What’s on your travel to-do list in 2016? Wherever you’re planning — whether it’s a far-flung island jaunt, or a weekend getaway to seek out a new brewery or restaurant — we’re all looking to stretch our budgets, find the best quality for our dollars, and follow exactly the itinerary we want. The list below is to help you find excellent hotels and affordable flights, of course, but it’s also to point you toward enriching experiences in places that you may have overlooked. From a great American city that’s ready to be discovered anew, to European classics that are worth a first or a fourth look, the theme of this year’s list is renewal, and seeing destinations that you thought you knew in a whole new light.
It is, and will always be, the perfect European city for a visit. Its sites, from the picture-perfect bridges across the Seine to the small bakeries and cafes that line the streets, never get old or feel like they’ve been copied or bested elsewhere. And if you’re ready to go, there has never been a more affordable time. Round-trip flights to Paris can be found for well under $800 through the end of May. Even in June and July, when flights to all of Europe, and especially Paris, tend to skyrocket, flights under $900 are still hanging around. And how about 4-star hotels — including Mercure, CitizenM, Millennium, and Novotel properties — for under $130 per night? It’s good news if you’re looking for an affordable getaway, and heart-rending news if you’re as passionate about this city as we — and many American travelers — are. The terrorist attacks of November 2015 have left a long shadow over the City of Light, and have driven skittish travelers to postpone or outright cancel their trips. Our advice? Go anyway. Join the French people in brasseries and wine bars. Visit the Pantheon and pay homage to famous French men and women and their contributions. Sit under the soaring stained glass dome at the Printemps department store. Discover the Paris that has been enchanting visitors for generations. There has never been a better time to book a ticket.
2. Dallas, Texas
When people think of Dallas, glitz and glam is the first thing that comes to mind, but this tiny Texas town is actually quite wallet-friendly. And thanks to the end of a federal law that restricted traffic at Dallas Love Field airport, it’s more affordable than ever to fly there. With the addition of more routes — specifically from lower cost carriers like Southwest and Virgin America — Dallas is having a moment, and it’s not just about thick steaks and big hair. For the artfully inclined, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Arboretum and Botanical Garden, and Public ArtWalk Dallas (a self-guided tour showcasing over 30 pieces of art and architecture) are all free. The Mary Kay Museum, which charts the history of the cosmetics company in all of its pink-packaged glory, is also gratis. And outdoor spots like Cedar Ridge Reserve, Katy Trail, and White Rock Lake prove that the city is more than just shiny skyscrapers. What we love best about Big D, though, is that the city is undergoing a culinary explosion with restaurants such as Filament, the second from chef Matt McCallister, and Tai-An, where you can score the most affordable omakase dinner outside of Tokyo. For cocktails, Midnight Rambler in The Joule Hotel is serving up the hippest happy hour in town.
3. Martinique and Guadeloupe: The French Caribbean
Who can resist round-trip flights to the Caribbean for under $200? There’s so much more to love about the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, though, beyond the cheap transportation. When Norwegian Air Shuttle launched these new flights from the East Coast in early December 2015, it opened up a new side of the Caribbean to American travelers — one that’s less crowded, more affordable, and French-speaking. And though the big resorts are there, if you need them — there’s a ClubMed, among others, on Martinique — the islands lend themselves beautifully to home stays and vacation rentals. Whether you’re staying in a sweet $57-per-night beach bungalow, or a 3-bedroom ocean view villa that sleeps six for $381, your dollars go far here. Add that to the islands’ French tropical flair, and trade winds that keep temperatures consistently in the mid-70s and 80s all year long, and you’ll be saying yes — or oui — to this getaway.
4. New York City
There’s never a bad time to visit New York City. But a saturated hotel market, not to mention competition in the form of abundant apartment rentals, means great deals on accommodation in 2016. In 2015, more than 14,000 hotel rooms were under construction in the city, and by 2016, there will be more than 110,000 available. All of this has contributed to falling rates — as low as $120 per night for 3- and 4-star hotels. First-time and returning visitors to the city, as always, will have plenty to see that’s new. There’s history, remembrance, and jaw-dropping views at One World Trade Center’s museum and observatory, plus performances at the beautifully renovated Kings Theater in Brooklyn, for starters. And while NYC’s airports are as crowded as ever, some new projects are aiming to make the on-the-ground experience more pleasant. Try 30 minutes of free WiFi at all of NYC’s airports, as well as terminal-specific amenities like Air France’s new lounge and JetBlue’s public outdoor deck at JFK, or Delta’s new lounge at LaGuardia.
It’s not a simple trip, but it’s a rewarding one. As Nepal continues to struggle with resource deficiencies, even months after massive earthquakes, a strong tourism heritage makes the country a hotter spot than ever for the conscientious traveler. With a few caveats — go with a knowledgeable guide or reputable tour operator, for starters — it’s now safe to go. Julie McCormack, the Asia program director for travel adventure company Mountain Travel Sobek, which has been trekking in Nepal since 1969, confirms that popular destinations like Everest, Annapurna, the Tsum Valley, and Chitwan/Bardia National Parks are “ready for tourism.” The major infrastructural issues there, she explains, were a huge priority and were addressed back in the spring of 2015. And while McCormick doesn’t expect prices to soften up — “the country sorely needs foreign capital” — Nepal has always been an affordable destination. Visitors can pay as little as $10-$15 per night at guest houses and hostels, and even 5-star accommodations rarely top $150 per night. Interested in volunteering? Here are some great points on how to make sure you’re helping more than you’re hindering.
