A new year brings new reasons to explore the world. And if the world is your oyster, why not seek out the pearls? Destinations set to shine in 2011 include the world’s newest country (hint: think warm, aquamarine water), a city with celebrations every day, and some far-flung countries that will seem closer with the addition of new air service.IcelandJudging by the big boost in flights coming to Iceland, getting there is about to get a whole lot easier. On June 1, Delta will become the only U.S. airline to fly to the country when it debuts its New York-Reykjavik route. In summer, low-cost carrier Iceland Express will offer daily service from New York, plus flights multiple times per week connecting Boston, Chicago, and Winnipeg to Iceland. Icelandair will be starting daily seasonal flights from Boston and New York. And Icelandair and Alaska Airlines have teamed up to offer codeshare flights and mileage earning opportunities to Iceland from West Coast cities including Anchorage, Los Angeles, Portland, and San Francisco.
CuracaoIt’s not every day the world gets a new country. But 2011 will mark Curacao’s first full year as an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, adding a new chapter to the island’s rich history. Among its first orders of business is making itself more accessible to Americans and Canadians. So be on the lookout for more flights and hotel rooms that will put the island’s warm waters and colorful architecture a little closer to visitors in need of a dose of upscale Caribbean relaxation. New offerings include newly launched Continental service from Newark, and a new Hyatt Regency set to open in April. New York CityBig anniversaries and new offerings make New York City a destination to watch in 2011. The Statue of Liberty turns 125 years old in October, Carnegie Hall celebrates 120 years with gala anniversary events in spring, and the New York Public Library turns 100. New attractions for next year include the reopened Museum of the Moving Image, the Museum of African Art, and the expansion of the High Line. And, 2011 will see the continuation of the hotel boom that has already increased hotel capacity in the city by nearly 20%, which is good news for travelers.2011 will also mark the 10-year anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and the city will commemorate with the opening of the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero. Turku, FinlandThe cool thing about Europe’s Capital of Culture award is that it shines a spotlight on destinations that might not otherwise be on most travelers’ radars. That’s certainly the case with Turku, a medieval city in southwest Finland with an innovative arts and culture scene. Hundreds of performances, exhibitions, and other events are scheduled for 2011, including the Bridge of Sound concert series and short filmmaking opportunities for visitors. Events even extend offshore into Turku’s 20,000-island archipelago, with site-specific installations visible from boats and ferries. New ZealandIf the long, cramped flight in coach has long deterred you from making the trip to New Zealand, then here’s some news you can use. On April 2, 2011, Air New Zealand will debut its Skycouch on flights between Los Angeles and Auckland. The upgrade allows passengers to turn a row of three economy seats into a couch, a recliner, or a bed.A more comfortable trip isn’t the only reason to visit. Lonely Planet just named Wellington one of its Top 10 Cities for 2011, calling it the “Best Little Capital in the World” for its culinary and film scenes, and friendly residents. Plus, March brings the Auckland Arts Festival, with 200 art events, and in September and October, the World Rugby Cup will take place in New Zealand.JapanEasier access by air and land, plus cultural festivities make 2011 a great year to visit Japan. A new Open Skies agreement between Japan and the U.S. means increased collaboration on flight booking and schedules among airlines. Already, Tokyo’s Haneda Airport has opened up to U.S. airlines for the first time ever, giving travelers more central airlift to the city; and nearby Tokyo Narita has boosted capacity in preparation for more visitors. Within Japan, newly extended bullet train routes connect to destinations such as Aomori, known for its late spring cherry blossoms and host of Japan’s largest summer festival, and Kyushu, home to historic sites such as a castle with Ninja-proof walls. AtlantaSouthwest can’t technically make plans for its new hub in Atlanta until its merger with AirTran closes sometime in spring 2011. But it’s very likely that the airline will add routes and find ways to give Delta, the dominant airline at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, a real run for its money. Whether or not the city will experience the “Southwest Effect” of dramatically lowered fares is debatable, but chances are the low-cost carrier, eager to win business, will turn 2011 into an appealing—and affordable—year to visit.New attractions help Atlanta shine in the New Year. The Georgia Aquarium will soon welcome visitors to its new 1.3 million gallon dolphin exhibit. In spring, Legoland Discovery Centre opens in Atlanta. And a pirate museum featuring treasures and artifacts will make its home near Centennial Olympic Park next year. Tallinn, EstoniaThe Estonian capital known for its love of song will be celebrating its designation as a European Capital of Culture with music, dance, and art every day of 2011. Rooftop film screenings, dozens of festivals, urban games, and guided “sonic landmark” walks through the city are among the hundreds of offerings visitors will find in Tallinn during the year. 2011 also marks the 20th anniversary of independence for Estonia, meaning the festive atmosphere won’t be confined just to Tallinn. And as the country officially makes the switch to the Euro on January 1, travelers will be able to negotiate their stays in a familiar currency. More reasons, more destinationsLooking for easier access, big birthdays, and other compelling reasons to visit a destination in 2011 or beyond? Here are destinations that fit the bill:New serviceEaster Island becomes easier to visit, with new service from LAN starting January 5.Quito, Ecuador, unveils its new airport in November, boosting access to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.Anniversaries and CelebrationsAstoria, Oregon, the oldest U.S. settlement west of the Rockies, celebrates its bicentennial.Gettysburg honors the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.Delhi celebrates 100 years since its founding as the city of New Delhi.The U.K. is already awash in Royal Wedding fever, in anticipation of the April 29 nuptials between Prince William and Kate Middleton.Early Booking Radar: 2012 and beyondArgentina: Keep an eye on Argentina, as experts predict big growth in tourism and more infrastructure for visitors in the coming years.Brazil: Brazil will host the World Cup in 2014, then gear up for the Summer Olympics in 2016.Colombia: The country’s Open Skies agreement with the U.S. will fully launch in 2012.Cuba: We’re still waiting to see what will happen with the Cuba travel ban, but it’s definitely one to keep on the radar in the coming years.Germany: Berlin will open its new airport in 2012, the same year German carrier AirBerlin joins the oneworld airline alliance.England: London hosts the 2012 Summer Olympics.Guatemala: Indigenous culture is the focus during Oxlajuj B’aqtun 2012, the dawn of a new era, according to the Maya calendar.Netherlands: In 2012, Holland hosts Floridae, its major horticultural show that only happens once a decade.Panama: The Panama Canal expansion project will dramatically increase capacity when it opens in 2014. Cruisers take note.