Best cities to travel to in 2012

Best cities to travel to in 2012

Lonely Planet names a surprising list of next year's up-and-coming tourist destinations

Forget what you know about these unusual choices for best city. Their standings on this Lonely Planet list don't go without merit.

New stadiums, global events, pop culture, festivals, and a little bit of fresh paint have all made these cities the next stand out stars of 2012.

1. London, England

London OlympicsThe Olympics are coming -- finally, an excuse to change Paddington Bear's outfit.“The Olympics are riding into town and a whole swath of the capital is being transformed in the process.” - Lonely Planet

This culturally saturated, yet sometimes dreary city revives itself with Olympic hype. The Games will give tourists more to look forward to than the standard tourist routine of Big Ben, Tate Modern and the London Eye.

The Royal Wedding in 2011 may have also given a little nudge to tourism in this England capital. Tour companies have been doing Will and Kate tours to add to the existing iconic Beatles, Harry Potter, and Jack the Ripper tours.

More on CNNGo: London taxis voted best in the world

2. Muscat, Oman

" I didn't know Satan's horns were that small.""Oman is firing on all fronts to attract international visitors, expanding everything from its museums to its resorts. Muscat is the focus for the revamp, with cultural events, luxury accommodation and aquatic activities taking center stage." - Lonely Planet.

This city historically hasn’t garnered much traveler attention but it has everything an active vacation calls for: markets, beaches, diving, turtle/dolphin watching, caving, kite surfing, trekking, desert safaris, rock climbing, all in one place.

It’s the perfect destination for families, couples, and thrill-seeking men facing a mid-life crisis.

Also, have you seen their completely post modern flag?

More on CNNGo: Oman's Jewel of Muscat: Re-creating a 8th century sea voyage

3. Bengaluru, India

Bangalore paintBangalore -- great for photo ops.“Perpetually drunk on the good life, this South Indian metropolis packs in the best brews, the scrummiest cuisines, and the liveliest arts and music scene, not to mention the hippest population you could hang out with.

This year, evenings in the ‘capital of cool’ are poised to get even more intoxicating.” - Lonely Planet.

Not your standard tourist destiination. This is for those who want to endure an entirely different culture. Despite its beautiful gardens, Bangalore's charms lay in the culture and people that emerge from the polluted chaos.

This modern city is a magnet for young urbanites who flock to the metropolis for work and play. Only downside? The bars and clubs close at 11:30 p.m.

More on CNNGo: Off season is on Season in these stunning cities

4. Cádiz, Spain

Carnival of CádizCarnival of Cádiz makes Halloween look like child's play. "Cádiz has found itself named Ibero-American Capital of Culture for 2012 – the first time a European city has held the honor.” - Lonely Planet

The annual Carnival of Cádiz shakes up this historic city's sleepy routine. People in Cádiz put on fancy dress and go wild for two weeks. It's a great opporitunity to interact with the locals -- who are known for their sarcastic wit.

Even if you don’t know Spanish, tourists are welcome to join the fun especially if they dress up and participate in all the activities. There are theater groups, choirs, poets and dancers. 

More on CNNGo: Indian tourists flock to Spain

5. Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm Stieg LarssonDon't expect the scary Stockholm Stieg Larsson pictured. “The film release of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might have prompted a new wave of Stieg Larsson fans to look for the grimy side of Stockholm.

Unfortunately they’ll have to look quite hard, because Stockholm looks as perfect as it’s ever been." - Lonely Planet

If you fell in love with the romance of Venice, you'll love Stockholm. This metropolis is made up of 14 islands and over 50 bridges. 

Highlights include the canals, medieval towns, cozy coffee shops, art galleries, and an insane amount of museums -- about a hundred to choose from.

More on CNNGo: 10 great cities, 100 fantastic free attractions

6. Guimaraes, Portugal

Guimaraes' status in the Unesco World HeritageDespite Guimaraes' status in the Unesco World Heritage List, there aren't too many foreign visitors. Yet.“This northern Portugal city is breathtakingly beautiful, as recognized by its place on the Unesco World Heritage List, yet mysteriously it doesn’t figure on the radars of many foreign visitors ... Now is the moment to visit, as the city has been anointed the European Capital of Culture in 2012.” - Lonely Planet

So what does being anointed the European Capital of culture mean? It’s kind of like holding the mini burden of Olympics.

Over the course of next year, the historic city will be the official promoter of Europe’s cultural diversity, displaying all sorts of creations like music, cinema, photography, fine arts, architecture, literature, thought, theater, dance and street art.

More on CNNGo: 50 reasons Melbourne is the world's most livable city. 

7. Santiago, Chile

sexy cafesBelieve it or not, these sexy cafés are only open in the day and serve no alcohol. “Culture and sports have come to the fore and new museums have opened to acclaim. Dining is now top-notch, nightlife exhilarating and this year also marks the inauguration of the tallest building on the continent, the 70-storey Torre Gran Costanera." - Lonely Planet

If you want the South American adventure without the tourist crowds of Buenos Aires, pay a visit to Santiago.

The first thing you should do in Santiago? Experience the very unique coffee culture.  

Find a Cafe con piernas (coffee with legs) -- cafés where women dressed as strippers serve morning coffee (they’re only open in the morning and serve no alcohol).

More on CNNGo: Another 15 unsual places to spend the night

8. Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong viewAs Hong Kong protesters demand more democracy, enjoy the view from the harbor. “Rallies are infused with theatrics and eruptions of song, dance and poetry, reflecting the city’s vibrant indie music and literary scenes. Enjoy views of skyscrapers marching up hills from the Star Ferry, before challenging your senses at a wet market or divining your future at a temple.” - Lonely Planet

The recent protests and rallies in Hong Kong has garnered the smoggy city some international attention, but that’s not why we would recommend you visit this city.

The hiking, boating culture, nightlife, food and efficient transportation system are world-class. And If you don’t get on with the locals, there are plenty of fun-loving commonwealth expats looking for new friends.

More on CNNG: Hong Kong protests become a tourist attraction

9. Orlando, United States

Orlando tripOrlando will have the highest concentration of slam dunks in February 2012.“This should be a great year for Orlando as it’s hosting the 61st NBA All-Star Weekend (25 and 26 February, 2012).

The hippest sporting event in the USA , it brings much of the basketball and music worlds together for slam-dunk contests, after-hours parties and concerts, as well as the all-star game itself.” - Lonely Planet

At first we thought the same thing. Orlando? Really? The world-famous theme parks are great but they won’t be the main attraction next year.

By hosting of one of the most hyped up sports competitions in America, Orlando locals will be in a party mood -- a great time to catch the nightlife action with parties, wineries, pubs and dance clubs.

More on CNNGo: The world's best city

10. Darwin, Australia

Darwin 2012"Eh, now I know how those fish feel at Chinese restaurants."“It was once easy to dismiss Darwin as a frontier town full of brawling fishermen, dreamy hippies and redneck truckers.

"But with a pumping nocturnal scene, magical markets and restaurants, and world-class wilderness areas just down the road, today Darwin is the triumph of Australia’s Top End." - Lonely Planet

Forget the kangaroos of Sydney and Melbourne, Darwin is the “real” Australia. Sitting on the very tip of the country, it’s a gateway to the outback with its abundance of beaches and wild life, especially crocodiles.

Despite its deadly creatures this outback city is still a lively destination with plenty of wharf-front restaurants and markets best enjoyed during one of their killer sunsets.

More on CNNGo: World's 50 best surf beaches

Jane Leung is a Hong Kong-born Canadian who has dabbled in the mixed media bag of film and television production, the professional sports industry and magazine publishing. 

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