Is your passport current? Are your fare alerts set? Our editors are ready to explore the globe, from emerging destinations to hot cities to trendy beaches. With all the noteworthy events, sights, and hotels making headlines these days, coming up with a shortlist was no easy feat. There’s sure to be somewhere for everyone on our list of top places to go in 2011, whether you’re looking for arts, food, relaxation, or off-the-beaten-path adventure. One thing is clear: All the buzzworthy travel news is a sure sign the market is rebounding. Of course, our Fodorites never stopped traveling. By Arabella Bowen and Cate Starmer
Asheville: Sample Arty Appalachian Culture
Why Go Now: Get a taste of Asheville while it still feels local and before it goes global. On the edge of the alluring Smoky Mountains, the food and drink scene of the recently dubbed "Beer City USA" is the perfect compliment to the scenery. You'll find over 30 galleries and 20 music venues devoted to everything from folk pieces to modern mash-ups.
Where to Stay: The Inn on Biltmore Estate, a gilded-age resort set on an 8,000-acre Vanderbilt estate, even tempts day trippers to stay overnight. For something more modern (and compact), the Hotel Indigo opened a 100-room boutique property downtown just over a year ago. With a colorful interior and artsy details, it's also within walking distance of the new Pack Square Park.
Insider Tip: Check out Live Wire before you go to plan your nightly entertainment.
When to Go: Late September to early November for fall foliage.
Atacama Desert: Remember the Miners in Chile
Why Go Now: Last year’s amazing Chilean mine rescue put the spotlight on the mesmerizing Atacama Desert, a seemingly inhospitable 600-mile tract in the country's northern reaches. Pay your respects while experiencing the best of the world’s driest desert at San Pedro de Atacama, the base for amazing outdoor adventure trips 480 miles north of the now famous mine.
Where to Stay: In contrast to the miners’ cramped quarters, the luxurious Awasi hosts eight expansive adobe-style cottages built of local stone. Expert guides lead hikes and four-wheel drives to the area’s hot springs, geysers, and otherworldly red-sand dunes.
Insider Tip: Look up at night. The Atacama’s high altitude, cloudless skies, and remote location make it one of the world’s best star-gazing destinations.
When to Go: October to June.
Stockholm: Seek Dragon Tattoos and Water Views
Why Go Now: The worldwide popularity of the late-Swedish-author Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, about enigmatic hacker Lisbeth Salander, is impossible to ignore. Experience the Scandinavian settings firsthand, like the island of Södermalm, on a weekly Millenium walking tour run by the Stockholm City Museum. Book it before the series becomes even more of a cultural phenomenon—David Fincher's much-anticipated U.S. movie adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes out December 21.
Where to Stay: Two different hotels opening this year near Central Station make the Normalm neighborhood the place to check-in. In February, the 418-room Radisson Blu will debut as part of the massive new Stockholm Waterfront Congress Centre. Or try the local Scandic chain's new 397-room Stockholm flagship that's set to open in fall.
Insider Tip: After your Millennium walking tour, discover Stockholm's network of islands like a local by hopping aboard one of the historic white ferries that ply the city's waterways.
When to Go: June for long summer days.
Amalfi Coast: Classic Italy with Modern Twists
Why Go Now: Four new contemporary art museums in Naples, two ultra-luxe hotels, and the much-anticipated (if controversial) Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer all recently debuted, making this ever-popular Italian destination worth another visit.
Where to Stay: Acclaimed Italian director Franco Zeffirelli’s former Positano estate was reborn as the luxury 12-room Villa Tre Ville last summer; it’s certainly a splurge with basic rooms starting at $1,500/night. Amalfi’s storied Hotel Cappuccini Convento also recently completed a major seven-year upgrade that transformed it into the Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, complete with 53 updated rooms, an upmarket restaurant, and the same magnificent views.
Insider Tip: The Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer, the new jewel in the crown of hilltop Ravello, affords stunning seaviews from most seats.
Best Time to Go: May to September; it’s high season but worth it.
Hawaii: Fresh Resorts and More Flights
Why Go Now: After a couple of quiet recessionary years, this tropical classic is once again on the rise. The combination of new airline routes (by the likes of Alaska Airlines) and the opening of brand-bearing hotels (Disney chief among them) have created more rooms and accessibility than ever before. The result? We expect that deals will persist this year, but likely not into 2012.
