Worldwide icon-chevron-right 21 very cool things for travellers to look forward to in 2021

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Rocky Mountains, Canada
Photograph: Shutterstock/Tomas Kulaja

21 very cool things for travellers to look forward to in 2021

We all need some reasons to be cheerful – and here are 21 things that we cannot wait to see happen this year

By James Manning, Time Out contributors and Time Out editors
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For inveterate travellers, as for so many other people, 2020 was a shocker. Flights grounded, trips cancelled, borders closed, major cities and other destinations completely deserted… it was basically the travel industry’s worst nightmare, as well as a huge setback for those who consider seeking new horizons a basic human need. (No wonder a survey last July revealed that lack of travel is officially taking an emotional toll on us.)

RECOMMENDED: 11 incredible places you should travel in 2021 (when you can)

Well, it’s a new year – and we’re feeling optimistic. The next 12 months could be a pretty sweet period for travellers, and below you’ll find 21 reasons why. Our list of reasons to be cheerful includes plenty of predictions about the state of travel as a whole, but also a whole host of ace new openings and events around the world that have got us excited to get back out on the road again.

They may not all come to pass – and no cancellation, however huge, will shock us these days – but whatever happens, there’s an absolute ton of good stuff for travellers to look forward to in 2021. And even a worst-case-scenario has got to be better than last year, right?

21 reasons for travellers to be cheerful in 2021

Digital vaccination certificate on a smartphone
Digital vaccination certificate on a smartphone
Photograph: Shutterstock

The return (fingers crossed) of travel

No doubt about it, this is The Big One. Humans have never before developed an effective vaccine as quickly as in the past year, and although the rollout of the jabs across the world will take time, once a country’s citizens are inoculated, there’ll be no more need for closed borders (and the economic damage that comes with them). Australia, for one, has said that it will reopen to visitors once a vaccine is widely available.

Other new tech, like more reliable quick tests or the IATA Travel Pass Initiative that gives passengers and authorities the info they need on vaccination and test status, will help too. (There’s also the Iceland approach: letting in tourists as long as they can prove they’ve already recovered from the virus and therefore, in theory, have antibodies.)

A handful of countries around the world have already announced that they will allow proof of vaccination as an alternative to existing testing and quarantine requirements – meaning those who’ve been vaccinated can skip the harsher controls imposed on everyone else. Several global ‘vaccine passport’ schemes are now in the works.

And all these developments will also boost confidence among those still wondering how safe it is to fly. In a Time Out survey this month, 44 percent of people said that they’d be happy to travel as soon as the majority of people were vaccinated. See you at the check-in desk!

Here are five things you need to know about ‘vaccine passports’.

Singapore Airlines plane landing at Hong Kong
Singapore Airlines plane landing at Hong Kong
Photograph: Sorbis / Shutterstock.com

Travel bubbles galore

Even before some countries are ready to open their borders to all and sundry, there’s a good chance they’ll be up for forming travel bubbles with countries that have low rates of infection. The trans-Tasman bubble between Australia and New Zealand is supposed to go two-way early this year, with New Zealand now admitting overseas visitors, from the Cook Islands, for the first time since lockdown.

Meanwhile, the postponed Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble could finally reboot overseas trips between the two cities – as long as HK’s case numbers come down and stay down. For those living in countries with tight border controls, this could be the best chance of travelling before the mass rollout of the vaccine.

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Academy Museum
Academy Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Academy Museum

L.A.’s glitzy Oscars museum

After years of waiting, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is almost here, with the organisation behind the Oscars bringing 300,000 square feet of exhibitions, memorabilia, movie screenings, events, guest curation and film history to Los Angeles’s Miracle Mile. The much-delayed opening will now take place in April, a few days after the postponed 2021 Oscars. It’s only fitting that the city at the centre of the Western movie industry finally has a public temple to cinema.

Now here are 7 things to look forward to in L.A. this year.

England Coastal Path
England Coastal Path
Photograph: Shutterstock

The world’s longest coastal path

It may be small, but Great Britain has one of the world’s longest coastlines – and this year, you’re invited to walk 2,800 miles of it along the new England Coast Path. Linking existing stretches and creating new ones, it hugs the sea while taking in most of England’s diverse terrain: from seaside towns to big cities, sandy beaches to towering chalk cliffs and salt marshes to craggy rocks. Although there’s a chance the full path won’t be entirely finished in the next 12 months, 2021 has officially been designated the ‘Year of the Coast’ and the start of a three-year celebration of all things shoreline-related – so why not get your walking boots on and get cracking? It’s not like you were going to do all 2,800 miles this year anyway.

