10 TO WATCH
Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2010
Each year, we pore over industry news and trends and dive through mounds of statistics to determine the world's new best-value destinations. Find out why our picks are more affordable than ever—and how to have fun once you get there.
Main events: Countless events celebrate the birth of Mahler (info at mahler.wien.info and musikverein.at). On February 11, stand outside the city's main opera house to see ballroom dancers wearing gorgeous outfits as they walk in to attend Vienna's Opera Ball (staatsoper.at, people-watching free). Check out pop music concerts at Europe's biggest open-air event, Donauinselfest, held on an island in the Danube River (donauinselfest.at, June 25–27, free). On July 17, the Life Ball, Vienna's flamboyant AIDS charity event, showcases musical performances and a fashion show (lifeball.org, outdoor performances are free).
Memorable moment: Start at the quintessential Viennese Kaffeehaus, Bräunerhof on Stallburggasse, and order a "Mélange, Buttersemmerl, und zwei Eier im Glas, bitte" (that's Viennese coffee, a breakfast bun, and two eggs) for $14 (braeunerhof.at). Stroll to an auction at the centuries-old Auktionshaus Dorotheum, where bids are placed on everything from rare stamps to rare cars, and many items are available for browsing through in the adjacent gallery (dorotheum.com). End the day with a soak at the art deco bathhouse Amalienbad (wien.gv.at, pool $7, sauna $19, kids under 6 free), or watch the sun set over the Danube from the Rhapsody bar at Vienna's riverfront Hilton (hilton.com).
Price check: Hard-to-beat offers include airfare and three nights at a centrally located hotel with breakfast from $959. The trip departs from New York City or Washington, D.C., and you can combine it with destinations like Paris, Prague, or Budapest (austrianair-vacations.com, Jan. 4-Mar. 25). In March, when the weather's warming up, Drei Kronen, an art nouveau hotel facing the city's largest outdoor market, provides doubles from $70 a night (hotel3kronen.at). Pension Stadthalle, in a residential neighborhood five subway stops from the city center, has 11 newly renovated doubles from $84 (pensionstadthalle.at).
Why in 2010: Flying to the other side of the globe usually empties your bank account. But recent steps by several governments to boost transpacific competition has started an air war between Delta, Qantas, United, and Richard Branson's new airline V Australia—and that's good news for Americans who've always wanted to go Down Under. For bookings during early 2010, direct flights between L.A. and Sydney are about 22 percent cheaper than they were a year ago, says Expedia. That's the continuation of a trend, as fare prices to Australia have been sliding gradually for some time. Today's West Coast fares of about $1,100, for example, are significantly lower than the typical $1,700 price tag of summer 2008.
Snap up the bargains through 2010 while they last; prices might climb steeply starting in 2011, spurred by the growth of global business travel as the economy rebounds. In the meantime, hotel rates in Australia are down 30 to 40 percent this year as well, so your flight-and-hotel total should make the trip a relative steal through the first half of 2010.
Main events: January 26 is Australia Day, and celebrations citywide include 10 hours of live entertainment at the Rocks, where colonial-era structures flank a shopping, dining, and gallery-hopping district (therocks.com, free). Last year's first Crave Sydney international food festival proved such a hit that it'll return in 2010. Among the fun stunts being considered is a 6,000-person breakfast on Sydney Harbour Bridge (cravesydney.com, fee for breakfast and other activities not yet announced). The famous Sydney Festival takes place from January 9 to 30 this year; three weeks of free outdoor concerts include a show by musician A.R. Rahman of Slumdog Millionaire fame (sydneyfilmfestival.org).