17 under-the-radar alternatives to major tourist destinations

Ciara Appelbaum
Monday 10 July 2017 12:53 BST

Sure, a trip to Paris or Rome is nice — but sometimes the best vacations come from traveling off the beaten path.

This summer, beat the crowds by heading to lesser-known destinations that are just as stunning as their more popular counterparts.

Here are 17 alternatives to major tourist cities.

Instead of Venice, Italy, visit Colmar, France

Forget taking an overpriced gondola ride in Venice and visit one of the Most Romantic Cities in Europe, Colmar. This French town is only a hop, skip, and a jump away from the border of Germany, and looks like something straight out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Stroll down the cobblestone streets that are lined with colorful, half-timbered houses, or take a romantic boat tour down "Petite Venise" (little Venice), the town's winding river. Known as the "Alsatian wine capital" along France's famous Alsace wine route, you should make sure to explore one of the many vineyards in the area, and clink glasses over some of the best wine you've ever tasted.

Instead of Stockholm, visit Gothenburg, Sweden

Gothenburg is a less crowded and cheaper alternative to Stockholm that is nonetheless bursting with charm, thanks to picturesque wooden houses and cobblestone streets. For a more current experience, visitors can also check out Långgatorna, a modern street known as a bustling "Little London." The town also has a theme park called Lisebergs Nojespark where visitors can ride rides or explore its landscaped sculpture garden.

Instead of Vail, visit Telluride, Colorado

This quirky former mining town rivals Aspen and Vail in terms of skiing terrain, but prides itself in being far less pretentious. There's plenty to do in the summer as well, from hiking and biking to fly fishing. A free, year-round gondola takes visitors from Telluride to Mountain Village.

Instead of Milan, Italy, visit Cologne, Germany

Typically overshadowed by destinations like Munich and Berlin, this 2,000-year-old city is famous for its super pale ale, Kölsch, and its extravagant High Gothic architecture. Instead of standing in line to see the Gothic styles of Milan Cathedral in Italy, visit Cologne's picturesque hallmark, Cologne Cathedral, which is equally stunning and over 150 feet taller.

Instead of Copenhagen, Denmark, visit Bergen, Norway

Instead of fighting the crowds in Copenhagen's famous wharf, Nyhavn, check out Bergen's historic wharf, which is just as colorful yet a whole lot more peaceful. Visitors can also take a cruise to see some of Norway's largest fjords, such as Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord, or jump on a train to Voss, Norway, on the famous Flåm Railway. The route between Bergen and Voss is considered one of the world's most scenic train rides, with endless fjord views whizzing by right outside your window.

Instead of Napa Valley, California, visit Traverse City, Michigan

Located on the same parallel as Burgundy and Bordeaux in France, and definitely less touristy than Napa Valley, this area produces similar wines, but for much cheaper. While the region, which ranks 13th in US wine production, became internationally known for its white wines, like Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, it's increasingly becoming known for its French-style reds like Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Stunning views of Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay aren't too shabby either.

Instead of Vienna, visit Salzburg, Austria

Much like Vienna, Salzburg is filled with art, culture, and history, but on a much smaller scale. Known as the city of Mozart, music lovers can visit the famous musician's birthplace, tour Bibliotheca Mozartiana, the most extensive Mozart library in the world, or catch a concert at the Salzburg Marionette Theatre. Tourists can also get lost in the stunning baroque architecture of the city's historic center, which leads up to Hohensalzburg Fortress, one of the largest Medieval castles in Europe.

Instead of Munich, Germany, visit Plzen, Czech Republic

Instead of Munich, which is famous for its beer culture, visit the small town of Plzen, which is credited with creating the original Pilsner beer. One of the town's top attractions is the Brewery Museum, though the picturesque Great Synagogue, the second-largest synagogue in Europe, is also worth a visit.

Instead of Los Angeles, visit Laguna Beach, California

Laguna Beach is the perfect beach town, and known to attract celebs like Justin Bieber, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Avicii. It's a paradise for beach bums, and lacks the crowds and tourist traps of Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Visitors have a plethora of nature to discover including the scenic Heisler Park and Crystal Cove State Park.

Instead of Berlin, Germany, visit Sofia, Bulgaria

Although often overlooked, Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, has a lot to offer tourists. Much like Berlin, Sofia is filled with history and tons of quirky street art. There's also the massive Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevsk and skiing on Vitosha Mountain in the winter.

Instead of Istanbul, Turkey, visit Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade should be added to any Eurotrip itinerary. Voted the world's #1 party city, beating out popular party hubs like Istanbul, Belgrade is the perfect place to let loose. During the day, tourists can explore Kalemegdan Fortress, which dates back to around 535 A.D., or relax on the beach at Da Ciganlija, a small island on the Sava River that flows through the city, much like Istanbul's Bosphorus.

Instead of Rio De Janeiro, visit Morro de São Paulo, Brazil

Forget about the crowds at Rio De Janeiro and head to the car-free village of Morro de São Paulo, which is located on the northeastern tip of Brazil's Tinharé Island and has much nicer — and less crowded — beaches. Check out Quarta Praia Beach for some peace and quiet, or, if you want some more action, head to Segunda Praia Beach, which is bustling with beach bars and vendors selling fresh cocktails.

Instead of London, visit York, United Kingdom

Just a short, two-hour train ride north of London are the charming streets of York. Explore The Shambles, which was voted "The most Picturesque Street in Britain" by Google. The magical-looking street is even rumored to have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the "Harry Potter" films. Visitors can also visit the city's stunning medieval cathedral, York Minister.

Instead of Bangkok, visit Chiang Rai, Thailand

Instead of going to tourist hotspots like Bangkok and Chiang Mai, get off the beaten path and check out Chiang Rai. Much like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai is full of spectacular temples, including the famous Wat Rong Khun (The White Temple), and Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha).

Instead of Zurich, visit Bern, Switzerland

This city, built around the Aare River, is Switzerland's capital. Less touristy and much cheaper than other Swiss cities, like Zurich, its Medieval architecture is great for sightseeing. After a long day of exploring, visitors can grab a raft or take a refreshing swim in the crystal blue, clean waters of the Aare River, flanked by Bern's Old Town.

Instead of Paris, France, visit Ljubljana, Slovenia

Many don't realize that Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, is just as stunning as the glamorous streets of Paris. Bustling with cafés and quirky art nouveau architecture, visitors can explore the cobblestone streets of Ljubljana Old Town, walk along the city's charming canals and bridges, such as Triple Bridge, or tour the cities iconic landmark, Ljubljana Castle.

Instead of Warsaw, visit Kraków, Poland

Instead of traveling to Warsaw, grab a delicious obwarzanek Krakowski (thought to be the original version of a bagel) from a street vendor and explore the less crowded, but just as historic, streets of Krakow. Visitors can ride through the city's picturesque Main Market Square in a horse-drawn carriage, or delve into its history by walking through the Jewish District of Kazimierz, visiting Hero's Square at the old Jewish ghetto from WWII, or touring the famed Oskar Schindler's Factory.

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Read the original article on Business Insider UK. © 2016. Follow Business Insider UK on Twitter.

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