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little island
little island
Photograph: Courtesy Michael Grimm Photography

New York’s floating park

Heading back to NYC is high on our list of 2021 travel goals. No matter how many times you’ve visited, there’s always something new to discover. Case in point: a floating park that’s opening on the Hudson River in spring. Designed by visionary British designer Thomas Heatherwick and landscape architect Signe Nielsen, Little Island will house hundreds of species of plants plus lawns for sunbathing, a garden of all-white flowers, two amphitheatres for alfresco music and performance – and, of course, some pretty special views of the New York skyline. Looks like the High Line has some competition…

Check out 11 things to look forward to in NYC this year.

Rocky Mountains train ride
Rocky Mountains train ride
Photograph: Shutterstock

Lots of cool new trains

Train travel was already coming back in a big way thanks to the growing flight-shame movement (and, let’s be honest, the fact that air travel gets less glamorous and comfortable by the year). But now this romantic, climate-friendly and increasingly high-tech way of getting from A to B is about to get a serious glow-up.

In Europe, the EU has officially designated 2021 as the ‘European Year of Rail’, and a whole load of new rail possibilities are launching, including the first in a series of major new overnight routes billed as the return of the famous Trans Europ Express. Meanwhile, in the US, the new regime of president-elect (and well-known train lover) Joe Biden is set to bring exciting plans for new Amtrak routes and upgrades. And the launch of a new glass-domed scenic train from Colorado to Utah is a sign that rail isn’t just a smart, green way to travel – it can also be incredibly stylish.

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Palácio Nacional da Ajuda
Palácio Nacional da Ajuda
©DR

A royally good Portuguese museum

Lisbon’s brand new Royal Treasury Museum has been 225 years in the making. It’s housed in the brand new west wing of the Ajuda National Palace – a part of the building which was planned in 1796, but never built thanks to centuries of financial and political problems. In 2018, an updated design was finally approved – and when its maximum-security doors open in June, it’ll house an astonishing array of royal bling, including the Crown Jewels of the former Portuguese monarchy. Or most of them, that is: part of the project has been funded from the insurance on the six Crown Jewels that were stolen from the Netherlands in 2002.

Bedroom at Azumi Setoda, Ikuchijima
Bedroom at Azumi Setoda, Ikuchijima
Photograph: Azumi Setoda

Japan’s boutique ryokan boom

Thanks in part to the upcoming Olympics, which (it’s hoped) will restart international travel to the country,  there’s no end of posh hotels opening in Japan right now. That spans everything from the swish new Tokyo Edition to the tranquil-looking Roku Kyoto arriving in autumn. But we’re particularly taken with two that put an upscale, modern spin on traditional Japanese ryokan inns.

Head down south to onsen capital Kagoshima to check into the Kai Ryokan hot-spring hotel, which opens in the coming weeks with sweeping views of Kagoshima Bay and Sakurajima: one of Japan’s most lively volcanoes. Or hop a train and a ferry from Hiroshima to pretty Ikuchijima island, and settle in at Azumi Setoda: a 140-year-old building that’s been converted (thanks to master hotelier Adrian Zecha) into a traditional but very fancy hotel inspired by the simple architecture of old-fashioned teahouses. Tranquility: achieved.

Here are 10 things to look forward to in Japan this year.

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Travel, flight and hotel deals
Travel, flight and hotel deals
Photograph: Shutterstock

Some juicy travel bargains

When times are tough in the travel industry, companies have to work extra-hard to get your bookings – and that means big discounts. Last year’s Black Friday travel deals were very impressive, as were this January’s sales, and you can expect that generosity to last well into the spring – especially if the return of widespread travel is delayed for any reason. We’re expecting hotels and attractions in cities to offer some big discounts too, to try and lure travellers back to populated areas. Hit up the right destination at the right time and you could make some hefty savings.

Super Nintendo World
Super Nintendo World
Photo: Nintendo

The first Nintendo theme park

If you’ve ever wanted to don some dungarees and jump into the colourful, gravity-defying world of the Super Mario games, this is your year. Super Nintendo World, Nintendo’s first full-scale theme park attraction, opens at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka in February, letting visitors step inside Bowser’s castle to race an AR Mario Kart, or hit blocks to collect coins using a special wristband and app. There will, of course, also be some pretty sweet Mario merch. Just watch out for Piranha Plants, yeah?

