Welcome to the Rough Guide to 2020! From up-and-coming destinations to old favourites with a new reason to visit, this guide has our pick of the best places to travel in 2020.
Add these countries, regions and cities to your 2020 bucket list, and visit any of the destinations we’ve picked with our Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips service. Without further ado, here's our list of the best places to travel in 2020.
4 Best countries to travel in 2020
If there’s a role model for sustainability in the world, it’s probably Bhutan. Not only is it carbon neutral, but it’s carbon negative. Over 60% of its forests are protected for future generations, and it’s built around a core philosophy of low-impact tourism and Gross National Happiness. And on top of that, by 2020 it’s on track to become the first fully organic nation on the planet.
You may have heard of Bhutan’s now-famous compulsory tourist tariff, which sees foreign visitors paying a minimum of $250 per day just to visit. But what you may not know is this includes all accommodation, food, transport and a local guide – and it also grants you access to one of Southeast Asia’s most pristine corners.
Shut off from the world until 1974, Bhutan is almost like a time capsule. It’s a place where archery is the national pastime, the valleys ring with tinkling yak bells and locals wander the streets in colourful traditional dress. Visit its majestic dzongs and monasteries and you’ll find red-robed monks strolling between lilac jacaranda trees, against a backdrop of soaring Himalayan peaks. Trek up there, and it’s still possible to see snow leopards. Shangri-La may be fictional, but its real-world equivalent is right here. Discover more with our Tailor-Made Trips to Bhutan.
Ethiopia is utterly unique. The only country to cling onto its independence during the nineteenth-century Scramble for Africa, its culture and traditions have remained virtually intact. What's more, its history goes as far back as the beginning of human existence. Its age-old structures, fiery cuisine, Amharic language and high-altitude wildlife occur nowhere else in the world. Despite this, Ethiopia receives a fraction of the visitors compared to nearby Kenya and Uganda. And now's the time to rectify that.
First on the list of extraordinary sights are the 900-year-old sunken churches of Lalibela. Carved into rock trenches, the churches have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1970s. Still very much in use, they’re best visited in January for the Timkat (Epiphany) festival. At this time, thousands of white-clad worshippers descend into the crevices and attend a jubilant mass baptism.
To the west lies Gondar, lauded as the Camelot of Africa for its magnificent trove of seventeenth-century stone castles. While to the southeast, you’ll find the eerie hyenas of Harar. Trek into the Simien mountains and you’ll have the chance to spot the rare Ethiopian wolf, and the shaggy gelada monkeys that have made a home on the high northern plateaus. It's the unique encounters like these that make Ethiopia one of the best places to travel.
Experience the Timkat festival for yourself with a Tailor-Made Trip to Ethiopia.
2020 is a big year for Austria, with anniversaries at every turn. First up, it’s 250 years since the birth of Vienna’s adopted son Ludwig van Beethoven, an event that’s being billed as “Beethoven Year” in the city. While the composer was born in Bonn, Germany, he spent most of his life in Vienna. There are concerts celebrating the composer throughout the year, including a staging of his only opera, Fidelio, in April. There's also a special exhibition dedicated to the composer at the House of Music.
Beethoven Year is not the only major musical event taking place. 2020 also marks the 100th anniversary of the world-famous Salzburg Festival in July. Immortalized onscreen in The Sound of Music, the event programme is yet to be announced, but Hofmannsthal’s play Everyman is performed every year and is a festival favourite. You can also bet on a little Mozart – the composer was born and raised here.
Music aside, whether you plan on skiing the Streif or hiking the Tirol, Austria abounds with reasons to get outdoors at any time of the year. From paragliding to mountain biking or whitewater rafting, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the picture-perfect scenery. Get the most from trip by working with a local expert in Austria.
As European beach destinations go, Montenegro remains a fairly undiscovered treat. Its 293-kilometre coastline, with 72 kilometres of beaches, is ripe for sunning yourself for up to six months a year, while the warm waters of the Adriatic are tempting for a swim. There are cool coastal cities like Kotor and chic beach towns aplenty. Plus, proof that this country is becoming a destination of choice for the cool crowd: the high-end One&Only resorts group is opening their latest property in Portonovi.
But there’s much more to this country than sun, sea and sand. Head to Skadar Lake, the largest in the Balkans, for spectacular views. Mountains rise from its blue-green waters and a vast wetland makes for a fantastic home to over 270 species of birds.
The Tara River Canyon has some of the country’s dramatic scenery – it’s 1300 metres deep at its highest point and is surrounded by forest and bucolic alpine scenery. This is where adrenaline junkies go to get their thrills, as the whitewater rapids here make for a wild day out.
