Travel destinations ride waves of trendiness. In the 1950s and ‘60s, lovebirds flocked to Acapulco, Mexico, where JFK and Jackie honeymooned. Thanks to his tropical movies and live performances, rocker Elvis Presley made Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach hotter than a sunburn from the 1950s through the ‘70s.
But times are different now (we’re lookin’ at you, social media), and so are trends in travel. We flipped through years of travel news and reporting, investigated top Instagram destinations, hunted down airline additions and sourced where the celebs were spotted to put together a list of the trendiest places in travel throughout the 2010s.
Here’s a look at 30 destinations that moved in and out of fashion over the past decade — and why you may still want to visit.
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From the hauntingly sky-like waters of the Blue Lagoon to its geysers, hot springs and lava fields, Iceland was just waiting to be discovered. Icelandair made a visit even easier by adding a free stopover for those flying over the Atlantic, and creating a special hashtag for the experience to make it a social media star of the decade. For those still looking to go, the best time to visit Iceland is in the summer between June and August.
You may have been to Disneyland, but have you been to Shanghai Disneyland? The theme park in this cosmopolitan city opened in 2016 as the first Disney resort in mainland China, and has eight themed lands, including Toy Story Land, and is adding a “Zootopia”-themed land. The park saw attendance of 11 million in 2017 and 11.8 million in 2018, according to the Global Attractions Attendance Report. Not a Disney devotee? Shanghai boasts boutique and luxury hotels, delicious dim sum, popular parks and the lively waterfront area known as The Bund.
In 2016 for an episode of his CNN show “Parts Unknown,” late chef Anthony Bourdain sat down for a $6 bowl of noodles with then-president Barack Obama at a tiny Hanoi restaurant. That $6 bowl paid off big-time as far as putting Vietnam’s capital city on travelers’ wish lists. Other Hanoi highlights include water puppet shows (performed in a pool), street markets, and exquisite and historic temples and pagodas. And you can dine where Bourdain and the president did — the restaurant, Bún chả Hương Liên, has even preserved their table.
Cairo has beckoned tourists for its historic attractions, topped off by the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. Now the new Capital International Airport, which opened for a trial run in July 2019, is set to take some of the pressure off overworked Cairo International Airport as more and more people visit this must-see destination. The new Grand Egyptian Museum partially opened in 2018, and a decade-long renovation of King Tut’s tomb was completed in early 2019.
Perhaps the hottest TV show of the decade was HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” based on George R.R. Martin’s complex fantasy series “A Song of Fire and Ice.” Much of the show was shot in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland, drawing new tourist interest in the area. Old Castle Ward stood in for the Stark home of Winterfell, and visitors can dress in costumes and practice their archery. A destination most worth visiting in the summer, other places in the Belfast area stood in for the Riverlands, the Free Cities and Dragonstone, and there are plenty of “Game of Thrones” tours to show them all to visitors.
It was 30 years ago, in November 1989, that the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin came down. That anniversary in 2019 inspired plenty of visitors to see how the once-walled city has opened up over the years. History-minded travelers can walk along the former wall, visit the famed Checkpoint Charlie, or take a guided bike or walking tour. Outside the Wall, Berlin remains a historic and artsy city, and don’t forget to raise a glass at its famed beer gardens.
The 2010 Winter Olympics are commonly called the Vancouver Olympics, but many events were held in the ski resort town of Whistler, introducing a new pack of tourists to the snowy paradise. You don’t have to be a gold medalist nowadays to enjoy Whistler Olympic Park, which offers sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and more. Not a snow bunny? Whistler is still great in the summer, when visitors can go ziplining, hiking, swimming, on gondola rides and more.
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HBO’s Old West series “Deadwood” ended in 2006, but a big-screen movie in 2019 renewed interest in the charming town in western South Dakota. Every building rings with history, and the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back while playing poker still displays a table in that same spot. Hickok and other Western figures, such as Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock, who played a huge role in the show and film, are buried nearby in historic Mount Moriah Cemetery.
Savannah enjoyed a boom back in the 1990s, thanks to the bestselling book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” about a real murder in this atmospheric southern city. But new boutique hotels and trendy restaurants have helped it get a second wind, landing on Forbes’ 2018 list of the coolest cities to visit. From charming Forsyth Park to historic Bonaventure Cemetery to smaller gems, such as author Flannery O’Connor’s house, there’s no need for this city to fall off the trendy list any time soon. It doesn't hurt that it's also the prettiest town in its whole state.
Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of New Orleans in 2005, and tourism struggled for years. Katrina’s losses are not forgotten, but the travelers returned in force in the 2010s to this one-of-a-kind Southern city famed for its raucous Mardi Gras, busy Bourbon Street and French-accented, charming hotels and restaurants. Laissez le bon temps rouler (“let the good times roll”) in the Big Easy again.
Chicago’s Millennium Park opened in 2004 and in 2018, then-mayor Rahm Emanuel said it had surpassed the city’s legendary Navy Pier as the top tourist destination in the Midwest. The park includes a Frank Gehry-designed bandshell, an ice rink, public garden, theater, galleries and more. But it may be best-known for Cloud Gate, the enormous stainless-steel sculpture nicknamed “The Bean” (for obvious reasons) that is now seen all over social media when tourists visit the city.
The goofy TV comedy “Portlandia” ran from 2011 to 2018, and helped bring the Rose City tourists who may have wondered, as the theme song claims, if “the dream of the ‘90s is alive.” The city may not be quite as quirky as the show, but it still boasts plenty of oddball attractions in a compact, walkable space, as well as a fantastic food scene. Don’t miss The Peculiarium, a tiny museum of weirdness; enormous bookstore Powell’s Books; Voodoo Doughnut for its wacky treats studded with cereal and candy; and last but not least, the delightful statues of beloved book character Ramona Quimby and her pals located in Grant Park.
Sure, Colorado became the first state to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in 2014, but that’s far from the only thing that makes its capital city smokin’ hot. Skiing and hiking draw many travelers to the Rocky Mountain state, and popular new neighborhoods like River North keep the local craft beer flowing, top-notch food flipping (many James Beard award winners now serve in the city) and even host major street mural festivals like Crush Walls.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy won a truckload of Oscars in the 2000s, and he followed up in the 2010s with three Hobbit movies. That helped lead to a travel boom for New Zealand, which saw a record 3.82 million visitors from March 2017 to March 2018, according to the country. The picturesque landscapes served as Middle-earth in the movies, and fans can tour the set where Jackson created The Shire and Hobbiton (BYO rings). Popular non-Hobbit attractions include the exploring the Waitomo Cave system, as well as bungee jumping for those brave enough and looking for an ultimate bucket-list experience.
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The idea of traveling to Southern California isn’t exactly something new, but the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2016 brought some fresh magic to the region. Fans can fly through the air with everyone’s favorite boy wizard on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, then celebrate with a butterbeer. But nearby Disneyland is still the most-Instagrammed place in the U.S., which is only likely to grow with the new-in-2019 Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land, where you can fly the Millennium Falcon and guzzle Luke Skywalker’s famed blue milk.
CBS reality show “Survivor” filmed two seasons in the scenic Palaui Island Protected Landscape and Seascape area of the Philippines in 2013, stirring interest in the idyllic island. There aren’t any hotels, though you can camp on the island like the contestants did, or arrange a homestay. Snorkeling, hiking, and visiting the scenic Cape Engaño Lighthouse are popular, and even though “Survivor” may have drawn attention to the area, it’s still unspoiled and it’s not easy to get here, but travelers say it’s worth it. The tribe has spoken.
As with Northern Ireland, Croatia tourism boomed in the 2010s thanks to “Game of Thrones” filming scenes in the romantic city. Dubrovnik, located on the Adriatic Sea, stood in for the Lannisters’ royal city of King’s Landing, and other parts of the country played roles as well. You can take an organized tour, or Google your favorite sites and retrace Tyrion’s footsteps yourself.
Malls may be struggling as online shopping booms, but tell that to Minnesota’s sprawling Mall of America, located in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. The mall turned 20 in 2012, and is still offering tourists plenty of ways to shop till they drop. In addition to more than 500 stores, the mall offers the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park, movie theaters, an aquarium, a minigolf course, virtual reality and more. The Radisson Blu hotel is connected to the mall, so you don’t even have far to lug your packages. Before you go, just make sure to read up on the secrets shopping malls don't want you to know.
Seattle has become one of the most expensive destinations in America, and even native Seattleites have trouble recognizing parts of the Emerald City after all its changes over the past decade, much to do with behemoth online shopping site Amazon. As the company expands, the South Lake Union neighborhood has become a new world of restaurants, slick hotels and stores. The company offers tours of its global headquarters and of the three plant-filled glass domes dubbed the “Amazon Spheres,” an addition that opened in 2018. Not into Amazonia? The classic Space Needle and its adjoining Museum of Pop Culture aren’t far away.
