The global spread of the coronavirus is disrupting travel. Stay up to date on the science behind the outbreak>>

Why travel in 2020? To get closer to a destination's culture and history

These five destinations have a unique story to tell, from the lost legends surrounding the life of Tutankhamun to tales of Hollywood's iconic motion pictures.

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Published 5 Feb 2020, 09:41 GMT
Coffee is served in Addis Ababa.
Coffee is served in Addis Ababa. The server uses a jebena, a container that's traditionally used in Ethiopia.
Photograph by Getty Images

Taking the time to learn about different views and understand others’ perspectives is essential in today’s connected world, but cultural tourism will always be about more than ambling through a museum or two.

To really get to know a place, it’s important to spend time immersing yourself in the day-to-day and getting your head around alternative ways to tackle the world. Those lightbulb moments where we realise there’s no right or wrong method, simply different approaches, are what make travel so rewarding.

So, some of our cool list destinations are about investing time in a place to learn what really makes them tick. This may be helped by new attractions highlighting what a city takes pride in — such as Lyon’s culinary scene, Cairo’s ancient history or Los Angeles’ movie-making — or dedicated attempts to open up cultural experiences to outsiders. Galway, for instance, is embracing its status as 2020 European Capital of Culture, while Ethiopia is offering tours aimed at shining a light on its striking traditions.

And as for the new selection of flights and hotels on offer? Well, they just make gaining that extra level of immersion that little bit easier.

1. Ethiopia

Things continue to develop in Ethiopia — there are new tours, improved safety and a tourism trade that’s growing faster than anywhere else in Africa.

The ghosts of the Ethiopian famines of the 1980s haven’t been forgotten, but they’re no longer a fundamental part of the country’s make-up. The shadow of war with neighbouring Eritrea has been lifted, too, and suddenly green, mountainous Ethiopia is one of the most exciting places to visit in Africa, if not the entire world.

The government introduced electronic visas in June 2018 and encouraged the construction of new hotels in Addis Ababa, including a Sofitel and Skylight Hotel. Transport provisions are on the up too; Addis Ababa Bole International Airport added a new terminal last year, while direct flights from Manchester have begun with Ethiopian Airlines.

Travellers traditionally come to seek out the ancient rock churches of Gheralta and Lalibela, but several tour companies, including Wild Frontiers, are branching out to offer tours of the Omo Valley with visits to tribes including the Mursi, famous for their lip plates.

Words: Jamie Lafferty

In Lyon, dining out is the city's strong suit, and the scene refuses to stand still.
Photograph by Getty Images

2. Lyon

If your travels are driven by your taste buds, France’s gourmet capital has upped the stakes with a major cultural centre devoted to all things gastronomic.

Taking up more than 43,000sq ft inside the Grand Hôtel-Dieu, a former hospital, the International City of Gastronomy is a cultural space and food museum. Touchscreens delve into the history of the Michelin Guide and the philosophies of some of the great French restaurateurs, while video games teach youngsters about nutrition and tasting sessions are hosted by top chefs.

Much of the centre is devoted to the region’s produce — there are 340 farms within the metropolitan area, and 80 separate geographically protected AOC labels for wines in the surrounding area. Original Food Tours runs sampling tours focusing on a variety of experiences, such as the Old Town’s artisans or the morning markets.

Dining out is Lyon’s strong suit, however, and the scene refuses to stand still. La Sommelière is the newest addition to the Michelin star list, with traditional French dishes interpreted by Japanese chef Takafumi Kikuchi.

For a bit of movie magic, newcomer Le Hangar offers regional cuisine within the world’s first film set, used by the Lumière brothers in 1895. In keeping with this heritage, all dishes are photographed in the kitchen and shown on a tablet screen before they’re served.

Words: David Whitley

3. Cairo

A murder mystery and a mega-museum anchored by Tutankhamun’s treasures could propel Egypt back onto travel bucket lists in the new decade.

