The best places to travel in 2018
From budget breaks to once-in-a-lifetime splurges, family trips and sustainable travel, we pick the best places to visit this year
The Spanish Costas are overrun with tourists as once-popular destinations in North Africa remain off limits. Northern Spain has better value and it’s rarely better than Baiona in southern Galicia. The fishing port is close to Portugal so gets warmer weather and less rain than locations further north. The town has several small and appealing beaches – with countless others along the coast nearby. If you like seafood you will be in heaven with prices more reflective of the Spanish rather than the German or Irish cost of living.
Not the first place a family might think of, nor the easiest to get to – you’d have to travel via Manchester – but it has novelty factor and is much cheaper than Italy or Croatia. The beaches are beautiful, the villages quaint – look towards the medieval town of Kruja, Apollonia’s ruins and Berat , the Unesco World Heritage site famous(ish) for Byzantine churches and Ottoman architecture. Car hire is less than €10 a day and restaurants and accommodation are as cheap. And the sun will shine.
Turmoil in Turkey has seen its tourist industry struggle in recent years but a decline in popularity has had a consequential fall in package holiday prices. The more adventurous might want to check out Gaziantep, Turkey, a 90-minute flight from Istanbul, If you are into your food you’ll be delighted to know it is one of only eight Unesco Creative Gastronomy cities in the world and also the pistachio capital of Turkey. It is a whole lot cheaper than the big resorts and Istanbul and while it is 200km away from the coast, it will bring out the adventurous spirit in some.
Costa de la Luz
This is the secret the Spanish keep to themselves because they don’t want their coast of light blighted by lobster-red tourists from the north. The stretch of coast from Cadiz to Trafalgar (yes, the famous one) and Conil de La Frontera boasts stretches of sandy beaches and low-rise, eco-friendly resorts and endless days of unbroken sunshine are all but guaranteed. The beach-side restaurants are brilliant and brilliantly cheap, the surfing and body boarding are great craic and if you get bored Morocco is a day-trip across the sea. Don’t go in July and August when all of Spain seems to be there.
Wild Atlantic Way
If it is good enough for Luke Skywalker it should be good enough for you. We are terrible in Ireland for overlooking the magical tourist hotspots on our doorstep and there can’t be anywhere in the county that is attracting more attention internationally than Skellig Michael and the Wild Atlantic Way at its fringe. Don’t plan it too much. Just pick a random spot along the way and start cycling. If you’re not too fussy about your accommodation and don’t let the weather get you down, you will have a great – and very cheap – holiday at home.
– Conor Pope
The smartest thing you can do when it comes to travelling this year is to put down your smartphone and avoid social media frenzies. As tourist destinations become overrun, we need to stop and really think before travelling these days. So get smart by researching properly, talk to local experts and keep it real. Tourism is such a force for good. When handled the smart way. Not the hashtag way.
Cruising for a bruising
Many giant cruise ships have questionable environmental, economic and human rights records. I’ll keep shouting until I’m hoarse, “We do not need a bigger boat.” There are plenty of small ship cruise options. Cruise Croatia or the Galapagos with fewer than 40 on board, Iceland with 80 or Scotland with eight. Try a cruise in Scotland along Caledonian Canal. Coast to coast, the overland route. St Hilda Sea Adventures (sthildaseaadventures.co.uk) or The Majestic Line (themajesticline.co.uk). For vessels that don’t vex, see The Small Ship Cruise Ship Collection (small-cruise-ships.com)
Wildlife gone wrong
Touchy feely wildlife tourism should be extinct. Even Instagram gives a warning message to wildlife selfie snappers. Say no to riding elephants, whales in water parks, cuddling dolphins or petting lion cubs. Instead, see them in the wild, and keep your distance. Always seek out responsible wildlife tourism experts. No mention of “responsible” on the site suggests ethically questionable. Why not go sea kayaking amid whale habitats in British Columbia, Canada, with BC Unbound (bcunbound.com). Lots of responsible tourism at Natural World Safaris (naturalworldsafaris.com) Tribes Travel (tribes.co.uk) and The Dolphin and Whale Connection (dolphinandwhaleconnection.com)
Politics and tourism
After years of travel boycotts, Myanmar is back on the controversial list because of its brutal purge of Rohingya Muslims. The choice is yours but, if you do go, travel responsibly so that your money stays locally. Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe means tourism can breathe a sigh of relief. Check out Exodus Travel’s group trips (exodus.co.uk/zimbabwe-holidays) and tailor-made with Native Escapes (nativeescapes.com). If Trump’s trip to Israel angered you, then visit Palestine. See Siraj Center (sirajcenter.org) for superb trips with peace at their core. Always keep up to date with DFA travel advice (dfa.ie) but also subscribe to Amnesty Ireland (amnesty.ie) as your new year’s resolution.
