Another annual round-up post! I recently wrote a post about my top experiences of 2016. To contrast with that post, I wanted to write about the best places that I visited in 2016—not the coolest experiences, but the places that I went and loved, and recommend visiting to others. I have seen some incredible places in the last year, but there are a fair few that really stick out. Some of these are listed as just cities, some as the whole country. This list isn’t numbered and there isn’t any order (besides my number one, of course 😉 ), so here you are: the best places I went in 2016!
Forever my favorite country. It’s always been England, it’s always going to be England. I’ve spent so much time in this country this year: I rang in the New Year’s in Liverpool, have been to London a handful of times at various seasons of the year, saw different parts of Cheshire in January, spent a lot of time in Nottingham (and Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) in the spring, and then moved to York in October and started exploring more of Yorkshire. It’s been a good year. London will of course always hold a special place in my heart (as will Nottingham, in a different way), but I really like York. It’s a great place, and I’m so happy living there. England has so much to offer, and I am so grateful to call this country my home.
Read more: All posts in the England category
New York City (USA)
I spent an amazing three days going solo in the Big Apple this October, and it was definitely one of the most exciting and amazing places I went to this year. The concrete jungle never sleeps, there is so much to see and do, and I ran around the city like a kid in a candy store, knowing that I will definitely be back. I always felt like such a bad American, when I would say I’d never been to NYC (people usually stop being shocked when I say it’s a ~20-hour drive away). And I honestly just really wanted to go before I moved out of the country. Everyone should go to NYC once in their life. I fell in love with the place. New York City, I’ll be back.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
One of my new favorite countries from my big trip in Europe this spring? The underrated but incredible country of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Because BiH suffered so much during the wars in the 90s, it’s not on the radar for lots of people and doesn’t get that many tourists. The country surprised me at every turn during my stay. The scenery is unbelievably beautiful, the people are so friendly and welcoming, the history (both prior to my lifetime and from the 90s onwards) is fascinating and heartbreaking, the food is amazing (give me bureks and cevapi anyday!), and prices are low. This is a country to visit now, before mass tourism arrives. It is an incredible place, and I absolutely can’t wait to return and see more.
How had I never been to Budapest before this spring?! The city is amazing. Cheap, lively, and a bit gritty, with some of the most beautiful architecture you could ask for. Budapest has it all. I absolutely loved my trip to this city, and I already know I’ll be back someday soon. There is tons to do and see, so I’d recommend a bare minimum of three days, with five being a better option. This Central-Eastern European hotspot is one you shouldn’t miss!
Read more: A Beginner’s Guide to Budapest
My first trip to Africa was wonderful for so many reasons—I think that part of that was because I got to visit my best friend and share her country with her, but a huge part of it is because Zambia is truly incredible. There is so much natural beauty, and seeing Victoria Falls (from a microlight no less!) will always be one of the greatest moments of my life. I hope to visit more of the African continent and explore different countries!
This Balkan country only declared its independence in 2006, and is small in both size and population—but it more than makes up for it with some of the most stunning natural beauty I’ve seen in Europe. Mountains, fjords, lake wetlands, coastal beaches, you name it—Montenegro has it. The country is not an EU member, but uses the Euro for their official currency. It’s a cheap destination, and its value is off the charts. Montenegro is beautiful, and should be a must on any trip to the Balkans.
Read more: Highlights of Montenegro
Out of all the places I have visited this year, Belgrade surprised me the most. I went in with low expectations—it’s common knowledge that the Serbian capital was bombed extensively during the wars in the 90s—and left knowing that this place is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. The people are amazing (how many hostels will email you on your birthday, nearly 6 months after you stayed there?!), the beer is cheap, and the city is constantly buzzing with life. It should also be a premier destination for partying in Europe—Belgrade goes all out, and if my night in a Serbian rock club is anything to go by, the city is a whole lot of fun. It might be a bit unexpected, but Belgrade is just so cool. Unfortunately I spent very little time here, and I know I need to go back and do the city justice!
Read more: First impressions of Serbia: Belgrade
Slovenia is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist spots in the Balkans (perhaps second only to Croatia—see below!), and with good reason. The country has stunning scenery, a laid back yet lively capital in Ljubljana, and lots to offer for outdoor activities. Finally seeing Lake Bled was like a dream. The country uses the Euro but is still relatively affordable, is easily connected with Western Europe (particularly with its Italian and Austrian neighbors), and yet isn’t really all that crowded with tourists. Slovenia will also always be the country where I visited the real-life Gringotts complete with an underground train, Postojna Caves. Don’t miss this small gem!
