As every year, here comes my list of the most beautiful places I visited in 2016 (be sure to visit my Top 15 in 2015 and Top 15 in 2014!). This is my personal Top 15 that hopefully will inspire you to visit these places on your own! I have already written travel stories about some of those, some are just in drafts and in other places my visits where so short that I would need to come again to be able to write a full report. Except for my home country Latvia, I have been to sixteen countries this year, and to six of those I had never been before! I am happy to say that I already have some plans for 2017 and at least one brand new destination!
15. Bratislava, Slovakia
In summer I had the chance to visit Bratislava for a short visit and it turned out Slovakia was taking over the EU presidency those very days I was there! Many streets were closed for traffic and there were red carpets everywhere. Delegations of various countries where strolling through the city and it was bustling with life.
The city has a really nice architecture (castles and churches), unfortunately, some objects have suffered from thoughtless planning (or perhaps even purposeful mis-planning). For example, the bridge in this picture and the road that continues from it, come way too close to St.Martins Cathedral. Bratislava is a nice destination to include in a European roadtrip or, if you are in Vienna, Bratislava is just a short bus ride away and there’s plenty to do for a day trip!
14. Kuldiga, Latvia
I finally saw the jumping fish at the widest waterfall in Europe! Every spring they migrate up the river to lay eggs and Kuldiga has the widest waterfall in Europe that’s in their path! Luckily, there are few days and even weeks when the annual migration occurs for you to plan your trip, once the news are announced! We stayed the night in Kuldiga and the city was especially charming during early morning, before the tourist masses. There are crowds and crowds of people during the weekends, so better plan for a weekday visit and check the weather forecast – fish are more active in warm and sunny days.
13. Prague, Czech Republic
I visited an unusual exhibition in Prague this year, it’s called the Invisible Exhibition. The tour takes about one hour and you will experience the world of a blind person. The excursion is lead by a blind guide, who will move around effortlessly while the rest of visitors try to come to terms with complete, absolute blackness around them. Later the guide also leads a wine tasting where the rest of us can’t tell white from red, but he explains everything from the smell and fills the glasses without any trouble. I visited Prague just for a short while this time (again), but at least I had a chance to walk in the Old Town, see the Charles bridge and dine like a true tourist – in the main square.
12. Leopoldskron, Salzburg, Austria
Fans of the Sound of Music will recognize this place immediately! I left home on a cold February morning to arrive in Salzburg where spring had taken over! First flowers were blooming, I even saw a blossoming sakura in a parking lot and upon arriving to the hotel suddenly was taken to the Sound of Music! There was a picture of Julie Andrews and a small brochure explaining the history of the castle. It was an interesting coincidence that later, when I went to Prague (see point above) I met a colleague from United Arab Emirates who had just gotten married in this castle! The location is truly fantastic, there is a grand dining room which seems almost over the top for a breakfast and the garden is amazing even in February!
11. Veczemju cliffs, Latvia
The next two locations in the top are from Latvia. One of the nicest places to visit in Vidzeme area are Veczemju cliffs. There is a large parking lot nearby and places to camp. If you like longer walks, walk to the unusually shaped Kurmrags lighthouse!
10. Teirumniku Pathway & Lake Lubana, Latvia
Where to go to during the long midsummer holidays? There aren’t too many places too spend the night next to Lake Lubana (if you don’t like camping and would prefer a guesthouse or a hotel), but as a day trip this place is really worth it!
Not far from the lake is a wonderful bog pathway. I had never heard so many cuckoos in my life! Locals also swim here, although the water in the bog lake is almost pitch black.
9. Wroclaw, Poland
Wroclaw is a place I will come back to some day, as I was extremely busy attending meetings and only saw it during the night and from the window of a taxi. Unfortunately, this is also the only picture I have from this beautiful city. I had heard of this place many times and thought – what is so special about this place that Google office is here? There is also a brand new, modern airport, is this the modern capital of innovation? This city used to be part of Germany, and now is Polish territory. The architecture is amazing! Also, there is something to do for families with children, such as the dwarf hunt. There are over 350 bronze dwarf figurines and looking for those is really fun! You can use special Google Maps add ons, apps or even paper maps! Despite the fact that the weather was really horrible when I visited, this city holds a special place in my heart and will return to this place again!
8. Rummu underwater prison, Estonia
Where to go diving if you can’t visit any warm place that very moment but don’t want to go diving at home? While you can, go to Rummu! Not just for divers but for anyone this place will be truly mesmerizing! It is considered trespassing though, as underwater and above water prison and mining complex are private property. Not only Latvian press, but also Estonian Delfi wrote about our experience in Rummu, and this was my most read contributed article on Bored Panda this year! This place must be visited while you still can, as owners are taking stricter measures to limit entrance.
