It's that time of year again: the weather is frightful and snowstorms foil our travel plans. Yet, we're on the cusp of a new year and decade. If you're wondering what Travel Trivia's resolution is for the New Year, the answer is simple: To explore more of this beautiful world we call home.
For those of you who intend to join us in making travel a priority in 2020, here are five unexpected destinations to add to your list. Whether you're headed East or West, these gorgeous locations offer authentic cultural experiences for all travelers.
Unlike most of the major Japanese destinations — Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka — Kanazawa lies on the western coast of the country, situated on the shores of the Sea of Japan.
It's home to what is arguably the most beautiful garden in Japan, Kenrokuen Garden, which is an oasis of aesthetic charm. Visit the garden, and you'll be treated to an optic feast of gorgeous cherry blossoms, secluded footbridges over zen-like ponds, and a variety of seasonal flora.
Elsewhere in the city, you'll find cultural centers juxtaposed against feudal villas and geisha houses dating back to the Edo period. The preservation of this gracious city is, in large part, thanks to Kanazawa's status as one of the few major urban areas in Japan left untouched by World War II air raids.
Something unexpected you'll see in Kanazawa is historic samurai homes, remnants of the city's feudal past. You'll find these homes in Nagamachi Samurai District, located at the foot of Kanazawa Castle. To learn more about the powerful warriors of feudal Japan, we recommend visiting Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiryokan and Ashigaru Shiryokan Museum.
The first is a museum dedicated to the Maeda Clan (the former samurai rulers of Kanazawa), while the latter once housed the Shimizu and Takanishi families (who were ashigaru, the lowest-ranked soldiers of a samurai clan). Another samurai residence you'll want to visit is Nomura Samurai House & Garden, a perfectly preserved feudal home that once belonged to the powerful Nomura family.
Outside the city, you'll find a wealth of natural beauty in the form of mountains and national parks, making Kanazawa the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
The island of Capri lies off the western coast of Italy, overlooking the port cities of Naples and Sorrento. The history of the island as a resort destination dates back over a thousand years, to the time of the Roman Empire — and it's still as delightful a destination today.
Much of the island consists of limestone and sandstone cliffs, giving Capri a rugged and formidable appearance. The primary town, also called Capri, is on the eastern half of the island and comprises a small urban center with world-class hotels and restaurants. Meanwhile, a second, smaller downtown area, called Anacapri, lies on the western half of the island.
The most famous site on Capri — and one of the lesser-known natural wonders of the world — is the Blue Grotto. Located on the northeastern edge of the island, this sea cave is illuminated by a striking aquamarine glow resulting from sunlight shining through an underwater opening, directly beneath the mouth of the cave. You'll have to see the Blue Grotto for yourself to fully appreciate its magnificent beauty.
To feast your eyes on the cerulean waters, consider chartering a guided rowboat. However, be sure to check ocean conditions in advance: on days with rough seas, it may be wise to avoid a journey out to the grotto.
The Banaue rice terraces were created over two thousand years ago by the native Ifugao people of the Philippines, and the irrigated mountainsides are still intact as a UNESCO World Heritage site today. In fact, the Banaue terraces are part of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras.
The stunning green terraces cover approximately 4,000 square miles of land in the northern part of the country, about nine hours north of the capital city of Manila.
The Philippines is a fascinating country, with a diverse culture and expansive natural attractions. If you enjoy hiking, explore Banaue on foot as you take in the views of the ancient emerald terraces.
If you're also a history buff, Banaue is an unexpected treasure. You may appreciate a visit to Banaue Museum and the Museum of Cordilleran Sculptures. There, you'll learn about the illustrious past of the Ifugao people and see Cordilleran idols used in ancient religious rites. In particular, you'll come across various incarnations of the granary deity, Bulol. If museums aren't your style, visit tourist attractions like Guihob Natural Pool, where you can enjoy a refreshing swim and a picnic.
At the base of the Andes in western Argentina lies Mendoza, a historic city and the beating heart of the country's wine industry. The city was largely rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1861, and as a consequence, is known for its characteristically wide avenues and large public squares.
Whether you're looking to tour the vineyards or merely enjoy a glass of local wine at a city bar, you'll be visiting one of the best wine regions in the world, especially if you have an affinity for malbec wines. Malbecs are grapes used to make red wines in Argentina. And, here's something else you may not know about this unassuming city: from January to March each year, it hosts Argentina's National Grape Harvest Festival (Vendimia), one of the largest open-air festivals in the world.
Wine isn't Mendoza's only offering, however. The city is home to a number of museums and cultural sites, as well as Argentina's popular tanguerias (tango bars). With its location in the Andean foothills, Mendoza is also a great base for mountain hiking adventures. Plus, its proximity to the Chilean border lets you add a second attraction to your itinerary, such as Santiago or coastal Valparaiso.
As the setting for the 2008 film In Bruges, the namesake town is initially written off by Colin Farrell's character as a hopelessly boring relic of a forgotten medieval past. While it's easy for vacationers and backpackers to do the same when planning their European travels, this Belgian city of canals is, in fact, a fairy tale destination and brimming with Flemish culture and charm.
From the waterfront harbor — which connects northern and southern trade routes in the country — through its downtown canals, Bruges boasts a rich medieval history and architectural heritage. This has earned it the honor of being a UNESCO World Heritage City.
Its cobbled streets lead past sights like the Belfry of Bruges, rising from the southern side of the central Market Square. The Belfry's carillon consists of 47 bells, which are still played regularly. If you're game, it takes an astonishing 366 steps to reach the top of the bell tower, where you'll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city of Bruges.
Meanwhile, the neo-Gothic façade of the Provincial Court spreads imposingly along an adjacent side of the square. For adventurous travelers, there can be no better experience than savoring the unique cuisines at cafes and pub restaurants along the way.
Another can't-miss sight — and the tallest structure in the city — is the Church of Our Lady, parts of which date back to the 13th century. And, wait for this: you'll find a marble Madonna and Child sculpture by artist Michelangelo in the church. Thus, the uncommon treasures in Bruges make it first on our list of unexpected places to visit in 2020.