My Favorite New Destinations of 2014

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Kate in Pai

It’s time for my annual collection of “best of the year” travel lists! Since I have no plans to travel to any new destinations before the end of the year, I’m ready to reveal the first: my favorite new destinations of the year.

Every year, I do a round-up of my favorite new destinations of the year. In 2012, it was all about the Faroe Islands; South Africa; Istria, Croatia; and Costa Brava, Spain. In 2013, it was all about Japan, Malta, Macedonia, and Berlin.

This year’s destinations run a wide gamut — the only requirement is that I’ve never visited them before 2014. Here we go, in no particular order:

Midnight Sun in Kuhmo

Finland

What a surprise Finland was! I visited during the summer and was soon delighted to learn that Finland has the best summers ever. Gentle, warm breezes and temperatures of 82 degrees (28 C). Bright late nights where the sky only turns an ashy blue rather than darkening completely. Finland is an incredibly athletic, outdoorsy country, and everyone gets around on bikes.

If it weren’t for the mosquitos, it would be absolutely perfect — but just throw on a bit of bug spray, hop in a canoe, and you’re good to go.

Rauma FinlandKuhmo FinlandHelsinki

While in Finland, I visited Helsinki, Kuhmo for the Chamber Music Festival, and Rauma. While I loved all three destinations, my favorite was Rauma — a small port city with an impeccably preserved wooden old town.

Savannah

Savannah, Georgia

Of all the cities I visited this year, none bewitched me quite so much as Savannah. No city had quite as strong a personality as this place — evocative, haunting, and hiding darkness beneath its pretty surface. If you want to get a taste of that, read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, one of my favorite reads this year.

I love Savannah because it’s beautiful, yet complicated. Sheer perfection bores me. After strolling through the endless rows of squares in the historic district, I was almost ready to buy a house.

SavannahSavannahSavannah

When it comes to my favorite experiences in Savannah, a few stand out. I’m not a ghost tour person at all, but the Dead of Night ghost tour is one of the best tours I have ever been on, regardless of subject matter. I loved feasting at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room and considered it my favorite fried chicken in the South (and, um, I kind of ate a lot of fried chicken in the South).

But Savannah is about strolling and taking in the atmosphere more than anything else. Leave plenty of time for that.

Boracay Sunset

Boracay Island, Philippines

I have no words for how much I adored this little tropical island. Boracay is definitely no stranger to visitors — it’s the most visited place in the Philippines and has huge influxes of Filipino, Chinese and Korean tourists — but if you stay to the Station 3/Angol part of the beach, it’s remarkably quiet and low-key.

Boracay is anchored by White Beach on the west side, one of the softest, whitest beaches I’ve ever seen, and home to incredible sunsets, one of which was the best one I have ever seen.

BoracayBoracay SunsetBoracay

Don’t go to Boracay looking for isolation or an untouched paradise — know that it’s a busy place and get ready to enjoy the hell out of it. If you can bear to drag yourself away the beach shacks of Angol, I recommend hitting up CYMA in Station 2 for fantastic Greek food (so rare in Asia). Order the flaming cheese and the flaming mango!

Polonnaruwa

Sri Lanka

It took me a long time to get to Sri Lanka and it was so very worth it when I finally arrived in November. I expected some sort of “India lite” — instead, it felt like a less-developed country in Southeast Asia. Like Thailand before the tourist influx began.

I knew I’d love the beaches, and with two weeks on the south coast, I certainly took in my fair share of beach time — but there is so much more than beaches here. Sri Lanka is a nation of such striking beauty, of incredibly kind people, of wildlife and mountains and tea plantations. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m frankly surprised that it isn’t much more popular than it is.

View from SigiriyaSri Lankan Women in GalleElephants in Kaudalla National Park

If I had to narrow it down, my favorite destination in Sri Lanka was Galle, a fascinating colonial city on the south coast with crumbling architecture and interesting shops. But I can’t wait to return next year and see so much more of the country. Even though I had three weeks there, it wasn’t nearly enough.

French Quarter Mardi Gras

New Orleans

New Orleans is pure music. As you walk through the French Quarter, street performers appear around every corner. It could be a six-person brass band, an old-fashioned group performing in costume with washboards, a solo girl tap-dancing with a banjo. Anything. Music fills the streets, and on more than one occasion, I thought to myself that New Orleans would be such a great place to visit if you were blind.

Add that some of the most celebrated culinary traditions in the United States, outstanding architecture, lots of haunting history, and a post-Katrina resilience filling the region with spirit, and you’ve got an incredible place to visit. I can’t believe I didn’t come here sooner.

