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Say it fast three times. People are starting to realise that Eastern European towns such as the Slovenian capital have many of the features that make cities like Paris and Prague key destinations on a grand Euro tour (cobbled streets, charming cafés, medieval castles) but with fewer people and at a fraction of the price. Ljubljana is the perfect city to navigate on foot thanks to its compact Old Town and is also a great base for exploring some of Slovenia’s other gems, such as Lake Bled and Postojna Cave Park.
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If trekking to Machu Picchu is still on your bucket list, be sure to leave enough time to visit Peru’s second-largest city once you finally make it. An architecture lover’s dreams thanks to its whitewashed colonial buildings, there’s also a burgeoning food scene putting contemporary spins on traditional dishes. The city also makes a good starting point to explore some of Peru’s other attractions, such as the steep trek down to the sleepy villages at the bottom of the Colca Canyon, a few hours north of Arequipa.
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You may have heard that Spain’s San Sebastián has the most Michelin stars per square metre but we predict that another Basque city is set to take the gastronomic crown. Bilbao, a little further west, will host the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards in 2018 and you can bet that every single food stall, café and fine-dining restaurant within the city limits will up their game as gourmands descend for the celebration. Go on the hunt for next-level tapas, such as the squid croquettes at Irrintzi or hit the surrounding countryside for old-school smoked cuisine.
Prague, Czech Republic
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A fairytale city with a bohemian spirit every year, the mood in the city will be even more jubilant in 2018 as the country marks two key anniversaries: 100 years since the republic was founded and 50 years since the Prague Spring. There are special celebrations going on throughout the year, including the Prague Spring 2018 concert in May and the Founded 2018 exhibition at Prague Castle. If the Astronomical Clock is on your most-photograph list, visit in the latter half of the year as it’s closed for repairs until around July. Want more Eastern Europe? Add Estonia to your itinerary – it’s also celebrating a century of statehood.
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It’s fair to say Bhutan is one of the last truly remote countries in the world. Though it opened its borders to tourists around 40 years ago, it’s still strict with how many people are let in each year. If you’re lucky enough to make the cut, you’ll have access to some serious luxury: five top-of-the-market hotels in stunning natural locations are set to open in 2018.
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Looking for a tropical getaway a little further than Fiji but not quite as far as Hawaii? Then it’s the Cook Islands for you. There are no shopping centres and no high-rise buildings but there is a slew of family-friendly resorts that encourage visitors to take advantage of the natural surrounds, whether that’s spotting sea creatures while snorkelling in the turquoise waters or embarking on kayaking safaris with the whole crew.
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2017 may have been the year of China-Australia tourism but our appetite for a trip north isn’t set to dwindle any time soon. Eat your way through the best restaurants in Shanghai with the assistance of the second-ever Michelin guide to the city (Cantonese restaurant T’ang Court and single-table venue Ultraviolet both earned three stars for 2018) or visit the Pompidou Centre outpost, set to open at West Bund late in the year.
Faroe Islands, Denmark
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Iceland is so 2017. Beautiful as it might be, it seems everyone wants a slice of the sparkling saltwater fjords and geothermal lakes. The latest stats show 1.8 million tourists visited the country over the course of a year – quite the influx in a country of only 300,00 people. Instead, visit the Faroe Islands, part of Denmark and about two hours’ by air from Copenhagen. It has the rugged mountains, sweet villages and sweeping valleys you want in a Nordic escape – and even a Michelin-starred restaurant – but with a fraction of the crowds.
Hackney, United Kingdom
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There’s no Tower Bridge or Westminster Abbey in Hackney, a borough of London about 40 minutes via tube from the West End, but what it lacks in tourist hotspots it makes up for with a true chance to experience how Londoners live. There’s plenty of culture to imbibe, including galleries and museums, as well as retro music venues, pubs and cafés. Spend an afternoon strolling the length of Regent’s Canal towards Victoria Park and stop for a beer at one of the many pubs that line its edges.
Kravner Bay, Croatia
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Sailing along Croatia’s coastline might be the way to see the Med right now but there’s something to be said for bypassing Hvar and hopping across to some of the lesser-known islands instead. Our recommended itinerary for a unique island adventure? Lošinj, Cres, Krk, Pag and Rab. On these five islands you’ll find an incredible mix of experiences, including rocky beaches ideal for sun-soaking, medieval forts, olive trees more than a millennia old, ancient churches and barren cliffs.
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This northern Netherlands town, birthplace of dancer-slash-spy Mata Hari, shares the title of 2018 European Capital of Culture with Malta’s Valletta. In a regular year, Leeuwardern, is a gorgeous Dutch city criss-crossed by canals and surrounded by lush green countryside. In 2018, it will up the ante and fill the town with art, performances, displays, concerts, film festivals and interactive exhibitions throughout the year. One big drawcard of the festival is the when the 15-metre-high puppets of the Royal de Luxe theatre march through the streets over three days in August.
Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
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New Zealand is known for its pristine landscape but there are some spots that remain more untouched than others. While skiers and skydivers flock to Queenstown, Great Barrier Island, about 100 kilometres north of Auckland, is the destination of choice for birdwatchers, bushwalkers and beach lovers. And with fewer than 1000 residents on the island, chances are you’ll get the latter to yourself.
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See Buddhas big and small at this tiny town in Myanmar. You’ll easily spot the enormous golden Laykyun Setkyar Buddha, the world’s second largest statue, towering over the village. But you’ll need to look a little closer to find the Buddhas at the Thanboddhay Pagoda below. From afar, each structure simply looks like it’s been decorated with a uniform pattern but those tiny white triangles are actually 500,000 miniature depictions of the deity.
