Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting
Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Hidden Gems of Europe's Big Cities
When visiting iconic European cities like London, Paris, and Rome, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of tourist-packed sites like the Eiffel Tower, Vatican City, and Big Ben. But venture off the beaten path, and you'll discover that Europe's famous capitals have undiscovered treasures around every corner.
One of my favorite hidden gems in London is Postman's Park. Tucked away in the north of the city, this tiny green space is dedicated to memorializing heroic acts of bravery by ordinary people. The park features a touching series of ceramic tiles, each commemorating someone who sacrificed their life to save another. As you walk through and read the moving stories of everyday heroes, you'll gain a new appreciation for the kindness and courage of humanity.
In Paris, one hidden treasure is the Promenade Plantée - an abandoned 19th century railway line that has been transformed into a beautiful elevated park. As you stroll along the lush greenway, which runs for over 2 miles through the 12th arrondissement, you'll get a unique perspective on the city. Keep an eye out for the old train station clock, still keeping time high above the park.
For a taste of old Rome, head to the Quartiere Coppedè neighborhood. This almost fairy-tale like suburb was built in the early 20th century and features fanciful architecture with turrets, mosaics, wrought-iron lanterns, and an amazing mix of styles from Baroque to Art Nouveau. It feels worlds away from the bustle of downtown Rome. Don't miss the Fontana delle Rane, or "Fountain of the Frogs," considered the most iconic landmark in the quarter.
In each of these cities, getting just a little off the typical tourist track takes you away from the crowds and into charming areas full of local flavor. Wandering the cobbled alleyways and hidden courtyards lets you experience the true character of these iconic destinations. You don't have to travel far to uncover the secret delights that exist beyond the guidebooks and selfie sticks. Going just a bit out of your way rewards you with memories no mainstream tourist will take home.
What else is in this post?
- Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Hidden Gems of Europe's Big Cities
- Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - America's Quirkiest Roadside Attractions
- Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Asia's Ancient Sites Without the Crowds
- Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Australia's Gorgeous Natural Wonders
- Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Africa's Safaris Less Traveled
- Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - South America's Charming Small Towns
- Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Canada's Majestic National Parks
- Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Islands With Nature and Culture Worth Exploring
Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - America's Quirkiest Roadside Attractions
America’s highways and byways are dotted with delightfully odd roadside attractions that make road trips memorable. Venture off the interstate and you’ll discover giant statues, peculiar museums, and curiosities that reveal the quirky side of Americana.
One of the kookiest is Wall Drug in South Dakota. What started in 1931 as a tiny drugstore handing out free water to travelers passing through the remote town of Wall has morphed into a sprawling, gloriously tacky oasis. Today it encompasses a shopping plaza, restaurants, an animatronic T-rex, a chapel made of petrified wood, and photo ops with fake cowboys and jackalopes. Millions stop to check out the madness along I-90 each year.
Then there's Longaberger Basket Building in Ohio - an actual seven-story office building shaped like a giant picnic basket. Complete with textured sides mimicking woven wood and two huge faux handles sticking up from the roof. Once home to the Longaberger basket-making empire, this larger-than-life nod to its signature product is a true only-in-America experience.
One man's passion project, and a highlight of any Oregon road trip, is the Enchanted Forest. Opened in 1971, this charming fairy tale theme park transports you into the world of storybooks like Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, and Hansel & Gretel. Wander through the mini buildings and scenes brought to life with colorful sets filled with moving characters. It's quirky, nostalgic fun.
Offbeat museums also provide the opportunity to scratch your head or giggle at their oddities. Like the International Cryptozoology Museum in Maine, dedicated to hunts for legendary creatures like Bigfoot and Nessie. Or North Carolina’s Cold War era Carrot Museum, packed with over 1,200 carrot-related items (carrot menorahs to carrot piggy banks anyone?). And what started as a joke, the Idaho Potato Museum has giant spuds, potato masher collections, and Mr. Potato Head history.
Giant critters and food replicas are ubiquitous roadside stops too. Visit the World’s Largest Twine Ball, molded over decades in Kansas. Or a variety of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues claim bragging rights to “largest.” And don’t miss the Pecos Bill Tall Tale exhibit in Texas, featuring a 47-foot long cowboy riding a 95-foot long Texas Longhorn.
Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Asia's Ancient Sites Without the Crowds
Asia is home to some of the world’s most magnificent ancient sites, from Angkor Wat’s sprawling temple complex to the Great Wall of China. But many of these intriguing destinations suffer from overtourism. Avoid the crowds at Asia’s top sites and you’ll be rewarded with a more authentic, peaceful experience.
One of the best ways to dodge the hordes is by heading to Pagan in Myanmar. This 11th-13th century archaeological site holds over 2,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas scattered across a lush plain along the Irrawaddy River. In its heyday, Pagan was likely one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in Asia. Walking amongst the red brick ruins as the sun rises over the misty landscape is an almost spiritual experience. Due to limited infrastructure and ongoing conflict in Myanmar, Pagan sees just a fraction of the tourists that flock to comparable sites like Angkor Wat.
Another breathtaking Buddhist temple complex flying under the radar is Borobudur on the Indonesian island of Java. Built in the 9th century and surrounded by volcanic peaks, it’s the world’s biggest Buddhist monument. Visitors can explore nine tiered platforms embellished with 2,672 stone relief panels and 504 Buddha statues while enjoying scenic views of lush rice paddies and villages. Since it sits off the main tourist trail, you’ll feel like you have the expansive complex all to yourself.
Varanasi, India may be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, but few venture to its tucked away ancient sites. One peaceful oasis is the Deer Park in Sarnath, located 10km north of the city. This is where the Buddha first preached after gaining enlightenment, setting in motion Buddhism. Sarnath flourished for over 1,000 years before being sacked and forgotten. Rediscovered ruins include the Dhamek Stupa and monasteries dating back to the 3rd century BC. Take in sunset views for magical light over the red brick against lush gardens.
Sri Lanka also delivers ancient treasures without intense crowds. Visit Sigiriya, an awe-inspiring 5th century palace and fortress dramatically situated on a stone plateau some 650 feet high. You’ll ascend steep staircases and pass two giant lion paws to explore the site’s water gardens, vibrant frescoes and the mirror wall which still sparkles. With limited entrance tickets available, you’ll avoid elbow-to-elbow crowds even in peak season.
Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Australia's Gorgeous Natural Wonders
From the iconic monolith of Uluru to the turquoise Great Barrier Reef, Australia boasts some of the most spectacular natural wonders on the planet. But avoid the huge crowds at headliners like the Great Ocean Road and you’ll discover Oz has even more gorgeous sites hiding off the mainstream tourist trail. Venture into the Outback or to lesser-known coastal havens and you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping vistas and outdoor adventures minus the motorcoach madness.
One of Australia’s most breathtaking natural wonders is the horizontally-striped Twelve Apostles along the southern coast. While this collection of limestone cliffs jutting majestically from the ocean sees plenty of visitors, you can beat the hordes by avoiding the main lookout during peak hours. Instead, take to the sky for an unforgettable aerial perspective on a helicopter tour or spend the night at the gorgeously situated 12 Apostles Lodge. Early risers can catch dreamy sunrise colors reflecting off the rocky pillars before tour buses roll in.
For a true Australian wilderness experience, head to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, home to the surreal beehive-shaped domes of the Bungle Bungle Range. Located in remote northern WA, the bizarre sandstone landmark holds hidden canyons, palm trees sprouting from orange and black striped mounds, and ancient Aboriginal rock art. Accessible only by 4WD, you’ll feel like you’ve uncovered a secret as you explore the ridges and gorges of this Martian-like landscape far from frenzied crowds.
Adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef but minus the motorboats and masses is the turquoise fringing reef of Lady Musgrave Island. Accessible by small aircraft from Bundaberg, wading straight off the pristine beach rewards you with excellent snorkeling amongst healthy corals, sea turtles and tropical fish. Camp under the stars or bunk down in low-impact accommodation on this idyllic island paradise. With no roads, jet skis or crowds, the only sounds are the waves gently lapping the shore.
Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Africa's Safaris Less Traveled
When picturing an African safari, most envision crowded jeeps jostling to spot lions lazing under acacia trees with a dozen other vehicles in tow. But veer off the predictable safari route and you’ll be handsomely rewarded with a more authentic wilderness experience teeming with awe-inspiring wildlife.
