2012 Hottest Destinations
From sea to outer space, check out our picks for the hottest travel destinations in 2012.
When the 2012 Summer Olympics get rolling in July, millions of visitors will descend on the British capital. The first event ticket application window has closed, but officials plan to release more during the winter. While you’re in London, don’t miss the Making of Harry Potter studio tour at Leavesden Studios, where all 8 Harry Potter films were shot. The tour officially opens in spring 2012. 960 1280
Necker IslandNecker Island
Sir Richard Branson’s exclusive island getaway in the British Virgin Islands suffered a devastating fire in summer 2011 that destroyed the resort’s Great House. Actress Kate Winslet famously helped save Branson’s 90-year-old mother from the inferno, carrying her down slippery stairs in the midst of hurricane-force rain and wind. The Great House is scheduled to be rebuilt by the end of 2012, and in the meantime, 7 luxurious Balinese homes dot the island and are currently open for business. 960 1280
TitanicNorth Atlantic Sea
April, 15, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage and sinking of the Titanic. At least 2 companies are offering memorial cruises with itineraries that include key ports of call, as well as experts, family members’ descendants and memorial services at the wreck site. Two expedition ships will go a step further, offering guests the opportunity to dive to the wreck in submersible vehicles. Cost is approximately $66,000 per person for divers and $12,000 for non-divers. Visitors to the Titanic’s embarkation port of Southampton can tour the Sea City Museum, which is slated to open in 2012. 960 1280
According to legend, the world will end in 2012 because the ancient Maya calendar, which spans 5,000 years, mysteriously ends on Dec. 21. Belize will host several events on and around the predicted apocalypse. The ruins of Xunantunich will be the location of Belize’s main event on Dec. 21, where festivities will include a concert and light show on the ruins, plus a fire ceremony to usher in the next 5,125 years. 960 1280
2012 will usher in epic levels of fanboy drool in anticipation of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films, set for release in December. Why not celebrate with a jaunt to the island nation where it all began with the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy? Visitors can ride a jet boat or fly in a helicopter to tour the trilogy’s shooting locations. Then hop over to the town of Matamata on the north island where Jackson is currently filming in nearby Hobbiton. 960 1280
This city in northern Portugal has been dubbed the European Capital of Culture in 2012. Building on an already robust arts scene, 2012 will see the city showcasing the work of creative artists from Portugal and across Europe. Don’t miss a tour of the medieval old city, a Unesco World Heritage Site, where you can wander a maze of red-roofed, colonnaded buildings, palaces and a central castle. 960 1280
If you haven’t been to NYC lately, 2012 would be a good time to visit. The Conrad New York, slated to open in early 2012, is the city’s newest all-suite luxury hotel. Located in the heart of lower Manhattan's Battery Park City, the future hotel boasts views of the Hudson River, is adjacent to the Hudson River Park and is a great base from which to explore lower Manhattan neighborhoods like SoHo and TriBeCa, as well as the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. 960 1280
Celebrating its first year of independence since the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao is a cosmopolitan Caribbean island where flavors of both Europe and the West Indies mingle with white sand beaches, turquoise seas and vital coral reefs. Take a spin around the capital, Willemstad, where gabled colonial architecture is splashed with playful Caribbean color, then grab a snorkel and mask and take a dip in the Curacao Underwater Marine Park. 960 1280
Travel to the middle of the New Mexico desert to tour Spaceport America, the world’s first commercial spaceport. Follow the Sun Tours offers exclusive public access to the site, with tours that include visits to the vertical launch area and vertical mission control building, as well as construction areas like the airfield, spaceport operations center, fuel storage complex and iconic terminal hangar facility. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to begin flying paying customers into space from the facility before the end of 2012. 960 1280
We can’t ignore the fact that this little gem on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and its capital city, Muscat, is on all sorts of 2012 must-see lists, including those from Lonely Planet and National Geographic. While neighboring oil-rich countries are erecting skyscrapers, Oman is adding an opera house and planting desert gardens amid the capital’s white stone buildings. We want to go to there. 960 1280
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage FestivalCelebrate the homegrown music and culture of the Big Easy at this annual jazz fest. This year’s lineup showcases old and new music greats, including John Mayer, the Dave Matthews Band, Earth, Wind & Fire, Fleetwood Mac, Maroon 5, The Black Keys, Patti Smith, Gipsy Kings and blues legend B.B. King. 960 1280
