A new museum in Egypt; a rewilding of the Scottish Highlands; a new train through Laos and so much good food to explore: 2023 is shaping up to be a bumper year for travel.
Visitors can explore ancient sites without the notorious crowds. iStock
This is going to be big, in every sense of the word. In 2023 – exact date so far unconfirmed – Cairo will unveil its newest attraction, the Grand Egyptian Museum.
This is set to become the largest archaeological museum in the world, built on a site the size of about 70 football fields just near the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The museum will house more than 18,000 ancient artefacts, including the full tomb collection of Tutankhamun, and the Khufu ship, an intact, full-sized vessel built around 2500 BC.
There are other reasons to visit Egypt, too, not least because this country is still in recovery mode from the pandemic (as the whole world is), and visitor numbers are down in a nation that was once notorious for crowds.
Now is a great time to visit some of those big-ticket attractions: the Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel, Karnak, and of course the Great Pyramids of Giza. See egypt.travel
See also: Beyond the pyramids: Cairo highlights most visitors miss
You would have heard a lot about Sri Lanka in 2022, and barely any of it would have been good. This is a country that went through a turbulent period of political upheaval, with critical shortages of food, fuel and electricity, and many travel plans had to be cancelled because of it.
Now, things are looking up for Sri Lanka: a new government has stabilised the economy, and life has begun returning to normal . Australia’s Smart Traveller government travel advisory website (smartraveller.com.au) now rates Sri Lanka as orange, “Exercise a high degree of caution”.
This is great news for Sri Lankans and their economy as well as for potential first and repeat visitors. Those who love this country can support it through tourism, and the experience on offer is much the same as it always was.
The food is still incredible (and vastly underrated), the cultural sites amazing, and the likes of Galle and Kandy as charming as they ever were. See srilanka.travel
You may have noticed in 2022, thanks to the wonders of social media, that everyone went to Italy. At least, it certainly felt that way.
In the scramble to get back to the joys of international travel, it seemed so many travellers opted for a tried and true winner: la dolce vita. And who could blame them?
In 2023, however, it’s time to change it up with a country that’s not so far removed from the wonders of Italy: Spain.
This Iberian nation has so much to offer travellers, and outside of heavy-hitting destinations such as Barcelona and the Balearic Islands, it remains surprisingly underrated.
The food here, to begin with, is incredibly good. Three of the top 10 restaurants in the world – according to the most recent World’s 50 Best list – are in Spain, while tapas and pintxos dining is among life’s great pleasures.
Spain is also a deeply cultural place, with festivals taking place seemingly daily in the likes of Seville, Granada, Valencia and Pamplona.
You have Roman ruins in Spain, world-class art galleries, and landscapes ranging from beaches to mountains to vast plains. See spain.info
See also: Twenty things that will shock first-time visitors to Spain
If the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s this: toilet paper is really precious. If it taught us a second thing it’s that there is no time to lose when it comes to achieving your travel goals. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, some place you have always wanted to visit, now is the time to grasp that opportunity.
With that in mind, Ecuador should be on your 2023 list. If you’ve yet to visit the Galapagos, that singular set of islands with wildlife experiences you won’t find anywhere else on the planet, then that is something you should do post haste.
There are so many more reasons to visit this amazing country. Consider the city of Cuenca, with its World Heritage-listed old town. And don’t forget Quito, with its high Andean charm.
The Ecuadorian mainland also has a host of natural attractions, from Amazonian jungle settings to beaches and coastal lowlands to the sky-scraping volcanic peaks of the Andes. See ecuador.travel
Namibia has long been a vastly underrated destination. While all of the attention goes to the likes of Kenya with the Maasai Mara, Tanzania with the Serengeti, even South Africa with Kruger, Namibia flies under the radar: a sparsely populated country with a sparse number of tourists, too.
That makes Namibia an ideal destination for those hoping to avoid crowds, while also having a unique and amazing experience of southern Africa. There are game parks here, for sure: the incredible likes of Etosha, with its vast salt pan; Namib-Naukluft, with its towering dunes; and Mudumu, with its abundant wildlife.
There’s even more reason to visit in 2023, too. Multiple new, luxury boutique lodges have sprung up in Namibia in recent years, including Desert Lodge at Wolwedans (wolwedans.com) in the NamibRand nature reserve, the smart Onguma Camp Kala (onguma.com) near Etosha, and the six-suite Camp Onduli (www.ultimatesafari.na) in Damaraland. See visitnamibia.com.na
Slovenia recently unveiled a new cycling route that passes through the country’s best foodie offerings.
Word is out about the greatness of Slovenia, the small European country with alpine scenery to match Switzerland, medieval villages to mirror Bavaria, and gastronomy to rival Italy.
