Best Places to Travel in 2015
“Fez is multilayered, multifaceted,” says resident Tara Stevens. “Every time I go out the front door, I discover something. This is a city on the cusp of change—and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
Stevens, a British food writer, and American Stephen Di Renza are behind Fez’s stylish Restaurant No. 7, which hosts a rotating series of guest chefs. They’re part of a group of expats restoring riads and encouraging experimentation—along with enterprising locals like Anis Sefrioui, who recently unveiled Hotel Sahrai, with 50 contemporary rooms overlooking an infinity pool and a light-filled spa with elaborate latticework.
The world is getting smaller, but the chances of having an extraordinary new experience are only increasing. We’ve identified 50 standout destinations, based on industry news and trends, with input from contributing writers, A-List travel agents, and our new local experts. These are the places changing the travel map, whether it’s an emerging arts hub in Germany or a quiet stretch of sand in the Caribbean.
So where else can 2015 take you? The panda capital of Chengdu, China, is appealing to a broader range of travelers with a new 72-hour no-visa policy and a packed lineup of hotel openings: Six Senses, Fairmont, and Swire’s Temple House. In Japan, meanwhile, the dollar has hit new highs—good timing for powder buffs who can also now use Vail’s Epic Pass at Hokkaido’s Niseko United resort.
And you may be surprised by what’s brewing close to home. We selected a dozen destinations in the U.S., including Houston, for its ambitious food scene, and Miami, where the spotlight has turned to the Mid-Beach neighborhood. The latest art-centric 21c Museum Hotel will open its doors in Durham, NC, a once-sleepy college town that now thrums with fair-trade coffee shops, micro-distilleries, and some of the best barbecue around.
What inspires a trip varies from person to person, of course. But as a head start, we’ve mapped out 12 months' worth of places with the kind of "it" factor that Fez's Tara Stevens describes.
Read on for our picks, and join the conversation with hashtag #bestplaces2015.
For more than a decade, Marrakesh has been the Moroccan destination on everyone’s list. Fez, about 240 miles northeast, was often an afterthought. But slowly, quietly, a sophisticated scene is taking root. It started with expats and locals restoring riads, and continues as hotels, restaurants, and galleries pop up. The biggest news is the Hotel Sahrai, with a hip rooftop bar and 50 rooms, many overlooking an infinity pool. Other notable places to stay include the medina’s Karawan Riad, whose seven renovated suites offer a modern alternative to more traditional riad hotels, and Palais Faraj, a 19th-century palace transformed by architect Jean-Baptiste Barian. On the culinary front, Restaurant No. 7 is making waves with a rotating series of acclaimed guest chefs. It’s the brainchild of British food writer Tara Stevens and American Stephen Di Renza, part of a group of expats who are encouraging experimentation. So far, overdevelopment isn’t an issue. Whether this will last—especially with the 2015 debut of an upgraded airport, set to accommodate 2.5 million passengers, five times the current volume—is anyone’s guess. Don’t wait to find out. This is the moment to see Fez. Find out more about T+L's top pick for 2015. —Richard Alleman
Update: Cuba is hotter than ever now that President Obama has announced sweeping changes to U.S.-Cuba relations. What it means for travelers >
Reduced travel restrictions are making it easier than ever for intrigued Americans to explore Cuba. Tour groups like Insight Cuba, Smithsonian Journeys, and Central Holidays operate under the “people-to-people” license focused on education and cultural exchange—the one Beyoncé and Jay-Z obtained for their much-publicized anniversary trip in 2013. Beyond visiting World Heritage Sites like Trinidad, travelers may meet jazz musicians, tour a cigar factory, see the Havana Art Biennial (which starts May 2015), and dine at a paladar—a restaurant operated out of a family’s home. Recent overtures to attract tourists include new luxury golf resorts (which were banned under Fidel Castro), airport renovations, and the revamped Mariel port, now with added space for luxury yachts. Cruising is a major draw, with 200 ships expected to drop anchor during the 2014–2015 winter season. G Adventures’s new Sailing Cuba itinerary explores the Canarreos Archipelago by catamaran. Finally, market reforms designed to boost small business such as restaurants are beginning to attract marquee names. Basque chef Andoni Luis Aduriz and Mexico’s Enrique Olvera just announced plans to partner on a gastronomic hot spot in Havana. —Corina Quinn
The region that welcomed Jewish families in the ’50s, hippies in the ’60s, and soon, perhaps, casino gamblers is also making room for a new tribe: hip, design-crazed travelers. A string of stylish B&Bs have opened, many of them by transplants from Manhattan and Brooklyn (call them “hicksters”) who value buzzwords like local, authentic, and handmade. Among them are the bohemian-chic Hotel Dylan in Woodstock, the Arnold House in Livingston Manor, with its tavern and diminutive spa, and Phoenicia’s Graham & Co., where the retro amenities include Tivoli radios, bonfires, and a badminton court. Area farms provide the ingredients for inventive restaurants like Table on Ten, in Bloomville, which just added a trio of whitewashed rooms upstairs. The blackjack tables—and a few megaresort proposals that envision the return of the area’s Borscht Belt heyday—may be only a few years off, so now is the time to enjoy fly-fishing, hiking, antiquing, microbrewery-hopping, and other placid pursuits. —Peter J. Frank
If Amsterdam is a study in old-world elegance, then the scrappier port city of Rotterdam is all big, futuristic ambition—and its constantly unfolding city center has become one eye-popping explosion of style. The latest attraction, and reason enough to visit, is the MVRDV-designed Markthal, an igloo-like horseshoe that houses 96 stalls (Dutch cheeses to Moroccan spices, reflecting the polyglot city), 20 shops, nine restaurants, and 228 apartments. It also happens to feature Holland’s largest artwork: a trippy nimbus of mammoth, tumbling fruits and vegetables arching across the market ceiling on 4,500 aluminum panels. Other recent starchitect landmarks include the multipurpose Rotterdam Central Train Station and native son Rem Koolhaas’s nhow hotel, sitting like a pile of stacked metal boxes on the south bank of the Maas River, the city’s reigning cultural hub. After visiting the neighboring Netherlands Photo Museum and the lipstick-red New Luxor Theater, toast a trip well-taken with a Dutch Blossom cocktail in the hotel bar. —Raphael Kadushin
Puerto Plata, D.R.
