Now that many countries around the world have finally opened up for travel, we are eager to return and explore the world! But why stick with the same run-of-the-mill destinations?
In this post, I'm sharing my top 7 destinations for 2023. I think you'll find they are unique and (mostly) off the beaten track. Hopefully, this list offers something different from your usual holiday spots.
This list is based on our personal family bucket list. My son contributed four of them, my husband added one more, and then two are my own choices.
Are we actually going to be visiting these places in 2023?
With both of my sons attending university and us parents busy working, we are likely to limit our travels to the US, but that doesn't mean you should be doing the same!
While this may be a fantasy list for me this year, I hope it can be useful to others. I included my notes, in the hope that they may help you bring some of these dreams to life in the coming year. Or you can just add them to a long-term bucket list. I do think they're worth it!
I tried to make things concise as possible, using lists of top destinations and a note about the best times to visit. I also threw in a note about dishes to try out because the "yum factor" is important when visiting a new place.
Get ready for an adventure – pack your virtual bags, and let’s go!
1. New Zealand
New Zealand is like a magnet for our geeky family. It's a very long flight to get there from the US, but oh, so tempting.
Our Top Places To Visit In New Zealand
Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, is where you'll find a thriving harbor, diverse culture, and vibrant nightlife. Attractions in the city include the Sky Tower, a popular spot for views of the city, and the Auckland Domain, a beautiful park home to a number of attractions and landmarks.
Rotorua, located on the North Island of New Zealand, is best known for its geothermal activity and Maori culture.
Attractions in the city include the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, a traditional Maori village where visitors can learn about Maori culture and history, and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, a beautiful natural area home to a number of geothermal features.
The Milford Sound
The Milford Sound, on the South Island of New Zealand, is a stunning fjord with dramatic scenery and diverse wildlife.
It is a popular destination for boat tours and cruises but for many people - our family included - hiking there is the main attraction. Specifically, completing the Milford Track.
I have knee problems, and thinking about this particular hike is a source of motivation for me while doing my PT. I REALLY want to do this someday.
The Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park, right on the north coast of the South Island, is famous for its pretty coastline and beaches. It is a popular destination for activities such as hiking, kayaking, and swimming.
The Hobbiton Movie Set
Last but definitely not least, the Hobbiton movie set! Located on the North Island of New Zealand, this is a popular destination for fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. Visitors can tour the set and see where some of the film's iconic scenes were filmed.
When it comes to local cuisine, New Zealand has some delicious options to try. Don't miss out on hāngi, a traditional Maori-style slow-cooked food, or pavlova, a popular dessert made with meringue and fruit.
2. South Korea
South Korea has been on my radar for many years. We've had a great time hosting a Korean family through Couchsurfing, and I've wanted to visit this country ever since.
There are plenty of activities to enjoy in South Korea, from visiting temples and trying local cuisine to shopping at bustling markets and experiencing the country's rich history and culture. Plus, the mountain scenery seems out of this world.
Our Top Places To Visit In Korea
Seoul is the capital and largest city of South Korea, providing travelers with a great place to experience the vibrant local culture, modern cityscapes, and rich history.
Attractions in the city include Gyeongbokgung Palace, a stunning palace built in the 14th century, and the Namsan Tower, a popular spot for views of the city.
Jeju Island, located off the south coast of South Korea, is home to multiple l UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. Lots going on in that area, both in terms of scenery as well as folklore.
And then there are the Haenyeo, female divers in their 60s who harvest the ocean for food.
The DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone, is a strip of land that separates North and South Korea. Surprisingly, the DMZ is a popular destination for those interested in the history and politics of the Korean Peninsula. And our family fits the bill.
The Gyeongju Historic Area
The Gyeongju Historic Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its rich history and cultural heritage. It is home to a number of historical landmarks, including the Bulguksa Temple, a stunning temple built in the 8th century.
The Seoraksan National Park
Ok, so we mentioned mountain scenery. The Seoraksan National Park is where you can find just that. And with mountain scenery comes diverse flora and fauna.
The autumn foliage colors are stunning there, putting this park high on our list if we can come there during that time of year.