French Quarter Mardi GrasFrench Quarter Mardi GrasMardi Gras Beads

I visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras and may not have had the typical experience — I’ve since learned that plenty of locals leave during Mardi Gras to avoid the madness or visit more low-key carnivals in the state — but I know that much more time in New Orleans is in my future. After all, I only got to try about half the Cajun and Creole dishes I wanted to…

Skellig Michael

Skellig Michael, Ireland

One of my favorite World Heritage Sites ever, Skellig Michael overwhelmed me. This rocky island off Ireland’s southwest coast is difficult to get to and challenging to climb, but once at the top, you are rewarded with an ancient monastery filled with honeycomb-shaped buildings and outstanding views over the Atlantic.

I’ve never seen anyplace like this — not anywhere.

Skellig MichaelPuffin on Skellig MichaelSkellig Michael

If you’re planning a trip to Ireland, I recommend making every effort you can to visit Skellig Michael. Getting there isn’t easy — many trips are cancelled due to the waves and the difficulty of landing there, and it’s not for children or people with mobility challenges — but if you’re able to make the trip, you won’t regret it. It will be the highlight of your time in Ireland.

Would I have liked it so much if it had been easier to visit? That’s something to think about…

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The best of Asia: wild markets, fantastic street food, crazy nightlife. The best of Europe: ease, organization, easy communication. Hong Kong was a beguiling hybrid as well as a fascinating city and I’m so glad I finally made it there this year.

I loved walking around Hong Kong island, being surrounded by the skyscrapers; I also loved hopping on a “Ding Ding” (one of the skinny trams) to cross it in style, ending with a bowl of noodle soup with shrimp wontons and sliced brisket, then going out for cocktails on the chic, hilly streets.

Hong Kong SkylineDim SumMong Kok

Hong Kong is incredible, and like many of the destinations on this list, I can’t believe it took me so long to get there. As an Asia-phile, I think it’s a particularly egregious oversight.

Flam Railway

Southwest Norway

I went back and forth about this one — how could I express my love for Bergen and the fjords, while acknowledging that I had only seen a tiny sliver of the country? Southwest Norway it would be, including both Bergen and the surrounding countryside within a few hours of the city.

A lot of people consider Norway to be the most naturally beautiful country in Europe. While I still think I’d put Montenegro at the front of the pack, Norway is astonishingly beautiful nonetheless.

Bergen NorwayNorway FjordsBergen Norway

Norway is an expensive destination and many budget travelers consider it out of their price range — but rather than spending a few weeks traveling there, I recommend just trying out Bergen for the weekend and taking a Norway in a Nutshell day tour to see some of the countryside.

Pensacola Beach

Florida Panhandle

In the public eye, there are two sides to Florida: the side that everyone travels to for a low-key/Disneyfied vacation, and the side that’s always in the news for the weirdest reasons (check out Florida Man on Twitter for an idea). Which is why I was so delighted to learn that I love Florida when I traveled across the panhandle this year.

The panhandle doesn’t get quite as much love as other parts of Florida, but it’s home to sugar-white sands (even whiter than on Boracay!) and the brightest water I’ve ever seen, ranging from electric blue to bright teal. Along the way, you’ll find a wide variety of towns, each showcasing its own personality. And then there’s the key lime pie…

Seaside FloridaSeaside FloridaSeaside Florida

My favorite spot in Florida was unquestionably the time-warped town of Seaside, but I also loved the snow-white beaches of Pensacola and the faded charm of Apalachicola. If I went back, I’d spend a week or longer exploring all the quirky towns, from Pensacola to Panama City.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana

Without a doubt, Ljubljana is my new favorite European city. Small, pretty, filled with pink churches and elegant bridges and so many cafes and art. It was the perfect size — small and walkable, yet big enough that you could spend a week here and find plenty of new things to do each day. It made me sad that so many people only allot a day or two for Ljubljana at most.

I loved how cafes spilled out in every direction. I loved the Friday food festival with pop-up booths from around the world. I loved getting lost in the streets, each painted different vibrant colors.

Ana DesetnicaLjubljanaAna Desetnica

A highlight was visiting during the Ana Desetnica street theater festival, when the fairy-tale streets came to life with performances. I attended five festivals this summer and Ana Desetnica was by far my favorite — I really want to go back next year!

What was your favorite place you visited for the first time this year?

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68 thoughts on “My Favorite New Destinations of 2014”

  1. So many amazing places! Going to New Orleans is defintly on my bucket list, and everyone that has been there seem to love it!
    One of my favourite places this years was Mumbai, India where I lived for two and a half month. Such a different culture which was amazing to experience first hand!

