The 19 Best Places to Go in 2019, Conde Naste Traveller, December 2018
There's a phrase we like to use at Traveler to describe certain destinations: "It's having a moment." It comes up a lot—that near-impossible-to-pin-down, can't-put-our-thumb-on-it logic as to why you should visit somewhere, now. We feel an urgent need to get to Namibia; to visit Japan before the crowds do in 2020; to return to Egypt, finally. Travel can be a meaningful way to be an ambassador. So do your part: These 19 editor-endorsed destinations—vetted by editors from both Traveler U.S. and Traveller U.K.—are the best places to go in 2019.
Whitsunday Islands via Brisbane, Australia
You never have to convince us to visit the Whitsunday Islands, home to some of the world’s prettiest beaches (visit Whitehaven at least once, please) and a stretch of southern Great Barrier Reef that’s way less snorkeled and scuba’d than the Cairns hub up north. But as of December 20, there’s a new way to do it all: Book a for-a-lifetime stay at the Elysian, a new boutique eco-lodge that practically defines secluded (private cove, rainforest all around, 20 guests max at any time). You get ferried around by the resort’s boat, the Lotus, to Whitehaven Beach or picnics on neighboring islands, and you feel like you have the Barrier Reef to yourself, rather than competing with pontoon boats of nature-starved tourists. And the best new way to get to the Whitsundays? Dare we say it: via Brisbane. The once-stodgy business hub has been popping up on our radar all fall, with super-cool city hotels like the Westin Brisbane (seriously—think ten-gallon metal tubs in guest rooms and Aussie high tea), Ovolo The Valley, and The Calile,a James Street spot that seems shipped from Palm Springs, opening. Looks like it’s going to be a big 2019 for Queensland. —L.D.R.
If you've only ever used the Sicilian capital as the airport for the island's coasts and vineyards, this is the year to stick around for a few days after landing. An ambitious mayor, Leoluca Orlando, is helping to breathe new life into the ancient city's food and cultural scene (he’s largely to thank for Palermo's run as host of European biennial Manifesta). This year, 17th-century Palazzo Butera will reopen as an art gallery after a mega renovation by Milanese art collector Massimo Valsecchi. And inspired by what they’ve seen in Rome and London, younger Palermitani have taken over their city's hospitality scene, pushing it beyond poorly it taverns selling decent eggplant alla norma. Bocum does exceptional negronis in a split-level space near Cala while the top local wines are paired with small plates at central Vinoveritas (save room for the sausage ragu at Bisso Bistrot later). Even the hotels are getting a redo. Rocco Forte just announced that he will take over the Grand Villa Igea, already the hottest hotel around, in time for a 2020 debut. —E.F.
Tahiti has long seemed a far-away tease, of exquisite pearls, vanilla- and tiare-scented breezes, and powdery white sand beaches. Except, well, it's really not that far away: The islands of French Polynesia are an eight-hour nonstop from the U.S. west coast, making them more convenient than Europe, and a recent spate of new routes and airline updates have made Tahiti more accessible—and affordable—than ever. Both United and low-cost carrier French Bee recently launched new routes from San Francisco, while Air France and Air Tahiti Nui upgraded their planes flying between Los Angeles and Tahiti. And though Zikaconcerns persist in other tropical destinations around the world, Tahiti is home to The Brando, a private island eco-resort that managed to get rid of the problem, in addition to pioneering eco-conscious practices that’ve elevated it as a model for sustainable luxury tourism. Built in the Tetiaroa atoll—bought by Marlon Brando back in the 1960s—the resort is just a 20-minute flight north of Tahiti’s airport; Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, and this under-the-radar guy Barack Obama have all made the trip. Now it’s your chance. —Cynthia Drescher
Chengdu’s tourist lure has long centered on two Chinese clichés: giant pandas and hotpot. The Sichuanese capital is home to the world’s largest concentration of those doe-eyed bears, and its cuisine has been ravenously exported worldwide. Yet there’s nowhere better to glimpse the future of New China than here, the Middle Kingdom’s coolest city. Domestically, it has a reputation for locals who are both laid-back and cosmopolitan—it was on the Silk Road, after all. In a country where the LGBT population is often invisible, Chengdu is a rare, rainbow-colored exception. Come here to experience the cutting edge of contemporary Chinese culture: Check out the Higher Brothers, a local rap group at the vanguard of the emerging domestic hip-hop scene, and the city’s independent boutiques, like the months-old Kerry RC, more adventurous than their coastal counterparts. Head to the Eastern Suburb Memory complex for an impressive roster for fashion and art; some of those artists double up as tattooists, making Chengdu’s adventurously inked millennials strolling around the new Tai Koo Li luxury mall, the center of the country’s new tattoo culture. Stay at the Temple House next to that mall, and book dinner at the Bridge, a Neri & Hu–designed cocktail bar and restaurant inside a converted walkway that spans the local river. —Mark Ellwood
