Where to travel in 2023: The best destinations to visit

CNN  — 

As peak vacation season sails into view and the world shakes off the last shackles of the pandemic, it feels like the appetite for hitting the road has never been greater.

International tourism reached 80% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, with an estimated 235 million tourists traveling internationally in January, February and March. And experts are cautiously optimistic about a continued travel rebound.

Demand is high, with many popular destinations booking out earlier in the year.

Thankfully, there’s so much out there still to see and do.

Clint Henderson The Points Guy SCREENGRAB
Travel expert explains why you should book your dream vacation now
02:04 - Source: CNN

Here are 23 destination ideas from CNN Travel to get you started:


From the main square in Krakow, pictured, to forests, lakes and mountains, Poland invites exploration.

We could list new openings in Poland – such as Hotel Verte, the new Autograph Collection property in Warsaw, which threw open its gilded doors (it’s in a humongous Baroque palace) last August. But the reason you should visit Poland in 2023 isn’t for the chance to stay in a place fit for royalty. It’s to show solidarity with a country which has, in turn, shown solidarity to the people of Ukraine.

Sharing a 300-plus-mile border with a country under attack has meant that Poland has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than anywhere else. Add to that plummeting tourist numbers (though they’re on the rise again), and you have a tricky situation.

So whether you fancy that Warsaw palace, a city break to the likes of Krakow, Gdansk, Wrocław or Poznań – all hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border – or to get away from it all in the forests, lakes and mountains of the countryside – now’s your chance to do some good by taking a vacation. – Julia Buckley

Western Australia

A full solar eclipse will be visible in April in Exmouth, Western Australia. The landscape is worth a long look, too.

Back in April, thousands of people descended on the town of Exmouth and the greater Ningaloo Peninsula, to witness a rare total solar eclipse as it became visible over the northwestern edge of Australia.

Organizers spent more than a year planning for the event, which lasted about a minute, and featured musical performances, educational opportunities to learn about science and astronomy, and a three-day festival.

But the state of Western Australia offers much more than some 60 seconds of wonder.

Spanning one-third of the entire continent of Australia, it stretches from the lively, growing state capital of Perth across deserts including the Great Victoria and Great Sandy to the wine country of Margaret River, the dramatic clifftops of the Kimberley and the quokka-covered Rottnest Island. – Lilit Marcus

Liverpool, England

Mersey paradise: Liverpool.

England’s port city of Liverpool, best known around the world as the birthplace of The Beatles, has added another chapter to its musical legacy.

It’s the host city of Eurovision 2023, the spangly extravaganza of song that brings an influx of thousands of flag-waving fans from across the continent. The annual event is an opportunity for the city to bounce back after the ignominy of being stripped of its UNESCO World Heritage status in 2021.

In June, the city will celebrate 25 years of the Liverpool Biennial contemporary visual arts festival, as more than 30 international artists and collectives take over spaces in the city until September.

England is also marking the Year of the Coast in 2023, with food festivals and beach cleans taking place along the country’s shores. Just a half hour from Liverpool city center by train, Crosby Beach is the permanent home of sculptor Antony Gormley’s “Another Place,” where 100 cast-iron figures stand facing out to sea. – Maureen O’Hare

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, a city of undeniable refined, historic beauty, is also looking more closely at its troubled past.

Charleston parades its past like no other US city, but it often glossed over the history of its Black residents. It’s been taking steps to fix that.

Enter the much-delayed International African American Museum, which is now expected to open in late June.

Located on the shoreline of the Cooper River in the spot where many Africans first set foot in North America, it will explore the lives of slaves and their descendants.

Visitors in late May and early June can enjoy the world-renowned Spoleto Festival featuring opera, theater, dance, musical acts and artist talks.

In March, foodies headed to the Charleston Wine and Food Festival to sample Lowcountry favorites.

