Nicola Brady and Pól Ó Conghaile have the 20 hottest tickets and travel trends for this year... so where will you travel next?
There's more to Seattle than Starbucks. A new direct route from Aer Lingus starts on May 18, making it easier than ever to lexplore the Emerald City... and beyond. Seattle is great for a city break (think excellent food markets, bikes galore, a vibrant music scene and cute independent shops), it's also a gateway to Washington State with its national parks, Alaskan cruises, or the quieter section of the Pacific Coastal Highway. Expect more announcements from Aer Lingus, too - direct flights to Philadelphia start in March, going daily from May. NB
Info: Fares from €259 each way, booked as part of a return trip. See aerlingus.com; visitseattle.org.
Did you know? Air Canada will fly direct from Dublin to Montreal, starting in June (aircanada.com).
In a sign of the times, luxury travel is not only recovering, but evolving to new levels. New Irish arrivals like Hayes & Jarvis, OROKO and Hennessy & Furlong are smaller, high-end agencies offering bespoke services to upmarket clients seeking experiential trips away from the crowds. Five-star safari? Private tour of an Irish castle? Your favourite seats on the plane? Forget cheap fares and price-comparison sites. This is the human touch... at a price, of course. PÓC
Info: hayesandjarvis.ie; oroko.ie; hennessyfurlong.com.
Did you know? Surf Air, the so-called 'Netflix of the Skies', is coming to Dublin. The airline offers an all-you-can-fly service on private planes for a monthly fee of around €1,990 (surfair.com).
If you build it, they will come. That could be the motto for the 46km Waterford Greenway, which has been walked or cycled by almost 250,000 people since it opened last March (we expect that number to be blown away this year). Waterford bristled at its exclusion from the Wild Atlantic Way, but has bounced back by doubling down on brilliant initiatives like Winterval, its Viking Triangle and a tasty April food festival. Its place on Ireland's Ancient East is paying off too, with a new Viking Festival flagged for February, and the Munster Vales tourism region (which launched in 2017) has given a fresh boost to the vastly-underrated Comeragh Mountains and Copper Coast. They've built it. Now, go. PÓC
Info: visitwaterford.com; munstervales.com; westwaterfordfestivaloffood.com; irelandsancienteast.com.
Did you know? A 23m Viking sword has landed in Waterford... found in the Viking Triangle, it is reportedly the longest wooden sculpture in the world.
Things are looking up for the broken hearted. The days of Eat, Pray, Love-style trips might be behind us, but Break-Up Breaks are a new trend coming from the wellness industry. Combining emotional healing therapies, stress management and life coaching services with all-important single occupancy and spa facilities, these trips have everything you need to get your life back on track. They can be expensive, but you're worth it, right? An 'Embracing Change' retreat at Kamalaya, Koh Samui costs €4,209, while a seven-night, all-inclusive stay at 'BodyHoliday' in St Lucia starts from €2,649pp (both are all-inclusive, including flights). NB
Info: healthandfitnesstravel.com; tropicalsky.ie.
Did you know? Wangle a DIY version at Lake Isle Retreats in Fermanagh. Its Women's Relax & Restore Retreat includes yoga, meditation, massage and all meals for €260 in a single room. lakeisleretreats.com.
As part of a stonking 12 new routes from Malta, Ryanair has just started a direct Belfast service. This sunny Mediterranean island has seen a huge increase in tourism in recent years, and with Valletta named as European Capital of Culture 2018, those numbers are only set to rise. The Game of Thrones factor is a huge draw too for fans of the show and, let's be honest, these climes are a lot more appealing than Winterfell. Check out swish hotel The Phoenicia, which re-opened recently after a large-scale renovation. Its rooftop infinity pool alone is worth a visit. NB
Info: Flights from Belfast to Malta start at £21.99, and from €28.99 from Dublin with Ryanair. See ryanair.com; campbellgrayhotels.com.
Did you know? The 17th century Fort Ricasoli was the location for the Red Keep in Game of Thrones.
Think of cruising, and digital natives aren't the first demographic that springs to mind. That's set to change. This year sees the launch of four mega-ships worth billions of dollars between them - Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas, MSC's Seaview, NCL's Bliss and the first of Celebrity's new Edge-class ships. Meanwhile, U by Uniworld is hoping to reboot river cruising with two new, ink-black ships targeting 21-45 year olds (think DJs, street food, yoga studios and bar-hops).
"For millennials, and a younger audience, there are some real benefits to choosing a river cruise," says Cathy Burke of Travel Counsellors Ireland. "You only need to unpack once, you can befriend like-minded travellers, there's a chance to experience wanderlust-inspiring moments and you are close to the action." PÓC
Info: U by Uniworld itineraries on the Rhine, Danube and Seine start from €1,599pp, excluding flights (ubyuniworld.com).
Did you know? Irish Ferries' new flagship, W B Yeats, enters service this summer. The €144m ferry will boost capacity from Dublin to France.
One of the most exciting new routes on the horizon is Cathay Pacific's direct service to Hong Kong. The first-ever direct Asia-Pacific flight from Ireland takes off next June - opening up not just a destination, but numerous options for connecting flights. Cathay is big for Australia and New Zealand, but Japan and South East Asia will now be easier too. In Hong Kong, get ready for a killer culinary scene and zippy public transport that can whisk you to the beautiful countryside. NB
Info: Flights from €609 return (cathaypacific.com).
Did you know? You might associate Hong Kong with sleek skyscrapers, but 70pc of the city is actually green, packed with beaches, mountains and over 200 outlying islands.
Belfast and the Causeway Coast are Lonely Planet's No.1 region in the world to visit this year. All things Titanic and Game of Thrones have helped to propel tourism forward, and we think this year will see visitors push past big hits like The Giant's Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede (which are really hitting capacity at peak season) into off-radar sites like the Glens of Antrim or Fermanagh Lakes. There is one problem - or opportunity, depending on how you see it. According to a recent report commissioned by Tourism NI, 54pc of people south of the border know little or nothing about the North. Stubborn misperceptions about travel distances, sterling and security need to be overcome. PÓC
Did you know? Several new hotels are in the works for Belfast, including a 304-bed Grand Central and 4-star George Best Hotel, both on Bedford Street. discovernorthernireland.com
Perching on the edge of a killer infinity pool is all well and good, but if you don't capture the perfect Insta then did it even happen? The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island now offering Instagram Butlers to help you snap the ultimate selfie. They lead guests on an #InstaTrail around the island, taking in the most picturesque spots. Design features specifically created for Instagrammers are becoming commonplace, too - Quirk Hotel in Richmond, Virginia snares snappers with collaborative backdrops and millennial pink at every turn. NB
Info: See conradhotels.com (@conrad_maldives); destinationhotels.com/quirk-hotel (@quirkhotel).
Did you know? The devastatingly cute Irish wolfhounds at Ashford Castle have their own Instagram account - follow them at @ashford_wolfhounds.
This is a big year for the Deep South. It's the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination in April, a new Civil Rights Museum just opened in Mississippi, and it's been 50 years since Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Tour. British Airways is also launching a direct flight from London to Nashville, making the journey a smidgen easier. The best way to dive into the Deep South is on a classic American road trip - Graceland, Sun Studios and Highway 61 are all doable, but stop into smaller towns along the way for friendly chats and towering platters of BBQ. NB
Info: britishairways.com; deep-south-usa.com. AmericanHolidays.com has a Music and Heritage of the Deep South escorted tour from €2,819pp.
Did you know? The Grand Ole Opry has come to the Big Apple. Opry City Stage, a Southern-themed restaurant and concert space, opened at Times Square this November. oprycitystage.com.
Millions of tourists pass through Dublin every year, but a shortage of hotel rooms has given the industry the jitters. We'll see some progress in 2018, but what's most exciting is not the new openings, but their locations. Marriott unveils a 200-bed Aloft Dublin City in the Liberties this spring, giving a further boost to an area on the up thanks to Teeling and Pearse Lyons distilleries, a soon-to-expand Guinness Storehouse, and hipster hubs like The Fumbally and Two Pups Coffee. Meanwhile, in Ranelagh, the newest venture from Press Up (The Dean, Roberta's, Stella Theatre) is The Devlin, a 40-room hotel complete with a cinema in the basement. But its not just about hotels. Dublin featured on National Geographic Traveler's Best of Travel 2018 list, and the Luas Cross City is finally operational, taking years of ugly works and disruption off the streets. NB & PÓC
Info: visitdublin.com; libertiesdublin.ie. Read our Dublin Bucket List here.
