Top places to visit in 2012

Top places to visit in 2012

How to get truly, deeply into a year of travel

Factor in your holiday allowance, the cost of flight plus hotel and the various weddings and baptisms you will inevitably have to attend, and your visit time in 2012 is anything but unlimited.

So here are seven places that should come top of your 2012 trip list.

1. Yeosu, Korea 

baekdoThe spectacular uninhibited Baek-do archipelago in Yeosu.


“The Living Ocean and Coast” is the hopeful theme of this year’s marine-focused World Expo (May 12-August 12) being held in Korea’s coastal city of Yeosu.

From a distance, the event’s plankton mascots and sub-themes like “Preservation and Sustainable Development of the Ocean and Coast” and “New Resources Technology” seem straight out of a grad school syllabus -- but look closer and this one promises to be one of the most stylish and sophisticated World Fairs yet.

The event is expected to draw 100 participating countries, and to wow eight million visitors with floating pavilions, dazzling offshore multi-media shows, a vast Ocean Experience Park representing life in the world’s five major oceans, and various forms of architectural grandeur (including a mock-up, high-tech, coastal city of 2050) all supporting the idea that human prosperity is inextricably tied to a healthier planet.

eng.expo2012.kr

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2. Antarctica

antarcticaTurn off your engines and visit Antarctica.


In the final, seventh episode of the BBC nature documentary series “Frozen Planet,” viewers are witness to what’s considered “the largest recent natural event on our planet” -- the collapse of the Jamaica-sized Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

No matter where you stand on climate change, the White Continent is incontrovertibly, irreversibly changing.

And maybe it’s really time to see it without the David Attenborough narration. Huge tabular iceberg “graveyards,” frenzies of wild penguins and the most pristine, otherworldly landscape available without a rocket ship are all here.

Quark Expeditions (www.quarkexpeditions.com) runs several up-close Antarctica journeys, including voyages to the continent’s remote east coast, rare penetrations inside the Antarctic Circle and an “Introduction to Antarctica” trip that covers all the basics for under US$4,000.

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3. Poland and Ukraine

UEFA EURO 2012The National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland.
Who doesn’t love a major sporting event with “crazy road trip” written all over it?

Euro 2012 (June 8-July 1) -- the 14th European Football Championship -- looks like just the ticket. UEFA’s big tournament has decided it’s time for something different, with the usual sites of France, England and the like giving way to stadiums in Poland and Ukraine.

That’s the farthest “out” this tournament has ever ventured, or likely ever will. All games will be split between eight cities -- four in each country -- with quarter-final and semi-final games in Warsaw and Kiev (which will host the final).

Ticket sales have been feverish since last spring, but fans can log onto the Euro 2012 site’s “Tour Operator Programme” to purchase all-inclusive packages from UEFA-licensed tour operators.

4. Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii

USS Arizona MuseumAerial view of the new memorial building that straddles the sunken USS Arizona battleship.
Last year’s US$56-million Pearl Harbor Visitor Center project, featuring a new museum, movie theaters and exhibits on a redone seven-hectare campus, makes Hawaii’s assemblage of historic naval vessels even more visit-worthy. 

Highlights include the deck of the 45,000-ton USS Missouri (aka the site of Japan’s surrender), the cramped quarters of the USS Bowfin Submarine and the wreckage of the USS Utah from a viewing platform on Ford Island.

The most arresting site lies offshore at the commemorative and newly refurbished USS Arizona Memorial, situated over a sunken battleship that entombed 1,177 Marines and sailors in its hull.

The restored offshore memorial structure stretching over the huge, shadowy wreck makes its re-debut on May 28 (Memorial Day), marking the 50th anniversary of the monument’s opening day.

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5. Calgary, Canada

Calgary stampedeThe Duke and Duchess of Cambridge helped usher in festivities at the 2011 Calgary Stampede.
Every summer, Canada’s cowboy epicenter, Calgary, Alberta, hits its boot-kickin’, bronco-bustin’, team-ropin’, chuckwagon-fare-samplin’, Duke-&-Duchess-of-Cambridge-attendin’ stride at the annual Calgary Stampede -- a treasured national event that’s been dubbed the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.”

In 1912, a traveling vaudevillian launched the event, aiming to preserve old western values and heritage. That means this year marks the rodeo’s centennial. In other words, pardner, the Calgary Stampede (July 6-15) just got even greater.

More than 700,000 visitors are expected to attend this year’s festivities at Stampede Park, which hosts premier rodeo events at the Stampede Grandstand like the GMC Rangeland Derby, as well as hundreds of general admission exhibits, concerts and activities.

For tickets and packages, cs.calgarystampede.com

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6. Myanmar

myanmar democracyA vendor sells posters of independence leader General Aung San and his daughter, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.
An isolated dictatorship besieged by economic sanctions, human rights violations and a long-standing international “tourism boycott” fostered by its own repressed pro-democracy movement -- few countries have fueled as much debate among travelers as Myanmar.

But while the tourism debate and sanctions linger on, Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and a cautiously revised National League for Democracy party line encouraging responsible travel to the country suggest that, while it may be too early to schedule a full-fledged Vietnam- or even Cambodia-style “Burmese tourism renaissance,” times are changing.

So for on-the-fence travelers, 2012 could be the year to re-engage in a pristine Southeast Asian landscape replete with timeless scenery, startling monuments, countless pagodas and charming locals who haven’t given up hope. 

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7. London, England

St. Paul'sNo stranger to the Olympics, London will host the Games for a third time around.
Home of this year’s Summer Olympics (July 27-August 12), London will become the first city to host the modern games for a third time.

To prove itself worthy it will feature a steroidal, 200-hectare Olympic Park facility and an assortment of city-wide, traveler-friendly prep measures that include an expanded high-speed rail transit system, a Gateway Travelcard good for free day-of-event commuting for ticketholders, and a “maintain normal prices” pledge signed by several London tourist attractions.

Many of the Summer Games’ 300-plus events (held at over 30 venues) will take place in the usual London hot spots: Wembley soccer, Wimbledon tennis and North Greenwich Arena basketball.

Think US$900 for gymnastics finals tickets and US$1,400 for track and field ceremony day. But fear not. There are still plenty of US$44 badminton preliminary round seats too. 

Start at www.london2012.com and, like a good marathoner, pace yourself.

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Jordan Rane writes regularly for CNN Travel and The Los Angeles Times. A Lowell Thomas Award recipient from the Society of American Travel Writers, his work on travel and the outdoors has spanned six continents and appeared in over 50 publications. He lives in Los Angeles.

Read more about Jordan Rane
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