Find hidden places that matter to you
Welcome to this roundup of resources regarding hidden places. Here you’ll find:
- An overview of hidden places: why they matter
- How to find your own hidden places
- Books on hidden places
- Websites disclosing a vast range of hidden places
- Recommendations from travel bloggers on their favorite hidden places
- Concluding thoughts
Overview of hidden places
Hidden places. Secret locations. Off-the-beaten-path gems. Obscure finds. Call them what you will, they range in size from a covert storage area behind a disguised wall panel to a trendy pop-up restaurant in a chef’s apartment to whole villages or cities or, for some, an entire continent such as Antarctica. For our purposes, size matters less than the factors that make the location not just hidden, but appealing.
Places are hidden because of a lack of awareness (you don’t know they’re there) or access (you can’t get to or gain access to them). “Hidden” adds an air of mystery, exclusivity, or curiosity to a place. We feel a sense of accomplishment in solving the puzzle of finding, or even reaching, such sites. When we discover for ourselves a place few others have seen, we become part of an insider’s club of explorers and, for some, we have the bragging rights on social media of being the first in our circles to have been there.
More than hidden
But as I note in Hidden Travel: The Way to More, hidden is not enough. Many ordinary things we scarcely notice are hidden. Crack open an egg and you’ll witness something no other human has ever seen. Wander a few minutes off most popular trails and you may encounter a patch of forest never before visited. The contents of most industrial parks are hidden to anyone but the workers there. Even today, where so much is disclosed online, there’s more unknown than known (which is a safe statement given that 70% of the globe is covered in water and few venture beneath the surface). Hidden matters, but there’s more to a magic moment on a trip than the covert nature of a place.
Hidden is also a relative concept. Few travelers ever discover something that locals haven’t seen before, even if the traveler may be the first outsider to visit a place. That out-of-the-way pub you stumble upon and consider your own unique discovery may be wildly popular with residents going back multiple generations. If only 10 outsiders visit a secluded beach in Indonesia, is it hidden? How about 100? 1,000? When does a place cease to be considered hidden? And by whom?
What really matters
When you think about the idea of a hidden place, you likely don’t care about all those considerations. You’re seeking out the “off-the-beaten-path” locations primarily to avoid crowds and to have a more authentic experience of a place, not one manufactured for hordes of tourists. If that’s the case, then it helps even more to determine why some places intrigue you more than others.
As Dylan Thuras, co-founder of Atlas Obscura told me:
“Hidden” is such an interesting term. Everything you don’t know is hidden from you. Hidden suggests something of value that you would want to see that people don’t know about or won’t tell about. Hidden is a powerful word. It is only a tease or come on to whatever is behind that door. Hidden does a lot of work, but the place has to stand on its own: beautiful, fascinating or historically relevant.
Below you will find lists and links to places deemed hidden by others all over the world. Some of these may make you wonder why they are considered hidden. Others will be so hard to reach that you know you’ll never travel there. But others will stand out to you, not just because of their obscure nature, but because they spark your imagination or appeal to something deep within you, something that cries out, “I have to go there.”
The lists of books, articles and recommendations from travel experts below is like the microbe on the flea on the penguin who is standing on the tip of the iceberg. Hidden places abound everywhere. There’s no way to produce an exhaustive list. The point here isn’t to itemize all or even the best ones for, if you think about it, “popular hidden place” is an oxymoron.
Instead, these examples should inspire you, either to pursue them or, even better, to figure out how to find ones on your own. So before we turn to the lists and examples of hidden places, let’s review some points from Hidden Travel: The Way to More on how to find hidden places for yourself.
How to find your own hidden places
Try these tips before you leave or once you arrive.
- Realize that discovery is personal: Even if a million people have visited a place like Niagara Falls before, if it’s your first time there, that’s still a discovery for you. The place may not be hidden, but your experience there is.
- Play detective: Rarely are the best finds your first ones. You have to follow up on leads which then reveal additional leads. Keep pursuing those. It’s like being in sales. Most salespeople give up after the fifth “no.” And yet, most sales are made after the seventh “no.” Persistence pays off.
- Know what appeals to you: Search on issues related to your interests in that place. You may not find a search result for encaustic paintings in Quito, but you may discover listings of local art forms you never knew about before. You now have galleries or studios to visit.
- Start with the obvious: Look through a variety of guidebooks for the place you’re visiting. Note the locations common in all. Consider avoiding those or visiting only a few since they’ll be the most popular. Then hunt down the ones mentioned only in one of the guidebooks. These tend to be more obscure. Also search the local tourist board or chamber of commerce sites. They often have information for local tourists which may not show up on sites for international visitors. Finally, many travel sites have forums where you can ask questions of other travelers. Review these because you’ll often find more hidden offerings there than on the site’s main pages.
- Research beyond the obvious: You’ll find several examples of links below to sites that wouldn’t normally come up unless you were looking for something specific like “hidden monuments Budapest.” The sites that cover those will likely reveal other hidden places or experiences. Keep pursuing those leads till they run dry. In short, try these approaches:
- Be as specific as possible with both your interest and the location in your search. “Leather atelier Lyon” will produce better results that “artist workshops France.”
- Use a variety of search terms combined with the place name or area of interest. Try variations on the following synonyms for hidden plus your location or interest (e.g. “obscure library Kyoto” or “secret restaurants Galway”). Here’s a start of common terms gleaned from many of the sites listed below:
- hidden places
- hidden gem
- off the beaten track
- little known
- less known
- less visited
- untapped destinations
- Ask: Get to know the locals everywhere you go and ask them for recommendations. Great ways to meet people are by volunteering, taking classes, attending worship services, or returning to the same café, pub or restaurant repeatedly. Don’t overlook places like libraries and especially, the people where you’re staying (both the hosts and the other guests) since they are used to answering questions. Especially in small boutique inns, couchsurfing stays or apartments/B&Bs whose owners live onsite or nearby, you can get some great recommendations for what the locals do for entertainment.
- Use local media: Using Google Translate, you can often find local newspapers, event listings (for concerts, plays, community gatherings, parties, etc.), festival announcements and restaurant reviews for locals—all online. Many newspapers and magazines have “weekend trip” ideas for locals to locations international guidebooks don’t mention. It helps to use the Google search engine for that country as a start (e.g., use google.de for searches in Germany). Once in country, look for kiosks or notice boards in cafés and near universities or local papers and fliers listing for interesting local happenings.
- Try geocaching: Geocaching is like a treasure hunt where you follow clues and geographic references (using your phone’s navigation tools) to find hidden caches. The real benefit to travelers (besides the fun of searching and finding something) is that you end up in places you’d never go otherwise. Find out more at Geocaching.com.
- Be your best self: In Hidden Travel: The Way to More, I note that locals tend to invite only those they genuinely like to their most treasured locations. So being thoughtful, appreciative, inquisitive, and encouraging will open more doors than if you try to wile your way into their favorite local haunts. Attitude makes a difference both in terms of how you enjoy your trip and also the kinds of places you’re welcomed into.
- Take a tour: Walking, architecture or cooking/food tours, particularly put on by local community groups, reveal places you wouldn’t know about otherwise. The best part of these is the chance to ask the tour guide (or fellow tour members) about other interesting places to explore.
- Use a guide: A great guide will show you much more than you’d ever find on your own. I used to think that hiring a guide was wimping out on making my own discoveries. Now I realize how they can increase the number of interesting experiences by connecting you with locals, helping with language and cultural issues and revealing places you’d never know existed. Here are some ways to find a great local guide.
- Use alternative forms of transportation: Just riding public transportation can reveal both hidden places and connections with locals. Or rent a bike or kayak or other means to get off the main thoroughfares.
- Take a test drive: Use apps like Airbnb Online Experiences of Amazon Explore to visit a location from home virtually and have your guide show you places to go back to when you arrive in person.
- Follow the visuals: Some of the best hidden places aren’t found by their description, but by their images. Start with the obvious of Instagram or Pinterest using hashtags related to your area of interest. Then look at other photo sites such as Flickr and 500px. On Pinterest, you can use their search function to get to the main category, but once you find an image that you like, click on it and you’ll see a small magnifying glass icon in the lower right corner. Click on that and you can zoom in to any part of the image and then see a list of other photos related to that part of the image. It’s a great way to discover places that appeal to you visually but you may never have considered.
- Use Google Maps and Google Earth creatively: You can often find surprising destinations listed on Google Maps or OpenStreetMap when you zoom in and see the names of businesses or points of interest in an area. Or switch to Google Earth to visually locate areas that seem appealing, then use their Street View (look for the “Pegman” icon in the bottom right and click on that, then zoom in) for 360-degree images on the ground. This can give you a great starting point for your own explorations.
