Travel and Leisure’s annual list of the 50 biggest, buzziest destinations to visit this year include France’s new culture hub, a revived Hawaiian hideaway and Mexico’s next great arts city.
Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway close to home, a farther-flung bucket-list trip—or even a multi-stop tour that combines, say, the art- and design-filled Taipei, the classic Chinese retreat of Hangzhou, and the hip surf community of Canggu, Bali—consider the 50 incredible destinations on this list a road map for your planning and inspiration in 2016.
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Rarely does a single accord return one of the world’s great civilizations to center stage, but the recent nuclear agreement with the UN Security Council may well accomplish that for Iran. With 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites and a history of empire going back to 1000 B.C., Iran was a major destination before the revolution of 1979. Now intrepid travelers are rediscovering the vibrant, surprisingly cosmopolitan capital of Tehran; the gorgeous architecture and Great Bazaar of Esfahan; the mosques of Kashan, the retreat of Safavid kings; and the extraordinary gardens of Shiraz. There’s plenty to celebrate about modern Iranian culture, too: the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, founded by the shah in 1977, holds an impressive collection of Western art. Also in Tehran, the nonprofit art center Sazmanab is a showcase for emerging talent. Since the tourist visa availability is in flux, the best way to visit is with an operator—U.K.-based Exodus and Canada-based G Adventures offer comprehensive trips.
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With cobblestoned streets, historic buildings, and preeminent museums, Lille, just an hour from Paris, has all the trappings of a charming destination. And now, with exciting developments in dining, fashion, and art, it’s emerging as France’s cultural cradle of the north. Look for indoor and outdoor art exhibitions from Lille3000, a city-sponsored program, and the Modigliani retrospective at the modern art museum LaM. Another city-backed project, Maisons de Mode, supports emerging fashion designers by providing them with retail space and business mentorship. Head to Rue du Faubourg des Postes to shop at the stores of two recipients: ethical fashion label Sainte Courtisane and jeweler Constance L. In the old town, there are specialty coffee shops like Caféine Coffee, craft-beer dens like Les Bières de Célestin, and neo-bistros like Bloempot, where Florent Ladeyn serves Flemish dishes like duck tartare. Stay at the five-star Clarance Hotel Lille, which has earned attention for its 18th-century bones dressed up with contemporary furnishings. All 19 rooms and suites are named after Baudelaire poems, and chef Nicolas Pourcheresse, who trained with Alain Passard, helms the restaurant, La Table.
Virginia’s capital, with its Civil War monuments, distinctive architecture, and intriguing galleries, has started to draw a cosmopolitan crowd. For an ideal weekend trip, start by checking in to the new Quirk Hotel, in a former department store. Then tour nearby Jackson Ward, a beautiful neighborhood that was once the epicenter of Richmond’s black culture, and roam the many restaurants and galleries of Broad Street on foot or on a hotel bicycle. Make time to take in the architecture of Monument Avenue and shop in Carytown for labels like A.P.C. and Herschel at Need Supply Co. Some of the best restaurants in town are in the Church Hill neighborhood: try the gastropub fare at Dutch & Co. or the Southern poutine at The Roosevelt. Finally, stock up on vegan baked goods at WPA or wood-fired traditional breads at Sub Rosa before tackling a bike ride along the 52-mile-long Virginia Capital Trail. Reward yourself afterward with a craft beer at the Hardywood Park brewery.
—Sara Ruffin Costello
Mexico’s second city is a hotbed of creativity, thanks to an ebullient jazz scene, the popular Guadalajara International Book Fair, a prestigious film festival, and a well-supported community of visual artists. The murals alone are spectacular—there are a few by José Clemente Orozco, a contemporary of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, in the Government Palace, and one by Alegria del Prado, a pair known for their electric work, near the University of Guadalajara’s museum of art. There’s a game-changing hotel, too: Grupo Habita’s Casa Fayette, an Art Deco mansion transformed by fashionable design firm Dimore Studio. At its restaurant, try chef Trevor La Presle’s grilled Veracruz snapper with fried garlic vinaigrette. From the balcony of the eighth-floor suite you can look down at the hotel garden—where La Presle grows mint, cilantro, tomatoes, and lettuce—or gaze out over the city’s impressive skyline and antenna-capped Cerro de Cuatro beyond.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
The Isthmus of Panama is home to some of the purest natural beauty in Latin America: dense tropical rain forests, wide savannas, coral reefs bursting with aquatic life, and delightfully deserted beaches. The latest idyllic spot to emerge on travelers’ lists is Bocas del Toro, an archipelago made up of nine islands and hundreds of cays and islets. In the country’s northeastern corner—a one-hour flight from either Panama City or San José, Costa Rica—it’s a sanctuary where the main mode of transportation is a wooden motorboat, dolphins swim through crystalline waters, and dockside restaurants serve the local fishermen’s catch of the day. Bocas Town, the archipelago’s main village, is equal parts rickety and charming, with tin-roofed wooden houses converted into colorful boutiques, guesthouses, and restaurants—head to Ultimo Refugio for the best food in town. And while Bocas isn’t losing its ruggedness anytime soon, a new hotel is likely to redefine tourism there. Sarani Resort, scheduled to open this summer, will bring unprecedented style to the area. The 35 hardwood bungalows, on 75 acres, were designed with the quiet mood of a Balinese resort in mind. There will be an infinity pool, an outdoor bar crafted from old wooden boats, and a restaurant serving organic Caribbean food.