Hottest Destinations for 2011
Tony the Misfit, flickr
1. New York, New York
A perennial Top Ten header, the Big Apple more than ever provides an orchard of opportunities to pluck for culture vultures, fashion fascists, and curiosity seekers alike. Continuing the 2010 hotel boom that increased room capacity nearly 20 percent, upcoming trendsetters include Alofts in Harlem and Brooklyn and a Mondrian. New York will also witness several key anniversaries in 2011. The Statue of Liberty turns 125, the New York Public Library books its centennial, Carnegie Hall chimes in with galas for its 120th birthday, and the commemorative National September 11 Memorial, with reflecting pools placed above the footprints of the World Trade Center, should debut in time for the tenth anniversary of the tragic attacks. And there are the evergreen favorites as well, from Times Square's mega-neon to the top of the Empire State Building.
Stay: New York offers everything from boho to Beaux Arts, and practically invented boutique chic. The Ace is the ultimate in sleek-not-slick vintage vibe plus incredible value.
Everyone's abuzz over the royal nuptials in April, which (along with anticipation for the 2012 Olympics) will make London swing as it did in the 60s. Fittingly, a Four Seasons at Park Lane and a W will debut this year. Dorchester's glam new 45 Park Lane will serve up Wolfgang Puck's first European venture, Cut, while another celeb chef, England's own Heston Blumenthal (who has three Michelin stars) opens his first London eatery at the Mandarin Oriental. Fabled architecture, fab museums, and world-renowned theater (including Andrew Lloyd Webber's eagerly anticipated take on "The Wizard of Oz") will provide oohs and ahhs aplenty.
Stay: Right in London's arts and nightlife hub, the Covent Garden Hotel offers rooms that resemble the love children of Laura Ashley and Philippe Starck, with quirky dressmaker's dummies alongside antique wardrobes.
3. Doha, Qatar
Dubai gets the press, but Doha boasts better beaches, restaurants, and even nightlife without over-the-top, off-putting opulence. Nearly 50 new hotels added 10,000 rooms in the past four years; the latest will be the ritzy Shangri-La Doha. The Corniche is a waterfront promenade where rollerbladers (and jet skiers) zoom past a surreal skyline of traditional minarets and twisting postmodern spires, including the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art. And The Pearl, encompassing at least 13 astonishing artificial islands is slowly opening with a planned 154 square miles of sheer indulgence of deluxe residences, hotels, dining (Gordon Ramsay's Maze) and shopping (retail already ranges from McCartney to McQueen) .
Stay: The Four Seasons Doha has post-modern domes that gleam in the desert sun, plus a private beach, a sybaritic spa, and several sexy lounges and restaurants.
4. St. Kitts & Nevis
Sister islands St. Kitts and Nevis are best known for lush rainforests, a rich history, and exquisite renovated plantations. St. Kitts, the larger of the two islands, has great diving and hiking, plus plentiful value lodging. The Frigate Bay strip, straddling St. Kitts' narrowest point with both Caribbean and Atlantic frontage, is dotted with reasonably priced hotels (including fantastic family-friendly condos) and beach bars that practically stop traffic weekend nights as locals "lime" (hang out). Major Kittitian developments, including a Park Hyatt and Tom Fazio golf course, are scheduled to open by 2012, so go before it's "discovered."
Stay: The restored plantation inns all have fanatic followings. Ottley's on St. Kitts and the Hermitage on Nevis benefit from having the warm, witty owners onsite. The former is quietly luxurious, the latter a treasure trove of vernacular architecture.
5. Atlanta, Georgia
Southwest may take Atlanta by Sherman-esque storm once its merger with AirTran closes this spring, with fierce fare wars raging through 2011. The hotel scene is booming as well: The Kimpton Palomar and a W (the city's fourth) are being built while the Hyatt Regency receives a $60 million facelift and the city's second Hotel Indigo is scheduled to open in the historic Carnegie building. A Legoland Discovery Center, Pirate Museum, and 1.3 million-gallon dolphin exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium are slated to open this year. And that's on top of the city's other attractions, from the World of Coca-Cola to a top-notch zoo to the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. When night falls you can party in cutting-edgier Little Five Points and Virginia Highlands or check out the sensational dining and nightlife scenes in Midtown.