For fancy Southern fare, try Magnolias. Opened in 1990, it helped spur the city’s culinary renaissance. For something informal, try Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston, where red rice with sausage, fried chicken and lima beans rule. The eatery even caught attention of “Roadfood” author Michael Stern. – Forrest Brown

Vilnius, Lithuania

Self-effacing Vilnius admitted in an ad campaign this year that nobody really knows where it is. If their brilliant video didn’t make you want to book a trip there immediately, perhaps this will: the capital of Lithuania celebrated its 700th anniversary on January 25, 2023.

To mark the milestone, a packed program of events, including music festivals and exhibitions, are being held throughout the year. But use the anniversary as a push to visit rather than following a program religiously.

The entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – putting it up there with its fellow V-cities, Venice and Vienna. Vilnius makes it on the list thanks to its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, all sitting on a medieval street plan, but it’s best known for its Baroque architecture.

Don’t miss the frothy bell tower of St. John’s church (you can climb it for sweeping city views) or the church of St. Casimir, topped by a giant crown. Got an eye for social media? This is Europe’s only capital city that allows hot air balloons to cruise over the city skyline. – JB


Scenes like this await visitors to Fiji.

Brilliant blue waters, expansive coral reefs and hundreds of peaceful islands: Fiji is not a hard sell. But why go there in 2023? For one, the country only reopened post-Covid at the end of 2021, meaning that visitor numbers to the South Pacific paradise have yet to fully rebound.

While the country is spoiled for underwater beauty, take an opportunity to explore its above-ground treasures, too. The country’s lone UNESCO World Heritage site is the town of Levuka, a former capital and an important port, which is studded with British colonial-era buildings amid coconut and mango trees.

To learn about the local Indigenous communities, travelers can take part in a kava welcoming ceremony – named for the traditional drink at its center – or enjoy a lovo, a meal cooked by hot coals in an underground pit covered with banana leaves.

Fiji Airways now has direct flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco, making it relatively easy to get to the islands. As the Fijians say, bula! – LM

Manaus, Brazil

As the fate of the Amazon rainforest hangs in the balance, two eco-lodges around Manaus – the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state, and gateway to the river – have used their pandemic pause to get even more environmentally friendly.

Juma Amazon Lodge, about 50 miles south of the city, is now fully powered by a new $400,000 solar plant, whose 268 double panels swagger nearly 40 feet into the air above the canopy (meaning no trees had to be cut). They’ve also built a biogas system to increase the efficiency of organic waste treatment, reducing annual carbon emissions by eight tons.

Meanwhile, Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, northwest of Manaus on the Rio Negro river, opened an off-grid “advanced base” during the pandemic that’s 30 miles from the main lodge and accessible only via river.

Guests can take long jungle hikes through territory home to jaguars, pumas and giant armadillos in what’s one of the Amazon region’s most remote hotel facilities, then spend the afternoon in a hammock or by the pool. For 2023, the lodge is planning overnight stays in a creekside tent for small groups.

Don’t miss Manaus itself – eating behemoth Amazonian fish outside the pink 1896 opera house is a bucket list experience. – JB

Thessaloniki, Greece

Enticing flavors, history and proximity to beaches and mountains are just a few factors working in this Greek city's favor.

There’s been no shortage of reasons to visit Greece’s second city in recent times, with a UNESCO-endorsed local food scene that recently celebrated the refurb and reopening of its century-old Modiano food market.

Throw in a popular waterfront and proximity to beautiful beaches and inland mountains, Thessaloniki is surely a contender for one of Europe’s best city-break destinations.

What could make it even better? How about a gleaming new metro system? All being well, November 2023 should see the opening of the main line of an infrastructure megaproject that will eventually connect the city’s downtown to its international airport. Driverless trains will whisk passengers through tunnels whose excavation has added to Thessaloniki’s already rich catalog of archeological discoveries, many of which will be on display in specially created museum stations. – Barry Neild


January 2023 saw the official opening of Rwanda’s most exciting hotel yet: Sextantio Rwanda, a collection of traditionally crafted huts on an island on Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s largest lakes.

