(CNN) — Deciding where to take that long-anticipated summer vacation can be a daunting challenge.
Consider one of the following destinations where off-season deals, fewer crowds or special events make this the right time to go. Here are 18 great places to travel in the summer of 2018:
- 1 1. St. Barts
- 2 2. Russia
- 3 3. Azores, Portugal
- 4 4. Fiji
- 5 5. Tbilisi, Georgia
- 6 6. California wine country
- 7 7. Malawi, Africa
- 8 8. US Civil Rights Trail
- 9 9. South Africa
- 10 10. Ticino, Switzerland
- 11 11. Luang Prabang, Laos
- 12 12. Faroe Islands
- 13 13. Toronto
- 14 14. Telluride, Colorado
- 15 15. Paraty, Brazil
- 16 16. Los Cabos/East Cape, Mexico
- 17 17. Vienna, Austria
- 18 18. Fez, Morocco
1. St. Barts
While some of the island’s more famous hotels are still closed due to damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria (Hotel Le Toiny, Le Guanahani), about 60% of St. Barts’ villas have reopened, with some new additions.
The five-star Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa just introduced two new villas, Villa Bleu and Villa Aqua, which each offer six bedrooms, a private pool and a prime beachfront setting.
St. Barth Properties unveiled two new high-end villas, Villa Golden and Villa Neo. The former counts a heated infinity pool among its highlights, while the latter boasts a hammam, or steam bath. Both offer additional perks, too, such as waking up to French pastries.
And though the iconic Eden Rock is closed until December, its extensive villa collection has already reopened.
Plus, summer’s low-season rates make luxurious St. Barts a somewhat more affordable option.
Russia is set to host soccer fans for the 2018 World Cup, happening June 14-July 15 in 11 different cities.
The opening match and final games will be held in Moscow, with other matches taking place in St. Petersburg, Sochi and lesser-known cities, including Saransk and Kazan. An online fan guide provides overall guidance on creating an itinerary, finding hotels, obtaining a visa and other logistics.
Of the 32 teams competing, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Portugal and Spain are among the in-demand matches, although there’s still time to apply for tickets. Just be aware that the United States isn’t competing this year.
3. Azores, Portugal
The Azores, a self-governing Portuguese territory about 1,000 miles from Portugal, have remained under the radar due to limited access from the United States.
Not so anymore, thanks to new flight routes. In fact, Delta just started a seasonal option that will fly direct five times a week between JFK in New York City and the capital of Ponta Delgada.
Visitors will be able to access the charming capital in less than six hours, but the compact city isn’t the only attraction. The archipelago is comprised of nine islands, with the main island of São Miguel as the starting point.
Beyond the capital is an untouched landscape known for whale watching and hiking. Hot springs and sheep also abound.
Jump over to Pico Island for its wineries and vineyards, Terceira Island for its UNESCO World Heritage Site or Faial Island for diving and watersports.
It’s been two years since a Category 5 cyclone struck Fiji, killing 44 people and leaving behind about a billion dollars worth of damage. But Fiji has rebounded, as evidenced by a spate of new hotels.
Newcomers include the five-star Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay. It’s both Marriott’s first foray into Fiji, and the first hotel on the main island to offer overwater villas. The resort is a bargain compared to other arrivals.
The more expensive Six Senses Fiji just opened in April on Malolo Island, and is notable for running solely on solar power thanks in part to Tesla batteries.
Not to be outdone is Kokomo Private Island, an exclusive resort that provides seaplane transportation, private infinity pools and complimentary nanny services. An Australian billionaire is responsible for Kokomo, spending at least $100 million, according to Bloomberg, to build the sustainable property.
5. Tbilisi, Georgia
New direct flights from London on Georgian Airways and Wizz Air have made Tbilisi more accessible than ever.
The capital of this former Soviet Republic offers all of the appeal of a European city (ancient landmarks, intimate cafes, excellent wine), without the choking summer throngs.
But Tbilisi is not easily defined, since throughout the centuries the culture has been influenced by Europe, Asia and the Middle East, although one can still find Soviet-era relics at flea markets.
But those seeking something different will find authentic traditions, such as khachapuri, the cheese-stuffed bread topped with a runny egg and butter, alongside an emerging food landscape. Nightlife, particularly the electronic scene, is another major draw.
6. California wine country
This past October, deadly wildfires swept through parts of Sonoma and Napa, but the tourism sector sustained minimal damage, making this summer the perfect time to support the region.
