Frommer's Best Places to Go in 2023
What’s travel without a little turbulence, right? Tourism’s big return following the easing of Covid restrictions has been bumpier than we all hoped, thanks to understaffed airports, high gas prices, and other global woes.
But while the skies still haven’t entirely cleared, it’s not impossible to find silver linings. For one thing, borders have reopened pretty much everywhere. For another, the strong U.S. dollar means American vacationers will find more affordable prices in Europe, Japan, Mexico, India, and beyond.
Despite all the lingering uncertainty, consumer surveys as well as those interminable TSA lines suggest the urge to roam remains undiminished. But where to go?
After staying domestic for two long pandemic years, our annual Best Places to Go list has opened up to the entire planet once more, with worthy destinations scattered across six continents. Frommer’s staffers and contributors have selected places that are marking milestones and heading in new directions, adding fresh attractions and gussying up old standbys, recovering from past challenges and emerging as formidable competitors for more established tourism epicenters.
These are the cities, states, parks, peninsulas, coastlines, and countries giving us cause for cautious optimism—though we do recommend keeping your seat belt fastened throughout 2023, as heaven knows we may experience sudden turbulence.
Here, in no particular order, are the Best Places to Go in 2023.
Pictured above: Basque Country, Spain
It was five years ago that the tempests struck—two Category 5 hurricanes within two weeks of each other. Two years later, the global pandemic shut down the world. Today the Virgins—comprised of the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands—are roaring back. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, first-quarter visitor arrivals in 2022 surged 153% compared to the same period in 2021, and the region's chief airline gateway, St. Thomas, is seeing a stratospheric increase in arriving flights. For those coming by sea, the harborside promenade of St. Thomas's historic capital city, Charlotte Amalie, is getting a beautiful $146 million facelift. Caribbean Journal calls it "the next great Caribbean waterfront." In an agreement with Royal Caribbean, USVI will also see an additional 440,000 cruise ship visitors in 2023, tripling the number of passengers entering St. Croix's Frederiksted, the little town with the big pier.
In the neighboring British Virgin Islands, meanwhile, classic resorts such as Rosewood Little Dix Bay, Saba Rock, and the Bitter End Yacht Club (pictured above) are back in top form after being reduced to matchstick rubble by the hurricanes. Environmental groups like Beyond the Reef are repurposing undersea trash left by hurricanes into fun "Art Reefs" for divers. Finally, summer is no longer the islands' downtime—just try getting a last-minute villa or car rental on sizzling-hot St. John of the USVI in June. In the British Virgins, summer events—powerboat poker runs, Christmas in July, and the August Emancipation Festival—are stretching the tourist season until September, when peak hurricane season rolls back in again. —Alexis Lipsitz Flippin
Time to finally book that ticket to Tokyo. After more than two years of tight pandemic-related border restrictions that put the brakes on tourism, Japan reopened to independent international travelers in October. (For now, just be prepared to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test to enter.) This is welcome relief to a nation that spent years polishing itself up to host the 2020 Olympic Games, only to see the event delayed and stifled.
Another reason to go to Japan this year: A samurai-strong U.S. dollar makes this the most affordable time in nearly 25 years for Americans to visit, putting a vacation that explores Japan's world-famous ancient temples, sushi bars, and neon-soaked, anime-inspired nightlife within reach for budget-conscious travelers. Theme park fans are eager to spend some of that yen at Tokyo DisneySea, an epic theme park at Tokyo Disney Resort, which in 2023 marks the 40th anniversary of its opening by unveiling Fantasy Springs. The $2.5 billion, spare-no-expense expansion will bring a 475-room luxury hotel and lavish new rides themed to the worlds of Frozen, Tangled, and Peter Pan. —Erica Bray
Pictured above: Yasaka Pagoda in Kyoto
Basque Country is hitting its high point in 2023. The region is already a common starting point for the world-famous Camino de Santiago trek (now even more popular given the current desire for outdoor travel experiences), but for the first time since 1992, Bilbao will be the starting point for the Tour de France as well. López de Haro, Bilbao’s grande dame hotel that was once headquarters for a local newspaper, is expected to reopen in 2023 following a major renovation. The hotel was home to architect Frank Gehry when he was in the early planning stages for the city’s now-iconic Guggenheim Museum.
