Can you believe 2019 is ending soon? While many of us are still travelling or squeezing in trips before the year ends, we're sure many of you are already thinking of new destinations to plan your 2020 vacation.
That's why we've come up with this list of places to visit in 2020 so you can discover some new destinations or return to familiar spots to try something new and different. Either way, we guarantee that your 2020 is going to be a year of amazing travels!
Here's a list of 14 Muslim-friendly destinations that should be on your list in 2020. Are you ready to explore?
1. Tohoku, Japan
While everyone else is setting their sights on Tokyo because of the 2020 Olympics, we think it's the perfect time to venture out of Japan's capital city and Tohoku fits the bill. Consisting of 6 prefectures, this region located about 2-3 hours north of Tokyo (by train) boasts of mountains, lakes and hot springs - natural beauty at its best ?
Credit: Aomori Prefecture Government and Aomori Prefecture, Tourism and International Affairs Strategy Bureau
Tohoku is great to visit in any season. In spring, the lovely cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle* will enchant you while in summer, you can immerse yourself in Japanese culture with festivals like the Nebuta Matsuri (in Aomori), Akita Kanto (in Akita) and more.
*Do note that the castle is currently not in its original position as it is undergoing repair works to its base structure. The castle was moved in its entirety about 70m away ? The castle is expected to be put back into its original place by 2021, though full repairs will take a few more years.
When autumn comes, the backdrop of beautiful autumn foliage against limestone cliffs will greet you as you take a boat ride through Geibikei (Geibi Gorge). If you're looking to have the best winter experience, the Zao Onsen (in Yamagata) and Appi Ski Resort (in Iwate) will be perfect. Conquer the region with our 6D5N Muslim-friendly Tohoku itinerary!
A visit to Tohoku won't be complete without hopping on one of JR East's Joyful Trains - these trains are specially designed with unique themes to make it a fun experience for passengers. We tried some of the trains on our recent trip and hopped on the unique trains like the POKEMON with YOU, Toreiyu Tsubasa (a train with a footbath) and more.
If you're planning your visit in summer (just in time for the Olympics!), don't miss out on apple-picking at Hirosaki Apple Park! Or take a trip to Matsushima Bay which is renowned for its 260 pine-covered islands and has a reputation as one of the three most scenic spots in all of Japan. Up for a challenge instead? Try the Wanko Soba challenge - a unique dining experience where you are served bowl after bowl of soba noodles, with the aim of eating 100 bowls or as many as you can.
With the Tohoku region on its way to becoming more Muslim-friendly with increasing food options and prayer spaces for Muslim travellers, this underrated part of Japan is waiting to be discovered. If you're wondering how to get to Tohoku or the public transport options in the region, check out our Muslim-friendly guide to Tohoku ?
2. Cappadocia, Turkey
Mention Cappadocia and images of hot-air balloons rising above Turkey's picturesque Goreme Valley comes to mind. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is not to be missed. If you're wondering what it feels like, one of our writers went on this adventure and tells us why it's one of his best travel moments.
But it's not just the hot-air balloon experience that's a draw for travellers in Cappadocia - the region in Central Turkey is teeming with nature and culture. Be prepared to discover its wonders - visit the Goreme Open Air Museum to see natural limestone formations, go horse-riding, learn the art of pottery-making as part of Turkish culture, stay in a cave hotel and more.
With easy accessibility from the main city of Istanbul, it's even more convenient for you to slot Cappadocia into your itinerary. It's recommended to stay a night or two to enjoy the best of what it has to offer. Wondering how you can get to this beautiful Turkish region? Our first-timer's guide to Cappadocia will tell you what you should look for before you visit!
If it's your first time visiting Europe in 2020, there's no better place to start than the continent's 3 most famous cities - London, Amsterdam and Paris. With plenty of attractions, museums, shopping options and more, we can totally see why these cities have got travellers making repeat visits! Our 9D8N London-Amsterdam-Paris itinerary will be just what you need to kickstart your trip.
The Big Ben might be closed for renovations till 2021 but London is still bustling with activity - whether you're catching a musical in West End, savouring fish and chips or watching the Changing of the Guards ceremony at Buckingham Palace. A visit to its markets like Borough and Camden Lock is the best way to soak in the city's atmosphere. Or take a breather at the city's green spaces like Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Harry Potter fans would want to throw in a visit to the Warner Bros. Studios - believe it or not, that's where all of the 8 Harry Potter movies were filmed!
