12 best travel destinations for 2012

Here’s our list of the best travel destinations for 2012:

* London will host the 2012 summer Olympic Games from July 27-August 12. A three-month arts festival beginning June 21 will add a cultural component, from Shakespeare to music to street performers. The UK and the Commonwealth will also celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee June 2-5. She’s only the second British monarch after Queen Victoria to mark 60 years on the throne.

* The Netherlands plans a floriade, a horticultural expo that takes place only once every 10 years. A 160-acre park with five themes opens on April 5 for a six-month run to October 7, in Venlo, two hours by train from Amsterdam.
* Expo 2012 will be held in Yeosu, a city on South Korea’s southern coast which is expected to attract up to 8 million visitors from May 12 to August 12.Yeosu is known for its marine national parks, beaches and islands. The expo themes are sustainable resources, the ocean and coast. Exhibits from 100 countries will include aquariums containing rare species.
* Lonely Planet has trumpeted Burma (otherwise known as Myanmar) as one of the top 10 places to visit in 2012. However, the country, slowly opening up after decades of tight restrictions, is dramatically short on tourist infrastructure. Read Taste for Travel’s earlier story here.
* The Southern Lakes of New Zealand. Mountainous Queenstown, Wanaka, Central and South Otago regions of New Zealand are set to be hot destinations for 2012. With film director Peter Jackson set to release the first hobbit movie later in the year, (The Lord of the Rings prequel), interest in New Zealand’s dramatic scenery is set to be revived. And with tourism in the region down due to the Christchurch earthquakes, you are assured of wide open spaces all to yourself. It’s an adventure capital, an award-winning wine and foodie trail and the folks are down-to-earth and so welcoming.

* In Canada, the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia is braced for a massive influx of visitors as the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is commemorated.
* Northern Ireland is also on the list. The Titanic was built in Belfast, and an enormous waterfront development called Titanic Quarter is taking shape on the site of the former shipyard, with hotels, eateries, parks, theatres and galleries. Titanic Belfast, an ultra-modern building whose shape and silvery color evokes ship hulls on the water, is set to open in April.
* Cuba is opening up to American tourists, finally. New US State Department regulations are more relaxed, but  itineraries still must have a religious, humanitarian or educational purpose. So if you’re a nun doing post-graduate work at a university you should be fine. With restrictions easing, isolated Cuba is set to be more accessible and open to change. See traditional Cuba before it updates!
* Tidy Sweden is set to be a new must-go destination with the latest Dragon Tattoo film. The Stockholm City Museum has year-round walking tours of sites associated with the Stieg Larsson crime trilogy.
* Economically-troubled Greece is forecast to be a bargain-hunter’s paradise in the northern summer with tourists set to pay a lot less than premium prices for accommodation as it tries to recoup losses from 2011. Best islands: Rhodes, Santorini, Kefalonia, Mykonos. And gorgeous Greece is always a hot destination.
* The European capitals of culture for 2012 are Maribor in Slovenia, and Guimaraes in Portugal. Maribor has great wines, and surrounding forests, waterfalls and moors. Guimaraes was the birthplace of Portugal’s first king, and is known for its goldsmiths, pottery and embroidery.
* South Australia tourism has massively outstripped the nation with a 7.4 per cent rise in domestic visitor expenditure in 2011, compared to zero growth nationally. The state, famous for its beaches, wine region and eco-sanctuary Kangaroo Island, kicks off 2012 with Santos Tour Down Under in late January, the bicycle road race attracting entrants from all over the world.
*”An Evening With Thomas Keneally” in New Orleans is one of the experiences guests will enjoy in The Author’s Tale, which incorporates the 2012 Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival and other literary-themed venues in New York and Beverly Hills.  Priced at $13,100 per person, double occupancy or $14,990 per person, single occupancy, the 11 day / 10 night travel experience starts in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 20 and ends in Beverly Hills, California, on March 30.

Actually, that’s 13 or more great places to go, but who’s counting?

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