The 2019 Wander List: 20 hottest places to travel this year
Where will you travel this year? Our experts pick the hottest trends and destinations for 2019...
How much control do we really have over our holidays?
You may spend hours researching flights and reading brochures, but travel industry cynics will tell you that, for all of our globe-shrinking tech and booming air connectivity, those 'choices' are an illusion.
Most holiday decisions are engineered by a small group of global booking giants, they say. The big boys basically own your options.
I disagree. Of course, 2019 is going to be dominated by Ryanair route announcements and the business decisions of behemoths like Expedia and The Priceline Group.
But I also think it's going to see the rising power of someone that underestimates their own influence: you.
Let me explain. We live in an era of unbelievable technology. It has made travel easier than ever. But there is also a growing awareness of its dark side - the soul-sapping power of screentime; a device-led culture of distractedness; a rush to rate destinations on their Instagramability rather than real life; a fear over who to trust with our data.
As tourism grows, I think we'll see these trends play out in intriguing ways: 2019 will be a year of opportunity for second cities and smaller towns, for off-radar neighbourhoods and people who can travel in shoulder seasons. We'll see continued growth in solo travel (particularly among women) and increasingly empowered older travellers taking not just their own trips, but multi-generational and 'skip-gen' holidays. More of us will seek out the human touch - even now, many of us prefer to book over the phone and engage personally with travel agents, particularly for big trips.
In a chaotic world, clarity will feel freshly compelling. Desensitised to (and disillusioned with) digital interfaces, we will reach anew for authenticity. Sun, ski and city breaks will remain our meat and veg, but we'll be increasingly drawn to smaller, interactive, human experiences - from Irish B&Bs to immersive neighbourhood tours. They may cost more, and we may take less of them, but they'll feel visceral and restorative.
Overtourism won't go away. But I think we're seeing a tipping point. A realisation that travel needs to work for local communities first, and visitors second. A sense that the days of mindless air miles, cruise ship calls and consumption of single-use plastics are no longer viable.
I hope the big boys watch, learn, and start to lead; 2019 will be the year customers begin taking back control over their holidays, by taking control of themselves. - Pól Ó Conghaile
1. Magical Matera
Why: The southern Italian city of Matera - one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2019 (Plovdiv in Bulgaria is the other) - is known for its crumbling beauty and sassi, prehistoric cave dwellings where thousands of impoverished locals lived until the 1950s without running water, ventilation or natural light. These days it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and sometime film location, including for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ) and the caves have transformed into artists' workshops and boutique hotels. A stunning cathedral is also well worth exploration, plus there are events galore for 2019. - EO'R
Details: Le Grotte della Civita (legrottedellacivita.sextantio.it) is a sensitively adapted cave hotel. A two-night Sassi Experience with B&B, one dinner and tour costs from €200pp.
If you like that: Next year marks 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci. Expect widespread events and celebrations in Florence, Milan, Rome, Venice and Bologna - all cities have rich associations with the artist.
2. Center Parcs is coming
Why: It's been causing a buzz for a while, and this year will finally see the launch of Ireland's first Center Parcs. The Longford Forest campus is looking seriously jazzy, with a subtropical "swimming paradise", aerial tree trekking and laser combat, and accommodation in woodland lodges. Expensive? Yes. The Center Parcs format is popular in the UK because it works, however - with great staff, traffic free roads and tonnes of family-friendly facilities. This will be a gamechanger for the Midlands, that's for sure. - NB
Details: You can book now for August 23 onwards, with rates from €399 for a midweek break. See centerparcs.ie
If you like that: Most visitors won't leave the resort. But if they did… we'd suggest trips to the nearby Corlea Trackway, Saints Island and Lough Ree.
3. A321lr 'NEO' Takes Flight
Why: 2018 saw modern aircraft power ultra-long-haul routes from London to Perth (Qantas, with a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner) and Singapore to New York (an Airbus A350-900). This year, Aer Lingus takes delivery of the first of over a dozen A321LR 'neo' aircraft - a new generation of single-aisle planes using 20pc less fuel, flying over 900km further, opening new routes to North America and returning Aer Lingus business class to European short-haul services. Aviation can also expect some turbulence in 2019, however. Last year saw the collapse of Cobalt and Primera Air, and Brexit, fuel prices and a less certain economic outlook have the potential to clip other wings. - PÓC
If you like that: Airlines already use 'dynamic pricing' to set fees based on demand. Could 2019 see them go the same way with baggage and seat selection fees?
