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Sometimes when traveling, you encounter a destination and say to yourself: “This place is amazing? How come it isn’t at the top of everyone’s travel lists?” Maybe it is a small regional destination that is just coming onto the world stage or maybe it is a massive city that is overlooked in favor of more impressive neighbors. We asked a group of fellow travel writers to name their most under-appreciated travel destinations. The responses delighted us!
Underrated Travel Destinations
Seoul, South Korea
From Jim Cheney at The Tripologist
When people plan trips to Asia, they often think of cities such as Tokyo, Beijing, or Hong Kong. And while all three are amazing places to visit, dismissing Seoul, South Korea would be a huge mistake. Having risen from the ashes of the Korean War 60 years ago, Seoul has transformed itself into one of Asia’s most vibrant cities. Whether you’re looking for history, culture, or even great shopping, Seoul has something for everyone.
However, what surprised me the most when I arrived in Seoul for the first time was the beautiful natural setting the city resides in. Built in a valley between several large hills, the city has spread out over the centuries to encompass those hills, meaning that fantastic hiking and scenic Buddhist temples are a short subway ride away from the city center.
Fortunately, Seoul is starting to get international attention thanks to the growing popularity of Korean pop music and dramas. What was once the hidden gem known only to Asian tourists as started to become more and more known to the world. Hopefully it won’t be underrated for much longer.
San Diego, California
From Elaine Masters at Trip Wellness
San Diego’s touted for its ideal weather and beaches. That’s arguable – I’ve seen too many visitors huddling beneath their beach towels or in the chilly waves to agree. Like anyplace – it shines when conditions are perfect and that may be true more days than not.
What doesn’t get mentioned are the hidden gems that lie just a bit off the usual tourist’s radar: the quirky Highway 101 / surf cities of Solana Beach, Cardiff and Encinitas about ten miles north of downtown; the pan-Asian enclave along Convoy with its foodie heaven Zion, Mitsuya and 99 Ranch markets; the trails through canyons urban and lagoon; cross-cultural treats (wine, cheese, olives, seafood and leisure – traditional and cutting edge) less than an hour away in Guadalupe Valley and diving through staggering kelp forests off from Point Loma with its iconic lighthouse.
Then there’s the music, brewery, culinary and theatrical scenes which punch up weekends no matter your tastes or age.
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
From Murissa Shalapata at The Wanderfull Traveler
The Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada is quickly becoming recognized as a new wine region worthy of both your travel dollars and taste buds. From a city escape to Kelowna with stunning wineries located 15 minutes from downtown and only 45 minutes to Big White Ski Resort for the legendary Okanagan champagne powder or Naramata the small town on the beach with the option to visit 25+ wineries perched on the Naramata Bench, this valley has it all and is the all year round vacation secret Canadians are keeping to themselves.
To help you narrow it down one must see is Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna for the stunning architecture built upon an extinct volcano, summertime dinning over the Okanagan Lake and award winning wine.
From Adelina Wong at Pack Me To
Ljubljana, and all of Slovenia, is a city and country that I highly recommend to those backpacking through Europe. This small country is easily overlooked, but it is definitely worth a visit. It’s a tiny country, but it is beautiful. The capital has all the grandeur of the bigger cities in Europe, and it is much more affordable.
Explore the metelkova area for a strange, but very unique experience. Day and night are two completely different experiences. Stroll the streets along the Ljubljanica River and you’ll think you’ve been whisked away to an Italian city. Beyond the scenery, the food is heavily influenced by its neighbor to the west resulting in delicious Italian foods at extremely reasonable prices.
From Adelina Wong at Pack Me To
Another city often overlooked is Budapest, Hungary. Avoid the tourist crowds and get a more authentic feel of a city in Budapest. It’s grungy and a little dirty, not perfect, but that is what makes it so great. It’s a city that is still finding its identity after so many years under communist rule. Among the crumbling walls are intricately designed buildings, beautiful thermal baths, and delicious foods and pastries.
Plus the nightlife is like no other city, with fantastic ruin bars hidden in the most unlikely of places. Be sure to try palinka – older Hungarians swear by this fruit brandy and believe in its medicinal properties to cure anything.
From Béatrice Bernard-Poulin at Eille La Cheap
Narooma, New South Wales, may technically be on the east coast of Australia – the country’s most visited – but it’s not part of the country’s usual tourist circuit. Even Australians seem to prefer holidaying in Merimbula, a few hours away.
What makes it so special, then? There’s the wonderful Surf Beach, with its turquoise water and beautiful golden sand. Then there’s the golf with a view – I don’t even play golf and I wanted to go. There’s the unbelievable boardwalk – some of which rests directly on the water. There’s the snorkelling, too – getting up close with sea lions is completely unreal. And then there are the gorgeous sunsets over the lake, the perfect excuse to sit by the harbour with a few friends and a bottle of wine.
Maybe Narooma’s anonymity is part of what makes it so special… but I almost want to force travellers to go and discover the magic.
From Jo Fitzsimons at Indiana Jo
Brazil is famous for the Amazon, which encourages many people into dugout canoes to explore the wildlife that waits in the jungle’s interior. What far fewer people appreciate is that Brazil is also home to another exciting habitat with toucan, jaguar and caiman residents. Under explored, the Pantanal has endless potential for adventure and wildlife spotting.
Spend a morning riding horses at a pousada (ranch) and an afternoon fishing for piranhas (strangely, the fish taste like beef when they’re cooked). The journey can be arduous involving buses, boats and off-road jeeps but is likely to be a highlight of your South America trip.
So what do we think are the most overrated travel destinations?
Our fellow travel writers have some terrific suggestions. Naturally, this got us thinking: what are our most under-appreciated travel destinations. We certainly agree with Elaine Masters that San Diego is special, but we’re biased – Laura’s sister lived there and we visit San Diego often. We also agree with Adelina that Budapest, Hungary is extremely special and a place that completely surprised us.
For the last several years, we’ve been extremely impressed with Oman. When we visited Muscat, Oman a few years ago, we were blown away by the history, the culture, the food, and the whole experience of this small nation. Earlier this year, we visited Bratislava, Slovakia and were equally surprised. We didn’t have high expectations for this city, but immediately fell in love with it.
Finally, a city we return to again and again is Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremberg is often overshadowed by its larger neighbor Munich, but the city’s medieval core and impressive city walls never disappoints.
What is the most under-appreciated travel destination? What is your vote for the best underrated travel destinations?
A final note: If you liked this article, you might also enjoy Seven Over-rated Travel Destinations!