New Orleans (left) and Natchez, Mississippi look pretty alike, don’t they? (Photos: New Orleans Online, Stanton Hall)
The canals of Venice are famous worldwide. And rightfully so. Who doesn’t love a post-pizza gondola ride? Scotland’s famous for its Highland region, which brings in hikers and history buffs alike.
But with fame can come frustration, congestion and expense. Just like the Kardashians, the Scottish Highlands are plagued by people wielding iPhones, and you’ll pay dearly for that gondolier cruise, too.
Never fear. There are other destinations you might not have considered that can give you the same scenery and excitement, without the crowds … and, in some cases, without the expenses.
We sought out lesser-known destinations that would make great substitutes for places you already know and love.
Natchez paddleboat on the Mississippi. (Photo: Mark Morgan/Flickr)
You Love: New Orleans
Check Out: Natchez, Mississippi
Natchez is actually older than New Orleans. In 2016, the town will celebrate its 300th birthday, and thanks to a prime location on the Mississippi River, the town is a melting pot of cultures. From architecture to cuisines to museums, you’ll find African-American, British, Frenc, Native American, and Spanish influences here.
You can … take a horse-drawn carriage tour through the historic downtown.
Definitely eat at … the iconic Fat Mama’s for a famous Mississippi tamale.
Don’t miss … the Natchez City Cemetery. It was established in 1822 and covers approximately 100 acres of land. There are several cemetery tours available, and special cemetery events that sell out every year.
Annecy, France. (Photo: Thinkstock)
You Love: Venice, Italy
Check Out: Annecy, France
Just 22 miles south of Switzerland, the French city of Annecy could easily be mistaken for Venice, thanks to historic buildings, balconies and bridges, all connected by scenic, curving canals.
The most famous photo opp is … the Palais de l’Isle castle on the Thiou Canal. Built in 1132, this building has been everything from a lord’s residence to the town jail. Today, you can visit the history museum that calls it home.
The Thiou Canal … isn’t the only water here, and the Palais de I’lse certainly isn’t the only castle. There are dozens of historic homes and castles throughout the region and the town is adjacent to the massive Lake Annecy.
The Annecy Lake Festival … is held the first Saturday every August, and it’s now the largest pyrotechnics festival in all of Europe. Expect 200,000 people to join you in watching over an hour of colorful explosions set to music.
The dormant volcano of Saba offers incredible outdoor activities. (Photo: Kai Wulf)
You Love: Costa Rica
Check Out: Saba
Costa Rica has great appeal. There are volcanoes for hiking and mountain biking and the coastline allows for surfing and snorkeling. Yet most people don’t realize there’s a very similar Caribbean island called Saba. Officially part of the Netherlands Antilles, this dormant volcano offers incredible hiking and nature, especially on the upper half. The mahogany forests here are littered with wild orchids and other rare plants.
Although you can’t surf on Saba … you can actually hike the Mt. Scenery Volcano and spend time on snorkeling within the same day. This is difficult to do in Costa Rica, since the Arenal Volcano is quite far from the beaches.
Scuba diving on Saba … is possible year round and requires a tour company, since shore diving is impossible based on the underwater terrain. However, the marine wildlife is abundant, including but not limited to five species of shark, Tarpon, Barracuda, and colorful Parrotfish.
Saba is only … a 15-minute flight from the neighboring island of St. Maarten, but it feels world’s away. The island maintains a strict “no franchise” policy, and there are four main villages, all with colorful Victorian-styled cottages.
Sailing off Salt Spring Island. (Photo: John Cameron)
You Love: Nantucket, Massachusetts
Check Out: Salt Spring Island, Canada
Salt Spring Island, off British Columbia’s south coast, is bursting with art studios, galleries, cheese mongers, bakeries, and organic farms. It’s got that old Maritime charm that’s so appealing about Nantucket. Yet there’s a more tribal, island vibe here that makes it distinctly different too.
It’s a great location for … those who love outdoor adventures. From cycling to hiking to kayaking to sailing, Salt Spring is a place that can keep even the most avid traveler busy for a week.
The legendary Saturday Market … sets up shop from May to October. The coolest part is how “local” it really is. In order to get a stall, vendors must bake, make or grow their wares themselves.
Kazbegi, Georgia. (Photo: Jenny Adams)
You Love: The Scottish Highlands
Check Out: Kazbegi, Georgia
Most people don’t throw the country of Georgia on their must-see lists, and that’s a real shame. The scenery is spectacular – from the southern wine country to the coastal Black Sea beaches.
Kazbegi is … the most spectacular region. Located in the north, it’s a three-hour drive from the capital, up a breathtaking rural highway through the Caucasus Mountain range. Bright green cliffs are shrouded in mist and home to wild horses and grazing cattle.
The Gergeti Monastery … is one of the country’s most beautiful old buildings. Perched on a ridge overlooking the town of Stepantsminda, it’s about an hour hike up to the top. Or you can opt for a fun but bouncy, 20-minute ride in an old Soviet Lada truck. When you arrive, the resident monks are more than happy to give you a personalized tour.
The Waldorf Astoria Dubai (Courtesy: Palm Jumeirah)
Love: Las Vegas
Check Out: Dubai
You will not find casinos in this UAE hotspot, but you will find incredible nightlife, the world’s finest hotel properties, beautiful deserts and great food. Sure, it’s expensive. But if you are doing it right, so is Las Vegas.
Visit the … brand new Waldorf Astoria on Palm Jumeirah. With more than 300 rooms, this all-white resort boasts two enormous swimming pools, personal kayaks for guests, multiple restaurants, and a ton of eye candy … a.k.a., the Ferraris frequently parked out front.
Activities are … abundant. Atlantis Resort offers enough waterslides to fill a week and if you head to Dubai in the cooler months, outfitters like Desert Adventures offer a chance to leave this glitzy metropolis for an overnight camel safari or get sky-high in a hot air balloon.
You can drink in Dubai … and the cocktails are on par with London or New York. Visit Iris, the newest rooftop venue at The Oberoi Hotel. It’s got the city’s best views of the famous Burj Khalifa … and the city’s best Margarita.
Hong Kong street food. (Photo: Jenny Adams)
Love: New York City
Check Out: Hong Kong
If you asked New Yorkers what some of the best parts of Manhattan were, you’d likely hear about the food, the nightlife, the culture, the rivers and beaches … and the fact that it goes all night long. If you asked residents in Hong Kong what they love about their town, you’d get the same exact answers
The food scene … rivals any in the world, with dumpling boxes billowing perfumed pork smoke curbside and dim sum shops open at all hours of the day and night. Check out the local places like Dumpling Yuan in the Wan Chai neighborhood or the more popular global options, like Din Tai Fung Dumpling. You can eat well for very, very cheap in Hong Kong.
The Star Ferry … is only a few dollars, too, and it takes you across the beautiful Victoria Harbour. If you take it at 8 pm, you get a free, choreographed lightshow displayed by all the neon buildings.
Hotels are … available at every budget, and public transportation is not only cheap, but fun. You can take one of the vintage streetcars all the way to Shek O, a darling beachside fishing village just 20 minutes from the city.