All year long, this part of Pennsylvania is staging events looking at the Civil War, from provocative art exhibits (Kara Walker, Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College, through March 8) to living-history presentations on the battlefield (April 20-Oct. 27) to a bluegrass festival (May 16-19). The busiest weeks will come in late June and early July, when local and national officials mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. A new Seminary Ridge Museum opens July 1 in a former soldiers hospital. More info at www.gettysburg.travel/.
OK, it's a big gimmick. But there's something disarming about The Gathering, Ireland's call summoning all travelers with Irish roots (or just Irish aspirations) to visit this year. For one thing, the promoters forthrightly admit that the country has "had its share of doom and gloom the last couple of years" and that this series of events (arts, sports, food, you name it) is a bid to turn the page.
Check the venture's website and you realize that many of these events happen every year, but you can't help but be tempted: bike races in County Clare, an a cappella singing contest in County Cork, a chartered accountants' dinner in Dublin -- oh, blast, we've already missed that one. Anyway, the promoters estimate that 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry, yet only 6.4 million live there. Clearly, they need company. More info at www.thegatheringireland.com.
Don't go because you like the ABC series of the same name. Don't go for the new convention center downtown (unless you're a corporate travel planner). But you might want to go for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (www.countrymusichalloffame.org), which plans to double its size this year. (Its marquee exhibit this year is on Bucks Owens, Merle Haggard and the Bakersfield Sound.)
Meanwhile, there are beloved venues such as the Grand Ole Opry (renovated after major flooding in 2010, www.opry.com); the Ryman Auditorium (which dates to 1892, www.ryman.com); and the Blue Bird Cafe, an intimate singer-songwriters' venue, born in the 1980s, where the careers of Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and many others have been launched (www.bluebirdcafe.com).
The Hermitage Hotel (www.thehermitagehotel.com), a downtown fixture since 1910, gets praise from upscale travelers; the Hutton Hotel (www.huttonhotel.com), near Vanderbilt University, is less pricey. Also, the 255-room Downtown Hyatt Place is scheduled to open in December.
For a fancy meal, the 32-seat kitchen-centric restaurant the Catbird Seat (www.thecatbirdseatrestaurant.com) on Division Street has been getting raves since opening in late 2011. For something more casual, try the Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden (www.thepharmacynashville.com), which opened in eastern Nashville in late 2011. More info at www.visitmusiccity.com.
For the usual reasons, and this anniversarial one: Grand Central Terminal turns 100 this year. Rather than dwell on the specific date, management has slotted special art and performance events throughout the year. Details at www.grandcentralterminal.com/centennial/events.cfm.
Meanwhile, several hotels are due to open in the first half of the year, including the 113-room Jade Hotel on West 13th Street in Greenwich Village (www.thejadenyc.com), which aims for a 1920s Parisian feel; the Refinery Hotel at West 38th Street and Sixth Avenue (www.refineryhotelnewyork.com), with 197 rooms for guests who appreciate "decadence and flair"; and the Quin (formerly the Buckingham Hotel) on West 57th Street and Sixth Avenue (www.thequinhotel.com), with 200 rooms for "the world's most discerning wanderers."
San Luis Obispo, Calif.
SLO, a college town whose farmers market takes over Higuera Street every Thursday night, is a tempting destination in any year. The beach is a short drive, as are the wineries of Paso Robles and the rustic little town of Templeton. (In downtown SLO, you're about 190 miles north of Los Angeles, about 230 miles south of San Francisco.)
The 17-room boutique Granada Hotel (www.granadahotelandbistro.com) opened in the fall in a converted 1920s building. The popular restaurant Luna Red (www.lunaredslo.com), offering "global tapas" and a big wine list, has moved to a larger downtown space with a big patio. The restaurant and bar Sidecar (www.sidecarslo.com) has been open since late 2011. And the Madonna Inn (www.madonnainn.com), which is to kitsch what the Matterhorn is to mountains, last year added horseback riding, two pink tennis courts, winter ice skating and a bike path to downtown. More info at www.visitslo.com.
Can 11.1 million tourists, mostly Chinese and Japanese, all be wrong? South Korea doesn't think so. That was the country's tourist total in 2012 -- a record. Probably the Korean singer Psy's YouTube hit "Gangnam Style" didn't hurt. (Gangnam is a posh, modern shopping area in the capital that one British journalist has called "the Mayfair of Seoul.")
American tourists arrive in a trickle, not a torrent, but the country is poised for tourism growth. Many infrastructure improvements were made for the 2012 World Expo in Yeosu, about 3 1/2 hours south of Seoul by high-speed rail. Besides the green mountains that surround Seoul and the hubbub of the city itself, there's a 3.6-mile stream running through town. It's called Cheonggyecheon, and it's part of a linear park with a tranquil walking path that opened in 2005.
Elsewhere, visitors can take the Dolsan Bridge to verdant Dolsan Island, explore the Itaewon nightlife district or Bukchon Hanok Village (a collection of traditional wooden homes near the Gyeongbok and Changdeok palaces) and browse the big department stores (Shinsegae, Lotte and Hyundai are three). More info at english.visitkorea.or.kr.