Forget the short days and cold mornings… a new year offers the chance to plan a whole 12 months’ worth of travel and adventure. And we’re raring to go. From newly minted national parks to one-off experiences, emerging destinations and old favourites with a new spin; these are the 19 places we’re excited to explore in 2019.
You are reading the Rough Guide to 2019, read our guide to the best places to travel in 2020.
Explore the Rough Guide to 2019
Contributors: Jenny Cahill-Jones, Kieran Meeke, Kirsten Powley
Top image: Luoping, Yunnan, China © Kanok Sulaiman/Shutterstock
Rwanda is emerging as a top wildlife destination, not least for visitors looking to see gorillas in their natural habitat. The country is home to hundreds of mountain gorillas that move between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the rainforests of the Virunga Mountains. New luxury lodges are opening up in the area, making it easier than ever to get a glimpse of these kings of the jungle.
Volcanoes National Park – encompassing the Rwandan side of the Virunga Mountains – is the place to see mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, while Nyungwe National Park in the south of the country is home to chimpanzees and many other primates.
Even outside its national parks, Rwanda is one of Africa’s most beautiful countries and the capital Kigali enjoys a picturesque setting in a valley between mountains. It has the traditional crafts, lively markets and lively music scene you might expect from a central African city, but also a few surprises. Trendy coffee houses serve locally-grown coffee, the restaurant scene is booming, and contemporary galleries will make you rethink your perceptions of African art.
Memories of the 1994 genocide remain, but President Paul Kagame oversees a regime with mandatory education, universal health care and gender equality. Meanwhile, a long process of reconciliation has helped earn Rwanda a new reputation one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, if not anywhere (the World Economic Forum listed Rwanda as the ninth safest country in the world in 2017). With new direct flights to Kigali from the UK on RwandAir, there’s never been a better time to visit.
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Joanna Lumley’s 2018 ITV series has put the Silk Road back on the map, and of all the countries featured, Kyrgyzstan remains one of the most undiscovered. Bordered by Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and China, it is at the very centre of Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan’s biggest claim to fame may be as the home of the apple: the fruit’s wild ancestor was domesticated here about 4,000 years ago and its seeds spread along the Silk Road by traders and their horses and camels. Apples are only one of the many delicious fruit and nuts grown in the region, mixed with influences from Turkey, Iran, India and China to produce a delicious cuisine.
An appetising spread of food underlies the traditional nomadic welcome that bewitches every visitor. A network of homestays lets you meet local families and experience this culture firsthand. Trekking is also popular, with many of the mountain ranges and valleys so remote you will meet few other people – a large part of their appeal.
The capital Bishkek, often seen as just a gateway to the peaks, glaciers and waterfalls of Ala Archa National Park, is also a gem. Its restaurants, cultural life and nightclubs make it well worth a visit in its own right.
Where to stay
Best for on a budget: Futuro Hotel
Best for a little luxury: Ambassador Hotel Bishkek
Built on a strategic squeeze point between North and South America, Panama has long been a meeting point for peoples from all over the world. The country gained independence from Colombia in the early 20th century when the US helped it to secede, and in return, was given permission to construct the Panama Canal. The US only handed back the Canal Zone in 1999, making this Central American country arguably one of the world’s newest.
The Casco Viejo or Old Town dates to 1673, after the original 15th-century town was burned by pirates. Old churches and palaces form a sharp contrast to the skyscraper skyline of modern Panama City, and picturesque ruins have been revived with Unesco’s help, and turned into coffee bars, galleries, boutiques and nightclubs. The cuisine reflects Panama’s storied past, with influences from Africa, France, China, Spain and the USA flavouring the menu.
Even more of a contrast is the Canal Zone itself. Watching a towering container ship inching its way through one of the locks is a must-see, but stretching away on each side is pristine jungle – Panama has the largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere outside of the Amazon. Birdwatchers and nature lovers will find flora and fauna to rival that of nearby Costa Rica.
Then there’s the San Blas Islands, off the Caribbean coast, home to the indigenous Guna people. Some 300 are uninhabited, offering visitors a chance to be marooned for the day in a tropical idyll.
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Easy to dismiss as just a luxury destination for honeymooners and the uber-rich, the Seychelles islands (1,000 miles off the coast of East Africa) are going green, and attracting a new range of travellers to their white shores in the process.
