30 Emerging Travel Destinations for 2020
Let’s fight overtourism by skipping the popular travel destinations and instead heading to these 30 incredible emerging destinations, as nominated by tourism boards and voted by the world’s top travel bloggers.
Update: Check out our most current list, The Best Places to Travel in 2022
If you find yourself complaining about a travel destination being overtouristed, you might be part of the problem.
Where you travel matters, and there’s a lot more worth seeing in this world than the Instagram-famous sites.
To help inspire you, we proudly announce this year’s Emerging Destination Awards – 30 truly incredible but underappreciated travel destinations that deserve your tourism dollars.
How did we pick the winners?
Each year we ask governments and tourism boards to create nominations for the best trending travel destinations in their region, then we submit the nominees for a vote by our panels of judges, some of the best-traveled bloggers on the planet (read about our process here).
Think of this list as an effort to take the collective pulse of travel insiders about which hidden gems they love and which are emerging on their own bucket-lists.
More than just another random listicle of where to travel, the Emerging Destination Awards aim to bring together local stakeholders, content creators, and travelers to help encourage travelers to spread out and appreciate every corner of this stunning planet.
Ok, ready for a serious case of wanderlust?
Below are the winners of the the Emerging Destination Awards: 30 top travel destinations that represent a positive future for tourism in the coming decade.
You can also watch our quick video tour of our winning destinations:
Judges’ Choice Award – #1 Destination in Europe
Possibly the world’s greatest hidden travel gem, Georgia packs princ many things to do inside a compact country. The stunning Caucasus mountains give the Alps a run for their money, Tbilisi’s bohemian Old Town makes Prague’s seem positively pedestrian, and Georgia’s wine scene is currently enjoying a moment of global recognition (about time too, as wine was invented here). Plus, Georgia is an extraordinarily affordable travel destination – where else can you enjoy a European-style vacation on a South East Asian vacation budget?
When to Visit: April to October
Top Attractions: Ushguli settlement in Svaneti, Khaketi wine region, Old Town Tbilisi
Why We Picked Georgia
2. Nova Scotia
Judges’ Choice Award – #1 Travel Destination in North America
Nova Scotia is the Rorschach inkblot of travel – and, no, we’re not just saying that because it literally looks like one on a map. What makes Nova Scotia so impressive to travelers is that it takes on the personality of those who dare to explore it. Looking for a blissfully serene escape? Try blending your own wine at one of the regions many wineries, or soaking in its many picturesque coves. Seeking roaring adventure? Try surfing the world’s highest tides on Nova Scotia’s 13,300 kilometers of pristine coastline, hiking one of its many remote trails, or exploring some of the best road trips in Canada. The bottom line: whatever your travel goals are, you can probably find them in Nova Scotia.
When to Visit: June to October
Top Attractions: Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island, Peggy’s Cove, Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Why We Picked Nova Scotia
Judges’ Choice Award – #1 Travel Destination in Oceania
Someone better tell the Maldives to move over, because intrepid beach lovers have found a new paradise in the pristine azure waters and powdery white sands of The Cook Islands. Mix in a little Polynesian tradition and abundant marine life, and you can see why this South Pacific archipelago is ready to contend for the title of the world’s best island destination. But the best reason to visit The Cook Islands? It’s a country that appears to be taking the charge of responsible development seriously, setting aside over 1 million square kilometers of marine conservation area, leading the world in its renewable energy targets, and focusing its development efforts on eco-tourism. Bravo!
When to Visit: May to October
Top Attractions: Aitutaki Lagoon, Muri Beach, Te Vara Nui Village Tour & Cultural Show, Aroa Marine Reserve
Why We Picked The Cook Islands
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Judges’ Choice Award – #1 Travel Destination in Africa
Rwanda’s tourism scene is most famous for the opportunity to come face-to-face with the world’s most enrapturing creature on one of its spectacular mountain gorilla treks. But Rwanda’s conservation success story is about more than just gorillas: Akagera National Park offers the chance to see the Big Five on a more traditional safari, while Volcanoes National Park invites you to explore its fire-spewing namesakes. And with the World Economic Forum recently naming it the safest country in Africa and RwandAir slated to open direct flights from JFK to Kigali, it’s a great time to travel to Rwanda.
