Best places to visit in 2019

As the New Year begins, Insight Guides takes a look at the best places to visit in 2019. With a clear focus on currently flourishing destinations, we have selected countries and cities around the world that should definitely feature on your travel hit list for this year.
Matera, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock
Matera, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock


Georgia

Georgia is known for its history and hospitality but is now also earning a reputation as a paradise for hikers. The Caucasus Mountains have spectacular views and walks to suit anyone, up to the most adventurous, with accommodation choices ranging from village houses to wild camping. Treks take in glacial valleys, Alpine lakes and forests, remote villages and medieval castles. As well as the scenery, the incredible warmth of the Georgian people, and the endless meals also charm visitors.

As well as its wealth of food, Georgia also boasts the oldest vineyards in the world, watered by melting snows from those same Caucasian Mountains. The Georgian language actually gave us the word ghvino for wine, and the country’s contemporary winemakers are fast improving the varieties on offer.

Travellers can taste the best of Georgian cuisine in the capital, Tbilisi, which sprawls across a picturesque river valley. Mixing old and new, post-Soviet decay and modern hotels, the city intrigues visitors with its contrasts and frequent surprises.

Nearby is greatest of the country’s three UNESCO sites, the former capital of Mtskheta. Its 11th-century fortified cathedral of Svetitskhovel and nearby monastery mark the site where the country’s first Christian church was built in the 4th century.

Jvary Monastery near Mtskheta, Georgia. Photo: Shutterstock


Montevideo, Uruguay

As Uruguay itself blossoms, the country's cool capital of Montevideo is also coming into its own. After all, the place where both Brazilians and Argentines choose to holiday in large numbers must have something pretty good going for it.

That something revolves around La Rambla, Montevideo's long waterfront esplanade running past lively beaches and upmarket neighbourhoods, and the Ciudad Vieja, the crumbling old city now humming with fashionable restaurants, shops and hotels, as its churches and mansions are restored.

This rebirth is the latest in a history marked by waves of immigrants, who have all left their mark on this city of 1.4 million inhabitants. The many pasta and pizza restaurants, and excellent cafés, reflect the city’s Italian heritage. Other cultures can be tasted in the street food you find everywhere, from steak sandwiches for the hungry to churros for the sweet-toothed. Given the endless cattle of the pampas, great steak is a given, as is good wine.

The significant Afro-Uruguayan community is at the heart of the world’s longest carnival, which annually lasts 40 days from late January onward. Dancers will also enjoy the tango scene – and may hear that Carlos Gardel, the great 'Argentine' tango singer, was in actual fact brought up in this city of numerous music lovers.

The Plaza Independencia in Montevideo, Uruguay. Photo: Shutterstock


Zimbabwe

With Zimbabwe’s turbulent recent history beginning to fade, the country’s abundant natural attractions continue to shine brightly. The greatest is Victoria Falls, the world’s highest and widest waterfalls – perhaps best described by its African name of Mosi-oa-Tuna, the ‘Smoke that Thunders’.

Only two hours south is Hwange, the country’s largest National Park covering an area half the size of Belgium. The park supports around 100 mammal and 400 bird species, including a large population of elephants, as well as lions, leopards, hyenas, wild dogs and buffalo.

Other notable parks include Gonarezhou on the border with Mozambique and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Matobo. A unique experience can be found at Mana Pools, where visitors can walk without a guide – although one is recommended given that the area's residents range from lions and elephants to hippos and crocodiles.

No visitor should miss Great Zimbabwe, the ancient ‘House of Rock’ from which the country takes its name and the nation’s flag takes a symbol. This mighty ruin is one of the most important historic sites in Africa, after Egypt’s pyramids, but many of its secrets remain hidden. Founded around 400 BC, the city grew into a major religious and trade centre – Arabian glass and Chinese porcelain have been excavated here – before its mysterious decline a thousand years later.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Photo: Shutterstock


County Kerry, Ireland

The Ring of Kerry, Killarney and the Gap of Dunloe are almost clichés in the touristic appeal of Ireland, with new generations of visitors continually rediscovering their genuine charm. Now added to that list of attractions is the spectacular MacGillycuddy's Reeks area of mountains, lakes and valleys in central Kerry. Ireland’s three highest mountains draw in hikers, climbers and campers who enjoy solitude in spaces where the only company might be a distant flock of sheep. Meanwhile the lakes attract canoeists, picnickers and walkers, as well as cyclists keen to enjoy the challenge of largely quiet, winding mountain roads.

