Interruptions aside, the world has been our oyster, and will always be. For our readers, certain international destinations top the charts. At Travel + Leisure India & South Asia’s India’s Best Awards 2021 (IBA 2021), here are the best international destinations that have been declared winners!
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Here are the best international destination winners
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- Best Country - Switzerland
- Best Country - UAE
- Best City - Dubai
- Best City - Singapore
- Best Honeymoon Destination - Maldives
- Best Honeymoon destination - Thailand
- Best Wedding Destination - Bali, Indonesia
- Best Wedding Destination - Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
- Best Shopping Destination - The Dubai Mall, Dubai
- Best Shopping Destination - Outletcity Metzingen, Germany
- Best Heritage Destination - Alula, Saudi Arabia
- Best Heritage Destination - Cusco, Peru
- Best Emerging Destination - Saudi Arabia
- Best Emerging Destination - Luxembourg
- Best Adventure Destination - Oman
- Best Adventure Destination - Kenya
- Best Culinary Destination - Spain
- Best Culinary Destination - USA
- Best Cultural Destination - Qatar
- Best Cultural Destination - Japan
It isn’t surprising that Switzerland has been consistently ranked among the best countries in the world for travel. Its stunning locales and fairy-tale towns aside, the alpine country is also rich in myriad experiences. For culture enthusiasts and food connoisseurs, it offers a mélange of French, German, and Italian influences. A unique wine trail around the country is increasingly drawing wine lovers from the world over. For adventure seekers, it’s a year-round paradise of great outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and so on. This winter, Switzerland has launched a campaign called ‘100% Women’, which promotes events and experiences created by women for women and led by female guides.
Each of the seven emirates of the UAE has something unique to offer, making it a coveted destination. Be wowed by world-famous landmarks such as Burj Khalifa in Dubai, or deep dive into Emirati history at the archaeological site of Mleiha in Sharjah. While the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi offers a chance to take part in F1 frenzy, Umm Al Quwain showcases traditional sports such as falconry and camel racing. The wadis of Fujairah offer soothing escapes, Ajman is famous for its cultural attractions like the Dhow Yard, and Ras Al Khaimah boasts a rich cultural history and splendid landscapes.
With a magnificent cityscape bordered by an unparalleled coastline, Dubai is one of the most tourist-friendly cities in the world. It is also one of the most cosmopolitan, being home to 200 odd nationalities. The vibrant food scene is a reflection of its multi-cultural influences and rich Emirati cuisine. Dubai is also a paradise for water sports, skydiving, desert safaris, shopping, and an array of outdoor activities. The ongoing Expo 2020 Dubai offers a chance to experience the art, architecture, science, culture, and food of 192 countries.
Home to iconic attractions such as Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Flyer, and Merlion statues, Singapore is an ever-evolving microcosm of modern Asia. The thrill of visiting the world’s only island city-state begins at the Changi Airport, with the Rain Vortex, Changi Experience Studio, and Butterfly Garden offering otherworldly experiences. Each Singaporean neighbourhood features unique perspectives, from the wide range of attractions at Resorts WorldTM Sentosa to the rich history of Kampong Gelam and the desi buzz of Little India. Immerse yourself in culinary and shopping experiences, and for slow travel, visit Coney Island and Thomson Nature Park.
The island nations of the Indian Ocean have forever been favourites of newlyweds. Maldives ranks high on this list. It consists of 1,192 islands—grouped into 26 atolls—of which only 200 are inhabited. Maldives is a complete stunner, with clear turquoise lagoons and pristine white-sand beaches making for romantic settings. The country boasts about five percent of the planet’s reefs, home to a myriad species of marine life. The luxury resorts here offer indulgent stays—from treehouses deep in tropical foliage to private beach villas and overwater suites. Popular honeymoon packages come with relaxing spa treatments for two, Michelin-starred champagne dinners under the stars, and a host of underwater explorations.
