France, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom may be among the world’s most frequented vacation hubs-with France taking the global crown with a staggering 86.9 million international tourist arrivals annually-but these already popular places can only stand to grow so much year over year.
This leaves such lesser known destinations as the Republic of Moldova to jump farther faster. According to new data from the UN World Tourism Organization, in 2017, French tourism grew by 5.1 percent; while Moldova had a 19.6 percent increase when it welcomed 145,000 visitors last year.
Countries in Central Asia and the Middle East-these are the top 10 places to go next and are ranked by year-on-year growth.
– 18.65 percent year-on-year growth: Among the destinations are Mt. Ararat (where Noah’s Ark is said to have made landfall), the charming capital of Yerevan, and-yes-its most famous cultural descendants, the Kardashians. On trips visitors also get in deep with local traditions: visiting brandy distilleries, meeting carpet makers, hearing spiritual chants in ancient monasteries, and learning to make lavash (a type of local flatbread) with an Armenian family.
9. Bosnia and Herzegovina
– 18.66 percent: Croatia and Montenegro have long been popular destinations, but this year has seen demand for experiences in Slovenia and Bosnia increase. As Croatia deals with extreme over-tourism (it notched a record 15 million arrivals last year), the remaining Balkan locales are emerging as a fascinating, crowd-free alternative. Bosnia and Herzegovina is leading the pack, with its 16th century mosques, Ottoman architecture, and vibrant street art scene.
Many travelers take day or weekend trips to scenic Mostar-a quick way to scratch the surface-but it’s also possible to dedicate a whole vacation to this historically rich country, including the diverse capital of Sarajevo, the towering waterfalls at Kravica, and the mountain village of Lukomir, said to be the country’s most isolated enclave.
8. The Republic of Moldova
– 19.6 percent: The sharp percentage growth in tourism to Moldova reflects what is, in reality, an incredibly nascent tourism scene: This little republic (population: 2.5 million) has in recent years held the title of least-visited destination in Europe. But that’s changing. Luxury group tour operator Intrepid Travel cites a cultural resurgence-marked by a burgeoning wine scene and unspoiled natural beauty-as the reason and has introduced new itineraries and more than doubled its bookings to the country this year, compared to last year.
– 20 percent: The Caspian Sea-facing capital, Baku, is a fascinating hodgepodge of old and new. Its cobbled Old Town streets are lined with market stalls and well-preserved buildings, while the Flame Towers downtown are a modern architectural marvel in the vein of the Burj Khalifa. That the city likens itself to the “new Dubai” is no accident-it’s an oil-rich, fast-growing hub at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
– 23.5 percent: Riding the Balkan heat wave is Macedonia, whose longtime claim to fame stems from hometown hero Alexander the Great. Like Moldova, its visitation numbers are exceedingly small-it claimed just 631,000 arrivals in 2017-making it one of the least-discovered destinations in Europe.
– 24.11 percent: The country has multiplied its arrivals by 450 percent since 2010. Think underground hot springs to vast highland lakes and waterfalls, meditation in glacial caves, private hot spring spas, and heli-yoga atop a volcano.
– 24.14 percent: Credit pristine beaches and a spate of new hotels, such as the Edition Bodrum, which just opened its doors in the country’s top resort town in July.
– 24.6 percent: Israel’s perennial appeal is its religious and historical significance with dramatic landscapes and ancient towns that literally bring the Bible to life.
– 27.9 percent: Georgia’s historic cuisine is offering the perfect excuse to visit this untouched corner of Europe. Add a batch of ultra-cool hotels, bars, and restaurants in the capital of Tbilisi-take Stamba, a new Design Hotel property in an old publishing house, with a surprisingly posh, Orient Express-inspired casino-and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
1. San Marino
– 31.1 percent: The medieval micro-state sits in northern Italy, on a cluster of mountain peaks that lead down to the Adriatic city of Rimini. (Driving there from Florence is a straight, three-hour, eastward journey.) In 2017, San Marino claimed more than two visitors for each of its 33,000 residents, notching 78,000 arrivals in total.
It’s especially popular with stamp and coin collectors, since the local versions are rare and in high demand. Visitors can spend a day-looking at frescoes in the 15th century Church of San Francesco or surveying the landscape from San Marino’s funicular.