Patrouille des GlaciersTake in Switzerland’s grand vistas in this ski mountaineering race. Held every 2 years at the end of April, the nearly 32-mile-long race organized by the Swiss Army occurs in the southern part of the canton of Valais, below the summits of Switzerland’s Pennine Alps. By foot and ski, this mountaineering trek will be one for the memory books. 960 1280
Coachella Valley Music and Arts FestivalHead to Southern California’s Coachella Valley for this 3-day music fest. This year’s featured performers include alternative rock pioneers like The Stone Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers. It also pays to think green: Drive to the event with 4 or more people in your car, marked “carpoolchella,” and a secret spotter may give everyone in the car VIP tickets. 960 1280
Earth DayBe part of an awe-inspiring effort: Every year more than 1 billion people worldwide gather to protect Mother Earth. Held on April 22, this global campaign unites individuals, communities and more in an effort to combat climate change. In the weeks beforehand, another global event occurs: Earth Hour, in which individuals from more than 135 countries gather in a show of solidarity to protect the environment, as in this shot taken in Dubai. 960 1280
Amsterdam’s Tulip SeasonTake in the breathtaking burst of color at Amsterdam’s Keukenhof Gardens. The world’s largest flower garden spans 70 acres, with more than 7 million bulbs in bloom come springtime: In addition to tulips, visitors can enjoy gardens of daffodils, hyacinths, gladioli and hyacinths -- you’ll want to make sure your camera phone has plenty of juice to capture this show. 960 1280
Arctic Circle RaceReady for a seriously awe-inspiring challenge? This annual skiing race is billed as “world’s toughest ski race” -- and that’s no exaggeration. Held in Sisimiut, Greenland, this extreme cross-country skiing event sees participants traverse nearly 100 miles, over the course of 3 days, through the stunning and sometimes harsh Greenlandic terrain. 960 1280
Iceland’s First Day of SummerWith winter days that offer only 4 or 5 hours of daylight, the coming of summer is welcomed as a national holiday in Iceland. Even though the climate in late April isn’t summer-like just yet, after a long winter it’s still a welcome reprieve -- and the perfect excuse for Icelanders to celebrate with a lineup of parades, sporting events and other outdoor fun -- pony ride, anyone? 960 1280
NCAA Final FourFrom awe-inspiring blocks to incredible dunks, see the most dramatic moments in men’s college basketball play out at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome this April. See the dizzying speed of March Madness conclude as the Final Four vie for the championship trophy. And the winner is …? 960 1280
Masters TournamentOne of the 4 big-daddy events in professional golf, the Masters is the place to be this month for golf pros and enthusiasts alike. With Augusta National Golf Club as the home base, this year’s event is sure to hold plenty of nail-biting moments, like whether Tiger Woods can end his 5-year majors slump with a win on golf’s biggest stage. 960 1280
Berck-Sur-Mer Kite FestivalSee Europe’s biggest kite festival soar to astounding heights. Held annually in the French commune of Berck-sur-Mer, along northern France’s Opal Coast, the event draws kite fliers from all over the world, who dazzle with colorful, air-borne creations before crowds of roughly 600,000 spectators. 960 1280
National Park WeekIncredible natural beauty is yours -- for free -- during National Park Week in late April. Enjoy free entrance to any of 401 national parks nationwide, taking in the sights of seashores, battlefields, archaeological sites, historic homes and magnificent natural wonders such as the many countless waterfalls at Yosemite National Park. 960 1280
Boston MarathonFew endurance competitions are more awe-inspiring than this: The world’s oldest annual marathon -- and one of the world’s most prestigious road-racing events -- held the third Monday of April, on Patriots’ Day. Here, Canada’s Joshua Cassidy races to the finish line in the men’s wheelchair race. 960 1280
Biltmore Flower FestivalHow’s this for a majestic sight: more than 72,000 tulips, spanning 4 acres, at Biltmore Estate. The stately grounds, tucked in the mountains of Asheville, NC, include the Walled Garden, where you’ll find all those vibrant tulips, as well as the Azalea and Spring Gardens, where your eyes can gorge on even more blooms. 960 1280
Toonik TymeMind-blowing creations await at the annual Inuit festival of Toonik Tyme, a weeklong event that welcomes back the sun to the Arctic. But, being just 100 miles from the Arctic Circle, it’s still mighty cold: Among the event’s headliners is an ice sculpture competition in a town called Auyuittuq -- an Inuktitut word that means “the land that never melts.” In years past, ice-carving competitors have competed for what just may be the ultimate prize round this neck of the woods: airline tickets for a trip down south (naturally). 960 1280
Awe-Inspiring April 14 Photos
Rio de Janeiro, BrazilBefore the excitement of the upcoming World Cup and Summer Olympics, celebrities like Madonna, Gerard Butler, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have long flocked to Rio's Ipanema Beach for a piece of tropical paradise (and perhaps a few caipirinhas at Carnival).
