Belfast, Northern Ireland
The “Game of Thrones” story may take place in the fictional land of Westeros, but the filming locations are quite real. Many of them are in the countryside of Northern Ireland near the capital of Belfast. Some of the filming locations you can visit are the Cushendun Caves and Larrybane (The Stormlands), Castle Ward (Winterfell), Ballintoy Harbour and Murlough Bay (Iron Islands), and Inch Abbey (The Riverlands). The haunting location for the King’s Road is the difficult-to-locate Dark Hedges, a tree-lined road leading to an 18th century mansion – although it’s significantly easier to find these days, with all the “Game of Thrones” fans seeking it out. Many of the “Game of Thrones” filming locations can be visited in a day trip from Belfast, making the city an ideal home base for exploring Northern Ireland’s very film-worthy scenery.
Book a Private Game of Thrones and Giants Causeway Tour from Belfast
Not many years ago, Croatia still seemed far beyond the borders of where most travelers went in Europe. Now, Croatia is becoming quite a popular vacation spot – and it’s neighboring Slovenia that can be described as an emerging holiday destination. Of course, Europeans have known about the fantastic reasons to visit Slovenia for ages – but many of us are just coming around to the idea. Slovenia is part of the EU (which means it uses the euro currency). The country shares borders with Italy, Croatia, Austria, Hungary, has a small coastline on the Adriatic Sea, and is easy to reach. It’s a fairly small country, so adding Slovenia to an itinerary that includes any of its border countries could be an ideal way to explore it. And to top it off, Slovenia remains a relative bargain compared to many countries in Western Europe.Read more about Slovenia
Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
There are several categories for superlatives when it comes to waterfalls. Victoria Falls, which straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, isn’t the tallest waterfall in the world, nor is it the widest. It does, however, hold the title of “largest,” since its height and width result in the largest sheet of falling water on earth. The sight has been drawing tourists since it was found and documented by David Livingstone in 1855 – both for its visual impact and the sometimes deafening roar all that water produces. Victoria Falls is on many a travel wish list, so here’s why you should check this one off in 2014: The towns that serve the falls, Livingstone in Zambia and Vic Falls in Zimbabwe, played host to the UN General Assembly in 2013. As such, they both had massive makeovers leading up to the event, and are better equipped than ever to host visitors. Even Zimbabwe, in the news so much in recent decades for ludicrous-sounding inflation rates, is getting back on track – the US dollar is now one of the main currencies accepted, so you wouldn’t even need to visit the currency exchange office.
China’s largest city, and the one that continues to grow at an exceptional pace, is Shanghai. Many travelers are familiar with the sparkling skyline of Hong Kong, and have favored it for years for quick stopovers in Asia. Shanghai offers the same kinds of visitor perks – shopping, attractions, great food – and as of last year, travelers from 51 countries no longer need a visa to visit Shanghai for 72 hours or less. This makes Shanghai an excellent option if you’re looking for a long layover where you can explore the city for a few days before moving on to your final destination, because as long as you’re flying in and out of Shanghai’s airports, you’ve got a 72-hour pass to see the city. Enjoy the gleaming new skyscrapers and neon lights, but don’t overlook the few historic neighborhoods that remain – including some areas of the Huangpu District near the City God Temple and the former Shanghai French Concession.
There has been much talk among sports fanatics about Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup and then the 2016 Summer Olympics. But in late 2013, the International Olympic Committee announced the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics – Tokyo. Sure, 2020 may seem a long way off, but time (as they say) flies. As Tokyobegins its initial preparations to host the world’s athletes in six years, it’s still a bustling and fascinating city to visit today. Unlike some Olympic host cities that require major upgrades in infrastructure to support the influx of visitors the games usually draw, Tokyo is already known for its robust tourist infrastructure. With more than 13 million people calling the prefecture home, this is a place that’s quite accustomed to dealing with crowds. In 2014, you can visit Tokyo without being slowed down by any of the inevitable pre-Olympics construction, and still enjoy the ease a 21st century metropolis provides.
Read more about things to do in Tokyo
Bhutan, the famously reclusive country that measures success in “Gross National Happiness,” has long been known as a tourist destination for only the wealthy and patient. With limits on the number of visas issued per year, a minimum stay requirement, and the need to use official tour guide partners, Bhutan has been off-limits to many would-be travelers. In recent years, however, tourism in Bhutan is getting comparatively easier – the country no longer limits the number of tourist visas issued, and there are more licensed tour operators these days.
Fraser Island, Australia
Australia is home to the world’s largest sand island just off the coast of Queensland.Fraser Island is a relatively small spot in the South Pacific at only 710 square miles, but it packs quite a bit of natural wonder into that small space. While there are very few people who call Fraser Island home today, there is evidence that people have lived on the island for more than 5,000 years. It is also currently home to 25+ mammal species, 350+ bird species, and 865+ plant species. There are more than 100 lakes on Fraser Island, and a 75-mile-long stretch of beach on the eastern coast. It’s a nature lover’s playground. Fraser Island was added to the UNESCO list of Natural World Heritage Sites in 1992, and remains a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Queensland.
Check out our Fraser Island tours
For travelers craving a Southeast Asia trip without the crowds that now flock to Thailand and Indonesia, however, there are other options. The tiny country of Laos, sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand, still has French elements leftover from its colonial days, but remains a far more “authentic” Southeast Asian experience than its neighbors. Laos (officially called Lao PDR) is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Luang Prabang (a city in northern Laos) and Wat Phu (the ruins of an 11th century Khmer temple complex) – and Laotians have a reputation for their relaxed lifestyles. Tourist infrastructure in Laos may not be as robust as it is in other parts of the region, but budget-conscious travelers who want to escape the crowds shouldn’t let that stop them from exploring this beautiful country.Read why Laos is one of the cheapest countries for backpackers
Several countries in Europe will be marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I this year, including England, France, and Belgium. The historic ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in Turkey didn’t happen until the second year of the war, so that 100th anniversary isn’t until 2015 – but since the outbreak of the war will be taking center stage across the continent this year, we think a 2014 visit to Gallipoli will be meaningful, too. Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand marks the date (April 25th) when Allied troops landed at Gallipoli, and the World War I battlefields have long been some of the main tourist draws. During the 100th anniversary commemorations, there are likely to be even more people visiting World War I sites than there normally are, so plan ahead – especially if you want to be at Gallipoli on April 25th.
The tiny Mediterranean island nation of Malta packs a lot of vacation destination punch into not very much space. Malta is made up of three islands, although the vast majority of visitors stick to the largest of the three (also named Malta). Even so, you can explore several parts of the island in one day if you’re visiting on a cruise (even the hop on, hop off bus tours of Malta visit multiple cities on each route). There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Malta. The most impressive are the “megalithic temples” built from 5000 B.C.E. to 700 B.C.E., making them what some say are “the oldest free-standing monuments in the world.” There are annual arts and music festivals, plenty of hiking (particularly on the smallest island, which is mostly a nature reserve), excellent sailing and diving opportunities, and the sort of “melting pot” culture that can only come from constantly changing hands from one ruling nation to another. One of the top annual tourism conferences in the UK has chosen Malta as the host for its 2014 conference, which indicates the country is on the verge of something. Why not go and find out what it is?
Browse our Malta Tours