Did you know? London's legendary restauarant, The Ivy, is opening a Dawson Street branch this year.
It's long been a favourite for Irish holidaymakers, but there are more than a few reasons for Vienna to tempt you back this year. 2018 marks 100 years since the deaths of Egon Shiele and Gustav Klimt - you'll find the world's biggest Klimt collection in the Belvedere Museum, including The Kiss. Austria expert Aileen Eglington recommends visiting in the summer, when "you can go out to the Heurigen in the Vienna Woods. They have wine festivals where you can taste the young wine, there's gorgeous outdoor dining and you can get the tram directly from the centre of Vienna". NB
Info: wien.info; belvedere.at
Did you know? Boutique hotel The Mooons (not a typo) is due to open mid-2018, and the budget design hotel Roomz is set to open a second location.
World War One ended at 11am on November 11, 1918. One hundred years later, you can expect a host of commemorative events... and themed trips. From Ireland, Joe Walsh Tours and GTI do battlefield tours in areas like Flanders and Normandy, but you don't have to go overseas to immerse yourself in the period. The Cavan County Museum is home to the largest replica trench open to the public in the UK or Ireland (Watch our video here). Made with 6,000 sandbags, it was built to the specifications and manuals of the Irish Guards used by the Royal Irish Fusiliers at the Battle of the Somme. It's so immersive that some visitors have been moved to tears. PÓC
Info: joewalshtours.ie; gti-ireland.com; thisiscavan.com.
Did you know? Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines has a seven-night, World War One Centenary cruise departing Southampton on November 8. First stop? Dunkirk. fredolsencruises.com.
Obviously you'd want to act with a fair degree of caution here. But Robert Mugabe has gone, the UK tour operator Expert Africa says its bookings to the country increased by over 46pc between 2016 and 2017, and interest from the Irish market looks likely to rise. "People didn't want to travel somewhere with a dictator in the government, and that's been the attitude in Ireland for as long as I can remember," says Andre Migliarina of GoHop.ie. Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) currently advises visitors to exercise a high degree of caution in Zimbabwe, though bear in mind that this is the same level of warning given for Uganda and Kenya. Verdict? It's worth keeping a close eye on dfa.ie and heeding its advice - your travel insurance may be invalidated if you don't. NB
Info: You can fly with Emirates via Dubai, or Ethiopian via Addis Ababa. See emirates.com; ethiopianairlines.com. Packages can also be created with GoHop.ie.
Did you know? The huge travel bloggers' conference TBEX (tbexcon.com), which was held last year in Killarney, was scheduled for Harare in 2018. It has been postponed due to the July elections, but watch this space!
Staten Island has long been a running joke with New Yorkers ("there are plenty of reasons why they treat it like the red-headed stepchild of the city," as Thrillist.com puts it), but we think that will change this year. Why? Three words: New York Wheel. A ginormous, 630ft Ferris Wheel will be the tallest observation wheel on the planet when it opens, providing stellar views of the Manhattan skyline. It comes with a beer garden and 10,000sq ft playground, too. But that's not all. This year also sees Empire Outlets open a massive new retail destination at St George - including 100 shops, an artisanal food hall and a new boutique hotel. An $8m aquarium is set to open at the Staten Island Zoo, too. The "forgotten borough" no more? PÓC
Info: newyorkwheel.com; nycgo.com; empireoutletsnyc.com; visitstatenisland.com.
Did you know? The Staten Island ferry (siferry.com) is free, providing epic views of the skyline and Statue of Liberty. It also runs 24/7. Bonus!
We've had the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. Will the midlands become the country's next mega-brand? Watch this space... In 2016, Fáilte Ireland commissioned an assessment of the potential of a new brand "to drive tourism development and growth across a region of mid-west Ireland (including Westmeath)". It has since tested a number of concepts and surveyed 1,000 people at home and overseas in their refinement of the proposition. Will it capture the imagination? The answers are coming. "We hope to have the new brand in place for the 2018 season," it tells us. PÓC
Did you know? Longford is Ireland's least visited county, according to Fáilte Ireland figures, but that could soon change. In 2019, Ireland's first Center Parcs will open at Longford Forest, with 470 lodges capable of hosting more than 2,500 guests. centerparcs.ie.