It’s the first project outside Italy for Daniele Kihlgren, whose part-hotel, part-living history projects keep local tradition alive. A nonprofit delivering money straight to local communities, Sextantio sees guests fishing on the 1,000-square-mile lake, paddling in dug-out canoes, trying local banana beer and wildlife-spotting – and not just the chickens, cows, pigs and goats that roam around the property.

Of course, you’ll want to see gorillas. Adjoining Volcanoes National Park, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund opened the 4,500-square meter Ellen DeGeneres Campus in 2022. Its visitor center includes exhibits, virtual reality gorilla “encounters” and nature trails.

Over in Akagera National Park, white rhinos – transferred from South Africa in 2021 to aid conservation – are already calving. It’s easier to get there, too. A new route from London joins Brussels, Dubai, Guangzhou and Mumbai as the only direct flights to Kigali from outside the African continent. – JB

Gothenburg, Sweden

Voted the world’s most sustainable destination in the world for six years running, Sweden’s second-biggest city is finally emerging from the shadow of Stockholm.

Once a major trading and shipping town, Gothenburg is now considered to be one of the greenest destinations in Europe, with 274 square meters (2,950 square feet) of green space per citizen, while 95% of its hotels are certified as eco-friendly.

Although Gothenburg officially turned 400 in 2021, the celebrations were put on ice because of the global pandemic. But they’re finally taking place in 2023, so it’s a great time to visit.

Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustav, who celebrates 50 years on the throne this year, will be in town on June 4, Gothenburg’s official birthday, and the city’s major anniversary festival is being held in the Frihamnen port district from June 2 to 5, with concerts and art events among the activities on offer.

The festivities will continue throughout the summer until the September 3 kick off of Göteborgsvarvet Marathon, a new 26-mile race following on from the city’s popular half marathon on May 13. – Tamara Hardingham-Gill

Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates

The Dhayah Fort in Ras al-Khaimah is one of the few remaining hill forts in the United Arab Emirates.

When travelers think of the United Arab Emirates, the dazzling skyline of Dubai is usually what springs to mind.

But the UAE has a lot to offer nature lovers too – particularly the northernmost emirate Ras al-Khaimah, which is aiming to become the Middle East’s most sustainable destination by 2025 thanks to a new “Balanced Tourism” strategy.

Just 45 minutes from Dubai, it’s often called the “adventure Emirate,” and for good reason. Offering beaches, deserts and mountains, outdoor attractions abound, such as sand boarding, trekking, wakeboarding, skydiving, scuba diving and even the world’s longest zipline.

But it’s not all about the adrenaline rush. Ras Al Khaimah is where you’ll find the highest restaurant in the United Arab Emirates, 1484 by Puro, which sits in the emirate’s Jebel Jais Mountains. Culture seekers can head for the historic Dhayah Fort, which dates back to the Late Bronze Age (1600-1300 BC).

Where to stay? Luxury hospitality brand Anantara is opening a fabulous new resort there later this year that will offer 174 guestrooms, suites and overwater villas along with specialty restaurants and a spa. – Karla Cripps


Three-tiered Kuang Si Falls is just south of UNESCO-listed Luang Prabang.

Sharing borders with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar, landlocked Laos has long been a must-hit spot for time-rich travelers making their way through the Southeast Asia circuit.

But now, thanks to the 2021 opening of a semi-high-speed railway, it’s easier than ever to get around the country at a quicker pace, shaving hours off journeys that previously took full days to travel.

You’re still going to have to make some hard choices – there’s a lot to see in Laos.

