Off-the-Radar Cities to Explore in 2018 from Off-the-Radar Cities to Explore in 2018
Off-the-Radar Cities to Explore in 2018
Yes, snapping the perfect Instagram in front of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge or London’s Buckingham Palace offers a nice dose of FOMO to the folks back home. But when you’re ready to glow-up your travel and do the deep-cuts version of global exploration, the basic version of often-visited world spots simply won’t do.
We’ve compiled 25 more off-the-radar options, drawn from our own experiences, experiences of friends and loved ones, and envy-inducing stories read in publications like The New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler, to name a few).
Yes, you’ll find plenty of social media-worthy moments in each of these magical places, but you’ll also likely find quizzical looks conjured by friends and loved ones when you mention upcoming travel plans to places they’ve never heard of.
And in addition to the experiences, cultural understanding, enhanced world view, and memories your travel will bring, the street cred that comes with being the first one in your friend group to visit next year’s hot spot is priceless.
Paris might be on everyone’s go-to travel destination, but don’t dismiss Arles, in the south of France. It's only an hour-and-15-minute flight from the City of Love, so why not add it to your next travel itinerary? An ancient town, Arles is full of historic sites, including Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments — a collection of monuments, including the Arles amphitheatre and the Thermae of Constantine (a Roman bathing complex) — which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Take a Vincent Van Gogh walking tour to see where the artist, who arrived to Arles in 1888 and lived here for a year, created some of his most famous paintings, including Starry Night Over the Rhône and Café Terrace at Night. If Van Gogh’s work isn’t enough to convince you that the city is a masterpiece, we don’t know what will.
When Frank Gehry’s majestic Guggenheim Bilbao opened 20 years ago, there wasn’t a ton else happening in its industrial Basque Country home. Today, that couldn’t be farther from the case. “Starchitecture” buffs can meander along the city’s Nervión River to take in structures by Zaha Hadid, Cesar Pelli, and Philipe Starck (to name a few), while those preferring to eat their way through town can revel in the gastronomic delights of Eneko Atxa’s three Michelin-starred Azurmendi (before or after reveling in a tapas-esque pinxto crawl on the Calle Ledesma, of course). The five-star Gran Hotel Domaine Bilbao, which underwent an extensive renovation in 2017, is nestled within breathing distance of Jeff Koons’ famed puppy sculpture at the museum and itself feels like somewhat of an architectural wonder.
Busan, South Korea
If you’ve spent any time on super-influencer Aimee Song’s Instagram, you already know that Busan — home to her beloved grandmother and the subject of many of her snaps — is kind of where it’s at. Seoul’s art-fueled, more laid back beachside sibling is a haven for street art, architecture, and some of the coolest design festivals in the world. Make sure to enjoy the epic seafood in the city’s coastal Haeundae ‘hood, which is just a quick hop to the Park Hyatt Busan, with its floor-to-ceiling ocean-view windows and Le Labo bathroom products. Score.
Located in northern India, Chandigrah is known for its architectural splendors. Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier’s Capitol Complex, a government compound that was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016, and Pierre Jeanneret’s modern structures for Punjab University are among the design highlights in the capital of Punjab and Haryana. A green city, Chandigrah is home to the Zakir Hussain Rose Garden, the largest rose garden in Asia, and Rock Garden, a sculpture greenery founded by the late Indian artist Nek Chand. The dancing girl sculptures are a must-see at the latter. Then, treat yourself at Oberoi Sukhvilas, a luxury resort and spa surrounded by over 8,000 acres of natural forest.
Ibiza’s smaller, more manageable neighbor has been showing up on quite a few 2018 “must visit" lists because, uh, it’s smaller and more manageable than Ibiza. Those not entirely down for a bottle-service-fueled, yacht-powered holiday can take solace in the relaxed island atmosphere that nods to Formentera’s 1970s heydey as a crystal-watered hippie haven. Ibiza is only about two miles away, so you might see a few yachts, but you won’t find the pounding nightlife that brings so many partiers to that island. Instead, think just-caught seafood and all-day sangria, bars hidden at the end of dirt roads, and pristine sunsets that the entire community seems to come together to enjoy.
The true star of Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl” music video (sorry, Saoirse Ronan), the charming city of Galway is Ireland’s hotspot for lively pubs, vibrant festivals, and the finest selection of seafood. Shops and restaurant that line the area are steeped in history (learn more about it at the Galway City Museum) and inviting for both tourists and locals alike. The city’s bustling pub scene offers the best selection of locally brewed beer and live trad music sessions, so get cozy and indulge. Be sure to also walk the promenade at Salthill, a seaside suburb, and feast on the area’s famous oysters and fish and chips. If you’re visiting Galway during festival season, explore more of the city’s culture at the Galway International Arts Festival and the Galway International Oyster Festival and see why it’s garnered a friendly reputation as a “party town.” Want to take cues from Sheeran’s music video excursion? Play a game of darts (with craft beers in hand, of course) at O’Connor’s Bar or check in to bed and breakfast spot The Herons Rest, where the singer and Ronan shot the video’s ending scene.