After the race, stick around for the region’s celebrated gastronomy. Basque Country has one of the highest per capita concentrations of heavily awarded gourmet restaurants on the planet. Adding to the culinary buzz is the March opening of Nobu Hotel San Sebastián, facing La Concha Bay with 20 rooms and a 98-seat dining room. 2023 is also the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death, and events are scheduled countrywide to commemorate his work, including planned exhibits at the Guggenheim. The talents of another famous Spaniard, Cristóbal Balenciaga, who died just over 50 years ago in 1972, have been drawing fashionistas aplenty to an ongoing series of exhibitions at the Balenciaga Museum, not far from San Sebastián. Whether you’re biking, hiking, or satiating the taste buds, Basque Country will be more exciting than ever in the new year. —Ramsey Qubein
As land protection moves go, it was a three-fer, preserving a place precious for its natural beauty, its role in military history, and its meaning for the modern ski industry. In October 2022, President Joe Biden responded to a decades-long campaign to designate the Camp Hale–Continental Divide National Monument out of 54,000 acres of wilderness 110 miles west of Denver. Between 1942 and 1944, the 10th Mountain Division trained at Camp Hale, some 9,200 feet in altitude, for skiing and cold-weather wilderness survival to better combat the Axis powers in World War II.
After the war, veterans of the division returned to Colorado to play roles in the founding of the Vail and Aspen ski resorts. Now that the lobbying efforts of veterans groups and conservationists have prevailed, the ruins of Camp Hale and the surrounding alpine forest and Eagle River Valley will receive the protections they need from development as well as the money required to create properly interpreted visitor facilities for fishing, hiking, camping, and mountain biking. And a new Rocky Mountain dream destination is born. —Jason Cochran
No more will explorers of the resorts and ruins of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula be forced to navigate fleets of often-decrepit buses to access the major attractions. Mexico, which has leaders who are eager to invest in the region and scale tourism, is deep into construction of the $10 billion Tren Maya rail project, funded by tourist taxes, that will connect Cancún, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, the ruins of Chichén Itzá, and other parts of the Riviera Maya. The first segment of the so-called "train through the jungle" aims to open by late 2023. There have been many delays and much controversy—including over habitat destruction, the system’s effect on Indigenous villages, and overtourism anxieties.
Those worries may prove well-founded, because Tulum’s new Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport is also scheduled to debut in 2023, joining Cancún as a second fire hose for incoming international flights. By 2024, authorities say, some 4 million passengers a year will arrive via Tulum’s runways. Not long after that, those tourists will be hopping on the nearly 1,000 miles of fully completed Tren Maya routes whisking riders between ancient ruins and beach bacchanals. Opening delays are to be expected, but even so, it seems clear we’re living through the last moments of the Yucatán as we have known it. —Jason Cochran
One of India's first tiger reserves, located in the southwestern state of Karnataka, turns 50 in 2023. Established in 1973 and designated Bandipur National Park the following year, the site has managed over five decades to grow its Bengal tiger population tenfold, staving off poachers by expanding safari tourism. But unlike other wildlife-viewing epicenters such as Uganda and Tanzania, where government tourist fees make visits costly, Bandipur charges only around $30 per game drive to see its resident tigers, Asian elephants, leopards, four-horned antelope, golden jackals, and sloth bears.
Of course, for North Americans much is inexpensive in India as a result of the softened value of the rupee. That hasn't led to the sort of tourism uptick one would expect, though, because of unrest in some parts of the country. But Karnataka has low crime rates and is considered one of India's most prosperous states. It's also eminently worthy of a visit. Beyond Bandipur, state capital Bangalore (also called Bengaluru) is known as the Silicon Valley of India. It dazzles visitors with world-class restaurants, art galleries, gardens, and craft beer. The Mysore Palace—the second most-visited site in India after the Taj Mahal—is just one of the splendid historic residences, temples, and museums in the city of Mysore (otherwise known as Mysuru). And Hampi, a favorite on the 1960s hippie trail, is still attracting visitors to its UNESCO World Heritage Site temples, monolithic sculptures, and weirdly wondrous boulder-strewn landscapes. —Pauline Frommer
Tourism-dependent Greece bounced back with a banner year in 2022, as visitor numbers topped those of pre-Covid years. While many sunseekers make a beeline for the islands, with Santorini and Mykonos topping the list of tourist favorites, there are more reasons than ever before to stick around in Athens for a while. Athens has some of the lowest big-city prices in Europe, helping the dollar go farther as travelers sample an ever-expanding roster of restaurants and nightspots, particularly in the popular Psyrri and Gazi neighborhoods. Appealing new hotels have opened—the Brown Lighthouse and Moxy bring urbane glamour to gritty Omonoia Square, while Monsieur Didot and the Modernist add sophisticated hideaways to chic Kolonaki.
