Ready to travel again? Our global editors picked the planet’s 25 most exciting destinations for 2022. Five categories—Nature, Adventure, Sustainability, Culture and History, and Family—frame unforgettable journeys of discovery. This year’s list celebrates a number of World Heritage sites in honor of UNESCO’s 50 years of helping to safeguard cultural and natural treasures. Although the pandemic changed when, where, and how we travel, we are eager to unleash our wanderlust—and see what wonders we’ll uncover.
BEST PLACES TO ENJOY NATURE
Lake Baikal, Russia
Help save a natural wonder. Baikal is so vast and deep, many locals call it a sea. Covering some 12,200 square miles and with an average depth of 2,442 feet, the massive lake is a natural wonder. It’s also in serious trouble. Despite being named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, Lake Baikal has experienced ongoing pollution, the recent weakening of government protections, and new threats, such as large-scale tourism development. As a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature deemed the lake’s environmental World Heritage Outlook of “significant concern” in 2020.
Visitors can help safeguard the lake and its varied landscapes—including tundra, steppe, boreal forest, and virgin beaches—by volunteering with Great Baikal Trail Association, the nonprofit environmental group creating a hiking route around the lake. “Volunteering helps protect Lake Baikal nature by developing ecotourism infrastructure,” says association president Elena Chubakova.
Hiking the trail is a planet-friendly way to spot some of the 1,200 Lake Baikal plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth, such as the nerpa, the world’s only exclusively freshwater seal. Go with Nat Geo: Journey across Russia on one of the world’s legendary railways. —Victoria Meleshko, National Geographic Traveler Russia
Discover the next great safari. Namibia evokes images of deserts, immense dunes, and parched mountains. But the Caprivi Strip, a narrow finger of land that juts out toward the east in the extreme north of the country, is a green, wildlife-rich territory. The presence of the Okavango, Kwando, Chobe, and Zambezi Rivers creates an ideal habitat for numerous animal species.
During the second half of the 20th century, the area was the scene of intense military activity. Remote and difficult to access, it was a prime corridor for various armed groups. After Namibia gained independence in 1990, peace—and wildlife—gradually returned.
In the eastern section of the region, Nkasa Rupara National Park is a secret jewel. A ranger station and tented lodge that opened in recent years have made it more accessible to tourism, but it’s still seldom visited. Encompassed by the Kwando-Linyanti River system to the south and by swamps and lagoons to the north, Nkasa Rupara is Namibia’s largest protected wetland. It’s described as a “mini Okavango,” as its floodwaters mirror Botswana’s more famous Okavango Delta. The park is home to the largest population of buffalo in Namibia. Predators include lions, leopards, and hyenas, while crocodiles and hippos abound in the river.
Mahango Game Park, in the west, includes wetlands and mopane forests. Here roam large herds of elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and nearly all the antelope species of Namibia, including the elusive semiaquatic sitatunga. Go with Nat Geo: See otherworldly landscapes and seek out endangered black rhinos in Namibia. —Marco Cattaneo, National Geographic Traveler Italy
Drive the Great Ocean Road. Green shoots of regeneration are popping up across Australia, where the 2019-2020 bushfires burned some 72,000 square miles of land. The disasters led to the deaths of nearly three dozen people and more than a billion animals.
Playing its own role in these rejuvenation efforts, Wildlife Wonders, in Victoria’s Otways region, is a new wildlife sanctuary tucked away off the Great Ocean Road amid lush ancient forest and waterfalls. It’s the brainchild of Brian Massey, the landscape designer of New Zealand’s Hobbiton movie set tours. Massey, along with botanists, scientists, zoologists, and environmental specialists, has crafted a sinuous wooden path that winds through the refuge and blends seamlessly into the landscape.
Visitors can set off on 75-minute guided tours of the sylvan site, wandering through thickets of eucalyptus trees and admiring the koalas, wallabies, and bandicoots that now call the sanctuary home. During a stop at the Research Base, guests can learn more about how the site provides a safe space for native species like the long-nosed potoroo, a marsupial that often falls prey to invasive predators such as foxes and cats.