Edinburgh may be the star (and capital) of Scotland, but it’s time for Glasgow — the country’s largest city — to take center stage. It’s already home to an epic music scene and some of the biggest musical acts in the world, including Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian, and Chvrches. It's known for its green spaces (its name means “Dear Green Place,” after all), and the city’s gardens (Glasgow Botanic Gardens is a must visit) and parks (Kelvingrove Park, anyone?) are a thing of beauty. Much like its city sibling, Glasgow is surrounded by history. Get a glimpse of Gothic architecture at the Glasgow Cathedral or walk along the Italian Carrara marble staircase at the City Chambers.
For years, Costa Rica has been the Central American destination du jour. Now, Nicaragua — Costa Rica’s northern neighbor — is gaining momentum as a getaway for in-the-know travelers looking for a less expensive, less touristy, but equally as lush and transformative getaway. Less than an hour's drive from the capital city of Manguaga lies the lovely colonial city of Granada, complete with pastel-hued homes that remind one of a jar of Jordan almonds, cathedrals dating back to the 1500s, a bustling food scene (the California-inspired Garden Café, set in a colonial courtyard home, and the similarly situated Espressonista are not to be missed), and an active, visitors-encouraged volcano a mere half dozen miles outside of town. Stay at the Tribal Hotel, a seven-room design-focused boutique property owned by New York restaurateur Jean-Marc Houmard that serves one of the loveliest complimentary poolside breakfasts in recent memory.
Back in December 2017, Karl Lagerfeld showed his 2018 Chanel Métiers d’Art collection in Germany’s second largest city — also his hometown — and this hotbed of architecture and design officially earned a coveted place on the gliteratti’s jetset radar. With the opening of the Elbphilharmonie — the otherworldly Port of Hamburg-adjacent concert hall designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron (and also the site of Chanel’s runway) — a remarkable riverside promenade designed by the late Zaha Hadid and the opening of the Fontenary, the city’s first five-star hotel in 18 years (which comes complete with its Lakeside restaurant helmed by Michelin-starred Fat Duck alum Cornelius Speinle), it’s time to get to Germany’s north, stat.
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Australia has been having something of a moment ever since Conde Nast Traveler named it its top destination for 2016 — and anyone who has ever experienced Sydney’s views or Melbourne’s coffee knows why. But further south at what feels the edge of the world, wild, rugged Tasmania’s capital city of Hobart is the unexpected keeper of some of the most inventive cooking (Franklin, this means you), smooth single-malt whiskey, and thought-provoking contemporary art to be found in the country. The small but mighty city is doable in a long weekend (though you should tack on a few days, rent a car, and explore the remote, nature-filled island state while you’re there), but make sure to carve out an entire day to roam MONA, the epic art museum (nay, experience) founded by Australian millionaire David Walsh in 2001 that will likely put many of your Stateside culture experiences to shame.
Seemingly pulled straight out of a fairy tale, this fortified trading town on the Mediterranean coast is well-stocked with historic monuments and medieval architecture. (Its narrow streets are also notoriously full of cats, and there's even a feline-focused museum.) Climb the 1,355 steps to the top of Saint John’s Fortress to see a sweep of the city’s churches, cathedrals, and famous clocktower. Visiting history buffs would enjoy a stay at Hotel Cattaro, which occupies three preserved but renovated relics: the Rector’s Palace, Napoleon Theatre, and Town Guard Tower. It also offers its guests breathtaking bayside views and authentic maritime memorabilia.
La Paz, Bolivia
At 12,000 feet above sea level, La Paz lies on top of the Andes’ Altiplano plateau, making it the highest capital city in the world. The altitude isn’t the only reason worth visiting the Bolivian city, though. Its gastronomic offering will make your mouth water, from the silky palm marrow with charque and egg yolk dish at fine-dining restaurant Gustu (opened by Noma co-founder Claus Meyer in 2013) to the traditional Bolivian cuisine at Jorge Montesinos’ El Vagon del Sur. If you’re into combat sports, cholita wrestling — Aymara women dressed in colorful costumes battling it out in the ring — is a popular local attraction on Sundays at the Multifuncional de la Ceja de El Alto. We also recommend walking through Calle Jaen, a charming preserved colonial street that’s lined with museums and boutiques. Don’t worry about getting around — the introduction of Mi Teleférico, the world’s longest cable car network, makes exploring the city easier than ever.
Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa
Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, is better known as a pit stop than a go-to destination for travelers, but that doesn’t mean it lacks in sights and sounds. Once known as a small fishing village on the Lilongwe River, the city has evolved into two main areas: the historic Old Town in the south filled with roadside markets and shops, and the modern Capital City in the north, where hotels, banks and government offices are located. Between the old and new towns, off Kenyatta Road, you’ll find Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, a wildlife sanctuary where you can go on guided tours or walk along the wilderness trails. End your evening at the Kumbali Cultural Village, where you can enjoy a traditional Malawian dinner and check out traditional Malawian dancing and drumming. Then check in to the Kumbali Country Lodge, a private lodge based on a 1600-acre forest reserve and dairy farm, where each room features its own entrance and private veranda.
Japan’s island town of Naoshima is an art and architecture wonderland. Boasting underground galleries and breathtaking seaside views, the remote island itself is somewhat of an art installation. Naoshima, dubbed “Ando Island” by visitors, features stunning building designs by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando (who, naturally, has a museum dedicated to him here). Art enthusiasts will appreciate the Chichu Art Museum (which houses some of Claude Monet’s famous water lily paintings), Lee Ufan Museum, and Benesse House (a modern art museum that also doubles as a resort hotel). A giant pumpkin installation by Yayoi Kusama (you may have waited hours in line to get a glimpse of her “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition at Los Angeles’s Broad Museum) is also a must-see. If you want to explore Japan but avoid the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Osaka, and the country’s other urban areas, Naoshima is the perfect getaway.
Sure, Lisbon is the best known of Portugal’s cities. But this lesser-known UNESCO heritage city (where — fun fact — J.K. Rowling taught English in the 1990s) is undergoing a major modern renaissance complete with the design-minded accommodations, open-kitchen eateries, and independent bookstores befitting an about-to-drop tourism boom. Lisbon’s cooler cousin boats an array of mercearias (that’s grocery stores) that make it easy to sample the sausages, wines, and other consumable treasures to be found (don’t miss the sun dried pine nuts at Comer e Chorar por Mais, a charming circa-1912 shop). Book a wine tour up the Douro, partly by boat, for scenery and samples of the rich Port that takes its name from the city. Make sure to hit the area surrounding Rua de Miguel Bombarda, the city’s buzzy arts district, where there's nary a chain store in sight.
Yes, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are two Brazilian destinations on everybody’s bucket list. But beyond these usual overcrowded go-tos sits the vibrant, Bahian city of Salvador, the country’s first capital, overflowing with Afro-Brazilian culture. Its massive Carnaval celebrations blast axé beats — a unique blend of samba and reggae — and its numerous beaches each tout a specific specialty (from fishing in Barra to watching sea turtles hatch in Praia do Forte). The seaside city’s signature dishes include acaraje (bean and shrimp fritters) and moqueca (shrimp stew with coconut milk and tomatoes). Be sure to stroll through the historic, cobblestone streets of Pelourinho to see demonstrations of capoeira (the local martial art), seventeenth-century architectur,e and gold-toned churches (whoa, São Francisco Cathedral).
Samarkand, one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia, has over 2,700 years of storied history within its walls. Located on the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, the city offers majestic sights of ancient monuments and towering mosques decorated with vibrant mosaics (you'll want to get your camera ready). At the heart of Samarkand, you’ll find the Registan Square, an architectural wonder bordered by three ornate madrasas (Islamic religious schools). The public square, a must-see destination for first-time visitors, landed the city on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2001.
With its beautiful landmarks (like the Alcazar), vibrant flamenco culture, and mouth-watering culinary scene, it’s no wonder Seville — the capital of Andalusia in southern Spain — was named Lonely Planet’s best city to visit in 2018. It’s easy to get around town, thanks to its extensive bus, tram, and metro systems. Popular attractions include the Plaza de España, an open-air square featuring fountains, gardens, and colorful ceramic tile murals; Metropol Parasol, a Jürgen Mayer-designed wooden structure that houses a market, café, and concert space — plus a winding walkway that gives way to one of the best views of the city; and Torre del Oro (“Tower of Gold”), a thirteenth-century military watchtower along the Guadalquivir River. Of course, a visit to Seville isn’t complete without indulging in the local cuisine. Might we suggest checking out El Rinconcillo, the oldest bar in Seville, for its delicious tapas. (Chorizo tortilla? Yum.)
While many globetrotters who come to this Adriatic nation touch down only in Dubrovnik, explorers of Croatia would be remiss to skip Split. The Dalmatian destination is the country’s second-largest city, still preserving its Roman ruins alongside its modern architecture. Though it has a slew of museums and galleries, its main attraction is Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to A.D. 295 and is today home to over 3,000 locals. After purchasing a few bottles of good olive oil from Uje Oil Bar, enjoy a stroll along the tree-lined Riva waterfront promenade or take a swim in the tides of Bacvice beach. At the end of the day, don’t sleep on Split (because the nightclub scene is lit).