4. Stunning Sri Lanka
Why: Every so often, a country sneaks to the top of everyone's holiday wish list. This year, that country is Sri Lanka. With an intoxicating blend of frenetic cities and blissful beaches, Sri Lanka tops Lonely Planet's list of countries to visit in 2019, and for good reason. It's seen its share of conflict - this year marks 10 years since the end of its devastating Civil War, and political unrest can sometimes surface, but it's generally very safe for tourists (just keep an eye on travel advisories at dfa.ie). Our advice? Skip the increasingly touristy west coast and head to the north and east, which are still untapped. - NB
If you like that: Colombia is another country where tourism is flourishing - last year saw a visitor increase of 40pc.
5. Game of Thrones heads North
Why: Winter is here. Well, almost. The final GoT series airs in April, but HBO is consoling fans with the possibility of stepping into real-life sets... in Northern Ireland. A series of 'Legacy Experiences' may include locations like Winterfell, Castle Black and King's Landing, and there will also be behind-the-scenes peeps at how the series was made at Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, with props, costumes and concept artwork. A tentative opening date for Game of Thrones Legacy has been set for this year. - EO'R
Details: Keep an eye on the HBO blog makinggameofthrones.com. Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition will also visit the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast from April to December; discovernorthernireland.com
If you like that: Other GoT locations include Dubrovnik (King's Landing) and Šibenik (Braavos) in Croatia; and Anfiteatro de Itálica at Santiponce near Seville in Spain.
6. Get off-grid
Why: You can't swing a selfie stick these days without hitting a traveller nose-deep in a device. Digital tech has revolutionised travel, this we know. But it has also contributed to what you might call distracted tourism, travels based on Instagramability and 'likes', rather than what communities are actually like. Expect to see 'slow travel' gather pace in 2019, adding meaningfulness a beyond gimmicky digital detoxes. Think of Slow Cabins, the Belgian start-up offering off-grid eco-cabins at locations kept secret until bookings are confirmed; rural 'bushcraft' and survival breaks running in Wicklow and Leitrim; nostalgic home holidays or bucket-list breaks like Intrepid Travel's Patagonia (above) treks. Don't worry… you can share photos when you get home. - PÓC
Details: slowcabins.be, intrepidtravel.com/ie
If you like that: Got £15k to splash? UK tour operator Black Tomato's 'Get Lost' holidays offer full training before dropping you off-radar in the wilderness and having you navigate back to civilisation. See blacktomato.com
7. Make for Montreal
Why: This chic Canadian city is one of Aer Lingus's new routes for 2019. It isn't new - Air Canada and Air Transat also offer seasonal flights - but it is the perfect excuse to finally get up and go. Montreal offers super festivals, a sizzling intro to francophone Canada, one of the tastiest food scenes in North America and excellent music (Leonard Cohen and Arcade Fire are among its alumni). It's also a great hopping-off point to explore Canada - while you're there, go for a hike in one of the stunning national parks or zip up to Québec for (more) poutine. - NB
Details: Daily flights start on August 8; aerlingus.com
If you like that: Head to Prince Edward Island for quaint lighthouses and unlimited lobster; tourismpei.com
8. Retail on the road
Why: Savvy travel businesses are increasingly 'upselling' - making extra money and reminding customers of their trip long after they're home. Ashford Castle (above) has branded whiskey, bed linen, hampers… even its own Monopoly game, for example. Like the black pudding at Inch House, or the venison at Coopershill? Why not buy some to take home? Guests who love the signature scent in the lobby of the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore, can waft into the shop and buy a $70 diffuser to replicate it. It's a great idea, particularly if products are local and sustainable - even Dublin Airport now sells honey from its own beehives called... what else? Nect-Air! - EO'R & PÓC
Details: shop.ashfordcastle.com; inchhouse.ie
If you like that: The Blue Book's Longueville House is known for its Apple cider and brandy, but did you know Castle Leslie has its own gin? It recently launched 'The Fighting Bishop', produced to its own recipe together with the Listoke Distillery & Gin School. irelandsbluebook.com
9. Small-town tourism
Why: As big cities get chocka with tourists, an opportunity beckons for smaller hubs, particularly in peak season. Dublin's rising prices and Galway's traffic problems could be Sligo's opportunity in 2019 - the town will be boosted by a new Surfing Centre of Excellence in Strandhill and a 27m floating pontoon on the Garavogue opening in May (you can walk from Sligo). Athlone will get a bump with the completion of its town-centre roadworks, and we think a focus on 'regionality' and slow tourism could also benefit towns like Drogheda, Mullingar and Carlow - provided, of course, that businesses follow the lead of destinations like Westport and Kinsale, working together rather than competing internally for visitors. - NB & PÓC
Details: athlone.ie, visitmullingar.ie, carlowtourism.com, discoverboynevalley.ie, sligotourism.ie
If you like that: Overseas, Tbilisi's Old Town is being tipped as a treat way off the tourist trail. Or try Óbidos in Portugal - the picturesque town is home to the Literary Man Hotel, complete with décor made from 50,000 books.
