“Emerging” can be a tricky word, especially when it comes to describing destinations. One American traveler may say, “Montenegro is the next Italy—everyone should go!” and a European may reply that they’ve been visiting Montenegro for years. But whether a city or region is just hitting its stride—with an influx of hotels and Airbnbs, chefs and artists, even a cultural movement that couldn’t happen anywhere else—or just getting a sense of it, here are 14 destinations we’re excited about in 2017. It’s where your most adventurous friends are going now; don’t miss the chance to visit before everyone else arrives.
Photography: Getty Imageswww.cntraveler.com
Go for: An arts and nightlife scene
In recent months, you may have seen an article (or three) asking “Is Belgrade the new Berlin?” And though the capitals are radically different, the Berlin baptism is, in a way, a sign that the Serbian city is hitting its stride. Though conflict remains recent within its history, Belgrade has re-emerged as a buzzy Balkan city, known for wild nightlife (think late-night parties on houseboats known as splavovi) and a booming art and design scene. Head to the Savamala district for the newest galleries: At its heart is Mikser House, an industrial space that exhibits the latest in Serbian design; 15 minutes away is Belgrade Design District, an abandoned shopping mall turned creative hub. Though the temporarily shuttered Museum of Contemporary Art still collects dust, there’s plenty of art to see elsewhere: The newly opened Drina gallery in the city center; Macura, a cube shaped museum on the city’s outskirts; and the Zepter Museum, a 1920s bank converted into a private art space. For pause, take a stroll through Belgrade’s ancient fortress, Beogradska Tvrđava, which sits at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers—in a city that’s confidently looking ahead, you’ll be reminded of its long and resilient history, too.
Go for: Hanging ten in Africa
The city—a Franco–West African mashup with an innovative music scene, excellent textile shopping, and lively beaches (think: similar to Rio or Venice Beach for their families, surfers, and body builders)—has been one of the safest and most politically stable in the region for decades. Head to Ngor Island for world-class waves made famous in the seminal 1966 surf film The Endless Summer, or get your toes wet at the sandy, calm Yoff Beach, 30 minutes by car from the capital. Departing from the East Coast, you could be in Africa in the time it takes to get to Paris, eating a spicy fish mafé with a cold La Gazelle beer and listening to mbalax at a beachfront café. Surf’s up.
Go for: History, culture, and cosmopolitan energy
A single day in Azerbaijan’s capital, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, can feel like a trip around the world: You’ll see ultra-shiny skyscrapers that wouldn’t be out of place in Dubai; Beaux-Arts facades and cobblestone squares reminiscent of Paris; sand-colored mosques and wide seaside promenades that will make you feel like you are in Oman, 1,200 miles away. Thanks to direct flights from New York-JFK on Azerbaijan Airlines and a new (as of June 2016) e-visa process that replaces an otherwise bureaucratic nightmare, it’s easier than ever to go to Azerbaijan—a place that for a long time has been, like Timbuktu, synonymous with the far away and remote. Tourists are still a novelty, so much so that when you enter the immaculately maintained walled Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site, it can feel like you have the 15th-century Shirvanshahs' Palace and its surrounding, winding alleyways all to yourself.
Go for: A long walk along the border of east and west
After decades spent out of sight and out of mind for most travelers, due in part to shoddy infrastructure and intermittent conflict with neighboring Russia, this former Soviet republic is now investing in its tourism industry and attracting travelers tired of crowded mountain trails in the Alps or reservation-only vineyards in France. The best way to witness the diversity of this small country’s terrain is on its hiking trails, which wind through the Greater Caucasus mountain range dividing Europe from Asia. Make the valley town of Stepantsminda your base, and start your hiking vacation with a walk up to the 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church, which at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape, especially the towering Mount Kazbegi.
Go for: Cobblestoned colonial quarters
Following the 2014 opening of the Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo (and the 100th anniversary of that famous canal), Panama City has only shot up in stature. Today, the oceanside capital has emerged as a financial hub with a glittering skyline of glass-and-steel towers to rival Miami’s. For a glimpse of the city's turnaround, look to the still-gritty but relentlessly atmospheric Casco Viejo, a pastel-hued, colonial-era quarter less than two miles from the canal that evokes by turns Old San Juan, New Orleans, and stylish corners of Mexico City like Juárez or Roma. Don’t miss dinners at the 16-seat Donde José; rum cocktails at the Tantalo Hotel’s rooftop bar; and late-night shows at Danilo’s Jazz Club.
