Whether you want to rest on a beach in the Caribbean, hike the world’s most famous canyon, explore ancient ruins, eat delicious cuisine or learn more at historically significant sites this year, CNN Travel has the right spot for you.
Several of our 19 places to visit in 2019 are bouncing back after natural disasters that hit their economies hard. You can do some good while enjoying the beach in Hawaii, Kerala or St. Barts.
Or you can mark the 50th anniversary of man’s first walk on the moon, the 100th anniversary of Grand Canyon National Park, Liechtenstein’s tricentennial and importantly, Ghana’s Year of Return marks 400 years since enslaved Africans arrived in North America.
Whether you want to relax, explore or learn – or all three – there’s a destination on this list for you. Here they are in alphabetical order:
Christchurch, New Zealand
19 top vacation spots for 2019
Many people only associate with Christchurch with its most tragic event – the 2011 earthquake that leveled much of the city and resulted in 185 deaths. But it isn’t the natural disaster that defines a city – it’s the way they choose to regroup and rebuild.
Several years later, Christchurch has been reconstructed to be respectful of locals and to be more thoughtful of the environment, creating a city that feels at once hopeful and dynamic. Vendors who once sold out of a pop-up mall of containers are now moving to brick-and-mortar locations, followed by loyal locals. Colorful street art about hope and resilience has appeared all over the city. Music performances are often held in rotating venues around the city instead of a single opera house or concert hall so more people have a chance to attend.
The elegant Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial pays homage to those who were lost, while the Transitional Cathedral – intended to be, by its name, temporary refuge made of cardboard for locals to go following the quake – has become a permanent part of the cityscape.
Don’t miss: Kakano, a Maori-owned and -operated cooking school and cafe that aims to heal people through food and the Christchurch Art Gallery, which served as home base for post-quake first responders and is now a gorgeous centerpiece for a city on the move.
The land of the Pharaohs has been welcoming tourists for so long, it’s a wonder that archeologists haven’t discovered hieroglyphics depicting backpackers.
Sadly, the country’s tourist trade has taken a battering in recent times with security concerns and political upheaval keeping many visitors away. A December 28, 2018 attack that killed four people near the Pyramids of Giza shows that there are still serious security issues.
While that may deter some, others will continue returning to a country that appears to be taking faltering steps back on to the mainstream tourism circuit.
So what’s different in 2019? Well, while the sand has been settling on deserted classic monuments, Egyptologists have been brushing it gently aside elsewhere to discover a litany of exciting finds, many of which are now being opened to the public.
Mummies, sphinxes, tombs and fresh pyramid mysteries have all been unearthed over the past year, as Egypt proves time and again it has many more secrets yet to be revealed.
And while safety concerns persist, hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, the Valley of the Kings take place without incident each year. Likewise, Egypt’s main Red Sea resorts are considered safe.
Expect a major tourism drive by Egypt in coming months as it gears up to 2020’s expected opening of its highly anticipated Grand Egyptian Museum. Until then, there’s a perfect opportunity to beat the crowds.
Don’t miss: If you can find someone to let you in, the recently opened Tomb of Mehu is a spine-tingling 4,000 years old. Nearby, the ancient Saqqara necropolis complex is where ancient Egypt’s penchant for pyramid building began.
Fascinating history. Incredible eats. Natural beauty. If the Japanese seaside city of Fukuoka isn’t already on your radar, it’s time to recalibrate your Japan travel plans.
Capital of the prefecture of the same name and one of several host cities for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Fukuoka is the gateway to the island of Kyushu.
It’s the perfect destination for those looking to go beyond the well-trodden destinations like Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto and see a new corner of Japan.
Highlights of this city and its surrounding area include the ruins of the 17th-century Fukuoka Castle, the beautiful Kyushu National Museum and Dazaifu Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine that’s home to over 6,000 plum trees that blossom in stunning fashion each spring.
And while we’re on the subject of blooms, another famed destination is the tunnel of wisterias at Kawachi Fuji-en Garden in Kitakyushu, about an hour’s drive from the city. Another worthy day trip is Yanagawa, an hour outside of the Fukuoka, famed for its picturesque canals.
