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I am just not like other people… Me in Carcassonne, France circa 2009 (holy crap!)

Just because a city isn’t on the tourist map doesn’t mean the place isn’t worth your time. In fact, that should only make you keener to go! Many major tourist destinations have their so-called second cities: places that are often just as interesting as the key location but overshadowed by its popular neighbour. Personally, I love heading to those smaller towns and having locals ask me things like “What made you decide to come here?” It’s a great icebreaker and in the right places it makes people much more open and welcoming. Believe me, you’ll have a way better reception if you’re a respectful visitor in a place that isn’t used to having them!

Here are 11 cities you should put on the top of your list next time you’re visiting a country:

1. Carcassonne, France

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Carcassonne, France

I got to visit this stunning walled city when I was studying (and making bad decisions) abroad in France because it’s where one of my summer housemates was from and I visited her family. Carcassonne is bursting with history and it’s ideal for lovers of ancient history. The fortress known as La Cité is a UNESCO Heritage Site and sure to stir the imagination with tales of its ramparts.

2. Bristol, UK

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Bristol street art scene is unrivalled in the UK.

Bristol probably isn’t near the top of the list of people’s top places to visit in England, but I’ve been here three times and loved every moment. The city is famous for its Georgian and Victorian architecture but it also has colourful street art (hello, Banksy), a really cool prohibition-style bar I went to for a friend’s birthday and some nice country walks to make.

It’s a university town and that means plenty of nightlife and booze that’s way cheaper than in London. This is one place that’s not just overshadowed by London, but other ‘B’ cities too: Bath and Brighton.

3. Valladolid, Spain

Pasarela del Museo de la Ciencia, Valladolid, small cities you should visit in spain, valladolid
Pasarela del Museo de la Ciencia, Valladolid || Photo via Flickr

Despite this town being where my flatmate grew up, she had a hearty laugh when I told her I was going to include it. The town is just an hour northwest of Madrid but Valladolid was a very important city once upon a time. Fans of Miguel de Cervantes will be able to take a tour of the home where he wrote Don Quixote. My flatmate recommends getting a taste of lechazo (baked lamb) at Restaurante Mannix, a typical dish of the region.

4. Meknes, Morocco

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Gate to the medina in Meknes, Morocco

I just got back from 6 weeks of solo travel around Morocco and after visiting 12 cities, Meknes tied with Tangier for my favourite. It’s a vibrant city filled with Moroccan tourists — Meknes is home (or nearby) some of Morocco’s most important monuments and architecture after all. I loved walking around the huge ramparts of the imperial city and my day trip to Moulay Idriss was unforgettable.

5. Anchorage, Alaska

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Little Campbell Lake, Anchorage || Photo courtesy of Douglas Brown via Flickr

You want me to go all the way to the United States and visit Alaska?! Seriously, you won’t regret a visit to this stunning city, the gateway to the wild and natural beauty of the state. If you love nature and the outdoors, there is an activity for you. Not to mention that Anchorage has some seriously hip places to stay, eat, and drink.

6. Shirakawa, Japan

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Gassho style village, Shirakawa-go, Japan || Photo via Flickr

Shirakawa-go is a super-traditional city, famous for its gasshō-zukuri homes. Tokyo and Osaka are wholly unlike most of the rest of Japan so it really takes some more effort to see the way the majority of the Japanese live. This charming city can be found in the Ono region of Japan and will give you an interesting insight into the history and culture of the area.

7. Chomutov, Czech Republic

Penzión in Chomutov, Czech Republic, cities you haven't heard of it
Penzión in Chomutov, Czech Republic

You’ve probably never heard of Chomutov. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t have either if part of my manfriend’s family didn’t live there. I had the opportunity to visit this historic city, set on the banks of the river Chomutova, for my partner’s uncle’s birthday last year and found that it’s a beautiful place right at the foot of the mighty Ore Mountains. You can always visit on a day trip if you can’t bear to leave your awesome hotel in Prague, but if you want to see a little more of the Czech Republic’s natural side, use this place as a gateway to visit the Bezruc Valley.

