Summer 2023 is poised to be a travel blockbuster. Globally, international arrivals were already at 80% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023, and a strong summer is expected in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. That means planning a summer vacation this year could pose a challenge to travelers, as flights to many destinations are filling up and some airlines are charging record airfares. Hotels and rental properties are booking up in popular locations, too. So if you’re still thinking of taking a summer vacation, act quickly and consider the following destination ideas to get you started: Madrid, Spain Madrid is “the most underrated” capital in Europe, says Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of EMBARK Beyond, a luxury travel advisory. The city offers a buzzy food scene and fabulous shopping, “all at a fraction of the cost of its more famous neighbors.” The city’s art and culture are world-class; the Prado and Reina Sofia museums are just two of city’s many cultural offerings. Ezon also considers Madrid the “perfect base” from which to explore other famous Spanish destinations such as Toledo, Segovia and Seville. New York City Perhaps the Big Apple’s biggest story this summer is the citywide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the birth of hip-hop, on August 11, 1973, by DJ Kool Herc at a birthday party in the Bronx. The anniversary celebration includes exhibits at the Bronx Terminal Market, New York Public Library, Museum of the City of New York, Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and Queens Public Library, as well as an open mic June 30 at the Columbus Library and Hush Tours’ three-hour “birthplace of hip-hop” tour, which visits Harlem and the Bronx. Cape Town, South Africa Considered by many to be the world’s most beautiful city – home of Table Mountain and the Cape Point Nature Reserve, among many gorgeous sights – Cape Town offers wonderful value compared to higher-priced and crowded summer vacation destinations in Europe and the Mediterranean. It also offers world-class dining, tours of multiple nearby wine farms or estates, and opportunities to paraglide, rappel, swim with seals and kayak with penguins. Piedmont region, Italy Instead of Italy’s crowded Amalfi Coast, head northwest to Piedmont, says Jen Tenzer, another EMBARK Beyond travel advisor. The region “has it all – luxury accommodations, ancient castles, Michelin-rated dining and stunning vistas.” The Piazza Duomo restaurant housed in a palazzo in Alba holds a coveted three Michelin stars as well as a green star for sustainability. Other possible diversions include vineyard visits and even summer truffle-hunting. Los Angeles, California Tinseltown is marking its own major anniversary: the centennial of its iconic Hollywood sign, erected in 1923 for $21,000 by Los Angeles Times publisher Howard Chandler as a billboard for his upscale Hollywoodland real estate development. For free views of the sign, take a hike in Griffith Park, Runyon Canyon or Bronson Canyon, or stop by the reservoir at Lake Hollywood Park for a stroll or picnic and direct view of the sign. Peru Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck, a tour operator, recommends Peru, where the political protests earlier this year have died down; the US State Department’s travel advisory for Peru is now at the same level as Spain and the United Kingdom. The dollar is strong here, and, as Tombaugh says, “Peruvians are welcoming travelers back with open arms.” Top sights include the capital city of Lima where there’s a world-renowned dining scene, the Sacred Valley of the Incas outside Cusco and Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site that UNESCO calls “probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height.” Santa Fe, New Mexico Santa Fe is never jam-packed, according to Janel Carnero, an EMBARK Beyond travel adviser who recommends a visit to the United States’ oldest state capital city, founded in 1610. Santa Fe’s rich history of Hispanic, Native American and Anglo cultures can be seen in its art, architecture, cuisine and traditions. Visitors can “breathe in the fresh air of local markets,” Carnero says, “watch a local artist create a masterpiece right in front of them,” and be captured by “sunsets and stars.” Among the markets, the Santa Fe Artists Market is held Saturdays from March to December and the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market is on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Vienna, Austria Vienna is poised “to be one of Europe’s leading destinations, an indoor/outdoor city that is multicultural and celebrates its history, music, art and culinary scenes,” says Virtuoso, a global network of travel agencies specializing in experiential and luxury travel. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair; the 200th anniversary of the founding of world-renowned Viennese glass manufacturer Lobmeyr; and the 300th anniversary of the opening of the palatial Belvedere Museum, all celebrated with special exhibitions. Buenos Aires, Argentina This gorgeous, cosmopolitan city is the capital of Argentina, culture capital of Latin America and tango capital of the world, not to mention the birthplace of Pope Francis. It also has many terrific hotels, including the Alvear Icon Hotel & Residences in Puerto Madero, a lively neighborhood that was once a port. And perhaps most importantly, the city offers excellent value, in part because it will be the winter/low season there during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer. Malta This island country off the coast of Italy offers a unique combination of Mediterranean and Arabic cultures. It’s home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including megalithic temples that date to the 4th millennium BC. And the fortified capital city of Valletta, another UNESCO site, is “one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.” The archipelago also provides opportunities for dining, sailing and nightlife, as well as numerous religious sites. Parts of “Game of Thrones” were filmed here; fans can tour the locations. Thailand Thailand offers a terrific respite “from crowded tourist spots in Europe,” says Deborah Gellis, of EMBARK Beyond. Highlights here include beach resorts such as Koh Samui and Phuket, the bustling national capital of Bangkok and the northern province of Chiang Rai, famous for its Buddhist temples. Although summer is the rainy season, Gellis says showers are often brief and intermittent. Flights to Thailand could be pricey because of limited capacity, but once you get there it’s a terrific value. Albania Albania is a Mediterranean gem that’s likely to be less crowded this summer than Greece and Croatia, says Joao Donadel, another EMBARK Beyond travel advisor. It has a gorgeous coastline with pristine beaches; Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once a Greek colony and Roman city, later abandoned during the Middle Ages; plus opportunities to hike, trek and explore the great outdoors.