  2. I love all of these pictures! I went to Colorado for my first time this year, and have already gone a total of three times this year. LOVE it and we are thinking about moving there now 🙂

  3. I am so glad to see that my hometown of Pensacola made it onto your list! Seaside is definitely a gem — St. George Island (a bit further down the panhandle) is also great but much sleepier. Come back to the Panhandle anytime!

  4. Love this list! I’m officially ready to head to China… or Ireland…or Finland…or the Philippines. So many places so little time! Looks like you had an amazing year of travel.

  5. Kigali! I was there for a few weeks during a trip in East Africa, and fell in love with the city. Although it is still ridden with social problems, post-genocide, its advancements and developments in the past 20yrs is outstanding and truly commendable. The food and nightlife scenes are great, the landscapes even greater, and it’s an overall clean, fun, East African city to visit. Loved it and cannot wait to go back!

  6. Iceland! It was amazing and I cannot wait to go back in the summer when lupines are blooming. IcelandAir ran a great package deal including hotel, so I visited in November. What a beautiful, amazing country. The South Shore tour with crashing waves and incredible waterfalls combined with the Gold Circle tour including geysers, falls, and the meeting of tectonic plates was stunning. The food is pricey, so I packed “hiking snacks” in my suitcase to limit how many meals needed to be purchased. This was the most surprising trip and wonderful adventure.

  7. I agree with Bergen thats place is such a stunner…. walking along the Bryggen its lovely. … and oh Philippines is on it too, Boracay is only a small piece of Philippine paradise you need to explore the other places too …… 🙂

  8. Budapest blew me away. It was always on my “maybe some day” list, and unexpectedly happened to me in October. I loved everything – the stunning, regal yet relaxed beauty (at least on par with Prague), fabulous restaurants, easy-going nature, all-night street-food, low, low prices, just… everything. I cannot wait to return.

  9. Lovely list. There are a few on here I wasn’t expecting, like New Orleans and Savannah. Makes me realize how little of my own country I’ve actually experienced…

    I didn’t really travel anywhere special in 2014 so I think we’ll call Pittsburgh my favorite new destination…it’s definitely become home over the past year!

  10. Great list! I hope to make it to Hong Kong in 2015, but right now the only trip in the cards is to somewhere in South America, since I have enough points for a free flight there.

    This year, my favorite new destination was Japan. And in the US, Miami! I had never visited and didn’t realize how amazing it was to be in the continental US with 80 degree weather in February.

  11. Love this list!! New Orleans was definitely my favourite new place of 2013. This year I’d say the Florida Keys and Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada – very different places, both awesome to visit!

  12. Finally! Someone else who appreciates the beauty of North Florida! I always get really funny looks when I tell people how wonderful the Panhandle is.

    My favorite recommendations are to camp at the Ocean Pond Campground in the Osceola National Forest outside of Lake City and to take a canoe ride down the Suwannee River around Live Oak.

    Oh, and I really recommend the Kingsley Plantation just outside of Jacksonville for a super hit of history and scenery.

  13. Hong Kong, Tien Yi restaurant at the Peak, a gastronomic delight with a view. Then the Ring of Kerry in Ireland or Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, which are breathtakingly beautiful. Thank you for your suggestions, Will have to see those sites.

  14. I think that the picture of the fjords in Norway may be my favorite picture I have ever seen on your blog! Gorgeous! My favorite new destinations this year were: Boston’s North End (love at first sight!), Concord, Mass; Vail, the lake region of Minnesota and the north woods of Wisconsin. All USA this year for me. But just booked Belize, Honduras and Japan- all for my first time – for next year.

  15. Be sure to stop by our local faves Sandshaker (ask for a Bushwacker) and Paradise Bar (great food — I always get the Fred Burger) on Pensacola Beach.

  16. Hi Kate, I’m planning my post-graduation trip to the US East Coast and even if both New Orleans and Savannah were on my list already I’m glad you mentionned them! Now I’m sure it’ll be just great 🙂 wish you a wondeful list-to-be for 2015! Xx

  17. Mine were closer to home (for me) this year: Hillary Trail hiking Auckland’s remote West Coast Beaches, the incredible Cape Reinga and the cute town of Rawene in New Zealand. The perfect Nacula Island in Fiji and Uluru and the hippy town and surrounding countryside of Bellingen in Australia.

