The best countries in the world: 2023

According to Traveller ( these are The best countries in the world: 2023 "Readers’ Choice Awards":
19. France
All eyes will be on Paris this year, as the city prepares to host the Summer Olympics. Following the reconstruction of Notre-Dame and this year's much-publicised battle with bedbugs, the City of Light is embracing the spirit of reinvention. That means playful design hotel openings, Dominique Crenn’s first restaurant in her home country, renewed efforts to clean up the Seine (with the goal of making it swimmable, no less), and a slew of French Asian artisans and chefs shaking up the cultural scene. Well beyond the confines of the capital, there are new adventures to discover, from the low-key surf scene in Hossegor to a buzzy African-inspired restaurant in Nîmes to a wave of modernist-tinged openings in the perma-chic French Riviera. And much, much farther afield, the overseas territory of French Polynesia made our list of the 24 best places to go in 2024. The 118-island archipelago, which is reinvesting in its native flora and restoring coral, will play host to the Olympic surfing competitions this year.

18. Sri Lanka
This South Asian nation packs a wallop into a single teardrop-shaped island only slightly larger than the state of West Virginia: Think high-elevation tea plantations that are eye-vibratingly green, national parks where sloth bears and endangered elephants roam, and friendly surf towns that, if you squint, might remind you of Costa Rica or Nicaragua some decades years ago. (May we suggest Ahangama, with its indie-music venues, locavore cafés, and eco-boutiques?) And then there’s the capital city of Colombo, where you can shop for local spices, fly kites along the waterfront, or even charter a yacht. As Sri Lanka has worked in recent years to secure its spot as a global tourism contender, it has faced quite a few challenges, from the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings to the pandemic. Now, it’s looking to regain the trust of visitors with its trademark hospitality and warm nature – not to mention an ever-expanding roster of new hotels and resorts.

17. Austria
Vienna has long been a favourite stop on European grand tours, but despite the city’s Hapsburg-era pomp and splendour, it’s far from a dusty museum piece. Leaders recently announced plans to be carbon neutral by 2040, led by a hyperlocal culinary scene that has welcomed such innovations as a city snail farm and an urban collective that uses grounds from the city’s famed coffee house scene to grow mushrooms. Outside the capital, visitors still flock to alpine ski villages and jewel-box-like Salzburg, but other destinations are bubbling to the surface. Making our Hot List recently is The Cōmodo, an artfully repurposed 1960s health resort on the edge of the country’s largest national park in the mountain village of Bad Gastein. And, this year, the country celebrated its third European Capital of Culture – following Graz in 2003 and Linz in 2009 – the spa town of Bad Ischl, where the healing salt waters have been attracting royalty and other elites since the early 1800s.

16. South Africa
South Africa has always been a favourite first stop on the continent for international travellers, and it’s becoming increasingly accessible thanks to new direct routes. But even if you’ve visited before, you might not recognise the place: joining the illustrious ranks of the country’s famed safari resorts and wineries are a slew of new openings, including a revitalised weekend market in Johannesburg and buzzy beach clubs in the heart of Cape Town. Beyond the wildlife watching that has made South Africa a favourite destination for generations of safari-goers, new adventures await around every corner: Take lessons with the country’s first Black African free-diving instructor, the mermaid-esque Zandile Ndhlovu; retrace Viola Davis’s footsteps in the filming locations from The Woman King (South Africa stood in for the former West African Kingdom of Dahomey); or collaborate on your own bespoke African-print bomber jacket with local Joburg fashion designer Sebo Marobela.

15. United Kingdom
Thanks to Brexit and a new monarch, it’s safe to say that the United Kingdom hasn’t seen such an intense period of transition since perhaps the Margaret Thatcher era. But despite the changes, most of the things we all know and love about the country are still intact, such as London’s dazzlingly diverse restaurant scene and its wide array of free museums (the National Portrait Gallery reopened its doors last summer after a three-year renovation). History is always being reimagined and remixed in these parts: take, for instance, the landmark Old War Office, which has been transformed into Raffles London at The OWO, or the renovated 1511 Thornbury Castle, where you can now make like a Tudor-era noble and book an overnight stay. Up in the north of England, Yorkshire made it onto our list of the best places to go in 2024, thanks to its emerging culinary scene, and adventures await beyond the borders of England as well – foraging for mushrooms in Wales, tapping into maritime history in Northern Ireland, or hopping between swimmable tidal pools on the coast of Scotland.

