At this time of year The Times’s Travel desk usually publishes its lavish “52 Places to Go” list, a compendium of suggestions for the destinations that are especially worth visiting in the coming year, accompanied by showstopping photography.
But in this pandemic year, creating our usual list was out of the question. For one thing, there were the logistics: We usually deploy a small army of photographers in search of those perfect images. That was clearly impossible. Beyond that, our list is built on a journalistic imperative: What’s new? What makes a place so exciting and different — hotel openings, new museums, an expanding food or cultural scene — that it jumps to the top of the list of places to see now? But the pandemic has put a hold on most of those newsworthy developments.
Instead, in 2021, we face a year of uncertainty. With vaccines newly available, perhaps the travel industry — which supplies millions of jobs and is a crucial part of the global economy — will start to revive. But it’s hard to know when and where that rebirth will begin. And a list that seems to encourage people to rush back onto planes when so many are suffering felt unconscionable.
And yet, the world with all its stunning natural beauty and cultural richness remains. If 2020 has done anything for people who love to travel, it has reminded them that the world is not a checklist of places to tick off — Venice, been there, the Serengeti, done that — but something to explore, to savor and to love.
That became the animating idea behind this year’s 52 Places. Instead of turning to our contributors and correspondents, we turned to another group of passionate travelers, our readers, and asked them to tell us about their most beloved places, and why they deserved a place on our list, as well as to share their photographs.
More than 2,000 of them responded.
They told us about hometowns for which they’d gained new appreciation during the pandemic. Of countries where their family connections run strong, but which for the moment they can only view with longing. Of vacation destinations where they suddenly recognized something important in themselves. In reading through the submissions, it became clear that while our list usually focuses on what is changing in a place, people can be profoundly changed by the places they have visited — and isn’t that why we travel to begin with?
After we’d made our choices, a group of reporters interviewed the contributors, in some cases to draw more from them. (We also weeded out the submissions from travel professionals looking to promote their destinations.) The entries here are a combination of the original submissions and those subsequent conversations, condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Our contributors are drawn from all over the world, underlining that despite the current shutdowns, we really are a global community. This list skews more rural than our usual one — in the pandemic the wilderness has held special consolation, it seems. It also includes places that would be unlikely to make the cut in a traditional year — too “humble,” too “dangerous,” or too personal to put on a places-to-see list.
But this is a list of places to love. And that has made all the difference.
Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation.