We tapped into our global network of tastemakers and writers (cueing a slew of heated discussions) to narrow down our EPIC 2016 travel wish list. From an Arctic wonderland and European arts hub, to a buzzy Caribbean island and under-the-radar American town, these are the destinations we're devoted our year to.
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Miami heat has been invented and reinvented hundreds of times, but in 2016, it's hotter than ever. While Miami Beach awaits the $1 billion dollar Faena Arts Center and Baz Luhrmann-designed Saxony hotel, Downtown is flush with grade A creative energy. The 250,000-square-foot Frost Museum of Science will soon neighbor the Perez Art Museum, which kick-started Downtown's rebirth back in 2013. There are 400 new restaurants now open for business in the area, including heavy-hitters like Rainer Becker's Zuma and Daniel Boulud's db Bistro Moderne. And the hotly anticipated Langford Hotel is set to debut in a 1925 Beaux Arts landmark this winter, bringing a Jose Mendin restaurant and rooftop cocktail bar to SE 1st Street. If all this sounds too rich for your blood, rest easy in one of 11 other upcoming hotels⎯ including two from SLS ⎯ scheduled to open in Miami in the next 18 months.
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam may have classical art on lock (see: Rijksmuseum, Willet-Holthuysen, The van Gogh Museum), but Rotterdam, Holland's second-largest city, is a thoroughly modern affair. Set in the southern Rhine River delta, the city has been rebuilding its urban center since the end of World War II, and its skyline is now dotted with high design buildings that sit alongside 500-year-old windmills. The contemporary arts center Museum Rotterdam kicks off inside the Rem Koolhaas Timmerhuis in early 2016, and cutting edge cultural hub Kunsthal Rotterdam will host a political exhibition of Keith Haring artworks (currently on view) as well as a Peter Lindbergh fashion photography retrospective, debuting September 2016. Bonus: Getting there has never been easier, thanks to new Eurostar service launching between London and Rotterdam later this year, and twice daily routes on Flybe (Europe's largest regional carrier) from Birmingham and Manchester.
Hot hotels, a booming culinary scene and an increasingly youthful vibe are transforming the hippest part of North Carolina’s bookish research triangle (which also includes Raleigh and Chapel Hill). The recently opened, 125-key 21c Museum Hotel Durham occupies a 1930s landmark building downtown, and hosts contemporary arts and cultural programs across 10,500 square feet of exhibition space (all shows are free and open to the public). Then there's The Durham, a 53-key boutique stay with a proudly Carolinian bent: its 53 rooms are stocked with custom blankets from Raleigh Denim, bean-to-bar treats from Escazu Artisan Chocolate, and bath amenities from Durham's own Burt's Bees. James Beard Award-winning chef Andrea Reusing, previously of Chapel Hill's beloved Lantern restaurant, runs The Durham's southern-accented restaurant (she had us at "whole hog scrapple"), and small plates menu at the swish rooftop bar. Near downtown's $48 million Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), the chic Aloft Hotel is welcoming a 4600-square-foot temple to steak that's guaranteed to be one of the hottest tables in town.
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America’s National Parks
Sidestepping saber-toothed cat fossils in the Badlands. Hiking beneath sky-high sequoias in Yosemite. Splashing in waterfalls near Zion’s Emerald Pools. The overwhelming grandeur of America’s National Parks will impress even the most seasoned world traveler—and in 2016, this network of natural reserves turns 100. Celebrate the centennial of what Wallace Stegner (and Ken Burns) coined "America's best idea" at one of 58 national parks dotting our national landscape, which span glaciers, geysers, sultry swamplands, canyons and breathtaking snow-capped mountains. Check out FindYourPark.com to find geo-located parks and events like the BioBlitz, when local experts lead free hikes and inventorying treks (more fun than they sound) through Hawaiian volcanoes, Appalachian forests and the Death Valley desert.
The Italian capital reinforces its status as the Eternal City in 2016 thanks to major refurbishments of its most treasured icons. The Colosseum is currently in the middle of an $18.5 million refresh, which has so far revealed a gleaming original wood-and-sand floor, constructed in 80 AD. The reno follows in the footsteps of luxury leather label Tod’s $27 million donation in 2011 to brighten the façade and help build a modern visitors center. In November 2015, fashion house Fendi unveiled a $2.4 million, 17-month restoration of the Trevi Fountain aimed at reinstating its gurgling waters to the delight of classicists and ‘grammers worldwide. The city has also seen a profusion of thoroughly modern boutique hotel openings, including G-Rough, a collection of 10 suites in a 16th century palazzo kitted out with mid-century Italian designer furnishings; the stylish D.O.M. hotel, where Warhol prints hang alongside 16th century marble; and The Corner, an Art Nouveau townhouse with 11 light-filled rooms, a basement nightclub, and a molto trendy restaurant from Italian chef Fabio Baldassarre.
