This year is about experiences and adventure; it’s a year that’s less about languishing and more about making the most of the destination you’ve chosen to visit. Don’t just snap the sights, immerse yourself in them – and we’re not talking selfie-stick style. From subterranean trampolines in the most unlikely of places to Hawaii-like islands right here in Europe, our pick of the top destinations to visit in 2017 is sure to inspire you to pack-up and go.
Finland celebrates its 100th anniversary as an independent country in 2017, making it a particularly poignant time to visit. It’s a year-round destination, with the heavily contrasting seasons offering their own, unique appeal. Lapland is Finland’s most northerly region and (as well as being the official home of Santa Claus) it offers a magical, snow-covered wilderness over winter, along with the opportunity to catch the illusive dance of the Northern Lights. Summer in these parts holds the ethereal draw of the midnight sun as it slowly skims the horizon, as well as scenes of infinity-like forests and gorgeous, glassy lakes. Helsinki, Finland’s cool capital, is best enjoyed over the warmer months, and makes for an excellent city sojourn thanks to its 18th-century sea fortress, the generous breadth of museums and its hip-list-topping Design District.
With three of its cities firmly fixed in 2016’s list of the world’s most liveable, a dynamic new leader in Justin Trudeau and an anniversary to celebrate in 2017 (it marks 150 years since the country’s confederation), now is the time to visit Canada. Its reputation for inclusiveness and down-right good manners means you’re all welcome to the party, whether you spend it hopping between museums and micro-breweries in Vancouver, base jumping in a knock-out national park, or both. Canada’s home to some of the world’s most phenomenal natural beauty, with the Rocky Mountains and Niagara Falls both set within its bear-hugging borders, making it an unrivalled haven for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. Better yet, the weak Canadian dollar leaves visitors with that little bit extra in their pockets, so it’s maple-sweet smiles all round.
Satisfy your adventurous spirit a la India Jones in 2017, with a sightseeing trip to Jordan. A sienna and sandstone land, with some of the most dramatic scenery in the world, Jordan is a Pandora’s box of historic delights that date back as far as two millennia (the King’s Highway is so ancient that it even gets a mention in the Bible). From the eerie desert sands of Wadi Rum to Madaba’s Byzantine mosaics, the phenomenal lost city of Petra to the salty waters of the Dead Sea; this is a destination that’s set to ignite your imagination, and them some. Given the country’s contrasting terrain (from 800 metres above sea level to 400 metre below), the climate can vary widely from one destination to the next, so the best time to go is between March and May, when the wildflowers are in bloom and temperatures are warm but won’t see you wilting.
South Africa is a hotspot for peace seekers and adrenalin junkies alike, owing to the incredible array of outdoor pursuits its stunning landscapes lend themselves so well to. On the one hand is the thrill of diving with sharks or braving the world’s tallest bridge jump, whilst the other holds scenic safaris or tranquil trips into the winelands. Its legislative capital, Cape Town, treasures its warm African heart, whilst adopting an outlook that’s distinctly global, making it a soulful yet cosmopolitan city that you’ll long to return to. Its already accomplished art and design scene will be given an industrious uplift in 2017, with the opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) – the world’s largest collection of contemporary African art, set in a former grain silo which has been expertly re-purposed by the London-based Heatherwick Studio.
An unrivalled land of enchantment, Switzerland is a playground of pristine landscapes, gourmet cuisine and captivating traditions. It’s the stuff postcards were made for; pine-clad mountains giving way to snow-capped peaks, mirror lakes and natural spas, a verdant wine country and attractive boutique towns, all set to the soundtrack of calming cattle bells and, of course, the masterful yodel. The quaint clichés happily to continue to include chocolate, cheese and cuckoo clocks, yet this is a place that’s full of surprises too. With four official languages, Switzerland’s cities are as cosmopolitan as they come and include medieval quarters, striking architecture, modern art and Europe’s largest lake amongst them. Whether you head here for a slick city stay or a relaxing country break, you’re promised an unrivalled feast for the senses.
In June of 2017, Bermuda will host the 35th America’s Cup – a tense battle between yachts for the oldest trophy in international sport. It’s an exciting time for Bermuda, an island often overlooked for (or mistaken as being part of) the Caribbean. However, with 181 islands that offer a total of 21 square miles of tropical beauty between them, Bermuda is a paradise-like destination in its own right. Its coastline is nothing short of stunning, with pretty pink sands and clear turquoise waters lapping quiet coves and idyllic islets. Owing to the reefs that surround the islands, under the water’s a sensual feast too, making it an excellent spot for scuba diving. It’s ripe for hiking, all set for cycling and a winner when it comes to water sports too. What’s more, the islands are home to some great golf courses – The Mid Ocean Club is often cited as one of the top golf courses “in Mexico and the Caribbean” (an appropriate case in point).
