12 must-visit cities to see in 2024, according to a travel expert – The Seattle Times

There’s no shortage of fascinating places to visit in 2024. I know because I’m on the road 365 days a year, and in 2023, I visited a few destinations I can personally recommend.
I don’t just parachute into these places for a few days with my reporter’s notepad. I spent several weeks in almost all the cities on my list. I shopped in the markets, explored the city and befriended the locals. Sometimes, I also brought my college-age sons along for the adventure.
You’d think “What’s your favorite destination?” would be the question people ask me the most, but it’s not. (I’ll share the No.1 question in just a minute.)
First, here’s my list of the 12 best places to see in 2024, along with the best time to visit. 
You’ll want to sail down to Antarctica during the Southern Hemisphere summer. Temperatures are relatively mild and the normally tempestuous Drake Passage is calmer. I flew to Ushuaia, Argentina, and boarded the Hurtigruten Expeditions MS Fridtjof Nansen for a 10-day cruise down to Antarctica in late December and arrived in the White Continent just before the new year. It was spectacular. Even though it looks a little risky, you should not miss a hike on the ice to see the penguins. If you’re really brave, try the polar plunge into subfreezing water. Unfortunately, we missed our chance to dive into the Antarctic because the glacier was calving, sending large sheets of ice crashing into the water. Go see it before it’s gone.
Qatar is one of the most underrated destinations in the world. The weather in late winter is nearly perfect — warm days, cool nights. My sons and I spent time wandering around the world-famous Souq Waqif, a crowded market where you can buy almost anything, but the main activity seems to be drinking coffee and smoking vanilla-scented shisha (we tried the coffee, but skipped the shisha). Highlights of our visit included an afternoon spent at the National Museum of Qatar, which explains where this gleaming metropolis came from, and a journey to the desert to see the monoliths by American sculptor Richard Serra.
Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island, feels like a different planet. March is early fall in the Southern Hemisphere, but even then, the hills remain a brilliant shade of green. You’ll recognize this place if you’ve ever seen one of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, but there is so much more to it than the striking cinematic scenery. Christchurch is a welcoming city with terrific coffee shops (my favorite was Espresso Studio by Fushoken) and great dining options that are easy on the wallet. I spent days wandering around Hagley Park in the middle of town and admiring the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. Make sure you get out of town to hike up in the mountains. You don’t have to love Middle-earth to enjoy New Zealand’s South Island.
If you can get to Kyoto in April, you should do it. The cherry trees bloom in mid-March and usually reach their peak in early April. But even if you miss sakura season, you really need to see this place. The former Japanese capital is filled with ancient temples and shrines. This is also the place to go to learn how to make sushi from the artisans at Kyoto Sushi Making or, as you are struggling to adjust to the new time zone, find a place that serves authentic ramen. My sons and I kept coming back to Kyoto Engine Ramen, hidden down a narrow alley and always crowded with jet-lagged expats.
Vietnam was the biggest surprise during my 2023 travels. I spent a long weekend in Hoi An, in the central part of the country, and I’m still processing the natural beauty of the place, with its steep green mountains and postcard-perfect beaches. Hoi An is an ancient city filled with temples and a rich history of various cultural influences, including Chinese and French. Make sure you get down to the marketplace and out on the Thu Bồn River at dusk, when the boats drift downstream with their colorful lanterns. And check out the pho for dinner over at the Anantara Hoi An Resort.
If you’re looking for something different in Japan, outside of Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo, you should check out Fukuoka. It is easily the most friendly of the Japanese cities I visited. If you make this a second stop in Japan, I highly recommend getting there via the shinkansen (bullet train), which is an engineering marvel. Fukuoka also has excellent shopping. We stocked up on green tea before heading back to the States. If you can catch the hydrofoil out to Iki Island, it’s well worth it. Don’t miss dinner at the Iki Retreat if you go. It’s worth the trip.
Chile has some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world, and there’s no better time to visit than during the middle of the Southern Hemisphere winter. Some of the top resorts, such as Portillo, are only a short drive from Santiago. Even if you visit Chile during the summer, you can still look at the snow-capped Andes mountains and think about the world-class skiing in the Southern Hemisphere.
I know this is going to sound strange, but the best part of visiting Seoul was taking long walks in Gyeongui Line Forest Park, a 3-mile-long urban park that used to be an old railroad line. It takes you through some of Seoul’s famous neighborhoods, and you’ll find an almost endless variety of coffee shops and restaurants where you can stop and enjoy the view. Sure, there are irresistible cultural sites, such as Gyeongbokgung Palace and Jogyesa Temple. But I will always remember Seoul for its vibrant coffee-shop culture and friendly people.
I returned to the States for a few weeks this fall. I stayed in Marina del Rey, Calif., but spent some time along the beach in Venice and Santa Monica. And there’s one takeaway from talking to shopkeepers and tour operators. Early fall is really the best time to visit L.A. Hotel rates, particularly in touristy areas, tend to slip during the shoulder season. I love L.A. during the early fall, and if you find yourself near the beach, you should check out Santa Monica’s A Walk Through Pier History tour, which tells the backstory of this iconic attraction. And who doesn’t love an old merry-go-round?
The Golden Triangle region, where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, used to be known for its opium trade. Today, it’s all about tourism. Although the rainy season is over, it still isn’t too busy here, so you’ll practically have all the temples to yourself and can take long walks through the rainforest or along the rice fields without having to dodge busloads of visitors. There are elephants here, and there may be no better place to see them than at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort, which also offers dramatic views of the Ruak River and beyond it, Myanmar and Laos.
Words fail me when trying to describe the experience of watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world. It’s a historic landmark of breathtaking scale that is being devoured by the jungle. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I probably never will again. Go to the main temple complex just before dawn and watch the sun come up. Getting to Siem Reap is now much easier thanks to a new international airport, and there is plenty to do in the city. But this destination is all about the temples. You’ll need at least three days to even get a sense of the scale of Angkor Wat, but it will be something you’ll never forget.
There may be no better place to spend the end of the year than in Hobart, Australia. It is the peak of the Southern Hemisphere summer, and Hobart is one of the coolest Australian cities in which to enjoy it. You can watch the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race from the suburb of Battery Point or catch the ferry out to the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) to see one of the most bizarre art museums in the world. If you can get out of town, check out Cradle Mountain and visit with the Tasmanian devils at Devils@Cradle Sanctuary
So is there an answer to the question “What’s your favorite destination?” With so many places to see, I can’t pick just one favorite. I love all these places.
And yet, this isn’t the most frequently asked question. My friends have stopped asking me how I am; now they ask me where.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.