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Best of the World: eight unmissable cultural experiences for 2022 and beyond

Now is the time of year when many of us plan an adventure for the year ahead. And with countless trips put on hold in recent months, there’s plenty of pent-up desire to set out and explore again — but where to go?

Downtown Atlanta as seen from the city’s Centennial Olympic Park, Georgia, US.

Photograph by Getty Images
Published 18 Nov 2021, 13:01 GMT, Updated 18 Nov 2021, 14:05 GMT

If you’re looking for inspiration, editors from National Geographic Traveller titles around the world have picked the planet’s 35 most exciting destinations for travel in 2022. Five categories — Adventure, Culture and History, Nature, Family and Sustainability — frame unforgettable experiences that reveal the beauty and diversity of the world around us. The pandemic may have changed when, where, and how we travel, but there’s no doubt that we’re excited to pack our bags and hit the road again.

1. Atlanta, Georgia

Be inspired by a southern US city rising to 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 organisations: 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, co-founder of the creative agency Atlanta Influences Everything. “Atlanta’s ‘special sauce’ is its three Cs: 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 nowhere else quite like Atlanta.”

Georgia’s largest city is also an epicentre 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 neighbourhood blends nightlife 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.

From National Geographic Travel US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

Ainu man in his shop in Akan Mashu National Park, Hokkaido, Japan.

Photograph by Alamy

2. Hokkaido, Japan

Find the flip side to anime-filled Japan

Marginalised since the late 1800s, the Ainu, indigenous people from the northern region of the Japanese archipelago, were finally granted legal status in Japan in 2019. But while the country’s new Ainu Promotion Act recognises and bans discrimination against the Ainu — who now reside mainly on Hokkaido, Japan’s wildly scenic and northernmost main island — it does little to directly help them, indigenous activists say. That could change in the future, however, as more Japanese and international visitors travel to Hokkaido to learn about Ainu culture at Upopoy, the new National Ainu Museum and Park complex, opened in 2020.

Upopoy has a pressing, three-pronged mission: promote, revitalise 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, one of Hokkaido’s best hot springs resorts, set in Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

From National Geographic Travel US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

The island of Procida, off the coast of Naples in southern Italy.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Procida, Italy

Connect with Italy’s Capital of Culture

Chosen pre-pandemic, the theme of Procida’s winning bid as the Italian Capital of Culture 2022 — La cultura non isola (Culture doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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’re all like islands, creating our own archipelagos where culture has to be the mortar that holds them together. This is even more the case following the effects of the pandemic.”

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 summer visitors. 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.

From National Geographic Travel US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

Regent Sounds Studio and guitar shop on Denmark Street, London.

Photograph by Alamy

4. Tin Pan Alley, London

Make some noise in the birthplace of British punk rock

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 Tin Pan Alley, helped launch the British punk rock movement and legends like 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 music history is being revived as part of Outernet London, the West End’s new £1bn immersive 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). 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.

From National Geographic Travel US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

5. Jingmai Mountain, Yunnan, China

Be transported by 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 over one 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 (60kg of tea equalled one horse).

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

From National Geographic Traveler China (Yi Lu, and Regina Zhuoqing Li)

A sculpture by Austrian artist Franz West called Spalt on the banks of Oslofjord in the Norwegian capital.

Photograph by AWL Images

6. Oslo, Norway

Fjord City gets a marvellous makeover

Fjord City, an urban renewal project reimagining Oslo’s waterfront, is making the city’s cultural sites and scenic, 62-mile-long Oslo Fjord more accessible to all. The massive transformation, slated to be finished by 2030, has so far moved highways underground and repurposed industrial sites to create a seamless transition between the city and the fjord. A pedestrian- and wheelchair-friendly promenade stretches nearly six miles along the new-look harbourside, which is bookended by the Astrip Fearnley Museum of Modern Art to the west and the Oslo Opera House to the east, where visitors can walk on the sloped roof to look out over the water.

