Booking a holiday? Check out our top 10 safe places to visit in 2017!
Can you believe it's February half-term already? If you haven't yet booked your holiday for this year or need some travel inspiration to get you through the last bit of winter, our handy guide of top ten must-see destinations is here to help!
Slovenia is top of our list of must-see destinations this year! It is an often overlooked country even though it boasts three UNESCO world heritage sites and is a beautiful country of towering mountains, stunning lakes and rivers, picturesque cities and wondrous caves.
Idrija was once of the richest towns in Europe thanks to the mercury that was extracted here. The mercury mine is now a UNESCO world heritage site, along with the Skocian Caves, which were carved out by the river Reka and include a jaw-dropping 150 meter underground canyon! Postonja Cave is filled with interesting rock formations and has a 3km underground railway.
Bled on stunning Lake Bled is surrounded by breathtaking, snow-capped mountains and is a fantastic place to visit all year round. It is known as the “alpine pearl”.
The old town of Ljubljana is filled with 19th century shop fronts, cobbled alleys, traditional markets and plenty of riverside cafes and bars. You can also take the glass funicular up to the castle, where you can dine at one of the city’s top two restaurants.
If you’re after the sea, visit the seaside town of Piran, which is filled with venetian-style architecture.
And for wine lovers, visit the Vipaya valley near the Italian border, where you can do some excellent wine tasting tours.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Idrija, Lake Bled, Ljubljana, Lake Bled
Taiwan allows you to combine a city break, beach holiday and natural wonders all in one! The country has a rich cultural and spiritual heritage and you will find stunning scenery, including amazing hot springs on this island nation.
Taiwan is home to East Asia’s tallest peak, Yushan, in the Yushan National Park, which is well known for its beautiful scenery and panoramic views and was a finalist in the New 7 Wonders of the World voting campaign in 2009.
The Sunrise Spring on Green Island is one of the only accessible seawater hot springs in the world, but there are plenty of hotels and resort offering hot springs within Taipei.
Taipei itself is a modern metropolis with busy shopping streets and some stunning contemporary architecture. There is a lively food scene and there are plenty of interesting night markets to visit. On the cultural side, there are some gorgeous temples, for example Longhsan Temple, and the National Palace Museum is also worth a visit as it contains a huge range of artefacts from mainland China, including ancient scrolls, porcelain, as well as paintings and sculptures. The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is another must-see cultural site to visit.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Longhsan Temple, Taipei
Iceland continues to be a very popular location to visit and it’s not hard to see why – Iceland boasts some unique natural scenery including glaciers, geysers, icebergs, black sand beaches, volcanoes, beautiful lagoons, the Dettifoss waterfall and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights!
Iceland has two UNESCO world heritage sites: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park – Iceland’s most important historical site, where the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament, the Alϸingi in AD 930, and Surtsey – a volcanic island that only appeared in 1963! Unfortunately you cannot visit Surtsey except for scientific study so you will have to admire this one from afar.
Reykjavik is filled with interesting architecture both modern and traditional, including the Harpa concert hall and the Hallgrimskirkja church with an observation deck from which you can admire the whole city and surrounding mountains.
And to relax at the end of your trip, the Blue Lagoon Spa with its geothermal waters and spectacular views is a must.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrimskirkja Church, Thingvellir National Park
If your idea of a holiday is a tropical island paradise, then French Polynesia is for you. In particular Rangiroa and the Marquesa Islands are worth a visit.
Rangiroa is the largest atoll within Tuamotus (a chain of French Polynesian islands and atolls) and ,thanks to the lagoon’s crystal clear waters, is considered one of the world’s best diving sites where you’ll find a huge variety of marine life, including dolphins, sharks, manta rays, and green sea turtles. You can also cruise the lagoon in a glass-bottomed boat, if you prefer to keep your head above water.
For nature lovers, there is a bird sanctuary on Motu Paio. Rangiroa is also well known for its pearl farms.
