Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Between the Olympics, movies filmed in exotic locations, and the explosion of K-pop, some destinations have been in the spotlight in recent months.We looked at major developments, cultural trends, and global festivals to find the hottest places to travel around the world in 2013.
There are vast untouched landscapes that offer incredible outdoor experiences; cities that are experiencing a cultural rebirth; and up-and-coming destinations that offer great deals and few tourists.
With unprecedented droughts, hurricanes, and unseasonably warm (or cold) weather patterns around the world, it's becoming harder and harder to deny global warming -- especially in Antarctica, where the ice caps are melting at a somewhat alarming rate.
That means that now is the time to go visit Antarctica, the coldest and driest continent on earth. There is breathtakingly beautiful scenery with few man-made interruptions. It's an ideal trip for adventurers, who can kayak, trek or just take in the incredible landscape. You can also see penguins, whales, and elephant seals.
Tourism to Antarctica is getting more popular. According to International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), about 35,000 visitors will come to Antarctica this season, most of whom are American.
There are a few ways to visit the continent: by cruise ship with excursions to shore (the most popular), by land expeditions with tour operators, or sightseeing by air.
While Brooklyn isn't exactly a new hotspot, the New York City borough will become even hotter in 2013 with more hotels, restaurants, and shops catering to hip locals and tourists.
Within the last year alone, five hotels have opened in Brooklyn, including the Wythe Hotel, Hotel BPM, and the Hotel Indigo, making the borough more accessible to visitors. And with the opening of the new Barclays centre, the borough will see even more hotels: another 10 hotels are currently being developed and are expected to open in 2013.
The borough is also home to a 3 Michelin-starred restaurant (Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare), one of the best steakhouses in the country (Peter Luger's), a great brewery (Brooklyn Brewery), and hipster-friendly markets, restaurants, and bars.
ABC's drama 'Nashville' brought Music City into the national spotlight this year, but Nashville has been on the tourist radar for years.
Music City hosted about 11 million tourists in 2012, according to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau. And that number is bound to grow as the city plans all sorts of new constructions for 2013.
In the works for 2013 are the Music City centre, a new 1.2 million-square-foot convention centre that is slated to open in May 2013; the Johnny Cash Museum (slated for spring 2013); and an expansion to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The city will also see the opening of at least four new large hotels to cater to the new convention centre crowds.
Nashville is called Music City for a reason: it's home to the Country Music Hall Of Fame and incredible music venues like the Bluebird Cafe, Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. These new venues will cement its status as the veritable capital of country music.
The low cost of living and affordable lifestyle are attracting artists and turning Philly into a cool art destination.
The City of Brotherly Love already has some of the best public art in the country. It's famous for its murals, which adorn buildings all around the city. The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program coordinates these murals, connecting artists to the community.
Local artists like Isaiah Zagar, who is famous for his whimsical mirror-encrusted mosaics, have left their mark on the city. Zagar's Magic Gardens is a garden and home covered in Zagar's playful mosaics, made from wine bottles, dinner plates, bicycle wheels, tiles, and other miscellanea.
The Barnes Foundation unveiled its new Philadelphia facility in May this year: a 93,000-square-foot building on 4.5 acres that will house the foundation's vast art collection. And the city's Philadelphia Museum of Art has exhibits lined up for next year, including an exhibit on french artist Fernand Léger and The Modern City.
Despite gruesome headlines from Mexico's drug war, Mexico saw a huge amount of tourists this year. In the first six months of 2012 alone, more than 12 million tourists visited Mexico, according to the Mexico Tourism Board.
Hotel occupancy rates grew over 7 per cent throughout Mexico, with numerous hotel openings this year. Several high-end hotels opened in Mexico City -- the second-most touristed destination in Mexico after Cancun -- including Le Méridien Mexico City and the Presidente InterContinental Santa Fe.
And though there are very high-end hotels and restaurants, deals abound in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), and there are plenty of things to do for free, from walking around the Zocalo (the city's main plaza) to sunbathing in Chapultepec Park.
The D.F. is also more accessible from Europe too, now that Aeromexico is offering direct flights from London in December.
Though Colombia was once known for its dangerous drug-related violence, the country is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America. Tourism to Colombia has grown 300 per cent since 2002, according to Colombia Reports.
Cartagena, the most visited city in Colombia, is a charming colonial city on the Caribbean Sea with quaint boutique hotels and inns. Explore the walled colonial city or stay in a luxury beach resort in Bocagrande.
There are regular flights from Miami (2.5 hrs.) and Bogota (1 hr.), but now that JetBlue is offering direct flights from New York City to Cartagena, the city is more accessible than ever before.
