The world is a big, beautiful place. Are you familiar with Garzón? How about Marcoola? Neither are most people—at least, not yet. So to satisfy your wanderlust (and desire to avoid the crowds), we’ve compiled a list of locales that have magically managed to stay off the well-beaten tourist path. Though, we can’t guarantee that’ll be the case for much longer. Our advice? Book ASAP.
While Lisbon and Porto are in the middle of a travel boom, that doesn’t mean crowd-averse vacationers should rule out the entire country. With its golden sands, calm atmosphere and fresh seafood, Comporta represents of the best of Portugal. And perhaps most alluring of all are the sunsets that rival those of Santorini.
Essaouira promises plenty of incredible photo ops and surfable swells. “Sadly, its days as a hidden gem might be numbered since Game of Thrones put it squarely on the map,” quips Christie Hudson, senior communications manager at Expedia. Go now, before you have to contend with selfie-stick-wielding tourists.
If Muscat isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. Poised on the Gulf of Oman and backed by the Hajar Mountains, this photogenic capital delivers a hearty dose of splendor, while its man-made marvels—marble facades and graceful domes—are an exercise in understated elegance.
Searching for a Sunshine Coast getaway sans crowds? Marcoola is the laid-back beach town locals want to keep under wraps. Not that we blame ’em. Relaxed vibes, expansive sandy stretches, affordable digs and organic eateries (without wannabe Instagrammers snapping pics of smoothie bowls) deserve protecting. Note: The image above is actually of Mooloolaba, a 15-minute drive from Marcoola—but the fact that we had a hard time finding a photo means this destination is ripe for tourist-free travel.
CAPE KOLKA, LATVIA
Cape Kolka is one of Europe’s best-kept and most beautiful secrets. Haunting in its desolateness yet utterly hypnotic, this relatively unknown destination on the Livonian coast feels otherworldly as the powerful current produced by the clashing of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga crashes on its northern tip.
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
“At first glance, Halifax looks like a clean, waterfront city with harbor views and friendly locals,” says Hudson. While that’s all true, it’s not the full story. This port also boasts craft breweries and a food scene that “could give Vancouver a run for its money in the next couple years.”
The chance to see the Terracotta Warriors IRL is the primary draw of Xi’an. That said, don’t underestimate the power of delicious dumplings. “Book before it gets too busy or access becomes limited by potential government regulations,” urges Joshua Bush, CEO of Avenue Two Travel, a Virtuoso Agency.
Mérida may be the capital of the Yucatán, however from a tourism perspective, it’s been playing second fiddle to the Gulf of Mexico beaches for far too long. This inland city is teeming with Spanish colonial churches and Mayan heritage. To the north are the ruins of Dzibilchaltun and Cenote Xlacah.
Chances are you’ve heard of Anchorage and Fairbanks...how about Seward? It earns top billing as the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, a small (at least by Alaskan standards) but mighty landscape of glaciers, fjords, ice sheets and snow-capped peaks. It also makes a case for kayaking and hiking.
Brest is often overlooked, which is a shame because this city on the Belarusian-Polish border has a lot of selling points. For history buffs, there’s Brest Fortress and the Berestye Archaeological Museum, which displays the remains of a 13th-century Slavic village. Hungry? Savor traditional dishes like potato porridge for a few rubles.
Bhutan is blessed with rugged mountains, lush valleys and centuries-old monasteries. Just be warned that a trip to this remote and peaceful paradise doesn’t come cheap. A strict tourism policy keeps entry exclusive and pricey. Adding to the cost are splurge-worthy stays such as Amankora and Six Senses Bhutan.
Seeking a chill surf escape? Visit Pichilemu to ride the legendary waves. Spend your downtime strolling black sand beaches and watching spectacular sunsets. If that’s not enough to convince you, perhaps an influx of culinary movers and shakers might do the trick?
Red-roofed buildings stand next to sleek skyscrapers in Tbilisi. Just glancing at a few pictures should be enough to pique your interest. But Georgia’s capital is so much more than meets the eye. Dig deeper and you’ll find a fascinating place where brick bathhouses thrive alongside newly built concert halls.
Though it’d be easy to drive past without a second thought, this ghost town turned gastronomic sensation justifies a stop. Fans of tannat and albariño won’t want to miss Bodega Garzón. Plus, you can indulge in regional cuisine and warm hospitality at Francis Mallmann’s hybrid restaurant-hotel concept, El Garzón.
“For those craving a Mediterranean vacation without the high prices of Côte d'Azur or the Italian Riviera, Malta is just the ticket,” says Hudson. Its tiny capital, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is surrounded by cerulean water and features well-preserved landmarks dating back to the late Renaissance.
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO
Mexico has tons to offer beyond beaches and big-name resorts. Perched in the central highlands is San Miguel de Allende, a sanctuary of creativity that’s still clinging to its anonymity—for the moment. Go soon to explore the cobbled streets, craft markets and art galleries.
Ulaanbaatar is a dynamic metropolis that somehow is still hanging onto its last shred of obscurity. Though its wealth of untapped resources, extroverted spirit and, most importantly, an incursion of attention from international jet-setters leads us to believe that’s about to change.
Travelers are catching on to the low-key charms of Vientiane with its tree-lined streets, French colonial buildings and gilded Buddhist temples (Pha That Luang is a national symbol). It’s also a great value with inexpensive eats and Airbnbs starting at $9 (yep) for a private room.
LE GRAU-DU-ROI, FRANCE
If you liked Nice and Marseille, it’s time to give Le Grau-du-Roi a try. From the unspoiled dunes of L'Espiguette Beach to the colorful fishing boats in Port Camargue, this unsung town in the south of France is a holiday haven. And for marine enthusiasts of all ages, there’s the Seaquarium.