Travelers have largely overlooked the Balkan region, which has long been shrouded by a troubled past. But its enigmatic nature may prove to be its most potent drawing card.

When you work at National Geographic, one of the first questions people ask is if you get to travel. The answer is often yes, but one of the best parts of the job is being surrounded by sharp, globe-trotting people, and getting to hear their stories. That’s why we asked folks on the Nat Geo Travel team to share a story about the best trip they’ve taken in the past year with our readers.

In a world where the easiest route is usually the most popular, it’s no surprise that many vacationers limit their warm-weather winter getaways to the Caribbean’s more accessible islands—especially if they have kids in tow. And while the quick trip has its advantages, some of best destinations require more effort. Here are four to add to your list.

National Geographic Traveler features editor Amy Alipio (on Twitter @amytravels and on Instagram @amyalipio) recently returned from a family trip to New York City to soak up the holiday glow. Here are some of the high points of her trip, in her own words.

The keys to happiness in Mexico City are the simple things: the cozy cantina that serves pork ribs in green sauce; a walk in Parque México, on any day of the week but especially on Sundays, in the Condesa neighborhood; or a teeming food market such as Mercado San Juan.

The city where the U.S. got its start is rich in history, for sure. But Philadelphia also can brag about its art collections, science centers, and culinary spots—all destinations within walking distance of City Hall, the centermost point of Center City.

In addition to being longtime contributing photographers for Traveler magazine, my wife Sisse and I are frequently invited to join National Geographic Expeditions trips as photography experts. On a recent trip to the Macaronesia Islands, we had 25 passengers sign up for a photo workshop with us. We gave them assignments, or themes, to explore throughout our journey. Here’s one of the lessons learned along the way.

National Geographic Traveler columnist Heather Greenwood Davis is the magazine’s family travel advocate, guru, and soothsayer. Here’s her latest advice.

With its mix of national parks and private game reserves, Botswana offers visitors a range of experiences, from the Makgadikgadi salt pans (part of which is protected as Makgadikgadi Pans National Park) to the water-rich Okavango Delta. Here’s an insider’s guide to visiting this biodiverse wonder.

Raised in a quasi treehouse on the edge of Cayuga Lake in Ithaca, New York, Nat Geo Young Explorer Alizé Carrère now travels the globe to illuminate how humans and other animals adapt to changing environments. When she’s not out not in the field, she recharges her batteries in her beloved hometown. Ithaca “is an incubator for creativity, intellectual development, self-expression, and a place to gain an appreciation for life’s diversity,” she says.

I spend a lot of time exploring big, dynamic cities. But these isolated islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador grew on me in such a way that when I left, I felt as though I was taking some of the characteristics of the landscape and animals—fearlessness, energy, equilibrium—home with me. Here are a few other things I learned about the Galápagos along the way.

Uninhabited Québec

I peer out of the lighthouse window, watching the wide, murky Saint Lawrence River easing past on its journey to the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands of sea birds squawk and shriek on the rocks below. I think about the men who spent years cooped up alone on this little island in the remote wilds of Québec, illuminating the way for the weary mariners who sailed by in the darkness of night.

Catherine Karnow has been part of the Nat Geo family for the past 15 years, going on assignment for both National Geographic and Traveler, where she’s a contributing photographer. She also shares photography tips on the Nat Geo Travel site and leads photo seminars and workshops for the Society. Here’s a look at the world through her unique lens.

Don’t let the cold temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere take the pep out of your travel step. The winter months can offer up some of the best travel opportunities, often at a lower price point—and you can always head south if you’re in need of some Vitamin D. Here are a dozen destinations to inspire you from our Nat Geo Travel Facebook fans.

London isn’t high on many people’s travel lists past early fall, but I happen to love London when it’s cold outside. “You get to see the city for what it really is in the winter,” my friend Lauren Bryan Knight told me. “It’s London with her hair down, devoid of anything other than the quiet rhythm of Londoners living out their daily routines.” Here’s why the English capital should be on your winter-travel list—and how to make the most of your time while you’re there.

Magda Przedmojska delights in sharing her city with the rest of the world—that’s why she’s a regular contributor to Spotted By Locals Warsaw. Though this avid traveler has lived elsewhere—from Aberdeen to Berlin—the Polish capital has her heart. “Warsaw is still the place to be because of my friends and family—the most important people in my life,” she says. Here are some of the reasons Magda describes her hometown as “quite a nice melting point to visit.”

They are scenes from our daydreams: paddling across an indigo lagoon surrounded by porpoises; coming eye to eye with a breaching whale; drifting to sleep on a beach under a dazzle of stars, well fed and soothed by top-shelf tequila. All are common occurrences for sea kayakers in the Gulf of California, off Mexico’s Baja peninsula.

It is my first day in the tropical rain forests of northeast Colombia and, along with about a dozen other hikers, I am on the trail to La Ciudad Perdida, or the Lost City. The pre-Colombian city was built around 800 A.D., making it some 650 years older than its Inca Empire-counterpart, Machu Picchu, in Peru.

The peaks of Grand Teton National Park, regal and imposing as they stand nearly 7,000 feet above the valley floor, make one of the boldest geologic statements in the Rocky Mountains. Here’s an insider’s guide to this natural wonderland.

Barbara A. Noe oversees the creation of National Geographic’s travel books—and every now and again has the opportunity to write them. She recently returned from a trip to Provence and the French Riviera on assignment to update Nat Geo Travel’s guidebook to the region. Here are some of the high points of her trip, in her own words.

Bicycles have long been the quickest way to navigate the traffic-choked streets of Seoul. But far from a last resort, cycling has become a national pastime throughout South Korea.

Experience the luxury of a bygone era with a wholly modern spin at one of these world-class railway hotels.

When I was a kid, the idea of spending hours at a museum was enough for me to demand that someone “gag me with a spoon.” Yet, time and time again, I find myself offering the same “we should go to the museum” pleas to my own kids and then being surprised when their eyes glaze over. But after dozens of museum visits and a decreasing number of eye rolls, I think I’ve stumbled upon the secret.

The Caryatids, a clique of statuesque ladies that once supported the roof of the Acropolis’s Erechtheion, stand more beautiful than ever after a three-year makeover.

Nat Geo Young Explorer Erin Spencer is a marine scientist with a curious fascination with invasive lionfish and tri-cornered hats. After visiting Virginia’s Historic Triangle every year as a child, she ended up moving to Williamsburg to attend William & Mary. Though she now lives in D.C., she takes frequent trips to satisfy her colonial cravings. Here are some of Erin’s favorite things about her home away from home.