When to Visit: Mid-December to early February; June to September
Top Attractions: Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe National Park, Ethnographic Museum, Kigali Genocide Memorial
Why We Picked Rwanda
Judges’ Choice Award – #1 Travel Destination in Asia
Kyrgyzstan is the kind of travel destination that you might suppose is best reserved for hearty adventurers. And you’d be half right: adventure IS practically the middle name of this Central Asian country. But if Kyrgyzstan had a different first name, it’d be simply “culture.” The traditions of the Silk Road are still alive and well here, and you don’t need to spend weeks hiking remote mountainsides to access that culture thanks to the remarkable programs of the Kyrgyz Community Based Tourism Association. On the other hand, if you’re even the least bit interested in hiking, you’d be crazy to pass up some of the most beautiful trails on the planet.
When to Visit: Northern Kyrgyzstan – June to September; Southern Kyrgyzstan – March to October
Top Attractions: Issyk Kul Lake, Ala Archa National Park, Ala-Köl, Burana Tower Complex
Why We Picked Kyrgyzstan
Judges’ Choice Award – #1 Travel Destination in Latin America
A relatively small country that’s been eclipsed by its more popular neighbors, Ecuador has much more to offer than its flagship Galapagos Islands. On the mainland, you’ll find an almost unbelievable diversity of landscapes – mist-covered mountain tops, active volcanoes, wildlife rich rain forests, sandy windswept beaches, and lush mangroves all call out for adventurers. Meanwhile, Ecuador’s capital in the clouds is quickly becoming an attraction in its own right. Wander Quito’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site or enjoy a dining and nightlife scene that’s rapidly drawing attention across the continent.
When to Visit: December to May
Top Attractions: San Francisco Church, Cotopaxi and Cajas National Parks, Otavalo Market
Why We Picked Ecuador
7. Gothenburg, Sweden
The World’s Most Sustainable Destination according to the Global Destination Sustainability Index, Sweden’s second-city is an exemplar of what responsible tourism development should look like. You can check out the picture-perfect 17th century district of Haga, chow down on some fresh seafood at the “Fish Church,” or visit Scandinavia’s largest amusement park Liseberg during the holidays, when it transforms into an enchanted Christmas market. So hip it would probably bristle at the moniker, Gothenburg offers the coolest city break on the continent.
When to Visit: May to September for warm weather; Late November to March for cold-weather activities
Top Attractions: Liseberg Amusement Park, Röda Sten Konsthall, Slottsskogen, Konstmuseum
Why We Picked Gothenburg, Sweden
8. Churchill, Manitoba
If its unofficial title as “The Polar Bear Capital of the World” isn’t enough to make you scramble to book flights, consider that the waters near Churchill, Canada are also the summer home of over 60,000 beluga whales who rear their young in the Hudson Bay and the rivers that feed it. And don’t forget to look up, because Churchill is also an excellent place to witness the spectacle of the Northern Lights. Wild and wonderful, Churchill might be the single best place to reconnect with nature.
When to Visit: July to November
Top Attractions: Itsanitaq Museum, Northern Lights, Prince of Wales Fort, Cape Merry
Why We Picked Churchill, Manitoba
Imagine what the Caribbean looked liked before every corner of it was taken over by resorts and cruise ships. Actually, don’t. Because you don’t need to imagine anything – you can simply visit Dominica and see the Caribbean’s last hidden gem with your own eyes. Hike mountain ranges so lush it looks like the ground is coming alive. Swim (or, better yet, dive) in crystal waters so clear you’ll feel like you’re in a dream. Most of all, get there soon because growth is coming to Dominica. At least it’s doing so with laudable eco-friendly initiatives that have us hopeful that Dominica will represent the Caribbean of the future.
