10 Best Budget Destinations for 2013
We did the homework, now all you have to do is pack your bags. Here, next year's affordable hotspots—where world-class hotels, restaurants, and shops will make you forget you're traveling on a budget.
When to Go: Spring (March, April) offers a sweet spot between the peak tourist season of the holidays and the onslaught of the rainy season in May.
Where to Stay: Located in a quiet corner of the busier Phi Phi island is the Mama Beach Residence, which has 24 rooms that combine modern touches (WiFi, satellite television, and air conditioning—which is harder to come by than you might expect in these parts) with island necessities (beach access and sun decks outfitted with cushy chaises). You can also book day trips to uninhabited Ko Phi Phi Leh and its famed Maya Bay, beloved by snorkelers and divers. (199 moo 7 Tambon Aonang, Ko Phi Phi, mama-beach.com, from $98).
Why in 2013: In the new hit ABC drama Nashville, a political powerbroker describes his hometown as "a thriving, prosperous city, an industrial and cultural juggernaut." In other words, the home of the Grand Ole Opry is going a little heavy on the "grand," while easing up considerably on the "ole." You might say life imitates art. This spring, a brand-new, $585 million, 118,000-square-foot convention center will open downtown, which will in turn help fuel the city's ongoing hotel construction boom. To meet the needs, over 1,000 rooms are currently under construction, with five new hotels potentially slated for the SoBro (South of Lower Broadway) neighborhood alone—a move that is expected to drive average daily rates down in the city. But growth in Nashville isn't solely related to real estate. In a city known primarily for its "hot chicken" and "meat and three sides," chefs are helping to transform Nashville into a new culinary powerhouse, along the lines of Charleston, with all the requisite James Beard nominations and placements on top American restaurant lists. On the other end of the spectrum, buzzy food trucks are hitting the streets of hip neighborhoods like East Nashville and The Gulch, the first LEED-certified green neighborhood in the South.
When to Go: Gourmet restaurants and architecture aside, Nashville is still the capital of the country music world. From June 6 through 9, the city will play host to the CMA Music Festival, which attracts a who's who of country stars, including Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and Miranda Lambert (cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival, four-day passes from $125).
Where to Stay: Don't be fooled by its location near the airport: Hotel Preston is much cooler and more refined than an airport hotel has any right to be. Think complimentary pet goldfish, lava lamps on request, and a "spiritual menu"—in lieu of Bibles in the nightstand, you can request any number of holy texts, including the Koran, the Torah, the Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita (733 Briley Parkway, Nashville, hotelpreston.com, doubles from $93).
Why in 2013: Northern Ireland has been a bit, well, troubled for the better part of the 20th century, thanks to the bloody religious conflict known as The Troubles. Peace has since been restored, but that didn't immediately skyrocket Northern Ireland to the top of travelers' bucket lists. So how's the outlook in 2013? Just ask the aptly named Oaky Dokes, the red squirrel mascot of Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second city and the first ever U.K. City of Culture (cityofculture2013.com). The 6th-century walled city beat out finalists Birmingham, Norwich, and Sheffield, and will spend $25 million in new cultural programs designed to bring in tourism, including performances from the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra, a new punk musical, and the premiere of a Sam Shepard play. The city itself has also gotten a makeover. Ebrington Square, former military parade grounds, reopened in 2012 as a new public space for outdoor concerts and festivals, and it also saw the opening of the Peace Bridge, which links the predominantly Catholic and Protestant sides of the city. Best of all, Northern Ireland is now easier (and cheaper) to get to: Beginning in fall 2012, EasyJet and Aer Lingus added more flights between Belfast and London, which is expected to increase competition with British Airways and thus further lower airline prices.
When to Go: The UK City of Culture program will run throughout 2013, but late March is a particularly rich period. On March 18, the London Symphony Orchestra will present the works of John Williams, with excerpts from Jurassic Park, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And on March 30-31, the Royal Ballet will perform for the first time in Northern Ireland in two decades.