Best places to visit in 2018: Top destinations of the year so far

It's the end of the financial year, time for everyone, even our team of experienced Traveller writers, to audit their experiences of the past 12 months and record their highlights and occasional low lights.

Travelling can be a lot like playing the stock sharemarket. You do your research, you make your investment – not just your money but, equally precious, your time – and you hope that the choices you have made will pay off in a memorable journey.

Every traveller has their own investment strategy. Some stick with blue chip options, the tried-and-true holiday hotspots that never go out of style. Others are willing to take a risk on a less-explored destination in the hopes of enjoying the high that comes with discovering an under-the-radar gem.

To mark the end of the financial year, Traveller's writers were asked to audit their travel choices over the last 12 months. The good news is that most of their investments have paid off. Here are their picks for the world's hottest destinations right now. - Ute Junker

COUNTRIES

EGYPT

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This gorgeous, tragic country's rich and ancient world still provides a model for Western civilisation. And so, despite its ongoing human rights issues, tourists are trickling back after seven long years. Egypt, land of antiquities and riches beyond imagining, is as alluring as ever. It's difficult to stay away. See egypt.travel

See also: Why Egypt is back on the bucket list

THE "STANS"

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Is this travel's next frontier? Countries such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan? Is this the future? Though they may not be destined to become mainstream hotspots, the history and the natural beauty of the 'Stans is undeniable, and these countries deserve their time in the sun. Just take our advice and don't order the horse meat. See wendywutours.com.au

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RWANDA

satapril14coverrwanda?Rwanda Gorillas ; text by Rob McFarland credit: Shutterstock *** RE USE PERMITTED ***

Photo: Shutterstock

In less than 25 years Rwanda has gone from a nation ravaged by genocide to one of the cleanest, safest and most prosperous countries in Africa. Gorilla trekking remains the main tourist drawcard but there are also exciting new developments around Nyungwe Forest National Park and Lake Kivu. See rwandatourism.com

See also: From unspeakable horrors in the 90s, this is now Africa's safest country

GEORGIA

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Shooting up the charts as 2018's sleeper hit, new design hotels nestle in Brutalist buildings of the former Soviet country's capital, Tbilisi. Hike to remote stone monasteries in the spectacular Kazbegi mountain region and toast its rich, red saperavi wine. The hangover saviour is its drinking food, khinkali (dumplings) and flaky khachapuri pastry. See georgia.travel

REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Not to be confused with its infamous neighbour the Democratic Republic of Congo, this emerging destination offers an unsullied swathe of Congo Basin rainforest dotted with luxury camps and inhabited by critically endangered western lowland gorillas.

ETHIOPIA

With new airline links and highways, and a new airline terminal and light rail in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is more accessible than ever. Which is wonderful news, despite some recent political unrest, since it's one of our planet's best-kept secrets, with the ancient rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, rugged wildlife-filled Simien Mountains, Omo Valley tribes and more. See benchafrica.com

See also: Experience this amazing part of Africa before it disappears forever

TOWNS & CITIES

ATLANTA, GEORGIA, US

EXF68E Atlanta, Georgia, USA autumn skyline from Piedmont Park. Satjun30coverannual towns & cities

Photo: Alamy

Increasingly sophisticated dining options, emerging trendy neighbourhoods, stunning state parks - Atlanta is the new star of America's south, largely thanks to its film production boom. Head to Marcel for high-end French fare and Taqueria del Sol for scrumptious Mexican, explore the artistic suburbs of Cabbagetown and Inman Park, and spend an afternoon hiking in Sweetwater and Chattahoochee parks. See atlanta.net

BAIONA, GALICIA, SPAIN

DGP2X9 Paradisiac Cies Islands (Islas Cies), natural reservation in Galicia, Spain, home of Rodas Beach (Praia das Rodas) Satjun30coverannual towns & cities

Photo: Alamy 

Fortified Baiona is one of Galicia's exquisite "villas marineras" or seaside towns. Make your way into the "casco historico" (historic centre) and pick a tapas bar to feast on the mostly seafood delights of northwestern Spain, accompanied by local albarino wine. A 45-minute (summer) ferry ride brings you to the "islands of the gods" – the three unspoilt Cies Islands of the Illas Atlanticas National Park. In a setting of forests, hills and gorgeous beaches, it's close to the Portuguese border and apart from August, virtually tourist-free. See galiciaguide.com/Baiona.html

NORA, ITALY

JFM942 Nora archaeological area by night, Sardinia, Italy Satjun30coverannual towns & cities

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Pompeii isn't the only ruined ancient city in Italy to seduce. Founded by the Phoenicians, Nora is beguilingly rustic and tranquil with a gorgeous natural setting, wedged between the sea and a flamingo-dotted lagoon on Sardinia's south-west coast. It's sprinkled with sun-baked Roman-era ruins including a theatre and a mosaic-adorned bath-house. See sardegnaturismo.it/en

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, US

Massachusetts' capital, which is far more than just a university city, has fascinating corners. Like Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with its palace courtyard and Empire Garden Restaurant where yum cha trolleys rattle around a 150-year-old theatre. The city's oldest neighbourhood, North End, is better known as Little Italy and is close to the historic Boston Market and a waterfront you can trawl for butter-soaked lobster rolls. See bostonusa.com

SMALL TOWNS, SICILY

BXFFBG Restored Baroque Cathedral of San Nicolo - Noto, Sicily Satjun30coverannual towns & cities

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Look beyond Palermo's faded grandeur and Syracuse's seaside charm and you will find Sicily is filled with little wonders. Among the most picture-perfect is the baroque town of Noto, its grand churches and townhouses made with butter-coloured tufa stone, but there are plenty of others to admire, including Modica, with its cave churches, and the one-street wonder of Scicli. See visitsicily.info/en

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

This year has seen Perth come of age with several exciting announcements, including a non-stop flight to London, a new $1.6 billion stadium, the country's largest public space dedicated to Indigenous culture and some notable new hotels. There's never been a better time to head west. See experienceperth.com

See also: Can Perth becomes Australia's first true stopover city?

