Where to Travel Next: 2021 Hot List

This year’s annual Hot List of the best new hotels from around the world is a story of resilience. Despite enormous hardship in the travel industry, exceptional properties have continued to open across the globe (nearly a thousand last year in the U.S. alone). As always with this endeavor, each of the 69 picks on this year’s list was safely vetted by our international network of correspondents.  But as we’ve learned in the past year, everything is connected, which is why we’ve also expanded the scope of hot to include restaurants, transportation, and destinations, as well as more news we’re excited about set for later this year. In spite of it all, the following destinations are a success story all their own—and a perfect answer to that age-old question of where to travel next. We think they’re a pretty great way to mark the 25th anniversary of this list.

Click here to see the entire Hot List for 2021. 

All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Celebrate all things local in the Caribbean

Finally, it seems that sustainable tourism has caught on in meaningful ways throughout the Caribbean. This is both in response to the region’s unique vulnerability to climate change and as an alternative to a mass tourism model that doesn’t always benefit locals. In Loíza, a bustling coastal Puerto Rican town outside San Juan that was settled by enslaved Africans in the 16th century, the community group Corporación Piñones Se Integra honors local heritage with a traditional bomba dance class, accompanied by live drumming. On Barbados, the 100-acre Peg Farm is helping to reduce the island’s dependency on imported food, serving field-to-table lunches against the backdrop of the country’s lush interior, while also using biodynamic methods, free-range animal husbandry, and permaculture to regenerate the soil after centuries of sugarcane planting. On the southwestern side of Antigua, Wallings Nature Reserve, part of the island’s only remaining forest tract, is managed by women from the surrounding village of John Hughes; you’ll find hiking trails (solo or guided) along with marked local flora and endemic tree species, like the huge, mystical silk cottons. All entrance and tour fees support the reserve and provide sustainable income for the area. Whichever island you’re on, think about staying at a locally owned guesthouse. Sonido del Yaque, run by a women’s cooperative in the Dominican town of Los Calabazos, is a 10-cabin, hydro-powered riverfront lodge set in the foothills of the Cordillera Central mountain range where you can fill your days with nature hikes and invigorating river dips. — Libawit Lily Girma

Get a new taste of the old Southwest in Tucson

Most come to Tucson for its miles of hiking trails under year-round sunny skies, but it’s also worth planning a trip around its food history. The city is the first place in the U.S. recognized by UNESCO for its gastronomy, and it’s become easier than ever to seek out its Mexican and Native American heritage. The new Barrio Charro restaurant combines baker Don Guerra’s heirloom grains with chef Carlotta Flores’s Mexican flavors, resulting in dishes like tortamano sandwiches made with Azteca bread. Whiskey Del Bac’s single malt—available at its distillery and bars around the city—gets its smoky flair from local mesquite wood. And the internationally acclaimed Monsoon Chocolate turns out beautifully packaged bars that incorporate ingredients like Sonoran sea salt harvested by members of the Tohono O’odham tribe. The area’s new hotels also take inspiration from their surroundings. The Tuxon, with a Southwestern-modern vibe (clean lines, lots of earthy tones and textures), and the Posada by The Joshua Tree House, right outside Saguaro National Park, with white stucco walls and a kiva fireplace, take desert cool to a new level. — Stephanie Wu

Dubai is going for green with new eco initiatives

When you contemplate this city’s dizzying skyscrapers, five-star hotels, and man-made islands, words like conservation don’t exactly come to mind. But that’s changing, thanks to a shift in the region. Vision 2021, the United Arab Emirates’ new national agenda, pledges to focus on sustainable development, environmental preservation, and clean energy. In Dubai, there are plenty of ways for travelers to see these new eco-initiatives up close, beginning with the Sustainable City, which will be a net-zero-energy-metropolis within the metropolis where parking spaces are shaded by solar panels, biodome greenhouses allow for urban farming, and a buffer zone of trees purifies the air. Stays like Hotel Indigo are pushing to recycle all wastewater as restaurants such as Boca offer ever-shifting menus featuring ingredients like Emirati kingfish and native desert plants. Uber Green—a fleet stacked with Teslas—is a low-emissions way to see the city (or hop on a biofuel-powered bus). Skip the malls and spend a day learning about sea turtle conservation on Jumeirah Island, or move beyond the skyline altogether: The enclave of Hatta, high in the Hajar Mountains about 90 minutes away, has some of the best stargazing in the region. — Alicia Erikson

It’s a new day in Atlanta

Long before the nickname Hotlanta entered the lexicon, Atlanta was known simply as Terminus, the end of the railroad line. But if this past election season is any indication, the city is also a place of beginnings. Today, it has another moniker—the Hollywood of the South—where hits like Ozark and Stranger Things are filmed. All of this is to say that if you haven’t visited in a while, it’s time. It’s a different place, with a palpable energy coursing through its neighborhoods.