6. Daytona Beach, Florida
Daytona Beach has a lot to celebrate in 2016. For starters, JetBlue will be making its way to the Florida city with nonstop flights from New York’s JFK Airport beginning on January 7 — a major development since the tiny airport is currently served by only Delta and American Airlines. Even better for visitors, the airline is undercutting its competitors’ pricing: round-trip flights on JetBlue are priced from $208, whereas flights aboard Delta and American hover around $250-$285 in spring. On the hotel front, you’ll find affordable options aplenty. We love comfortable mom-and-pop properties like Perry’s Ocean Edge Resort (from $80) and the quirky Tropical Manor On the Ocean (from $88). If you like the consistency of a chain, there’s also the Hilton Daytona Beach Resort/Ocean Walk Village (from $89 per night) and the world’s first oceanfront Hyatt Place (from $117). This year, all eyes are on the Daytona International Speedway, and for more than just motorsports. Just in time for the Daytona 500 race in February, the speedway is unveiling the long-awaited Daytona Rising project that’s introducing sleek entrances, dozens of much-needed escalators, new seats, more restrooms, and a bevy of concession stands to the venue. Not a race fan? With the speedway’s slew of updates, it’s ready to host the first-ever Country 500, a three-day music festival featuring Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Willie Nelson, and others over Memorial Day weekend. And there’s always Daytona Beach’s many annual festivals — from March’s Bike Week, to the Daytona Blues festivals in the fall — as well as exploring cultural institutions like the Museum of Arts and Sciences ($13). Of course, we also hope you have time to hit the beach.
7. Sofia, Bulgaria
Looking for a European capital that still feels inexpensive and undiscovered? Try this one. Low-fare carriers like Easyjet and Wizz Air fly into the Bulgarian capital from major European hubs, offering up the chance to easily and cheaply reach this low-key gem. Zip around on the city’s new, safe subway system for less than one U.S. dollar per ride, and rest your head at 5-star hotels for about $100 per night. Cover the basics, of course — check out the expansive cathedral that seats 10,000, the National Art Gallery, and the National Museum of Military History. But remember that relaxation and wellness are taken seriously here, too: historic hotels like the Arena di Service have spas with steam baths, saunas, and solariums. Acclimate yourself with a free, two-hour English-speaking walking tour of the city, led by a local. As for food, make sure you try Balkan classics such as banitsa, with cheese between layers of filo dough; savory moussaka meat pie; or tartar, a cold cucumber soup.
8. Northern Ireland
All of Ireland has been an affordable jaunt from the U.S. for years, thanks to flights on budget-savvy Aer Lingus and gloriously affordable stays in everything from towering castles to quaint bed and breakfasts. But the North has truly come into its own recently, and is worth a trip in 2016 — especially if you’ve already seen other parts of Ireland. Start in the capital, which is widely known as the home of the colossal (and colossally pointy) Titanic Belfast exhibit, which opened in 2012 and commemorates the famous ship, which was built in town. Beyond that, Belfast teems with free activities — think Botanic Gardens, the Parliament Buildings at Stormont, City Hall, and St. George’s Market. From here, continue the journey to experience the country’s incredible landscape. The Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an ancient geological formation of regularly shaped basalt columns, and this year will bring the opening of the coastal Gobbins path, a “white knuckle” cliffside walk along the Causeway Coastal Route. This year’s travel theme, courtesy of Northern Ireland’s tourism board, is The Year of Food and Drink, and each month will highlight a food or beverage that’s unique to the country. April happens to be dedicated to brewing and distilling, so it would be fitting to squeeze in a visit to Bushmills Distillery, where the famous whiskey has been made since 1784. Northern Ireland is likewise enjoying a culinary renaissance thanks to restaurants like OX, which offers seasonally-inspired fine dining, and Meat Locker, chef Michael Deane’s unpretentious brasserie.
9. Quebec City, Canada
This eastern Canadian city is renowned for its old world charm that makes it feel like a little slice of Europe right in North America. Even better, a weak Canadian dollar and plentiful flights aboard Air Canada (from $254 for a departure from New York’s JFK Airport) make Quebec City a steal for U.S. travelers. Rather drive there than fly? The city’s close proximity to New England makes it easily accessible for drivers in the Northeast, which is perfect considering gas prices are expected to continue to drop in 2016. For those that are wary of the city’s subzero temperatures, don’t be quick to count out the winter months for a trip: the annual Winter Carnival (taking place January 29 to February 14 this year) is among the best cold-weather events anywhere in the world, where you’ll find a host of activities including night parades, snow slides, snow sculpture competitions, and canoe races, among others. During the summer, events like Festival d’été de Québec and Les Grands Feux Loto-Québec bring out the masses for music, dancing, and fireworks.
10. Busan, Korea
Seoul is South Korea’s first city. But Busan, its beach-y, historic southern sister, is its up-and-coming star. It has Haedong Yonggungsa, a cliff-perched seaside temple, Korea’s largest fish market at Jagalchi, and a stretch of picturesque beach where you can both work on your tan and learn traditional Korean games. Our favorite thing, though, is how inexpensive it is to get there. Fly there on China Eastern or China Southern Airlines, or even plush Cathay Pacific for about $1,100-$1,300, round-trip from East and West Coast cities. You can even find some down-season fares in January and February for under $700. As for lodging, the most expensive place in town is a plush Park Hyatt with views overlooking the skyline, and you can score it for less than $300 per night, even in summer high season — now that’s luxury for less. For mere mortals, the 5-star, resort-y Paradise Hotel Busan, which has ocean view rooms, goes for $200 in summer high season, while more modest 3- and 4-star properties can easily be booked for about $100 per night.
Note: All pricing was accurate as of the time of publication; air and hotel prices can change quickly.