‘Overtourism’ simply refers to too many visitors in one particular destination. While many see travel as a benign activity, it can in fact have detrimental effects to the lives of locals and the environment around them. Overtourism occurs when rent prices push out local tenants to make room for holiday rentals, when narrow roads become jammed with tourist vehicles, and when fragile landscapes are degraded and when wildlife becomes at-risk.
For this reason, we must become more aware of how tourism tends to concentrate in just a small handful of popular travel destinations. For example, more often than not, first-time travellers to Southeast Asia will opt for Thailand or Bali, while those planning a trip to South America will almost always choose Ecuador or Peru.
‘Off the beaten track’ is often used to refer to many popular travel destinations that aren’t truly worthy of such a title. There has never been a better time to leave the crowds behind and travel off the radar. I have put together a list of the top 8 best underrated destinations that are often overlooked by the masses. So, give the popular picks a break from tourism and give a little love to those that tend to be forgotten by backpackers, holiday-goers and adventurers alike.
The Most Underrated Travel Destinations in the World
I have tried to include a diverse range of underrated destinations in this travel list. Some of these must-visit locations tend to be wrongly overlooked because of their remoteness or harsh climates, their lack of facilities or their mistaken lack of things to do in comparison to their more touristy alternatives.
Whether you’re looking for enchanting nature, complete solitude or a vibrant culture to immerse yourself in, there is something for you in this list of underrated destinations.
Azerbaijan – The Land of Fire
Azerbaijan is up there on the underrated holiday destination list. Often pushed to the side in favour of its more popular neighbours, Georgia and Armenia, many see Azerbaijan’s fairly strict visa policy as a deterrent for many travellers. However, an e-visa, introduced in 2017, now makes it much easier to travel to this beautiful underrated destination.
In addition to Azerbaijan’s stunning terrain, the country offers a fantastic blend of traditions and modern development. Locals living in more remote areas still largely retain many distinctive folk traditions, while the lives of its inhabitants have greatly been influenced by accelerating industrialisation and the rapid growth of its cities, in which more than half the country’s population now reside. Industry mainly dominates Azerbaijan’s economy, while more diversified pursuits have supplemented oil exploitation, of which the country was once the world leading producer. Today, fine horses and caviar are some of the more distinctive traditional exports that continue to sustain.
Baku, the largest and capital city of this underrated location, is enriched by decades of oil wealth, boasting impressive architecture and large-scale civic projects. One of these projects is the Bulvar, a huge seaside boulevard along the Caspian Sea, and the world’s biggest flag pole. You can also take a trip to the Heydar Aliyev Centre which is one of the most recognised architectural landmarks worldwide as well as a signature architectural landmark of modern Baku. Meanwhile, Baku’s historic core, Icherisheher, is a complete juxtaposition, with its Zoroastrian Tower and stone caravanserais.
Outside the city limits, the enchanting landscape of the Absheron Peninsula is the ideal spot to see mud volcanoes and otherworldly flaming hillsides. You can go mountain hiking, visit the the dainty towns of Guba and Lahic to watch artisans crafting their traditional trades, and visit Sheki, home of the infamous Palace of the Sheki Khans.
More things to do in Azerbaijan:
- Baku Boulevard – a promenade established in 1909 which runs parallel to Baku’s seafront and boasts plenty of great restaurants, shopping centres, gardens, museums and sculptures.
- Flame Towers – three colourfully lit-up, flame-shaped buildings, located on the hill and overlooking the Caspain Sea and the city of Baku.
- Nokhur Gel Lake – a beautiful body of water, surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains, where you can take a peaceful boat ride.
- Gabaland – have fun on thrilling rides at this amusement park enveloped by stunning mountain ranges and fresh air.
Oman – A Middle Eastern Road Trip
Although the Middle East is one of the last places that would normally come to mind when planning a road trip, Oman is the ideal destination for self-driving. Brand new highways, cheap fuel and plenty of great things to do and see make Oman deserving of a place on this underrated destinations list.
You certainly shouldn’t judge Oman by its location on the map, as many do. Oman is strategically located at the mouth of the Gulf at the southeast corner of the Arabian Peninsula. It is an incredibly safe, relatively affordable and a spectacularly beautiful country with a strong, vibrant cultural heritage.
If you’re travelling on a budget then you’ll be pleased to hear that it is perfectly legal to pitch a tent almost anywhere in Oman. So, you can sleep under the stars in the most remote areas of the country with no disturbances. Or, if camping isn’t for you and you prefer a little luxury while on your travels, then a night of glamping in one of Oman’s desert camps is a must.
Start your road trip in the capital city of Muscat, where you’ll find many of the country’s premier cultural institutions, including the impressive Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Muttrah Souq and the Royal Opera House. For something a little less serious, you can visit Ras al-Jinz, the easternmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, where you will find one of the world’s most active turtle nesting sites. Just outside of Muscat, you can spend the morning on a boat, watching dolphins.
Once done in Muscat, drive down the perfect formed highway towards the coast. After around 90 minutes of driving along this route, you will come to Bimmah Sinkhole, one of the most impressive natural swimming pools you will ever lay eyes on, with perfectly turquoise waters. From the sinkhole, you can drive just 20 minutes to Wadi Shab gorge.
Next, make your way inland where Oman offers sweeping deserts, spectacular mountains and valleys for hiking, as well as a variety of historic fortresses. As you go, take a quick dip into some of the many wadis and sinkholes to cool off from the desert heat.
More things to do in Oman:
- Wahiba Sands – this stretch of sweeping desert has become one of the most popular places to camp or glamp under the stars.
- Sultan Qaboos Mosque – Oman’s most important spiritual site is defined by its mind-blowingly beautiful architecture.
- Fairytales at Nizwa Fort – one of Oman’s oldest and most magical castles, perfect for taking a leisurely stroll and learning some history.
- Local Stay at Misfat al Abriyeen – for a completely authentic experience, stay in a local mud village.
- Jabal Akhdar Moutains – for spectacular views where you won’t be bothered by crowds of other tourists.
Cape Verde – A Tropical Archipelago
The definition of a hidden gem, Cape Verde is a tropical archipelago just off the coast of Africa. This country has everything to offer and more, making it more than deserving of a place on this underrated destination list. Filled with sublime hiking trails, otherworldly volcanic landscapes, reefs teeming with life, colourful music-filled city streets and all-round positive vibes. What more could you want?
Cape Verde is a chain of 10 islands in the Atlantic Ocean, just west of Senegal and Mauritania. It is one of the earliest places to have been discovered by Portuguese explorers, way back in the 15th century. At the time of its discovery, Cape Verde was actually uninhabited and Cabo Verdians today are descendants of colonists and mainland Africans who were brought to the islands. It is a small country, with only around half the surface area of Spain’s Canary Islands.
Whether you are after a relaxing getaway or a adventure-filled trip, Cape Verde has something for everyone. The island of Sal is an all-inclusive resort destination where you can spend a lazy vacation sunning yourself up in the tropical sun. Alternatively, the rest of the archipelago is ideally suited to backpacking trips.
Cape Verde is also a fantastic winter-sun destination for those who dread the bleak British winters. While the Canary Islands tend to be Britain’s go-to winter destination for a dose of warmth, few even consider Cape Verde. For those who are prepared to fly the extra two hours into the Atlantic can be rewarded by the all-year-round summer weather, which rarely shifts below 20 degrees c.
More to do in Cape Verde:
- Bird-Watching – the islands are home to a wide range of rare-breed birds.
- Fogo – the island of Fogo’s spectacular volcanic peak, Pico de Fogo, is visible from across the country.
- Sal – white sandy beaches and evaporated salt deposits make this an adventurer’s paradise.
- Santiago – home of Cidade Velha, a world heritage site of ruins from the first European settlement.
- Sao Vicente – dance to live music in this vibrant cultural melting pot.
Transylvania – Romania’s Best-Known Region
Transylvania may be Romania’s most well-known region, but perhaps for the wrong reasons – thanks to some dubious vampire-related tales. But Transylvania is rich with mountains, undisturbed forests, medieval villages, hearty comfort food and a welcoming social life. Having been overlooked as a fairly grim country, dating back to when it was under repressive communist rule, I happily add this to my list of top underrated destinations.
Today, Transylvania has moved on from its distressing past, rapidly becoming ever more modern and open. Despite this acceleration into the modern world, Transylvanian villages remain largely agricultural, with many long-held local traditions, including harvest festivals and balls still prevalent. Accompanying this, tourism is beginning to take hold in the region, with travellers being drawn by its relative cheapness compared to other European destinations.
There is plenty to discover in Transylvania, from the inspiring historical cities of Brasov and Sighisoara, to its wild nature which is still home to bears and wolves, this country is a raw slice of Europe. You can fly into Avram Iancu International Airport, which is Transylvania’s largest airport, located in Cluj-Napoca, the region’s cultural hub.
Once you’ve hit ground in Transylvania, I would recommend making Brasov or Sighisoara your base. Brasov is a city of around 300,000 people and is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. It is a good base for travelling to other nearby attractions. You can easily reach ski resorts, go mountain hiking, stay in woodland cabins, visit Bran Castle or even try your hand at horseback riding. The centre of Brasov remains magically medieval, with many castles around the area. Alternatively, Sighisoara is the centre of Transylvania and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While you’re there you can check out the plethora of impressive 16-century landmarks, including the Citadel, the Square and the Clock Tower. The town centre is very quaint, featuring narrow cobbled streets and alleys, towers and medieval buildings.
More things to do in Transylvania:
- Bran Castle – mistakenly but infamously known as Dracula Castle, this fortress is Romania’s number one tourist attraction.
- Fortified Settlements – these well-preserved buildings are living testament to the fascinating and complicated history of Transylvania.
- Corvin Castle – the most authentic Romanian castle, built in the 15th century for the ruling dynasty.
- Salt Mines – go underground and breathe in the salty air for a healthy boost.
- Alba Iulia Citadel – considered the spiritual birthplace of modern Romania.
Lithuania – For the History Buffs
A small forgotten country in Eastern Europe, Lithuania is cloaked by fresh forests, old-timely castles, stunning shore line and old-town charm. Lithuania has an otherworldly quality about it that never ceases to amaze. This is the country where beaches are spangled with amber, woodlands are alive with demonic statues and medieval-style mead remains a popular beverage. This country’s unique traditions and its breathtaking beauty makes Lithuania deserving of a place on this underrated destination list.
Given that it is Europe’s last country to be Christianised, pagan history still dominates the land. The Curonian Spit is a 61 mile long curved sand dune that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea Coast and is awash with folklore. Visitors can catch a ferry over to these voluptuous dunes and take in the mesmerising scenery. Covering the rest of this underrated holiday destination are lakes, birch and pine forests and perfectly expansed flat farmland.
Despite its reverence of tradition, what makes Lithuania even more awe-inspiring is the strong spirited counterculture that is alive in the country. This counterculture is especially apparent in Lithuania’s compact capital, Vilnius. Of the places to visit in Lithuania, Vilnius has not gone unnototiced by the few tourists that visit the country, with its charming cobblestone streets. One of the first of four places to be labelled a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Lithuania, Vilnius is an endearing blend of old and new – a city of contradictions that any traveller will appreciate.
Most of the visit-worthy sites in Vilnius are totally free and much of the city’s incredible history can be discovered on a walking tour. Take a trip to St. Anne’s Church to see an amazing example of architecture, or head to the Cathedral Square to get a peak at the tall white bell tower. Alternatively, if you want to explore some of Lithuania’s lesser known landmarks, there is an extensive bus system that covers the country, making it easy for you to travel to any location, including the Trakai Castle or the stunning port of Klaipeda.
More to do in Lithuania:
- The Devil’s Museum – a huge collection of over 3000 pieces of artwork depicting images of the devil, witches and other mythological creatures, located in Kaunas.
- Kursiu Nerija National Park – formed in 1991 to protect the precious ecosystems in and around the Curonian Spit.
- Siauliai Hill of Crosses – sitting atop a small promontory, this collecion of thousands of crucifixes pays tribute to the devotion of many people in Lithuania.
- Money Museum – located on the former site of the bank of Lithuania, it will take you on a journey to find out all about Lithuanian litas.
- Grutas Park – covering over 20 hectares, the park is a cultural centre that features a range of quirky relics from the Soviet era.
The Bahamas Out Islands – For Unspoiled Beaches
The best underrated holiday destination for anyone thinking of booking a tropical getaway. While many sun-seekers would automatically head to the overcrowded beaches and mainstream resorts of the Caribbean, the Bahamas Out Islands offer an idyllic, peaceful alternative. This collection of tiny islands, south of the more popular Grand Bahamas, offers deserted sandy beaches, unspoiled nature and secluded bungalows. This exclusive, unconventional island paradise undoubtedly deserves a spot on my underrated travel destination list.
You might have heard of some of the more popular Caribbean islands, including Nassau and Freeport, but as you travel further south along the archipelago, the islands become increasingly untravelled. Cat Island, Mayaguana, Crooked Island and Acklins Island remain almost unknown and each offer incredible beauty. Offering something for everyone, you can enjoy laid-back beach vibes and fruity rum cocktails or scuba dive along the islands’ coral reef, kayak through the mangroves and try your hand at bonefishing.
There is no better destination to take a digital detox. Pack your swim suits and leave your laptop at home because the Wi-Fi is spotty at best. Acklins and neighbouring Crooked Islands are already well-loved by divers and fishermen for their clear, shallow waters, while Cat Island and Mayaguana possess some of the most untouched beaches in the Bahamas.
