Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

My Favorite New Destinations of 2013

47

Kate in Gozo

2013 was a fantastic and exciting travel year — probably my most active year of travel yet! This year I visited a record-breaking 22 countries (UK, USA, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, San Marino, Austria, Malta, Turkey, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Romania, United Arab Emirates, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, and Cambodia — though, if we’re being technical, I also drove across Oman for a bit, stayed in a hotel in China overnight, and left Manila Airport to snooze in a nearby hotel in the Philippines for a few hours).

Last year I highlighted my favorite new destinations of 2012, including the Faroe Islands, Montenegro, and Costa Brava, Spain. This year I had so many to choose from — and though I was tempted to put every new destination on the list, I narrowed it down to the ones that I enjoyed the most.

On this list, I rank my personal top three new destinations of the year; the rest aren’t in any particular order.

Behold: my favorite new destinations of 2013!

Best of 2013: Japan

1. Japan

Japan is unlike anywhere I have ever been — it could be another planet. Every moment is filled with excitement and stimulation — it’s just so different here. Things like Japanese trash cans and vending machine become fascinating, and yes, Japanese toilets are that good.

On top of that, the food is universally outstanding and exquisitely prepared, even in fast food restaurants, and Japanese people are some of the most helpful and welcoming people I have ever met. Every destination was wild and different, from the crazy neighborhoods of Tokyo to the brash neon streets of Osaka to the calm temples and gardens of Kyoto and beyond. Mario and I can’t wait to return and see much, much more.

My highlights: Spotting a maiko in Kyoto, bar-hopping in Golden Gai in Tokyo, eating Kobe beef in Kobe, so many outstanding sunsets, having a wild seafood feast with a tuna butchering in Kyoto, the wild neon and street food of Dotonbori in Osaka, checking out Japanese fashion in Harajuku, riding the shinkansen bullet train, smooching on a Tokyo subway car and watching a little girl’s mouth fall open in amazement.

Best of 2013: Malta

2. Malta

Malta had the highest stakes of any destination this year — it’s where my fiance grew up and it’s the place on Earth he loves the most. I am SO grateful that I fell madly in love with Malta right away! Being in Malta was like pure happiness — I enjoyed every minute, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

I go crazy for architecture wherever I go, and I fell particularly hard for Valletta with its perfect grid streets, retro streets straight out of the 1950s, and brightly painted gossip box-style balconies. Malta’s churches are insane, like if Liberace and Kanye West jointly designed them. The natural beauty is scintillating, particularly in Gozo, and Malta has such a distinct, proud culture unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere in Europe.

My highlights: getting engaged in St. Julians! Also, eating cakes at Fontanella in Mdina, exploring the architecture of Valletta, seeing the Azure Window on Gozo, watching the fishing boats in Marsaxloxx at dusk, celebrating the Festa of St. George in Qormi, getting addicted to pastizzi (ricotta pastries) and Kinnie (bittersweet orange soda), meeting Mario’s many Maltese cousins.

Best of 2013: Macedonia

3. Macedonia

Macedonia is one of the best-kept secrets in Europe — but I’ve been raving about it to everyone I meet! Like many other Balkan countries, Macedonia has natural beauty, gorgeous churches, delicious wine that few people know about, funky small cities — plus a capital city brimming with giant statues of Alexander the Great and fountains simulating fire!

All that and I found Macedonia to be the cheapest country in Europe. While I haven’t been to every country in Europe, I’ve been to most of them, and I found Macedonia to be cheaper than Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia, and Kosovo. All that and the tourists here are few and far between. If you want to get to the next big destination in Central Europe, get yourself to Macedonia before everyone else does.

My highlights: Taking a boat trip across Lake Ohrid in the sunshine, drinking excellent Macedonian wine, wandering around downtown Skopje with my jaw hanging out of my mouth, people-watching on Sirok Sokak in Bitola and wandering the outdoor bazaar, sunsets against monasteries in Ohrid.

Best of 2013: Garden Route

South Africa’s Garden Route

Though I had technically visited the Garden Route town of Knysna on my first trip to South Africa in 2012, I saw much more of the Garden Route this past May — plus nearby destinations like Cintsa that aren’t considered the Garden Route but aren’t that different, as they are pretty much just an extension of the same road.

This year, I was road tripping from Cape Town to Cintsa, and it was one of the best and most fun trips I have ever done.

