13 best, cheapest, and weirdest travel destinations of 2013

Decide where to take your next vacation with this compilation of "best of" travel destinations for the coming year, from Amsterdam to New Zealand. 

Guillermo Granja/Reuters/File
The ice-covered twin peaks of Illiniza, located 55 km (34 miles) south of Quito, are seen in Latacunga, Ecuador in this March 2011 file photo. Ecuador's capitol city, Quito, is lauded by National Geographic as an overlooked travel hot spot.

Another year, another collection of lists purporting to know the best, cheapest, or weirdest places for your next vacation.

So which list do you listen to? Which publication knows best? Which locale do you visit?

To help find an answer, we’ve compared all the best-of lists and best-on-a-budget lists we could find. We also rounded up the unique travel lists – in case you’re traveling for a tattoo or want to travel back in time.

Best of the best

We consider these eight hotspots the best of the best because they appear on multiple best-of lists.

1. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This capital city made three lists for 2013: Fodor’s Go ListLonely Planet’s Top 10 Cities, and Travel + Leisure magazine’s Hottest Travel Destinations.

Amsterdam’s 2013 milestones include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s 125th anniversary; Van Gogh’s 160th birthday; the Artis Zoo’s 175th anniversary; and the 400th anniversary of the Canal Ring, designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Rijksmuseum also reopens after a 10-year restoration.

So, Fodor’s says, “The city is ready to celebrate with concerts, exhibits, festivals, and sport events designed to embrace the spirit and culture of Amsterdam.”

2. Marseille, France

France’s second-largest city also made three lists: Fodor’s, Travel + Leisure’s, and National Geographic magazine’s Best Trips – plus the European Union’s European Capital City.

Travel + Leisure calls Marseille France’s edgiest city: “Style seekers browse the racks in the Cours Julien district; artists are colonizing the Le Panier area; and trendy types hole up at Philippe Starck’s Mama Shelter.”

But, National Geographic says, “For all the new energy, Marseille’s old pleasures remain as alluring as ever: a stroll along the narrow lanes of the Panier Quarter, the lusty aromas of a good bouillabaisse, a boat ride into the fjordlike inlets called calanques. It’s no wonder that visitors are becoming fadas (big fans) of France’s southern gateway.”

3. Montenegro

This European country made Fodor’s and Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Countries.

Fodor’s calls Montenegro – wedged between Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, and the sea – the new Monaco at half the price.

But despite the small Mediterranean country’s size, Lonely Planet says, “Nature has been prolific and creative…producing such iconic draws as the bewitching Bay of Kotor and the buzzy beaches along its Riviera. But be sure to pack a pair of hiking boots along with your swimsuit, for Montenegro’s beauty is no less intense in the wild and rugged interior. A new – and steadily growing – network of hiking and biking trails and improved infrastructure is making this glorious quilt of nature ever more accessible.”

4. Palawan, Philippines

Palawan, on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Regions, is another secluded locale to visit before crowds of tourists arrive.

“Palawan incorporates thousands of sparkling, rugged islands and is fringed by [more than 1,200 miles] of pristine coastline. So far Palawan’s natural marvels have only been sampled by plucky backpackers. Not for much longer,” says Lonely Planet. “The trail these pioneers have blazed is set to explode, with regional airlines waking up to Palawan’s potential and clambering to schedule direct flights to the capital.”

Travel + Leisure also listed the Philippines.

5. Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic

JetBlue started offering direct flights to this less-visited part of the Caribbean country in November, Fodor’s reports.

“Secluded beaches, small hotels, friendly locals, and plenty of natural wonders – including great whale-watching from January through March – await in an area that has not (yet) experienced massive development,” they say. “So go now before the megaresorts follow.”

Lonely Planet also listed the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti.

6. Quito, Ecuador

“For too long, travelers have neglected Ecuador’s capital city en route to the nation’s marquee attraction, the Galápagos Islands [which didn't make any of the aforementioned lists]. Though its Spanish colonial center has been enshrined as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978, the area has more recently undergone a renaissance warranting longer stays,” say National Geographic.

Lonely Planet also listed Ecuador.

7. Istanbul, Turkey

“Stunning historical sights and urban style define the city that straddles two continents,” Fodor’s says. “Istanbul has an irrepressible energy that constantly propels it forward with exciting new hotels, restaurants, and art galleries, even while the culture maintains a firm grasp on the traditions of the past.”

Lonely Planet also listed Turkey.

8. Bagan, Myanmar

“The best Burmese travel experiences require a bit of planning, but the rewards are great—especially in Bagan, the arid, pagoda-studded plain along the Ayeyarwady River in Upper Burma where the first Burmese Buddhist kings, their courtiers, and other merit-seeking patrons built thousands of religious monuments from the 11th to 13th centuries,” says National Geographic. “According to Burma scholar Donald Stadtner, these 16 square miles…rank among Southeast Asia’s most significant sacred ancient sites.”

Fodor’s also listed Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Best of the best on a budget

If you want to travel in style without breaking the bank, consider one of these destinations. They all made a best-of list as well as one of these money-minded lists: Lonely Planet’s Best Value DestinationsTravelZoo’s Wow Deal Destinations, and “Budget Travel” magazine’s 10 Best Budget Destinations.

9. Slovakia: Its capital has remained “surprisingly affordable” despite this country having one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union, according to Budget Travel. Plus, this year also mark’s the 20th anniversary of Slovakia’s independence (from Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic), and the city of Kosice made the E.U.’s European Capital of Culture 2013.

10. Slovenia: This European country is “as picture-perfect as Switzerland or other Alpine areas to the north, but much smaller and easier on the wallet,” says Lonely Planet.

11. Portland, Oregon: “Cheap food! Free things to do!" raves Lonely Planet. “Yes, budget-conscious but still fashionably minded travellers may have reached the promised land in Portland.”

12. Nepal: It’s possible to live for a day on the price of a Starbucks latte or two in this tiny landlocked Asian country, if you’re willing to stick to budget accommodations and meals and avoid the capital of Kathmandu, according to Lonely Planet.

13. New Zealand: Thanks to the “Lord of the Rings” and now the “Hobbit” movie series being filmed on this island nation, TravelZoo says more flights to the home of Middle-earth should result in more competitive prices.

Best of the rest

If you’re looking for something a little more specific or spunky, check out these unique best-of travel lists for 2013.

  • Best Winter Trips 2013, National Geographic
  • 10 Best Ethical Travel Destinations for 2013, Outside
  • The World’s Best Hotels 2013, Travel + Leisure
  • Legendary Last Stands, Lonely Planet
  • Marvellous Meteorological Sites, Lonely Planet
  • Best Capital Cities Built From Scratch, Lonely Planet
  • Best “Back-in-Time” Entertainment, Lonely Planet
  • Best Places to Do Something New, Lonely Planet
  • Best Places to Hunt for Buried Treasure, Lonely Planet
  • Best Places to See Elephants (up close), Lonely Planet
  • Best Places to Get a Tattoo, Lonely Planet

Renee Morad is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.

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