Go for: A rise in upscale dining
Manila has long been a stopover city for travelers on their way to some of the world’s best islands: Palawan, Palau, Cebu, Boracay. In recent years, though, its culinary scene has been at a steady boil, thanks largely to its history as a stronghold of Spanish, American, and Japanese colonialists. In one (long) day, you can eat pillowy pork buns in the world's oldest Chinatown, yakiniku at bare-bones Japanese restaurants in Little Tokyo, chicharrón in Quezon City, and plates of Persian food in Mandaluyong. Award-winning chefs interested in planting their flag in the Asian capital are here, too: William Mahi, former chef at Michelin two-star restaurant Spondi, came two years ago and hasn’t left; Carlo Huerta Echegaray is making Peruvian food popular; and José Luis "Chele" González’s Gallery Vask was recently named No. 35 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants in Asia list. For foodies, the time to visit the Philippine capital is now.
Go for: Architecture and design
After sanctions were lifted last year and Iran entered a new era of comparative openness, American tourists had slowly begun traveling to the country. But then, the travel ban happened. And while it goes without saying that those most immediately affected by the executive order were the seven Muslim majority countries outlined in it, obtaining a visa for Iran, as a result, got more difficult for Americans, too. But travelers from other parts of the world are starting to explore the country, and when it comes to Tehran, most are going for the architecture. In the northern part of town, the Tabiat Bridge is emblematic of the capital’s new lease on life: Built in 2014, the award-winning structure has become a popular hangout, with restaurants and cafes cropping up around it. Must-sees for architecture buffs are both contemporary and historic, like the shape-shifting Sharifi-ha House, the igloo-inspired Barin Ski Resort in the Alborz mountains, and the opulent, 19th-century Golestan Palace. If you’re traveling with time (and cash) to spare, British-based company Golden Eagle Luxury Trains will take you from Moscow to Tehran by rail, giving you glimpses of the ancient cities of Persepolis and Shiraz along the way.
Go for: Classic architecture and forward-thinking arts
Home to nearly half of Uruguay’s population, the oft-overshadowed, walkable seaside capital city is at once classic and eclectic, vibrant and sleepy. It’s a culturally rich city, where music, performance, and the arts are all thrive: Don’t miss Teatro Solís, the city’s oldest and most important theatre; for a taste of the gaucho life, head to Museo del Gaucho, where furnitures, statues, and paintings of ranch-hands help give a sense of inside a 19th-century mansion. Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales, which opened in 1911, has the largest collection of works by Uruguayan artists. For some souvenir shopping with a side of history, step into antique stores in the Ciudad Vieja, and be sure to stop by the neighborhood’s central square on Saturdays: Every weekend, vendors hawk vintage saddles, antique door knockers, and more. In the true spirit of the old-meets-new movement seizing the capital at the moment, some of the city's coolest new hotels and restaurants have taken to decorating their space with these local finds. (Book a stay at the boutique Alma Historica if you can.) Cool off on any number of the city’s pristine beaches, and don’t limit yourself to just one: A beachside avenue known as the Rambla (Promenade) connects them from east to west. Dinner at Jacinto, where chef Lucía Soria serves light, vegetable-centric dishes like leek and pumpkin tart, is a must.
Go for: Quiet stretches of sand
A small country that only gained independence from Serbia in 2006, the entire population of Montenegro is less than that of Stockholm. Yet what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in unadulterated stretches of sand and surf. Of its coastline, Lord Byron once wrote, “At the moment of the creation of our planet, the most beautiful merging of land and sea occurred at the Montenegrin seaside”—and it seems the poet is seemingly not alone in that thought: Over the years, the country’s steep shorelines, uncrowded beaches, and picturesque, historic villages have drawn everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Sophia Loren, looking for quiet and fewer crowds. The curving Bay of Kotor is at turns Lake Como and Norwegian fjords dotted with ancient Turkish and Greek settlements and UNESCO World Heritage sites; farther south, Budva, the country’s most visited destination, draws crowds for its renowned Old Town, marbled streets, Venetian walls, and nightlife (it’s often dubbed “The Miami of Montenegro”). Go now, before everyone else catches on.
Go for: The wild, wild east and a capital that’s not afraid to turn the volume knob to 11
The vast, empty steppes of Mongolia have long attracted the most intrepid travelers looking for a physical challenge, or those interested in learning about the nomadic people who have turned an unforgiving landscape into a constantly shifting home. While new luxury camps are bringing a different kind of traveler, the common denominator remains a desire to immerse oneself in a new culture and otherworldly landscape. Today, the country is so empty that it can still feel like you’re all alone as you drive in a rally car across the Gobi Desert; follow an expedition into the Altai Mountains; or lake-hop your way across the least densely populated country in the world. But, while the country’s capital Ulaanbaatar was long closed off from the rest of the world under an insular Communist regime, it’s now blooming into something altogether new and exciting. A generation of young people speaking out have built a vibrant underground music scene from the ground up, showcasing everything from hip hop to indie rock to the never-before-heard results of blending traditional throat-singing with the latest in electronic pop. Cities right in the middle of a creative revolution are few and far between these days, and the window to see it in action is a small one.