With the direct train service from London to Amsterdam launched last year, you can continue your Europe adventure with ease. Fill your tummy with stroopwafels, poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) and more at Albert Cuyp Market and explore the city's network of canals on a bicycle. If you're a museum enthusiast, you'd want to visit the 200-year-old Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum. Want a breathtaking view of the windmills? Take a day trip to Zaanse Schans and get acquainted with Dutch culture.
Thereafter, make your way to Paris, the city of love. Home to world-famous attractions like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles, the city is no stranger to romantics ?What's a visit to Paris without sampling some halal French cuisine at one of these 10 halal eateries? Don't forget to try some of the best French pastries in the city too!
4. Nusa Penida, Indonesia
Closer to home, Nusa Penida, an island off Bali, has been making waves for being the number 1 destination for backpackers to visit in 2020. But even if you're not a "backpacker", there's no need to fret! There's plenty of sights and things to do.
P.S. Looking for halal food in Bali? We've rounded up 18 Muslim-friendly eateries!
The island is full of Instagram-worthy spots with Kelingking Beach taking centre stage. You've probably seen pictures of travellers with the backdrop of the cliff resembling a T-rex. Marvel at the beauty of stunning limestone rock formations from above. You can also head down to the beach to enjoy its unspoilt white sand ?
#HHWT Tip:Check out our 6D5N Bali-Lombok itinerary if you're looking to do a longer trip!
The Thousand Island viewpoint is another picturesque place where you'll be greeted with more epic views. The most popular attraction here is the Rumah Pohon (treehouse) which has rocketed to fame on Instagram for its lovely setting. Fun fact: Rumah Pohon is actually accommodation for visitors and staying here means you can immediately admire the magnificent coastline when you wake up!
Besides picture-perfect spots, you can also do some swimming and snorkelling at Nusa Penida. One of the marine creatures that many snorkellers hope to spot here is the majestic manta ray. If you're looking for a tour operator for this, Discover Nusa Penida is one of the more highly recommended operators.
Getting there: To get to Nusa Penida from Bali, head over to Sanur Beach and take a fast-ferry service to Nusa Penida. The ride costs about 100,000 IDR and will take about 30-40 minutes.
5. Seoul-Jeju, South Korea
We'll be honest - South Korea is a country we won't mind visiting every year ? And we know many Muslim travellers out there who are just like us. With exciting attractions, affordable shopping and yummy halal Korean cuisine, what's not to love? For those of you looking for a well-rounded trip, Seoul and Jeju is your answer! You'll get to enjoy the bustling atmosphere of Seoul before unwinding and taking it slow in Jeju.
If you've already visited Seoul's tourist sites like Gyeongbokgung or Bukchon Hanok Village, time to go off the beaten path and explore Ikseon-dong, an area with refurbished traditional houses with unique cafes and stores.
Seoul's surrounds are also worth exploring. On our recent trip, we tried Asia's largest luge course at the nearby Ganghwa Island in Incheon and also uncovered the Pocheon Art Valley, a popular Korean drama filming site in Gyeonggi-do.
With more than 100 flights connecting Seoul and Jeju daily, it only makes sense to do Seoul and Jeju in one trip as it's super convenient! Done a lot of shopping and walking in Seoul? Recharge with the scenic nature in Jeju. Our favourite spot is Seopjikoji - a cliff where you can admire the view of Jeju's volcanic formations ?
A hike up the Seongsan Sunrise Peak offers one of the best views of Jeju while the gorgeous flowers at Camellia Hill all-year-round is a photo opportunity you won't want to miss! Not to mention that Jeju has plenty of Muslim-friendly eateries for you to enjoy. Use our 5D4N Muslim-friendly Jeju itinerary to plan your travels!
6. Melbourne, Australia
Whether you're travelling with family or friends, a visit to Melbourne is always a good idea. It's not only the city's Instagrammable street art, good coffee and bustling markets that are attractive, but Melbourne is also a great base to explore the Australian state of Victoria.
Visiting during spring or autumn? The flower fields at Tesselaar in Yarra Valley is where you'd want to be! In spring, the field turns into a myriad of colourful tulips. Yarra Valley is also popular for its chocolaterie and ice creamery where you can taste some yummy Muslim-friendly chocolates. Don't miss out on other awesome activities like cherry-picking and the Puffing Billy Railway ? Our 7D6N family itinerary will be perfect for your family road trip!
Credit: Phillip Island Nature Parks
South of Melbourne, Phillip Island awaits, where watching the Penguin Parade here is a must. It's when hundreds of adorable penguins return to the beach after sunset to feed their babies. The koala reserve here is also popular with travellers!