10. Jump into Japan
Why: Need an excuse to visit one of the most colourful destinations on the planet? This year's Rugby World Cup could be it. Ireland play Scotland in Yokahama (Sept 22), Japan in Shizuoka (Sept 28) and Russia in Kobe (Oct 3) before (fingers crossed!) progressing to the knock-out stages. The easiest thing for rugby fans is to book a package with match tickets, but we recommend leaving time to strike out and explore - countering the vibrant cities with soaks in hot springs, lazing on incredible beaches, exploring volcanoes and sleeping in a tranquil old ryokan inn. - EO'R
Details: Rugbytravelireland.com, steintravel.ie, rugbytravel.ie and clubtravel.ie provide a choice of packages. Read Pól Ó Conghaile's rugby travel guide to Japan here.
If you like that: Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games in 2020. Can't wait until September? Try the Hong Kong Sevens in April.
11. Kings of the Castle
Why: If you harbour regal fantasies, 2019 is the year for you. Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford's greatest surviving country estate, is set to open in the spring, having never been accessible to the public before. The opening of the Gothic Revival castle will include a museum and gardens, with a tree canopy and underground tunnel. Ormond Castle in Co Tipperary and Carlingford Castle, Co Louth, are also getting revamps under Ireland's Ancient East schemes, and Hillsborough Castle in Co Down will reopen to the public in April. - NB
Details: See johnstowncastle.ie, hrp.org.uk, heritageireland.ie, irelandsancienteast.com
If you like that: Keep the theme running with a stay in one of the properties in Ireland's Blue Book - six new spots are on the list this year; irelands-blue-book.ie
12. North Africa's back!
Why: Terror attacks have dealt serious setbacks to this seductive, reliably hot region in recent years, but tourists are returning. Egypt reported a healthy growth in visitor numbers in 2018 (a trend we expect to continue), there has been talk of charters recommencing between Ireland and Tunisia. Don't forget Morocco - which has weathered the storm better than most, and has direct flights from Dublin with Air Arabia and Ryanair. Now's the time to check out locations like the magnificent Valley of the Kings without the crowds… though be sure to consult travel advisories before booking your trip. - EO'R
Details: Kimkim.com connects travellers to local agencies on the ground in the region they want to visit, meaning tailor-made visits and benefits to local economies.
If you like that: New destinations for 2019? Ryanair says it will operate over 150 routes from Ireland, including new services from Dublin to Gothenburg, and Cork to Malta and Naples.
13. Skip-Gen Travel
Why: You've heard of multi-gen travel. Now grandparents are increasingly leaving grown-up kids behind and treating the grandkids to a holiday. They enjoy valuable bonding; Mum and Dad get time off… a win-win. We recommend self-catering with lots of facilities (cinema rooms earn serious brownie points), cool city trips, organised soft adventure tours and activities. - EO'R
Details: At home, try a city break in Dublin or Cork. Overseas, New York ticks many boxes - think lazy brunches, great museums and top Instagram opps like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building; nycgo.com
If you like that: Keeping up with the kids on a cycling trip might seem foolhardy, but you can hire electric bikes to get up the hills! Irish operator Adventure Holidays has a Lake Constance Family Cycling Holiday - with choice of bikes! - from €511pp; adventure-holidays.ie
14. Royal Canal Greenway
Why: From Waterford to Westport, Irish greenways have been nothing but successes. So things are looking good for the Royal Canal Greenway, with the first portion of the trail set to open this year. When it's complete, it'll be Ireland's longest off-road trail, with the 146km greenway running from Dublin's Spencer Dock all the way to Longford. This year, we'll see the stretch from Maynooth to Longford finished up, with Dublin to Maynooth coming at a later date. - NB
Details: See waterwaysireland.org
If you like that, try this: The 76km-long Connemara Greenway is making great strides; connemaragreenway.ie
15. Madeira, My Dear
Why: It's celebrating its 600th birthday this year and, boy, does it look good for its age. Think beyond the namesake cake and wine - Madeira is all about tropical gardens, volcanic peaks for hiking and a consistently spring-like climate. It's shaking off its sleepy image and becoming a haven for adventure, with activities like mountain biking, kayaking and paragliding on offer. Now that Lisbon and the Algarve are getting increasingly busy, Madeira could well be a viable alternative. - NB
Details: There aren't any direct flights from Ireland to Madeira, but Click & Go has packages that include flights with KLM, with a quick transfer in Amsterdam, from €497pp in June. See clickandgo.com, madeira600.pt
If you like that: With year-round flights, Porto is a dream in the off season, and port is making a comeback as the bartender's tipple of choice.