If you're thinking of visiting Montenegro, get in touch with our Montenegro experts!
8 Best regions to visit in 2020
For decades the preserve of middle-class Brits seeking winter sun, in recent years Madeira has been shaking off its old-fashioned reputation. Head there in 2020 to find a wealth of outdoor activities and stylish restaurants.
The island is criss-crossed by a staggering 1,350 miles of levadas – freshwater irrigation channels built in the hillsides, lined with hiking trails. Some levadas date back to the 16th century while others were built as late as the 1940s. The idea was borrowed from the Moors who once ruled Spain and Portugal. What they all have in common is beautiful views and exclusive access to the parts of Madeira that cars can’t reach. Stride along verdant terraces overlooking fruit plantations or hike above the clouds from Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo.
Soothe your post-hike muscles in the natural saltwater rock pools at Porto Moniz. Cut off from the rest of the island for hundreds of years (the first road was laid after World War II) it has a special windswept charm.
Head to the capital, Funchal, for a dining scene that’s steadily warming up – from Michelin starred-restaurants to markets filled with organic fruit and veg. If you’re there in April make time for the 8th edition of the Madeira Film Festival, showcasing independent films from around the world. For a trip that really gets the most out of Madeira – get in touch!
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
The future of Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda has been in question this past year. Proposals to build a 360-megawatt power plant were revealed in June. This raised concerns about the survival of the park’s wildlife, ecosystems and tourism prospects. Thankfully, in August 2019, the plans were rejected by the government and Murchison’s wildlife saved from a potentially damaging project. So there’s no better time to show your appreciation for all this gorgeous national park has to offer.
With 3,900 square kilometres of wilderness, Murchison is teeming with lions, elephants, hippos and warthogs. It's a truly magical safari destination. There are boat trips on the Nile, excellent bird-watching opportunities (shoe-billed storks are the highlight) and, of course, hikes up the spectacular triple-cascade waterfall.
The park is also at the forefront of some of Uganda’s best conservation efforts. Thanks to a healthy population of giraffes, translocation programmes are helping repopulate other areas of the country. By visiting you’ll be supporting this initiative to save an endangered species.
BA flies to Entebbe from the UK via Doha. Plus, with the revival of Uganda Airlines this past summer, it’s even easier to reach this beautiful country. There are connections through Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi and more. Rough Guides can connect you with a local expert in Uganda to help plan and book your trip.
Luzon, the Philippines
Home to the country's capital, Manila, Luzon might not seem like the first choice for a trip to get back to nature. Yet with spectacular diving and snorkelling, laid back beach resorts, picturesque rice terrace walks and challenging treks up active volcanoes, there's plenty to charm.
While many of the world’s coral reefs are struggling, the Philippines still has some of the most pristine, colourful reefs in the ocean. If diving is your bag, make a beeline for Southern Luzon. Diving centres around the southern and eastern coasts and islands of the region. Here, yellow snapper and damselfish flit about beside colourful corals and porcelain crabs. Elsewhere in the south, white-sand beaches and a few beautiful islands will please anyone looking for a relaxing trip.
In Northern Luzon, you’ll find mountains and volcanoes and beautiful cities like Vigan. It's packed with intriguing architecture from the many nations who ruled here before the Philippines became independent. Don’t miss a visit to Banaue’s rice terraces, where a local guide can show you around the stunning irrigation system that’s earned the name ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for its beauty.
On the 12th January 2020 the Taal volcano on Luzon island erupted. You can find the latest UK government advice on travel to the region here.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Sitting almost 1,000 kilometres off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands present a stunning array of landscapes and wildlife. It’s the kind of place where sharing a bench with a seal is an everyday occurrence, where enormous iguanas roam freely about town. But the human-settled areas of these islands make up just 3% of the total landmass. Elsewhere, a pristine wilderness awaits, teeming with an astonishing amount of unique wildlife. If you need a reminder, the Galapagos provided the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
Today on the islands, you can meet giant tortoises trundling across grassy plains. And you can see curious blue-footed boobies doing their unusual mating dance. All manner of colourful creatures, from snakes to locusts, can be found on the shores here. In the ocean, you might spot moody Galapagos sharks or comical red-lipped batfish.
So if the Galapagos Islands have ever intrigued you, now is the time to visit. There are strict visitor limits and conservation rules in place across the islands. With climate change posing an increasing threat, there’s every chance these will get tighter. The visitor fee is to double in 2020 and may go up again – let us help you go now to experience this truly unique destination at its best.
