The capital of Albania isn’t the most accessible European destination (prepare for a dire stopover in London), but it’s one of the most exciting. Dubbed “the new Croatia”, Albania stepped out from behind the Iron Curtain with historic charm and artistic flair, thanks to artist-turned-mayor-turned-prime minister Edi Rama. Soviet buildings in Tirana are painted brightly for a modern twist, while its landmark structure, the Pyramid of Tirana, is due to reopen as a public space in 2020.
Where to stay: For boutique charm in the heart of Tirana, look no further than the Xheko Imperial (around €90 a night). Expect vintage wooden furnishings, a spectacular, airy atrium and excellent city views, especially from the rooftop restaurant.
Getting there: Indirect flights connecting at London or Vienna start at €92.
A visit to the fast-rising destination of Oman could angle towards a luxe city break, a desert adventure, a Bedouin experience or an archaeological visit, but the Al Hajar Mountains have an appeal of its own. At 2,000m above sea level, you can escape the heat of the Gulf and enjoy unparalleled scenes like the “Grand Canyon of Arabia” and the shifting sands of Sharqiya. Nizwa is the ancient fort town from which the adventure begins.
Where to stay: Nizwa Heritage Inn (around €95 a night) is a rustic hotel converted from six townhouses in the Old Town area, just minutes from the fort. Room décor is traditional – think Arabic alcoves, Omani fabrics and miniature windows.
Getting there: Indirect flights connecting at London Heathrow start at €397.
After a period of political uncertainty, enough calm has restored that travellers are returning to Nicaragua; around 1.5 million people made the trip in 2019. It’s news the country is jumping on; international flights have increased and a newly opened highway links the Caribbean to the Atlantic coast in a six-hour drive. Those interested in landscape and history could veer off to Momotombo National Park, to survey the views of its live volcano and adjoining lake. There’s also the abandoned city of León Viejo to explore, now a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Where to stay: Brand new to the area is Momotombo Lake Resort (from €235 a night), chic accommodation themed on Nicaragua’s rainforests.
Getting there: Air Canada flies indirect from Dublin to Managua from €844.
Ryanair will begin flying direct between Dublin and Montenegro in 2020, coinciding with a healthy rise in the small country’s profile. Its mountains, beaches, snow and sun make it an adventurer’s playground, but stop over in the capital of Podgorica for the metropolitan culture. Much of the city was rebuilt after the second World War, so the mix of Ottoman remnants, brutalist architecture and contemporary aesthetics are worth investigation, and there’s a range of parks to take in the vibe of this relaxed city.
Where to stay: Most of the sights are walkable from the Boscovich Boutique Hotel (around €80 a night), a homely, chic hotel with art deco flair.
Getting there: Ryanair flights from Dublin to Podgorica start in April 2020 from €90.
Los Angeles, US
Year-long sunshine has an eternal appeal, but in 2020, the movie capital of the west has an added draw. It finally sees the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, a six-storey centre dedicated to film sciences. Designed by Renzo Piano, famed for the Pompidou Centre in Paris, opening dates are still to be confirmed, but its first exhibition is already earmarked for revered filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli.
Where to stay: The West Hollywood Edition is LA’s newest swanky hotel, on West Sunset Boulevard. It’s not cheap, at around €440 a night, but its decadence stretches from the rooftop pool with views across LA’s skyline, down to the basement nightclub.
Getting there: Aer Lingus flies direct from Dublin to Los Angeles from €416.
Buoyed by the British government’s recent safe-to-visit approval (the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has also given it the green light), 60 per cent of tour operator Explore’s trips to Lebanon have already sold out in 2020, indicating the level at which it’s bounced back. Political discord rumbles on, but it’s easy to understand its tourist appeal: the capital of Beirut is the youthful heart of the country, simmering with ideas and progress. Nowhere in Lebanon is more than 75 minutes from Beirut, so a daytrip is rewarded with broad lines of vineyards, Roman buildings that range from pristine to crumbling, and hikes underneath its towering cedar trees.
Where to stay: Set up camp in the heart of the action in Hamra. The Standard run two four-star hotels in the area, both around €75 a night.
Getting there: Lufthansa flies indirect from Dublin (from €303), and British Airways fly indirect from Cork (from €448).
Outdoorsy types are in for a treat: Borneo is crammed with thick rainforests, gaping caves, gushing waterfalls and an incredible biodiversity: 44 mammal species and 6,000 plant species are unique to the island. So it’s good news that rainforest trekking routes in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, are on the up. It’s a chance to hike within some incredible scenes, stopping at rainforest lodges or homestays along the way.
