Where will you go in 2014? We can't plan your vacations for you, but we can certainly help you narrow your wish list of destinations with our annual Top 50 Travel Destinations list. No, we don't propose that you visit all 50 in a year -- although, hey, that's an admirable goal -- merely that you take these 50 places into consideration when planning your 2014 travels.
Some of these 50 destinations have major events in 2014 that you won't want to miss. Some are celebrating anniversaries in 2014 that make this a compelling year to visit. Some are simply places that you may not otherwise think of as great vacation destinations -- and we'd like to change that.
Wherever you end up this year, however, we hope you'll have a splendid time. Now, in no particular order, we invite you to join us on a virtual tour of the Top 50 Travel Destinations for 2014.
Fans of the TV show "Game of Thrones" will recognize the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, although they may not have believed it's a real place. The walled city that serves as the setting for King's Landing - home of the Iron Throne at the heart of the story - is no Hollywood sound stage. Dubrovnik is a genuine medieval walled city, one of the most picturesque in the world and certainly the main draw in Croatia. Even before "Game of Thrones" fans started visiting, Dubrovnik already had plenty of lures for tourists - the historic city center is surrounded by the sparkling Adriatic Sea, close to several sizable beaches, renowned for its vibrant nightlife, home to several interesting museums, and a bargain compared to nearby cities in Italy. More recently, Dubrovnik has become Croatia's "see and be seen" destination, raising its profile (and cost) somewhat - a trend the "Game of Thrones" will no doubt continue.
If winter has you singing the blues head down under to the capital of South Australia, Adelaide, for what locals lovingly call "Mad March." In Australia, March is the first month of autumn, and it's still plenty warm - warm enough for it to be a month of festivals (hence the nickname). The Adelaide Fringe Festival runs from mid-February through mid-March (the largest arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere). The Adelaide Festival starts at the end of February and shares an end date with the Fringe Festival. And WOMADelaide, the Australian version of the WOMAD Festival Peter Gabriel started in 1982 to celebrate music, arts, and dance, springs to life for a few days in early March.
August 4, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the invasion of Belgium by German armies. World War I had broken out a week earlier when Austro-Hungarian forces had invaded Serbia, and Germany paid no attention to Belgium's neutral stance - it wanted to attack France, and that meant crossing Belgium. Germany first invaded Liege in the French-speaking Wallonia region, but some of the costliest battles of World War I took place in Ypres in the region of Flanders. The In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres - the name taken from the famous poem - recently underwent a major renovation and expansion in preparation for the 100th anniversary, and there are remembrance ceremonies in Ypres on a daily and monthly basis. This year, they take on even more significance.
While many places in Europe will be celebrating the momentous 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, in 2014 the French region of Normandy is focused on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. From June 5-August 21 there is a series of events scheduled to remember the people involved with D-Day and the Battle of Normandy - including an international ceremony at Sword Beach on June 6th, the actual D-Day landings anniversary. As the official 70th anniversary site notes, this may be "the last decennial anniversary" for which there are still living witnesses. For a completely different take on why you should visit Normandy in 2014, the region is hosting the World Equestrian Games from late August through early September. The highlight of the games may just be the day-long endurance race that will take place across the beautiful Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel on August 28th.
Scotland wants to make 2014 the year when those of Scottish descent pay their homeland a visit. They're calling 2014 the year of Scotland Homecoming, with a series of special events, exhibits, and activities planned throughout the country to highlight what makes Scotland unique. It seems fitting, then, that in mid-September Scotland will be voting on whether to become independent from the UK - there will no doubt be plenty of discussion from both sides of the debate leading up to the referendum. Not Scottish or interested in politics? Then you might be interested in the XX Commonwealth Games, which are a mini-Olympics that take place every four years between Commonwealth countries. In 2014, Glasgow is the host from July 23-August 3. And for those of you who want to get out and see Scotland's natural beauty, consider a hike along the new , a trail starting just outside Edinburgh and winding more than 45 miles along the coastline past Muir's birthplace of Dunbar.