Credit: Oceania Beauty on Facebook
If you're planning on doing a road trip outside Melbourne, the best part is that there are so many routes which you can take. If Yarra Valley and Phillip Island are not on your list, then take a journey along the scenic Great Ocean Road instead where you'll get to see the Twelve Apostles rock formations among others then head up to The Grampians mountain range for unparalleled views ? Check out our 5D4N itinerary to guide you along this road trip!
7. Marrakesh, Morocco
Designated as the first-ever African Capital of Culture for 2020, there's no better time to visit Marrakesh than now. This thousand-year-old city is rich in heritage and the best place for you to immerse yourself in Moroccan culture. Fun fact: Did you know that Marrakesh has also been called the "red city" due to its pink-tinted buildings which transform the city into a hue of red during sunset? ?
#HHWT Tip: If you're ready to start planning your Moroccan adventure, check out our 7D6N Morocco itinerary!
One of the things you must do in Marrakesh is to get lost in its old walled city called the Medina. Its labyrinth of alleys, ancient walls and shops will charm any traveller. What's more, the beautiful Ben Youssef Madrasa is scheduled to open in Mar-Apr 2020 after renovations so make sure you schedule your visit in time. Once known to be the largest Quranic learning centre in North Africa, you can't help but marvel at the madrasa's intricate Moroccan architecture. Another sight worth visiting in the medina is the Koutoubia Mosque - Marrakesh's largest mosque which was built in the 12th century.
When evening comes, Marrakesh's Djemaa El Fna market square bursts into life with snake charmers playing flutes, henna artists, street musicians and peddlers selling all sorts of items. Soak in the bustling atmosphere and sample the best of Moroccan cuisine here! Find out what else you should do as a first-timer in Morocco with our awesome guide.
An experience you can't miss in Marrakesh is to stay in a riad. Riads are accommodations which used to be large traditional Moroccan houses with a central courtyard. A stay in a riad will provide you with warm Moroccan hospitality and gives you a local experience. Some of the recommended riads in Marrakesh are Riad Yasmine, Riad Les Bougainvilliers and Riad Kniza.
P.S. Still not convinced to visit Morocco? We have 7 amazing reasons why you should put it on your bucket list in 2020!
8. Kundasang, Sabah
Who says you have to go far for impressive mountain views, green pastures and cool temperatures? If New Zealand is on your bucket list but you're looking for a cheaper option or just a quick getaway, Kundasang is perfect! Its breathtaking views of the majestic Mt Kinabalu has earned it the unofficial title of being the "New Zealand of Malaysia".
The DESA Dairy Farm is where you'd want to go for your pretend winter vacation. Here, you'll find cows grazing with Mt Kinabalu - Malaysia's highest mountain - in the background ? At DESA, you can also watch the cow milking process and cattle feeding. Don't forget to sample the different dairy products too, such as ice-cream, yoghurt, cheese and milk! With an altitude of almost 2000 metres above sea level, the average temperature in Kundasang is around 20 degrees Celsius and the air is refreshing.
Located about a 45-min drive from Kundasang in Ranau, the Poring Hot Spring is also not to be missed. The hot spring here is said to be rich in sulphuric minerals, which makes it great for soothing any body aches and helps to rejuvenate your senses. Check out our 4D3N Kota Kinabalu-Kundasang itinerary to find out more about where you should visit!
If you're planning to climb the 4095m Mt Kinabalu, Kundasang makes for a good base. We recommend staying a night or two here as you'll need to register early at the Kinabalu Park Headquarters. For those of you looking to experience glamping in the mountains, look no further than Umea Glamping Kundasang - it's the first accommodation in Kundasang to have a glamping dome! Each dome has a rustic feel, with wooden floors and Scandinavian-inspired furniture.
#HHWT Tip: Not sure how to get to Kundasang and how to get around Sabah? Check out our 4D3N itinerary!
9. Koh Lipe, Thailand
Planning to visit Thailand in 2020? Skip the typical destinations like Bangkok, Phuket and Krabi and head over to Koh Lipe instead. Located in the Andaman Sea in Southern Thailand, Koh Lipe is known for its white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. It's even been called the "Maldives of Thailand"!
#HHWT Tip: Did you know that Koh Lipe is only a 90-minutes ferry ride from Langkawi? Check out our 4D3N Langkawi-Koh Lipe itinerary to find out more.
