The world is a big place, larger than anyone can really even grasp. I’m always amazed by how many new experiences and destinations I discover while traveling, places that impress me almost immediately but which I knew nothing about before I left home. That’s why many of us love to travel so very much, for that sense of personal discovery and along the way I’ve found many cities and towns that I think everyone should visit but, for some reason, largely remain off the normal tourist maps. Here are just some of the many underrated cities I’ve visited that I think everyone should have on their travel to-do list.
France is home to many cities that seem to remain quietly off the tourist trail, at least from an American perspective. I discovered many small towns and villages while driving around the country, but one of my favorites was the ancient city of Albi. Located in the heart of the incredibly green rolling hills of the Tarn region, Albi is a joy to visit. I’m a history fan, and I loved learning more about the tragic history of the Cathars, which culminated in and around Albi more than eight hundred years ago. But on the lighter side, Albi was also the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec, the famed French artist of the 19th century. The Toulouse-Lautrec museum conveniently located in the heart of Albi was recently renovated and it is a masterpiece of modern design and museum management. Albi is just a beautiful place to spend a day wandering through its streets and alleys. It has great views, nice people and is overall very approachable.
In a country full of exciting experiences to enjoy, I think that Perth sometimes gets left behind. It’s a little remote and not as flashy as Melbourne or Sydney, but I loved every minute of exploring it and the surrounding region. Perth gets more than 300 days of sunshine a year, which is a lot by anyone’s standards, and that is also why spending time outside is an important part of any Perth travel experience. In the city center itself there’s plenty of options from walking along the Swan River to enjoying panoramic views of the city in the massive Kings Park and hanging out at one of the nearby beaches. Aside from the weather, be sure to enjoy the new cafes and restaurants popping up in the central business district and plan a day trip or two to nearby Rottnest Island and Fremantle. No matter what you decide to do, I’m sure you’ll love the city and region as much as I did.
Kassel is probably one of Germany’s best tourist cities that no one knows about. There’s a lot to love about Kassel, but for me the draw was the newly opened Brother Grimm museum experience. Called one of the most impressive museum openings in the world, this incredibly engaging experience was everything I’d hoped it would be. I chose that world “experience” carefully, because this certainly isn’t your typical museum. The goal is to share the lives and times of the Brothers Grimm, naturally including the fairy tales, but so much more as well. Their life’s work was the creation of the definitive German dictionary, a massive feat that actually took around 175 years to complete. The experience in Kassel shares all of that, along with the ramifications of their work on German history and culture. It’s a visually spectacular space, incredibly immersive and engaging, educational for sure and just a lot of fun.
St Louis, Missouri
Last year I had the great opportunity to travel more around my own country exploring cities either new to me or ones I hadn’t visited in decades, including St. Louis. Before my brief visit, it had been many years since I last roamed the streets of the Gateway to the West and I was shocked by what I found. Downtown there’s plenty to do from the famous Arch to quirky and fun museums and of course the food. St Louis is home to a number of regional delicacies including Provel cheese pizza, fried ravioli and of course BBQ. A few reasons you should visit include: spending time at the new National Blues Museum, meandering through the quirky City Museum, eating your way through town and admiring a panoramic view of both Missouri and Illinois from the top of the Arch.
My first trip to China was everything I hoped it would be, but I was also surprised in a lot of ways. I traveled to Chengdu to see the famous panda bears, but I ended up falling in love with the city. Thanks to expert guidance from the staff at The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu, I discovered the robust food culture for which Chengdu is also well known. Usually erring on the side of spicy, the food around town is hot but flavorful and a fun way to get to know the local culture. Visitors to Chengdu should spend some time at the panda preserves, either as a voyeur or volunteer, tour the ancient sites around town and be sure to visit the many food stands, experiencing the city through its cuisine.
St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador Canada
It’s not as flashy as some other cities in the country and it’s certainly a little remote, but St. John’s is absolutely a city I think every traveler should visit at least once. It’s a perfect jumping off point to explore what surely is one of Canada’s most beautiful regions full of rugged terrain, icebergs and warm-hearted people with plenty of stories to tell. The city itself though also has a lot to offer, as I learned one morning exploring the town on a photo tour. This was my first time joining a professional photographer as he showed me his city, and the perspective was amazing. Not only did I learn more about the history and culture of St. John’s, but of course my guide also took me to his favorite spots to get some of the great shots for which St. John’s and neighboring areas are so well known.
I didn’t love Ghent the first time I visited in fact, I kind of hated it. No, it took a second visit for me to learn more about the city and, ultimately, appreciate it for the beautifully underrated destination that it is. It’s so underrated because next door is a far more famous tourist destination, the fairy tale town of Bruges. But from my own experience, Ghent has a lot to offer in its own right and whether you take a boat ride along its canals, stop by the famous cathedral or just enjoy some of its amazing food offerings, Ghent should absolutely be on your travel to-do list.
I loved most of my adventures in Croatia, but Zadar was one city that simply blew me away. It’s not only one of my favorite cities in Croatia, but easily the world. And yet it’s really hard for me to say why, exactly. Sure it’s beautiful and the mix of architecture from Roman times through today makes walking around a fascinating adventure, but it’s more than that. While in Zadar I felt connected to the town in a way that’s hard to replicate. I loved everything from watching one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world to hanging out with new friends at a local cafe. Everything worked for me, everything just seemed right. I’m not alone either, Zadar is quickly rising on ‘must-visit’ lists and it won’t be long until the masses discover this amazing town, so be sure to include a visit in your travel plans sooner rather than later.