Far from the resort-clogged beaches of Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic’s less-frequented northern shore has remained largely under the radar. But developments slated for 2015 in Puerto Plata are bound to lure well-heeled sun-seekers. First up is The Gansevoort, offering three-bedroom apartments with private pools and four-bedroom penthouses equipped with rooftop hot tubs. Later in 2015, Aman Villas will become the second Caribbean outpost from Singapore-based Amanresorts and the first golf-integrated Aman Resort. It’s the first phase of a development that aims to introduce some 400 residential villas, along with sports and equestrian facilities. Each is a welcome departure from the island’s cookie-cutter all-inclusives—and a promising sign of what’s to come in the luxury circuit. —Lindsey Olander
Wasatch Mountains, Utah
You can craft a linear story arc from the first edition of Robert Redford’s film festival in 1984 to the summer 2014 purchase of Park City Mountain Resort by Vail Resorts—the behemoth operator’s second recent foray into Park City (it bought the Canyons in 2013). Along the way a small mining town became a cauldron of Olympic athletes, Hollywood’s A-list, and luxury hotel brands like St. Regis and Waldorf Astoria. But a ski region blessed to have won the geographical lottery—seven world-class resorts span three parallel canyons in the rugged Wasatch Mountains, all within an hour’s drive—remained second fiddle to neighboring Colorado, whose star has shined brighter. That’s about to change. Where Vail’s vaunted Epic Pass goes, a legion of loyal snow junkies follows. The new year brings new restaurants, high-speed chairs, and lifts, including one that connects Canyons to PCMR, making it the largest ski resort in the U.S. And the industry is buzzing over a proposal that seems headed for approval called One Wasatch, which would link all seven ski areas in a European-style mega-network spanning 18,000 acres and 100 lifts. The project will have major tourism implications, introducing a new flock of riders to what locals proudly declare on their car license plates: the greatest snow on earth. —Nathan Storey
You can’t walk through a neighborhood in Istanbul these days without stumbling upon a debutante hotel primping for its grand entrance. Political unrest hasn’t deterred visitors, with tourism numbers soaring to new highs and hotel groups rushing to meet growing demand. In September 2014, Raffles moved into the business district’s glitzy Zorlu Centre, one of many sleek additions to the ancient city’s sinuous skyline, featuring a mall, office space, and a $350 million performing arts center. Up next: St. Regis in tony Nisantasi and Soho House in trendy Beyoglu. The Vault Hotel debuted in March in Karaköy, Istanbul’s neighborhood du jour, with stately interiors befitting its provenance as an erstwhile bank: an ornate façade, an old-fashioned cagelike elevator, a steel vault–turned–liquor cabinet presiding over the bar. In November, the Morgans Hotel Group unveiled 10 Karaköy nearby, steps from a bevy of new restaurants (join the throngs of stylish locals grazing at Colonie). Even hallowed Old City isn’t immune: Morgans’ next venture, the Mondrian Istanbul, will glam up prime real estate amid Fatih’s Ottoman domes. —Sarah Khan
Famous for its 1,600 pandas, most of which still live in the wild, Chengdu has introduced a 72-hour no-visa policy that makes it easier for Americans to drop in on one of the city’s three major panda research facilities. (For seeing the black and white bears without turning blue, the best months are June to October.) But it’s worth sticking around longer to experience what’s doing in Chengdu, a city on the rise. One of the shiniest attractions is New Century Global Centre, the world’s largest building, complete with an artificial beach. And there’s a slew of new hotel addresses. London-based Make Architects wraps a three-dimensional woven façade of timber, brick, and step stones around The Temple House, which also incorporate a thousand-year-old Chinese Buddhist temple and restored Qing dynasty courtyard building. Swire’s third “House” hotel opens in January 2015 with 100 rooms, while Six Senses opens the sustainable timber doors at Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain, with 113 whitewashed suites, 30 minutes outside town in the still-unspoiled bamboo forest near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Qingcheng—the birthplace of Taoism and the Dujiangyan irrigation system, an ecological engineering feat dating back to around 256 B.C. —Cynthia Rosenfeld
Italy’s style hub will be in the spotlight as the host of Expo 2015, featuring 60-plus custom-built pavilions by the likes of Norman Foster and Daniel Libeskind. From May 1 to October 31, 2015, its food-focused exhibits will examine everything from bringing water to the desert to the future of the honeybee. While the fairground is about 7.5 miles away, the city center is gearing up for the influx of visitors with a clutch of new museums and special exhibitions. In March 2015, the Museo delle Culture debuts in the former Ansaldo transportation factory, featuring a light-flooded atrium, a David Chipperfield–furnished bookshop and café, and 19th-century curiosities like early robots. Fondazione Prada will inaugurate a spectacular new arts center by Rem Koolhaas with works by art headliners from Laurie Anderson to Anish Kapoor. April sees the advent of Italy’s largest-ever exhibit dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci, showcasing more than 100 drawings and paintings by the Tuscan maestro at Palazzo Reale. And for the first time in its history, La Scala is forgoing a summer break to stay open throughout the Expo, putting on an array of opera and ballet performances, plus concerts conducted by such luminaries as Simon Rattle and Zubin Mehta. —Valerie Waterhouse
