Travelling is amazing, but over the last decade in particular many destinations have become overrun with people, completely ruining the experience, as well more importantly having an impact on the people who live and work in these destinations. Try visiting Venice or Dubrovnik in August and you’ll see what we mean!
It’s a shame because there are SO many destinations on this planet, that it doesn’t need to be that way. Particularly in a post-COVID world, many people are starting to think more outside of the well-trodden path, and looking for places a little more off-the-beaten track.
We love scouting amazing out-of-the way places, and here are some of our top tips on how to find off-the-beaten track destinations.
Check out the UNESCO World Heritage ‘Tentative’ List
So many people (admittedly us included) are hot on visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites – after all it’s a bit of an atlas of amazing places to go. However many of these can be super crowded (think The Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Venice, Old Town Dubrovnik etc) and as soon as a place gets this status, the tourist crowds generally arrive.
A way to check out some equally amazing gems that are a bit more off-the-beaten track is to visit the UNESCO World Heritage ‘Tentative List’. Here you’ll find a list of 1,776 ‘pending’ sites for adding to the list, across 179 countries.
The cool thing about this is you get to see the sites BEFORE they become hugely popular, and learn about the local history, culture and geographical features without the company of a million others. It’s kind of a best-of-the-best list that are next in line to hit the big time!
Some of the places listed here that we’ve visited and agree they’re totally worth doing include
Auckland volcanic field in New Zealand (literally on our doorstep at home!)
– Ancient sites in Plovdiv – Europe’s oldest city including a massive underground ampitheatre in Bulgaria
Historic Korčula – a beautiful island that’s free from being overrun even in August off the Dalmatian coast of Croatia
The waters and seabed of Fiordland in the South Island of New Zealand
Taormina and it’s ancient theatre in Sicily, Italy
Mdina ancient city with baroque architecture in Malta
The Chocolate Hills – 1,776 natural mounds made of coral on Bohol Island, Philippines
Kekova ancient sunken city and Lycian tombs in Turkey
Cat Ba islands – further out than where the majority of tourists go and where the locals live in in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.
Look for European “Capital of Culture” Destinations
Another cool tip for finding more lesser known and lesser crowded cities to travel in Europe is to pick a destination that’s a designated “European Capital of Culture”.
These are places that are chosen by the EU to showcase European culture but also profile “regenerating cities, breathing new life into a city’s culture, boosting tourism”. In lay persons terms that basically means “a place that’s quite cool, has lots going on, but not yet teeming with people”.
We’ve visited a few of these places in the past and luckily enough sometimes during their year of being a culture capital when there’s lots of events going on. They’ve always been gorgeous – buzzy and vibrant without being overrun with too many people and selfie sticks.
You also definitely get a sense of the local culture and pride the residents have in their town.
Some of the places we’ve visited on this list and really enjoyed include:
Graz in Austria (2003 winner)
Genoa in Italy (2004 winner)
Sibiu in Romania (2007 winner)
Istanbul in Turkey (2010 winner)
Marseille in France (2013 winner)
San Sebastian in Spain (2016 winner)
Valletta in Malta (2018 winner)
Plovdiv in Bulgaria (2019 winner)
Anytime is a good time to visit but in the coming years keep an eye out for some intriguing sounding places like Novi Sad in Serbia (2022), Timișoara in Romania (2023), Bodo in Norway (2024) and Chemnitz in Germany (2026).
The next tip in this series is to go where there is no airport! In our experience, we’ve found that as soon as a place gets an airport then the number of tourists significantly increases.
This tip isn’t necessarily ideal for a one-week vaycay, but if you’re travelling for longer then it’s the way to go, even if it does take longer to get there. Here are five of the many gems we’ve found by following the “no airport” rule:
Kastellorizo Island in Greece – forget your package tour hoards, this stunning island is actually closer to Turkey than the rest of Greece and it’s quite hard to get to from the mainland (we went from Turkey). But that means it remains a bit of a hidden treasure and isn’t overrun with people.
Koh Rong Samloem Island in Cambodia – another place with no cars and only accessible by a catamaran from the mainland. This means it’s super chilled and limited only to those who are willing to seek the island out.
Wadi Rum desert in Jordan – this wilderness is miles from any airport, and the only way in is via hours on a bus or car from the nearest airport. To venture even further into the desert you need a 4WD vehicle or a camel! We went right into the desert, stayed with a Bedouin tribe camping under the stars. It was an incredible experience and worth every moment of a long journey to get there!
Northern Romania – this region isn’t particularly well connected to the rest of Europe by air, so it means you’ll find less tourists and more space to explore the beautiful countryside where they still use horse and carts and marvel at the amazing painted monasteries of the area.
Boipeba Island in Brazil – you have to really want to get to Boipeba to visit, but when you’re there it’s amazing. A picture paradise tropical island with no cars, deserted palm fringed beaches and cute little posadas to stay in. It’s a mission to get there from Salvador and an all day journey – a ferry, two buses, then a 1.5 hour speedboat up the river but that’s what makes it so special and off-the-beaten track.
What’s your best tip for off-the-beaten track travel?