Travel + Leisure Staff
Putting together our annual list of the best places to travel is a process that takes several months—we survey writers based around the world, talk to our A-List travel specialists, and look at the most exciting hotel and restaurant openings. While news and global events have a large impact on the places we choose, we also pay attention to cities that are worth revisiting: Philadelphia, in particular, may surprise you with the amount of growth and development it has seen in recent months. North America made a strong showing on this year’s list—more than a quarter of these places are within reach for a long-weekend trip from the United States.
We know that people will travel far and wide for incredible food and drink, which is why that was a key factor in our decision-making. In 2017, you’ll want to head to Jerusalem for its exciting Levantine food, Oslo for its coffee culture, Belgrade for craft beer, and Valle de Guadalupe for coveted Mexican wines.
While beach vacations are timeless—you truly don’t need much more than a comfortable resort, warm waters, and a good book to read—tack on a bit more time if you’re visiting these places: Tofino, in British Columbia, has a wild food scene; Honolulu will host its first arts biennial this year; and Málaga has amazing hidden museums.
Technology and globalization can make the world feel small and thoroughly explored. But there are always places to discover—and rediscover—for yourself. Take a look at last year’s list for additional inspiration, and share your own picks with us on social media using #TLBestPlaces.
Angra dos Reis, Brazil
SambaPhoto/Cassio Vasconcellos/Getty Images
Angra dos Reis, Brazil
Brazil’s visa waiver during the Olympics was a success for one big reason: it encouraged travel beyond the big cities. The tourism board hopes to bring back the waiver, and if you’re planning to take advantage, save time to visit Angra dos Reis, between Rio and São Paulo. This popular Brazilian vacation area is where cariocas go to escape the crowds. “It’s where many of the country’s elite have their beach villas,” says Martin Frankenberg of Matuete, who has access to several of these glamorous rentals. Big changes are coming to the region. In May, Brazilian chain Fasano will open a long-awaited 54-suite hotel in a complex that includes a marina, golf course, restaurants, and a spa. The design is striking, with elevated wooden buildings that look like they’re floating, all with open-air terraces and views of the forest and sea. And the government recently pledged $8 million to improve the infrastructure on Ilha Grande—an island that’s so popular that they’ve had to impose a daily limit on visitors. —Stephanie Wu
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Allan Baxter/Getty Images
Belfast, Northern Ireland
With a growing array of open-air bars, arts venues, and restaurants, Belfast is quickly becoming an attractive destination for travelers. Stay at the design-forward Bullitt Hotel (inspired by the Steve McQueen film), which opened in October with casual, well-appointed rooms and complimentary grab-and-go breakfast granola. Check out arts organization Seedhead, which runs street-art tours and hosts pop-up cabarets around the city. The Michelin-starred OX and EIPIC lead the fine-dining pack, but also visit Permit Room, with its internationally inspired breakfast and locally roasted coffee. Noteworthy new nightlife spots include the Muddlers Club, a stylish restaurant and cocktail bar in the trendy Cathedral Quarter, and Vandal, a graffiti-adorned pizza place that turns into a late-night club, on the top floor of a 17th-century pub.—Nell McShane Wulfhart
Since the end of the Yugoslav wars, Belgrade has attracted steady investment—its graffiti-covered neighborhoods are now full of restaurants and bars. You’ll find hearty platters of ćevapi—smoky sausages without casing—and stuffed somborka peppers at Sokače, paprika-laden kebabs at Tri Šešira, and pan-Latin tapas at Toro. But the biggest draw is the growing craft-beer scene (the city has 37 breweries). Don’t miss the Kabinet Supernova IPA at Prohibicija in the bar-filled Savamala district, as well as Kas’s full-bodied pale ales and Salto’s IPA at Bajloni, set in a 100-year-old brewery space in Cetinjska. —Govind Dhar
Courtesy of Hamilton Princess
After being hit hard by the financial crisis, Bermuda is shaking itself out of stagnation and attracting a new generation of travelers. In 2014, the island won a bid to host the 35th America’s Cup, the high-profile international sailing race, which takes place this June. The promise of a flood of wealthy visitors—and a loosening of restrictions on foreign investment—has sparked a spate of development. Big news is the $100 million overhaul of the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, the island’s 132-year-old grande dame, whose revamped rooms have a fresh, contemporary look. The hotel has also added a stellar art collection, a spa, and a restaurant serving locally sourced fare from James Beard Award–winning chef Marcus Samuelsson. Elsewhere on the island, a St. Regis, a lavish Ritz-Carlton Reserve, and the Ariel Sands resort (backed by actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones) are in the works. —Paola Singer
