The Rough Guide to 2018

From new trekking routes and historical trails to underrated cities and conservation success stories, our team of experts and roving authors reveal the 18 places that should be on your radar in 2018.

1. Newcastle, England

Tourists venturing to Northern England have traditionally made a beeline for the likes of Liverpool and Manchester, but 2018 is Newcastle’s time to shine.

Next summer the city – along with neighbouring Gateshead – will host the Great Exhibition of the North, a two-month jamboree that will tell the story of Northern England and how its artists and innovators have helped shape the world we live in. Expect live music, performance art and insightful exhibitions at some wonderful venues.

Expect also to be bowled over by Geordie geniality (locals are famously friendly) and the city’s nightlife, which is notoriously lively. A burgeoning restaurant scene, fantastic museums and architectural feats like Tyne Bridge add to the appeal of Newcastle, which is also friendly on the wallet.

2. Civil Rights Trail, USA

Far-right groups marching through the streets. Violent acts fuelled by racism.

Today’s America bears disturbing echoes of the past, making the Civil Rights Movement more pertinent than ever.

April 4, 2018 marks 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on the balcony of Memphis’ Lorraine Motel, which now houses the National Civil Rights Museum.

It’s one of 80 sites highlighted in a new Civil Rights Trail created by Travel South USA.

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The trail covers King’s birthplace in Atlanta, Georgia, his first church posting in Montgomery, Alabama, and the 16th Street Baptist Church, further north in Birmingham, where in September 1963 four young girls were killed by a bomb planted by Ku Klux Klan members.

In Jackson, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (the first state-owned museum dedicated to civil rights) casts an unflinching eye on the period, while its final gallery, ‘Where do we go from here?’, highlights lessons yet to be learned.

3. Malawi

Long known as “the warm heart of Africa” because of its friendly, welcoming people, Malawi is fast gaining a reputation as a fabulous safari destination too. Three of its reserves – Majete, Liwonde and Nkhotakota – are now run by conservation organisation African Parks which has been busy regenerating them and reintroducing wildlife.

Today, Majete is home to all of the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard), which roam its lush rolling hills and riverine landscapes.

In 2017, Liwonde also welcomed cheetah as new residents to its game-rich plains dominated by the beautiful Shire River snaking its way through the park. Lions will be joining them in 2018. And following the world’s biggest ever translocation of elephants, wonderfully wild and rugged Nkhotakota became home to 500 elephants from Majete and Liwonde.

In each reserve, places to stay range from luxury lodges to community campsites: check in now before the crowds do.

4. Valletta, Malta

Valletta is buzzing right now. A flurry of regeneration projects and new openings to mark its stint as European Capital of Culture in 2018 include Renzo Piano’s remodeled city gate and his striking new parliament building.

Neglected churches are being restored and a historic auberge that was once headquarters of the city’s founders will house a groundbreaking National Museum of Art. Valletta’s magnificent palazzos and picturesque squares have been spruced up ahead of its year in the limelight, and the atmospheric old town – a UNESCO World Heritage site in its entirety – is now looking better than ever.

In 2018, hundreds of events will celebrate the city’s rich cultural history, born from Malta’s strategic location in the Mediterranean that saw Arab and Roman invaders in particular leave their mark on the island’s language, architecture and cuisine.

But it if all of that doesn’t tempt you to visit, the weather will – Valletta is Europe’s sunniest city.

5. Wales

A magical landscape harbouring jagged peaks, theatrically sited castles, lush valleys and an epic coastline, Wales packs a mighty fine punch – and there’s never been a better time to go.

The Wales Way, a trio of action-packed routes you can bike, hike or drive, launched in November 2017.

The Cambrian Way, The Coastal Way and The North Wales Way showcase a wonderfully diverse array of attractions, such as the Red Kite feeding centre in Rhayader, an old mining pit in the Rhondda, and a submerged forest at Borth.

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If you fancy yourself a hiker, why not go the whole hog and walk all 1400km of the Wales Coast Path: Wales is the only country in the world with a dedicated path around its entire coastline.

Throw into the mix a glut of enticing activities, from classic long-distance paths and world-class mountain biking, to a complex of subterranean trampolines and the fastest zip line on the planet, and you’ve got all the ingredients for one heck of an adventure. Croeso I Cymru!

6. Cuba

Two years ago experts merrily advised travellers to “visit Cuba before it changed forever,” reasoning that thawing relations between Washington and Havana would lead to an influx of US travellers and a “Disneyfication” of the island.

But with Trump rowing back on Obama’s Cuba policy and tightening restrictions on travel to the communist country, that influx now looks unlikely. That’s good news for travellers, who can take advantage of increased competition and reduced demand, but bad news for Cubans, who have turned to tourism as a source of income, opening bars and restaurants, and taking advantage of Airbnb.

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Trump’s policy may dampen that entrepreneurial spirit at a time when Cuba is desperately trying to modernise. Visit now and be part of the change.

7. Russia

Churchill once famously described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. While this vast, continent-sized country is undoubtedly a matryoshka doll of political intrigue, there is plenty for the adventurous traveller to enjoy as evidence of its rich cultural history, both Tsarist and Soviet, is everywhere to be seen.

