I love finding places off the beaten path. You know, those places where there just isn’t a lot of tourists. Not because of any higher calling or because I think I am some kind of cutting edge traveler that knows more than anyone else. I like it because I just like exploring destinations. I like finding those places off the beaten path because I find it easier to strike up a conversation with the people that live there rather than feeling like I am one of the thousands of this week’s tourists that are seeking an authentic experience in (insert any popular destination).
I have also found you don’t have to travel to the depths of the Amazon or visit some desolate, desert, Bedouin tribe to find off the beaten path locations. I recently started The Traveling Fool podcast where I talk about off the beaten path destinations. So, thinking that I am probably not the only one that likes discovering these little known destinations, at least little known to most tourists, I reached out to some friends to tell me their favorite off the beaten path destination.
1. Exmouth, Western Australia
Suggested by Brittany from The Sweet Wanderlust
Exmouth, Western Australia is quite possibly the country’s best kept secret. Is there anywhere else in the world where you can watch the sunrise AND set over the ocean, swim with humpbacks, whale sharks and manta rays and hike through red dirt ranges alongside emus and kangaroos? The adventures in and out of the water are endless. Drive through an abandoned American naval base, a ghost town consisting of a dive shop, bowling alley, swimming pool with a high dive and a baseball diamond. Or take to the sky on a microlight flight, soaring high above the Ningaloo Reef, where you can spot sharks, turtles, and whales. Enjoy white sandy beaches all to yourself and swim in turquoise waters alongside hundreds of species of fish. Situated 13 hours north of Perth and 14 hours south of Broome, Exmouth is a tiny town of about 2,500 residents, which swells to 6-7,000 during Australian winter when the whale sharks and humpback whales visit the surrounding ocean. Secret places don’t stay secret for long… visit today before the word gets out!
2. Ponte De Lima Portugal
Suggested by Julie from Julie Dawn Fox In Portugal
The small, northern Portuguese town of Ponte de Lima has long been one of my favorite places to visit. Not only is it the oldest town in Portugal, but it’s also one of the prettiest, thanks to its location on the banks of the River Lima and backdrop of mountains and greenery. Despite its charms, most foreign visitors don’t even know about it, let alone include it in their itinerary.
The attractive Roman bridge is evidence of the days when this town was on the Roman road between Braga and Asturias. The buildings in the historical centre span the middle ages to the 19th century, including a 14th century tower that was once a prison, a Gothic parish church, and Baroque chapels and former convent that’s now a museum. It’s also home to an annual International Gardens Festival which showcases color and creativity in intriguing ways.
There are several walking and cycle paths leading from the town, alongside the river and into the countryside. The ancient Portuguese Camino de Santiago trail also passes through Ponte de Lima.
3. Falkland Islands
Suggested by Nadine at Le Long Weekend
The Falkland Islands are a destination off the beaten path unlike any other. Combining unique landscapes with stunning wildlife sightings and intriguing history, these remote islands offer the curious visitor a truly exceptional experience. Located off the coast of South America, in the South Atlantic Ocean, the archipelago consists of over 700 islands, but people only inhabit a handful of them. Wildlife, however, is overwhelmingly bountiful. The Falkland Islands are home to 5 different species of penguins, which have made the island’s coastlines their breeding ground. Seals and Sea Lions are also in abundance, and around 230 species of birds have been recorded too – making it one of the best places to go bird watching in the world!
The limited number of visitors to the islands means that wildlife experiences are still very authentic and unencumbered by crowds. Besides wildlife watching, the island’s history deserves delving into. Tours and museum visits will fill you in on the facts, but the best way to learn about it is to sit down for a cuppa with one of the friendly locals. And be sure to stray further than the islands’ petite capital Stanley, as the outer islands offer an intimate experience to explore further while staying at a cozy guesthouse or lodge. Visit Pebble Island for war ruins, Carcass Island for beautiful beaches or Sea Lion Island to see the penguins from your bed!