Each year, the European Union selects a few cities to be its "Capital of Culture" destinations - and in 2014, one of those cities is Umeå, located in northern Sweden. This pretty university city - the largest in northern Sweden - is home to the Umeå Jazz Festival and Norrland Opera, not to mention a hotbed of heavy metal and punk music. The kickoff events for Umeå's year-long status as European Capital of Culture are January 31-February 2, with events and exhibits focused on music as well as theater, art, and dance throughout the rest of the year. Chances are good you'll be going through Sweden's capital of Stockholm to get to or from Umeå, which is great for culture vultures - Stockholm is a city that values aesthetics and design so much that there's an official "Beauty Board" to help preserve the city's beauty. Visit in early February to experience Stockholm Design Week.
The European Athletics Championships take place this summer in Zürich. For one week in mid-August, athletes from 50 European nations compete in 47 different track and field disciplines. The European Athletics Championships are held every two years, and since 2014 is not a Summer Olympics year the full slate of events is on the schedule in Zürich. August is a great time to visit Zürich, too, with typically warm temperatures allowing you to enjoy the spectacular scenery and the city's many attractions.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
The "Game of Thrones" story may take place in the fictional land of Westeros, but the filming locations are quite real. Many of them are in the countryside of Northern Ireland near the capital of Belfast. Some of the filming locations you can visit are the Cushendun Caves and Larrybane (The Stormlands), Castle Ward (Winterfell), Ballintoy Harbour and Murlough Bay (Iron Islands), and Inch Abbey (The Riverlands). The haunting location for the King's Road is the difficult-to-locate Dark Hedges, a tree-lined road leading to an 18th century mansion - although it's significantly easier to find these days, with all the "Game of Thrones" fans seeking it out. Many of the "Game of Thrones" filming locations can be visited in a day trip from Belfast, making the city an ideal home base for exploring Northern Ireland's very film-worthy scenery.
Book a Private Game of Thrones and Giants Causeway Tour from Belfast
Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
There are several categories for superlatives when it comes to waterfalls. Victoria Falls, which straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, isn't the tallest waterfall in the world, nor is it the widest. It does, however, hold the title of "largest," since its height and width result in the largest sheet of falling water on earth. The sight has been drawing tourists since it was found and documented by David Livingstone in 1855 - both for its visual impact and the sometimes deafening roar all that water produces. Victoria Falls is on many a travel wish list, so here's why you should check this one off in 2014: The towns that serve the falls, Livingstone in Zambia and Vic Falls in Zimbabwe, played host to the UN General Assembly in 2013. As such, they both had massive makeovers leading up to the event, and are better equipped than ever to host visitors. Even Zimbabwe, in the news so much in recent decades for ludicrous-sounding inflation rates, is getting back on track - the US dollar is now one of the main currencies accepted, so you wouldn't even need to visit the currency exchange office.
China's largest city, and the one that continues to grow at an exceptional pace, is Shanghai. Many travelers are familiar with the sparkling skyline of Hong Kong, and have favored it for years for quick stopovers in Asia. Shanghai offers the same kinds of visitor perks - shopping, attractions, great food - and as of last year, travelers from 51 countries no longer need a visa to visit Shanghai for 72 hours or less. This makes Shanghai an excellent option if you're looking for a long layover where you can explore the city for a few days before moving on to your final destination, because as long as you're flying in and out of Shanghai's airports, you've got a 72-hour pass to see the city. Enjoy the gleaming new skyscrapers and neon lights, but don't overlook the few historic neighborhoods that remain - including some areas of the Huangpu District near the City God Temple and the former Shanghai French Concession.