Skip famous names like the Masai Mara and Kruger Park in favor of Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. Africa’s original walking safari destination delivers exhilarating encounters with elephants, leopards and packs of wild dogs while on foot. You’ll also take in immense diversity exploring via open-top 4x4 – looking out for rare Thornicroft giraffes, Cape buffaloes and over 400 bird species. Far from the madding crowds, the park allows visitors to immerse themselves in raw African nature.
For the ultimate exclusive safari, visit the private Lunda-Chizinga reserve nested within Zambia’s untamed Luangwa valley. This former trophy hunting area has been rewilded into a spectacular stretch of pristine bush. The absence of other tourists lets sightings feel like your own discovery – including watching baby elephants playfully bathing. Lunda-Chizinga’s two intimate camps provide front-row seats to elephants, crocs and hippos visiting watering holes just feet away.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta also rewards intrepid safari-goers handsomely. Exploring the vast inland river delta by traditional dug-out canoe called mokoro takes you deep into untrammeled channels and lagoons bursting with wildlife. You’ll drift silently amongst massive herds of buffalo, elephants frolicking in papyrus reeds, and pods of hippos grunting territorial calls. Many permanent campsites in the delta offer the chance to experience nights in true wilderness, with animals visiting under an immense night sky.
Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - South America's Charming Small Towns
Beyond the famous cities like Rio de Janeiro and Machu Picchu lie South America’s hidden gems: charming small towns few tourists discover. Venturing to these remote spots rewards with authentic culture and local hospitality. As someone who covets traveling off the beaten track, I seek out opportunities to uncover lesser-known places that deliver big memorable experiences.
One such humble town is El Chaltén in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Despite its remote location and tiny population of just 600 people, this nature-lover’s paradise offers access to world-class trekking against the jagged Fitz Roy mountain range. I reveled in stunning glacial lakes and Dyonisio glacier along the 7-hour Laguna de los Tres hike. With limited tourist infrastructure, El Chaltén maintains an untamed charm. After a day of hiking, I unwound over hearty local beer and grilled lamb at one of the unpretentious restaurants spilling outdoors.
Colombia’s colonial city of Villa de Leyva gave me a magical glimpse into the past as well. Just 3 hours from busy Bogota, this well-preserved 16th century village oozes historic charm down to its cobblestone streets and whitewashed buildings. Renting a bike allowed me to soak up beautiful plazas and churches at my own pace. Locals outnumbered tourists at Leyva’s charming cafes and shops. I never passed up an opportunity to chat, practicing my rusty Spanish and learning about their lives. Spending lazy Sundays watching buzzing city life unfold made me feel part of this tight-knit community.
I’ll never forget stumbling upon Punta Sal in northern Peru, located 7 hours north of Máncora - the next tourist hub. With just a few sandy streets lined by colorful bungalows, this rustic beachside village had an intoxicatingly relaxed vibe. I spent my days reading in a hammock, enjoying fresh ceviche, and swimming in the Pacific. I quickly befriended the local villagers and was even invited to a casual pig roast on the beach one night. Nothing beats cracking open a beer as the sun sets over the ocean – a simple pleasure that left me with the fondest memories.
Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Canada's Majestic National Parks
Beyond Banff, Canada hides a trove of majestic national parks well worth venturing off the beaten path to explore. Far from the crowds, you’ll be richly rewarded with pristine alpine scenery, exotic wildlife, and adventures minus the bumper-to-bumper RVs.
On the remote northern tip of Vancouver Island, Cape Scott Provincial Park promises a ruggedly wild getaway. The stunning spot can only be reached via a long gravel road ending in the tiny village of San Josef Bay. From here, strike out on foot for the park’s windswept beaches, old growth forest, and mountains straight out of Lord of the Rings. Over 300 shipwrecks have occurred off the rocky shores, adding to the adventurous spirit. Keep an eye out for whales from May to October when the shores come alive with spawning salmon. At the end of an active day, unwind by pitching a tent at the beautiful sandy beach of Nels Bight.
