Regardless of when you dream of going, most of today’s most popular tourist destinations are absolutely saturated with tourists. Maybe the current situation will change that – but who knows? Not only is over-tourism a detriment to the health of any city, but, who likes dealing with so many crowds and so much inauthenticity?
So, we’ve compiled a list of the best alternatives to these crowded cities. Here they are – some of the most popular destinations around the world, and where to go instead!
Table of Contents
Tourist Hot Spots and Where to Go Instead
Amsterdam / Harlaam (Netherlands)
Amsterdam is the capital city of The Netherlands and it is not only the most popular city in the country but also one of the most popular cities in ds! This bustling city attracts millions of tourists each year because of its stunning canals, authentic houses, various museums, and picturesque streets. However, due to the strong attraction of the city, it has become overrun with tourists. All throughout the year, you will find tons of people at each attraction, and the city center is packed with people.
What most people don’t know is that there is a shockingly similar city to Amsterdam only 20 minutes away called Haarlem, which is also one of the best cities to visit in the Netherlands. This city is also called a “mini Amsterdam” because it too has beautiful canals, quirky houses, and various interesting attractions. But, the similarities end there as Haarlem attracts significantly fewer tourists each year. This makes exploring and enjoying all the attractions much more enjoyable.
Although Haarlem is not Amsterdam there is still a ton to do. The main thing to do in Haarlem is to visit the Grote Market which is the central square in Haarlem that hosts markets every Saturday. In this square, you will also find the St. Bavo Church in Haarlem which towers over the smaller surrounding buildings. More so, Haarlem is home to De Adriaan which is an old, authentic windmill right in the city center and is home to the oldest museum in the Netherlands. Haarlem is a city you do not want to miss.
Barcelona / Girona (spain)
In the last decade, Barcelona became an increasingly popular travel destination. This has resulted in massive crowds of tourists, with attractions being sold out months in advance. The prices of hotels, activities, and restaurants are now higher than ever. A good alternative to savoring a bit of Catalonia away from the crowds is the primary city in Costa Brava – Girona.
Though most people go to Girona on day trips from Barcelona, Girona well deserves more than a day. This charming city is a great access point to the Pyrenees Mountains, as well! With access to many hiking trails and the whole of Costa Brava, you’ll find gorgeous small coves, beaches, and coastal towns.
Among the popular things to do in Girona is to go for a walk along the medieval walls. The views of the city and the Cathedral are absolutely stunning. Girona is one of the filming locations of Game of Thrones, so if you’re a fan, you’re in for a real treat!
Be sure to walk across the bridges that connect the two parts of town. The view of the colorful buildings facing the river is stunning. The most famous bridge is Eiffel Bridge – as the name says, it was built by the same Eiffel who planned the more famous tower in Paris.
Other places to visit in Girona are the Jewish Quarter and the Arab Baths. Girona also boasts a plethora of museums and art galleries.
Last but not least, Girona is a fantastic place for foodies! Its most famous restaurant is El Celler de Can Roca – by the famous Roca Brothers.
Girona can be very easily accessed from Barcelona, making it a great alternative to the overrun Catalonian capital.
Paris / Reims (france)
Let’s admit the obvious – there is no city comparable to Paris. The City of Lights is one of the most visited in the world and for obvious reasons. The food, the iconic landmarks, the museums, cultural life, the gorgeous parks, and the never-ending history.
While Paris will never be replaceable, there are other cities nearby that are absolutely worth a visit, especially if you’re looking to break away from the crowds. One such city is Reims.
Reims is located in the Champagne region of France, so, obviously, a champagne house tour is a MUST! I visited Taittinger House, and it far exceeded my expectations. Reims has quite a bit of history – it was the city where Germany officially surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII. The Musée de la Reddition is housed in the actual building where this monumental event occurred. Be prepared to cry. A LOT.
Copenhagen / Helsingør (denmark)
One of the most popular cities in Northern Europe is Copenhagen, Denmark. When you visit the city, you quickly realize why, but there are hidden gems in Denmark not far from its more-famous capital that should be on your travel radar!
One such city is located about 50 kilometers and 45 minutes north of Copenhagen – Helsingør, Denmark. Helsingør is a beautiful coastal city with a famous literary legacy, it was the setting for Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Yes, this is the place in Denmark where something was rotten (but don’t worry, it’s a fantastic place to visit).
