Glynn Purnell. Photo: Rex
It might not be the first place that springs to mind when planning your holidays in 2012 but, if the New York Times is anything to go by, you don't want to miss out on a trip to Birmingham.
The paper placed Birmingham at number 19 - above Vienna and the Maldives - in its list of The 45 Places to Go in 2012
thanks to its burgeoning dining scene.
The tagline read: "Could England's second city be first in food?" and referred to the BBC's food magazine Olive declaring it the 'foodiest town' ahead of London and Edinburgh in October 2010.
A trio of exciting young chefs are heading up three Michelin-starred restaurants and building on the 'already rich dining scene' of the city's Balti Triangle.
These chefs are: Glynn Purnell of Purnell's
; Andreas Antona, Luke Tipping and Adam Bennett of Simpsons Restaurant
; and Richard Turner of Turners of Harborne
According to the Independent
, "smaller cafés, bistros and bustling farmers' markets" are also a source of local pride, while restaurants like Lasan
, in the Jewellery Quarter, are 'proof of Birmingham's credentials".
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group, told the BBC
: "The rise in popularity of Birmingham as a leisure and tourist destination has been rapid.
"Birmingham's cultural, entertainment and gastronomic attractions do now indeed compete with the very best - it's official."
And it's not the only place in the UK to make an appearance in the top 20; London comes in at a very respectable fourth place, with the Olympics, Queen's Jubilee and Charles Dickens' 200th birthday all hailed as reasons to visit.
Glasgow pops up in 12th position with its new Riverside Museum
making waves, and enhancing the "shiny new harbour and river promenade".
The places that made up the top five spots were:
2. Helsinki, Finland
5. Oakland, California
For the full list, click here
The new hidden gem of the Adriatic is Montenegro. It's a cheaper alternative to Croatia, which is currently hugely popular with tourists and is just as beautiful. It's a beach-lover's paradise with a stunning coastline. Montenegro also boasts a mild climate and pretty stone-built seaside towns. Balkan Holidays is offering a seven-night stay in Budva at Hotel & Apartments Alexander for the week of 20 May for £419 per person including return flights from Gatwick to Podgorica and transfers. Visit <a href="http://www.balkanholidays.co.uk/" target="_blank">balkanholidays.co.uk</a></p>
- Istanbul, Turkey
Classic spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy sees lots of the film's action take place in the backstreets and bazaars of Istanbul. Actor Colin Firth and Gary Oldman are in line to receive Oscars for their performances and the success of the film means it's set to attract fans to shooting locations, including the backstreets of Taksim, the Harem Docks, the Bosphorus and the Selmiye Barracks. Look out for the nostalgic Istiklal Caddesi tram too - it's still in operation today! Travelzest’s Tapestry Collection offers a three-night stay at the luxurious Acra Hotel in the old city centre from £649 per person including flights and transfers. Visit <a href="http://www.travelzest.com/" target="_blank">travelzest.com</a></p>
<a href="http://travel.aol.co.uk/2011/05/18/city-guide-istanbul/" target="_blank">Read our guide to Istanbul</a></p>
- Nellim, Finland
NASA says the best Northern Lights for 50 years will be produced in 2012. The remote town of Nellim in Finland has so little light pollution that the Aurora can be seen in its purest form, making it a top place to see the natural wonder. To make the experience even more amazing, you can actively hunt the Lights using snowmobiles, husky-sleds and snowshoes to get the best views. The Aurora Zone offers a five-day Lake Inari tour between December and March for £1,375 per person including flights, transfers, accommodation, most meals, a qualified guide, Aurora hunting activities and warm winter clothing. Visit <a href="http://www.theaurorazone.com/">theaurorazone.com</a></p>
With ever-increasing air fares making going abroad too expensive for many travellers, 2012 is the year of the budget break and staying close to home. Normandy in France is a great option, especially if you're travelling as a family, and if you live in the south of England it's very close with beautiful countryside, coastline and delicious food to discover. Eating out and accommodation is relatively cheaper than in the UK and offers the perfect seaside break in a picturesque setting. Apart from the beaches Normandy's attractions include the UNESCO World Heritage site of Le Havre, Rouen's medieval streets and Cherbourg's marina, plus it's the home of tasty camembert and calvados! P&O Ferries offers one-way trips for a car and up to nine people from £39 each way. Visit <a href="http://www.poferries.com/" target="_blank">poferries.com</a></p>
If you fancy a trip to the Far East, 2012 is the time to do it and Cambodia is tipped as its next big beach destination. A whole host of new luxury hotels opened in late 2011 confirming it's ready to be placed on the A-list hotspot map. The Plantation in Phnom Penh is a cluster of converted 1940s colonial-style buildings set in tropical gardens close to the Royal Palace. Angkor-bound guests should check into Shinta Mani in Siem Reap. It's been completely refurbished by 'king of exotic luxury hotels' architect Bill Bensley. Then there’s the super-luxury and eco-conscious private island Song Saa that will be on every jet-setter's list. ABOUTAsia Travel offers a six-night trip combining The Plantation and Siem Reap’s Shinta Mani for £679 per person including private transfers and guided tours of Angkor and Phnom Penh. Visit <a href="http://www.aboutasiatravel.com/" target="_blank">aboutasiatravel.com</a></p>
