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Travel trends: the top holiday destinations for 2020

From surprising emerging destinations like Pakistan and Georgia to old favourites like Peru and New Zealand, here are our top holiday destinations for 2020 that are sure to spice up your life with adventure. 

Emerging destinations

1. Pakistan

Sitting pretty on the edge of the Himalayas and home to K2, a mountain even more ruthless than Everest, Pakistan is waiting to be uncovered in 2020. Draped in natural beauty from the clear skies of the Arabian deserts to the mammoth Karakoram Ranges, it’s an absolute must for mountaineers of all levels.

It’s seen political turmoil, but the doors are slowly opening wider for all you adventurers out there. Join the brand new 15-day Dragoman tour and you’ll be one of the few travellers wandering Mughal-era citadels and digging deep into Pakistani culture.

If you see one thing: The elegant red-stone Badshahi Mosque in the walled city of Lahore. Visit in the morning to watch the locals practising their cricket swing in the park out front.

Best time to visit: May to October is when the hiking paths are free of snow and everyone’s happy to be out and about in the fair summer weather.

Insider Tip: Rohtas Fort is a 16th-century fortress located near the city of Jehlum. Think massive walls akin to the Great Wall of China, but surrounded by green pastures—and few tourists!

2. Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, has been described as Las Vegas meets Pyongyang. Perhaps largely due to the country’s eccentric former leader who had a more-than-slight obsession with ridiculous world records and horses. So, it’s no surprise Ashgabat has the Guinness World Record for the highest density of buildings with white marble cladding, a tower with the world’s largest architectural image of a star and, of course, the world’s largest horse head statue. Because what city doesn’t need one of those?!

Record-breaking aside, Turkmenistan is one of the most unexplored of the ‘stans. Thanks to strict laws, foreigners aren’t allowed to travel outside of Ashgabat without being accompanied by an official guide. But if you’re on this Dragoman trip, you’ll be well on your way to exploring some of the most remote and inhospitable desert lands on Earth. Along with ancient Silk Road towns and nomadic shepherds, you’ll also feel the heat from the Darvasa Gas Crater. Initially the result of an industrial accident by Soviet gas prospectors, it’s a huge burning crater that has been on fire for decades by thanks to natural gas in the ground keeping it alight.

If you see one thing: The world’s largest indoor Ferris wheel is beautiful with over-the-top white marble and cosmic patterns. If you rock up, they’re likely to turn the whole thing on just for you as there will be no one else around.

Best Time to Visit: Mar-Jun and Sep–Nov are best as the summers are hot and the winters are oh so cold.

Insider Tip: Being the seventh-least visited country in the world, everywhere you explore has had few travellers before you. If you want to get outside of Ashgabat, set your sights on the Door to Hell, a perpetually flaming crater in the middle of the desert that’s deserving of its title.

3. Lebanon

One of the longest continually inhabited regions on Earth, Lebanon is chock-full of history and timeless landscapes. Most people don’t know about the country’s pristine Mediterranean beaches and fierce mountain ranges. If they did, they’d be flooded. And the capital, Beirut, has a seriously banging nightlife and killer food culture. The cuisine alone is worth hopping on a plane for.

If you see one thing: The Roman ruins of Baalbek are arguably the most intact the world, with pillars 19-metres tall that are arranged similarly to Athens’s Acropolis. Be sure to check the current safety status of Ras Baalbek city before travelling.

Best Time to Visit: Lebanon has a lot to offer all year round, but summer (Jun-Sep) is when the beaches are warm and the nightlife is just as hot.

Insider Tip: Like hummus? You’ve never had it quite like this. Try the sweet nuttiness of Lebanese baklava, said to be where the dish was invented. Then wash it down with a glass of jallab, a summery drink made with rose water and grape molasses.

4. Georgia

The Caucasus Mountains are calling, and within them hide timeless villages, vineyards and excellent hiking and skiing. Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, pulls you in with its quirky and anxiety-inducing Leaning Tower of Tbilisi, which neighbours the Rezo Gabriadze Puppet Theatre. Make sure you get out of the city, though, to the hills of Gudari. They’re tree-free and avalanche-safe, giving you unobstructed knock-out views without the danger of being, you know, knocked out.

