Top 15 Alternative Travel Destinations
14 March 2016 | Written by Alex Sizer
So you’ve partied in Berlin, taken your photo with the Statue of Liberty in New York, and eaten crepes in Paris more times than you can count? Every time someone suggests a place you should visit, you reply with ‘been there’? If you’re looking for inspiration for your next holiday and are craving something new and exciting, look no further. Here are the top 15 alternative travel destinations that are sure to re-ignite that spark in you…
1. Alentejo Coast, Portugal
If you like the sound of the Algarve – perfect weather, stunning coastline, great swimming – but can’t stand the thought of sharing your holidays with a bunch of other sun-burnt Brits, never fear. The Alentejo coast is here. Hiding in plain sight, just to the west of the Algarve, the Alentejo region boasts majestic cliffs, sparkling blue ocean, and sandy beaches. Sandy beaches which are all but empty.
The Alentejo is untouched by tourism at this point in time. If you like a bit of culture mixed in with your sunbaking, and some great local cuisine and wine with your swimming, get to the Alentejo now before the word gets out.
Croatia is where all the tourists flock for a bit of former-Yugoslavian beach action, but just over the border to the south is the real jewel in the Balkan crown – Montenegro. Here you’ll find the warm blue waters of the Adriatic and the lovely little beaches, but you won’t find the throngs of party-seeking tourists.
Packed within the tiny borders of Montenegro are mountains, lakes, canyons, ancient towns, and beaches. Some of the coastal spots come alive in the summer months with tourists and visitors, but it doesn’t feel crowded or over-run. If you’re looking for a holiday destination that has a little bit of everything and never fails to surprise, Montenegro is the place to go.
3. Chefchaouen, Morocco
History buffs, adventure junkies, foodies, and shopaholics alike will fall in love with Morocco’s Blue City. Perched high up in the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen sticks out like a white and blue thumb from the arid landscape around it. The alleyways and hidden doors of the old town will transport you to a time gone by, making you feel like you’re in a real live version of Aladdin.
Trek through the valleys and gorges up to peaks that afford views all the way out to the Mediterranean Sea. Shop ‘til you drop in the markets and bazaars and fill yourself to the brim on traditional tagines.
4. Wroclaw, Poland
Poland has well and truly established itself as a must-visit Eastern European destination. Very few people have visited the area without spending time in Warsaw or Krakow. Now, Poland’s up-and-coming destination is Wroclaw (pronounced: vrots-wahf).
Wroclaw is a beautiful as Krakow, if not more so, made up of 12 islands connected with over 130 bridges, old architecture and an idyllic market square. It’s a major cultural centre with a vibrant nightlife. Wroclaw allows you to really sink your teeth into Polish culture and history without being surrounded by thousands of other tourists.
5. Gothenburg, Sweden
Gothenburg is the more manageable, friendlier version of Stockholm. With the largest student population in Scandinavia, Gothenburg doesn’t try to be cool, it just is. Funky cafes line the old streets, boats bob in the beautiful harbour, and art fills every available space. Strolling around the neighbourhoods gives you the feel of this nicely polished yet alternatively bohemian Swedish city.
Gothenburg is the place to visit if you want to a Scandinavian holiday without the fuss of a capital city.
6. Pilsen, Czech Republic
Don’t cross off the Czech Republic just because you’ve been to Prague. You still need to visit Pilsen, in western Bohemia. Leave the swanky spa towns behind and pay homage to the birthplace of one of the world’s greatest beers.
Pilsen was always an industrial town and those grungy roots are still evident. It’s like Czech’s answer to Liverpool. In the middle of the sprawling suburbs is a picture-perfect old town ringed by pretty parks. Mingle with the large student population and immerse yourself in the music and arts scene. Whilst you’re throwing back pints of the town’s best product, obviously.
7. Bogota, Colombia
Get to Colombia now, before everyone works out how incredible this country is. Colombia has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of a very bloody few decades, but has struggled to shake off its reputation. The reality is that it’s a country of unmatched hospitality and beauty, and its capital is no different.
One of the best locations for observing and discovering street art, Bogota wears its alternative culture like a badge of honour. Wander the streets of old town La Candelaria to observe centuries of history, eat and drink in any number of world class bars and restaurants, and catch an impossibly vertical funicular to the top of Mount Monseratte for views over the city.
