10 new destinations you should watch in 2018

It can be tricky to pinpoint what transforms a lesser-known destination into one to watch. It could be a burgeoning art scene, a culinary revolution or an emerging hotelscape – whatever it is, it’s hard to resist the lure. From Georgia’s hip capital to foodie hotspot La Paz and surprise cultural contender Dundee, these are the destinations having a bit of a moment in 2018.

Bisate Lodge in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park - a great spot for gorilla trekking

Only around 780 mountain gorillas are left in the world – a third in Rwanda. Image courtesy of Crookes and Jackson, Bisate Lodge

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

With 2018 marking the 30th anniversary of Gorillas in the Mist, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is the place to go for a much-coveted encounter with the majestic mountain gorilla – of which there are only around 780 worldwide (a third are said to be in this East African country). While this species remains critically endangered, conservation efforts in the Rwandan park appear to be paying off – the population has doubled from just 240 in the 1960s. Recently, a wave of luxury eco-lodges are cropping up in the foothills of the Virunga Mountains, close to the launching point for gorilla trekking. The 2017 headliner was the incredible Bisate Lodge, which gained acclaim as much for its incredible design as its support for the local sustainability community. This year, it will be joined by One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, which aims to work with locals to protect the animals’ threatened habitat. And since RwandAir launched direct flights between London Gatwick and Kigali in May, there’s no better time to visit.

Goðafoss waterfall in Iceland

The mighty Godafoss in Iceland – a dramatic location starring in Game of Thrones. Image courtesy of Super Break

Akureyri, North Iceland

While most visitors stick to the lagoons and hot pools close to Reykjavik, the remote clutches of North Iceland have remained under the radar of those flying in to the capital. Until now. Doing away with the usual internal flight, short-break specialist SuperBreak has launched the UK’s first direct route to Akureyri – a harbour city edging Eyjafjörður, the country’s longest fjord. This route is part of three- and four-night packages from Cardiff and Edinburgh, with more departures planned from London Stansted, Newcastle and Liverpool. Once you’ve had your fill of the city’s hip craft beer haunts and seafood restaurants, you can set off to ‘beer spa’ Bjórböðin and the nearby Game of Thrones locations such as Goðafoss waterfall and Mývatn volcanic lake. From here, you can head off the beaten track to explore some of the island’s most wild, untamed landscapes, contoured by jagged mountains, glassy fjords and dramatic coastlines.

Buildings at Park Street displaying the famous Banksy's graffiti, Naked Man, in Bristol. Image courtesy of Getty Images

Buildings at Park Street displaying the famous Banksy’s graffiti, Naked Man, in Bristol. Image: iStock/Alicia_Garcia

Bristol, England

A creative crowd has always been drawn to Bristol – it is the home of Banksy, after all – but the city’s rich art scene refuses to rest on its laurels. Hot on the heels of acclaimed local photographer Martin Parr, who opened a new gallery in Paintworks in October 2017, hotel of the moment Artist Residence is set to launch an outpost in the city this year. The youngest sibling of the London and Brighton residences, this boutique hotel is filled with local artwork and individually designed rooms styled by Bristol-based artists. The city’s food evolution doesn’t look set to stop any time soon either, with seven new entries in The Good Food Guide this year, from traditional Andalusian haunt Paco Tapas headed up by Michelin-starred chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias to Box-E, a modern British restaurant housed in a pair of shipping containers.

Rooms Hotels Tbilisi.

The uber-hip Rooms Hotels Tbilisi. Image courtesy of Rooms Hotels Tbilisi

Tbilisi, Georgia

Over the past decade, Tbilisi has lured creative residents to its arty neighbourhoods, but new direct flights from London Gatwick have put Georgia’s cool capital on the map as an emerging city-break destination. Rich in anarchic charm, the city is a glorious huddle of Art Nouveau buildings, Eastern Orthodox churches and crumbling facades punctuated by candy-coloured balconies. Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover a burgeoning cultural scene. New gallery Project ArtBeat showcases the work of local talent, while Fotografia is the place to go for photography events and Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Art hosts everything from exhibitions to an annual fashion week. A growing crop of hotels is springing up across the city to cater for demand, from industrial-style newcomer Rooms Hotel Tbilisi to boutique hostel-cum-cultural hub Fabrika and five-star Stamba, set in a Soviet-era printing press. The food scene is thriving too: chef Meriko Gubeladze transformed the culinary landscape of Tbilisi through her modern take on Georgian cuisine at Shavi Lomi, while Cafe Littera reworks traditional classics with a European twist in a hidden courtyard behind the Writer’s House of Georgia.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

The striking architecture of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Image courtesy of the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Although Abu Dhabi may not instantly spring to mind when thinking of art-rich destinations, the rather barren cultural landscape of the UAE capital is set to change this year. This is all down to the arrival of five galleries, including the Guggenheim and the Louvre Abu Dhabi – the first branch outside of France. The brainchild of Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the museum’s design evokes a floating dome, while inside a permanent collection of over 600 artworks is spread across 23 galleries. In addition, 300 on-loan masterpieces take in everything from 20th-century Picassos to Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, which recently sold for a whopping $450?million – more than it cost to build the museum. Part of the burgeoning Saadiyat Island cultural quarter, these two high-brow haunts will rub shoulders with the Zayed National Museum and Zaha Hadid Performing Arts Centre, amongst others.

