Ah, vacations. Who can resist the allure of just getting away from it all, even if only for a few short days? There’s something about traveling somewhere new that seems to refresh the body, mind, and spirit. If you’ve got the time and the means, your biggest decision is where to go. It seems like the same tourist spots pop up when you talk about traveling: the Golden Gate Bridge, the Louvre, Walt Disney World. What if you’re looking for something a little less popular, a little less well-tread? Well, I’ve got a few places you might be interested in. Check out my list of Eleven Underrated Travel Destinations.
Your Nearest National Park
I mentioned visiting the great outdoors in my article about scientifically proven ways to improve happiness; in short, research shows that being in nature makes you feel good. When I talk about National Parks, people often think of the big ones like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are actually 58 national parks spread across the grand ol’ United States. There’s probably a lesser-known gem within a few hours of your place, with cheap entry rates and minimal lines at the gate. Don’t forget your 10,234 state parks, either!
Looking for a more exotic, more out-of-the-way locale to get your nature on? I’ve got just the place. Kyrgyzstan, pronounced keer-ge-stan, is a landlocked Central-Asian country covered in absolutely stunning mountains. If you’re into hiking, mountain climbing or mountain biking, this is one of the best places in the world to do it. Prefer winter activities? That’s cool—they’ve also got plenty of opportunities for skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Speaking of mountains, Ladakh is one of India’s lesser-known treasures, nestled way up at 11,500 feet above sea level. If you like stargazing, just imagine viewing those distant suns this much closer, and without the light pollution we’ve all grown so used to. The view of the surrounding Earth from such a height is just as breathtaking. Don’t forget to check out the Buddhist temples while you’re up there. The tranquility is a sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of more familiar Indian travel destinations like Mumbai.
It’s kind of easy to overlook this Midwestern city when you’re considering all the amazing spots in the world to visit. Don’t make that mistake! Cleveland has it all: sports, museums, cultural institutions and some of the best food east of the Mississippi. It’s also pretty cheap as far as travel destinations, with median hotel rates hovering under $250 a night. When you’re done checking out the city, make sure you visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park to get a massive, beautiful dose of nature. You’d never guess such an untouched wilderness was that close to a major city.
Portlandia and its namesake city are a lot of fun, but don’t neglect the Portland of New England. There’s a lot of history to see and a lot of good food to eat. Satisfy your inner historian and latent foodie at the same time by touring the cobblestone streets and restaurants of the Old Port District. Thank me later, or wait until after you’ve visited the Portland Museum of Art.
Want to get lost for a few days in a country that promises serene beaches, breathtaking jungles, awe-inspiring rivers, majestic temples, and bustling bazaars? Oh, and a rich cultural tradition of dance and delicious food? Well, my friends, it may do you well to take a holiday in Cambodia. It’s a safe place these days, but there are plenty of museums and memorials dedicated to the country’s dark times when this just wasn’t so. Cambodia has sights and sites for light-hearted travelers and dark tourists alike.
Madagascar is a nature-lover’s dream. The island nation is technically part of Africa, but is often referred to as the Eighth Continent. This is because Madagascar’s isolated location has given rise to plants and animals unlike anything in the rest of the world. It’s estimated that up to 90% of the non-human life there isn’t found anywhere else, making it practically like visiting another planet. It’s also a pretty low-key place for a vacation, with a very limited number of places for visitors to stay.
If you’d rather hit the African mainland, but aren’t sure which country to check out, Zimbabwe is a good starting point. The country offers a little bit of everything when it comes to tourism in Africa. There are wildlife safaris, ancient cave paintings, and even older ruins. Be sure to check out the gorgeous Victoria Falls, or get a bird’s eye viewpoint of everything from World’s View in the Eastern Highlands mountains.
Norway has been getting more attention from eager travelers in recent years. Oslo and Bergen are the obvious destinations for metropolitan globetrotters, but for those who would prefer to explore the Norwegian countryside, the fjords of the country’s west coast offer an unparalleled experience. Scenic, serene, and dotted with quaint villages and medieval churches, the land of the midnight sun is just the place for a getaway.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to travel around the world to experience the awesome majesty of fjords. The United States has a handful of them, too. Puget Sound is a prime destination for the curious explorer. It’s a fjord system of flooded glacial valleys, full of forested islands where you can hike, ride bikes, or just hang out and relax. When you’re ready to get back to the city, Seattle is just a hop, skip, and jump away.
Winterfell (Castle Ward)
Okay, okay. It’s not the real Winterfell, it’s just the real-life place where they filmed Ned Stark’s final days on Game of Thrones. You can find Castle Ward near the village of Strangford in Northern Ireland. Built in the 18th century, the place is a beautiful piece of history even without its modern HBO fame. Obviously, it’s exploded in popularity since the show first aired. You can even take the “Winterfell Tour” and see a bunch of filming locations. Check it out before more people realize it’s a real place you can visit.
Of course, there are so many other amazing, underrated travel destinations that you or I have never even heard of. That’s what makes them underrated! Let us in on some of your own favorite secret locations in the comments below. (We won’t spill the beans, I promise!)