All roads lead to Brazil in 2014, but don't overlook off-the-beaten-track city breaks in the UK, as well as new direct links to San Francisco and Newfoundland.
It's hard to look past Brazil as the star player of 2014. The country hosts the FIFA World Cup this summer (not to mention the Olympics in 2016), and if you don't fancy shelling out thousands of euro on sport, you can have just as much fun travelling off-season. Brilliant beaches, thick rainforests and mega-cities such as Rio and Sao Paulo make this a once-in-a-lifetime trip of the first order -- and don't forget Florianopolis, capital of Santa Catarina, which was recently voted the world's friendliest city by 'Conde Nast Traveller' readers.
Trailfinders has 11-day group tours from €1,959pp, including flights from Dublin to Rio and visits to Iguassu Falls, Parati, Sao Paulo, Curitiba and Foz do Iguacu with a November 1 departure. A private 13-day tour is priced from €3,499pp.
Details: visitbrazil.com; trailfinders.ie
San Francisco, USA
San Francisco is an old favourite, but April of this year brings a new and improved way of getting there -- courtesy of direct flights from Dublin with Aer Lingus. Be warned: the place is expensive. San Francisco's hotel and restaurant bills can be as steep as its streets, and the cost of living may grind down the unwitting. A little prep work, on the other hand, throws up cheap-and-cheerful joints such as Cha Cha Cha (cha3.com) or Papalote (papalote-sf.com) offering stonking steak sandwiches or burritos for $10. Whatever your budget, don't miss the night-tour of Alcatraz (alcatrazcruises.com; $37). It is, if they say so themselves, "an inescapable experience". And that's not even getting started on Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury or San Francisco's Modern Art Museum (sfmoma.org). Aer Lingus has one-way fares from Dublin from €399, but ClickandGo.com has packages including direct flights and five nights' accommodation (3-star) from €839pp. The prices are based on an April 22 departure from Dublin, and include luggage and taxes.
Details: aerlingus.com; clickandgo.com; sanfrancisco.travel
Glasgow is 2014's bolter. The city hosts both the Commonwealth Games (July 23--August 3) and the MTV Europe Music Awards (November 9) this year, in a double-whammy custom-designed to showcase its dizzying regeneration. "Hiding in plain sight and forever overshadowed by its tourist-heavy, tartan-draped bagpipe-blasting cousin to the east [that'll be Edinburgh], Glasgow is recognised by those in the know as the real travellers' destination in Scotland," says Chris Docherty, editor of 'Le Cool Glasgow'. He dubs it "a living, breathing city" that breaks its stride for nobody. Look out for a rejuvenated River Clyde waterfront and big hits such as the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, as well as hipster hotspots like Finnieston -- crammed as they are with indie eateries, bars, studios and boutiques. There's a thrilling live music scene too. Aer Lingus Regional flies from Dublin to Glasgow and Ryanair goes to Glasgow Prestwick. Going to press, ebookers.ie had flights plus two nights in the four-star Carlton George from €156pp, based on a weekend in February. Oh, and there's a certain vote for independence on September 14.
Details: glasgow.lecool.com; ebookers.ie
Ireland's links with Newfoundland go back centuries (some bloke named St Brendan, anyone?). In fact, some 20 per cent of Newfoundlanders claim Irish heritage, making it "the most Irish place outside of Ireland", as Tim Pat Coogan writes in 'Wherever Green is Worn' (2002). With this in mind, the wonder is not that Westjet, the Canadian carrier, begins direct flights between Dublin and St John's this summer. It's that it took so long -- going to press, bookings for its "new flights to the old country" were among the strongest in Westjet's history. Reasons to visit? The artsy small-town capital of St John's, day trips on the Avalon Peninsula, 10,000-year-old icebergs and whale-watching all rank high -- as do all the accents, freckles and expressions that will have you thinking you're in Dunmore East, boy. Flights with Westjet cost from around €209 each way, based on September departures. They continue to Toronto too, opening up all sorts of possibilities for a summer break.
Details: westjet.com; newfoundlandlabrador.com
Spain will be Ireland's number-one destination in 2014. That's a no-brainer (it's number-one every year). But there's a new possibility among the popular old haunts now, thanks to the announcement of ferry routes from Rosslare to Gijon (via St Nazaire in France) with LD Lines. Holidays in Northern Spain are often associated with the Camino de Santiago pilgrim way, but bringing your own wheels opens up all kinds of other possibilities. Bilbao has its Guggenheim Museum, Vitoria-Gasteiz is the Capital of Spanish Cuisine for 2014, the Basque Coast covers 250km of beaches, cliffs and fishing villages -- and don't forget the vineyards of Rioja Alavesa. Rosslare to Gijon fares start from €579 for a car and two passengers including a cabin. Of course, you don't have to spend days on the road getting here. Aer Lingus flies to Bilbao, which is a 75-minute bus or car transfer from San Sebastian -- another up-and-coming city for 2014.