A new generation of upmarket bed and breakfasts, trendy restaurants and cosmopolitan cafés are also refreshing the Irish brand. Fresh, locally sourced ingredients remain the same, but they are just as likely to be served in a Thai curry as an Irish stew, accompanied by an interesting wine or craft beer rather than the traditional pint of Guinness.

Behind it all lie the classic charms of cosy pubs, friendly locals, Irish music and a pace of life that is made for a relaxing holiday. Also unchanged are the amazing views, constantly evolving cloud patterns and Atlantic waves crashing onto an empty beach, that draw you back to nature and make you want to stay just a little while longer.

Ross Castle in Co. Kerry, Ireland. Photo: Shutterstock


Thessaloniki, Greece

Greece continues to attract increasing numbers of travellers drawn by the charms of its islands and ancient landmarks. While tourism is crucial to the nation’s economy, there are concerns that the country’s numerous islands cannot cope with their own burgeoning popularity. Visiting an unsung alternative destination is key to responsible travel in Greece.

Following the award-winning regeneration of its waterfront, the vibrant northern port of Thessaloniki is undergoing something of a renaissance. Roman, Byzantine and Turkish architecture bear witness to its rich and complex history, while the region’s Macedonian heritage is evident at the remarkably well preserved nearby UNESCO listed archaelogical sites of Philippi and Vergina. 

The city’s landmark Ottoman White Tower marks the start of the revamped waterfront walkway, which is loved by the friendly locals as much for the cycle path that runs along its entire 3.5km stretch, as for its numerous gardens, shady groves and sweeping sea views. 

In the evenings, Thessaloniki’s bars and restaurants buzz with life, while the city’s busy event calendar means that it’s a year-round destination – annual highlights include the Dimitria Festival of arts, Thessaloniki International Film Festival and Thessaloniki Food Festival. When the time is right to soak up the sun, the city is within easy reach of Halkidiki’s trio of peninsulas stretching into the Aegean Sea, which are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Greece. 

Orthodox Cathedral in Thessaloniki, Greece. Photo: Shutterstock


Toronto, Canada

With a population of nearly three million people in the Greater Toronto area, half of them born outside Canada, Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Walk around and you’ll find neighbourhoods called Greektown, Little India, Koreatown and Little Jamaica.

That diversity is reflected in a vibrant nightlife and cultural scene. Summer brings the Caribana Carnival, the largest street festival in North America, while the Toronto Jazz Festival showcases the best of local and international jazz musicians.

The influence of immigrants is also evident on the varied menus of more than 8,000 restaurants – no wonder locals eat out on average three times a week. Foodies also love St Lawrence Market, an historic building bustling with everyone from artisan bakers to organic butchers, and the multicultural Kensington Market. Besides its food, this neighbourhood is the place to shop for African art, Peruvian hats or Italian glass, or just sit and listen to a busker play as people wander by.

Artists have taken over another historic area in the Distillery District, now home to galleries, restaurants, brewpubs and performance spaces. Anyone who still thought a night out in Toronto is restricted to watching a baseball game at the Rogers Centre is in for a pleasant surprise.

Famous Gooderham Building in downtown Toronto. Photo: Shutterstock


Matera, Italy

The story of how one of Italy’s most impoverished towns became a 2019 European Capital of Culture is a remarkable one. Its resurgence brings hope to the surrounding region of Basilicata, in the mountains of Italy’s south, where the tourist industry is one of the few ways of making a living along with agriculture.

In many regards, it is a familiar tale: housing stock abandoned by people as too poor to live in is discovered by even poorer artists who see its potential. The houses in Matera might have been poorer than most, being primarily limestone caves known as Sassi (stones) dating back to prehistoric times, but they could be turned into unusual and often spectacular homes.

The transformation was helped by government grants, and the 1993 listing by UNESCO of this 'complex of houses, churches, monasteries and hermitages built into the natural caves of the Murgia'. After its choice by Mel Gibson as the location for his controversial 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ, the town began to envisage its own future.