Bukhansan National Park
In addition to mountain scenery and diverse forests, this park is famous for its panoramic views of the city of Seoul.
When it comes to local dishes to try, South Korea has some truly delicious options. There's kimchi, a fermented vegetable dish that's a staple of Korean cuisine. Or we could try bulgogi, marinated beef that's grilled or stir-fried.
We still haven't visited Africa. The continent is home to multiple gorgeous countries with stunning landscapes and fascinating cultural variety. My son has his heart set on Namibia, so it's made it to this 2023 list of destinations.
Namibia has everything from the vast and sandy Namib Desert, which stretches along the Atlantic coast, to the lush and teeming Etosha National Park, home to elephants, lions, and rhinos.
Top Places To Visit In Namibia
Windhoek, the capital and largest city of Namibia, is a good starting spot for a tour of Namibia. Attractions in the city include the Independence Memorial Museum and the Christuskirche, a beautiful church built in the early 20th century.
Etosha National Park
We still haven't been on an African Safari, and Etosha National Park would be a great location for one. Located in northern Namibia, this park offers sightings of four out of the Big 5: Lions, leopards, elephants and rhinos.
The Namib Desert
The Namib Desert is a major attraction in Namibia. The Sossusvlei is a highlight of this desert: A salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes. And for a bucket list item, I'm adding a hot balloon ride above the desert.
The Skeleton Coast
The Skeleton Coast, located on the northwest coast of Namibia, is known for its rugged beauty and diverse wildlife. It is a popular destination for activities such as fishing and boat tours.
The Fish River Canyon
The Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, which guarantees amazing landscapes and outdoor adventures. It is a popular destination for activities such as hiking and rock climbing.
And let's not forget about the local cuisine - from braaivleis, a popular barbecue dish made with meat cooked over an open fire, to potjiekos, a hearty stew cooked in a cast iron pot, it sounds like Namibia has some seriously tasty treats in store.
Mongolia. The name itself is rich with the promise of beauty and mystery. This unique country is full of adventure and culture, offering a combination of a traditional nomadic lifestyle with modern influences.
Top Places To Visit In Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar is Mongolia's capital and largest city, known for its rich history and cultural heritage. Attractions in the city include the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, a beautiful Buddhist temple, and the National Museum of Mongolia, dedicated to the country's history and culture.
The Gobi Desert
The Gobi Desert is the sixth largest desert in the world, and that's saying something. I still have to figure out how to tour this mystical place, but camel riding and hiking will probably be on the list of things to do.
The Orkhon Valley
The Orkhon Valley, in central Mongolia, is what you imagine when you think about Mongolia (at least what I do). Huge empty prairies along the sprawling river, nestled between massive mountains and dotted with traditional yurts. No wonder the area is a Unesco world heritage site.
The National Parks
Mongolia's great outdoors is a place of sheer natural beauty. Lakes and mountains work out very well together. And horses. Because this is Mongolia.
Everything I've seen and read shows me this would probably be like the Yukon and Alaska on steroids.
I have several national parks on my list: Khövsgöl Nuur NP, Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, Naiman Nuur National Park, and Terelj National Park. Actually, there are more parks on that list. The country seems to have some pretty awesome parks!
Of course, one can’t visit Mongolia without trying some local dishes! Popular dishes include buuz (steamed dumplings) and khuushuur (fried meat pies).
As I continue to research potential travel destinations for 2023, Chile is a place that's definitely caught my attention. Located in South America, Chile is known for its stunning landscapes, diverse culture, and delicious cuisine.
Chile is a long and narrow country with a wide range of landscapes and climates. Did I mention how much our family appreciates and loves dramatic scenery? Well, no wonder Chile is on our list.
Top Attractions In Chile
The Andes Mountains
Mountains, Gandalf, Mountains!
With the equivalent of the American Rockies, Chile excels in mountains. In fact, just like the Rocky Mountains, the Andes Mountains, which run through the center of Chile, are part of the American Cordillera.
That means virtually endless opportunities for scenery, mountain hiking, and wildlife viewing.
Patagonia is a region that comprises the southern section of the Andes. The area is all about wild, rugged beauty.