Where to stay: Permai Rainforest Resort is 30-minute drive from the capital of Kuching, yet immersed in thick vegetation and at the foot of Mount Santubong. Stay in a treehouse (around €90 a night) for an added kick.
Getting there: Emirates flies indirect from Dublin to Kuching from €666.
Miyajima Island, Japan
Japan’s appeal rolls from the Rugby World Cup in 2019 to Tokyo’s summer Olympics in 2020, providing another chance to experience its unique culture. After the sporting action, retire to the deer-dotted island of Miyajima, an easy hour away from Hiroshima. A daytrip is ample to hike within thick forests of cherry blossoms and maple trees, but those who stay overnight will find the island to themselves at morning and night. Note its iconic floating Torii gate is under reconstruction until mid-2020.
Where to stay: Jukeiso Ryokan (around €250 a night) marries traditional Japanese style with on-point flexibility and service. Like most ryokans, dinner is included – expect divine-tasting courses, especially if you’re vegetarian.
Getting there: KLM, Air France and British Airways fly indirect from Cork or Dublin to Osaka Kansai from €667.
There’s always a reason to visit Paris, but 2020 is especially enticing. The big draw is the Christian Louboutin exhibition at Palais de la Porte Dorée. It showcases a range of red soles from the early years to the present, plus the influences behind Louboutin’s designs, including director David Lynch and artists Lisa Reihana and Imran Quresh. It’s happy timing that Aer Lingus reinstate their Shannon to Charles De Gaulle route on March 29th.
Where to stay: Continue the designer theme at forthcoming The Bulgari Hotel in the Triangle d’Or area, with its well-appointed rooms, a fine-dining Italian restaurant and inner courtyard; serious Italian flair in Paris.
Getting there: Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly from Cork, Shannon and Dublin to Paris from €40.
World-class destinations lie on our doorstep too, and Galway shines brighter than usual in 2020 as the European Capital of Culture. Kicking off with spectacle of a launch on February 8th, there’s a full 12 months of added events with the themes of landscape, language and migration. Look out for an illuminated landscape by Finnish artist Kari Kola, a co-creation between Burning Man’s David Best and Derry and Galway’s kids, and John Gerrard’s intriguingly-sounding Giant Mirror Pavilion.
Where to stay: The House Hotel, centrally located with a boutique-y feel and around €100 a night, is a safe bet.
On December 14th 2020, a solar eclipse is due to darken northern Patagonia – what a fabulous excuse to visit. Bariloche is the ideal base city, from which it’s possible to head out to darker skies. Take a guided tour for added local knowledge, and perhaps a guest astronomer to explain the sights: with viewing lenses, you’ll see explosions on the sun’s surface, the lakes of the moon, and the miraculous effect known as the “diamond ring”.
Where to stay: View Hotel (around €90 a night) is a clean, comfortable three-star with impressive lake views and a convivial bar.
Getting there: Swiss Air and KLM fly indirect from Dublin or Cork to Buenos Aires from €671.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Jostling with Bali and Phuket as paradise destinations in South East Asia, tourism in Phu Quoc increased around 35 per cent in 2019 – a figure that signifies a change from popular to busy. 2020 may well prove the key chance to experience the benefits of the upsurge (easier visa entry, excellent amenities, flight from London) while still balanced with the tranquillity that made it famous.
Where to stay: New in 2020 is Regent Phu Quoc, with 400 rooms and private residences kitted out in luxurious style. It’s due to open on Bai Truong beach, which offers great sunsets.
Getting there: Emirates flies indirect from Dublin to Phu Quoc from €738.
Germany’s second city is now rivalling Berlin with its revived appeal. In 2020, it talks up its Beatles connection with the inaugural Hamburg Beatles Experience Festival in March, marking 60 years since an early iteration of the Fab Four came to town and caused trouble.
Where to stay: Ruby Lotti Hotel is vibey and offers competitive prices (from €75 a night) by saving on extras like breakfast, daily cleaning and room service. “Lean luxury”, they call it.
Getting there: Ryanair flies from Dublin to Hamburg from €87.
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
In 2020 we’ll see just how Puerto Rico parties, as the capital of San Juan marks its 500th anniversary. To coincide with the year-long calendar of events and celebrations, the city unveils a new side to the resort-packed, beach-blessed island. The new area of El Distrito will launch as a new, contemporary hub for social stuff, with a games arcade, rum distillery, cinema and nightclub already in the mix.
