The 12 Best Places to Travel in 2023 – AFAR Media

It’s our favorite time of year: the Where to Go season, when AFAR reveals our list of the ultimate places to travel in the coming year. How to choose? Our editorial team reached out to writers, reporters, and correspondents around the world and curated 12 global destinations for 2023 that feel poised for a “moment”: creative cities, seaside villages, national parks, and other places where wonder prevails. Read on and prepare to start wandering…

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Tasmania

Located 150 miles south of Melbourne, Tasmania is teeming with adventure and beauty.

Sean Fennessy

1. Tasmania, Australia

Across this secluded and beautiful island state near Melbourne, irreverence and experimentation reign.

It was my first trip to Australia—my first trip abroad—in 2001, and I arrived in Melbourne a green-as-they-come university student, all nerves and adrenaline, ready to pounce on whatever adventure lay before me. Show me the city! I screamed silently at our study-abroad orientation leaders. Let me loose! We visited the Coney Island–like neighborhood of St. Kilda on the south shore, learned the finer points of Australian rules football, and ferried to nearby Phillip Island, site of a nightly parade of pint-size penguins that dashed from sea to land at dusk, prompting a chorus of “awwws” from everyone with a heart.

Those points of interest were lovely but … safe. Introductory. What if I had realized that a couple of hundred miles off the coast of Melbourne was an island known for its irreverent art? For its stark and dramatic natural beauty, its world’s-best single-malt whisky, and seafood so fresh, it asks you about the catch of the day. What if I had visited Tasmania?

For the full story from Laura Redman, read Eclectic Art, Fresh Seafood, and Wild Landscapes—Why Your Next Trip Should Be to Tasmania.

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Ruaha National Park

Asilia camp administrator, Leena Lulandala, using telemetry to track collared animals in Ruaha National Park.

Photo by Greg Funnell.

2. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

In a remote corner of Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, travelers can find an abundance of wildlife without the crowds—and help with important conservation work.

Sprawled across 7,700 square miles in southern Tanzania, Ruaha is the country’s second-largest national park. Yet it draws only a tiny fraction of Tanzania’s safarigoers, who flock in much larger numbers to the more famous Serengeti in the north. But low visitation rates make biodiverse Ruaha a wildlife enthusiast’s dream: This vast landscape of habitats, ranging from savannas to wetlands, feels like a private game reserve, and travelers can go days without seeing another vehicle.

In one of the park’s less-visited corners, you’ll find the Usangu wetlands, site of a former hunting reserve and home to the Wasangu tribe for centuries. The wetlands feed the Great Ruaha River, a critical water source for people, animals, and hydroelectric dams that supply energy to much of the country. Wildlife audits have revealed populations of cheetahs, leopards, and lions. Topi antelope can exceed 1,000 animals in one herd.

In 2017, the Tanzania National Parks Authority, Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute, and safari lodge company Asilia Africa came together to introduce a tourism model where revenue from visitors helps fund research, management, and conservation. Asilia’s Usangu Expedition Camp, which opened in 2022, is the only place to stay for more than 30 miles in any direction. Its four high-ceilinged rooms feature enormous beds, rain showers, and wraparound mesh walls that provide views of acacia-dotted wilderness. The lodgings make a stylish base for exploration in two upcycled vehicles that run on ethanol created from the cane waste of a nearby sugar plantation. Guests pitch in on data collection from camera traps by day and thermal monocular cameras by night.

The area’s conservation story is brought to life by the mostly local staff, including Wasangu guide trainee Anderson Pakomyus Mesilla, whose family roots in Usangu run generations deep. “I’m helping to conserve my ancestral home, but this wetland also supplies electricity to a large part of the country, including my village,” he said. “We all benefit from conserving the source of the river.”—Jennifer Flowers

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Graz, Austria

Vienna, Salzburg, Linz—take a trip to Austria’s best kept secret, Graz.

Photo by Felix Bruggemann

3. Graz, Austria

A DIY spirit brings a historic city to life in a riot of yoga, silent discos, and avant-garde music.