South Africa is my favorite country, and I think it’s the most beautiful country in the world. But the Garden Route is the absolute most beautiful part of all, and it’s so diverse — from mountains in Swellendam and pristine beaches in Plettenberg Bay to the views of the Knysna Heads, the mountainous beaches at Koolbaai, and the desert in Oudtshoorn. On top of that, the Garden Route is full of fun adventure activities — for much cheaper than in North America, Europe, or Australia or New Zealand.

My highlights: Crocodile cage diving in Oudtshoorn, surfing during a pink sunset in Jeffrey’s Bay, getting to know Mama Tofu and Xhosa women in Cintsa, wine tasting near Hermanus, segwaying through the Tsitsikamma Forest in Stormsriver, hanging out at Ronnie’s Sex Shop in the desert, learning to stand-up paddleboard in Sedgefield, seeing dolphins surfing the waves in Plettenberg Bay, seeing dozens of elephants at Addo Elephant Park, exploring the Rastafarian community of Judah Square in Knysna.

Best of 2013: Berlin

Berlin

Until this year, Berlin was one of my most egregious travel oversights. I was thrilled to finally visit in March, and in the ten days that I spent there, Berlin quickly became one of my favorite cities. The best thing about Berlin is that it’s so ridiculously cool, with an artsy and alternative vibe. Though it’s the capital of a very organized nation, it feels like the people who hold the power are the creative people.

Add in lots of interesting neighborhoods, cheap and delicious ethnic food (plus the occasional currywurst), wild nightlife, and the fact that I always have at least a few friends living or hanging out there, and Berlin is the kind of place that I think I could settle in for a short or long time.

My highlights: living in Kreuzberg for a bit and eating Turkish food and kebabs on the cheap, talking long strolls through the fresh snowfall, taking a free walking tour, eating excellent Indian and Vietnamese food, having a party with lots of blogger friends, meeting interesting people and exchanging ideas at ITB Berlin, gambling on riding public transit late at night without buying a ticket (eek!) and not getting caught.

Best of 2013: Australia

Australia

AUSTRALIA! Just the name makes me want to shout it out loud! I wasn’t sure how I’d like Australia, but I left the country completely satisfied and nostalgic at the past three wonderful weeks. My favorite spot was definitely Melbourne, with Uluru second, but I feel like you need to get out of the cities to truly appreciate a land as wild as Australia. The people are pretty wild, too.

Australia is very expensive — much more expensive than Japan and Stockholm, and second only to Switzerland in terms of prices — but I found Australia to be a value destination for people who plan carefully, save up in advance, and are traveling above a shoestring budget.

My highlights:Β Dumpling-eating and cafe culture in Melbourne, watching the color-changing sunsets and sunrises at Uluru, swimming in rockholes in Litchfield and Kakadu National Park, crocodile cage diving in Darwin, Sydney’s gorgeous beaches, motorcycling to Uluru at sunrise, hanging out at the Mindil Beach Markets in Darwin, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, every Australian breakfast I ate.

Best of 2013: Small Cities of Emilia-Romagna

Small Cities of Emilia-Romagna

While Bologna is the largest city in Emilia-Romagna (and my favorite city in Italy), I discovered four of Emilia-Romagna’s smaller cities this year: Parma, Modena, Ravenna, and Ferrara. These cities are chock full of art, architecture, and incredible cathedrals, each of them painted a variety of colors. Three out of the four of them are UNESCO World Heritage-listed (Parma, one of my favorites, is the lone World Heritage-free city).

Each city has its own distinctive style and culinary specialties (in the best food region in Italy, how could they not?!), and even though I was a bit lukewarm on Ferrara (though that was mostly due to the miserably hot weather that day), I enjoyed all four of them and am so glad I got to see each of them for myself. Best of all, they couldn’t be easier to reach from Bologna by train.

My highlights: Ravenna’s astounding mosaics, running through a cheese factory in Parma, the porticoes on Via Emilia in Modena, strolling through colorful Parma, seeing a castle with a moat in Ferrara, visiting a balsamic vinegar producer in Modena, cafe-hopping and drinking far too much coffee everywhere, and ALL OF THE FOOD.

Best of 2013: Scottish Highlands

Scottish Highlands

I tend to do things out of order at times. Though I had visited Scotland several times and even made it up to Shetland, a tough place to get to that even Scotland-philes often miss, I didn’t make it to the far-more-visited Scottish Highlands until this year! As part of the Blogmanay New Year’s campaign in Scotland, we finished our celebration with a few days in the Highlands, including Loch Ness, Glencoe, Culloden Battlefield, and the Isle of Skye.