But we’ve saved the best for last: The food.
Due to its seaside position on Japan’s east coast, Fukuoka is a seafood lover’s dream destination and considered one of Japan’s top foodie cities. Just head for the Nagahama Fish Market. The commercial market floor only opens to the public once a month but you can still visit its restaurants, which are open seven days a week.
We do recommend saving space for a bowl of Hakata ramen though. A local specialty, it’s the original tonkotsu ramen and prized for its deliciously fatty pork broth. Try it at Ichiran, a restaurant chain found throughout Japan that originated in Hakata, Fukuoka.
Don’t miss: The impressive Fukuoka Art Museum is reopening in March 2019 following extensive renovations that kicked off back in 2016. It offers a wide range of works from celebrated Japanese and global artists including Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Marc Chagall.
West Africa’s poster nation for economic success and political stability is hoping to trade up its tourism status for 2019, with a campaign targeting the African diaspora whose ancestors were victims of the brutal slave trade of centuries gone by.
The country’s Year of Return marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America. It’s a somber recognition of the evil that befell Ghana’s past inhabitants and their descendants — and the strength with which they’ve faced it.
Legacies of the slave trade are unavoidable. Cape Coast Castle, one of many historic coastal forts, was where slaves were held before being dispatched to America and the Caribbean. This brutal and fascinating reminder was visited by the Obamas in 2009 and Melania Trump in 2018.
For all the sobriety of this anniversary, what also awaits visitors to Ghana is the warm, intoxicating embrace of country completely at ease with its identity rushing headlong toward a bright future.
The capital, Accra, crackles with the dynamism of a city on the upswing, with a nightlife scene to match. For those wanting to escape its relentless excitement, Ghana’s 335-mile coastline boasts empty surfing spots like Cape Three Points, while its many protected wildlife zones, including Mole National Park, are home to wild elephants, Nolan warthogs and spotted hyenas.
Don’t miss: Tongo, a village in the Tengzug Hills of northeastern Ghana, is home to the Whistling Rocks — dramatic arrangements of giant granite slabs that produce strange sounds when winds blow down from the Sahara.
Grand Canyon, United States
One of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Grand Canyon National Park is marking its centennial anniversary in 2019.
Never mind that the canyon is actually about five or six million years old, give or take a few years, with rocks at the canyon bottom dating back some 2,000 million years.
There are human artifacts dating back nearly 12,000 years to the Paleo-Indian period, and the area has been continuously occupied up to the present day.
It was first protected by the US government in 1893, and it became Grand Canyon National Park on February 26, 1919, offering the 1.2 million-acre park the most US government protection possible.
About 277 miles long and a mile deep from rim to river at various points, the park attracted more than 6 million visitors for the first time ever in 2017.
Yet most people view the Grand Canyon by the magnificent South Rim, while some visit the North Rim in season (it closes for the winter).
More adventurous sorts can take two days to hike to the canyon bottom. (Riding a mule is an easier option.) Hikers who trek from rim to rim could take three days one-way, while rafters might take two weeks or more.
Don’t miss: Hiking the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden or even just part way down, suggests award-winning photographer Pete McBride, author of “Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim.” Hiking even a little bit gives people a perspective of the size of the place, he says. “But remember, hiking in is easy. Hiking out is harder. And always bring water and electrolytes.”
Hawaii Island, United States
After a few shaky months, Hawaii Island is back, warmly welcoming visitors to its slice of paradise.
Following the devastating volcanic eruption of Kilauea in May 2018 that impacted air quality, destroyed homes and put a damper on tourism, the island of Hawaii (locals ask that you not call it “the Big Island”) is once again primed to show off its magnificent beauty, astonishingly diverse landscape and relaxed island pace.
Although two-thirds of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed during the Kilauea eruption, much of it reopened in late September, and trails and attractions continue to attract visitors.
Volcano House, located in the park, reopened in early November and boasts top-notch star-gazing along with unparalleled volcano views.
