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The Best Destinations in the World: AFAR Travelers’ Awards

By AFAR Editors

Dec 18, 2020

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Paris won two AFAR Travelers’ Awards this year.

Photo by Sean Hsu/Shutterstock

Paris won two AFAR Travelers’ Awards this year.

It’s a great time to dream about the first place you’ll visit as soon as it’s safe to travel again.

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Where are you dreaming of going this year? AFAR readers cast more than 150,000 votes to honor their favorite hotels, cruises, airlines, trips, and destinations in the annual AFAR Travelers’ Awards. This year, we might not have been able to visit our favorite places in person, but our readers gave props to Paris, dreamed of Dubai, and raised a glass to the Napa Valley from afar. We hope this comprehensive list of winners helps spark your wanderlust and inspire your next trip.

European City

Winner: Paris

With its storied pastry shops, world-renowned museums and landmarks, and cobblestoned streets flanked with corner cafés, Paris lives up to its nickname as a city of “many splendors,” as Ernest Hemingway declared in his 1964 memoir, A Moveable Feast.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Paris Travel Guide

Completed in 645 C.E., Asakusa Temple (also known as Sensoji Temple) is the oldest temple in Tokyo.

Asian City

Winner: Tokyo

Tokyo is characterized by its blend of ancient tradition and modern luxury. The city has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other (as well as an array of design-forward hotels), but you can still seek out history and tranquility at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in popular districts like Asakusa.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Tokyo Travel Guide

North American City

Winner: New York City

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Eight million residents make New York City as culturally diverse as it is dense. Whether you navigate the city by subway, yellow cab, or on foot, there’s constant stimulation across the five boroughs. The coronavirus pandemic sparked many think pieces about the Big Apple’s uncertain future (including a controversial New York Post essay claiming New York is “dead”), but we know the city is defined by its resilience and beloved for its perpetually changing nature.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s New York City Travel Guide 

South American City

Winner: Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, which raised Jorge Luis Borges and educated Julio Cortázar, has more bookstores per person than any other city in the world. The Argentine capital is also the birthplace of tango, and you’ll still find stylish porteños (Buenos Aires residents) practicing the traditional dance at milongas (tango clubs).

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Buenos Aires Travel Guide

Caribbean Island

Winner: Puerto Rico

White sand beaches and tropical rain forests with bioluminescent bays. Colorful street art and lively salsa dancing after sundown. Freshly cooked mofongo. Sweet aged rum. Need we say more about Puerto Rico’s allure?

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Puerto Rico Travel Guide

Table Mountain, which overlooks Cape Town, is one of South Africa’s most visited attractions.

African City

Winner: Cape Town

Travelers to Cape Town can catch views from towering Table Mountain, marvel at the collections of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, or even taste wine in Constantia, the oldest winemaking region in the Southern Hemisphere.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Cape Town Travel Guide

Middle Eastern City

Winner: Dubai

Dubai is the most cosmopolitan city-emirate of the United Arab Emirates, but it also has archaeological sites that date to the Bronze Age. The city’s mix of Bedouin traditions and glitzy new developments make it a compelling place to visit; expect to dress up for high-end restaurants, such as Le Petite Maison.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Dubai Travel Guide

Oceania Destination

Winner: Sydney

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On Australia’s southeast coast in the state of New South Wales, Sydney offers nearly year-round sunnny weather, which means there’s no bad time to sunbathe at Bondi Beach or take a dip in any of the numerous oceanside swimming spots around the coastal city.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Sydney Travel Guide

Food and Wine Destination

Winner: Napa Valley, California

As California’s most famous wine-growing region, Napa Valley is known for its many tasting rooms. But travelers can expect a lot more than winetasting, including scenic hikes in the mountains above the valley, quaint area markets, and general stores stocked with artisan-made aprons, scarves, wine books, and canvas bags.

This year, raging wildfires devastated Napa and Sonoma County right in the midst of harvest season, but the region will bounce back with the help of travelers who love the land as much as we do.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Napa Valley Travel Guide

Wellness Destination

Winner: Bali

One of 17,500 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, Bali is known for its ancient temples, pristine beaches, and verdant rice terraces. The island also has a smattering of luxury resorts and spas, many of which highlight traditional Balinese traditions.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Bali Travel Guide

Set within Colorado’s White River National Forest, Vail Ski Resort is a famed base for such winter sports as skiing and snowboarding.

Ski Destination

Winner: Colorado

Colorado’s top winter activities range from soaking in high-mountain hot springs to hitting the slopes in the pristine Rocky Mountains (or skiing hut to hut in the state’s unrivaled backcountry). Of course, Colorado also offers endless outdoor adventures throughout the year, from rock climbing and white water rafting to hiking and beyond.

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s Colorado Travel Guide

Adventure Destination

Winner: New Zealand

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The uncrowded landscapes of New Zealand’s North and South Islands lure adventurous travelers with their peaks, fjords, glaciers, volcanoes, and long stretches of coast. In fact, New Zealanders even have a slang term for their country’s remote wilderness: “the wops” (or “the wop-wops”), which refers to a place far from civilization (and likely waiting to be explored). 

Plan Your Trip: AFAR’s New Zealand Travel Guide

Art and Culture City

Winner: Paris

The City of Lights offers a wellspring of inspiration for artists and art-loving travelers. Most would cite the Louvre as the city’s must-visit museum, but for a real glimpse at how Parisians live in the city, head to trendy neighborhoods like Le Marais, north of the Seine.

Read More: How to Recreate a Day in Paris at Home

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Winner: Machu Picchu, Peru

More than 30 years ago, UNESCO added Machu Picchu to its World Heritage collection, calling the Incan sanctuary in Peru “among the greatest artistic, architectural, and land use achievements anywhere.” It’s a fitting description: The citadel was built in the 15th century as a religious sanctuary for the Incas at an altitude of 8,170 feet.

Read More: The True Magic of Machu Picchu Isn’t Where You Think It Is

U.S. Road Trip

Winner: California Highway One

California’s Highway One takes you all along the state’s picturesque coastline, winding through laid-back beach towns like Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, plus big cities like San Francisco. Be sure you plan enough time to take the drive slowly—you’ll want to stop for redwood forest hikes and dramatic waterfall views in areas like Big Sur.

Read More: The Best Stops for a Road Trip on the Pacific Coast Highway

>> Next: The Best Trips Around the World: AFAR Travelers’ Awards

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