Courtesy of Alila
Cambodia has some of Southeast Asia’s most stunning islands, but getting to them has always been arduous (a flight to Phnom Penh, a four-hour drive, then a choppy ferry ride). Luckily, there are now direct flights into the coastal Sihanoukville airport via Ho Chi Minh City. That means a much smoother journey to the newest island escapes: the wellness-minded Six Senses on Krabey Island, where spa treatments are Cambodian-inspired, and the Alila eco-resort on Koh Russey, which has an emphasis on Khmer cuisine and community service. And if you want to spend some time in the capital of Phnom Penh before or after your island vacation, you can do that in style as well: Rosewood has announced plans to open there in early 2017. —Stephanie Wu
Cape Town, South Africa
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Cape Town, South Africa
Beyond its iconic mountain backdrop and cinematic beaches, Cape Town has a compelling art and design scene, and it’s only going to get better when the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art opens at the V&A Waterfront in 2017. The MOCAA—heralded as South Africa’s answer to the MoMA or the Tate Modern—will take over a soaring concrete building once used for grain storage. Atop the museum sits The Silo, a luxury hotel from the Royal Portfolio that’s set to open in March. Until then, visitors can fill the hours between gallery-hopping with a taste of the legendary local fare. The surrounding Cape Winelands—Stellenbosch, Constantia, and Franschhoek, among others—keep Cape Town’s residents well hydrated, while acclaimed restaurants like the Test Kitchen (ranked number 22 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) and its new sister spot the Shortmarket Club keep them well fed. —Mary Holland
Richard Cummins/robertharding/Getty Images
The Queen City’s transformation is most evident in its Over-the-Rhine district, first settled by German immigrants in the 19th century. Once a dodgy neighborhood, it has renovated buildings and warehouses that are now apartments and offices for tech companies. On Vine Street, young brands like interiors shop Elm & Iron sit alongside Cincinnati institutions like Holtman’s Donuts. There are larger changes throughout the city: the new Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar links the northern fringes of OTR with downtown and the Ohio River, and Ziegler Park, with a deepwater pool and redesigned public spaces, will be unveiled this spring, followed by the reopening of the city’s historic Music Hall and the inaugural Blink Cincinnati light and art festival in October. Locals zip across state lines on a daily basis, and the best new place to bed down is actually a 10-minute drive across the river in Covington, Kentucky. The boutique Hotel Covington occupies the former headquarters of Coppin’s Department Store, and the original 1907 architecture serves its new purpose beautifully: upon entering, you get a sweeping view of reception, the lobby, and the bar with its 20-foot ceilings, thanks to a sloping floor originally designed to let shoppers see the entire department store when they walked through its Madison Avenue doors. Filmmakers are also increasingly drawn to Cincinnati, thanks to its Art Deco buildings and its tax incentives. Off-camera, Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, and Ellen Page have all been spotted dining in hot spots like Boca and Sotto and checking in to the art-filled 21C Museum Hotel. —Aoife O’Riordain
Courtesy of the Pig
Devon is best known for cream teas and surf beaches, but a raft of openings are elevating the county’s image with rarefied takes on the rural experience. The elegant Lympstone Manor has been reimagined by eminent chef Michael Caines, who will reopen it in 2017 as a 21-room hotel and restaurant. Design lovers can soon overnight at the Secular Retreat, a strikingly minimal property inspired by ecclesiastical architecture and designed by Peter Zumthor. And on the coast, the Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel has another groundbreaking design in the works: a suite that bridges the vertiginous gap between two rocky outcrops. —Emily Mathieson
