Which cities should be at the top of your travel wish list this year?
From South America to Australia, via a European Capital of Culture and the home of Bollywood, here are the cities in the spotlight in 2019.
After years of political instability, Egypt is poised for a tourism comeback. Visitor figures doubled from 2016 to 2017 and there are some impressive new jewels in its crown – above all, the $1bn Grand Egyptian Museum, which is due to begin a phased opening in January. This marble megalith will display King Tutankhamun’s entire burial collection for the first time ever, within an exact reconstruction of the tomb.
Also getting Egypt-watchers excited is a boutique re-imagining of Nile cruising from Sanctuary Retreats, with its luxurious art deco-inspired vessels. Back on dry land, the much-hyped St Regis Cairo will be breathing life into the city’s hotel scene from April.
Direct flights from £249 with British Airways
Head down to the arch of Italy’s boot and you’ll find this year’s European Capital of Culture. A unique labyrinthine cityscape hewn into rocky hillsides, Matera looks like a film set – in fact, it stood in for ancient Jerusalem in Ben-Hur and The Passion of the Christ.
But the city once called “Italy’s shame” has come a long way: its rudimentary cave dwellings, called sassi, have transformed into atmospheric restaurants and hotels in recent years. Soak up the history here along with the baroque charms of nearby city Lecce on Freedom Treks’ seven-night Puglia Hotel & Bike tour (from £556 per person based on two people sharing, including breakfast, luggage transportation and GPS tracks).
Flights to Bari from £14.99 with Ryanair
Forget the long layover: 2018 saw Qantas launch direct flights to Perth, making it easier for Brits to unlock Western Australia’s capital. Its sizzling culture scene includes the largest free public sculpture exhibition in the world, Sculpture by the Sea, which takes place in March.
Major hotel brands have already earmarked the city’s potential, with the Westin Perth opening in heritage-listed Hibernian Hall lin 2018, and the Ritz-Carlton Perth hot on its heels later this year. After you’ve absorbed the city sights, it’s onto Australia’s wild west coast for swimming with whale sharks and sunbathing on deserted beaches.
Direct flights to Perth from £796 with Qantas
The world’s gastronomy capital takes culinary tradition seriously, but it’s certainly not stuck in its ways: Lyon has been named an inaugural European Capital of Smart Tourism (one of several) due to initiatives such as an augmented reality app to enhance its Unesco-listed painted murals.
Pack clothing with elasticated waistbands as you feast on local specialities such as saucisson brioché (basically a gourmet pistachio-studded sausage roll), gooey St Marcellin cheese and pink-hued praline pastries in Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a brilliant covered market.
Flights from £30.99 with easyJet
Find the best places to stay in Lyon
Chengdu’s most famous residents are giant pandas, but there’s nothing slow and bumbling about the Sichuab capital. Home to a burgeoning Chinese hip-hop scene and cosmopolitan population, this might just be the Middle Kingdom’s coolest city.
Join the heavily inked local hipsters to check out microbreweries, underground gigs and contemporary art spaces like K Gallery. Eastern Suburb Memory, a music-themed park on the site of abandoned factories, exemplifies the wave of creativity sweeping through Chengdu. For traditionalists, there are still teahouses and temples galore.
Flights from £354 with China Eastern (via Beijing)
Find the best places to stay in Chengdu
Soho House has given Mumbai its stylish seal of approval, recently opening its first Indian address in the northern Juhu district. This is just one indication that exciting times are afoot for India’s largest city. Foodies are excited about the launch of restaurants from chefs Rahul Akerkar (Qualia) and Dharshan Munidasa this year.
While the high-end culinary scene is taking off, Mumbai’s status as creative capital is well entrenched thanks to Bollywood’s all-singing, all-dancing glamour. Prepare for your senses to be overloaded in this frenetic city.
Direct flights from £391 with British Airways
Find the best places to stay in Mumbai
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Quito’s Unesco designation (the first city in the world to get this protected status) and as a result its historical centre is one of the best-preserved in Latin America. Far from resting on its laurels, though, Quito has been busy introducing fresh ways to delve into its cultural treasure trove. The Cathedral of San Francisco’s catacomb-filled crypt, closed to the public since the 16th century, is now allowing visitors into its hallowed halls and up onto its rooftop. Quito is also home to an ambitious contemporary art and music scene centred in La Ronda neighbourhood.
Flights from £477 with Air Europa (via Madrid)
Find the best places to stay in Quito
Washington DC, USA
Check into the world’s first activist hotel, Eaton DC (double rooms from £156), to begin your enlightening tour of America’s capital city. Far from burying its head in the sand from what’s going on in the White House, DC is on a roll when it comes to creating dynamic, awareness-raising museums.
The Newseum will mark 50 years since the Stonewall riots with a major exhibition on the LGBTQ+ rights movement, while philanthropist Ann Friedman is at the helm of Planet Word, a public space dedicated to language in all its forms (opening later this year).
Flights from £443 with United
Find the best places to stay in Washington DC
What would the legendary Viennese Ball be without the waltz? Austrian composer Johann Strauss was the maestro behind more than 500 waltzes, polkas and quadrilles, to which dancers spin round the city’s gilded ballrooms.
With 2019 being the 120th anniversary of Strauss’s death, it’s high time you dusted off your dancing shoes. Hundreds of different balls take place in the city from January to March, and Awesome Experiences is offering rare tickets to a few of the most sought-after on a two-night “Dance at a Viennese Ball” tour (from £569pp based on two adults sharing). If dancing isn’t your bag, there’s an eye-opening new museum, the House of Austrian History, to add to the city’s existing mix of beer halls, parks and palaces.
Flights from £16.60 with Laudamotion
Find the best places to stay in Vienna
St Louis, Senegal
Did you know Senegal is the beating heart of an alternative jazz scene? Described as Africa’s answer to New Orleans, the colourful colonial city of St Louis hosts its 26th annual jazz festival from 26 April to 1 May, attracting international talent from the worlds of jazz, blues and gospel.
Experience the foot-tapping fiesta along with the country’s vibrant capital Dakar, palm-fringed beaches and tribal islands on the eight-day “Step into Senegal” tour with TravelLocal (from £930 per person).
Flights from £180 (via Lisbon) with TAP Air Portugal
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies