Travel 2020? Best & Worst Destinations from 2019

Planning to travel in 2020, but need inspiration on where to go? Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to seek out new destinations for your next trip from my travels in 2019. It’s been a really good travel year for me and almost impossible to separate the good from the really good destinations. So 2 destinations share first place! This year, I travelled to 7 countries, 2 of them new, one of them twice, even one from my post on destinations to visit in 2019 and ticked off 3 bucket list items.
5/5

Will any of these destinations be in your travel plans for 2020?

6 MANCHESTER, ENGLAND

If you like football, you’ll probably love this city more than me. If you love museums like me, Manchester is also a good destination. But otherwise, the world’s first industrialized city is a little bit boring.
Manchester lies in east part of England and is the first industrialized city in the world and old factories are placed in the middle of the city. No doubt that Manchester has potential to be a cool urban space and some old industrial buildings are already turning into chic hotels. But maybe it just needs a couple more years, since the many university students are always a sure way to have a young underground movement popping out vegan and quirky eateries.
The best part of this former Roman city is the beer, the free museums, the diverse food scene thanks to the many immigrants and the easy tram system. And there’s an unofficial china town. Look out for the working bee. The symbol of the city is to be found everywhere and symbolizes people working together for an industrious future, and you can buy souvenirs with the bee in every store and every museum. Manchester was a new city for me and my choice for my museum group. And it does have pretty good museums, which you can read about in 7 Top Attractions in Manchester. If I haven’t scared you off.
Most memorable was the coincidence, that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his party was in town. Their hotel was turned into a fortress and protesters stood outside yelling. Events like this forces you to be more curious of the daily life and challenges for the locals. In fact, Brexit is a challenge for all us Europeans… I was not in doubt to put this at the bottom. Not to say, that there’s nothing to see or do. But that a lot of other places are more interesting. I will not go to Manchester again, but I hope to visit other places in UK like Bath, the English countryside near Plymouth and Snowdonia and of course Stonehenge.

5 STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

Stockholm is one of my absolute favourite cities in the world. Come for the food, the fantastic museums, the stylish hotels and shops and stay for the cardamom buns (not the ones with cinnamon).
For the cultural traveller, the sights are a plenty. Find my selection in Top 5 Museums in Stockholm. But also make sure to have time to just wander the old cobbled stones streets in the medieval Gamla Stan. To avoid the large groups arrive very early, in the evening or just outside summer. For a different vibe take the metro to Södermalm for great designer stores and more local vibe like the ice cream palour Bada Bing.
If you are lucky enough to have extra time here, jump the ferry and sail to the castle of the king and queen: Drottningholm. It’s a World Heritage Site, and the garden is lovely. When it’s not raining… The ferry take-off is close to City Hall – a Venetian dream in Venice of the North. I was lucky enough to be invited to dinner inside City Hall next to where the Nobel prize winners eat, but you can also visit the tower.
Sweden is overall great. It’s cheaper than Denmark, has great food and more dramatic nature. But I’ve been to Stockholm 5 times now, and that’s the main reason, why I’m ranking this so low. For a unknown part of this country, head for The Secret Summer Island: Fårö.

4 CRETE, GREECE

Turqiose waters, ancient ruins of a lost civilazation and some of the best food in the world. That’s how we picture the Greek islands. And it’s definitely what you find and why I keep coming back.
Must-see is the old palace Knossos from the lost civilization the Minoans. It might be primarily a reconstruction from 19th century but still… The best objects are at the museum in Heraklion. The Lepers’ island of Leper’s Island: Spinalonga is just a short boat ride away, but a ghostly and ghastly reminder of the not-so-far-away-past. Or how about the cave, where almighty Zeus was raised? My best tip: avoid Chania and nearby cities, and either go to south part of the island or do like me: head east for Agios Nikolaios and live like a local.  But don’t try to much to be a local, since our Cretan friend says that making a living here is not easy.
Lato

For nature lovers: you can throw your towel on the pink Elafonissi beach or the palm beach of Vai. Hiking the Samaria Gorge – which is one of the longest in Europe – is perfect outside the hot summer season. 

I haven’t done it, but my mom raves about it. Our Cretan friend recommends wintertime as the best time to hike and by then prices is lower and fewer tourists. Hmm, we’ll see if we get around to do that.

Taken by my son. After he took 10 deliberately bad pictures...

If you travel individually and not on a package deal (which is the cheapest option for Crete), you should stop in Athens. It has great local places near the university and is still cheap. So much, that Lonely Planet has it as on Best In Travel 2020 as a destination for good value.

Now, that I’m forcing myself to assign stars to Crete, I’m re-disocvering just how much I love Greece. I will always come back to this land of Homer and olives. How can Greece not be number 1? I almost feel guilty. My husband and my sister use to live here (not together :-)), and we have a good friend here. But I like new places, and I would rank it higher if I hadn’t been to this lovely island 5 times.

3 BULGARIA

With a rose in your hair and a glass of cold local wine, you relax after a day full of adventures, visiting old monasteries hidden in the mountains and some of the best Romans ruins in the world. All for less money than you think. In other years, Bulgaria would have been on top of my list. But the competition is just too hard this year. But nevertheless Bulgaria is a great destinations for families, alone or with friends.
The reason I went was the European Capital of Culture Plovdiv, but if I come back, it’s for the really good wine, salads, olives and cheese, which is served everywhere, the tall mountains and the green fields and the surprising high number of ancient structures left behind this former Roman territory. How about that old theatre? Here it is: Plovdiv, Bulgaria If I should recommend one thing you might be considering skipping, but shouldn’t: it’s the very small Boyana church outside Sofia. Only a few people are allowed in for 10 min. The old frescoes are stunning, and seeing them in this tiny dimly-lit church is very moving. No pictures! Luckily, you are allowed to photograph in another World Heritage site: Rila Monastery.
Rila Monastery
If you can’t drive a car (like I can’t),  the train works fine. Jump on and head for Kazanlak just in time for the annual celebration: the Rose Festival.  Roses everywhere – even in the chocolate (yes, it’s awful). But book well ahead. It’s a tour group frenzy. Well, as much frenzy as there can be in a country where most tourists head for the beach.
Rose fields beneath the mounrains. So lovely.
Bulgaria was a new country for me, and I was surprised at how easy and beautiful it it’s to travel here. Tourism is growing, but why not more people visit Bulgaria is beyond me. The capital Sofia is a good offset for your Bulgarian round trip as you can see in 24 Cultural Hours in Sofia.