As a gateway to the Galápagos, Guayaquil has seen its fair share of overnight visitors en route to the islands. But additions to the tropical port city are enticing travelers to stay longer. The just-opened Hotel del Parque sets a new standard in the city, with 44 elegant rooms in a restored 19th-century colonial complex that also includes a riverside restaurant. The massage-treatment room is in a repurposed bell tower atop the property’s original chapel, an airy mix of Gothic and Mediterranean styles where mass is still held. And the hotel’s setting on the seven-acre Parque Histórico Guayaquil makes it easy for guests to explore a wildlife sanctuary, historic structures, and a former cacao plantation. See modern Guayaquil when you visit the Malecón 2000, the city’s revitalized riverfront promenade lined with plazas, playgrounds, monuments, galleries, gardens, and two fantastic museums. Go at night for the best view, when the Ferris wheel—Ecuador’s newest toy—is backed by the twinkling lights above the hillside village of Las Penas. —Nina Kokotas Hahn
Slicker than graffiti-laden Berlin and edgier than Munich or Frankfurt, this booming port town has always been one of Germany’s most intriguing cities. Recent years have seen the banks of the Elbe River morph into an architectural wonderland, with icons such as Zaha Hadid’s River Promenade reshaping the landscape. The Elbphilharmonie Hamburg by Herzog & de Meuron, a concert hall featuring an undulating glass structure on top of a midcentury brick warehouse, will welcome visitors for its inaugural performance on January 11, 2017. Not far away, The Fontenay, a stylish grande dame, will open its doors in summer. The once-gritty isle of Wilhelmsburg is transforming into a hot spot, drawing comparisons to the similar-sounding Williamsburg in Brooklyn thanks to projects like IBA Hamburg – Energiebunker—a former air-raid bunker converted into an eco-friendly power source—WCW Gallery, and third-wave coffee shops like Kaffeeliebe. —Diana Hubbell
One of India’s most spectacular monuments will become newly accessible this year with the launch of a high-end resort in Hampi. When the 14th-century capital of the Vijayanagara Empire was constructed, in what is now the southwestern state of Karnataka, it was one of the largest cities in the world. The ruined settlement’s dazzling temples, monuments, and public buildings—strewn across a landscape of giant boulders, banana groves, and rice paddies—have long been a must-visit for dedicated Indophiles. But the town of Hampi has lacked world-class accommodation and infrastructure, making a visit less than luxurious. Now the new Orange County, Hampi offers a solution: 46 rooms spread across a palatial, Vijayanagara-inspired estate less than three miles from the UNESCO World Heritage site area. As Lucy Davis, director of India tour operator Banyan Tours, puts it, “the property is a game-changer for visitors to Hampi.” —Flora Stubbs
Finland celebrates 100 years of independence on December 6, 2017, but the parties will start much earlier—and many of them will be happening in Helsinki, the capital. The country’s gift to itself is a major new landmark: the sinuous Central Library, designed by ALA Architects to be Helsinki’s new living room (it will open in 2018). Sauna culture is a big part of everyday life in the city. The latest and greatest public one is Löyly, a contemporary geometric complex of wood designed by Avanto Architects. And on Sauna Day, which takes place twice a year, several unique private saunas, including one on a raft and another in a castle, open to the public. When it comes to a design-savvy place to stay, book a room at Lilla Roberts, at least until the summer opening of sister hotel St. George, a grand 150-room property in a 19th-century landmark building. —Gisela Williams
The city shattered expectations of Midwestern dining a couple of years ago with the opening of beloved brunch spot Milktooth, and the culinary scene has only gathered steam since then. In the fall, Indy hopped on the fried-chicken trend with Crispy Bird, a sustainability-focused joint from James Beard Award–nominated restaurateur Martha Hoover, while Milktooth’s Jonathan Brooks lent his expertise to the gastropub menu at the Owner’s Wife. This coming year, Sun King Brewery will open a 15,000-square-foot distillery in nearby Carmel. And with hotels in the works from 21c, Ironworks, and home-goods brand West Elm, Indianapolis is poised to become America’s next big destination. —Lila Battis
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
The total solar eclipse on August 21 will be the first in almost 40 years to be visible from the continental U.S., with a path of totality that slashes across the States from Oregon to South Carolina. For prime viewing, head to Jackson Hole—spectacular scenery, expansive vistas, and minimal light pollution make it an ideal vantage point. Once the two-minute main event is over, there are plenty of warm-weather activities to keep you occupied, from hiking the backcountry of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks to exploring Jackson proper (be sure to snag a pastry at Persephone Bakery and a chic, locally crafted souvenir at Made). —Lila Battis