If you see one thing: Dating back to the 12th Century, Vardzia Cave Monastery is an ancient cave city carved into a cliffside with 13 levels and over 6,000 apartments. Around 300 apartments are still accessible and are cared for by a small group of monks – the rest have been lost to earthquakes.

Best Time to Visit: May, June and September are the best months to escape the humidity of summer.

Insider Tip: Georgia claims to be the birthplace of wine and has been producing the famous grape juice in the same way for 8,000 years. Now that is vintage.

Out and proud

5. Taiwan

Taiwan has been firmly on our radar for the last couple of years, but we fell even more in love with it when they legalised same-sex marriage last year. Safe and liberal, not to mention stunning (it was named ‘Ilha Formosa’ or Beautiful Isle by its Portuguese settlers), Taiwan is a non-mover for us. Extra points for its cycling infrastructure, top-notch trains, uncrowded surf spots and jaw-dropping national parks.

If you see one thing: Forget Taipei 101 (Taipei’s famous cloud-scraping tower and the world’s largest building from 2004 to 2010) dive into nature with Yushan National Park and soak in the vistas from Taiwan’s highest peak. The mountains on this island are seriously worthy of the hype.

Best Time to Visit: To avoid the hot and humid touristy season (July-August), the best times to visit are either April to June or September to November. Taipei’s world-famous Pride parade is usually held in October.

Insider Tip: Rainbow Family Village is a bit out of the way, but worth it for the ‘gram. Grampa Rainbow, as he’s affectionately called, began painting his military village a little bit day by day, creating an adorably cartoonish attraction.

Wallet-friendly winners

6. Jordan

A smaller and more affordable Egypt, Jordan is a winner if you’re looking for sparse red deserts, exposed rock formations and Bedouin encounters. Plus, it’s got not one, but five UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is only a short flight from the UK. And it’s been the setting for a number of big Hollywood movies. If it’s got enough adventure for Indiana Jones, it’s got enough for us!

Trek the Petra ruins, dive the Red Sea and explore its capital, Amman, in a week for less than £650 with a G Adventures tour.

If you see one thing: Petra. We know, it’s not exactly a shocker. The treasury is thought to have been a mausoleum for a king in 1 AD, but the local Bedouin people believed there are untold treasures hidden inside.

Best Time to Visit: March to May is when the temperatures tend to hang around the high teens, whereas the temperature can plummet in the evening after a 32-degree day in the summer. Talk about your hot and cold!

Insider Tip: Floating in the Dead Sea is one of those bizarre experiences that you need to feel for yourself. The lowest of the low, this stretch of blue water will be a welcome change from the red desert. If only if it was this easy to swim in every ocean…

7. South Africa

Lions and leopards and rhinos… oh my. Don’t forget about elephants and buffalo too. These are known as the Big Five, and South Africa’s Kruger National Park is one of the best places on the continent to see these guys in action. This country screams adventure as you can go surfing on the Eastern Cape Coast and bungee jumping off the Garden Route’s Bloukrans Bridge. Want something a little less adrenaline-fuelled? The hiking around Cape Town is something special (we’re looking at you, Table Mountain) and you can swim with gentle whale sharks in Sodwana Bay.

If you see one thing: Cape Town is a city tucked between mountains and ocean. After a night out in the comedy scene that gave the world Trevor Noah, pop out the next morning to greet the local penguins and haul yourself up the incredible Lions Head mountain.

Best Time to Visit: May to September is the dry season when animals congregate around watering holes, making for class wildlife spotting.

Insider Tip: If you swing by after the winter rainfall, Namaqualand springs to life with sweeping orange wildflowers. This only happens once a year, but if the fates don’t align, the national park is still stunning in August and September.

