Whether you're planning a blow-out bachelorette this year or a road trip with your bestie, 2020 is the year to re-think group travel. We love Nashville and New Orleans as much as the next person. Still, this year, we've put together a list of 10 group-friendly destinations, that are perhaps unusual, truly timely, and undoubtedly unique.
Even though the ever-increasing threat of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the travel industry worldwide, we believe that now is still as good a time as ever to gain inspiration and plan for the future. While you might not be able to rent that Tuscan villa in Italy right now, 2020 might just be an ideal time to slow down and ride the rails through the American west or tuck away in a yet-undiscovered corner of the Dominican Republic.
Wherever your travels lead you and your friends this year, we hope one of the below destinations makes your list.
Central New York
Grab your best girlfriends for an educational, empowering, and fun getaway to Rochester, in central New York State. “Rochester is the perfect place to visit with a group of friends in March,” says Rachel Laber Pulvino, the director of Market Communications and Public Relations for Visit Rochester. “The first signs of spring are beginning to appear, our museums and attractions are debuting new exhibits and events, plus our local restaurants are introducing their spring menus.”
Aside from wineries, outdoor attractions, and museums, Rochester happens to be an epicenter for women’s rights. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote and none other than Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester. You can tour her historic home, which is now the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, and learn about her legacy, and then pay your respects at Mount Hope Cemetery (Frederick Douglass is also buried nearby). There are tons of other sites surrounding the movement to visit, including Women’s Rights National Historical Park and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, and the Rochester Museum and Science Center, which holds an extensive collection of Anthony’s artifacts. The Memorial Art Gallery announced they will feature the work of female artists this season. On March 19, the museum will host Women of MAG DeTOUR℠, which will celebrate the female muses and artists in the museum’s collection.
In between all the women-celebrating, make time to enjoy the local delicacies: namely, maple syrup. March is maple syrup month in New York State, and many local farms are offering maple sugaring experiences, including the Maple Sugar Festival on March 21 and Maple Weekend on March 21-22 and March 28-29 at Kettle Ridge Farm; the latter also has igloos that can be reserved for your pancake breakfast.
Ready for that wine? Head to Living Roots Wine Co., Rochester’s first urban winery, or go further afield to the greater Finger Lakes, which is dotted with vineyards. Ready to hit the hay? School 31 Lofts is ideal for groups, with 14 luxury lofts in a historic building. About an hour east of Rochester is the quaint town of Aurora on Cayuga Lake. There, the historic Inns of Aurora just opened the antique- and art-filled Zabriskie House. — Devorah Lev-Tov
Boasting the world’s biggest skyscraper, the largest human-made island, and longest urban zipline, Dubai is unquestionably a city of superlatives. So, round up your chicest friends and get ready to see the best of the best.
Fashionistas should plan to hit up the Mall of the Emirates and the Dubai Mall; one of the largest malls in the world, the latter features more than 1,200 stores and 200 eateries. Plus, there’s an aquarium and ice skating rink for those in your group who are less than thrilled at the prospect of spending the entire day in the mall.
If you’d rather sunbathe on the beach, there are plenty of places to lay your towel—and with average highs of 84 degrees F in March, there couldn’t be a better time to do so. Representing more than 200 nationalities, foodies can also anticipate a breadth of culinary options in the city. Split a few Mediterranean-inspired tapas at BOCA, or head to LOWE and order a few plates of home-grown dishes a la carte to share with the table. Want to throw some adventure into the mix? In addition to ziplining, the city offers up such activities as skydiving, sandboarding, and desert safaris.
Get the Hollywood treatment when you and the rest of the gang book a stay at the newly-opened Paramount Hotel Dubai, a five-star hotel that offers cocktails by the rooftop pool, luxurious spa treatments, and a Prohibition era-style speakeasy.
And, if you’re trying to hold off on travel at the moment, consider booking your trip to Dubai this coming fall or winter. With the 2020 World Expo coming to the city this October (and the Museum of the Future slated to open in September), we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to book your trip then. — Elizabeth Preske
Texas Hill Country
Get off the grid in Texas's scenic Hill Country. This vast region in central Texas is convenient metropolitan cities like San Antonio and Austin (which means easy access to two major airports) but still feels a world away and is ideal for a group trip if you're looking for plenty of outdoor time, great food, and local wine.
Start your trip in historic Fredricksburg, a German settlement that runs high on charm. Your home base is Settlers Crossing, a rustic B&B made of up of seven guesthouses spread across 35 acres.
From here, you can float down the nearby Pedernales River (rosé in hand), sip local brews at Blanco's Real Ale Brewing, drive through the 600-plus acre Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (once known as the Texas White House), or hike alongside the chalk bluff cliffs at Concan's Garner State Park.
