Leading our list of emerging destinations is Reykjavik, the world’s most northerly capital, and one of the best places to see the northern lights, which dance enchantingly over the city during the depths of winter. Book your trip soon as the northern lights are forecast to dim and appear less frequently over the next 10 years.
Apart from gazing at the heavens, Reykjavik’s old town oozes charm with historic buildings, cosy cafes and great walking tours. Refresh yourself with an excursion to the thermal spa at Laugardalur, and pop into the nearby Reykjavik Art Museum. Flights to Reykjavik are cheaper than ever, so there’s never been a better time to visit Iceland’s unique capital.
Book your trip to Reykjavik soon to catch the northern lights before they fade for a decade
With the opening of the international airport in Praya and travellers looking for somewhere more exotic than Bali, Lombok is booming. Party animals and divers congregate in the heavenly Gili Islands off the island’s north coast while surfers head to the dramatic beaches in the south around Kuta with their crashing surf, traditional villages and rustic, laid-back atmosphere. Challenge yourself by climbing towering Mount Rinjani for spectacular sunrise views over Lombok, or take a load off and chill under the palms at Gili Nanggu for a slice of hassle-free tropical paradise.
Lombok attractions such as Mount Rinjani are ever more accessible from the new international airport in Praya
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Sapporo is a top destination year-round with sensationally snowy winters, colourful autumns and bright, warm summers perfect for sampling Hokkaido’s delectable ice cream. Time your visit to coincide with February’s Sapporo Snow Festival which is increasingly tempting travellers from around the world with incredible ice sculptures, live music and scrumptious local food. From July to August, Sapporo erupts in colour for the annual Summer Festival in Odori Park, where you can make new friends in the cavernous beer halls and take part in traditional Japanese dances.
Sapporo is well-known for its beer so join a tour of Hokkaido Brewery with the bonus of free Sapporo Beer in the plush brewery bar. You can’t leave the city without trying hairy crab, miso ramen or Sapporo curry soup and don’t forget to grab a box of scrummy Chocolate Mont Blanc to take home for envious friends and family.
4. Kota Bharu
Kelantan’s capital is pulling in the crowds, thanks to improving regional connectivity and proximity to the drop dead gorgeous Perhentian islands. Before you head off for your idyllic island getaway, take time to explore the city’s culture at the Muzium Negeri Kelantan or pop into one of the Thai temples dotted around town. Kota Bharu is famed for its droolworthy grub such as nasi kerabu and ayam percik which can be found on evening trawl of the famous night markets. Soothe your full tummy on a firefly spotting boat trip in Kubang Kerian to complete your memorable Kota Bharu holiday.
Enjoy an idyllic getaway on the Perhentian Islands, a short journey from Kota Bharu
5. Kuala Terengganu
Quiet Kuala Terengganu is packed full of laid-back charm and has one of Malaysia’s most attractive Chinatowns and excellent restaurants serving the country’s best seafood. Learn more about Chinese Peranakan culture with a visit to the Teck Soon Heritage House, browse the Central Market for kain songket and snacks and don’t forget to hunt down a plate of delicious nasi dagang at Mak Ngah’s before grabbing a boat over to Pulau Redang, famed for its crystal clear waters and snorkelling and diving adventures.
Visit Mak Ngah’s for a delicious plate of nasi dagang
6. Alor Setar
Kedah’s state capital Alor Setar is the perfect size for a weekend getaway in 2017 or as part of a longer holiday including nearby Langkawi. First stop should be Menara Alor Setar, a 165.5 metre tower with 360° views of the city and surrounding countryside. After this, get the lowdown on one of Malaysia’s most important figures with a tour of Matahir’s Birthplace with old family photos and a rickety old bike. Kedah is the rice bowl of Malaysia so the Kedah Paddy Museum is a must-visit, and on weekends you can plough a field with a kereta lembu, or cow caravan. Perfect muddy fun for all the family!
Get a bird’s eye view of town from the top of Meara Alor Setar. Photo credit: Sham Hardy / Flickr
Casa is the beating heart of modern Morocco, and is its largest and best-connected city. After you’ve walked along the blustery Corniche and explored the Old Medina, check out the striking Hassan II Mosque, the third largest in the world, which perches dramatically on an outcrop in the Atlantic. One of the joys of the city is eating and seafood fanatics swear by a meal at Restaurant de Port du Peche, where you’ll be served the freshest fish cooked with a whole lot of love. In 2017, make a beeline to nearby Rabat for the free 9-day Festival Mawazine, a music festival attracting performers from around the world.
Hassan II Mosque is a must-see in dynamic Casablanca
Tokyo is on everyone’s wish list; this whirlwind city stimulates with neon, extraordinary markets and wild nightlife yet invites calm reflection at temples and traditional gardens, like the ultra-mellow Yamamoto-tei. Rise early for sushi at Tsukiji market before taking the train to the Meiji Shrine near Harajuku, the city’s most serene temple. For a bit of alt-culture, you’ll love Takeshita-dori before you party in Shibuya or Roppongi. In August 2017, celebrate the Kanda Matsuri Festival, held every two years, where teams carry mikoshi god statues weighing over 1000kg through the streets.
Join the crowds or enjoy some people watching at the world’s busiest crossing in Shibuya
9. Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu is the gateway to Sabah and whilst it’s no architectural gem, the city has amazing seafood, stunning sunsets and the fascinating Gaya Street Market held on Sundays. The city is the best place for exploring nearby highlights including the underwater delights of Pulau Gaya, mountain climbing expeditions up mighty Mount Kinabalu or in the less well-known but equally stunning Crocker Range. Families can enjoy getting to know more about the diverse local cultures at Mari Mari Cultural Village whilst runners will enjoy working up a sweat in the 2017 Borneo International Marathon
Can you muster up the courage to climb Mount Kinabalu? Photo credit: Kevin Wasilin / Flickr
Mellow Perth is pretty ulu but has clear, bright skies, a cosmopolitan vibe and some top beaches nearby. Australia’s convict history is well-known so take a spooky torchlight tour of Fremantle Prison to add a little chill to your Aussie getaway, before warming up on spectacular Cottesloe Beach, one of the best-known stretches of sand in Australia. Grown-ups should head to the Swan Valley for wine tasting or treat the kids to a day out at Rottness Island to see penguins and whales. In 2017, come to Perth to learn more about the mysteries of the universe at Dark Universe.
Cycle through Perth’s CBD and enjoy the clear skies of a Western Australia evening. Photo credit: Daniel Lee / Flickr
Read more: 10 best road trips for families in Malaysia