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Reader Awards 2021: the winners have been revealed

Our sixth annual Reader Awards celebrates the best places, experiences, hotels, operators, authors, podcasts and more, as shortlisted by our judges and voted for by you.

Chureito Pagoda and Mount Fuji, Japan.

Photograph by AWL Images
Published 30 Nov 2021, 12:31 GMT

It’s time to reveal the very best in travel for 2021. Our sixth annual Reader Awards celebrates the places, experiences, accommodation, tour operators, authors, personalities and more, as shortlisted by our judges and voted for by you. Looking back on another challenging year, we asked you to champion the destinations that have encouraged you to dream or enticed you back on the road; the companies that have retained consumer trust; and the people who have kept the travel conversation going. From city-break gems and far-flung wish list destinations to inspirational travel TV shows, you’ve helped your favourites receive recognition. The votes are in...

Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor on the summit of Mount Tibidabo, Barcelona, Spain.

Photograph by Getty Images

BEST CITY


Winner: Barcelona
We asked you to name an urban or regional hotspot that you can’t wait to get back to or are looking forward to visiting for the first time. From a selection of classic city escapes and popular short-break destinations around the world, it was Barcelona that bagged top spot. Embodying everything there is to love about a Mediterranean getaway, Barcelona’s blend of gothic and modernist architecture, lively nightlife, laid-back beach culture, independent boutiques and endless sunshine have clearly been the stuff of your lockdown daydreams. From the heady heights of the Sagrada Familia and the cocktail bars of El Born to the buzzing brunch spots in Gràcia and beachfront xiringuitos (bars selling drinks and tapas) of La Barceloneta, the Spanish city has it all for a superlative short-haul getaway.

Finalists: Amsterdam // New York City

 View over St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

Photograph by AWL Images

BEST SHORT-HAUL DESTINATION


Winner: Italy

Which country have you been dreaming of dashing back to at the first opportunity? We offered up a choice of short-haul destinations known to be reader favourites and you singled out Italy as your top choice — for the third time running. A land of storied cities, rolling countryside, exquisite cuisine and stellar art and archaeology, Italy has truly captured your hearts. From the sparkling lakes and ritzy ski resorts of the north to the pristine beaches of the south, it has no shortage of places to explore — and this year, with the island of Procida having been crowned the country’s Capital of Culture for 2022, there’s yet another excuse to make an Italian escape. 

Finalists: Greece // Croatia

Salon de Thé Rond cafe, Tokyo, Japan.

Photograph by AWL Images

BEST LONG-HAUL DESTINATION


Winner: Japan

Tokyo stepped into the sporting spotlight for 2021’s Olympic Games, so it’s little surprise Japan also leapt up to the podium as your number-one destination for a far-flung adventure. You showed us that Japan, with its beguiling natural and cultural diversity, is a favourite long-haul destination, racking up votes from travellers across the board. This is a timeless destination, where a stay at an ultra-modern, high-rise hotel can be combined with a bullet train ride out to a traditional, rural ryokan or a soak in a steaming onsen. There’s never been a more exciting time to visit, either: from countryside walking tours to deep-dive food and culture itineraries, tour operators are now offering more choice than ever before.

Finalists: New Zealand // US

Vila Franca do Campo on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores, one of British Airways’ new destinations for 2022.

Photograph by Getty Images

BEST AIRLINE


Winner: British Airways

Even though many of us haven’t travelled on aeroplanes recently, we asked you to show your appreciation for the airline that’s offered good customer service in trying times or one that’s aimed to win back consumer confidence with new routes and customer-focused campaigns. This year, it was the nation’s flag carrier that got your vote of confidence. Having marked its 100th birthday in 2019 and taken delivery of 20 more fuel-efficient aircraft in 2020, the venerable British Airways is flying steadily into the future. As it gears up to emerge from the pandemic — with routes resuming across the world and new destinations, such as the Portuguese islands of the Azores, recently announced — British Airways looks set to remain firmly on the nation’s travel radar for 2022 and beyond.

Finalists: Emirates // Virgin Atlantic

BEST OPERATOR


Winner: Exodus Travels

This category celebrates the brains behind the scenes: the agents and tour operators who know how to turn wanderlust wishes into magical travel memories. We asked you to tell us which company you love travelling with or to single out the firm that offered great customer support for reorganising a postponed trip. And the answers were resoundingly in favour of Exodus Travels. The company has 45 years’ experience in sending people on extraordinary adventures, having first begun by taking groups of travellers to the Himalayas. Decades on, it has expanded to offer more than 500 itineraries in over 90 countries, from self-guided walking tours and far-flung group adventures to solo trips, action-packed family getaways and unique cultural experiences.

Finalists: TUI // Trailfinders

 Dugald Stewart Monument atop Calton Hill, overlooking Edinburgh, Scotland.