4. Charles County Maryland, USA
Suggested by Susan from Gen X Traveler
Situated just 30-minutes south of the Nation’s Capital, Charles County Maryland offers rich colonial history based on religious freedom and tolerance in the New World.
Maryland was established as a colony based on religious freedom. As such, Charles and neighboring Queen Anne’s County have organized a Religious Freedom Trail.Stops along the trail in Charles County include religiously significant places such as St. Ignatius Church at Chapel Point and Mt Carmel Monastery.
Saint Ignatius was founded in 1641 and is the oldest active parish with a continual pastorate in the US. It is situated on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River offering outstanding views. This lovely chapel boasts stunning stain glass and one-of-a-kind needlepoint kneelers. A highlight of St. Ignatius is the historic cemetery perched above the river.
Established in 1790, Mt. Carmel Monastery is the oldest Monastery in the US. It was founded by the European Carmelites with familial roots in Maryland. If you visit you will not see the nuns. They are a cloistered order whose work is prayer. The women live behind a wall in modest dwellings. Their exposure to the outside world is nearly none.
However, the property is beautiful and you can visit the tiny chapel where they worship. If you attend mass the nuns will be seated to the right of the altar in a dedicated section. Additionally, you can visit the original primitive structure where the early Carmelites lived and prayed.
Next time you are in the DC area, plan a side trip to Charles County. The Religious Freedom Trail is perfect for both the pious and history buffs alike.
5. Westport Ireland
Westport is a quaint seaside town that is a must for any Ireland itinerary. The town is located in County Mayo on the Atlantic Ocean in the south-east corner of Clew Bay on the west coast of Ireland about three hours from Dublin.
Westport is a perfect town to explore the outdoor beauty of Ireland. Sea kayaking and paddling among the 365 islands of Clew Bay is one of the most popular outdoor activities. With the breathtaking backdrop of Croagh Patrick, there isn’t a more peaceful way to spend a few hours in Westport.
If you want to get a bit closer to Croagh Patrick, consider a hike up Ireland’s holiest mountain. It is renowned for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honor of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron Saint. It was at the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD. The summit of this hike also offers tremendous panoramic views of the County Mayo landscape.
Westport House is another reason to visit this cute town. It’s a combination of a heritage home museum, amusement park, campground, and train ride rolled into one.
These are just a few of the reasons I loved Westport.
6. Kirkenes Norway
Suggested by Michelle at Greedy Gourmet
If you are looking for something extraordinary, you should definitely go on a King Crab Safari in Kirkenes (all the way in Northern Norway). It is so high up, in fact, it is just shy of the Finish and Russian borders.
Kirkenes is a small charming arctic town, known for its incredible views of the aurora borealis phenomenon, otherwise known as the Northern lights. It also contains some of the most breath-taking views of the fjords. However, fishing for King Crab is one of my most favorite under-rated and off the beaten path things to do.
The King Crab Safari is organized in rigid-hulled inflatable boats, which take you out into the cold Barents Sea along the Bøkfjord. You’ll be able to catch some red King Crab, which are native to Norway, straight out of the trap. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Above all, it’s definitely not the most common thing to do as a tourist in Norway, which of course makes it so special.
You can easily get to Kirkenes with a Hurtigruten cruise expedition which takes you along other charming arctic cities.
7. Morgantown West Virginia, USA
Suggested by Stella Jane from Around The World in 24 Hours
Many visitors to the United States stick to exploring the big cities like New York or Los Angeles. They don’t get a chance to see more small-town American life. One of the most interesting ways to see a different side of the USA is to visit a college town like Morgantown, West Virginia. You’ll experience calm and quiet, but because Morgantown is home to the University of West Virginia, there will still be plenty to do.
The most popular thing to do in Morgantown is to see the University of West Virginia Mountaineers play football. The entire town seems to fit inside Milan Pushkar Stadium to cheer on the home team. The colors are blue and yellow, so wear those if you can. You can even snack on Almost Heaven Popcorn during the game.
Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ll enjoy Morgantown’s museums and galleries. The Art Museum of WVU is well worth visiting, as is the free Morgantown History Museum. You’ll learn how West Virginia became a state when it separated from Virginia during the Civil War. Nature lovers will enjoy going on a hike through the WVU Arboretum and strolling along the Monongahela River. The helpful signs will teach you all about the local plant life. Finally don’t miss the chance to see a show at the Metropolitan Theater, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. No matter what your interests are, Morgantown will have something for you.
8. Balneário Barra do Sul, Brazil
Suggested by Patricia from Travel Fam Life
If you are looking for an off the beaten path in Brazil, you should definitely explore the southeastern part of the country. With many beautiful beaches, lots of great food and a variety of activities for you to enjoy.
Getting there can be a little tricky since you have to fly to Sao Paulo then take another plane to Joinville in Santa Catarina state and from there, you can take a taxi or an Uber (very reasonable price) to this little coastal town.
Being that this part of Brazil is where I’m from, I can tell you that you will find some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. Their hearts are filled with joy to be able to help some tourists that come to visit.
Since this is a fisherman’s town, seafood is readily available if that is what you choose to eat, one of the best places we visited was called Petisqueira Apnea, we tried many of their dishes and loved them all. Now, if seafood is not your cup of tea, you can order many of the Brazilian delicacies that don’t involve that. Our favorite from this trip was pastel, a fried dough stuffed with the filling of your choice (the menu is quite extensive in some places), you can find them everywhere.
Once there, make sure you take a boat ride around the Ilha dos Remedios (medicine island), once the boat goes around the island, the captain will stop for you to take a dip in the beautiful water.
This mighty little shore town is packed with lots of water adventure for the whole family with a great price tag.
9. Olomouc, Czech Republic
Suggested by Veronika from Travel Geekery
Czech Republic has many wonderful towns to visit other than Prague – one of them is Olomouc, the 6th largest city in the country.
This student town combines the best of both worlds – lovely historical center and a lack of crowds. In that way, Olomouc can become a relaxing spot after a few days spent in the beautiful, yet hectic, Prague.
Located in the heart of Moravia region, in the East of the Czech Republic, Olomouc used to be the region’s capital, before Brno took the spotlight.
Olomouc Old Town centers around two squares – the Upper Square and the Lower Square. You can find amazing baroque fountains dotting the historical center, and many exceptional structures, such as the UNESCO-listed Holy Trinity Column of a unique size and Olomouc’s own astronomical clock.
You’ll find plenty of cute cafés to hang out at and watch the calm town life go by. Easter and Christmas see the squares fill with markets and the atmosphere becomes festive and even more charming.
Unlike Prague, Olomouc gets emptier in summer when all the students leave the town. Olomouc is easy to reach from Prague, it only takes 2 hours by train.
10. Freiburg Germany
Suggested by Elizabeth from Anchored Adventure Blog
Just on the edge of southern Germany’s Black Forest sits Freiburg im Breisgau (Freiburg), a lively university city that has flown under the tourism radar. While most travelers flock to the bustling capital, Berlin, or hop through Oktoberfest tents in Munich, those who venture off the beaten path to Freiburg are rewarded with an authentic German experience.
There aren’t many “must-do” tourist sites, but there are plenty of things to do in Freiburg. The real magic is simply wandering around the cobblestoned Old Town, which is almost completely car-free. Watch out for the streams of water running through the city. These “canal-like” streams (called bächle) were created in the 13th century to help put out city fires. Today, the legend says you will marry a Freiberg citizen if you step in the bächle.
Kastaniengarten is a fun beer garden that sits at the top of Schlossberg, a steep hill in the middle of the city center. The views from Kastaniengarten are some of the best in the city, which makes the beer even more delicious! Head to Munsterplatz for some grub, where food stalls and vendors are scattered around the square. Because of the student population, a variety of international cuisines can be found here (Japanese, Turkish, Irish, etc.), as well as trendy cocktail bars and no-frills pubs.