14. Germany
With its fairytale castles, charming small towns, and festive Christmas markets, Germany has always loomed large as a tourist magnet, whether you’re exploring it by train, river cruise, or road trip. While the country may seem tradition-bound, it’s also not afraid of trying something new, which might mean immersive art shows taking over unexpected spaces in Berlin or a $120 million, high-tech medi-spa opening in the pastoral North Frisian Islands. There are new contemporary-art-filled places to stay, buzzy neighbourhoods (like Munich’s meatpacking district, Schlachthofviertel), and even an expanding fleet of ultra-eco-friendly, hydrogen-powered passenger trains that emit only steam and condensed water. Of course, the classics are just as beautiful as they’ve always been: when, for instance, you enjoy the healing thermal springs of Baden-Baden, you’re taking part in a millennia-old tourist tradition that dates back to the pre-Roman Celts.

13. Croatia
The secret’s out: this Balkan country may have been off-the-beaten path a decade or so ago, but it’s rapidly gaining in popularity, thanks to increased direct flights, an influx of cruises, and especially the popularity of Game of Thrones. Croatia is feeling the growing pains of its success, with spots like Dubrovnik and Split becoming every bit as overtouristed as Venice or Amsterdam, but there are plenty of areas around the country that reward exploration: dining at family-farm restaurants and sampling local olive oil in Istria, zipping around by speedboat off the coastline of Trogir, road-tripping through vineyards and oyster farms on the Dalmatian Coast, or sailing among the restful Kornati Islands, which are dotted with oak forests, centuries-old churches, and fortified villages. The result? What local Dalmatians call fjaka – that sweet feeling of doing absolutely nothing.

12. Iceland
Long celebrated as a rugged adventure outpost, Iceland is the kind of edge-of-the-world place where your trip just might be interrupted or postponed by a volcanic eruption or mini-earthquakes – but is worth the wait. These days, urban life is just as alive and exciting as the geothermal activity bubbling underground: Think pilgrimage-worthy restaurants (like Ox, a speakeasy-style tasting-menu spot), see-and-be-seen design hotels (The Reykjavík Edition), and a robust roster of new natural wine bars, cocktail lounges, and innovative food halls.

As the Golden Circle becomes increasingly crowded with international visitors taking advantage of IcelandAir’s “stopover” program, the country is gently nudging travellers off the beaten path. The relatively new Diamond Circle, for instance, weaves a 155-mile loop through northeastern Iceland, stopping at waterfalls, mud pits, lava caves, and hot springs. And in 2023, the fan-favourite Blue Lagoon – which boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant of its own, Moss – expanded its footprint with the new Highland Base Kerlingarfjöll, a cosy retreat in a part of the country’s rugged interior that’s so remote even many Icelanders haven’t stepped foot there.

11. Australia
We’ll never stop loving Sydney and Melbourne and the Great Barrier Reef, but the overarching theme for Aussie tourism in the past few years has been a resounding: “But there’s so much more out there!” There’s almost a passing of the baton going on among the country’s creative-minded cities: way out west, Perth enjoyed its status as the country’s fast-growing boomtown, followed by Hobart, Tasmania, which welcomed a game-changing art museum and design hotel. Ready for its big close-up is Queensland’s oft-ignored capital city of Brisbane, which is newly accessible thanks to direct routes from the United States and will see such skyline-transforming additions as the Queen’s Wharf entertainment precinct (with a six-star Rosewood) and a $100-million performing arts venue. And when the first World’s 50 Best Hotels list was released back in September, Brisbane’s modernist-tinged The Calile ranked the highest in the region. On the exact opposite side of the country, Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region made our list of the world’s best places to go in 2024, thanks to increased cruise itineraries to the area and the newly launched Aboriginal Cultural Expedition.

10. Turkey
Istanbul has always sat at the crossroads of the world, where the thin ribbon of the Bosphorus divides Asia from Europe, and East from West. It's taken its position to new heights with a game-changing international airport that opened in 2019 and gained fandom among our readers for its modern design and impressive duty-free shopping zone. Returning visitors will find all the things they love about Istanbul still intact, from its minaret-filled skyline to its thrilling food scene, but there are plenty of fresh offerings, including a burgeoning contemporary gallery scene in artsy Karaköy. Farther afield, the Turquoise Coast attracts jet setters with its traditional hammams and party-centric resorts alike, while the surrounding Aegean region has seen an explosion of modern wineries amid its ancient ruins. And speaking of antiquity, there’s a brand new (yet very old) reason to head out east into Anatolia: In 2021, UNESCO inscribed the 8,000-year-old Arslantepe Mound on its list of World Heritage Sites.