8. Slovenia

So you want the Italian Alps and classic German forests? Slovenia is your answer, and it’s a helluva lot cheaper. More than half of the country is still covered in trees, but let’s talk castles. Ljubljana is a gorgeous and quintessentially European town with a castle proudly looming over it. But if you want something a little less urban, look no further than Predjama Castle – it’s built into a cave in a classical Renaissance style. As if the fairytale vibes weren’t enough, the king there was also known to be quite the Robin Hood.

Slovenia is also home to the Planica Nordic Center, which boasts the biggest ski jumping hill in the world. Not keen on skiing? The centre also has a wind tunnel, cycling paths and a zip line – it’s the steepest in the world and (safely) gives you the sensation of being a ski jumper.

If you see one thing: Lake Bled is framed by mountains, rimmed by forest and dotted with picturesque little churches that are reflected in the clear waters. Jump in for a paddleboard or go for a leisurely walk along the shore.

Best Time to Visit: May to September is dry and ideal for hiking. But if it’s snow you’re after, go between December and March.

Insider Tip: Velika Planina is a Nordic Middle-Earth with grassy plains stretched over lazy rolling hills. A pasture plateau at 1,666m above sea level, it’s like hiking through heaven.

9. Bulgaria

Bulgaria is most commonly known for its cheap but snow-laden ski resorts, including Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo. But if you’re also on the lookout for a European bargain beach break, you’ll also find it on the golden beaches along Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast.

New on Europe’s hipster radar is Sofia, where an emerging food, cocktail and street art scene should mean it shoots to the top of your weekend break list for 2020. Although in your search for jam jar cocktails, don’t forget about the old-time treasures, such as The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Square of Religious Tolerance. Read more in our Sofia Travel Guide.

If you see one thing: The Belogradchik Rocks are towers of red rock with a fortress perched on top. It’s hard to know if the view is better from the top or bottom—might as well do both!

Best Time to Visit: The shoulder seasons are from April to May and September to October. The windows may seem small, but you’ll have sights to yourself and the prices of tourist attractions are lower.

Insider Tip: The cuisine is a marriage of Mediterranean and Balkan. You must try banitsa, a baked pastry with regional feta cheese and eggs. Wash it all down with a drink at a nearby mehana (aka pub).

Green gems

10. Costa Rica

We love Costa Rica for its commitment to wellness and eco-conscious tourism. In fact, by the end of 2021, it aims to be the first plastic-free and carbon-neutral country. The cities and towns are a lot flashier than Costa Rica’s Central American neighbours, but its urban areas don’t compromise the incredible biodiversity of the jungles and coastlines. With over half a million species roaming about, keep an eye out for colourful birds and mischievous monkeys while you go about your jungle treks, yoga sessions and surf camps.

If you see one thing: Arenal Volcano National Park is a beautiful beacon glowing green above the horizon. You’ve got the country’s largest lake and dozens of waterfalls around, plus the exfoliating ash is good for your skin.

Best Time to Visit: December to April is the dry season and will undoubtedly deliver the best weather despite being a little busier with other travellers.

Insider Tip: The mantra of this country is ‘Pura Vida’, meaning ‘pure life’. It’s thrown around a lot, but it’s a call to wellness and being good to yourself and the environment around you. Learn it, live it, love it.

11. New Zealand

Welcome to Middle Earth… whoops. We mean New Zealand. With stunning mountain ranges and an actual Hobbiton to visit, the two are basically synonymous anyway. Adventure isn’t far from windy Wellington to adrenaline-fuelled Queenstown, the birthplace of bungee jumping.

Experience Māori culture by witnessing the roaring haka before an All Blacks game or devour a Māori feast in Rotorua. Show a little love to the environment by responsibly cruising around mountains in an electric campervan, brought to us by our green-obsessed friends over at Britz.

If you see one thing: Tongariro Crossing was voted one of the world’s best day hikes and was used as a filming location in Lord Of The Rings. It’s surprisingly accessible and feels miles away from civilisation.

Best Time to Visit: March to May is when the crowds thin and prices fall, but the cold of winter hasn’t settled in yet.