As you can imagine, Hamlet’s Kronborg Castle is the main attraction in Helsingør. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-see stop in Denmark. There are guided tours included with your entrance and in the summer months they even have Shakespearean actors performing. Make sure to visit the dungeons under the castle and climb the cannon towers to see views of the entire town and Sweden across the Oresund Sound.
There are plenty of other attractions in Helsingør like the Danish Maritime Museum, Helsingør City Museum, and Oresund Aquarium. On the weekends, check out the Helsingør Street Food Market and walk around the quaint cobblestone streets lined with pastel houses. It’s a quintessentially Scandinavian town that makes you feel like you’re walking through history. Best of all, Helsingør has plenty to do with a smaller price tag than Copenhagen.
London / Brighton (UK)
Brighton is a mere 90-minute train ride from London, so it is the perfect alternative city to visit while touring the UK. Brighton is home to less than 300,000 people, so it is much less hectic and crowded than London but still offers high-quality attractions and places to visit.
Being a coastal city, you’ll be able to visit the beach in Brighton. Something you definitely can’t do in London!
Similar to most coastal cities, Brighton is super laid back and has a relaxed vibe. It is the ideal city to take the time to relax and unwind while on holiday. Aside from the beach and water activities, the must-see attraction in Brighton is without a doubt the Royal Pavilion. The Royal Pavilion was the seaside palace of King George IV before it was later sold by Queen Victoria and was purchased by the City of Brighton. The interior of the Royal Pavilion is unlike any other British palace and is well worth the price of admission alone.
The Lanes is one of the coolest areas in Brighton. It is a series of small, narrow streets and alleyways filled with local shops and boutiques. It is the perfect place to do a little shopping or grab a bite to eat.
Barcelona / Valencia (Spain)
Instead of busy Barcelona, try going 3 hours south to Spain’s 3rd largest city – Valencia. Valencia has the metropolitan feel, but an added coziness of an old charming Spanish town. It’s even safer than Barcelona, in that, you won’t have to worry so much about theft or pickpocketing.
Some must-see and do things in Valencia include taking a Paella Class (the classic dish of Spain, originating in Valencia), as well as riding bikes through Turia Gardens, one of the largest parks in Spain. There, you can see the gorgeous, futuristic structures at The City of Arts & Sciences campus (picture attached), bike to all of the old towers, and then as well as end your journey at the Bioparc (zoo). The beach here is also very nice.
The most beautiful and trendy neighborhoods to explore include El Carmen (the old city), Russafa (the hipster region), City Center, Benimaclet, and Malvarrosa (the beach). You can find some really great restaurants and cafes to pass the time.
There’s always something to celebrate Valencia, so you might even catch fireworks during March for Las Fallas. This event is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List and includes incredible art structures in the streets that are then lit on fire.
Valencia, Spain is super accessible from Madrid or Barcelona via plane, car, train or bus within 3 hours, depending on the transportation choice.
Venice / Vicenza (Italy)
If you’re thinking about traveling to Verona but are put off by high hotel costs and the swarms of tourists, you should definitely consider going to Vicenza.
Located conveniently halfway in between Venice and Verona, Vicenza is just a 30-40 minute train journey away. And, because it’s still very much under the radar, it’s less crowded with tourists and much more affordable. A perfect day in Vicenza might involve wandering the streets and admiring the exquisite Palladian architecture such as Teatro Olimpico, having a scrumptious fresco meal at Angolo Palladio in Piazza dei Signori, getting the most delicious gelato at Il Gelataio, sipping on a fair few Aperol Spritz at the beach bar Una Spiaggia per Vicenza and ending the day at Monte Berico watching the city lights.
Vicenza might not have the canals of Venice, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site maintains its unique charm unspoiled by mass tourism. It’s a great base to explore the region and save money whilst having an authentic Italian experience.
Istanbul, Turkey / Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Istanbul is one of the most popular cities in the world, but one that can get very busy with tourists. The lines to visit the Hagia Sophia or the blue mosque can be very long and in the bazaar, every stand is selling the same souvenirs. As beautiful as Istanbul is, there are in fact other places that have the same to offer, but then without the crowds.
A 2-hour flight or an 18-hour bus journey brings you from Istanbul to Sarajevo. The capital of Bosnia Herzegovina was once part of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish influence is still very present in the city, especially in the scenic old town. If you walk in the cobbled stoned streets it’s like a journey back to Ottoman times. The mosques may not be as big as the ones in Istanbul, but the architecture is very much alike.