When to Visit: October to April
Top Attractions: Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Kalinago Territory, Trafalgar Falls, Screw’s Sulfur Spas
Why We Picked Dominica
Central Asia is finally having its (long overdue) moment in the spotlight, and nowhere is that more evident than in the pearl of the Silk Road. Traveling to Uzbekistan means not just crossing borders, but stepping back in time to a land whose remarkable history as the meeting point of East and West oozes out of its splendid architecture, multi-layered culture, and show-stopping sites. With its previously onerous visa restrictions having been significantly relaxed recently, there’s never been a better time to travel to Uzbekistan.
When to Visit: April to May; September to early November
Top Attractions: Samarkand, Registan, Shah-i-Zinda
Why We Picked Uzbekistan
11. Launceston, Tasmania
It seems that our travel blogger judges can’t get enough of Tasmania – last year the entire island took our judge’s top honors as the best destination in Oceania. This year, the spotlight shines on Tassie again – but this time on Launceston, an overlooked city in the north of the island that provides the perfect base on your Tasmania itinerary to explore the world-class wilderness. If you can, kick off your year by visiting in January, when Launceston will come alive with MONA FOMA, a vibrant summer arts and music festival.
When to Visit: September to May
Top Attractions: Cataract Gorge, Cradle Mountain, Queen Victoria Museum, Franklin House
Why We Picked Launceston, Tasmania
12. Rovinj, Croatia
If you fancy a trip to Venice but can’t bear the thought of fighting the crowds (or, you know, contributing to the overtourism problem yourself), then the tiny seaside town of Rovinj, Croatia should be at the top of your list of where to travel. With bright buildings squeezed right up to the shore of the Adriatic, this charming fishing village turned world-class attraction fills every inch of the narrow headland it occupies on the Istria Peninsula, a region The Guardian recently said could be “the new Tuscany.” If the Instagram opportunities alone aren’t enough to hook you, consider that Rovinj is home to Croatia’s first Michelin starred restaurant (Monte), and some of the best gastronomy and wine in a country that’s quickly gaining worldwide recognition for both.
When to Visit: April to November
Top Attractions: Old Town Rovinj, St. Euphemia’s Church, Rovinj Port, Balbi Arch
Why We Picked Rovinj, Croatia
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds and experience nature like you’ve never seen, then put Namibia at the top of your list of where to travel. You’ll be mesmerized by the million-year-old Sossusvlei dunes, an otherworldly landscape unlike anything you’ve ever seen. You’ll fall in love with Fish Canyon, a trench so deep and impressive that it draws comparisons to its more famous American cousin. Thrill-seekers love sky-diving across the unique landscapes near Swakopmund. Oh, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy a traditional African safari – but without the throngs of safari vans crowding your way. Raw. Real. And ready for tourists. Namibia is the future of adventure tourism.
When to Visit: July to October
Top Attractions: Etosha National Park, Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, Namib-Naukluft National Park
Why We Picked Namibia
14. Aarhus, Denmark
d of place where “rush hour” simply means a few cyclists crossing paths on one of the city’s many bike lanes. And, indeed, biking is a part of the fabric of Aarhus – so much so that the city offers a free bike scheme for visitors. Grab one and pedal down the charmingly-attractive Møllestien street or around the innovative modern architecture at the harbor. You’re certain to work up an appetite with all that cycling, so end your evening with a culinary tour of New Nordic cuisine at one of the city’s fashionable bistros or high-end restaurants. Whatever you do, you may never want to leave – because Aarhus is undeniably one of the world’s most livable destinations.
When to Visit: May to September
Top Attractions: ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Marselisborg Palace, Den Gamle By, Tivoli Friheden
Why We Picked Aarhus, Denmark
15. Northern Territory, Australia
On a continent that spoils visitors with unreal landscapes, somehow Australia’s Northern Territory seems to have snapped the lion’s share of them. But it’s not just the otherworldly Outback vistas that draw in visitors – the Northern Territory’s full-on embrace of its Aboriginal history makes it a great cultural destination as well. Check out some Aboriginal-inspired art at the Parrtjima Light Festival or take a cultural tour of Kakadu National Park, mixing traditional storytelling with majestic landscapes. Oh, and the acclaimed artist beyond the Field of Light Uluru, Bruce Munro, will be bringing a limited-time exhibition to the capital Darwin.
