Top 3 Destinations for 2018
In 2017 I found myself moving to the other side of the world, starting a new job, and just about every other cliché a millenial "reinventing themselves" might think to do. Spoiler alert: still me, just more pretentious. But as I stumbled my way through nine beautiful countries, this year did gift me with some new favourite locations.
Without further ado, here are my top three destinations everyone needs to visit in 2018.
3. Queenstown, New Zealand
Yes, I'd somehow never been to Queenstown until March of this year. Queenstown is everything that New Zealand prides itself on, with stunning landscapes and chill vibes that enchant nature lovers, thrill seekers and every type of traveller on the spectrum. If you're coming to New Zealand from abroad and not sure where to visit, I can honestly say you'd have an excellent time even touring just this one city.
For a perfect, touristy day with a bit of adventure thrown in for good measure, hike the Tiki Trail up to Skyline Queenstown, ride the luge sleds once you get up for some crazy fun with an incredible view, take the gondola back down to the town and rent a kayak on the beach—the best way to enjoy Lake Wakatipu. It's a simple hike that takes about an hour, but could stretch closer to three hours if you stop at one of the many waterfalls for an impromptu photoshoot. Speaking from experience. For a unique day trip, book a coach bus/cruise tour to Milford Sound (Piopiotahi), in New Zealand's largest (and UNESCO certified) National Park, Fiordland.
2. Florence, Italy
Florence is truly what makes Italy great—perhaps even more so than European staples like Venice and Rome. The city itself is remarkably beautiful, but the Renaissance architecture has nothing on the food, the music, and the art.
In true Italian style, Florence is best experienced simply by walking around and seeing what you find. Famously the "cradle of the Renaissance," every street seems to lead to iconic churches, museums and art galleries with no shortage of gelato and pasta shops along the way. The most famous of these galleries are the Uffizi and the Academia, but you can also catch a glimpse of Michelangelo's David by visiting a replica of the original in the Piazza della Signoria, the square surrounding the Palazzo Vecchio town hall.
Sometimes you can love a place without feeling the need to go back, and I think we've all lamented on that hackneyed expression of "I've done it now." But I get it. The world is full of wildly different lands and you can feel like you've had enough of one place or experience. I can genuinely say, I will never have enough of Italy. A handful of visits later and I still can't wait to return, and now Florence is right at the top of that list.
And now, winning the title of best destination of the year...
1. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a fairytale come to life, something I felt even before seeing almost a dozen couples during my trip doing wedding portraits outside the gorgeous gothic cathedrals. One woman's prince was even carrying her sparkling shoes—not because she'd ran from the ball, but because heels were not invented for cobblestone walkways.
Prague's historic Old Town is a short walk from Charles Bridge, the statue-lined 13th century icon crossing the Vltava River. It's on this west side of Prague that you'll look up and find the towering Prague Castle, Pražský hrad. When I think of a castle I tend to picture a singular, pretty building dedicated to one or more Disney princesses. Prague Castle is a straight up fortress. Churches, private gardens, palaces and any other building you can think of help make up what is considered the largest castle in the world (sorry Shanghai Disneyland).
For an unmissable panorama of the orange-roofed views below, you'll find St Vitus Cathedral in the castle grounds. A great experience I had in my adopted home town of Christchurch, New Zealand was climbing the 113 steps to the top of the Christchurch Cathedral, a structure as old as the city itself that gave sweeping views of the bogans below. For some notably less 'destroyed-by-earthquakes' fun, however, St Vitus' south tower is where you want to go. The narrow staircase requires a surprising amount of stamina, as well as patience while people attempt to come down the staircase as you climb it, but you'll be treated to gorgeous stained glass windows and enormous church bells if you peek through the windows as you ascend.
While on Prague's west side it's worth taking a stroll to see the famous and oh-so-instagrammable John Lennon Wall in Malá Strana. A monument to peace, the colourful wall has been covered in inspirational lyrics from John Lennon and The Beatles since the 1980s, and musicians are frequently found at the popular tourist spot performing his music. Hearing someone perform an acoustic cover of "Imagine" on his guitar while surrounded by people from every corner of the globe was easily one of the highlights of my life so far, and definitely melted my frosty heart a little bit.
Thank you to every person and place who came into my life in 2017. Where did everyone else go? What were your favourites? Here's to a new year full of incredible adventures and empty wallets.