Newfoundland’s remote Torngat Mountains National Park offers adventurers the chance to play pioneer deep in the northern Labrador wilderness. With no roads and few visitors, you’ll explore the tundra landscape via guided hiking, kayaking and zodiac boat tours. As you travel along the ragged coastline, be awestruck by towering fjords, icebergs, seals, whales, and polar and black bears fishing for salmon. Under the midnight sun, indigenous Inuit guides share their ancient wisdom of surviving - and thriving - in this unforgiving landscape. Sleeping under the northern lights adds to the magic.
For a quintessential Canadian lakeside experience, paddle into Ontario’s Wabakimi Provincial Park. Considered one of the best canoe trips in the world, this massive roadless expanse of lakes and rivers guarantees serenity. Drifting along Wabakimi’s 1,100 miles of interconnected waterways transports you deep into unspoiled boreal forest. With names like Cloud River and Burntside Lake, the waters beckon you to explore. Along the way, lounge on granite rocks baking under the sun, catch trophy-sized walleye, and spend nights under millions of twinkling stars. Far removed from civilization, absorbing the stunning beauty and tranquility renews the spirit.
Off the ferry-accessed east coast of Newfoundland, funky Fogo Island charms with its windswept simplicity. Five walking trails deliver sweeping ocean vistas and let you tap into the rhythms of nature. Or try iceberg kayaking for up-close encounters with ancient chunks of glacial ice drifting down from Greenland. To immerse yourself in island culture, engage with locals through community meals, singing and storytelling sessions. And bunk down in an architecturally avant garde inn perched dramatically on the edge of the continent.
Off the Beaten Path: 17 Tourist Attractions That Are Actually Worth Visiting - Islands With Nature and Culture Worth Exploring
Islands are the ultimate escape, each with their own unique ecosystem and culture waiting to be uncovered. While mainstream favorites like Hawaii, Bali and Santorini top many bucket lists, veer off the tourist highway and you’ll discover lesser-known island gems that delight both nature lovers and culture vultures. These far-flung islands let you dive into unspoiled landscapes and authentic local traditions without crowds of camera-toting tourists.
One undiscovered paradise is São Tomé and Príncipe, a Portuguese-speaking volcanic island nation off the western coast of Central Africa. Truly off the beaten path, these twin islands reward intrepid travelers handsomely with rainforest-draped peaks, secluded palm-fringed beaches, and excellent diving. Below the surface, a kaleidoscope of tropical fish animates vibrant reefs. On land, rare endemic plants like giant begonias and orchids thrive in the tropical climate. São Tomé alone hosts 700 species of butterflies fluttering about. But nature isn’t the islands’ only draw. On São Tomé, roça plantations built by Portuguese colonists offer a glimpse into the islands’ past, with atmospheric ruins and aging manor houses. Capital city São Tomé charms too with mustard colonial buildings, bustling markets, and sidewalk cafes serving Portuguese specialties like piri piri chicken.
Adventurers who make the trek to Easter Island floating far off the coast of Chile are rewarded with one of the world's most mystifying archaeological sites. Giant moai statuesaveraging 13 feet tall and weighing 14 tons apiece dot the landscape, carved centuries ago by the indigenous Rapa Nui people. How the moai were moved and what purpose they served still baffles experts. But gazing up at the inscrutable faces with wide-eyed curiosity connects you to the ancient Polynesians who once called this remote spot home. When not pondering the mysteries of the moai, Easter Island’s primal beauty enthralls. Volcanic craters hold glistening lakes and caves decorated with ancient petroglyphs. Divers can explore underwater caves adorned with red and yellow coral. And nothing beats watching the sun rise over jagged cliffs and crashing surf from your secluded beach bungalow.
In the Indian Ocean, the tropical island nation of Mauritius captivates with its blend of Creole, African, French and Indian influences. Port Louis’ colorful colonial buildings, Hindu temples, and bustling Central Market give you a taste of the cultural mélange. But Mauritius’ greatest treasure is its breathtaking natural scenery. Hiking through the Black River Gorges National Park reveals dramatic waterfalls tumbling over cliffs draped in lush rainforest. Rare birds like the Mauritius kestrel and pink pigeon flit overhead. And off the coast, divers can explore pristine fringing reefs or swim with dolphins in the sapphire waters. With culture and nature in harmonious balance, Mauritius satisfies every wanderlust.