While we don’t get to hit restart on the madness enveloping the world these days, when the clock strikes midnight at the end of this year we’ll at least get to start a new year afresh. With that new year, we can think about where exactly we want to travel. Do we want to finally go somewhere warm that will recharge our batteries? Plop ourselves down for a couple months and really sink into a culture? Or, are you the type of traveler who is determined to escape overtourism by going somewhere few other tourists are going? Whoever you are, we’ve got something for everyone in our yearly list of destinations we hope you consider in the year ahead.
This year, we at Beast Travel thought it would be nice to use the collective wisdom and wanderlust of our staff to point our readers in the right direction. Enjoy!
There’s probably no city in the world having as much of a moment as Madrid. The nightlife goes until plenty of people back in the U.S. would be heading into the office, and there’s nothing quite like seeing revelers of all ages clustered around fast food joints on the Gran Via at 5 in the morning attempting to prevent hangovers with a little grease. But this grand city isn’t just fun, it also has some of the world’s best museums, from big players like the Prado and Thyssen, to smaller gems like the Museo Sorolla, Museo Cerralbo, and the over the top Palacio Linares. The city also boasts a handful of new hotels, from the swanky Rosewood Villa Magna brushing up against preppy Barrio Salamanca, and the EDITION in the city’s historic center. –William O’Connor
Aran Islands, Ireland
I don’t believe in magic or magic spells, which is a shame, because magic would be such an easy way to explain the pull of the Aran Islands. Bestriding the mouth of Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland, the three Aran Islands (the largest is smaller than Manhattan) are outsized in their appeal, having drawn pilgrims both sacred and secular to their rocky shores for millenia. There are enormous stone constructions on the islands that are so old no one can remember what their original purpose was. There is now also glamping and decent cell service. But if the mix of ancient ruins and modern convenience seems fairly evenly balanced, that still doesn’t entirely explain why people ferry out to these windswept islands by the thousands every year. Shorn and carved by glaciers, the land is rocky and unforested. It is not conventionally pretty. Its beauty is more rugged, and hard to convey to anyone who’s never been there. Tim Robinson, who penned two of the best books ever written about the place, got close with this statement: “If Ireland is intriguing as being an island off the west of Europe, then Aran, as an island off the west of Ireland, is still more so: it is Ireland raised to the power of two.” –Malcolm Jones
I don’t know if I’ll ever have the opportunity to visit Nigeria, but if I did, I would be remiss not to visit Lagos—and geek out on its rock music scene. I’ve been fascinated by Nigerian rock for the past decade or so, ever since I first heard William Onyeabor’s 1979 LP, Tomorrow—which led me down a rabbit hole of compilations like Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970’s Funky Lagos, and Nigeria Rock Special (Psychedelic Afro-Rock And Fuzz Funk In 1970s Nigeria. These records are prototypes for a unique blend of rhythm and melody that would later be explored by artists like Prince, Beck, and even Talking Heads. Lagos is also the birthplace of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, and is still a hotspot for electronic music, rock… and heavy metal. –Anthony Fisher
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
This mid-size Brazilian city is often overlooked by visitors coming to this expansive country, but that’s their loss. The architecture in this walkable metropolis is altogether funky, because postmodern architects were encouraged to go buck-wild with their shapes and forms while covering everything in a many-hued array of square mosaic tiles. It’s a city with one of the world’s liveliest bar cultures, and a cuisine heavy on the, well, heavy. The weather is good year round, so there’s no wrong time to go, and it’s also an excellent jumping off point for excursions to Pampulha, the complex of casino, church, yacht club, and more designed by Oscar Niemeyer around an artificial lake; Inhotim, one of the largest contemporary art museums in Brazil; and Ouro Preto, the postcard-perfect preserved gold rush city. For those seeking a chic stay, the Fasano is a can’t miss. –William O’Connor
Japan is finally open again and so it’s time for some post-COVID hedonism. Tokyo has the buzz and Kyoto has the history, but Osaka is where you can engage in some good old-fashioned gluttony. This sprawling metropolis—the second-largest city in Japan—is so fabled to be a food-and-drink town that its unofficial slogan is kuidaore, meaning “eat yourself bankrupt,” or more to the point: Eat til you drop. One could easily spend both day and night cozying up next to the chatty locals at Osaka’s many taverns and standing-only pubs, gorging on local specialties like takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savory grilled pancakes), or kitsune udon (thick noodles topped with fried tofu). Don’t want to eat yourself into financial ruin? Osaka is also the perfect home base for day trips to visit the humbling history of Hiroshima, the shrines and temples of Miyajima, the sacred deer of Nara, or neighboring cultural paradise Kyoto. –Andrew Kirell