The Marquesa Islands are a group of volcanic islands, which are further from a continent than any other group of islands so they are almost entirely unspoilt. They are particularly good for surfing as they are not protected by reefs as Rangiroa is. There is also a huge variety of native birdlife.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Rangiroa, Rangiroa, Marquesa islands
Having been occupied by Germany, Russia and Sweden in the past, Estonia is a culturally diverse country rich with history and plenty of interesting relics to discover.
Estonia is home to two UNESCO world heritage sites – the Struve Geodetic Arc, which passes through 10 countries. The Tartu Observatory, the first reference point of the Arc, is now a museum and is a 2 hour drive from Tallinn. The second site is the old centre of Tallinn.
Tallinn is located in the north of the country in a bay in the Gulf of Finland and it’s possible to get to Helsinki in an hour by catamaran, so you could easily visit both these cities in one trip. Alternatively, if you have more time, you could take in the three Baltic capitals: Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius.
There is a lot to see in Tallinn, including the Town Hall, St.Olaf’s Church (Oleviste kirik), Kiek in de Kok tower, Kadriord, and the National Art Museum (KUMU). It’s a small city, so you can just enjoy exploring the lovely winding, cobbled streets. There are numerous bars and restaurants to keep you fed and watered as well, so Tallinn is a perfect city break destination.
As a coastal nation, there are plenty of beautiful beaches and water activities as well, or, if you want to venture a bit further, you could visit one of over 1500 Estonian islands! Travel inland and you may get a glimpse of some of Estonia’s spectacular wildlife, which includes bears, lynx, deer and elk.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Saaremaa, Tartu Observatory, Tallinn
South Korea is another great destination to visit in 2017. The country is a stunning mix of modernity, beautiful scenery and amazing history.
Seoul, home to over 10 Million people, is a modern city filled with high-fashion shopping and sky bars, as well as a buzzing food scene and great nightlife. There are also plenty of historic sites to visit including Bongeunsa Temple, which is over 1,000 years old, and various palaces. The mountains around Seoul are perfect for hiking if you’re keen to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Busan is the 2nd largest city in South Korea and is famous for its beaches, in particular Hae-Un-Dae beach, which is often compared to Miami Beach in Florida.
If you’re after a tropical island, then visit Jeju – the Hawaii of Korea! There are plenty of beach resorts, but there are also quieter places to escape to. Jeju is famous for Haenyeo – female divers who collect sea urchins without any modern diving equipment.
Although you may associate cherry blossoms with Japan, South Korea is also well known for its cherry blossom festival, which takes place from March-May. One of the best places to see the blossom in Gyonghwa Station, where train tracks run through avenues of cherry trees.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Gyeongbokgung Palace, Busan, Seoul
Abounding in breathtaking natural scenery and home to three UNESCO world heritage sites it’s hardly surprising that New Zealand continues to be such a popular destination.
Queenstown is nestled on the superb Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by snowy mountains, which you can best admire by helicopter. There are outdoor activities all year round, including a wide variety of water sports, snow sports, as well as trekking and horse riding. If you prefer something gentler, visit the Kiwi and Birdlife Park or the gold rush settlement of Arrowtown.
To really take in the breathtaking natural beauty of New Zealand, visit Milford Sound and walk the Milford Track, one of the most beautiful walks in the world. The Sound is a wilderness of forests, lakes, mountains, and waterfalls, including the Bowen and Sutherland falls.
If you’re into diving or snorkelling, visit Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands, which is surrounded by barrier reefs. The Bay of Islands is another option for time at the coast, where you can watch dolphins and whales and also wreck-dive.
To experience the Maori tradition, visit Spirits Bay, which is a sacred place, or Roturua, which is home to a third of New Zealand Maoris. You can also visit a restored Maori village dating back to the early 20th century here, as well as natural wonders such as hot springs, geysers, and volcanoes.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Tongariro National Park, Aitutaki, Milford Sound
Although Switzerland is commonly thought of as a winter destination, it is stunning all year round and is home to a grand total of 12 UNESCO world heritage sites!
