Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 places I’d like to see in 2013. Several are cities, one is a state, three are entire nations, and all have interesting things happening in the weeks and months ahead. Will I get to them all? Probably not.
But if I did, in alphabetical order, come December, I’d be able to swagger into some stylish Seoul watering hole, possibly limping slightly from a sled-dog mishap under the northern lights, but gamely standing rounds and spinning yarns of Ecuadorean trainspotting and what I learned from the reenactors at Gettysburg, Pa. Would you listen?
Didn’t think so. It’s better if you see for yourself.
Alaska. For reasons having to do with solar wind, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen (need details? https://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast), the aurora borealis is supposed to be especially vivid in northern skies for the next few winters. Unfortunately, the skies are impossible to predict precisely, but Fairbanks is the favored starting point for many a northern lights itinerary. In fact, the Fairbanks tourism people (www.explorefairbanks.com) claim that if you stay three nights, you will have an 80% chance of seeing the northern lights. Winter and early-spring visitors will also find the World Ice Art Championships (Feb. 26-March 31, https://www.icealaska.com) and various sled dog races (through March 17, https://www.sleddog.org). If you wait until summer, forget about the aurora and the ice art. But don’t worry. Two hours’ drive from Fairbanks looms Mt. McKinley, 20,320-foot-high star of Denali National Park. (The first men to summit McKinley, by the way, were a group climbing in June 1913.)
Amsterdam. The scenic canals, widely available marijuana and legal red-light district get a lot of ink, but the best thing about Amsterdam may be its museums, and this is a great year for those. The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (https://www.rijksmuseum.nl), home to masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and many others, is to reopen April 13, ending years of renovation. The Stedelijk Museum (https://www.stedelijk.nl), a world-class collection of contemporary art and design, reopened in September after a big upgrade and expansion. The Van Gogh Museum (https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl), which has sent much of its collection to the Hermitage Amsterdam through April 25, is to reopen in May. The Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum and the Van Gogh Museum are all in the city’s Oud Zuid district, which also includes the upscale shopping street Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat. Meanwhile, the Anne Frank Museum (www.annefrank.org/) continues to tell the singular story of the Frank family’s persecution, resilience and death under the Nazis.
Austin, Texas. It’s a college town, music town, river town and tech town, in constant renewal. The 296-room Hyatt Place Downtown (www.hyattplaceaustin.com) is due to open in April. In summer, expect the opening of the 123-room Lone Star Court (www.valenciagroup.com/lone-star-court.htm), designed to suggest a ‘40s roadside motor court, at the Domain mall in northwestern Austin. Meanwhile, the high-end Travaasa (www.travaasa.com/austin) spa and resort, which opened in 2011 about 30 minutes outside town, has 70 guest rooms that overlook the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Rates start at about $275 a day. The seven-room Heywood Hotel (https://www.heywoodhotel.com), a “nonhosted” boutique property that opened in December 2011 in eastern Austin, is aimed at guests who want stylish design but don’t need staffers on-site between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. (Rates typically are $200 to $300 a night, children discouraged.) For dinner, you might try Barley Swine (https://www.barleyswine.com), which opened in late 2010, emphasizes locally sourced ingredients and made GQ’s list of best new American restaurants in 2012. For movies, there’s Violet Crown Cinema (https://www.violetcrowncinema.com), a four-screen downtown art house (opened 2011) that mixes big movies such as “Zero Dark Thirty” with documentaries, foreign works and independent films; there’s also a bar and café. Before you book anything, consider the South by Southwest conferences and festivals (https://www.sxsw.com), almost universally known as SXSW, which run March 8-17 and boost hotel demand in a big way. Oh, and for a rainy day, bear in mind that the LBJ Presidential Library (www.lbjlibrary.org) reopened Dec. 22 after a yearlong renovation. (It’s also charging admission, $8 for adults, for the first time in 41 years.) More citywide info: https://www.austintexas.org.
Ecuador. No, you can’t take a train to the Galapagos. But for several years now, management at Tren Ecuador (www.trenecuador.com) has been working to restore the country’s railroad connection between Quito and Guayaquil to the south. Many segments along the verdant, Andes-adjacent route are already open: You can make an eight-hour round trip between Quito and Machachi, an eight-hour round trip between Quito and Boliche or a 10-hour round trip between Quito and Latacunga that’s known as the Avenida de los Volcanes, because trains roll past Cotopaxi National Park (and its active volcano). Some stations have added lodgings, museums and, of course, arts and crafts marketplaces. A complete Quito-Guayaquil passage may be possible by the end of the year. A luxury cruise train is expected to make four-day round trips between the cities, with upscale lodgings, at an introductory price of just less than $1,000 a person (assuming two per room). Sadly, travelers won’t have a chance to ride on the roof, a notable feature of Ecuadorean train travel for decades. But this marks a big change since the country’s rail system began to deteriorate in the 1970s.
Gettysburg. All year long, this part of Pennsylvania is staging events looking at the Civil War, from provocative art exhibits (Kara Walker, Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College, through March 8) to living-history presentations on the battlefield (April 20-Oct. 27) to a bluegrass festival (May 16-19). The busiest weeks will come in late June and early July, when local and national officials mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. A new Seminary Ridge Museum opens July 1 in a former soldiers hospital. Gettysburg is about two hours’ drive outside Washington, D.C. More info: https://www.gettysburg.travel/.
Ireland. OK, it’s a big gimmick. But there’s something disarming about the Gathering, Ireland’s call summoning all travelers with Irish roots (or just Irish aspirations) to visit this year. For one thing, the promoters forthrightly admit that the country has “had its share of doom and gloom the last couple of years” and that this series of events (arts, sports, food, you name it) is a bid to turn the page. Check the venture’s website and you realize that many of these events happen every year, but you can’t help but be tempted: bike races in County Clare, an a cappella singing contest in County Cork, a chartered accountants’ dinner in Dublin — oh, blast, we’ve already missed that one. Anyway, the promoters estimate that 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry, yet only 6.4 million live there. Clearly, they need company. More info: https://www.thegatheringireland.com.
Nashville. Don’t go because you like the ABC series of the same name. Don’t go for the new convention center downtown (unless you’re a corporate travel planner). But you might want to go for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (https://www.countrymusichalloffame.org), which plans to double its size this year. (Its marquee exhibit this year is on Bucks Owens, Merle Haggard and the Bakersfield Sound.) Meanwhile, there are beloved venues such as the Grand Ole Opry (renovated after major flooding in 2010, https://www.opry.com); the Ryman Auditorium (which dates to 1892, https://www.ryman.com); and the Blue Bird Café, an intimate singer-songwriters’ venue, born in the 1980s, where the careers of Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and many others have been launched (https://www.bluebirdcafe.com). The Hermitage Hotel (https://www.thehermitagehotel.com), a downtown fixture since 1910, gets praise from upscale travelers; the Hutton Hotel (https://www.huttonhotel.com), near Vanderbilt University, is less pricey. Also, the 255-room Downtown Hyatt Place is scheduled to open in December. For a fancy meal, the 32-seat kitchen-centric restaurant the Catbird Seat (https://www.thecatbirdseatrestaurant.com) on Division Street has been getting raves since opening in late 2011. For something more casual, try the Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden (https://www.thepharmacynashville.com), which opened in eastern Nashville in late 2011. More info: https://www.visitmusiccity.com.
New York. For the usual reasons, and this anniversarial one: Grand Central Terminal turns 100 this year. Rather than dwell on the specific date, management has slotted special art and performance events throughout the year. Details here: https://www.grandcentralterminal.com/centennial/events.cfm. Meanwhile, several hotels are due to open in the first half of the year, including the 113-room Jade Hotel on West 13th Street in Greenwich Village (https://www.thejadenyc.com), which aims for a 1920s Parisian feel; the Refinery Hotel at West 38th Street and 6th Avenue (https://www.refineryhotelnewyork.com), with 197 rooms for guests who appreciate “decadence and flair"; and the Quin (formerly the Buckingham Hotel) on West 57th Street and 6th Avenue (https://www.thequinhotel.com), with 200 rooms for “the world’s most discerning wanderers.”
San Luis Obispo. SLO, a college town whose farmers market takes over Higuera Street every Thursday night, is a tempting destination in any year. The beach is a short drive, as are the wineries of Paso Robles and the rustic little town of Templeton. (In downtown SLO, you’re about 190 miles north of Los Angeles, about 230 miles south of San Francisco.) The 17-room boutique Granada Hotel (https://www.granadahotelandbistro.com) opened in the fall in a converted ‘20s building. The popular restaurant Luna Red (https://www.lunaredslo.com), offering “global tapas” and a big wine list, has moved to a larger downtown space with a big patio. The restaurant and bar Sidecar (https://www.sidecarslo.com) has been open since late 2011. And the Madonna Inn (https://www.madonnainn.com), which is to kitsch what the Matterhorn is to mountains, last year added horseback riding, two pink tennis courts, winter ice skating and a bike path to downtown. More info: https://www.visitslo.com.
South Korea. Can 11.1 million tourists, mostly Chinese and Japanese, be wrong? South Korea doesn’t think so. That was the country’s tourist total in 2012 — a record. Probably the Korean singer Psy’s YouTube hit “Gangnam Style” didn’t hurt. (Gangnam is a posh, modern shopping area in the capital that one British journalist has called “the Mayfair of Seoul.”) American tourists arrive in a trickle, not a torrent, but the country is poised for tourism growth. Many infrastructure improvements were made for the 2012 World Expo in Yeosu, about 31/2 hours south of Seoul by high-speed rail. Besides the green mountains that surround Seoul and the hubbub of the city itself, there’s a 3.6-mile stream running through town. It’s called Cheonggyecheon, and it’s part of a linear park with a tranquil walking path that opened in 2005. Elsewhere, visitors can take the Dolsan Bridge to verdant Dolsan Island, explore the Itaewon night-life district or Bukchon Hanok Village (a collection of traditional wooden homes near the Gyeongbok and Changdeok palaces) and browse the big department stores (Shinsegae, Lotte and Hyundai are three). More info: https://english.visitkorea.or.kr.