Now the Sassi are home to bars, restaurants and boutique hotels, with around a quarter of the city’s homes listed on Airbnb. This tiny city of 60,000 people is ready for its time in the sun.

The narrow streets and stairways of Matera. Photo: Shutterstock


Nusa Penida, Indonesia

Off the coast of the Indonesian island holiday destination of Bali, Nusa Penida is a relatively undiscovered island with a coastline of breathtaking, craggy cliffs and dramatic outcrops rising out of clear blue waters. Its hilly interior is dotted with villages and while places to stay are restricted to guesthouses and relaxed hotels in Crystal Bay, Sampalan and Ped, the rewards of visiting this super laid-back island are considerable. 

Boats from Bali to Penida leave regularly from the beach at Sanur and take less than an hour. Once on the island, van and motorcycle taxis are available, or it’s easy to hire scooters or motorbikes to start exploring.

In a secluded cove at the foot of a precipitous rock face, the pristine sands of Atuh Beach overlook striking offshore rock formations, while Kelingking Beach lies at the bottom of steps that descend a steep headland. Enclosed by towering cliffs, the waves breaking on its fine white sands are great for bodysurfing. The tidal pool surrounded by craggy rocks at Angel’s Billabong is perfect for a swim in calm, crystal clear water at low tide, while the picturesque cove at nearby Broken Beach features a natural rocky archway eroded by the waves, through which the ocean waters flow. The island also offers superb diving and snorkelling opportunities, best enjoyed on dive shop boat tours that take in some of the best coral reefs in the world for seeing manta rays and sunfish. 

Nusa Penida coastline, Indonesia. Photo: Shutterstock


Panama City, Panama

Panama City straddles the entrance to the Panama Canal, source of the English language’s most elegant palindrome: ‘A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.’ The first stop for any visitor must be the Miraflores Lock to learn the history behind that plan and watch a towering container ship pass slowly through.

Here, you’ll discover the canal also has an extensive green belt that protects the canal’s water and supports an abundance of flora and fauna – including jaguars, monkeys, parrots and eagles. Learn more at the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo – one of the many surprises Panama holds for visitors.

For example, the towering skyscrapers, five-star hotels and cine-complexes of the ultra-modern city hide a long-established centre dating from the 16th century. Panama was founded in 1519 by Spanish conquistadors on their way to conquer the Inca Empire and the Casco Viejo has a magnificent cathedral and other historic colonial buildings.

Once run-down, it is now revived with boutique hotels, elegant restaurants and art galleries. Snacking at fruit and food stalls is a good way to pass the time before lunch at El Mercado de Mariscos – the excellent fish market where you’ll discover the hold that food has over Panamanians.

Panama City Skyline. Photo: Shutterstock


Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv’s reputation as a party town precedes it, aided by its Mediterranean setting and youthful population. Beautiful beaches are lined with restaurants, bars and clubs, while the sister port city of Jaffa has historic buildings and a more laid-back dining scene. The city is home to more than a dozen beaches, all of which face the west, making for dramatic sunsets and busy bars most evenings.

High-rise buildings dominate the skyline, a reflection of sky-high land prices. This gives Tel Aviv a modern air unlike the region’s traditional cities. In contrast to these towers are the thousands of Bauhaus buildings dating from the 1930s, designed by Jewish architects fleeing Nazi Germany. Now preserved, they are known by the nickname the White City.

Traffic congestion is such that walking around is the best way to discover them and many other sights in the city. The central pedestrian-friendly Carmel Market and Nahalat Binyamin are great places to start exploring, filled with street performers, cafés and shops.

Any stroll should also take in Dizengoff Street, which bisects Tel Aviv and is at the heart of its nightlife scene. But all roads lead back to the boardwalk and beaches of this most attractive of Mediterranean cities.

Surfers along aTel Aviv beach. Photo: Shutterstock


Ready to book a trip for 2019?

Insight Guides' local experts can help you organise and book wonderful tailor-made trips to destinations around the world. Simply get in touch letting us know any ideas you might have for your trip and when you would like to travel. We will then prepare an itinerary especially, which you can amend until you’re completely happy with every detail before booking.