The new year brings with it a fresh vacation calendar—and endless possibilities to check off destinations on your travel bucket list. But where to begin narrowing down your choices? With new hotels and flight routes (plus fewer crowds than the tried-and-true spots), these 19 spots are worthy places to start your search. Just make your plans sooner rather than later: they won’t stay on the DL for long.
If you’re looking to hit up the Nordic countries, don’t miss out on Norway. The region’s remote fjords and Arctic Circle landscapes rival the snow-covered scenery of Iceland—and offer the same aurora borealis views with far fewer crowds. The country’s former fishing villages like Tromsø and Bergen, with their colorful wooden houses and historic wharfs, have just as much cultural charm as their siblings in Denmark and Sweden. In March, the Norwegian capital also welcome a stylish new place to bed down: Occupying a historic 1919 building next to the Opera House, Amerikalinjen promises to be just as visually stimulating as its sister property, The Thief, in Tjuvholmen.
Overshadowed by the grand boulevards of Argentina and the Incan ruins of Peru, Bolivia’s cultural and geological offerings have always seemed out of reach, but a new luxury hotel is putting one of them on the travel map. Opening in April, Kachi Lodge will include fully outfitted glamping tents nestled within the Salar de Uyuni salt flats, as well as dining options from Noma star Claus Meyer. If you’re flying in to La Paz, the capital city, be sure to book a table at his Gusto restaurant and save time to wander around the Witches’ Market and 18th-century colonial streets.
Not that you ever need a reason to visit the City of Light, but just in case, here are two big ones. A contemporary art museum showcasing some 3,000 works from billionaire businessman Francois Pinault’s personal collection will soon welcome culture connoisseurs at the Bourse de Commerce, an 18th-century rotunda emerging from a decade-long revamp by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Once you’ve finished viewing the art, treat yourself: Uber-chic boutique hotel J.K. Place is bringing its dolce vita brand of luxury hospitality to the 7thArrondissement, a few blocks from the Musée d’Orsay and across the Seine from the Tuileries, in the spring of 2019.
4. Kansas City, Missouri
There’s more to Kansas City than barbecue. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar art hotspot, you’ll find it here thanks to the opening of the latest 21c Museum Hotel, a 50 million dollar revamp of the former 1888 Savoy Hotel. Hop on the docent-led tour—admission is free all year long—then head over to the once industrial West Bottoms neighborhood to sample locally made craft beers (check out the Stockyards Brewing Company) and shop at throwback thrift shops.
The Olympics may be next year, but that’s all the more reason to visit the Land of the Rising Sun in 2019. Sporting fans will have something to cheer for at the Rugby World Cup kickoff game in Tokyo, while culture warriors will appreciate the contemporary works on display during the Setouchi Triennale Art Festival. The same architect of the new Olympic Stadium is the creative force behind Japan’s soon-to-launch first Ace Hotel, in Kyoto, and Japan was recently granted another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nagasaki.
The big news out of Turkey is how sweeping improvements to Istanbul’s airport will make it one of the most connected hubs in Europe, but there’s even more to celebrate on the country’s coasts. The new Troy Museum in Canakkale boasts a 13th-century version of The Iliad, among more than 5,000 other historical items, while the party town of Bodrum is getting a second life thanks to new hospitality openings from upscale brands like Six Senses and Ian Schrager’s
7. Grand Canyon
America’s most beloved national park turns 100 in 2019, and there’s no better time to make good on that resolution to hike it top to bottom. Head to the less touristy North Rim to trek through alpine glens and spy spectacular red-rock sunsets far from the masses, and don’t miss the telescope viewings and amateur astronomy lessons (yes, that’s Jupiter in the distance) during the annual Star Party, held this year from June 22-29.
Move over, Kenya—Africa’s got a buzzy new safari destination. With far fewer crowds and a slew of just-opened adventure lodges, Namibia is quickly becoming a bucket-list destination. You’ll spot endangered rhinos, giraffes, and elephants at Hoanib Valley Camp, while the interiors are the draw at the chic Shipwreck Lodge, on the Skeleton Coast. But for the ultimate in thatched-roof luxury, head to Omaanda, near the capital city of Windhoek.
9. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Remember when Tulum seemed to be on everyone’s travel wish list? Prepare for Cabo to assume the mantle. Joining the illustrious list of Ritz-Carlton Reserve properties, Zadún promises to be every bit as sumptuous when it opens its doors in March of 2019, with 115 stone-and-wood suites with plunge pools overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Also on deck for the spring is the Zen-like Nobu Hotel, filled with Japanese-inspired details like paper lanterns and wood soaking tubs, as well as eco-conscious 1 Hotels, which debuts in the summer.