There has been much talk among sports fanatics about Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup and then the 2016 Summer Olympics. But in late 2013, the International Olympic Committee announced the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics - Tokyo. Sure, 2020 may seem a long way off, but time (as they say) flies. As Tokyo begins its initial preparations to host the world's athletes in six years, it's still a bustling and fascinating city to visit today. Unlike some Olympic host cities that require major upgrades in infrastructure to support the influx of visitors the games usually draw, Tokyo is already known for its robust tourist infrastructure. With more than 13 million people calling the prefecture home, this is a place that's quite accustomed to dealing with crowds. In 2014, you can visit Tokyo without being slowed down by any of the inevitable pre-Olympics construction, and still enjoy the ease a 21st century metropolis provides.
Bhutan, the famously reclusive country that measures success in "Gross National Happiness," has long been known as a tourist destination for only the wealthy and patient. With limits on the number of visas issued per year, a minimum stay requirement, and the need to use official tour guide partners, Bhutan has been off-limits to many would-be travelers. In recent years, however, tourism in Bhutan is getting comparatively easier - the country no longer limits the number of tourist visas issued, and there are more licensed tour operators these days.
Fraser Island, Australia
Australia is home to the world's largest sand island just off the coast of Queensland. Fraser Island is a relatively small spot in the South Pacific at only 710 square miles, but it packs quite a bit of natural wonder into that small space. While there are very few people who call Fraser Island home today, there is evidence that people have lived on the island for more than 5,000 years. It is also currently home to 25+ mammal species, 350+ bird species, and 865+ plant species. There are more than 100 lakes on Fraser Island, and a 75-mile-long stretch of beach on the eastern coast. It's a nature lover's playground. Fraser Island was added to the UNESCO list of Natural World Heritage Sites in 1992, and remains a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Queensland.
Several countries in Europe will be marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I this year, including England, France, and Belgium. The historic ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in Turkey didn't happen until the second year of the war, so that 100th anniversary isn't until 2015 - but since the outbreak of the war will be taking center stage across the continent this year, we think a 2014 visit to Gallipoli will be meaningful, too. Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand marks the date (April 25th) when Allied troops landed at Gallipoli, and the World War I battlefields have long been some of the main tourist draws. During the 100th anniversary commemorations, there are likely to be even more people visiting World War I sites than there normally are, so plan ahead - especially if you want to be at Gallipoli on April 25th.
The tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta packs a lot of vacation destination punch into not very much space. Malta is made up of three islands, although the vast majority of visitors stick to the largest of the three (also named Malta). Even so, you can explore several parts of the island in one day if you're visiting on a cruise (even the hop on, hop off bus tours of Malta visit multiple cities on each route). There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malta. The most impressive are the "megalithic temples" built from 5000 B.C.E. to 700 B.C.E., making them what some say are "the oldest free-standing monuments in the world." There are annual arts and music festivals, plenty of hiking (particularly on the smallest island, which is mostly a nature reserve), excellent sailing and diving opportunities, and the sort of "melting pot" culture that can only come from constantly changing hands from one ruling nation to another. One of the top annual tourism conferences in the UK has chosen Malta as the host for its 2014 conference, which indicates the country is on the verge of something. Why not go and find out what it is?
There are few places on earth that are simultaneously more complicated and more fascinating than Israel. This small country contains places of historic importance to three major religions - Judaism, Islam, and Christianity - as well as historic monuments and UNESCO World Heritage Sites that attract visitors from all faiths and backgrounds. Ever since the creation of the Jewish state in the years after World War II, however, the region has also been the scene of quite a bit of unrest. In recent years, as the peace process between Israel and Palestine remain ongoing, tourists interested in visiting some of the holy sites in the Palestinian Territories have begun taking advantage of an increasing number of guided tours that combine Israel with Palestine. This is an exciting development for visitors who want to see first-hand the many significant monuments and locations in this part of the world, but who may not be bold enough to organize a trip on their own.