Where to Stay: In Honolulu, Marriott's new design-focused boutique brand, Edition Waikiki opened in October 2010 with 353 rooms. As of September, families can check into Disney's massive new Aulani Resort on Oahu's western coast.
When to Go: December to April is high season; the rest of the year offers beautiful weather and great-value rates.
Copenhagen: Make a Foodie Pilgrimage to Noma
Why Go Now: The Danish capital's epicurean scene is reaching new heights, as René Redzepi’s Noma restaurant replaces the (sadly shuttered) El Bulli as the world's new culinary hotspot. For a full Nordic food fix, check out August's Copenhagen Cooking festival and try some Greenland musk ox and Icelandic skyr curd.
Where to Stay: The dramatic angular-towered Bella Sky Comwell will be the largest hotel in Scandinavia when it opens this May with 814 rooms. Design-enthusiasts will appreciate the clean interior design as much as the bold architectural statement.
Insider Tip: If you can't snag a reservation at Noma, try Kodbyens Fiskebar, run by ex-Noma staff in a more casual setting.
When to Go: August for long days and foodie fests.
Holon: Check Out the Next Bilbao
Why Go Now: Even before its January 2010 inauguration, Israeli-born architect Ron Arad’s $17 million Design Museum Holon was already being touted as the next Bilbao. Given its location—in a heretofore-little-known town 20 minutes south of Tel Aviv—and its dramatic facade that evokes Richard Serra and the Guggenheim (New York) at once–the billing seems apt. Don’t forget your camera.
Where to Stay: In nearby Tel Aviv, where new boutique hotels are cropping up everywhere. The most-talked-about newcomer is Neve Zedek, a gorgeous five-suite hotel run by the same team behind the fashionable Nana Bar restaurant and Pri Hagefen wine bar.
Insider Tip: Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus architecture is equally distinctive. Free walking tours take place every Saturday at 11am.
Best Time to Go: September to November (but avoid the busy Jewish holidays during this time) for agreeable fall temperatures, lower hotel rates, and fewer crowds.
Mozambique: Off-the-Radar Sand and Safari
Why Go Now: With a newly opened national park and the World Bank's investment in an elephant sanctuary and resort, Mozambique is one to watch for the safari circuit. In this country once devastated by civil war, the sparse development means a true off-the-radar adventure. Where she really shines is in the string of islands in the Indian Ocean, perfect for a private romantic escape.
Where to Stay: After a long flight into the capital Maputo, relax at the grand dame Polana Serena that's just re-opened after a massive renovation. Then, get a taste of the bush at the new Chitengo Camp. Cap off your adventure by splurging on the luxurious island retreat Benguerra Lodge.
Insider Tip: Get your African animal fix at the recently opened Gorongosa National Park, a historic site thought to be where Noah left his ark.
When to Go: July–October offers the best animal spotting opportunities, from scuba dives to safari drives.
Beirut: Reemerging Middle Eastern Hotspot
Why Go Now: The Lebanese capital has quite possibly morphed into the Middle East’s coolest city in these recent (calm) years. And with its Mediterranean setting, mercurial nightlife, high-profile restaurants, and thriving arts scene, the secret’s already out in Europe–but Americans have been slow to catch on. Go while things remain that way.
Where to Stay: The new Le Gray, from the chic team behind London's One Aldwich (a Fodor's Choice hotel), boasts cutting-edge artwork and a mod, circular bar. The posh year-old Four Seasons Beirut occupies a downtown skyscraper with a fabulous 26th-floor infinity pool.
Insider Tip: The U.S. often warns against travel to Beirut. Fodorite thursdaysd suggests, "Ignore the U.S. web site and check the UK, Canadian and Australian equivalents instead. There were loads of European tourists there last year, and hardly any Americans. I think the Europeans have it right."
Best Time to Go: Spring and fall; summers can get hot.
Nevis: Soft Luxury in the Caribbean
Why Go Now: Just two miles from sister island St. Kitts, Nevis is an unspoiled retreat with limited development (in fact, there are no traffic lights). Natural activities and historic heritage are definitely on the upswing, with an increase in eco-tourism and several revamped lodging options.