Just over 100 miles south of Vienna, amid the surprisingly Mediterranean climate of the Styrian wine region, sits Austria’s second-largest city. Here, a fairy-tale jumble of baroque and Renaissance buildings clusters at the base of the Schlossberg, the hill that was once Graz’s ultimate defense. Back in medieval days, a daunting fortress stood at its summit; Napoleon had it destroyed, but the colorful facades and terracotta roofs that sprang up beneath it still shine brightly in the southern Austrian sun. On the east side of the river Mur, Graz’s past is a vivid presence.

On the west bank, however, you will find its future. What the districts of Lend and Gries lack in architecture they make up for in creativity and an entrepreneurial soul. At Bo Suppe, Arnd Hoffmann sells different flavors of homemade soup from his kitchen window (try the vegan pumpernickel Bolognese). At Managerie, Maria Reiner sells drinks and crocheted lampshades from the “kiosk shop” at the front of her apartment. Daily life revolves around the Lendplatz morning market, and small businesses thrive thanks to a fierce community spirit that manifests in a busy calendar of events and projects, such as backyard flea markets, walking tours, outdoor yoga, and knitting circles. Travelers can find out more through the Annenviertel project, which was launched by local campaigners in 2014 to breathe new life into the quarter (or “viertel”) around the shopping street of Annenstrasse. Live music at the 1930s bar Café Wolf ranges from Israeli space-rock to an improvisational autoharp trio. The Lendwirbel festival in May fills empty shop fronts with art installations, silent discos, workshops, and discussions.

The Kunsthaus Graz modern art museum, meanwhile, has inspired artists and designers to make their homes and livings here. Stroll along the main strip Mariahilferstrasse and you’ll find jewelers, fashion boutiques, and homeware shops. A spirit of social enterprise infuses the city: One of the trendiest accessory stores in town, tag.werk, has helped hundreds of young people find employment over the past two decades by teaching them crafts and life skills. Come to Graz for the history, for sure—but stay for its hopeful vision of the future.—Emma John

AFAR Where to Go 2023 the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are home to the largest fresh water ecosystem on the planet.

Photo by Christina Holmes

4. Great Lakes, USA

From charming lake towns to expedition cruises, there are many good reasons to explore the Greats.

A native of Michigan, I have a birthright bond to the Great Lakes, the magnificent five that span two countries and eight states, from New York in the east to Minnesota in the west. Michigan, which claims shoreline on four of the five lakes, always seemed like both the center of it all and a remote peninsula, buffered by its treasures. During high school, when my family had moved to a suburban Detroit home near a smaller lake that connects the Greats, I would fall asleep to the faint bass notes of freighters’ foghorns, the songs of vast waters you can’t see across, inland seas at once familiar and strange.

All these years later, they remain a place to splash in the calm shallows each summer or brave the waves by kayak. Winter brings ephemeral ice caves and adaptations such as iceboats, or sailboats on blades. “Great” describes not just their size but their influence on culture, history, and our climate future.

For the full story from Elaine Glusac, read The Great Lakes Offer Culture, History, and One of the Most Unique Ecosystems on the Planet.

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Cambutal, Panama

Black sand beaches, big waves, and rushing rivers. There’s lots to love about Cambutal.

Photo by Hassen Salum

5. Cambutal, Panama

Adventure and community-centric tourism beckon on the southern coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula.

Few travelers who visit Los Santos, one of Panama’s least-touristed provinces, venture to the end of the only main road heading south. That’s where Cambutal awaits, 228 miles from Panama City—a beach town garnering much-deserved attention from Panamanians and intrepid international travelers alike.

The town sits on the shores of a never-crowded, volcanic black-sand beach with perfectly surfable waves. The surrounding jungles hold rivers, canyons, natural pools, and multitiered waterfalls.

Having spent a lot of time on the southern coast of the Azuero Peninsula during his childhood, Panama-born Bryan Goldner founded Azuero Adventures in November 2020 to help visitors safely explore the region. As Cambutal’s only registered tour operator, the company started small, with horseback rides through grassy hills to bring travelers to see petroglyphs carved by Indigenous people.

In 2022, Azuero Adventures introduced multiday trips to Cerro Hoya National Park, just west of Cambutal. Encompassing more than 80,000 acres with no direct road entry, Cerro Hoya can only be accessed by boat, on horseback, or in a 4×4 vehicle, making it one of the hardest-to-reach national parks in Panama. The mostly untouched land is known for its diverse wildlife, including the great green macaw and the Azuero spider monkey, both endangered species. Guests can stay in secluded oceanfront cabins or opt for full immersion with an overnight camping expedition that includes a hike through the cloud forest more than 4,200 feet above sea level.

