History, music and culture are just some of the reasons to travel, writes James Ellis.

1. Follow in Mandela's footsteps

Idris Elba's powerful portrayal of the late Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom hits the big screens in New Zealand on January 30, but if you want to pay more of a homage to the great man then only a visit to South Africa will do. Johannesburg sights include his last home in Houghton, the sprawling Soweto township and Apartheid Museum; and Robben Island, the prison off Cape Town where he was incarcerated for 27 years.

2. Get a taste of Brazil

The spotlight is on Brazil with this year's World Cup, followed by the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Those sporting events may be prohibitively expensive for most, but the three host cities - Rio, Cuiaba and Manaus - are always worth a visit, and many travel companies offer package deals. Other highlights include the Amazon, Pantanal and the powerful Iguazu Falls.


3. Make a date with Dylan Thomas

There's a year-long programme of events to mark the centenary of the birth of poet Dylan Thomas, with the bulk of them, naturally, in Wales. Celebrities including Liz Taylor, Richard Burton and US President Jimmy Carter have stopped off at Browns Hotel in Laugharne in search of the Thomas spirit - it played host to many of the Swansea-born poet's legendary drinking sessions - and you can follow suit.

4. Do Vegas like it's 1959

There's a multimillion-dollar cast of screen legends appearing in the hangover-on-Viagra film Last Vegas, released in New Zealand on January 23. Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline play four 60-somethings on a bachelor party weekend. If you want to party like it's 1959, head to the newly regenerated Downtown area where it all started, and take in the Mob and Neon museums for some Vegas history.

5. In with a bullet in Japan

The shinkansen (bullet train) turns 50 in October. These sleek trains can reach speeds of up to 320km/h with the route between Tokyo and Osaka being one of the busiest high-speed lines in the world. The first trains ran in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and this year, Inside Japan Tours is launching a 15-day tour that takes in all six lines from the top to the bottom of Honshu and Kyushu islands, including a ride on the new red-nosed Super Komachi train.

The Shinkansen (bullet train) goes between Tokyo and Osaka.
The Shinkansen (bullet train) goes between Tokyo and Osaka.

6. Austin power

Thanks to festivals such as Austin City Limits and South by Southwest (SXSW), the state capital of Texas now bills itself as the Live Music Capital of the World. Once in the city, the Austin & Hill Country Tour checks out the urban music scene, hip shopping districts, culture, local art, and Hill Country vistas and lakes.


7. Stroll like Shakespeare

The 450th anniversary of the birth of the Bard is on April 27 and there are a number of events to coincide with it, as well as a new West End stage version of Shakespeare in Love in June. Get an idea of how Shakespeare would have journeyed from Stratford-upon-Avon to Oxford with a five-day walking tour along The Shakespeare Way with Macs Adventure. The trip covers 93km heading south from Stratford along the Stour river valley and through the Cotswolds.

8. Sample Sami culture

The joint 2014 European Capital of Culture is Umea in northern Sweden. Home to the Sami, the EU's only indigenous people, its festivities revolve around their eight seasons, with exhibitions and events throughout the year. Stay there in comfort with a luxury weekend for two at the Hotel Uman.

9. Serving up a treat

Tennis fans will enjoy Andy Murray's new hotel, which is opening in April. The Wimbledon winner has teamed up with celebrity chef Albert Roux to launch Cromlix Hotel and Chez Roux in Perthshire, Scotland. The Highlands retreat, close to the tennis star's hometown of Dunblane, will have 15 rooms and offer a host of activities on its 14ha estate, including clay pigeon shooting, archery, fishing, quad biking and off-road driving. Naturally, there's a tennis court and practise wall for those looking for some Murray magic to rub off.

The Cromlix Hotel and Chez Roux in Perthshire, Scotland.
The Cromlix Hotel and Chez Roux in Perthshire, Scotland.

10. Walk over a glacier

The Grand Canyon has long had a glass-bottomed Sky Walk and the Canadian Rockies get their own version in May. The cliff-edge Glacier Skywalk juts out 280m above the Sunwapta Valley for majestic views and a glimpse of life from millions of years ago.

11. Rock out in Ibiza

The spiritual home of house music will see Europe's first beachfront Hard Rock Hotel open on Playa d'en Bossa in June. The hotel will host international artists on its poolside stage. There's also a children's club and teen lounge.

12. Do Le Tour the easy way

The Tour de France kicks off in Yorkshire in July as Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome et al battle it out for the Yellow Jersey. If you want to follow the route without the strain, check out Yorkshire Trike Tours where you zip up hill and down dale on a customised chauffeur-driven trike that can take two passengers. Round off your trip with a stay at the award-winning Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel and Spa in Bolton Abbey.

13. Wake up and smell the Java

Discovering Indonesia has never been easier. You can seek out lesser known areas such as the European-like city of Bandung and the island's monstrous volcanoes at Yogyakarta, before a couple of days on a Bali beach.

14. A solemn centenary

This year sees the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, as well as the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. There are dozens of events to commemorate the occasion, including the reopening of the Imperial War Museum in London in July. Get a sense of battles from both wars with battlefields specialist Trafalgar. Its 12-day tour starts at the Imperial War Museum, visits the historic dockyards of Portsmouth and then heads to Normandy. Other highlights include the Somme, the Passchendaele Memorial and Arnhem. Looking ahead, New Zealanders can enter the ballot to attend the Anzac centenary commemorations at Gallipoli in 2015.

Check with your travel agent for the best deals to these locations.