Spring is the ideal time to visit, with the region's Wine & Wildflower Trail kicking off in late March. Visitors are encouraged to sample cuvées at the region's 50-plus wineries while taking in Texas's iconic wildflowers, including the beloved bluebonnet, a flower so revered that rumors persisted for years that it was illegal to pick them. (It's not, but you definitely don't want the side-eye from locals.) — Laura Ratliff
Michès, Dominican Republic
Tapped as the next hot spot in the Dominican Republic, Miches, once a remote fishing village, is now home to Club Med's newest all-inclusive resort.
Offering unspoiled beaches and a vibrant landscape, it's a far cry from the overtouristed Punta Cana. "We found that our employees at Club Med Punta Cana would often venture out into Miches during their free time," explains Sabrina Cendral, the company's senior vice president of marketing and sales. "We decided to explore this region for ourselves and quickly discovered why it's so remarkable."
Once on the ground, visitors can go whale-watching near the protected islands of Samaná Bay or swing atop Montaña Redonda, a rounded mountain with 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. The resort itself also offers different accommodation "villages" depending on a group's needs, ranging from wellness, family-oriented, or adults-only.
And naturally, an all-inclusive experience is an excellent option for a group; it takes the stress out of planning a vacation and allows every guest to indulge instead of worry about who picks up the tab for dinner. — Taylor McIntyre
All aboard the Tequila Train! If it sounds too good to be true, you're in luck: Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city and capital of Jalisco, is home to one such train.
Herradura, a revered tequila house, runs its luxury train through the rolling agave fields between Guadalajara station and its hacienda, situated outside of Amatitán. In addition to copious amounts of tequila, natch, visitors to the estate are treated to a tour and a filling Mexican lunch.
Back in the city, take in charrería, a style of rodeo that holds the title of Mexico's national sport and is a UNESCO-designated Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Charros de Jalisco celebrates its 100th anniversary in September.) And don't skip Guadalajara's other cultural attractions, like José Clemente Orozco's murals in the Palacio del Gobierno and the neoclassical Teatro Degollado. Mariachi music, another Jaliscan export, is ubiquitous as well.
Check in to Casa Pedro Loza, a former mansion-turned-12 room boutique hotel that was built in 1848. Just a five-minute walk from the central plaza, Pedroloza also has a roof terrace with sweeping views of Zona Centro. — Laura Ratliff
Sailing on a private yacht with your friends in the Greek Isles sounds like a luxury vacation you couldn’t possibly afford—until you do the math. Weeklong trips on sleep-aboard catamarans and sailboats can cost as little as $700 per person, less than you might spend on a mega-ship cruise or even a vacation home in the region.
Factor in significant upcoming infrastructure improvements in the islands, and 2020 shapes up to be a stellar year for visiting Greece. Notably, Seajets, which connects 26 Cyclades islands by high-speed ferries, added 17 new ships to its fleet for 2020.
More of a landlubber? Greece has no shortage of seaside resorts, but two recent additions stand out. Saint Santorini, a cluster of converted former homes and barns built into Oia’s cliffside, offers rooms with caldera views and private plunge pools. Over on quieter Paros, choose from Parilio’s 33 contemporary suites, outfitted in whites and ivories to reflect the island’s traditional architecture. — Molly Fergus
Sure, people might head to Napa for a getaway with wine-loving friends, but if Tbilisi's not on your radar yet, it should be. The busy capital city of Georgia has an incredible wine scene—thanks to the country's astonishing output, a tradition that dates back 8,000 years. While wine bars are a relatively new development on the scene (wine was traditionally drunk with meals in restaurants, versus separately in bars), some fantastic ones have popped up in the city center.
Lida Vardania, co-owner of g.Vino wine bar (the second such one in the city) and its eponymous boutique hotel, says that after a day of taking in Tbilisi's intriguingly diverse architecture—and yes, there are some incredible backdrops for group pics—a glass of wine is just the thing. "When you feel you wandered enough in the streets, you can stop by for a glass of wine in one of the many wine bars to experience the oldest wine-making country's diverse natural wines," she says. "As with everything in Tbilisi, the food is a reflection of the country's long history and its openness to different cultures. Some hip hotels and world-class nightclubs make Tbilisi a worthy destination."