7. The island of Hydra, Greece
I last visited Greece in 2007 and back then I got the impression that it is a nice place to come to as a tourist but I wouldn’t exactly want to live there, having spend there some time as an Erasmus student. When I had a chance to visit this place in 2016, I immediately jumped right at the opportunity! It’s always interesting to see how a country has changed in 10 years. Athens seems the same as it was, didn’t see any issues with the immigrant crisis, I would even say that I saw more poverty and beggars back in 2007. This time in Greece I wanted to do something different and opted for a three island cruise – Hydra, Aegina and Poros. The first island, Hydra, was the loveliest! As always, the weather didn’t spoil me, it was rainy and very windy on the ferry. The ferry was full of tourists from India who took out their own music systems and listened and danced to their own beat. Almost felt like coming back to India, which I visited in 2015! Arriving at the island the rain finally stopped, but I had time just for a short walk here. The port is very picturesque, with jachts parked all over the place, small seaside cafes and souvenir shops dotting the main street around the port area. Most tourists only arrive for a few hours at most, but this is also a very nice and relaxing place to stay for a few days.
6. Neuchatel, Switzerland
Neuchatel was another destination I revisited after some time, enjoying the punctual Swiss train system, as Neuchatel doesn’t have an airport. I was here in spring and it’s incredibility beautiful this time of year! Flowers everywhere, trees blossoming and snowy peaks in the distance, just across the lake, and tiny streets. As in Switzerland, the prices are insane, so this might prevent most people from coming here. But, if you are here, definitely try out the fondue! This city was also no exception to the rule that Latvians are everywhere. One of the mornings I came down to breakfast and noticed a bunch of guys who seemed Latvian. And, just a little while later I heard them talking in Latvian! Apparently, there was some cycling competition and they participated in it!
The place number five would be for Israel as a country, as I enjoyed every single place I visited, be that Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Jaffa. The calm Old Jerusalem, where early mornings allow for undisturbed sightseeing while souvenir shops just start opening up. The kindest people I’ve met this year live in Israel! Also, the food alone is worth the visit. Of course, you have to get used to seeing military people with guns and reading the news doesn’t exactly inspire you, but the cultural and historical heritage of this country is absolutely amazing!
4.Ras Al Khor Refuge, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
It was a dream of mine to visit Dubai, and finally it came true this year! Tall skyscrapers and desert are just one aspect of this city, I was mostly inspired by the Ras Al Khar refuge where flamingos just walk in the shallow water and skyscrapers are in the background. Most tours stop here just for a few moments, but I felt like I could stay here for hours!
3. Dark hedges, Giant’s causeway, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
My top three places this year consist of several locations in one country. The first such is Northern Ireland. I had a chance to visit Dublin in May, but opted to drive to Northern Ireland straight from the airport, as I wanted to see the Giant’s Causeway. Although I don’t watch the Game of Thrones, I learned that many of the filming locations are here, including the famous Dark hedges.
Later I met colleagues in London and they were surprised to learn that I spent my vacation here. I was even told that I am the first person they have ever heard of visiting this for vacation! Northern Ireland must not have the best reputation among brits, but I really enjoyed my time here, it was incredibly beautiful, all green, but one has to consider the ever changing weather!
Although I only had a few hours in Taiwan in every direction when going to and from Palau, this was a really nice bonus-trip! I was in China, Macau and Hong Kong last year, and I really enjoyed my visit there, so seeing one more version of this culture in Taiwan was something I was very eager to do! Taiwan has now become a destination I would really want to visit again, as you can dive, enjoy beaches and see nature and wast tea plantations! Taiwanese say tea has originated from here.
I liked how organized this country is, how people wait in lines in the metro, how interesting is the food (I only tried the bubble tea!) and atmosphere is so calm! It seemed noone is in a hurry here. Even few hours in Taiwan are really worth it, if just to see the Longshan temple!
My main trip of the year was the grand visit to Palau. Most people have never heard of this place and it is mostly known as a divers destination. All the amount of time that went into planning was really worth it, as two weeks in paradise were amazing!
I saw huge manta rays, flew in a tiny Cessna and saw untouched nature,lived in a small private island and took boat trips all over the place.
Also a new type of experience came out of it, as I did my first ever story evening together with Gandrs! Something new, to pack such a trip to an hour an a half power point deck and tell it to others! I was really happy that so many people showed up and I could help them plan their next destinations. Palau was also the first place we made a video about, the ideal day in Palau!
Which places did you enjoy the most in 2016?