And Paris is a woman's town, with flowers in her hair;
And it's sweet to dream in Venice, and it's great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living, there is no place like home."
Well, certain places rise to our expectations, whereas others tend to disappoint. Again, reasons for liking or disliking a place are always personal. To some, the sheer beauty of Venice may seem mesmerizing enough to warrant multiple visits; but if you'd ask me, I've had my fill of the sometimes smelly, perpetually crowded, rather expensive, pigeon-infested city. I can imagine bricks being hurled at me as I type, but rest assured, there are quite a few who would also agree.
Bottomline―this list is just a list, and just a sodding list. The underrated places are those that don't prominently pop up in common minds when one thinks of going on a vacation. The overrated places indicate the ones that are so out-of-this-world amazing, that they have been done to death. So, take a look.
Try these places if you haven't already
Okay, as far as 'underrated' is concerned, these places aren't tranquil pieces of paradise. These simply are the ones that one doesn't normally consider, with the frequency of, say, London, Paris, or Rome. Neither should these be taken as a recommended replacement for the overrated destinations.
Uggh. Never was there a bigger killjoy than these keep-in-mind-lest-I-commit-the-ghastly-crime-of-not-living-up-to-your-expectations points.
In a far-flung corner of the Southern Hemisphere lies Puerto Varas, a picturesque German-influenced town, with the waters of Llanquihue Lake lapping its shores. Postcard-perfect is what best describes Puerto Varas, which, at last count, was relatively calm and not as touristy as, say, Pucón. The hulking silhouette of the conical Osorno volcano completes the landscape along with the snow-capped Mt. Calbuco and Mt. Tronador. Also called "La ciudad de las rosas" or "the city of roses", the town's beauty is what makes it worth a visit.
Why come here:
- The water sports facilities are fantastic, with canyoning and kayaking taking precedence.
- Skiing is a popular activity here, with some committed skiers even making a visit in the harsh winter.
- The dramatic scenery in an out-of-place destination is what brings people here.
- The German influence is seen widely―be it the architecture, or the cuisine.
Indonesia has a lot to offer than Bali, Bali, and more Bali. Flores, is one of Indonesia's best kept secrets, and it's even ceasing to be a secret rather fast. This island was once the gateway to the Komodo National Park, where visitors would go to see those ferocious man-eating lizards. But what escaped them then were the pristine, sunny beaches of Flores, along with the multi-hued volcanic lakes.
Why come here:
- Clear waters that are so sparklingly brilliant, that you can't help but snorkel.
- None of the madness that is Bali; you'll actually encounter cleanliness, along with some peace and quiet.
- Infrastructure in Flores is supposedly developing at the speed of light, so you shouldn't really waste time, and get here right away.
- Flores is one of the few places, apart from Komodo Island where you can spot the reptilian monster called the Komodo.
Art Nouveau ahoy! Ålesund counts itself among Norway's lesser known spots; no less in beauty than Bergen. This charming little seaport owes much of its existing glory to the fire that razed the town to ashes in 1904. What followed was a complete rebuild by some of Germany's finest young architects, who yanked up the town's hotness by several notches.
Why come here:
- If Art Nouveau was your thing, there wouldn't be a better place than Ålesund.
- The Sunnmøre Museum is the town's biggest attractions, where you can view the amazing Viking vessels, along with some gorgeous traditional structures.
Coming to Bukhara is like taking a trip back in time. This grand dame of a city has a history spanning two millennia; it even shared a spot on the ancient Silk Route. The Uzbeks seem to have taken utmost care and restored much of Bukhara's structures, so much so that you're transported into a time-warped capsule, a thousand years back in time.
Why come here:
- The city center is where Bukhara's treasures lie―the complex is full of madrassas, a hulking royal fortress and the remnants of what used to be a bustling marketplace.
- The city is central Asia's most prominent Islamic landmark.
It may not have the Hollywood-esque glamor of the Amalfi Coast, but Turkey's youngest tourist attraction makes up for it in terms of history. This 400-mile walk way begins in Ölüdeniz, takes you along the Mediterranean, and ends up just short of Antalya, in Turkey's southwest. Pristine, pollution-free, and breathtakingly beautiful are adjectives to sum it up.
Why come here:
- The walk will be unpredictable, a little tiresome, sometimes downright exhausting, but the views along the way will more than make up for it. As they say, "no pain, no gain".
Lonely Planet voted Sarajevo as one among the top 10 cities to visit in 2010. Hmm, not enough to extract a visit out of you, isn't it? It's understandable, owing to the long running political tensions in the area. Dubbed as the 'Jerusalem of Europe', you'd find the local populace comprising adherents of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Judaism.
Why come here:
- The city is charmingly tourist-friendly, and is en route to becoming a major entertainment hub in the Balkans.
- Sarajevo has places of religious, architectural, and commercial interest, making it an appealing destination for all kinds of travelers.
Ladakh simply steals your breath away; and that's both, figuratively, as well as literally. The region's landscape is responsible for the former, whereas the 3,000 m altitude induces the later. The region's biggest town, Leh remains one of the few bastions of Buddhism in south Asia, and acts as a tourist hub as well.
Why come here:
- Ladakh, till date, remains one of the most inaccessible regions of the world, along with one privy to the most unique landscapes you'll ever lay your eyes on.
- A cold desert that it is, the region sees rather dramatic and nausea-inducing temperature fluctuations, combined with rising altitudes―a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
- And yet, every year, you'll find a distinct number of people making a beeline for Ladakh, braving the life-threatening bus rides along one of the highest motorable roads in the world, only to get here. Think about it.
What we have here is a limestone bridge, with the Cahabón River flowing underneath. The limestone bridge has these giant steps that double up as swimming pools, with clear turquoise waters. And all of this is 100% natural. Beat that.