When to Visit: May to October
Top Attractions: Uluru, Kakadu National Park, Kings Canyon, Alice Springs
Why We Picked Northern Territory, Australia
16. Prince Edward Island
Long a favorite of Canadians traveling their own country, international visitors are beginning to flock to Prince Edward Island for the many unique things to do in Prince Edward Island: remarkable red beaches, laid-back seaside villages, tranquil nature walks, and farm-to-table dining. And with first-class tourism infrastructure, peaceful Prince Edward Island is happy to host these travelers looking for a break from it all. In an era where everyone everywhere seems in a rush all the time, Prince Edward Island offers the perfect digital detox destination.
When to Visit: June to September
Places to Visit: Prince Edward Island National Park, Confederation Bridge, Green Gables Heritage Place
Get Planning: Things to Do in Charlottetown
Why We Picked Prince Edward Island
17. Colorado Springs, Colorado
If you had to name a single state that had a breakout decade in the 2010s, it’s got to be Colorado. But while the swarms of visitors and new residents make clear that Denver has officially transitioned from cow-town to cool, Colorado’s second city has mostly flown under travelers’ radar (apart from the intrepid few who make the day trip from Denver). That’s bound to change soon, because Colorado Springs is even closer to the Rocky Mountain Front Range and thus there are so many day trips from Colorado Springs that allow access to beautiful natural scenery unspoiled by the crowds. And with the pending opening of the $90 million U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame, there’s never been a better time to visit Colorado Springs.
When to Visit: March to June; September to November
Top Attractions: Garden of the Gods, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Pikes Peak
Why We Picked Colorado Springs, Colorado
18. La Paz, Mexico
La Paz, Mexico somehow feels like its halfway across the ocean, even though it’s only two hours away from Cabo (and direct international flights to the states!). Its location also makes it the perfect base for aqua adventurers keen to swim with whale sharks or sea lions in the Sea of Cortez, a marine biosphere so rich in life that Jacques Cousteau once famously called it “the aquarium of the world.” If you’re in the US and looking for adventure, nature, or just a stunning beach, La Paz makes the perfect short international getaway.
When to Visit: October to April
Top Attractions: Paseo Aflvaro Obregon, Balandra Beach, Catedral de Nuestra Senora, Espíritu Santo Island
- 18 Tips for Traveling Mexico
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- Hiring a Car in Mexico
Why We Picked La Paz, Mexico
If Disney’s animated fairy tales were shot live action, they’d probably move their studios to Estonia. Because this entire country feels a bit like a real-life version of the Magic Kingdom, somewhere at the cultural intersection of Scandinavia and continental Europe. But don’t let the nostalgic setting fool you into thinking Estonia is stuck in the past – because it’s actually widely considered as the most advanced digital society in the world. Internet is a human right here and the country is opening its arms to the digital nomad movement. Here’s hoping the rest of the world follows in Estonia’s footsteps!
When to Visit: May to September
Top Attractions: Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Lahemaa National Park, Talinn Town Hall, Kadriorg Art Museum
Why We Picked Estonia
20. Lausanne, Switzerland
It’s hard to find hidden gems in Switzerland these days, but if there’s one place that’s deserving of more attention than it gets, it’s the stunningly situated city of Lausanne. Drenched in history dating back to Roman times, today Lausanne is Switzerland’s youngest and most vibrant city. And the city just opened Platforme 10 – an enormous cultural hub centered around three museums that promises to make Lausanne the perfect destination for art and culture lovers.
When to Visit: April to October
Top Attractions: Lake Geneva, Lausanne Cathedral, The Olympic Museum, Place del Palud
Why We Picked Lausanne, Switzerland
21. Southern Laos
Adventure. Nature. Culture. Southern Laos offers everything that draws throngs of travelers to Northern Thailand – minus the crowds. Outdoors types will love hiking the region’s lush jungles, encountering towering waterfalls and gorgeous coffee plantations along the way. History buffs will adore exploring Vat Phou at Champasak, a ruined Khmer Hindu temple and UNESCO World Heritage site that’s even older than Angkor Wat. If you’ve ever wondered what Southeast Asia was like before the mobs of tourists arrived, Southern Laos is the place to find out.