The other Turkish influence is visible in the food scene. Sarajevo has a nice tea-house culture with lots of cute cafes serving tea and sweets like baklava. There is also no shortage of restaurants serving traditional Bosnian cuisine. From the filled pastries called Burek to the popular snack called Cevapcici which is basically the Bosnian version of kebab.
Besides exploring the old town and trying Bosnian cuisine there is much more to see in Sarajevo. With its scenic location in the mountains, there are plenty of things to do in Sarajevo such as taking the cable car up to Mount Trebevic or walk up the hill to the yellow fortress for beautiful views over the city.
Paris / Chamonix (France)
Everyone either dreams about visiting Paris, or has already been to this famous capital of France. From all the movies and the magazines, you know just what to expect: Shopping, museums, sidewalk cafes, gourmet dinners and buttery croissants for breakfast. However, if you are more comfortable in hiking boots over high heels, we have a suggestion for a less-known alternative to the “City of Lights” where you could just as well spend your next French getaway!
Tucked away in a valley in the French Alps, you find the cozy little town of Chamonix. What it lacks in size, it easily makes up for in terms of pristine mountain scenery and adventure. There’s an abundance of hiking trails in the area, most famous of which is the legendary 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc trek. If mountain biking is more your thing, it just so happens to be one of the best places in the world for it. Paragliding is a popular pastime of the local residents too and so is rock climbing. It really is an outdoor lover’s paradise.
For the less adventurous, you can simply take the gondola to the top of the almost 4,000 meter Aiguille du Midi for out-of-this-world vistas of snow-capped mountains, including Mont Blanc. You can even see into Italy and Switzerland! There’s much more to see and do in Chamonix, but don’t just take it from us, go visit for yourself. The easiest way is to hop in a plane bound for Geneva. You can also drive (or take a train) from Paris but expect to spend a good 5-6 hours. However, this is a small price to pay for the wonders that await in the Alps – surely one of the most amazing natural landscapes in all of Europe.
Athens/ Thessaloniki (Greece)
Thessaloniki has a long history of coming in runner-up. Under the Eastern Roman Empire, it was the second-biggest city after Constantinople – a legacy that has afforded modern-day Thessaloniki plenty of ruins (including triumphal arches and a hippodrome), now woven in seamlessly with the apartment blocks downtown.
Nowadays, Thessaloniki comes in second place again as Greece’s second-largest metropolis after Athens. While there’s no comparison to the history of ancient Athens, as a city destination, Thessaloniki is a great alternative to the capital.
Located in the north of Greece roughly 500km (or 5.5 hours’ drive) from Athens, Thessaloniki is a port settlement that has bared witness to a history all of its own. From the city’s longstanding Jewish community to the epoch of Ottoman conquest, there’s a wonderful mix of cultures and influences to behold. As a bonus, Thessaloniki is generally considered quieter, cleaner, and a lot less touristy than Athens – making it particularly appealing to slow travelers and families.
Must-do activities in Thessaloniki include gorging on local cuisine (including the signature dessert, bougatsa), walking along the waterfront promenade and visiting the White Tower and the Rotunda, and climbing up the old fortification walls to watch the sunset over the Gulf. You can easily spend a morning exploring the historic market area, which is now crowded with delicatessens and family-run stores that trade in local provisions.
Thessaloniki is well-placed for excursions around Northern Greece. Even Meteora can be visited on a long day trip.
Rome / Tuscia (Italy)
In the towns and villages of Tuscia, you’ll discover the life of the ancient Etruscans through art, necropoli, architecture, and, of course, food. Trust me when I tell you – 90% of the tourist-oriented restaurants you’ll find in Rome could not hold water to the dining options you’ll find in these small cities and villages of Tuscia. And with travel time of less than two hours from the Eternal City, it’s an easily accessible region.
Comprising this region are some of the most beautiful medieval villages and enchanted forests you’ll ever see in Italy. There are many hidden gems in Tuscia. Some places worth noting – Viterbo itself, Blera, Barbarano Romano, Bolsena, Bomarzo, Vetralla, Monterano Antica, Tarquinia, Civita di Bagnoregio, and many more. Set up a base in one of these gorgeous villages, rent a car, and set out to explore the area to experience the real Italy.