One of the most exciting travel destinations in the world, Thailand is ideal for honeymooners looking for an accessible, affordable, and fun international getaway. Begin at the bustling metropolis of Bangkok with its famous sights and endless shopping destinations; bask in the seclusion offered by Phi Phi, Koh Lipe, or Koh Lanta; indulge at the upscale wellness retreats of Phuket; and party the night away in Koh Pha Ngan. For newlyweds who share a love for food, Thailand is a paradise offering a delectable array of street eats, traditional Thai favourites, and global cuisines at award-winning fine-dining establishments.
Famous for its beautiful beaches, serene mountains, and rich culture, Bali has seen its fair share of celebrity weddings, making it an aspirational destination for those looking to tie the knot. The ‘Island of the Gods’ offers idyllic wedding settings—a gorgeous beachfront venue in Jimbaran or Canggu, a dreamy setup in the middle of Ubud’s lush terrace fields or zen jungles, or a thrilling cliffside setting overlooking the turquoise bay in Uluwatu. A range of stays across budgets, and experienced planners and vendors who design the perfect wedding, are other big draws.
The popular leisure and entertainment hub of Yas Island in Abu Dhabi is a preferred wedding destination for many reasons. From 3-star comfort to 5-star luxury, a collection of hotels caters to every need and budget. With banquet-style ballrooms that can seat 400 to 1,500 guests and outdoor settings accommodating up to 2,000 attendees, the upscale hotels here can host a range of elaborate events. Some even come with unique wedding venue backdrops—the F1 Yas Marina Circuit, for instance! The Yas Link Golf Club, Warner Bros World, Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Yas Mall, and Yas Beach, meanwhile, keeps guests engaged.
One of the world’s largest shopping malls with over 1,200 retail stores and 200 food and beverage outlets, The Dubai Mall is a crowd favourite when it comes to shopping. Located next to Burj Khalifa, it pays homage to high fashion with more than 70 signature stores in its dedicated Fashion Avenue. The Souk offers a distinctive shopping experience with jewellery stores, traditional Arab clothing and handicrafts, as well as accessories. The Dubai Mall also features the Olympic-size Dubai Ice Rink and the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo for family fun.
Located two hours from Zurich, Frankfurt, and Munich, the city of Metzingen boasts one of the largest outlet malls in Europe, set on the edge of the Swabian Alb mountains. Housed within an award-winning structure, Outletcity offers over 130 premium and luxury brands including Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Prada, and more. It also has the largest BOSS outlet in the world, besides outlets for watches, jewellery, beauty, and sports. Services include direct tax refunds for non-EU customers.
One of the oldest cities in the Arabian Peninsula, AlUla is rich in historical, geological, and geographical marvels. Once at the crossroads of the Silk Road and the Incense Route, today it’s the world’s largest living museum that holds 2,00,000 years of largely unexplored human history in its tombs, historic dwellings, sandstone outcrops, and epic monuments. From the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra which dates back to the first century BCE, to the rock art and inscriptions at Jabal Ikmah, and the Lion Tombs of the ancient kingdom of Dadan, the vast desert landscape and rock formations of AlUla are a heritage hunter’s paradise.
The historical capital of Peru, Cusco wins hearts and votes for being a hub of history and heritage. Its museums showcase Inca culture and artefacts, while in the historic town centre the Plaza de Armas is bordered by a 12-angled stone, an object of national heritage. In the neighbourhood of San Blas, colonial-era stone houses are home to families engaged in folk art. Awanacancha has an exhibition centre displaying products obtained from camelids, alpacas, llamas, and others through traditional techniques. Cusco also serves as the base for the trek to Choquequirao—the last refuge of the Incas, and the gateway to the world-famous wonder of Machu Picchu.
Until a few years ago, most of the tourism in Saudi Arabia was centred around religious pilgrimages. But the second biggest tourist destination in the Middle East has undergone significant cultural transformations in recent years and has opened up to leisure, adventure, culture, and luxury tourism in a big way. Red-hued mountains, azure desert lakes, technicolour reefs of the Red Sea, the untamed wilderness of the Rub’ Al Khali, the bustling lanes of Jeddah’s old souks, and the great outdoors and Bedouin culture of Riyadh—Saudi Arabia is full of destinations and experiences waiting to be explored.
