As travel gets easier and more affordable, so does the likelihood that all those amazing places you hope to visit will be swamped with tourists by the time you’re able to get to them. To help you hit some of the world’s most awesome cities before they’re mobbed by everybody else, we’ve compiled this list of eight of the best that are definitely worth checking out.
A Coruña, Spain
Situated in Spain’s northwestern corner of Galicia, compact and bustling A Coruña is a fascinating city largely untouched by tourists. Perched dramatically upon an elevated spit of land thrust out into the Bay of Biscay, it’s a scenic destination as well and one highly regarded for its food scene and proximity to the much more touristic Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, several of the best beaches in northern Spain, and some of the best wineries in the whole of Europe.
Loads of colonial history, live music, craft beer, and access to the mountains make this friendly college town on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain an ideal getaway for a low-key city break.
Rotterdam, the Netherlands
While gobs of tourist flock to Amsterdam to get kooky in its coffee shops and rowdy in its red light district, savvy seekers of Dutch diversions know to go to Rotterdam. One of Europe’s most modern cities, Rotterdam is a dynamic destination for fans of global cuisine, electric (and eclectic) nightlife, and cosmopolitan living. Plus, it’s less than an hour away from Amsterdam by train with the rest of the country within easy reach as well.
Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Nestled along the banks of the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals in northwest Alabama is a nature lover’s dream. It’s a music lover’s dream too, where a small handful of recording studios have been responsible for some of the biggest hits in popular music over the past half century (Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and the Rolling Stones to name but a very few). Muscle Shoals might be a pretty small town in and of itself — along with close-knit and nearby municipalities of Florence (home of the University of North Alabama), Tuscumbia, and Sheffield — but it’s actually a rather happening place. Visitors here soon find out that, in addition to the great music and outdoor activities, the Shoals is a fantastic destination for golf (Robert Trent Jones Golf Course), modern architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House), and history (Helen Keller’s birthplace).
A key Italian port on the Adriatic Sea that’s all but surrounded by Slovenia, Trieste is a distinctive and dignified little city touched by many cultures but as yet untouched by massive throngs of tourists. Home to illy coffee, Trieste’s café culture is top rate. But let that espresso in an iconic café be only the start of your explorations. Some of the oldest Roman remains outside of Rome can be found here, as well as a delectable array of bars and restaurants. Within a short drive you’ll have access to the wine country of Friuli, the craggy and wild Dolomite mountain range, world-class beaches, ancient villages, and historic Venice.
Like a giant-sized amphitheater on Chile’s Pacific coast, Valparaiso is a stunning setting to admire the sea. Just don’t forget to turn back around to take in the spectacle of the city itself. With its funiculars zipping up and its steep slopes filled with vibrantly painted houses of every color, it’s one of Latin America’s most scenic and immediately recognizable cities. Sure, lots of cruise ships may call Valparaiso a port of call. But most of their passengers disembark for only a few hours while the nearby resort town of Viña del Mar takes in far more overnight guests.
So much of Southeast Asia is packed with tourists – and with good reason! The region is famous for its fiery food, beautiful beaches, and low-cost resorts. Off the well-beaten path but well worth making a beeline for is the capital city of Laos, Vientiane. French colonial architecture, glimmering Buddhist temples, and gorgeously glowing sunsets on the Mekong River are the key eye candy elements here. The population is low (around 200,000), but as the nation’s capital, a number of ‘locals’ are diplomats from around the world stationed at embassies and consulates. And as it’s such a pleasant place to be (low crime, unbelievably gracious people), a number of major development agencies and NGOs keep Vientiane as their regional or even global HQ. So a visit to a local shop may reveal an excellent assortment of French wines, German beers, Japanese cooking ingredients, etc. and a night out on the town could mean sharing a freshly baked pizza as good as any in Italy or more typical Lao dishes – or a mix!
What’s your favorite off-the-radar city? We’d love it if you shared your top choices for urban breaks in the comments.