The 25 Most Wish-Listed Destinations of 2017
If, at the end of every year, you find yourself saying, “Next year, we’ll go there,” you’re not alone: Our travel wish-list is as long as it is diverse, and it just keeps growing. If you haven’t yet made it to your dream destination, here are your top picks—including some of our own tips, your top-rated hotels to book, and of course, a few beautiful photos for that extra inspiration.
Portugal really came into its own this year. With fado music swirling around Lisbon, and age-old monasteries ripe for exploring in Fátima (and even an airport named after Cristiano Ronaldo to check out) there’s a little something for everybody in this wine-soaked country.
Thanks to a wealth of flight deals (cheers, Norwegian!) and premium access to the Northern Lights, this country way-up-north has become prime territory for wilderness adventurers and city slickers alike. Enjoy a rare urban-viewing of the Aurora Borealis in Tromsø, or venture up to the Lofoten Islands for some spectacular photo ops.
There’s a whole lot to do in this 3.7-million-square-mile giant. In and around Beijing, explore some well-trodden UNESCO World Heritage Sites—the Forbidden City and the Great Wall—then extract yourself from the masses and check out the 798 Art District, a former Bauhaus-style warehouse that’s home to some of the most audacious art in the country. Headed to Shanghai? Prepare to drop some serious yuan at high-end boutiques like 10 Corso Como, or try your hand at haggling at the bustling outdoors markets.
Still relatively unfrequented by Americans, Croatia—home to 1,244 islands and over 1,000 miles of mainland coastline—is an ideal destination for water lovers. If you’re an oenophile, too, even better: the country is the first to have its own “underwater winery”, where the grapes ferment partially underwater. They’ll even set up a dive if you want to watch those bushels mature. And with the recent arrival of UberBOAT, it’s easier than ever to spend your days navigating its seemingly endless waterways.
20. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
The “Most Photogenic Place in the World” has definitely earned the distinction: this sun-drenched South Pacific island, a lagoon oasis bounded by a thriving coral reef, is all aquamarine waters, gentle breezes, and ever-changing skies. Lay your towel out in full view of Mt. Otemanu, the island’s 727-foot dormant volcano, and cop some rays on its pristine white sand beaches. Once you’ve settled into the island’s gentle rhythm, the most you’ll want to do is hoist yourself up onto a paddle board, or take a traditional outrigger canoe to see where the lagoon meets the Pacific Ocean.
Is there any reason you can think of not to visit the Maldives? Sure, it’s farther than, say, Jamaica, where the new overwater villas promise the same level of connection to the water, but there’s just something about the allure of this far-flung island nation in the Indian Ocean that simply can’t compare. Comprised of 26 atolls—ring-shaped coral reefs that surround turquoise lagoons—and over 1,000 blink-and-you’ll-miss-it islands, the Maldives continues to capture the popular imagination with its spectacular scuba diving, open-air markets, and basically limitless beauty. If you decide to go, take us with you, okay?
18. South Africa
If your ideal of a vacation includes more than one vista (though, the beaches around Cape Town are pretty spectacular), then South Africa might just be for you. At 471,000 square miles, this southernmost country on the continent covers disparate terrain, from the big game lands of Kruger National Park in the north, to the lush, rolling wine country of Stellenbosch in the south. And, even if the great outdoors aren’t exactly your shtick, there’s still plenty to do. If you land in Cape Town, head to Bree Street—the city’s hippest block—for an overload of handmade goodies, including bowls and blown-glass jewelry, then reward your finds with a charcuterie spread at Publik.
Germany is much, much more than Oktoberfest and the Autobahn—though we certainly don’t mind cycling through beer steins for a week or speeding through the Black Forest. For self-professed foodies, you can’t do much better than Berlin right now. The city’s culinary scene has expanded far beyond the well-known currywurst and late-night doner kebabs to include eateries like the seasonally-focused small plate joint Lode & Stijn, in the Kreuzberg district, or the Michelin-starred Einsunternull in the historic Mitte neighborhood, where top-tier chefs churn out contemporary takes on German dishes, including a delicate mushroom bread with onion blossoms and linseed oil.
Thailand might have a steamy reputation—but there are plenty of reasons to brave its clime. Take the magnificent Grand Palace complex in Bangkok, which has played house to the country’s kings since 1782: The ebb and flow of gilded, peaked buildings and shady, low pavilions is sure to provide enough inspiration for a leisurely early morning walk, before the high heat and humidity really set in. At night, observe the city’s trademark chaos from a distance—800 feet up, to be precise—at Alfresco 64, the world’s highest whiskey bar. If, on the other hand, you’d rather kick it down a couple of gears, we have a few island ideas for you.
