A new year means a new travel bucket list and in 2020, historic old towns and surf beaches are calling. Explore underground tunnels in the Netherlands, swim with jellyfish in the Philippines and eat oysters in Ireland – these are just several to cross of that list.
1. Galway, Ireland
This characterful city by the River Corrib is one of two cities to be named the European Capital of Culture for 2020, the other being Rijeka, Croatia. Home to colourful-painted houses and fresh oysters, Galway also brims with history – there’s the 2,000-year-old Dún Aonghasa which hangs over a cliff edge and the 14th-century St Nicholas Collegiate Church. Opening celebrations start in early February and activities include a reading of Homer’s Odyssey by the windswept west coast as there are claims that part of the epic journey took place there.
2. Ubatuba, Brazil
Ipanema might have a song named after it, but Ubatuba’s beaches are just as bewitching. Located on São Paulo’s North Shore, Ubatuba is becoming an increasingly popular long-haul beach destination. There’s Praia Vermelha do Norte, a wonderful surf spot that’s hugged by jungles and Praia da Fortaleza which has trails that lead to swimming holes. Also worth checking out are Prumirim Waterfall and Projeto Tamar Ubatuba to learn about sea turtle preservation.
3. Siargao, Philippines
Surfing is a lifestyle for people who make Siargao their home, which means yoga retreats, vegan cafés and indie boutiques selling beachwear have proliferated on the island. Pro surfers come for the consistent high-tide reef breaks at Could Nine and beginners can take a lesson at Stimpy’s or Daku Island. If surfing is not your sport, try stand-up paddleboarding at Sugba Lagoon, which is surrounded by mangroves and limestone cliffs or snorkelling with transparent jellyfish – no, they don’t sting! – at Tojoman Lagoon.
4. Kangaroo Island, Australia
Just off the coast of South Australia and southwest of Adelaide, this is a wildlife haven teeming with koalas, wallabies, sea lions, penguins and of course, kangaroos. Fun fact: not even 5,000 people live on Kangaroo Island, but there are about 60,000 kangaroos here. Walk the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail, where vast expanses of white sand, extensive woodlands and never-ending rows of cliffs give the impression of being completely alone in the wilderness.
5. Dakar, Senegal
Its location as the westernmost point of Africa has made Dakar one of the chief seaports of the region, but its history is a dark one, especially since it served as a place where captured, outbound slaves were processed before being shipped to other countries. These days, it’s a mash-up of cultural offerings and nature activities. Sandaga Market sells fabric, books and literature and La Galerie Antenna has a superb selection of African tribal art. Yoff Beach is a popular place for surfing and Lake Retba is truly enchanting for its natural pink-hued colour due to its high salt content and bacteria.
6. Qingdao, China
The Chinese port city is synonymous with Tsingtao Beer, thanks to the Germans who set up Tsingtao Brewery in 1903. While the Tsingtao Brewery Museum is worth a visit, there’s more to sample in this city that’s a fascinating hotchpotch of old and new. Also built in 1903 is the former German Governor’s Residence, now a museum – the German art nouveau façade is well-maintained. Qingdao is also known for its seafood, and whether that’s eaten in an opulent banquet-style restaurant, seafood buffet or roadside vendor, the chilli sautéed clams and roast squid are delightful.
7. Maastricht, Netherlands
Known as a student town, the youthful culture of this southern Dutch city is evident in its cheap cafés and bars but dig deeper and discover a rich history. The Bonnefantenmuseum has some incredible work by Old Masters and the Bookstore Dominicanen, housed in a 13th-century Gothic monastery church, has a fine selection of Dutch and English books. Another site to explore is the series of tunnel caves known as the Maastricht Underground. Once used to mine marl, or lime-rich mud, the caves kept Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” safe during World War II.
8. Bilbao, Spain
The city where the term “Guggenheim effect” originated, Bilbao’s cultural and gastronomical offerings are plenty. Once an important industrial seaport, Bilbao’s glory days ended in the 1970s when factories and dockyards closed. Then, in 1997, the mammoth-sized, twisted titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened amid much controversy, and eventually revitalized the city by turning it into an arts hub. Besides the museum, there’s the Old Town with its colourful old buildings. And don’t forget to try some pintxos, or small bites of bread topped with meat, seafood, cheese and anything imaginable.
9. Portland, Oregon
Quirky Portland continues to delight with its bakeries, bookstores and green spaces. The Sunnyside area is home to art galleries and handmade crafts stores, while Alberta Street has several great vegan bakeries. Pearl District, recognisable by its warehouses, is where you’ll find Powell’s City of Books, one of the largest independent bookstores in the world. And from April to October, about 10,000 roses bloom at the International Rose Test Garden.
10. Guadalajara, Mexico
Give the usual Mexican beach resorts a skip and take a city break this year. Downtown Guadalajara is marked by the mid-19th-century Guadalajara Cathedral, its exterior a beautiful blend of neo-Gothic and Spanish Renaissance. Another stunning piece of architecture is the Hospicio Cabañas – built in the late 18th-century, it’s said to be haunted by the children who died in there when the building was an orphanage. But Guadalajara is most known for its tequila – actually, the nearby town of Tequila produces the spirit – and its lively mariachi music.