Croatia has gone cruiseship mad and Montenegro concrete crazy. Although only in certain spots, leaving plenty of these stunning countries to enjoy, if you know how. Go on an adventure in Croatia’s Paklenica, Northern Velebit and Plitvice National Parks. And in Montenegro, Lake Skadar National Park is a stunner. Or get to the Adriatic before the other European schools break up. May and June are still quiet. Check out Undiscovered Montenegro for Skadar at its most spectacular (undiscoveredmontenegro.com) and walk Croatia’s National Parks with Huck Finn Croatia (huckfinncroatia.com)
The Caribbean’s eco gem of an island, Dominica, was ravaged by Hurricane Maria and in serious need of tourists coming back. Volunteer to help rebuild a local Dominican community, with this trip on Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com/holiday/22253/help-rebuild-dominica-after-hurricane-maria). For updates on all Caribbean Islands post-Hurricanes Maria and Irma, see the Caribbean Tourist Board (caribbeantravelupdate.com) and Responsible Travel’s online travel guide to Dominica including the long distance Waitukubuli walking Trail (responsibletravel.com).
– Catherine Mack
Slovenia is made for anyone who enjoys the great outdoors. It’s the first country to be declared a green destination. The best time to visit depends on whether you want snowy peaks (Dec-March) or hiking and cycling (May-Sept). Outside these months, there is still plenty on offer. Check the “I Feel Slovenia” website (slovenia.info/en) for information. Fly from Dublin/Cork via Amsterdam, Frankfurt or London or to Venice and cross the border by train. Kayak across Lake Bled before following a trail through the trees to a tea room once used by President Tito. (lakeblednews.com/cafe-belvedere).
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Winter is not just for the skiers in Jackson Hole. It’s also for the birds – hawks, eagles and owls – and the elk, moose, bison and wolves. The valley floor, part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, is as well regarded as Lamar Valley for wolf sightings. In summer, the Teton mountains that frame the “hole” (aka valley) provide the backdrop for grizzlies as they re-emerge. Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris (jacksonholewildlifesafaris.com), founded by photographer and guide Jason Williams, have winter and summer safari offerings. Trailfinders (trailfinders.com) has flights via Denver and Washington.
Head south to visit the world’s last wild frontier, see its declining colonies of penguins and view spectacular glaciers breaking into icebergs. The carbon footprint of getting here is substantial – flying to Argentina and then boarding a cruise, so travel on fuel-efficient, Cleanship-certified vessels (Abercrombie & Kent’s Ponant, abercrombiekent.com; Responsible Travel, responsibletravel.com) carrying 250 people or fewer. Only 100 passengers are permitted to disembark at one time. Support polar research through the Scott Polar Research Institute (spri.cam.ac.uk).
Botswana Wildlife Guiding Course
Be part of your own safari by learning to how to track the Big Five, to paddle your own canoe through the Okavango Delta and wild camp under the stars. “Safari Brothers” Grant and Brent Reed, known for their NatGeo Wild programme, run one- to four-week guiding courses (€1,624-€2,744pp) at their Okavango Guiding School (guidetrainingcourses.com). It is based in Kwapa Camp, in wilderness that stretches unfenced from northern Botswana into Angola and Zambia. Training sponsorship for a local guide is included. Courses are run all year round. Dry season is May to September. Watch the brothers on the National Geographic channel (channel.nationalgeographic.com/wild/safari-brothers/videos).
