Is there anything more exhilarating than the promise of a new calendar year—and the renewal of your vacation days? Whether you’ve made a vow to check more domestic destinations off your travel itinerary or break out of your comfort zone and visit the most far-flung locations your miles will get you, these 20 spotlight-grabbing locales guarantee your 2020 plans won’t disappoint.
The charms of Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar have been well documented, but the Adriatic port city of Rijeka is finally getting its due thanks to its designation as European Capital of Culture for 2020. It’s a surprising turn—the centuries-old shipping center is more grit than glam—but Rijeka’s laid-back pleasures are ripe for discovery, from participating in the city’s vibrant café culture and haggling for fresh fish at the Art Nouveau central market to losing yourself amid the Roman, Baroque, and industrial architecture. Better get there soon: a five-star Hilton hotel is rumored to open in the spring.
Viewing the world’s second largest coral reef before it disappears should be reason enough to visit this former backpacker destination turned luxury seeker’s paradise, but here are two more excuses to break away from the eco-tourist pack that’s made Costa Rica Central America’s travel darling: After years of speculation, Leonardo DiCaprio’s eco-friendly private island resort and wildlife reserve on Blackadore Caye is set to open next year, and Marriott’s Autograph Collection will launch Alaia Belize, featuring hotels, residential condos, and eight designer villas along a 1,000-square-foot white sand shoreline.
Here’s good news for anyone who’s ever wanted to visit Sicily but lamented the lack of good flight options: United is launching direct service to Palermo from New Jersey’s Newark International Airport in May 2020. The timing couldn’t be better, as the gold-standard luxury hospitality brand Rocco Forte Hotels is currently renovating the palatial Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, a 19th-century gem overlooking the Gulf of Palermo that has hosted Hollywood (and real-life) royalty, for a summer 2020 opening date. And 17th-century Palazzo Butera has been reimagined as an art gallery after a three-year restoration by Milanese collectors Francesca and Massimo Valsecchi.
All eyes will be on the nation’s capital next year, and we don’t just mean because of the looming presidential election. The mixed-use development known as City Center recently unveiled 30,000-square-feet of additional space that now houses luxury retail outlets like Tiffany & Co. and the new Herzog & deMeuron–designed Conrad Washington, DC. The Kennedy Center also revealed a $175 million expansion that includes scenic gardens and performance spaces, the recently repaired Washington Monument is now open, and the city’s culinary scene continues to impress well-heeled travelers. Don’t miss the Afro-Caribbean standouts at Kith/Kin, from James Beard Foundation 2019 Rising Star Chef Kwame Onwuachi.
One look at the golden shores, turquoise waters, and red-tiled roofs of St. Barth and you’d hardly believe that this Jetsetter paradise was nearly destroyed when Hurricane Irma hit in 2017. That’s because many of the major hotels have undergone extensive renovations and are welcoming guests in even more decadent ways. The biggest story is the reinvention of Eden Rock, Pippa Middleton’s favored destination (her husband’s family has owned it since 1995), which completes a two-year upgrade in November 2019 that has added an onsite spa, a restaurant by Jean-George Vongerichten, and a frosé trolley. Christian Liaigre oversaw the revamp of Le Sereno’s public spaces, including a new spa and open-air restaurant, and some of the 39 rooms. And Hotel Christopher has launched three new four-bedroom villas following refreshes to the boutique hotel’s pool area and restaurant.
Though Egypt has topped Americans’ no-fly zone for the better part of a decade, there’s never been a more exciting time to give this sophisticated cultural icon another look. Housed in a modern $1 billion glass-and-marble pavilion in view of Giza’s famous pyramids, Cairo’s much-hyped (and long delayed) Grand Egyptian Museum—where visitors can see 5,400 artifacts in a true-to-life replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb—opens its doors next year. Also on the horizon: the debut of the glitzy new St. Regis Cairo, set on the banks of the Nile River and offering personalized butler service and a spa specializing in ayurvedic treatments.
Often typecast as a town of frat boys and fleece, Boston is finally showing its sophisticated side. The Massachusetts College of Art and Design is opening a 15,000-square-foot venue for contemporary art called the MassArt Art Museum in February, and five new designer food halls are scheduled to open by 2020’s close. On top of that, the city’s lodging options just got a lot chicer: In May, Four Seasons One Dalton Street debuted in a modern glass-and-steel tower in Back Bay, with izakaya-inspired Japanese restaurant Zuma stocking more than 70 different kinds of sake, while Beacon Hill welcomed The Whitney, a luxury boutique hotel with a leafy courtyard and a watersports program that allows guests to rent sailboats for jaunts on the Charles River.