The largest and capital city of this Eastern European nation happens to look like something out of a story book. But don’t let Tallinn’s cobblestoned streets, wood-paneled pubs, and perfectly preserved thirteenth century architecture fool you. Ever since emerging from Soviet rule in 1991, this Baltic nation has emerged as one of Europe’s most sophisticated, complete with a bustling tech scene (Skype was developed here), a well-regarded and relatively low cost “New-Nordic” fine dining scene, and day-into-night nightlife (think evenings that don't end till 4 p.m. the next day) that attracts some of the world’s biggest DJs. Visitors can revel in the charm of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town at Schlosse Hotel, a luxury boutique property housed inside a renovated medieval tower, or Hotel Palace, which dates back to the 1930s and features paintings by noted Estonian landscape artist Konrad Magi on bedroom headboards.
An important Moroccan port city from the 1920s to ‘50s, Tangier is experiencing a revival of sorts. The city, located in northwestern Morocco, has introduced a few major developments, including the Tanger City Center, a luxury living and shopping space overlooking the Bay of Tangier, and the Stade Ibn Batouta sports stadium. But the real allure of Tangier comes from its cafés, bars, and shops. Stop by the Tangerinn, a bar at Hotel El Muniria, where American author William S. Burroughs wrote “Naked Lunch” (1959), or chill out with a cup of tea at Café Hafa, an iconic spot perched on the coast of the Strait of Gibraltar. After a long day of wandering the city, check into Hotel Nord-Pinus and relax on its rooftop terrace with a view of the Spanish coast.
Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, lies on the banks of the Kura River, which runs through the Caucasus Mountains. Accessible via a direct flight from London’s Gatwick Airport, the ancient city features several notable monuments, including the Narikala fortress from the fourth century and the Church of Metekhi, which sits on a cliff overlooking the Mtkvari River. Dine at local favorite Shavi Lomi (translation: Black Lion), located in the Sololaki district, and enjoy Georgian dishes like pkhali (a chopped and minced salad) and chakapuli (beef and wild plum stew). If you’d like, pack a meal and have a picnic at the National Botanical Garden of Georgia, where you'll be mesmerized by the waterfall.
Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
Torshavn may be the smallest capital city in the world, but that doesn’t mean the quaint town has nothing to offer. Located in the Faroe Islands — an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark — the city is a sweet escape for those who want to skip the congested highways and busy crowds while traveling. Instead, take a relaxing stroll along the harbor or climb aboard the many yachts and boats stretched across the North Atlantic waterfront. Streets are lined with colorful buildings and grass-roofed houses, which make for great photo backdrops. Planning to shop around? You won’t find any chain stores in the area, so get to the know the city better by visiting locally owned shops that sell everything from Faroese knits to local pottery. Scenic views of the Faroe Islands’ other must-see sights — the Gasadalur Waterfall and the rugged cliffs of Vestmanna, to name two — are roughly an hour’s drive away.
In Valletta, the capital city of Malta, you won’t find a shortage of breathtaking sights. Teeming with picturesque Baroque-style architecture (some of which date back to the sixteenth century), the city is a haven for European history buffs and first-time travelers ready for a new cultural experience. Step inside St. John’s Co-Cathedral (undeniably the city’s greatest attraction) and you’ll be awe-inspired by the stunning art and intricate decorations inside of the famed church. Valletta is also home to the Parliament Building (completed by Italian architect Renzo Piano in 2015), the Grandmaster’s Palace, and the National War Museum. In need of a good meal? Try some of the city’s finest Mediterranean dishes at Harbour Club or Ambrosia, both frequented by locals.
Wellington, New Zealand
With jaw-dropping Southern Alps to its south and oil painting-quality wine regions to its north, New Zealand’s second-city capital (or Middle Earth, as some like to call it) might not be the first place you think to visit when planning a getaway to this part of the world. But with quaint architecture, fantastic gourmet food and beverage scene, and rugged nature just a stone’s throw from the center of town, it should be. Wellington has all the energy of a college town (not to mention the wine bars, well-stocked vintage stores, and bustling craft beer scene that goes along with that distrinction) combined with small but mighty art, design, and fashion industries (you can get through the well-curated contemporary City Gallery in an hour, and when you’re done go to ENA, one of the best boutiques in town, which features delicate slip dresses from museum publicist Olivia Lacey’s Now or Never line). Yes, Weta Workshop — the mastermind creative shop behind the special effects and creatures of The Hobbit, among many others — offers studio tours. But for an extra special treat (and to see Weta’s work in action), head to town in late September through early October, when the World of Wearable Art — one of the most important design competitions in the world — will blow your mind.