Top 28 destinations (Part 3): Cultural explorations

In choosing our picks for the most intriguing destinations for the upcoming year, we decided to dive deeper, considering destinations with intriguing sites, cultures and experiences. The complete list is divided into four segments, including both domestic and international destinations and something for every travel style. First, we focused on seven newsworthy destinations. You’ll find that post here. Last week we showcased our “Diving Deeper” category. Check out those destinations here.

This week we’re featuring the destinations chosen for the “Cultural Explorations” category which includes: Rwanda, Singapore, Upstate New York, Medellin, Columbia; Benicia, California; Central Norway; and Vipavska Dolina, Slovenia. Here’s why they’re our top picks for 2019.


You most likely know Rwanda for its intriguing mountain gorillas—and that��s reason enough for a visit. But the people of Rwanda are what make it truly special. Committed to sustainability, plastic bags are banned throughout the country. Rwanda also ranks in the top five countries for gender equality. Having endured the cruelty of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the people embrace peace and reconciliation. Memorials found throughout the country are testimonials to those who lost their lives but also serve as a tool to educate future generations.

There are twelve gorilla families living in the Volcanoes National Park. The troops have at least one silverback gorilla along with several females and youngsters. Embrace your inner Jane Goodall while trekking to see these magnificent creatures. A portion of the proceeds from permits issued for the treks goes to support local communities.

Enhance your visit with a stay on an active tea plantation which offers wellness and spa themed itineraries along with farm-to-table dining. The latest and most luxurious to date is the One&Only Nyungwe House in Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest National Park. Designed to blend harmoniously with its natural surroundings, the décor of the 23 guest rooms and suites utilizes local African craftsmanship. A wealth of spa treatments and locally sourced and inspired cuisine ensure an ultra-luxurious jungle retreat experience.


With the release of Crazy Rich Asians, Singapore stepped into the Hollywood spotlight. The film whets the appetites of travelers who want to experience a bit of the glamor themselves. The timing is perfect as 2019 marks the bicentennial of its founding by Sir Stamford Raffles.

There are plenty of festivals and celebrations to experience throughout the year from the Mega Dance & Music festival in December to Singapore Art Week in January. Chinese New Year on Hongbao River and a world gourmet summit in April add more to the possibilities.

Singapore is home to an astonishing 239 Michelin-starred restaurants. While you might expect this in the posh restaurant scene, Singapore still managed to serve up the unexpected—a Michelin-starred food stall. Famously known for featuring the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal, the Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle Food Stall offers its iconic dish for just $1.50.

Another budget friendly (and beautiful) option is Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. According to its site, it’s one of the world’s top 20 most checked-in places on Facebook. The gardens are home to more than one million plants. And its Flower Dome was determined to be the largest glass greenhouse in the world by the 2015 Guinness World Records.

Upstate New York

Although New York City gets most of the tourists’ attention, there’s much to see beyond the big city lights. Head upstate to places like Saratoga Springs for horse racing, dance culture and, of course, the mineral springs. Experience the healing waters at the Roosevelt Baths & Spa which has been providing hydrotherapy for generations. Opened since 1935, the baths were the result of Franklin Roosevelt’s visionary act to preserve the natural springs.

Considered the cultural capital of upstate New York, Rochester boasts an incredible array of museums, galleries, theatres and historic sites. Don’t miss the Strong Museum of Play where you can travel back in time to your childhood. This highly interactive museum houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of historical materials related to play—also known as toys! It’s home to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, the Woodbury School, and the American Journal of Play. The city is also home to more than 140 festivals throughout the year.

As New York’s capital, Albany is a 400-year old city on the verge of a Renaissance. And in Duchess County, you’ll find Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidential Museum and a significant number of historic homes including the Vanderbilt Mansion. Stretch your legs on the Walkway over the Hudson—the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge spanning a scenic 1.28 miles across the Hudson River. Add to these a section of the Appalachian Trail along with four national parks to tour and you have something for everyone.

