The ultimate 2018 travel bucket list

Fragrant French lavender fields, endlessly rich South American rainforests, soaring Oceanian peaks and frigid Icelandic fjords… our 2018 bucket list is rife with the world’s dreamiest, sense-stimulating destinations. As we set our sights on the New Year, these are nine travel resolutions our editorial team is determined to keep – have your holiday-loving hearts at the ready for a serious dose of wanderlust.

Milford Sound, New Zealand. Image: iStock/LockieCurrie

Holly’s New Zealand

Having decided that the promise of a guided road trip from a Kiwi friend was too good to pass up, I’ve set my sights on New Zealand for 2018. With a population of just 4.6 million, it has a reputation as one of the most peaceful, green and energising places to escape to – so much so that over 300,000 Brits have made it their permanent home. I’m not sure whether I picture myself skydiving above the Bay of Islands, or taking the bungy plunge into Lake Taupo, but if anything is going to bring out the adrenaline junkie in me, I have a feeling this epic country might stand a chance.

With a diverse landscape that spans from rainforests and wild bush to pristine beaches and soaring mountain ranges, New Zealand’s fantastical landscape has inspired artists, filmmakers and photographers the world over. High on my must-see list: the ancient Waipoua Forest on the west coast, with its giant trees, rainbow-coloured ferns and rare native birds; Lake Tekapo on the South Island, where the water is such a vibrant turquoise that it doesn’t quite look real; the steaming hot springs and erupting mud pools of Rotorua, which is famous for its traditional Maori culture; and the iconic Milford Sound, perhaps the world’s most famous fjord and home to seals, dolphins and, the cutest of all the Kiwi residents, penguins.

Striding Edge in the Lake District. Image: iStock/Phoenix0013

Abbie’s Lake District

Getting into shape, exploring the United Kingdom’s great outdoors, and filling my lungs with plenty of fresh country air are some of my resolutions for 2018, so with that in mind, I can’t think of anywhere better to visit than the Lake District. Nobody should let this National Park pass them by; it holds some of the most gorgeous walking trails you’ll see in any guidebook, as well as plenty of natural diversity, from serene Windermere and Ullswater to the wild and rugged Western Fells. As much as I love the look of the Lake District come winter, I’d likely visit in late summer or autumn, as a slight chill in the air would certainly help facilitate a day-long hike – or a night spent camping under the stars.

Speaking of hiking, I’d love to try a trek through the valley of Wasdale or a journey across Grasmere and Helvellyn – the walks along Helm Crag and Striding Edge appear as challenging and adrenaline-pumping (read: terrifying) as they are rewarding to those who complete them. That being said, a quiet and somewhat tamer stroll along the shores of Windermere, followed by afternoon tea at a cosy hotel (The Ryebeck is a definite list-topper for its mesmerising views, while Low Wood Bay is a personal favourite for its modern boutique charms), is probably more my speed for now.

Lavender fields in Provence, France. Image: iStock/ronnybas

Eleanor’s Provence

Provence is right up there on my list of destinations for 2018. Shamefully, I’ve been to Paris about 15 times but I’ve never visited anywhere else in France. After hearing friends rave about it for a long time, a couple of new hotel openings and Instagram are to blame for sending Provence to the front of the queue for me. That and the cheese and the wine, obviously.

Provence is a huge region, so to break it down into a short trip, I’d love to visit in summer to see the miles of purple-hued lavender fields – you can find these in the Lubéron, where pretty hilltop towns are stacked high like rustic wedding cakes. Gordes is one such fairytale town. Next up is Aix-en-Provence for a city break amongst romantic architecture, an annual opera festival in July and plenty of chic cafe culture.

To round off my Provence rendezvous, I’d head for the sea. Cannes is probably a little too glitz and glam for me, so I’d skip that and instead take myself and my best retro bathing suit to Saint-Raphaël for beautiful rocky bays and more of a laid-back beach vibe. My hotel of choice would be Les Roches Rouges – a design-led newcomer where sea views, crisp white walls and nautical colour accents make the perfect backdrop for covetable mid-century furniture. As a hotel superfan, I’m always willing to travel for a good ‘un and this seaside beaut looks well worth the trip.

