T+L's 2015 Destination of the Year Nominees
Compiling the shortlist for Travel + Leisure's 2015 Destination of the Year was almost—dare we admit it—too easy for our editors. After all, it's an exciting, dynamic time to travel, and over the last 12 months, reliable old favorites like Paris and Charleston, South Carolina have proven themselves in staggering ways, an exciting new guard of hot spots has emerged, including Adelaide, Australia and Mexico City, and previously overlooked places like Detroit now rank high on our lineup of must-sees.
Thanks for voting! Our poll is now closed, but please click here to learn which incredible destination was crowned this year’s Destination of the Year by Travel + Leisure. And be sure to browse the slideshow above for great travel inspiration.
Cabo San Lucas
Less than a year after Hurricane Odile rocked Cabo San Lucas’ celeb-packed resorts, the destination bounced back better than ever. The classic places to stay—The Resort at Pedregal, Auberge Resorts’ Esperanza, One & Only Palmilla—opened their doors with new looks, new chef-driven restaurants, or both. A whopping 16 new hotels broke ground. The rocker Adam Levine took to the area’s buzzy restaurant Flora Farms (run by an alum of Blue Hill at Stone Barns) for his high-profile wedding. In what may be the quickest and best post-disaster comeback we’ve ever seen, Cabo San Lucas emerged from Odile even more glamorous than it had been before.
Charleston, South Carolina
This Lowcountry capital has always been a draw for tourists in search of Southern hospitality. But this year, the city showed that beneath the charm lies an unflappable core: Charleston rallied to rebuild after a church shooting that left nine dead earlier this year, and again after massive flooding in early October. In spite of everything, Charleston has more to offer than ever. The Grand Bohemian Hotel, a new luxury boutique property, opened in the historic district last summer, and James Beard award winner Robert Stehling expanded his Charleston empire with Chick’s Fry House, a fried chicken outpost, in June.
The city saw a surge of visitors last year as a slew of direct flights opened up and the NFL Draft and James Beard Awards put Chicago in the national spotlight. Redevelopment has revitalized the Second City as historic properties transform into luxury hotels, such as the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, which opened in 2015, and LondonHouse Chicago, which will open this spring. And the city has more green space than ever since the underused Bloomingdale train line was repurposed as The 606, a High Line-esque elevated park and trail system that opened this summer.
Colombia has come to life—and to global attention—with the rise of major destinations such as Cartagena, Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín. Local designer Silvia Tcherassi, for example, recently opened a namesake boutique hotel in Cartagena's Old City, for example, with properties from Four Seasons and Six Senses underway. Meanwhile, Colombia's largest art museum, Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, debuted alongside the Metrocable—a network of gondolas brining new access to hillside towns and villages. In fact, the entire country is ripe for exploration (thanks in part to negotiations with rebel groups and increased flight service) from the fragrant valleys of coffee country to the Spanish-colonial manses along the coast.
If you’ve ever wanted to travel back in time, here’s your chance: Cuba, only recently accessible to travelers from the U.S., is a vibrant Caribbean island with an innate artistic and musical heartbeat. You can’t miss local artist Jose Fuster’s ceramic mosaics consuming the neighborhood of Jaimanitas, or the recently opened La Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a cooking oil factory-turned-multimedia art space. Live music seems to emanate without pause from every street corner and bar in the country. While the 21st century steeps slowly into Cuban culture (MasterCards can now be used while visiting island, as can Verizon cell phones) vestiges of the country’s past remain: the crumbling waterfront esplanades, the streets teeming with 1950s American cars. Best of all? Locals are just as excited for the surge of tourists as visitors are to experience this colorful, resilient country.
Detroit bills itself as “America’s Comeback City,” and what a rebound it’s had. Newly opened public spaces like the West Riverfront Park and DNR Outdoor Adventure Center get residents out and about not far from downtown. When they work up an appetite, they have plenty of places to eat, since some 100 new restaurants have opened their doors in the last two years. With the ongoing development of high-end retail along the Livernois Avenue of Fashion, and the expansion of Detroit’s hotel offerings (the only Aloft hotel in Michigan opened this year, the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center underwent a $30 million renovation, and the boutique Foundation Hotel is on its way), the city made it plain this year: it’s back.