Once famous for its whaling, this Portuguese archipelago is now a whale-watching hotspot. You can also hike, bike, visit wineries and taste cheese. Blue and fin whales pass through from April to June while sperm whales, dolphins and sea birds gather all year round. Bring waterproof bags for your camera if you plan to travel around the nine volcanic islands and book accommodation at least a few nights in advance at busy times. Archipelago Choice offers a seven-night whale-watching holiday to Pico (azoreschoice.com, €990).
– Leonie Corcoran
Newly accessible/in from the edges
The old adage that it’s better to travel in hope than to arrive gets reworked by those whose only hope is to get there before everybody else does.
Until last year, the remote island of St Helena was only accessible by postal ship. Thanks to a new airport, the tiny south Atlantic island, 1200km from the nearest landmass, is being repurposed as the Galapagos of the Atlantic. It’s particularly good for divers, teeming with marine life and wrecks. Dive Worldwide has weeklong packages from £2,795pps including UK flights. It has great diving and you can expect to see whale sharks between December and March.
As the first new sovereign state of the 21st century, Timor-Leste, or East Timor, is finding itself on the tourist map. Just 270km by 75km, it is packed with beautiful beaches , tropical forests and mountain ranges. Responsible Travel has two-week holidays starting in the capital, Dili, and then staying in a mix of guesthouses and stunning eco resorts, including visits to Jaco and Atauro islands, camping, trekking and snorkelling for €3,799, excluding flights. September to November is whale season.
The very words will bring back uncomfortable Celtic Tiger memories but interest is growing in these Atlantic islands 500 km off Senegal. It is driven by beaches, lunar landscapes and colourful, cobbled towns like Santa Maria on Sal. On Boa Vista the beach stretches 55km right round the island. You’ll find Loggerhead turtles and there’s year-round sun, so it offers a good alternative to the Canaries in winter.
Call it the power of the Eurovision but ever since Azerbaijan hosted it in 2012, interest in the former Soviet republic has been growing. Baku has gleaming architecture towering over medieval streets. New builds include the three Flame Towers, a reference to its Zoroastrian heritage, and Zaha Hadid’s convention centre, named for the ruling family. Check out the Croisette-style prom on the seafront, and go in March, for Novruz, the spring festival. Just don’t go near Nagorno-Karabackh, it is contested and dangerous. (And don’t ask why everything is named after the one family.)
Head for Laos, itself only open to foreigners since 1990. Sights include the Four Thousand Islands to the far south, the Khmer ruins at Wat Pho, and the capital, Vientiane. If you want to see elephants, head to Luang Prabang, where there’s a great sanctuary. Go from November to April, when it’s drier, but for once, don’t take the road less travelled because there are landmines.
– Sandra O'Connell
Brexit has us in a tizz but sterling’s collapse means Britain has rarely been better value and by exploiting differences in school holidays (English schools don’t break until July 16th next year) you’ll make bigger savings. A three-bed “deluxe” caravan on the Devon Cliffs with Haven (haven.com) at the end of June/start of July was available before Christmas for £659 (€745). A Stena Line ferry costs just under €500 so you’d get a week for a family for about €1,200. Alternatively seven-nights with Haven booked through Irish Ferries in a two-bed “Deluxe” holiday home in the Welsh holiday park of Hafan Y Mor costs €997 for six including a return car ferry crossing.
When it comes to good value family sun holidays, camping’s hard to beat. France is popular but a better, cheaper option is Catalonia. Playa Mont Roig, 90 minutes from Barcelona, is a self-contained beachside campsite with well-equipped caravans, excellent pool complexes, tennis courts, playgrounds and a kids club. A week in a three-bed caravan with eurocamp.ie at the end of June starts at €1,400. The restaurants and shops on site are grand but the giant supermarkets nearby with cheap food and cheaper booze are best. Port Aventura and the Aqopolis water park are 20 minutes’ drive away but book in advance for discounts and if you’re in the water park go for the return deal advertised when you’re there. It allows you bring your family back for a second day for €20.