Rincón, Puerto Rico
When most vacation to Puerto Rico, they find themselves adventuring around the capital city of San Juan. But just a couple hours west lies the sun soaked city of Rincón. This island town is best known for its stunning beaches, incredible surf, and breathtaking sunsets. But Rincón has so much more to offer, being a perfect winter-time escape to a warmer climate with the surf near Domes Beach (an old nuclear reactor turned history museum) reaching up to 20 foot swells in the winter time. That also is the best time of year to view some humpback whales or book a beach-side horseback ride during the picturesque sunsets. Rincón is a perfect getaway for those who don’t have a passport or don’t want to have to deal with currency exchange as it is part of a U.S. territory. –Reid Webb
Kansas City, Missouri
Nearly every American hopes to do a cross-country road trip at some point, and it can be tough to figure out which route is the best. While every one has its selling points, any that includes this heartland city will be a success. Cruise around its ritzy neighborhoods and ogle some of the country’s best Gilded Age architecture, gobble up its famed BBQ, visit the Nelson-Atkins, one of the best art museums in the world, or go a little kooky with the unforgettable The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. The Crossroads Hotel is always the place to stay, and its rooftop bar is very much the spot to be. For those looking to carbo-load, 1900 Barker in nearby Lawrence can’t be beat. And history buffs should feel giddy: the recently renovated Truman Library is fantastic and the nearby Vail Mansion is filled with weird stories. –William O’Connor
Catania is Sicily’s second-largest city, home to its oldest university (dating back to 1434), situated on the island’s east coast, facing directly across the Mediterranean toward southern Greece. And while you can’t avoid the ancient history of the place, it’s a thoroughly modern, walkable town of ocean breezes, fresh fish, and volcanic ash from nearby Mt. Etna. From the all-too-brief time I spent in Catania, my favorite memories are of walking through the San Barillo district. In less than a ten minute walk in any direction, I climbed to the top of the 18th century Roman Catholic abbey, the Badia di Sant’Agata, with outrageous panoramic views of the city and the sea. That was followed by some vinyl record shopping at the tiny but well-stocked Cari & Rari, and concluded with some ridiculously good pizza and cannoli at Il Vicolo Pizze e Vino—located a few feet from the stunningly well-preserved ruins of a Roman amphitheater dating back to around the second century A.D. –Anthony Fisher
The clock is ticking on the full return of Chinese tourists, as the government in Beijing slowly lifts its COVID restrictions. That also means the clock is ticking on experiencing Southeast Asia without massive crowds. Before the pandemic, Bangkok was the world’s most visited city, and Chinese tourists played a major role in that. Right now, you can experience its famed golden palaces and temples with a fraction of the tourists you might have pre-pandemic. (Don’t get us wrong, it’s still crowded.) Regardless of crowds, though, any visit to Bangkok is great for those with an appetite as its legendary street food will make you reluctant to ever sit down in an actual restaurant. Classic hotels like the Art Deco and The Siam are always a good bet, but The Standard recently opened a lively new hotel in the city’s tallest tower. If you’re looking to take a break from Thai food, Ojo Bangkok at the top of the tower is one of the most beautiful spaces we’ve come across in recent years, and the Mexican food it serves matches the quality of the decor.–William O’Connor
It’s embarrassing how much the movies and TV have shaped my travel history (who else goes to San Francisco, at least in part, to see where Brigid O’Shaughnessy shot Miles Archer in The Maltese Falcon?). My wife once arranged a very successful vacation—complete with (unscripted) runaway horse—around my fascination with Monument Valley, born of watching way too many John Ford movies (ok, no such thing as way too many Ford movies, but let that pass). My first visit to Malibu was practically levitational after my host pointed out that we were dining in the beachside restaurant where Rockford took prospective clients in The Rockford Files, and Rockford’s trailer would have been situated just across the parking lot. Which kinda sorta explains, more than I care to admit, why I want to go to Amsterdam: because I saw this cool hotel in Ocean’s 12 and thought, ok, legal weed and Old Masters will get me there, but I have to admit, seeing this hotel in that movie is what’s selling me. Hotel Amsterdam, by the way. –Malcolm Jones