New Orleans, Louisiana
No one ever needs a reason to visit NOLA, but slick new hotels are lending boutique cred to a city previously dominated by grand dames and big-box chains. Ace Hotel's forthcoming foray in the Warehouse District will bring 234 Roman and Williams-designed guestrooms, a Stumptown Coffee Roasters cafe, chic lounge, and restaurant and rooftop swimming pool to a 1928 Art Deco building. Starwood is transforming a sleepy downtown W into a sleek Le Meridien, and Four Seasons Hotel & Residences is also slotted to debut a $364 million property in the former World Trade Center. As if all this wasn't enough, Virgin Hotels is set to open a 183-"chamber" (Branson-speak for guestroom) stay in the Central Business District in mid-2016. You know you've made it when Branson comes to town...
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brazil’s sprawling seaside city is on a winning streak. Hot on the heels of hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Rio is posed to welcome nearly 400,000 sports fans to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games this August. Those departing American ports have a wealth of flight options: United Airlines recently linked with Brazil’s Azul carrier, and will launch direct routes to Rio from Chicago, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Houston and Washington DC. In anticipation, new cultural institutions are popping up across the city like the Museu do Arte do Rio, dedicated to Rio's creative legacy, while Copacabana's Museum of Image and Sound is in the midst of a massive overhaul by New York design firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Upon completion, it will have expanded exhibition space, with an entire wing dedicated to Carmen Miranda, and a 280-seat theater and basement nightclub. Another can't miss: the $55 million Museu do Amanha scheduled to open just before the Olympic Games, with 15,000 square feet of interactive exhibition space designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Long-haul flights and an overwhelming expanse of destination attractions (skiing or scuba diving? wine tasting or glacier trekking?) can make a trip to New Zealand feel like a hard kiwi to crack. But direct routes to Auckland from Houston via Air New Zealand and Los Angeles with American Airlines are increasingly available. Once there, a new collection of nationwide cycling trails is connecting active adventurers to 1600 miles of breathtaking landscapes across the country. Called Nga Haeranga (Maori for "the journeys"), the 23 interconnected trails are an $80 million eco-tourism endeavor six years in the making. Those looking for a plush place to rest their weary wheels can check into the new Sofitel So Auckland, housed in a glorious former Grand Reserve bank.
Barbados celebrates its 50th year of independence in 2016, giving travelers new reason to visit the Anglophilic island, whose fortuitous Eastern Caribbean location has kept hurricanes at bay for more than 20 years. Travelers departing America’s east coast will have easier access to all the anniversary festivities thanks to JetBlue’s newly launched flights out of Boston, plus upcoming JetBlue Mint service from Boston and NYC. Go in January for the Mount Gay Round Barbados Race Series, a posh Caribbean sailing event in its 80th year, or in November for the annual Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival, which brings boldfaced chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and Chris Cosentino to tropical kitchens. As for where to stay, the latest buzz on-island is at Port Ferdinand, a $6 million collection of 82 marina-facing villas (many with private yacht berths) that debuted in 2015 and are already a favorite of tabloid-dodging British footballers. If you're looking for something that won't stretch your budget quite that far there's the just renovated Cobbler's Cove, a 40-suite resort in a 1943 mansion, and the more bohemian, all-inclusive Sugar Bay in Bridgetown.
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Frequently overshadowed by the bustling food scene in neighboring Lima, Ecuador’s cobblestoned capital (one of the world’s first UNESCO heritage sites) will finally get its just desserts this year. Quito’s sparkling new airport (with new direct flights on Jet Blue) and refurbished train station make traveling around the Ecuadorian capital an Andean breeze, and a public transportation system connecting the city center with historic districts citywide is currently in the works. Stay at Casa Gangotena, a boutique hotel in a colonial mansion overlooking the 500-year-old Plaza San Francisco, and reserve a table at its revamped restaurant, where Quito-born chef Andres Davila serves modern interpretations of traditional Ecuadorian dishes like coastal ceviche or lomo, a hearty potato soup of your dreams.
Previously part of Bohemia, Prussia, Austria and Germany, contemporary Wroclaw (pronounced “Vrots-waff”) is a 2016 European Capital of Culture that's been overlooked for its more popular European sister cities. Cutting edge arts institutions BWA Gallery and Brower Mieszczanski occupy post-industrial exhibition spaces (the latter is a former brewery), while at Neon Side, a gallery-slash-concert hall in a former neon signage factory, Wroclaw's cool kids sip coffee and local beers to live music acts. Public parks like the Velodrome, located on a 1930s cycling track, and Wyspa Slodowa, an urban island on the site of a 15th century malthouse, are prime for people-watching and multilingual flirting, as is Pralnia, a nightclub in a 19th century brewery that serves stiff libations and plays thumping electronica. Lest out-of-towners think Polish cuisine is all blood sausages and pierogi, the buzzy new Baszta café whips up standout vegan and vegetarian fare with a Thai accent, in a medieval tower. Brave new world, indeed.
Southern Africa’s lush democracy celebrates 50 years of independence in 2016. Mark the milestone at the Okavongo Delta’s Belmond Eagle Island Lodge, a water-based safari specialist reopening this season after a top-to-bottom makeover. Book one of the 12 new Deluxe Tented Rooms, which have private plunge pools and decks overlooking the waters winding through the Delta grasslands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world's largest inland water systems. (Mind the indigenous eagles.) Those who prefer to celebrate on dry land should head north to Selinda Explorers Camp, an eight-guest operation that opened in 2012 and shares its 320,000-square-acre reserve with lions, elephants and sky-high mangosteen and jackalberry trees.
Tel Aviv’s White City has attracted arts and nightlife seekers for decades, but the ancient coastal district of Jaffa is undergoing a modern reinvention that will transform it from a day trip photo op into a standalone destination. The 4,000-year-old port has Bronze Age-era stone towers, ancient ironwork and seafaring heritage of Biblical proportions. (Ahoy, Jonah!) This summer, it will also have a slick new W Hotel in a former convent that includes John Pawson-designed interiors, a bar located in an ancient school chapel, and a luxury beach club. A few blocks inland, Atlas Hotels' new 44-room Market House is set in a former Israeli intelligence building, which sits on top of the remains of an 8th century Byzantine chapel (the hotel has glass floors, so guests can see the artifacts below). Hop on one of the property's free loaner bicycles to explore the area, just beware of Tel Aviv's notoriously bad traffic.
The industrial hub up north that bequeathed Morrissey’s mournful croon is fast becoming a cultural powerhouse. HOME, a $37 million arts venue opened last May, has London theatregoers pointing wagons north. The sparkling facility hosts international contemporary art, theater and film exhibitions on two stages, five screens and a modern gallery. It joins the revamped Whitworth Gallery and the $100 million, elegantly domed Central Library. Rem Koolhaas' OMA design firm is now creating The Factory, a $160 million multi-purpose arts center scheduled to host the Manchester International Festival. The newest hotels on the block are Hotel Gotham, an unapologetically splashy collection of 60 mod guestrooms and the Abel Heywood, owned by local brewery Hydes.
Our favorite new safari destination isn’t in Africa but the Arctic. While adventurers hailing from Europe and North America have been singing Iceland’s praises for years, Greenland’s wintry wilderness remains blissfully unhyped ⎯ and is singularly threatened by climate change. In March, capital city Nuuk will host the 2016 Arctic Winter Games, a biennial celebration of winter sports with more than 2,000 athletes from national, regional and indigenous teams. Get in on the action with an expedition from luxe operator Natural Habitat's newly launched Base Camp Greenland. Itineraries in July, August and September 2016 include boating excursions along the edge of Greenland's ice sheet, helicopter-led whale watching trips to Ammassalik Island and sea kayaking through the Sermilik Fjord in the Arctic Circle.
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Let Dubai have its Burj Khalifa. Upon completion next year, Mumbai’s World One complex gets serious bragging rights as the world's tallest residential skyscraper, complete with Giorgio Armani-designed interiors and a private cricket pavilion. Those hesitant to shell out $2.1 million (starting price for a three-bedroom apartment) have ample hotel options in the Maximum City, including the newly opened JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar, a 585-key behemoth on a 15-acre plot, as well as the city's first boutique hotel, the chic, 20-key Abode Bombay. (For travelers whose tastes run more high-end, Dubai's Jumeirah Group is scheduled to open its first Indian hotel in Mumbai's Lower Parel district in 2017.) Mumbai's famously chaotic airport also has a sparkling new terminal 2, fitted with hundreds of boutiques, a massive art collection and the city's largest open garden, which discreetly surrounds a 5,200-car parking lot. Even in a city of 11.9 million, it's important to stop and smell the roadsters.