14 Emerging Destinations Around the World
by CNT Editors
“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 2018. It’s where your most adventurous friends are going now; don’t miss the chance to visit before everyone else arrives.
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.
Stepantsminda, Caucasus Mountains, Georgia
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.
Panama City, Panama
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 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.
Montenegrin Coast, Montenegro
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.