Berlin / Hamburg (Germany)
It turns out that Hamburg is an amazing city, and I totally overlooked it! I find the architecture all over Hamburg to be absolutely beautiful, and it’s still a city but much smaller and more manageable than Berlin, in my opinion. This makes it a lot quicker to get around! There are lovely parks everywhere, it feels so safe, the beautiful Alster Lakes are right in the center of the city, and I found it quite clean. Yes, Berlin has nightlife, but Hamburg has Reeperbahn, a long street with tons of bars and clubs, as well as lots of cool chill bars.
See the view from St. Michael’s Church – This is arguably the best view you’ll find in Hamburg. You can see 5 of Hamburg’s other churches, along with the Elbphilharmonie, the beautiful concert hall. It’s €5 to go to the top, and worth every cent.
Visit Miniatur Wunderland – Let me preface this by saying I am NOT a train person and was not at all excited. But it was so fun! You’ll find miniature models of different cities, railways, and attractions, and everything is so incredibly detailed.
Check out Reeperbahn – This is basically Germany’s version of Vegas, in my opinion! Even if that’s not your scene, it’s still fun to check out. You’ll also find Beatles-Platz there, a tribute to The Beatles.
It’s quite easy to get to Hamburg. You can either fly directly there or into one of the other airports in Frankfurt or Berlin. From there, Hamburg is an easy train or bus ride away!
Prague / Olomouc (Czech Republic)
Prague is one of the most amazing cities in Europe. The city offers many tourist attractions as well as hidden gems yet to be discovered. However, the compact Old Town cannot bear the crowds of tourists, which flood it every summer. Especially if you plan to visit the Czech capital in the high season, look for alternatives. Olomouc is best suited for that, in my opinion.
Olomouc is the 6th largest city in the Czech Republic located in the East of the country. It takes only 2-3 hours to get there from Prague with train connections being direct and frequent.
Olomouc too can boast having a UNESCO listing under its belt. The Holy Trinity Column located right in the city center is enormous in size and belongs to one of the best attractions in Olomouc. But there’s more – even an astronomical clock!
The whole historical heart of the town is picturesque and worth strolling around. You can see a number of churches of various architectural styles, most notably Gothic and Baroque. In addition, a series of 16 Baroque fountains dot the city.
Apart from historical monuments, Olomouc is also rich in green spaces. Parks encircle the whole wider city center. The park Bezručovy follows a charming little creek and the peace you’ll find there can hardly be beat.
Café-hopping is another fun activity to engage in while in Olomouc. Will you go for the hip Café Jak Lusk, a family-oriented one in a forest-like setting called V else, or for the outdoorsy Long Story Short Café located in a hostel of the same name?
Zurich, Switzerland / Vaduz, Liechtenstein
If you’re looking for a beautiful, historic, and interesting trip to the Alps, skip Zurich, Switzerland, and head to Vaduz, Liechtenstein instead.
Little Liechtenstein consistently gets looked over because, well, it’s tiny. It’s actually the 6th smallest country in the world and the 4th smallest in Europe.
Leave the hectic city life of Zurich behind and head to the much-less-visited capital of Liechtenstein for castles, amazing food, gorgeous Alpine scenery, hiking, and some really interesting museums.
Vaduz, Liechtenstein is only about an hour and a half from Zurich (by train and bus) and just an hour by car. And when you get there, it’ll feel like you’re a thousand miles away. Hardly any tourists visit this beautiful capital and everything is clean, crisp, and efficient.
In Vaduz, you have a multitude of museums to choose from, such as: the Postal Museum, the Liechtenstein National Museum, and the Treasure Chamber. And if museums aren’t your thing, you can take the chairlift up to the mountains for amazing views, birds of prey shows, some light hiking, or just to sample the local cuisine on a cliff-side patio. But whatever you do in Vaduz, make sure to stop by the tourist office to get your passport stamped.
The most popular of all things to do in Liechtenstein, however, is to hike up to Vaduz Castle. Though the Prince of Liechtenstein lives there and you can’t go in, you can still easily walk to the castle from Vaduz center and get some great up-close pictures.
Dublin / Galway (Ireland)
Skip the crowds in Dublin and head to the Wild Atlantic Way, instead! Galway is a smaller and less crowded city than Dublin, but with everything you need to get your lucky charms off. Check out the Salthill Promenade, the Claddaugh, and the many great dining options littered throughout the city. Not only is the city less crowded, it’s also much cheaper! There are a ton of free things to do in Galway.