With sustainable and equitable tourism at the heart of his operations, Goldner works closely with the people of Cambutal—a vision directly in line with the Panama Ministry of Tourism’s efforts to strengthen rural and community-based tourism enterprises.

“We use local captains and local guides,” Goldner says. “The idea is not to hire people and bring resources from outside when we have such a rich community that’s already here.” —Jessica Poitevien

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Transylvania, Romania

No vampires to worry about here.

Photo by Fundatia Adept

6. Transylvania, Romania

Nature and tradition thrive in one of Europe’s last wild regions.

It’s been 125 years since Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, branding Transylvania as a dark, forbidding land populated by bloodsucking counts with an aversion to holy water. And while perhaps no other book has clouded its readers’ impression of a place in quite the same way, Stoker was right when he wrote of the region’s wild side. North of Bucharest, in the heart of Romania, Transylvania is home to one of Europe’s last great wildernesses: a sprawl of alpine meadows, ragged limestone ridges, and old-growth forests that billow across the landscape in a thick quilt of juniper, spruce, beech, and fir.

These wild mountains harbor some of the highest numbers of large carnivores—brown bears, wolves, and lynx—on the continent. The nonprofit Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC) is in the process of creating a vast reserve to safeguard all this for future generations—a “European Yellowstone” as Christoph Promberger, FCC’s executive director, envisions it—that will stretch for nearly 618,000 untamed acres across Romania’s Southern Carpathian Mountains.

For the full story from Keith Drew, read This Misunderstood Romanian Region Is Known as “European Yellowstone.”

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Bangkok, Thailand

Prepare to be surprised on your next trip to Thailand’s most visited city.

Photos courtesy of The Standard, Bangkok Mahanakho and The Small Dinner Club

7. Bangkok, Thailand

Ambitious young Thais are driving a creative reawakening in one of the world’s most visited cities.

From the end of an L-shaped bar I watched three chefs in black caps delicately plate 11 dishes of what appeared to be snow. Loud music masked the sounds of the busy Bangkok street outside. “OK guys, this one is titled, ‘Daft Punk Is Playing in My Mouth,’” said chef Sareen Rojanametin, setting the intriguing dish before me. Marvelously on cue, the throbbing LCD Soundsystem song “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” burst onto the stereo.

The first bite rocked me to my core. At Small Dinner Club, which “pulls apart, questions, and reimagines Thai food,” you’re not handed a menu. The 12-course evenings are a delightful mystery accompanied by inspiration notes from the 32-year-old chef, who opened the hidden boîte in February 2022. “For me this dish represents the essence of Thai cuisine,” he wrote. I expected coconut or lime; instead I got an explosion of Thai green chile. My eyebrows started sweating. I swirled it all up: hot ice, tiny iridescent fish, watermelon, and a sumptuous black sesame sauce. These were the flavors of Thailand composed into an entirely new song. Rojanametin, who spent two years in a forest monastery before opening the restaurant, tells me, “The city has changed a lot in the last four years. People are much more daring.”

For the full story from Kathryn Romeyn, read Just When You Thought You Knew Bangkok, Thailand’s Most Visited City Changes.

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Salvador, Brazil

Experience the intersection of history and culture in Salvador, Brazil.

Photo by Luisa Dorr

8. Salvador, Brazil

Engaging with Brazil’s Black history is essential—and easier than ever in the city of Salvador thanks to new cultural offerings.

In Salvador, a port city on the northeastern coast of Brazil, history isn’t relegated to textbooks. More than 4 million people were kidnapped from Africa and forced to harvest coffee beans and sugarcane in the country—a legacy that is most evident in the state of Bahia, where 80 percent of the population is Black or mixed race. Today the descendants of those enslaved people carry on traditions through Salvador’s food, culture, and music.