When to Visit: October to April
Top Attractions: Wat Phu Champasak, Khon Phapheng Falls, Bolaven Plateau
Why We Picked Southern Laos for Where to Travel
Lebanon is the sort of place where the past, present, and future seemingly converge at once. It’s a place influenced by countless cultures over millennia, and you could spend your entire trip here just soaking in some of the world’s most important history. But then you’d miss out on the many other sensory experiences Lebanon offers – foodies love the incredible cuisine, hikers are in heaven in the beautiful Chouf mountains, and shopping fans enjoy Beirut’s first-class design outposts. And while beaches and nightlife probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “Lebanon,” the country has excellent options on both counts too. In short, prepare to be completely surprised by Lebanon.
When to Visit: September to May
Top Attractions: Kadisha Valley, National Museum of Beirut, Cedars of God, Raouche Rocks, Temples of Baalbek, Byblos, Tyre and Sidon.
Why We Picked Lebanon for Where to Travel
23. Poznań, Poland
It’s almost impossible to believe that a town this beautiful isn’t already overrun by tourists. But you won’t have to push through any crowds to soak in Poznań’s colorful architecture and charming streets. Despite the fact that it’s one of the oldest cities in Poland (not to mention one of the most beautiful), Poznań remains one of Europe’s last remaining true hidden gems. That’s likely to change soon, though, as it’s only a matter of time before travelers discover its picturesque streets. Wandering the the Royal-Imperial Route from Old Town to the even older section of town known as Ostrów Tumski, you’ll soon realize why Poznań could be to the coming decade what Krakow was to the last one.
When to Visit: All year round; November to February for winter-season activities
Top Attractions: Old Market Square, Imperial Castle, Lake Malta, Park Cytadela
Related Reads: Best Travel Backpack for Europe
Why We Picked Poznań, Poland
24. Paso Robles, California
Move over, Napa! With hundreds of wineries to explore (most of them family owned and operated) and far fewer crowds, Paso Robles is the perfect place for a relaxing weekend trip from San Diego, San Francisco, or most anywhere in California. And even if you can’t make it all the way to Australia for #15 on our list, you can still experience the magic of Bruce Munro at the 15 acre Field of Light at Sensorio, an illuminated sculptural composition that needs to be experienced to be understood. For wine and art lovers looking a hip emerging destination, look no further than enchanting Paso Robles.
When to Visit: March to June; September to December
Top Attractions: DAOU Vineyards & Winery, Tobin James Cellars, The Ravine Water Park, Sculpterra Winery
Why We Picked Paso Robles, California
25. Navarre Beach, Florida
Possibly the best beach destination that you’ve never heard of, Navarre Beach was the best-kept secret beach in Florida until TripAdvisor named it as one of the best 25 beaches in the United States this year. Located just 40 minutes from Pensacola, Navarre Beach is the perfect place to visit in Florida for families looking to enjoy some of Florida’s best activities like kite surfing, fishing, snorkeling, and surfing – or just looking to unwind and watch a spectacular sunset on a quiet patch of sand. After all, just because you want to experience perfect white sand beaches doesn’t mean you need to dart through a sea of beach-goers to stake out a tiny sliver of sand.
When to Visit: April to November
Top Attractions: Gulf Breeze Zoo, Santa Rosa Sound, Navarre Beach Pier, Ye Olde Brothers Brewery
Related Reads: Things to Do in Orlando, & Things to Do in Fort Lauderdale Florida, Where to Stay in Orlando Florida
Why We Picked Navarre Beach, Florida
26. McLaren Vale, South Australia
Prepare to eat and drink to your heart’s content in one of the most-underrated wine and food destinations south of the Equator. Immerse yourself in a whimsical wine experience at the d’Arenberg wine cube— a 5-floor tasting room in a dramatic Instagram-worthy setting created by the “Willy Wonka of Wine,” Chester Osbourne. Or opt to stay overnight in a vineyard by booking a “wine pod” at the Vineyard Retreat, allowing you to sleep off your vino on-site. And because this is Australia, you’ll never be far from beautiful beaches to boot. Silver Sands Beach offers gorgeous sunsets and family fun. Whatever you do, just get here fast. Because the secret about McLaren Vale is officially out.
