Traveling to the world’s most well-known sites and cities is a must-do for any prospective traveler. But what if you could have just as meaningful of an experience with a fraction of the tourist crowds if you traveled to the less popular sites?
These 10 cities are up-and-coming travel destinations that are gaining traction with tourists. Put them on your bucket list for 2023, before they become too popular!
1. Bukhara, Uzbekistan
Bukhara is an ancient gem in Central Asia, having served as an important city along the Silk Road trade route over 2,000 years ago. Today, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and maintains its distinct medieval architecture.
Just wandering through the plazas and bazaars of Bukhara will leave you in awe. Some notable landmarks to visit in the city are Kalan Mosque, Mir-i-Arab Madrasa educational center and the Lyab-i-Hauz pool.
When visiting, check out some of the various markets in Bukhara, which majorly exist inside of the many trading domes in the city. Here, you can find handmade artisanal items like embroidered rugs, jewelry, hats, ceramics, and much more. Make sure to stop for a cup of tea at a local tea shop while shopping, as the city is known for its production of exotic herbal teas.
2. Old Bagan, Myanmar
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Bagan, Myanmar has an air of mystery and magic that is hard to find elsewhere. The city is known for having nearly 2,000 ancient temples.
The most famous temple in Bagan, which is a must-see if visiting, is the Shwezigon Pagoda, a large all-gold temple. The temple is stunning both day and night and is incredibly photogenic. Entrance costs around $5 USD and cultural and religious norms require that all visitors remove their shoes upon entering the temple.
One of the most iconic aspects of Old Bagan is its abundance of hot air balloons, which is a must-do activity if visiting. Even if you are not riding in one, the view of them lining the horizon can make for a very unique photo. Hot air balloon season in Old Bagan runs from early October to mid-April, with most rides happening during the early morning. Here, you can see incredible aerial views of Old Bagan, as well as have a very unique and unforgettable travel experience.
3. Puglia, Italy
Everyone has heard of Rome, Venice, and Florence, but have you ever heard of Puglia, Italy? The city is located in the Southeast region of Italy, near the ‘heel’ of the ‘boot’ of the country. There is endless access to crystal blue waters and white sand beaches in Puglia, such as Pescoluse. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit! To have a better view of the marine wildlife of the region, visit the Ionian Dolphin Conservation Center, where you can take a guided tour on a catamaran to view the native dolphins in the wild.
Another special aspect of Puglia which distinguishes it from the rest of Italy is its unique Puglian cuisine. If visiting, make sure to try the traditional dishes of the region such as focaccia bread, taralli, small crispy bread rings, or caciocavallo, a special cheese only produced in southern Italy.
One of the biggest attractions in Puglia is wine tasting. Make sure to book a wine tasting tour at one of the many vineyards in the region to try some of the best wine in the world. In these tours, you can learn about how grapes to make wine are cultivated and the significance of wine in the region while sampling wine and other delicious Italian treats such as olive oil, jam, bread, and cheese.
4. Valparaiso, Chile
Located about an hour and a half drive from Chile’s capital city of Santiago, Valparaiso is a colorful hidden gem that you need to check out. Also known as the “Jewel of South America,” Valparaiso is a quirky coastal city known for its street art, colorfully-painted houses, and fantastic gastronomy.
Just walking through the colorful streets and alleys is enough to keep the curious traveler occupied, but if you want to learn more about the significance of the city, join one of the many free walking tours that are offered daily. Stop at a local bakery on the way, to try some of the typical Chilean baked goods, such as alfajores, or a cookie sandwich with dulce de leche. Pair it with mote con huesillo, a sweet peach nectar drink mixed with husked wheat.
You can also take advantage of the proximity to the coast while visiting Valparaiso by taking a day trip to one of the nearby beaches. There are several to choose from, but some of the best are Playa Laguna Verde, Playa Tunquén, and Playa El Canelillo.
5. Tbilisi, Georgia
The country of Georgia is off the radar for many travelers. Upon visiting, however, you will be enchanted by its capital city, Tbilisi, for its amazing architecture, food, art scene, and incredible hospitality. Tbilisi is quickly becoming more recognized in the traveling world, with a cafe, bar, restaurant, and tourism scene growing in the city.
You can find it all in Tbilisi – the city has access to a historic gothic old town, authentic open-air markets, mountainside hiking, and the Black Sea coast. One of the most unique attractions that the city has to offer is its several sulfur bathhouses. Here, you can take a dip in hot water from local sulfur hot springs in a traditional Ottoman-style bathhouse. There are options for private rooms and full spa experiences.