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The Goodtime Hotel, South Beach
The Goodtime Hotel, South Beach
Photograph: The Goodtime Hotel / Gabriel Saunders

Pharrell’s Wes Anderson-inspired Miami hotel

Yes, really. Ageless Grammy winner Pharrell Williams is one of the movers (alongside Miami nightlife entrepreneur David Grutman) behind The Goodtime, a new Miami hotel with an atmosphere. According to Mr Williams, the intended effect is ‘like being in a Wes Anderson film’.

Of course that means immaculately symmetrical, pastel-shaded design – but also ‘good vibes, good energy, good karma, good food, good music, good environment, good vibration’. Sounds… good! Chuck in a pool deck and in-house recording studio and the fact it’s only a dozen blocks from Time Out Market Miami, and you can bet you’ll find us there once it opens in the coming months. Eyes peeled for Bill Murray at reception.

National Museum of African American Music, Nashville (render)
National Museum of African American Music, Nashville (render)
Photograph: National Museum of African American Music

Nashville’s home of African American Music

Nashville’s music-heritage game is already pretty strong, but the city’s latest addition is all about redressing the balance when it comes to the huge importance black musicians have had on the sound of America. Innovative, boundary-pushing and hugely necessary, the National Museum of African American Music will truly celebrate what it’s really like to be part of one nation under a groove.

The enormous space will take a deep dive into gospel, blues, jazz, country and hip-hop, looking at an estimated 50 genres of music via interactive tech, stage costumes, instruments, memorabilia and artefacts – plus a dedicated stage for keeping the music (a)live. Dancing in museums: a strong vibe for 2021.

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Delta plane
Delta plane
Photograph: Shutterstock

More flexibility on your bookings

Back when everything was first going to shit last year, a lot of flights got cancelled – and a lot of people realised how unfair many airlines’ cancellation policies were. Since then, we’ve seen a serious readjustment. Travel companies are now competing to be as flexible as possible with cancellations and changes, with Delta and United both confirming they’ll permanently scrap change fees on international flights. Many places to stay are following suit too. The winner: anyone who’s ever felt the raw sting of a cancelled trip. Which, these days, is pretty much all of us.

La bourse de commerce de Paris.Collection Pinault, Paris.
La bourse de commerce de Paris.Collection Pinault, Paris.
© Patrick Tourneboeuf Courtesy Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection © Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, NeM : Niney & Marca Architectes, Agence Pierre-Antoine Gatier, Setec Bâtiment

Paris’s monumental modern art museum

If there’s one thing Paris isn’t short on, it’s art galleries. But few of them will measure up to the new kid in town: the reimagined Bourse de Commerce.

Billionaire François Pinault brought in Japanese architect Tadao Ando to remodel this grand eighteenth-century exchange building next to Les Halles, creating a vast space across several levels that will house a dozen contemporary art exhibitions per year (including plenty from Pinault’s own collection).

Add in a 300-seat basement auditorium, a foyer, a projection room and a very fancy restaurant run by father and son Michel and Sébastien Bras, and you’ve got the gallery opening of the year – in a city with plenty to brag about already.

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Intergenerational travel – grandparents with child on a trip to Havana
Intergenerational travel – grandparents with child on a trip to Havana
Photograph: Shutterstock

A comeback for family trips

Those who did manage to get out and travel in 2020 had seriously limited options – and not just when it came to the destination. The increased health risk to older people meant that intergenerational travel became very tricky indeed, especially when it came to mass transit or shared accommodation. The simpler solution: postpone. This year, we’re hoping that family holidays can make a welcome return, and everyone can travel together again. The older generation need a break too, people!

Life House Southside – Chattanooga hotel (render)
Life House Southside – Chattanooga hotel (render)
Photograph: Chattanooga Tourism Co.

A smart hotel in a gorgeous US train station

With social distancing still a strong possibility throughout the year, you might be thinking it’s time to break out of the usual crowded city-break destinations and try somewhere a little more offbeat. If so, you could do way worse than to stop off in Chattanooga, Tennessee – named last year as the best place to work from home in the whole USA, thanks to its low prices, super-fast internet and ready access to the natural wonders and outdoorsy adventures of the Appalachian foothills and Tennessee River.