Insider Tip: Head down south to Stewart Island for prime kiwi-spotting opportunities – and we do mean the birds, not the locals. New Zealand’s shy, feathered mascot is delightfully bizarre and needs to be seen to be believed.

Non-movers

12. UK

You’re thinking of London right now, aren’t you? We agree London is fab as it holds the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, Big Ben and many, many more. But worse than missing out on a London monument is never leaving the capital at all! Give the out-and-proud Brighton a go and stroll down the pier or hang around Bristol’s stylish Clifton neighbourhood. On your way to Liverpool for your Beatles pilgrimage, stop off in Wales, the Lake District or venture further afield to Scotland for incredible hiking.

If you see one thing: The British Museum is one of the wonderfully free attractions in London and is chock-full of artefacts from all over the world. You could spend days here!

Best Time to Visit: March to May is when the UK sprouts with green and the tourist rush doesn’t happen until June.

Insider Tip: Glen Coe is the most popular area of the Scottish Highlands and is breathtaking throughout the year. The grassy pastures stretch and surround fearsome cliffs – it’s worth the hype.

13. Peru

The government wisely puts a limit on how many people can hike the famous Inca Trail per year, but there are so many other amazing hikes through the Andes that are less crowded and aid efforts to combat overtourism. Check out the seven-day Lares Trek, the five-day Salkantay Trek, and the intrepid 12-day Choquequirao to Machu Picchu Trek. Each goes by massive Incan ruins that are more common than you think.

If you see one thing: The Rainbow Mountains have recently been revealed due to a receding glacier. You’ll be rewarded after an exhilarating hike as the natural minerals create technicolor stripes down the cliffsides.

Best Time to Visit: April to May and September to October is prime time to be outdoors and hiking under the not-too-unforgiving sun.

Insider Tip: Kuélap is a more environmentally conscious alternative to Machu Picchu and overlooks the pretty Utcubamba Valley. Plus, you’ll basically have the entire ancient town to yourself.

14. Japan

The Olympics are on their way and we can’t wait! Tokyo will be in full swing in 2020, but it’s important not to have your blinders on. If you’re craving city thrills of late-night all-you-can-drink karaoke, shop-til-you-drop arcades and driving through the streets in your very own Mario Kart, opt for Osaka instead during this busy year.

We know that nearby Kyoto and Nara are calling you, but you can do your part to combat overtourism by opting for tranquil Kamakura. The coastal city has hundreds of temples and shrines as well, plus Japan’s largest outdoor Buddha and an epic surf beach!

If you see one thing: Get out to the Fuji five lakes. Climbing Fuji-san is fine (if not crazy crowded), but it can only be climbed two months of the year. The lakes are open year-round and reflect Fuji in their waters on a clear day.

Best time to go: March to June is mild, typhoon-free, and full of festivals to celebrate the budding of plum and cherry blossoms. The Japanese take their pink tree flower worship seriously with all-day picnics during hanani.

Insider tip: Get out of town to Koya-san, a mountaintop Buddhist monastery complex where you can stay overnight and eat the same seasonal meals as the monks do. The temples are extravagant, but pictures are strictly forbidden at Okunoin Temple – yes, it’s really that good.

15. Turkey

Turkey is absolutely saturated with history and ruins, and it’s easy and cheap to get around too. We know you’re already going to hit up Istanbul and Cappadocia because who doesn’t fancy a hot-air balloon ride or browsing the local markets for a new rug? But get off the beaten path by sussing out mountainside ruins of the Lycian Rock Tombs and the Myra Necropolis. You can walk freely inside the ornate cave dwellings that overlook the water and show some love for the local communities at the same time.

If you see one thing: The Hagia Sophia of course. This museum will tell you its history as both a church and a mosque, then enchant you with its intricate calligraphy and Byzantine art.

Best Time to Visit: April to May and September to November is when the weather is warm but not too hot.

Insider Tip: Take a dip in the natural hot springs of the Pamukkale Water Terraces, where white stone pools hold warm, ashy-blue waters. The cliffs look like they’re covered in snow, but they’re really 35–100 degrees!