- London, England
The most exciting place to be in July and August will be London when the 2012 Olympics take over the city. Iconic locations like Horse Guards Parade, Wembley Arena, Regents Park and Wimbledon will host the sporting events and give you the chance to see the capital at its best. But hurry if you're looking for accommodation as they're being snapped up pretty fast!</p>
<a href="http://travel.aol.co.uk/2011/11/29/ten-of-the-best-hotels-in-london/" target="_blank">See our pick of the best hotels in London</a></p>
- Sri Lanka
With pristine beaches, tropical rainforests and ancient cities, Sri Lanka is on many travellers' lists. It's 26-year civil war ended three years ago and the prolonged peace has opened the door to increased tourism making. The Wilpattu National Park in the northwest has re-opened and hotel companies like Shangri-La and Six Senses have plans for new properties on the island. If you're looking for an exotic break in 2012, Sri Lanka certainly has plenty to offer.</p>
- Maribor, Slovenia
As one of 2012's European Capitals of Culture, Maribor in Slovenia makes for an exciting city break. Some of the top events include Festival Lent, the Old Vine Festival, Golden Fox and Festival Maribor. Maribor's must-see attractions include Lent, the oldest part of the city, Slomskov trg Square and Maribor Castle. A beautiful place to visit any time of the year!</p>
2014 will see hordes of tourists head to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup and in 2016 the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held there too, so beat the crowds by going in 2012. With gorgeous beaches, vibrant cities, tropical rainforests and sun, the country has a lot going for it! Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and Salvador are lively cities to explore, but make the most of lesser-known, inland Brazil too by visiting Cuiaba, Manaus and Curitiba.</p>
Right now Malawi has more momentum than anywhere else in Africa. July saw the Mkulumadzi Lodge open in the Majete wildlife reserve that had previously been neglected. The sustainable development has reintroduced wildlife and various new lodges around Lake Malawi have also been refurbished. A good time to travel is in autumn when the hugely popular Lake of Stars Festival takes place. Expert Africa offers an eight-night Malawi itinerary from £2,626 per person including flights, transfers, six nights full-board accommodation with a stay at the Mkulumadzi Lodge and safari activities. Visit <a href="http://www.expertafrica.com/" target="_blank">expertafrica.com</a></p>
2012 is the year to escape from it all- research shows that more and more of us think that a decent holiday is the best way to to lift the spirits. And this is <em>the</em> place to doing just that. For guaranteed peace and relaxation and an array of watersports, check out the deals at the <a href="http://www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1585">W Retreat and Spa</a>.</p>
- Murcia, Spain
It's one of the most favoured holiday destinations among British tourists and we can't see Spain losing its appeal in 2012 when a new international airport opens in Murcia. It will make southern Spain even more accessible for tourists and holiday home owners and is a great place to spend a couple of weeks in the sun. Around Murcia, top places to see include the Cabo de Palos Lighthouse and the beautiful, baroque Santa Maria Cathedral. There are miles of sandy beaches and some of the best tapas bars in Spain. Spain-holiday.com has around 188 holiday homes in Murcia including Villa Cabo de Palos, which is set in a fishing village and costs from £272 per person for a week based on eight sharing. Visit <a href="http://www.spain-holiday.com/" target="_blank">spain-holiday.com</a></p>
<a href="http://travel.aol.co.uk/2011/06/11/20-of-the-best-villas-in-spain-for-all-budgets/" target="_blank">20 of the best villas in Spain</a></p>
- Poland and Ukraine
With Euro 2012 being held in Poland and Ukraine this summer, it's the perfect time to explore the culture and history of the two countries while on a sporty break. Ukraine's top attractions include the stunning Swallow's Nest castle on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Black Sea, the grand mansion Vorontsov Palace and the ruins of Chersonesos in Sevastopol, which is known as the Ukrainian Pompeii. In Poland, Krakow's Rynek Glowny Square has many cafes and street entertainers, Wroclaw's St John's Cathedral is a must for its views of the city from the top and Lazienki Park and Palace in Warsaw is a delight, with peacocks roaming free and a Roman-inspired amphitheatre on the banks of its lake.</p>
- Red Sea, Egypt
