Picks for the top travel destinations of 2017 from near to very, very far.
It’s that time of the year again — when the 2017 travel lists start pouring out and travel sites and experts make their bets on the top destinations for the upcoming year.
While sites like TripAdvisor pick contenders based on identifiable trends from bookings in their system or directly through their users, Lonely Planet’s managing editor Rebecca Warren told us their editor-selected picks aim to include destinations for everyone, from perennial favorites to picks for more intrepid travelers.
Our picks take both approaches into account, and are a mix of editorial recommendations and places we think will grow in popularity. The insiders at Contiki tours told us that 71 percent of their millennial and post-millennial travelers are looking for experiences, not just destinations. Plus, we know that safety is a concern for many travelers heading to Europe and beyond. We’ve even watched the exchange rates and kept our eye on Zika.
With all of that in mind, here are our picks for the top travel destinations of 2017.
If you’re a fan of quaint cobblestone streets, colorful buildings and affordable prices, then Portugal might just be the perfect travel destination for you.
Long overlooked in favor of neighbors France, Germany, Spain and Italy (some of which are showing decreased tourism because of safety concerns), Portugal is now turning heads in record numbers. In fact, U.S. travel to Portugal was up 20 percent in 2016, helping to fill rooms in the more than 40 new hotels that popped up throughout the country.
According to Allianz Global Assistance, travel to Lisbon alone was up 29 percent. Travel + Leisure named Portugal their 2016 Destination of the Year, and both Lisbon and Porto found spots on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 list.
We love getting lost in Lisbon’s winding streets, visiting the newly opened Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, sampling sweet port wine along the river in Porto, taking village-bound day trips to catch the freshest seafood dishes, and grabbing a quality meal for two with a bottle of wine for less than 20 euros.
Although the visa restrictions are strict, travelers are warming up to Russia — or at least the capital city of Moscow. Lonely Planet found a new airport, metro line and museum to be solid upgrades that should lead to higher tourism numbers. Plus, the city will host the 2017 Confederations Cup and 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Some can’t-miss highlights while visiting the 860-year-old city include Red Square, the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Leigh Barnes, regional director of Geckos Adventures, told us that they’ve noticed inquiries about South Africa have been steadily rising. Travel insurance company Squaremouth has also seen a 24 percent increase in travel to the country. And the current exchange rate against the South African rand makes the country a superb budget-friendly destination for 2017.
While visiting, travelers can hike up mountains or through botanical gardens (Cape Town has more flower species than all of England), surf in Durban or Jeffreys Bay, spot the Big Five at a game reserve, hang with penguins or ride an ostrich.
Cape Town has been growing culturally over the last few years — the city now features a popular art walk each month, and an impressive selection of gourmet restaurants and artisan cocktail bars.
In September 2017, it will also become home to the world’s largest contemporary African art museum. Plus, the black rhino is critically endangered and your chances to see the creatures in the wild (or at all) are becoming slimmer each year.
Much like Portugal, Canada is on a lot of radars for next year. Rachel Taft from Squaremouth says Canada jumped ahead of France and the U.K. as the company’s third most-popular destination in 2016. And Todd Powell, co-founder of Vacations by Rail, has seen a 171 percent increase in Canadian rail and rail-and-drive vacation bookings over the past three years.
Tourism to Canada is predicted to spike even more next year when the country celebrates its 150th birthday. To celebrate, entrance to all of the country’s gorgeous national parks will be free all year long.
Visits to national parks and other active, adventurous experiences were big on traveler wish lists in 2016 — and the trend is only expected to grow in the upcoming years. Adventure company Backroads says that its highest sales include trips to several U.S. parks.
Alaska tops that list — especially when it comes to family travel. Dan Austin, president of Austin Adventures, a family-friendly adventure sports travel company, says that 2017 bookings for Alaska are off the charts.
We have our eye on Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia thanks to its gorgeous architecture, rich (and sometimes sobering) history, quality food and clothing bargains, and a growing independent art scene.
A young entrepreneurial and creative scene includes everything from art installations to boutique stores to lively music venues. Plus, while prices in other European cities like Budapest and Dubrovnik continue to rise, things are still happily affordable in Sofia. And getting there is easier than ever with RyanAir’s newly added routes and flights, now totaling 90 weekly a week on 21 routes.
The British pound hasn’t been doing so well lately as a result of Brexit, which is good news for Americans, at least in terms of travel. For the first time in decades, Americans can travel across the pond without completely breaking the bank.
TripAdvisor listed London as its No. 1 travelers’ choice destination in 2016. Exchange rates against the GBP are currently around eighty cents to one pound, giving Americans (and those on the euro) a lot more spending power. This will likely mean that many U.S. travelers will flock to the country in the next year.
Camino de Santiago, Spain
The experts at Audley Travel have noticed a growing interest in pilgrimages, and the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James or Road to Santiago) is the mother of all pilgrimage walks.
It includes a series of pilgrimage routes that end at the shrine of James the Apostle at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in the northwest of Spain. Backroads tours told us that it’s the company’s leading private tour booked for 2017 so far.
While visiting, we recommend taking some time to check out Galicia, a region in Spain that’s often overlooked for more popular spots in the south.
Just a decade ago, Colombia was not high on many (if any) travel bucket lists. The South American country was struggling with drug cartels, kidnappings, gang violence and guerrilla warfare. Recently, however, it seems as if the country, especially bigger cities like Bogota and Medellin, has done a 180.
In addition to Bogota and Medellin, Cartagena has also caught the eye of many. A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is packed with colorful and historic architecture, delicious food, Caribbean beaches and lively nightclubs.
Overall, there has been a boom in the travel industry that Colombia hasn’t seen in a long time. In 2015, more than 2.5 million foreigners visited Colombia (in 2005, less than 900,000 visited). And those numbers will likely only increase in the upcoming years, especially with Pope Francis slated to touch down in 2017.
Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar used to be closed off to the world under a 50-year dictatorship. This held true until 2010, when a civilian government was installed and began to initiate change. Since then, tourism has slowly increased, thanks to the country’s rich history, gorgeous attractions, tasty cuisine, and improved political and economic stability.
According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, the country welcomed 4.68 million tourists in 2015, more than a 50 percent increase from the previous year. And the numbers are predicted to rise over the next few years.
However, although Myanmar is growing in popularity, the country still remains relatively off the map, often making it an even bigger draw for some travelers. For now, the effects of globalization are minimal and visitors can still get a glimpse into traditional ways of life, and see ornate temples and unspoiled scenery. We recommend booking a trip before it gets too crowded.
An unpredictable travel destination, Oman has been creeping into bucket lists slowly but surely (it made Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List in 2015 and Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017 list).
The country, which is bordered by both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, is both safe and stable. In fact, according to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, Oman ranked ninth out of 141 nations in terms of safety and security.
Still, its stunning landscape, which includes everything from deserts and beautiful beaches to dramatic mountain ranges, has remained relatively unexplored by American travelers. However, with more flights and luxury resorts popping up, that could change in upcoming years. Majarat Oman, a $120-million indoor theme park is also scheduled to be completed by 2017.