One of these is the beautiful capital, Bern, whose city centre dates back to the 12th century and remains largely unchanged. Some must see sites are the gothic cathedral and the astronomical clock.
Another must-see is Geneva, which is known for its beautiful lakeside scenery. You can spend time at Geneva beach or wander around one of the many museums. Geneva is also the site of several UN agencies and you can visit the Palais de Nations – the original home of the League of Nations.
No visit to Switzerland could be complete without a trip into the Alps and the Jungfrau-Aletsch area is the perfect spot. The Jungfrau has an elevation of 4,158 meters (13,642 ft) - only 650 meters shorter than Mont Blanc! There is a cog railway up to a height of 3,454 m and from there you can take a lift to the famous Ice Palace, a series of caverns hewn from the glacier, or to the Sphinx terrace – a viewing platform from which you have a spectacular view of the Aletsch glacier, a 23km river of ice (the longest in Europe).
If you’re into castles, the market-town of Bellinzona with its three castles is another world heritage site. The Rhine Falls, the largest plain waterfall in Europe, and the Matterhorn, the most photographed mountain in the world, are both worth visiting as well.
Picture (from top left, clockwise): Jungfrau-Aletsch, Wengen, Bern
Uruguay is less visited than some of the other Central and South American nations, but by no means less beautiful.
The country boasts two UNESCO world heritage sites: the Fray Bentos Industrial Landscape, which is an old meat production plant turned museum, and the historic quarter of the city of Colonia del Sacramento, which is a perfectly kept colonial city on the water, filled with pretty cobbled alleys and vintage cars with an atmosphere similar to Cuba’s Havana.
Uruguay is also home to some amazing beaches allowing you to combine an interesting cultural holiday with the summer sun. The world famous Punta del Este is one of South America’s most glamorous resorts and a popular destination with a host of celebrities. If you prefer something quieter, visit Punta del Diablo, a tiny fishing village, or Cabo Polonio, which boasts incredible scenery and its own sea lion colony.
If it’s the city life you’re after, visit Montevideo, where half the country’s population lives. Here colonial architecture intermingles with low-rise skyscrapers and 15 miles of beach. It’s a very walkable city with a stunning old town.
Culturally, Uruguay is known for its extravagant carnival celebrations and Tannat wine. There is also an array of outdoor activities, including trekking and horse-riding.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Punta del Este, Colonia del Sacramento, Montevideo
With a grand total of 20 UNESCO world heritage sites, Japan is certainly not a country to miss off your bucket list!
One of the best known of these is Mt Fuji, a dormant volcano which overlooks Hakone National Park (another UNESCO world heritage site) and reaches a height of 3,776m (12,340 ft).
Hakone National Park is filled with lakes and hot springs, as well as various shrines and museums, including an open air museum with 7 hectares of landscaped gardens. Shiretoko National Park is another world heritage site, where you can climb up warm rivers to reach hot pools within a spectacular landscape of active volcanoes and lakes.
Kyoto is the epitome of Japanese culture. A modern city home to 1.5 Million people, it was the capital of Japan for over 1,000 years and retains a huge amount of history, including 1700 Buddhist temples, 300 Shinto shrines, 200 important gardens, and several imperial villas. It is also well known for its beautiful cherry blossom in spring.
Nikko, a pilgrimage town, is the site of an awe-inspiring Shinto and Buddhist shrine complex and is surrounded by mountains. A good time to visit is May when more than 1,000 costumed monks and warriors are present for a festival recreating Ieyasu’s burial rites.
If it’s the island life you’re after, Ogasaware Islands are a group of 30 remote islands in the Pacific, where you can watch whales and dolphins and enjoy crystal clear waters with coral reefs and tropical fish. Yakushima is home to Yaku cedars, some of the world’s oldest trees, including Jomon Sugi, which is estimated to be about 7,000 years old! The island boasts beautiful rivers and waterfalls and varies in climate from subtropical at sea level to subarctic on the mountain tops.
Pictures (from top left, clockwise): Himeji, Tokyo, Kyoto
And don't forget to take out travel insurance just to be safe!