Creativity and cool are finally piercing Buckhead’s corporate façade with eateries like Garnet Gal’s, a Black-owned coffee shop that turns out organic pastries made with house-milled flour, and Kimpton Sylvan, a boutique hotel with a midcentury aesthetic. Further south, the flourishing Summerhill neighborhood has newcomers like Talat Market, which serves piquant Thai dishes made with Georgia-grown produce. In nearby Downtown, The Bakery, a multiuse arts center with a social justice bent, showcases Atlanta’s up-and-coming creatives, from painters to drag performers. The BeltLine, a railroad turned walking trail, takes pedestrians from bustling Piedmont Park to residential Reynolds-town, offering skyline views and public art displays—plus plenty of places to rest and refuel. Whatever you do, you’ll leave the city with your heart, and belly, full. — Lia Picard

 Coastal Santa Barbara is making a comeback

Santa Barbara is the Madonna of small-town reinvention, rebuilding itself after wildfires, mudslides, and now the pandemic. The last challenge reenergized State Street, the main artery; it’s now car-free, with wine bars and restaurants that spill onto the sidewalks. A new electric bike program with 30 docking locations has made the city even easier to explore. The spring debut of Palihouse Santa Barbara, a 24-room hotel surrounded by urban gardens in the Historic Presidio neighborhood, offers an intimate alternative to the area’s big resorts. And with Southwest Airlines having launched direct flights from Denver, Las Vegas, and Oakland; a new multifloor wing debuting at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art this summer; and buzz over the arrival of the Australian Walkabout, a sprawling immersive habitat at the Santa Barbara Zoo, this city is officially over the borderline. — Jennifer Blaise Kramer

Chattanooga is no longer second fiddle

The Scenic City, often overshadowed by the Music City (a.k.a. Nashville), earns its moniker with the completion of the 25th and final mile of the Tennessee Riverwalk, a paved path along its namesake waterway. Stylish hotels are opening, including Common House, the South’s answer to Soho House, in a 1929 YMCA, and Kinley Chattanooga Southside, complete with a speakeasy. Dining destination Proof Bar & Incubator unveiled Neutral Ground, an Afro-Creole restaurant from local chef Kenyatta Ashford. Last February, the city cut the ribbon on the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, dedicated to the award given for military valor, which was first presented in Chattanooga in 1863; it’s packed with interactive exhibits. The Bessie Smith Cultural Center, named for the Jazz Age star and native daughter, explores Chattanooga’s vibrant African American culture with new artifacts and a children’s education corner. — Allison Weiss Entrekin

Seek sun and steam in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan

On subtropical Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, the crab-claw-shaped prefecture of Kagoshima dangles into the East China Sea. Dubbed the Naples of Japan for its Vesuvius-like volcano, Sakurajima, it has always drawn travelers with natural phenomena like its gnarly ancient cedars (inspiration for the anime classic Princess Mononoke); sunamushi onsen, or sand baths, where visitors bury themselves for an earthy steam; and the Kirishima Mountains, a chain of active volcanoes that heat wild-river hot springs and thermal waterfalls dotting misty forests. New developments are giving the region wider appeal: Kai Kirishima, run by Hoshino Resorts, opened this year with huge windows that frame puffing Sakurajima and an onsen connected by a monorail. Sengan-en, a 12-acre garden and historic samurai home, is undergoing an extensive refurb, and Tenku, a constellation of private villas on 150 acres of woodland, now arranges scenic flights over nearby volcanoes. And the prefecture’s island of Amami Ōshima is pushing for 2021 UNESCO World Heritage recognition of its reefs and Kinsakubaru forest, home to endemic species like the Amami rabbit and Lidth’s jay. — Adam H. Graham

Singapore is staying the course

As of press time, restaurants are thriving, the religious are worshipping (250 at a time), and weddings are taking place for up to 100 guests. With community infection numbers remaining low, Singapore is taking steps to reopen tourism with the kind of strict safety protocols that have made it a model for other countries throughout the pandemic. As a start, it has established CruiseSafe, the world’s first health-and-safety audit and certification program for cruise lines, which they must complete before they can commence sailing from its port. By the end of March 2021, more than 90 ships carrying over 120,000 passengers had set sail with no port of call and, importantly, no reported incidents of Covid-19. (Passengers didn’t mind that they were on cruises to nowhere; it was enough to be on the water.) Recently, several large-scale pilot events, like a fight night and a major trade show, have also occurred without a hitch. Meanwhile, a new initiative, Connect@Singapore, is under way with the aim of reviving the island’s hospitality and air travel industries, allowing a limited number of government and high-economic-­value travelers into the country for stays of up to 14 days. Steps like these are heartening, and with nationwide vaccinations currently happening, it’s easy to imagine that Singapore will soon be fully open for business—and tourism. — Annette Tan

Stop over awhile in Zurich

Major developments are making one of Europe’s main gateways even more appealing as a connecting hub and a final destination. Late 2020 saw the opening of The Circle, a $1 billion complex at Zurich Airport occupying nearly two million square feet of newly constructed space that houses shops, restaurants, a conference center, a medical clinic, two hotels, and a 20-acre outdoor park accessed by a funicular and staffed with rangers. This fall, Kunsthaus Zürich, arguably Switzerland’s most important art museum, will become its largest after the opening of the roughly $220-million stand-alone structure designed by David Chipperfield Architects. The exterior, sturdy and imposing, is embellished with svelte vertical fins of local Jurassic limestone; the building will house the Bührle Collection (containing post-Impressionist heavy hitters like Gauguin), as well as classic modernist and post-1960 art. Note-worthy recent hotel openings include Philippe Starck’s yachty transformation of La Réserve Eden au Lac Zurich, which opened in early 2020, while the sorely lacking midrange hotel selection gets addressed with the arrival of Sorell Hotel St. Peter, in the city’s old town, and the affordable 208-room Ruby Mimi Hotel later this year. — Adam H. Graham

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