Photograph by AWL Images

BEST UK DESTINATION (URBAN)


Winner: Edinburgh

We’ve all done some exploring closer to home in recent months, but which UK city has really tempted you to discover its sights? We selected some urban escapes for you to choose from, and Edinburgh shone brightest as your city star. Auld Reekie is the second-most visited city in the UK for good reason: it’s home to narrow, cobbled passageways bristling with legends; an iconic castle; and a lofty peak from which to see it all spread out before you. What’s more, the city’s medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town are abuzz with culture thanks to a year-round roster of arts festivals. Add to this some of Scotland’s finest foodie hangouts and Leith Walk’s cool cocktail spots, as well as opportunities for sojourns into the Highlands, and you have all the makings for a matchless city break.

Finalists: London // Bath


BEST UK DESTINATION (RURAL)


Winner: The Lake District National Park

In 2021, we marked the 70th anniversary of the designation of the UK’s first national parks — places that have given many of us the freedom to roam in recent months. There are 15 national parks across England, Scotland and Wales, and we asked you to show some love for your favourite. Topping the list: the Lake District National Park. From the heights of Scafell Pike to the depths of Wastwater, the Cumbrian classic offers some of the most diverse places to explore on foot. And with its increasing number of characterful places to stay, innovative foodie addresses, wild swimming spots, galleries and museums, this corner of England has become far more than just a magnet for seasoned hikers.

Finalists: Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park // New Forest National Park

A priest near the entrance to the rock-hewn church of Abuna Yemata Guh, in the Gheralta Mountains, Ethiopia.

Photograph by AWL Images

BEST TRAVEL BOOK


Winner: Hidden Places by Sarah Baxter

Lately, many of us have taken to experiencing the world via the printed (or recorded) word. But which title took you on a literary foray to lands unknown or expanded your mind and inspired your next trip? We offered up some recent releases that had kept our travel spirits high in recent months and from these, you ranked Sarah Baxter’s Hidden Places top of your reading list. Her collection of mini travelogues and essays is rich enough in colour and detail to drop you right at the destination, be it Ethiopia’s rock churches or a mysterious underwater monument deep in the waters off Japan’s Ryukyu Islands. Of our shortlist of authors, you selected three women for the top spots: an impressive trio of writers crafting erudite escapism.

Finalists: Scotland Beyond the Bagpipes by Helen Ochyra // Tough Women Adventure Stories by Jenny Tough

 

BEST FOOD & TRAVEL BOOK

Winner: The Seafood Shack by Kirsty Scobie and Fenella Renwick

The food culture of the Scottish Highlands won your hearts and stomachs in this category celebrating books that serve up more than mere recipes. We selected a shortlist of titles that we’ve championed, reviewed and tested — books that offer the perfect pairing of food and travel stories from around the world. And it was Kirsty Scobie and Fenella Renwick’s fishy foray into the Scottish Highlands that had your mouths watering and feet itching. Sharing the culinary success story of the pair’s small catering outpost in Ullapool, The Seafood Shack helps readers discover the bounty of the North Atlantic’s waters and the communities of producers that line its shores.

Finalists: Aegean by Marianna Leivaditaki // Coconut & Sambal by Lara Lee

Fish and chips on Fistral Beach, Cornwall, England.

Photograph by Getty Images

BEST FOOD & TRAVEL SHOW


Winner: Rick Stein’s Cornwall (BBC Two)

Food shows featuring celebrity chefs, street food stars and globe-trotting gourmands have never been more prolific. Our National Geographic Traveller  Food team dished up a shortlist of favourites, and you chose chef and restaurateur Rick Stein as the person you’d most like to take a virtual food tour with. Tapping into the nation’s newly increased appetite for domestic travel, Stein reveals the Cornwall that he knows and loves, celebrating the food, history, music, art and culture of England’s southernmost county. We love this impressive 15-part series, too, for its determination to dig out the region’s lesser-known treasures and to champion its bumper crop of independent food producers.

Finalists: James Martin's Islands to Highlands (ITV) // Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (National Geographic)

Scallop divers fishing off the Scottish Highlands. 
 

Photograph by Getty Images

BEST ONLINE VISITOR EXPERIENCE


Winner: Airbnb Experiences

The digital world became more valuable than ever when the real world was off-limits. We asked you to pick the online visitor experience that most lifted your travel spirits during lockdowns, from close-up looks at museum collections to wine tastings and personalised city tours. And, from a shortlist of our favourites, you selected Airbnb Experiences as your preferred way to travel virtually. The accommodation booking service has expanded into the world of experiential travel, both online and in person, offering an array of unique tours and classes led by local hosts around the globe. Virtual activities such as meditating with a Japanese Buddhist monk and cooking pasta with an Italian grandma have kept your horizons broad and bright over the past year.

