Hidden gems: 7 under-the-radar cities you should seriously consider visiting
Pack your bags and check out these destinations that truly inspire wanderlust.
Whether it’s the busy sidewalk cafés of Paris in summer or the instantly recognizable silhouette of the Manhattan skyline, there are certain large metropolises we feel we know intimately even before we’ve ever stepped foot in them. Many of the world’s smaller cities, however, are far less familiar. These seven cities have somehow managed to fly under the tourist radar despite their many charms ... until now. Let's take a tour together!
In any other country, Toulouse would top the tourist agenda. In France, however, this southwestern city is overshadowed by heavy hitters such as Paris, Nice and Lyon. That's a shame as there is a lot to love here in Toulouse, not least its ravishing good looks. Much of its old quarter is built with warm, pink-hued bricks. At the right time on a sunny afternoon, it feels like you are looking at the street scape through rose-tinted glasses. Cultural attractions come in many forms, from a contemporary art gallery occupying an old abattoir to a fine art collection featuring works by Rodin, Rubens and Manet. Food is another highlight here, with dishes blending influences from France and neighboring Spain. Bistros on the quiet backstreets serve up comforting cassoulet; eating this hearty meat and bean stew is like getting a hug on a cold day.
Those who visit Israel’s higher-profile cities may have missed this coastal town. They're missing out because Haifa may just be one of the most beautiful urban destinations not only in Israel, but in the entire Mediterranean region. Israelis have already warmed up to Haifa’s charms, with people from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv increasingly making the journey here for weekend breaks. The superstar attraction in town is the landscaped Baha’i Gardens, whose gorgeously groomed terraces are laid out on the slopes of Mt. Carmel. From the highest terrace, the views over the town, port and glinting Mediterranean Sea are nothing short of head-turning. With sun-drenched beaches, excellent museums and galleries showing everything from contemporary Israeli works to Japanese art, Haifa is well worth a visit.
Feeling lukewarm about Los Angeles? Tired of San Francisco? Ditch the famous West Coast hotspots and head inland to Sedona. This southwestern city is one of the rare places where outdoor fun and urban culture collide. The town itself is packed with galleries, New-Agey shops selling crystals and incense, and a varied range of appetizing dining options. Outside town, the red rock canyons are crisscrossed by some of the best hiking trails in America. Sedona is known for its spiritual energy and, after witnessing one of the crimson desert sunsets and seeing the twinkling stars of the wide night sky, even those staunchly averse to mysticism will have to concede there is just something a little bit magical about this place.
Guimarães doesn’t have much of a reputation outside Portugal, but that is changing. Thanks to a string of high-profile accolades – UNESCO recognition and a year as the European Capital of Culture – the outside world is slowly catching on to the delights of this historic city in Northern Portugal. Guimarães is not just any old city either: it was the original Portuguese capital and the town goes to great lengths to remind visitors of this, with the words “Portugal nasceu aqui” (literally “Portugal was born here”) emblazoned on part of the city walls. Historical clout aside, Guimarães is still a winning destination with serpentine alleys, well-preserved old buildings and odd-shaped plazas filled with café tables. Ancient stone churches and bright airy galleries showcase culture both old and new, while the city’s student population brings some youthful pep to the nightlife and social scenes.
When you’re competing with the likes of Barcelona, Madrid and Seville, it’s hard to wrest the attention of city breakers. But while these larger urban areas compete for the cutting edge, Cádiz happily clings to the past. Inhabited since about 1,100 B.C.E. this salt-worn port town’s tangle of ancient cobbled streets spreads across a peninsula that is almost entirely surrounded by sea; the blue skies above are patrolled by a contingent of squawking gulls. Adding to the allure is excellent seafood, striking sea views and a cheerful laid-back ambiance, which gets dialed to 11 during the city’s famous Los Carnavales celebrations.
San Antonio, Texas
Incoming visitors to Texas tend to go to Austin for music, Houston for performing arts and Dallas for shopping. With these three Texan giants dominating the tourist route, San Antonio doesn’t get much of a look-in. In-the-know travelers, however, will already be familiar with San Antonio’s two biggest tourist draws: the Alamo (the site of a 19th-century battle for Texas independence) and the River Walk (a pedestrianized waterside promenade with cafés and restaurants). Perhaps the biggest draw to San Antonio is its burgeoning food and restaurant scene, exemplified by the buzzy new dining establishments occupying the renovated Pearl Brewery complex. Two of the standouts are charcuterie-focused Cured and the Granary ‘Cue & Brew, which serves up globally-inspired barbecue dishes.
Antwerp, a haven for shoppers and tourists, is famous for its local products. (Photo: Christian Mueller/Shutterstock)
If you haven’t heard of Belgium’s second city, it’s high time you get to know it. Antwerp’s prime river location helped turn it into a shipping hub in the late 15th century and it was – and indeed still is – the capital for the world’s diamond trade. When the wealthy merchants set up shop here, they built a slew of opulent mansions and churches, many of which can still be seen around the attractive Old Town district. These days, it’s a cool, café-filled metropolis. It has a thriving cultural scene that pays equal attention to the artists of old, including the city’s own master Sir Peter Paul Rubens, as it does to contemporary talent. Being a Belgian city, chocolate, beer and twice-cooked Belgium fries (which are thicker than their French counterparts) are, naturally, omnipresent. So too are fresh shrimp, mussels and other tasty delights from the nearby North Sea.
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