ROME IN JANUARY

M5T54G Rome, Italy. 26th February, 2018. Snow in Rome, Colosseum. Credit: Vito Arcomano/Alamy Live News Satjun30coverannual towns & cities

Photo: Alamy 

Rome in January is perfection. The skies are blue, the temperatures are brisk but not cold, the locals are relaxed and happy, and best of all, there are barely any tourists. The popular sights are uncrowded. The busy restaurants have spare tables. There can't be a better time to visit. See turismoroma.it

Photos: Rare snowfall turns Rome into a winter wonderland

VICTORIA'S NORTH-EAST VILLAGES

Move over Bright, the freshest stories of snappy digs, tip-top tables, rail trails and living history are in the posse of four: Rutherglen, Yakandandah, Chiltern and Beechworth. Must-visits includes the renewed dining rooms in Beechworth's Empire Hotel, the tower stay at Rutherglen's Mount Ophir Estate, Yak's eco-credentials and the glorious gold-rush facades of Chiltern. See tourismnortheast.com.au

OTRANTO, ITALY

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Everything about this small seaside city in Apulia is inviting: the chilled-out locals; the natural pink hue of the ancient stone buildings; the free beaches; a laid-back atmosphere; it's not overpriced. On a summer evening as the sun sets and people of all ages come out for the evening stroll – la passeggiata – that stone turns even pinker. Not crowded in May. Eat at the friendly GIROdiBOA Ristopub. See Italia.it

PLACES

FLINDERS RANGES, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

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Often overshadowed by the likes of Uluru and Alice Springs, more of us are now recognising the brilliance of the Flinders Ranges. There's the ancient crater of Wilpena Pound (pictured), the fascinating 540 million-year-old geological history, plus quintessential outback accommodation, including the Prairie hotel and Rawnsley Park Station. This is one of the most accessible parts of the outback, just a four-hour drive from Adelaide. flindersrangesodysseys.com.au

THE OCULUS AND HUDSON YARDS, NEW YORK

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New York City never sleeps and the developments that push forward into the future never stop. In the Financial District, the mighty Oculus structure at the World Trade Center waves the flag for the regeneration of lower Manhattan. While over on the West Side, all eyes are on the Hudson Yards project as it is revealed, tantalisingly, bit by bit. hudsonyardsnewyork.com/

PALESTINE

The waymarked trail, Abraham's Path, wends its way through Palestine's West Bank, a region written off by travel pundits. Hospitable beyond our jaded Western dreams, dates and coffee herald the traveller walking through Old and New Testament landscapes including one the world's oldest villages, Jericho. See abrahampath.org Crooked-compass.com

EASTER ISLAND, CHILE

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There is no easy way to get to Easter Island (our tip: get yourself to Santiago, Chile and take the direct flight from there) but the journey is well worth it. The monumental statues – all 800 plus of them – are awe-inspiring, and the hiking is also great. Explora Rapa Nui is the place to stay. See visitchile.com; Explora.com

See also: Why 397 famous statues were left abandoned on a far-flung island

MILESTII MICI WINE CELLAR, MOLDOVA

Beneath the hills of a faraway land in Eastern Europe, there's an underground city overflowing with wines. With 200 kilometres of tunnels and more than 1.5 million bottles, this limestone labyrinth is the largest wine cellar in the world. Visitors drive cars through streets named Sauvignon or Pinot and finish with a tasting. Intrepid Travel offers a 13-day tour of Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. See intrepidtravel.com

SWISS SPA CULTURE

Signs outside saunas in Switzerland insist on full nudity. And it's a crime not to be because you shouldn't miss out on the experience of reclining in the humid half-dark of a small wood-panelled space with a few other women, entirely stripped of your pretences, kicking around ideas on the concept of culture then planning your next fondue feast. See myswitzerland.com

BYRON BAY'S HINTERLAND, NSW

Cows graze in the Byron Bay hinterland in NSW.

Forget the overcrowded streets of Byron's CBD: the hinterland, including picturesque historic villages like Newrybar, Bangalow and Federal, is where it's at for the shire's best restaurants, shops and experiences. Don't miss the organic, foraged menu at Harvest Newrybar, chic Bisque Traders and Island Luxe boutiques in Bangalow, and the Mullumbimby Farmers' Market on Friday mornings. See byron-bay.com/hinterland

MORNINGTON PENINSULA MARK II, VICTORIA

Dilapidated holiday rentals and soggy fish and chips give way to sizzling sculpture trails, top-of-the-line restaurants and a fabulous café scene in Melbourne's playground, with the arrival of Point Leo Estate, Jackalope hotel (Read our review here), and the RACV's new Cape Schanck resort, opening August 1. The beaches are still free and beautiful. See visitmorningtonpeninsula.org

CONTRIBUTORS

Elspeth Callender, Ben Groundwater, Belinda Jackson, Brian Johnston, Ute, Junker, Nina Karnikowski, Kristie Kellahan, Jamie Lafferty, Sally Macmillan, Rob McFarland, Steve McKenna, Catherine Marshall, Julie Miller, Sheriden Rhodes, Louise Southerden, Alison Stewart, Craig Tansley, Kerry van der Jagt, Guy Wilkinson

See also: The 28 best hotels of 2018 (so far) named

See also: The 10 best outdoor adventures of 2018 (so far) named

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