Iguazú Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil. Image: iStock/rmnunes

Ellena’s Argentina

South America for me has always conjured up fantasies of epic adventure and awe-inspiring landscapes. With Peru and Brazil proving quite popular with nomads, I think it’s only fair to shine light on another incredible country – Argentina. I’d love to feel the buzzing energy of Buenos Aires – embrace the café culture, taste the world-famous steak, watch a tango show, explore the historic Plaza de Mayo and appreciate the city’s architectural details.

Witnessing the hundreds of thundering waterfalls of beautiful Iguazú Falls is also a must, and if you’re new to the jungle, it’s the perfect way to ease you into nature. I’ve visited the Niagara Falls and, believe it or not, I’ve heard rumours that they pale in comparison! I’d like to be the judge of that for myself and see the Iguazú Falls from all angles, as well as experience the power and noise of the grand cascades. You can take a boat ride underneath them or alternatively walk along the national park trails.

Of course, the trip wouldn’t be complete without visiting the natural wonders of Patagonia – the landscape of imagination. The large barren panoramas look so breathtaking, with the emptiness seeming just as impressive as the spanning glaciers, aqua-blue lakes and majestic mountains and peaks. Now for the genie in the bottle to grant me my 2018 travel wish!

Trulli houses in Alberobello, Italy. Image: iStock/clodio

Sara’s Puglia

Living in London, I find myself fantasising less about city breaks and increasingly about idyllic rural villages where I could spend my days shopping for sumptuous seasonal produce at local markets, evenings sitting on terraces sipping wine from neighbouring vineyards, and nights taking refreshing dips in the sea. Sounds a little like heaven, doesn’t it? Well, if heaven really is a place on Earth, then it must look a lot like Puglia – located on the heel of Italy’s boot, this region is steeped in history and characterised by fertile farmlands and craggy cliffs giving way to the blue Mediterranean coastline.

Visit any month of the year and you’ll find at least one regional food festival or fair taking over Puglia’s towns. In January, head to Lecce to feast on ricotta forte, while in February it’s all about octopus in Celena Valfortore. The summer months see juicy cherries taking centre stage throughout the region, alongside doughy frisella. In August, a meatball festival rolls into Lecce, offering the perfect carnival for the carnivorous. Whatever the season, you can wash down your feast with a bottle of Puglia red.

There is plenty of history to scope out here, starting with the UNESCO-protected Trulli (short, white cylindrical-shaped houses with conical roofs) that pre-date the 16th century – I’d make my way to the Valle d’Itria to see them spattered around town, many still used as homes today. Being Italy, there is of course no shortage of awe-inspiring Baroque cathedrals and palaces to admire, nowhere quite so concentrated as in Foggia. Lastly, I’d try Salento for beaches with turquoise waters, villages built into the cliffside, and brightly-painted shutters on white facades.

Westfjords, Iceland. Image: iStock/PEDRE

Joanna’s Iceland

Lunar lava fields, sparkling glaciers, electric-blue geothermal pools: these breathtaking landscapes are just some of the reasons why Iceland tops many a traveller’s destination bucket list – mine included. But there’s more to Iceland than the obvious beauty of the mist-shrouded Blue Lagoon and mighty Golden Circle – a few corners of this largely uninhabited island that remain relatively untrodden by visitors.

In a bid to escape the crowds, I’d hire a 4WD and embark on a road trip to the desolate hinterlands of the Westfjords, scoping out steaming geothermal pools, glacial lakes in startling jewel tones, rugged volcanic beaches and thunderous waterfalls along the way.

Another hidden gem slightly off the tourist path is the Tröllaskagi peninsula, whose wild, untamed landscape is contoured by jagged mountains, fjords and glacial valleys. Here, you’re more like to bump into the famous Icelandic horses than people. And, of course, part of the lure is chasing those tantalising glimpses of the elusive Aurora Borealis casting laser-like streaks across the inky sky.

While I’d like to visit Reykjavik for its crop of galleries, museums, coffee shops and Nordic food haunts, I’d rather call by tiny, remote villages whose history is deeply entwined in fishing and the bounty of Iceland’s natural larder. Where better to feast on fresh trout and herring caught from the waters that day, while learning about the region’s history from locals – over an Icelandic beer or two, of course.

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Image: iStock/Mlenny

Laura Jean’s Athens

Given how many destinations I want to get out of my holiday budget next year, my bucket-list pick for 2018 makes a big tick out of a short trip: Athens. I’d save it for a post-summer pick-me-up, and head there for a long weekend in late October or early November, when temperatures average 20°C and aren’t quite as tiring as the city’s summer highs.

Athens has all the things I look for in a city break: art, food and history. I also think it’s important to support its local economy since Greece’s financial crisis, and interesting to discover how the city’s adapted. For example, The National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre both opened in 2017, and young artists are making the most of the cheap rents and opening studios here, which puts a certain buzz in the air.

I would definitely visit The Acropolis. It might be Athens’ most visited tourist attraction but there’s an excellent reason for that: It’s a truly unique architectural example of Greek Antiquity’s achievements, built in a salient age that revered philosophy and art. Athens’ Flea Market and the boutique stalls of Plaka Old Town would also make my ‘to do’ list, as I like to have a nose around second hand goods and support independent businesses.

Stranocum, Northern Ireland. Image: iStock/Mnieteq

Emma’s Ireland

What the Emerald Isle lacks in size, it makes up for in reputation. Known for everything from pints of the black stuff and Aran cable knit sweaters to an epic literary past and toe-tapping Irish dancing, there’s more to this small yet perfectly formed island than the done-to-death stereotypes.

With the recent release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the latest season of Game of Thrones, location scouts have captured my imagination with Ireland’s soul-stirring scenery. Forget a galaxy far, far away, I’m keen to head to Skellig Michael, a tiny island in County Kerry, to witness Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Temple for myself and take in Ireland’s mesmerising Wild Atlantic Way. Connecting the dramatic wilderness of Donegal to the wave-lashed beaches of County Cork, I’d explore this 2,500-kilometre stretch along the West coast of Ireland on two wheels, so I can stop off en route to check out the surf in Sligo, the brooding yet romantic landscapes of Connemara, and the epic limestone karsts of Galway.

Beyond the wall, Northern Ireland is a treasure trove for GoT fans with the Haunted Forest in County Down, the Dark Hedges in County Antrim, the Dothraki grasslands in the Slemish Mountains and the dramatic slopes of the mountains of Mourne, to name a few. But away from Ireland’s enchanting countryside, I’d round off the trip in Dublin; a city that shows me a great time with each and every visit (and that’s not just the Guinness talking). A UNESCO listed city of literature, I’d head to Trinity College, whose alumni include the likes of Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and my very own parents, and take a wander through the gardens, browse in the iconic Old Library and visit to the chapel (where they got married). As night falls, I’ll head for cosy pint (or five) in one of the many traditional drinking holes where any visitor will soon realise that what Ireland lacks in good weather, it makes up for in the warmth of its welcome.

Chagres National Park, Panama. Image: iStock/NTCo

Claudia’s Panama

A slim and snaking isthmus connecting Central and South America and packing a world-renowned canal linking the Atlantic with the Pacific, Panama is a key piece of the planet’s puzzle in more ways than one. Despite this, it’s often overlooked by globetrotters for its famously eco-conscious neighbour, Costa Rica – leaving a slither of unexplored tropical land and island-sprinkled coast that I’d love to conquer in the New Year.

Sitting bang centre stage, Panama City is a surprisingly modern landing pad, where year-round sun and visions of a successful future rebound off shiny skyscrapers and polished ocean giants inch along the canal. It also claims a UNESCO-listed Old Town replete with colonial architectural wonders and plenty of places for a tasty sancocho chicken soup – the national dish.

I can’t wait to dive into Panama’s lush green headband for cloud forest hikes among dazzling butterflies and fluttering hummingbirds and zip-line rides above soaring treetops. I’d take a cooler breath of highlands air in quaint Boquete, where coffee reigns supreme and rainbow-coloured quetzal birds accompany treks up snoozing Barú Volcano – Panama’s highest peak.

On the other side of Central America’s largest nature reserve – the UNESCO-listed La Amistad that’s home to a number of big cat species and indigenous tribes – I’d find paradise on the Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro. I’d spend my time there snorkelling among iridescent sea creatures, enjoying low-tempo beach living and snacking on succulent pineapples straight from the bush. Best of all, I’d take a speedboat over to Red Frog Beach to spot one of the startling fire-engine-coloured little jumpers among the foliage.

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