Holidaying at home comes with weather-related perils and it’s not always cheap but if things go well it can be perfect. Hotel accommodation is dear and camping can be dodgy but we like the three-bed lodges in the Dunmore East Holiday Park which cost €1,400 for a July week. The village and its restaurants are gorgeous, the beaches stunning and the Greenway will keeps families endlessly entertained even on grey days.
If you want to live like the rich and famous for a week, the sprawling Forte Village complex in Southern Sardinia is where you want to be just like the Beckhams and Abramoviches. There’s tennis, pitch and putt, basketball and football (professional clubs host soccer camps), water sports, a magic academy, a “Children’s Wonderland” including Mario’s village and a “Barbie Activity”. There’s a full-sized go-kart track, beach volleyball, bowling and more. Dedicated chefs in gleaming whites cook buffets for little ones in their own restaurant. It’s amazing but you’ll have little change out of six grand for a week’s half-board for four. Book direct at fortevillageresort.com or via citalia.com.
The French capital is an Airbnbers paradise – with hundreds of two and three bedroom apartments close to the city’s excellent metro system and within striking distance of all the sights available for less than €100 a night. It is cheap and easy to fly directly too and has enough sites and crepes to keep children – and their parents – endlessly amused and if you’re struggling, Disneyland Paris is a short hop away.
– Conor Pope
Around the world
It doesn’t take 80 days to get around the world anymore. You can do it in 22 with National Geographic Expeditions (nationalgeographicexpeditions.com). And a private jet. Obviously. The trip to end all trips starts in Seattle and includes Kyoto, the Gobi Desert, Siberia, Reykjavík and Greenland. You will be accompanied by a NatGeo team of “world class” experts to answer all your questions at every stop and in between. You can go any time of year, as long as you have €80,000 resting in an account.
Who doesn’t want to see boobies? On this remote Pacific archipelago of lava formations, cactus forests, green highlands and turquoise bays, you’ll see boobies – blue-footed – and other wildlife at every turn. Darwin’s “Enchanted Isles” offer some of the best up-close-and-personal wildlife encounters on the planet and can be accessed via organised cruise tours (intrepidtravel.com; wildfrontierstravel.com; ecoventura.com; gadventures.com). Every month has wildlife highlights, but seas tend to be calmer and clearer in the humid, slightly rainy season from December to May. December, January, July and August are the busiest months. Pick a cruise that allows you ashore as early as possible to avoid other groups and see animal activity.
Great American Road Trip
America is the country of the road trip and there’s no better way to travel to the heart of its vastness it than by driving into it. Go coast to coast on Route 20 or 30; north to south on Route 66 or 61; or hit State sights California’s 101 or in Monument Valley. Travel in a classic car (ridefree.com), RV (cruiseamerica.com) or airstream (airstream2go.com). Remember speed limits vary by State, vehicle and time of day (fhwa.dot.gov). According to US journalist Charles Kuralt, the interstate “makes it possible to go from coast to coast without seeing anything or meeting anybody. If the United States interests you, stay off the interstates.”
While the hordes have been flocking to Machu Picchu for decades, meaning travel in is now restricted, the pre-Incan villages in the north have been off the radar. Red Savannah (redsavannah.com) and Intrepid (intrepidtravel.com) offer trips that include Kuelap’s sun gate; 1,500-year-old friezes in the Temple of the Moon near Trujillo; Unesco site Chan Chan and Peru’s northern cloud forest and Gocta Falls, the third-highest waterfall in the world. It’s best to travel during the dry season, May to September.