Prince Edward County, Canada
Cross Montauk, NY, with California’s Napa Valley circa 1970, and you get Prince Edward County, a tiny wine-producing region that’s becoming a haven for creative types. It’s within a four-hour drive from either Montreal or Toronto and just welcomed the lakeside Drake Devonshire, a high-design spinoff of the edgy Drake Hotel in Toronto’s Queen West. Stop at some of the 40-plus area wineries for affordable tastings of Burgundy-style Pinot Noirs (Norman Hardie and Hubbs Creek are favorites); take a detour to Sandbanks Provincial Park, a gorgeous white-sand beach with sweeping dunes; and stroll down Main Street in Bloomfield (population: 687), with its boutiques and the raved-about ice cream parlor, Slickers. On lucky nights, you’ll even catch a glimpse of the northern lights. —Nikki Ekstein
Oman’s capital, Muscat, is only a short flight from flashy Dubai, yet arriving here feels like stepping into a page from The Arabian Nights. In this graceful, ancient city—which lies on the Gulf of Oman and is framed by craggy, vertiginous rock formations—the air is smoky with the scent of frankincense, men wear white robes and women jeweled gowns, and few high-rises disturb a dreamlike vista of white-painted villas, medieval fortresses, elegant palaces, and gold-domed mosques. Muscat is a destination in itself (the splendid Chedi with its new spa is the resort of choice) and also a jumping-off point for other regions. Consider Salalah in the lush south, popular in summer, and the old town of Nizwa, where the bedouins still bring their goats to market. Oman is still ruled by a sultan, who has modernized his country and kept it one of the most stable in the region without compromising the authentic charms of a ravishing culture. He has slowly opened up his country to tourists, with a recent burst of sympathetic development, notably the 2014 unveiling of the glam Alila Jabal Akhdar resort in the cool mountains. With two Anantara properties, a Radisson Blu, and a Kempinski on the way, there will be more options than ever in 2015 for experiencing Oman’s breathtaking natural beauty, from poetic desert to some of the most beautiful coastline on earth. —Lee Tulloch
Mekong River Region
The mighty Mekong River in Southeast Asia is pulsing with new life thanks to a slew of riverboat launches. AmaWaterways’ 124-passenger AmaDara cruise makes 15-night trips connecting Vietnam and Cambodia; the 18-stateroom vessel Avalon Siem Reap has a similar itinerary. But the river’s reigning queen is the Aqua Mekong, owned by Italian-American entrepreneur Francesco Galli Zugaro, who already made a name for himself with his two luxury vessels on the Peruvian Amazon. With dedicated customers clamoring for an Aqua sequel, in fall 2014, Galli Zugaro launched a Mekong riverboat with three-, four-, and seven-night itineraries between Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Siem Reap, Cambodia. All have off-the-beaten-path excursions—biking through remote Cambodian villages, exploring Vietnam’s floating markets—planned by a cast of excellent guides. New hotels, too, are opening in destinations along the delta. The towering Reverie Saigon, with 286 ornate Italian-designed rooms, is a welcome addition to Ho Chi Minh City’s hotel scene. Also in southern Vietnam, Aman Resorts’s new Amano’i has a collection of pavilions and villas nestled in a hillside, all with private pools and sweeping views of low-rise mountains and the deep blue Vinh Hy Bay. —Stirling Kelso
The capital of the Mediterranean island nation of Malta packs half a millennium of history into less than half a square mile, with cathedrals, palaces, and baroque stair-step streets that end in spectacular harbor views. In early 2015 the star-shaped, 540,000-square-foot Fort Saint Elmo, closed to the public for years, is reopening its doors, allowing visitors to stroll ramparts that were crucial during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Fans of cutting-edge architecture also have something to celebrate: a dramatic new entrance to the city and an open-air theater, designed by Pritzker-prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, are now complete, with plans for his new parliament building to debut later in 2015. Nightlife in Valletta thrives, with new bars and restaurants having revived the old, largely shuttered Strait Street in recent years. There, Tico Tico patrons spill into the street with their tapas and wine, while Palazzo Preca serves upscale traditional cuisine—Mediterranean with its own twist—in a 16th-century palazzo. —Elisabeth Eaves