Medellin, Colombia

Once considered one of the world’s most dangerous cities, Medellin has worked hard to shed its negative moniker. Today, it’s a safe and beautiful destination eager to welcome visitors. Experience the fascinatingly chaotic Colombian culture against a backdrop of soaring mountain peaks while taking advantage of the moderate climate. The “City of Eternal Spring,” as Colombians affectionately call it, is fast becoming a tourist hot spot for fine dining, trendy bars and, of course, world-class coffee.

Time your visit for the annual Flower Festival. Spanning 10 days, the festival boats 157 events including fireworks, food, traditional singing competitions and open-air concerts. The central event of the festival is the Flower Parade which includes 500 men, women, and children (called silleteros) carrying elaborate flower arrangements on silletas on their backs.

Benicia, California

Located a stone’s throw from San Francisco in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, Benicia  is one of the oldest cities on the West Coast. It was once home to the state capital and is home to many historic firsts. This bustling arts community with its rich history, sports a beautiful waterfront and top-notch shopping and dining. Hundreds of artists live and work here and visitors can find glass blowers, and pottery throwers creating unique pieces. Oriented to its waterfront, you’ll also enjoy scenic views of bridges, sailboats, outriggers, and paddleboarders. This is a great “strolling” town and is the perfect day trip away from the tourist grind of San Fran.

Central Norway

Central Norway’s Trøndelag county is home to an abundance of culture and charming communities. From the timber-built fisherman warehouses flanking the sides of the Nidelva River in Trondheim to the spectacularly scenic coastal islands of Hitra and Frøya, and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Røros, there’s so much to discover.

Founded by Viking King Olav in 997AD, Trondheim’s Viking heritage runs deep. Go Viking-hiking with Hands on History for an authentic experience exploring nature, survival, cooking and cultural heritage – the Viking way.

On the coastal islands of Hitra and Frøya, picturesque fishing villages dot the landscape and offer up some of the freshest seafood you’ll find anywhere. Spend your days on the water with a sea eagle safari or head out to sea in search of lighthouses.

Meanwhile, in the mountain town of Røros, residents live and work in a UNESCO World Heritage site where grass-topped wooden buildings line the streets and Stag heaps remain from the days of copper mining. At the edge of town, you’ll find Rørostein—home to members of the Sami tribe who continue to herd reindeer as they’ve done for centuries.

Vipavska Dolina, Slovenia

For the majority of travelers visiting Slovenia, the capital city of Ljubljana is on the itinerary. Why not take the road less traveled? An hour’s drive from the Ljubljana, Slovenia’s Vipava Valley (Vipavska Dolina) is a surprising tucked-away jewel that never fails to impress lovers of wine, food and outdoor adventures. This sunny valley is ideal for growing an abundant variety of vegetables and, of course, grapes. When asked to describe the Vipava Valley in brief, Slovene poet and writer Ciril Zlobec offered three words “little Slovene Eden.”

Scattered throughout the Eden-like countryside are clustered villages and hamlets with cobbled streets and lovely stone architecture. Here you’ll find hospitable locals eager to invite you into their wine cellars to sample the fruit of the vine along with local specialties. Explore on your own or join a guided cycling tour along pleasant country roads.

When you’re ready to work off your indulgences, there are plenty of active pursuits. Rising above the picturesque valley, Mt Nanos is ideal for hiking, mountain biking, climbing and paragliding. Steep walls and gorges cut from rivers and streams have created ideal rock faces which attract climbers of all levels. If hiking is more your style, easy trails lead through orchards, vineyards and along country roads. For a more strenuous hike, take one of the trails to the top of Mt. Nanos. You’ll be rewarded with views of the Adriatic Sea and towering Alpine peaks.

More to come …

Next week we’ll share more about the destinations we’ve chosen for the “Rising Stars” category. Stay tuned!

This article was originally posted on TravelSquire.