Where to go in 2016: The 20 hottest travel tickets this year
Top 20 travel destinations
Published 02/01/2016 | 02:30
Got wanderlust? Pól Ó Conghaile and Nicola Brady have the ultimate travel hotlist for the new year.
1. Jamaica & Cancun
Long-haul package holidays rarely involve direct flights, so the recent news that Falcon and Thomson are to fly a Boeing 787 Dreamliner direct to Jamaica (above) and Cancun this summer was greeted with huge enthusiasm. The 9.5-hour flights start in June, with prices including 14 nights all-inclusive at the four-star Club Hotel Riu Tequila in Cancun from €1,709pp, based on a June 20 departure. Fourteen nights all-inclusive at the four-star Riu Ochos Rios in Jamaica costs from €1,919pp, departing June 26.
Do it: falconholidays.com; thomsonholidays.ie
2. A new look Ryanair
Unless you have a penchant for garish yellow, you'll be glad to hear Ryanair will be rolling out revamped interiors for 2016. The airline, which has already introduced swanky new uniforms by Irish designer, Emma Collopy, plans to tone down the not-so-mellow-yellow colour scheme, as well as introducing improved lighting and 'slimline' seats (with more legroom) with its Boeing 'Sky' interiors. It now serves over 500 travel destinations in Europe, too. Just don't hold your breath for business class…
Do it: ryanair.com
3. The world's largest cruise ship
Harmony of the Seas, the latest member of Royal Caribbean's Quantum-class ships, debuts in Europe this May. RC doesn't do subtle, so it's no surprise to learn that this will be the largest passenger ship afloat (it's two metres longer, but 20pc more fuel-efficient than its sister ships). Expect a zip line, robot bartenders, 10-story slide and two FlowRiders on board, as well as a full-length production of Grease. The thrills are multiplyin'…
Do it: Harmony of the Seas (royalcaribbean.ie) has three-night sailings from Southampton from €519pp in May.
4. Ireland's Ancient East
We're still not sure what it will look like, nor the exact geography it entails, but momentum is gathering behind Fáilte Ireland's latest marketing proposition. A "touring region" that links 5,000 years of Neolithic, Early Christian, medieval and Anglo-Irish heritage sites and stories, the idea is to get tourists lingering longer in an undervisited area - funding has already been announced for a 3D Viking Experience in Waterford and a 'Norman Way' heritage route in Wexford, for example. The Wild Atlantic Way saw Ireland spread its wings. This goes back to our roots.
Do it: irelandsancienteast.com (the website is due to go live in spring).
Greece and its wealth of jaw-dropping islands have always been tricky to get to from Ireland, but the launch of two new direct flights to Athens - from Ryanair and Aegean Airlines - look set to make it one of the top travel destinations of 2016. Spend a few days exploring the city itself (there's a lot more to it than the Acropolis, you know) before heading to Santorini for a trip to launch a thousand Instagrams.
Do it: Ryanair (ryanair.com) fly to Athens from Dublin from March, while Aegean (en.aegeanair.com) will fly twice weekly from June 20 to September 19.
6. Luxury rail travel returns
Recession? What recession? Ireland's first luxury touring train, the Belmond Grand Hibernian, will be taking to the tracks in 2016, offering exclusive two-, four- and six-night itineraries throughout the island. The tours, run by the same company that operates the uber-opulent Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, will likely be dominated by international visitors with several thousand bob to spare. Meanwhile, Sunway (sunway.ie), celebrating 50 years in 2016, is launching three- and four-star train trips in Venice, Florence, Rome and Verona.
Do it: Prices start at €3,230pp for a two-night trip, all-inclusive, on the Grand Hibernian. See belmond.com/grandhibernian.
