohemian Lastarria, the Singular Santiago — yep, sister property of the trailblazing Patagonian original — opens its 63 rooms, rooftop pool, spa and French restaurant in April, while in Pablo Neruda’s barrio of Bellavista, the hotly anticipated Hotel Castillo Rojo will start welcoming guests in the summer.
Australia’s southernmost state sits on an island the size of West Virginia, but these days it has more in common with locavore-mad Oregon. Big-city chefs have been decamping from Sydney and Melbourne to set up shop here, closer to where they’ve long been sourcing their artisanal ingredients. Throw in nine cooking schools, microbreweries and small-batch distilleries, and you’ve got one of one of the world’s most exciting culinary escapes. It’s all set against a dramatic natural backdrop of rugged coastline and craggy peaks with design-centric eco-lodges. And then there’s MONA, a 62,000 square foot subterranean art museum opened by millionaire gambler David Walsh with the largest private collection of art in the southern hemisphere, as well as a winery, brewery, restaurant and, by 2016, an affordable boutique hotel.
Oman has remained a relatively well-kept secret in the Middle East, but 2014 could be this coastal country’s biggest year yet thanks to the addition of over 3,000 hotel rooms by December. Many new properties are taking advantage of Oman’s incredible natural scenery — adventure travelers can look for the launch of the 78-suite Alila Jabal Akhdar, set in the central section of the striking Al Hajar Mountains at the beginning of the year. Anantara Al Madina A’Zarqa Resort & Spa will open its doors at the beach on the Gulf of Oman, while Salalah Beach in the south expands its seaside offerings with Rotana Hotel, opening this month.
Encompassing Tanzania’s largest National Park and the still little visited Selous Game Reserve, the country’s southern circuit is becoming the destination for adventure travelers to get away from the safari crowds into wild Africa. Coastal Aviation now offers daily 30-minute flights from Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar into the Selous, where photography-only concessions are expanding into traditional hunting territory. To get further off the beaten path, the vast and remote Ruaha National Park is a favorite for walking safaris and true isolation, though Nomad Tanzania’s new six-tent camp, Kigelia, has injected a dose of rustic-luxe comfort.
Crested Butte, CO, USA
This mining town turned ski spot has happily hid in the shadow of blinged out neighbor Aspen, keeping its Victorian storefronts, funky festivals and, most importantly, its seriously epic powder all to itself. But the classic ski town is set to shine year-round in 2014. A new direct United route from Chicago will make flying in faster. The new design-centric Taylor River Lodge, opening in spring 2014, and its sister Scarp Ridge Lodge are seriously upping the luxury factor, bringing you the comforts of Aspen without the crowds. And Crested Butte Mountain Resort is adding to its already legendary extreme in-bound terrain with the addition of a new expert bowl. But this pretension-free spot will happily cede the spotlight back to Aspen come summer when the town opens the new 33,000 square-foot, Shigeru Ban-designed Aspen Art Museum building.
Cape Town, South Africa
All eyes were on the Mother City at the end of 2013 following the death of Nelson Mandela, but the coastal metropolis is also looking ahead as it takes up the post of World Design Capital for 2014. Twelve months of art- and design-focused events are planned across the city, including a "pixel mosaic" portrait of Nelson Mandela made from one million portraits of South Africans and new green gallery spaces constructed from shipping containers.