While the political turmoil in Egypt led to slower holiday bookings than usual in 2011, there's been an increase in all-inclusive deals in Red Sea destinations like Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada and Makadi Bay. Summer holiday prices are set to rise in 2012, so a budget break to Egypt will be ideal for an Easter, autumn or Christmas getaway. There are new properties opening in 2012, confirming that Egypt is very much still open to tourists. Red Sea Holidays has introduced a family diving holiday, a seven-night Nile cruise and new hotels in Makadi Bay, Sharm el Sheikh and Taba to its portfolio. Visit <a href="http://www.redseaholidays.co.uk/" target="_blank">redseaholidays.co.uk</a></p>
2011 was a big year for tourism in Iceland and this year is set to be even bigger. <a href="http://www.easyjet.com/en/" target="_blank">Easyjet</a> is launching three flights a week from London in spring and new Icelandic airline <a href="http://wowair.is/" target="_blank">WOW Air</a> will fly three times a week from London starting in the summer. Low-cost carrier <a href="http://www.icelandexpress.com/" target="_blank">Iceland Express</a> already offers cheap flights to Reykjavik from London. Teamed with Reykjavik being a more affordable alternative to Rome and Paris because of the unfavourable exchange rate and NASA predicting the Northern Lights to be brighter this winter, where they can be spotted in Iceland, 2012 is the year to head to icier climes!</p>
- Muscat, Oman
Oman's capital Muscat is the Arab Tourism Capital for 2012 and provides a cultural city break with a perfect blend of the old and new. Old heritage, beautiful architecture and rocky coastline characterise Muscat. The 900-year-old city has forts, souks and castles, with a range of luxury hotels, museums and water sports to enjoy. Be sure to check out the upmarket area of Qurum for its shops, beach and beautiful park and explore the nearby wadis in 4x4 cars.</p>
Mayans believe that the world will come to an end on 21 December 2012 and so Mexico sees many people celebrating with a year-long party. The tourist office is expecting millions of visitors to the states richest in Mayan heritage and a digital clock sits in the city of Tapachula to count down the date. For a fabulous holiday, head to the Yucatán Peninsula for its fantastic cuisine, picturesque beaches and exciting fiestas. It's where you'll find the popular cities Cancun and Playa del Carmen, plus the colonial cities of Merida and Campeche. Yucatan's long Mayan history allows you to delve into the local culture with guesthouses set in jungle and fishing villages that are still home to many Mayans today.</p>
It was voted the best value holiday destination for summer 2012 in a poll by online travel agent On The Beach and following the financial crisis in Greece, it's more attractive than ever for travellers on a budget. One of its priciest islands Santorini saw 2012 prices down by a huge 27 per cent compared to the year before and Kefalonia was down by 17 per cent. The country's capital Athens has seen hotel prices and the cost of living fall, making it a good option for a budget city break.</p>
<a href="http://travel.aol.co.uk/2011/08/11/ten-top-greek-islands-for-late-summer-bliss/" target="_blank">Check out our top ten Greek islands</a></p>
- Isles of Scilly, England
Staycations were popular in 2011 and are set to be just as big in 2012 as we tighten our budgets. With the Diamond Jubilee giving us an extra day off this year and the Olympics making the UK a top holiday destination, who needs to go abroad when you can enjoy a fabulous mini-break at home? If you really want to feel like you're on holiday, head to the Scilly Isles where you can enjoy turquoise waters, white sandy beaches and a balmy Mediterranean climate. The smaller islands offer lots of wildlife and untouched natural beauty, and there are the tropical plants of Tresco Abbey to explore and boat trips for spotting dolphins and basking sharks. Stay at the <a href="http://www.star-castle.co.uk/" target="_blank">Star Castle</a> for its royal history and magnificent views of the sea.</p>
<a href="http://travel.aol.co.uk/2011/06/29/the-very-best-summer-staycations/" target="_blank">See our top summer staycation spots</a></p>
If you're looking to escape the Olympics and fancy some cheap European sun, Bulgaria is one of 2012's best value beach destinations and offers beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife and lots of water activities. Bulgaria saw an increase of 14 per cent in visitors in 2011 and the warm climate and favourable prices are expected to make this figure rise in 2012. Thomson is offering a seven-night holiday at the 4T Hotel Riu Helios Bay in Obzor Beach, Bourgas on an all-inclusive basis from £379 per person based on two people sharing. The price includes return flights from Luton Airport on 21 May 2012, accommodation and transfers. Visit <a href="http://www.thomson.co.uk/" target="_blank">thomson.co.uk</a></p>
It's one of the safest places to visit in the Middle East and in 2012 Jordan celebrates the 200th anniversary of the rediscovery of Petra. The Nabatean city of Petra is one of the most unforgettable sights of the Middle East and is two thousand years old. A walk through the city reveals rock-cut tombs, temple facades and rock relief. To make the historical city even more of a must-see, easyJet introduced flights to Amman in 2011, meaning you don't have to fork out for a long-haul flight and can travel to Jordan for as little as £67.99!</p>
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