7 Places to Go in 2020—Before the Crowds Hit
Every year, the travel industry scours the globe to find the next “best” locations to visit. Typically, “best” translates to destinations that have recently seen massive hotel expansions, game-changing culinary evolutions, or big anniversaries. Criteria, in other words, that are arguably quite great, but almost always inspire an enormous influx of visitors. This is not that list. Instead, we're profiling places just on the cusp of becoming the next big thing, so you can visit in 2020 before the tourist hordes descent.
Grand Rapids, MI
Midwestern cities are having a real moment, but somehow, Grand Rapids has managed to fly under the radar. Art hounds should swing by in the fall (mid-September to early October), when ArtPrize, a massive public art show, takes over the entire city. Yes, the crowds will be thick, but you can also escape to the world-renowned Grand Rapids Ballet, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, just outside the city. You can also arrange for a private tour of the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s archives for a better understanding of the area’s role in the creation of mid-century modern furniture. After seeing the art, foodies can kill an afternoon snacking and dining at Downtown Market, which serves as an incubator for budding chefs, or imbibe in one of the dozens of local breweries like New Holland, Atwater, Founders, and Harmony Hall. The relatively flat land also offers biking and golf, along with guided paddling excursions in area waterways with operators like GR Paddling.
In-the-know skiers have been flocking to Japan’s northernmost Hokkaido island for decades, anxious to ski the powder that’s created as cold air currents from Siberia blast over the Sea of Japan. But when Vail Resorts added the slopes around the town of Niseko to their Epic Pass, “in-the-know” became “the known universe.” Luckily, you can still get a feel for Japan’s famed snow—while avoiding U.S. and Aussie crowds—by hitting Rusutsu, about an hour out of Sapporo. Most local and international visitors seldom venture to the area, so lift lines are wonderfully short. Accommodations come in two forms: the expansive Rusutsu Resort, which offers the quintessential Japanese experience complete with theme restaurants, animatronic stuffed dogs, and a massive hotel lobby carousel, and the Westin Rusutsu, which provides more Westernized creature comforts in their two-story modern guest rooms as well as access to an indoor/outdoor onsen. Need help with logistics? U.S.-based SnowLocals can help; they’ve been exploring Japan’s 500 ski resorts for decades.
The secret’s been out on Croatia for some time, but its southern neighbor is on the cusp of becoming the Mediterranean’s next best thing. Montenegro boasts many of the same attractions: a rocky, village-dotted coastline, rugged mainland, exceptional cuisine, and easy access to untamed wilderness. Though European celebrities and legions of cruise ship day-trippers flock to the ancient city of Kotor, beyond there you’ll find quaint villages, medieval structures (like the cliff-perched Ostrog Monastery), adventures in Tara Canyon, and uncrowded hiking trails that pass through vast high-alpine mountains and wind-swept meadowlands. Luxury hotels like Portonovi, along with an increase in boutique properties, have set the stage for the tourist floodgates to open, but most travelers can’t point the country out on a map. Get there before that changes!
Hood River, OR
If Portland, OR, keeps things weird (and crowded), this small outpost on the Hood River (about 1.5-hours east of Oregon’s ultra-hip city) keeps things real. A playground for outdoor enthusiasts, windsurfers and kite-boarders ply the river, weaving around kayaks and canoes, while hikers and mountain bikers explore the breadth of trails surrounding the town before ambling back for après beers at places like pFriem Family Brewers and Full Sail Brewing Co. Not into suds? You can try award-winning pinots at Cascade Cliffs Winery and Tasting Room before taking your pick of the area’s dozens of farm-to-table restaurants. Close proximity to Portland, Mount Hood, and a vast network of hiking and biking trails also expand day trip options exponentially.
Patagonia National Park, Chile
The South American region of Patagonia—a vast swath of rugged and wild lands that stretch across both Argentina and Chile—is nothing new. But, Chile’s Patagonia National Park certainly is. Established in 2018, the park, along with a handful of others, covers 10 million acres of protected public land. The project also introduced a new 1,500-mile adventure trail, connecting all the parks—new, old and expanded—in the region. Though they’re all worth seeing, hit Patagonia National Park itself for unfettered, crowd-free access to Chile’s Aysen region, where high-alpine hikes, waist-deep river crossings, and copious wildlife spottings meet. Visit between October and April to take full advantage of warmer temps—and book a stay at the Lodge at Valle Chacabuco, which offers easy access to the park along with plush amenities and haute cuisine.
At less than 35,000 square miles, Jordan is smaller than the state of Virginia, but it has an embarrassment of traveler-attracting riches: scuba diving and snorkeling in the Red Sea; the Nabatean capital of Petra, which dates back to 300 BC; the spa treatments and curative waters of the Dead Sea; and hiking and rock climbing in the desert expanse of Wadi Rum (a landscape so surreal that it served as the backdrop for The Martian). The capital city of Amman has cultural attractions left and right, as well as easy-going residents who often stop in their tracks to wave enthusiastically at Western visitors. There’s also the Jordan Trail, a 400-mile path that traces ancient trade routes and links together everything the country has on offer, from river-choked forests to the Red Sea’s crashing waves.
The Faroe Islands
This archipelago lies some 200 miles off the coast of Scotland, nestled between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic, but despite looking like they fell right out of a story book, the fishing villages are still a world away from most European travel itineraries. Even its largest city, Torshavn, is thinly crowded, with only 20,000 inhabitants. But what the Faroes lack in people (both travelers and citizens) they more than make up for with some of the easiest-access hiking routes. Think: snow-capped peaks, light-housed outcroppings, steep waterfalls and cliffs, and fields so green they make Ireland blush with envy. Aquatic activities—fishing, sailing, diving, and bird-watching—reign supreme, along with horseback riding, biking, and other adventure sports across the interiors of its many islands. And, as you’d expect from a region rich in nature and surrounded by water, the cuisine—fresh seafood and traditional Faroese dishes like fermented lamb and sheep’s head—is tops.
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