While there are still some closures on the island and within the park, the number of new offerings is impressive enough to please even the most ambitious travelers.
Opening soon is Binchotan Bar & Grill at Fairmont Orchid – think locally sourced seafood and local produce grilled over binchotan or white charcoal.
For locally-inspired brews, head to Ola Brew Co. Go for the Kona Gold Pineapple Cider or the Watermelon Double IPA, and stay to soak up the community vibe.
Resort aficionados, who long for breathtaking sunsets over the water, may wish to stay at the forthcoming Mauna Lani Auberge Resorts Collection, while boutique hotel seekers looking for something a little more rustic and down-to-earth can’t go wrong at the Kamuela Inn, located in Waimea, an area of the island known for its ranching history.
Don’t miss: Hawaii Forest & Trail’s new Volcano Unveiled tour takes guests on an off-road adventure to explore changes to Halemaumau crater.
The Hebrides, Scotland, UK
The most famous of the lot, the Isle of Skye, makes it onto many travelers’ must-see lists, but the lesser-visited Lewis and Harris, the most northerly Outer Hebridean Island, also deserves to be there.
The birthplace of Harris Tweed, the famous cloth that’s been woven, dyed and spun by the islanders for centuries, is also home to its own Stonehenge-style mystery in the Callanish Standing Stones.
Unlike Stonehenge, visitors can get up close to the standing circle of boulders at Callanish, which is believed to have been erected about 5,000 years ago.
For this and Lewis and Harris’ other wonders, it’s worth the drive to Ullapool, close to the northern tip of the Scottish mainland, and the 2.5-hour ferry across a choppy stretch of the Atlantic to explore these islands. Alternatively, there’s the plane from Glasgow straight to Stornoway, the island’s capital.
Each Hebridean island has its own distinctive vibe, but they’re all grounded in a similar small-town community spirit. Islay, the southernmost Hebridean isle, known for its whisky distilleries and incredible beaches, offers a true sense of island life. Driving around, visitors might be more likely to encounter cows than people, but any meeting with an islander will likely earn an “Islay wave” – a friendly acknowledgment from a fellow driver.
Don’t miss: On Islay, head to atmospheric Loch Finlaggan, the late medieval meeting place of the Lords of the Isles, the former rulers of the Hebrides. Ferry provider Caledonian MacBride (CalMac) offers cheap travel between each Hebridean island, but the ride to the Isle of Barra by plane is worth it to experience one of the world’s most picturesque plane landings, descending onto a stunning sandy beach.
Tel Aviv-Yafo is often lumped together as one unit for the convenience of an airport and Google Maps, but 4,000-year-old Yafo (often spelled Jaffa in English) is as different from Tel Aviv as Brooklyn is from Manhattan.
The artsier sister, Jaffa has traditionally been home to narrow streets packed with jewelers, sculptors, antique dealers, candlemakers, painters and more displaying and selling their work. Also making the case for Jaffa as much more than a day trip are the three boutique hotels that opened in 2018 – The Jaffa, The Setai and The Drisco.
How to spend a perfect day there? Have hummus and pita at the jam-packed communal tables at Abu Hassan followed by sweets at Abulafia bakery. Experience the world’s first deaf-blind theater company, Nalaga’at (there’s a cafe next door where all the baristas are deaf and you can learn Israeli Sign Language signs for words like “coffee”), and don’t forget to pick up banana-scented soaps and orange-blossom perfume from Zielinski & Rosen.
Don’t Miss: Jaffa is home to the first whisky distillery in all of Israel, the aptly named Milk + Honey. And before you have to ask – yes, it’s kosher.
This area of India has it all: sun, sea, sand, good food, houseboats, culture and wildlife. Its spectacular natural landscapes – think palm trees and sprawling backwaters – lend the region the nickname “God’s Own Country.”
Severe floods during the summer of 2018 wreaked havoc across this southwestern state, but many of its top tourist destinations escaped unscathed.
Visitors will likely land at Kochi International, an airport powered entirely by solar panels. The ancient port city of Kochi, once occupied by the Portuguese, is a multicultural hub offering plenty to do and see. It’s a great place to check out traditional Kathakali dance, the storytelling dance form known for its colorful and intricate costumes and masks that hails from Kerala.