  18. What an inspiring list! I’m definitely going to make more of an effort to explore further flung corners of Europe when I get back.
    My favourites are a toss up between Iceland (great people, stunning scenery, amazing northern lights!) and Queenstown, NZ. The scenery is just breathtaking and the town is compact enough to feel like home very quickly.

  19. Your lists are so inspiring Kate. So much so that I can’t wait to go to the Scandanavian States! I loved what you wrote about then and parts of the US such as New Orleans and Florida. I will be going to the States again in 2016.

    My most favourite place this year was Chiang Mai. I had visited Thailand before of course, but I had never been “Up North”. It was amazing. I loved it and so did my hard-to-please-pre-teenager and my sceptical German husband who were on their first ever trip to Asia. So thumbs up to that! Chiang Mai was fantastic.

    Also, I went on my first press trip this year which was awesome! I went to Nord-Pas de Calais or Northern France. It was so new that I actually thought I was going to Normandy! However, Nord-Pas de Calais was so much nicer and included such places as Lille and a cornerstone of Belgium!

    I look forward to your 2015. 🙂

  20. I can totally see why you loved Finland – this country is so amazing yet so underrated! I spent there 5 months as an exchange student and had the time of my life. Just somehow I never made it to Rauma and I could see here how much I missed! Time to go back to Finland I guess!

  21. Awesome list! Ljubljana is one of my favorite cities in Europe, too, and Savannah is one of my favorites in the US!

    Here’s to plenty more new places in 2015!

  22. I went to San Francisco! I finally put fear aside and got back on a plane. Now if I can just do the same for Europe next year…..

    I love your blog so much. Makes me dream…..

  23. So glad you included Savannah on your list, we went there for a minimoon! Great parks and b&bs. Also, the panhandle is amazing. It’s basically like the beach backyard for Atlanta and Nashville and gulf seafood is like no other.

  24. I can’t believe often Malaysia is ignored by the younger backpacking set. I went there this year (aged 20) and was definitely amongst the younger travellers.

    Bako National Park for example blew. my. mind. It was trekking made easy and the vegetation went from Tomb Raider jungle to boardwalk to a beach in the space of 20 meters.

    1. Isuru de Silva

      Hi Jessica,
      If u do come to Sri Lanka and need any help do give me a buzz.. Happy to help. and no im not a tour guide or a travel agent. 🙂

  25. Budapest was my favorite place of 2014! It surpassed all expectations. I was gobsmacked at it’s beauty, affordability and the kindness of the people. Loved it so much, we visited twice, and would do it again. This list looks nice, Ljubljana looks awesome, as does many of the others. So many places…sigh…

  26. Wow … there’s so much of the world to go around that one can have new and amazing experiences each and every year. This post inspired me greatly … thanks!

  27. Lots of cool places, I’m sure there are many more beautiful ones to come. Norway is insanely expensive. I was in Flam and paid I think 23 CAD for a beer. Most expensive one I’ve ever had for sure. I would definitely say it is a beautiful country though. Hopefully I’ll be able to compare to Montenegro soon.

  28. This year I did a lot of traveling. (I’m from outside Boston). I went to Disneyland, DisneyWorld twice, Dublin, Bermuda, and Toronto. Everything except DisneyWorld was a first time experience.

    I had never been to Europe (always a dream) and love Dublin. It actually reminded me a bit of Boston. I can’t wait to go back and explore other parts of Ireland and more of Europe. #someday

  29. We are heading back to Ireland this year, mostly to go to Skellig Michael! We didn’t have a chance last time so I am very excited. Loved your post about it as well- I saved one of your pictures to look at in order to help me save and plan. 🙂

  30. Fantastic list! All these destinations look extremely appealing! Unlike you, Hong Kong would not make it to my ‘top new places’ list, I’m not sure why. On my list would be Albania, Iran, Montenegro and Bologna.

  31. For me it was definitely Kefalonia, Greece.

    I’m always eager to travel far away from home (England) and Kefalonia was supposed to be a mini break just for lazing around.

    The beauty of the island, the friendly locals and the delicious food took me by surprise and I can’t wait to go back. It’s one of the few countries I could call home!

  32. Wow Kate, I’m so envious of your year, wish mine looked a little more like that!

    We were lucky enough to visit Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur & Kota Kinabalu this year which was awesome and some great quality time with the kids.

    I have to say that my best experience this year was visiting Uluru in central Australia. Hubby and I did it alone and actually got to do adult activities! Such as the Kings Canyon Rim walk, helicopter flight over Uluru and the famous Sounds of Silence dinner. We really did pack a heap into 3 days and had a awesome time.
    2015 is shaping up to be exciting too!

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