It is not as if you need an excuse for travel, but if you did, here are the anniversaries, gatherings and essential destinations to put in your diary for 2012.

Honour Scott’s Polar Centenary
British explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole arrived on 17 January 1912, by which point they already knew they were beaten by Roald Amundsen’s triumph on 14 December 1911. A century later, the Antarctic summer of 2011-2012 will be a bumper one for visits to the frozen continent. Scott buffs should aim for Cambridge, England (home to the Polar Museum, part of the Scott Polar Research Institute) or his statue in London’s Waterloo Place. But the ultimate is to visit his frozen-in-time hut at Cape Evans on Ross Island, Antarctica.

Follow Napoleon across Russia
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 and the battles provoked by it. Head to Moscow, where the Battle of Borodino Panorama (Kutuzovsky pr 38) gives a vivid impression of the events of a key skirmish. Or go farther north to St Petersburg’s Hermitage and Museum of Artillery, Engineers and Signal Corps which contain paintings and memorabilia from the campaign. This could also be the year to finally tackle Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, set around the conflict.

Visit Namibia’s protected coast
Namibia is a special country, blessed with an abundance of easy-to-spot wildlife, beautiful desert scenery and vast, wide open spaces. This year you can visit the epic Namibian coastline along the Atlantic as part of one of the world’s largest protected areas, encompassing four parks: the Sperregebiet National Park, Namib Naukluft Park, newly created Dorob National Park and the infamous Skeleton Coast protected area. Many areas, especially in the south, can be explored independently -- though ideally with your own wheels -- but getting into serious Skeleton Coast wilderness requires a charter flight and deep pockets.

Go football crazy in Poland and Ukraine
This summer’s European Football Championship shines a light on two of Europe’s least appreciated destinations. Poland and Ukraine are providing four venues each, and the rewards for travelling fans are set to be huge. Warsaw, Gdansk, Poznan and Wroclaw, Poland’s host cities, frame a journey around that country, and you can tick off Krakow on the way to Europe’s best-kept secret, Lviv in Ukraine. Kiev, which is especially lovely in the summer, Kharkiv and football-mad Donetsk complete the set of Ukrainian host venues. Both countries offer some of the best-value travel in Europe, with easy transport links to ferry the continent’s supporters to and from matches.

Chase Australia’s Top End eclipse
Eclipse chasers have had a bountiful few years, pairing one of nature’s greatest shows with visits to Easter Island, Bhutan and Mongolia. This year’s total eclipse on 13 November crosses parts of the South Pacific, with the most significant landfall across Arnhem Land and Cape York in Australia’s Northern Territory and Queensland, respectively. This is wild territory and access to many areas is restricted by both permit requirements and wet season transport difficulties. However, the remote Palmer River area, inland from Port Douglas, Queensland, sees less rainfall than coastal areas and looks set to be a key eclipse-chasers destination.

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.

The article 'Top 10 things to do in 2012' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.