To get incredible views of the city, ride the Ferris wheel at Mtatsminda Park, an amusement park at the top of Mount Mtatsminda that overlooks the entirety of Tbilisi. The park also has carousels, water slides, and roller coasters.
6. Vigan City, Philippines
Vigan City, located on the Northeastern coast of the Philippines, is the last-standing historic city in the country, which dates back to 16th-century Spanish colonial era.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, you will feel like you were teleported to colonial Europe when visiting Vigan City. Apart from just getting lost in the cobblestone streets and architecture of the city center, there are many things to see and do in Vigan City. One of the city’s biggest draws is its connection to artisanal crafts. A must-visit if traveling to the city is Pagburnayan Jar Factory, which still produces traditional Filipino jars known as burnay using a centuries-old technique.
You cannot leave Vigan City without trying some of their traditional Filipino cuisine, which is a fusion of Latin and Asian. Some must-try dishes are longganisa, a Filipino sweet sausage, or sinanglaw, a traditional beef soup.
7. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Santo Domingo is the first European city to be established in the New World after it was founded by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Today, it is the bustling capital city of the Dominican Republic, located in the Caribbean.
Santo Domingo’s most popular area is its historical district called Zona Colonial, a UNESCO Heritage old Colonial town. Here, you will find an abundance of European architecture, plazas, fountains, and parks. The most notable section of Zona Colonial is Calle Conde, a major pedestrian avenue full of shopping, restaurants, bars, and live music. If you walk through the entire strip, you can reach Plaza España, or Spain Square. Located here is the Alcánzar de Colón, a Renaissance-style palace that was home to the son of Christopher Colombus.
Before leaving, make sure to try some chocolate, as the Dominican Republic is one of the top cocoa-producing countries in the world. Take a chocolate tour with one of the many operators, such as The Kahkow Experience. You can learn how cocoa is grown and produced into chocolate, as well as sample some artisanally crafted chocolate.
8. Kauai, Hawai’i, USA
For a tropical getaway with fewer tourists, consider the less-frequented Hawaiian island of Kauai. It is Hawaii’s fourth largest island, also known as the “Garden Island.” Kauai is a hidden oasis unlike the better-known Honolulu on Oahu Island, with pristine beaches, rainforests, and historical sites. The island is also home to film locations of over 60 movies and TV shows.
For the adventure traveler, Kauai is a paradise, as you have access to endless activities such as ziplining, surfing, paragliding, helicopter tours, and scuba diving. For the non-adrenaline junkie, sink your toes into the white sand beaches along the coasts of the island, such as Hanalei, Kapa’a, and Lihue. The beaches are also a great place to see some of the native wildlife of the island, such as the monk seal and green sea turtle.
Don’t forget to try authentic Hawaiian cuisine when visiting Kauai. One of the biggest staple dishes of Hawai’i is poke, which is raw marinated fish topped on a bowl of rice and fresh or pickled vegetables.
9. Berat, Albania
A hidden gem on the European Balkan coast, Albania will not stay under the radar for much longer. Apart from its capital city of Tirana, the country has many other charming cities, such as Berat. Also known as the “City of a Thousand Windows,” Berat is a great city to just get lost in the mazework of cobblestone streets and hillside medieval houses.
In Berat, you will also find many remnants of the city’s ancient history, such as the Leaden Mosque and Gate of the Pasha, all dating back to the 16th century. You will also find many modern attractions as well, such as coffee shops, restaurants, and bars.
If you enjoy hiking, Berat also has many trails which connect to the city. A must-do is hiking to the top of the peak where the Berat Castle is located, a 13th-century fortress. The hike takes about 30 minutes, with the top giving you amazing panoramic views of Berat, as well as surrounding ancient churches and mosques.
10. Busan, South Korea
Escape the bustle of South Korea’s capital of Seoul to visit the less-frequented city of Busan. Located on the Southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, Busan has the perfect combination of city, coast, and nature.
For the city slicker, check out some of the many urban attractions that the city has to offer, such as Gamecheon. It is a vibrant mural and art hub of Busan, full of cultural streets and labyrinth-like alleys. One unique aspect of Gamecheon is that it offers a scavenger hunt for visitors, where they are offered a map to be stamped at different checkpoints. If all destinations are visited, you can collect a prize!
Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit if visiting Busan, as the city also has access to several scenic beaches. One of the most popular beaches is Haeundae Beach, which has several miles of sandy coastline, frequented by locals and tourists alike. Here, you can enjoy some authentic Korean snacks from one of the nearby stores while watching the sunset on the beach.
If you want to have an authentic and unique travel experience, consider visiting one of these less popular destinations. With fewer tourists, you can have more engaging interactions with locals and other travelers you meet, as well as see enjoy incredible attractions at a fraction of the price!