Speaking of, to cater to groups of friends who want a chic place to crash at the end of their tastings, there are plenty of stylish boutique hotels to crash in, too. (Those coming from places like London and New York might be pleasantly surprised at how far their money goes for a stay here.) At the top of our list? Stylish Stamba Hotel, housed in a former Soviet printing factory (and with gorgeous standalone bathtubs in some rooms), a new Moxy, and a luxe new Kempinski hotel opening in fall 2020. — Krystin Arneson
Asheville, North Carolina
You could say Asheville got its start as a group travel hotspot in 1895 when George Vanderbilt first opened The Biltmore to his friends and family. The 250-room chateau, located on 125,000 acres of property, was designed as a mountain getaway for the oligarchs and their friends—complete with a dedicated private train car that transported guests from New York and D.C. to the estate.
Today, the Smoky Mountain town still draws groups for the sheer diversity of things to do: sip at more than 30 craft breweries, hike or bike the Smoky Mountains, drive a scenic stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and, of course, tour the Biltmore itself.
"There are so many creative and unique tour companies that have opened up," says Sarah Lowerey, a public relations specialist for Explore Asheville. "From guided yoga hikes to foraging excursions to rooftop-bar tours or behind-the-scenes peeks at the maker culture here. Groups looking to plan multigenerational trips or girls' getaways shouldn't find it difficult to make their explorations fun and rewarding for all."
Further proof? Vacation home bookings—key for big-group bashes—jumped 44 percent since 2018, with more than 3,800 properties available in town. That's good news for visitors in 2020, which welcomes several cultural and infrastructure improvements in town. Notably, the $24 million Asheville Arts Museum opened in November; and construction on a greenway connecting the town's River Arts District with bike paths, sidewalks, and art installations finishes this year. — Molly Fergus
Denver has seen a surge in tourism in the past few years, and we’re willing to bet that a lot of the visitors are traveling in packs—the Mile High City, offering plenty of breweries and nightlife, outdoor adventure, and year-round activities, is the perfect destination for friends looking for a group getaway.
If Denver is on your radar for 2020, consider planning your visit during the Great American Beer Festival, one of the city’s best and most popular events. Held every year in the fall (usually late September or early October), this event draws more than 60,000 hop heads to Denver to sample 4,000 beers from about 800 breweries around the country.
If your visit doesn’t coincide with GABF, you can still spend a day or more bouncing around the city’s many breweries; the RINO neighborhood (the locals’ name for River North) is a perfect spot to wander from brewery to bar to cafe while also stopping to admire the street art on the building walls along the way.
For a more active vacation, you’re close to several opportunities for outdoor adventure. Within city limits, you’ll find miles of jogging and biking trails, and only 10 miles west from downtown is Red Rocks Park, where you can spend a day hiking, running the 380 stairs of the amphitheater, or booking a spot in Yoga on the Rocks classes. At night, get tickets to attend a concert at the outdoor amphitheater that’s built right into the rocks—enjoy the music while taking in panoramic views of the valley and downtown Denver out in the distance.
Add a dose of arts and culture and head to the Denver Art Museum; it consistently ranks as one of the top-visited places in the city year after year, and a recent Claude Monet exhibit (one of just two worldwide) drew more than 400,000 people. That exhibit has ended, but the museum is undergoing stages of expansion this year, adding to the building’s already iconic appearance. — Jamie Hergenrader
The new road trip? Train travel. Stunning views while you journey through diverse landscapes? Check. An eco-friendly alternative to cars? Check. Not having to worry about splitting the cost of gas? Check, check, check.
"A rail vacation is the perfect opportunity to really engage in some quality time and reconnect with friends through travel," explains Heather Leisman, the president of Vacations By Rail, a company that plans individual train journeys across the globe, ranging from trips through Canada's national parks with Via Rail Canada to combo cruise-train journeys in France's scenic wine country.
Traveling by train, Leisman adds, is also an enjoyable way to focus on friendship in a different way than a road trip. Standard car travel doesn't afford the luxury of sharing meals in classic dining cars, playing board games in the lounge, or taking in spectacular foliage from an observation car.
So, where to go? If you're keen to explore the southwest, book a spot on the Grand Canyon Railway. Since 1901, the train has been carrying passengers the 65-mile distance from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon's South Rim. As you journey through pine forests and across high deserts, live music and character actors will transport you and your friends back in time to the Wild West. Hop off at the end of your trip to get the lay of one of America's most popular national parks.
Or, if you're looking to imbibe, the Napa Valley Wine Train is an obvious choice. You can get gorgeous, panoramic views of California wine country inside the Vista Dome; take part in a murder mystery-themed dinner; or book a trip straight to one of the area's lovely wineries—gourmet meal included.
(Ed. Note: Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Amtrak is waiving change fees and canceling non-stop Acela service between Washington, D.C., and New York City, but because the U.S. is so vast, plenty of other routes are running unaffected.)