The further south you go in the southern hemisphere, the colder it gets. And so Patagonia is also a land of glaciers and out-of-this-world winter wonderlands. I don't think I'm brave enough to weather Patagonia in June-September (wintertime down under). But it's definitely on my bucket list for a fantastic summer trip in December!
The Atacama Desert
Chile boasts a very diverse landscape. And that includes the Atacama Desert, home to some of the driest places on Earth. This high-altitude desert is a popular destination for stargazing and astronomical observation.
Santiago, the capital and largest city of Chile, is where you could go to explore the local culture, delicious cuisine, and historical landmarks. And all to the backdrop of stunning mountains!
Attractions in the city include the Plaza de Armas, a central square home to a number of historical buildings, and the San Cristobal Hill, a popular spot for hiking and picnicking with great views of the city.
When it comes to local cuisine, Chile has some delicious options to try. Don't miss out on empanadas, savory pastries filled with meat or vegetables, or curanto, a traditional dish made with shellfish and meat cooked in a hole in the ground.
I actually visited Portugal in 2022! But unfortunately, my visit was short and limited to the (beautiful!) city of Porto. I liked it so much that I had to include the country in my 2023 list!
Everything about Portugal was perfect! Old Europe charm mixed with beautiful beaches and great weather year around. The people were kind and welcoming, the food was delicious, and everything was very affordable. I'm definitely coming back!
Top Attractions To Visit In Portugal
Lisbon is Portugal's capital and largest city. With very low crime rates, it's a perfect destination to explore on foot. You could simply wander among the old streets and enjoy the delicious local food.
And you could stop at a few of the local attractions, such as the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery (both designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites).
Porto, located in the northwest of Portugal, offers visitors stunning architecture and world-famous port wine. It's another great walking city. A personal note from someone with knee problems: bring braces. The historic city center is made of very steep cobbled streets.
Attractions in the city include the Porto Cathedral, a Gothic cathedral dating back to the 12th century, and the Livraria Lello, a beautiful bookstore considered one of the most beautiful in the world. They say the intricate staircases inside the store inspired J. K. Rowling's description of the interior of Hogwarts.
The Douro Valley
The Douro Valley, located in the north of Portugal, is a popular destination for port wine lovers and those looking to experience the country's rich cultural traditions. You can take a day tour of the Douro Valley going out of Porto, so it's easy to include this in your itinerary.
The Algarve is an area of beaches and coastal resorts, making it a popular destination for sun-seekers and water sports enthusiasts. But you can also experience the beaches anywhere along the country's long and beautiful coast.
As I continue to research potential travel destinations for 2023, another place that's been on my radar is Antarctica, the world's southernmost continent. Ok, it's on my son's radar, lol. The kid loves science and nature, making this a wild destination for him.
Antarctica may seem like an out-of-reach destination. That's because it generally is. Especially if you were to try and get there on land (not really an option). Instead, you need to take a cruise that includes stops in Antarctica, allowing you to explore the continent's breathtaking landscapes and observe its amazing wildlife up close.
What do you actually do when visiting Antarctica?
A cruise to Antarctica typically includes stops at various coastal settlements, wildlife reserves, historic sites, and national parks. Some common highlights include the following:
- Visiting penguin colonies, seals, and whales in their natural habitats
- Exploring the icy Antarctic Peninsula, pack ice and icebergs up close.
- Spotting an array of seabirds around the South Shetland Islands
- Taking a Zodiac cruise to visit historic sites like the remains of Captain Scott's Terra Nova Expedition or whaling stations
- Experiencing cultural history at the Ushuaia Research Base on King George Island in the Falklands
Safe travels in 2023 - and beyond!
I hope you found this list helpful. Or at least inspirational. And by that, I mean that it would inspire and encourage you to come up with your own list for 2023. Feel free to borrow any of these ideas!
Also, make sure to research more thoroughly. I barely scratched the surface when describing each destination. Each one of them deserves a series of guides - not just one. But I did my best with the limited scope of a list.
As always, leave me a comment to let me know what you think. Have you visited any of these destinations? Any tips to share? I'd love to hear them!