With the eyes of the world focused on the FIFA World Cup that will take place in eleven Russian cities next summer, 2018 is the perfect time to visit.

The dazzling capital Moscow and elegant, cultured St Petersburg are the obvious choices, of course. But this will also be the ideal opportunity to visit lesser-known host cities like Kazan, the Tatar capital with its perfectly restored white-walled Kremlin, and Ekaterinburg, where the Russian Royal Family spent its final days before the 1917 revolution.

8. New Orleans, USA

New Orleans rides high on most people’s bucket list and 2018 is the year to visit as this party-loving city pulls out all the stops to celebrate its tricentennial. Festive parades with themed floats depicting the city’s 300-year history will roll through the streets during its annual Mardi Gras bash. There will be citywide art and cultural exhibitions, and tricentennial fireworks following the New Orleans Jazz Fest and other events throughout the year.

Stroll through the French Quarter and indulge in delicious Cajun and Creole cuisine, decadent cocktails (several famous concoctions were invented here), and the boisterous nightlife of Bourbon Street.

New Orleans is also one of the USA’s most bike-friendly cities, a perfect way to explore trending neighbourhoods such as the Bywater, Faubourg Marigny and Magazine Street with their colourful houses, quirky shops and jazz bars.

9. Chile

Chile has always been an adventure playground for the intrepid traveller, but 2018 sees things go up a notch with the newly created Route of Parks.

A stretch of Patagonian national parks between Puerto Montt and Tierra del Fuego, this circuit comes with increased investment in sustainable tourism, making the country’s remotest corners – including snow-tipped volcanoes and bewitching hanging glaciers – tantalisingly accessible.

But Chile is no one-trick pony. From the world’s oldest mummies in Arica to indigenous Mapuche-run tourism in Lago Budi to award-winning wineries in the Central Valley, there’s plenty on offer.

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January also marks the 25th anniversary of Santiago a Mil, South America’s third largest festival of theatre and dance. Held in the capital, expect 80 performances from 23 countries from across the globe.

10. Sierra Leone

Ravaged by civil war and then Ebola, Sierra Leone has seen few visitors of late. Now fully recovered, the country is firmly back on the radar, especially for more adventurous travellers.

Join in the inspirational Sierra Leone Marathon which in 2017 won the Running Awards’ prize for Best International Event. Labelled the “world’s craziest and most worthwhile marathon”, it supports thousands of children through UK charity Street Child.

After the run, explore the country’s natural heritage at Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, home to eleven species of monkeys and rare pygmy hippos or visit rescued chimps at the heart-warming Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary near the lively capital, Freetown.

Discover Sierra Leone’s tragic slave trade heritage on Bunce Island, an eerie, poignant fort where more than 50,000 people were incarcerated. Then chill on Western Peninsula’s golden tropical beaches with sunsets that seem to set the skies on fire.

Top image © Fabian Plock/Shutterstock

© Fabian Plock/Shutterstock

11. South Korea

Despite heightened tensions with its belligerent brother to the north, South Korea is turning into a powerhouse all of its own, with traditions and customs that have stayed largely intact through troubled times.

The sporting world’s eyes will be focused on the country in February, when the 2018 Winter Olympics get underway in Pyeongchang, a mountainous east-coast resort newly connected to capital Seoul by high-speed train.

But South Korea’s appeal extends far beyond this singular sporting event.

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Seoul’s high-rises and people-thronged streets should be your first port of call, while you can don your own skis at one of the country’s many resorts.

Throw colourful temples, pine-clad mountains, far-flung islands and Korea’s famously spicy food into the mix, and it’s no surprise that the country is now one of Asia‘s must-visit destinations.

12. Jordan

While Jordan’s a hot topic for travellers in the know, globally this destination still remains rather under the radar. But that’s likely to change.

Jordan established itself as an adventurers’ rite of passage earlier this year with the official launch of the Jordan Trail – a 650km trekking route running from the very north of the country down south to Aqaba on the Red Sea coast.

Winding through stunning wilderness, remote villages and stand-out sites like Petra and Wadi Rum, this thru-hike should rank towards the top of every bucket list.

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This is a politically stable, socially progressive country with some of the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world – go now before the rest of the world does too.

13. Tbilisi, Georgia

While many visitors simply breeze through Tbilisi on their way to the Caucasus mountains or wine country, adventurous travellers have long lingered in Georgia‘s capital to experience its storied old town, cultural attractions and first-class cuisine.

And there’s never been a better time to stick around; the city’s arts scene is blossoming as young creatives turn old, unloved buildings into artists’ studios, galleries, bars and boutique hotels. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Tbilisi is emerging as a capital of cool – so much so that even Berliners pilgrimage here for the nightlife.

In 2018 there’s even more reason to visit: a calendar of special events will celebrate 100 years since Georgia declared independence. So raise a glass of chacha, the local firewater, and join the party.

14. South Africa

2018 marks the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth – and though it’ll be marked with events around the world, nothing compares to celebrating Mandela’s legacy in his beloved South Africa.

