Get ready to revise your bucket list and pack your bags! The top picks for travel in 2018 range from affordable jaunts to exotic vacations, and they're all ready to welcome visitors with open arms in the new year.
Everyone seems to be discovering this affordable gem in Eastern Europe at the same time: Recently Lonely Planet named the Julian Alps one of the top 10 regions to visit. The New York Times featured the charming medieval capital city of Ljubljana in its 36-hour destinations (there's an amazing tree house there). National Geographic awarded the capital its Legacy Award, and local chef Ana Ros was named the World's Best Female Chef in Pellegrino's "The World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards." The small nation with the big green image (it's one of the world's most eco-friendly destinations) offers rafting, hiking, boating, and biking in the summer, alpine skiing in the winter, and fabulous food and culture year-round.
Portugal welcomes tourists with open arms with a delightful mix of history and modernity, lively cities and white sand beaches, the freshest fish and the richest pastries, says Aviva Patz, deputy editor of ReadersDigest.com. Portugal offers all the greatest hits of Europe, but at a wallet-friendly price. "The people are super friendly," Patz says, "and you won't go broke while you're here." As if that's not enough to make it a "Must Go" in 2018, it's also family-friendly and there are frequent well-priced flights with the country's national airline carrier TAP.
Simply walk the winding, picturesque cobblestone streets lined with shops, restaurants, fountains, and statues of leaders and poets, and you'll see signs of Portuguese culture everywhere. Step into a shop to down a shot of Ginga, the signature cherry liquor (drunk on the spot in a tiny chocolate cup), or listen to a live performance of Fado, traditional Portuguese folk music with a singer and two guitarists. The Anantara Vilamoura Hotel, in the southern region of Algarve, marks the arrival of every evening with a breathtaking performance of Fado, which is a bit like soulful opera. From the Vilamoura, beaches and lush vineyards are just a quick drive away for a taste of quintessential Portugal.
With the dark days of the auto industry bailout in its rear-view mirror, Detroit has been reinventing itself into a hot destination, says Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, a family vacations expert at Tripsavvy.com (formerly About.com Travel). The dining scene is buzzing thanks to an emerging generation of young chefs and restaurateurs launching new dining destinations, breweries, and cocktail bars. Getting around is easier thanks to the brand-new QLINE streetcar. The city has also been steadily extending its riverfront trail, an interconnected system of parks, pavilions, pathways, and open green space linked by the popular RiverWalk. (The RiverWalk can be explored on foot or bike thanks to a new 43-station bike-sharing program.)
One must-stop for families on the riverfront is the three-story DNR Outdoor Adventure Center that offers an interactive taste of Michigan's great outdoors by giving kids the chance to catch a fish, paddle a kayak, or steer a snowmobile or bush plane. Another don't-miss is the Detroit Zoo, which opened the world's largest penguin exhibit in 2016, a chilled 326,000-gallon aquatic area that lets visitors take a "deep dive" with views above and below water. Other great Detroit attractions include the Michigan Science Museum and the Henry Ford Museum.
"Namibia is one of the world's true wildernesses," say the travel experts at Jacada Travel. "It's one of the least densely populated nations on earth, with limitless horizons and endless sand dunes, as well as an oasis of fascinating wildlife as well as ancient culture." This peaceful southwest African nation will be at the top of bucket lists in 2018, they predict, with three new safari camps opening next year from Natural Selection, including Hoanib Valley Camp. The camp will offer game drives to see desert-adapted lions, elephants, rhinos, and giraffes, cultural experiences with the Himba and Herero people, and unique interactions with giraffe researchers.
"Thailand is really coming into its own as an all-around destination," says Larry Olmsted, author of Forbes: The Great Life Column, "with a lot of new openings in 2018 of hotels and resorts in different parts of the very diverse country." He adds: "The country has a perfect mix of things that travelers are seeking these days: amazing food, cooking classes, cultural experiences, beautiful beaches, ancient ruins, temples, and great sports from golf to scuba diving to kick-boxing lessons." (Also don't miss this incredible charity elephant polo tournament in Bangkok.) "Most of all," adds Olmsted, "are the incredibly friendly people—it's not called the Land of Smiles for nothing!"