Scotland is astoundingly beautiful, the kind of raw beauty that nearly brings you to tears — but also filled with dark and painful history. It’s the kind of destination that will hit you hard when you least expect it.

My highlights: Drinking the youth-preserving waters of Sligachan, seeing a pink sunrise over Loch Ness, finding Alexander McQueen’s grave on the Isle of Skye, seeing the colors of Kilt Rock and Waterfall, the mountains and stories of Glencoe, having a true Scottish party night with my blogger buds, watching my buds getting dressed up like Highlanders, exploring the region where some of my relatives come from.

What was your favorite discovery in 2013?

Comments

47 Responses to “My Favorite New Destinations of 2013”
  1. These all look so amazing!

  2. Jordan says:

    Great list! Only been to Aussie On it. Berlin and Malta are high on my list and you’ve sold them to me even more!

  3. Anna says:

    My 2013 was spent NOT traveling (sad) and expat-blogging instead, but the highlight was actually Brooklyn’s culinary adventures when I went back to the US, in particularly trying pizzas with grapes and hot honey in Greenpoint. Also, Moscow’s golden autumn was story-book beautiful, like I hadnt seen in 15+ years, so that was a lovely re-discovery.

  4. I feel like I must take you back to South Korea and introduce you to my Korea, the country that I know and love so well, then it can be on next year’s list haha. We’ll have to scratch the mention of it on this one and change the dates of your Korea post’s first, though πŸ˜‰

    Anyway, your Japan posts have made me excited to go there *hopefully* next year! And how about adding Taiwan to your list? Hint hint.

    My favourite new destination this year would probably have to be either Serbia or Romania, although the USA, Colombia and Moldova are all high on the list, too.

    Also, are you going to do some kind of big 2014 plan reveal post, or is that already in existence and I missed it somehow?

    p.s. I love how you’ve done the photos for this post, the format is great!

    • Thanks! I really did enjoy Korea — it just wasn’t one of my VERY favorites.

      Taiwan is definitely on the list for the future! πŸ™‚ And yes, as soon as the year begins, I’ll be doing a “coming up in 2014” post.

  5. Kelly O says:

    Argh, this list makes me want to travel more!! Thanks for making me add more places to my “TO DO” list!!

  6. Raffaella says:

    Excellent list & overview – Berlin has recently made my own list as people continue to rave about it, and my excitement for next year’s visit to Bologna and Parma is reaffirmed. I have now added Malta and Macedonia to a list that has included Scotland and Japan for some time. Sheesh, why do you have to make this so hard? πŸ™‚

  7. Sophia says:

    Yay Berlin! So happy to see it make the list amongst these other fabulous destinations (I have my eye on you, Macedonia..). Though I have to ask where you had such great Indian food? That is something fellow expats and I here often lament over!

  8. Kaelene says:

    Wow what an amazing year this has been for you! I am looking forward to more travels in 2014 but my favorite destination in 2013 was moving to my new home in Iceland.

  9. How I miss Parma! Such a beautiful city/time!

  10. Michelle says:

    Love this post! We are hoping to add Australia to our travel plans for 2014, but everyone keeps telling us that it will be too expensive. We are trying to save as much as we can, but still have an awesome time.

  11. Laura says:

    What a year! You’re “helping” me add to my already bursting list of places to go in 2014. I’m already dying to get to South Africa and the Balkans but hey, why not throw in Australia and Japan while we’re at it? Happy holidays!

  12. Brittany says:

    Love that you put Japan first. Everyone says its a must go travel spot.

  13. Your favourite new destinations list is great. All the places look enjoyable with lots to explore and see. My favourite would be Berlin!

  14. Amanda says:

    They all sound like great picks! From this list, I’ve only been to Berlin and the Scottish Highlands – but I LOVE them both, too!

    For me, my favorite new destinations included Belize, Berlin, the Greek Islands, Venice, Poland, and Cesky Krumlov.

  15. My favorite destination of 2013 has been Vietnam for adventure and Bali for pure relaxation. Come to think of it China was pretty cool too. Ahhhh, so hard to pick favorites.