10. Puerto Rico
If you missed the chance to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton when it debuted on Broadway, you’re in luck: the Tony darling is reprising his role in January, when he brings his award-winning musical to the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. The $5,000 ticket helps fund languishing arts programs, but that’s not the only rebuilding happening on the island. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, and El San Juan have completed multimillion-dollar renovations to their guest rooms and grounds.
11. New Zealand
You used to have to spend as much time laying over as vacationing if you wanted to visit New Zealand’s remote South Island, but a new direct route from Chicago to Auckland is making it easier than ever to experience the country’s otherworldly landscapes and adventure thrills. At the new ultra modern Lindis resort, set on 6,000 pristine acres for fly-fishing, hiking, and mountain climbing, you’ll also be boxed in between three nature conservancies.
The ultimate bucket-list destination, Bhutan is an untouched paradise for adventure trekkers—the Snowman Trail is one of the Himalayas’ most arduous passes—and nature lovers seeking total immersion, the result of governmental limits on tourism. But now sybarites can get in on the action. The new Six Senses Bhutan opens this year, giving you a plush launching pad for experiencing the country’s cliff-side Buddhist temples, monasteries, and palaces.
Wine enthusiasts already know about Vevey’s charms. The Lake Geneva town is the gateway to the country’s historic Lavaux winemaking region, whose 11th-century vineyards have earned it UNESCO World Heritage status. But this year is a banner one thanks to the Fête des Vignerons, a once-in-a-lifetime event that is only held for three weeks (July 18-August 11) just five times a century. Parades, open cellar tastings, and pop-up restaurants are just some of the scheduled activities, and when you’ve had your fill you can take advantage of the area’s stunningly scenic alpine hiking and biking trails.
14. Cork, Ireland
Is Ireland the next great foodie destination? Visitors may scoff, but there’s a quiet renaissance happening in Cork, the south-western city that’s giving Dublin a run for its money. Head to Michelin-favorite chef Takashi Miyazaki’s ichigo ichie for the kaiseki-inspired tasting menu, then sample the best of the city’s craft beer scene at Elbow Lane Brew & Smoke House’s nanobrewery before calling it a night at the River Lee’s renovated rooms.
15. Matera, Italy
The restaurants, hotels, and shops that have cropped up in the Italian city’s restored limestone cave dwellings (not to mention the hidden churches in the 1,000-year-old Sassi) make it one of the most unique places in the world—which should be reason enough to visit. But Matera has also been designated as a 2019 European Capital of Culture. Check into the Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa and don’t miss sampling the more than 250 wines on offer at Enoteca Dai Tosi.
The world’s second-largest coral reef has established Belize as an aquatic wonderland for no-frills divers and snorkelers, but now the rest of us can indulge in the country’s otherworldly beauty. Luxury accommodations such as Placencia’s Itz’ana Resort & Residences offer world-class fishing and watersports with a side of creature comforts—you can choose between solar-powered overwater bungalows and beachside cottages—and Leonardo DiCaprio’s eco-friendly Blackadore Caye is set to open soon, which means in no time Belize will be on everyone’s lips.
Let the tourists have Thailand—Vietnam’s untouched mountains, terraced rice fields, and sandy beaches are just as picturesque but have far fewer crowds, and a coterie of new upscale resorts is making the region more accessible than ever. The stylish Anantara Quy Nhon Villas is the ideal getaway for a digital detox, while the Bill Bensley–designed Legacy Yen Tu is a sybaritic alternative to Ha Long Bay’s unassuming houseboat lodgings. Get there before the secret is out.
Reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Irma, Anguilla’s resorts have rebounded nicely. Belmond Cap Juluca is fresh off a $120 million revamp by Rottet Studio that added an infinity-edge pool and spa that blends seamlessly into the landscape, while the Four Seasons Resort & Residences stone-and-wood accommodations have been repaired to its former glory. And over on Meads Bay, the family-run Frangipani Resort has unveiled a new rooftop lounge and a Balinese-inspired spa.
The hotels on Montenegro’s Adriatic Coast rival some of the most luxurious properties in more established European areas (see Aman Sveti Stefan) but have nowhere near the foot traffic (or prices). The country’s Dinaric Alps are quickly becoming an under-the-radar destination for adventure climbing, canyoneering, and hiking. Spend a few days at rugged leisure, then head to the UNESCO designated Old Town in Kotor to wander through centuries-old stone buildings and alleyways.