And yet this is still a sensational little country that offers experiences away from the madding crowds of Europe’s better-known destinations.
Slovenia has recently unveiled a new attraction, the Green Gourmet Route, a cycling route that passes through the best of the country’s foodie offerings, from Michelin-starred restaurants to wineries to farm stays.
It’s a scenic, 11-day tour that offers a mix of cycling terrain, as well as gastronomic experiences, and is leading the way as an example of responsible, sustainable tourism. See slovenia.info
See also: Europe’s greenest nation punches above its weight
Anyone who has visited Laos in the past would know well its laidback charms, from the deeply cultural beauty of Luang Prabang to the adventure capital of Vang Vieng to the youthful energy of Vientiane.
What they would also know is the time necessary to get around this undulating, landlocked country, on winding roads aboard cramped minivans.
However, things have changed. This year Laos welcomed the opening of the China-funded Boten-Vientiane railway, a high-speed rail link between the nation’s capital and its northern border.
The train calls through tourist favourites such as Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang and Muang Xay, and has totally changed the game for independent travellers hoping to see the country quickly and comfortably.
Vientiane to Luang Prabang, for example, takes two hours on the train – the drive is six-and-a-half. Get here and experience this country before everyone else does. See tourismlaos.org
Scotland’s forests and moors once teemed with native wildlife, everything from wolves to wildcats, elk to roe deer, otters to beavers and more.
Though many of those species were wiped out centuries ago, there has been a concerted push recently to “rewild” Scotland, to bring back the wildlife and restore the country to its former ecological glory – and in 2023 many of those projects will begin to bear fruit.
There’s a swag of openings next year that will allow visitors to experience the new wilds of Scotland.
These include, west of Loch Ness, the Dundreggan Rewilding Centre which will allow visitors to engage with a revitalised natural area; in the Cairngorms, Cairngorms Connect will run ranger-led tours of an area where 20 wildcats will be introduced for the first time; and in Argyll, west of Loch Lomond, visitors can spot some of the 1000 beavers that are now thriving, despite being wiped out more than 400 years ago.
It’s not as if you need an excuse to visit Scotland. But there’s now more reason than ever to go. See visitscotland.com
Here’s another country that took a very cautious approach to reopening during the pandemic, with quarantine-free travel only possible from September this year – it’s also another country with a shiny new attraction for tourists.
The Trans-Bhutan trail is an epic, 403-kilometre hiking path clear through the middle of Bhutan, from its far western border to its far east, taking in Himalayan splendour and rich local culture throughout the journey.
This is destined to become one of the world’s great long-distance hikes (though it can be tackled in small chunks), a pilgrimage once made by monks and messengers, now open to the public.
The downside is, it’s going to cost you. Since reopening, Bhutan has increased its “Sustainable Development Fee” – a daily tourist levy – to US$200 per day, with extra costs for food, accommodation, transport, activities and entry fees.
It’s a “high-value, low-impact” approach to tourism, and it won’t be for everyone. See bhutan.travel
The travelling world breathed a sigh of relief midway through 2022 when Japan finally announced it was reopening to independent tourism.
It’s been a long break for Japanophiles who might normally visit at least once a year. Finally, we have the chance to rediscover one of the world’s great destinations, a country that frequently ranks among Australians’ favourites.
For that reason alone, Japan will be big in 2023. The ski season will be big. Cherry blossom season in April will be big (maybe too big so also consider the spectacular autumn displays).
Classic destinations such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka will be big the year round. This is also, however, a chance to go beyond those heavily touristed bounds and check out some of Japan’s “second” cities.
These include Fukuoka, Kanazawa, Sapporo and Hiroshima, not to mention experiences such as hiking the Kumano Kodo track, and cycling the 70-kilometre Shimanami Kaido in Shikoku. See www.japan.travel
The White Lotus HBO series has put the picturesque Sicilian town of Taormina on travellers’ radar. Photo: Balate Dorin
If you’ve been watching season two of the hit HBO series The White Lotus this year, then you will already be familiar with the charms of Taormina.
The Sicilian hilltop town is basically an extra character in the show, so lavishly is it draped across every scene.
We see plenty of San Domenico Palace, the gorgeous hotel standing in as the White Lotus, but also classic Taormina attractions such as Teatro Antico, an ancient Greek theatre, Piazza IX Aprile, the iconic town square looking over Mt Etna and the Mediterranean, and the Porta di Mezzo gate.
Add in shots from nearby Noto and Fiumefreddo and you’re booking flights as you’re watching. See visitsicily.info
Tangier is a rare thing: a truly great city has yet to hit the tourism mainstream, a diverse, energetic and scenic hub whose fame pales in comparison even to other Moroccan hotspots such as Fez and Marrakesh. Our advice: get here soon, especially following Morocco’s stunning and unheralded success in last year’s FIFA World Cup.