Ireland in style
Save your airfare and instead enjoy a few nights of Ireland in luxury. Hire a private driver guide (irelandchauffeurtravel.com) so you can sit back and travel with ease in a luxury car, enjoy the views, avoid the rows and sample the lunch and distillery offerings (Midleton, Kilbeggan, Bushmills) en route to luxury accommodation such as Adare Manor, Ashford Caste, Ballinahinch Castle or Gregan’s Castle. Provide a budget and preferences and they can arrange the rest. Head before the summer crowds and when the weather adds to the experience of staying in a five-star hotel. And don’t forget, when you are splashing out on five-star hotels, give yourself enough time to enjoy all the facilities, including people watching.
– Leonie Corcoran
The city of brotherly love will have two daily services from Dublin from March, with Aer Lingus fares from €202. Within a square mile you’ll find the Independence Museum, The National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell Centre and the African American Museum. Philly, a great walking city, as the easy-to-navigate streets are wide and tree-lined. It is a tax-free city for shopping, while late-night party-goers should try Union Transfer, Fillmore Philadlephia, or the Trestle Inn. The city embraces murals; there are nearly 4,000 and you can tour by app or with a guide, muralarts.org. See discoverPHL.com.
Murillo fans should put 2018 in their diaries as Seville will be marking the 400th anniversary of the Baroque painter. There will be six exhibitions during the year. Seville has some great modern architecture, including the Metropol Parisol, an extraordinary wooden structure at La Encarnacion Plaza. This December, the city will host the 31st European Film Awards. Seville is also known for the quality of its tapas. Move from bar to bar trying the house specialities. spain.info/en.
Norway’s capital has been named in the Lonely Planet top 10 cities for 2018. Oslo is cheap to get to with Norwegian return flights from under €70. This year, King Harald V and Queen Sonya will celebrate 50 years of marriage and the city has a packed calendar to mark the occassion. Explore the islands around the city on a City Pass card and eat fish in Fiskeriet.com on Youngstorgatet. Drink lovers will enjoy Himkok on Storgata, a flag bearer for Oslo’s cocktail scene. See visitoslo.com.
Bristol is enjoying a upturn in its fortunes and has become a great city break destination. It has incredible street art and is touted as the best place to eat outside London. The Good Food Guide included seven new entries for Bristol this year. Explore the street art heritage of Banksy and friends with wherethewall.com/tours. Explore the Floating Dock area, a redevelopment that is bringing visitors to the city. Eat in one of Britain biggest restaurants ZaZaBazaar where they can feed 2,100 people every day. Watch out for Wallace and Gromit, they live in Bristol. VisitBristol.com
Valetta – European city of culture
Valletta’s year of culture kicks off from January 20th with over 400 events planned for the year. The City of Culture will spread all around the island and to neighbouring Gozo. Over 1,000 local and international artists, curators, artist collectives, performers, workshop leaders, writers, designers, choirs and film-makers will participate in culture year. Visit St John’s Co Cathedral, one of the most lavish churches in the world. Or people watch at Rampila restaurant in the ramparts overlooking the city entrance, rampila.com. See the programme for Year of Culture, valletta2018.org.
– Joan Scales
It’s always good to have a Plan B when you travel, particularly when you’ve already done Plan A and want somewhere like it, but new.
Skip Iceland, go to Greenland
Time was when making it to Iceland had a certain cachet. But specialist holiday provider Wild Photography Holidays (wildphotographyholidays.com) describes Greenland as “like Iceland on steroids”. As Iceland is pretty amped already, Greenland can only be a good thing. There are no roads between settlements so pack the Kwells, you’ll be travelling by boat.The Jakobshavn Glacier is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the best time to visit is between February and March for snaps, sunrise and sunset at their most spectacular.
Skip western Europe, go to Macedonia
Walking holiday enthusiasts find much to love about western Europe, except for the heat. In the height of summer, temperatures can climb well into the chafing 40s. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia presents a cooler clime, and indeed, climb, according to Walks Worldwide, a travel company. It has the added advantage of fewer visitors too, even at the height of summer. Visit Ohrid, a Unesco heritage site, with fine Byzantine churches, frescos, and traditional-styled houses.
Skip the Greek islands, go to Pelion
Skip the Greek islands in favour of unspoiled locations on the Pelion Peninsula, the mountainous region with sandy beaches between Athens and Thessaloniki, regarded by some as Greece’s best kept secret. Fairlight Jones has three-bedroom villas with private pool and a seafront location at Kato Gatzea, an archetypal seaside village, from £662 per person sharing, including car hire and flights. It’s where the gods of Olympus went on their summer holidays, and the best months are still May to September. The best beaches are on the eastern side.
Skip Kerala, go to Karnataka
Kerala may be God’s own country but you’ll get way more bragging rights for Karnataka, to the north. From the palace at Mysore, to the fort at Bidar and the Vittala Temple with its musical columns, there is loads to see. Cities, wildlife parks, hill stations, world heritage sites, ancient pilgrimage sites, beaches, waterfalls and one of the world’s biggest freestanding statues. And guess what, it’s got backwaters too. It’s best to visit between November and April, and you can get a concentrated dose of Karnataka culture at the three day Hampi Utsav festival which takes place in early November.
Skip your local, go to Tipperary
Looking for a lock-in? Want a few drinks without having to worry about getting home? Keen to shout “drinks for everyone in the house” without breaking the bank? Conroy’s Old Bar (conroysoldbar.com) is just the alternative for you. The Tipperary pub is available to rent on a self-catering basis. It’s open 365 days a year – even Good Friday as it has no liquor licence, so it’s BYOB all the way, but come on, your own pub?
– Sandra O'Connell
Easter celebrations in Spain
Easter celebrations in Spain (March 23rd -April 1st, 2018) are celebrated in the Semana Santa festivities. In Malaga, penitents will take to the street wearing extraordinary costumes with huge hooded hats, while massive effigies and icons are carried through the streets. In Marbella, the Easter festival has processions every day around the city where beautifully dressed people sing, and carry effigies and gifts into the churches. There are usually Easter processions in all towns and cities in Spain, spain.info/en.
Festival No 6
Set in the picturesque Italianate coastal village of Portmeirion, Festival No 6’s mysterious name refers to the Prisoner cult series from the 1960s. The quirky village comprises Italian period buildings in a carefully landscaped cove. The festival, which runs from September 6th-9th, 2018, includes performances in the historic town hall and sea shanties by the estuary. Or you could just unwind in the woodland spa. The The have just been announced as lead act. You can sleep in a castle, a cottage, a boutique tipi, or pitch your own tent in the lush gardens. There will be musicians, guest chefs preparing a banquet, arts, culture, and activities. Weekend tickets from £175/€197, festivalnumber6.com
Nola is 300
The most diverse city in the United States will celebrate 300 years history with a programme of events throughout the year. There will be music and parties aplenty but also serious discussions on inter-faith, a global summit on women and girls, and unique art exhibitions, plus a look at how the city has progressed since Hurricane Katrina. One of the biggest events will be Mardi Gras on February 13th, there will be parades all around the city in the days leading up to it. See 2018nola.com and mardigrasneworleans.com
Winter Olympics take place in South Korea from February 9th-25th, 2018. Visitors can visit the DMZ, the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, and it is the top tourist attraction. The Gyeongbokgung Palace is considered the most beautiful of the many palaces. Korean food is becoming popular and not to be missed. A classic tour of the country with G Adventures would include Seoul, the DMZ, Busan and the palaces, visiting food markets, a stay in a monastery and the tropical Jeju Island from €2,249 plus flights, gadventures.com.
The World Cup brings lots of interest to Russia from mid-June to mid-July. As it is such a vast country the easiest way to travel is as part of a guided tour. The White Nights Festival in St Petersburg from May 24th- July 23rd is when the cultural institutions of the Hermitage and the Marinsky Theatre open with a big programme of ballet, opera, art and music (Saint-petersburg.com). Trips to Russia with citiescapes.ie include St Petersburg and Moscow from Helsinki, eight nights from €1,749pps and cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow, 10 nights from €1,599pps. Three-day trips to St. Petersburg are visa-free (travelescapes.ie).
– Joan Scales