Let's be honest - Barcelona is always a good bet for a holiday destination. This cosmopolitan city boasts proximity to great beaches, excellent Catalonian cuisine, a picturesque historic city center, and iconic Gaudi masterpieces. Barcelona is even more accessible now with the newly-launched high-speed rail line connecting the city with Paris in less than 6.5 hours. But what makes 2014 the year to consider a visit to Barcelona? Sports fans may be focused on Brazil this summer for the World Cup, but a trip to Spain means a trip to the country that won the last World Cup - as well as the last two European Championships. Attend an FC Barcelona match, and you'll see one of the top teams in the world playing "the beautiful game."
The destruction of the city of Pompeii is a familiar piece of history to most of us. Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., covering Pompeii and neighboring Herculaneum in ash and rocks. Both cities are still being excavated, but the far larger Pompeii is the more famous site - it's one of Italy's most popular attractions. The archaeological site is likely to see even more traffic in 2014, after the February release of the film "Pompeii." The scenes recreating what the city looked like prior to the volcano's eruption may well be useful to visitors who can't make heads or tails of the rubble in some parts of the site today, although a good on-site guide can help quite a bit in that regard. When you visit Pompeii (easy to do on a day trip from Naples, the Amalfi Coast, or even Rome), don't overlook little Herculaneum - the site may be significantly smaller, but it's better preserved and usually sees far fewer tourists.
The Sultanate of Oman curls around the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates. It's only since the 1970s that Oman has been relatively open to tourists, and in recent years it's more of an emerging destination for intrepid travelers. There are two small parts of Oman that are separated by the UAE from the rest of the country, but once you've arrived in the capital of Muscat you can arrange for transportation to the two exclaves if you wish. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Bahla Fort, a 13 century adobe fortress, was reopened to visitors in late 2012 with very limited hours.
The Grand Canyon is on most travel wish lists - and it should be. But there are so many other excellent reasons to plan a visit to Arizona. The southwest state is ideal for road trips in almost any season (it can be unbearably hot in summer, though), with lots of interesting places to aim for on your map. Consider the funky college town of Flagstaff up in the mountains - an ideal spot for a ski trip or as a home base for exploring the Grand Canyon as well as native ruins in the area, and don't forget to check out the night sky from the observatory. Get your aura aligned in the artsy community of Sedona - or simply enjoy hiking through the region's stunning red rock formations. You can consult spirits of a different kind in any of Arizona's many ghost towns (every county has some). The new Museum of the West will open in Scottsdale in late 2014. And fans of "Breaking Bad" can continue their road trips right into Albuquerque in neighboring New Mexico, a 6.5 hour drive from Phoenix.
Yosemite National Park, USA
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, making the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove the very first protected wilderness. This created the first state park in California and set in motion the events that would lead to the creation of the National Park system in the United States. This year, Yosemite celebrates the 150 anniversary of that act with a series of events and special exhibits scheduled throughout 2014, including special ranger walks. We also think that visiting Yosemite - and any of the US National Parks - in 2014 is a great way to show support for these national treasures after they were closed during the government shut-down last year. No matter what your politics are, there's nothing like a trip to a National Park to inspire national pride.
The group of French islands known as Guadeloupe have recently stepped up their efforts to lure tourists from North America to their five islands. There is a new Guadeloupe Tourist Board office in New York City, and there are new direct flights connecting Guadeloupe with Miami, San Juan, and Montreal. As eco-tourism becomes more and more high-profile, Guadeloupe is poised to cash in on the trend, with marine reserves, several remote (and largely untouched) islands, and several sparkling beaches that are typically free from the usual Caribbean crowds. Foodies will appreciate the cultural mix that goes into Guadeloupe's cuisine. Clearly, Guadeloupe has extended an invitation to visit in 2014. What will your answer be?
Monterey and Carmel, California, USA
Enjoy a quieter side of Californian life with a visit to Monterey and Carmel. Monterey sits on a bay of the same name, and is well-known for its fantastic aquarium, an annual jazz festival, an annual classic car show, and the historic Cannery Row. Carmel (formally known as Carmel-by-the-Sea) is a pretty coastal town with a strong artistic history, having been home to an artist colony since the early 1900s. Both of these sophisticated beach towns serve as good bases from which to visit Big Sur, play golf at the famous Pebble Beach, or watch the cars at Laguna Seca. And 2014 marks the 75 anniversary of the publication of "The Grapes of Wrath," for which author John Steinbeck will be honored in his nearby hometown of Salinas.
