Each year, there’s one day in our calendar that brings us a joy equal to that which Mim feels at Christmas (Mark is a festive grinch): the day that Lonely Planet releases their ‘Best in Travel’ for the next year.
For us, it’s like a big game of travel bingo; the two of us poring over their lists trying to match their picks with where we’ve been and where we’re planning to go (and patting ourselves on the back for being so on-trend), while getting all inspired by the places we didn’t even know we wanted to see yet.
The release of the Best in Travel list also gets us thinking about all the incredible places we’ve been fortunate enough to visit in the last 12 months ourselves, and it’s safe to say we’ve been doing plenty of travel research of our own. Here’s our own personal guide to the 10 best destinations to visit in 2018!
OUR TOP 10 DESTINATIONS TO VISIT IN 2018
#1 PORTO, PORTUGAL
We discovered the antique charm of Porto on a warm weekend in early December last year, and we’ve been dreaming about going back to explore its quaint alleyways ever since.
Once a thriving port city with the Duoro as its epicentre, today the UNESO-listed city of Porto offers up an authentic slice of Portuguese life. Days here are made for lazy strolls, sangria-hazed afternoons, overindulging in delicious coastal cuisine and Port, and watching the sunset from one of the city’s many beautiful vantage points. And there’s Pasteis de Nata – need we say more.
#2 MENORCA, SPAIN
Often overlooked for its more boisterous, party-loving Balearic neighbours, the Spanish island of Menorca is quite simply, paradise. For two sun-starved London-dwellers in desperate need of some vitamin sea and sun, the week we spent here in May was utter bliss.
The island is home to more than 70 Mediterranean-style beaches and coves, water so blue it’s beyond any adjective we can slap on it, and stunningly rugged coastal scenery. Not keen on beaches? No problem; how about exploring the postcard-perfect towns of Mahon or Ciutadella, the many hiking and cycling tracks, or settling in at a coastal bar with some fresh seafood and a Pomada instead?
#3 SWEDISH LAPLAND, SWEDEN
It’s hard to imagine that this land of untamed wilderness, stunning beauty, and arctic lifestyle exists just a few hours from London. While the snowy, Christmas-like enchantment of winter is what the arctic north of Sweden is known for, it’s definitely not its only charm.
As we discovered in early October, Swedish Lapland has so much more to offer than icy tundras and snow days (although they are epic). Amongst the endless green forests and mirrored lakes, there’s a rich culture, wonderfully warm locals, and a deep love of the outdoors unrivalled by any other destination we’ve visited. If you’re after a land of adventures on land, sea, and ice, this is your place! And for aurora hunters, the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko is also the best place on earth to view the Northern Lights. Win-win.
#4 BUCHAREST, ROMANIA
Perhaps no city has surprised us like Bucharest did this year. For a start, it had never really factored into our travel plans, and admittedly, we’d both slapped a big ‘grey, poor, former Soviet Bloc country’ sticker on it and shoved it straight into our ‘maybe one day’ travel box.
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How wrong we were. Five days in the charming decay of this city were enough to convince us that Bucharest is one of our favourite places in Europe. The food is world-class, a trendy coffee and underground art scene have bloomed, and greenery can be found around (almost) every corner. Since our trip, we’ve discovered the city is being touted as ‘the new Berlin’, but we have to disagree. This is a city most definitely coming into its own: a heady mix of Latin spirit, Balkan passion, and a fusion of communist past and capitalist future.
#5 LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
Luang Prabang is a city unlike any other in the hustle and bustle of Southeast Asia. Nicknamed the ‘jewel of Indochina’, the expectations were set pretty high for our visit, and yet nothing quite prepared us for the sheer beauty and tranquillity that awaited us when we arrived.
High in Laos’ north, Luang Prabang is UNESCO-protected, and for good reason: there are 33 active gold covered temples, beautifully preserved French colonial buildings, lush green riverside forests, and a thriving Buddhist monk population clad in saffron robes. It’s hard for us to describe this town to Laos’ north to you, mostly because it’s one of those places that you really have to feel for yourself to fully understand.
#6 SRI LANKA
The savvy amongst you will remember that Sri Lanka featured on our ‘best of’ list from last year, but you know what? It really was that awesome. One of our all-time favourite travel memories was watching the sunrise from the top of Adam’s Peak, having climbed up the 5500+ stairs to the top in the dark with hundreds of locals celebrating Sinhalese new year.
What Sri Lanka lacks in size it more than makes up for in sightseeing opportunities, dense rainforest, friendly locals, easy transport, and delicious food. Basically, it’s the definition of a tropical paradise, and you need to get there. Right now.
Namibia is unlike anywhere else on Earth; a place where you constantly feel impossibly small just by virtue of the magnitude of your surroundings. When the desert rolls on endlessly towards the horizon and you haven’t seen another human for hours, if not days, you start to realise your own insignificance. To be honest, along with being in constant awe of Mother Nature’s finest achievements, that feeling was the most exhilarating one we’ve had on our travels.
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With the ship-wrecking Atlantic coastline to one side, and the world’s oldest desert on the other, Namibia is seriously rugged, and full of sightseeing opps. There’s Fish River Canyon, the towering sand dunes of Sossusvlei, a wildlife mecca in Etosha National Park, Spitzkoppe’s ancient rock formations, and a rich indigenous and colonial history to explore. Importantly, it’s also home to some pretty darn good beer!
#8 HONG KONG
Hong Kong is far more than the Insta-famous phenomenon of coloured apartment complexes. It’s where concrete meets jungle, modern meets traditional. To step into its humming streets is to enter into a sensory maze – it’s chaotic yet orderly; loud yet quiet; multicultural, yet steeped in Asian tradition.
While it’s filled with too many attractions to name – our favourites are Victoria Peak and the insanely futuristic ‘Symphony of Lights’ – our best tip is to get off the well-worn pathways and just explore. Around every corner is another photogenic street, the unmistakable waft of Peking duck, a local market filled with colour and life, and friendly locals quietly going about their business. Above the concrete jungle lies actual jungle, with hiking paths leading to some of the most epic views of the city.
#9 CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO
The Blue Pearl, as Chefchaouen is otherwise known, is located in the north of Morocco, and sprung to popularity with the rise of Instagram. Prior to its insta-fame, Chefchaouen was a sleepy, backpacker hideaway where marijuana was easily found. Now, its blue-washed streets are busy with travellers seeking a perfect Instagram shot, while enjoying the laid-back atmosphere and traditional medina.
Tourism has definitely taken hold of this beautiful town, but it’s not completely overrun it. We managed to escape the crowds and find truly authentic experiences almost daily. The medina is a must see, filled with all sorts of items, as is watching the sunset from the Spanish mosque. Furthermore, the food here is absolutely to die for, so make a bee-line for the Plaza Uta el-Hammam and enjoy a tagine or five.
#10 LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM
It’s kind of ironic for us to include London on this list considering we make a point of trying to escape it so often. But we’ve only been living in this city for the last year, and nothing makes us quite as giddy as seeing the Thames as it snakes past the big London attractions; Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the slow spinning London Eye, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, and the iconic Shakespeare’s Globe.
For travellers, potentially one of the only good things to come out of last year’s shock Brexit result is that the dropping pound have increasingly made the UK a ‘value for money’ destination. Ever dreamed of exploring the sights of London, but been swayed by tales of extortionate, budget-blowing prices for, well, basically everything? Now’s the time to go and pay Lizzie a visit.
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