Finalists: English Heritage's in-depth tours and 360-degree views of landmarks // Natural History Museum's online activities, tours and talks

BEST TV SHOW, RADIO PROGRAMME OR PODCAST


Winner: Race Across the World (BBC Two)

In this category, you voted for the TV show, radio programme or podcast that allowed you to explore everything that’s great about travel, be it in sound or on screen. From our shortlist, it was BBC Two’s high-octane Race Across the World that come out as your favourite. The show saw pairs of contestants having to find the quickest route around the globe without the use of smartphones or air travel, relying instead on wits, luck and fitness to see them across the finish line. As with any great travel experience, the personal journeys and the kindness of strangers outshone any local landmark. 

Finalists: Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime (BBC TWO) // Joanna Lumley’s Hidden Caribbean (ITV)

Bird How, a National Trust property in the Lake District.

Photograph by Chris Lacey / National Trust

BEST UK ACCOMODATION PROVIDER


Winner: National Trust

With staycations having become a firm fixture for many travellers over the past year, we asked you to name the hotel, cottage or campsite operator that has provided somewhere truly special to stay, or one that has offered great customer service or tempting travel inspiration. The National Trust, with its 500-plus cottages, bothies, bunkhouses and hotels in stunning spots across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, was a clear winner. As well as being dog- and family-friendly, the charity’s accommodation is often packed with history and character, with offerings including a Victorian lighthouse and fairytale-esque towers.

Finalists: Canopy & Stars // Sykes Cottages

Senior Guide Florence Kagiso mentors a group of 17 female guides, known affectionately as Chobe’s Angels, at Chobe Game Lodge in northeast Botswana. The group was founded in the mid-2000s, helping to carve out space for women in a traditionally male-dominated industry. 

Photograph by Chobe Game Lodge

THE INNOVATOR


Winner: Florence Kagiso

Over the past 12 months, our content has championed those innovators working tirelessly to make the travel landscape more accessible, sustainable and diverse. When Botswana-based Florence became one of Africa’s first female guides in 2004, she laid the ground for a new generation of women to follow in her footsteps. Florence currently works at Chobe Game Lodge with an all-female safari guide team — affectionately known as Chobe’s Angels — that have helped travellers explore the wilds of Botswana’s northeastern corner and, in so doing, shifted the role of women working in the region’s safari industry. Her story and dedication have inspired you, too.

Finalists: Paul Lister, rewilding champion and custodian of Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Scotland // Hilary Bradt, founder of Bradt Travel Guides

Chureito Pagoda and Mount Fuji, Japan.

Photograph by AWL Images

THE WISH-LIST DESTINATION


Winner: Japan

The more we travel, the more we realise there’s still so much of the world left to see. So, where’s that one place you’ve been dreaming of in recent months? Our team compiled a list of destinations on our radar, from Australia to Colombia and beyond, and you singled out Japan as your wish list winner. And with tourism organisations focusing on promoting the country’s lesser-known islands and cities, Japan’s unique and varied offerings are now more accessible than ever. This is a double-whammy win for the nation, which also bagged the top prize in our Big Trip category. It’s clear that Japan’s stint as Olympic host has done much to keep it present in our minds — and firmly on our travel wish lists.  

Finalists: New Zealand // Costa Rica

The National Geographic Traveller Reader Awards 2021 offered voters the chance to win the following prizes.

Photograph by National Geographic Traveller

The prizes awarded to voters...
 

1. A week’s stay at a trullo villa in Puglia, Italy
One voter and five friends will spend a week at beautiful Trulli Olea, one of Puglia’s distinctive conical-roof houses, complete with private pool. Set in the countryside near the whitewashed hilltop town of Cisternino, Olea has a gorgeous shady gazebo for al fresco dining, hammock-strung terraces, a farmhouse kitchen and three separate apartment bedrooms decked out with local handicrafts. relaxpuglia.com

2. A three-night guided UK walking break
Team up with your favourite walking partner to enjoy a three-night guided walking holiday with HF Holidays, whose trips involve a stay in country houses nationwide. Up to three walks a day, ranging from easy, medium to hard, are led by an experienced HF Holidays Leader. On your return, refuel in comfort with full-board accommodation at your chosen HF country house. hfholidays.co.uk

3. A £300 Citalia voucher
With 90 years’ experience, Citalia’s carefully curated trips span 300 hand-picked hotels, bespoke cultural itineraries, beach breaks, and exclusive train journeys. So, whether you dream of a Tuscan road trip or an indulgent Sicilian beach break, these travel vouchers, and Citalia’s expertise, will help you get there. citalia.com

4. A free magazine subscription
Fancy a year’s worth of National Geographic Traveller for free? Well, we’re giving away 20 subscriptions to lucky Reader Awards voters. 

The prizes in the National Geographic Traveller Reader Awards 2021 are kindly provided by Relax Puglia, HF Holidays and Citalia.

Photograph by National Geographic Traveller
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