8. Holloko, Hungary

holloko, wood carver, hungary
Hollókő is a small village in northern Hungary, 100 kilometers from Budapest. 500 inhabitants, called Palóc, each of them keepers of ancient traditions as well as their distinctive dialect, have maintained and cared for their costumes in a small medieval village, which is preserved intact. || Photo via Flickr

I went to Budapest last year for Valentine’s Day/my birthday and realized…I don’t know any other towns in Hungary.

After doing some digging, I decided that if I were to go back to Hungary I would like to check out Holloko. The city is a a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its name means “Raven Stone” in English. The Village Museum, and the town itself, offers an interesting insight into traditional Hungarian life.

9. Kandy, Sri Lanka

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World Heritage Town of Kandy, Sri Lanka || Photo by Maximilian Imran Faleel via Flickr

The nation’s spiritual capital is situated here, in the heart of Sri Lanka. Be sure to visit the gold-roofed Temple of the Tooth – this sacred site holds a sacred relic from Buddha: his tooth.

10. Beausoleil Island, Canada

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Bae exploring Beausoleil Island in September

It’s only a couple hours drive from Barrie to Honey Harbour, where you take a ferry to the island. Beausoleil Island is just 8 kilometres long and makes a great place to go swimming, camping, or mountain biking. Parks Canada will actually lend you mountain bikes so do as much of a tour as you can! When my partner came to visit me a few years ago in Canada, I took him here to get “off-the-beaten-path” of Toronto and Niagara Falls, and show him some of Ontario’s natural beauty.

11. Udon Thani, Thailand

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Beautiful water lillies in Red Lotus Sea || Photo by jostartheworld via Flickr

The only thing I really know about Udon is noodles… just kidding! Bangkok and Chiang Mai are popular, but this northern city is the heart of the Isaan region and is a favourite among people who want pictures of the unique Red Lotus Sea.

So, dear readers: Have you been to any of these places? Have I piqued your interest in visiting a country’s ‘second cities’? Let me know in the comments!

19 thoughts on “11 Places You Probably Weren’t Planning on Travelling to but Should”

  1. Completely with you on a few of these, as I have enjoyed many nights in Bristol on holiday, but I am hearing that prices are going up, big time. Also nodding my head on Shirakawa as those triangular roofs with snow have to be some of the prettiest winter scenes in the world. Great post!

  2. Good to see you featuring the breathtaking Red Lotus Sea on your blog! We are set on its doorstep and frequently arrange boat trips on the lotus lake for guests at our private pool villa here, although readers should note that the time to visit the lake is in the cooler season, so from December through March. We recommend taking a longtail boat out early in the morning, to catch the lotus flowers in full bloom against an azure sky.

  3. Wow, the red lotus sea looks gorgeous. And I completely agree about Bristol. More people should definitely be up for visiting it. It’s such a great city. 🙂 I’ve always wanted to exploring Alaska. I’ll keep Anchorage in mind when I finally head up there.

    1. I think it helps that I have friends who live in Bristol — that definitely makes a difference when visiting a place!

  4. Great article!

    Having the chance to talk about Valladolid (it is quite unusual), I need to mention the best thing of it: the Ribera de Duero wine! Although Rioja is the most popular Spanish wine, Ribera is as good as Rioja, and for some of us even better 🙂
    Here some of my favorite Ribera wines: Pesquera, Protos, Alion, Teofilo and Vega Sicilia (this last one is more expensive but totally worth to taste, best wine in the world!)

    1. Lara, you were holding back on me! Please bring some back to London next time 😉 haha

    1. It is an absolute must! It’s so close, yet so far from Europe… you know? Best of luck with your ERASMUS in Oz, Michelle!

    1. Thanks, Piritta! I’ve been writing a lot about Alaska, it’s definitely up there on my list!

  5. Wow…good choices. I’ve been to about half of them, and the ones I’ve been to have loved. I agree…it’s the smaller places that call to me.

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