Ciudad Perdida and Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Now that Machu Picchu has begun to reach tourist capacity, it’s high time for another lost city. Enter Ciudad Perdida, perched high in the cloudforest of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of northern Colombia. Underexplored and relatively unknown, the ruins have been dubbed “the new Machu Picchu”. That's despite predating their Peruvian counterparts by some 650 years.
The site has a fascinating history. It was built by the indigenous Tayrona people was one of their largest cities. Following a run-in with Spanish conquistadors, it was abandoned. It slumbered beneath the jungle for centuries – until it was rediscovered by looters in the 1970s. Today it is arguably one of Colombia’s most fascinating archeological sites. Here, thousands of moss-covered stone terraces (once foundations for homes) illuminate Colombia’s pre-colonial history. The only catch? It takes at minimum a three-day trek to reach the lost city.
While you’re in the area, don’t miss Tayrona National Park. This is one of South America’s most ruggedly beautiful reserves. It's a protected 150-square-kilometre swathe of unspoiled Caribbean coast, complete with swaying coconut palms, turquoise lagoons and lush rainforest that sweeps down to the beach. For trips to Colombia, try our Tailor-Made Trips service.
Northern Sri Lanka
While it may have made headlines this year for all the wrong reasons, Sri Lanka continues to be a country that travellers rave about. Perhaps it’s something to do with its colonial forts. Or maybe the lush tea-swathed hills or the lowland jungles bursting with readily accessible wildlife. It could be because of its dazzlingly white beaches, its fascinating cave temples or the sheer profusion of bucket-list train journeys. But more than anything, it’s likely something to do with the friendliness of the people.
Visitors may be well acquainted with the southern riches of Galle, Mirissa and Kandy. The north however is relatively unexplored. For years, it was inaccessible in the aftermath of the civil war. It’s a totally different experience, a world away from the south – and in places closer to India than Colombo.
Visit Jaffna to wander colonial suburbs and walk the ramparts of its seventeenth-century Dutch fort, or check out Mannar to scout for wild ponies and ancient baobab trees. You’ll find leopards in Wilpattu National Park, and some of the best diving around Pigeon Island. And then there are the tiny isles off the Jaffna Peninsula: starkly beautiful, and scattered with temples, forts and untouched beaches. The rail lines have finally reconnected Jaffna and Mannar Island, and it’s never been easier to visit. Let us help you visit Northern Sri Lanka now, before it’s discovered.
Four hundred years ago the Pilgrims first stepped off the Mayflower and onto the shore of what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. They founded a colony – and later a nation. While they are now centuries gone, their pioneering spirit lives on here in New England’s most populous state.
This is where you’ll find Boston, seafood- and sports-loving capital and one of the oldest cities in America. Boston was the birthplace of the American Revolution. This event is commemorated in the vast open-air museum that is the Freedom Trail. Meanwhile in nearby Cambridge, you’ll find Harvard University and MIT, home to revolutions of an intellectual sort.
Travel to Lexington and Concord to stroll historic battlefields, or to Salem to learn about the witch trials. You’ll find some of the best beaches in New England along the three-hundred-mile coast of Cape Cod. Birdwatchers can do no better than the beautiful Berkshires.
For a glimpse of Massachusetts as it was you should visit in 2020, when the Pilgrims’ perilous journey across the Atlantic will be remembered with a series of commemorative events. For trips to Massachusetts try our Tailor-Made Trips service.
Northern Territory, Australia
It’s no secret that Uluru is a (quite literally) huge draw when visiting the Northern Territory. The looming monolith appears to change colour throughout the day, from orange to red to purple as the sun paces across the sky. While visitors could climb the rock until this year, the sacred Aboriginal site is now closed to visitors, after years of campaigning by its traditional owners.
You can still hike the trail around the base – a journey of 10 km. And there's a huge amount to see at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Bruce Munro’s acclaimed Field of Light art installation will illuminate the land around the rock until the end of 2020. More than 50,000 solar-powered lights appear at sunset and continue to glow until dawn. Highlighting the monolithic rock against the sky, the installation looks like a burst of wildflowers one moment and seems to reflect the night sky the next.
Although Uluru may take the lion’s share of fame, it’s not the only rock in the NT. Less than two hours’ drive from Darwin, Kakadu National Park is Australia’s biggest national park. This biodiverse nature reserve encompasses sandstone escarpments and beautiful natural swimming pools at the base of waterfalls. Here, you can appreciate the outback’s unique scenery and its over 2,000 plant and wildlife species. See all of this and more with Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips.