9. Switzerland
With its cow-studded green valleys, snow-capped peaks, and glitzy ski resorts, Switzerland is the kind of place that most people think they know. But this country in the heart of Europe is worth another look. Take, for instance, its notoriously expensive largest city, Zürich, which never seems to get enough credit for its progressive outlook, oft-overlooked art and music scenes, and a skyline shaped by staggeringly diverse architectural voices, including Le Corbusier, Santiago Calatrava, and Shigeru Ban. Its Alpine ski towns, with big names like Verbier, Davos, and Zermatt, meanwhile, are expanding their offerings beyond the snow season: The Engadin Valley, home to St. Moritz, has become a warm-weather hot spot, with hundreds of miles of hiking trails, electric mountain bikes for rent, and all manner of adventure sports, including paragliding, kitesurfing, and even class-4 whitewater-rapids rafting through Giarsun Gorge. But, of course, the classics still sing. After tackling the country’s rugged terrain, you’ve earned a stay in the new Mandarin Oriental Palace, Luzern, a stunningly remade Belle Epoque grande-dame hotel originally opened in 1906.

8. Norway
Oslo has spent the past several years getting out of the shadow of its grander Scandinavian peers, like Stockholm and Copenhagen, with attention-grabbing openings like the Sommerro Hotel and the new National Museum and buzzy districts like harbour-side Bjørvika, home to the new Munch Museum. But the capital city is a mere gateway for exploring the country and its fjord-filled coastline – recently recalculated as the second-longest in the world after Canada. This year, a must-visit stop is Bodø, the first European Capital of Culture north of the Arctic Circle, which will see a lineup of cultural events celebrating Sámi culture and the opening of a new hotel made almost entirely out of wood. For the best way to get around these parts, you can’t beat Hurtigruten, a historic coastal ferry company that also doubles as a pleasure cruise line, a cargo vessel, a mail ship, and an expedition outfitter. The beloved institution celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2023 by partnering with renowned Norwegian chefs like Halvar Ellingsen for boundary-pushing onboard menus (think reindeer tartar and elk bone marrow) and introducing new itineraries to Svalbard and the North Cape.

7. Portugal
This Iberian Peninsula country has spent the past decade transforming from a budget-minded underdog destination to a major player that can rival the likes of Spain and Italy. From the start, even as it suffered under a forty-year authoritarian regime and a flailing economy, Portugal was brimming with delights that bordered on sensory overload: the intricate blue-and-white patterns of azulejo tiles, the intoxicating aroma of oven-fresh pastéis de nata, the mournful chords of live fado music, the bracing chill of a crisp vinho verde or the nectary sweetness of a port. With its jaunty yellow trams and hilltop São Jorge Castle, Lisbon is an easy-to-adore starting point for first-timers, but an increasing number of direct flights to Porto are inviting travellers to explore the second city’s contemporary cultural scene and must-try restaurants. And then? Portugal rewards repeat visitors with a choose-your-own-adventure that might include the terraced hillsides of the Douro Valley, the underrated wineries and burgeoning beach towns of the Alentejo region, the surfer havens of the Algarve, and the absurdly scenic hamlets scattered throughout. Now, thanks to new direct flights from the US, even the Hawaii-like volcanic landscapes of the Azores are right at your fingertips.

6. Spain
When the World’s 50 Best Bars list was announced earlier this year, the top spot went to an innovative Barcelona cocktail lounge called Sips, and it shared the top five with fellow Barcelona speakeasy Paradiso, which is hidden inside a pastrami shop in the trendy El Born district. If you’ve spent any time in the country, especially after nightfall, you probably already know this obvious fact: the Spanish know how to party, and they love to do it in style, from the sherry and flamenco bars of Andalusia to the beach clubs of bohemian Formentera to the tapas bars of Barcelona. In an ironic twist, some of the country’s most notoriously party-hardy spots are moving in the opposite direction, shedding their reputations for debauchery to become serious cultural hubs. A new generation of creatives in Mallorca, for instance, are getting back to the land, with homey design hotels and natural wineries, while a host of boutique hotels and Michelin-star restaurants in Marbella is enticing visitors to explore beyond the (admittedly gorgeous) beachfront and into the previously underrated Old Town.

5. New Zealand
Ever since Peter Jackson cast his home country as Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings film franchise, visitors have viewed this island nation as a place of almost mythical beauty, from the crystalline mountains lakes and sweeping fjords to misty rainforests and geothermal valleys. Culturally diverse Auckland remains the most popular point of entry for international travelers, but new lodges and trails are making it easier than ever before to venture far out into the country’s vast wilderness. Among the most dazzling openings in recent years is Flockhill Lodge, a 36,000-acre high-country sheep station in the Southern Alps that now doubles as an ultra-luxe retreat, while other properties are finding clever ways to honour the land (such as regenerative farming) and especially the country’s Māori heritage. And for something wildly unique, consider a flight on the world’s first winery airline, Invivo Air, which flies between Auckland and Queenstown and includes an eight-step wine tasting at 18,000 feet.