You can explore the landscape and culture of the Eastern Cape, which shaped Madiba’s childhood and later years; experience the vibrancy and political activism which drew him to Johannesburg throughout his adult life; and marvel at the contrast between Cape Town’s desolate Robben Island, where he spent most of his 27-year incarceration, and the imposing Parliament building, where he spoke as President.

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There will be events, tours and openings throughout South Africa to mark the centenary, plus all of the country’s usual jaw-dropping attractions. Go on safari in Kruger National Park, listen to jazz in Joburg, wander the wine routes of the Cape – and savour the diversity and freedom Mandela fought so hard to protect.

15. Palermo, Sicily

Throwing off the shackles of its mafia past, Palermo is a city in flux. As both Italian Cultural Capital and host of Manifesta – Europe’s prestigious festival of contemporary art – 2018 is set to be Palermo’s year. And the Sicilian capital is well deserving of such limelight.

Once the crossroads of the Mediterranean, its historical might is unmissable: the mosaic-splashed Capella Palatina, the honeysuckle-hued Cattedrale and more generally, the clutter of Arabic cupolas, Byzantine relics and Baroque facades that crowd its centro storico.

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And now this city of grit and faded grandeur is in a frenzy of restoration. A contemporary art scene is transforming long-forgotten buildings, crumbling palaces are reemerging as boutique hotels, and edgy wine bars are revitalising neighbourhoods.

Plus, this being Sicily, you won’t go hungry: a growing tide of cutting-edge restaurants is now rivalling Palermo’s long-established street-food scene.

16. Togian Islands, Indonesia

While many of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands catch the eye with smouldering volcanoes, tumbling shelves of emerald rice fields and forest-covered mountains, the Togians – 56 tiny patches of jungle and sand off the coast of Sulawesi – are almost ridiculously stereotypical in their embodiment of tropical island paradise.

With no internet, patchy phone reception and sporadic electricity, the islands offer a sanctuary from the grimy chaos of Indonesia’s cities, while divers will find a pristine underwater world populated by kaleidoscopic nudibranchs, sea turtles and dugongs, among many others.

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Fascinating cultural experiences await, too: the Bajau, for example, are known as sea gypsies as they live in such harmony with the ocean.

But, unfortunately, more aggressive fishing techniques threaten the islands’ long-term marine health. Visiting actually benefits conservation; the government have now prioritised the protection of the islands in order to boost tourism, so there’s never been a better time to go.

Top image © ludo/Shutterstock

17. Tunisia

Tunisia, with its warmly welcoming north African culture, and its many historic sites and natural beauty spots, is deservedly back on the tourist radar for 2018.

Since the 2015 terrorist attack in Sousse, efforts by the Tunisian government to strengthen the protection of tourist centres is evident: there’s an increased police presence and an overall heightened sense of security. And, in July 2017, the Foreign Office eased its advice against British tourists travelling to Tunisia, including in relation to the capital Tunis and major tourist sites, such as Carthage, the Bardo Museum, the beaches of Hammamet and the idyllic island of Djerba.

Locals, long reliant on tourism for their livelihoods, are thrilled to see visitors finally venturing back to this most laid-back and relaxed of north African countries.

18. Belize

Left in the shadow of its neighbours, Belize is one of the least visited countries in the world. Despite a tiny population of 375,000 (compared to Costa Rica’s 4,950,000), this country has some colossal appeal.

The low population and absence of mass tourism has given Belize the time and space to develop on its own terms – the country is a bastion of ancient Mayan temples, thriving rainforests, pristine beaches and preserved coral reefs.

English is the nation’s official language, making immersive travel easy – but a multitude of diverse, fascinating cultures call Belize home.

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And from simple homestays to luxury eco-resorts, Belize is well equipped but still feels refreshingly offbeat. Now, it’s ready for the spotlight.

Image credits (left–right, top–bottom):Burim Muqa/Shutterstock,  Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock; Dave Head/Shutterstock; Everett Historical/Shutterstock; Alabama Tourism; Martin Mwaura/Shutterstock; Malawi Travel Marketing Consortium/Will Whitford;  Davide D’Amico/Shutterstock; Malta Tourism; Zoltan Varga Photographer/Shutterstock; Video: Colt St George; Visit Wales; Billy Stock/Shutterstock;  S.Borisov/Shutterstock; Andrey Lavrov/Shutterstock; Zack Smith Photography/New Orleans CVB; Zack Smith Photography/New Orleans CVB; David Ionut/Shutterstock; Video: Colt St George; Nick Ledger/Alamy Stock Photo; Jake Lyell/Alamy Stock Photo; CJ Nattanai/Shutterstock; Guitar photographer/Shutterstock; Pocholo Calapre/Shutterstock; Video: Colt St George; Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock; Pixabay/CC0; WitR/Shutterstock; South African Tourism; Davide D’Amico/Shutterstock; Video: Olivia Rawes; Elena Mirage/Shutterstock; Raffaella Galvani/Shutterstock; Romas_Photo/Shutterstock; kiyechka53/Shutterstock; Globe Guide Media Inc/Shutterstock

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