7. Cork Airport: The comeback
This time last year, who would have thought that Cork Airport would be predicting 8pc growth in 2016? Yet here we are, heading into a 12-month period with new services to Boston, Barcelona, Dusseldorf, Madrid, Menorca, Nantes and La Rochelle among others to look forward to. There's something in the air, all right…
Do it: corkairport.com
8. Brilliant Botswana
Botswana tops Lonely Planet's Best in Travel list for 2016, with the travel bible describing it as "democratic, progressive, enlightened - but above all, invigoratingly wild". Botswana celebrates 50 years of independence next year too, making it the perfect time to explore this stunner of a southern African country.
Do it: Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com) offer a variety of ethical tours in Botswana, including a 21-day camping safari in Namibia and Botswana from €1,990pp, excluding flights.
9. Euro 2016
Nails will be bitten to the quick during group games, but Euro 2016 is also about the craic… and nobody does craic like the travelling #COYBIG crew. With airline fares going through the roof, this is the time to reacquaint yourself with Irish Ferries, Stena Line and Brittany Ferries, with whom you can car pool your way to the continent… and the annals of sporting fandom glory. For students of the game, 2016 also sees the FIFA World Football Museum opening in Zurich, Switzerland.
Do it: Going to press, Stena Line (stenaline.ie/euro2016) was quoting return fares for a car plus four from €476. See also irishferries.com and brittanyferries.ie.
10. Shakespeare's England
To visit England, or not to visit England? 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, so get ready for a multitude of events to celebrate the Bard. In London, The Globe will be showing 37 new films along the Thames. In his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, there'll be a new immersive theatrical experience at the RSC, with a special birthday celebration weekend planned for April 23-24. 2016 is also the Year of the English Garden, marking 300 years since the birth of iconic landscape gardener, Capability Brown.
Do it: shakespeare400.org and shakespeares-england.co.uk
11. San Sebastian, Spain
Wroclaw and San Sebastian are the European Capitals of Culture for 2016. Curving around the scallop-shaped La Concha beach, framed by leafy green mountains and boasting an Old Town rammed with pintxo bars, we'll take any excuse to visit this plum Basque city. A txikiteo is the local term for a pintxo bar-crawl - the best fun involves compiling a list of recommendations and then going deliciously off-script. Foodie fans of Spain will also be pleased to hear that Catalonia is the European Region of Gastronomy 2016.
Do it: dss2016.eu/en; europeanregionofgastronomy.org. See Independent hotels to search the best hotel deals in San Sebastian.
12. Rollercoaster theme park rides
Another year, another wave of theme park rides. Taking the planet's thrillseekers to the next level in 2016 are The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, scheduled to open at Universal Studios Hollywood in April, and Skull Island: Reign of Kong, at Universal Orlando. Seaworld is debuting 'Mako', a 200-foot tall coaster, while China gets its own House of the Mouse when Disneyland Shanghai opens this spring, complete with a Toy Story-themed hotel and the largest ever castle in a Disney Resort.
Do it: Tour America (touramerica.ie) has flights and accommodation in Orlando from €579pp based on a family of four sharing in September.
13. Dublin 2.0
Voted one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 cities to visit in 2016, Dublin got a rebrand recently in the shape of a new logo and tagline: A Breath of Fresh Air. The wags have had a field day with that one, but the capital will be at the heart of the 1916 Rising centenary commemorations, and the new EPIC Ireland visitor attraction is set to open in the CHQ Building, showcasing "the unique journey of the Irish nation". Dublin's food, shopping and social scenes are thriving, but the city needs to future-proof itself against currency fluctuations and revitalised competitor cities like Glasgow, Manchester and Amsterdam, too. The rare aul' times, rebooted.
Details: visitdublin.com. For the best hotel deals in Dublin visit Independent Hotels here.
14. The Great Barrier Reef
His unique vision has made sofa tourists of us all, and now David Attenborough has turned his attention to the Great Barrier Reef. The legendary naturalist's new documentary series is currently airing on BBC One, and if you want to retrace his steps there are any number of ways to experience the spectacular reef, from snorkelling to scuba, submarine and seaplanes. Climate change and cyclones have taken a huge toll on this natural wonder, but it remains "one of the most wonderful places in the world", Sir David says.
