Every Continent's Most Underrated Destination
“Nobody goes there anymore — it’s too crowded.”
That one-liner, often attributed to the late baseball player Yogi Berra, doesn’t make much sense, logically speaking. But it does describe a strange syndrome that seems to afflict travel lovers. They want their vacation destinations to have as much natural beauty as the Scottish Highlands, as much culture as Japan’s historic capital and as much incredible food as the Italian countryside. But they don’t want to deal with the hordes of tourists that typically descend on those travel hotspots.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with following the crowd (nearly 40 million people visit Thailand each year for a reason, after all). But there’s nothing wrong with seeking out the road less traveled either.
With that idea in mind, we’ve rounded up the two most underrated, least-visited destinations on every continent — yes, even Antarctica! — to help you plan an epic adventure sans throngs of tourists.
Europe: Bratislava, Slovakia
Poor Bratislava. Sandwiched between the storied capitals of Vienna and Budapest, it receives only a fraction of the visitors that its neighbors get. And yet it’s just as historic and far less expensive.
Can’t-miss attractions include gothic architectural gems like St. Martin’s Cathedral and Bratislava Castle — perched high atop a hill that overlooks the city’s historic town center, where many buildings constructed during the 14th and 15th centuries still stand. Evidence of the city’s communist turn under Soviet rule, meanwhile, can be found in abandoned factories and concrete apartment complexes.
Plus, the city's cultural festivals are among the most exuberant in the world. Between June and September, the particularly excellent Cultural Summer and Castle Festival features genre-spanning music performances, Shakespeare theater shows, slam poetry, dance parties, yoga classes and much more.
Pro tip: Because the city is so close to both Vienna and Budapest (about 50 and 125 miles away, respectively) you could easily fit all three capitals into the same one- or two-week itinerary.
Europe: The Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
It’s been more than 20 years since the Northern Ireland Conflict (a.k.a. The Troubles) ended. And yet, many travelers continue to hold onto the idea that the country is unsafe. In reality, it now has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.
It’s also one of the world’s best road-trip destinations, thanks to the Causeway Coast, a nearly 200-mile-long route that connects Belfast to Londonderry. In between those two cities are crumbling castles, a historic distillery, hiking paths carved into oceanside cliffs, a rope bridge stretching over a 65-foot chasm and even a couple of “Game of Thrones” set locations, including the Dark Hedges, an archway of looming beech trees that stood in for the Kingsroad.
The real standout, though, is the Giant’s Causeway: a unique geological formation that looks more than a little like an enormous staircase leading up to the heavens. And, yes, you can climb it.
North America: Death Valley, United States
Sure, you’ve heard of Death Valley. But have you ever seriously considered visiting?
Maybe it’s because “Death” is part of its name, or because the country’s hottest annual temperatures are often recorded there (in fact, the park holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth, a sweltering 134 degrees Fahrenheit). In any case, the national park attracts far fewer visitors than it ought to — just over 1 million, compared to the many millions who visit fellow California parks Yosemite and Joshua Tree.
And yet, while often overlooked, Death Valley is easily accessible from several major metro areas and spans more than three million acres of land, making it the largest national park in the continental United States.
Because of its size, you can find all sorts of geographical and ecological diversity, from towering sand dunes to labyrinthine caverns to surreal salt flats. And you won’t have to contend with hordes of other tourists while you’re there.
Since you’re probably wondering, yes, those record-setting temperatures are no joke. But visit between October and April, and the weather is perfectly manageable.
North America: Anguilla, the British West Indies
The Caribbean tends to evoke idyllic images of gently swaying palm trees and happy sunbathers sipping frozen drinks by the sea. The region boasts some of the world’s most picturesque beaches and coral reef formations. But it’s also, unfortunately, home to some pretty commercialized port towns — many of which are now dominated by impersonal hotel chains and restaurant franchises.
That’s why Anguilla, a tiny island in the British West Indies, is such a welcome change of pace. It only receives about 70,000 visitors each year (the Dominican Republic, for comparison, gets more than 6 million), even though many travel writers consider its 33 public beaches — particularly those that dot the northern shore of the island, where the water is clearest — among the best in the Caribbean.
But that’s hardly a bad thing. It just means that those who do visit can wander the island without worrying about long lines or crowds at its most popular attractions.
Asia: Luang Prabang, Laos
The phrase “off the beaten path” could have been coined with Luang Prabang in mind. For many years, before an airport was constructed near the city, travelers who wanted to visit were encouraged to charter a boat to cross the Mekong River from Thailand.
There was an upside to the isolation, though: The city’s ancestral culture, cuisine and architecture remained remarkably well-preserved, even as French colonizers laid claim other towns in the region.
Twenty-four years ago, Luang Prabang was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, helping to further preserve its charms. If you’re willing to rise at dawn you can still watch a traditional tak bat, or monk’s procession, pass many of the city’s 33 temples, including the magnificent Wat Phon Phao, a golden Buddhist temple tucked into a forest.
Authenticity defines this stuck-in-time city, where you’re more likely to find fried insects at the local markets than American grocery-store staples.
Asia: Palawan, Philippines
In spite of the fact that multipletravelpublications have dubbed Palawan the world’s best or most beautiful island, many people would still be hard-pressed to point to it on a map.
That’s too bad, as Palawan — which, for the record, is located southwest of the largest cluster of Philippine islands, near Brunei — has a lot to recommend it. Here, you’ll find limestone cliffs that overlook aquamarine seas, deep lagoons ringed by colorful coral reefs, and white-sand beaches where sea turtles nest and dolphins can be seen skipping across the waves.
Activities range from boating the underground Cabayugan River, one of the world’s longest subterranean rivers, to (yes) going on safari — in the 1970s, former Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos convinced the Kenyan government to send giraffes, zebras and antelopes to Palawan, and the descendents of those animals still roam freely today.
All that, and the area is surprisingly affordable too. Even rooms at four-starhotels can sometimes be found for under $50 a night. And a day-long tour of the island’s underground cave system, complete with lunch, costs about as much.
South America: Sucre, Bolivia
Nearly 3,000 feet above sea level, in the southern highlands of Bolivia, you’ll find Sucre. Known for its uniformly white-walled, red-roofed buildings, the city is one of the most photogenic in South America. And the Andes Mountains that surround the city are just as picture-perfect – about a 90-minute drive away, there’s a trek called “The Chataquila” that takes you along a stone path that predates the Inca Empire.
Back in the city proper, there are plenty of museums to keep culturally curious travelers busy, from the Museo de Arte Indígena, featuring an extensive collection of indigenous artifacts, to the Museo Eclesiástico de Sucre, home to an enlightening collection of religious artifacts.
And don’t leave town without visiting The Casa de la Libertad, the building where the Venezuelan general Simón Bolivar led the people of Bolivia to secede from the Spanish Empire — when they finally established an independent republic in 1825, they were so grateful they named their country after him.
South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Though it’s located just across the Rio de La Plata from Buenos Aires, Montevideo feels worlds away from Argentina’s boisterous capital. And that’s not a bad thing.
There are few bona-fide skyscrapers in the city, but lots of stately neoclassical buildings painted in surprisingly bold colors. You could easily while away an afternoon walking up and down the city’s lengthy boardwalk, La Rambla, admiring the architecture and watching gaggles of young Uruguayans socialize. (Fum/random fact: Locals can often be seen drinking thermos’ of yerba mate, a national obsession.)
The city’s morning market (Mercado de los Artesanos) and Sunday street fair (Tristán Narvaja) are must-see spots for shopaholics. The Museo Nacional de Artes Visuales is just as essential for art lovers, showcasing the best of Uruguayan art alongside temporary exhibits with a global focus.
Oh, and while you’re in town you should sample at least one chivito, a beef steak sandwich that doubles as Uruguay’s national dish.
Sure, Sydney’s got world-class architecture, and Melbourne has a thriving arts scene. But travelers trekking through the Land Down Under shouldn’t skip Adelaide, the most cosmopolitan city in South Australia. It’s also more affordable than most of the country’s major cities.
Located along the Gulf of Saint Vincent, Adelaide occupies a prime piece of real estate between several beautiful beaches — like the popular Glenelg Beach, which boasts a scenic jetty, surf club and lots of seaside cafes — and the aptly named Mount Lofty Range. The town also earns high marks for its famously picturesque cricket grounds, 150-year-old farmers market, zoo and botanic gardens.
