With many travelers eager to use their passports in the New Year, travel guides are encouraging tourists to set their sights beyond the usual destinations of Paris, London and Rome in 2015. Instead, off-the-beaten path locales offering new opportunities to taste unusual foods and try out basic foreign language skills could become more popular this year. Below are seven of the top cities and countries across the world to visit over the next 12 months.
1. Vilnius, Lithuania. This former Soviet republic became a member of the euro zone on Thursday, making it easier for travelers familiar with the currency who also want to see the old town of capital city Vilnius, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Tour the cathedral, the historic university and the Dawn Gate with its famous Black Madonna icon.
2. Kanazawa, Japan. One of the few Japanese cities to emerge unscathed from World War II offers samurai residencies and traditional teahouses. It also is home to the only geisha community outside Kyoto. A new high-speed train line opening in March will reduce the travel time from Tokyo from four hours to two-and-a-half, according to the Guardian.
3. Edinburgh, Scotland. The land of William Wallace, Sean Connery and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle offers miles of picturesque landscapes, romantic castles and neighborhood pubs. The free National Gallery of Scotland is a good place to start, while the Edinburgh Festival in August is known to draw thousands of theater lovers.
4. Boise, Idaho. You don't have to travel all the way to Spain to revel in the colors and gastronomic delights of the country's Basque region. Boise's Jaialdi 2015 is one of the largest Basque festivals in the world, and includes jai alai and dancing, according to CNN. Idaho is also a popular skiing destination and offers various cultural attractions, including wildlife photography workshops.
5. Cartagena, Colombia. The historic colonial city on the Caribbean coast also is a Unesco World Heritage site. It features pastel-colored buildings, cobblestone streets, fresh seafood and tropical cocktails. JetBlue began offering direct flights here from New York City in 2012.
6. Montevideo, Uruguay. The small South American nation's capital offers gay marriage, legal marijuana, timeless architecture, riverside promenades and some of the best steaks of your life. Visit the newly reconstructed Mercado Agrícola, where more than 100 vendors provide enticing options, or the El Prado neighborhood, home to a 24-acre botanical garden with more than 2,000 trees, according to the New York Times.
7. Atacama Desert, Chile. Stretching 600 miles from Peru's southern border into northern Chile, these majestic foothills offer river gorges, white-capped volcanoes and one of the driest climates on Earth. It also boasts a colonial center in San Pedro complete with a charming main square and 16th-century church.