8 Best cities to visit in 2020
Denver, Colorado, USA
The capital of counter-culture Colorado, there has always been a lot to love about Denver. Sandwiched between the Great Plains and the vast Rocky Mountains, the scenery surrounding this city is second to none. Its cosmopolitan centre has exciting restaurants and bars serving up brilliant food and cocktails. One such is the Union Train Station, where a multi-million dollar renovation has created a sophisticated space for drinks with friends.
In 2020 the Mile High City will reach new cultural heights as the brand-new Mission Ballroom sees its first full year of concerts. In addition, urban art festival Crush Walls celebrates its tenth anniversary. For a full week in September, artists will paint the town red (and many more colours) as newly commissioned works are created, galleries stage special exhibits and live music keeps the party going at night. A new immersive exhibit from contemporary art darlings Meow Wolf exhibit is also slated to open in 2021. You can get a taster of what’s to come with the ‘Kaleidoscape’ ride at Elitch Gardens theme park.
Alongside all this, there’s plenty going on at Denver’s well-established creative destinations, too. Don’t miss a gig at spectacular outdoor amphitheatre Red Rocks. Then, take a stroll through the urban River North district (known as Rino), where former industrial units are a canvas for bold and bright street art. The district is home to breweries that serve the city’s students and after-work crowd in their taprooms. The Winter Park Express Ski Train returns in January 2020 too. You’ll be able to hit the slopes in the morning before coming back into town for a thriving après ski scene. To plan and book your own trip to Denver, get in touch with our Tailor-Made Trips service.
It’s an exciting time to be in Tbilisi. Reborn from the ashes of the Rose Revolution, Georgia’s capital city is working hard to carve out an identity of its own.
Gone are its ex-Soviet spaces, the abandoned factories and printing houses. These once industrial shells are now boutique hotels, art galleries and techno-heavy music venues. Futuristic architecture has emerged in Rike Park, where a duo of glass-and-steel tubes now looms over the lawns.
But even with these modern developments, the city retains its age-old draws. Charmingly crumbling shopfronts still line the narrow alleys of the Old Town, much as they have for centuries. And it’s here that you can sample the best of old Tbilisi: homemade Georgian wine, the product of over eight thousand years of practice, and the traditional supra (feast), the cure for over eight thousand years of hangovers. The city may have been founded for its thermal baths (tbili in Georgian means “warmth”), but it’s the warmth of the welcome that’ll leave you keen to return to Georgia.
Long known for its cosy pubs, superlative seafood and riotous festivals, the harbour city of Galway is Ireland’s cultural heartland on the windswept Atlantic coast. So it’s really no surprise that in 2020 it will reign as a European Capital of Culture.
This is a place where Irish is still spoken between mouthfuls of Guinness, where shops display musical instruments alongside handcrafted Claddagh rings, and locals feast on native oysters plucked straight from the bay. You’ll find live bands a-plenty and buskers on the streets. All this is framed by the medieval town walls that gently crumble in the salty breeze.
Every year the city runs an active calendar of events, buoyed by the city’s energetic student population. Rarely a month goes by without a festival. Chief among them are the Galway Arts Festival for music and the visual arts (July), and Cúirt International Festival of Literature for poetry and prose (April). The Film Fleadh (July), a celebration of cinema, is popular too. But it’s the Galway Oyster Festival that draws the largest crowds. Get set for four irresistible days of shellfish shucking and copious pints of the black stuff.
Travel to Galway with Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips.
Mexico City, Mexico
There’s a real buzz around Mexico City at the moment, but it’s certainly not the first time. The city has long been one of the world’s great metropolises. It was the capital of the Aztec empire in the 14th century, then known as Tenochtitlán.
Today you can still stumble upon the relics of the past. Explore the shrines of the Templo Mayor or head to the Teotihuacán pyramids on the city’s fringes. But these days the focus in the city is more on its dynamic art, exciting street culture and (most of all) its burgeoning culinary scene.
Just as you’ll see Aztec ruins alongside the glass-and-steel landmarks of contemporary districts, Mexico City’s food scene sits at the crossroads of old and new. You’ll find ramshackle markets, old-school cantinas and traditional street food stalls standing alongside some of the country’s best Michelin-starred restaurants.
Menus in the capital feature regional cuisines from every corner of the country. In a single day you can feast on slow-cooked pineapple pork tacos, fried cactus gorditas or chapulin, a regional Oaxacan delicacy prepared with spiced crickets. And then there is the traditional hot chocolate, served thick and dark with nata bread on the side for dipping. Mexican culture is served on a plate here, and eating is the best way to experience it. Let us connect you to local experts in Mexico to plan and book a trip that tickles the tastebuds.