Where to Stay: Two long-standing hotels are reopening after extensive renovations. For a classic island stay, try one of Montpelier Plantation's 19 rooms; half of them are in cottages scattered on 60 acres of lush tropical gardens. And after being decimated by Hurricane Omar in 2008, Four Seasons Nevis finally re-opened last month, complete with 196-rooms, a luxurious spa, and an 18-hole golf course.
Insider Tip: Check to see if the Nevis Turf and Jockey Club has any races scheduled during your stay. It's a uniquely Caribbean experience.
When to Go: Mid-December to mid-April are best for scuba diving and golf.
Los Angeles: America’s Contemporary Art Mecca
Why Go Now: Los Angeles' contemporary-art ascendancy has been talked about for years. But several events in 2010 officially confirmed its new art world status. New York gallerist Jeffrey Deitch moved west to helm the Museum of Contemporary Art; the Broad Contemporary unveiled a new $53-million Renzo Piano-designed pavilion; the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair debuted in West Hollywood; and New York dealer Larry Gagosian bought Gary Cooper's former Bel Air mansion, signaling that he too may join the fray.
Where to Stay: Beverly Hills’ colorful new SLS Hotel boasts a killer pool deck designed by Philippe Starck. The Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott shacked up for the first time in 2010, sharing a sleek 54-story tower and some services in LA’s burgeoning downtown.
Insider Tip: Refuel at foodie hotspots like Animal, Umami Burger, and Tavern between exhibits.
Best Time to Go: November to February for (mostly) smog-free days and the best hotel rates; March to May if you want to swim.
Tokyo: More Accessible than Ever
Why Go Now: Last year, Haneda Airport finally opened to direct international flights from New York and Los Angeles on major carriers like American, ANA, and Japan Air. That's a boon to frequent and would-be Tokyo goers, as the harborfront airport is a short 15-minute drive into town (versus 45-and-change from long-standing Narita). Tokyo visitors can now start exploring the Japanese capital within minutes of deplaning, and consider going further afield, too, since Haneda's proximity to town makes taking off to additional Asian cities a cinch.
Where to Stay: Opened in October 2010, the stylish flagship Capitol Hotel blends traditional hospitality and a modern setting in the heart of the city. Also new to the scene, Mitsui Garden Hotel, next to Ueno station, is another convenient option.
Insider Tip: As an alternative to flying, check out the newly expanded Shinkansen (bullet train) schedule to points elsewhere in Japan. The train is one of the fastest in the world, traveling at speeds up to 186 mph.
When to Go: Spring is beautiful: Sakura (cherry blossoms) start blooming by early April.
Willamette Valley: Boutique Hotels and Pinot Noir
Why Go Now: Until recently, oenophiles had to contend with basic B&Bs when visiting the Willamette Valley. But the last 18 months have welcomed two smart hotels and a spate of locavore restaurants to this stellar pinot noir region in Oregon. Together, they’re transforming the Willamette from sleepy wine country to must-visit AOC.
Where to Stay: The luxurious LEED-certified 85-room Allison Hotel & Spa heralded the Willamette’s arrival when it opened with the area’s first full-service spa in August 2009. Nearby, the year-old Inn at Red Hills has 20 elegant rooms above a farm-to-table restaurant that’s a big hit with local winemakers.
Insider Tip: The Inn at Red Hills’ restaurant packs savory picnics, too. Pick one up for an alfresco vineyard lunch.
Best Time to Go: April to October.
Nicaragua: Eco-Adventures and Remote Beaches
Why Go Now: Every Central American country has been dubbed the "next Costa Rica" at one time or another, but Nicaragua is the likeliest contender for the title these days. Even if you disparage reality TV, there's no denying that the latest Survivor put the spotlight on the country's stunning rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, and lakes. With its new accolades, Nicaragua's budget-friendly and off the beaten path status may not last much longer.
Where to Stay: Escape to a private island on Lake Nicaragua, where the new Jicaro Island Ecolodge consists of just nine exclusive casitas. Another green option, Morgan's Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge has 15 thatch-roofed bungalows and similar wildlife-watching and outdoor activities.
When to Go: November to April for the dry season.