Not to mention, it makes a perfect base for exploring some of the natural wonders of Western Ireland, including the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, and the Aran Islands. Any of these make for an easy day trip from Galway.
Cancun / Tulum (Mexico)
Cancun is one of the most popular tourist destinations for spring-break travelers, beach lovers, and crazy party-go-ers. Its ideal location bordering the Caribbean Sea meant that it had the clear turquoise water and the white-sand beaches that many can only dream of. That is exactly what I saw on my flight to Cancun as it was flying over the port city of Cancun. Dying with anticipation, I made a straight line to the beaches once I settled in.
Words cannot describe the disappointment I had that day. There were drunk tourists shouting profanities, indifferent to the kids and families around them. The restaurants had subpar “Western” food but cost more than the ones in the United States. People were urinating everywhere on the beach. There was trash littered everywhere. I could write a book about the horrors I saw that day.
After doing some research, I found out about a small town located 2 hours south of Cancun called Tulum. Tulum was everything I wished for affordable authentic Mexican food, beautiful beaches, and filled with culture. When you visit Tulum, you must stop by Tulum Ruins. Historic Mayan ruins built next to the Caribbean Sea, its aesthetics match its interesting history.
If saltwater irritates you, there are plenty of natural cenotes with freshwater in the region. The one cenote you cannot miss is the Gran Cenote.
Filled with trendy cafes and delicious Mexican food, Tulum is also a paradise for foodies. Make sure you stop by Taqueria Honorio for their mouth-watering tacos!
Quito / Cuenca (Ecuador)
While Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, may not be high on the radar in terms of worldwide tourism, most visitors to Ecuador will generally make it a point to hunker down there, either before or after their Galapagos trip. Quito is a beautiful colonial city, sure. But it pales in comparison to its neighbor to the south, Cuenca.
Cuenca has everything going for it – fewer tourists, higher levels of safety, better food. From Cuenca, a day trip to Cajas Parque Nacional is a must-do, as well as exploring the ancient ruins of Ingapirca.
Flying is easiest, as it’s only just over an hour-long flight (and around $70 USD). There are buses available as well, just make sure to stay mindful of your surroundings.
Austin / San Antonio (USA)
While Austin’s star continues to rise and tourists flock to this city in droves, nearby San Antonio is an equally exciting and beautiful city that is well worth your time. You can fly into Austin and make the short drive or fly directly into San Antonio’s small airport. The drive is about an hour and twenty minutes, going through some of Texas’ most beautiful terrain, the Texas Hill Country.
San Antonio is one of the best things to do in the Texas Hill Country and is ideal for the traveler seeking both culture and great food. There is a large Mexican population here and with it, excelling Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. The city is also home to the largest Mexican craft market outside of Mexico in the Historic Market Square.
The River Walk is another must-see, and you’ll probably find yourself here multiple times throughout your visit. There are restaurants galore lining this picturesque riverfront. Sit and enjoy a meal or just a margarita. There are also boat rides with excellent tour guides (some offering meals aboard) riding up and down the river.
For history, the Mission Trail (featuring the world-famous Alamo) is Texas’ only UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are five missions on the trail and while the Alamo is the most popular, try to visit them all for a more complete picture of Texas’ history.
NYC / Providence (USA)
Being a native Rhode Islander, I am a little biased here. But having lived in both cities, I can say, hands-down – GO TO PROVIDENCE! Rhode Island is a remarkable state, and Providence can provide you with all you seek in the Big Apple. Theater, music, food, art – we’ve got it all, without the hoards of tourists.
Seriously, the food scene in Providence is nothing to mess around with. Providence boasts multiple James Beard-nominated chefs, as well as a thriving street food scene. Being home to Rhode Island School of Design, one of the top art schools in the country, your inner-architect, artist, and fashion designer will all be nourished here.
And then, there’s South County. Less than an hour away, discover why Rhode Island’s official nickname is ‘the Ocean State.’ Discover the beautiful beaches and abundant nature in Narragansett, Newport, and Westerly on an easy getaway from the city.
Rhode Island is accessible by bus, train, plane, or car from NYC – all in less than three hours. If you’re completely committed to going to the Big Apple, Providence is an easy day trip from New York.
