After feverish debate, the results are finally in. Discover our travel experts' final cut of the most essential travel experiences and destinations on our Best in Travel page. And our top 10 cities - from reinvented classics to destinations on the rise - are sure to inspire your travels in 2014...
1. Paris, France
Paris is being reborn. Following a push to reduce the cars clogging one of Europe’s most congested cities, particularly its Unesco World Heritage–listed riverbanks, 1.5km of former expressway on the Seine’s Right Bank now incorporates walkways and cycleways. The pièce de résistance is the Left Bank’s new 2.5km-long car-free zone between the Pont de l’Alma and the Musée d’Orsay; floating gardens on 1800 sq metres of artificial islands and pedestrian promenades breathe new life into the once traffic-choked stretch. And that's not all: a gold ‘flying carpet’ roof crowns the interior courtyard of the Louvre’s new Islamic art galleries. Nine new bells replicating the original medieval chimes ring out from Notre Dame. After years of renovations, the Musée Picasso will again display works inside a 17th-century Marais mansion. The world’s most beautiful city is now even more beautiful.
2. Trinidad, Cuba
Discover a fascinating history
Tiny Trinidad, sloping between the tropical foothills of the Escambray Mountains and the sparkling Caribbean Sea, is a sherbet-tinged, time-trapped Unesco World Heritage Site, bulging with the best of architectural and decorative wealth from the 19th century – Mudéjar ceilings, French porcelain and Carrara marble floors. 2014 marks the 500th anniversary of the city’s foundation by Spanish conquistadors with a series of fiestas and cultural events. Trinidad is the extraordinarily beautiful result of a 19th-century sugar boom. The conspicuous wealth of its sugar barons derives from the captive sweat of imported African slaves. This legacy is what provides Trinidad with a curious thrill: Afro-Cuban dance performances, African brotherhood societies and their rituals, and the hypnotic sound of the percussive clave beat – the rhythmic foundation of salsa – erupting in dance halls every night.
3. Cape Town, South Africa
The Mother City gets a designer facelift
There’s never a bad time to visit Cape Town. In recent years the city has received a deluge of accolades paying homage to its undeniable natural beauty. This year the city is destined to get even prettier as it takes on the title of World Design Capital for 12 inspirational months. Expect sculpture-lined green spaces, sustainable projects, and further regeneration of former industrial districts such as Woodstock and The Fringe, now the stamping ground of trendy shoppers and gourmands. The main goal of the design team, though, is to bridge the gap between Cape Town’s disparate population, so venture on a tour out of town to see how innovation is turning things around in the disadvantaged townships, then explore suburban sights on the swanky bus system that’s finally making Cape Town feasible on public transport.
4. Rīga, Latvia
Europe’s culture capital
Sitting at the crossroads of the great empires that wrote the pages of Europe’s elaborate history, Rīga was – for centuries – a strategic linchpin in the annexation of important lands, until it was smothered into obscurity when the Iron Curtain fell. Today, with two decades of freedom (and a renewed status as Latvia’s capital) under its belt, the city is reclaiming its rightful title as the cosmopolitan cornerstone of the Baltic. Over the past few years hipster-chic cafes have spread like wildfire throughout the city centre, sweaty pork-and-potato dinners have been swapped for savvy new-Nordic-inspired dishes, and hundreds of crumbling facades are being restored to their brilliant, art nouveau lustre – all in time for Rīga to earn the long-deserved honour of being named the European Capital of Culture.
5. Zürich, Switzerland
Swap fondue for speed
What’s hot in Zürich in 2014? Oh, just the chance to see the cream of world athletics breaking another string of records. In August the city hosts the European Athletics Championships. ‘But, Zürich?’, we hear you say. Can a city best known for men in suits and cheques with improbable numbers of zeros really deliver a thrilling city break? We say it can. With the liberalisation of the rules governing opening hours, locals are throwing themselves into nightlife with the same enthusiasm they show for moving decimal points during the day. In the trendy Züri-West district industrial decay has given way to nocturnal hedonism, and the city by the lake has attracted revellers from across Switzerland, ensuring a Bacchanalian edge to proceedings. In addition to famous-name fashion houses and boutiques by the bucketload, the city is awash with fine dining and bijou cafes.
