France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom may be among the world's most frequented vacation hubs, but these already popular places can only stand to grow so much year over year.
This leaves such lesser-known destinations as the Republic of Moldova to jump farther faster. According to new data from the U.N. World Tourism Organization, in 2017, for instance, French tourism grew by 5.1 percent; its landlocked competitor — nestled between Ukraine and Romania — saw a visitation spike of 19.6 percent when it welcomed 145,000 visitors last year.
"When you're talking about these fast-growing destinations in Europe, there's often a lack of name recognition, compared to more popular countries," said Warren Chang, chief operating officer for bespoke travel outfitter Cox & Kings' Americas division. But they do not lack for history culture and natural beauty.
For the well-traveled Europhile, and those whose definitions of Europe stretch beyond Western Europe to include countries in Central Asia and the Middle East, these are the top 10 places to go next. They're listed by year-on-year growth.
With 18.65 percent year-on-year growth, this is among the destinations Chang expects to surge in 2019. Cox & Kings plans to debut a new itinerary soon pairing the country with Georgia. Among outfitters already offering trips there are Abercrombie & Kent, Ker & Downey, and TCS World Travel, which tout historical riches such as Mount Ararat (where Noah's Ark is said to have made landfall) and the charming capital of Yerevan.
9. Bosnia and Herzegovina
As Croatia deals with extreme over-tourism (it notched a record 15 million arrivals last year), the remaining Balkan locales are emerging as a fascinating, crowd-free alternative. Bosnia and Herzegovina is leading the pack, with its 16th-century mosques, Ottoman architecture, vibrant street art scene and towering waterfalls at Kravica.
8. Republic of Moldova
The sharp growth in tourism to Moldova reflects what is, in reality, an incredibly nascent tourism scene. This little republic (population: 2.5 million) has in recent years held the title of least-visited destination in Europe. But that's changing. Luxury group tour operator Intrepid Travel cites a cultural resurgence — marked by a burgeoning wine scene and unspoiled natural beauty — as the reason.
Yes, the World Tourism Organization places Azerbaijan in Central/Eastern Europe in its report. Bookings with Intrepid Travel to visit Azerbaijan have risen by a full 322 percent. The Caspian Sea-facing capital, Baku, is a fascinating hodgepodge of old and new, with a cobbled Old Town and modern architectural marvels downtown. The city likens itself to the "new Dubai" — it's an oil-rich, fast-growing hub at the intersection of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
With a 23.5 percent growth in tourism, Macedonia is riding the Balkan heat wave. Its longtime claim to fame stems from hometown hero Alexander the Great. Like Moldova, its visitation numbers are exceedingly small (just 631,000 arrivals in 2017), making it one of the least discovered destinations in Europe. Few luxury outfitters plan trips here, though Cox & Kings is an exception; it brings travelers to places such as the 10th-century Byzantine church Sveti Naum, set high on a cliff near Lake Ohrid.
If you haven't been to Iceland, what are you waiting for? The country has been skyrocketing to the top of bucket lists and has multiplied its arrivals by 450 percent since 2010. That kind of red-hot growth shows no signs of slowing down as the country ramps up its luxury infrastructure with posh hotels and exclusive experiences.
Political turmoil, followed by fast and furious rebounds, chased by economic woes have kept Turkey's tourism industry on a roller coaster. At the moment, it's booming. "Turkey is Intrepid Travel's fastest-growing destination to date in 2018," said Intrepid Travel. The company's 2019 itineraries include a winter-themed trip focusing on iced lakes and snow-capped mountains, a culinary journey and a weeklong "highlights" tour for time-crunched travelers.
It may be surprising to see the World Tourism Organization categorize this Middle Eastern country as part of Europe, but anyone who's eaten their way through Tel Aviv or Jerusalem will understand how well Israel competes with its mainland continental rivals. The country's diverse culinary traditions have become a big draw, while Israel's perennial appeal remains its religious and historical significance.
You heard it here first: Georgia is next on the lips of serious globe-trotters. As culinary adventures become an increasingly prevalent catalyst for travel, Georgia's historic cuisine is offering the perfect excuse to visit this untouched corner of Europe. Add a batch of ultracool hotels, bars and restaurants in the capital of Tbilisi, and you'll see what all the fuss is about.
1. San Marino
The medieval microstate, with a 31.1 percent bump in the number of visitors in 2017, sits in northern Italy, on a cluster of mountain peaks that lead down to the Adriatic city of Rimini. In 2017, San Marino claimed more than two visitors for each of its 33,000 residents, notching 78,000 arrivals in total. It's not a lot, but for a microstate that's just 24 square miles, it's nothing to sneeze at, either.