More to do in the Out Islands:
- San Salvador – famous as Christopher Colombus’ first landfall during his voyage of discovery in 1492.
- Rum Cay – famous for the shipwreck of the HMS Conquerer.
- Inagua – an ecotourism destination known for its population of flamingos and other unique seabirds.
- Eleuthera – a long, skinny island of 110 miles, it is covered with strange natural land formations, including the Glass Window Bridge, the Cow and the Bull and the Ocean Hole.
Liechtenstein – Tiny But Tremendous
Another incredible underrated destination in Europe is the micro-state of Liechtenstein. One thing that makes this overlooked country so unconventional is the fact that it is doubly land-locked, with Austria on one side and Switzerland on the other. Measuring a minuscule 25 km long, this teeny tiny country is a clear favourite for this list of underrated travel destinations.
Don’t let Liechtenstein’s lack of territory fool you into thinking that there is also a lack of things to do there. The country offers a huge range of diverse attractions to suit every traveller’s needs. From architecturally-inspiring castles and historically-significant ruins to expansive vineyards and breathtaking natural wonders.
Vaduz is the country’s capital where there is lots to see and do. The best way to get a highlight of the capital is to take a trip on the Vaduz City Train which will take you on a 35 minute tour around the city. Vaduz Castle sits atop a hill, dominating views from almost every corner of the city and, although it’s not open to the public given the royal family still retaining residence there, it is certainly worth a trip to see it up close.
More to do in Liechtenstein:
- Obere Burg – one of the castles in Liechtenstein that lies in ruins – take a wonder through the foundations and imagine them standing.
- The Liechtenstein National Museum – with over 3000 exhibits, this museum details the history, art, culture and archeology of Liechtenstein.
- The Postage Stamp Museum – if you’re into stamp collecting then this is the must-see attraction for you.
- Alpine Bike Ride – rent an e-bike or mountain bike to explore the many hiking and bike trails of the country and stop off at the lookouts for fantastic views of the Swedish Alps across the Rhine.
- Alt Rheinbruck – an eye-catching wooden bridge that connects Liechtenstein to Switzerland, across the Alpine Rhine, and is reserved for pedestrians and bikes.
Pakistan – A Nature-Lover’s Paradise
Pakistan might actually be the most underrated holiday destination on this list – or perhaps in the whole world! That’s a big statement to make, but the dozens of record-breaking mountain peaks, flourishing green valleys, endlessly stretching coastline and its rich culture and cuisine makes this South Asian destination a traveller’s paradise.
The best thing about Pakistan is that it largely remains undiscovered by tourists, allowing you to visit and go weeks without bumping into a fellow traveller. Yet, this lack of visitors is no bearing on the country’s long list of visit-worthy sites and landmarks. Pakistan’s mountains are its star attraction, and no trip to this underrated destination would be complete without a trip to Gilgit Baltistan. The Hunza district unsurprisingly gets all the glory, with its burbling streams, abundant orchards and friendly locals. The valley is a popular stopping-off point along the Karakorum Highway, with plenty of vibrant guesthouses offering a peaceful place to stay. Pick a comfortable spot on the veranda of your guesthouse and soak up the jaw-dropping scenery from there.
Though it is easy to get lost in Pakinstan’s imressive mountains, it would be a criminal to skip out on the country’s historical wonders. Pakistan has thousands of years of human history to boast, and cities like Lahore reveal snippets of the Mughal Era everywhere, from the 300-year-old mosques to the many tombs, summer pavilions and giant gardens. The southern province of Sindh is also full of historical and culturally significant sites that shouldn’t be missed.
The Pakistani people’s perseverance to adhere to their traditional ways of living over time has kept much of the country’s history and culture alive. This vibrancy makes Pakistan one of the best destinations for the culturally-curious traveller who values deep learning over hastily checking mainstream travel destinations off a checklist. It is ideal for those who are excited to explore traditional ways of life rather than rushing through overly commercialised tourist sites.
More to do in Pakistan:
- Islamabad – a neat, clean and modern city, surrounded by hills and a relative calm compared to Pakistan’s other bustling cities.
- The Fairy Meadows of Nanga Parbat – hike this popular trek for unobstructed views of Nanga Parbat, one of the highest mountains in the country.
- Badshahi Mosque – built in 1673, it is considered one of the most impressive Mosques in the Islamic world.
- Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi – the final resting place of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
- Khewra Salt Mine – the second largest salt mine in the world and the source of the distinctive pink Himilayan salt.