We all have our favourite destinations; places that make us truly happy and bring back fond memories of trips gone by. Sometimes, we fall so in love with a single place that it can be difficult to think of going anywhere else on holiday – but this can mean missing out on other places you’ll wind up loving just as much.
While there’s no shame in returning to the same destination again and again, there’s something special about ticking new places off your holiday hit list. By making an effort to seek out new sights, sounds and experiences, your trips will continue to surprise, inspire and excite – and surely that’s what travel’s all about?
To encourage you to take the leap and try something new for your next breakaway, we asked expert travel bloggers to list the destinations that surprised them and proved to be much better than they were expecting. From Sarajevo to Bali, Nova Scotia to La Coruña, join us as we showcase five destinations that are worth your attention, and will surprise you just as much as they did our favourite travel bloggers.
While Thailand and Vietnam remain the tourist mainstays of southern Asia, Nepal is gaining a reputation for its warm welcome and authentic cultural experiences. On paper, this landlocked country might sound like a lot of mountains and not much else, but Tiffany of Vagabond Way believes it’s one of the best-kept secrets of the continent.
She says: “My husband and I travel a lot. In a given year, we usually spend about five to six months travelling. It never ceases to amaze me when, having visited a place where we thought we knew what to expect, we will end up being totally surprised. Nepal was one of those places.
“The preconceptions I had of Nepal before visiting was snow, mountains, llamas and, of course, Everest. What I didn’t expect to be saying was, “I went on a wildlife safari in Nepal.” Prior to going, I didn’t realize all the amazing wildlife opportunities that existed there. There are some truly amazing national parks where you can see incredible animals in their natural habitat. Particularly, once we got away from the main city of Kathmandu, the rural side of Nepal was incredibly charming and filled with the nicest of people. I would go back in an instant. One of the reasons I love travelling so much is it is constantly showing me new perspectives on the world. Nepal, thank you for being so wonderful and showing us a wonderful time.”
La Coruña, Spain
From London to Berlin, Budapest to Lisbon, Europe has many wonderful cities, and pounding their pavements in search of cultural treasures has long been an essential travel experience. But, what happens when you’ve exhausted the big hitters of Paris, Rome and Barcelona? Is anywhere else in Europe really worth the long plane journey?
Linda Martin of the Indie Travel Podcast certainly thinks so. When asked to list her favourite surprise destinations, she skipped over famous names like Paris and Barcelona, instead opting for a city few have probably ever heard of – La Coruña.
Here’s what Linda has to say about this beautiful Spanish city: “I’ve often found myself feeling disappointed with famous destinations like Paris or Barcelona, probably because it’s hard for them to live up to such enormous reputations. I love going to places I know nothing about, and discovering them for myself.
“One example is the Spanish city of La Coruña, in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. It never appears on any lists of the top cities in Spain, and is largely unknown as a tourist destination — among English speakers at least. But it’s awesome.
“Its location on a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean means that there are lots of great beaches, as well as a charming port area. It’s packed with history, featuring the oldest Roman lighthouse in the world, and the tapas are cheap and delicious.
“The biggest surprise, though, was the presence of thousands of pohutukawa trees. A New Zealand native, I’d only previously seen this species in the South Pacific, and it just happens to be my favourite tree.
“Seeing pohutukawa trees (or metrosideros as they’re known in Spain) blooming in a city that’s literally on the other side of the world from home felt like a big hug, and helped to cement La Coruña as one of my favourite places in the world.”
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
From one lesser-known European destination to another; Sarajevo is among the most up-and-coming places of the former Eastern Bloc. While Bosnia and Herzegovina isn’t the most obvious choice when holidaying in Europe, its colourful heritage, fierce customs and traditions and welcoming people make it a must-see if you’re looking for alternatives to the likes of Rome, Vienna and Budapest.
Jub of Tiki Touring Kiwi agrees, and lists Sarajevo – the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina – as one of the highlights of his extensive travels around Europe. Recently, Jub spent 10 days exploring this proud Bosnian city, and lists it among the destinations he’s been most surprised by.
He says: “Sarajevo has bounced back from its troubled past to be a vibrant city with individuals not afraid to be their true selves (surviving a war will do that). The city centre isn’t massive but is packed with cool cafés and restaurants where you can escape the heat of the summer or chills of the winter. Outside of the city, there are two unique trips you can take. One to the abandoned bobsled track used in the 1984 Winter Olympics with a bonus of awesome city views and two, to the Bosnian pyramids, a place that scientists are struggling to explain.”
Most people travel to Bali for its pristine beaches and paradise appeal, but there’s more to this exquisite Indonesian isle than meets the eye. Vicki Garside of Make Time to See the World believes that Bali’s reputation as the ultimate easy honeymoon destination doesn’t do justice to an island steeped in culture, heritage and off-the-beaten-track culinary highlights – and that this could come as a big surprise to those who assume Bali is just all about the beaches.
Here, Vicki explains why visiting Bali came as such a pleasant surprise: “I typically visit everywhere with an open mind, believing that you can’t make assumptions on what others say and that you need to experience a destination yourself before making up your mind. However, I wasn’t able to stick to my philosophy for one destination, and that was Bali.
“Before visiting Bali, I had it pegged as a mini Australia, with everything geared towards appeasing tourists rather than showcasing its own cultural identity. However, if you get away from the tourism melting pots, Bali has so much to offer. From amazing 5-star restaurants (at bargain prices) to locally run Warungs serving up delicious traditional dishes; exotic car-free islands, stunning national parks, amazing diving and snorkelling and mind-blowing history, culture and traditions; Bali has it all, and is an incredible part of the world with something for everyone.”
Nova Scotia, Canada
Canada is viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime destination for many travellers; a place whose wild landscapes, extraordinary wildlife and cosmopolitan cities embody the very notion of wanderlust. Always listed among the top 10 places in the world to visit, Canada is certainly a tourist favourite – but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer capable of surprising even the most well-seasoned of travellers.
Amanda O’Brien of The Boutique Adventurer is one such travel expert who was left surprised by Canada’s depth of culture, heritage and exquisite beauty. At first dismissing it as a land of polar bears, snow and Vancouver, she knew little about the country’s incredible history and culture before visiting – and was subsequently bowled over by a particular area, Nova Scotia.
Here’s what Amanda has to say about this picturesque corner of North America: “When I used to think of Canada, I always thought of Vancouver and polar bears. Nova Scotia was not at the top of my wishlist when I finally came to visit. I knew very little about it and imagined a big island-type area that was possibly a bit stuck in time, but had some lovely natural features for photography.
“I was very wrong! Nova Scotia is a happening gastronomy paradise. The capital, Halifax, is full of great restaurants and fantastic cafés. The waterfront area is home to the oldest market in North America – the fantastic Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. And the new library building is an architectural marvel, filled to the brim with natural light.
“And then there is the wine! This was absolutely new to me. Nova Scotia even has its own appellation, the wonderfully named Tidal Bay. The area around the lovely little town of Wolfville is best known for wine but wineries can also be found on Cape Breton.
“I have never tasted seafood as good as I did in Nova Scotia. From Digby scallops to amazing lobster to succulent prawns – every meal tasted so fresh. The recipes and food styling are simple but modern and do a great job of allowing the natural flavours to shine.
“Nova Scotia is not only extremely beautiful, but a very on-trend food and wine travel destination. Go, before everyone else does.”
So there you have it – five lesser-known destinations whose culture, beauty and heritage surprised those in the know on all things travel. If you’ve been inspired to expand your horizons, visit our homepage for a huge collection of the latest cruise deals and destinations or call us now on 1300 680 005.