Valletta, Malta. Image: iStock/liseykina

Valletta, Malta 

The tiny island that packs a mighty punch, Malta is stealing the limelight from its Mediterranean neighbours this year, thanks to honey-hued Valletta scooping the joint title of Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2018. Within the fortified city walls, a knot of cobbled streets is worth getting lost in to stumble across ancient palaces, churches and cathedrals. After dark, the city hums with energy as the bars fill with locals and visitors alike. Throughout the year, 140 events and 400 new projects are set to take place, with much of the activity centred around Strait Street – expect music, theatre and cultural events galore. If you visit towards the end of the year, you can be one of the first to bed down in the much-anticipated Iniala Harbour House, a 24-room boutique spread across four grand palazzos. Ultra-chic interiors are styled by leading designers from around the world, while a rooftop restaurant and bar takes in views stretching from the Grand Harbour to Three Cities beyond.

Gustu, La Paz

Innovative dishes at Gustu in La Paz. Image courtesy of Patricio Crooker/Gustu

La Paz, Bolivia

While 2017 saw Buenos Aires step into the spotlight as the Ibero-American Capital of Gastronomy; this year the attention is shifting to a different South American city – La Paz. The highest capital in the world, sitting at 3,600 metres above sea level, this lofty Bolivian city is sure to take your breath away – and not just because of its altitude. Noma co-founder Claus Meyer put La Paz on the foodie map with his destination restaurant, Gustu, where he whips up the likes of llama tartare and smoked Amazonian catfish. The gourmet revolution continues at the city’s first vegan fine-dining restaurant, Ali Pacha. Here, owner Sebastián Quiroga uses his culinary know-how picked up at London’s Cordon Bleu school to create plant-based dishes, such as crispy palm hearts and Andean tuber ceviche. Book a room in the city’s first boutique hotel, Atix, an incredible glass and stone haunt lined with local artwork by Gastón Ugalde, where you can grab a unique nightcap – cocktails crafted from native firewaters.

V&A Dundee, the brainchild of designer Kengo Kuma. Image courtesy of Ross Fraser McLean / V&A Dundee

V&A Dundee, the brainchild of designer Kengo Kuma. Image courtesy of Ross Fraser McLean/V&A Dundee

Dundee, Scotland

Something of a surprise contender, Dundee tends to be overlooked by travellers flocking to Edinburgh’s historic charms – but the UK’s only UNESCO City of Design is having a bit of a moment in 2018. The V&A Dundee may have something to do with it, with the first V&A outpost outside London set to open on the city’s waterfront in September. As is fitting for Scotland’s first design museum, the architecture is incredible – a sleek building that evokes a ship’s prow jutting over the water. Inside, the Scottish Design Galleries showcases more than 300 iconic objects, from an Eduardo Paolozzi elephant to Charles Rennie Mackintosh works and a dress by fashion designer Holly Fulton. Elsewhere, there’s the Dundee Contemporary Arts Museum and the Dundee Rep Theatre – home to the Scottish Dance Company. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: the $1.3 billion revitalisation project includes a new train station, art installations, an urban beach and a recently-opened city-centre park hosting summer concerts.

The new Six Senses Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles. Image courtesy of Six Senses Zil Pasyon

The new Six Senses Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles. Image courtesy of Six Senses Zil Pasyon

The Seychelles, Indian Ocean

If you’ve always had your sights set on a castaway experience, now’s your time as British Airways is about to launch the UK’s first direct flights to the Seychelles – a place of buried treasure and haunted caves, if you believe local legend. Shaving three hours from the usual 13-hour flight time – and removing a stop via the Middle East – this new route is also slashing flight costs to £699-plus returns. Cast adrift from Africa’s east coast, this 115-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean is bejewelled with gleaming white-sand beaches, fringed by swaying palms and lapped by turquoise waters. An underwater paradise, the Seychelles is perfect for snorkelling and diving. Alternatively, spend your days island-hopping: Praslin is the site of the UNESCO-listed Vallée de Mai – strewn with rare coco de mer palm trees – while Cousin Island is home to giant tortoises and La Digue is a sleepy speck that’s free from cars. For a slice of luxury, head to the island of Félicité to stay at the new Six Senses Zil Pasyon, where thatched wooden villas are hidden away among dense forest.

The 11 Fountains Hindeloopen by Shen Yuan, one of a series of fountains created for the European Capital of Culture programme. Image courtesy of Friesland Tourism

The 11 Fountains Hindeloopen by Shen Yuan, created as part of the 2018 culture programme. Image courtesy of Friesland Tourism

Leeuwarden, The Netherlands

The joint European Capital of Culture for 2018, Leeuwarden is a lesser-trodden alternative to Malta’s Valletta – but the underrated city has so much to offer. The capital is set within the Dutch state of Friesland, a beautiful pocket of the northern Netherlands where bottle-green forests give way to flower-carpeted meadows, set against a backdrop of wild coastal islands. A plethora of cultural events will be hosted in the capital and the wider Friesland region, from exhibitions to talks and screenings – some giving a nod to homegrown artist MC Escher and exotic dancer and alleged spy Mata Hari. Other highlights include the 11 Friesian Cities Fountains, designed by artists from across the globe, and a mechanical marionette performance by French street theatre company Royal de Luxe. The launch of a Eurostar London-Amsterdam route in April 2018 makes it all the more easy to travel here.

Words by Jo Reeves

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for recommending a visit to our gallery, Fotografia, in Tbilisi, Georgia. Much appreciated!

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