Recent additions to the city’s museum scene include the National Gallery, reopened in 2021 after an 8-year refurbishment with a focus on El Greco and the Greek artists who’ve followed him, and the Goulandris Foundation, opened in 2019 to show off Picassos and other prizes of modern and contemporary art. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, housing the Greek National Opera and National Library in stunning Renzo Piano–designed quarters set amid parklands, has become an essential cultural hub since it was inaugurated 5 years ago. Just south is Ellinikon, Europe’s largest city development project that over the next decade will transform the capital with a towering mini city rising above green spaces and beaches. Athens is building toward a sophisticated future. —Stephen Brewer
The most-visited Hawaiian island is rejuvenating tourist hot spots. New digital reservation systems have eliminated formerly long ticket lines for Pearl Harbor’s haunting USS Arizona Memorial and reduced crowds seeing the landmark Diamond Head crater (pictured above) and snorkeling along the reef of Hanauma Bay. At the Polynesian Cultural Center, a luau now pays tribute to Queen Liliuokalani while sharing the story of the monarchy’s 1893 overthrow; visitors can gain more insights on those events from specialty tours recently added at Iolani Palace, the former royal seat.
The ecological perspective is being mainstreamed in tourism, too. Now visitors can learn how to tend stream-irrigated fields of taro (the revered staple of Hawaiians’ pre-modern diet) at Kualoa Ranch, handle native seaweed varieties on Sea Life Park’s new educational tour, or volunteer to restore historic rock walls at one of Oahu’s ancient fishponds, which were a major source of food before the modern era. In Waikiki, revitalized lodgings stretching from the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach to Kaimana Beach Hotel immerse guests in modern Hawaiian style, while the North Shore’s redesigned Turtle Bay Resort highlights its area's agriculture via a new farm tour and surf culture via the Jamie O’Brien Surf Experience. Speaking of surf: Wai Kai, a recreational hub featuring a 100-foot-wide, deep-water artificial wave for surfing (said to be the world’s largest such break) debuts 18 miles west of Honolulu in February. It will also offer a calm 52-acre lagoon for stand-up paddleboarding and other ocean play, plus shops and restaurants. —Jeanne Cooper
Italy's Amalfi Coast may be stunning, but it has become expensive, overcrowded, and increasingly complicated to drive to. But the slender Maratea coast, 110 miles to the southeast in the Basilicata region, is a worthy alternative. Until recently, few outsiders visited the region, despite its relative affordability. The largest town, Maratea Superiore, is a banquet of 44 churches and chapels, some with fine artwork. The turquoise-water cove at Acquafredda, nearly 8 miles to the north, can be reached by the vertiginous and wildly scenic Via Nazionale, while the food scene, distinguished by abundant seafood and prepared with the elegant simplicity of Campania and Puglia, pairs well with the stunning local Aglianico black-grape wines. A visit is the very picture of an Italian dream vacation: Visitors pass the time by swimming, hiking in the mountains above the coast, eating al fresco under olive trees, and renting crewed sailboats for a spin out at sea. Just keep an eye out for asps, wolves, and bears. This remains wild country. —Gregory McNamee
Someday soon the rest of the world will catch on to the fact that Uruguay, one of the smallest countries in South America, has many of the same lures its bigger neighbors have. It's also a wonderful place to see sustainable living in action. According to the New York Times, 98% of the country's grid is powered by renewable energy sources (wind, solar, and biomass), making Uruguay one of the greenest countries on earth.
Not that your vacation has to revolve around virtue alone. Uruguay has some of the best beaches in South America, ranging from glittery party towns like Punta del Este and other places that draw luxury sun birds from across the Americas, to laidback surfer faves like Punta del Diablo. Just inland of the beaches, you'll find accomplished wineries and, even further inland, sweeping grasslands roamed by gauchos and cattle (in Uruguay, there are four steers to every human). Locally run estancias take in guests who want to have a dude ranch holiday, Latin American style. Montevideo, the country's capital and biggest city, has sophisticated museums, galleries, and restaurants. Elsewhere, there are well-preserved colonial towns to visit. As I said, the world should be taking note. Avoid the crowds and visit before everybody else does. —Pauline Frommer
The central Georgia city of Macon is commemorating its bicentennial in 2023. But one of the top attractions goes back much further than 200 years. Ocmulgee Mounds, a collection of ancient earthworks, sits on land that was inhabited by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for millennia. The site could soon be designated Georgia’s first national park.