Do it: See australia.com or queensland.com. Fly to Cairns or Brisbane with Etihad (etihad.com) or Emirates (emirates.com).
15. Northern Ireland's Year of Food & Drink
Northern Ireland mightn't strike you as a foodie mecca - but then again, 15 years ago, neither did Copenhagen. Every great culinary culture starts with the ingredients, and this year, Northern Ireland is hoping to tell the story of its culture, heritage, people and landscape through an exciting schedule of food and drink events based around monthly themes (January is Breakfast month, for example, while February invites us to 'Love Local'). The exchange rate may curtail some appetites, but it's worth saving for a splurge in Belfast's two new Michelin Star restaurants at Eipic and Ox Belfast (Northern Ireland had been starless since 2011).
Do it: tourismni.com/yearoffoodanddrink
Read more: The Getaway: A gourmet break in Belfast
16. Los Angeles
It's one of the coolest, most underrated cities in America, and it's about to get a whole lot easier to get there. Following on from the direct service introduced by Ethiopian Airlines from Dublin this year, Aer Lingus is re-launching its own direct flights to LAX in May, adding still more options for travellers (Icelandic low-cost carrier, WOW Air, will fly via Reykjavik, too). Sprawling, seductive and surreal… LA goes way beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Do it: Round-trip fares with Ethiopian (ethiopianairlines.com) start from €457pp, while flights with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) start from €329 each way. See Independent Hotels for hotel deals in LA.
17. Hotel Intel
Checking in? Then check out the glut of new hotel openings around the world in 2016, including the highly anticipated Nobu Hotel in London. Amari is opening its first property in the Maldives, and Belfast's 55-bed Bullitt Hotel is set to launch in the second half of the year - it's the new offering from the Beannchor Group behind the five-star Merchant Hotel. Plans are also afoot to turn the Harland and Wolff headquarters and drawing offices into an 84-bedroom hotel.
Do it: nobuhotels.com; amari.com; beannchorcareers.com
Read more: 12 Irish hotels to visit before you die
18. Holy Year 2016: A Camino to Rome
Think of the Camino, and Spain naturally springs to mind. 2016 is an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, however - as announced by Pope Francis. This means it will be a popular year for pilgrimages to Rome, as well as the iconic Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims to Rome will find the Holy Door at St Peter's Basilica open for the year, while the cathedral in Santiago will also open its Holy Door (this wasn't due to happen again until 2021). Get yer boots on…
Do it: FrancigenaWays.com has a seven-day guided tour on the Camino to Rome departing March 19, and walking during Easter Week 2016, from €790pp including half-board accommodation, luggage transfers and guide. Flights extra.
19. Seamus Heaney Centre, Bellaghy
The €5m Seamus Heaney Arts & Literary Centre is expected to open in the poet's birthplace of Bellaghy, Co Derry in late 2016. Set about 40 minutes from Belfast and a half-hour from Derry City, the centre will house a permanent exhibition space with some 2,000 personal artefacts on display. 'Walk on air against your better judgement,' as the poet said. It's expected to attract 50,000 visitors a year.
Do it: discovernorthernireland.com
20. Abu Dhabi abú!
Dubai hogs the limelight when it comes to Gulf mega-cities, but Abu Dhabi could change that in 2016. A new, state-of-the-art cruise terminal has just opened in Zayed Port (MSC Musica is offering week-long sailings in spring), the 'Flying Aces' rollercoaster is set to open at Ferrari World (the world's largest indoor theme park), and the long-awaited Louvre Abu Dhabi will open on Saadiyat Island. Grand Hyatt and Four Seasons hotels are expected, too.
Do it: visitabudhabi.ae; louvreabudhabi.com. For hotel deals in Abu Dhabi, visit Independent Hotels (hotels.independent.ie).
NB: All prices subject to availability/change.