While Germany never seems to go out of style, 2015 has seen some exciting new energy. Bohemian Berlin, a favorite for travelers, is experiencing a steady upscaling of its East and former West districts thanks to a wave of starchitect development, a burgeoning food scene, a formidable Fashion Week, and swank new hangouts like the 25Hours Hotel Bikini Berlin. For artists looking to escape Berlin's crowds, Leipzig has emerged as the next creative enclave, where factory spaces have been turned into notable art museums and the music and nightlife scenes have become some of the very best in Europe.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the financial woes that crippled the country over the summer, there's never been more interest in travel to Greece. The incentives: agreeable exchange rates, a need to visit ever-threatened national monuments, and the universal appeal of its drop-dead-gorgeous islands, such as Santorini and Mykonos. The latter welcomed a crop of new hotels this year, which have injected the hard-partying paradise with a certain low-key, relaxed feel.
There's more to see in Turkey's thriving, humming city than the Grand Bazaar or the Hagia Sophia. Indeed, Istanbul is having a modern moment. Contemporary art galleries are opening in trendy Beyoglu; outdoor cafes and restaurants are now filled with stylish locals and tourists in hipster-y Karakoy; and high-design luxury hotels, like Soho House, St. Regis, and Raffles are debuting at a rapid pace. Never has there been such creative energy in this city—making it the perfect time to visit.
What could be bigger for Kenya than the opening of Angama Mara, the safari lodge to outdo all safari lodges, whose location was (literally) the backdrop for Out of Africa? For one thing, there was the discovery of the world’s oldest tools in northwest Kenya this past March—an indication that the country may be the Cradle of Mankind. The timing couldn’t have been better. This year, the UK government lifted its years-old advisory on travel to Kenya, and significant infrastructural developments opened access to the untrammeled (but incredibly beautiful) Samburu territories to the north.
There's just something about South Korea, whose rugged, mountainous landscape and rich layers of culture coexist with contemporary architecture, innovative food, high-energy nightlife, and an eye toward the future—seen best in Seoul, which is is poised to open Seoul Skygarden, its answer to New York's High Line, very soon.
Every year, it seems, Los Angeles continues to shed its reputation as an industry town and reveal a rich cultural and culinary landscape that continually attracts—and keeps—travelers’ attention. The opening of the long-awaited Broad Museum this fall garnered worldwide attention and accolades for the impressive art collection (featuring works by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, and Mike Kelley), as well as for the stellar food served at its Otium restaurant. All eyes were also on L.A. for its ever-expanding hotel offerings—this year saw the opening of the first stateside branch of the Euro-chic Mama Shelter and the ultra-boutique Hotel Covell, while the iconic L’Ermitage kicked off a sleek, major overhaul from the Viceroy Hotel Group. Los Angeles, thankfully, has never lost its glamour, but now everyone knows it’s not just surface-deep.
Latin America’s second biggest city showed no signs of slowing down this year. It’s home to three of the world’s top 50 restaurants, and has an incredible cultural scene, from Frida Kahlo’s home to impressive collections of both indigenous and modern art. And now there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great new places to stay: Hotel Carlota, Downtown Mexico City, and Condesa DF.
As host of Expo Milano, the latest edition of the World’s Fair, Italy’s northern capital invested heavily in catering to the influx of visitors it welcomed this year. After unveiling three major new museums—Fondazione Prada, designed by Rem Koolhaas featuring a café styled by Wes Anderson; Armani/Silos; and the Museo delle Culture (Museum of Cultures)—the city turned its eye toward hospitality. On the hotel scene, Antonio Citterio designed the new Mandarin Oriental, the ME Milan il Duca moved into a building by Aldo Rossi, the TownHouse Duomo joined the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and the Hotel Magna Pars Suites Milano opened in Tortona. Then, there was the Expo itself: built as its own city spanning 270 acres, there were more than 50 architecturally compelling pavilions from different countries, some designed by the likes of Daniel Libeskind and Norman Foster. In the past people have bypassed Milan, sniffing it’s reputation as an industrial town with not much to see. The 20 million people who visited this year suggests otherwise.
Perhaps it was the fact that Berber rugs and kilim cushions have been having a major fashion moment, but this year, anyone who was anyone seemed to be heading to Morocco for a shopping session in the souk and a stay in a stylish riad. In addition, big-hitting hotel openings, such as the Mandarin Oriental in Marrakech and a Four Seasons in Casablanca, took Morocco’s already vibrant five-star hotel scene to another level.
A perennial tourist favorite, Nashville’s “It-City” status doesn’t seem to going away any time soon. And while plans are in the works for a series of new hotels downtown (a 21c and a Virgin Hotel, among others), 2015 was all about the food. Restaurant openings ranging from Biscuit Love, the brick-and-mortar iteration of a local food truck favorite to Le Sel, a new-French concept from the team behind Catbird Seat, are solidifying Nashville’s place as a culinary capital in the new American South.