Mexico City / Oaxaca City (Mexico)
You could easily spend three months in Mexico City and not see it all. As the capital, Mexico City is a cosmopolitan city with more museums, markets, and historical landmarks than you can count. The city itself has a population of about nine million people which extends to an unbelievable 20 million when you account for the metro area! It is the most populous metropolis in the Western Hemisphere.
Instead, travel seven hours by bus to Oaxaca City, another cosmopolitan city, though on a much smaller scale. The area is known for producing mezcal and amazing traditional food. Oaxaca City is much more manageable and vibrant. Plus there are tons of easy day trips outside of the city whether you’re into history, art, mezcal, or simply taking in the beautiful scenery.
Delve deep into the history of the Aztecs at the Monte Alban ruins which are perched on a plateau above the city. Explore the artisanal crafts at the nearby alebrije workshops in San Martín Tilcajete, the black pottery artisans of San Bartolo Coyotepec, or the Zapotec weavers in Teotitlán. And there’s plenty of mezcal to taste on a tour east of the city, towards Mitla.
Or if you’re simply into relaxing in nature, you’ll want to travel to Mitla to catch one of the many camionetas that bring travelers to the stunning petrified waterfalls of San Isidro Roaguía. The pools at Hierve el Agua, as it is named because of the spring that appears to bubble up from the ground, are not hot at all but rather they warm with the sun. The breathtaking scenery of the mountains below will leave you in awe of this stunning alternative to Mexico City.
Hamilton / St. George (Bermuda)
Most visitors to this breathtaking group of Western Atlantic islands tend to focus their time and activities on the main island, near the capital of Hamilton. However, St. George’s (while still on the tourist radar) provides a nice break from the hoards of tourists that swarm Hamilton and the pink sand beaches of the south shore.
St. George’s is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was the first part of Bermuda to be discovered. It is also the former capital!
Here, you’ll find no shortage of military forts, as it is the easternmost island with many lookout stations on the perimeter. The famous Tobacco Bay can also be found on St. George’s.
Getting to St. George’s takes about an hour by bus from Hamilton, or, for a more scenic trip, hop on the ferry!
Phoenix / Tempe (USA)
Tempe is often in the shadow of its next-door neighbor Phoenix, AZ. However, there are so many fun things to do in Tempe, Arizona on a weekend! Tempe is located a stone’s throw away from Phoenix, in fact, they are only 10 miles away from each other.
One of the best things to do in Tempe is to check out the Arizona State University campus. The campus is home to the performance venue, ASU Gammage, and the ASU Art Museum. ASU Gammage is a building by the renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. The venue has various shows throughout the year including concerts, performances, and even Broadway musicals. ASU Art Museum has rotating exhibits that focus on Latin and Native American art as well as contemporary art and ceramics.
Tempe is also amazing for foodies. As an international college town, there are so many types of cuisines in the city. You can take a trip over to “The Spice Trail,” where you’ll find Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indian, and Thai food all along one street, E. Apache Blvd. And of course, if Southwestern is more your thing, Ghost Ranch is super delicious for more Mexican fare.
Tempe Town Lake is also a beautiful spot to visit. You can walk along the bank paths and cross the lake on the Tempe Town Lake Pedestrian Bridge. Kayaking or paddle boating around the lake are also popular activities.
There are so many things to do in Tempe, you might not have to visit Phoenix at all!
Hiroshima / Nagasaki (Japan)
Hiroshima is the fourth most visited city in Japan after Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. It gets quite a bit of tourists! Nagasaki is famous for the same reason as Hiroshima. Both cities were sites of the atomic bombs dropped at the end of World War II. Nagasaki receives fewer visitors than Hiroshima, but it’s well worth your time to visit. Nagasaki has a huge history to explore beyond her atomic history.
First, though, the Atomic Bomb Museum is a serious, thoughtful and incredibly moving place to visit. It will leave you emotionally moved, and for me was a much more thoughtful visit than the museum in Hiroshima. As one of the closest Japanese port cities to the Asian mainland, location formed a huge part of her history. This was the only part of Japan to allow foreigners during the period of National Isolation. Many Dutch and Portuguese traders called Nagasaki home, as is evident in some of the cuisines of Nagasaki.
The city is very accessible, as well. There’s a lot of signage in English, a really helpful tourist office and fabulous (and cheap) streetcars. It’s simple to reach Nagasaki. Just buy a JR Pass and travel on the train from Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or Hiroshima!
