These 10 countries are destined for an epic year, whether they’re hosting festivals, cutting the ribbon on new attractions or simply raising their game for travellers. Feast your eyes on 2014's most unmissable destinations.

1. Brazil
All eyes on the pitch for 2014’s World Cup
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A game of beach football in Rio. Image by Yasuhide Fumoto / The Image Bank / Getty Images.
As if endless strands of sun-toasted coast, mountains splashed with Crayola-green rainforest and some of the planet’s most beautiful colonial villages didn’t already add up to an unfair share of heaven, Brazil goes and snags two of the most coveted sporting events in the world, beginning with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and followed two years later by the 2016 Summer Olympics. Tack on a recession-dodging economy, and boom! Brazil is the belle of the ball. Be it trekking across towering windswept dunes peppered with cerulean lagoons in Lençóis Maranhenses, exploring gilded colonial churches in frozen-in-time cities such as Ouro Preto or swimming in aquarium-like rivers near Bonito, Brazil’s diversity will leave you slack-jawed.
2. Antarctica
The adventure of a lifetime
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A noisy gentoo penguin in Antarctica. Image by Ralf Hettler / E+ / Getty Images.
Tune into your average wildlife television program and you can’t fail to be dazzled by Antarctica’s majestic icebergs, calving glaciers and unexplored mountain ranges. Or you’ll watch its native penguin species frolic while avoiding fierce leopard seals and roaming pods of killer whales, as millions of seabirds spiral over the wild Southern Ocean. This year marks the centenary of the start of Ernest Shackleton’s infamous attempted Antarctic crossing. Visiting this pristine continent (which doesn’t have an indigenous population and is not actually a country) in 2014 is a chance to take life on and follow in the path of other intrepid explorers – but with cushier amenities.
3. Scotland 
An eventful year
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The rugged scenery of Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands. Image by Stephen Weaver Photography / Flickr Open / Getty Images.
To coincide with Glasgow hosting the XX Commonwealth Games in the summer of 2014, the city has had a multi-million-pound facelift: new sports venues, improved transport links and a regeneration of Glasgow Harbour. It is also the Year of Homecoming, a government initiative to welcome the Scottish diaspora back to the mother country by celebrating Scotland’s heritage, food and drink. The phrase ‘there’s something for everyone’ applies: Europe’s biggest brass band festival blasts Perthshire, an orienteering contest around Scottish castles, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in May... Despite all this, politics will take centre stage: to be or not to be independent, that is the question. Hold onto your hats, Scotland.
4. Sweden 
Food, culture and scary stories
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Summertime in Västra Götaland, Sweden. Image by Christer Fredriksson / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
Thanks to the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, most people have a sense of what Sweden’s like, even in the far north – cold, beautiful and a bit scary. Sweden is emerging with a new pop-culture persona. Perhaps not coincidentally, northern Sweden’s largest city, Umeå, is the European Capital of Culture for 2014. Then there’s the food. The capital has long been a stylish, top-notch destination for serious gourmands and boldly experimental chefs but lately the reputation and influence of Swedish cooking have spread beyond the country’s borders. Considering that Swedish cuisine is so strongly tied to locally sourced ingredients (be it seafood, game, berries, herbs or regional cheeses), it makes perfect sense to go to the source of all this fine food.
5. Malawi 
The Big Five and beach life without the crowds
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Elephant marches through Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi. Image by John Warbuton-Lee / AWL Images / Getty Images.
Picture this: mere hours after touching down in Malawi’s second-largest city, Blantyre, you check into superluxe digs (or pitch your tent) at the Majete Wildlife Reserve, which only 10 years ago lay decimated by poaching, but last year gained Big Five status thanks to a wildlife relocation project. You get up close to the aforementioned elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo without the pesky 4WD scrum so common in Africa’s best-known parks. Then perhaps it’s off to Lake Malawi for a spot of high-visibility snorkelling, or Mt Mulanje for a hike over hazy peaks in an otherworldly moonscape. And there’s always the Viphya Plateau, a haunting wilderness of grasslands and whaleback hills that feels downright prehistoric.