Croatia is by far the most visited and touristy country in the Balkans. Prices reflect that—some things are shockingly expensive for the region. Even in the two years between my trips, I saw prices jump up and nearly double for standard things like pizza and beer in my beloved Dubrovnik. When compared with standard Western Europe prices though, Croatia is pretty much on par (or sometimes a bit cheaper). In spite of the price tag, I still think the country is worth visiting—sooner rather than later, as it will only get more expensive and crowded as tourism increases. The beauty of the Dalmatian coastline is priceless, the country has a rich history dating back to the Romans, and Zadar was named the European Capital of Culture in 2016! I also made it to the capital Zagreb this year. And of course, Dubrovnik and the island Lokrum will always have a special place in my heart. Since I missed Plitvice Lakes National Park on my trip this year, I know I will be back soon!
When I was planning out my three months, I knew I really wanted to try to visit Portugal and see Lisbon. It meant spending a day flying and a layover at London Stansted airport (which, by the way, has approximately zero plugs that actually work for charging devices) and sleeping in the airport the night I got back. It was totally worth it. Lisbon was so fun. The weather was phenomenal, the city was beautiful (especially the Alfama neighborhood and its stunning tiled buildings), and I could eat pasteis de nata happily all day every day. The city came to life at night—I came back from my pub crawl “early,” at 3am. Lisbon is relaxed, it’s warm, it’s beautiful, and there’s a lot to do. It’s also one of the cheapest cities in Western Europe, which I absolutely loved! If you visit Lisbon, try to make a daytrip to Sintra, a charming town full of castles and palaces less than an hour away.
There’s no other way I can say it: Berlin is just cool. The city has an effortlessly cool vibe. The atmosphere is trendy and artsy, and as a European city mixing pot that’s known for it’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs, it has a diverse blend of people and cultures. There’s so much history in Berlin it’s unreal. And, like Lisbon, it’s one of the cheapest capitals in Western Europe. I can’t believe it took me so long to visit Berlin, but my whirlwind long weekend absolutely wasn’t enough time. I know I’ll be back.
Read more: The Top 8 Free Things To Do In Berlin
I am so incredibly lucky that I grew up in the great state of Minnesota. This summer, I spent a lot of time exploring both my beautiful city of Minneapolis, and more of the state on a road trip to the North Shore. It is truly a unique place and has so much to offer visitors. Between the beautiful natural scenery up north, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the wonderful people, Minnesota is well worth a trip. I love my home. It truly is a wonderful place.
Badlands and Black Hills, South Dakota
One of the highlights of my summer was a road trip through South Dakota. I’d been just about 10 years ago, but it was so much fun visiting as an adult. Badlands National Park is visually stunning, and there are so many important landmarks in the Black Hills (like Mount Rushmore!) and amazing scenery there as well. Some of the most wonderful things about America is the wide, open spaces, the diversity of the landscape, and how much there is to see spread across the country. Don’t miss this area of southwestern South Dakota!
Read more: A South Dakota Road Trip
I had just two short days in Scotland in the beginning of November, my second trip north of the English border. And on this trip, I finally got outside of the beautiful capital of Edinburgh and visited Stirling, in another part of Scotland! It really made me want to see more of the country, especially the Highlands in the north. If you want good pubs, beautiful architecture, lots of history and culture, amazing scenery, and accents you can’t understand, Scotland could be the place for you!
I was lucky enough to visit Ireland twice this year, bringing my number of trips up to 6! I will always have a soft spot for Ireland. I love the green, beautiful scenery, the rolling hills dotted with sheep, the good craic, music, and beer in the pub, and the people that welcome you with open arms. I will never get tired of Ireland, and after England, it is probably the country I feel most comfortable and at home in. I will always jump at the opportunity to go back to Ireland!
One of my new favorite places from this year is the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine. The city (and the Old Town) is beautiful in a gritty kind of way, and even though Lviv is right across the border from Poland, it feels like a whole different world and much more “eastern.” There is loads of history in Lviv, the churches are stunningly beautiful, there’s an underground army-themed bar where you can take pictures with guns, and wandering around Lychakiv Cemetery in the snow was pretty magical. It was such an interesting place, and made me seriously want to go back and explore more of Ukraine! Oh, and Ukraine is one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest country I’ve ever been to. Definitely a big two thumbs up from me.
Oh, Poland. Revisiting one of my favorite countries from my year abroad over Christmas and New Year’s this winter was incredible. It’s such a cheap destination, there’s so much history, and there is just loads to see and do. Going to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, seeing a beautiful sunset over Krakow, and having a blast on New Year’s Eve were major highlights from this trip. There’s a lot more of the country that I want to explore though, so hopefully I’ll return again soon!
Thank you everyone for coming away with me on my adventures!
What was your favorite place you went to this year?!