Each destination on this list isn’t just a fantastic place to visit but is also making some progress towards lowering their carbon footprint, being more accessible and/or celebrating diversity through the arts. They might be making their city a generally better place for residents and visitors. Or, the destination might just be a fantastic alternative to other cities that are crippled by numbers of tourists.
Maybe they haven’t made your shortlist of places you need to visit in 2020 but I’m here to tell you why they should!
Galway is an absolute must-visit on any Irish road trip and a worthy long weekend city break destination in its own right. Direct flights are available from London to Knock and from there it’s roughly one hour’s drive south to the coast where Galway is.
2020 is the perfect year to finally visit because Galway is a European Capital of Culture along with Rijeka in Croatia.
Choose Galway if you like small but very friendly cities, rugged beaches and brightly coloured pubs with live music every single night.
I know, Vienna is Austria's capital city and generally doesn’t need any more encouragement for people to visit! We’re all aware that it’s a fantastic city with the most decadent cafés situated on the Danube river.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of a city break to Vienna yet, 2020 is the year to go. It’s the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and, since he spent most of his life in Vienna, they’re planning quite the celebration in his honour. There’ll be no better time to finally book tickets to Vienna’s famous Opera House.
Tokyo is always in the spotlight for being one of the world’s most futuristic and sprawling cities. But in 2020, Japan’s capital city is hosting the summer Olympics and all eyes will be on Tokyo.
You might be thinking: ‘if I don’t want to see the Olympics, 2020 will be a terrible time to visit Tokyo!’ I hear you – it’ll definitely be even busier than usual in the summer months.
But cities who host the Olympics generally pay close attention to their tourism infrastructure to handle the extra crowds. If you plan a trip to Japan in 2020 after the Olympics then, hopefully, you’ll be greeted with new and improved hotels, transport services and restaurants in Tokyo. But let’s face it, Tokyo is already pretty amazing as it is.
Every year, the European Commission names one city the European Green Capital and in 2020, that city is Lisbon.
Portugal is one of the cheapest countries that uses the Euro and Lisbon is such an easy place to love. Even without its monumental efforts to become a greener city, Lisbon’s food scene (hello authentic peri-peri chicken!) and multicoloured tiled facades and so much more are reason enough to finally visit Lisbon in 2020.
Florence is overrun with tourists, Rome is constantly busy, Venice is literally sinking… Are there any important and historic Italian cities left, with direct flights from the UK, that have just an acceptable amount of travellers?
Genoa on the northwest coast ticks all those boxes and more. Funnily enough, Genoa is a huge port city and welcomes thousands of cruise ship passengers every summer. But instead of sticking around, they hop onto buses down to Cinque Terre and don’t see much of the city itself.
Home to pesto, focaccia bread and several ornate palaces which are all one big UNESCO World Heritage site, very few tourists stay in Genoa even in the height of summer. If you love Italy (and who doesn’t?), then Genoa is somewhere you need to visit in 2020.
Winner of last year’s smart tourism award, Lyon is a fantastic alternative city break to Paris and is well established as a haven for foodies. And if you’re concerned about the impact flying has on your carbon footprint, it’s worth keeping in mind that Lyon is an entirely carbon neutral airport.
Accessibility is at the heart of Lyon’s city improvements as they’ve introduced smart signage for the visually impaired. Some museums even allow adapted tours where you can touch the artworks, which is quite an amazing thing! If you’ve yet to explore France outside of the capital, Lyon should be high on your list of places to visit in 2020.
Flights to Dubai from London are just over seven hours. Considering how many people choose to take a long weekend break in New York, which has a similar flight time, the UAE’s second city might be a fantastic alternative long weekend break.
If you’re uninspired by Dubai because you’re concerned the modern mega-city will lack the soul you’re used to in the ancient cities in Europe, then you need to check out Sharjah. A mere 20-minute drive from Dubai and you’ll feel like you’re in a different country – or at least a different time period.
Sharjah was named as a World Book Capital by UNESCO in 2019 and is regarded as the UAE’s city of culture, so there’s more to be discovered in Sharjah than you might think.
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is just a two-hour flight away from UK airports and, along with a day trip to Lake Bled, is surely on any city break lover’s agenda.
What you might not know is that Ljubljana has been making fantastic progress to become a more sustainable city and reduce its carbon footprint. Private vehicles are now actually banned in the city centre and they have one, singular transport card called URBANA that allows you to travel around Ljubljana by bus, shared bike, electric train and even cable car. Sounds like an absolute dream! I wish every city was so easy to get around and it’s got to be one of the top places you need to visit in 2020.
I used to just dismiss Málaga as just a gateway city to the Costa del Sol and therefore somewhere I’d never want to go, but Málaga is more than beaches and warm climate. As the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, Málaga is passionate about its history and has attracted more and more art lovers in recent years.
Málaga is a laidback city where you can easily pop into a bar for a tinto de verano after spending an hour marvelling at the cathedral. It’s also making huge improvements to be more accessible. Málaga’s bus network has been completely overhauled to aid visual impairments and limited mobility and more than 50% of the city’s taxis are now accessible for wheelchair users. A lot of cities could take a leaf out of Málaga’s book!
With recent uncertainties regarding Brexit, many UK travellers have chosen to skip booking breaks abroad. But not leaving the country doesn’t mean you can’t have an adventurous staycation!
The Isle of Skye is just off the northwest coast of Scotland, a stepping stone to the outer Hebrides. You can hike, visit the Fairy Pools, spot some highland cows and maybe overhear Gaelic spoken in small, rural pubs while sipping on a wee dram of whisky.
Make 2020 the year of exploring the depths of your own country. It’ll probably take more effort to get there than most of the places on this list, but wow, it’ll be worth it.
I’m the founder of The Travel Hack, one of the UK’s leading travel blogs focusing on travel tips and hacks to make your travels as easy and affordable as possible. I began blogging in 2009 during a two year backpacking trip through Asia and Australia when I lived and travelled in an old VW campervan. I studied journalism when I returned home, but quickly realised traditional media wasn’t for me. I now live in Wales and have two little boys, so I also blog about family travel and my weekend adventures around Wales.