Details: ldlines.com; aerlingus.com; spain.info
The Greek Islands
Could 2014 finally be the year Greece turns a corner? Whatever about the economy (Greece takes over the EU presidency this month), tourism is looking up. The Greek Islands top the 'Lonely Planet' list of value destinations for 2014, and we're also promised Peloponnese diving parks with underwater archaeological sites. The islands themselves need little introduction. From the volcanic views of Santorini to the celeb-spotted waters of Mykonos and Ithaca (visitors ranged from Russell Crowe to Madonna last summer); from the movie star cool of Kefalonia ('Captain Corelli's Mandolin') to the cypress-bracketed coves of Corfu, these are 2,000 very dreamy rocks. Access is improving too. Aer Lingus continues direct flights from Dublin to Corfu that were launched last year, BA starts flying from Heathrow to Mykonos and Santorini this May and Falcon Holidays has added Rhodes to its 2014 brochure, with flights plus seven nights at Holiday Village Rhodes from €3,198 (2 adults, 2 children) based on departures from Dublin on May 28.
Details: visitgreece.gr; aerlingus.com; falconholidays.ie
There's a lot more to Peru than Machu Picchu and Michaella McCollum Connolly. Ancient trails, adventure tourism, a blossoming surfing scene around Chicama (home to the world's longest left-hander, apparently) and some 6,800 festivals see to that. What's really putting Peru on the map for 2014, however, is its food. "Peru is South America's gastronomic capital," as Wendy Perrin of 'Conde Nast Traveller' puts it. Chefs such as Gaston Acurio (whose Lima restaurant Astrid y Gaston is rated 14th among the World's Top 50) and Virgilio Martinez, of Central in Miraflores, are making serious waves. Throw in cool new hotels, trendy neighbourhoods such as Barranco in Lima (the bohemian quarter where local photographer Mario Testino is exhibited at MATE) and the boutique hotels and beach bars of Mancora, and you've got every reason to visit. Travel Department has an 11-day 'Land of the Incas' tour from Pisac to Machu Picchu via the Andes and Amazon River Basin from €2,959pp departing October 14.
Details: peru.travel; traveldepartment.ie
Scientists believe the Aurora Borealis are caused by solar particles brushing off the Earth's atmosphere. In reality, however, we all know they're caused by a magical fox that knocks the snow against the sky using his big bushy tail. Or something. Sometimes the mythical explanations are the best. They certainly do more justice to the complete and utter awesomeness of the Northern Lights in full flight. But either way, NASA is predicting some of the best displays in a decade for the early months of this year. Tromso is the place to see them. SAS flies direct from Dublin to a city whose highlights include the Arctic Cathedral, a cable car up Storsteinen Mountain and more pubs per capita than any other Norwegian town. It sits pretty some 400km inside the Arctic Circle. Meanwhile, one of the best package deals around is a four-night Northern Lights trip with Project Travel departing February 23. It includes direct flights and a three-star hotel in Tromso from €745pp, along with advice from expert spotters.
Details: flysas.com; project-travel.ie; visittromso.no
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is the World Design Capital for 2014. It's also the 'Travel + Leisure' No1 destination to visit this year, thanks to a boom in boutiques, restaurants and galleries. This is an overnight success years in the making. Everybody knows the beauty of Cape Town, be it the jaw-dropping Table Mountain or the abundance of nearby beaches and vineyards, but hard work in the city's kitchens and townships is starting to pay off too. Nelson Mandela's death also puts a fresh focus on sobering prison tours at Robben Island. Gohop.ie has a 10-day Cape Town, Whale Coast and Garden Route Explorer trip from €1,575pp. The price includes five days' car hire.
Details: wdccapetown.com; gohop.ie
Manchester will be eating, drinking and sleeping football this year. What's new? Well, what's new is that this October, the Hotel Football -- complete with its own rooftop soccer pitch -- opens on Old Trafford's doorstep. Allied to the city's stadium tours, National Football Museum and interactive Football Plus, it's the perfect pick for soccer fans. The city isn't solely about soccer, of course. Manchester has the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations in the north, its new Sea Life Centre has Europe's first seabed walk (where anyone aged eight and over can walk underwater in a 'breathe-easy' helmet), the newly refurbished Central Library opens this spring, and the exchange rate is favourable too. Celtic Horizon Tours has packages including ferry crossings, coach transfers, Premier League match tickets and one night's B&B from around €189pp. Flights are easily available too.
Details: hotelfootball.com; visitmanchester.com; celtichorizontours.com.
- NB. All prices are correct at time of going to press but are subject to change/availability.