Over the course of this year, North Wales has set its sights firmly on becoming the adventure capital of Europe, pulling out all the stops to create a destination for thrill seekers. Additions to its adrenalin-inducing portfolio are nothing short of impressive (and it was already doing well with the mighty Mount Snowden under its belt). Hidden in the Conwy Valley, you’ll find Surf Snowdonia – the world’s first artificial surfing lake that’s open to the public, which produces the longest human-made waves on this earth. Further record-breaking feats await in Penrhyn Quarry, which hosts the world’s fastest and longest zip line, whilst a subterranean world of trampolines lies in the caves below Blaenau Ffestiniog (yes, really). Rounding this energetic picture off nicely is something a little more tranquil – Snowdonia National Park has been designated a ‘dark-sky reserve’, meaning the star-gazing here is particularly spectacular. Make 2017 your year to visit, before this super little secret spreads.
When you consider Colombia’s now-fading reputation for violent crime and its decades of civil war, it’s little wonder why this country once only graced the bucket lists of the more hardened traveller. Today, however, Colombia sits well ahead of the wake of its grey-cloud past, opening it up to anyone in search of beautiful beaches, vivid culture, acres of biodiverse rainforest and some surprisingly scenic cities. Cartagena holds a riot of coloured Colonial architecture, Capurganá and Sapzurro offer an idyllic slice of the Caribbean coast and, for blooming delights, hit mountain-fringed Medellín over its annual flower festival. Be sure to give Bogotá the time it deserves too; it’s an effortlessly cool, multicultural melting pot. If you time it right, you may find yourself in revered company – Pope Francis is due to visit in 2017, affording Colombia is first papal visit for 30 years.
The Arabian Gulf has long-since been synonymous with excessive development (there was a time when one of Dubai’s many records was employing 25% of the world’s cranes), so you’d be forgiven for thinking that the appeal here see-sawed solely between man-made marvels and grotesque glitz. Introducing Oman; an often overlooked jewel in Arabia’s crown that quietly gleams in its traditional, radiant cut. Oman preserves an enticing balance of new-world wonders and age-old cultures, with an epic natural terrain that’s mimicked in its impressive scale by the urban architectural additions from a burgeoning flash-pack of high-end hotel groups. Oman offers a chance to experience the grandiose-out-doing that the Arab world is known for but, quite uniquely, without the pull of a bursting purse’s strings.
India celebrated its 70th year of independence from British colonialism this year (2016), leaving it in high spirits for 2017. Whether you’re looking to see historic sights, lay on a golden beach, or nurse your spiritual side, India can cater for it all in one, spell-binding trip. Head to Rajasthan for an insight into India’s history – it holds more historic sites than the rest of India combined, which is saying something for a country that’s home to no less than 32 World Heritage sites. For beach bliss, Goa’s an obvious go-to but, as such, it gets crowded (you can still find pockets of peace on the southern coast, however, such as Agonda or Palolem). Unfortunately, you can’t escape the crowds if you want to experience one of India’s ancient gems – the Taj Mahal – but it’s well worth it, particularly at sunrise or sunset. Whilst it stands as strong as ever, it’s blighted by the modern living that surrounds it (the waste from insects that breed on the nearby Yamuna River is slowly turning its lustrous marble a motley green), so plan a visit whilst this ‘ New Wonder of the World’ still retains its splendour.
In 2017, RyanAir is increasing the frequency of its flights to the Azores, making this enigmatic set if isles all the more tempting. Situated on Europe’s western edge, some 1,300 kilometres from mainland Portugal, this wonderfully wild archipelago has been described by The Telegraph as “Europe’s answer to Hawaii” and, when you take into account their dramatic coastlines, striking volcanoes and thick blankets of lush fauna, it’s easy to see why. Each of the nine islands offers their own epic take on Eden; you’ll find the highest mountain in Portugal on tiny Pico, an orchestra of wild flowers on so-named Flores and the simply stunning scenes of Sete Citades on São Miguel. Throw plenty of hiking trails, natural hot springs, whale watching and water sports into this already appealing mix and you’ve got a destination that’s full of flavour.
The recent security issues that France has faced have undoubtedly left the light of its tourism torch a little dulled and, along with it, some of its best-loved destinations quieter than they otherwise might be. However, a brief reminisce on France’s diverse charms is persuasion enough to book in a break that’ll help boost more than just your own spirits. Picking a part to explore is the hardest job, with more destinations added to the pot for consideration thanks to British Airways’ new routes from London for 2017, which will service Limoges, Montpellier, Nantes and Chambery. Stick with old-faithful Paris for a pretty city break packed with history, food and fine art, or head further afield to discover lavender-filled Provence, the terroir of Burgundy, Biarritz’ hip surf scene or the year-round scenery of the French Alps.
California has long been synonymous with the sun, sea, sand and surf, conjuring images of sizzling sunsets and barefoot beach bliss, but the Golden State is also home to super-slick cities, awesome ancient forests and swathes of arid deserts. Los Angeles is an urban amazement, Yosemite; a sight to behold, and Death Valley peaks to be the hottest place on earth. For sweeping beaches head to San Diego, or rush to Sacramento for a peek into Cali’s golden past. Napa Valley’s a world-renowned winner when it comes to wine, and Oakland is hot on the heels of San Francisco for its modest-cool. You’ll find nature here at its most breath-taking, whether you’re gazing at the enormity of a primeval Redwood, marvelling at the weird shapes Joshua Tree’s rock formations take, or losing yourself in the rugged beauty of Big Sur – “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world”.
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