3 Must-See Destinations in 2015

Seoul, Panama City, Athens: Here's why you should go now.

Panama City: The new Central American hot spot

Panama City

The new Biomuseo proudly sits at the western entrance to the Panama Canal. (Photo: Fernando Alda)

All eyes were on Panama last August as the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of its famous canal. But that’s only the beginning. Spurred by rapid growth, Panama City has evolved from a financial centre into a veritable metropolis in just a few short years. One sure sign of the transformation is the metro system – the first in Central America – which opened last year. And soon, a link to Tocumen International Airport will be built, making travel into the city that much easier. For many visitors, all roads lead to Casco Viejo, a district founded in 1673 that’s now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; its magnificent neoclassical buildings were all but abandoned for years.

Happily, new investors have repurposed many of these architectural gems: The American Trade Hotel, located in a historic building, adds 50 luxury suites to the city’s 20,000 existing rooms. A few streets over, at Madrigal restaurant, a Michelin-starred chef is embracing the current mania for local ingredients – a new approach in a place that has rarely been known for culinary quality. But it’s the Biomuseo that best captures the spirit of change. The Frank Gehry structure, which sits at the western entrance to the Panama Canal, proudly shows its colours to ships from around the world. In 2016, it will welcome even more maritime traffic, with the newly widened canal able to handle ships twice the size.

Seoul: The new design capital

Seou

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza was designed by noted architect Zaha Hadid. (Photo: eugenelimphotography.com)

Seoul has always had a distinct presence in the design world, and not just thanks to flagship companies like Samsung and Hyundai. Ultramodern bus shelters, chic bridges and futuristic buildings now grace the city, due in part to the former mayor, who championed Seoul’s progressive design scene from 2006 to 2011. (Seoul was even named World Design Capital in 2010.)

In 2015, a number of new projects are continuing to push the city ahead in time. In the Dongdaemun district, throngs of visitors come not only to tour the popular public market, but also to admire the impressive Dongdaemun Design Plaza, opened last year. Designed by noted architect Zaha Hadid, this exhibition centre is turning heads – in no small part thanks to its resemblance to the Starship Enterprise. Add to that the recent opening of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (their prestigious collection is set to rival MoMa’s), the staging of the first Presidents Cup on Asian soil in October at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea and the opening of a new Four Seasons hotel this autumn, and Seoul has all the ingredients to become the hottest destination in Asia.

Athens: The resurgent metropolis

In Monastiraki, new restaurants and bars are drawing inspiration from the Greek terroir.

The recession shook Athens to its roots, but it also gave rise to a group of entrepreneurs who took advantage of affordable rents to open new businesses throughout the city. You need only take a stroll from the Acropolis to Syntagma Square to realize that many spots that shuttered during the crisis are now home to new restaurants and bars, and most of them are drawing inspiration from the national terroir. At By the Glass – one of the city’s best wine bars – the list leans heavily toward Greek labels. Which is not by accident: With more than 20 wine regions, the country’s industry is undergoing a mini-revolution and producing highly prized vintages, marking a long-overdue increase in popularity.

Athens has more reasons to raise a glass. The city’s energy draws on its past (witness the Acropolis Museum, frequently named one of the best in the world since it opened in 2010) as well as the future (the National Museum of Contemporary Art moves into a new building this year). Factor in the 2016 opening of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, a vast complex that will house the National Library and Opera, and you see why the Greek capital is once again on the rise.