6. Mexico
The sleeping giant is waking


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Roadside fruit and vegetable stall in Oaxaca, Mexico. Image by Greg Elms / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
Sun-baking on a Caribbean beach after partying all night in Cancún; shopping for brightly coloured handicrafts or gorging on seven types of mole (chilli sauce) in Oaxaca; stepping back in time at a Mayan temple – it’s easy to feel optimistic when you’re kicking back in Mexico. And it’s not just the holidaymakers - many Mexicans are happier about living in Mexico now than most can ever remember. Exciting developments on the travel scene have continued, from major new Maya museums in Cancún and Mérida to the installation of Latin America’s longest ziplines on the rim of the awe-inspiring Copper Canyon. Now Mexico’s image is on the cusp of change – it’s time to dust off your Mexican dream again and enjoy it to the max before those prices go back up and the crowds really start rolling in.
7. Seychelles
Paradise within reach

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An idyllic spot on Anse Lazio beach on Praslin in the Seychelles. Image by Ruth Eastham & Max Paoli / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
These 115 divine islands strewn across the peacock-blue Indian Ocean have all the key ingredients for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, but their reputation as a millionaire’s playground may have kept you away. Good news: on top of exclusive island hideaways and elegant eco-villas, you can benefit from the wallet-friendlier B&Bs, picturesque Creole guesthouses and self-catering apartments that have sprung up over the past decade. And if expensive air tickets deterred you from visiting, rejoice! Increased competition has dramatically changed the situation over the past few years. And there’s much more to do than sipping cocktails on the beach. Hiking, diving, snorkelling, boat tours and other adventure options are all readily available, with the added appeal of grandiose scenery. Wildlife lovers will get a buzz too – the Seychelles is not dubbed ‘The Galápagos of the Indian Ocean’ for nothing.
8. Belgium 
High emotions in Europe's underrated gem
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Historic buildings along the River Leie in Ghent, Belgium. Image by Allan Baxter / The Image Bank / Getty Images.
Belgium has picturesque cities – Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent – and in Brussels a walkable capital with great museums. The food and drink is a gustatory blast (think the world’s best beer, chocolate and chips), the countryside flat and placid, the seaside surprisingly chic, while cultural treasures range from medieval masters to Tintin. Yet the words ‘Belgium’ and ‘holiday’ don’t usually mix. From 2014, a huge influx of visitors is expected due to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI – a festival of remembrance lasting until 2018 – which may change preconceptions. Belgo-newbies will find medieval towns where culture and gastronomy meet, with Gothic buildings, paintings by Breugel, Van Eyck and Magritte, canals and cool shops. And they’ll discover mellow meadows, where cows moo beside monuments, and battlefields and cemeteries that testify to the horrors of a war now shifting from living memory.
9. Macedonia 
Back to the future, Balkan-style
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Church on the shores of Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Image by Keren Su / Photodisc / Getty Images.
The year 2014 marks the completion of the government’s love-it-or-hate-it makeover of the capital, Skopje. The Macedonian capital has at the same time quietly become more visitor-friendly, with a bevy of cool new hostels, upscale wine bars and bistros, and one of southeastern Europe’s best club scenes. Beyond work-in-progress Skopje and the more established tourist sites such as Lake Ohrid, Mavrovo ski area and ancient Stobi, new things are happening elsewhere. Quiet Berovo, on the border with Bulgaria, is an up-and-coming contender on the spa-hotel scene. Also in Macedonia’s idyllic eastern half, sturdy old Kratovo – with Ottoman-era stone bridges and cobblestone lanes – is revitalising previously derelict Turkish mansions, attesting the bygone wealth of this old mining town. And in the arid central vineyard region of Tikveš, new quality wineries are catering to thirsty visitors.
10. Malaysia 
A revitalised Malaysia goes back to business
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Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang, Malaysia. Image by MIXA / Getty Images.
With its sights set on 28 million visitors to the country, Malaysia is rolling out an array of new attractions. The headline-grabbers are the largest bird park in Southeast Asia in Melaka (with 6000 birds featuring 400 species), and Legoland Malaysia and Hello Kitty Land in Nusajaya, which are packing in both locals and Singaporeans flocking across the causeway. The new second terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA2), catering mainly to the booming budget airline sector, is another major factor in attracting more visitors. Competitive fares offered by Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Firefly and new operator Malindo Air make getting around this widely spread-out country a cinch. Further afield, weekly direct links are now scheduled to destinations as diverse as Istanbul and Pyongyang. Amazing experiences await in Malaysian Borneo, from exploring off-the-beaten- track Kudat to indulging at the luxurious Gaya Island Resort on Pulau Gaya. And active travellers can discover the country on two wheels as cycle tourism takes off with guided tours in Sabah, a proposal to build a bike path around the coast of Penang, and a community project to map out cycle routes around Kuala Lumpur.
