We all love the idea of visiting Paris, but who wants to be interrupted by herds of tourists under the Eiffel Tower? Or, the quiet beauty of Santorini, ruined by the chaos of people trying to get a picture against the blue-and-white backgrounds of the island. Thanks to social media, every single destination you love has quite possibly been congested by herds of tourists trying to get their next candid click, even prompting Instagram vs Reality posts, which show the possible chaos of popular holiday destinations. And forget about getting a picture next to the building you’ve grown up admiring, finding your foot in the crowd becomes the real challenge, ruining a holiday at times.
Fret not, for there are cities that are as beautiful as these well-known locations. Not only are these almost similar, but some are also highly underrated gems that are less crowded, far less expensive and have just as much to offer as your favourite destination. If you’re tired of the overcrowded streets of Barcelona or the clashing boats in Venice, here are some alternative destinations to visit instead.
Doha instead of Dubai in the UAE
Dubai is one of the most commercialised cities in the world and the most populated in the UAE. It’s where you can find the best in terms of luxury tourism, dining, shopping experiences, cultural travel, and more. More importantly, Dubai is known as the city of superlatives, with the tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), the second largest mall in the world (The Dubai Mall), the largest aquarium in the world (Dubai Aquarium), the world’s biggest man-made island (Palm Islands). These are some of the most popular attractions in this city for thrill-seekers. But given the city’s over-commercialisation, Dubai can be crowded almost all throughout the year.
After Dubai, Doha is regarded as one of the best cities to visit in the Middle East. It does share a few similarities with Dubai. However, it still stands on its own as one of the most charming cities in the Middle East with plenty of cultural and architectural wonders. The Pearl Monument which pays homage to Qatar’s history in the pearling industry is one of Doha’s most famous attractions. Doha also features more cultural activities such as the popular Museum of Islamic Art, housing a range of art dating back to the 7th century. It is also home to the National Museum of Qatar which dives into Qatar’s history and heritage.
While Doha offers more traditional attractions which relate to Qatar’s local culture, the nightlife which Dubai is known for can be experienced in Doha as well. Shisha, also known as hookah is a common indulgence in the Middle East, and The Shisha Terrace at the Four Seasons Hotel is touted as one of the best spots in Doha. It offers gorgeous views of the city and sea. But if it’s a party you are looking for, then Society Lounge at Hilton Doha is the place to be. One of the top nightclubs in Doha, Society Lounge sits on the rooftop of The Hilton Doha, giving guests a sweeping view of the skyline, with soft purple lighting, laser shows and lively music. Those with a preference for a classier space with mellow music and vibe might prefer PURE Lounge at Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Doha. It is known for its signature cocktails, a classic lounge setting and panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf and West Bay skyline. But nothing beats the stunning Doha skyline, which has the most impressive night-time view from Doha Corniche.
And finally, you cannot leave without memorabilia. Souq Waqif is probably one of the only souks that come alive when the sun goes down. Here you can find anything, right from traditional garments and historical architectural masterpieces to local handicrafts, spices, and souvenirs.
Gili Trawangan instead of Bali in Indonesia
Post-Covid, Bali and Maldives became two of the most visited destinations in the world. Their exotic location, natural landscapes and relaxed aura called to people from across the globe. Bali especially has so much to offer in terms of natural landscapes – hills, mountains, coastlines, beaches, vibrant rice fields and volcanic hillsides. But if you feel like you’ve seen it all, it’s time to travel a little further.
As compared to Bali, Gili Trawangan or Gili T as the locals call it, has a much more relaxed vibe and is the perfect holiday destination for those looking to unwind. And oh, the beauty of the beaches. Pure white sand, turquoise seas, coral gardens, and hectares of lush palm trees stringing along the coast describe this holiday island. It is possible to relax in many of the beach clubs with a front-seat view of Bali’s active volcano, Mount Agung across the ocean.
Gili Trawangan has also been regarded as the party destination for Indonesia thanks to its coastline filled with restaurants, bars, and hotels stretching onto the sands. If you’re a foodie or love to party, you know there’s more than enough merriment for you. The beachside bars are the ideal hotspot for both locals and tourists. Love reggae music? Go to Sama Sama Reggae Bar. Want a live and loud party? Head over to Jungle for some of the best DJ nights. And if you just want to sip cocktails by the beach, then the Blue Marlin, The Irish Pub, and Rudy’s are some of the beloved spots on the island.
You cannot leave Gili T without a wholesome underwater experience. Snorkelling and diving are among the top adventures on the island. While it’s hard to miss a turtle anywhere on the island, the best place to see a reef of sharks is Shark Point, obviously. If you’re experienced enough, you might just get to explore a wreck like the Glenn Nusa 1 or Bounty Wreck. Now whether you’re an expert diver or a beginner, there’s no way to get into the water without a dive lesson from the experts. Gili T has been regarded as one of the best snorkelling spots in Southeast Asia. And rightfully so, the Gili islands are home to some incredible coral reefs filled with colourful fish, sea turtles, and even a few underwater statues. Locals claim that booking a private boat for snorkelling is the best way to experience marine life without overcrowded tourist boats. And finally, beyond the waters of Gili T lie a quaint little island waiting to be explored, and the best way to do that is to rent a bike for a day because all you need is that one day.