Why come here:
- Semuc Champey is one place in this list that can rightfully don the crown of obscure.
- Guatemala is not one of the topmost popular destinations out there, and within that, Semuc Champey is a hidden natural wonder.
- Whether it stays so for long is highly doubtful, so fellas, pack your bags and get here soon.
Delft is the one European city that hasn't been murdered by summertime backpackers (including yours truly) as yet. The city is basically an assimilation of each of the things we associate with Europe―beautiful buildings, amazing museums, a rich history, locals commuting on bicycles, delicious food served in street side cafes, a connection with royalty, cobbled streets, all of which sit prettily above a series of canals.
Why come here:
- You mean you'd rather go elsewhere after reading the above paragraph?
It's natural to only consider a visit to Jerusalem when planning a trip to Israel. A quick float in the Dead Sea, and it's pretty much it for most people coming here. But Haifa is like a breath of fresh air. This port city is located on the slopes of Mount Carmel, and one can't help but be reminded of the gorgeousness of San Francisco while roaming the streets here.
Why come here:
- Haifa is blessed with an awesome location, and has amazing weather all year round.
- A visit to the Hanging Gardens of Haifa provides spectacular views of this beautiful city.
- Don't be fooled by its reputation of an industrial port city, as the city also happens to have a lively cosmopolitan atmosphere, and is the hub of cultural activities.
And now to the done to death places
Not saying that these places aren't worth a visit, but it's just that the hype surrounding them has simply stolen their thunder. As a result, most of your first time visits to these places end up being as insipid as stale champagne.
The days of hedonism are thankfully past us, which is why we'd just want Bangkok to move on as well. Don't get me wrong; it's still a vibrant, exciting city to be in, provided one looks at it as being more than Khaosan Road, which quite frankly, is a downright depressing place to be in, and rather seedy too. The Chao Phraya River is overwhelmingly polluted (not too different from other major rivers in the world), and as for the beaches, there are far too many cleaner and better options in the rest of Thailand.
Just hear me out before you shoot me.
Never in a lifetime would anyone advice you not to visit these cities, or that they are overrated, but this is just a fervent request to urge you to get over the clichés when you get here. These beautiful, wonderful cities have so much to offer beyond the Bridge/Tower/Square, that will make you keep coming back for more. So if you're planning a trip to any of these cities, we beg you to do justice to it. By all means, do visit the mainstream tourist attractions; but also spare some time to scratch the surface, and make a real connection.
As much as The Hangover may have inspired you to come to Vegas (and you definitely should), you'll find that your expectations may crumble on knowing the fact that much of the hype is centered on one neon-blitzy strip. 24 hours are more than enough to do all things Vegas-y, including getting hitched; but stay longer, and you'll only be nursing the mother of all hangovers.
Ostentatious as far as the eye can see, Dubai is an engineering feat. After a point though, the charm of the tallest building, the biggest airport, the largest shopping mall begins to wear out, as you get sucked into the consumerist abyss. Stay away, unless you're one of those who can actually make use of those ATMs here that dispense gold bars.
Just ducked a cannon ball that was hurled at the mention of Switzerland. Beautiful? Undoubtedly. Coming back for more? Umm ... not unless I'm a serious skier. Sterile Switzerland has the precise consistency of their home-grown cuckoo clocks, so much so, that a first timer may have trouble discerning whether it is Lucerne or Bern or Basel that has those snow-capped mountains, with the pretty wooden houses, and the quaint bridges. Wait a minute, it's probably Zürich, or Interlaken ... where the #%$* am I?
All my friends, are going to Ibiza / but not me (no), but not me (no) / All my friends, are going to party
with a lot of (girls), but not me (no)
All my friends, are carrying diseases / but not me (no), but not me (no) / All my friends, are going to die / I hope it will be soon, but not me (no)
I'm going to stay healthy / I wanna live
―"I hate Ibiza" by Edo Frenkel
A rather harsh song, isn't it? Ibiza finds favor among the partying lot for various reasons known best to them. To add to it, the land also boasts of some very fine beaches and fantastic weather. But most people visiting Ibiza have little plans of seeing the sun. They'd rather be cooped up in a disco with several like-minded people, having a rollicking time. If this isn't your idea of fun, steer clear of Ibiza.
Again, not the city in its entirety, but yes, there are a few things that you can surely waive off. The zonkingly expensive gondola ride immediately comes to mind. So does the pigeon-poop land that is the Piazza San Marco. Do yourself a favor, and forgo the gondola ride for a visit to the Murano glass factory. Watch the historical Venetian glass-blowing here, and buy a pretty Murano gondola to take home. And as far as the Piazza is concerned, an early morning visit is the time to actually do justice to this ancient square.
The Bali of yore may manage to make an ex-hippie all misty-eyed. But not anymore. The heavy influx of tourists over the past two decades has overturned its charm, and made way for untidy beaches, over-zealous ware peddlers, and way too many bugs. Flores, mentioned above would definitely score over Bali. But don't tell everyone about it.
If there ever was a yawn-worthy place in Europe after Helsinki ;-), it's got to be Berlin. Too staid, too steely, and too business-like. Kudos to the city for having risen from the pounding it received in WWII, but it's still not up there with the hotshots of Europe. Want a more sterling experience in Germany? Take a drive along the Bavarian Romantic Road from Würzburg to Füssen, and you'll get your money's worth.
When you have an Irish city that frequently gets labeled as the most un-Irish city there is, you know something's amiss. Dublin is the city to receive that dishonor from several travelers who've been there, and that's saying something. The recommended course to take would be to pick any other city/town/village in Ireland to get your heart's fill of all things Irish.
Okay, so that was the overrated-underrated list of destinations. The debate, if needed, can now commence.