Tour company Guia Negro leads English-language histori- cal outings delving into Brazil’s Black heritage, including a walk through the streets where Michael Jackson and Spike Lee shot “They Don’t Care About Us,” the 1996 music video featuring the storied Afro-Brazilian drum team Olodum. The Casa do Carnaval da Bahia is a museum dedicated to the history of Brazil’s annual carnival celebration. The City of Music of Bahia museum, which opened in 2021, invites visitors to experience more than 800 hours of Bahian music, with the goal to educate them about specific styles such as pagode, a Brazilian subgenre of samba, and axé, an Afro-Caribbean mash-up that originated here.

The painful, racist history of Pelourinho, the city’s old town, is preserved in its name, which translates to “whipping post.” Once the site of slave auctions, it’s now home to brightly painted houses, cobblestoned streets, and numerous restaurants. At the rustic eatery Di Janela, chef Nara Amaral serves the food that brings her joy: roasted garlic with octopus, ruby-red lobster with heavily seasoned potatoes, and traditional fare such as moqueca, a seafood stew. At Ana Célia Santos’s Zanzibar restaurant, the moqueca takes numerous forms. A vegetarian version is prepared with rice and farofa (toasted cassava flour), while another is made with shrimp, stingray, and soft-shell crab.

For late-night entertainment, visitors should go to ABOCA Centro de Artes, a theater that hosts Afro-Brazilian musicians such as Mariene de Castro and Mateus Aleluia. After all, there’s no better way to end a day in Salvador than by listening to the residents who give the city its heartbeat.—Kayla Stewart

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Sharjah, UAE

Sharjah is often overlooked by its glitzier neighbors, but this emirate has plenty to offer in terms of art, architecture, and culture.

Photo by Ieva Saudargaite

9. Sharjah, UAE

Thought-provoking art and architecture shine a light on an emirate often overshadowed by its glitzier neighbors.

Ever since I moved to the United Arab Emirates seven years ago, I’ve loved Sharjah. It may not have the biggest/tallest/highest superlatives of Dubai or the epic palaces of Abu Dhabi, but understated Sharjah is home to some of the region’s most exciting cultural institutions. And 2023 is a big year for the emirate, with headline events showcasing two of its greatest draws: art and architecture.

The 15th Sharjah Biennial runs from February to June, presenting the creations of more than 150 artists from 70-plus countries. Thirty newly commissioned pieces, including works by Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj and British Palestinian multimedia artist Mona Hatoum, will be featured in a program that spans 16 venues and explores the theme “Thinking Historically in the Present.” The exhibition spaces are as intriguing as the art: from traditional coral-stone houses to the Sharjah Art Foundation’s recently acquired 1970s-era Flying Saucer, a UFO-shaped building that once housed a French patisserie and a fast-food chicken shop.

For the full story from Nicola Chilton, read Sharjah Is One of the Most Exciting—and Overlooked—Cities in the UAE.

WTG2023-Baltimore.jpg

Baltimore is quickly becoming an entertainment and foodie destination.

Photo by Irina Sitnikova/Unsplash (left) Scott Suchman (right)

10. Baltimore, USA

Long-overdue upgrades to major downtown attractions are turning Charm City into a veritable food- and-entertainment hub.

From its early days as a thriving seaport to its current status as a seafood paradise, Baltimore is ever evolving. A $45 million overhaul of Lexington Market—billed as the oldest continuously operating public market in the country, with roots dating to 1782—recently welcomed visitors to an airy, light-filled space enlivened by 16-foot murals from local artist Ernest Shaw Jr. and photographs by Shan Wallace depicting Baltimore’s Black food culture. (This is, after all, a majority Black city.)

The developer’s gut renovation of the old market reimagined the space as a fresh version of the com- munity gathering spot it had been before it fell into disrepair. Benches flank the central staircase and serve as prime people-watching spots, while an adjacent plaza hosts events and concerts. Input from residents informed the mix of more than 40 stalls, half of them Black-owned, including the coffee shop Black Acres Roastery and the husband-and-wife-run Sunnyside Café. The market also maintains its devotion to the ocean with Faidley’s Seafood, the famous crab cake spot, and the Korean family-owned Cho’s Sea Garden.

A few blocks away, the CFG Bank Arena will reopen in time to host college basketball tournaments in February and a nearly sold-out Bruce Springsteen show in April. Its $200 million revamp, backed by singer Pharrell Williams and an investment firm cofounded by NBA star Kevin Durant, gives the 60-year-old facility the updated concessions, audio, and lighting it needs to compete with other venues in the region.

