Travel can transform the world for the better. It brings economic opportunities and growth to diverse destinations and increases understanding between different people and cultures.
But you can have too much of a good thing. Overtourism can cause real problems when too many people visit the same place at the same time.
How can you help? By thinking twice about where you travel.
Rather than heading for an overcrowded cookie-cutter destination, why not discover an underrated gem?
Here’s an interactive story-map with maps and photos of 30 underrated destinations.
Start exploring by clicking the image below. Bid farewell to overvisited cities and say hello to some great alternatives!
To add this story-map to your website, simply copy and paste the code below:
Learn more about these destinations!
Instead of Bangkok, visit Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai or Koh Lipe.
Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand, located on the Ping River near towering misty mountains. It is a historic city dating back to the late 13th century, with old city walls and even a protective moat!
A cultural hub, Chiang Mai is home to many museums and celebrations such as the Lantern Festival in November and the Flower Festival in February. Its popular night markets are a-buzz with ambiance, arts and crafts, and delicious street food. There are close to 300 temples in and around the city, while nature parks, waterfalls and hiking routes are just a day trip away.
Chiang Rai is more peaceful and laid-back than its sister city Chiang Mai, but it has got its own impressive variety of art, cuisine, music and markets. The modern White Temple is a place unlike any other, with stunning architecture and sculptures that range from the spiritual and surreal to the utterly bizarre. A journey along the Mae Kok River will take you to waterfalls, caves, hot springs and villages nearby.
If island vibes are what you’re after, Koh Lipe is known for its sandy beaches, turquoise waters and colourful tropical fish.
Peace Out, Paris
Instead of Paris, visit Lyon, Bordeaux or Rouen.
Lyon is France’s third-largest city and boasts around 2,000 years of history. It is renowned for its multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites, picturesque architecture from the Renaissance era, beautiful location at the intersection of 2 rivers, and deep dedication to gastronomy. Lyon has more restaurants per inhabitant than any other city in France!
Best known as the wine capital of France (and some say the world!), Bordeaux is a beautiful port city with many different neighborhoods, markets and squares to explore. It has a variety of museums to delight both admirers of the old masters and contemporary art lovers.
Rouen is the charming capital of Normandy, located on the banks of the River Seine in northwestern France. Easily explored on foot, the so-called City of a Hundred Spires is a wonderful place to walk around and marvel at the amazing architecture and green gardens you come across. And when you get tired, a sidewalk cafe is always waiting!
Instead of London, visit Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds.
Manchester is an energetic city with a fantastic music scene, fun museums and art galleries, and a diverse foodie selection. It’s also home to Europe’s third-largest Chinatown and 2 of the world’s most renowned football teams!
Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is built on rolling green hills, making it easy to catch beautiful panoramic views of the city as you walk around and explore. To begin, stroll along the expansive, elegant boulevards of the New Town and enjoy getting lost on the narrow, winding cobblestone streets of the Old Town. Both neighborhoods are UNESCO World Heritage Sites full of history and architectural gems. Wherever you wander, you’re sure to happen upon trendy cafés, traditional pubs, tranquil green spaces and a whole lot of Scottish charm. Plus, you’ll never run out of art galleries and museums to visit!
The buzzing city of Leeds in Yorkshire is beloved for its vibrant independent scenes, ranging from food and drink culture to music, arts and fashion. One of the fastest-growing cities in the UK, Leeds continues to combine old and new in creative and unexpected ways.
Don’t Wait Up, Dubai
Instead of Dubai, visit Abu Dhabi, Sharjah or Ras Al Khaimah.
Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Its beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in the country, is accepting of all visitors, as long as you follow the dress code and act respectfully. It is recommended that you bring sunglasses to see the outside as the white surfaces are literally dazzling in the sunlight! There are also many music festivals and cultural events to enjoy, and the city in general is much less crowded and touristy than glitzy Dubai.
Sharjah is a destination for art and culture, known for its many museums dedicated to Islamic civilization, art, heritage, calligraphy, archaeology, science and more. Al Noor Island is a local public park with gardens and modern art installations as well as a butterfly house with hundreds of species. The magical Rain Room is a permanent high-tech art installation where visitors can walk through a continuous downpour of rain without getting wet.
Ras Al Khaimah has year-long sunshine, long sandy beaches and thousands of years of history. The Hajar Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop and opportunities for excursions.
See Ya, Singapore
Instead of Singapore, visit Taipei (Taiwan), Manila (Philippines) or Vientane (Laos).
Taipei delights visitors with its friendly people, delicious variety of street food, sensational night markets, breathtaking architecture, loads of museums and active nightlife. The capital city of Taiwan is very urban but also has beautiful green spaces and parks. The weather is warm throughout the year, so it’s always a good time to go!
Manila is the Philippines’ centre of culture, business and government, but many tourists skip over it when heading to the country’s many island destinations. The capital is full of things to do and see, from the walled city with Spanish-style buildings to affordable opportunities for shopping, tasty treats and trendy bars. Its location on the west coast makes for spectacular sunsets over the sea.
The French influence is strong in Vientiane, from colonial architecture and wide boulevards to bakeries with baguettes fresh out of the oven. There are also many Buddhist temples, beautiful structures, museums and markets. The capital of Laos is a more relaxed city, for those who want to escape the hustle and bustle.
Catch You Later, Kuala Lumpur
Instead of Kuala Lumpur, visit other Malaysian destinations like Penang, Kuching or Ipoh.