15. New York City, U.S.A.
New York, New York: Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a first-time tourist, the electric lure of the Big Apple never seems to wane. You could spend a century here, and it wouldn’t be enough to experience the sheer variety of all the city has to offer. To wit: Go uptown to ogle masterpieces of French Impressionism at the Met, or take a rattling subway car a few stops south for a glimpse at the shiny new exterior of the Whitney, stationed like a Modernist sentry next to the High Line. Sit down to a pizza pie done right at Roberta’s at midday, and power on through to dawn with a soju-fueled bulgogi binge in Koreatown come nightfall. It’s all right here.
14. United Kingdom
Whether or not you find yourself prone to Downton Abbey daydreams of grand estates and well-manicured country gardens, you can’t deny there’s something special about the United Kingdom. From the rugged Highlands of Scotland, to the legendary music legacy birthed in Liverpool, the island nation is a unique hodgepodge of the ancient and the modern, the quaint and the imposing. Don’t believe us? Head to Stonehenge for a puzzling traipse through Neolithic history, then fly over to Northern Ireland to get up close to a real-live Game of Thronesfilming location.
With 1.3 billion people darting around this massive country, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle—but that’s not always a bad thing. In Delhi, you can watch life fly by from the back of an auto-rickshaw on your way to the frenetically busy Chandni Chowk bazaar and its famed chaat stalls, while Jaipur promises a tactile feast, thanks to the city’s storied legacy as a metalworking and textile-producing mecca. Don’t expect to leave with a full wallet once you set your eyes on one of the Gem Palace’s precious wares.
Thanks to clever stopover programs initiated by Icelandair and, later, Wowair, Iceland’s once seemingly-impenetrable lunar landscape has quickly opened itself up to curious travelers around the world. Once you hit that tarmac, speed off to downtown Reykjavik, home to the breathtakingly beautiful Church of Hallgrímur, a stark white structure whose crescendoing form is meant to mimic Iceland’s basalt lava flows. For a better understanding of said geological phenomenon—and 360-degree views of three of the country’s volcanoes—drive about an hour southeast to the new Iceland Volcano and Earthquake Center.
11. London, U.K.
To see the still-beating heart of a once-massive empire, look no further than London. Train your eye on the imposing Gothic facade of Westminster Abbey, where generations of royalty are interred, and the spectacle that is the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. You may not catch sight of Kate and Wills, but you can at least pretend to the throne at the Foyer at Claridge’s high tea service, practically a national institution. Hungry? The capital’s food scene no longer consists solely of soggy fish and chips. Get an upfront view of the city’s culinary reinvention at Donostia, a tapas joint in Marylebone that does a mean crispy fried cod cheek, or at Chiltern Firehouse, where the people-viewing might sate you even more than the mouth-watering Welsh lamb.
France never strays far from the list of must-visit destinations, and it’s easy to understand why. Its heavily-touristed capital notwithstanding (Je t’aime, Paris), travelers can trace the country’s rich history from the wine-soaked vineyards of the Languedoc, in the South, on through the lush, fragrant fields of lavender in Provence, and end their trips with full bellies in Lyon. If you haven’t yet indulged yourself the rich, buttery cuisine of the latter, so much the better: There’s nothing like that first meal at Paul Bocuse, which might yield anything from flaky sea bass encased in puff pastry, to chicken fricasée smothered liberally in cream sauce.
Once considered an inscrutably-complicated country to visit, Japan has seen a significant rise in curious travelers over the past few years, equipped with handy mobile apps to decode language, menus, prices, and street addresses. Beyond the must-visit cities of Tokyo and Kyoto, it’s well worth a trek to search out less obvious highlights like the temple-town of Nikko in the mountains or the bucolic countryside of the Ise-Shima Peninsula. Try not to miss nibbles of tatoyaki (fried octopus balls) in Kamakura or dining shoulder-to-shoulder with busy “salary men” at acclaimed, but unassuming, countertop-only restaurants. Famed cherry blossomseason aside, consider a visit in winter to ski the world-class slopes of Nagano or on the island of Hokkaido near Sapporo.
The tapas, or small snacks that characterize the nightlife in Spain, make a strong case as a possible Wonder of the World. Hit Barcelona, a bohemian metropolis to sample the best of these teasers at Quimet y Quimet, where you might try a hit of canned sea urchin, or a silky codfish croquette as hungry Catalans brush by your standing-only table. The city, home to the late Antoní Gaudi, bears the physical testimony to the late artist’s architectural prowess. Once you turn the corner to Sagrada Familia, up in the leafy Eixample district, you’ll see why: its dramatic Gothic spires and columns seem to be perpetually melting, as though crafted of wax, while the candy-colored light that floods in through stained glass windows is enough to incite a religious epiphany.