When to Visit: March to May; September to November
Top Attractions: d’Arenberg, Coriole Vineyards, Alpha Box & Dice, Wirra Wirra Vineyards
Related Reads: Things to do in Newcastle Australia
Why We Picked McLaren Vale, South Australia
27. Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania
Who would have thought that one of the best nature destinations in the United States was just an hour outside of Pittsburgh? A landscape so beautiful that it inspired two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpieces, today the Laurel Highlands beckon with luxury resorts offering prime ski slope access and cozy woodland accommodations perfect for cuddling up next to a cup of coffee and a book. You’ll find plenty to get the adrenaline flowing in the summer too – from whitewater rafting to rock climbing to hiking, the possibilities for adventures are endless in the Laurel Highlands.
When to Visit: All year round
Top Attractions: Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob, Fort Ligonier, Ohiopyle
Why We Picked Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania
Located at the crossroads of cultures and continents, Azerbaijan might be one of the most underrated countries for travel on the planet according to those who’ve braved it. But for travelers who dare to be different, there is no destination more likely to blow away your expectations than the amazing Azerbaijan. Marvel at the juxtaposition of ancient history and modern architecture in Baku. Bathe in a mud volcano surrounded by unreal landscapes. Or simply stroll along the Caspian Sea, claiming one of the country’s 500 kilometers of coastline for yourself. Safe and affordable, Azerbaijan is ready to welcome the world.
When to Visit: April to June; September to October
Top Attractions: Baku, Maiden Tower, Palace of the Shirvanshahs, Gobustan National Park
Why We Picked Baku, Azerbaijan
Most tourists can’t point it out on a map, and the few who can are usually put off by the country’s high visa fees and the relative difficulty of getting here. But those that make the trip will discover a vibrant and colorful country with plenty to offer visitors. Check out the capital Ascunsion for colorful street art and fascinating history, or venture north to Paraguay’s more than a dozen protected ecological reserves for some top-notch wildlife spotting. Oh, and you’ll find loads of alternative – and more affordable – Carnival celebrations all across the country here, with the most spectacular celebrations taking place in Encarnacion. Look out Rio, there’s someone coming for your crown!
When to Visit: All year round, February for Carnival
Top Attractions: Itaipu Dam, La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná, Triple Frontier, Monday’s Falls
Related Reads: Iguazu Falls Itinerary
Why We Picked Paraguay
The birthplace of mankind is opening its arms to visitors. Ethiopia has been quietly improving its tourist infrastructure of late, and may be finally poised to make a run as a top place to travel in East Africa. Though not a traditional safari destination, Ethiopia offers an extraordinary range of wildlife and bird-watching across its incredible array of landscapes. Plus, it’s home to 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the remarkable Lalibela cave churches. Culturally and geographically diverse, Ethiopia is the perfect place to travel for those who dare to be different.
When to Visit: October to June
Top Attractions: Simien Mountains National Park, Blue Nile Falls, Lake Tana, Erta Ale
Why We Picked Ethiopia
That’s it for this year’s Emerging Destination Award winners.
Remember: you have a choice where you travel, and that choice matters.
By visiting our winning travel destinations instead of the same overcrowded and overdone spots, you’ll be making a small but meaningful contribution towards fixing the problem of overtourism.
A final note of thanks: The Emerging Destination Awards are a collaborative project involving stakeholders across the travel space. Special thanks are due to the nearly 100 tourism boards who participated this year, our incredible travel blogger judges, and German Backpacker and Very Hungry Nomads of our Nominating Committee.
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited, including to clarify our process and a quote regarding Aarhus that was previously unclear.