16. Go directly to Gothenburg
Why: Sweden's second-largest city is getting closer, with new Ryanair flights from Dublin between May and October. But is it worth visiting? We say yes, as there's so much to do there. Cruise the city's canals, then check out the botanical gardens or art museums. Hunker down in a café with coffee and cinnamon buns, feast from a smörgåsbord of food trucks or treat yourself to fine dining. Then, wander the Haga district, with its old wooden houses, and the hip neighbouring Linné, its bars spilling out onto pavements. Kids love the Natural History Museum and Liseberg, Scandinavia's biggest amusement park. - EO'R
Details: Live like a local with Airbnb - from €70 per night for an apartment sleeping four. Visit airbnb.ie. Dublin-Gothenburg from €24.99 one way; ryanair.com
If you like that: Explore the archipelago islands near the city, for salty swims and old fishing villages.
More: Secret Gothenburg
17. Dublin delivers
Why: Over five million visitors pass through Dublin every year (and Dublin Airport handled over 30m passengers in 2018 alone), making it vitally important for the capital to keep evolving and improving as a tourist destination. The city still struggles with rising prices, frustrating public transport and a hotel-room shortage, but bright lights on the horizon include the €16m expansion of the Guinness Storehouse (doubling the size of the Gravity Bar), a new Roe & Co distillery, a new Museum of Literature at Newman House on St Stephen's Green, and several flagship hotel openings, including Ireland's first Hyatt Centric, due to open opposite St Patrick's Cathedral in May. - PÓC
Details: See visitdublin.com, homeofguinness.com, roeandcowhiskey.com, hodsonbaygroup.com
If you like that: There's more to Dublin than its city centre. Coastal villages like Howth, Clontarf, Dalkey and Dún Laoghaire are a Dart ride away.
18. Plastic patrols
Why: It's an issue capturing the attention of the nation (and rightly so). The continued use of single-use plastics is contentious, and travel is probably one of the biggest offenders. It's no longer enough to ban plastic straws - particularly if, up in the hotel rooms, the bathrooms are littered with miniature toiletries. We need thinking that's bigger, bolder and genuine - Ryanair will be plastic-free by 2023, for example; Hurtigruten is the first cruise line to ban single-use plastics, and the Plastic Free Waterford Campaign is helping the whole city reduce its usage. Individuals can do their bit by travelling with reusable bottles, cutting down on baby wipes (fatbergs, ugh!), buying eco-friendly sunscreens and supporting businesses that work to reduce single-use plastic (those hotel toiletries, for example). Don't forget those that have been doing this long before it was trendy: EcoTourism Ireland has been championing green tourism businesses for years. - NB
Details: ecotourismireland.ie, waterfordoneworldcentre.com
If you like that: Look for holidays with a conscience at Responsible Travel; responsibletravel.com
19. Summer in Texas
Why: American Airlines launches the first direct flights between Ireland and Texas this June (a summer service from Dublin to Dallas Fort Worth), but there's more to the Lone Star State than JR and JFK. Well, there's Beto O'Rourke for a start - tipped for the presidency by some! Texas buzzes with quirky festivals. In Austin, you'll find everything from the music and films of SXSW to the truly quirky (Bat Fest or Ice Cream Festival, anyone?). New launches this summer include the Holocaust and Human Rights Museum in Dallas and the restored Historic Mission Control at Space Center Houston, back to its Apollo-era best in time for the 50th anniversary in July of mankind's landing on the moon. - EO'R
Details: aa.com, lostinaustin.org, traveltexas.com
If you like that: Minneapolis-St Paul (jumping off point for the Great Lakes) is new this year from Aer Lingus.
20. New York, New York
Why: You don't need an excuse to visit New York. But 2019 is going to provide several, with a rake of new openings including the riverside Hudson Yards (complete with jaw-dropping observation deck), the sleekly retro TWA hotel at JFK Airport, and the new Statue of Liberty Museum. In June, WorldPride is set to take over the city as the world's biggest ever celebration of Pride, finishing up with a giant parade. Think you've already 'done' New York? Impossible. Spend time exploring the outer boroughs, and we don't just mean Brooklyn - Amazon's new home, Queens, is set to become the hot new borough. - NB
Details: Boro Hotel is a cool hotel in Queens with killer views of Manhattan. Prices from from $175 per room; borohotel.com, nycgo.com
If you like that: Philadelphia is really picking up steam as a must-see American city - and it's only a few hours from NYC on the train; visitphilly.com
NB: All prices and info subject to change.
Read more:50 best holidays for 2019: Get your trips started here!