There’s just too much that’s attractive about Tangier, from the food – traditional Moroccan with more pronounced French and Mediterranean influences – to the artistic history – this was a favourite haunt of everyone from Matisse to the Rolling Stones to Jack Kerouac – to the rambling Kasbah, the labyrinthine medina, and the more recent history of the Ville Nouvelle.
There’s a sense here that worlds are colliding, and it’s intoxicating. See visitmorocco.com
If you love music then you will want to visit Nashville, Tennessee. This is up there with the US’s best music destinations – with Memphis, Chicago, Austin and New York – a place that calls itself “Music City”, and where there’s so much more to the local scene than just country and western (though there is a lot of country and western).
There’s a heap of music history here, captured in several high-quality museums, though this culture is living and breathing and deserves to be experienced at full volume.
There’s also a reason to visit Nashville if you love good food – with a host of great restaurants, breweries and distilleries – and those who just love a nice place to stay will also be happy, with a host of recent openings, including the swish 1 Hotel and Soho House. See visitmusiccity.com
Budapest is expecting a tourism boom off the back of the Dune 2 effect.
There’s likely to be a deluge of sci-fi fans arriving in Budapest late next year, as the much-anticipated release of Dune 2 – an interplanetary epic shot mostly in the Hungarian capital – takes place.
Call it the Game of Thrones effect, but locations that feature in big-budget fantasies tend to get really popular, really fast.
The film is due for release in November, 2023. That means there’s plenty of time to beat the hordes and enjoy Budapest’s famed attractions, from its art nouveau architecture, to its thriving food scene, idiosyncratic museums and galleries, energetic nightlife, and myriad bathhouses making use of ancient hot springs. See visithungary.com
Montevideo is a city very much in the mould of Tangier, a truly great place overshadowed by sexy neighbours, in this case the likes of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
Is that about to change? Lonely Planet just named the Uruguayan capital in its “Best in Travel 2023”, so word is probably getting out. Best to visit ASAP.
When you do, you will discover a friendly, diverse city with a long coastline to the south, and the Uruguayan “campo” – rich fields filled with livestock and vineyards – to the north.
Both of those features contribute to a thriving food scene in Montevideo, with everything from hipster cafes to old-school parrilleras (grill restaurants) to cutting edge cuisine by the likes of celebrity chef Francis Mallman.
There’s a great arts scene here too, and a relaxed, welcoming vibe. See welcomeuruguay.com
Even if you’ve visited Manchester before, there’s reason to give this vibrant city another look in 2023. Manchester Museum, long a major attraction here, closed in 2021 for a major redevelopment, and will reopen in February 2023.
The museum, which already featured a collection of more than 4.5 million items from around the world, will have a new Exhibition Hall, as well as several new galleries.
Also opening in 2023 in Manchester, there’s Factory International, a vast cultural space whose name pays homage to the iconic local record label responsible for the 80s “Madchester” scene.
The space will host the year-round Manchester International Festival, and next year will also feature a large Yayoi Kusama exhibition, and an immersive Matrix-themed show. See visitmanchester.com
Few cities around the world were hit as hard during the pandemic as Melbourne. Now, however, the Victorian capital is ready to bounce back, and 2023 is it’s time to shine.
You would travel to Melbourne just for the food, for one of the most exciting gastronomic scenes going, one that has been revitalised since COVID-19 closures with a spate of new restaurants doing amazing things.
There’s more reason to visit in 2023 though, from regular events such as the Australian Open tennis in January, the Melbourne International Comedy festival in March/April, and Rising in June, to a whole swag of gallery exhibitions, theatre productions, concerts and more. See visitvictoria.com
This charming Spanish border trail leads into France’s St-Jean-Pied-de-Port.
VIA PODIENSIS, FRANCE
Spain’s Camino de Santiago is well known as a testing and transcendental hiking path, a pilgrims’ trail leading from the French border to Santiago de Compostela in the country’s far west.
What’s not as widely publicised, however, is that there are multiple paths leading into Spain from France, yet more pilgrims’ trails that will lead modern-day hikers through some of the finest Gallic locales.
The Via Podiensis is probably the best of them, a trail from the spectacular Le Puy-en-Velay leading through south-western France to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Spanish border.
You’ll need a good month or so to do the whole thing, but what an adventure, and a great way to avoid the Camino crowds. See france.fr
The world’s next big foodie destination is perhaps not where you would expect it to be. Georgia has flown under the radar for too long – 2023 is its time to shine. This is a country with so much to offer those who love to eat and drink, and the region of Kakheti, in particular, is an absolute gold mine.