Tutankhamun’s treasures are getting a new home, a ‘hero’ attraction that could reboot the tourist image of this magnificent North African city. Construction of The Grand Egyptian Museum has been delayed, but should be worth the wait. Set in Giza, where suburban Cairo slips towards the sand, the collection includes 5,400 artefacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb, many not seen since Carter’s discovery of 1922. And in the meantime, 150 objects are on display at Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh at London’s Saatchi Gallery until 3 May.

Terror attacks and political unrest have taken a toll, but visitor numbers to this affordable destination are ticking upwards. Cairo’s new airports — Sphinx to the city’s west and Capital to the east — and a highway linking the city and the beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh (to which UK flights restarted in January) are helping. Kenneth Branagh, meanwhile, reprises his role as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile in October.

Words: Pól Ó Conghaile

In 2020, art, film, theatre and street feast events will feed into Galway's spirit.
Photograph by Getty Images

4. Galway

Galway’s trick is to effortlessly squeeze big-city sensibility and college craic into small-town streets. On Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, it feels at once like a global cultural crossroads and an intimate after-party.

It’s a perfect fit for European Capital of Culture 2020, with a year-long programme designed to sync with old Celtic calendar dates like Bealtaine (May Day) and Samhain (Halloween). Events range across city and county, from a modern version of one of the world’s oldest stories, Gilgamesh, to a rock and dance festival at Galway Airport and a Lumiere Galway finale lighting up the city. Annual art, film, theatre and street feast events will feed into the Galway 2020 spirit, too.

Hear traditional music at Tig Cóilí, and eat at casually creative Irish foodie hubs like Kai, Dela and Ard Bia at Nimmos; alternatively try Michelin-starred Aniar or Loam, which won the Michelin Guide’s Great Britain & Ireland Sustainability Award 2020. Explore the bohemian and eccentric Westend, dip into Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, or pull up a pew in pubs where you’ll suddenly wonder where the past hour went. This is the year to get a bit of Galway running through your veins.

Words: Pól Ó Conghaile

5. Los Angeles

LA’s faded Hollywood sheen is set for a serious polishing in 2020 with the opening of the sensational new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, plus a glut of glamorous hotels.

For a long time, the City of Angels and high expectations made for poor bedfellows. A first-time visitor could be forgiven feeling distinctly underwhelmed by the tired Hollywood Boulevard or the old Downtown. Things have since improved dramatically, however, with the reimagination of Downtown as a hip neighbourhood revitalising its historic streets.

While that continues apace, 2020 will be a banner year for film fans in Los Angeles thanks to the long-awaited opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Wiltshire Boulevard.

It’s set to be a very Hollywood affair, with the Academy’s vast resources — not to mention its colossal collection of memorabilia — driving a lot of what’s on display. As well as Dorothy’s original ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the typewriter Alfred Hitchcock used to write Psycho, the curators are also keen to celebrate international cinema. One of the inaugural exhibitions will be by the master Japanese animator and founder of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, whose work includes the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, Spirited Away, which not surprisingly won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. Also boasting two theatres and a design led by the Pritzker Architecture Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano, it’ll be one of the most exciting museum openings of the year.

Significantly, too, the year ahead will also see a string of glamorous new hotels jazzing up the downbeat Hollywood neighbourhood. The 2020 openings include The Godfrey Hotel Hollywood, among others, while across the city in Downtown, hot on the heels of last year’s much-anticipated opening, The Hoxton, a branch of Proper Hotel, will be opening its doors in a 1920s redbrick former YWCA on Broadway.

Words: Jamie Lafferty

Read the full list of reasons to travel and destinations to visit in 2020 here

Published in the March 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Find us on social media

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Read More

You might also like

Discover the rugged splendour of Gangwon, South Korea's natural gem
Discovering the way of the warrior in Japan's Fukushima prefecture
Historical masterpieces: Sites that bring Oman’s past to life
Setouchi's top five heritage attractions
How to spend a day in Budapest

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2021 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved