When it comes to recent travel trends, authenticity is the gauge with which we measure the success of a memorable holiday, and like-a-local experiences is its currency. With social media abuzz, and travel apps and websites igniting interpersonal experiences, cities are only nexuses of creativity across all disciplines, but veritable hives of cosmopolitan encounter. Here is our carefully curated list of the top cities to visit in 2015.
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out our definitive collection of destinations on the rise for next year.
The currency crash of 2008 can be credited with opening Iceland up to large-scale tourism after its once prohibitive prices hit the floor. But today, now that the economic crisis seems like a distance memory (and prices are once again on the rise), everyone’s hip to the island’s heady mix of hipster-cool hangouts and stark natural landscapes. In fact, the recent outpouring of travel superlative lists is already targeting the next best thing. But what about the rest of Iceland?
With such a large percentage of tourists never leaving Reykjavik’s orbit, many of the island’s other destinations remain sublimely calm. Our pick of the litter is Stykkisholmur (pronounced like sticky-solmer), located about two-and-a-half hours northwest of the capital on the stunning Snaefellsnes peninsula. You might remember it from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, where it was used as the backdrop for Ben Stiller’s Greenland excursion.
Although it’s very much a town by international standards, the little burg of timber-frame houses has a wonderful assortment tourist to-dos including world-class dining, a humbling art installation, a privileged position on a scenic fjord, and Hotel Egilsen, the planet’s most precious boutique hotel, with ten little rooms under the creaky eaves of an old merchant’s mansion.
Guarding the Andean moonscapes and snow-capped volcanoes just beyond, South America’s most underrated city pulls off luscious conquistador architecture and flavorful fusion fare with aplomb. With a recent injection of almost $90 million in dedicated hotel investments (not to mention world-class properties like Casa Gangotena), Ecuador’s capital in the clouds is poised to become the gleaming welcome mat of one of the most geographically diverse countries on the planet.
Yes, you read that correctly. International travel warnings maintain that most of Ukraine is now calm and without unrest, especially Odessa in the southwest part of the country along the Black Sea. Blending the laidback spirit of New Orleans with the reverie of the Adriatic coast, the tree-lined city bustles with coffee hounds and bronzed beach bums who mingle amongst the stunning patchwork of Classicist and Renaissance architecture (including one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world). The city is also the gateway to a sprawling wine valley just beyond, which exports high-quality vintages to dozens of destinations across the globe.
Quite literally the real Shangri-La as it appeared in James Hilton’s book, the Lost Horizon, the city in northern recesses of Yunnan province is flanked by misty mountaintops and scatters of gilded temples. As China’s middle class continues to acquire an unabated taste for travel, the country’s far-flung regions are stepping up their game with the development of much-needed infrastructure. The eponymous Shangri-La hotel chain is building the city’s first luxury property, which is set to welcome guests in 2015.
Wellington, New Zealand
Our Oceania pick is the latest city to wholeheartedly embrace the global Brooklyn movement. And its legion of cafes, bookstores and curio shops has turned the once-staid capital into New Zealand’s most promising urban centre. The island nation’s multitude of cultures—including the local Maori—thrives at the important Te Papa museum on the harbor. Rising up from scooping bay, the steep topography—hemmed by hills of evergreens—promises panoramas at practically every turn.
Edinburgh’s long been the grande dame when it comes to Scotland’s cityscapes of Harry Potter-esque architecture, but the earthier-in-soul Glasgow is the more enlivening place to experience the country’s world-famous hospitality. Go pint for pint with the locals as you (pub)crawl your way across town, enjoy food at such famous hotspots as Café Gandolfi and Ubiquitous Chip, walk through the regenerated Merchant City quarter, and explore a handful of top-notch museums showcasing some amazing art and history, like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens.
Considered by many to be the world’s most diverse city Toronto is a rich cultural tapestry of distinct districts that sprawls towards to the horizon from its eastern beaches and graffiti-riddled boroughs of the emerging west side. In fact Toronto’s become so trendy, that it’s even been featured on the pages of Vogue as having one of the coolest street style scenes on the planet. The city will host a slew of important sporting events in 2015 including the Pan American Games and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Most tourists rarely venture beyond sub-Saharan Africa’s exclusive safaris and stunning beachside resorts, as many of the region’s urban destinations leave much to be desired. But up-and-coming Kigali, Rwanda’s lively capital, is springing back to life with help of some intrepid locals, who are using the power of forgiveness to forge new bonds and propel the East African hub towards modernity. After an important visit to the ++Kigali Genocide Memorial Center—which remembers the appalling massacre of 800,000 Tutsis in 1994—hop on a motorcycle to zip through the city exploring its lively bar scene are define cuisine with strong French influences.
Savannah, Georgia, USA
With a stately historic quarter filled with clapboard-shuttered plantation homes and a reputation for homespun cuisine, Savannah is debuting as the new Charleston—America’s darling southern belle. And the pedestrian-friendly city lays it on thick with traditional trolley tours, estates with blooming azaleas, and shady gardens orbiting cool, trickling fountains. Don’t miss Tybee Island, just 20 minutes away by car, to glimpse how Georgians do beachside fun.
The Baltic Capitals
Over the last five years, all three of the Baltic capitals—Tallinn, Estonia; Riga, Latvia; and Vilnius, Lithuania—were awarded the distinction of being the European Capital of Culture. Although largely considered an engine to drive local tourism, the distinction also comes with a generous infusion of EU funds, and for emerging cities like these northern capitals, the added money has helped to improve local infrastructure.
String the cities together during a weeklong holiday, and the quick two-day stop in each will reveal that the three capitals, though small, are actually quite different from one another. Tallinn feels palpably Scandinavian with its polished old-town brick, seaside positioning and glut of cool cafes. Riga has the largest collection of Art Nouveau facades in Europe, not to mention some fascinating relics from the Soviet occupation. And Vilnius charms with crumbling baroque vibe and wending walks that take in the city’s once-vital Jewish history.