Toronto: Quick North of the Border Getaway
Why Go Now: The T-Dot has never been easier to reach. Classy Porter Airlines increased daily service from Boston, Chicago, Myrtle Beach, and Newark in 2010; wifi-friendly Virgin America added direct flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco; Air Canada and Continental plan to add routes into convenient Toronto Island Airport this year. Visitors can explore the two-year old Frank Gehry–designed Art Gallery of Ontario; Daniel Liebskind's controversial addition to the Royal Ontario Museum; and the brand-new T.I.F.F. Bell Lightbox that debuted to coincide with the popular film festival last year.
Where to Stay: New hotels are also making headlines. The Thompson Toronto, their first outpost outside the U.S., debuted here in June; the city will gain its first Ritz Carlton in February; Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto, Trump’s second international venture (after Panama) opens this spring.
Insider Tip: Toronto is still a major business hub; downtown hotels are often discounted on weekends.
Best Time to Go: June to September is the best, albeit peak, season, as festivals (including the Toronto International Film Festival) and warm weather collide.
Yucatan Peninsula: Run out the Mayan Calendar
Why Go Now: Before the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, and time runs out, join the quest to find the best beach and explore majestic Mayan ruins all along Mexico's Yucatan coast. After a day of exploring, stop your personal clock by relaxing on the sand, by the pool, or in one of the region's excellent spas.
Where to Stay: Opening in June 2011, the beachfront Westin Campeche Resort & Spa will have 250-rooms.
Insider Tip:: Bring a bit of relaxation home with a traditional hammock.
When to Go: January–April for warm weather and water activities.
New York City: Mark the 10th Anniversary of 9/11
Why Go Now: September marks the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. As of now, the 9/11 Memorial is on track to open on September 11 (with the public gaining access on September 12).
Where to Stay: New York has experienced a major hotel boom in recent years, and more newbies are to come. Opening next month, the Mondrian Soho will host 270 rooms in a tower with floor-to-ceiling windows. Next to the iconic Maritime, the soon-to-be-open Dream Downtown will introduce another stylish Meat Packing option.
Insider Tip:: For a sneak peek at the 911 Memorial plans, visit the nearby preview site.
When to Go: September–October for commemorative events and mild weather.
Marrakesh: Indulge in Moroccan Elegance
Why Go Now: When the legendary La Mamounia reopened in September 2009 after a three-year, $176 million restoration, it reaffirmed Marrakesh’s jetset appeal. The celebrity set promptly deplaned (most recently, to attend the 10th anniversary of the Marrakesh Film Festival in December). But with that hubbub over, we expect the red-walled city to be a smidge quieter this year, which should make exploring the medina, dining on superb cuisine, and releasing toxins in sumptuous hammams all the more enjoyable.
Insider Tip: Mamounia guests now have good reason to head to the Marrakesh airport early: The hotel unveiled a plush guest lounge there last October.
Best Time to Go: March to May for temperate weather and fewer crowds.
Finland: Explore the Capitals of Culture and Design
Why Go Now: Two designations highlight Finland's best assets this year and next. First, the country's former capital, Turku, is the 2011 European Capital of Culture (a title it shares with nearby Tallinn, Estonia). Visitors can expect an amped-up events roster highlighting everything from classical art to opera history. Not to be outdone, the modern-day capital, Helsinki, is set to become the World Design Capital for 2012.
Insider Tip: Get your visas and consider a three-fer getaway. By land, ride the sleek new Allegro train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Russia in just 3.5 hours. By sea, take the fast ferry from Turku to Tallinn, Estonia. You could also consider a Baltic Sea cruise.
When to Go: May to June for the midnight sun.
Curacao: Visit the World’s Youngest Country
Why Go Now: This Southern Caribbean island became the world’s youngest country last year when it gained independence from the Netherlands Antilles. Superb Dutch colonial architecture is but one of its assets; a terrific culinary scene, Latin-meets-Caribbean vibe, rich culture, and active lifestyle–from kayaking to hiking and diving–conspire to create one of the Caribbean’s most cosmopolitan getaways.
Where to Stay: Several new hotels have sprouted up recently. The biggest newcomer, the Hyatt Regency Curaçao Golf Resort, Spa and Marina, opened on a beachy peninsula with an 18-hole Pete Dye–designed championship golf course last April. Willemstad’s two-year-old Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino features an incredible Infinity pool overlooking the sea.
Insider Tip: Curaçao’s capital is home to the Western Hemisphere’s oldest synagogue.
Best Time to Go: The island has great weather year-round; go off-season (April to October) for the best rates.