Chilean citizens no longer require a visa to enter the U.S., and in turn, Americans no longer need to fork over a $160 “reciprocity fee” to visit Chile. Many travelers touch down in Santiago, then go for the extremes, either the Atacama Desert to the north or the Patagonia of the far south. But there’s a lot brewing in between. Santiago Adventures has launched a new six-day outdoor adventure through Northern Patagonia’s lake region, with overnight stays in private cabins and kayaking on the turquoise waters of Lake Tagua Tagua. In Pucón, the all-inclusive Vira Vira Hacienda debuted in fall 2014 on 100 acres of forest and lagoon, along with a dairy farm where guests can learn to make cheese; hiking the surrounding lakes and volcanoes is one of many other activities. Farther south, in Millahue Valley’s wine country, the 22-suite Viña Vik caters to oenophiles, with vino bottled on property and a wine spa. And save a few days for the underrated city of Santiago. Check in to the new Singular Santiago, with a rooftop pool and lounge in the hip Lastarria neighborhood, and put Minga, Chile’s brand-new wine and food festival, on your to-do list (September 25–27, 2015). —Nora Walsh
The spectacular northern circuit, encompassing the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, first put Tanzania on the tourist map. Next up were Zanzibar’s idyllic beach hideaways like andBeyond Mnemba Island and Fundu Lagoon. Now a new generation of low-impact/high-style camps in private concessions and unexplored reserves like Ruaha and Selous are adding conservation clout to Tanzania’s popularity; they’re helping to secure crucial animal corridors, curb poaching, and convert more hunting blocks into game-rich conservation areas. Those in the know are comparing new Mwiba Lodge to Singita Grumeti for its level of sophistication. And up-and-coming Asilia Africa has opened a clutch of authentic tented camps including Namiri Plains in the remote eastern Serengeti, an area now teeming with cheetah and lion after being closed for 20 years. If you ever needed proof that space is the new luxury, head south to Azura Selous, in Africa’s largest game reserve, with 12 eco-chic tents above the hippo-filled Great Ruaha River. —Jane Broughton
“The entire culinary community in Houston shows pride now, and people are recognizing what we have—great food that is a byproduct of our incredible diversity,” says chef Chris Shepherd, who won a James Beard Award in 2014 for Underbelly. Justin Yu is another rising star, whose six-course tasting menu at Oxheart earned national praise for its Asian-inflected southern cooking. The most anticipated arrival in Montrose is BCN Taste and Tradition, where Barcelona native Luis Roger showcases his Ferran Adrià–trained molecular chops in a converted 1920s Mediterranean bungalow. Richard Knight, the godfather of the local nose-to-tail movement, is readying a new spot for 2015, Hunky Dory, where he’ll barbecue Texas-sourced cuts on a massive wood-burning grill. Also to come: Foreign Correspondents, where fishmonger PJ Stoops will preach his bycatch gospel while turning out northern Thai cuisine. And nearby Southern Goods will be Shepherd protégé Lyle Bento’s ode to Gulf Coast Creole. Houston is one of America’s fastest-growing cities, and downtown’s resurgence is sure to gain more steam too. Along with a sparkling new JW Marriott, cocktail bars are driving nightlife crowds to areas that used to be dormant. The team behind the popular mezcaleria Pastry War opened Julep, riffing on the Kentucky Derby’s classic drink; Nightingale is H-Town’s hottest door, thanks to a robust vinyl library and drinks by Mike Criss; and Prohibition, an 8,000-square-foot supper club that debuted in October 2014, is breathing life into the 1920s Isis Theatre with nightly burlesque shows. —Nathan Storey
Just over three hours west of Dublin, Galway is lauded as the “most Irish city” and has been making a name for itself as a cultural hub. The National University of Ireland keeps the town young and edgy; live, spontaneous music fills its countless pubs most nights of the week. And festivals, honoring everything from film to international art to oysters, are a particular point of pride. Typically running from May to October, the festival season is expected to expand in 2015 to meet visitor demands. Tourism has swelled since the opening of the Wild Atlantic Way, a scenic driving route that wends more than 1,500 miles along Ireland’s ragged western coastline from Donegal to Cork (Galway is a convenient midpoint). Passing by the grave of the great poet W. B. Yeats and through the rugged region of Connemara—home to the largest concentration of traditional Gaelic speakers in the country—the trail puts the country’s raw, natural beauty on full display. —Lindsey Olander
Lured by a thriving art and music scene, Berlin’s poor-but-sexy creative types are increasingly migrating southwest to Leipzig. (Perhaps they’re also fleeing the crowds of Berlin, Europe’s fastest-growing tourist city, with an extra 2 million overnight stays last year.) Survey street murals in the buzzing Plagwitz neighborhood; head to revamped former factories Westwerk, Tapetenwerk, and Spinnerei to see works by painters aspiring to be the next Neo Rauch; or take public transit to one of Germany’s largest, newest major photography museums. Leipzig, once home to Wagner, Bach, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, also offers plenty of live-music venues, whether you’re after classical (the Gewandhaus Orchestra) or contemporary (UT Connewitz, WERK II) tunes. There’s never been a better time to visit; Leipzig is ringing in its first millennium throughout 2015 with street theater, museum exhibitions, and public concerts, including a thousand singers performing Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise and, yes, a gigantic birthday cake with the appropriate multitude of candles. —Diana Hubbell