One of the smallest countries of Europe, the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg is still relatively unknown. But being the wealthiest country in Europe and one of the safest in the world, it is swiftly gaining popularity among travellers. Strategically located in the heart of Europe, bordering France, Germany, and Belgium, the tiny nation is easily accessible. Offering a multitude of landscapes across six regions, it’s rich in culture, history, architecture, and industrial heritage. The cosmopolitan capital, Luxembourg City, is lively and bustling, and its UNESCO-listed old town features unique fortifications. It’s also counted among the 10 most relaxed cities in the world!
Thanks to its diverse landscapes, featuring mountains, terraced fields, beaches, deserts, and more, the Sultanate of Oman makes for one of the best adventure destinations. From exploring one of the largest cave chambers in the world at Majlis Al Jinn, and snorkelling in the waters of the Daymaniyat Islands, to camping under the stars in the A’Sharqiyah Sands, and golfing at the world-class golf clubs of Muscat, adventure is at the heart of every journey in Oman. Cycling and mountain biking, as well as stand-up paddle boarding, have also gained popularity, while paragliding is a recent addition to its growing adventure tourism scene.
Popularly known as the ‘Home of the Original Safari’, Kenya does wildlife adventure like no other place on earth. The East African nation is famed for its vast wildlife reserves such as Maasai Mara—home to over 100 species of mammals including the Big Five, and 450 species of birds. The Mara also hosts one of nature’s greatest spectacles—the Great Wildebeest Migration. Besides safaris, one can enjoy bush breakfasts, sundowners, horseback riding, and village visits. Over 45 other national parks and 100 conservancies offer sensational game viewing chances on thrilling hot-air-balloon flights, safaris, and hikes, or right from your lodge.
With a seemingly endless repertoire of flavoursome, healthy, and exciting traditional dishes, Spain easily counts as one of the top culinary destinations in the world. Be it tapas, paella, local stews, sausages and hams, or Spanish wine, each culinary experience here is distinct. Spain’s regions serve up varied ingredients and flavours, from fish and meat recipes by the sea, vegetable-centric inland dishes in the south, and excellent simplicity in northern cuisine. Mediterranean diet has also been listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
A country as vast as the USA, sprinkled with such diverse cultural influences, is bound to be chosen as one of the best culinary destinations by travellers. Perhaps no other country has gifted the world as many popular dishes as America. Variants of immigrant originals such as cheeseburgers and hot dogs, Chicago and New York-style pizzas, California sushi rolls, mac ‘n’ cheese, tacos, and burritos reflect the country’s diversity. There are also culinary inventions of its own that echo America’s long and eventful history, such as the Philly cheesesteak, Nashville fried chicken, Cobb salad, Buffalo wings, and more.
The peninsular state of Qatar offers a heady mix of tradition and modernism for culture enthusiasts, with world-class museums, iconic galleries, inspiring street art, and unique traditions. The internationally renowned Museum of Islamic Art is the crown jewel of Qatar’s museum scene, whereas the architectural masterpiece known as National Museum of Qatar tells the country’s story from pre-historic to modern times. At the self-styled cultural village of Katara in Doha stand the magnificent Katara Mosque and Gold Mosque, as well as a Greek-style Amphitheatre. The salon-like majlis at the homes here are an invitation for guests to gather and experience local life over dates and Arabic coffee.
In the Land of the Rising Sun, a culture as ancient as time coexists with a contemporary one that has influences from around the world, making Japan a coveted culture destination. While historically rich Kyoto and Nara offer a generous serving of traditional Japanese culture, there are also lesser-known experiences that warrant attention. Book a stay at a temple, walk one of the island nation’s ancient trails, get creative with a traditional craft at a local studio, or experience Japanese theatre and local festivals ranging from the regal to the raucous. Japan can truly be a captivating cultural discovery for all.