4. Ireland
For American travellers, Ireland has always felt a bit like an old cardigan: cosy, easy, and comfortable – the kind of place you can take multiple generations of family members to trace your genealogical roots or to scope out centuries-old castles and fireplace-warmed pubs. But there’s also a decidedly youthful wind whipping across the Emerald Isle. The capital city is emerging as one of Europe’s most forward-thinking tech hubs, nicknamed Silicon Docks for the prevalence of tech giants and startups headquartered along the Grand Canal Dock. This infusion of big thinkers (with big wallets) has blown the dust off the island’s traditionalist culture. Now, in addition to crossing Trinity College’s Long Room off your bucket list, you might also find yourself foraging for nettles and pears with Takingaleaf founder Miceal Murray or sipping whiskey at Teeling, the first new distillery to open within the city in more than 125 years. Beyond the capital, Ireland is dotted with remote hotels and Airbnbs that allow you to spend the night everywhere from an island lighthouse in County May to a Scandi-chic cabin in County Monaghan. And if you’re in the mood for something farther afield, it doesn’t get much more rugged than the Aran Islands, the filming location and inspiration for The Banshees of Inisherin.

3. Greece
Greece is attracting record-breaking tourist numbers, and the crystal Aegean waters are beckoning us back to some of your favourite islands in the world: postcard-perfect Santorini, mythology-steeped Mykonos, and massive Crete, with its reemerging viticultural scene. That roster of dreamy islands is ever-expanding, with more and more visitors venturing out to under-the-radar Paros, car-free Hydra, blissfully secluded Zakynthos, beach-filled Ios, and wild, windswept Tinos. And be sure not to ignore Athens. As it rebuilt itself after a paralysing debt crisis, the ancient city leaned into a scrappy, creative energy that has yielded forward-thinking restaurants, avant-garde galleries, and hip hotels that rank Athens among Europe’s unexpectedly coolest capitals. And for those really looking for an adventure – albeit a slow one – consider a journey into Zagorohoria, a collection of 46 traditional stone villages scattered around the Pindus Mountains in Greece’s rugged northwest. Here, you’re likelier to encounter truffle hunters, bubbling hot springs, and monasteries with Orthodox frescoes than sun-seeking partiers.

2. Italy
As Stanley Tucci’s popular CNN travelogue proved, there aren’t enough days in the year to uncover all the dolce vita that Italy has to offer. Beyond the hotspots in Florence, Venice, Milan, and Rome, the country is blessed with seemingly infinite villages and underrated cities to explore and fall in love with. Palermo’s stunningly restored Villa Igiea, for instance, brought the glitterati back to Sicily, which is still riding high off its role in HBO’s The White Lotus, while Bergamo and Brescia – two former rivals who were epicentres of the early pandemic – put aside their differences to jointly hold the title of 2023 Italian Capital of Culture. Of course, one of Italy’s enduring legacies is its world-renowned cuisine, which the government has officially nominated for inclusion on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. And you don’t have to look far to see what all the fuss is about: Italy is a food lover’s paradise, where you can immerse yourself in the millennia-old Jewish cuisine of Rome, take part in a transformative cooking class in Tuscany, or try something completely new-to-you (like torta al testo) in landlocked Umbria.

1. Japan
Japan was dealt a bad hand, when its turn at the Summer Olympics fell during an international pandemic. And though they were much-delayed, the Games reminded viewers worldwide what they loved – and missed – about the island nation: the traditions, the design culture, the futuristic innovation. Now that the country has reopened for visa-free tourism, you’ll still find the incredible restaurants, the ultra-relaxing onsens, the Shinto temples, the cherry blossoms, and the impeccably clean and efficient high-speed trains, which run along some of the most scenic rail routes in the world. But there’s always something new popping up in this whizz-bang nation of the future. A buzzy gin scene? Sure. A hilltop castle from 1599 where you can book overnight stays? Check. Oh yeah, new galleries and exhibits on Naoshima Island, ultra-stylish glamping resorts, and a growing roster of sushi bars helmed by female chefs are still a major rarity in this tradition-bound country. And now there are fantastic excuses to venture far out to the country’s extreme north and south: New UNESCO World Heritage designees include the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in the north and a chain of islands in the archipelago’s southwestern stretches that are entirely uninhabited by humans and filled with endangered species.