Stay: Stonehurst Place, an 1896 Arts & Crafts mansion, has a riveting modern art collection (Warhol, Chihuly, Nan Goldin) plus modern eco-friendly touches like rainwater harvesting, solar power, and biodegradable bath products.
6. Tallinn, Estonia
This lively city, known for one of the world's most beautifully preserved medieval old towns, celebrates both its designation as a 2011 European Cultural Capital and the 20th anniversary of overthrowing Communist rule. The city will celebrate with one big virtual rave all year, with festivals, street concerts, parades, and more eclectic events scheduled. And that's on top of bargain shopping, buzzing nightlife, and that exquisite Old Lower Town with stunning red-roof castles, metal-tipped church spires and towers. Estonia officially switched to the Euro January 1, making life easier for hopping around the Continent.
Stay: The intimate, refined Savoy Boutique Hotel occupies an 1890 police station in the heart of the old town, featuring Art Deco styling, hand-plastered walls and marble bathrooms, as well as the top-rated MEKK restaurant.
The island became a self-autonomous region within the Netherlands in October 2010, and its citizens will be celebrating all year. Not that they shouldn't celebrate every year. Curacao offers exceptional diving, charming plantations (landhuizen), and eco-centric activities in its cunucu (countryside). The truly stunning capital of Willemstad -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- is highlighted by bright pastel-hued gingerbread townhouses out of a fairytale. The hotels, including a new Hyatt Regency, offer a nice medium between neighbor island Aruba's mega-development and Bonaire's casual dive accommodations. Curacao is also below the hurricane belt, balmy year-round, and only two and half hours from Miami.
Stay: Kura Hulanda, near Willemstad's harbor, is made up of restored 18th-century townhouses along pebbled alleys radiating from a central courtyard.
Tourism in Iceland is expected to geyser 20-percent this year, thanks to the cool nightlife, warm people and hot springs. And you can't miss the famous Blue Lagoon or Landmannalaugar's lunarscape lavafields. While restaurants remain ridiculously pricey (due to importing costs), Iceland is affordable and more accessible than ever thanks to the plummeting exchange rate. This summer Delta becomes the first US carrier to fly nonstop, while low-cost Iceland Express is slated to launch service from New York, connecting with Boston and Chicago. Icelandair will team with Alaska Airlines on mileage-earning codeshare flights from West Coast hubs.
Stay: Reykjavik hotels tend to be cold, grey and utilitarian. Thankfully, the centrally located Hotel Borg, while monochromatic, impresses with its restored Deco flourishes and classically clean lines.
9. The Philippines
For years Thailand ruled as the paradise of unspoiled, un-crowded beaches. But the Philippines has dethroned it. The country's 7,107 idyllic islands offer pyrotechnic diving and fascinating history and culture including 16th-century Sino-Spanish Baroque churches and remarkably engineered 2,000-year-old rice terraces. From the sultry nightlife in the pulsating capital of Manila to Marinduque's flower dances, the country is ablaze with local color and diverse ethnic customs. Cheap, plentiful ferries make island hopping to the archipelago with names from Albay to Zambales. And though luxury resorts have begun their inevitable onslaught (Raffles Makati opens next year), it's still cheap.
Stay: Boracay, the Filipino Phuket, remains ravishing with butterflies outnumbering beachcombers. The comfy Boracay Beach Club is right across the street from the dazzling white sands.
Is it too clichéd to call Nicaragua the next Costa Rica? It's got fabulous Caribbean and Pacific beaches (relatively deserted compared to its neighbors), coral reefs exploding like fireworks, emerald rainforests chattering with wildlife, and Spanish colonial towns like Granada. A whopping 17% of the country is protected as nature preserves. Any surprise it was the locale for the latest Survivor? East Coast flights, which usually connect in Miami, Houston, and Atlanta, remain affordable even during high season and TACA Airlines is increasing service on its LA-Managua route in January. This is also one of the few places in the Western Hemisphere where you can go green for less green. Cool new hotels in restored colonial buildings to horse ranches have opened, offering comfort and authentic culture for $50 to $150 per night -- in high season.
Stay: Chattering howler monkeys greet you at Aqua Nicaragua, a treetop yoga-wellness hideaway on the rugged Pacific. Expect teak rain showers, plunge pools, and fresh organic produce in the restaurant (much of it cultivated onsite).