A new ‘One island, One hotel’ policy promoted by the tourism ministry is designed to ensure a sustainable future: a hotel can apply for exclusive use of a section of an island, as long as it uses some of its turnover to restore and maintain the island’s ecosystems. Not only does this mean native species returning to the islands – including giant Aldabra tortoises and hawksbill turtles – it also results in hotels competing to be the most eco-friendly and converting tourism into a power for good. Single-use plastics were banned in 2017, and around half of the islands’ landmass is protected national park.
Getting here is now easier than ever, with British Airways introducing direct flights from London Heathrow to Mahé International. And a Seychelles holiday doesn’t have to mean a super splurge: affordable guesthouses and locally owned hotels are popping up on many of the islands, including Mahé, Praslin and La Digue. With some travel know-how – visitors should bring things like sunscreen and insect repellent to avoid high import prices and use local ferries instead of pricey speedboats – you can keep costs under control. Add to this the truly unspoiled surroundings, and the Seychelles can happily join our list of places to visit in 2019.
Skip the Riviera this summer and head instead to the land of lakes and mountains. Your first stop? Vevey, on Lake Geneva, for a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Held every 20 years, the Fête des Vignerons celebrates the wines grown in the Lavaux region, and you can be sure that local residents are going all out for the historic event. From July 18th-August 11th, thousands of oenophiles will descend on the well-heeled lakeside town to watch the grand spectacle, partake in a glass of local Lavaux or Chablais wines and see which vineyard will come out on top.
The fête started way back in 1797, yet 2019 marks just the 12th edition of the festival, recognised by UNESCO as a Intangible Cultural Heritage event. To learn more about the history of this unique gathering, make a stop at the Brotherhood of Winegrowers Museum in the centre of town.
Next, challenge your vertigo at the First Cliff Walk in Grindelwald, a gravity-defying walkway that juts out from the mountainside over the Alpine valley below. Grindelwald, a village under the shadow of the majestic Eiger, is a gateway to the Jungfrau region in the Bernese Alps.
In winter it’s a skier’s paradise, but come summer, walking trails welcome hearty hikers and the turquoise Alpine lakes and green meadows will have you singing for joy as you stride along. Walk the 6 km Eiger Trail for staggering views, then reward yourself with a lunch of gooey fondue. Non-walkers (or those with kids) can enjoy the same vistas on the ever-so-picturesque mountain railway. For a summer escape with a healthy kick – and enough cheese and chocolate to undo the strictest dieter – Switzerland is back in focus.
If you want to explore China beyond the well-trodden route from Beijing to Shanghai, Yúnnán is a great place to start. Famous for its tea and flowers, as well as the Unesco-listed wooden city of Lijiang, this province stretches from the snowy foothills of the Himalayas to the steamy borders with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Yúnnán is the home of fermented pu’er tea, thought to be the world’s oldest, sent to Tibet and Burma along the near-mythical Tea Horse Road that was part of the Silk Road. It’s also home to China’s most diverse range of ethnic groups, including the Dai people whose close relation to the people of Thai and Laos is shown in the spicy food, costumes and celebrations such as the New Year Water Festival.
The province also has widely varied scenery, from the Six Great Tea Mountains in Xishuangbanna to the jungles along the Mekong River, as well as cities and villages from the most modern to the most historic. New motorways and budget airlines make it easy to criss-cross the province, while walkers and cyclists – and river cruisers – can enjoy the sights at a slower pace.
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There are a scant few places around the world where you can clearly see a real commitment to sustainability. The Iberá Wetlands in northeastern Argentina’s Corrientes province is one such. Often compared to Brazil’s Pantanal or Botswana’s Okavango Delta, although with fewer visitors, this conservation area comprising of tropical swamps, marshes and lagoons is home to a plethora of animal species, ranging from capybaras and caimans to armadillos and over 380 different species of birds.
Of the wildlife that was once nearly hunted to extinction or illegally poached, programs in the area have worked tirelessly to restore the region to its former glory, reintroducing native species like collared peccaries, jaguars and giant otters. As the world’s second-largest wetland area (after the Pantanal), the significance of the sustainable tourism work done here can’t be underestimated. Efforts by the Conservation Land Trust have paid off, and the area was designated a protected National Park in December 2018.
Northern Argentina may sound somewhat remote and inaccessible, but the Iberá Wetlands are (relatively) close to the ever-popular Iguazu Falls, making it easy to combine the two in one visit. Given the rise of astrotourism (stargazing to you and me), and the many attractions Argentina as a whole has to offer, why not time your visit to with the total solar eclipse, which will be visible in certain parts of the country including Buenos Aires (but not the Iberá Wetlands themselves) on 2 July, 2019.