Mozambique’s northern coast made a splash a few years ago for the rustic-chic lodges (Vamizi Island, Ibo Island, Azura) setting up across the Quirimbas islands. The buzz has now migrated south, where a handful of high-end hotel brands set their sights on the Bazaruto Archipelago—a collection of dune islands characterized by mangrove-fringed shorelines, sugar-white sands, and turquoise waters. In April 2015, andBeyond Benguerra Island unveils 10 spacious casitas and two villas at the edge of a national park. Go diving or snorkeling in search of vibrant coral reefs, marine turtles, and a rare dugong. Singita’s new area property—details forthcoming—is underway. –Lindsey Olander
Eco-adventurers have their sights set on Costa Rica’s northern neighbor as much for its geographic diversity—beaches, lakes, islets, volcanoes, rainforests, and reefs—as for its colonial-meets-bohemian vibe and comparative affordability. The Tribal Hotel is a laid-back luxury retreat in the heart of Granada—a colorful 500-year-old city on the shores of Lake Nicaragua—whose expat owners have globe-trotting friends bound to up the ante of flush visitors. In March 2015, the Inn at Rancho Santana will debut 17 rooms on a breezy isthmus with five private beaches dotting the Pacific Coast two hours southwest of Granada. Neighboring Mukul Resort opened to great fanfare in 2013 as Nicaragua’s first five-star hideaway and has since launched Flor de Caña Centenario 25, a slow-aged premium Nicaraguan rum. Environmentalists are keeping close watch on a controversial Chinese-backed canal development with the potential to boost Nicaragua’s economy but also to threaten ecosystems and indigenous communities—added incentive to explore now. —Nora Walsh
The smash hit Frozen has inspired Disney executives to scramble to convert EPCOT’s Norway pavilion to a themed attraction—while also stoking travelers’ interest in experiencing the real thing, namely, a landscape of elegant Scandinavian stave churches and rarefied fjords. Elsa-and-Anna-philes can book a Norway Fjord itinerary (new for 2015) on the refurbished 2,700-passenger Disney Magic or join Adventures By Disney’s new land program, which includes stops at sites like Borgund Stave Church. In other news, Tromsø-based Hurtigruten debuts a series of educational 2015 itineraries like an astronomy cruise to witness Svalbard’s polar bears and the March 20th solar eclipse as well as a shorter six-day “In Search of the Northern Lights” cruise set to capture 2015’s heightened aurora borealis activity. The cruise line has deepened its commitment to locavorism with Norway’s Coastal Kitchen program, which partners with local farmers to feed passengers. Oslo sees some of the action too, as a new Moxy Hotel (Marriott’s low-budget/high-design brand) opens in fall 2015, and the Munch Museum, moving to a new building in 2018, gears up for epic exhibit Munch: Van Gogh, examining parallels of the tormented artists’ lives. —Adam H. Graham
Revival is well under way in downtown Cleveland, as young professionals move in and historic buildings are repurposed. The Westin Cleveland Downtown and Marriott’s Metropolitan at the 9 (with a theater and an indoor dog park) began welcoming guests in 2014, joining the Downtown Aloft, est. 2013. Several hotels will follow as the city preps for the 2016 Republican National Convention. Keep an eye out for Ohio’s first Kimpton—in the 1901 terra-cotta Schofield Building—and the 30-story Hilton Cleveland Downtown overlooking Lake Erie. One of downtown’s most buzzed-about 2015 openings is Mabel’s BBQ from Iron Chef and native son Michael Symon, who wants to establish a Cleveland-style barbecue. (He’s finessing the sauce, likely a mix of mustard, Ohio maple syrup, and vinegar.) The innovative local food scene also counts farm-to-table Flying Fig and Mitchell’s Ice Cream, which began churning out seasonal small-batch flavors in April 2014. Both are in the hip Ohio City neighborhood, near the West Side Market, linked to downtown by new bike lanes. Over in Uptown, the Cleveland Institute of Art’s expansion nears completion. It’s a short walk to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which got a shiny new home in late 2012. And don’t forget game-changer LeBron James, who’s back in town and eager to give Cleveland more reasons to be proud. —Kate Appleton
It used to be that the reason for leisure travelers to stop in the teeming Indonesian capital was a layover on the way to more glamorous Bali. But times are changing, as hospitality power-players including Fairmont, Raffles, and St. Regis—slated to open in January 2015, February 2015, and January 2016, respectively—elbow their way into Jakarta. Airlines are getting in on the action too: a second airport just opened, and local carrier Garuda now offers direct flights from London’s Heathrow. Why all the fuss? This underrated Asian capital showcases Indonesia’s staggering diversity—most of the nation’s 300-odd ethnic groups are represented here—and warm hospitality, without Bali’s price tag or 3 million–plus annual tourists. Throw in some top-notch restaurants, including Eastern & Oriental from superstar chef Will Meyrick and the industrial-chic Union by Gordon Ramsay alum Adhika Maxi, as well as a lively nightlife scene. —Diana Hubbell