Dubai, United Arab Emirates / Muscat, Oman
When people visit the Middle East, they generally flock to Dubai. While Dubai is a gorgeous city, there are other cities in the area that are equally worth visiting. Muscat, Oman is one of them. You can easily get to Muscat from Dubai via car or plane. It’s about a five-hour drive from Dubai or a quick flight over.
Tourists love Dubai for obvious reasons, but I think that the luxury five-star hotels and enormous malls take away from the authentic culture. Muscat is the place to go if you want to experience true Middle Eastern hospitality and culture. Plus, there are fewer tourists in Muscat and you’re able to freely explore the city without being surrounded by heaps of people.
Muscat lies on the Gulf of Oman and is surrounded by mountains and deserts. It’s not hard to find beautiful scenery here. A visit to the Royal Opera House is a must. It’s worth going to just to take a few photos from the outside because the architecture is gorgeous. You should also go to the National Museum to learn more about the rich history. Lastly, don’t forget to stop by Mutrah Souq. You can find everything from jewelry to rugs to jackets in this market.
Whatever you decide to do in Muscat, you won’t be bored.
Taipei / Kaohsiung (Taiwan)
The city of Taipei is a favorite with travelers to East Asia, but if you are looking for an alternative Taiwan city to visit then head to Kaohsiung. Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan and just a 1 and a half hour journey south of Taipei on the Taiwan High-Speed Rail.
There are many things to do in Kaohsiung and you could easily spend 2-3 days in the city non stop sightseeing. Do not miss the gorgeous lotus lake with it’s several large statues and religious shrines that you may have seen on Instagram. Visit the super cool Tiger and Dragon Pagodas – you enter through the dragon’s mouth and out via the tiger’s jaws to increase your good fortune.
Another unmissable sight is the light show at the beautiful dome of light inside Formosa Boulevard MRT Station. It is the ‘world’s largest domed underground station’ and the 4,000 glass piece design took over four years to complete and install.
And finally, head over to Pier 2 art center which is spread over several old industrial warehouses and home to quirky pop-up shops, exhibitions, cool street art, sculptures and dining. There is so much to see here you could easily spend an afternoon exploring the area.
Seoul / Busan (South Korea)
Seoul stands alone as South Korea’s most popular tourist city with over 15 million annual visitors, and rightfully so. The capital city is precariously located mere 70km away from the border with North Korea and offers visitors a chance to tour the demilitarized zone, step back into time at one of the five grand palaces scattered around the city, and leap into the future full of mind-blowing technology.
With so much to offer, why look elsewhere? The answer lies within Busan.
Often regarded as one of the most beautiful in South Korea, this coastal city has loads to offer without the overwhelming density of people in Seoul. Party-goers come here for the beaches, foodies for the fish market, and travelers to experience all that the country’s first-ever established port city encompasses.
Gwangalli Beach – An urban beach escape, it offers stunning views of the Gwangalli Bridge, especially at night!
Busan Tower – Ride to the top of this 120-meter tower to truly appreciate all that Busan has to offer.
Jagalchi Fish Market – World famous for its variety of inventory, be sure to wander the wholesale vendors before enjoying fresh sea urchin!
The most cost-effective and convenient way to reach Busan from Seoul is via KTX train. The journey takes around 2 hours and 40 minutes and can cost between 18 and 50 USD. Otherwise, hop on a 55 minute Jeju Air direct flight for 60-100 USD.
New Dehli / Hyderabad (India)
India is a fascinating country with a unique culture and rich history. It’s been one of the top travel destinations for many travelers all over the world. For first-time travelers, I suppose Delhi is the obvious choice and the first come to mind when they start planning a trip to India. In fact, India is a big country and culturally diverse from north to south; and if you have concerns that if you can handle the chaotic traffic, local food, and the weather of India, I may actually suggest that entering India from other countries apart from Delhi – and move your way to these big cities from the South. In this case, why not Hyderabad?
Hyderabad has newly developed as one of the IT hubs in the country, yet it also has 1,500 years of history from the Iron age, the medieval Qutub Shahi dynasty to the Asaf Jahi dynasty.
Just a day or two is enough to cover the city’s highlights. You simply must begin your journey at the Charminar – the symbol of Hyderabad. Enjoy a cup of chai tea and the Nimrah café & bakery, and explore the Laad Bazaar with over 14,000 shops around the monument. A couple of landmarks, like Makkah Masjid and Chowmahalla Palace, are also nearby.