Rocky Mountains, Canada
Canada makes a great candidate for a long-distance train trip - particularly on the Rocky Mountaineer tourist trains in Western Canada. The glass-topped train cars allow you to take in the spectacular scenery of the Rocky Mountains, and of course during a train trip you're free to move around as much as you like (rather than being strapped into a confining coach seat on a plane). Get there in style - and more relaxed - with a train trip through the Canadian Rockies.
The South Pacific island nation of Fiji is incredibly remote, and the name alone conjures up images of the kind of high-priced over-water bungalows you might see in an article about celebrity honeymoons. Sure, Fiji can be that version of paradise, if you've got the vacation funds. If not, however, rest assured that Fiji can actually be relatively budget-friendly, too. There are two small chains of islands (among Fiji's more than 300 islands), the Mamanucas and Yasawas, with resorts even bargain hunters will be pleased about. In addition to the multitude of activities Fiji offers on and around its beaches (including some excellent diving in coral reefs), you can exercise your green thumb with a visit to the Botanical Gardens of Thursten in Suva, and check out one of the newest entries on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites - the historical port town of Levuka on the island of Ovalau.
Of all the reasons to visit Chicago, few would fault you if you went solely because you love baseball. Chicago is home to two Major League Baseball teams, and locals are sometimes defined by their allegiance to one or the other, but only one of those teams is celebrating the 100 anniversary of its home stadium in 2014. That's right - in 2014, Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, turns 100 years old, and the Cubs have planned a series of special events in honor of that milestone. The team will highlight 100 great moments in Wrigley history, honor former Cubs players, and give away special souvenir mementos to fans. On the actual 100 anniversary of the first game at Wrigley (then called Weeghman Park) in 1914, the team will wear a uniform that's a replica of their 1914 kit, and other replica uniforms will make appearances through the rest of the season. No matter what the scoreline says at the end of each game, 2014 is a winning year to be in Chicago at Wrigley Field.
One of the last great frontiers, Antarctica isn't really such a frontier anymore. With regular cruises leaving Ushuaia, Argentina these days, it's the sort of experience that really can be a "once in a lifetime" trip instead of an impossibility. Of course, when we say "cruises," we're talking about those sturdy expedition ships that are tasked with crossing one of the roughest stretches of water on earth, so it's the very opposite of smooth sailing. Luckily for those of you with severe seasickness, there's a relatively new fly-in option to reach Antarctica - you can fly from Tierra del Fuego to King George Island in the South Shetlands, and sail to Antarctica from there. You'll avoid the treacherous Drake's Passage, and cut your travel time. And in 2014, the 100 anniversary of the year when Sir Ernest Shackleton set off on his expedition to the South Pole, that sort of easy travel is even more of a marvel.
Auckland, New Zealand
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Komodo Island, Indonesia
The Kimberley, Australia
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
New York City, USA
Walt Disney World, Orlando, USA
What kid (or inner child) doesn't want to go to Walt Disney World at some point? If you're the kind of person who wants to enjoy the amusement park but doesn't want to have to choose between a Disney vacation or a luxury trip, then take heart - starting in 2014, you don't have to make that choice anymore. In July, Four Seasons is opening the doors to its Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World. That means you can have your cake (AKA all the Four Seasons luxury you've come to expect, including an on-site spa and a golf course) and eat it, too (AKA the resort property is right outside the Disney entrance). Yes, there are Disney touches at this new Four Seasons, but once ensconced in your room or the spa or the restaurants it's easy to forget you're anywhere near the Magic Kingdom. Which, in between rides on Splash Mountain, might be just what the doctor ordered.
- Viator Travel Team