All profits from Wildlife Wonders go toward the Conservation Ecology Centre, which helps to fund several vital conservation projects in the Otways, including one that studies the movement of potoroos before, during, and after planned forest fires. —Connor McGovern, National Geographic Traveller UK
Peek at tropical wildlife. The race to preserve one of the largest remaining tropical rainforests in the Americas got a big boost recently. In April 2021, a coalition of conservation partners, led by the Nature Conservancy, purchased 236,000 acres of tropical forest in northwestern Belize to create the Belize Maya Forest Reserve. Along with saving some of the most biodiverse forests in the world from denuding and development, the new protected area—which is contiguous with the neighboring Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area (RBCMA)—closes a huge gap in a vital wildlife corridor that runs from southeast Mexico through Guatemala and into Belize.
The combined reserve, which protects nearly a tenth of Belize’s land area, safeguards and connects essential habitats for an amazing variety of endemic and endangered wild things. These include the tapir, Belize’s national animal; black howler monkeys; more than 400 species of birds; and some of Central America’s largest surviving populations of jaguar. For now, ecotourism activities are based in the more established RBCMA, which has two rustic lodges and offers guided expeditions. Go with Nat Geo: Take a private tour of the Maya ruins of Tikal, Guatemala, and the cays of Belize.
Turn off the lights. Thousands upon thousands of stars dazzle above northern Minnesota. This remote region bordering the Canadian province of Ontario has little to no light pollution, and residents are determined to keep it that way.
The Heart of the Continent Dark Sky Initiative is a cross-border effort underway to create one of the largest dark-sky destinations on the planet. Two of its biggest pieces are in Minnesota: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the world’s largest International Dark Sky Sanctuary at more than a million acres, and neighboring Voyageurs National Park, the state’s first International Dark Sky Park. Both wild places received dark-sky certification in 2020, and Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park, which adjoins the wilderness area, earned International Dark Sky Park status in early 2021.
(Here’s how to see auroras—from the Great Lakes.)
“The preservation of darkness at places like Voyageurs National Park not only provides wondrous views and ecological benefits to wildlife,” says Christina Hausman Rhode, executive director of the nonprofit Voyageurs Conservancy. “It also allows us a window to the past; to see the skies as they were hundreds of years ago, used for navigation and storytelling by peoples like the voyageurs of the fur trade and the Indigenous Ojibwe.”
BEST PLACES FOR ADVENTURE
Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
Climb the Rockies. For unparalleled views of the Continental Divide, one must climb hand over foot up North America’s highest via ferrata. Arapahoe Basin’s “iron way”—a climbing route comprising metal rungs and cables—begins at the base of granite Rocky Mountain cliffs and ascends nearly 1,200 feet to a 13,000-foot summit.
A glance below reveals a weathered Colorado landscape dotted with green moss and pink and purple flora, and rock gardens created by the cliffs themselves, the fallen chunks varying in size from pebbles to Volkswagens. The thin air is occasionally punctuated by the shrill peep of a marmot or pika.
Even those without prior rock-climbing experience can scale the cliffs with a guide, using the metal rungs while also gripping the rock or wedging a foot into a crack for leverage. To avoid what could be a thousand-foot plunge to certain death, climbers must clip their harnesses from one cable to the next as they go. The route is entirely exposed and thunderstorms can roll in suddenly.
From the cliffs above, high-alpine mountain goats are often stoic observers, but typically disappear as travelers reach the summit. This marks the halfway point. From here, climbers must also descend, which, for via ferrata first-timers like Michael Lytle, can be the most harrowing part of the journey.
“You try not to look all the way down. The highway looks like a piece of thread from up there,” Lytle says. “The fear factor is real.”
Swim with sharks. When you arrive here, the stamp in your passport will include the Palau Pledge, which all visitors must sign, promising that “the only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.” The 59-word eco-pledge was drafted by and for the children of this remote western Pacific archipelago to help protect Palau’s culture and environment from the negative impacts of tourism.
Eighty percent of the nation’s waters—recognized by National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project as one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet—is preserved as the Palau National Marine Sanctuary. At 183,000 square miles, the no-take sanctuary is one of the world’s largest protected marine areas, safeguarding some 700 species of coral and more than 1,300 species of fish, including a dazzling variety of sharks.
“From the air, Palau looks like paradise on earth,” says Pristine Seas founder and National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala. “When you get underwater, you’re transported to a different world.”
During the 20th annual Shark Week Palau, from February 27 to March 6, 2022, divers can observe and participate in citizen science–assisted counts of numerous shark species, such as grey reef, blacktip, blue, tiger, and hammerhead. Daily dive sites are chosen for their abundant sharks and other marine life, including large aggregations of manta rays and thousands of spawning fish.
Snorkelers can join a February or November Oceanic Society tour of the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, home to reef sharks, dugongs, giant clams, and marine lakes teeming with millions of golden jellyfish. Go with Nat Geo: Discover the undersea wonders of Palau on this snorkel and kayak tour. —National Geographic Traveller India
Seine River, France
Cycle a new bike trail. La Seine à Vélo is a new cycling trail worthy of painter Claude Monet, whose house and famous water lilies in Giverny are on the route. But the 270-mile Paris-to-the-sea path, opened in October 2020, offers lesser known masterpieces too, such as the colorful street art that brightens the Canal Saint-Denis in Paris.
On the trail’s 15 stages, bikers pass through protected natural areas, including Normandy’s Grande Noé Bird Reserve, located along a major migratory flyway. While rolling across Normandy, they can visit the ruins of Jumièges Abbey, founded in 654, and take a Benedictine monk–led tour of Abbaye Saint-Wandrille, a centuries-old working abbey. The tearoom and gardens of Château de Bizy, a royal residence built in 1740 and inspired by Versailles, offer a respite off two wheels.
While Monet isn’t the only reason to ride the trail, pedal-pushers who love paintings should allow extra time for the Giverny Museum of Impressionism, which explores the revolutionary 19th-century art movement. —Gabriel Joseph-Dezaize, National Geographic Traveler France
New Brunswick, Canada
Tackle a backcountry trail. A turtle-shaped rock near Nepisiguit Falls, in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, carries with it a legend told by the Mi’gmaq people (also spelled Mi’kmaq). When water levels drop, the “turtle,” named Egomoqaseg, or “rock like a moving ship,” appears to be climbing up out of the river, says trail master Jason Grant, whose father-in-law, Mi’gmaq elder Gilbert Sewell, was a keeper of the story.
“Legend goes, once the turtle is completely out of the water, it will be the end of the world for the Mi’gmaq people,” says Grant. Based on his annual visits to the rock, Grant adds, Egomoqaseg has a long way to go before reaching dry ground.
The falls are a stop along a millennia-old First Nations migration route that has been developed into the longest backcountry hiking trail in the Canadian Maritimes. Running 93 miles along the Nepisiguit River, the rugged Sentier Nepisiguit Mi’gmaq Trail follows ancient portage pathways used by the nomadic Mi’gmaq.
The route begins at sea level at Daly Point Nature Reserve in Bathurst and ends at Bathurst Lake in Mount Carleton Provincial Park, home to 2,690-foot-tall Mount Carleton, the highest peak in the Maritimes. To promote respect for the relevance of the trail to the Mi’gmaq people, the route’s restoration, completed in 2018, included incorporating Mi’gmaq language and culture, such as teepee campsites and a turtle logo inspired by Egomoqaseg.
Trek from sea to sea. Stretching across Costa Rica from the Caribbean to the Pacific, El Camino de Costa Rica is a 174-mile-long window into life far off the well-trod tourist path. The 16-stage hiking route primarily follows public roads as it passes through remote villages and towns, Indigenous Cabecar lands, and protected natural areas.
It’s designed to spark economic activity in rural districts. Local families, nonprofits, and a network of micro-entrepreneurs, such as Ecomiel honey producers, the woman-owned Finca El Casquillo organic farm, and La Cabaña sustainable coffee micro-mill, provide most of the trail’s lodging, food, tours, and other hiker amenities.
Due to the trail’s remoteness and its patchwork of tourism services, Mar a Mar (Sea to Sea)—the nonprofit partnership formed in 2016 to develop, promote, and help sustain El Camino—strongly recommends hiking with a guide. Ticos a Pata, UrriTrek Costa Rica, and ViaLig Journeys are among the tour operators offering guided experiences—from single-day hikes to coast-to-coast treks with multiple river crossings and rambles through ranch lands, rainforests, cloud forests, and sugarcane plantations. Multiday itineraries typically feature optional adventures, such as a white-water rafting trip on the world-class Pacuare River rapids. —National Geographic Traveler Korea
BEST PLACES CHAMPIONING SUSTAINABILITY
Yasuní National Park, Ecuador
Fight for the forest. In recognition of the global importance of the Amazon, France is leading the fight against deforestation in eastern Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989. The almost 4,000-square-mile park—home to mahogany trees, sweet guabas, anthuriums, palms, and hypnotizingly green ferns—is the first of five pilot sites in the French-funded TerrAmaz program. This four-year initiative, launched in late 2020, supports sustainable development and safeguards biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Yasuní—considered one of the most biodiverse places on Earth—shelters an astonishing assortment of creatures, such as anteaters, capybaras, sloths, spider monkeys, and about 600 species of colorful birds. In the Napo and Curaray rivers flanking the park, visitors can watch for the Amazon river dolphin, an endangered and enigmatic species.