Towering karst peaks await visitors to adventure-haven Vang Vieng, while UNESCO-listed Luang Prabang is filled with French-colonial heritage, Buddhist ritual and natural beauty. (Luxury seekers will want to check into the Rosewood Luang Prabang, with its stylish hilltop tents)

The mysterious Plain of Jars, a megalithic archaeological site, can be found in the Xiangkhoang Plateau. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience that makes a difference, head for Bokeo Province and join one of the Gibbon Experience’s overnight treks. Guests of this tourism-based conservation project spend the night in the world’s tallest treehouses – only accessible by zipline – among wild, black-crested gibbons. – KC

Gruyères, Switzerland

Rolling hills, medieval buildings – and the officially crowned world’s best cheese. Welcome to Gruyères, Switzerland.

Everywhere you look in this tiny, hilltop town, there’s a different picture-perfect view – from the medieval market square to the turreted 13th-century castle. A doable day trip from Geneva, summer promises hiking opportunities aplenty, while winter allows for venturing to the nearby Moléson-sur-Gruyères ski resort.

To taste Gruyères’ namesake fromage, stop off at the wood-lined Chalet de Gruyères. And to learn how cheesemakers perfect this creamy goodness, head to La Maison du Gruyère factory. For further foodie delights, there’s the Maison Cailler chocolate factory – from the outside it looks like something from a Wes Anderson movie, inside it offers a glimpse into the secrets of Swiss chocolate making.

Gruyères is also home to the surreal HR Giger Museum, celebrating the work of the acclaimed Swiss artist behind the eponymous alien in the 1979 movie “Alien.” A drink at the museum’s bar, designed by Giger in an eerie skeletal aesthetic, offers an antidote to Gruyères’ fairytale vibe. – Francesca Street

Minneapolis, Minnesota

A modern Indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis has earned one of the culinary world’s highest honors, and it’s not alone in shining light on Native communities in the area.

At Owamni, a James Beard Award winner for best new restaurant, Indigenous ingredients – trout, bison, sweet potatoes and more – make up “decolonized” menus where ingredients such as wheat flour and beef are absent. The restaurant is a partnership between chef Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota and Dana Thompson, who is a lineal descendant of the Wahpeton-Sisseton and Mdewakanton Dakota tribes.

Earlier this year, one of the pair’s community-owned initiatives, Indigenous Food Lab, opened a market in Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market, a former Sears building housing businesses that represent more than 22 cultures.

The open-air Four Sisters Farmers Market (Thursdays June through October) also focuses on Indigenous products. And at the Minnesota History Center in neighboring St. Paul, the exhibit “Our Home: Native Minnesota” looks at thousands of years of Native history in the state. – Marnie Hunter

Bogotá, Colombia

While Colomia's busy capital can be congested, it's also home to the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria.

Caribbean coast destinations such as the Rosario archipelago or the UNESCO heritage list city of Cartagena are rightly top of most Colombia travel wish lists, but also deserving a look-in is the country’s somewhat unsung capital of Bogotá.

Yes, it’s a messy, traffic-snarled urban sprawl, but it’s also a high-altitude crucible of culture and cuisine. There are tours that chart the city’s transformation from graffiti wild west to incredible street art gallery.

Equally colorful are the restaurants that make the most of Colombia’s diverse natural larder of flora on menus that range from delicious peasant dishes to mind-blowing Michelin-level gastronomy. And then there’s the coffee!

The congestion (except on regular cycle-only days) thins quickly on its outskirts, allowing day trips to see historic and modern treasures. Itineraries include Lake Guatavita, where conquistadors once plundered sunken gold offerings left by indigenous Muisca people, or the majestic subterranean Zipaquirá salt cathedral. – BN

Mustang Valley, Nepal

Famed for its mountain treks through ancient trails that once facilitated trade between the Himalayas and India, Nepal’s stunning Mustang Valley sits on the doorstep of Tibet.

Expect to hear a lot more about this remote destination in the coming months thanks to the arrival of the soon-to-open Shinta Mani Mustang. Part of the Bensley Collection, this all-inclusive resort perched above the small town of Jomsom in the Lower Mustang will offer luxury seekers 29 suites inspired by traditional Tibetan homes.

In addition to trekki