From snow-capped peaks in forest-covered mountains, to the sparkling blue waters of the Ionian Sea – Albania packs a lot in a small space. Left to develop behind the Iron Curtain for four decades without any influence from the outside world, Albania is a country unlike any other. With its own history, culture, and language, you’ve never visited anywhere like this pocket-sized mystery before.
If you’re looking for a cheap beach holiday, look no further than the untouched beauty of the Riviera. History buffs will be stunned by the ancient city of Berat and the impeccable Roman ruins of Butrint. Adventure seekers will be hard pressed to find better hiking than in the untouched wilderness of the Accursed Mountains.
9. Hamburg, Germany
If Berlin is too mainstream for your travel tastes, Hamburg is for you. Part big business hub with its bustling port, part cultural hub with its penchant for anything subversive, Hamburg will intrigue and delight any visitor.
The open halls of the Fischmarkt are home to hundreds of vendors, constant live music, and thousands of local and tourist shoppers. If museums and galleries are your thing, there’s plenty here for you, but if you’re more inclined to discover bars and clubs and party until the wee hours, you’ve picked the right playground.
10. Riga, Latvia
And when it comes to Eastern European party playgrounds, there really doesn’t get much better than the capital of Latvia, Riga. Riga is stamped with the mark of its communist past – in the architecture, but mostly in the attitude of the people making up for lost time. Every night is a party in this city, and anything goes.
Riga is a beautiful city in itself. The old town is beautiful preserved with lovely examples of gothic architecture and grand old churches. Paddle along the canal or visit the vibrant food and flea markets if you manage to get out of bed during the day.
11. Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade is the new Budapest. Our definitions of what is edgy, ‘Eastern’, and undiscovered change all the time. And whilst all the aforementioned cities are still absolute stunners, Belgrade now holds the mantle of the favourite Eastern city to explore before it inevitably becomes ‘mainstream’.
With evidence of its recent bloody history, as well as its World War I and II history, Belgrade’s walls could tell some stories if they could talk. The unique nightlife, dominated by its floating clubs called ‘Splavs’, is unlike anything else in the world. It’s cheap, it’s hip, and it’s beautiful. Get there before all the other tourists take away its edge.
Not quite Asian, not quite European. Old and new. Azerbaijan is a juxtaposition of histories and cultures. And the landscapes are just as variable, spanning the Caucus Mountains to the Caspian Sea. The capital of Baku is a vibrant cosmopolitan city with a UNESCO heritage listed old town, but out in the regional areas are villages untouched by the modern world.
If you’re looking for a true adventure, where speaking English won’t help you a lick and you’ll never know what’s coming next, Azerbaijan is for you.
13. Cappadocia, Turkey
The fascinatingly unique central Turkish region of Cappadocia is sure to enthral and amaze. The valleys of the region are home to special geological formations of cone-shaped rocks, delightfully called ‘fairy chimneys’. To make it even more enchanting, ancient communities carved homes into these formations, making for little cave houses dotted through the valleys. Most hotels are cave hotels, allowing you to sleep in one of these signature Cappadocian rooms.
Get an aerial view of the landscape with a sunrise hot air balloon ride, take a horse ride overland through the valleys, and visit the underground city of Derinkuyu – a 14th century refuge for persecuted locals which is the deepest of the several found throughout the region.
14. Basel, Switzerland
Perched on the Rhine, the medieval old town of Basel is a sight for sore eyes. Fantastic winter carnivals, and museums and galleries open all year round – Basel is the destination for anyone who likes their European towns quaint and beautiful.
Zurich and Geneva are bustling cities, Basel is your peaceful and picturesque Swiss alternative. Anyone looking for the quintessential European city that could be the setting for a fairy-tale will not be disappointed with Basel.
15. Paxos, Greece
Don’t write off the idea of Greek island holiday yet. There are still options not overrun by tourists. Paxos is one of them, and is definitely a highlight. Hidden in the shadow of its bigger Ionian Sea neighbour of Corfu, Paxos (or Paxi in Greek) has maintained its own identity and is far from crowded.
This well-kept secret has everything you want from a Greek island – perfect weather, multiple beach options, old olive groves, and quaint towns. From the food to the people to the accommodation, the word for Paxos is ‘authentic’.
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