Where to stay: The hottest ticket in town will be Old San Juan Palacio Provincial, the flagship hotel for the El Distrito area.
Getting there: Aer Lingus flies from Dublin and Cork to San Juan from €631.
Ethiopia enjoyed a boon last year with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed receiving the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, and the country earning the title of the fastest-growing travel economy – complemented by an e-visa system that’s now available to Irish passport holders. The capital of Addis Ababa is a heaving, modern city, but venture further afield and excellent roads lead to historical sites, like the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s Palace. The cave churches of Lalibela and Sintra-style castle at Gondar are key on every traveller’s itinerary, and there’s a wealth of spectacular views along its many mountain ranges.
Where to stay: Stop over at Hotel Lobelia in Addis Ababa (around €45 a night) with a complimentary shuttle to the nearby airport. It’s comfortable, friendly and there are plenty of restaurants nearby.
Getting there: Ethiopian Airlines and KLM fly indirect from Dublin or Cork to Addis Ababa. Prices from €475.
There’s no end to Italy’s appeal, and so continues our exploration to Puglia, the country’s heel, of which Brindisi is the port city. Aer Lingus will begin direct flights in May 2020, and even if you’re hot-footing it out of the city in search of rustic Italy, Brindsi has a special appeal worth an exploration. There’s Gothic and Baroque churches, a 13th century fortress, and tempting seafood restaurants too.
Where to stay: Palazzo Virgilio (around €120 a night) is directly opposite the main train station, and a classy, classic four-star with a large terrace for drinks.
Getting there: Aer Lingus fly direct from Dublin to Brindisi. Prices from €162.
Airbnb reported a 158 per cent year-on-year increase for stays in Mexico’s second city, suggesting it’s finally getting its dues. No wonder: it’s a safe city that’s the birthplace of mariachi bands, charrería (Mexican rodeo, the country’s national sport) and el jarabe tapatío (the national dance), and the famous town of Tequila is nearby. It also enjoys the spoils of being “Mexico’s Silicon Valley”, with contemporary restaurants and nightlife. Twin it with a coastal stay at nearby Puerto Vallarta, attractive for its open and cove beaches.
Where to stay: Airbnbs aside, Hotel Morales - centrally located in Guadalajara, with a heated rooftop pool and spa - is a steal at around €65 a night. Originally a 19th century house, its rooms mix Mexican design with trendy touches.
Getting there: Indirect flights connecting at Chicago start at €920.
Parc national des forêts, France
A decade in the making, France’s newest national park is now open for business with 2,000km of hiking paths and 700km of rivers for watersports. It’s the closest national park to Paris, but straddles the regions of Champagne and Burgundy. So after getting back to nature, there’s still time to try out the finest wines known to humanity.
Where to stay: Opt for a little luxury at Château de Courban (around €170 a night). It features a 300sq m (3200sq ft) Nuxe spa and a Japanese-French Michelin-starred restaurant.
Getting there: Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly from Cork, Shannon and Dublin to Paris from €40.
Left off the backpacker’s trail until now, there’s much to uncover in Gujarat. Mahatma Gandhi and current prime minister Narendra Modi are from here, and it’s home to the only species of lion in India. Its new attraction is the world’s tallest statue – of independence leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel that stands at nearly twice the height of the Statue of Liberty – but its unique culture is the larger draw. It’s vastly vegetarian, and it’s a dry state too (but fear ye not – travellers can acquire an alcohol pass).
Where to stay: The bulk of international flights arrive at the capital of Ahmedabad, so the well-located House of MG, a heritage hotel around €70 a night, is a good starting point.
Getting there: IndiGo flies indirect from Dublin to Ahmedabad from €602.
For the second consecutive year, Finland topped the 2019 World Happiness Report, piquing interest once again. Combine a trip to investigate its cheeriness with a visit to a new copntemporary art fair, the Helsinki Biennial. Entitled The Same Sea, the event focuses on interconnectivity and takes place between June 12th and September 27th. Need another draw to seal the deal? Helsinki has a reputation for being eco-conscious, and its aiming to becoming carbon neutral by 2035.
Where to stay: At around €80 a night, Scandic Grand Marina balances price, grandeur and location. It’s a converted 1920s harbour that now houses 462 rooms, all of which are individually furnished.
Getting there: FinnAir flies direct from Dublin to Helsinki from €198. Indirect flights from Cork connecting in London start at €167.