Credit: Bundhaya Resort Koh Lipe on Facebook
Although Koh Lipe is a small island, there are 3 stunning beaches you can unwind at - Pattaya (most popular with hotels and restaurants), Sunrise and Sunset. If you're looking for a vacation with not much planning, then Koh Lipe is the place to go. Not sure where you should stay? We've rounded up 6 beachfront resorts (below RM200!) for your undisturbed retreat ?
Credit: อนันตา นระแสน on Facebook
Looking for things to do in Koh Lipe? You're in luck as the island is perfect for some snorkelling, kayaking and even scuba diving. As the island is part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, you can expect to see coral reefs in the clear waters.
Of course, no visit to Thailand will be complete without savouring yummy Thai cuisine and going for a massage. Take a walk along the Walking Street at Pattaya and you'll find Muslim-owned eateries as well as massage spots.
If you have more time to spare, take a short longtail boat ride to Koh Adang nearby and head up to the Chado Cliff to get a bird's eye view of Koh Lipe.
While the number of visitors to Koh Lipe has been steadily increasing in recent years, it's still not as crowded as the more popular islands like Phuket and Krabi, so if you're looking for an idyllic island retreat, Koh Lipe makes an ideal location!
10. Dubai, UAE
With the Expo 2020 happening in Dubai for almost 6 months, it'll be one of the most exciting times to visit Dubai next year! In case you're wondering, the World Expo is an event where more than 190 countries come together and share the latest innovations. Travellers can look forward to the brand-new Al Wasl Plaza which will be the heart of the Expo 2020. The complex will house waterfalls, parks and fountains inside a 65-metre dome, so prepare to be awed!
Of course, a visit to Dubai won't be complete without catching a magnificent view of the city from the Burj Khalifa which is currently still the world's tallest building. The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo located in the Dubai Mall (the largest mall in the world!) are also worth a visit. With various exciting theme parks like MOTIONGATE, IMG Worlds Adventure and more, Dubai is also perfect as a family-friendly destination. If you're not sure which one you should visit, we've rounded up a theme park guide just for you!
If you think Dubai is only about skyscrapers and technology, think again. Beyond the technological feats of the city, you'll be able to catch a glimpse of Dubai's culture and history. Going on a desert excursion gives you a chance to explore a vastly different landscape. Besides admiring the endless sand dunes, you can ride a camel, go on an ATV ride or even camp overnight ? Check out what else you can do in Dubai in our first-timer's guide - from learning about Emirati culture to shopping in souks, exploring Old Dubai and more.
For those of you planning to venture out of the city, we recommend doing a day trip to Abu Dhabi, located less than 2 hours away. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is not to be missed in Abu Dhabi - its 82 domes and over 1000 columns will mesmerise you. Find out where else you should visit in our 6D5N Dubai-Abu Dhabi itinerary!
11. Cape Town, South Africa
If you've always had South Africa on your bucket list but never got down to planning your trip, we say 2020 is the year to do it! And where better to start your adventure than in Cape Town? The city is relatively accessible via international flights and has a good mix of mountain views, nature and vibrant local culture.
Table Mountain is the number one attraction in Cape Town which offers a panoramic view of mountains, the ocean and the city skyline. You can choose to hike up the mountain or take an aerial cableway but either way, you'll enjoy the breathtaking views ? The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the slopes of the mountain is also worth visiting - here's where you can snap a picture with South Africa's national flower, the protea.
Cape Town is also home to a sizeable population of Cape Malays whose origins were from Malacca and Indonesia back when South Africa was still a Dutch colony. Today, you can learn all about their history and mingle with the Cape Malays in Bo Kaap, an area filled with these colourful IG-worthy buildings. You can also visit the Auwal Masjid, the first and largest mosque in South Africa. Not to mention that halal restaurants are aplenty in this area!
If you love animals, a must-visit spot in Cape Town is Boulders Beach, where you'll be able to view an adorable colony of penguins. This is the only spot in the whole of Africa where you can see penguins! Summer (Oct-Feb) is the best time to see the penguins and do visit early in the morning or the late afternoons as that's when they are most active. Check out our first-timer's guide to South Africa to find out where else you should visit.
Getting there: From Singapore or KL, these airlines fly the most popular routes - Singapore Airlines (with one stop in Johannesburg/additional stop in Singapore from KL), Qatar Airways (1 stop), Emirates (1 stop)
Done the popular routes in Europe and thinking of where else you visit? Time to explore Germany and Austria instead! The two countries have a good mix of everything - from castles to historical sites, mountains, museums and more. And the best way to get around is by doing a road trip or to travel by train. Since both Germany and Austria are both in the Schengen region, you don't need to stamp your passports when travelling around.