Sonoma lost Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa, along with Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, the Fountain Grove Inn and America’s Best Value Inn & Suites. But the remaining wineries and hotels are open, while some new hotels have joined the scene.
Among them is the trendy, retro-cool Astro Motel in Santa Rosa and Hampton Inn Petaluma. The latter, located in a former silk mill, will be accepting reservations starting June 17. Meanwhile, the four-star properties of Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country and Vintners Inn are planning expansions.
Over in Napa, the county lost Signorello Estate, but the vineyards were spared. Napa’s hotels were spared as well. Plus, the region just welcomed Ashes & Diamonds, its newest winery.
7. Malawi, Africa
Summer is prime-time safari season, with under-the-radar Malawi emerging as a buzzy destination.
In-the-know travelers head to Majete Wildlife Reserve, Liwonde National Park and Nkhotakota Game Reserve for fewer crowds and an increased chance of animal sightings. Liwonde National Park is popular, since not only is it rife with elephants, hippos and black rhinos, but a recent conservation effort by African Parks added cheetahs, too.
Majete Wildlife Reserve has also been repopulated by African Parks, and is now a Big Five with elephants, lions, black rhinos, buffalo and leopard.
Nkhotakota Game Reserve is in the process of rebuilding its wildlife population, and has already added more than 1,000 animals and 500 elephants.
New lodging has opened to keep pace with visitors. Robin Pope Safaris just added Kuthengo Camp in Liwonde National Park; its four roomy tents each contain a full bathroom, large bed and private deck overlooking the Shire River.
8. US Civil Rights Trail
The official US Civil Rights Trail launched in January, featuring more than 100 sites that played a key role in the civil rights movement.
Take a road trip this summer to visit landmarks in 14 states, spanning New Orleans; Topeka, Kansas; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; and Selma and Birmingham in Alabama.
Greensboro, North Carolina, is among the stops, where college students staged a sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter. The original seats and counter are now preserved in an on-site museum.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the site of the infamous Bloody Sunday attack against civil rights activists, is an important visit, as is the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
An interactive map shares more background history and helps to plan that road trip.
9. South Africa
2018 marks what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. To observe the occasion, the South African Tourism board and the Nelson Mandela Foundation relaunched the Madiba’s Journey app containing 100 important Mandela landmarks and sites that people can visit.
Notable points include Mandela’s birthplace on the Eastern Cape; the site where he was captured in the KwaZulu-Natal province; his jail cell on Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 18 years; and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.
Travelers can customize itineraries on the app, while also using it to learn about each site through detailed histories, photos and audio guides.
10. Ticino, Switzerland
The exchange rate makes Switzerland a good value at the moment, and the hidden wine region of Ticino is a ready alternative to Italy’s more crowded destinations.
In fact, visitors can almost fool themselves into believing they’re in Italy, since Ticino borders the northern portion near Lake Como, and its residents speak Italian.
The region’s winemaking history dates back to Roman times; the main reason Swiss wine isn’t more well known is because the country exports just one percent of it — and that doesn’t include the US.
Visitors can follow the Mendrisiotto Wine Route to explore some of Ticino’s best wineries and sample Merlot, the area’s most common grape.
11. Luang Prabang, Laos
Even though Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with ancient Buddhist temples, it tends to get overlooked. But new flights and notable additions to its hotel scene have provided extra incentive to prioritize a visit.
The luxurious Rosewood Luang Prabang just opened in March, and though it’s only 10 minutes outside of town, the resort feels far more remote. Its 23 rooms are surrounded by jungle, while a river courses through the property. Opt for one of the tented villas perched on a hilltop for a true escape.
Avani+ Luang Prabang (rebranded from Azerai) is another relative newcomer. The high-end boutique is located right in town, and mixes modern design with its colonial past. The courtyard infinity pool is a tempting reason to stay on property, but grab a bike to explore the nearby Royal Palace, Night Market and ornate temples.
12. Faroe Islands
Located between Iceland and Norway, this under-visited archipelago consisting of 18 islands is slowly attracting those wishing to escape Iceland’s crowds.
The autonomous Danish territory greets visitors with a rugged, land-before-time landscape, defined by green valleys, volcanic mountains and gushing waterfalls.
Luckily, new flight and cruise ship options make the Faroe Islands more accessible than ever. Rent a car to explore the island chain and partake in outdoor activities, from hiking to horseback riding.