The first of Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan series My Brilliant Friend was published to acclaim in 2012. Since the release of HBO’s TV adaptation last year, the reclusive author’s works have been gaining worldwide attention. With a new series coming to screens in early 2020 and a National Theatre adaptation this November, the city of Naples is firmly in the spotlight.
Naples is on the Mediterranean, backed by Vesuvius, and with the Amalfi coast just a stone’s throw away. It’s a surprise the city has been under the radar for so long. The city’s famous rubbish problem was solved a few years ago, and a lot of effort has been made to clean up the streets.
You can indulge your historical interests at the National Museum of Archeology or be amazed by in Pompei’s staggering remains. Feed your foodie side at the city’s pizzerias and street food stalls – and try and pick a favourite (not easy!).
For more contemporary artefacts head into the city’s metro system. Over the past few years, an ambitious project has turned multiple metro stations into immersive artworks. The most beautiful is perhaps Toledo station. Here, undulating mosaic walls give the impression of travelling to the bottom of the sea as you head to your platform. Rough Guides can connect you with a local expert to plan a personalised trip to Naples and the rest of Italy.
Dubai is known for its luxury shopping centres, lavish hotels and statement architecture. All excellent reasons to visit of course, but 2020 brings another reason – the World Expo. A showcase of the scientific and technological achievements of nations, this event has been running since the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Opening in October 2020, it’s the first time the Expo will be held in the Middle East. It’s quite a milestone for the region and the UAE is pulling out all the stops to make this a spectacular event.
The main theme of the Expo this year is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” and nearly 200 countries are set to take part. Visitors can expect a mind-boggling peek into the future of innovation, sustainability and mobility. Along with the exhibits, live shows will take place every day. If that’s not enough to excite you, keep an eye out for the forthcoming Museum of the Future, slated to open early next year. For trips to the World Expo and more, we can connect you with our local experts in Dubai.
Whether you want 21st-century culture or immersive ancient history, Athens is hard to beat. Iconic landmarks can be found at every turn, from the Acropolis – which never fails to impress – to the vast Odeon of Herodes Atticus Amphitheatre, almost 2000 years old. Incredible relics aside, the city is gaining notoriety for its cool cafe culture, brilliant bars and nightlife and its buzzing arts scene.
Just opened, the vast art collection of Greek shipping tycoon Basil Goulandris is on display in its own purpose-built gallery. The Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation has Picasso works sitting side-by-side with Van Gogh, Miro and Matisse. There’s also the dynamic Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Centre. There you'll find exhibitions from Greek modern artists. On a smaller scale, the bookshop-come-gallery, Radio Athènes is garnering international attention.
The food scene here is ever-improving too. Beyond traditional tavernas, there are now five Michelin-starred restaurants across the city. Take your pick from fine-dining on rooftops with Acropolis views or seaside dinners in a romantic setting. Travel to Greece with Rough Guides and enjoy a trip designed to suit you perfectly.
Utrecht, the Netherlands
Amsterdam is officially off the menu, city officials having made it clear the city can no longer handle the current deluge of tourists. They even dismantled the iconic “IAmsterdam” sign. So, make 2020 the year you explore some of the Netherlands’ lesser-known destinations instead. Utrecht is a perfect example of a spectacular city that has too long played second fiddle to the nation’s capital.
Here you’ll find canals as picturesque as Amsterdam’s, but without the thronging crowds. A highlight is the striking nineteenth-century castle with landscaped gardens and glorious Gothic interiors.
There’s arts and culture to boot, too. Events such as the Netherlands Film Festival (September–October), theatre and dance festival SPRING (October–November) and pop music festival Le Guess Who? are well worth planning a visit around. Plus, De Stijl artist Piet Mondrian was born nearby in Amersfoort.
You can visit his house in nearby Amersfoort, which has been transformed into an immersive museum showcasing some of his most famous works, and try out the interactive ‘create your own’ exhibit, which runs until December 2020. Kids will love a visit to the Miffy Museum, which is essentially one big adventure playground themed on the cartoon rabbit’s adventures. Plan an book your own trip to the Netherlands with Rough Guides Tailor-Made Trips.
Rough Guides Tailor-made Trips
For an authentic experience created by genuine local experts, look no further than our trips service. We can plan and book travel to over 70 countries – including all the destinations on our best places to travel in 2020 list – with each trip completely personalised to your requirements. Let us know what you are looking for and we'll do the rest. Find out more about the service here, or make an enquiry today.
Writers: Jenny Cahill-Jones, Jess Cropper, Lottie Gross, Kirsten Powley, Georgia Stephens
Contributors: Joe Legate, Stephanie Mitchell