If you’re looking for a good time in Las Vegas these days, all signs point to north of the Strip. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos, is leading the charge, investing $350 million of his own money into projects like the Downtown Container Park, which transformed shipping containers into restaurants, shops, and a children’s playground. It’s also become a cultural hub, with the Mob Museum, the Neon Museum, and Inspire Theater. And old neighborhood standbys have been reborn: Fitzgerald’s is now the D Hotel, and Lady Luck reopened as the Downtown Grand, part of the new entertainment district Downtown3rd. But we’re especially drawn to the new SLS Las Vegas, a few miles north near the convention center. The 1,613 chic rooms and suites have cheeky details like a ceiling mirror and a mini bar with “saint” and “sinner” snacks. The monorail stops right outside, because sooner or later you will want to hit the Strip. Perhaps you’ll check out the new Delano or The Cromwell, a boutique hotel with a 65,000-square-foot beach club, and Giada, the first-ever restaurant from celeb chef Giada De Laurentiis. —Brooke Porter Katz
Despite the island’s lethargic economy, there’s been a big wave of investment in high-end tourism, spurred by a law encouraging wealthy Americans to reduce their tax bill by spending money here. Hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson (who sees the island becoming the “Singapore of the Caribbean”) owns the just-opened Condado Vanderbilt in San Juan, as well as the St. Regis Bahia Beach an hour east of town. On Vieques, the design-forward El Blok hotel, with its menu by local culinary star José Enrique, is drawing a stylish crowd. Looking ahead, a JW Marriott resort has broken ground adjacent to the Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve that opened in December 2012, and a Four Seasons is rumored to be in the works in the Fajardo area. Not all the new development is luxury-minded: a new Posadas Program is helping transform historic buildings across the island into boutique inns, like Da’ House in Old San Juan. And an agricultural tourism project is directing visitors to Puerto Rico’s many coffee plantations—which dovetails nicely with the slew of authentic coffee shops springing up in Old San Juan (among them Caficultura and Cuatro Sombras), brewing drinks with locally sourced beans. –Peter J. Frank
In late 2014, the U.S. dollar reached six-year highs against several currencies, including the Japanese yen, which it’s anticipated to hold strongest against. This windfall comes in time for powder buffs who want to experience Hokkaido’s festive winter season, kicking off with the Sapporo Snow Festival (February 5–11, 2015) followed by the Sapporo International Ski Marathon and the Jozankei Onsen Snow Light Path, which includes 2,000 snow lanterns hung at the 19th-century Jozankei onsen. For the first time, holders of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass get unlimited access to five days’ worth of skiing at Japan’s sprawling Niseko United resort. Hotel developments are also coming to fruition, including YTL Hotel Group’s newborn brand Kasara, eight luxury town houses, and a retail development at the foot of Mount Niseko Annupuri. Next door at the Niseko-Hirafu Resort is the new upscale ski-in, ski-out property Ki Niseko, adjacent to the high-speed gondola, and Muse, an elegant rental high-rise overlooking Mount Yotei and across the street from Michelin-starred Kamimura. And it’s all generally more accessible thanks to new Singapore Airlines flights to Chitose Airport as of December 2014. —Adam H. Graham
This Swedish city across the Øresund strait from Copenhagen is emerging as Scandinavia’s hippest hub. Cheap rents and a food-obsessed public have lured bright culinary talents. At B.A.R Krog & Vinbar, the tasting menus by Robert Jacobsson—a former sous-chef at Copenhagen’s Noma—push boundaries even by Nordic outside-the-box standards (ash-and-elderflower sorbet with cucumber and vanilla). Chef Robin Eriksson recently moved from Stockholm to open Tryne Till Knorr, serving simple, refined dishes with a local emphasis. Both coffee and cocktails are elevated to an art form. Get your fix at Solde Kaffebar or Rosen Bar & Dining, known for its vodkas. Join journalist Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson on a tour of Western Harbor, Europe’s first carbon-neutral district and the site of Santiago Calatrava’s spiraling, white-marble HSB Turning Torso. —Matt Rodbard