Finally, Freiburg’s proximity to the Black Forest makes it the perfect home base for outdoor enthusiasts or those who want an authentic cuckoo clock souvenir!
11. Sant’ Angelo, Italy
Suggested by Jeremiah from Smiles on Arrival
The village of Sant’ Angelo is a gem of a location on the Italian island of Ischia. Approximately 45 minutes from the city of Naples by way of a ferry ride along with a bus ride, the village is situated on the southern side of the island. It’s a peaceful part of an island that has yet to be inundated by tourists. Since that is the case, it keeps its old Italian charm and atmosphere. Adding to the ambiance is the fact that Sant’ Angelo is a pedestrian-only village. So you can wander freely through its streets and admire its beauty. There is beauty in abundance as it sits on the coast and includes some stunning scenery. That includes a causeway that has a beach on either side. The colorful buildings in this area add to the charm.
Not only is it a stunning place to visit, but the causeway in Sant’ Angelo is also the location to take a water taxi to one of the best beaches on the island, Maronti Beach.
You’re sure to enjoy your visit to Sant’ Angelo. It is the perfect spot to escape the crowds, get off the beaten path and enjoy the beauty of Italy.
12. Zhangye Rainbow Mountains, China
Suggested by Wendy from Nomadic Vegan
While the “Rainbow Mountain” in Peru has become overrun with tourists and Instagrammers in the past few years, hardly anyone outside China seems to know about the much more spectacular multi-colored mountains in the remote Gansu province of China. Now officially designated as the Zhangye Danxia National Landform Geological Park, they are more commonly known as the Zhangye Rainbow Mountains. This 500-square-kilometer mountain range was largely unknown even among Chinese people until about a decade ago when the government established it the park and built tourism infrastructure inside it.
In typical Chinese fashion, shuttle buses ferry visitors (almost all of whom are domestic tourists) from one viewing platform to another. So while independent hiking here is not really possible, it’s definitely worth coming for the views. Sunrise and sunset really make the colors pop, so try to time your visit to catch at least one of them. My favorite view is from the Yun Hai Tai (云海台), which translates as “colorful sea of clouds”. From here you can see a number of whimsically named rock formations, including “spirit monkey views the sea” and “monks worship Buddha”.
13. Poznan Poland
Suggested by Daniela from Daniela Travels
While most people go to Poland to visit Warsaw and Krakow, I move off the beaten path to Poznan in the west-central part of Poland. Right by the Warta River sits a town full of history and tales to tell. The Old Town is a colorful meeting point, the perfect start to a visit to one of its famous landmarks and a great place to try delicious Polish food. Its vibrant atmosphere attracts people from all over town, especially in the summer evenings. Here you can find the busy Stary Rynek, the Old Market Square, as well as the 16th century Town Hall.
Inside the Town Hall, you can find the Historical Museum of Poznan. Here you will find fascinating facts about the town; after all, Poznan was once the capital of Poland in the 9th Century. At noon, make sure to be outside the Town Hall to watch two mechanical goats butt horns just above the clock. The goats represent the legend of Pietrik, the cook.
Pietrik was in charge of cooking venison for the celebration of the clock at the Town Hall after it was rebuilt from the great fire. The cook got so distracted with the events happening at the marketplace that the roast fell into the fire and was burnt. The desperate young cook went outside and found two billy goats, then dragged them to the kitchen. The goats, sensing their future, fled to the tower, where they started head butting each other before the crowd. The spectacle so amused the mayor that he pardoned Pietrick. The clockmaker was ordered to construct a unique mechanism to set the horological goats in motion. Since that day, the clock brings the legend to life every day at noon in Poznan.
14. Comox, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Suggested by Lizzie from Lizzie Lau Travels