Denmark’s second-largest city has it all: a diverse and booming food scene emphasizing sustainability and playfulness; a world-class art museum with an iconic rooftop display; awe-inspiring architecture spanning from Gothic to modernist to neo-futurist; and a central quarter lining a gorgeous canal, jam-packed with coffee houses, shops, restaurants, and public art. The surrounding region features a long list of nature walks, historic manors, thought-provoking works of public art, organic villages, and oddball curiosities like a full-scale Graceland replica. As we wrote earlier this year, Aarhus is truly skidegodt, or, cool as shit. Just a three-and-a-half hour train or car ride from Copenhagen, a trip to Aarhus is incredibly easy to pair with the Danish capital for a getaway we assure you won’t forget. –Andrew Kirell
Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
It might have been in the news more than usual of late because of the recent climate conference, but as a tourist destination for Americans, Sharm often gets short shrift. That’s why it was a recent selection for our series on underrated destinations, It’s Still a Big World. As Cassandra Brooklyn noted in her piece, “the beaches were beautiful (and uncrowded), the people were friendly, the food was fantastic, and the scuba diving was phenomenal… There are great parties, bars, beaches, and water-based activities, but there’s also easy access to charming smaller towns and significant archeological sites.” Oh, and the city has the world’s biggest Four Seasons, and it just added a sumptuous new complex of villas and rooms. –William O’Connor
When Bhutan reopened to the world in September, one of the last to do so, it did so with a bit of news–the daily fee for being in the country was raised to $200. Long seen as one of the world’s most exclusive destinations, the sole carbon-negative country in the world is trying to ensure that remains the case. While the journey to this Himalayan kingdom can be arduous, the payoff is huge as you’ll experience beautiful monastery fortresses without jostling for space, and hike up mountains blanketed in rhododendron forests often without passing a single soul except for a guard dog. The country also boasts some of the world’s most luxurious hotels, including one of our favorites worldwide, Gangtey Lodge. –William O’Connor
If you find yourself in Barcelona, make time for a long weekend 50 miles northeast in Girona, a gorgeous medieval city that has long been Catalonia’s most underrated. Get lost in the city’s Old Quarter with its well-preserved Jewish quarter, baroque architecture, and maze-like cobblestone streets. Stop in for light lunches and coffee at cafés like La Fábrica, a laid-back cyclist haven. Stroll along the banks of the Onyar river and gaze upon the rows of picturesque homes with immaculately curated color facades. Try your damnedest to get a table at El Celler de Can Roca, the Michelin three-starred restaurant inheriting El Bulli’s legacy as the region’s crown jewel. And make sure to take a day trip out to Cadaqués, the hilly seaside town with whitewashed homes and top-notch seafood, beloved by both Anthony Bourdain and Salvador Dalí, who lived there for much of his life. –Andrew Kirell
The southwestern corner of Utah is home to three fantastic national parks—Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef—making it the perfect area to experience all sorts of otherworldly landscapes. We recommend making a home base out of the small town of Escalante, more specifically Yonder Escalante, a simple but elegant glamping resort located along Scenic Byway 12. Drive along the route, including the thrilling “Hogsback” stretch of road, hike Bryce’s Queens/Navajo combo loop, scale the hoodoo-and-arches playground at Devil’s Garden, or just kick back at Yonder for a day of poolside vibes and a night of fireside grilling and stargazing. –Andrew Kirell
Asheville, North Carolina
As a native of the South, I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t explored much of the region outside of my native Louisiana and the nearby states of Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Next year, I’m making it a point to visit cities in the Upper South starting with Asheville. Nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is an outdoor lover’s dream. There are many hiking and biking trails to traverse, and a scenic drive along Blue Ridge Parkway, aka, America’s Favorite Drive, is sure to impress with its stunning vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains. While the mountain city has mostly been able to keep its rich architectural legacy intact (The Biltmore Estate—built between 1889 and 1895— remains America’s Largest Home at 175,000 square feet!), it has also made room for unconventional architecture that fits within its Appalachian landscape. Earlier this fall, an urban cabin campground opened on the west side of the city. Situated just along the French Broad River Greenway, the Wrong Way River Lodge and Cabins feature 16 standalone A-frame cabins that are “Scappalachian” in design—merging Scandinavian design with the mountain aesthetic of the Appalachians.