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Meet the Maid of Orleans on her 600th birthday
France’s greatest heroine, Joan of Arc, was born 600 years ago this year, offering a great excuse to explore her former stamping ground. Joan was a teenage visionary and military hero who took the fight to the English in the Hundred Years War. Following her trail will lead travellers to some wonderful parts of France, from Orleans, where her boldness led to the lifting of a long siege, to the beautiful Reims Cathedral, where Charles VII was crowned King of France, having been inspired by her visions of his succession. Joan was tried in Rouen Castle and executed in the city’s Vieux Marche, where a modern church marks the location of her immolation.

Discover a new Middle East
The Arab Spring swept through the region in 2011, offering revolutions that were variously realised or repressed. Few countries in the Middle East and North Africa were unaffected, but the most significant change may be in Western perceptions of the region. Despite their troubled political systems, these countries are steeped in history and offer hospitality unrivalled anywhere else; they are also are home to a young, energetic and ambitious population. Why not pay a visit to Tunis or Cairo in 2011? You might be among the first to return, and you will definitely be warmly welcomed. Make sure you check the news and government advice sites like Safe Travel for updates before travelling.

Explore Maribor’s Old Town
Sharing the European Capital of Culture crown with Portugal’s Guimarães, is the unheralded Slovenian gem of Maribor. The plan is to use the year in the spotlight to increase the profile of Slovenia’s second-largest city, which is off the usual Ljubljana-Lake Bled-Triglav route through the country. Events are still being confirmed, but expect art, music and other festivals to accompany the well-established theatre, classical music and folklore performances. The real stars of the show will be Maribor’s delightful Old Town and imposing castle, combined with a laid-back air best sampled from a cafe in one of the city’s many delightful, diminutive squares.

Play arcade classics at the Smithsonian
Parents, kids, geeks and gamers should rejoice and head for the US capital. The collection at DC’s Smithsonian American Art Museum has more 7,000 works of art, but an exhibition this year proves this is no mere load of frames gathering dust. The Art of Video Games, running from 16 March to 30 September, explores the evolution of arcade and computer games spanning 40 years, and promises to make almost everyone who visits feel nostalgic (and possibly ancient). Some 80 games will be featured through still images and video footage. Better yet, you will be able to play classics like Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst and World of Warcraft.

Check out Korea’s Expo
Today’s descendants of World Fairs, expos are large public exhibitions organised around a particular theme and featuring stands representing individual countries (think World Showcase at Disney World’s Epcot). The modern versions fascinate as much for the ways that countries strive to portray themselves as for the exhibits themselves. Yeosu in Korea is staging EXPO 2012 from 12 May to 12 August, with a theme of “Living Ocean and Coast”, and the port city is a fitting venue with its spectacular coastline. Inside the expo, expect thought-provoking, futuristic displays and dramatically designed pavilions.

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© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Top 10 things to do in 2012’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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