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London came and went, but many of the buildings, restaurants, hotels and venues that sprouted up to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors who came for the Olympics still stand.
Several new buildings went up in London before the Olympics, including the very controversial Shard, a 1,016-foot-tall building that houses offices, restaurants, the Shangri-La hotel, and apartments. Officially called the London Bridge Tower, The Shard garnered negative reactions from Londoners and critics when it opened in July, but we thought it was one of the coolest new buildings this year.
And the restaurant scene is booming in London, with the addition of 25 per cent more restaurants this year than last. City restaurants have won several awards this year, with Le Caprice being named Restaurant of the Year by the London Lifestyle Awards and Artesian, a London bar in the Langham Hotel, being named Best Bar of the Year by Drinks International.
As the European Capital of Culture in 2013, Marseille will transform itself into a cultural hub next year, hosting a variety of events and exhibitions all year long.
Located on the Mediterranean coast in southern France, the city built new galleries and venues to prepare for the year, such as Le Silo, the Centre Régional de le Méditerranée (CeReM), and the Fonds Régional de l'Art Contemporain (FRAC).
Events kick off on January 12.
Located at the point where Europe meets Asia, Istanbul is traditionally known for its spectacular mosques, ancient monuments, and opulent palaces, but today it's quickly becoming the coolest city in Europe, attracting hipsters, foodies, artists and fashionistas.
All around Istanbul, once-crumbling buildings have been renovated and turned into fancy boutique hotels, designer shops and trendy restaurants. Sophisticated nightclubs and restaurants have sprouted up right on the Bosphorus, and more and more neighborhoods are becoming gentrified hotspots.
The city is also becoming one of the hottest new financial centres in the world. Plus it's been featured in several movies this year, including 'Skyfall' and 'Argo.'
And there's so much ongoing construction -- the city is constantly buzzing with the sounds of jackhammers and machinery -- that the face of Istanbul will continue to be transformed, attracting more visitors in 2013.
Over the past few years, Qatar has established itself an important destination for modern art.
The wealthiest country in the world has acquired an immense collection of modern art -- including works by Warhol, Rothko, Murakami, and more -- and has invested in major art exhibitions and projects. Already home to several museums, the country will see the opening of the new futuristic National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel, sometime in 2013.
It's become a major player in the art world, and that means more visitors for the small country. The country will accommodate those visitors with a crop of new luxurious hotels, including the Torch Doha, and a modern airport with a cushy business class terminal.
K-Pop star Psy took the world by storm with his bizarre yet catchy hit 'Gangnam Style.' And in doing so, Psy brought the world's attention to the place that inspired the song: Gangnam-Gu, a ritzy neighbourhood in Seoul.
South Korea has actually seen a 9 per cent rise in the number of visitors since Psy's song hit in July, according to the Korea Tourism organisation (KTO). Over 10 million visitors came to South Korea -- and Seoul -- this year, and even more are expected next year. The KTO estimates a tourism increase of 5 to 7 per cent.
Tour operators and businesses are taking advantage of the K-pop trend, offering creative tours of the Gangnam neighbourhood.
When the China Art Palace and the Power Station of Art -- two major state-run art museums -- opened in Shanghai in November 2012, Shanghai established itself as a heavyweight arts destination.
The city was already home to several important cultural institutions (like the Rockbund Art Museum and the Minsheng Art Museum), but these two new museums established Shanghai as an important cultural hub.
The city will continue to reel in art lovers as it opens more galleries and museums in 2013. (Shanghai plans to open a total of 16 new museums by 2015, according to Jing Daily.)
China's most populous city is also home to world-class hotels, restaurants, and shops, including the best hotel in the world for business travellers: the Peninsula Shanghai.
Adventurous travellers looking for an experience in the wild should consider visiting Tanzania, home to some of Africa's most impressive game parks and safari camps.
The north of the country is home to two major tourist destinations -- Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. Both are home to a range of safari camps, including the ultra-luxury Singita Grumeti Reserves in the western Serengeti and andBeyond's Ngorongoro Crater Lodge on the caldera's edge.
But tourists seeking a more isolated experience should consider visiting two less-traveled but equally gorgeous parks in the southern part of the country, Ruaha and the Selous, which are accessible by a short charter flight from Dar es Salaam.
The accommodations are more rustic, but the likelihood of running into other safari vehicles is far slimmer, and you'll feel alone in the wild.
For the best game-viewing experience, visit the Serengeti from December to March or June to October, and the southern parks between June and October.
Qatar Airways recently launched operations in Kilimanjaro, increasing access to the northern part of the country.
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