Go for: A new Nordic adventure
When it seems like most everyone you know has been to Iceland, the Faroe Islands are, in many ways, the next Nordic frontier. A clump of 18 rocky, volcanic islands between Iceland and Norway in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Faroes are technically part of Denmark, though self-governed. Much like its neighbors, the archipelago has scenery in spades, most of it largely formed by the fact that this mini-nation has some of the most fickle weather on the planet. (Think steep cliffs, waterfalls, jagged coastlines, grassy valleys, and dramatic fjords.) Also notable? The archipelago’s music scene, which, despite a total population of less than 50,000, has a symphony orchestra, and some five live music festivals spread throughout the seasons. Over the years, the capital Tórshavn has been a launching pad for everyone from Týr (Viking Metal) to Eivør (pop); TUTL, the largest record company in the Faroes, is owned collectively by musicians and composers. Get to a festival if you can, but if you’re unable to swing it, “settling” for hiking and lighthouses in the village of Nólsoy, boating on Sørvágsvatn, and exploring permanent exhibits of Faroese arts at Listasavn Føroya is not a terrible second-place finish.
Go for: Architectural transformation
Yangon has gone from an 11th-century fishing village to a colonial capital city—and now, it’s the country’s largest and most important commercial hub. A bustling mix of traditional markets; rapid, modern growth and colonial-era infrastructure (the city reportedly has the largest number of colonial-era buildings in the region), Yangon seems to still be catching up to itself. Historic sites worth a visit include the hill-top Shwedagon Pagoda, the country’s most sacred Buddhist site and visible from nearly every point in the city; the gilded, 2,000-year-old Sule Pagoda; the National Museum of Myanmar; and the city’s colorful Indian quarter, where you can find striking Hindu temples and goat curries. Rapid development is underway in the capital—skyscrapers, yes, but also accompanied by a heightened interest in preservation: For a glimpse of the country’s slow design rebirth, start with the Strand Hotel, which originally opened in 1901 and came off a six-month refresh in November 2016.
Go for: Unsung coastal towns
Surprisingly few travelers explore India’s southeast coast, heading west instead to the beaches of Goa, or to houseboat on lazy Kerala backwaters. Yet in recent years, the country’s other coast has quietly drawn travelers for its dynamism. The vast state of Tamil Nadu is most easily approached via flying into steamy, colonial-era Chennai (formerly Madras) where you’ll find the elegant, whitewashed Fort St. George, founded in 1644 as well as the 17th-century Kapaleeshwar temple, a stunning example of Dravidian architecture; an hour and a half south, the beachside, 7th-century, monumental rock carvings of Mahabalipuram illustrate events from the legendary Mahabharata. Continue south for another two hours, and it’s worth spending time in charming Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), once the heart of French India and full of sleepy character: Explore on foot or by bike, and don’t miss a late breakfast at the Cafe des Arts. (If the streets look familiar, it’s because the entire first act of Ang Lee's Life of Pi was filmed here.) All can be done in less than a week, saving time for a spell on a beach facing the Bay of Bengal before heading inland to the riotous temple town of Madurai and Trichy and British Raj-era hill stations of Coonoor and Ooty in the Western Ghats (or the southernmost tip of the subcontinent at Kanyakumari). If you’re looking for a trip to India replete with sand, surf, history, and without tourists, this is the one for you.
Go for: The greatest adventure you haven't had yet
A teardrop off the southeastern coast of Africa, Madagascar, due to millennia of geographic isolation, is home to creatures that exist nowhere else on earth. Bug-eyed lemurs, luminescent frogs, leaf-nosed bats—it’s no wonder the island was featured on three different episodes of BBC’s Planet Earth II. Much of the island, covered in dense jungle, is still virtually impenetrable. But thanks to a smattering of new hotels—including an ultra-luxe (and eco-conscious) private resort on the northeastern island of Nosy Ankao—it’s more accessible than ever. For that ultimate Lost World feeling, start with Nosy Mangabe, an island reserve reachable only by boat where you can search for one of the strangest creatures on earth, the elusive aye-aye.