16. Philippines

Get in touch with your resting beach face in the Philippines. There are over 7,000 islands with pristine beaches ready to help you achieve pure Filipino bliss. After you’ve had enough of snorkelling and made friends with hundreds of species of fish, travel by 4WD over lunar landscapes to trek to the summit of Mt. Pinatubo and deep into the sand dunes of Paoay.

If you see one thing: Get to know the ancient practices of the Banaue tribes by trekking through local northern villages and past 2,000-year-old rice terraces.

Best Time to Visit: November to April is the dry season that won’t threaten to rain on your parade.

Insider Tip: The Asik-Asik Falls only reached international attention back in 2010. This lush mountainside has dozens of beautiful waterfalls spilling down it.

17. Southwest Pacific

If you’re looking to lose track of time while lying under a palm tree (beware of falling coconuts!), then look no further than the Southwest Pacific. Fiji and the Cook Islands are classics, but if you want more of a Robinson Crusoe stranded-on-a-remote-island vibe, try Samoa or Tonga. With paddleboarding, snorkelling, diving and sailing, every watersport you can imagine is fair game.

If you see one thing: Mt. Yasur in Vanuatu is an active volcano that’s easily accessible. Grab a sandboard and whizz down the warm black ash after a hefty hike up.

Best Time to Visit: There’s a sunny island ready for you somewhere throughout the year, but most islands are at their peak paradise from June to September.

Insider Tip: There are dozens of cultures sprawling across these diverse islands. You’ll have a wide selection of food available from pizza to Indian curry but be sure to visit the local tribes and get to know their traditions and cuisine.

Back open for business

18. Lombok

If you’re looking to escape the crowded beaches of Bali, look to low-profile Lombok. Known as Bali’s ‘quiet neighbour’, this volcanic island is all about serenity and unspoilt beauty. Most visitors use Lombok as a launchpad for the nearby Gili Islands, but it really deserves a longer stay. To the south, you’ll find world-class surf breaks, blissed-out beaches and traditional fishing villages, while the north is dominated by an active volcano. If you’re a nature lover, then the interior impresses with green rice paddies and tropical forests. Although it was rattled by an earthquake in August 2018, Lombok is ready to steal the spotlight from Bali as Indonesia’s darling and deserves a spot on this list of top holiday destinations for 2020.

If you see one thing: If you like to hike, then Mt. Rinjani is not to be missed. Indonesia’s second-highest mountain offers a spectacular but straightforward climb up jungle-clad slopes. The views are truly summit else once you’ve reached the top of this active volcano.

Best Time to Visit: Lombok is a tropical island, so the weather is beaut all year round. Although the wet season runs from October to April, it doesn’t see too much rainfall.

Insider Tip: For local encounters and handmade souvenirs, stop at the traditional weaving villages of Sade and Sukarara en route to Kuta.

19. Sri Lanka

Short on time? No problem! Sri Lanka’s compact, traveller-friendly size and dependable bus network means you can see and do it all in the space of a couple of weeks. Despite its small proportions, this teardrop-shaped country packs a punch with its centuries-old ruins, misty highlands and sandy beaches that stretch for miles. It’s also one of the best places in the world to see elephants, leopards, turtles and blue whales, so set off on safari in one of the 26 wildlife-rich national parks or volunteer at a conservation project.

If you see one thing: The scenic train journey through the lush hills and tea plantations between Colombo, Kandy and Ella is simply stunning. Be sure to book yourself a window seat!

Best Time to Visit: The weather is dictated by two monsoon seasons and varies depending on location. The best time to visit the west and south coasts, as well as the Cultural Triangle is between December and April, while the east coast is ideal from May to October. 

Insider Tip: While most tourists climb the 1,200 steps to the top of Sigiriya, we think the best views are actually from Pidurangala, the rocky outcrop next to the ancient fortress. Go early to beat the heat!

Find your next adventure on one of our many tours, or visit your nearest STA Travel store to lock in a flight with a £49 deposit to one of these top holiday destinations for 2020.