 
 
Need inspiration for your travels in 2014? These 10 regions have captivated our travel experts with their natural beauty and cultural riches.

1. Sikkim, India 
Green is the colour
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A bird's-eye view over Yumthang Valley in Sikkim, India. Image by Image Source / Getty Images.
Picking up national accolades in 2012 for being India’s cleanest state with the most innovative tourism project, Sikkim has set new benchmarks for responsible travel in the country. Checkbox sightseeing has rapidly made way for sustainable community-based tourism in less developed areas, while eco-friendly policies have lent new vigour to the virginal Himalayan wilderness that drapes the region’s mountains. Food-wise, there’s news too. Organic farming is the new mantra in Sikkim and is being promoted in a big way. Much of the produce available in local markets is already gunk-free, and the government proposes to convert Sikkim into a fully organic state very soon. And with a new airport scheduled to open near Gangtok in 2014, you can now shave off several hours of transit time and fly in directly from major Indian metros.
2. The Kimberley, Australia 
Beat the crowds and the resources juggernauts
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The dramatic red rocky landscape of the vast Kimberley region in Western Australia. Image by John Clutterbuck / Digital Vision / Getty Images.
The Kimberley is one of the most sparsely populated regions on the planet and one of the most starkly beautiful, carved by giant gorges, dimpled with deep, cool pools, and home to a coastline that could make Australian east-coasters weep. It’s also a region where Aboriginal culture rubs shoulders with exotic Asian influences, the rich come to spend their millions on world-class pearls, and celebrities fly in for a luxurious sojourn in the vast open spaces. For travellers, it’s always been a difficult nut to crack: croc-infested, almost impossible to travel around without a 4WD, and mostly inaccessible during the wet season (November to March). Yet the rewards are many. Explore the area now, before big business encroaches further.
3. Yorkshire, England 
Riding on a high
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Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales, UK. Image by Peter Adams / Digital Vision / Getty Images.
It’s only a matter of time before this rough-around-the-edges gentleman of the north gets the traveller attention it deserves. Yorkshire’s local athletes helped the county clock up more medals in the 2012 London Olympics than entire countries such as South Africa, Spain and even the 2016 hosts, Brazil. As if basking in Yorkshire’s glory, last year a poll revealed the North Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate was the happiest place in Britain. Bradford has become the world’s first Unesco City of Film, a new state-of-the-art gallery in Wakefield is giving London a run for its money, and Yorkshire now has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other county outside London. In 2014, this welcoming region of rugged moorlands, heritage homes and cosy pubs will be able to hold its head even higher when the Tour de France begins its grand départ from Leeds.
4. Hokuriku, Japan 
The crowds are coming…
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Footsteps on a snow-covered bridge in Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa, Japan. Image by Agustin Rafael C Reyes / Flickr / Getty Images.
Hokuriku, on Honshū’s west coast, bordered by the Sea of Japan and the magnificent Japan Alps, is saturated with culture, history and striking natural beauty. The city of Kanazawa is king, but is often overlooked by time-poor visitors who favour the more accessible sights to the east. That’s all about to change. In March 2015, the first of the long-anticipated Hokuriku shinkansen (bullet trains) will roll into town, slashing travel times from Tokyo and giving visitor numbers a meteoric boost. Kanazawa is second only to Kyoto for its population of authentic working geisha. Photogenic districts radiate from the site of the former Kanazawa Castle and Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s finest gardens. Rent a car and explore the dramatic scenery of the Noto Peninsula, or dissolve yourself in the sumptuous waters and incomparable ryokan of the Kaga Onsen area.
5. Texas, USA 
Green dream
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Fort Worth Water Gardens. Image by Allan Baxter / The Image Bank / Getty Images.
Say adiós to your Stetsons: 2014’s message to y’all is that the two extremes of the Texas image – yahooing cowboy country and oil-rich business districts – aren’t the only things cooking up on the multifaceted menu of Lone Star State diversions. For starters, the long-absent scent of greenery is galvanising Texas’ big cities, with Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Park getting a 9.3-hectare enhancement, bedizened by hiking trails and promenades, and Fort Worth’s historic heart is being shaken up with a major new plaza (bye, bustling traffic). But oh, the food… Celebrity chefs have breathed new life into Texan tucker, fast food has gone gourmet and authentic Tex-Mex means corn from the Mexican plains for your tortillas and Chiapas beans for your coffee.
6. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia 
The falls are back in business
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Victoria Falls at sunrise. Image by Paul Bruins Photography / Flickr Open / Getty Images.
Not only will the raw power of the Victoria Falls blow you away visually, but the sound of its steady violent rumble and the spray that you’ll breathe in and taste – and that will leave you soaked – is an all-round sensory encounter with mother nature. Victoria Falls is shared by the tourist towns of Vic Falls (Zimbabwe side) and Livingstone (Zambia side). Leading into 2014, both were on top of their game after multibillion-dollar makeovers for their role as co-hosts of the 2013 General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization. While Zimbabwe may sound like a dicey proposition to many tourists, rest assured things are well and truly back to normal in the town of Vic Falls. Since the US dollar replaced the much-maligned Zimbabwean dollar, the economy has recovered from years of hyperinflation – making 2014 the best time to visit in 15 years. Meanwhile, the past decade has seen laid-back Livingstone take over the mantle as the falls’ premier tourist town.
7. Mallorca, Spain 
Growing up gracefully

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The beautiful bay of Puerto de Soller in Mallorca. Image by Juergen Sack / E+ / Getty Images.
Some parts of this Spanish Mediterranean island fall squarely into the booze-and-football-chants kind of tourism but over the past few years Mallorca has been busy reinventing itself as somewhere altogether more genteel. Of course, when an island tries to reinvent itself, it helps if it’s breathtakingly beautiful, amazingly diverse and highly cultured. The energetic capital, Palma de Mallorca, is filled with art galleries and fabulous restaurants. The south and east coasts are the home of crystal white-sand beaches and shimmering blue waters that’ll leave you gasping. But it’s the northwest that most defies the clichés of Mallorca. Here the Serra de Tramuntana range, matted with olive groves, pine forests and ochre villages, tumbles almost sheer into a sapphire-coloured Mediterranean.
8. West Coast, New Zealand 
Discover new ways into the wilderness
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A splash of floral colour at Cape Foulwind on New Zealand's South Island. Image by Raimund Linke / Photodisc / Getty Images.
Hemmed in by the Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps, the South Island’s remote and sparsely populated West Coast lays claim to three national parks and large tracts of three more, encompassed within a conservation estate covering nearly 90% of its land area. In 2014, the Department of Conservation will open two major cycling and hiking trails in co-operation with local partners, as part of the newly established New Zealand Cycle Trail network. The Cape Foulwind seal colony can be visited on a revitalised walkway, as can the mesmerising mirror lake of Matheson and Hokitika Gorge, a hidden jewel. New paths deftly cut through ancient forest link the villages of Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers to their glacier trailheads. Those who think they’ve seen it all should prepare for some enlivening surprises.
9. Hunan, China 
China’s next big thing
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Electric colours in Fenghuang, western Hunan. Image by Feng Wei Photography / Flickr / Getty Images.
This province is a born star – scenically unparalleled and culturally rich, with remote corners still largely unseen. Until recent decades, the northwestern mountains were known only to the minority groups that called them home. Now, turning the birthplace of Mao Zedong into a destination is a Party priority and the province is flush with cash. A gleaming new network of high-speed trains, superhighways and regular direct flights have put Hunan’s cities in easy reach of every major city, domestic and abroad. Both the world’s new tallest skyscraper, Sky City (10m taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa), and the first lines of the expansive Changsha Metro are due to be completed by 2014. This comfortable mix of old and new isn’t what you’d expect in China, which is exactly why you should go.
10. Ha’apai, Tonga 
Get there before the word gets out
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A perfect stretch of sand on Houmale'la beach in Ha'apai. Image by Oliver Strewe / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
It would be pretty hard to be much more remote than these 62 islands in the Kingdom of Tonga, way out in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. It takes an adventurous sort just to get to Tonga, but to venture to its central island group of Ha’apai, well… What we’re talking about here is lush, reef-fringed islands, swaying palm trees, tropical sunshine, breaching humpback whales, technicolour tropical fish, scintillating sea kayaking, and even a smoking volcano – all amid a sleepy, seductive Tongan outlook on life. Sooner or later, the word is going to get out and we reckon the time to go to Ha’apai is now, before the crowds catch on. When you get there, pat yourself on the back, be like the locals and put a big grin on your face…and don’t worry, be Ha’apai!