Yasuní also provides refuge for the Tagaeri and Taromenane people, Waorani Indigenous groups who live in voluntary isolation and use handcrafted canoes to travel between waterways. Tour operators such as Napo Wildlife Center offer excursions and lodging based on a sustainable ecotourism model that benefits the resident tribes. —Karen Alfaro, National Geographic Traveler Latin America
Witness a conservation success. “Chimanimani is a timeless place, where local rainmakers still climb peaks to summon rain,” says National Geographic Explorer and photojournalist Jen Guyton, of one of Mozambique’s newest national parks. Located on the country’s mountainous border with Zimbabwe, Chimanimani National Park, established in October 2020, is home to Mozambique’s highest peak, Mount Binga (elevation: 7,992 feet). It was once flush with elephants, lions, and other large animals whose images appear in ancient rock art created by the ancestral San people.
Poaching during decades of civil unrest decimated wildlife populations, but small numbers of elephants remain, as do at least 42 other species of mammals and a dazzling variety of plant and avian life. In the two recent biodiversity surveys alone that Guyton photographed, 475 plant species and 260 bird species were identified, along with 67 amphibian and reptile species—including one frog and one lizard thought to be new to science.
(How one of Africa’s great parks is rebounding from war.)
Sustainable tourism activities—such as birdwatching, hiking to forest waterfalls, and overnighting at the Ndzou Camp, a small community ecolodge—provide up-close views of a captivating wild place, which Guyton particularly enjoys experiencing at sunset. “With no roads for miles around, there’s total silence except for the birds, and you get a few moments of almost transcendental peace in that warm glow.”
Ruhr Valley, Germany
Get creative. Mining and steel production once dominated the densely populated Ruhr Valley, located in Germany’s western state of North Rhine–Westphalia. Today, the region is repurposing former slag heaps (mounds of mining waste) and postapocalyptic-looking industrial sites as parks and open-air cultural spaces.
The most famous is the World Heritage site of Zeche Zollverein (Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex), home to an outdoor swimming pool, ice rink, and walking trails. “People visiting the Ruhr area are usually impressed by the abundance of green,” says Karola Geiss-Netthöfel, director of the Ruhr Regional Association.
Zollverein is part of the wider Emscher Landscape Park, an east-west system of green spaces and corridors covering nearly 175 square miles. Rent a bike in Essen for a car-free Ruhr Valley trip along cycling routes, many of which follow former railway tracks. Or explore on foot via the 96-mile-long Hohe Mark Steig, a trekking trail opened in 2021.
“The trail combines nature and industrial culture in a unique way, as you pass by several industrial buildings,” says Geiss-Netthöfel. A top spot nearby: Halde Hoheward, elevation 495 feet, a mountainous slag heap made from 180 million tons of mine waste and topped with a giant sundial. —Franziska Haack, National Geographic Traveler Germany
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon/Washington
Wine and dine mindfully. The nation’s largest National Scenic Area is probably not where you think it is. It straddles the Oregon-Washington border and comprises 293,000 acres of public and private lands along the Columbia River Gorge.
With Mount Hood nearby, the area attracts more than two million visitors annually. A nonprofit alliance is helping to reduce tourist impact on local nature and culture. This collaboration has become a model for other regions building a sustainable tourism economy.
Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance initiatives include the visitor education program Ready, Set, Gorge, and the East Gorge Food Trail, a network of farms, historic hotels, wineries, and other homegrown experiences. Partnering with other local organizations and educating visitors benefits everyone, says Ali McLaughlin, owner of MountNbarreL, which offers wine-tasting bike tours and other car-free experiences.
“Having tourists who understand the importance of respecting the area they are traveling through has gone a long way toward mitigating concerns from local residents,” says McLaughlin. Go with Nat Geo: Retrace the path of Lewis and Clark’s trailblazing expedition through the Pacific Northwest.
Spotlight a green city. Named a UNESCO City of Film in 2017 for its rich cinematic culture, Łódź, a city of nearly 700,000 in central Poland, was a major textile manufacturing center in the 19th and 20th centuries. Now Poland’s Hollywood is flipping the script on its industrial past to create a greener future.