No hyperbole here, when it comes to Ireland’s nickname: The Emerald Isle. Deeply lush countryside views, a furiously wind-swept Atlantic coastline, cozy, cheerful pubs, and a burgeoning foraged food movement draw travelers from across the globe. Add to that, fairy-tale castle hotels, scenic road trips, and a vibrant capital, and it’s no surprise that the country rates so highly.
Besides its long and fascinating history, the “Cradle of Western Civilization” blesses travelers with a bounty of picture-postcard-perfect Mediterranean islands. Athens, and its Acropolis, is as bucket-worthy a destination as any, and despite a wretched decade of financial woes, the city is firmly back on its feet. Showstoppers Santoriniand Mykonos draw the most attention in the Aegean Sea, but we’ve been pulled by some less-flashy outliers like Milos and Paros. If maximizing your tan isn’t at the top of your list, consider exploring the Peloponnese to visit the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games, ancient Mycenae, and the coastal fortress town of Nafplio. Try a bowl of simple-yet-deeply-delicious lentil faki soup while there.
5. New Zealand
Including their very cool practice of granting rivers personhood status, New Zealanders have the market cornered on natural wonders. Volcanoes, glaciers, national parks, Lord of the Rings filming locations—this country has it all. To work on your tan, check out Koekohe Beach on the Otago Coast—though, the deep pink and orange sunset is really the main attraction—and make sure to visit the crystal clear waters of Lake Wanaka on the South Island. If you’re into wine (is anyone not, though?) skip over the big-batch sauvignon blanc vineyards in Marlborough in favor of its little brother, quaint, colonial Martinborough, for small-batch bottles of rosé and chardonnay, nurtured into existence by local family operations.
4. Paris, France
We can’t say we’re at all surprised to see the City of Light on this list: Year after year, Paris continues to keep a tight hold on the popular imagination, with its uniformly beautiful buildings, cobblestoned streets, and impressive, soaring cathedrals, not to mention a newly-ziplined Eiffel Tower. But let’s get to the heart of what we really love about the city: Its steadfast dedication to culture in all forms, best viewed through a near-constant rotation of expositions; a rich literary history that counts James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, and Ernest Hemingway among its best-known patrons; and a cultish devotion to the food that perpetuates its slowed-down, apt-to-savor culture. Go on, marvel at Monet’s panoramic floral masterpieces at the Musée d’Orsay, or the gilded hallways of Versailles: just don’t board your flight without doing a little shopping first.
If the thought of the waves crashing at Bondi Beach isn’t enough to convince you to venture down under, then maybe the wine is: Australia, our 2016 Destination of the Year, is awash in wineries, from the idyllic Longview Vineyard in Adelaide Hills, where they grow a silky shiraz, to the Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River, where the quality of the meals—and that of the artwork in the vineyard-adjacent galleries—is as important as the quality of the grapes. Once you’ve quenched your thirst, you can test your stamina at the El Questro Wilderness Park. Cascade between rugged sandstone ranges, trek through rainforests, and gallop past waterfalls, before retreating to the stylish lodges, homesteads, and camping spots dotted across the nature reserve. That’s the thing about this great, big country: There’s always an adventure to be had.
2. Hawaii, U.S.A.
We hate to play favorites with the states—but Hawaii always breaks our top ten. The tropical archipelago, flung out in the Pacific, is comprised of six big islands, which, between them, encompass eight national parks, more than 400 beaches, and an almost-unnatural surplus of beauty. The extreme travelers will want to check out Kauai’s Nā Pali Coast, visible only by helicopter, catamaran, or punishing hike, but for the food fiends, Honolulu is the place to be: The city’s Chinatown neighborhood showcases an impressive variety of foodstuffs, from fresh shave ice, to manapua (Hawaii’s version of the pork bun), and even a take on the classically Southern shrimp and grits.
It’s amore: Italy takes the top spot in your most wish-listed destinations, and we can’t say we don’t agree. The country itself isn’t overwhelmingly large, but it’s brimming with sights, sounds, and—perhaps most importantly—smells that are guaranteed to keep your itinerary full for however long you choose to stay. Take at least four cappuccino-fueled days to marvel at the sprawling, ancient-meets-modern metropolis that is Rome before you jet down to the Amalfi Coast for a few days of leisurely sunbathing and aperol spritzes. Though, if wine is your weakness, may we suggest Tuscany? The rolling green region is littered with agriturismos—small, simple ranches that usually produce their own wines, and offer a handful of bookable rooms—where you can lazily sample a mellow Chianti, or finally catch up on the latest Ferrante by the pool. Truly, you can’t go wrong in bella Italia—you’ll be greeted with the country’s trademark graciousness, and the wafting scent of a perfectly crispy pizza square wherever you decide to go.