Best places to visit in 2020

Insight Guides looks ahead to a new year of travel. From flourishing destinations to established favorites with fresh reasons to visit, we have selected countries and cities around the world that should feature on your bucket list. Here is our guide to the best places to visit in 2020.
Liberty Square, Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Liberty Square, Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

1. Sardinia, Italy

For many visitors, the coast remains Sardinia’s chief draw. Rugged cliffs, crystal-clear waters, sandy beaches and luxury hotels draw in travelers from all walks of life. The Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast), lined with villas and golf courses, is the best-known resort area but the island’s 1,840km of coastline encompasses enough hidden coves and quiet beaches for everyone.

Behind the coast, the verdant, mountainous interior is dotted with farms, villages, cork tree plantations and vineyards. Growing in popularity for ecotourism and experiential travel, this is a very different Sardinia to that which the majority of visitors come to see.

Here you’ll find folk dances and songs, thousands of archaeological sites, prehistoric forts, Roman amphitheaters, Byzantine churches and countless mountain walks. These inner areas also produce the ingredients for such local specialities as wild piglet cooked in honey, and the wines to wash them down. Supplemented by abundant seafood from the Mediterranean, Sardinia’s larder could not be richer.

Cagliari, the capital, has a picturesque walled center dating back to medieval times and all the shopping, galleries, museums, churches, bars and restaurants that any visitor could wish for. Don’t leave without visiting the San Benedetto Market or, even better, taking a cooking class.

Cala Domestica beach, Sardinia, Italy. Photo: Eva Bocek/Shutterstock

2. Girona, Spain

The largest city in northern Catalonia, Girona is only 100km away from the province’s capital of Barcelona but has its own distinct identity. Its ancient city walls, built around a steep hill, still protect an old town (Ciutat Antiga) and its 13th-century Jewish Quarter.

Chosen as an authentic medieval filming location for the TV series Games of Thrones, this historic district is cut by cobbled streets and stone stairways. The most famous steps lead up to the magnificent Cathedral, which holds the world’s widest Gothic nave.

Double stone stairway in Girona, Catalonia. Photo: Jocamaray/Shutterstock

Walking the city walls is the best way to take in the many other sights, including the 12th-century Monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants, the Basílica de Sant Feliu or the Roman-style Banys Àrabs (public baths).

Below is the River Onyar, with 11 bridges connecting to the modern districts of Girona. The view back, with colorful buildings reflected in the water, is a photographer’s dream.

With its extensive history, Girona’s museums are a must-see for their priceless religious manuscripts, tapestries, and Catalan art. The Museu del Cinema brings things right up to date, as do such restaurants as El Celler de Can Roca, twice voted the world’s best by The World's 50 Best Restaurants, or its equally famous Rocambolesc Ice Cream parlor.

3. Muscat, Oman

Oman’s capital retains many of its traditional features while also offering the best of contemporary attractions. You can browse in a traditional souk or soak in a spa, visit a typical Omani village or tour a modern art museum.

The heart of the city is the magnificent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque where the superlatives – the world’s second-largest carpet and a Swarovski crystal chandelier – are secondary to the atmosphere of hospitality and calm.

To find out more about the country’s culture, visit the National Museum of Oman. Centuries of history, geography and religion are explored in fascinating galleries with exhibits including an authentic sailing boat.

The Bait al Zubair museum offers a deeper look at traditional Omani culture. Old Muscat, the original part of the city, brings all this history to life with its ancient buildings and forts – as does the atmospheric souk at Mutrah, where you can bargain for frankincense, traditional garments and jewellery.

Muscat’s many malls, and the shops on Souk Ruwi Street, will bring you right up to the bustling present. But you’re never far from the Gulf of Oman, where Arabian sea views can be enjoyed with a stroll along the Corniche, or on the lovely beach at Qurm.

Muttrah Corniche, Muscat, Oman. Photo: Lukas Bischoff Photograph/Shutterstock

4. Kerala, India

The southwest state of Kerala epitomizes tropical India with the intense green of its backwaters overhung by countless palm trees. Yet this land of verdant natural beauty is also a rich font of culture, history and tradition.

In Kerala’s largest city, Kochi, the historic Fort Cochin district was formerly the hub of India’s maritime spice trade. Old churches and warehouses lining narrow streets recall settlers from European countries with faded elegance. The 16th-century Mattancherry Palace, built by the Portuguese and later renovated by the Dutch, features vividly colorful frescoes. While in the heart of the area, St Francis’s, dating from 1506, is the oldest European church in India.