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Kerry has been on the tourism map for so long, it’s easy to be jaded about the region’s beauty. The spectacular MacGillycuddy’s Reeks refresh the brand by taking you inside that postcard scenery. Drive, walk, hike, climb, bike, kayak or sail around the mountains and lakes of this rugged landscape encircled by the Ring of Kerry.
The literal highlight is Ireland’s tallest mountain, Carrauntoohil. At 1,038.6 metres (3,407 ft), reaching the peak is an achievable day trek for anyone of reasonable fitness. Less strenuous walks take in sheep-dotted moorland or a deserted Atlantic beach. Two Blue Flag beaches at Inch and Rossbeigh tempt family picnickers, while surfers hit the waves rolling in off the Atlantic. Or you might enjoy taking a kayak or canoe around vast Caragh Lake to explore its beaches and scenic coves.
Meanwhile, small towns and villages highlight the modern Ireland of trendy coffee shops, young designers and boutique B&Bs but the live music pubs and hearty fare remain the same, as does the traditional Irish welcome. Before you know it, you might be off to the annual Puck Fair, a horse race on the sands at Glenbeigh, or a torch-lit procession full of ancient folklore to celebrate Biddy’s Day.
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Explore more of Ireland with The Rough Guide to Ireland.
There are few places on the planet where you can find true wilderness, where the wildlife outnumbers humans. Canada’s Yukon Territory is one such, a land of mountains and snow, wolves and extreme weather that is so harshly beautiful that every visitor loses a piece of their heart to it.
Those settlers who came here in 1890s as part of the Klondike Gold Rush faced unimaginable hardships in their search for wealth. Now a new generation of visitors are pushing beyond Vancouver in Canada’s west to discover different treasures: the wonder of the Aurora Borealis, sparkling glaciers and impenetrable mountains.
Adventures range from ice-fishing, snowshoeing and skiing to, in summer, hiking, biking and canoeing under the 24-hour sun. The best way to get around this vast territory – larger than Japan or Sweden – is by small plane, but hiring a camper van is also popular. Roads are good and ferries cut distances, while the Scenic Railway of the World along the White Pass & Yukon Route is a must-see.
Whitehorse is Yukon’s capital and only city, with a population of around 25,000. Notable as the least polluted city in the world, its inhabitants enjoy the outdoorsy life on the nearby rivers and northernmost edge of the Rockies.
As the filming location for the third and final instalment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy – Episode IX – Wadi Rum will once again be on the screens of audiences worldwide in 2019. It’s another starring role for this dramatic corner of Jordan, which has featured in films from Lawrence of Arabia to The Martian.
The ever-changing red sands and striking rock formations of Wadi Rum are often cast for their otherworldly appearance, but they have been home to the Bedouin and other peoples for thousands of years.
The area started gaining modern appeal by attracting climbers and backpackers. Now, luxury camping sites are welcoming a wider clientele. The sand dunes are a playground for camel and horse safaris, or 4×4 and quad-bike excursions, all led by Bedouin guides. Adventurers return to meals prepared over a campfire and ancient tales told by flickering firelight.
Luxury extras aside, the simple peace that comes from sleeping out under a blanket of sparkling Arabian stars remains the key appeal. Day trips to the “Rose Red” city of Petra will tempt you away, but the nights in the desert will linger long in the memory of anyone with a touch of romance in their hearts.
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July 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landings, and one place that will be going all-out for the celebrations is Huntsville, Alabama. The town is known as “Rocket City” thanks to its close links with the NASA space programme, and many satellites and rockets were built here, including the the Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo lunar landings.
The city’s US Space and Rocket Center is only one of the surprising attractions in this state ready to blast-off its sleepy reputation. With perfect timing, 2019 is also the southern state’s bicentennial year.
On the Gulf Coast, a fabulous music scene might qualify Mobile as the “new New Orleans” if it wasn’t for the fact that the city held its first Mardi Gras in 1703, long before the more famous one in its sister city. Music lovers will also want to make the pilgrimage to the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, following in the footsteps of artists from Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan to Roy Orbison and the Rolling Stones.
Nearby is the town of Florence, often called “the birthplace of the Blues”, where pioneering musician W.C. Handy was born. The struggles of the African-American experience are marked with the Civil Rights Trail that goes through in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma.