Puerto Rico spent the first half of 2018 in post-Maria recovery mode—all that mattered was getting the lights on, clearing the roads, and returning to normalcy. But now, more than a year after the storm made landfall, Puerto Rico has not only recovered: It’s been reborn. The need to rebuild inspired many hotels to undertake indulgent renovations, and as of this fall, nearly all have opened their doors. For the former Rockefeller hideaway, Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, more than 300,000 native plants were reintroduced to the grounds, along with a complete refresh of all 114 guestrooms; at the iconic El San Juan Hotel, a pre-storm $65-million renovation was followed by another restoration of its oceanfront villas, pools, and notoriously lush landscaping. A ton of new Airbnbs have popped up—everything from beach bungalows in the surf town of Rincon to chic lofts in San Juan’s graffiti-covered Santurce. But there’s one reason alone that could convince us to fly down: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical Hamilton is heading to San Juan this January, with Miranda reprising the title role. The show will run January 8-23 at the University of Puerto Rico. You can still snag tickets from his Flamboyan Arts Fund, which will use a majority of the hefty $5,000 ticket price to rebuild arts programs on the island. This year, Puerto Rico is the statement trip to take. —M.S.
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Despite being the largest city in the state, Houston’s always been excluded from the list of “cool” Texas cities. (We see you, Austin.) But if you look past the mile-wide freeways and strip malls, the city is finding a way to create its own cool—and 2019 looks to be its standout year. In July, the city (or, rather, the universe) will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with the restoration of the Apollo Mission Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. On the arts side, the Museum of Fine Arts and Holocaust Museum will complete expansions, joining the newly renovated Menil Collection and its drawing institute, the first of its kind in the U.S. And then there’s the food... Next year, not one, not two, but five food halls will open in the city, including a Chelsea Market–style warehouse and the world's first "chef hall," a 9,000-square-foot warehouse with five full-on restaurants, each with a 30-seat counter and with people like Gary Ly, former chef de cuisine at Underbelly, in the kitchen. As the most diverse city in the U.S.—nearly a quarter of the population was born outside the country—it’s a multicultural city keeping up with the cool kids. Even a born-and-bred Dallasite like myself can get behind that. —Meredith Carey
Singapore loves to flaunt its assets. This city-state burns bright with light shows and flash designer shopping malls (shopping is the national sport), and made the perfect diamond-studded backdrop for Crazy Rich Asians. The all-Asian blockbuster may have ignited a flame for Singapore as more than just a stopover city, for its tropical British colonial grandeur and futuristic architecture, for street food in the night markets and skyscraping sundowners in Marina Bay Sands’ rooftop pool, and for slings at Raffles, the original grande dame of the Far East, which is undergoing a full facelift and will reopen with a bang in 2019. Joining the fray is the fabulous new Six Senses Maxwell, opening 1 December 2018 in a restored colonial building. There’s desert-island fun here, too, with a bunch of incredible private islands nearby. Hottest spots are eco-chic Cempedak, with its curving, modernist grass-roofed bungalows set among beach and jungle (hotelier Andrew Dixon also opened Nikoi island in the same archipelago), tiny driftwood-charming Pulau Joyo, and beautiful Bawah Reserve, accessed by seaplane from Singapore, with 35 suites that include 11 bamboo overwater bungalows in the bright lagoons of a marine conservation zone. —Laura Fowler
Cruise the Northeast Passage
The Northwest Passage, where vessels slice through previously impassable stretches of the Canadian Arctic (an unfortunate side affect of climate change), has been big news in the cruise industry the past couple years. But for 2019, we are shifting focus to its eastern sister route, the Northeast Passage. In August, Silversea will set sail for the first time ever from Nome, Alaska, to Tromsø in Norway. Passengers with 25 days and $37,260 to spare will tick off a veritable bucket list of near-impossible-to-reach sites, including the polar bear haven of Wrangel Island (pictured) and Murmansk, Russia, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. (An objective of the Silver Explorer? Venture as far north as possible with the hopes of spotting walrus and seals on the ice.) In between the Zodiac expeditions along the icebergs, the ship's 144 passengers can expect all the bells and whistles that come with a five-figure price tag, including personal butlers, silver service dining, and whip-fast Wi-Fi so they can make loved ones back home, sick with jealousy every day out at sea. —E.F.