With Airbnb offering everything from forest lodges to ryokans, and travellers on the search for ever more immersive and experiential breaks, hotels will have to get their thinking caps on this year. One trend we hope to see more of is the evolution of the '2B&B+1D' package (which, to be honest, reads more like an equation than an escape). Think of midweek wine appreciation breaks with Eric Forest of Pouilly-Fuissé at Kelly's in Rosslare (from €127pp per night, half-board), or contemporary calligraphy workshops that see Connemara's Ballynahinch Castle partnering with Ofe Oyasor of Ollie's Studio in Cheltenham (€160, with an overnight stay). These aren't just gimmicky add-ons, but genuine attempts to recruit experts and add value to guests' stays. PÓC
Info: kellys.ie; ballynahinch-castle.com.
Did you know? Ballymaloe House has a 'Bake Your Own Bread!' special that sees guests rise at 7am to bake soda bread with its chef. From €190pp; ballymaloe.ie.
It's no surprise that we're using apps more and more on our travels, but this year is going to see big changes in the way we use them on the road. Expect to see Augmented Reality enter the mainstream, engaging travellers by superimposing helpful info or entertaining elements on live phone views. Pokémon Go is the most (in)famous example, but the opportunities are endless. Think of Google Translate, SkyView or flight-tracking app Flightradar24, which allows you to collect live info on a plane's altitude, destination and airline simply by pointing your phone at it. Visit Orlando's app also adds dining, clubs and shopping info and reviews to live views. Elsewhere, Tinder Travelling is a reasonably new development, and not as dodgy as it initially sounds. It's particularly useful for solo travellers, who change their bios to meet unofficial tour guides in a new city (with suitable caution applied, obviously). For those travelling in a group, Airbnb's zippy new facility to split payments between friends is also going to ease a lot of holiday stress. NB & PÓC
Info: flightradar24.com; visitorlando.com; translate.google.com; tinder.com; airbnb.ie.
Did you know? You can download a whole city to be available on Google Maps offline, saving you roaming fees and direction-related breakdowns when you're abroad.
After eight years of home porting in Southampton, Celebrity Eclipse will be making herself at home in Dublin for a mini-season this summer. The move will make Celebrity Cruises the first major cruise ship to home port out of Dublin. "It's a big change for Ireland," says John Galligan of jgt.ie. "Without question, the fact that you can depart from Dublin is creating demand. There are a lot of people in Ireland who can't or won't fly, and that's a big limiting factor. So for them alone, it brings in the ability for a cruise holiday." The move will not only put Dublin on the cruising map, but likely increase the popularity of the up and coming 'Water Quarter'. NB
Info: A 10-day trip from Dublin, taking in Belfast, Reykjavík, Akureyri and Lerwick, costs from €1,949pp, departing May 10. See celebritycruises.ie.
Did you know? It's not just Celebrity - Cruise & Maritime Voyages will also home port in Dublin next year, with cruises to the Norwegian Fjords, Baltic, Mediterranean and more. See cruiseandmaritime.com.
Dubrovnik plans to halve the volume of tourists in its Old Town. Santorini has capped daily cruise visitor numbers at 8,000. Anti-tourist demonstrators in Barcelona have slashed bus tyres and smashed hotel windows, and Venice is fining visitors from €25 to €500 for misdemeanours like dawdling and jumping in canals.
Welcome to the brave new world of overtourism. It's a sobering note on which to end our crystal ball gazing, but we expect to see increasing stress in holiday hotspots during peak season this year. Why? Simply put, more and more destinations are struggling to reconcile a dependence on visitor spend with crowded streets, environmental strain and an 'Airbnb effect' that is pushing up rents and property prices for locals.
As protests grow, we hope to see the conversation turn towards sustainability. Travelling off-season to neighbourhoods beyond the must-sees (NYC boroughs like Brooklyn or Queens rather than Manhattan, for example) or focusing on higher-spending visitors and experiential trips have all been mooted.
This isn't solely an outbound issue, either: 2017 was Ireland's busiest ever year for tourism. How can destinations draw visitors beyond the honeypots, and manage growth for locals first? Overtourism is everyone's problem; it can no longer be ignored. PÓC
Did you know? Iceland is estimated to have welcomed seven tourists for every one resident in 2017, according to Skift.com. That's akin to some 46 million tourists visiting the island of Ireland in a year.
NB: All prices subject to change.