To cover the best of what both countries have to offer, we recommend going from Berlin-Nuremberg-Munich-Salzburg-Vienna. Do note that you'll need at least 10-14 days to cover this route. Start off with Berlin's iconic monuments like the Brandenburg Gate and Berlin Wall before making your way to see historical sites like the Nazi Party Rally Grounds and the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg.
Once in Munich, you'd want to visit the stunning attractions in the city's surrounds like the Neuschwanstein Castle or pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust at Dachau Concentration Camp before crossing over to Austria.
Salzburg is a city you can't miss when in Austria as it's the birthplace of famous composer Mozart. Beyond that, Salzburg is full of stunning architecture as you'd see when you visit the Dom Quartier or the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Thereafter, your last stop will be Vienna - where the Imperial Palace is a must-visit; it's one of the largest palace complexes in the world, with 700 years of architectural history. Find out where else you should visit and where to get Muslim-friendly food with our first-timer's guide to Austria!
Getting there: To start your trip from Berlin, you can fly direct from Singapore to Berlin via Scoot. Finnair, KLM and Airfrance are also good alternatives (with one stop) if you prefer a full-service flight instead. From KL, KLM and Turkish Airlines seem to be the best options; both flights have 1 transit stop.
Macao might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of Muslim-friendly destinations but on our recent trip there, we uncovered that it's perfect for Muslim travellers (check out our Instagram story highlights if you haven't and look out for our upcoming article!)
The city is a unique mix of Eastern and Western cultures - for the uninitiated, Macao was under Portuguese rule from the 16th century to 1999, before it became a special administrative region of China. So, you'll be able to see traces of Portuguese and Chinese influences everywhere. The most iconic landmark is the Ruins of St Paul (above), so snapping a picture here is a must.
If you're looking for a budget-friendly place with Insta-worthy spots, then Macao will suit your fancy. Most of the places of attractions in the heritage areas are free to enter so you don't have to worry about burning a hole in your wallet. Check out the IG-worthy backdrops at Patio de Chon Sau and Calcado do Amparo!
While in Macao, catch a glimpse of Europe at The Venetian Macao where you can take a gondola ride or marvel at a replica of the Eiffel Tower at The Parisian. If you're looking for an adrenaline rush, we recommend heading to the Macao Tower for a skywalk, sky jump or bungee jump!
Looking to fill your tummy? Don't worry as Macao has several Muslim-friendly options. Make sure you try Lord Stow's famous Portuguese egg tarts which are a delicacy in Macao. During our trip, we got to enjoy other Muslim-friendly eats like Xinjiang cuisine, Indonesian food and Michelin-starred Indian food. Check them out on our Instagram story highlights!
14. Cairo, Egypt
Cairo might have been battered by unrest in recent years but the city is ready to welcome the world in 2020. The Grand Egyptian Museum is set to open early next year and it'll be the world's largest museum dedicated to a single civilisation.
Besides the brand new museum, Cairo and its surrounds have other historical sights worth visiting. The Great Pyramids, the Great Sphinx and other ancient wonders are located in the nearby city of Giza. These monuments are around 5000 years old and you'll definitely be awed by the majestic structures ?If you're a museum buff, then the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities will be up your alley.
Apart from being a symbol of ancient civilisation, Cairo is also rich in Islamic history. One of the sights you can't miss is the Cairo Citadel - it was built in the 12th century by Saladin as a fortification against the Crusaders and home to Egypt's rulers for 700 years. The terraces at the Citadel offer stunning views of Cairo's skyline and the Giza pyramids. Cairo is also home to Al-Azhar University, one of the major centres of learning in the Islamic world, so be sure to visit its campus!
Did you know that Cairo also has the longest river in the world, the Nile? Take a boat or cruise ride along the river to experience its grandeur. In addition, Cairo is also a good place to explore other parts of Egypt like Luxor and Alexandria.
Getting there: From KL - Etihad, Saudia Airlines, Emirates and Turkish Airlines seem to be the most popular airlines (all with 1 transit stop). From Singapore, Saudia Airlines is the most popular airline (1 transit stop).
That rounds up our 14 best Muslim-friendly destinations you should visit in 2020. Whether it's an underrated region of Japan, gorgeous nature spots or places rich in Islamic history, we've got it all covered! Time to start planning your best travel year yet ?