Updated May 29, 2020.
We love them: the underdog, the hidden gem, the secret wonder so few know about that you can feel like it’s your very own! In my travels, I’ve discovered a few places like this. The lesser known destinations that always seem to be overlooked because of more popular nearby destinations that happened to have better politics or better marketing. Well, I’m here to tell you about these incredible wonders. Next time you’re trying to decide where to go to get away from the hustle and bustle, consider one of these underrated destinations!
Alexandria, VA, USA
Why would such a great place like Old Town Alexandria, VA, be overshadowed? Oh yeah, because Washington, D.C., is just across the river! But to me, Alexandria stands on its own. Its history goes further than D.C.’s, and in fact, it’s George Washington’s adopted hometown.
A visit to Alexandria should include a trip to the oldest continuously-operating farmers’ market in the country, a Ghost Tour with Alexandria Colonial Tours, the Apothecary Museum, the Carlyle House, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and Restaurant, and for the more active traveler, a bike ride to Mount Vernon Estate! You may even find one of the original boundary markers for D.C. Alexandria has historical charm, phenomenal restaurants, and in my opinion is the most photographic town in the D.C. area!
I’ll be totally honest and maybe show my ignorance a little bit, but I had never heard of Bratislava until I started researching cities to visit in Eastern Europe. I picked it because it would be a good stopping point between Krakow, Poland, and Prague, Czech Republic. But as soon as I stepped foot off the train, it quickly became one of my favorite cities in the world!
Their history is endlessly interesting, there are more statues here than in any other city in the world (or so they say!), and you can still see one of Napoleon’s cannonballs stuck in the side of one of their historic buildings! Not to mention they have comfort food that made this Southerner swoon. Oh, and multiple castles. Oh, and phenomenal museums. And picturesque ruins overlooking the Danube River. You won’t be disappointed!
Read on: Solo Travel: Bratislava
Easter Island, Chile
Easter Island is the most remote inhabited place in all the world. It’s a mysterious anomaly with its big heads and dead language. Is it worth the trip? I believe so. It’s one of my favorite trips to date in fact! Santiago, Chile, was fine, but Easter Island was a real jewel in the Pacific. The word “epic” keeps coming to mind when I think about our trip there, and I recommend it for nature lovers, history lovers, mystery lovers, conspiracy theorists, island lovers, and anyone who’s up for an adventure!
Read on: 10 Reasons to Visit Easter Island
If ever there was a place that made me feel like a character in a fairytale, it is Estonia. This small Baltic country gave us Skype, but it also boasts castles, medieval city walls, cobblestone streets, marzipan, and a fun, historic apothecary! Not only that, I was pretty sure that at any moment, Robin Hood and Maid Marion would walk around the corner to say hello! Do not skip Estonia on your next European vacation.
Read on: 10 Reasons to Visit Tallinn Estonia
Franz Josef Village, New Zealand
Our recent trip to New Zealand was memorable, fun, beautiful, etc., but one place really stood out as some place we’d like to visit again and stay a while. That place is Franz Josef Village! It’s a hiker’s paradise with trails for every level, and every timeframe from 30 minutes to 8 hours round-trip! Take a helicopter to explore the glacier, relax in the hot pools, eat some amazing Kiwi food, and if you’re lucky, you might see some glowworms! People visit New Zealand’s South Island for Queenstown’s adventurous reputation or Christchurch’s history, but the real beauty and charm is in Franz Josef.
Often skipped over in favor of Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich, or Cologne, Heidelberg is the most beautiful, charming, quaint, cute, historic German town. It was not bombed during World War II, so the historic buildings and streets are intact. It’s only an hour’s train ride from Frankfurt Airport, their Christmas Markets are awesome, and I may have had the best pretzel of my life there. It had cheese baked right on top of it. Oh, and did I mention there’s a medieval castle on a hillside with the largest wine casks in the world inside? It’s true!
Read on: 10 Reasons to Visit Heidelberg
This Baltic country is known for its singing and dancing culture. And its capital city of Riga is renown for its art nouveau architecture! It’s often skipped over in favor of Russia, Germany, France, and other more popular European countries, but that just means a visit to Latvia will allow you to visit any attraction without wasted time in long lines, needing a reservation at the best restaurant in town, and no crowds! The stunning architecture, culture, gardens, monuments, and more rival any other country in Europe. Why not enjoy your European vacation without the crowds?
Read on: 10 Reasons to Visit Riga
The brightest little surprise in Europe is also one of the world’s tiniest countries: Liechtenstein! This sweet country nestled in the Alps between Switzerland and Austria is one of the best-kept secret treasures of Europe. The people are kind and unpretentious, the museums are some of the best I’ve visited, and there is an actual prince who lives in an actual castle on the side of a mountain!
What?! Another Baltic country? Yes. They each deserve their own spot on this list. They are so often overlooked and underrated, I wanted to highlight each of them separately. In fact, Lithuania has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and you can take a hot-air balloon over Trakai Castle at sunrise! Vilnius, the capital city, has some of the most beautiful churches in the world, too. People in Vilnius are very religious, which I found to be refreshing!
Read on: 10 Reasons to Visit Vilnius
O’ahu, HI, USA
What?! O’ahu? As in Hawaii? Yes. This island makes the list not beause it’s unpopular, but because it is grossly underrated. When Steve and I told people we were headed to O’ahu for our first anniversary, you know what most people said? “Ugh! Go to a different island. O’ahu is just a big city with touristy crowds!” Well, that hurt my feelings for poor O’ahu.
After visiting for myself, I can safely say that there is so much more to this island than nay-sayers want you to think. You’ll find history at Pearl Harbor, I’olani Palace, and Nuuanu Pali Lookout (where King Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands). You’ll find incredible snorkeling at Shark’s Cove, Kahe Point Beach Park, and Kuilima Cove. And truthfully, icons are iconic for a reason; try not to enjoy a surf lesson at Waikiki Beach or a sunset dinner at Duke’s! You can be as close or as far as you like from people and the city. You get to choose!
Read on: Hiking Hawaii: O’ahu
St. Kitts and Nevis, Virgin Islands
Aruba, St. Thomas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica… they’re all great Caribbean Islands, but my favorite is St. Kitts and Nevis! Did you know there are twice as many monkeys on the island as people? And they’re green! It was uncrowded, the locals were happy to have us there, and the landscape was incredible! So if you’re looking for an undiscovered prize in the Caribbean Sea, St. Kitts and Nevis is the place for you. Also, did you know Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis?
What city, state, region, or country do YOU think is underrated? Tell me in the comments!
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