Kerala is also great for beaches, particularly in the southern part of the state. Postcard-perfect Kovalam is a surfing hotspot, while Varkala is good for just relaxing.
Kerala’s backwaters are famous for a reason: a nexus of waterways linking the regions’ villages and best explored via kettuvallam – a traditional wooden houseboat. It’s worth spending anywhere from a single afternoon to a week on one of the many rental houseboats on offer, enjoying the sights and sounds drifting by.
Other top trips include Munnar to see the tea plantations, and Periyar National Park, a wildlife haven offering guided jungle treks.
Don’t miss: The food – from the spice shops of Munnar to the coconut, which is everywhere in Kerala and used to make one of the state’s signature dishes: Kerala prawn curry.
The world’s sixth smallest country packs a lot within its borders.
Tucked between Austria and Switzerland, the tiny principality of Liechtenstein covers just 160 square kilometers (62 square miles).
Yet castles, museums and spectacular hiking and biking trails are all draws in this sliver of alpine terrain that’s also a banking powerhouse for uber-wealthy international clients.
Liechtenstein has gone unnoticed by most of the world’s tourists during the principality’s 300 years, but the 2019 tricentennial puts the country – with its 37,000 residents – in the spotlight.
Ceremonies, exhibitions and celebrations are planned throughout the year to mark Liechtenstein’s 300th anniversary as a principality.
In May, the Liechtenstein Trail is set to debut. The 75-kilometer (47-mile) trail stiches together a network of existing paths that traverse all 11 municipalities. A new app – complete with Augmented Reality – will help visitors navigate the route.
Hikers looking for a thrill beyond the postcard-perfect landscapes can join a falconer and a golden eagle on a soaring 90-minute hiking adventure near Malbun.
Liechtenstein’s capital, Vaduz, is home to a handful of museums featuring fine art, cultural artifacts, postage stamps and more. The principality’s Treasure Chamber features valuable items belonging to the Princes of Liechtenstein.
Don’t miss: The country’s most precious treasure may be its show-stopping alpine setting, complete with strategically perched fairytale stone castles like the Gutenberg Castle in Balzers.
Athletes and racing adventurers will be working up an appetite in Peru in 2019.
The Pan American and Parapan American Games will be hosted in Lima (July 26-August 11), where nearly 7,000 competitors will vie for dominance in 39 sports. Well before those athletes arrive, 2019 will start full-throttle with the 2019 Dakar Rally on January 6-17.
Starting and finishing in Lima, the Dakar Rally is an 11-day odyssey that involves more than 300 participating vehicles – from motorcycles to trucks – racing along a 5,000-kilometer route in Peru.
All that exertion deserves a delicious reward, and Lima is ready to feed you.
Peru has earned the World’s Leading Culinary Destination distinction for seven consecutive years at the World Travel Awards, and Lima is home to three of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants: Central, Maido and Astrid & Gastón.
Pia León, who along with her husband chef Virgilio Martínez is behind much-lauded Central, opened Kjolle in 2018 in Lima’s trendy Barranco district.
Don’t miss: Mercado 28 is a new gastronomic market in the Miraflores district. The market features an array of eateries offering tapas, Amazonian cuisine, ceviche, cocktails and more.
New York City
Like all the world’s great cities, New York ebbs and flows in a constant state of change and progress, but it’s always a destination worth visiting. So why now?
In June 2019, New York will host World Pride, the world’s biggest LGBTQ celebration, and simultaneously honor its own history with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
The riots took place at an iconic Greenwich Village gay bar – now part of a federally recognized National Monument where queer and trans individuals in the community pushed back against a police raid.
The event marked a major moment for the advancement and recognition of LGBTQ rights in the United States, and its half-century mark is a reminder that New York will always be a home to those in need – as long as you don’t try to push your way onto the subway before everyone else has gotten off.
