Philadelphia was already on the national radar as a foodie and cultural destination, but the Pope’s visit in Sept. 2015 launched the city into the global spotlight. Just 2 months later, it received the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage City designation—making it the first US city to nab the distinction. (The fact that Independence Hall was already deemed a World Heritage Site in 1979 was part of the clincher.) Expect Philly to remain in the spotlight since it will host the Democratic National Convention in July 2016.
Iceland has experienced a steady increase in tourists for the past 5 years, and 2016 should be no different. Chalk it up to a combination of new low-fare flights on WOW Air and Norwegian Air, more airlines offering direct routes (Delta), and Game of Thrones fans eager to visit film locations. Besides the must-see Blue Lagoon, don’t miss the recently opened Into the Glacier tour, which provides unprecedented access inside a glacier via a man-made ice cave.
Rio de Janeiro
Start planning now for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, which will be held from Aug. 5-21. Tickets are still available on Rio’s official site, and hotel package deals with tickets are also available through authorized reseller CoSport. This will be the city’s first time hosting the Olympics, and massive improvements to Rio’s infrastructure are underway. Can’t get into every Olympic event on your wish list? Visit our guide of other top things to do while in Rio.
Dubai has built a reputation on offering the latest and greatest. It already boasts the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, and Dubai Ski, the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East. Now it can add a Hunger Games theme park to the list. Set to open in Oct. 2016, Motiongate Dubai will feature a fictional District 12 and a simulated hovercraft ride. (Unlike the movie portrayal, this version of Hunger Games will be family friendly.) Operated by Dubai Parks and Resorts, Motiongate Dubai will be joined by Legoland and a Bollywood theme park in 2016. Among the new hotel openings, The Langham, Palm Jumeirah, is the latest luxury property that will take up residence on Dubai’s man-made, palm-tree shaped archipelago.
Although 2015 opened the door for US citizens to legally travel to Cuba, the tourism industry, both here and in Cuba, is still catching up. Part of that is due to the fact that while restrictions have been lifted, visiting for the sake of tourism alone is still banned. Luckily there are 12 exemptions for Americans, and traveling for educational purposes through a tour operator is a popular workaround. Expect more options for 2016 as an increasing number of travel companies enter the market. So far the biggest buzz surrounds Carnival Corp., which plans on adding weeklong cruises out of Miami starting in May.
2016 is shaping up to be a big year for castles; for starters, it’s the last year that Downton Abbey fans will be able to enjoy new episodes. In travel news, Ashford Castle in Ireland -- a 13th-century castle cum 5-star hotel that could put the fictional Downton Abbey to shame -- has just completed a 2-year-long, $75 million renovation following new ownership. The entire interior received a complete refresh of everything from the carpets to the décor, and new additions include a 32-seat movie theater. However, perhaps the most impressive addition is the brand-new spa, an ornate, airy sanctuary with 5 treatment rooms, a hammam and indoor pool.
Every year the European Union appoints 2 different European cities with the prestigious European Capital of Culture title. The chosen cities already have a strong cultural scene, but for those under the radar, the distinction helps provide a huge tourism boost. Wrocław (pronounced Vrots-swaf) is Poland’s fourth-largest city, a picturesque place with a town square that dates back to the middle ages. Visitors can expect a jam-packed lineup for 2016, since the city promises more than 1,000 events. A sampling includes the Theatre Olympiad, an international theater festival, the European Film Awards and famed pianist Lang Lang performing with the Washington National Symphony Orchestra.
San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastian is the other European Capital of Culture for 2016, and while it’s better known thanWrocław, it’s no less of a 2016 hotspot. This resort town in the northern Basque region is heralded for its food scene -- although that’s really an understatement, considering it has not one, but 16 Michelin-starred restaurants. Besides the culinary options, visitors can look forward to a cultural schedule with a twist: the city chose “Waves of Energy” as the theme, so anticipate that all of the capital of culture events will possess this conceptual bent. Other major events include the annual Jazz Festival in July and the annual International Film Festival in Sept.
Sri Lanka often gets overlooked in favor of its more popular neighbors, India and the Maldives, but this small island nation offers 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, lush landscapes and no shortage of beaches or elephants. Tourism has rebounded since the decades-long civil war ended in 2009, and luxury hotels are opening at a breakneck pace. Cape Weligama, Ani Villas and Anantara Tangalle Resort & Spa are among the 2015 standouts for unrivaled quality. Anticipated 2016 openings include Shangri-La Hambantota Resort & Spa, a 300-room oasis on the southern coast offering a golf course, spa and Eco Centre, which will educate guests about the local environment. Anantara Kalutara Resort & Spa, a smaller property on the southwest coast, is set to open in January. Rooms will sport authentic Sri Lankan décor, and resort amenities include a yoga pavilion and two outdoor swimming pools. Or you can splurge on a pool villa and get your own private plunge pool.
The Final Frontier: Space
There’s only one spot left on the most intrepid traveler’s bucket list: space. Virgin Galactic’s space flights are still light years away (or at least not happening in 2016). But thanks to the latest Nieman Marcus Christmas Book, those who have been nice have the chance to experience a modified version via a pressurized capsule attached to a giant high-altitude balloon that will carry passengers 100,000 feet above the Earth. The flight seats 6 passengers at a time and will take up to 6 hours, but luckily there’s a bar and bathroom on board. The trip isn’t scheduled until 2017, but the $90,000 gift starts in 2016 with a 3-night stay at Miraval Resort in Tucson, AZ, a tour of Biosphere 2, a scientific research facility with seven contained ecosystems ranging from the desert to the rainforest, and a behind-the-scenes peek at a World View test flight. Better hurry, only 10 packages are up for sale.