RTÉ Travel's Ed Leahy looks at some great destinations to discover in 2014.
Rio de Janeiro
This summer, the World Cup's festival of football returns to the real home of the beautiful game for the month-long competition throughout Brazil. Rio de Janeiro's world-famous Maracanã Stadium will play host to the final in July, and the city will be in party mode throughout. You will know you have arrived in Rio when your feet are immersed in the warm sands of the Copacabana Beach as you are surrounded by iconic images, with the Sugar Loaf mountain guarding the bay, while Christ the Redeemer watches from above. Ipanema Beach is the next stop over from the Copacabana, while excellent city tours will take you up through the favelas to the famous statue of Christ, where the panoramic views are amongst the world's best. Take a few days either side of your visit to Rio to enjoy any of Brazil's nearby coastal resorts or journey inland to the spectacular Iguazu Falls.
The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park covers approximately 240 square miles around the beautiful west coast of Wales. The national park has a varied landscape of rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, wooded estuaries and wild inland hills and the park also includes several offshore islands, some of which can be visited by boat. Oakwood Theme Park provides a great day's entertainment with adrenalin rides and water slides, while whale and dolphin watching is possible with a voyage to Ramsey Island and Grassholm. Another great day out can be had by visiting St David's Cathedral, officially Britain's smallest city as the cathedral is built upon the site of a sixth-century monastery.
If you are travelling Stateside this year, try to take a few days to visit one of the world's best cities in the southern state of Louisiana. Boasting one of the best nightlife scenes, New Orleans is all about the music, which is omnipresent, both day and night, as you stroll and explore this amazing destination. The madness of Bourbon Street has to be seen to be believed, while Frenchman Street offers world class live music every night of the week. Take a day out on a swamp tour or enjoy a boat trip down the mighty Mississippi, and indulge in the famous New Orleans cuisine, from po'boys to gumbo. The French Quarter and surrounding areas like Treme offer some of the most interesting tales, from voodoo to the birth of jazz music. This city was almost destroyed by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, but The Big Easy bounced back and is better than ever.
Sitting on the banks of the majestic Shannon River, a city break in Limerick proves the ideal weekend away in Ireland. The city is steeped in history and a walking tour of the centre will take you by the Treaty Stone, along the river and around to the impressive King John's Castle. Georgian Limerick is also there to be enjoyed, with grand streets dotted throughout the city, while the Hunt Museum exhibits one of Ireland's greatest private collections of art and antiquities. Nightlife in Limerick is first class, with a string of great pubs to enjoy. It just so happens that Limerick has been named City of Culture for 2014, which will ensure that there is even more activities and events happening throughout the year.
Located in the heart of Perthshire, Gleneagles will host this year's Ryder Cup and will make the ideal visit for avid golfers in September for the famous battle between Europe and the US. This summer will prove the perfect time to visit as the town gears up for the September event. Elsewhere in Perthshire, there are a wide range of activities and attractions, from watersport excursions to a city visit to Perth. A novel way to visit the region is to enjoy The Royal Scotsman experience, a four or five-night tour tailored for golf enthusiasts and visiting renowned championship courses such as the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles.
With daily direct flights from Dublin, the Illinois city of Chicago is just as accessible as New York and proves more than a match for the Big Apple as a city break destination. Chicago sits on the banks of Lake Michigan and makes the ideal summer destination, with a wide range of tourist attractions around Navy Pier, the Loop and Millennium Park, and a shopper's paradise along the Magnificent Mile. Nightlife in Chicago is also on a par with New York, with amazing eateries and entertaining shows combining the best of Broadway and the West End. The Windy City is famous for its architecture so a boat trip along the Chicago River or a stroll along the Lake Shore will offer amazing views from ground level, while several aerial options are available for a bird's eye view.
Just over two hours' flight from Dublin, the Swedish capital will make the ideal summer getaway, while also proving an excellent gateway to the rest of Scandinavia. Stockholm is a port city comprising 14 islands and is surrounded by a vast network of explorable waterways. The old town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, so just walking the narrow, winding streets or marvelling at the Royal Palace or Cathedral is the perfect way to pass a few hours and Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm, offers a real sense of history about the place. The Stockholm Cathedral is a very impressive building, with some peculiar ornaments and decorations within. Skeppsbron is lined with a string of waterside open-air cafés - the perfect place to sit, grab some lunch and admire the views, back into the old town or across the water to the adjacent islands. Djurgården Island is home to the Vasa Museum where you will get a close-up look of a fully preserved 17th-century warship. Eating out is a joy, especially Restaurant B.A.R., while Stockholm is a young, vibrant city with a busy nightlife scene.
The Basque Coast
Where better to start enjoying the spectacular Basque Country Coast than San Sebastián, which lies along a white sandy bay between the Urgull and Igueldo hills. The city is the ideal place to familiarise yourself with world-renowned Basque cooking, as some of the best restaurants in Iberia are in San Sebastián. The churches of San Vicente and Santa María del Coro are worth visiting, before moving up or down the coast to explore the rest of the region. Bilbao is an equally entertaining city, where a visit to the world famous Guggenheim museum is a must, while the nightlife is renowned throughout the year. The Basque Coast moves north from San Sebastián across the French border, where you can visit the quaint seaside town of St Jean-de-Luz or the popular summer and surfing destination of Biarritz.
The medieval town of Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region and is over 2,000-years-old. The pedestrianised town centre is a tourist's paradise, as you can wander the markets and marvel at the wooden-beamed buildings that bind the picturesque streets into a breathtaking city. The cathedral will be omnipresent during your trip - you'll pass it several times every day wandering about the old town. But do go in and marvel at the majestic building and try to get up the tower to experience the view. It is definitely worth the traipse up the 300 steps. Around Alsace, the monastery of St Odile, complete with fantastic panoramas of the area, and the quaint old town of Obernai are worth visiting, while the region is also famous for its beer and white wine.
If you've always fancied trying a ski holiday but didn't know where to start, pay a visit to the Pyrenees principality of Andorra for a week to remember. Pas de la Casa is one of the liveliest towns in Andorra, located just across the French border, and one of the most accessible, only two-hour's drive from the airport in Toulouse. Renowned for its lively nightlife and value for money, Pas de la Casa is ideal for all levels of skier and is part of the Grandvalira resort, which is the biggest ski area in the Pyrenees with close to 200 kilometres of slopes throughout. The weekly ski pass allows you to get out and use the 67 ski lifts to explore all 110 slopes and four snowparks.