Like wine? This is where it was invented. There’s evidence of wine being made in Kakheti as far back as 6000 BC, which predates France by, oh, about 5000 years.
That wine industry is still thriving, and it’s paired with a gastronomic scene that’s far more complex and lively than many would give it credit for. And this all takes place in a lush valley below the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains. Stunning. See georgia.travel
MEKONG DELTA, VIETNAM
There are various ways you could choose to explore the Mekong Delta. You could do it by river cruise, in the lap of luxury with a company such as Scenic or Emerald. You could do it as a series of day trips from Ho Chi Minh City, dipping in and out with a base in the city. Or you could even travel here independently, on a proper adventure through rural Vietnam on a hired scooter.
Regardless of your choice, this is one of the world’s great regions for exploration, brimming with culture that’s unique even from the rest of Vietnam. The Mekong Delta – around riverside towns such as Can Tho, Vinh Long, Cai Be and Ben Tre – has amazing cuisine, bountiful markets, plus a rustic, raw feel that’s perfect for the adventurous.
And with Vietnam gaining rapidly in popularity, there’s never been a better time than 2023 to see an area that remains relatively untouched. See vietnam.travel
ALBANIAN RIVERIA, ALBANIA
Here’s another surprise packet on the fringes of Europe: Albania, and in particular the Albanian Riviera, a long stretch of achingly beautiful coastline just north of the Greek border.
If you know Corfu, then you know roughly what to expect here, scenery-wise: the Greek island is just a stone’s throw from Sarande, where the Albanian Riviera begins.
Unlike its Greek neighbour, however, Albania is yet to hit the tourism mainstream, and all of its natural beauty and cultural interest is available at a fraction of the cost, and with fewer people to share it with.
That won’t last, which is why 2023 could be the ideal time to experience it. See albania.al
NORTHERN PATAGONIA, ARGENTINA/CHILE
You probably know quite a lot about Southern Patagonia. This is where the big-hitters are, the likes of Torres del Paine, Mount Fitz Roy, Perito Morena Glacier and more. The south is rugged and isolated, with vast landscapes and snow-capped peaks.
In 2023, however, why not dive deeper into underrated Northern Patagonia, with its lakes, its volcanoes, its forests and culture.
On the Argentinian side, Northern Patagonia is home to picturesque towns such as Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes, as well as multiple national parks and great “estancias”, or Argentinian-style ranches. In Chile meanwhile, there’s stunning Pucon, deep in the Lake District, beautiful Reloncavi fjord, and spectacular Osorno volcano. See www.argentina.travel and chile.travel
LORD HOWE ISLAND, AUSTRALIA
Travellers hoping to avoid the crowds can escape to wild Lord Howe Island. Photo: Jordan Robins/DNSW
Lord Howe is epic in every sense of the word. This outcrop of land in the middle of the Pacific, 600 kilometres off the NSW coast, is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed wonder, ideal for anyone who is into walking, or birding, or snorkelling, or just hanging around and enjoying the peace and quiet.
With limited accommodation capacity and flights, only 400 visitors can be here at any one time, making this exclusive, but also expensive.
Still, with many of us hoping to avoid crowds in 2023 as mass-scale tourism returns, quiet Lord Howe should be on your list. For the spectacular beauty, for the marine park, for the fishing, for the hiking, for the chance to tap out of the modern world and just enjoy nature. See visitnsw.com
Planned by the Indonesian government as one of 10 “new Balis”, the island of Belitung is still in its infancy as a mainstream tourism destination, and has so much to offer those looking for an alternative to this area’s well-trodden paths.
Located between the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, Belitung is about the same size as Bali, and is becoming known for the quality of its natural attractions, from white-sand beaches to warm, clear waters to multiple islands off its coast studded with huge granite boulders.
With direct flights onto the island from Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, excellent accommodation options and great cuisine, this won’t stay a secret for long. See indonesia.travel
GREAT SOUTHERN, WA, AUSTRALIA
Is this region the most beautiful on mainland Australia? It certainly has a case. Consider the places that make up Western Australia’s Great Southern: Albany, Denmark, Elephant Rocks, Greens Pool, Misery Beach, Porongurup National Park, the Valley of the Giants, the Frankland River and more.
Down here in Australia’s far south-west you have untouched beaches, old-growth karri forests, Indigenous culture and Anzac history.
Oh, and you also have wine. This is one of Australia’s most exciting, up-and-coming wine regions, where some of the country’s best riesling is being produced, not to mention great chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
The cellar doors are friendly and the tastings are generous. What’s not to love? See australiassouthwest.com