The Greek Isles are known for their azure waters, historic ruins, and pristine beaches, but the neighboring island nation of Cyprus offers all that—plus the bragging rights that come with introducing your social circle to a destination they’ve likely barely heard of. At the newly opened Amara resort, built on a Greek settlement just outside the seaside town of Limassol that dates to 1100 BC, you can enjoy 180-degree views of the Mediterranean, rack up Michelin-worthy dining experiences at restaurants from Nobu Matsuhisa and Giorgio Locatelli, and revel in the otherworldly atmosphere of nearby archeological sites like the ancient Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. Or you may simply unwind at the spa with treatments that incorporate Cypriot olive oil, carob seeds, and grapefruit.
The world will alight on Tokyo next year when the city hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics, but smart travelers will ditch the crowds and head instead to Kyoto, a cultural oasis known for its Shinto shrines, serene green spaces, and historic geisha district. The bronze-roofed Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, one of Japan’s oldest, will reopen in March after a two-year renovation, and the city’s hotel scene is getting a major update: Japan’s first Ace Hotel will debut in a historic building this spring with a design by architect Kengo Kuma, who created Tokyo’s new Olympic stadium, while sybaritic stalwart Aman Resorts just opened its third property, a serene forest sanctuary and onsen (hot spring) spa.
Is there ever a bad time to visit the City of Light? If so, it’s certainly not next year, when The Louvre continues to run its just-launched retrospective celebrating the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci. (You’ll need to book a reservation in advance if you want to see more than 160 paintings, drawings, and scientific manuscripts before the show closes in February). And there’s no doubt trendsetters and glitterati will descend on Italian jewelry brand Bulgari’s first Parisian hotel, blending Hausmann-era aesthetics with contemporary luxury—where else?—on iconic Avenue George V.
Wisconsin’s largest city may be the most unlikely spot on this list, but consider this: Milwaukee is home to the world’s largest music festival, it’s an under-the-radar James Beard Award darling, it has a Santiago Calatrava–designed art museum, and the 2020 Democratic National Convention will be held here in July. Even nature lovers will find plenty to love. The city has more than 1,400 acres of Lake Michigan beachfront and parkland, plus over 105 miles of bike lanes and its own bike share program. There are also seven new hotels in the works for next year.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Los Cabos has enjoyed a much-lauded renaissance since its catastrophic brush with Hurricane Odile in 2015, adding design-focused luxury hotels at breakneck speed. This year is no different, but the offerings are extending the scene north and east of San José del Cabo into uncharted territory. On the radar are the just-opened Zadún, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve—a nature-focused retreat with private butlers for each guest—and Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas, housed within a 250-slip marina and residential community complex in the largely undeveloped East Cape region that will include an 18-acre organic farm and a Robert Trent Jones II–designed golf course. Also opening in the complex: Aman’s ultra-exclusive 20-suite hotel.
If the primordial landscapes of Iceland and New Zealand get your pulse racing, you’re going to love the Faroe Islands. Located 200 miles west of Scotland’s remote Shetland Islands and discovered by ninth century Vikings, the volcanic archipelago (technically an autonomous outpost of Denmark) has more sheep than residents, and the terrain is wild and windswept—prime stomping grounds for crowd-averse hikers and nature enthusiasts. In 2020, the new Hilton Garden Inn will make the area’s colorful fishing villages, countless waterfalls, and teeming bird colonies—as well as one of the world’s most adventurous food scenes, complete with a Michelin-starred restaurant in a traditional turf-roofed farmhouse—much more accessible.
Now is as good a time as any to branch out from Bali and give some of Indonesia’s lesser-known islands a shot. On the white-sand beaches of Lombok, the sybaritic Legian Sire will offer 1,200-square-foot suites, a 75-foot-long infinity pool, and a spa with an apothecary bar specializing in fresh poultices and tinctures for the most demanding wellness buffs when it’s completed in March 2020, while the eco-chic Bawah Reserve, in the remote Riau archipelago, will unveil six new villas made from recycled materials on the uninhabited sister island of Elang. Also turning heads, the newly refurbished 15-suite Aqua Blu—a former British Royal Navy vessel turned luxury cruise yacht that will be based in East Indonesia when it sets sail in November 2019—is set to introduce travelers to a colonial nutmeg plantation in the Spice Islands, the giant lizards of Komodo National Park, and the underwater coral paradise of Raja Ampat.
Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Cyclone Debbie wreaked havoc on this pristine stretch of coral reef when it touched down in 2017, but the region’s resorts are poised to bounce back thanks to extensive renovations. The InterContinental Hayman Island Resort reopened in July following a $95 million dollar improvement that restored its 166 beachfront suites and villas and added a new spa. Snorkeling and sunbathing are naturally the most popular pursuits, but the concierge can also arrange for private picnic lunches on a neighboring isle that vanishes and reappears with the changing tide. After a $100 million revamp, Daydream Island is also debuting a new face, complete with a coral pool that encircles the main building and features an underwater observatory, plus two resident marine biologists to help interpret the proceedings.
Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique
You won’t find a better feel-good story for the new year than the reinvention of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park. Set at the southern tip of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the 1,500-square-mile reserve was one of the continent’s most in-demand safari destinations until a bloody civil war in the 1980s wiped out nearly 95 percent of its wildlife. In 2004, the government embarked on an ambitious $40 million restoration project in conjunction with the U.S.–based Gregory C. Carr Foundation, and their efforts are finally bearing fruit. Elephant, hippo, buffalo, and lion populations are soaring, and in the summer of 2020, the Royal Portfolio (owners of the iconic Royal Malewane in Kruger National Park) will debut Royal Gorongosa, an exclusive eight-tent camp that allows guests to get up close and personal with the animals but also immerse themselves in philanthropic community projects, helping to establish the park as a model of conservation.
This cheery Caribbean isle on the sailing circuit claims to have 365 postcard-perfect beaches, one for every day of the year, but what good are they if you have to sacrifice far too much time in transit to visit them? Thankfully, a slew of airline carriers are adding direct flights to Antigua’s VC Byrd International Airport in 2020, including Jet Blue, which is increasing its offerings to five days a week, and Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, which are introducing daily nonstop fares from the UK. Once there, spend the rest of your days chatting up the rum sommelier at the new $100 million Hodges Bay Resort & Spa. Just don’t wait too long to book your trip. Rosewood and Waldorf Astoria have both inked deals to join the fray beginning in 2022.
Major hotel brands are expanding their roots into this vibrant Middle Eastern hot spot—Fairmont is launching Morocco’s first luxury waterfront villas in Taghazout Bay, and Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, and Anantara are opening properties as well—but that’s not the only reason to visit next year. Marrakech’s designation as Africa’s first Capital of Culture will see celebrations and cultural events unfolding throughout the city, and many of the country’s biggest medinas are being sensitively modernized while preserving their historic atmosphere through 2022. Yves Saint Laurent’s home and Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh get a lot of fanfare, but a visit to the recently opened Jardin Secret, a five-acre walled garden in a restored 400-year-old riad, is far more pleasurable (and less crowded).
Forget London, though there are plenty of new openings to inspire your wanderlust. In-the-know travelers are heading instead to the countryside. The Newt, a British country house retreat set on 300 bucolic acres in Somerset and built by the billionaire behind South Africa’s beloved Babylonstoren, will house a working cider mill (more than 500 species of apple tree dot the property) and 23 individually appointed rooms spread across a 17th-century Georgian main house and an 18th-century stable house, granary, and farm buildings. Across the country in Buckinghamshire, The Langley resides on 150 landscaped acres originally conceived by Capability Brown, in the former country estate of the third Duke of Marlborough. The subterranean spa’s marble swimming pool and Himalayan salt sauna alone are worth the visit.
China’s financial capital has been booming for the better part of the last decade, but the break-neck pace of development finally extends to include the cultural scene. Visitors can now see works like Pablo Picasso’s The Guitar Player at the Shanghai outpost of Paris’s Pompidou Center, which debuted in November 2019 in a 270,000-square-foot wing within the new David Chipperfield–designed West Bund Museum. The Instagram-famous Japanese art collective teamLab chose the city’s Huangpu District as the backdrop for its second immersive museum (their flagship is in Tokyo). And just in case you’re looking for a splashy new place to base your stay, Rocco Forte is launching the chic Westbund Hotel nearby in 2020.