Also notable for 2023: an exhibition of Baltimore native John Waters’s personal art collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art (through April 16) and the return of Artscape, a multiday cultural extravaganza in September that, in the past, has featured wildly decorated cars. Festivalgoers can stay in the Mount Vernon neighborhood’s new literary-themed boutique hotel, Ulysses, a 116-room property whose name pays homage to both the James Joyce novel and a ship that brought Bavarian immigrants to Baltimore.—Julekha Dash

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Prince Edward Island, Canada

Prince Edward Island’s new hike and bike trail offers travelers a new way to experience the coastal idyll.

Photo by Brendan George Ko

11. Prince Edward Island, Canada

A 435-mile hiking and biking route around Canada’s small but mighty province invites visitors to travel slowly and joyfully.

Prince Edward Island, or PEI, off Canada’s eastern seaboard, is home to some of the country’s most enchanting pastoral scenery. You’ll find fields of potatoes and strawberries, beaches that stretch for miles, storybook villages (the 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables was set here), red-and-white wooden lighthouses, and docks anchoring fishing boats. The Island Walk, a new 435-mile walking and cycling route circumnavigating “the Island,” as locals call it, gives travelers a unique opportunity to experience it up close.

My husband and I cycled 180 miles of the route in June 2022, starting in the compact capital city, Charlottetown, and spending six days working our way across a section in the central region of the province. From Charlottetown, we pedaled 35 miles along crushed-gravel trails, wide red-dirt roads lined with trees, and country lanes—all relatively flat. After checking into the Orient Hotel, a historic B&B in the tiny village of Victoria-by-the-Sea, we browsed in shops, talked with local anglers bringing in the day’s catch, and walked barefoot along an expansive beach with rose-colored sand at the edge of the village. The tide came in while I ate possibly the best lobster roll I’ve ever tasted—a buttery toasted roll loaded with chunks of tender fresh-caught crustacean and house-made mayo—at the Lobster Barn restaurant.

For the full story from Debbie Olsen, read Idyllic Villages, Fresh Lobster Rolls, and a New Trail—Why Now Is the Time to Visit Prince Edward Island.

AFAR Where to Go 2023 Bergamo and Brescia, Italy

In the heart of Bergamo near the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the famous Colleoni Chapel.

Photo by Andrea Frazzetta

12. Brescia & Bergamo, Italy

Find venerable history and hip cocktails in two Italian cities connected by a cycling trail.

The key ingredients of la dolce vita? Golden light beaming across ancient stones, a piazza that bustles at aperitivo hour, and streets ripe for a passeggiata (stroll) to work it all off. Enter Brescia and Bergamo, two cities in the northern Italian region of Lombardy that have been named joint Italian Capitals of Culture for 2023. If you only know them from news reports in early 2020—the two were hit hard during the pandemic—prepare to be bowled over.

Bergamo is the better known of the two; its historic Città Alta (Upper City) crowns a ridge nearly 300 feet above its more modern section. The Bergamaschi love the outdoors, and they kick back in deck chairs at the 17th-century gardens of Palazzo Moroni, which opened to the public for the first time in 2020. New tuk-tuk rides wind around the Città Alta’s UNESCO-protected 16th-century city walls. The lion- and sphinx-surrounded fountain in the main square, Piazza Vecchia, has been restored, and new walking routes through Bergamo’s layers of history connect the old and new town. Travelers and locals alike can amble through the nearby Val d’Astino, a valley filled with vineyards, wildflower- strewn meadows, and a monastery that was founded in 1107.

With a ceremonial opening in early 2023, a 47-mile bicycling route will roll from Bergamo past Lake Iseo, then through Franciacorta wine country to Brescia, the most colorful Roman city north of the Italian capital.

While Bergamo life is mainly outdoors, Brescia is inside; you’ll find gourmet pizza tasting menus at Inedito and Roman- themed cocktails at Massenzio. Try the Domitilla at the latter. Named after the wife of Emperor Vespasian, it’s a mix of berry gin with grapefruit, rosemary syrup, and egg white. Spend the night at Areadocks Boutique Hotel, where all the modern art- work and vintage furnishings are for sale. Here in northern Italy, the sweet life just got an upgrade.—Julia Buckley

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