The tangle of brackish channels inland from the sea that comprise the state's backwaters extend south from Kochi to the bustling market town of Alappuzha (Alleppey). Experience this vibrant tropical townscape on an eight-hour cruise from Kollam, which serves as a regional gateway, up to Alappuzha along the area’s lakes and lagoons interlaced by slender canals.

 Houseboat in the Kerala backwaters. Photo: Rafal Cichawa/Shutterstock

Inland from the backwaters, the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary centers on a convoluted reservoir where, from the comfort of a boat deck, you can sight grazing herds of elephants, and if you’re very lucky, one of the tigers that live in the surrounding forests.

Don’t leave without spending a few days soaking up the sun at Varkala or Kovalam – Kerala’s finest sandy beaches overlooking the Arabian Sea. 

Experience the region's highlights on Insight Guides' Magical Kerala trip.

5. Medellín, Colombia

Shaking off its past as the headquarters of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, Medellín has developed into one of South America’s most exciting cities. Striking architecture and public art are complemented by a burgeoning restaurant scene and a pleasant year-round climate.

In recent years, modern science and library parks have mushroomed and a slick transport system has transformed the city. Lofty cable cars travel above the rooftops, escalators criss-cross the hillsides, and the nation’s only metro zips its way through the metropolis.

An ideal destination for culture lovers, the work of Colombia’s most famous artist, Medellín-born Fernando Botero, can be found dotted throughout the city. The leafy Plaza Botero is generously peppered with his sculptures. The artist’s distinctive voluptuous forms taking shape in everything from a chubby Sphinx to reclining figures, a gladiator, and a decidedly plump dog. The nearby Museo de Antioquia houses a vast collection of the much-loved artist’s work, alongside those of other notable Colombian and Latin American artists. 

A new wave of eateries and cafés was kickstarted when El Cielo catapulted Medellín onto the culinary map in 2006. The restaurant’s full-sensory experience takes diners on a journey through an array of crafted dishes, while artisan coffee-lovers flock to minimalist Pergamino and the tiny Café Revolución

Sprawling across an Antioquian mountain valley, Medellín is dotted with parks and gardens. Its own nature reserve, Parque Arvi, is just a cable car ride away from the north of the city. The park’s expanse of heathland and woods is laced with miles of hiking trails and home to abundant wildlife including iguanas, monkeys and scarlet macaws.

Cable cars over Medellín, Colombia. Photo: doleesi/Shutterstock

6. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Many visitors rush through Addis Ababa on their way to visit the wonders of Lalibela or the Simien Mountains. But it is definitely worth spending some time in Ethiopia’s capital for a more rounded view of this amazing country.

The Ethnological Museum has the beautiful setting that befits Emperor Haile Selassie’s former palace. Here, you can see his opulent former bedroom and bathroom, but the main attraction is a fascinating cultural overview of Ethiopia’s many peoples and their music.

The National Museum’s star exhibit is ‘Lucy’, whose tiny skeleton revolutionized our ideas about the origins of humanity. Other galleries bring you through the historic eras, and cover Ethiopian art from the 4th century up to the present day.

Another essential is the ‘Red Terror’ Martyrs Memorial Museum, where the horrors endured after the fall of Haile Selassie are detailed unflinchingly. 

After hearing about those half-million deaths, you will fully enjoy the life on show at the Merkato, an open-air market said to be the largest in Africa.

Don’t leave without experiencing the best in Ethiopia’s cuisine, and visit a coffee shop to appreciate another local passion. Tomoca is among the very best. The Wavel Street branch, one of six in the city, shows Italian influence in its decor that dates from the 1950s.

 Ethiopian Orthodox church, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo: John Wollwerth/Shutterstock

7. Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a byword for ecological diversity. The country is home to five per cent of the world’s known plant and animal species – including hundreds of species of birds. It’s also a paradise for eco and adventure tourism, whether that’s jungle trekking, climbing volcanos, whitewater rafting, zip-lining, wildlife watching, or jumping off waterfalls.

Part of the reason for such diversity is that Costa Rica borders both the Caribbean, to the north, and the Pacific, to the south, with differing climates and landscapes. The Caribbean side is renowned for its quiet beaches while the Pacific Coast, being closer to North America, is more popular but also more varied.

