The 15 non-touristy destinations you absolutely have to visit that made Journey Grit’s list include the walled city of Carcassonne, colorful Cartagena, and urban yet historic Baku.
Tired of the same-old, clichéd vacation spots? I hear ya.
I scavenged through deep corners of the interwebs to come up with a list of non-touristy destinations you absolutely have to visit, especially if you’re tired of the typical vacay spots.
And don’t worry – these spots aren’t middle-of-nowhere remote nor are they difficult to get to.
Ease of transportation and awesome-itinerary potential were the two criteria for my search.
So go ahead – check out these locations and add them to your bucket list!
**And by the way, if you’re loving what you see here and want some more ideas for offbeat destinations, download The Offbeat Bucket List below!**
1. Fes, Morocco
Instead of: Athens, Greece
Vibe: medieval, bustling
Fes is a bit chaotic, especially in the narrow alleyways of the Medina. But that’s what adds to the charm of Fes. Let yourself take wrong turns here (most travelers will say it’s “easy” to get lost in Fes); it’s no fun otherwise (warning: first-timers may want a local guide).
2. Rotorua, New Zealand
Instead of: Banff, Canada
Vibe: laidback, relaxing
Features: hot springs, mud pools
Hot springs? Oh, yes! Much like Banff, Rotorua has plenty of them. Think of Rotorua as a beautiful geothermal playground infused with Maori culture and history, to boot. Rotorua is amazing for an outdoorsy adventure, so don’t expect any big-city feels here.
3. Carcassonne, France
Instead of: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Vibe: medieval, historic
Features: walled city, rocky hills, churches
If you take a look at Carcassonne from afar, it looks a lot like an expanded version of Hogwarts. Yes, it’s fairy-tale-like, a bit dreamy, and full of turrets. In 1997, UNESCO named the city a World Heritage site.
4. Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Instead of: Phuket, Thailand
Vibe: beachy, laidback
Features: longest beach on the planet
You may have heard that Cox’s Bazar has the longest beach on the planet (nearly 75 miles long!). But compared to the beaches of Phuket, Cox’s Bazar’s are a lot less crowded. Most parts aren’t densely populated, so don’t expect any crazy nightlife while you’re here (save for the sparsely-positioned lounges and bars).
5. Lisbon, Portugal
Instead of: Barcelona, Spain
Vibe: coastal, romantic
Features: tram, old gothic style
Lisbon has the best of so many worlds. It’s a coastal town. It’s romantic. And it’s got a bit of an urban sprawl, too. Lisbon’s Tram 28 is pretty famous, so make sure you hitch a ride on it. Another fun fact: Lisbon is also one of Europe’s oldest cities.
6. Hue, Vietnam
Instead of: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Vibe: historic, laidback
Features: ancient tombs, old capital
Hue was the capital of Vietnam during the Nguyen Dynasty, so you absolutely have to visit sites like the Royal Palace. The weather is infamously cloudy and rainy here, but if you look past that road bump, you’ll seriously enjoy the ancient architecture and culture.
7. Yangon, Myanmar
Instead of: Beijing, China
Vibe: spiritual, adventurous
Features: pagodas, temples
Like Hue, Yangon is also a former capital city that is sprawling with ornate Buddhist temples and pagodas. Its weather is a bit peculiar, as it’s sweltering hot year-round. The photo here shows Shwedagon Paya, a Buddhist gem- and diamond-adorned pagoda (it’s also 326 feet tall – approximately 30 stories!).
8. Riga, Latvia
Instead of: Budapest, Hungary
Vibe: vibrant, eclectic
Features: cobblestoned alleyways, Gothic spires
Riga is the capital of Latvia and one online travel magazine called it the “cosmopolitan city Europe forgot.” Even though you’ll spot cobblestones and traditional old-European-city architecture in Riga, it’s got a cool and fresh art-nouveau vibe with some crazy nightlife.
9. Milos, Greece
Instead of: Santorini, Greece
Vibe: beachy, coastal, small-town
Features: rock formations, volcanos
Combine coastline, beach vibes, and ancient archaeology and you have Milos. I know everyone loves themselves a Greek Island, but not everyone loves themselves a crowded Greek Island (myself included). Milos is your primary choice if you want to cut back on crowded destinations like Santorini.
10. Manila, Philippines
Instead of: Bangkok, Thailand
Vibe: urban, exciting
Features: heritage museums, nightlife
Manila is a bit notorious for its slums and has a reputation for being overcrowded. But don’t let that stop you from adding Manila to your offbeat-destination bucket list. Some must-sees: Intramuros and the National Museum.
11. Cartagena, Colómbia
Instead of: Havana, Cuba
Vibe: colorful, exciting
Features: coastlines, plazas, stone walls
If you’re not feeling up for Cabana, try Cartagena instead. Allow yourself to wander in Cartagena because of all the colorful scenery, stone walls, and architecture. A must-visit: an impressive Spanish fortress – Castillo de San Felipe, built to defend the city against pirates in the 16th century – that overlooks the cityscape. The city is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
12. Antwerp, Belgium
Instead of: Paris, France
Vibe: romantic, historical
Features: riverside, shopping
Yes, I know it’s pretty controversial of me to encourage you to visit Antwerp instead of Paris…but hear me out. You can’t replace the Eiffel Tower, but if you’re going for the same reasons: fashion, food, and cute cobble-stoned alleyways, then you’ll get so much of that and more in Antwerp. The city has made some of the world’s top designers and their shopping streets are filled with everything from high-fashion stores to small boutiques to internationally-recognized “fast fashion” brands.
13. Kagoshima, Japan
Instead of: Naples, Italy
Vibe: friendly, “nature” city
Features: active volcano, hot springs
Similarly to how Naples sits at the foot of Vesuvius, Kagoshima has a panoramic view of Sakurajimi, its own active volcano. Kagoshima has a perfect mixture of nature and scenic routes in addition to all the necessities you’d find in an urban environment. If you’re craving adventure after shopping in the ports of Kagoshima, go ahead and take a hike up on one of the trails in Sakurajimi.
14. Utrecht, Netherlands
Instead of: Warsaw, Poland
Vibe: historical, charming
Features: medieval town center, canals
Utrecht is The Netherlands’ fourth largest city, and it’s only 40 minutes by train from the more popular Rotterdam. Like Warsaw, it has a beautiful town center and its own famous cathedral to add to the “must-visit” category of your bucket list. One thing that’s different about Utrecht is that it’s home to many students, giving it that “student-city” feel in some parts.
15. Baku, Azerbaijan
Instead of: Casablanca, Morocco
Vibe: old-and-new, urban
Features: beaches, seaside
With some recent incentives to boost tourism, it comes as no surprise Casablanca may be a bit too over-crowded for visitors craving low-key refuge. If that’s the case for you, Baku is your saving grace. It’s Azerbaijan’s capital and a spookily beautiful mix of East, West, and all things Eurasia – soaring skyscrapers, medieval palaces, and everything in between.
Did I Miss Anything?
So…is there another offbeat and non-touristy destination I forgot to add here? Let me know in the comments below!
And if you haven’t done so yet, make sure to download my Offbeat Bucket List below!