In recent years Łódź (pronounced woodge) has embraced new ecological technologies, such as using pre-RDF (refuse-derived fuel) and biomass energy to heat homes. In 2021, the city partnered with the European e-commerce delivery platform InPost to significantly reduce CO₂ emissions and traffic in the town’s center by installing 70 parcel locker locations and electric car charging stations.
Nearly a third of Łódź is green space, ranging from new pocket parks to the 2,977-acre Łagiewnicki Forest. In the city’s old industrial areas, factories are being reborn as parks, cultural centers, residences, and retail spaces. The trendiest spot on the cultural map is OFF Piotrkowska, a buzzing art, design, dining, and club district housed in a former cotton mill.
Another massive factory, built by the I.K. Poznański Cotton Products Company—which employed as many as 7,000 people in 1913—was reimagined as Manufaktura, an arts center and shopping mall spread across 13 historic brick buildings. Manufaktura’s Muzeum Fabryki explores the Poznański family’s “cotton empire” and the lives of the factory workers. —Martyna Szczepanik, National Geographic Traveler Poland
BEST PLACES FOR CULTURE AND HISTORY
Jingmai Mountain, China
Taste tea. One of the oldest cultural landscapes in China is slated to become one of the country’s newest UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2022. The Ancient Tea Plantations of Jingmai Mountain in Pu’er, which collectively form the world’s largest ancient artificially cultivated tea plantation, features about 1.13 million tea trees, the oldest of which is 1,400 years old.
Located in the remote southwestern corner of China’s Yunnan Province, the region was a starting point of the legendary Ancient Tea Horse Road. This 11th-century network of routes was named for its primary purpose: trading Chinese tea for Tibetan horses (130 pounds of tea equaled the value of one horse).
(In search of the perfect cup of tea in China’s Yunnan Province.)
Today, new highways have replaced the route, but the region’s tea plantations remain, as do the four local ethnic minority groups—the Blang, Dai, Hani, and Wa people—who retain their own languages, customs, and festivals. The remote location and limited tea-tourism offerings make a guided trip the best way to experience this enduring cultural landscape. —Yi Lu, National Geographic Traveler China
Learn about an island’s roots. Most visitors to Hokkaido, Japan’s wildly scenic and northernmost main island, don’t have many opportunities to learn about the Ainu, Indigenous people from the northern region of the archipelago. But the new National Ainu Museum and Park at Upopoy, which opened in 2020, hopes to change that. It joins the Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Museum, which opened in 1992, in teaching Japanese and international visitors about Ainu culture.
Marginalized since the late 1800s, the Ainu were granted legal protections in Japan in 2019; the country’s new Ainu Promotion Act recognizes and bans discrimination against the Ainu.
Upopoy has a pressing three-pronged mission: promote, revitalize, and expand Ainu culture before it becomes extinct. Particularly at risk is the Ainu language, which is unrelated to Japanese or any other language, and is considered critically endangered by UNESCO. Listening to conversational Ainu and playing games to learn pronunciation are part of the new museum’s permanent exhibition.
Visitors can also discover the timely sustainable-living lessons of the Ainu, whose spiritual beliefs are rooted in respect and gratitude for nature. After visiting Upopoy, drive 30 minutes southwest and soak in nature at Noboribetsu Onsen, Hokkaido’s premier hot springs resort which is located in Shikotsu-Toya National Park. Go with Nat Geo: Take a voyage in the Ring of Fire aboard the National Geographic Resolution.
Procida Island, Italy
Connect with culture. Chosen pre-pandemic, the theme of Procida’s reign as the Italian Capital of Culture 2022—La cultura non isola (Culture does not isolate)—now seems particularly on point. The island city, located 40 minutes southwest of Naples via high-speed ferry, plans to use its year in the spotlight to illustrate the importance of culture, particularly in times of uncertainty.
“Today, ‘Culture does not isolate’ is an even stronger call to action because, for us, the island is a metaphor for modern people,” says Procida 2022 director Agostino Riitano. “We are all like islands, creating our own archipelagos where culture has to be the mortar that holds them together; this is even more true following the effects of the pandemic.”
(The pandemic couldn’t silence this Italian city of music.)
