There are three great lists annually in Condé Nast Traveler, all of which have changed due to the events of the last two years: the Readers’ Choice Awards, which you, our beloved audience, select; the Hot List, which compiles the new and notable of the previous year; and this one, which is ultimately about the places and experiences our editors carry in their hearts. This year, when we say our editors, we mean CNT’s entire global crew, working in locations from California to Beijing; we’ve also expanded the parameters of the list to include not just the hotels and cruises you’ve seen in years past, but also the destinations we treasure. The Gold List is, more than ever, made by humans for other humans—something we need more than ever in this day and age. Here, our favorite destinations in the world.
I love when I can feel familiar with a new place in 48 hours. In Puebla, Mexico’s historic, fourth-largest city, all the spots you want to hit are walking distance within its center, itself a tidy sprawl of bright pink and yellow villas and small plazas. That includes food markets for a crispy cemita (a schnitzel-style sandwich with all the fixings); the gilded Capilla del Rosario and the city’s famed talavera, or ceramic houses; I stayed for close to an hour watching the row of artisans hand-paint and hand-fire their mugs, plates, and vases at Uriarte Talavera. Before the pandemic, tourism was just starting to happen here, and the city was in that sweet spot of supporting a new breed of traveler, like with the artisanal-inspired Cartesiano hotel, but without muting any of its essence for international business. I liked that I had to use my shoddy Spanish with barkeeps and store owners. And that sitting in those plazas meant a front-row seat to daily Poblano life: vendors selling sliced cucumber spices with cayenne, old-timers playing dominos. Puebla felt like a special somewhere on the verge of discovery in a country with pockets already turned over to the masses. My guess with all that’s happened this past year is that it still does. —Erin Florio
If you were to hook the city of Rio de Janeiro up to a cardiogram, the needle would swing off the page. The city thrums with live samba and bossa nova at all hours of the day; the bustling streets, bookended by the dramatic rise of granite monoliths on one end and the pounding waves of the Atlantic on the other, have a pulse all their own. It’s easy to feel this when you’re amid throngs of colorfully clad cariocas—I feel it most swaying to the live music at Pedra do Sal on Monday nights, or when, perched in the leafy hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa, I hear people in neighborhoods below lean out their windows to cheer when Flamengo scores a goal. It’s a complicated city, with plenty of issues—insecurity, corruption, inequity, to name just a few—but there’s a premium on joy and celebration that isn’t reserved for Carnaval. There are few places in the world where you know you couldn’t possibly be anywhere else, and whenever I hear the whole of Arpoador beach break into applause as the sun sets in summer, I’m reminded that Rio is one of them. —Megan Spurrell
I call the road to the sea through Portugal’s Alentejo region the place where the beatniks read Pessoa; you can imagine Kerouac breezing through its small hotels, surf camps, and villages scattered with craft shops, markets, and bohemian bars. For me it’s a place of happiness. There are boutique hotels like São Lourenço do Barrocal and Dá Licença and olive groves, cork oaks, and infinite horizons. The road ends at Vicentine Coast National Park, a wild, protected coastline in southern Europe. A paradise for surfers, it has electrifying sunsets, but the icy waters stop it from ever getting too crowded. —David Moralejo
Arctic Svalbard—whose capital, Longyearbyen, is the world’s northernmost town—is like nowhere else I’ve been. On the one hand, it’s a deep-nature Scandi fantasy of snowmobiles, Northern Lights, ski-touring along glacial valleys, and surprisingly smart boutiques with stacked wine cellars. But there’s also a compelling strangeness to this international settlement, where no one is born and no one dies. There are the Soviet mining towns with their Lenin busts, whether abandoned or (even weirder) still working; the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which preempts a coming apocalypse; it’s advisable to leave Longyearbyen with a shotgun, in case of polar-bear attack. As much as a destination, it’s a journey into the heart of the climate crisis, with academics from across the world doing game-changing research here. I’m itching to go again—to escape but also to think and connect, which is what happens in all the best places. —Toby Skinner
My first trip to Goa as a college student was wrapped in dreams of homemade chorizo and reliving moments from the cult Bollywood coming-of-age film Dil Chahta Hai. Many trips and feni cocktails later, Goa remained a respite for my city-weary bones. The state straddles its multicultural past and present, trading up ’60s hippie markets for hipster boutiques while keeping its old-world Indian and Portuguese traditions intact. Simple fish-curry plates, aunties doing an impromptu jig to fado, old-timers squabbling over their favorite Goan soccer club, and the right freshness of bread coexist with edgy global menus, alt-music gigs, and all that is artisanal and arty. The ocean changes color from one season to the next, the multi-color sunsets never repeat, and like many travelers, I continue to return and find my salve in sunshine, sea, and susegad—the quintessential Goan idea of the slow, easy, and good life. —Diya Kohl