What makes a country welcoming to tourists? The same elements that give residents a measure of happiness, social stability, and freedom from discrimination also ensure that visitors are welcomed. Here are our top five, rated by their high scores on the Global Peace Index, the UN's World Happiness Report, and the Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2019.
The Land of Fire and Ice landed top spots in happiness, global peace, and freedom from discrimination. Known for one of the most unique natural landscapes in the world, Iceland is home to massive glaciers and active volcanoes. A land of long summer sun, Iceland is cloaked in darkness during the short winter days. Rich in a long tradition of creative work, literature, storytelling, and art, modern Iceland is a model for personal freedom, democracy, and social stability.
The biggest city, Reykjavik, has year-round festivals, with a rich museum culture for the artist. The landscape is an outdoor enthusiast's dream, with rivers, caves, mountains, and lakes, in addition to mountains, glaciers, and active volcanoes. The UNESCO World Heritage organization has just added one of Iceland's national parks to their list, bringing the count on this tiny island nation to three UNESCO sites.
Finland is a Nordic country that knows how to make the most of winter. Parents in the know suspect Santa actually lives in Lapland, and ski tours of the Finnish countryside, with saunas and winter chalets, give visitors the hygge experience people from these northern lands love most. Many photographers and star-gazers head to Finland in the winter to experience the northern lights, best seen from the beautiful glass igloos and log chalets of Kakslauttanen.
Helsinki is a vibrant, modern capital city on the Gulf of Finland, known for its beautiful architecture, vibrant night life, and walkability. Helsinki is one of the few modern European capital cities that can be best explored on foot. The sauna experience is not to be missed, and there are plenty of helpful guides to help first-timers.
Portugal is a warm and sun-baked country that today spends its collective creative energy on crafting fine food and wines. Portugal remains one of the great nations from the Age of Exploration, and their seafaring history is written largely on the country's impressive architecture. The mountainous interior is dotted with churches, monasteries, and cathedrals from the Romanesque and Gothic periods, and ruins can still be visited from the time Portugal was part of the Roman Empire. The unique Manueline style is shown with seafaring motifs carved on interior and exterior architecture throughout the country.
The coastline is dramatic and beautiful, beloved by the surfing crowd, from beginners to the Pro Surfing Circuit. The sea is the heart of Portugal, and its influence is felt in everything from the regional cuisine to the long history of boat building.
Beautiful Denmark, the greenest country on this list, is a jewel in Northern Europe. The cosmopolitan capital city of Copenhagen supports daily bike commutes, and the summer brings people out to the beaches that surround this Scandinavian country. Known around the world as the home of LEGO, Denmark also boasts the famous Tivoli Gardens.
Cuisine has influences from Scandinavia, Russia, and Europe, and the street food renaissance means some of the best options in the country from the sidewalk carts of Copenhagen.
The Danes are not afraid of tourism; for their small country, they continue to build hotels and other accommodations for visitors. They estimate a record 10 million visitors in 2019.
New Zealand is called Aotearoa in the indigenous Maori language, which means Land of the Long White Cloud. The country is made of two large islands, and many smaller ones, in the warm waters of the South Pacific. The culture of the indigenous people, the Maori, is unique, and even more popular with visitors than the fabled hobbits and orcs of Middle Earth.
For a small island nation, New Zealand boasts mountains, beaches, tropical islands, and glaciers. The volcanoes and geothermal landscapes give New Zealand some of the best natural hot springs in the world.
English is spoken, and the culture blends influences from European countries, the Maori, and Pacific Rim countries. This diversity is reflected in the outstanding cuisine, including the world famous hokey pokey ice cream.