Just outside the colorful capital of Torshavn is Koks, specializing in New Nordic cuisine. It’s especially noteworthy since the restaurant’s 2017 Michelin star was a first for the Faroe Islands.
If that’s not enough, there are also festivals and events all summer long to keep travelers entertained.
Besides being a good value, Toronto offers a trending food scene and numerous summer festivals. Plus, the Museum of Contemporary Art is set to reopen at the end of summer.
On the food front, a multicultural population has contributed to a diverse food landscape. Examples include Syrian (Soufi’s), indigenous (Kukum Kitchen) and fusion (like Asian-Jamaican at Patois). Plant-based restaurants such as Mythology also have an increased presence.
Summer festivals don’t disappoint either. There’s Toronto Pride, a three-week-long celebration that attracts about a million people. The TD Toronto Jazz Festival has been going strong for more than 30 years, while the Toronto International Film Festival is considered to be the largest public film fest in the world
Although the Museum of Contemporary Art has delayed its opening to the first day of fall on September 22, its new digs promise to be reason enough to extend that summer vacation.
14. Telluride, Colorado
Off-peak ski season at popular resorts usually means fewer crowds and better value.
This summer brings more cultural programming to Telluride, along with a new wellness retreat program. There will also be increased flights from Chicago on United, and larger planes added from Houston. American has increased service from Phoenix and Dallas.
Ahead of plans to restore the historic Transfer Warehouse, an arts center in the Telluride Arts District, will be a summer filled with live music, exhibitions, performances and more.
Also new this summer, The Peaks Resort & Spa will host a series of wellness retreats. Each intensive, six-day program will incorporate personalized training, customized nutrition, lectures and a spa treatment.
15. Paraty, Brazil
Every summer (winter in Brazil), the pretty colonial town of Paraty, worth a visit in and of itself, hosts the popular Flip literary festival. The fair attracts thousands of local and international visitors and celebrity guest speakers.
The festival’s been held since 2003, and past attendees have included Isabel Allende, Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison and Bob Dylan.
This year’s event will be held from July 25-29, and encompass debates, workshops, music and more.
In keeping with tradition, Flip will also honor a Brazilian author; the 2018 recognition goes to Hilda Hilst, a novelist, poet and playwright who passed away in 2004.
16. Los Cabos/East Cape, Mexico
Los Cabos and the surrounding East Cape area is witnessing a boom in new luxury hotels, and the off-peak summer season brings deals.
The perennial favorite, consisting of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, has not only fully rebounded from Hurricane Odile in 2014, but is charging ahead in the luxury hotel category.
Hotels are also overflowing to the East Cape, a coastal stretch extending about 100 miles north from San José del Cabo along the eastern side.
In fact, there are so many new entries it’s hard to keep track. The fresh crop includes Chileno Bay Resort & Residences, an Auberge Resort, Montage Los Cabos and The Cape: A Thompson Hotel.
For those planning a winter return, the Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve and Nobu Hotel Los Cabos are tentatively slated to open by the end of the year.
17. Vienna, Austria
It’s been 100 years since four of the city’s leading modernists — Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Koloman Moser and architect Otto Wagner passed away, so Vienna is recognizing this centenary with major art exhibitions.
This summer catch “Vienna 1900” at the Leopold Museum, which will feature key pieces from Klimt and Moser, along with work from the expressionists Richard Gerstl and Oskar Kokoschka.
“WOW! The Heidi Horten Collection” is also at the Leopold. This exciting exhibit will be the first public viewing of a private art collection that counts Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst among its nearly 200 pieces.
Other exhibits include “Beyond Klimt: New Horizons in Central Europe” at the Lower Belvedere Museum and “Otto Wagner” at the Wien Museum, featuring a retrospective of his work.
18. Fez, Morocco
Fez is nearing the completion of an extensive restoration project that involved thousands of historic buildings and what is thought to be the world’s oldest library.
The buildings are all located in the ancient medina and date back to the 8th century. Of these, the Khizanat al-Qarawiyyin library is a true showstopper, costing many millions to restore its ornate tiles, giant-sized iron doors and rare book room.
As Fez continues to emerge from Marrakesh’s shadow, visitors will also find new restaurants, shops and stylish riads, which are traditional homes centered around a courtyard. In keeping with the city’s rehab, Dar Arsama, Karawan Riad and Riad Fes are all prime examples of a refreshed Fez.