If Colombia and Myanmar are your kinds of destinations and you believe that travelers can be agents of change, then Iran is your next mission. This Middle East republic is politically challenging but still culturally rewarding. A recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown confirms a rising awareness of what modern Iran has to offer. All the architectural treasures and heritage sites of the ancient Persian world also await—including the ruins of Persepolis, Isfahan’s cobalt-domed mosques, and imperial palace museums in Tehran. Golden Eagle’s new Jewels of Persia rail journey stops in all three while providing the comforts of a private train with sleeper and dining cars. For a more immersive experience, Times Journeys is debuting an archaeologically-focused itinerary in spring 2015, while Geographic Expeditions can arrange a customized driving tour to the great bazaar city of Tabriz, then onward to explore the gardens of Shiraz and the desert city of Yazd. Everywhere, détente-minded Iranians are eager to practice their English and possibly sell you a carpet or six. —Shane Mitchell
Palm Springs, CA
The debut of Sparrow’s Lodge, a minimalist rustic-chic retreat with a fire pit and vegetable garden, made Palm Springs a notable destination for 2014. And momentum continues to grow for this desert oasis. By mid 2015, more than a dozen hotels will have opened their doors in the past three years, bringing the number of lodging options into the triple digits. Consider Arrive, a 32-room boutique hotel that promises to be as chilled-out as Facebook’s campus (the man behind it is one of Facebook’s first employees), with daybeds and pop-up concerts. Coming in the summer of 2015 is Dolce, which will feature a sprawling rooftop terrace with views of the San Jacincto Mountains, olive groves and citrus trees, a screening room for film festivals, and a recording studio. But visitors also have added incentive to explore beyond their hotels: the new glass-and-steel Architecture and Design Center, an offshoot of the Palm Springs Art Museum, opened in November 2014. —Jenna Scatena
Michelangelo. Botticelli. Blub? The latest Florentine making his mark on the city center is a street artist who riffs on masterpieces like the Duke and Duchess of Urbino and Magritte’s Lovers, outfitting them with scuba masks. Blub’s motto and Instagram handle is L’Arte Sa Nuotare (Art knows how to swim), which he’s described as a message of resilience. His work started appearing in spring 2014—one of the more noticeable signs of Florence’s reborn cultural scene. It got a boost back in 2006 with the launch of Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and picked up steam during the energized mayorship of Matteo Renzi (now prime minister), a period that included the inauguration of an annual writers’ festival and the reopening of 15th-century monastery Le Murate as an arts hub and café. You’ll also find creative types at events organized by Unusual Florence. New in 2014: Museo Novecento, devoted to 20th-century Italian artists, and the strikingly modern Nuovo Teatro dell’Opera, which debuted at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival. (Next up is the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo's reopening in time for a November 2015 papal visit.) Gourmet foods take center stage at the Mercato Centrale. Open ’til midnight, the revamped upstairs features stalls selling products like buffalo mozzarella, plus a cooking school, an enoteca for wine tastings, and Pizzeria Sud. Over in the Oltrarno, where craftsmen traditionally clustered, you’ll find vintage and concept shops, restaurants CB Firenze and Il Santo Bevitore, and plans in the works to pedestrianize Piazza del Carmine. —Kate Appleton
Great Barrier Reef
“People say to me, ‘What was the most magical thing you ever saw in your life?’ and I always say without a word of exaggeration, ‘The first time I was lucky enough to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef,” said naturalist David Attenborough of his trip to Australia to film the landmark BBC series Zoo Quest in 1957. He’s returning to the 1,600-mile coral necklace to shoot David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef for a 2015 release; it will document a vastly changed ecosystem than the one he fell in love with more than five decades ago. Rising ocean temperatures, numerous bleaching events, ocean acidification, and tourism have stressed the fragile habitat. The future is uncertain, creating an urgency for travelers to see it now—and with a light footprint. Looming is Aquis, a Chinese mogul’s controversial $8 billion proposal that would open in Cairns in 2018 with 7,500 rooms across eight hotels, a host of restaurants, multiple casinos, an aquarium, and a 23,000-square-foot convention center. It’s projected to draw an additional million travelers to northern Queensland annually (a 50 percent increase from 2013). The good news? Homegrown, environmentally conscious projects are embracing sustainability. The Greg Norman–backed Great Keppel Island Resort, with 250 rooms and 700 villas, is securing a 1,420-acre environmental protection precinct, including a research center, and installing 24,000 solar panels throughout the property. The goal: to be carbon positive. Lizard Island, a blessed speck of land in the Coral Sea, 120 miles off the coast of Cooktown, will reopen its namesake hotel in March after a yearlong restoration following Tropical Cyclone Ita. In addition to supporting the nearby Australian Museum’s research station, the hotel will offer nature programming certified by Ecotourism Australia. —Nathan Storey