Sound good? Even if you’re not planning a workation, you’ll want to stay a night or two at the Life House Southside – a comprehensive refurb of the historic Chattanooga Terminal Station, with bedrooms and bars in old Pullman carriages. This Beaux Arts landmark from 1909 is smack in the middle of the so-called Scenic City’s regenerating Southside district. Consider choo-choo-choosing it for your next urban getaway.

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Breakfast buffet
Breakfast buffet
Photograph: Shutterstock

The return of the hotel buffet?

Hey, we can dream! It might take a while for everyone to be comfortable once again with the self-service vibe of a classic breakfast buffet – but hotels have become very good at making stays safer, and we’ve got our fingers crossed that the all-you-can-eat breakfast spread might make a comeback too. (Some Singaporean hotels have already started pioneering new buffet safety measures.) Seriously, just toasting some bread in one of those rotating grill things would pretty much make our year.

fall foliage
fall foliage
Photograph: Shutterstock

A trail that links NYC to Canada

Fresh air and the great outdoors have never been so appealing, which is why we’re delighted by the arrival of a new, 750-mile hiking trail that connects the bright lights of New York City with the Canadian border. Passing through 750 miles of beautiful New York State scenery, the Empire State Trail was completed right at the end of 2020, linking up existing pathways to provide a new major route for hikers, bikers and anyone else who can’t wait to get outdoors again once hiking season arrives. As if that wasn’t enough, the New York Craft Beer App has launched an accompanying ‘Brewery Passport’, which provides information on 200 craft breweries all within 10 miles of the Empire State Trail. Just in case you fancy a quick stop-off or ten.

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Grand Egyptian Museum, opening 2020
Grand Egyptian Museum, opening 2020
Photograph: Djehouty, CC BY-SA 4.0

The world’s biggest trove of Egyptian treasures

The Grand Egypt Museum’s foundation stone was laid in 2002, meaning it has taken almost as long to build as its impressive neighbour: the Great Pyramid of Giza. But 2021 is supposed be the year it finally opens.

For one thing, it’s enormous: around the size of the Louvre in Paris, with 50,000 artefacts on display and the same again in storage, making it the biggest museum anywhere devoted to a single civilisation. And then there’s its biggest draw: the flabbergastingly iconic death mask of Tutankhamun, displayed for the first time with all 5,000 pieces of the boy king’s funerary treasure. Worth the wait, we think.

Alice at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Illustration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by John Tenniel (1865)
Alice at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Illustration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by John Tenniel (1865)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.jpg

The largest ever ‘Alice in Wonderland’ exhibition

Apart from Dracula, there can’t be many Victorian novels that have permeated our culture like ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’. Lewis Carroll’s book and its sequel, ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ (along with John Tenniel’s famous illustrations) have cast their spell on Salvador Dalí, Walt Disney, Tim Burton and many other visionary types. Now London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is mounting a major, immersive ‘Alice’ exhibition to draw together all those strands into something worthy of Carroll’s strange imagination.

Past V&A blockbusters dedicated to David Bowie, Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior and Pink Floyd have redefined what a museum exhibition can be, and ‘Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser’ is just as ambitious, looking at the stories’ impact on film, theatre, ballet, fashion, art and beyond. It’s the most comprehensive ‘Alice’ show ever mounted, and it should be a spectacular dive down the rabbit hole.

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Time Out Market Dubai
Time Out Market Dubai
Image: Time Out Market Dubai

The world (and Time Out Market) in Dubai

Postponed for a year due to, well, 2020, the biggest show on the planet is now rocking up in Dubai this October. Expo 2020 (yes, it’s keeping the original name) is a six-month-long global innovation showcase in the Emirati city, with nearly every country on earth represented – each of them with a pavilion dedicated to the themes of mobility, opportunity or sustainability. Upwards of 25 million people are expected to visit – that’s seven times Dubai’s actual population.

And if glimpsing the future of mankind isn’t enough for you, how about the opportunity to feed your belly as well as your brain? Time Out Market Dubai, our latest food and cultural market is opening in Downtown Dubai in the coming months, bringing the best of the city under one roof – with spectacular views of the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain into the bargain. We can’t wait to host you at the Middle East’s first Time Out Market.

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