See dazzling ice palaces at the Harbin Ice Festival

Make a New Year’s resolution to enjoy yourself and explore the world. With the siren call of the Seychelles beaches, the secret art world of Casablanca and the classically romantic Trans-Siberian railway, it will be an easy one to keep.

For sun-seekers…

Short haul: Gran Canaria
Europe’s last port of call provides a lively destination for winter beach bums. With pleasant 21°C (70°F) days and 237km (147miles) of coastline, Gran Canaria’s moderate climate invites water activities and beach lounging all year round. The eclectic mix of cultures that makes the Canary Islands so unique creates a diverse beach community ranging from a pre-Hispanic town to a neo-gothic church, and being a port means the island invites a raucous blend of art, architecture, aromas and faces.

Gran Canaria Dunes at SunsetThe sunset casts shadows on the dunes of Gran Canaria
iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Gran Canaria, labeled a Biosphere Reserve, is rich in diverse flora and fauna. Hikes, mountain biking and rock climbing help adventurous visitors discover the lush inner island. Hit Playa de Ingles for the most lively beach or head down to Playa de Arguineguim for a more local, laid-back feel. Wander through Vegueta to immerse yourself in a quiet over 500 year old city hidden and trod across cobblestones that Christopher Columbus once walked upon.

Coco de MerCoco de mer only grows in two places on earth
iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Long haul: Seychelles
Blistering 28°C (82°F) days make the pristine beaches of Seychelles an oasis. Spend your holiday island-hopping to make the most of this archipelago and discover the wide range of ecosystems.   At Vallée de Mai, the nature reserve, the legendary primeval forest, was once believed to be the Garden of Eden. It is one of two places on earth to see the rare coco de mer, large sea coconuts, growing in their natural habitat. Nature tours are available to help visitors become familiar with the diverse wildlife.

Looking to spend a day out on the water? Watch colourful fish swim beneath a glass bottomed boat, get your adrenaline pumping learning to kite board or just splash around in the warm sparkling-turquoise sea on one of the 44 white-sand beaches. Anse Bonnet Carré is often deserted and can only be accessed by foot, so trek there for a relaxing beach hideaway.  

For cultural connoisseurs…

Short haul: Casablanca, Morocco
Often overlooked for the exotic tantalizations of Marrakesh and Tangier, Casablanca is emerging as an art and architecture mecca. The city, made famous by the eponymous film, contains one of the currently most promising modern art scenes of the Arab world. Keeping real estate out of commercial developer’s hands, Casablanca has been devoting more space to art including the ultra-hip gallery space, the Transcultural Slaughterhouse, which has only helped the burgeoning art scene. Architecture junkies shouldn’t miss the cavernous art deco Rialto cinema and the Twin Center with its twin towers for an architectural representation of modern, enterprising Casablanca.

Rialto Cinema CasablancaRialto Cinema is famous for its art deco architecture
Creative Commons / rightee

A new tramway means the city has never been more accessible, and the old and new medinas stand to the testament of an evolving but classic country. “Soco de Moina” is a lesser known flea market, where bargain hunters can fill up on well-priced treasures. Visit Anfa for upmarket shops and dance the night away at the many discotheques in this sleepless city. For a taste of the Moroccan underground, try mixing in with the gambling world at the greyhound races of the old French velodrome.

Long haul: Singapore

Singapore FlyerGet a great view of Singapore from the Flyer
Creative Commons / Fabio Achilli

Though it may have a persnickety reputation, Singapore is much more than its ban of chewing gum. The once fishing village has blossomed into one of the safest, most progressive multicultural city-states in the world. Influenced by both Eastern and Western cultures, Singapore showcases its progress in the gleaming high-rise buildings and tranquil botanical gardens surrounding quaint traditional temples and mosques that typify this bustling cosmopolitan city. To get a feel for its mishmash history, wander through Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam, from where Malay royalty once reigned. At night Clark Quay and Boat Quay come alive with the best party scenes in Singapore.

Enjoy a gastronomical feast in Singapore - its multicultural influences shows themselves heavily in the cuisine. Dempsey Hill offers a respite from the bustling city while tantalizing all senses with lush dining options. Hit the farmer’s market for fresh local produce, frequent one of the Indian curry houses for a spice sensation or stop by The White Rabbit, located in a refurbished garrison church for a high-end take on classic comfort food. Singapore’s foodies rave just as much about noodles on the street as the poshest restaurants.

For adventurous explorers…

Short haul: Trans-Siberian Rail
Pack your winter clothes, adventurous spirit and favorite Tolstoy novel and prepare for a winter wonderland. 

A frosty adventure awaits those who board the Trans-Siberian rail providing a taste of frozen Russia and ice towers in China. The longest railway in the world offers a trip from St. Petersburg to Beijing with everything in between. While it’ll be cold, little is as beautiful as a wintery Siberian landscape as seen through a warm train window. Stopping in Moscow you can see the onion-topped St. Basil’s covered in a gentle layer of snow whilst in Ekaterinburg go skiing, ice-fishing or dog sledding for an adventurous day out on the snow. At the end of the track in Beijing, see the Harbin Ice Festival.   Here, thousands of carved ice sculptures and veritable ice palaces will be lit up by strings of festive lights honoring the traditional ice lanterns made in northeastern China during the Qing dynasty.

Canopy Walk GhanaWalk through the trees on the Canopy Walk in Kakum
Creative Commons / Erik Cleves Kristensen

Long haul: Ghana
Escape the cold and head to south Ghana for an eco-tourist’s dream. Kakum National Park, worked with locals to create one of the best community based eco-tourism experiences in the country. Walk through foliage on the 40m (131 ft) high suspended walkway in Kakum National Park, 43km (27 miles) from Accra, and look for wildlife including leopards, bongos, elephants, 400 species of butterflies, over 200 species of birds and more, while preserving the virgin rainforest. The Sun bird Trail takes visitors through three different ecosystems (rainforest, secondary forest, and pond environment) and is the best spot for bird watching. For the truly adventurous, it is possible to camp in the park, but don’t forget a mosquito net.

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