6. Shanghai, China
Shanghai’s coming of age
The buzz about Shanghai is electric: welcome to the city everyone wants to see (and be seen in). If China is the world’s industrial motor, Shanghai is China’s high-performance V8. The metro system – which ran to a modest three lines in 2000 – will open the 59km-long, high-speed line 16 by 2014; it’s now the third-longest network in the world. Upon completion, the twisting 121-storey Shanghai Tower will be the tallest building in China, the second-tallest in the world and the jewel in the Lujiazui crown. It will house the highest hotel in the world, a coveted trophy Shanghai has held twice over the past 15 years. To cap it all, Shanghai recently expanded its visa-free transit quota to 72 hours for citizens of 45 nations, so if you’re heading on somewhere else and don’t have a Chinese visa, you can still get a three-day look in.
7. Vancouver, Canada
Follow the leaders
Vancouver delivers on nature’s eye-candy – visit, and you’ll never be too far from spectacular mountain vistas, rambling evergreen parks and protected sandy beaches. You’ll appreciate the big-city-look/small-town-vibe the moment you arrive at the airport. Situated neatly on the Burrard Peninsula, a hotchpotch of office towers and hastily planned condos compete for the best of some of the world’s most expensive views, earning the nickname ‘City of Glass’. People live here because they love to run, bike, swim, ski and play. Boredom is not permitted here. If you simply can’t take any more of how good it gets, or it won’t stop raining, or you’ve run outta cash, head for the hills: Cypress, Seymour and Grouse Mountains and the world-famous Whistler (ski) and Blackcomb (snowboard) areas are within easy reach.
8. Chicago, Illinois, USA
The Windy City’s cloud-scraping architecture and world-class museums take centre stage, but the real fun begins after you check off the masterpieces. Head to Wrigley Field, America’s favourite baseball park, and sit in the bleachers, Old Style beer in hand, watching the woefully cursed Cubs. The ivy-walled venue celebrates its 100th birthday in 2014 with season-long festivities. Or yuck it up at The Second City, which blows out 55 candles on its cake this year. The club launched the improv comedy genre, along with the careers of Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and many more. Come summer, frets still bend at Blues Fest and guitars thrash at Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. But a couple of newcomers have cranked up the volume: Wavefront Music Festival in July and September’s Riot Fest.
9. Adelaide, Australia
Ready to be uncorked
While Melbourne and Sydney have competed for attention, Adelaide has transformed itself into the perfect host city. It has accumulated some of Australia’s most popular sporting and arts events, including the cultural tour de force of the Adelaide Festival, the Adelaide Fringe Festival and WOMADelaide. The year 2014 beckons big changes for the city’s heart, with the completion of the multimillion-dollar refurbishment of the Adelaide Oval, which will link central Adelaide with the Oval and its beautiful surrounding parklands, and historic North Adelaide further on. A gateway to some of Australia’s most accessible wine country, Adelaide is effortlessly chic – and like a perfectly cellared red, it’s ready to be uncorked and sampled.
10. Auckland, New Zealand
Cuisine, culture and coastal scenery
Auckland is often overlooked by travellers eager to head for the stellar alpine and lake landscapes further south, but food, arts and exploring the coastal hinterland are all excellent reasons to extend your stay in New Zealand’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city. New restaurant areas continue to emerge, often repurposing heritage buildings and precincts, while the funky City Works Depot adds a hip edge to Auckland’s culinary scene with craft beer and food-truck dining. The extensive refurbishment of the Auckland Art Gallery now includes a stunning glass-and-timber atrium. Venturing outdoors, check out the Wynyard Quarter for front-row views of raffish fishing boats and ritzy super-yachts.