Keen on a holiday that swims against the crowd? Here are eight suggestions that will help you go your own way on your next trip.
You say: Honolulu, Hawaii.
We say: Molokai, Hawaii.
When most travellers think of Hawaii, their minds zero in on Honolulu, where Waikiki’s beaches and bars draw millions of visitors looking for a taste of the Aloha state. But if what you’re really after is peace, quiet, and an experience of what Hawaii was like 50 years ago, try the small island of Molokai, wedged between Oahu and Maui. Of course, you’ll have to give up some things: accommodation here is more beach condo than mega resort; beachfront dining is abundant, but it’s not necessarily 4 or 5 star; and if you expect your holiday to come with the occasional traffic jam, you’ll be sorely disappointed: “The Friendly Isle” doesn’t yet even warrant a single traffic light.
You say: Bruges, Belgium.
We say: Ghent, Belgium.
It may be true that Bruges is, visually at least, the very picture of a medieval town. But the problem with heading here to walk its cobbled lanes is that everyone else has the same idea – Bruges is perennially packed with tourists.
Rather than give up the dream, head to nearby Ghent instead (although to be fair, this is Belgium: everything is nearby). Despite its impressive medieval architecture (especially near the old harbour) you’ll usually share this picturesque port town experience with a far smaller crowd. The exception is in summer: Ghent has a strong creative scene that’s supported by a glut of summer festivals – the ten-day Ghent Festival held every July is one of Europe’s most popular cultural events.
You say: San Francisco, United States of America.
We say: Vancouver, Canada.
Let’s get one thing straight: we love San Francisco. But if you’re looking for a new city that’s easy to walk or cycle around, has a strong urban food culture, and a chilled out vibe, go north – about 1200km north to be exact.
Vancouver is packed with great walks. Try the 22km Seawall, a waterfront path stretching to the spectacular Stanley Park, or a wander around the beaches suburb of Kitsilano. If you happen to strike good weather – a challenge in both San Fran and here – don’t miss Kitsilano’s 137m outdoor pool, it’s the longest in North America. In winter, Vancouver is only a couple of hours from the skiing heaven of Whistler. Or, stay in town for the less challenging but oh-so-convenient Grouse Mountain, just half an hour away.
You say: Barcelona, Spain.
We say: Segovia, Spain.
Barcelona should really be on most travellers’ bucket list: come on, there’s its gastronomical tradition (steeped in Catalan cooking), parties galore and all that Gaudi. But for a slower pace, head about 90km out of Spain’s other hugely popular city, Madrid, to Segovia.
With Roman aqueducts, Gothic cathedrals and an architectural tradition that has seen Segovia preserved by a UNESCO World-Heritage listing, exploring this town of under 60,000 is sometimes described as stepping into a picturesque time machine. The small city has also made an impact on modern popular culture: Walt Disney is said to have used Segovia’s Alcazar as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Aussies head to Bali for myriad reasons – and if those include endless shopping or countless bars, you’re probably in the right place. But if you like your Indonesian experience a little slower paced head to the Gili Islands, just off the coast of Lombok.
Fast becoming a poorly kept secret, the Gili’s are a group of three islands with very different flavours. Gili T is the higher-end option; here you’ll also find a party scene to rival Bali, countless guesthouses and dive schools galore. On the other end of the spectrum, Gili Meno is so chilled out you’ll be hard pressed to know if you’re asleep or awake. For something in the middle? Choose Gili Air, which offers a bit of everything: beautiful beaches and a slow pace, without the honeymoon vibe of Gili Meno.
You say: Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
We say: Copenhagen, Denmark.
If Amsterdam appeals purely because of its infamous coffee shops and party reputation, who are we to argue? But if you’ve been there done that, and instead, are looking for gorgeous architecture and an easy travelling experience (without giving up all those visually impressive canals), they can all be found in Copenhagen too.
The former fishing village that is now Denmark’s capital has a population of about half a million, but those facts don’t even hint at its popular cultural offerings. Noma, the world’s most highly awarded restaurant is here; Danish design culture is felt everywhere you turn (to understand it, drop in to the Danish Design Centre); and even the politicians cycle everywhere.
You say: Brazil (we know, so does everyone), South America.
We say: Colombia, South America.
Brazil is so hot right now that you’d be hard pressed not to see it on almost every ‘best of’ list. Yes, the World Cup has helped, and so will the Olympics, but remember, there’s more to South America than its largest country. What most don’t know is that Colombia is now capturing the hearts of travellers. Between the Caribbean coast and the Amazon jungle, Colombia boasts plenty of options to chill out. But there’s also diversity: from national parks with multi day treks into the Andes to the beautifully preserved old City of Cartagena, there’s something to please almost every South American visitor: albeit without the dazzle of its southern neighbour.
You say: Paris, France.
We say: Quebec City, Canada.
Okay, so Paris is Paris. Technically, that means it’s hard to beat, and we’re not saying you shouldn’t go there at least once in your life. But if you’re in North America, Quebec City offers a satisfying dose of French culture and a slice of Europe’s buzz, without leaving the continent.
The most visually memorable aspect of Quebec City is its old walled city, with its narrow lanes and cobblestone streets. You’ll want to explore both the Old Upper Town and the Old Lower Town – some of North America’s oldest streets are here.
Still, don’t think that just because you’re in North America, you shouldn’t brush up on your French: Quebec City’s residents are overwhelmingly French speaking (in Montreal, it’s more a fifty-fifty split between French and English).