- Get lost: Besides asking locals, this may be my all-time favorite approach for finding hidden places. It’s simple: Bring a card with the name, number and address of your lodging written in the local language (in case you can’t find your way back), then just take off walking in an interesting part of town and be open to all sorts of discoveries. You can do the similar approach on a road trip. For example, I heard of someone visiting Australia who turned off the highway any time they saw a sign for an historical marker or “point of interest.” Some were duds. But enough took them to incredible locations to make it the highlight of their trip.
Books on hidden places
There are far more books on hidden places than I can list here. But these are great starts to inspire you, and most of all (particularly for the local guides), to show you the types of books available so you know what to search for when pursuing hidden places in a particular location.
While their website covers more places in greater detail, it’s nice to have such a great list of curious places all in one book. It’s probably the best resource for obscure oddities all over the world.
Shown below is the edition for Paris, but this series has books for close to 40 cities around the world. I love all of the books I’ve read in this series, include the ones for Bruges, Stockholm, Venice, and Vancouver. Each follows the same format listing places to eat or buy good food, shop, drink, enjoy culture or enjoy with children. Many have categories for notable buildings, places to sleep, weekend activities and more. But the best part is that within those categories, they have fun and useful sections such as 5 best new concept restaurants, 5 romantic restaurants, 5 best markets, 5 of the most hidden bars, 5 interesting design stores, or 5 unique tastes to try before you leave. These books are not only informative, they are beautifully designed.
Who knew that Finland has around 180,000 lakes and almost as many islands? Or that the longest active military barrier in the world is the Sahara Sand Wall that extends 1,367 mile through the Sahara Desert? Or that many places on earth, particularly those of the extreme rich or extreme poor don’t, and probably never will, show up on Google Earth’s Street View. You won’t find typical travel destinations in this book, but you will find that there are more kinds of hidden places and the stories behind them, than you imagined.
No Access Series
I wish they had more cities than just Boston, NYC and Washington, DC, covered in this series of books because each provides intriguing insights to places few know about in each city. These books cover around 40 sites each and are well illustrated with photos of the locations or experiences covered. They are more about the history or back story of the place and don’t provide specific details on how to reach each location listed. But that leaves room for the reader to discover how to get there on their own.
This book won’t necessarily help you discover new places (though there are quite a few), but mostly it will help you to see details and elements of known places in a whole new way. As the subtitle says, it’s a “Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design.” You won’t look at ventilation system the same way again.
This book is part of a series of Inspired Traveller’s Guides all by Sarah Baxter with wondrous illustrations by Amy Grimes. This one focuses on 25 hidden places around the world. The choice of locations seems eclectic, and, to me, some are more intriguing than others. But that just reinforces my point above that to be appealing, places need to be more than just hidden. It’s often the story behind the place that makes it special and Baxter does a good job of conveying that. But to be honest, the illustrations are the draw here for me. They are what inspire me most to want to go find these hidden places and to make my own discoveries.
As a SoCal native, born and raised, I figure I know the area pretty well. It only goes to show that we all can learn something new about the places where we live and this book does a good job of revealing a wealth of interesting sites. The cover didn’t strike me as very compelling, but the book is well written and useful if you’re visiting the area.
I’ve only read the Wales one of this series. But I can say, if you’re going to Wales and you like outdoor adventures, get this book. It’s broken down with sections in each location for hidden beaches, cozy pubs, ancient trees and wildlife and others, along with directions for each location and maps. I suspect that the others books in the series (and there are more, I believe, for most of Great Britain) are equally good.
Yes, it is from Lonely Planet Kids, but sometimes books for kids have just the right amount of content for me. This book has short entries on places around the world with great photos. You won’t find any directions here, but you will find plenty of inspiration. Just seeing the photo, for example, of the Meghalaya Tree Bridges in Mawysnram and Cherrapunjee, India, makes me want to plan a trip to see these hanging bridges made from the roots of living rubber trees.
Serving much the same inspirational purpose as the previous one, this book also provides details for each entry on when to go, how to find it, planning notes and website links. The only challenge with this book is that it was written in 2011 and I wonder how many of the “hidden” places listed are still hidden.
I would be remiss if I didn’t note that in my own book, you can find an example of a hidden place profiled between each chapter. But the main reason for this shameless self-promotion for anyone that hasn’t read it, is that this book will help you learn that there is more to hidden travel than hidden places alone. You’ll learn how to discover hidden meaning, creativity, purpose, passion, relationships and more.