Penang may be best known internationally for its great eats. Malaysian food draws primarily on Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, and the integration of these flavours is even greater than the sum of its parts! The city has also got a rich offering of sights, from the elaborate architecture of colonial George Town to eclectic street art murals, beautiful hiking trails and hidden beaches.
Kuching is the largest city in Malaysian Borneo and serves as a gateway for trips to the rainforest, nature parks, or down the Sarawak River. It’s also a great destination in its own right, with colourful streetscapes that reveal an intricate blending of cultures and historical eras. Cat lovers will be delighted with the local cat statues, cat-themed cafés and even a Cat Museum. There are many different theories on why Kuching is called the Cat City, but whatever the reason, the obsession is real!
Ipoh has a picturesque retro vibe, with beautiful architecture and quirky cafés. Along with its delicious cuisine and street art, top attractions include 3 cave temples where you’ll find Buddha statues surrounded by limestone stalactites and stalagmites.
Nice Knowing You, New York
Instead of New York, visit Chicago (Illinois), Seattle (Washington) or Nashville (Tennessee).
Along with its famous deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs, Chicago’s mouthwatering restaurant culture has made it one of best food cities in America. Want tunes with that? Live music is easy to find at small dive bars, jazz and blues clubs, and lots of legendary venues. The City on the Lake has also got over a dozen swimming beaches and one of the world’s tallest skylines.
Known for its coffee culture, grunge music scene and tech industry, Seattle is also surrounded by water, forests and even a volcano! The Emerald City has everything you’d want from an urban metropolis as well as natural wonders like the vast green wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula.
With Southern charm, beautiful weather and a relaxed front porch culture, Nashville is a friendly American destination that will encourage you to slow down and smell the roses. Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, try some Nashville-style hot chicken and wet your whistle along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.
I’m Out, Istanbul
Instead of Istanbul, try Bursa, Edirne or Konya.
Easy to navigate on foot, Bursa has more than 2,000 years of history and a wide variety of historical and cultural sites to see. Traditionally produced silk in Bursa has been granted a Geographical Indication (GI), so don’t miss the Silk Market! For outdoor activities, head south in the winter for skiing at Mount Uludağ, or north in the summer to swim at the nearby beaches. You can try the local hot springs and Turkish baths all year long.
Edirne, located just across the border from Greece and Bulgaria, was once the capital of the Ottomon Empire. It is home to the impressive Selimiye Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 999 windows (representing the perfection of God) and the second-tallest minarets in the world. Edirne is known across Turkey for its colourful and sweet-smelling soaps that look like pieces of fruit. The area around the 16th-century Ali Pasha Bazaar is a beautiful place to relax and sip some Turkish coffee as you breathe in the local atmosphere.
Konya is located on the ancient Silk Road and has a rich history. Among other things, it is the city of the Whirling Dervishes, who dress completely in white with long skirts that flare out as they spin faster and faster to the sound of rhythmic Islamic hymns. This hypnotic spinning is a form of active meditation and a sight to behold. The order was founded by followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, also known as Mevalana or Rumi, a great spiritual poet and mystic from the 13th century.
Instead of Tokyo, try Kyoto, Yokohama or Sapporo.
Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than a millennium, from 794 to 1868. Known as Japan’s cultural capital, the city has over a dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including several Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. It is also the heart of the geisha culture, so it is not uncommon to see geishas in the city (they are easy to spot!) For more modern tastes, pay a visit to Japan’s largest manga museum while you’re here.
Yokohama is considered one of Japan’s most international and modern cities. It’s also the country’s second-largest metropolis, with 3.7 million inhabitants! Among other highlights, Yokohama has got Japan’s highest skyscraper, one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, and the CupNoodles Museum, dedicated to the joys of instant ramen noodles and the power of creative thinking.
Nature lovers may zip past Sapporo on their way to the celebrated hot springs and mountains of Hokkaido, but the city is certainly worth a visit. Celebrated for its local beer, hairy crab and miso-based ramen, Sapporo is especially spectacular during its Snow Festival each February, featuring unbelievable ice and snow sculptures.
Instead of Antalya, try other coastal Turkish destinations like Alanya, Fethiye or Kas.
Alanya is a sunny seaside town on Turkey’s southern Turquoise Coast. Its picturesque location on a rocky peninsula between the Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean can be best appreciated from the 13th-century castle in the city centre. Cleopatra Beach is a stunning Blue Flag beach and historic spot where Egyptian queen Cleopatra is said to have swum.
Fethiye is surrounded by ancient ruins and beautiful natural land and seascapes. The Lycians ruled the area from 200 BC, leaving behind impressive monuments like the Tomb of Amyntas, which is carved into the face of limestone cliffs. Best beaches include Ölüdeniz Beach and Blue Lagoon, Patara and Butterfly Valley. Boat trips are a popular option, as is paragliding from the top of Mount Babadağ for incredible views over the green hills and sea.
The lovely small town of Kas has the atmosphere and cobblestone streets typical of a coastal village. The town itself is a joy to walk around, with cute cafés, restaurants and shops as well as some small bars and live music spots. Kaputas Beach is famed for its turquoise waters, and the sunken city of Kekova is just a boat ride or kayak trip away.
How’s that for dreamy destinations? On the practical side, remember that an important first step of trip planning is getting your visa.
*Data on millions of overnight international visitors in the top 10 visited cities is from Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index