The Osa Peninsula alone, in southwestern Costa Rica, supports half of the country’s species, many protected in Corcovado National Park or the offshore Caño Island Biological Reserve.

With rainforest, rivers and sea, you can hike, snorkel or dive amidst an amazing diversity of flora, fauna and scenery. See scarlet macaws and monkeys, find the tracks of puma or jaguar, and watch whales and dolphins in the waters of the Golfo Dulce.

Meanwhile, jungle lodges offer first-class facilities in tune with the environment. The whole peninsula is a perfect illustration of the motto of Costa Rica: ‘pura vida’ – ‘pure life’.

Hike through Corcovado National Park and experience a Caño Island boat tour as part of Insight Guides' Costa Rica's Wild South trip

Waterfall in Juan Castro Blanco National Park, Costa Rica. Photo: Ivalin/Shutterstock 

8. Detroit, USA

Detroit has had many nicknames: ‘Paris of the MidWest’, ‘City of Trees’, and ‘Motown’. Its latest of ‘Comeback City’, celebrating its revival after bankruptcy in 2013, might also be applied to first-time visitors, wowed by its many charms and vowing to return.

Sitting near the Great Lakes, where the Detroit River was once the world’s busiest waterway, and with a metropolitan population of 4.3 million, Detroit remains a powerhouse of industry and the arts.

Visitors can walk the beautiful riverfront, taking in its many architectural gems, enjoy the Detroit Institute of Arts, which houses one of the USA’s best art collections (particularly for African American art), then go to a concert in the city that is the hometown of Stevie Wonder, Madonna, and Eminem.

For a deeper insight into Detroit, don’t miss the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Motown Museum, or the unique Henry Ford Museum.

Then meet the locals at The Eastern Market, block after block of food shopping, restaurants and food trucks, or at a baseball game in Comerica Park, with its giant Ferris wheel. Warm and welcoming, they will introduce you to another of Detroit’s other big draws: the donut.

Detroit skyline, Michigan, USA. Photo: Ivan Cholakov/Shutterstock

9. Taipei, Taiwan

If you come to Taipei City for nothing else, then come for the food. The city offers the best from all the many Chinese regions, matched by the finest in Asian and other international cuisines. The national dish of beef noodle soup is an example: its Chinese roots survive but are now layered with local pickled mustard greens and spices including star anise, cloves and fennel.

Taiwan’s capital sits in the north of the island, enjoying a warm subtropical climate all year round. It thrums with energy by day and night, and provides the second highest income per capita in Asia, much of which is generated by its world-leading electronics industry.

Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world when it opened in 2004, shows off the city’s ambition. Take in the view, and enjoy a meal in one of its many eateries and restaurants that are central to the city’s nightlife.

At Ximending, a vast pedestrian zone, you can shop in designer stores and enjoy world-class entertainment. Shilin – one of many busy night markets in Taipei – is another must-see for its countless food stalls, packed karaoke bars and thumping video arcades.

For some history, visit Longshan Temple which dates to 1738, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall or the National Palace Museum housing art treasures from the 10th century.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: r.nagy/Shutterstock

10. Zanzibar, Tanzania

It’s a name that immediately conjures up the romance of travel, but Zanzibar is a place where many visitors don’t leave the first beach they come to. Why would they, when its stretch of white sand is inevitably deserted, backed by shady palm trees and fronting the warm waters of the Indian Ocean?

Tear yourself away from the five-star resorts or idyllic beach shacks along the coast for a day trip to the capital Stone Town and a not-to-be-missed introduction to the culture and history behind the myth. The waterfront, lined with dhows on one side and crumbling palaces on the other, recalls when these islands were the center of a web of trade routes connecting Africa, India and Arabia, generating vast wealth from ivory, spices, and the slave trade.

Learn more on a visit to a spice plantation, amid the smells of clove, nutmeg and cinnamon. While touring the interior, don’t miss the red colobus monkeys and birdlife of Jozani Forest Reserve.

Back in Stone Town, explore its narrow alleys to browse stores full of exotic treasures, or climb to a rooftop restaurant to enjoy a coffee from Arabia, a curry from India, or a pizza prepared by an Italian exile.

Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania. Photo: Nick Johanson/Shutterstock

Ready to book a trip away in 2020?

Insight Guides can help you plan and book tailor-made trips in destinations around the world. Simply get in touch to let us know your ideas for the trip and when you would like to travel. Local experts will then prepare a personalized itinerary especially, which you can amend until you’re completely happy with every detail before booking.