Finally, for books, I include the following examples to show that on a city level, particularly for large, popular tourist destination metropolises, you’ll often find numerous books, particularly those with walking tours. Take London for example. A quick search reveals these options:
This is the only one of this group I’ve actually read. It is packed with 25 walking tours throughout the city. Whereas the 500 Hidden Secrets books noted above are filled with swaths of white space to make reading easy, this book is just the opposite. Thus, it isn’t as easy to use for armchair readers, but I suspect that if you’re using it as you go, it would provide great information on what to see.
Here are some others:
Websites on hidden places
Books are great for inspiration and as the starting point of your discoveries, but for more up-to-date information and a wider variety of locations, check out some of the following websites. They range from round-up lists of global locations to travel blogs that reveal specific sites. Again, the point here isn’t to show you every possible hidden place website, but to provide enough of an overview so you can begin to start making your own discoveries.
Let’s start with general ones and move to more location- or activity-specific sites.
General (global) hidden places websites
Atlas Obscura: The starting point for all sorts of hidden places.
This site alone will keep you busy with hidden places for some time. Here are some randomly selected examples:
- Secrets From Tel Aviv’s ‘Eclectic’ Era Are Hiding All Over the City
- The Japanese Ghost Town Buried Deep in a Canadian Forest
- 4 Wacky Wooden Buildings in Wyoming
The Culture Trip is another good site for hidden places.
You’ll find useful lists of things to do and places to see in multiple countries around the world. Here are some examples focused on Europe:
- 9 Hidden Gems That Most Tourists Never See
- Europe’s 10 Best Hidden Destinations
- 15 Secret Towns in Europe You Need to Visit Before They’re Ruined by Tourists
- 19 Incredible Places You Never Knew Existed in Europe
- 9 Hidden Gems That Most Tourists Never See
For pure inspiration of what, to me, are genuine hidden places not focused on tourists, check out these photos essays collected by the New York Times over a year when most people weren’t traveling.
Globalgaz.com. Ric Gazarian who runs this site is someone I met through The Nomadic Network. His goal is to visit every country in the world. On his way to doing that, he’s come across some pretty remote locations as follows:
- 7 Off The Beaten Path Wonders Of The World
- 7 Off The Beaten Path Wonderful Experiences Of The World
- 7 Most Fascinating Abandoned Wonders Of The World
- 7 Off The Beaten Path Natural Wonders Of The World
One of the best way to find hidden places is when you find a good source such as Ric’s, follow the links there. This is how I came upon these really great sites:
Also from Ric’s site is Ex Utopia. In particular, I love this example of, to me, a quintessential hidden place found on the Ex Utopia site:
Additional websites of hidden places around the world
- 14 photos of the most beautiful and remote places on earth
- 12 of the world’s most unexplored places.
- 20 Overlooked Countries Not Enough Americans Visit
- The Most Untapped Destinations in the World—and How to Travel Them in Style
- 27 of the world’s most remote and beautiful places. Note how they use “remote” here but pair it with “beautiful” since not all are that remote, though it all comes down to your definition.
- Ten Places That Deserve More Travelers. This article is more on the country level (rather than city) and works especially well if your desire for hidden places is to avoid over crowding.
- 20 undiscovered destinations to visit before somebody else. The benefit of these kinds of lists is that you may scroll through many of them until you find one that really intrigues you.
Regional and local hidden places websites
- The 10 Best Secret Restaurants in America. Really? Says who? That’s the challenge with every one of these lists. It is impossible to list every hidden place, even in one city, much less the whole country. So any list you get will be subjective. The best use of lists like these aren’t just to visit the places, but to figure out why they are listed so you can use the criteria to find other hidden places on your own.
- These 12 Secret Restaurants In Washington Are Unforgettable. This and the next few sites are from the state of Washington (where I live). I’ve included them just in case you live here too or are visiting, but mostly to show the types of resources you can find if you search for similar sites in your own area.
- Seattle Unexplored is a passion project to uncover lesser-known locations throughout the city. This site and the following four are all about Seattle, either hidden places to see or places to eat.
- 43 Places Around Seattle We Bet You Didn’t Know About
- Hidden Seattle
- The 15 Best Places for Hidden Dining in Seattle
- 11 Under-the-Radar Restaurants and Bars to Try in Seattle. Compare this list to the one above and see how many overlap and if they do, how secret are they? It reinforces the point above that perhaps hidden or secret matters less than finding something that resonates with you personally and isn’t overcrowded.
- All of the above have been about Seattle, but here’s just one of hundreds (if not thousands) for another city, Paris, just to show that if you use the search terms noted above and add in the city, you can almost always find some list of hidden or less-visited places there.
Miscellaneous sites related to hidden places
- This article this is geared toward less-visited outdoor locations.
- This one shows you how to use different sites such as Pinterest or Wikitravel to uncover hidden places.
- This article from before the pandemic points out the trend of “second city travel” and how people are choosing secondary cities over the over-popular ones such as Milan over Venice or Kyoto over Tokyo. Even these second cities may be far from hidden, but compared to their busy counterparts, they may seem like downright off-the-beaten-path gems. It’s all relative.
- As this article on 40 of the most mysterious places in the world shows, there’s a difference between hidden and secret or mysterious. Those can be important distinctions.
Recommended hidden places
Here are two articles from Conde Nast Traveller that offer personal recommendations on hidden places. I find these two of the most inspiring articles I’ve seen simply due to the variety of places and the personal nature of them.
This first, from an eclectic range of well-known travelers is on secret hotels.
The second is similar, but on general locations to go to get away from the crowds while also helping the local businesses and people in the travel industry there.
Recommended hidden places from travel bloggers and writers
I’ve saved some of the best information for last, a more personal set of recommendations for hidden places. I reached out to a number of key travel bloggers and writers and asked them to share their favorite hidden places and why these places were special to them. What’s fascinating to me is that each was given the same instructions and yet, as you will see, each has their own interpretation of what a “hidden place” is and why it’s appealing. Here’s what they said.
For Jessie Festa of Jessie on a Journey, the small Indian town of Bundi is one of her favorites:
“While most visitors to India focus on the attractions of the Golden Triangle, the beaches of Goa, or the architecture of Mumbai, many completely skip over the small town of Bundi, a former royal town with a very chill vibe. This past is still visible today thanks to the royal blue colored buildings, including old palaces, forts, and step-wells.
Stay in a historic “haveli” or “mansion” turned hotel, like Dev Niwas Heritage Hotel, for a taste of the sumptuous life. After breakfast with a view on the rooftop, hike up Taragarh Fortress for 360-degree views. You’ll walk along historic walls, seeing wild monkeys, shrines, and the stunning golden dome-topped Lord Shiva Temple. This is where the best view is! Afterward, refuel with some homemade chai at Krishna’s Chai, where you’ll literally watch each ingredient being ground and boiled by hand. At the cafe, you’ll have the chance to create some artwork for the community wall and leave your mark on the laid-back town that is Bundi.”
For travel writer David Farley the place that comes to mind for him as a hidden place is Calcata, Italy.
“It’s not a secret to me because I wrote a book about living there for a couple of years and have written the occasional travel article about the place, yet thanks to the cultural riches that is Italy, this funky medieval hill town has yet to register on many travelers’ radar.
The town was in the process of being abandoned in the sixties for fear its cliffs were crumbling when an international set of hippies and artists discovered the place. They patched up some holes in the narrow cobbled lanes, fixed up some house and Calcata was reborn. Located between Rome and Tuscany, the village today is still made up of those now-aging hippies and artists, many of whom have opened art galleries to display their work. But this isn’t the only thing that gives the village some renown in the region.
Students of weird history might also be attracted to the village because for four and a half centuries, it was home to a weird relic: the foreskin of Jesus. The Santissimo Prepuzio, the Holy Foreskin, the only piece of flesh Christ could have conceivably left on earth, was housed in the village church until it went missing under mysterious circumstances in the 1980s. It has yet to turn up, but locals swear the Vatican had something to do with its disappearance, as the Church had long grown uncomfortable with the idea of this sort of relic being worshipped. “
El Yunque View Treehouse in Puerto Rico
Jen Ruiz of Jen on a Jet Plane goes for something more intimate as her hidden place, a treehouse:
“El Yunque View Treehouse is one of the most unique AirBnB rentals in Puerto Rico. It’s a tiny house made for 2 people (short people, ideally) that was constructed around a yellow mango tree. Despite its remote location, the rental somehow manages to feature all the modern amenities like A/C, WiFi and hot water. The most stunning part of the house, aside from the branches jutting out from the top and singular curb appeal, are the panoramic views of the rainforest from the first floor and yard.
El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest registered with the U.S. National Forest System. Currently, visitors can access the main hiking trails in timed intervals with advanced parking reservations. Sights include stone towers, refreshing waterfalls and flora and fauna indigenous to the area. At night, you’ll be lulled to sleep by the sound of the coquis, the island’s resident crooners. Their playlist starts at sundown, roughly 6:30pm every day. When they rest the roosters tap in, eager to provide your morning wake-up call.
Less than an hour from the island’s metro area you’ll find a pocket of nature that remains untouched and that will make you feel like you’ve truly unplugged. You might even stumble across petroglyphs from the Tainos, Puerto Rico’s indigenous people.”
Lavina Dsouza of Continent Hop makes the point that a hidden place can be an entire region as she finds in Fife, Scotland:
“Edinburgh pops to everyone’s mind when they think of Scotland yet just fifty kilometers away sits The Kingdom of Fife, one of the most beautiful regions in Scotland that is a well-kept secret by the locals.
The region emphasizes the farm-to-table culture and due to its location, you’ll find some of the best sustainably grown seafood here making it a destination not to be missed if you’re a foodie!
There are abbeys to explore, fishing villages to have picnics and picturesque harbors but there’s also a secret nuclear bunker in Crail, a distillery which was apparently the birthplace of whisky, lighthouses and castles in Elie and a volcanic plug in Burntisland.
The Highland games also take place in Burntisland, once every summer, and are worth experiencing.
There’s also Inchcolm Island that you can visit in Fife that has some of the best beaches in Scotland!
Fife is Scotland in a nutshell for people looking to get away from the crowds yet ensuring they don’t miss out on quintessential experiences with a topping of offbeat! “
Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
For Erick Prince of Minority Nomad, part of the hidden appeal of a place like Georgetown lies in the discoveries you can make in a location that is ever changing:
“Rapid technological developments’ are challenging the global divisions, architectural marvels, and long-held cultural norms prevalent during the last couple of centuries. Georgetown, Penang is a place where we see the synergy between the traditional and modern. From Trishaw drivers and Joss stick makers to street artists and popup eateries, Georgetown is a special place to explore what destination travel is and where it’s going—offering guests a look into Malaysia’s diverse history of immigration from China, India, and Arab nations. All in one UNESCO site. “
Gabby Beckford of Packs Light selects a hidden place like Kazbegi, Georgia for a number of reasons:
“My favorite, least-represented place is Kazbegi, Georgia. If you’re in the country’s capital of Tbilisi, $40 USD and a 3.5-hour marshutka (mini-van) ride will get you there. Also known as Stepantsminda, this small townlet in North-Eastern Georgias rests at 5,000 meters above sea level. When I visited in Springtime, it was perfectly reminiscent of The Sound of Music’s rolling hills in the opening scene. Whether you visit Gergeti Trinity Church, explore the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument, or hike to Gergeti Glacier, you will be overwhelmed by the striking landscapes and views that Kazbegi offers so photographers should be especially excited about this destination.
And as a 21-year-old, short, Black woman, I felt safe traveling solo through Georgia and in Kazbegi. Most locals—though having seemingly cold demeanors—were merely curious and surprisingly warm and complimentary once a conversation was struck. This area is relatively remote so you may be the first exposure someone has to new features or behaviors! With Kazbegi’s picturesque sites, affordable cost of living, world-famous wine, this destination should definitely be in your travel daydreams. And with Georgia having one of the many emerging remote work visa programs—”Remotely from Georgia”—Kazbegi is more accessible to American’s looking to travel in 2021 but who need to bring work with them.”
Ko Lipe, Thailand
For Matt Kepnes of Nomadic Matt, some places that were once completely off the radar of most travelers have, in recent years, become more popular. But that doesn’t change your original experience there as he notes:
“Ko Lipe, Thailand is one of my all-time favorite “less-visited” destinations. When I first visited, Ko Lipe was still a sleepy little island. While it’s much more popular now, it’s not nearly as (over)developed as Ko Samui or Ko Phangan. I spent a month there just relaxing on the beach, hanging out with locals and travelers, and enjoying the slow pace of island life. To me, it’s paradise.”
Nabila Ismail of Dose of Travel finds that some of the best hidden places are those that connect to your own personal experience and story as she found in a small town in Tanzania.
“Lushoto, Tanzania a town up in the Usambara Mountains surrounded by the forest, you can even see Mt. Kilimanjaro on a clear day. It was one of my favorites because of where I stayed. I stayed in a farm house that served farm-to-table food that they made on the premises. I was travelling solo and met 3 Italian men in Dar Es Salaam and they brought me here. We slept in cozy cabins, woke up to pigs and cows in the morning, got a tour of how they made cheese, and trekked a mile to the dining house up in the mountains for a delicious breakfast. Hiking in this area is stunning and you’ll run into small villages of people living in the mountains who are so loving and friendly.”
Kamila Napora of My Wanderlust spends a lot of time traveling through Central Europe. And in that region, one of her favorite places is Lviv, Ukraine. Like many of the larger cities noted here, it isn’t “hidden” as a city. But what is hidden are the small wonders found in exploring the place as Kami notes:
“Lviv, Ukraine might be the most beautiful and underrated city in Europe. Located in the western part of the country, near the border with Poland, the city is known for its big cultural and historical heritage. For centuries it was a melting pot of Polish, Ukrainian, Armenian, and Jewish cultures, and still today you can find remnants of all of them in Lviv’s Old Town.
The center of the city is like from a fairy tale, with cobbled, winding lanes, colorful houses, and numerous beautiful buildings. The list of things to do in Lviv is long and you need at least two days to see the biggest attractions and to experience Lviv. The city is known for its amazing culinary scene and checking all the best restaurants should be a strong position in your itinerary.
And don’t forget about the coffee! Lviv is known as the place with the highest number of cafes per capita and indeed you can find them on every step, the smell of freshly ground, strong coffee fills the street of Lviv. Culture lovers should not miss Lviv Opera – its interior is stunning and the shows are on a very high level for an affordable price. Once you visit Lviv you will want to return there over and over again.”
Mrauk U, Myanmar
For Sarah Wilson of Life Part 2, what makes a place hidden is often the difficulty it takes to get there. But once you do, you can have an amazing experience not shared by many others as she found in Myanmar:
“Possibly our favorite place is Mrauk U in Myanmar. You may think you have had your fill of temples in Bagan but viewing the hilltop temples and pagodas in the morning mist is an image that will stay with you for a long time. Plus in Mrauk U, as well as admiring the temple exteriors, you can actually explore inside the ancient temples, walking along spiral paths filled with interesting Buddha relics and take photos with the temple monks who are as curious of your life as you are of theirs.
But it wasn’t just the temples we loved; it was witnessing the daily village life. Observing the novice monks cleaning the temples, seeing the local women walking back from the well balancing giant pots of water on their head, and playing with giggling children eager to chat with the foreigner.
Part of Mrauk U’s charm is its isolation; unlike Bagan, you probably won’t be bumping into another tourist.
Getting to Mrauk U requires a bit of an effort; there’s an 18-hour bumpy bus ride from Bagan, or as we did, a quick flight to Sittwe followed by a five-hour slow ferry ride (don’t expect much comfort) along the shallow waters of Kaladan River.
But check before you go, as sometimes Mrauk U closes its doors to foreigners and don’t forget to try the tea leaf salad.”
Eulanda and Omo Osagiede of Hey Dip Your Toes In found their favorite hidden place in a small town in Spain:
“Located 22 kilometers east of Girona, Spain, is the medieval village of Peratallada. Accessing the village is a bit of an adventure in itself, as one of the few entrances is only accessible by driving or walking down an unpaved road, and crossing a very narrow bridge, with no guardrails. Enter the walled city, and it would be easy to feel transported to the movie set of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves since it was partly filmed there. Unlike similar fortified cities with famous movie connections, Peratallada has curiously remained under the radar of heavy tourist footfall, with a little over fifty residents residing in the city year-round.
Peratallada is certainly not a crumbling medieval city of yesteryear. Although exploring the city during shoulder season might convince you that it’s rutted stone streets and lush bougainvillea only see handfuls of people throughout the year, Peratallada was declared a historical-artistic and cultural asset of national interest by the Government of Catalonia.”
Kerwin McKenzie of Pass Rider recommends the small town of Saxnas, Sweden:
“There’s about 100 people living in this town; it’s so small that its difficult to find people to hire for the local hotel. However, that’s its charm. As a ski town, its usually packed in the winter time, but in the summer, not so much and it has a lot to offer.” He shares more about this tiny town in rural Sweden on his site along with many other unfamiliar destinations.
Marielena Smith of Epic 7 Travel goes for a very hidden place (if you count anywhere undersea as hidden to most of us):
“Scuba diving with giant oceanic manta rays in Socorro, Mexico, is captivating. While manta sightings are fleeting in most parts of the world, Socorro’s mantas seem to relish and seek out interactions with divers. With their 25 feet wingspan, they soar through the water and hover above thrilled divers, wiggling as exhaled bubbles tickle their bellies. Uniquely, many mantas in Socorro are primarily black (rather than white with black spots). Emerging from behind the rocky seamounts jutting from the ocean bottom, they resemble stealth bombers gliding through the water column, dwarfing the divers anxiously awaiting their opportunity to bring these magnificent animals joy.
If you are lucky, cheeky dolphins might pirouette around you at your safety stop as you count down the minutes until you can repeat this unforgettable encounter. Reaching this isolated UNESCO World Heritage Site is worth the often rocky, 250-mile, 24-hour boat journey from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with one of the live-aboard dive boats that operate from November to June.”
While Gabby Beckford (noted above) seeks out the smaller towns of Georgia, Chris Mitchell of Traveling Mitch finds that there are still hidden wonders even in Georgia’s largest city:
“While I can’t speak for others, I’ve always had a particular appreciation for cities that are full of complication and contrast, where the layers of history practically need to be peeled apart. It was no surprise then that I fell in love with Tbilisi, the capital of the country of Georgia. On one corner, you see a sign of the former Russian occupation, and on the next corner, you see a sign that the city has vowed to never be under Russian occupation again. There are old fortresses and modern buildings, a tinge of the East and the Far East here, and a sprinkle of the West there. It’s colorful and vibrant under the bright sun, and a little gray and mysterious when the fog or darkness rolls in.
Georgian cuisine also falls into my top five favorite cuisines on the planet. It’s the comfort food you never knew you needed. Whether it’s their dumplings (khinkali), Georgian cheese bread (khachapuri), or really any of their meat, it’s hearty and scrumptious. If you’re looking for something a little different activity wise while visiting, I’d strongly recommend a night at the Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theater in Tbilisi’s Old Town. It’s a capital with a history well worth exploring, a people well worth meeting, and a food that is well worth eating.”
Wacissa Springs, Florida, USA
For Caz Makepeace of YTravel Blog, you don’t have to leave the country to find a hidden place:
“A hidden destination we recently discovered was the Wacissa River near Monticello / Tallahassee in Natural North Florida. Arriving to the headwaters at Wacissa Springs was one of those moments where life seems to pause to allow the beauty to seep in.
A dense, tropical canopy bordered a large body of crystal-clear river covered with water hyacinths and bright green lilies.
Kayakers slowly paddled up the river, almost as if in a slow-motion dream and a rope dangled from an ancient cypress tree where kids launched themselves giggling into the water. I was entranced,
We spent half a day exploring it. First on an airboat ride zipping over the lilies, past alligators and on speed with all manner of bird life. We then traded the airboat for kayaks for a 5-mile technical paddle through the narrow and swampy historical Slave Canal, which connects the Wacissa to the Aucilla River. It was one of my favorite USA adventures by far!”
Travel blogger and author AK Turner of Vagabonding with Kids selected Yanguas, Spain for these reasons:
“Yanguas is a tiny town (population 92 in the summer, about 40 in the winter) tucked in the mountains north of Madrid, south of Bilbao. In Yanguas you feel as if you’ve traveled back in time. As my father-in-law said, “I keep waiting for Friar Tuck to come out from the next corner.”
Yanguas has cobblestoned streets, castle ruins, a village square, and three restaurants. You have to travel to another town to find a store, but on certain days a traveling baker or produce man will arrive and honk to let people know he’s there. Everyone in town owns a tennis racket. In the afternoons, the town sport court is filled with kids hitting tennis balls against a huge wall, which butts up to a parallel wall of the town castle.
The castle is not intact, roofless and much of it in ruins, but enough of it remains that it is clearly identifiable as a castle. Sections of walls appear to be four feet thick, and the skyline in parts shows crenellations, the notched, protective stonework at the top of a castle wall, from which soldiers could offer defense. Archways and sections of missing outer walls are protected by great iron bars.
The mayor is also the town realtor. Chances are that a stranger will try to feed you something at some point. An elderly woman knocked on our door and presented us with apple cake. Another time we had drinks at a place that was some sort of cross between a bar and a community center. All of the sudden women descended upon us with plates of tortilla de patata. They were having a bake-off and each vying for our votes.”
As you can see, there’s no real definition of a hidden place. What’s hidden to one person is well-known to another. Thus, as I cover in Hidden Travel: The Way to More, “hidden” should be just one of many factors in selecting a place to visit. What you are really looking for isn’t just a hidden place, but a special one. One where you experience more, this incredible combination of factors happening: the atmosphere, the aesthetics, perhaps the history or underlying narrative, and most of all, the people. When you find such a place, savor it. Cherish it. Be grateful for it. And realize that such places become hidden in a new way once you’ve been there, for they become hidden in your heart as memories you will carry with you for the rest of your life.