The drive northwards from the south coast will take you from the Gulf of Mexico to the Appalachian mountains, just a glimpse of the variety of landscapes on offer. Outdoor lovers can enjoy hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting on the Chattahoochee River, or play an incredible 468 holes on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Sitting on the Indian Ocean, Durban’s subtropical climate has long made it a favoured beach resort for the residents of Johannesburg, Natal and the rest of South Africa. With British Airways now flying direct from London, the city is starting to add many more international visitors to that exciting mix. There are not many places where you can combine surfing with a safari, or an international film festival (now in its 40th year) with traditional Zulu culture.
Eat a ‘bunnychow’ curry, drink craft beers and stay in boutique hotels with sunset sea views. Walk the “Golden Mile” of beachfront boardwalk that was completely refurbished for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Go and see the groundbreaking collection of African art at Durban Art Gallery.
Take a day trip to the scenic Valley of a Thousand Hills, shop in Southern Africa’s largest mall at Umhlanga, or drive a 4×4 up the towering Sani Pass into Lesotho. At night, dance to the sound of ‘qom’, Durban’s version of club music that combines frantic beats with snatches of sung melody.
If all that tires you out, Durban’s Indian Ocean beaches are there for you to just relax in the African sun and enjoy the passing show.
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While Britain ties itself in knots on the issue of our continued relationship with the EU, it might be time to remind ourselves of some of the good things about this green and pleasant land. And what could be better than the Great British Seaside? For fish and chips, birdwatching, and bleak but beautiful landscapes, you can’t do better than Dungeness in Kent – a small place with a number of big claims to fame.
Hop on the pint-sized Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway that steams its way into town. Head to the only desert in the UK (the wide shingle beachfront) for a stroll, and make time for the excellent RSPB reserve where you can see bitterns, plovers, slavonian grebes and more. Visit the garden of filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman and marvel at the splendid isolation of its location. Stop for some excellent seafood at famous Pilot Inn, built from the wrecked timbers of a Spanish Galleon, where the catch of the day will be cooked to order.
The town has a long association with pirates, who used to smuggle brandy and other spirits into the country by dead of night. It was also a key site in Operation Pluto, delivering 700,000,000 litres of fuel to mainland Europe via pipeline in one of the greatest feats of engineering of the Second World War. 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Western Europe (soon to be the focus of a new Rough Guides book), and you can follow the route at liberationroute.com.
Where to stay
For fantastic views: Channel View Camber
Best for cosy nights on the beach: El Ray
Northern lights tourism has exploded in recent years with visitors in their thousands heading to the far reaches of Europe to see the ethereal midnight show. Iceland has welcomed the majority of them, with its unique combination of hot pools, wilderness routes and city attractions, leading to complaints about overtourism.
With Iceland busier than ever, Tromsø offers an alternative route for visitors looking to see the northern lights, and a unique chance to get a taste of life inside the Arctic Circle. New direct flights from Luton to Tromsø on Wizz Air make the journey easier than ever, and you’ll also find flights on Norwegian Air.
Aurora Borealis aside, Tromsø is one of Norway’s top culture hubs, with an Alpine Botanic Garden, the striking Arctic Cathedral, the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum and Polaria, a museum dedicated to all things arctic. Visitors not wanting to brave the cold to see the northern lights can watch from the warmth of indoors on a big screen at the Science Center of Northern Norway. Northern lights aside, Tromsø is an excellent jumping off point for snowy activities like cross country skiing and snowshoeing. It’s also a great place to start if you’re interested in learning about the culture of the indigenous Sami people.
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We’re going to see a lot of Japan during 2019, what with the Rugby World Cup, Emperor Akihito’s abdication, and preparation for hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020. With British Airways starting direct flights to Osaka in March, this year is the perfect time to discover Japan’s second city.
Osaka has traditionally been a trading city and its great shopping reflects that, with the Shinsaibashi district leading the way. It’s filled with shops both large and small, from giant department stores to quirky little one-offs where you can bargain with the owner.
The city’s merchants once had a grip on Japan’s food imports and Osaka is still known as the ‘Kitchen of Japan’. Any food-lover will enjoy the Dotonbori district near Namba Station, lined with street food stalls and sushi counters – you can get everything from fluffy octopus pancakes to okonomiyaki, or ‘Japanese pizza’. Osakans are thought of by other Japanese as spending all their money on food and, with so much choice and quality, you can see why they might.
Traditional Japan is represented by 500-year-old Osaka Castle and several historic temples, but modern Osaka often leaves more of an impression on visitors. All roads lead to Dotonbori Bridge, where the giant neon Glico Man sign – and the busy nightlife – have become symbols of the city.
