Best of the best

Watching the sunrise at 4000m in the Chele la pass, Bhutan. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
Watching the sunrise at 4000m in the Chele la pass, Bhutan. PHOTOS: GETTY IMAGES
Want to know the best places to go and best things to do all around the world right now? Then Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2020 has plenty of advice.

Drawing on the knowledge, and kilometres travelled by Lonely Planet’s staff, writers and online community, a list of top places to visit is compiled.

The nominations are then whittled down by its panel of travel experts to just 10 countries, 10 regions, 10 cities and 10 best-value destinations. Each is chosen for its topicality, unique experiences and "wow" factor.

Particular emphasis is on the best sustainable travel experiences for 2020 — ensuring travellers will have a positive impact wherever they choose to go.

Bhutan — the kingdom set to become the first fully organic nation by 2020 — claims the coveted spot as the No 1 country to visit in 2020.

The No 1 region for 2020 is the Central Asian Silk Road, which is more accessible than ever before, thanks to visa improvements for the majority of the world’s citizens, along with massive transportation and infrastructure investment.

No1 city Salzburg, in Austria, will be pulling out all the stops for the centenary of its famous festival of music and drama,

while Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara, Hungary’s Budapest and India’s Madhya Pradesh are Lonely Planet’s top three best-value destinations for 2020.

Perched 610m up on the cliffs north of Paro town, Taktsang Monastery is referred to as the Tiger...
Perched 610m up on the cliffs north of Paro town, Taktsang Monastery is referred to as the Tiger’s Nest. According to ancient legend, Guru Padmasambhava is said to have arrived from Khenpajong, Tibet, on the back of a tigress before subduing a demon. He then performed meditation in one of the caves and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and blessed the place. Subsequently, the place came to be known as the “Tiger’s Nest”.
#1 Country Bhutan

A dozen nations vie for the title of real-life Shangri-La, but Bhutan’s claim has more clout than most. This tiny piece of Himalayan paradise operates a strict "high-value, low-impact" tourism policy, compelling travellers to pay a high daily fee just to set foot in its pine-scented, monastery-crowned hills. The payoff for visitors is a chance to walk along mountain trails unsullied by litter, in the company of people whose Buddhist beliefs put them uniquely in tune with their environment. Bhutan punches well above its weight when it comes to sustainability. It is already the world’s only carbon-negative country, and the kingdom is set to become the first fully organic nation by 2020, so it’s only going to get more beautiful, and with the daily fee, it won’t be getting any more crowded.

If you like your mountains snow-capped, your nature untamed and your monasteries humming with the sound of Tibetan horns, look no further than Bhutan. Although entry is only possible on an organised tour, life in this intriguing backwater moves at the same tranquil pace as the prayer wheels that spin in its temple courtyards. Modern Bhutan is tucked into the bottom of mountain valleys; leave the valley floor and life slips back to an earlier time. Trekkers move in a world of rammed-earth houses, archery contests, backstrap looms, teeming wildlife — including, allegedly, the "migoi" (yeti) — and monasteries crowning each successive ridge. Bhutan’s people keep their mountain kingdom in pristine condition: litter is rare, pollution rarer, and the scent of blue pines wafts through the streets like incense during one of the kingdom’s spectacular "Tsechu" festivals.

Breathe deeply and take in the mountain air.

#1 Region Central Asian Silk Road

A region once made rich by trade and travellers, the Central Asian Silk Road is again at the centre of global interest. The ancient cities, bustling bazaars and wild landscapes of Central Asia are drawing increasing numbers of visitors looking for adventure along one of history’s most storied travel routes. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan all now offer either visa-free access or e-visas for the majority of the world’s citizens; and the region is moving towards a unified "Silk Road" visa. Meanwhile, massive transportation and infrastructure investment — much of it under the aegis of China’s Belt and Road Initiative — makes travelling the modern Silk Road more accessible than ever before.

A cyclist makes his way along the Pamir highway in Kyrgyzstan.
A cyclist makes his way along the Pamir highway in Kyrgyzstan.
These lands that wowed the likes of Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo and Chinggis (Genghis) Khan continue to impress, though for modern travellers it’s significantly easier to get here. Between mud-brick oasis towns you’ll pass through the imposing mountains of the Fann, Pamir, Alay and Tian Shan ranges, stopping along the way to trek to remote mountain lakes or enjoy the generous hospitality of local shepherd families and ride their horses to high-altitude panoramic passes. Improved national highway and railway systems make travel considerably faster and more comfortable than it was even five years ago — with the notable exception of the Pamir Highway — so getting to the end of the road and out into the wilderness has become much smoother. Combined with easier visas and more flight options, a trip through Central Asia is no longer the massive overland undertaking it was until very recently — unless, of course, you want it to be.

#1 City Salzburg, Austria

Drum roll, please: the Salzburg Festival is turning 100, and this heart-stealer of an Alpine city is singing about it at the top of its voice.

One of the world’s greatest classical music shindigs, the festival is always a riotous feast of opera, classical music and drama — and never more so than in 2020.

Salzburg will be pulling out all the stops for the centenary, with special exhibitions and events taking place all over the historic centre — concerts, plays, readings, Mozart matinees, you name it.

Fortress Hohensalzburg (top) towers over Salzburg.
Fortress Hohensalzburg (top) towers over Salzburg.
Top billing, as always, will go to Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann, based on a medieval morality play and performed in all its glory in Domplatz. So dust off your dirndl or lederhosen, book your tickets months ahead, and get ready to rock into the summer like Amadeus (perhaps minus the wig).

With a Unesco-listed baroque old town, a high-on-a-hill medieval fortress, galleries crammed with phenomenal art, some of Europe’s finest concert halls and uplifting mountain views to make you want to yodel out loud, Salzburg never loses its touch.

It’s all dressed up and at its vibrant best when the Salzburg Festival comes to town for six weeks (from late July to August), bringing song, theatre and orchestral highs to such venues as the Grosses Festspielhaus, Felsenreitschule and cathedral-topped Domplatz.

Sitting astride the milky turquoise Salzach River, this city is where Mozart was born and bred, and where Maria made her warbling debut in The Sound of Music.

If you’re looking for a perfectly orchestrated Alpine city, this is it. To start at the very beginning, make for the historic lanes of the Altstadt, a triumph of baroque urban design, where the prince-archbishops, great patrons of the arts, once held court.


The book

  • Best in Travel 2020 published by Lonely Planet, RRP $29,


Top 10 regions

  1. Central Asian Silk Road
  2. Le Marche, Italy
  3. Tohoku, Japan
  4. Maine, USA
  5. Lord Howe Island, Australia
  6. Guizhou province, China
  7. Cadiz province, Spain
  8. Northeast Argentina
  9. Kvarner gulf, Croatia
  10. Brazilian Amazon

Top 10 countries

  1. Bhutan
  2. England
  3. North Macedonia
  4. Aruba
  5. eSwatini
  6. Costa Rica
  7. The Netherlands
  8. Liberia
  9. Morocco
  10. Uruguay

Top 10 cities

  1. Salzburg, Austria
  2. Washington, DC, US
  3. Cairo, Egypt
  4. Galway, Ireland
  5. Bonn, Germany
  6. La Paz, Bolivia
  7. Kochi, India
  8. Vancouver, Canada
  9. Dubai, UAE
  10. Denver, US

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