  16. Wow, busy year for you girl! I also traveled to Australia, Berlin, and Scotland for the first time this year – but you kept the travel train going. Impressive list and so happy I’ve discovered your blog.

  17. busy year for you! I want to go to macedonia now! i haven’t been to europe in 2 years except the UK and really want to go back!

  18. Sofie says:

    Looks like you’ve got quite the year behind you:)
    From the places on your list, I’ve only been to Berlin and have loved it.
    South Africa is high on my list!

  19. Alyssa says:

    Wow – so many places I want to go! I think the best place I visited in 2013 had to be Dublin. I loved the people and just the overall vibe of the place. To 2014!

  20. Matt says:

    Nice, eclectic list. Of these, I most cannot wait to visit Berlin. It just seems like a cool, laid back place all while being a major city.

    My favorite new discovery this year was Busan, South Korea. A nice mix of beach and city life.

  21. Kate,
    Your photos are GORGEOUS! I love the layout on your site with the large photo with small ones around. Scotland is on the TOP of my list and Antarctica too! But we just go to Malaysia so I doubt we will make it to either of those in the near future. We are going to Thailand after the New Year! I am ready for some great Thai food.

    Thank you for sharing all your discoveries!
    Happy Holidays!
    Lisa
    We Said Go Travel

  22. Ahhhhh can’t wait to get to Australia!! And I could weep when reading about Japan because I probably won’t make it there for a while and it’s like a dream for me. Only last night I was telling my friends that Japan is like another planet then I read it right here. I need to invest in a rocket and go!

  23. Ed Graham says:

    Mine’s gotta be Khabarovsk in Russia. Such an interesting place, friendly people, and they don’t just survive, they thrive in -30 degree weather through 6 months of siberian winter. Gotta respect that. Love your picks this year – especially Berlin and Japan, which are also two of my favorite places on Earth!

  24. Sally says:

    I’m with Tom on this one, too sad that you didn’t fall in love with Korea… yet. Muahaha. I should have taken you guys to a better bingsu shop…

    NEXT TIME!

    But all of these places all look amazing, too, and I’m exciting that #3 is on my list thanks to you… yay!

  25. Jelena says:

    The photos are amazing and the list is really helpful in providing some suggestions for 2014 travel adventures πŸ™‚ Thank you!!!
    I also love Berlin, just so much to do in that amazing and ginormous city!.

    This year my favourite discoveries definitely would have to be Havana, Cuba and San Cristobal de la Casas, Mexico !! Absolutely amazing!

    Thanks for all your posts this year πŸ™‚ Looking forward to many more.
    Merry Christmas
    Jelena

    Benedict Lane

  26. Berlin is one of my favourite cities too, it really is a melting pot of everything awesome!

    I had a similar experience “travel oversights” this year. I think it can be easy to overlook well trodden cities in favour of smaller, more obscure destinations. Lisbon was my new favourite (European) city this year, I always just assumed it would be a ordinary, dirty city, but this assumption was so wrong.

    I loved it all – exploring little alley ways in the Alfama, rambling around Barrio Alto, discovering tiny little “mom & pop” restaurants and hole in the wall fado bars. Very diverse, vibrant, and just plain cool!

  27. Luke says:

    OMG crocodile cage diving? I have done cage diving with sharks before but would not even dream of doing it with crocodiles.

  28. Sarah says:

    Ok you’ve sold me on Macedonia! I’m currently touring Mexico and Central America but late next year I plan to do Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe and your post on Macedonia has just added some strength to the Europe direction.

    I just discovered your blog btw and I’m loving it!

  29. Alise says:

    Your talk of Japan has made me want to go there! It was never that high on my list, but your posts about it are bumping it up several notches…

  30. Great post Kate. You have definitely piqued my interest in Malta with your posts and beautiful photos. I need to make a plan to get there. Just wish it was easier from the States!

  31. Duc ivan says:

    As a tour guide in Hanoi, i’ve been following your blog for a long time through the article which i accidentally read and it mentioned to the best travel blogs in the world. And unfortunately me, i wish i had known you early, i could have contacted with you during your stay in Hanoi and invited my own tour in hanoi which is considered as a very interesting activity in Hanoi. Hopw you return someday, I’m always willing to welcome you, a solo female traveler. Admire you

  32. rebeca says:

    Great list, I have always wanted to see Finland and Sri Lanka. It is in my future plans to go to these place. Finland sounds just like the perfect place to live and Sri Lanka is simply beautiful.

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