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White sand, incredibly clear waters, an abundance of marine life: you’d be forgiven for thinking this island was located in Tahiti. But this speck of land in Okinawa prefecture – population less than 50,000 – has hit the top of TripAdvisor’s 2018 Top Destinations on the Rise list thanks to a huge increase in the number of positive reviews for restaurants, hotels and attractions on the site. Book your trip now before catches on – some reports predict that the Okinawa Islands as a whole will soon get more visitors than Hawaii.
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This teeny town at the base of the Nounou Mountain on the eastern coast of Kauai placed first on TripAdvisor’s US Destinations on the Rise list (and second overall). It’s an ideal spot for a no-frills, relaxing break, with the chance to browse shops, eat at colourful cafés, try your skills at kayaking and other water sports or simply recline on your towel at Kapaa Beach Park for hours. Kauai is easy to loop by car in day so you can use Kapaa as a base to explore all the hidden beaches, challenging hiking trails and shave ice stands this lesser-known island has to offer.
Salt Lake City, United States
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We bet that Utah’s capital wasn’t on your list of cities with award-wining craft breweries. Salt Like City’s residents have always liked to surprise, whether through establishing their own Mormon lifestyle, starting a craft brewery scene or, in 2015, electing an openly lesbian mayor. But, of course, there’s more to do than simply drink craft beer. The nearby mountains are ripe for daylong explorations and immaculate Mormon buildings of worship are definitely worth a tour.
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You might have spotted this archipelago on Instagram: until it collapsed in March 2017, the Azure Window, on the Maltese island of Gozo, was the backdrop to thousands of selfies. But no matter, there are lots more pristine bays and hidden coves to visit across Malta’s three major islands. Its clear blue waters also attract the scuba crowd, including some enterprising divers who have taken to the depths to see the remaining chunks of the aforementioned rock formation, now home to a wide variety of marine life on the sea floor.
Pyeonchang, South Korea
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This chilly coastal stretch of South Korea is set to host the Winter Olympic Games in February but there’s plenty more to get excited about than aerial skiiers performing backflips against a mountainous backdrop. Snow bunnies have a myriad of ski resorts to see how their own skiing and snowboarding skills stack up, while those craving a cultural experience should seek out traditional Korean morsels, such as tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake) or one of the hundreds of regional varieties of kimchi.
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Think Dubrovnik is beautiful? Then the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro will blow you away. The smallest member of the former Yugoslav federation, Montenegro has the classic coastal Balkan mix of red-roofed buildings, cobbled streets and cliffs tumbling into azure waters with the added benefit of fewer party boat tours making the rounds of the harbour. Already popular with the cruise-ship set, there’s plenty left to uncover, including superb views of the bay below from the fortress of San Giovanni and the church of Our Lady of the Rocks sitting pretty in the middle of the Adriatic.
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Immerse yourself in African art with a visit to The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which opened in a former grain silo in Cape Town in September 2017. It’s a curated edit of awe-inspiring art works from the continent and the African diaspora. Exhibitions running into 2018 include Now and Then, featuring work from South African artist Kyle Morlan and Togolese artist El Loko, and All Things Being Equal, with 40 works from artists who took centre stage at the museum’s opening.
Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico
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You might think margaritas when you think Mexico but there’s a more refined food-and-wine scene happening in this valley in Baja California. The region is a fascinating mix of off-the-beaten-track charm and cutting-edge cuisine, with scores of unique vineyards plating up seasonal dishes to pair with their reds and whites. Pick up a 2018 bottle while you’re there to mark the year Valle de Guadalupe became número uno.
Palawan Island, Phillipines
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Fiji is great for families but Palawan Island is perfect for everyone. The eco-conscious resorts springing up to take advantage of its bright white beaches and dramatic limestone cliffs cater to just about every traveller, from families on holidays with little ones to couples looking for a special place to reconnect and adrenaline junkies who want to hike, dive and kayak in paradise.
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Brazil might have slipped down your hit list since the 2016 Rio Olympics but there are plenty of reasons to visit, the least of which is the food. You might be expecting to indulge in hearty helpings of feijoada and liberally seasoned churrasco – and you will – but you can also find some of the world’s best Japanese food in São Paulo. Outside of Japan itself, the southern metropolis has the highest Japanese population in the world. In the Liberdade neighbourhood, you’ll find countless restaurants and food stalls selling steaming bowls of ramen, delicately prepared sushi and serious drops of sake. The São Paulo Biennial, the second longest running in the world, is also on in September.
Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia
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Skip the sunrise crowds at Angkor Wat and take a 2.5-hour journey south to the Sambor Prei Kuk temple zone in Kampong Thom province. The ancient site was given UNESCO world heritage status in July 2017, the third temple complex in Cambodia to make it onto the list. Though the towering, vine-twisted sandstone structures might not have the grandeur of Angkor Wat, they’re a fascinating alternative if you’re after a bit more space. Organise a tour from Siem Reap but get in quick before it’s discovered by the Instagram set – the gnarly tree roots wound around some of the 1200-year-old temples make for excellent photos.
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Lisbon is hot but Porto is hotter. Portugal is reaffirming itself as a must-visit destination and top of the list for any savvy traveller is this coastal city in the country’s north, home, of course, of the drink of the same name. After you’ve visited one of the traditional port wine cellars, get yourself several pastel de nata (Portuguese tart) and munch on the flaky pastries as you contemplate your next move of either a walk through the historical centre, complete with Gothic churches and bright yellow buildings, or to lose a few hours by the pier.