In more recent centuries, Macon has produced an impressive roster of musical hitmakers who are honored at spots such as the Otis Redding Museum and the Big House Museum preserving where the Allman Brothers Band lived in the early 1970s. Current artists can contribute to that musical legacy at the city’s new 10,000-seat amphitheater, due to be finished in summer.
Macon's revitalized downtown district buzzes with dozens of restaurants, shops, and new places to stay such as Hotel Forty Five, housed in an angular former office building, and the Woodward Hotel near the historic Hargray Capitol Theatre. Keep an eye out for movie stars around town—Macon’s picturesque streets and Georgia’s thriving film industry make this a popular backdrop for on-location shoots. —Zac Thompson
Pictured above: downtown Macon during the springtime cherry blossom festival
Every year between March and July, the tiny town of Exmouth in Western Australia prepares itself for an influx of visitors eager to swim with the hundreds of gentle whale sharks that congregate off the coast. But in 2023, it’s predicted that more than 50,000 people will gather in this diving destination to witness another natural phenomenon—this one in the sky, not the sea. On April 20, a rare hybrid solar eclipse will block out the sun in totality, an event that won’t occur again until 2031. The World Heritage–listed Ningaloo Coast will be the most accessible place on land to watch the 3-hour event.
The road there is a marvel of its own. Considered one of Australia's most gorgeous drives, the Coral Coast Highway runs 800 miles between Perth and Exmouth, taking visitors past the limestone Pinnacles, the otherworldly pink waters of Hutt Lagoon, and Monkey Mia, where wild dolphins visit the shore each day. —Jessica Wynne Lockhart
For several years starting in 1896, a total of more than 100,000 prospectors flooded into Canada’s Yukon Territory in hopes of striking it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush. For most of the intervening 125 years, tales of kooky miners and dance hall girls have been the calling card of Dawson City, which served as a base during the mining mania. But now, the story is finally being told from the perspective of First Nations people, whose voices have long been excluded.
Tour operator Tommy Taylor of Fishwheel Charters takes visitors on 2-hour boat rides on the Yukon River, sharing along the way how his ancestors, the Hän people, lived before the Gold Rush. Meanwhile, Parks Canada’s new Red Serge, Red Tape interpretative program takes a critical look at the impacts of a colonial government on the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, who were displaced from their traditional fishing territory by the influx of newcomers. It’s a message that’s been integrated throughout Parks Canada’s programming: Yes, the history of the Gold Rush is fascinating, but so too are the 24,000 years of human history that came before that. —Jessica Wynne Lockhart
The well-trod routes of modern tourism have connected so much of the inhabited globe, but one region has been left behind: West Africa. Despite the area’s critical role in the development of Western societies’ wealth and populations, Western visitors have proved reluctant to forge self-guided paths to places like Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, the Gambia, and the Cape Verde Islands (pictured above). Geting there has been cumbersome and touring options thin on the ground. But the current boom in expedition cruising, accompanied by a sharp rise in the number of specialty ships, has created a new channel for introducing travelers to lively and diverse cultures that stretch along the coastline.
Now it's much easier to bear witness to some of the spots where human trafficking changed the courses of our shared destinies all those years ago. Hurtigruten’s adventure ship Spitsbergen began by tentatively adding West Africa departures to its roster, and the voyages were such a success that more are coming. Among the additional adventure vessels offering odysseys into West Africa in 2023 and '24: Seabourn Venture and Azamara Journey. If you ever dreamed of visiting the shores of the Mother Continent, the way there has never been more mainstream. —Jason Cochran
Vilnius kicks off a milestone year in January, when the city marks 700 years as Lithuania’s capital. Starting January 25, a Light Festival illuminates chilly Baltic winter nights with colorful light installations casting beams onto Old Town’s historic and handsome hodgepodge of medieval, baroque, and Renaissance buildings. The birthday party continues all year long, with art shows and performance events, including a huge free music festival in Vingis Park in July.
The celebration presents a great excuse for getting to know Vilnius, one of Europe’s perennially underrated beauties that’s chockablock with UNESCO-approved architecture (perhaps best appreciated from one of the hot air balloons that ascend right from the center of town) as well as feisty arts offerings, intriguing culinary creations, and great beer.
The city’s endurance over the centuries might hearten those travelers concerned about the survival of other places in former Soviet states, most notably Ukraine. Though safe and stable nowadays, Vilnius has at various points in its history been invaded, annexed, renamed, and decimated. But while the city’s candle has flickered from time to time, it has never been snuffed out. Is it too much to imagine the lights over Vilnius in 2023 forming a small but mighty ray of hope? —Zac Thompson