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This year there are once again two European Capitals of Culture. While much of the attention has been on Matera in southern Italy – we’re big fans of Plovdiv. Bulgaria’s second-largest city is built around seven hills and has the magic combination for a dream European weekend getaway: a well-preserved Old Town, ancient ruins, creative neighbourhoods and a wealth of dining options.
So, why did Plovdiv get the nod for European Capital of Culture? With a history dating back 6,000 years, it’s a surprise that the city has stayed out of the spotlight for so long. Visit the Roman ruins, including the Roman stadium, impressive amphitheatre (still in use today) and forum, and wander the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, where ancient Europe-Asia trade routes and 4th century churches combine.
It’s also worth exploring one of the newly exciting aspects of Plovdiv’s Old Town: Kapana, or ‘The Trap’. Named as such because of its tangled maze of streets, five centuries ago it was solely a place for craftsmen and then ended up neglected; now it’s being revived with cafes, restaurants and creative industries. The new shops and cafes and the old winding streets create a charming atmosphere.
Plovdiv is a place whose culture has dug its way to the forefront despite other, shinier competitors; yet it has all the ingredients for a city break to rival that of any major European destination – for a fraction of the price.
Where to stay
Best for location to Plovdiv’s Old Town: Guest House Old Plovdiv
Best for families: Bright House Plovdiv
2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings in New York – a series of violent protests that paved the way for LGBT rights in the US. To mark the occasion World Pride – the huge rainbow-colored celebration – is being held in the Big Apple for the first time in its 20-year history. For the entire month of June, street festivals, movie shows and rooftop parties will fill the city, all culminating in the Pride March on Sunday June 30th.
Learn more about the history of LGBTQ culture at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in SoHo, also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and make the pilgrimage to the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street where the riots began on June 28, 1969.
In today’s political climate, when individual rights are under threat, it’s more important than ever to remember the people who first stood up for LGBTQ rights in America. Pack your rainbow flags and your glitter and join the party.
Voted the most liveable city in Germany, Leipzig is noted for its arts and music scene, including opera. The Renaissance-era centre largely survived the Second World War and the Communist era and large employers, from Amazon to BMW, help support a rich choice of shops, restaurants and cultural events.
Halfway between Berlin and Dresden, Leipzig is loved for its markets – selling everything from fresh produce to vintage clothes – and famous as a centre of learning. It boasts a university, major libraries and an International Book Fair. It was home to Bach and Mendelssohn, who are both buried here, and associated with the teachings of Martin Luther. You can explore more of the city’s history at one of the many excellent museums and magnificent churches.
Leipzig is also famous for its coffee houses (Coffe Baum has a small museum explaining this local obsession). You’ll find many in the elegant shopping arcades that are a distinctive feature of the city. Originally built to connect the houses of rich merchants, these weatherproof passageways are now lined with shops, cafés, and restaurants.
No visitor should miss the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei, a sprawling former cotton mill that is now a centre for the New Leipzig School of contemporary art. Potters, painters and fashion designers are among the many creators here, with restaurants and cafés adding to the buzz.
Explore more of Germany with The Rough Guide to Germany.
With Tate Britain holding a major exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh’s works during 2019, this is the year to rediscover the town and region that inspired him. In Arles, you can almost literally follow in the painter’s footsteps on a walking tour of views familiar from his works. The renamed Café La Nuit is recognisable from one of his most famous paintings, “Cafe Terrace at Night”, as is the Yellow House from the painting of the same name, and, of course, the famous wheat fields that surround the town.
Unesco-listed Arles also has many buildings dating to the Roman era, including a well preserved 12,000-seat amphitheatre (that recalls the Colosseum in Rome), 10,000-seat theatre, and thermal baths. The family-friendly Arelate festival every August is a great time to see these come to life, with costumed characters, chariots, film showings and even Roman food.
A new landmark building for the LUMA Arts Centre – a futuristic twisted aluminium tower designed by Frank Gehry – is already bringing the culture crowd back to the city, although it won’t open until 2020. The gallery’s existing space, housed in converted railway warehouses, showcases the work of global contemporary artists. Stylish boutique hotels and lively bistros add to the elegant atmosphere of the old town.
Arles sits on the Rhône river and makes a good base for touring Provence, where in summer you’ll see fields of the sunflowers that so inspired Van Gogh. The towns of Aix-en-Provence, Avignon and Nîmes, the Pont du Gard, and the marshlands of the Camargue with their resident flamingo population are all nearby.
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