6. MAREMMA, ITALY
"The Maremma is where to go to find the true Italian summer experience," says Erica Firpo, travel journalist and Italy expert at UnlockedRome. Firpo predicts this under-the-radar area of southwestern Tuscany will be a draw in 2018 for its miles of unspoiled coastline bordered by beautiful vineyards, farms, and hilltop towns. Its vast beaches—all blue flag-certified—have charming restaurants and stabilimenti, rustic seaside resorts, while its medieval towns filled with fortresses, castles, and towers allow you to walk through living history. But you've got to get into the countryside to truly "get" the Maremma, says Firpo.
Drive the three Strade del Vino e dei Sapori, wine roads, to sip SuperTuscan, Morellino and Vermentino wines, and also taste the Maremma through its local flavors of olive oil, beef, cheese, and pasta. (Tip: Before you go, these are the Italian phrases you need to know.)
This island gem is far west and south in the turquoise Caribbean, putting it in the African jet stream and out of harm's way when it comes to hurricanes, an important designation for 2018 after the destructive Caribbean storms of 2017. Not only is it safe and sound after a chaotic weather season, but its fantastic family resorts, beautiful beaches, and adventure activities have been flying a bit under the radar, so you can still get great deals on vacation getaways.
For 2018, three cultural highlights of the island, including Bridgetown, the capital city with UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, will be updated and improved thanks to a large cultural endowment.
In Bridgetown, explore historic sites, visit a pirate's tavern, shop for duty-free goods and authentic local crafts, and savor delicious local delicacies. Then head back to the beach; you're on a tropical island after all!
8. EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA
You might not be as familiar with Edmonton as, say, Toronto or Montreal, but three of Canada's 10 best new restaurants for 2017 are located in this charming northern city. "There's clearly a passion for creating art on the plate," says En Route Editor Andrew Braithwaite, noting, "the new hockey arena is a game-changer, too."
For 2018, this Canadian city on the rise will open the River Valley Funicular, which will provide access from the city center to the river valley and will also launch a new museum, RAM (Royal Alberta Museum), the largest museum in Western Canada with galleries showcasing both natural and human history. For dinosaur fans (and really, who isn't one), The Nodosaur—a 110-million year-old dinosaur discovered in Alberta and the best-preserved fossil ever found—will go on view in May at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Don't spend all of your time indoors eating and museum hopping though; Edmonton is home to the largest expanse of urban parkland in Canada, with 20 back-to-back parks spanning both sides of the North Saskatchewan River (which runs directly through the middle of the beautiful city). During the winter months, you might even spot the Northern Lights at night from the park.
Royal watchers, take note: The travel experts at Audely Travel expect 2018 to be a crowning year for the House of Windsor. Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting their third royal baby in April 2018, which is sure to create a festive atmosphere at the palace. For those fascinated by Britain's long-standing monarchy, you may be inspired to pay a visit to London to honor the birth while learning about the royal family. Tour the Tower of London with a Beefeater and marvel at the Crown Jewels; celebrate Princess Diana's sense of style at the "Diana: Her Fashion Story" exhibition in the elegant Kensington Palace; and watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony before touring Buckingham Palace (here are some rarely seen photos of the palace). And a new museum on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries is set to open in 2018 in Westminster Abbey.
Cruise fans who have Alaska on their wish list, circle 2018 on your calendar; 2017 brought the most cruisers ever to Alaska's Inside Passage (more than 1 million passengers), according to Alaska Tourism, and 2018 will expand the trend with a cruise for every style and interest: from family to luxury to expedition ships, ranging from a 10-person vessel to a 4000-person mega ship. Not only that, 2018 brings three new cruise line stories set to make headlines: Norwegian Cruise Line will debut a new ship, the Norwegian Bliss, in 2018 designed specifically for Alaska cruising; Princess Cruises will launch its largest Alaska deployment ever in 2018 with seven ships that will sail Alaska's pristine waters on 130 cruise departures; and Windstar returns to Alaska in 2018 after a two decade absence with luxury cruises sailing through scenic Tracy Arm Fjord and Misty Fjords. And Alaska Tourism is also reporting some of the lowest prices in years for flights to Anchorage, especially from cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and even Chicago and Boston. Check out these cruise tips to make your trip easier.