Paros instead of Santorini in Greece
Santorini will always be a top favourite for people across the world. The stunning blue and white islands, the clear blue skies and the bright blue waters are a sight to behold. The island is not only the best place to experience Greece, but also a great place for the most aesthetic pictures. That is, after waiting in line for hours. Santorini is one of the most Instagrammed destinations after Paris, and so everyone wants a piece of the bright blue heaven leading to what is called over-tourism. And while we hate to miss out on Santorini because of overcrowding, there is an island situated a little far away, that looks and feels just like it.
Paros resembles Santorini in its ambience, vibe and experience, all without the overcrowding. The first and most important stop in Paros is a village named Parikia. A commercial hub and the largest town in Paros, Parikia maintains true Cycladic style architecture with narrow whitewashed streets, wooden doors and bougainvillaea trees. These streets are what make you feel like you’re in Santorini. Parikia is the best place to find pretty much everything, from small boutique shops, laundries, supermarkets, a hospital, to various other services for tourists. It is also where you find some historic monuments like centuries-old churches, ruins of the Frankish castle and museums. Spending an entire day in Parikia is the best way to begin your experience in Paros.
For a deeper dive into the region’s history, take a trip to the Old Port of Naoussa. Here one can easily spot the island’s most recognisable landmark, a partially submerged Venetian castle. Built as a fortress in the 14th century, the castle is almost underwater, only one of the towers still stands. Best to catch a glimpse before it completely disappears.
Almost every inch of Paros has a picturesque view, but nothing beats the view from Lefkes. One of the most authentic villages in Paros, Lefkes is a wonderful getaway for tranquillity with splendid vistas of Parian landscapes and the Aegean Sea on the horizon. While exploring this tranquil gem, sipping on a Greek coffee in the central square has been claimed as a must-do. While most islands have a name for snorkelling and diving, Paros has been associated with the best windsurfing and kitesurfing spots in the world, thanks to strong Meltemi winds coming from the north, boosted by the island’s proximity to the Naxos islands. Beaches on Paros’ southeast coast like Chrissi Akti (Golden Beach) and Nea Chrissi Akti (New Golden Beach) are wonderful spots with water sports centres that deliver rentals and lessons, plus dive centres, beach clubs, and wonderful tavernas. Bar hopping is one of the most common practises in Paros, so expect a buzzing nightlife, with spots like Pounda Beach bar, Bebop, Pirate Bar, and Sativa Music Bar in Parikia, and Fotis All Day Bar, Kosmos, and Sommaripa Consolato in Naoussa.
Verona instead of Venice in Italy
Venice is arguably one of the most romantic and picturesque cities in Italy. Known as the City of Canals, Venice’s striking architecture, bridges and waterways are what define this beautiful city. It’s a known fact that Venice is a car-free zone, meaning everyone either travels by foot or by the boats, and the boat rides in Venice are hardly something to complain about. (Except for the part where you clash into another boat due to overcrowding, so much so, that the Italian government has placed a surmountable entrance fee for visitors.)
Capturing a very similar, aesthetic ambience to Venice, is the beautiful city of Verona. Verona has made its name as the romance central of Italy, credits to its association with the Shakespeare fairy-tale of Romeo and Juliet. Nestled on a U-bend on the Adige River, Verona celebrates art, architecture, opera, and literary fame. Like Venice, it is a beautiful city with vibrant coloured buildings and plenty of attractions. The most important and talked about one being Casa di Giulietta or Juliet’s Balcony. It all started in the 1930s when a small medieval palazzo with an attractive courtyard just off Piazza delle Erbe was redecorated with a balcony and a bronze statue of a woman now claimed to be Juliet Capulet. The spot is by far one of the most popular tourist attractions where women stand in line to get clicked by the balcony. Forget the Colosseum in Rome and go to Arena di Verona instead. Said to be a much better-preserved rendition of the Colosseum, this national landmark, which was constructed in 30 AD, still maintains almost all its original seating and exterior arches. One can enjoy a host of concerts and musical shows that take place here almost every single day.
After Rome, Verona sits at number two for striking Roman ruins in Italy. From ancient castles to cathedrals, Verona seamlessly blends Venetian and Romanesque architecture into its structures. Castles like Rocca Scaligera and Castelvecchio built in the 12th and 14th centuries respectively are a must-visit for history and architecture buffs. These castles also have some of the most stunning views from the balconies and terraces that make the hikes seem worth it. In addition to these, cathedrals like the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore and Verona Cathedral are stunning sites to see with decorative tile work, beautiful stained-glass windows and Renaissance paintings. The former cathedral has a much wider appeal as it was the fictional place of the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, making it the second spot in the city to be associated with the fairy tale.