Travel tip: If you’re visiting between May and August, you should set aside some time for snorkeling – hundreds of thousands of giant, color-changing cuttlefish congregate near the South Australian coast around that time, and you can safely swim among them.
More than 9 million people visit Australia each year, but the vast majority never set foot on Tasmania. Everyone who doesn’t make it here is seriously missing out, as this remote island is chock full of spectacular flora and fauna. In fact, more than half of its land mass is protected parkland.
Many of the roughly 500,000 residents of Tasmania live in or around Hobart, a small city with an outsized sense of charm. The largest privately funded museum in the southern hemisphere (the Museum of Old and New Art) can be found just north of the city.
Nearby, there’s also a winery and a hiking path carved into the side of Mount Wellington. And visitors willing to travel a little farther from the area are sure to appreciate the Port Arthur Historic Site, the country’s best-preserved penal colony.
And yes, this is also where you’ll find the famously wild Tasmanian devil, the basis for the Looney Tunes character of the same name. The truly devilish mammal can be found in the wild only on this island.
Africa: São Tomé and Príncipe
Fewer than 15,000 people visit this tiny island-nation located in the Gulf of Guinea each year. But those who do chart a course for its two archipelagos, where rocky spires rise dramatically out of lush jungles, rarely regret it.
In the early 1900s, STP was the world’s largest producer of cocoa. And though its economy is much less robust now than it was then, remnants of this past — in the form of beautiful colonial and art deco buildings — remain in the crumbling but safe city of São Tomé that dominates the island of the same name. São Tomé is also home to the truly staggering Pico Cao Grande, a volcanic mountain looming 1,266 feet above the island, like something out of a fantasy film.
Neighboring Príncipe has remarkably few residents, just about 8,500 (vs. 193,000 on São Tomé) and the unbridled beauty and quiet to show for it. In fact, many of the animals there see so few people that they will walk, or fly, right up to you, completely unafraid. And if you roll out a towel on one of the archipelago’s golden-hued beaches, there’s a decent chance you’ll soon be joined by curious sunbirds or wild pigs.
Africa: Timimoun, Algeria
It’s not all that surprising that Africa’s largest country is among its least visited. For much of the 1990s, Algeria was embroiled in a bloody civil war. The country is politically and economically stable again, though, and those who visit can’t stop raving about the charm of its seaside cities, like historic Algiers, and its impressively well-preserved ancient Roman ruins.
But the country’s biggest draw is the Sahara Desert, where sand fields and dunes stretch as far as the eye can see. Driving through them can feel a bit like trekking across a Martian landscape (in a good way!). And the dusty cities that rise from their hills and valleys, like Timimoun, possess a distinct culture all their own. Take their ochre-colored architecture, for instance — the mud-packed, spiked buildings that rise above the streets of the cities are wholly unlike anything you’re likely to see back home.
Antarctica: Lemaire Channel
Given that it’s hard to get to and harder still to spend the night there, the entirety of Antarctica could be considered an under-visited vacation destination. But the South Pole has actually seen a significant uptick in tourism in recent years, thanks in large part to cruise ships that have begun anchoring off its shores. And now tens of thousands of people visit the continent each year.
Not nearly as many make it to the Lemaire Channel, a seven-mile stretch of icy water that runs between the mountains of Booth Island and the Antarctica Peninsula. Its steep, snowy walls and calm, clear water are so picture-perfect that the channel has become known colloquially as the “Kodak Gap,” after the photography company. Pictures capture reflections as vivid as the real thing.
Lemaire is only accessible when there aren’t many ice floes in the water, though, so reaching it requires a little bit of luck, or patience. Then again, this also makes seeing it all the more special.
Antarctica: Vinson Massif
Every extreme mountain climber has heard of the “Seven Summits.” The highest, of course, is Everest. But the most difficult to reach is Vinson Massif, near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. Rising more than 16,000 feet above sea level, the mountain is located about 750 miles from the South Pole, further into the frigid interior of the continent than most travelers ever go.
Only the most serious climbers should consider tackling the massif, and only then after they’ve spent months training. They should also expect to devote about two weeks and tens of thousands of dollars to the expedition.
But if they manage to reach the summit, they’ll enjoy a few moments of unparalleled views from the top of the world. And bragging rights will be theirs forever.