Have you ever wanted to throw a dart at a world map? Or stab your finger at a spinning globe? How about showing up to an airport with nothing but your passport and a packed bag? We know we have. But, as romantic as the idea of letting chance determine your destination may be, it’s not really that realistic.
Just imagine if that dart landed in an active warzone, or if the next flight out of Heathrow was to be a budget bird to rural Armenia? Suddenly, sandwiched between two long-haul snorers — and with no accommodation lined up once you land — your spur-of-the-moment adventure might start looking a whole lot less exciting.
It pays to plan, is what we’re saying. And there are many up-and-coming destinations across the globe worth looking into this year. 2020 is seeing underrated, overlooked cities and countries boom and blossom like never before. So, from the techtropolis of Kyoto to the wild islands of Greenland, here are the hottest travel destinations of 2020.
Kyoto is the true cultural capital of Japan
Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is having something of a moment. With the Olympic Games heading to the far eastern country this year, expect it to fizz with the same excitement that buoyed London in 2012. But there’ll be more to see here than world records and doping scandals. From countless manicured gardens and imperial palaces to traditional Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Kyoto is arguably the cultural centre of an already exceedingly enlightened country.
Tokyo may be top-billed when it comes to visiting Japan, but Kyoto is a more authentic experience. If you’re looking for the traditional ornate wooden houses, Geisha in the Gion district and precise, multi-course ‘Kaiseki’ dining, this is the UNESCO-protected, mountain-framed, historically significant city for you.
Book your flights for: Spring. April and May is cherry blossom season — and ideal for Instagram.
Don’t miss: The Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. Pictured above, it is found at the end of a fiery walkway made up of thousands of traditional torii gates.
Panama is a naturalist’s paradise
Central America has spent the last decade opening its doors to international tourism. First of all, Cuba let down its cigar-stained defences and let travellers flood in. Similarly, Colombia’s raging drug trade managed to curb itself long enough for us to take a trip to its wild jungles and mountains. And now it’s the turn of Panama — a narrow little country at the crossroads of two oceans and two continents. Thriving with life, it’s a hidden treat — and one well worth your time.
It’s surprisingly accessible, too. Just a 2.5 hour flight from Miami, the small nation also uses US dollars. And, even though you may have only heard of the world-famous Panama Canal, the real gem of this nation is its collection of hundreds of islands — many nameless — that teem with 10,444 types of plants, 255 mammals species, and 972 indigenous bird species. That’s a lot to see.
Book your flights for: The dry season, between December and March. If you decide to go during the summer, pack an anorak.
Don’t miss: A cup of geisha coffee on the mountains of Boquete. Rich and refined, locals call it ‘the Champagne of coffee’.
Istanbul is an intoxicating jigsaw of a city
Last year, Gentleman’s Journal decamped to Istanbul to see what all the fuss was about. As the world’s fifth largest city, and by far the biggest in Europe, there was much to see — not to mention smell, taste and hear. After a spate of terrorist attacks beginning in 2016, the city had been struggling to attract tourism — but new investment has started to put this sprawling, sweltering carousel of a city back onto the map. And it’s a good thing, too. From the sweetest baklava in the world to some of the most impressive cathedrals and mosques on earth, this continent-spanning city throws together hints of every culture, cuisine and religion to create a place entirely unique.
A jigsaw of a city, you won’t see all of Istanbul in one visit — so don’t even try. Many of the city’s lifelong inhabitants haven’t even crossed from the European side to the Asian side, or vice versa. Instead, just hurl yourself headlong into the raki-fuelled hubbub of the city — and enjoy the throb of diverse languages, stray dogs, turquoise tiles, black coffee and clouds of dizzying spices.
Book your flights for: Between May and June, when it’s warm during the day and pleasantly cool at night.
Don’t miss: Sultanahmet Square. Arguably the centre of this centreless city, there’s a Byzantine hippodrome, an Egyptian Obelisk and the remnants of Roman monuments.
Bilbao is an exciting blend of the new and old
If you were asked to name a Spanish city, it’s likely that Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville would all come before Bilbao. But Bilbao, the European country’s fifth most populous city, is growing in popularity. Airbnb reported a 402% year-on-year increase in demand for this flourishing cultural hub earlier this year — the result of a stunning transformation from rust belt city to must-visit destination. And the locals are ready for you: with a lively dining scene, breathtaking architecture and an unforgettable cityscape, Bilbao is waiting for visitors with open arms.
It’s close, too. Under two hours away, Bilbao doesn’t even threaten jet lag. Rather, it promises rolling hills and an old town to rival any other in Europe. There’s a South American flavour in the sunny streets, and a dichotomy to the architecture that’ll leave any enthusiasts reeling.
Book your flights for: September. It’ll be a little quieter, but just as sunny as summer proper.
Don’t miss: The Guggenheim Museum — a treasure trove of art that is barely two decades old. It’s quite the sight to see.
Greenland is the ideal escape for the eco-conscious
Leading tour operators have recently reported a spike in interest for Greenland; the decidedly icier neighbour of decidedly greener Iceland. Abercrombie & Kent has even launched a new two-week cruise to the northern country this year. It’s an ideal destination for the more eco-minded; not requiring air travel to get to, and the perfect place to learn more about how climate change is affecting our planet. Nuuk is the country’s capital — itself only a small coastal city of 18,000 inhabitants.
It’s a different pace of life, and a great escape if you’re not too precious about sun loungers and Mai Tais on tap. A unique breed of holiday, you can float around the fjords, hike the mountains, drink with the locals or chase the Northern Lights. There’s even a fascinating abandoned settlement, Kangeq, if you fancy brushing up on your Inuit history.
Book your flights for: Deep winter. Allegedly you can see the Northern Lights from August to April, but we’d suggest visiting in December for the best chance.
Don’t miss: As above, the Northern Lights. There are tours aplenty, so visit at the right time and they’ll be hard to miss.
Boston is the most historical — and hungriest — city in the US
2020 will mark 400 years since the Mayflower landed on American shores — in Massachusetts, to be exact. So what better time to head to the state capital, Boston, for a little history? It’s notoriously tricky to find much weighty history in the US, but Boston is where you’ll discover the best — and most compelling stories. You’ll find traditional brownstone houses, quaint cobbled streets and colourful markets, not to mention the iconic Red Sox baseball team.
But it’s the culinary scene we’d visit for. You’ve got famous Boston baked beans, fried clams, cream pie and some of the best ice cream in the world. No, we’re serious — from Toscanini’s to the Honeycomb Creamery, if there’s a city in the world that likes ice cream more than Boston (we’re looking at you, Rome) we’re yet to find it.
Book your flights for: Between June and October. Mid-autumnal weather is a joy to wander around in, restaurant to restaurant.
Don’t miss: The Time Out Market. Like its sister in Lisbon, this curation of cuisines sees the city’s best bites plated up under one roof.
Wonder where those with deeper pockets are holidaying in 2020? We discover the destinations favoured by the super-rich this year…
Join the Gentleman’s Journal Clubhouse here.