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is thriving. Continuing to rebuild stronger than ever, the city is to breaking tourism records set before the storm—9.5 million visitors travel to the city annually—and this year’s much-talked-about restaurant openings like Angeline in the French Quarter and Compère Lapin in the Warehouse District only supplement the city’s well-earned culinary reputation.
Long a layover hub for entry into other countries in Latin America, Panama now lures travelers solely focused on enjoying this lush getaway between Costa Rica and Colombia. Lately they’ve been heading to Bocas del Toro, an island sanctuary in the northeast region. A little rugged, marked by tin-roofed wooden houses and water all around, a coming Sarani Resort will increase its luxury offerings in 2016. Meanwhile, in the capital of Panama City, there’s luxury shopping at the Soho Mall, a planned opening of a Ritz-Carlton, airline partnerships that will increase flights, and the expansion of the Panama Canal all slated for the coming year. All of this, plus the fact that Emirates will offer deals from Dubai to Panama City—the world’s longest flight path—mean it’s a sure thing: Panama’s primed to be the next major destination for Central America.
Along with its perennial fashion sense and ambitious culinary creativity, the City of Light possesses a certain timelessness that has kept it at the top of destination lists for many years. Tragedy struck Paris twice in 2015 with two separate terrorist attacks, but city's resolve and resilience in the wake of both revealed that it is as strong as it is beautiful, and united the globe under the movement #jesuisparis.
This year, Peru saw tourism expand beyond the traditional hotspots of Cusco and Machu Picchu. Lima became the “it” place for culinary pilgrimages, the northern coast became a place for beach lovers and adventure seekers, and a growing number of travel outfitters kicked off itineraries in the Amazon and beyond. But a series of developments near Machu Picchu has also put a new twist on an old favorite. Mountain Lodges of Peru opened up a series of beautiful lodges along the Lares Trail (for an adrenaline-light but culture-heavy experience), and the new 12-room Inkaterra Urubamba now lets you experience the Sacred Valley without sacrificing on style or comfort. Even if it was already crossed off your bucket list, chances are Peru is back on it once again.
Not only did Singapore celebrate its 50th year of independence in 2015, but there were also major developments on the island: the grand National Gallery—with the world’s largest collection of modern Southeast Asian art—is now open, as well as buzzy hotels like the South Beach and the Club. And no city comes close to matching Singapore’s high-low culinary spectrum. You’ll eat like a king there, whether you’re at the hawker centers or splurge-worthy modernist restaurant Andre.
2015 was a game-changer for Sri Lanka, with a raft of high-end hotel openings (including Tri, Soul & Surf and Anantara) and some big improvements in infrastructure. The north, newly opened up to visitors after decades of conflict, again became accessible by train or daily flight, while Colombo’s long-neglected historical district of Fort got had a long-overdue facelift.
As Americans have discovered a newfound passion for Japanese design, food, and culture, the entire country is seeing a tourism resurgence. The Olympics are coming. Celebrity chefs like Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain call Tokyo the best food city in the world. Aman resorts chose the metropolis for its first urban hotel. The favorable exchange rate hasn't hurt, either: go now, and your dollars will stretch even farther toward that multi-course Michelin-starred tempura dinner. And don’t miss Kyoto, which, for the second year in a row, won World’s Best City in T+L’s annual World’s Best Awards reader survey.
Our nation’s capital might have one of the country’s most innovative dining scenes right now, attracting international talent like Wolfgang Puck, Jose Andres, and David Chang, while incubating its own home-grown finds, like Johnny Monis (Little Serow) and cocktail maestro Derek Brown (Southern Efficiency, Eat the Rich). The city’s most coveted restaurants, like the Obama-approved Rose’s Luxury and cozy Bloomingdale hotspot the Red Hen, face lines daily and there’s no sign of things slowing down. With longstanding world-class museums and elegant hotels, it was the lackluster culinary offerings that always garnered criticism for Washington, but no longer—the city is all caught up.
Zimbabwe has always laid claim to several things: the best safari guides in all of Africa, some of the continent’s most sprawling and populous game reserves, and access to one of the world’s seven natural wonders, Victoria Falls. But over the last decade, political upheaval and a collapsed economy caused the guides to find employment outside the country’s borders. Finally the trend has reversed, thanks to the opening of Wilderness Safaris’ Linkwasha Camp and African Bush Camps’ Somalisa, both among the most stylish lodges to debut in 2015. Add to the mix awareness for Cecil the Lion, who was wrongly hunted in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, and the country enjoyed a turn in the spotlight unlike ever before. Go now, while prices remain favorable: it’s no longer an industry secret that this is the place for excellent game viewing, guiding, and value.