Mondo’s picks: 6 excellent alternatives to super-popular destinations

Did you know that the Croatian city of Šibenik is every bit as lovely as Dubrovnik, but without the crowds? In this article, Mondo presents six superb alternatives to some of the world’s most popular travel destinations.

Palawan, the Philippines
The beaches of the resort island Boracay are well-matched by the ones on Palawan.

1. Palawan, the Philippines

The famous resort island of Boracay in the Philippines attracts so many tourists that restrictions had to put in place. But not to worry: the country has many other jewels in its crown. Among the most impressive of these is Palawan. Unsurprisingly, the stunning beaches of Palawan Island, the largest island in this archipelagic province, do attract tourists, but so far not in great numbers. Towns on the island such as El Nido and Puerto Princesa offer a good range of services without having given up their own distinctive character.

The most enjoyable thing of all to do in Palawan is to go island hopping, preferably for long enough to treat yourself to a overnight stay on one of the many unpopulated islets that you could have all to yourself. There are tour operators in the towns, and prices are reasonable if you go with a small group. There are spectacular views, like those seen in the hit reality show Survivors.

Azenhas do Mar, Portugal
The area around Azenhas do Mar is a great destination for those seeking quiet hiking trails.

2. Azenhas do Mar, Portugal

One of Italy’s top tourist draws is Cinque Terre, the string of centuries-old seaside villages on the Italian Riviera. It’s popular among hikers – so popular, in fact, that looking elsewhere might be a better idea. One alternative that’s already become popular with hikers is the Portuguese town of Sintra, near Lisbon. However, many people don’t know that there are other beautiful villages along the nearby coast, like Azenhas do Mar.

You will have to plan your own hiking trails here, but it’s well worth the effort. The terrain is pleasant, and you will have plenty of space to yourself. We highly recommend combining walks along the coast with a hike a little further inland in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. The beach in the picturesque village of Azenhas do Mar is small, but there are longer beaches in the surrounding area. You could also experience the whole place by car on a day trip from Lisbon.

Šibenik, Croatia
The historical town of Šibenik has appeared on Games of Thrones.

3. Šibenik, Croatia

If the throngs of sightseers in the Croatian tourist magnet of Dubrovnik put you off, head further up the coast to Šibenik. This other, far more tranquil treasure of the Adriatic is an unknown destination for many. It was granted town charter in 1298, and has a historic old town with charming little alleys. The beaches are a delight, as is the delicious seafood.

The most notable historical attraction in this ancient town is the Cathedral of St. James, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. Dubrovnik was not the only place in Croatia to feature in Game of Thrones: the scenes set in the fictional city of Braavos in the fifth season of the hit TV series were filmed in Šibenik.

And if you want to experience the beauty of the countryside around Šibenik, Krka National Park is only a 30-minute bus ride away.

Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Only 15 of the 70 islands of the Outer Hebrides are inhabited.

4. Outer Hebrides, Scotland

In the popular radio comedy series The Men From the Ministry, long-suffering bureaucrats faced the threat of being banished to the Outer Hebrides if they displeased their superiors. But would exile on these beautiful islands really be such a terrible thing? Despite lacking volcanoes, with their equally dramatic lunar landscapes the islands are almost like a miniature version of Iceland. But the Outer Hebrides are untouched by mass tourism.

The Outer Hebrides are almost like a miniature version of Iceland.

The rugged and mountainous natural wonders have a fascinating history. Although they may sound like separate islands, the Isle of Lewis and Isle of Harris are actually two parts of Lewis and Harris, the main island in the Outer Hebrides. The largest town, Stornoway, is on the east coast. Due to the unpredictable weather, the region attracts visitors only for a few months of the year, mainly from June to August. This is high season for the local lodges offering accommodation and the car ferries. The easiest way to make the trip is to hire a car from Edinburgh, for example.

Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
Both Bali and Nusa Tenggara offer breathtaking scenery with white sand beaches.

5. Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

Some visitors to Indonesia are likely to be put off by the number of tourists that swarm Bali and the neighboring Gili Islands. The solution isn’t far away: the eastern parts of Nusa Tenggara, also known as the Lesser Sunda Islands. Indonesia has recently started to step up its marketing of the region, but there are many islands here that still offer tranquil beaches and other natural beauty unspoiled by construction.

Nusa Tenggara is a treasure trove for divers and surfers. The region’s islands also offer good hiking, and many are home to small village communities. Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores is one of the main hubs for visitors. The famously fearsome Komodo dragons are endangered, and the authorities are now planning to impose an extremely high entrance fee on Komodo Island. If it comes into force, the island of Rinca will be a more affordable place to marvel at the world’s largest lizards.

Hamburg, Germany
In Hamburg, you can admire architecture from several centuries. The glass-clad Elbphilharmonie concert hall, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and completed in 2016, has become one of the city's landmarks.

6. Hamburg, Germany

For so many travelers to Germany all eyes are on Berlin, but Hamburg is no less inviting. The colorful and trendy quarter of Karolinenviertel (‘Karoviertel’ for short) has vintage boutiques and wonderful cafes side by side. The neighboring district of Sternschanze is known for its excellent restaurants, including vegetarian eateries.

Culture aficionados will love the Elbphilharmonie concert hall, which is also an architectural attraction, and there are no less than five fabulous galleries and museums along the Kunstmeile, Hamburg’s famous ‘Art Mile’. One of these that’s definitely not to be missed is Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MK&G), with design and artefacts dating back more than 4,000 years. Hamburg is also smaller than Berlin, so it takes less time to get around.

See also:

• Mondo's picks: 8 fascinating second cities >

Text: Pekka Hiltunen and Valtteri Väkevä Photos: Getty Images and All Over Press

This story was published originally in Mondo's issue 5/20.

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