If you like art, the private collection of Salar Jung Museum will definitely surprise you. End your tour at the Qutb Shahi Tombs and Golconda Fort and learn about the impressive architecture and water system in the 16th century.
After you have experienced what Hyderabad has to offer, you will be much more ready to experience the rest of India like the national landmark, the Taj Mahal.
Sydney / Adelaide (Australia)
Many visitors to Australia experience just one of its capital cities: Sydney. But that means missing out on one of Australia’s best kept secrets – South Australia’s capital city Adelaide! A mere two-hour flight from Sydney and situated between Gulf St Vincent and the Mount Lofty Ranges, this smallish and well-planned city blends urban attractions with a big Aussie country town vibe.
There’s a lot to do in Adelaide’s CBD: shop Rundle Mall and Rundle street; visit the pandas at Adelaide Zoo; stroll through the botanic gardens; cruise the River Torrens; and check out the Art Gallery and Museums. There’s also the Adelaide Festival and Fringe when the city becomes a cultural extravaganza and various other festivals and events throughout the year.
Adelaide is also a foodie’s fantasy with world-class restaurants; regional cuisine; and local produce at the very convenient Adelaide Central Market and several nearby Farmer’s Markets – and the Tasting Australia Festival. With the National Wine Centre, several of Australia’s premier wine regions, and well over 200 cellar doors within easy driving distance, finding something to drink is almost too easy.
Just out of town, head to the Mount Lofty Summit for great views over the city, take in autumn colors or spring flowers at the nearby Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, and visit Cleland or Gorge Wildlife parks for a koala experience.
Or just hit the beaches to see Adelaide’s stunning coastline for yourself. Fish and chips, anyone?
Yangon / Dawei (Myanmar)
As the former capital city of Myanmar, Yangon will likely still remain the main entry point to the country. But don’t linger too long in the albeit shiny city with huge pagodas; it’s too touristy to be enjoyable, traffic is hell, you can’t walk anywhere, and even Buddhist monks have begun hustling for money. This is not the Myanmar experience you want to take back home—go to the kind and breezy Dawei instead.
Dawei is on the southern stretch of Myanmar between Mawlamyine and Myeik. It’s located between the cool Tenasserim Hills and the Dawei River. Across the river, you’ll find the Dawei Peninsula with a wealth of pristine beaches, isolated pagodas, and tranquil fishing villages. If you’re there late in the day, you’ll witness the sun dipping into the Andaman Sea. For an alternate sunset, head eastward to the hills, where you can see our star reflected in rice paddies. To explore those scenic areas, it’s best to rent a scooter via your hotel.
Inside the city, there are quite a few good restaurants for any budget or dietary restriction. Dawei truly has the perfect mix of development, access, and obscurity abroad. If I’m coming back to Myanmar, I’d spend several weeks in Dawei instead of Yangon. Coming from Yangon, you can fly (1h10m), bus (14h), take the slowest train in the world (24h35m) or take your time and enjoy the company of locals by hitchhiking to Dawei in the daytime.
Boracay / Siargao (Philippines)
While Boracay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Philippines, sometimes it’s nice to escape the tourist crowds and check out the alternative destinations in the Philippines, like Siargao Island!
The two islands aren’t exactly near each other, but there are a few daily flights that come in and out of Siargao Island. In all honesty, Siargao isn’t the most well-connected island in the Philippines, but we promise the trip will be worth it.
While travelers are starting to notice how amazing Siargao is, it is still very unknown to the average tourist and hasn’t become overdeveloped. The locals on the island are so welcoming and happy to give you the best tips on where to go and what to do. The best part is that money goes very far on the island.
Siargao is known for its surfing, with over a dozen dedicated spots for the best waves. Even if you’re not a surfer, Cloud 9 platform gives you the opportunity to watch the pros.
To explore beyond Siargao, there are some awesome day trips offered. Our favorite spots to explore on these trips are the Sugba Lagoon, Kawhagan Island and Guyam Island.
When you’re not at the beach, rent a motorbike and explore the island. There are so many secret, hidden spots around the island that you’ll be able to find. Explore neighboring small towns and villages and get a taste of traditional Filipino culture.
So next time you plan your Philippines adventure, make sure to add Siargao to the list.