You've worked like a dog to save up enough money and time off to take a dream vacation. But now it's time to answer the million-dollar question: Where do you want to go?
We all take a different approach to choosing the ideal location — some of us rely on recommendations from family, friends and fellow travelers, while others heed the advice of professional travel writers. U.S. News Travel's Best Vacation rankings incorporate both techniques. Our lists represent the aggregate opinion of industry experts, as well as the judgments of everyday travelers — expressed through votes cast on each ranked destination. Using our signature methodology, U.S. News Travel has designated a new No. 1 vacation destination for 2013-14: Paris.
[In Pictures: Where to Vacation in 2013-14]
The City of Light jumped from third place to the top of U.S. News Travel's list of the World's Best Places to Visit, trumping 24 other popular vacation spots such as New York City, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro. Paris' 79 percent approval rating helped it steal the No. 1 spot from London, which dominated the list for the past 12 months but slipped to third place in this year's ranking. According to those who voted, Paris deserves to be No. 1 because of its plethora of museums, cultural sites and delicious food, and its efficient transportation system. "The entire city is historic and the art is so beautiful," one voter wrote. "Paris is a must-see!"
Oddly enough, Paris' allure doesn't translate to frequent visitors to Europe. France's capital was overshadowed by Barcelona on U.S. News Travel's list of the Best Places to Visit in Europe. Even though the colorful Spanish city was unable to climb from the No. 2 spot on the World's Best list, Barcelona marginally outperformed Paris (by less than 1 percent) in terms of traveler approval, with 81 percent of voters backing Gaudi's city. As one voter put it, "It's an amazing city with great architecture and food, not to mention amazing history." However, both Barcelona and Paris are facing steep competition from Rome: The Italian city skyrocketed to third place after holding the No. 10 spot last year. Rome has been a big hit with U.S. News Travel's audience, earning a 92 percent approval rating over the past 12 months.
Travelers to Europe may be looking for a big-city experience, but the great outdoors is the name of the game in the United States. Yellowstone National Park has once again secured the No. 1 spot on U.S. News Travel's list of the Best Places to Visit in the USA, with 82 percent of voters agreeing that nature's wonders trump man's creations. "It is simply the best sampling of America's treasures in one convenient and accessible location," one voter said. "You haven't really seen America until you have visited Yellowstone National Park!" For other readers, an authentically American vacation can be found in Washington, D.C.; our nation's capital ousted New York City from the No. 2 spot with a 76 percent approval rating — due largely in part to the considerable number of free things to do. New York City fell to the No. 5 spot, bested by family-friendly San Diego and oh-so-trendy San Francisco.
The Cayman Islands usurped the title of the Best Place to Visit in the Caribbean from St. Martin - St. Maarten, which fell to fourth place with a 64 percent approval rating. Seventy-one percent of people who cast their vote for the Cayman Islands believe that the island is a great place to while away vacation days, citing the relaxed atmosphere and beautiful beaches (one voter describes the island chain as "honeymooners' heaven"). U.S. News Travel readers did not think as highly of other Caribbean destinations, however. Martinique, Punta Cana and Puerto Plata (which held the No. 8, No. 15 and No. 16 spots, respectively) received low enough approval ratings to warrant their removal from the list.
Acapulco is regaining recognition as a vacation spot. The once-fashionable Mexican getaway took the No. 5 spot on this year's list of Best Places to Visit in Mexico after not having placed at all on last year's edition. Despite its growing popularity, Acapulco proved no match for Puerto Vallarta, which maintained its first place status with a 70 percent approval rating. "I have been to Puerto Vallarta five times, and cannot wait to go back," one voter said. "There is always something new to see." However, this small vacation hub on Mexico's Pacific Coast faces steep competition from destinations along the Maya Riviera: Playa del Carmen and Tulum clocked in at a close second and third place.
[See: Best Beaches in Mexico]
Canada may not garner as much interest among American tourists as Europe or the Caribbean, but our neighbor to the north does feature several outstanding vacation spots. And according to our readers, Vancouver outshines them all. This vibrant city on Canada's west coast earned an 86 percent approval rating from voters, allowing it to keep its title as the No. 1 spot on our list of the Best Places to Visit in Canada. Trailed closely by Banff — which took second place from Montreal thanks to an 83 percent approval rating — Vancouver's standing can be attributed to its variety of attractions, outdoor activities and coastal surroundings. One voter claims that Vancouver has the "most beautiful scenery. […] This is the place to heal your soul!"
Asia's megalopolises prove no match for its exclusive island retreats. With a 70 percent approval rating, the Maldives bumped Beijing from the No. 1 spot on U.S. News Travel's list of the Best Places to Visit in Asia. Despite its bevy of cultural attractions, dining venues and shopping centers, Beijing's crowded streets and towering buildings can't top the Maldives' peaceful, over-the-water bungalows and expansive stretches of sand. On the other hand, Hong Kong and Singapore managed to keep their No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively.
While travelers to Asia prefer to be isolated by nature, visitors to Central and South America are just the opposite. Rio de Janeiro's 79 percent approval rating earned it the No. 1 spot on U.S. News Travel's list of the Best Places to Visit in Central & South America for a second year. It's not just Rio's abundance of sites, beautiful beaches and hopping nightlife that attract visitors; it's also the city's reputation. When prompted to explain why they voted for Rio, one reader wrote, "It's Rio… I guess I need to say no more." The Brazilian hotspot trounced Buenos Aires, which held fast to the No. 2 position, as well as less-populated Costa Rica and Belize, each of which stayed in fifth and seventh place, respectively.
Despite fierce competition from Bora Bora and Fiji, Sydney reclaimed the title of Best Place to Visit in Australia & The Pacific, garnering a 90 percent approval rating from U.S. News Travel readers. With iconic sites, beautiful beaches and a laid-back atmosphere, Sydney makes for an exciting escape. It's easy to agree with the voters who say they love it here. But whether or not Sydney will be able to nab the top spot again next year remains to be seen. Tiny Queenstown, New Zealand, leapt from seventh place to fourth place with an 87 percent approval rating. Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef region jumped from No. 8 to No. 6, with 95 percent of voters backing Australia's prized natural attraction.
Tel Aviv didn't stand a chance at maintaining the No. 1 spot on U.S. News Travel's list of the Best Places to Visit in Africa & The Middle East. With only 34 percent of voters agreeing with its placement, the Israeli city plummeted to 10th place, allowing Cape Town (and its 77 percent approval rating) to climb to the top of the ranks. The South African city appeals to a wide variety of travelers with its sprawling beaches, historic attractions and verdant wineries. Meanwhile, Jerusalem performed far better than its seaside sibling, clocking in at No. 2 with a 75 percent approval rating.
Where would you like to go this year? Vote for your favorite destinations here.
[In Pictures: Where to Vacation in 2013-14]
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