Beyond the special celebrations, there’s a reason New York’s classics are classics, from the Jackson Pollocks on display at the Met to a plate full of seafood at the 42nd Street Oyster Bar inside the architectural wonder that is Grand Central Terminal.
Don’t miss: The recently revamped New York City Ferry system connects the boroughs in a new, easy way – it’s the best option to get from downtown Manhattan to surfer-friendly Rockaway Beach. And no matter the weather, it’s always the right time for pizza.
Idyllic Normandy on France’s northern coast has a big historical footprint for a long time. It’s the place from which a conqueror named William set sail to tame England nearly 1,000 years ago.
But in 2019, our focus will be on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, the course of world history was altered because of the World War II English Channel crossing that launched the Allies’ bloody liberation of France from Nazi rule.
There are more than 20 cemeteries in Normandy honoring war dead from Allied and Axis countries. The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, is seen in the opening and closing scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” and is a moving experience.
The Utah Landing Beach Museum, where you can see an original B-26 bomber, is one of several you can visit to learn more about the perilous effort. The Musée du Débarquement in the lovely village of Arromanches-les-Bains is another choice.
Bayeux is an excellent staging place for a vistor’s tour of Normandy. While it’s most known for the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the 1066 Norman invasion, it’s also another excellent stop on your D-Day tour.
Don’t miss: Where the Seine River meets the English Channel is Honfleur, home to a picturesque harbor and other points of interest that captured the eye of impressionist Claude Monet. Insiders advise renting a car to truly see all that Normandy has to offer.
Oaxaca, in central Mexico, may not have gotten as much attention as Mexico City or Tulum, but it doesn’t need to try hard to impress visitors, whether through its cuisine, art, ruins or mezcal.
This Mexican city, with its colorful colonial buildings and open-air marketplaces selling a seemingly infinite number of ingredients to make mole, the city’s claim to fame, is a sight to behold.
And speaking of mole, a sauce made from chocolate and ground chiles and ladled generously over many Mexican specialties: Oaxaca is a food destination in its own right. Diners looking to splurge on a meal should check out Casa Oaxaca, which has duck tacos and smoked octopus as well as a small section of the menu devoted to vegan dishes.
Casual diners (and everyone else) should try Oaxaca’s other regional items: the tlayuda. A large griddled tortilla filled with beans, pork fat and cheese, it can be found in restaurants around town and in food markets, such as the Mercado 20 de Noviembre.
After a day or two wandering the picturesque streets, hire a driver or join a tour group and head out of the city center to explore the ruins of Mitla or the city’s UNESCO World Heritage site, Monte Albán, a pre-Columbian architectural site.
Don’t miss: Oaxaca’s bed and breakfast scene is one of the most charming parts of a visit to Oaxaca. The Cabrera Family owns three B&Bs in the area, and they are all highly recommended both for their two-course breakfasts and beautiful rooms: Casa de las Bugambilias, Los Milagros and El Secreto. Of note also is the Casa de Siete Balcones, a bed and breakfast housed in an 18th century building that has preserved many Baroque details.
For golden dunes under panoramic skies, epic mountain ranges and waters teeming with dolphins and turtles, Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula, has it all.
The evocatively named Empty Quarter is the world’s largest sand desert and can be ventured into with guides for your own Lawrence of Arabia adventures. Sharqiya Sands offers resorts and camps and activities such as camel-racing, sand-skiing and 4WD dune-bashing.
The Hajar Mountains, with stunning views over steep canyons, can be explored by horseback or on foot, and can be combined with a visit to the ancient city of Nizwa, with its fort and legendary souk.
Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve is the beach where green turtles come to nest, while there are dolphin-spotting opportunities all along Oman’s generous coastline, including Muscat, the port capital.
The beachside Kempinski Hotel Muscat is Oman’s newest five-star hotel, a diamond-shaped building with a striking geometric façade and a coolly beautiful lobby inspired by water lilies.
The best time to visit is October to April, to avoid the intense summer heat.
The newly expanded Muscat International Airport, with its $1.8 billion passenger terminal, is ready for an influx of visitors to this lesser-discovered Middle Eastern destination.