Tourism in Japan’s capital city started to boom in 2013, the year it was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics, and it’s not letting up as the Games approach. Tokyo’s treats include a ride on the bullet train, dining at a ninja restaurant, soaking in a hot spring and eating some of the freshest sushi you’ll ever find. Tokyo is refurbishing highways, airports and train lines to make travel around this mammoth city even easier as the games approach.
Rio’s 2010s tourism boom may be credited to two very different pop-cultural phenomenons: the 2011 animated film “Rio” and the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. The film is about a Spix's macaw from Minnesota who returns to his Rio birthplace, and taught new generations about the city’s daring Carnival, striking nature and wildlife. The 2016 Summer Olympics showed off famed attractions such as its iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and Copacabana Beach, one of the best beaches in the world. While the Olympics may have sparked tourism interest, many of the venues built for it now sit empty.
Olympic Games are often held in well-known cities, but Sochi, Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Games, was a new name to many. Not to Russians though: It’s been a destination in its homeland for years. Tourists whose interest was piqued by the Games flocked to Sochi to swim in the Black Sea, visit historic sites and museums, explore waterfalls and enjoy fresh seafood.
Hanoi wasn’t the only city that benefited from an episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” A 2014 episode had Bourdain fans packing their bags for Chiang Mai, Thailand, where Bourdain praised the food’s many-textured flavors and the “the deeply pleasurable slow boil” of its spicy dishes. Thailand’s temples are world-famous, too, including the iconic Wat Phra Singh.
When “Crazy Rich Asians” was a huge hit in 2018, its setting, scenic Singapore, also soared to the top of traveler itineraries, helped by the fact that it's one of the safest cities in the world. Tourists flocked to locations shown in the movie, such as the Marina Bay Sands resort, the Gardens by the Bay nature park, Chijmes food and shopping venue, Newton Food Centre market and Merlion Park. You don’t have to be crazy or Asian to vacation in Singapore, but it might help to be rich.
Costa Rica beckons nature lovers and active types who want to white-water raft, surf, marvel at the Monteverde cloud forest, visit active volcanoes and zipline. The nation’s biodiversity and oh-so-social-media ready scenery made it a hot 2010s destination.
From 2008 to 2013, “Breaking Bad,” the AMC drama about teacher-turned-meth lord Walter White, was one of the hottest TV shows around. His fictional crimes inspired interest in the show’s setting of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bike and trolley tours take fans to the show’s filming locations, but Albuquerque has plenty to offer even if you’ve never seen an episode. There’s everything here from the American International Rattlesnake Museum to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. The city is also the hot air ballooning capital of the world, with a museum, festival and companies that take visitors up, up and away. It’s one of the top underrated American cities you should add to your bucket list.
Many Americans who saw the Broadway musical “Hamilton” were inspired to check out the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, Charlestown, the capital of the island nation of Nevis. The founding father left for America after a devastating hurricane, and the rest is American history. Hamilton never returned to the Caribbean, but by traveling to Charlestown, you can retrace his childhood steps and soak up some beach time, too.
Fans of the popular “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” novels, by Alexander McCall Smith, know the beauty of Botswana as well as they know Precious Ramotswe, the main character. Travelers can tour sites mentioned in the books, which are set in the capital of Gaborone. There are many locations that allow visitors marvel at wildlife from giraffes to lions to warthogs.
Napa Valley and France’s Loire Valley have long been top picks for wine lovers, but in the 2010s, Mendoza, Argentina, and its Malbec wines poured out a new travel option. The region is the largest wine-producing area in Latin America, and is just two hours by plane from Buenos Aires. In addition to wine tastings, vineyard visits and the nearby National Wine Museum, other activities include horseback riding, fly-fishing and Argentina’s tasty asado – slow-cooked, grilled meat.
Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob? Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels, about a vampire-human romance, were turned into a trilogy of films that ended in 2010 and suddenly the tiny Washington town was ready for its close-up. The rainy spot that served as the inspiration for the Meyer novels has made the most of its movie stardom – visitors can see Bella’s red truck and there’s an annual festival. While most of the filming was done elsewhere, there are plenty of movie filming locations you can actually visit across the country.
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