Procida 2022 plans to spread cultural programming, such as contemporary art exhibitions, festivals, and performances, over 300 days to encourage responsible travel throughout the year, and to avoid a mass influx of visitors during the summer. In the spotlight as a symbol of the inclusive theme is the island’s Palazzo d’Avalos, a Renaissance palace-turned-prison, built in 1500 and closed in 1988. Most recently associated with isolation, the former prison and its green space (where inmates raised crops, cows, and pigs) will be reborn as a cultural venue and urban park.
Meet the moment. At a time when voting rights are in contention in the United States, Atlanta is flexing its cultural and political muscle through two formidable voter empowerment organizations: The New Georgia Project and Fair Fight Action, both founded by Atlanta-based political leader and activist Stacey Abrams.
Being at the forefront of social change isn’t new, says city native Bem Joiner, cofounder of the creative agency Atlanta Influences Everything. “Atlanta’s ‘special sauce’ is its three C’s: civic, corporate, and cultural. We’re the cradle of the civil rights movement, the home of Coca-Cola, and our hip-hop culture shapes global culture. There’s no place else quite like Atlanta.”
Georgia’s largest city is also an epicenter of Black entrepreneurship, incubating businesses such as plant-based burger chain Slutty Vegan and eco-conscious Sustainable Home Goods.
Easily accessible on foot or by bike via the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood blends nightlife and dining venues, such as Biggerstaff Brewing Company and Ponce City Market, with historic highlights like the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park and the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.
Tin Pan Alley, London
Sing along. Despite pushback from punk and rock purists, the remix of Denmark Street, former hub of the British music industry, promises to hit all the right notes. Once lined with music publishers, recording studios, rehearsal rooms, and dimly lit clubs, the tiny street, nicknamed London’s Tin Pan Alley, helped launch the British punk rock movement and legends including David Bowie, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones.
In recent years, the music had all but died, save for Denmark Street’s surviving guitar shops. Now this iconic slice of history is being revived as part of Outernet London, the West End’s new $1.2 billion entertainment district.
The retooled street retains pieces of its storied past: restored 17th-century building facades; the heritage-protected graffiti art of Johnny Rotten, lead singer of the Sex Pistols (who lived here); the old-school music shops (thanks to affordable, long-term leases).
(Learn more about the unlikely rebirth of a London legend.)
It also welcomes new spaces for infusing with music. There are busker spots where street musicians can make their case for being the next Adele (who debuted at Denmark Street’s original 12 Bar Club); a free-to-use professional-quality recording studio for up-and-coming artists; and the new Chateau Denmark hotel, spread across 16 buildings steeped in music history.
BEST PLACES FOR FAMILIES
Learn about nomadic life. The nomadic Yörüks, originally from different Turkic groups that ranged from the Balkans to Iran, once roamed the plateaus of the Turkish riviera. Most of the Yörüks (literally “walkers”) have now settled down—but many of their thousand-year-old customs are alive and well.
Located in the historical Lycia region in southwestern Anatolia, Teke Peninsula is one of the spots where Yörük culture remains strong. Teke Yörüks live a semi-nomadic life with their tents, kilim rugs, herds, shepherd dogs, and transhumant traditions, set against a mountainous, Mediterranean backdrop full of olive trees.
In recent years, tour companies have started to merge the marvels of Lycia with Yörük life. Families can trek parts of the famous Lycian Way; visit ancient sites like Patara, Xanthos, or Letoon; and swim in crystal clear waters while spending nights in hotels, guesthouses, tents, or villagers’ own homes. But it’s the children who have the most fun, as they can experience Yörük culture by making syrup with pomegranates, cooking local pastries, milking goats, or taking part in the olive harvest.
“History, nature, and culture, they’re all here. We wanted to turn this beautiful landscape into a learning platform, but also into a playground,” says Kerem Karaerkek, the chief guide of Middle Earth Travel. “I love how the kids get excited when they step into a Yörük kitchen or when they go on a treasure hunt in ancient Lycian ruins. You can see the sense of wonder in their eyes.” —Onur Uygun, National Geographic Traveler Turkey
Marvel at geometric beauty. Built as a palace-city by 13th-century Nasrid sultans—rulers of the longest-lasting and final Muslim dynasty on the Iberian Peninsula—the Alhambra (“red fort”) is considered the Moorish architectural jewel of Europe. The almond-shaped profile of this UNESCO World Heritage site rests on a hill above Granada, one of the most picturesque cities in Spain.