Don’t miss: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscan is a spectacular example of Islamic architecture. Its prayer hall is filled by a magnificent 70 meter-by-60 meter Persian carpet, woven by 600 women over a four-year period.
Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria, is getting ready to cement its status on the European city break circuit as one of two European capitals of culture for 2019. (The other is the rocky city of Matera, Italy.)
Known for its Roman ruins, Plovdiv was also the onetime stomping ground of Greeks and Ottomans. Its east-meet-west location means there’s a mix of cultural influences, on show at places like the approx 600-year-old Dzhumaya Mosque and the Ottoman-era Chifte Banya – a 16th century bathhouse that now houses modern art exhibits.
In the summer months, Plovdiv’s cobbled streets transform into a bustling festival hub. In June and July, the Opera Open festival is in full swing and visitors can catch performances at the city’s incredible Roman amphitheater. In the hipster Kapana district, which translates as “the Trap,” Kapana Fest offers cultural entertainment in the summer and fall. Wandering Kapana, you’ll spot nightclubs neighboring craft shops and plenty of places to soak up the bohemian, laid-back vibe.
Don’t miss: The Roman ruins – from the Stadium, commissioned by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD to the ruins of the Roman Forum that was once Plovdiv’s administrative center. The highlight of the Roman relics is the city’s ancient theater, which was restored in the mid-20th century and is the perfect spot to watch a performance or two.
St. Barts, French West Indies
Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean and parts of the southern United States in September 2017, leaving in her wake unprecedented destruction and the daunting task of reconstruction.
Islands such as Barbuda, Turks and Caicos, Tortola and St. Martin suffered extensive damage.
A French outpost and haunt for billionaires and celebrities over the past several decades, St. Barthélemy (the formal name for St Barts) was also damaged. But it’s getting closer to full recovery.
Most of the island’s hotels and villas are open, according to the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, which means guests can enjoy the crystal blue waters and lush tropical greenery while spotting its world-famous regulars (walking along white sandy beaches in their swim garb, no less).
Cheval Blanc–St. Barth Isle de France, Le Sereno, Hotel Manapany and The Christopher have already re-opened, and mainstay properties such as Le Guanahani and Eden Rock – St Barth are planning to re-open in late 2019. (Eden Rock’s villas are already open.)
In the spring, St. Barts – which Christopher Columbus named for his brother, Bartolomeo – hosts many events, including the Bucket Regatta on the weekend of March 21st and Les Voiles de St. Barth, a week-long regatta in April that draws over 1,000 sailors and at least 80 boats.
Don’t miss: Visiting during Christmas and New Year’s Eve 2019. A litany of boldface names (possibly Leonardo DiCaprio, Barry Diller, Ellen DeGeneres) pepper the beaches, restaurants and nightclubs with their attendant glitz, as the armada of superyachts and sail boats owned by international captains of industry and Russian oligarchs float in the distance. Locals say the best place to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks show is above Cour Vendome or on the General de Gaulle docks.
Space Coast, Florida, United States
Are you ready to explore outer space? While no one can promise you a tourist adventure to the moon – at least not yet – space fans can still explore the heavenly skies on a trip to the Space Coast.
The 50th anniversary of mankind’s first walk on the moon will be July 20, 2019, and Central Florida’s Atlantic shoreline is ready for the throngs who want to see where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins rocketed off the Earth and into the history books.
At Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, learn all about historic Apollo missions from 1963 to 1972. While the Apollo 11 landing will get the limelight in 2019, you can also see exhibits on the Space Shuttle program, Hubble Telescope and more.
You can also buckle up for a ride in a shuttle launch simulator or attend a status briefing on current NASA missions. A lucky few early planners can celebrate at a gala on July 16 under the Apollo Saturn V rocket.
Don’t miss: Enjoy a couple of non-space outings. At pristine Sebastian Inlet State Park, surfers will like the waves on the ocean side while calmer Indian River Lagoon will appeal to kayakers. The Treetop Trek in nearby Melbourne lets you zip through and frolic in Florida’s arboreal beauty.