Although I absolutely adore the big cities like Paris and London, it’s often nice to venture off the beaten track to some of the most underrated travel destinations. I’ve previously written about the small secret European towns to visit, but I wanted to share some of my favourite places around the world that don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve.
1. Reykjavik, Iceland
With a backdrop of snow-topped mountains, churning seas and crystal clear air, Reykjavik is home to colorful buildings, wild nightlife and a capricious soul. It has an open-minded and energetic culture renowned for excellent museums, captivating art, rich culinary choices, and funky cafes and bars.
2. Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade is one of the most happening cities in Europe, yet it’s often overlooked by many tourists. The old-world culture has given way to a new-world nightlife that I keep hearing about from friends all over the world. Grandiose coffee houses, quirky sidewalks, smoky dens and historical buildings line lively pedestrian boulevards. Deeper in Belgrade’s bowels are museums guarding the cultural, religious and military heritage of the country. Serbia’s capital is indeed an underrated city that seems the place to be.
3. Palawan, The Philippines
Palawan was voted the most beautiful island in the world, and for reasons I cannot argue with. Despite the title, it’s crystal clear waters and lush tropical rainforests are still very much untouched by tourism.
4. Havana Cuba
The U.S placed an embargo on Cuba in 1960 which has left Cuba in a time warp. It’s like traveling back to the 50’s. But there are many other reasons why you should consider visiting Cuba such as the stunning beaches, friendly locals, vintage bars and cars, and incredible architecture. [Read on: why you need to visit Cuba.]
5. Lviv, Ukraine
A city with a lively history, Lviv (also spelled L’viv and Lvov) in Ukraine’s west was founded in the 13th century and has changed flags many times in the years. It exudes an authentic Central European charm as pre-tourism Prague or Krakow once did. Quaint cobbles, coffeehouses, green-domed churches and a mountain top 14th century castle make up this gorgeous city.
6. Mozambique, Africa
Many people travel to other Indian Ocean islands like Mauritius and Seychelles, but Mozambique is less developed and has much to offer those who venture here. Rugged coastlines, turquoise waters, world-class reefs, remote archipelagos, colonial-style architecture and a pulsating nightlife make up this African country. Jump in for a journey of a lifetime.
7. Alleppey, India
Alappuzha (or Alleppey) is a city on the Laccadive Sea in the southern Indian state of Kerala where it is home to a vast network of waterways and more than a thousand houseboats. Wandering around the small but chaotic city centre, with its modest grid of canals, you’d be hard-pressed to agree with the ‘Venice of the East’ tag. Float along and gaze over the succulent green paddy fields and village life.
8. Valparaíso, Chile
A two-hour drive from Santiago, this port city has long been known for the colorful houses that dot its steep hills. Chaotic cerros (hills), Latin American street art, a maze of steep, sinuous streets, alleys and escaleras piled high with crumbling mansions make up what is this wonderful city, with an edgy air of ‘anything goes.’
9. Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni, amid the Andes in southwest Bolivia, is the world’s largest salt flat. It’s the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desertlike, 11,000-sq.-km. landscape of bright-white salt, rock formations and cacti-studded islands. I wrote it as one of the most surreal destinations in the world.
10. Essaouira, Morocco
The seaside city of Essaouira is protected by 18th-century seafront ramparts with old brass cannons. It is authentically Moroccan at it’s soul: narrow alleyways, damp sea air mixed with aromas of spices and thuya wood, women in white haiks, midday palm-tree shades against red city walls, and the sound of Gnawa singing reverberating from shops.
11. Doha, Qatar
Doha is a modern and rapidly developing city and, considering the money being poured into construction, Doha looks set to become one of the premier cities in the Gulf within a few years. The city comprises of picturesque architecture, dazzling harbours and a multicultural community.
12. Big Sur, California, USA
It’s only recently Big Sur has made it’s way onto our radars. It features stunning views and landscapes that haven’t been developed or commercialized, and the cell service is pretty much non-existent. The majestic cliffs drop into the Pacific create perhaps the most postcard-worthy sunsets in America.
13. Las Pozas, Xilitla, Mexico
This destination certainly goes beyond the more popular Mexican tourist spots. In the town you’ll find Las Pozas, a surreal garden built in the middle of a jungle. Surround yourself with spiral staircases leading to nowhere, stunning waterfalls and surrealist statues.
14. Anguilla, Caribbean
Consumerism has devoured many spots in the Carribean but Anguilla has mantained its charming shacks whilst weaving modern vacation properties in the mix. It is the laidback Caribbean at its best.
14. Alaçatı, Turkey
A smart new crowd is heading for a tiny Turkish village of Alaçatı, where the galleries, beach clubs and slow-food scene make it summertime’s coolest spot. Dating back to around the 14th century, the town is an unpretentious place, scattered with ivory‑coloured stone houses and rustic boutique hotels.
15. Ålesund, Norway
Perched at the top of Norway’s Western Fjord country, picture-perfect Alesund is spread over several islands stretching into the Atlantic with mountains as a backdrop. After a devastating fire in 1904, it was rebuilt in absolute Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) style. If its natural beauty doesn’t grab you, its architecture surely will.
16. Trier, Germany
Trier is Germany’s oldest city which lies at the head of the scenic Mosel Valley near the Luxembourg border. It boasts some of the best Roman antiquities outside Rome itself, although today, Trier feels young and thriving.
17. Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye is known for its rugged landscapes and picturesque fishing villages, but when the mist closes in there are plenty of castles, crofting museums and cosy pubs and restaurants. Immerse yourself in the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands!
18. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is the cross-cultural center of Eastern Europe; the place where East meets West. Mostar is one of the most charming and interesting places you’ll ever experience, with a real homely feel. It is both architecturally and naturally magnificent and tourism is just starting to pick up.
19. Salvador, Brazil
Brazil’s former capital is renowned for its African-influenced cuisine, music and architecture. Known as “the Capital of Joy,” because of its exuberant week-long Carnaval celebrations, Salvador brims with contemporary music and art amid architecture that has gone untouched since the 17th century.
20. Valencia, Spain
With thriving cultural, eating and nightlife scenes, Valencia is still often overlooked for Madrid and Barcelona. It’s full of strikingly futuristic buildings and Modernista architecture, but still keeps a characterful old quarter.
What other underrated destinations would you add to this list?