Hong Kong can be quick to bulldoze over the past. But in a refreshing exception, a 1950s-era complex of police dorms in trendy Soho has been restored and reborn as PMQ, a mix of pop-up shops, galleries showcasing emerging local artists, a cooking school, and restaurants like Aberdeen Street Social, a gastropub from Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton. The 19th-century Central Police Station, facing antiques-lined Hollywood Road, is following suit, slated to open in late 2015 or early 2016 as a cultural events space. Art Basel Hong Kong, the scene-y fair’s newest outpost, will return for the third year in 2015 and include M+, an in-the-works museum of visual culture—part of the West Kowloon Cultural District development—that has already begun to host arts programs. In Wong Chuk Hang, off the beaten tourist path, Ovolo Southside has opened in a former warehouse; its 162 rooms retain exposed-ceiling pipes and steel while huge windows reveal the island’s lush peaks. Art plays a big role here too, with murals and graphics by street artists. And it’s easier than ever to experience what’s doing in Hong Kong thanks to the 2014 introduction of nonstop daily service on Cathay from Newark and on American from Dallas/Fort Worth; look for Cathay to add nonstop flights from Boston’s Logan in May 2015. —Kate Appleton
Louisville has long been famous for its bourbon, and if it’s the dark stuff you’re after, there are almost two dozen distilleries happy to oblige with tastings. Most are in the surrounding countryside, but you no longer need a car to get your fix: Evan Williams, the first urban distillery since Prohibition, flung open its doors on Whiskey Row in November 2014, with seven other spirits distillers soon to join the newly coined Urban Bourbon Trail. The city center is also making room for five new hotels in 2015, including an Aloft. For a taste of Louisville’s most happening neighborhood, head to NuLu, about a mile from downtown and a case study in urban revival, with critically acclaimed restaurants (Decca, Proof on Main), concept shops (Please & Thank You, Scout), and its own hipster flea market. —Nikki Ekstein
The nation of Kosovo—Europe’s newest—was born in 2008, and its capital, Pristina, is characterized by a free-spirited nightlife, a reborn enthusiasm that recalls 1990s Berlin, Belfast, and Prague, and an emerging cosmopolitanism unlike anything else in the Balkans. The city teems with restaurants serving everything from Mexican and Thai to Kosovo locavore, while new spots continue to open along Boulevards Bill Klinton and Tony Blair. A bustling café culture has locals claiming that Pristina makes the world’s best macchiato. The city’s first craft brewery, Sabaja, debuted in autumn 2013, serving smoked porter and hoppy pumpkin ales. Continue your night out at Miqt, a 2014 newcomer that has become a favorite of a progressive set who dance to New Order and the Smiths songs. Since the war, a slew of NGO-funded projects have begun to restore and enhance cultural sites like the modernist National Library, the Great Hamam, the Mother Teresa Cathedral, and the Ethnographic Museum, which began to offer free English-language tours in 2014. Beyond Pristina, tourism infrastructure is slowly recovering as funding from Switzerland and the HALO trust continue to remove land mines and as cultural restoration projects in villages, ski resorts, and sacred monasteries move ahead. —Adam H. Graham
Driving across Maui these days, you’ll discover a new-age melting pot—a Hawaii for the next generation. Consider Halemano, a resort of Balinese-style huts, funky Modernist cabins, and yurts in Kipahulu, on Maui’s rugged eastern coast. Not much has changed in Kipahulu, but the rest of Maui sure seems to have. The “other side” of the island, once the sterile zone of hotels and golf resorts, has caught on to the idea that sustainable living, organic farming, and a reverence for Hawaiian traditions can be made over as premium luxury. The new Montage Kapalua Bay Hotel welcomes guests with orchid leis and fresh pineapple. It has a grotto-like pool, a spa for lomilomi massages, and an outrigger-style atrium that houses the Cane & Canoe restaurant (ingredients are sourced from Napili Flo Farm). Farther down the west coast near Wailea, The Andaz, owned by Hyatt, opened in 2013 and is on the cutting edge of Maui’s holistic luxury. Check-in involves sitting barefoot in a Zen sandpit on tribal wooden stools, while the receptionist enters you in a tablet computer. —Julia Chapman
Johannesburg, South Africa
While all eyes were on Cape Town last year, Johannesburg has emerged as the continent’s new “it” girl. Ambitious and energetic, Jozi relies less on natural assets and more on the clout of cash—this is where the money is made, and given the current exchange rate, your bucks will go far too. The opening of Four Seasons Westcliff (a first in South Africa) is a game-changer bound to raise the city’s profile and put the luxury-travel set more at ease about hanging around for a post-safari recovery—with spa treatments, epic views, and expert concierge services. Enlist a company like Past Experiences to unlock the city through walking tours with themes ranging from street art to Nelson Mandela. Keep an eye out for signs of urban renewal like Juta Street in Braamfontein, with its weekly Neighbourgoods Market, and the Maboneng Precinct for edgy local fashion like Loin Cloth & Ashes. At the Saxon’s Five Hundred, chef David Higgs has a cult following for his pretty plates, while The Local Grill pairs grass-fed beef with a top-notch wine list. —Jane Broughton