While some travelers are perfectly content to spend their vacations lounging at a beach resort or on a cruise ship, for others a vacation is only a memorable if the destination is exotic and off the beaten path. For those travelers, we present our list of the world’s top ten hidden travel gems.
10. Guanajuato, Mexico
Most people visit Mexico for two things: beaches and sun. However, travelers willing to venture inland from Mexico’s busy coastal areas are rewarded with the colonial town of Guanajuato. Formerly a major mining town, the hillside city of Guanajuato is now one of the best preserved towns in all of Mexico. It’s located halfway between Mexico City and Guadalajara and its nearest airport is in the city of Leon.
Visiting Guanajuato is like stepping into the elegance of Mexico’s storied past. Many of the streets are pedestrian only and meandering among its tiled-lanes and past its colorful colonial-era mansions and many small plazas is a charming way to experience Mexico.
9. Busan, South Korea
Busan is South Korea’s second largest city and it is located on the southeastern tip of the Korean Peninsula. Often overlooked in favor of the more glamorous Seoul, Busan offers a surprising amount of attractions.
The most striking part of the city is its landscape. It’s located on the sea and situated amongst alpine mountains. The city is large and spread out, with many of the different neighborhoods being separated by mountains and connected via long tunnels. In one mountainous neighborhood, surrounded by pine trees, is the Beomeosa Temple. This temple s considered to be one of Korea’s five great temple complexes and is worth a visit for the views and its relaxed atmosphere.
On the other side of the city, Haeundae Beach is the place to go for swimming, sunbathing and seaside drinking. Once the night falls, students and expats descend upon the area around Kyungsung University for some of the most happening nightlife in all of Korea.
With a high-speed rail line connecting Busan to Seoul in just three-hours, there’s no reason not to visit Busan on any trip to South Korea!
8. Quebec City, Canada
While Quebec City may not seem like the most appealing tourist destination at first glance, it is actually one of North America’s most charming tourist destinations. It’s the only city in North America that still has intact city walls and exploring the small streets and cramped quarters of the city’s Old Town is what makes Quebec City such a special place to visit.
Inside the Old Town and along its small lanes there are plenty of boutique shops, cafes, jazz bars and historical buildings that date back to the early European colonization of Canada. One such building is Le Chateau Frontenac. This magnificent building was built as a luxury hotel in 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Today, it’s still a luxury hotel, though it is now operated by the Fairmont hotel group. Nightly rates begin around $300 CAD, but with old-world charm and luxury offerings that most hotels can only dream of, it just might be worth it!
One interesting time to visit Quebec City is during its Winter Carnival. Every year, over the first two weeks of February, the entire city is transformed into a winter wonderland. There are ice sculptures, events for children and plenty of maple taffy!
7. Suzhou, China
[Also see "Suzhou Travel Guide"]
Suzhou is located on the Yangtze River Delta, just west of Shanghai, and is considered to be among the most charming cities in China. Its main attractions are its classical gardens. Astoundingly, there are almost 70 gardens in the city, eight of which are collectively designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site! The three most famous ones are the Lingering Garden, the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Garden of The Master of The Nets. Be prepared to share the gardens with Chinese tour groups (yes they do that in China as well) but no matter how you look at it, these gardens are the best classical gardens in all of China.
The other attractions in Suzhou are its small canals, historic architecture and tree-lined lanes. One place where tourists can find all of those in abundance is Shan Tang Street. This street dates back to the Tang Dynasty (around 800 AD) and runs alongside the small Shan Tang River. Today its historic buildings are occupied by restaurants, cafes and small shops. It’s a popular place to take boat rides or have tea and though it can get crowded with domestic tour groups, all of the tourists in the world couldn’t take away from the street’s charm.
6. Bundi, India
Bundi is a small city in the Indian state of Rajasthan. But while Rajasthan is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations, Bundi is for the most part free of the tourist hordes that can make some other Rajasthani cities feel like tourist traps.
The main attraction in Bundi is its magnificent hillside fort, which dominates the city’s horizon. Before exploring the fort, travelers have the opportunity to rent sticks from vendors at the base of the hill. These sticks are used to scare away the groups of monkeys that roam the abandoned palatial ruins of the fort. So yes, basically, we’re talking about an abandoned monkey palace. How cool is that?
Another attraction in the city is the Sukh Niwas Palace where Rudyard Kipling wrote his masterpiece ‘Kim’. After a quick visit to this seaside palace, it’s easy to see where Kipling found the inspiration for Kim and also his Jungle Book series. (Please refer back to the monkey palace.)