A-List Accommodations: Fasano Hotel, Copacabana Palace 960 1280
St. BartsThis glamorous Caribbean island boasts glitzy nightlife and glamorous sunbathing at St. Jean beach where you can rub elbows with celebrities like Jay-Z and Beyonce or Jessica Alba, who dock their yachts at the glistening port.
A-List Accommodations: Eden Rock, Hotel Saint Barth Isle De France 960 1280
St. Tropez, FranceThis Cote d'Azur seaport continues to attract celebrities including Cindy Crawford, Tom Cruise, Rihanna, P. Diddy, Jack Nicholson and Catherine Zeta-Jones to its over-the-top beach clubs like Club 55, first made famous by French beauty Brigitte Bardot.
A-List Accommodations: Intercontinental Carlton Cannes, Villa Romana Club & Restaurant 960 1280
Bondi Beach, SydneyWith its world-famous surfing and sailing under the Harbour Bridge to Coogee's cliff tops, Bondi Beach attracts celebrities like Nicole Richie, Hugh Jackman, Paris Hilton and Leonardo DiCaprio when they are looking for a little adventure Down Under.
A-List Accommodations: The Park Hyatt in the Rocks, InterContinental Hotel 960 1280
Cabo San Lucas, MexicoJust a 2-hour flight from Los Angeles, it's no wonder this Mexican resort city has become a mainstay for stars like Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Ryan Seacrest and Julia Roberts looking for a little rest, relaxation and … margaritas.
A-List Accommodations: Las Ventanas al Paraiso, Esperanza, One&Only Palmilla 960 1280
Maui, HawaiiOf Hawaii's many islands, Maui seems to attract the most star power, whether it’s Paris Hilton vacationing with her flavor of the week or Brian Austin Green and Megan Fox tying the knot on its romantic coast. Who are the other stars giving Hawaii a resurgence of star power? Owen Wilson, Oprah, Justin Bieber and Britney Spears, to name a few.
A-List Accommodations: Four Seasons Resort Maui, Grand Wailea 960 1280
Lake Como, ItalyOne name -- George Clooney -- comes to mind when you conjure up images of Lake Como. Can't you just see yourself relaxing at his oceanfront 18th-century villa alongside Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and half a dozen of his other famous pals? Well, one can daydream.
A-List Accommodations: Villa D’Este, Grand Hotel Tremezzo 960 1280
South Beach, MiamiShe may still be "Jenny From the Block," but it's no secret that Jennifer Lopez has spent plenty of time in sexy South Beach. Miami's bustling nightlife and Art Deco charms have also convinced stars like the Kardashians and Shakira to vacation stateside.
A-List Accommodations: Fonatinebleau, The Delano 960 1280
Necker IslandRichard Branson's 74-acre private island estate has been rebuilt after a tragic fire in 2011 (when Kate Winslet heroically carried his mother to safety). We're sure it will continue to host the very rich and very famous, such as Oprah, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg, for years to come.
A-List Accommodations: You have to join the ranks of these gazillionaires to afford to rent out this private estate. 960 1280
Turtle Island, FijiWhat superstar doesn't value their privacy? This super-secluded resort has nearly 100 staffers on hand to cater to a maximum of 28 guests at a time. Both Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears have honeymooned here (with their now exes).
A-List Accommodations: Turtle Island 960 1280
Amalfi Coast, ItalyBrad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's mutual attraction is rumored to have been sparked at the picturesque cliff-side Hotel Santa Caterina while filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith -- and with vistas like that, who could blame them?
A-List Accommodations: Hotel Santa Caterina 960 1280
Bora Bora, French PolynesiaThe privacy that these over-the-water bungalows provide (not to mention the romance) have attracted stars like the Kardashians, Nicole Kidman, Eva Longoria, Rob Lowe, Sharon Stone and Charlize Theron.
A-List Accommodations: Four Seasons Bora Bora, Bora Bora Nui Resort 960 1280
Malibu, Los AngelesOf course, the No. 1 beach for celebrity-spotting would be right in their own backyard. Here, David Beckham catches a wave with sons Cruz, Brooklyn and Romeo in Malibu.
A-List Accommodations: Malibu Beach Inn, Four Seasons Los Angeles, Chateau Marmont 960 1280
Celebrities' Favorite Beach Vacations 15 Photos