In between, is an embarrassment of cultural riches: art galleries, historic sites, parks, performance venues, multiple museums — including the Nobel Peace Center — and even a floating sauna. The newest gems in Oslo’s cultural cache are two of Norway’s best and biggest: the Munch Museum, opened in October 2021, housing the world’s largest collection of works by the Norwegian painter, best-known for The Scream, and the sleek, new National Museum, opening June 2022. The latter, with 13 acres of floor space, is the largest cultural centre in any Nordic country. It’s also where you can see the best-known version of The Scream, created in 1893.

From National Geographic Travel US (Maryellen Kennedy Duckett)

Lobby at Hoxton Rome. 

Photograph by The Hoxton

7. Rome, Italy

The Eternal City revamps its ancient sites and opens hipster hotels

They call it the Eternal City, but that doesn’t mean Rome is stuck in the past. Post-pandemic, there’s a new energy to the Italian capital. For starters, a hit squad of cult international hotel chains has parachuted in post-pandemic, choosing to set up in residential areas where tourists rarely tread. Soho House opened in autumn 2021 behind the train station in the San Lorenzo district — home to a university, a hospital and Italy’s first pizza vending machine. On that same, eastern side of the city is The Hoxton, Rome, which has already brought London chic to the elegant Parioli district.

Closer to the centre, the W Rome opened in November just off Via Veneto, aiming for a dolce vita vibe. On the other side of the Tiber is perhaps the most exciting of all: Mama Shelter Roma, in the Prati district, which occupies two modernist former office blocks, both listed buildings. The French chain’s playfulness has gone all out, with outré carpets featuring everything from pizzas to Roman emperors, and pastel swirls around the basement pool. The highlight, though, is the rooftop restaurant, and its panoramic views of the city skyline, the dome of St Peter’s Basilica (almost reach-out-and-touch close) and the hills beyond the city.

Recent archaeological digs have seen ‘new’ ancient sites open to the public, from the Mausoleum of Augustus — a monumental, spiral-shaped tomb, where most of ancient Rome’s emperors were laid to rest — to the Horti Lamiani, the now-subterranean gardens of the emperor Caligula. Most exciting? The ‘archaeological box’ at the Aventine hill, where the remains of a first-century villa have been opened beneath an apartment block. The property is so huge, that the mosaicked bedroom and dining areas have been ingeniously suspended (in the ‘box’) over even earlier remains. Even the Colosseum has got in on the act — its new guided tour takes you down into the underground passageways where gladiators and wild animals once prepared for the games upstairs.

From National Geographic Traveller UK (Julia Buckley)

An aerial view of Cairo as the Nile snakes off into the distance, Egypt.

Photograph by Getty Images

8. Cairo, Egypt

A grand museum opening, a film launch, and more, put Cairo in the spotlight

Egypt’s capital will shine under a bright spotlight in 2022. Hollywood is releasing a much-anticipated (and much-delayed) adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, featuring an all-star cast that includes Kenneth Branagh and Gal Gadot. It also marks 100 years since Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb; Jean-François Champollion deciphered the Rosetta Stone, unlocking the meaning of hieroglyphs; and the country celebrated semi-independence from British Rule.

Linking them all is the hotly anticipated opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum. Slated to be the largest museum in the world dedicated to one civilisation, this mega-sized, £600m complex, located two miles from the Giza pyramids, will exhibit the complete contents — around 5,000 items — of King Tut’s tomb, including never-seen-before treasures such as his underpants! Other highlights include an almighty granite statue of King Amenhotep III and the falcon-headed god Ra — both only unearthed in 2009. It’s a far cry from the crowded, dusty cabinets of the former Cairo Museum, which was closed in March 2019 and had its valuables transferred to the new museum. If this piques your interest, Black Tomato has a new Field Trip experience set in Cairo from September to June that allows travellers aged 16 and over to join an archeological excavation — ordinarily closed to the public — at the UNESCO-listed Saqqara Necropolis. Participants will see ancient artefacts that haven’t even made it to museums yet. The experience can be added to the Ultimate Egypt itinerary, which includes everything from after-hour tours of museums to visiting master craftsmen.

From National Geographic Traveller UK (Emma Thomson)

Travel with Nat Geo: Discover these unique destinations and many more travelling with Nat Geo Expeditions. Check all our itineraries.

Read more from Best of the World: 35 incredible trips for 2022 and beyond

Published in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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