2 ISTANBUL, TURKEY

If you travel for food, shopping, and history – this is the place. A dear child has many names:  Istanbul, Constantinople and Byzantium; always in the middle of the large historical events. When you’re a cultural traveller – Istanbul is not to be missed! I’m embarrassed it took me so long to visit.
A room with a view
Istanbul has a long history of literally being in the middle of east and west with one foot in Europe and the other one in Asia. You can clearly see the dramatic and rich history of the old capital of the Roman empire in it’s monuments and palaces. But there are so many that not even UNESCO could choose: the entire central part of the city is a World Heritage Site. And what Arabian Nights- visions some of them are like Topkapi. My favourite place was the Hagia Sophia. Yes, it’s being renovated at the moment, but what better way to tell of this places intricate and complex background than through a monument that was built as a church in 537(!), then turned into a mosque and a museum since 1935, but might be a mosque again.
In line for the Blue Mosque
Turkey is beautiful, friendly and it’s not expensive. You can even enjoy a Luxury Weekend on a Budget I dream of driving from Istanbul down by the coast and visit all the old important Mediterranean cities and ruins in Troy, Pergamon, Smyrna and Ephesus.
Love lokum!
Istanbul has been on my bucket list my whole life, and I’m amazed it not just jumps the list. The only reason why this is not far outweighing everywhere else might be due to bad weather, not enough time, it’s a city against countries AND maybe because I already expected it be fantastic, while the other top destinations surprised me. And it’s only a city compared to the 2 destinations sharing 1. place. But I promise to go back to Istanbul and give it another chance to top the list.

1 UZBEKISTAN

If you travel for architecture, adventure and nature experiences, Uzbekistan is for you. Uzbekistan has the most beautiful architecture in the world and 2500 years of interesting history. It’s cheap, and it’s not overrun. But a warning: you might get tile overload.
Morning on Registan Square
The Central Asian Silk Road area is number one region on Lonely Planet best in Travel 2020 list, and I can see why. Camels and traders must have pinched themselves, when seeing the sun bouncing off the blue domes after a looong ride through the desert. I did. The famous Registan Square and Samarkand fights with Bukhara for the title of most beautiful city along the old Silk Road. It’s impossible to decide. But one of my favourite places is the Shah-I-Zinda complex, which is also to find in Atlas Obscura. In contrast to enormous and towering Registan, the Necropolis has a more intimate feeling and is clearly an important place of devotion for Uzbeks. They have to put up signs not to leave money by the tombs.
Bukhara
In order to handle all the insanely perfect decorations make sure to stop and stay in the mountains in between the two cities. There’s a few villages offering homestays – some of them not to be found in Google maps – but the people here are not unfamiliar with tourists. Large eagles will hover over you and wolves follow you.
Nurata Mountains. Writing notes for you guys.
Uzbekistan, and in fact Central Asia, was new ground for me, but it certainly jumped the list of best destinations. Just like Istanbul, I feel this place should be my only #1 destination. I am a cultural traveller, and this was definitely the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen. Ever! But it still have to share first place with the destination yet to be revealed.

1 SVALBARD, NORWAY

Svalbard just have to be at the top of my travels in 2018. It is one of the best destinations not only for 2020, but for every year. “The Real Arctic.” If you like darkness, cold and more darkness, Svalbard will not disappoint. In the summer, you can see glaciers and polar bears and midnight sun. But there’s something to be said for the arctic polar nights. Not forgetting the Aurora Borealis! I’m sold!
Imagine hiking up a glacier in -26 degrees in complete darkness hoping not to have a polar bear attacking you. Or trying to steer a sled drawn by a group of enthusiastic (and smelly) huskies between the mountains (which you almost can’t see) into to day light (which almost isn’t there). You can get a glimpse of our trip Dog Sledding in the Dark Arctic Landscape in Svalbard! But be well prepared. Have the right outfit and expect to pay for your experiences.
The green is Aurora Borealis. It was so cold my camera froze on better occasions.
So why is a nature destination on top of a cultural travellers list? I can’t describe it, and I think that is exactly the reason. It’s emotional. It’s magical.The arctic darkness just did something to me. And the green lights waving on the dark sky makes it even more surrealistic, event though this is not the best place to see the Northern Lights. Because it too much north!
You gotta do like everyone else?
I’ve been travelling to Norway since I was a small kid. Svalbard is a country of it’s own. With over 40 nationalities. So it almost doesn’t count as Norway. But it is. Last year, Norway was my least favourite country I visited. But that’s because I only travelled to Skeikampen, where we go for skiing every year. Pretty – yes, but still. See for yourself in 10 pictures proving Norway really is a Winter Wonderland!

I hope my best and worst destination from 2019 helps you to plan where to go in 2020.

Next year, I will once again go skiing in Norway, my mom invited me to Pompeji (bucket list), enjoy a weekend trip with friends, go solo somewhere new, take a work trip to Norway (again) and hopefully go on a hiking trip in Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. And who knows…

What was your best trip in 2019?