Wondering where to go next? You’re not the only one. After a frenetic return to travel, many are asking how to enjoy the rush of discovery without the crush of crowds. Our annual list of 25 inspiring and less visited destinations for the year ahead encompasses places filled with wonder, rewarding to travelers of all ages, and supportive of local communities and ecosystems. Reported by our global editors and framed by five categories (Culture, Adventure, Nature, Family, and Community), these destinations are under the radar, ahead of the curve, and ready for you to start exploring.
Below are our pick of five places in 2023 for meaningful journeys into culture and history. (Find the full Best of the World list here.)
Appian Way, Italy
Walk ancient Rome’s “superhighway”
If all roads lead to Rome, this ancient highway built 2,300 years ago was the mother of them all. Stretching for 360 miles from the heart of Italy’s capital to the port of Brindisi on the Adriatic, the Via Appia (nicknamed Regina Viarum—the Queen of Roads) was trodden by ordinary citizens, marching soldiers, and glitterati from the Latin poet Horace to the gladiator-tussling Emperor Commodus.
Neglected after Rome’s fall but never forgotten, the road is undergoing a renaissance as the Italian government seeks to retrace, uncover, and restore the ancient cobblestones—transforming the Appia into a walkable route for modern travelers. The goal is a pilgrimage through history, with stops at scenic villages and archaeological sites as well as planned overnight accommodations at the end of each day’s journey.
In the meantime, roadies should take full advantage of modern Italian cuisine, says National Geographic writer Nina Strochlic, who recently traveled the Appia. One tip: “In the southern region of Puglia, head to the nearest bakery for the flaky, creamy rustico—a buttery pastry stuffed with béchamel, mozzarella, and tomato.”
Busan, South Korea
Keep riding the K-pop wave in South Korea’s second city
Cinema is a communal experience in Busan, Korea’s second-largest city, which has hosted one of Asia’s most prestigious annual film festivals for nearly three decades. In October the Busan International Film Festival held screenings in 14 neighborhood venues across this seaport of 3.4 million people.
Before performances, movie lovers can grab a craft beer or coffee—Busan is celebrated for its artisan brewers of both beans and hops—or stroll through Citizens Park, a redeveloped former U.S. military base. (The city played a strategic role in the Korean War.) Opened in 2014, the park is a 133-acre retreat in the middle of downtown, planted with more than one million trees and shrubs, comprising 97 species in all.
Famed both for its mountains and beaches, Busan is also home to the Nakdong River Estuary. South Korea’s longest river runs through the city and shelters the whooper swan and other endangered waterfowl.
Catch the debut of King Tut’s new home
The upcoming debut of King Tut’s magnificent new home on the 100th anniversary of his discovery—and a string of recent archaeological findings—is reigniting global interest in Egypt. Dramatic and modern, Cairo’s Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is located in Giza at the edge of the Pyramids, “the perfect museum in the perfect setting,” says Fredrik Hiebert, the National Geographic Society’s Archaeologist-in-Residence. Hiebert started his career in Egypt and is currently supervising National Geographic’s virtual, multimedia exhibition “Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience.”
“It’s like the Egyptians built another pyramid to display all the golden treasures of Tutankhamun, many of which were hidden in the basement of the [old] Cairo Museum,” he says. “It’s going to become a destination museum and will change the way people visit Egypt.”
Along with the more than 5,000 treasures belonging to the boy king, the nearly 5.3-million-square-foot complex shelters the nation’s astounding collections of ancient artifacts—an estimated 100,000 pieces in all. But space could soon grow tight. Recent excavations uncovered 250 mummies in Saqqara and a “golden city” near Luxor built more than 3,000 years ago during the reign of Tut’s grandfather, Amenhotep III. Finds included objects used by average Egyptians in their daily lives.
These discoveries and the recent restoration of Luxor’s statue-lined Avenue of the Sphinxes mean there’s much to celebrate—yet Egypt’s archaeological sites remain endangered. Case in point: Abydos, the royal burial ground for the first pharaohs, is threatened by urban and agricultural encroachment, rising water tables, and illegal dumping, according to the World Monuments Fund.
Charleston, South Carolina
Find stories of tragedy and triumph
A new year shines a light on an old wrong in Charleston. Known for its Low Country cuisine and walkable urbanism, South Carolina’s largest city addresses a grimmer aspect of its history when the International African American Museum opens on January 21.
The building is located on Gadsden’s Wharf and faces Charleston Harbor, where ships brought 100,000 enslaved Africans in chains to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Nine galleries tell harrowing tales of the Middle Passage and the horrors of plantation life. But they also uncover stories of the triumph of the enslaved and their enduring cultural contributions, including a section devoted to the Gullah Geechee people who live along the Atlantic coast from the Carolinas to Florida and continue some of the African traditions of their ancestors.
Importantly, the museum offers other ways for Black Americans to connect with their roots. Historians believe nearly 90 percent of Black Americans can trace an ancestor back to Charleston’s slave markets. To help visitors fill in their family trees, the museum’s Center for Family History will link up to millions of genealogical records and archivists who can help access them.
Longmen Grottoes, Henan Province, China
Get up close to one of the world’s largest assemblages of stone statues
Can ancient artistry from the Tang Dynasty thrive in the 21st century? The Longmen Grottoes in China’s Henan Province offer a clue. More than 100,000 figures devoted to Buddhism, primarily sculpted between the fifth and eighth centuries A.D., are tucked inside countless caves within limestone cliffs rising above the Yi River.
In 2021, the UNESCO World Heritage site was the backdrop for the acrobatic dance television program Longmen King Kong (the title refers to a Buddhist champion, not a large gorilla). The show’s whizbang special effects combined with the spectacular statues became a countrywide sensation.
But the high tech being employed at the grottoes isn’t just for entertainment. Archaeologists are using 3D printing to reconstruct damaged carvings, and scientists participating in a joint program between Xi’an Jiaotong University and the University of Chicago are applying digital scanning to create a 3D map of the site.