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Lonely Planet's Best in Travel: top 10 cities for 2012

After globe-trotting research and fierce debate, Lonely Planet has come to a decision on its favourite cities for 2012. As always, our shortlist has some known gems and a few to raise a quizzical eyebrow, but each one is poised for greatness in 2012.

1. London 

London is going for the knock-out blow in 2012. The Olympics are riding into town and a whole swath of the capital is being transformed in the process. Mind the gap! Whoever you cheer for, you won’t be alone in this most international of cities.

2. Muscat 

Oman is firing on all fronts to attract international visitors, expanding everything from its museums to its resorts. Muscat is the focus for the revamp, with cultural events, luxury accommodation and aquatic activities taking centre stage. ‘Tomorrow will be a new dawn on Muscat,’ the Sultan pledged upon attaining power in 1970. Today in Muscat, the sun has well and truly risen.

3. Bengaluru (Bangalore)

The undisputed Elvis of South Asian megacities, Bengaluru is in a class of its own when it comes to redefining flamboyance. There’s only one thing you could say to that: ‘Chill maadi!’

4. Cádiz

It might normally look like a peaceful pocket of old-world Spain, complete with old men in flat caps shuffling about in cafe-lined squares. Cádiz has found itself named Ibero-American Capital of Culture for 2012 – the first time a European city has held the honour. It may not pull the same crowds as Seville or Córdoba, but few places embody the spirit of gutsy Andalucían living like Cádiz.

5. Stockholm

The film release of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo might have prompted a new wave of Stieg Larsson fans to look for the grimy side of Stockholm. Admittedly Stockholm has never been a cheap date. But even if Stockholm leaves you with a lighter wallet, you’ll inevitably still leave it with a heavy heart.

6. Guimarães

This northern Portugal city is breathtakingly beautiful, as recognised by its place on the Unesco World Heritage List, yet mysteriously it doesn’t figure on the radars of many foreign visitors. Now is the moment to visit, as the city has been anointed the European Capital of Culture in 2012.

7. Santiago

Calamity came calling to Chile, first through an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and later when 33 miners were trapped in the country’s north. Visit Santiago and you’ll feel the buzz.

8. Hong Kong

The mood in China’s most liberated city is edgier and more vocal than ever. This will be a particularly exciting year for Hong Kong, as it continues its march towards full democracy. Explore walled villages or go hiking on Asia’s most breathtaking trails. Whatever you do, sprinkle your day generously and boldly with some of the city’s 11,000 restaurants.

9. Orlando

This should be a great year for Orlando as it’s hosting the 61st NBA All-Star Weekend  (25 and 26 February). The hippest sporting event in the USA , it brings much of the basketball and music worlds together for slam-dunk contests, after-hours parties and concerts, as well as the all-star game itself. Orlando, hip? Who knew?

10. Darwin

It was once easy to dismiss Darwin as a frontier town full of brawling fishermen, dreamy hippies and redneck truckers. But with a pumping nocturnal scene, magical markets and restaurants, and world-class wilderness areas just down the road, today Darwin is the triumph of Australia’s Top End. When southern Australia is chilling through winter, here it’s blue skies, party nights and sleeping late.