But it’s the mathematical wizardry on display here that is particularly fascinating for families. Intricate mosaics, arabesques (a repetitive, stylized pattern based on a floral or vegetal design), and muqarnas (ornamental vaulting) make the Alhambra a masterpiece of geometric beauty—and a colorful classroom for age-appropriate exploration of math concepts, such as shapes, symmetry, proportion, and measurement.
Math flows through the Alhambra’s other main design feature, water, which gives life and meaning to the whole. Water provides the refreshing spirit of the gardens and the murmur of its fountains, but is also an element of the architecture itself.
At the Palace of the Lions, one of the Alhambra’s three original royal palaces, families will marvel at the central fountain. Its elaborate design features 12 stone lions supporting a large marble basin on their backs and—thanks to the technical wonder of complex hydraulics—spitting water from their mouths. Go with Nat Geo: Discover Moorish Spain from Córdoba’s cultures to Granada’s Alhambra to Seville’s wonders. —Manuel Mateo Pérez, NG Viajes Spain
Eastern Shore, Maryland
Be transported by history. The history of the Underground Railroad flows through the waterways, wetlands, swamps, and tidal marshes of Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This is where the secret network’s most famous “conductor,” Harriet Tubman, was born enslaved, grew up, and honed the skills—such as trapping, hunting, and using stars to navigate—she used to escape to freedom in Pennsylvania. She then returned 13 times to rescue more than 70 enslaved friends and family. Her heroic story is told at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center, one of the more than 30 stops along the 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.
To bring Tubman’s story to life for kids, Alex Green, co-owner of Harriet Tubman Tours, suggests a kayaking adventure in the byway’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. As a child, Tubman trapped muskrats here and worked alongside her father, a timber inspector who taught her how to move around the marshlands.
“We talk to kids about how the confidence and lessons Harriet learned inside the terrible institution of slavery drove her to accomplish incredible things,” Green says. “Harriet never gave up and she never stopped learning. That’s a lesson they can take home.” Go with Nat Geo: Embark on a wild Chesapeake Bay escape to see waterways, watermen, and wildlife.
Cruise storybook lands. Boating the Danube can seem like traveling through a realm of fairy tales, with its scrolling views of castles, medieval towns, and stately palaces that help to bring European history to life. The river twists through 10 European countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine), and most Danube cruise itineraries include stops in at least four of those, with special family sailings featuring kid-friendly onshore activities.
School lessons focusing on Middle Ages feudalism take on vivid dimensions when exploring Veste Oberhaus in Passau, Germany, one of the largest surviving castle complexes in Europe. Ages-old Hungarian equestrian traditions come alive on a southern Hungarian ranch, where fearless csikós, or mounted herdsmen, ride standing upright and balancing on the backs of two galloping horses.
When off the water, look to wheels. Board Vienna’s iconic Giant Ferris Wheel, the Riesenrad, or take a bike ride among terraced vineyards in Lower Austria’s World Heritage-listed Wachau Cultural Landscape. Go with Nat Geo: Savor Christmas markets from Budapest to Nuremberg on this Danube cruise. —National Geographic Traveler Romania
Dive a longtime marine reserve. Dazzling sunlight, a turquoise sea, palm trees, white beaches, and a laid-back atmosphere: Bonaire checks all the boxes for an idyllic tropical destination. But compared to many other Caribbean islands, Bonaire (pop. 21,000) is quiet and still relatively wild and unspoiled. Off its coast lies one of the oldest marine reserves in the world.
The Bonaire National Marine Park was established in 1979 and has been on the provisional UNESCO World Heritage List since 2011. The reserve encompasses 6,672 acres of coral reef, seagrass, and mangrove vegetation. Bonaire’s healthy reefs are a magnet for divers and snorkelers who can spot up to 57 species of coral and more than 350 different fish species.
Several dive schools on Bonaire participate in the Reef Renewal program, in which volunteers can grow and maintain corals in underwater nurseries, then plant them into the reef. Anyone who can dive can come and help after completing the PADI Reef Renewal Diver course.
(Read more about new efforts to save dying coral reefs.)
Accessibility is another bonus: You don’t need a liveaboard or other boat transport to start exploring. At 54 of Bonaire’s nearly 90 public dive sites, you walk from the beach or a pier straight into the water. —Barbera Bosma, National Geographic Traveler Netherlands
Written by the global editors of National Geographic Travel, with additional reporting and writing by Maryellen Kennedy Duckett, Karen Carmichael, and Shauna Farnell.
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