Ten years ago, Prague was dubbed the new Amsterdam. Now, the city’s on par with Rome in annual visitors. Reykjavik is experiencing its time in the limelight, but Iceland is considering tourism caps to handle the sudden swell.
Instead of chasing trends, why not be a trailblazer in the next cultural capital? Here are eight underrated destinations prime to break out at any moment.
1. Chéngdū, China
Two words: giant pandas.
This southwest Chinese city is home to the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. And as if you need another reason to visit, you might recognize the name ‘Sichuan’ from the awning of your favorite Chinese restaurant. As capital of the Sichuan province, you’d better believe Chéngdū’s full of the bold, spicy cuisine it’s famous for.
It’s hard to believe that a city with 14 million inhabitants has stayed under the radar, but despite its renowned cuisine, rowdy nightlife, and the world’s tallest Buddha, travelers tend to overlook this major metropolis.
2. Tallinn, Estonia
The Baltics are often ignored by European travelers, but Tallinn has all the medieval charm as Prague with arguably more cultural cachet than Copenhagen.
Since gaining independence in 1991, the city’s been attracting young travelers with its street markets, pelmeenid (Russian-style dumplings), and burgeoning art scene. The prices certainly don’t hurt either.
3. Asheville, United States
Austin, New Orleans, and Portland are experiencing meteoric rises among American travelers, but Southerners have a hidden gem of their own: Asheville, North Carolina. Nestled in the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the city has kept its earthy, low-key vibe despite new craft breweries, boutiques, and trendy restaurants.
4. Sousse, Tunisia
Marrakech isn’t North Africa’s only city worth visiting. Sousse has a much less crowded medina, one of the oldest standing towers in North Africa, and a 1,100-year-old mosque. And with one of Tunisia’s most popular holiday resorts, it’s the perfect spot for splitting your time between culture and luxury.
5. Sibiu, Romania
Home to ancient churches, artsy cafes, and enchanting castles, Romania has so much more to offer than Dracula tours, and nowhere embodies its spirit better than Sibiu. The city hosts hundreds of cultural festivals and events each year, like the Medieval Festival in August, Pottery Fair in September, and Ioan Macrea Romanian folk music festival in November.
According to legend, Sibiu’s Liar’s Bridge will collapse if anyone bends the truth while crossing it. It’s been standing since 1859, so we imagine Sibiu’s residents are pretty trustworthy!
6. Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle’s claim to fame is a 90-acre, 16th century fort built by Portuguese colonists and later expanded by the Dutch. Just outside the walled town are beautiful beaches, great dive spots, and a vibrant commercial district full of local lace, gem stones, and wood carvings. Newly opened boutique hotels, eco-luxe resorts, and beachside villas are just beginning to lure boho-chic travelers.
7. Panama City, Panama
Best known for its famous canal, Panama City is far from a one-site wonder. Cinta Costera park is full of outdoor activity; the Biomuseo’s unique design will take your breath away; and Panama Viejo is so special it’s protected by UNESCO.
For a truly unique experience, join a Fortaleza Tour, where former gang members share stories of what the city used to be like and explain why the crime rate has dropped so drastically in the past decade.
8. Wellington, New Zealand
Voted the world’s “coolest little capital” by Lonely Planet, Wellington’s small population packs a cultural punch beyond its size. Between its happening beaches, emerging film industry, and surrounding wine country, there’s always something going on. A cable car ride to the Botanic Garden provides incredible views of this urban underdog.