BBC Travel’s favourite stories of 2023

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By BBC TravelFeatures correspondent

Jordi Busqué Person under a starry skyJordi Busqué

(Credit: Jordi Busqué)

Of the hundreds of stories BBC Travel ran this year, these are the ones we can’t stop talking about.

This year BBC Travel published more stories than we ever have before. We covered every continent, explored the vast depths of our oceans and marvelled at the view of Earth from outer space. But of the many hundreds of awe-inspiring, immersive stories we ran celebrating the people, places and cultures that make this world so wondrously diverse, a few stood out. 

These are the stories that we couldn’t stop talking about – the ones that transported us to unexpected places, showed us new sides to places we thought we knew and led us to fall in love with the world. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did. 

Lady Elliot Island: A paradise island where you make a pledge, by Sarah Reid

“The world is at a critical turning point due to climate change, and Lady Eliot Island and its World Heritage reef gives hope to travellers, who truly want to make the world a better place and serves as a role model for other destinations through its epic regeneration story. Here, visitors are encouraged to sign a pledge to protect its fragile ecosystem.” – Anne Banas 

Italy’s unusual vegetable ritual, by Katie McKnoulty

“I love everything about this story. It’s a reminder of the gentle, bizarre, gorgeous things humans do that make us who we are and that make the world so wondrously fascinating and diverse.” – Eliot Stein

Katie McKnoulty Italy's unusual vegetable ritual (Credit: Katie McKnoulty)Katie McKnoulty

Italy’s unusual vegetable ritual (Credit: Katie McKnoulty)

The ‘depression burger’ of Route 66, by Heide Brandes

“A rollicking food story that’ll make you hungry: Heide Brandes delves into an iconic food on an iconic route, bringing the story to life with wonderful characters that’ll make you want to go to Oklahoma to meet them.” – Ellie Cobb 

Maryland fried chicken: A storied dish with Titanic history, by Liz Cook

“This story captivated me because it so elegantly weaves history, politics and profile all in one. Moreover, the framework is the doomed yet fascinating Titanic, and the narrative is tied together though a beloved classic: fried chicken!” – Kate Heddings 

What did Stonehenge sound like?, by Anna Muckerman

“Despite its 5,000-year-old age, Stonehenge continues to offer new stories to tell, reminding us that the world is filled with endless mystery. Scientists studying the ancient site’s acoustics have begun to shed new light on what the famous stone circle might have been used for, and this story captures it all elegantly in prose and video.” – Anne Banas 

King David La’amea Kalākaua: The first king to travel around the world, by Wendy Awai-Dakroub

“King Kalākaua of Hawaii was the original ‘most interesting man in the world’. He was the first head of state to circumnavigate the globe, he had tea with the Queen and he spread Hawaiian culture across the world. Yet, most people – even Americans – have never heard of him.” – Eliot Stein

Rolf Richardson/Alamy Honolulu's 'Iolani Palace remains the only royal residence in the United States (Credit: Rolf Richardson/Alamy)Rolf Richardson/Alamy

Honolulu’s ‘Iolani Palace remains the only royal residence in the United States (Credit: Rolf Richardson/Alamy)

The UK language used as war code, by Oliver Berry

“Who knew Jersey’s language of Jerrais was used as a clandestine code during German occupation during World War Two. I love how this piece cleverly tells a deeper story of an island and its culture through a linguistic revival.” – Ellie Cobb

Künefe: The beloved dessert rebuilding Turkey, by Gonca Tokyol

“Who knew that the making of a fun-to-eat, cheesy dessert could be so incredibly impactful to a community? But this story on Turkish künefe has given the city of Hatay – which was flattened by a series of recent earthquakes – hope in the face of disaster. In a place known historically for its resilience, künefe-makers in makeshift, pop-up shops show how life will always go on.” – Anne Banas

A road trip to the edge of the Earth, by Shafik Meghji

“This journey to ‘the end of the world’ wraps elements of adventure, isolation, environmentalism and Indigenous rights into a stunning narrative while revealing a side of the globe few people will ever see.” – Eliot Stein

Karen Gardiner Maggie Downer sees spirit horses as "four-legged ambassadors" of Canada's Indigenous people (Credit: Karen Gardiner)Karen Gardiner

Maggie Downer sees spirit horses as “four-legged ambassadors” of Canada’s Indigenous people (Credit: Karen Gardiner)

The return of Canada’s spirit horse, by Karen Gardiner

“This is a story of dreams: a beautifully written piece about the Ojibwe spirit horse that was deeply respected by Indigenous people, who saw them as guides and spirits.” – Ellie Cobb  

Madhur Jaffrey: The woman who gave the world Indian food, by Priya Mani

“At 90 years old, Madhur Jaffrey has led a full, rich and inspiring life. As the actress and culinary legend celebrates the 50th anniversary of her seminal book, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, we get to look back on and honour her legacy thus far and how she, as book editor Judith Jones has said, ‘seduced us slowly, step by step’ into the world of Indian cuisine and culture.” – Anne Banas 

Matthew Henson: The US’ unsung Black explorer, by Robert Isenberg

“So much of the Arctic story has historically been told through a lens of white, flag-planting explorers, but it turns out that a Black man born into a family of sharecroppers has as good a case as anyone for ‘discovering’ the North Pole. What I especially love about Henson’s story is how he bonded with Inughuit peoples and immersed himself in Inuit culture in order to make this feat possible.” – Eliot Stein

The seaside town with a secret past, by Laura Hall

“A hugely important and impactful piece about a courageous community in Denmark that risked themselves to help others in need. It might be set in a tiny corner of the world, but I love how it reminds us that everyone has the potential to make a difference.” – Ellie Cobb

Jordi Busqué (Credit: Jordi Busqué)Jordi Busqué

(Credit: Jordi Busqué)

St James Way: The return of the UK’s medieval highway, by Jessica Vincent

“This is pure armchair wanderlust. Vincent does a brilliant job weaving in her personal connection to the Santiago de Compostela to introduce readers to its ancient – if far-lesser-known – offshoot in south-eastern England. Thanks to her vivid writing, I felt like I was squelching along the muddy trail with her as she set out to receive her ‘wayfarer’s dole’.” – Eliot Stein 

The last places on Earth to see truly dark starry nights, by Jordi Busqué

“As light pollution becomes more and more intense, one might wonder if we’ll ever see the Milky Way again. However, though stunning imagery and thoughtful captions from an astrophysicist and documentary photographer, we can all relax (at least for a moment) in knowing that there are still places in the world where we can take in the stars and bask in the wonders that lie beyond the bounds of our planet.” – Anne Banas

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