Some destinations are more popular than others. That’s just the way it rolls. Perhaps if it had not been for Gustave Eiffel’s most famous work of engineering, Paris wouldn’t be the tourist Mecca it is today. Similarly, had Venice been constructed on a higher plain, city officials may not have had to implement measures to quell visitor footfall on its street.
The reasons why certain places seem to get the most attention seems to be fortuitous, and whether it’s a case of they got there first, became a poster child of the ‘gram or have taken advantage of a favourable geographic location, there are destinations that will always be at the forefront of travel.
But with ever-improving transportation links and a growing curiosity, why not ditch the usual suspects and try out their alternatives? Here are a few you could try.
Popular: Marbella, Spain
Alternative: Beirut, Lebanon
Erm… what? Yes, you read that correctly. At first it may seem like chalk and cheese – after all, Marbella is the Spainsh mainland’s glitz and glam. It’s where you’ll go to see fast cars, eat good food, do a little shopping and indulge in a slice of the high life.
So, then, why would I consider its alternative a place linked with its war-torn past, a city often used as a quip, or the butt of a joke. But when I visited Beirut earlier this year I was massively surprised at how nice it was. Its waterfront boulevard was lined with stores such as Tom Ford, Versace and Giorgio Armani and gorgeous high-rise apartment buildings, which sat across from the city’s own Yacht Club.
I saw Ferraris, Lamborghinis and even a Bentley, the food was exquisite (seriously, only Rome and maybe Madrid have beaten it for me so far) and it was a lot nicer than I anticipated. And while some parts of town still bear scars of old, it is perfectly safe and extremely liberal, despite it being an Arabic country. There’s plenty to see in Beirut including Jeita Grotto, Pigeon Rocks, the Roman Baths and Beirut Souks.
Popular: Las Vegas, United States of America
Alternative: Macau, China
China is well known for manufacturing counterfeit goods, so it’s not surprising that they have a city very similar to the one that sits in the middle of the Nevada desert. Las Vegas is its name and it is the United States’ entertainment capital offering first-class gambling facilities.
China’s answer to Vegas is Macau. This former Portuguese colony is now a special administrative region of China and is a gambling mecca – in fact the industry accounts for approximately half of its economy. It’s not only similar to Las Vegas in nature, but it is also home to hotels such as the Wynn Macau and The Venetian Macau. Sound familiar?
This dependency is where Chinese temples stand on Portuguese tile, and extravagant buildings dominate the skyline. If you need to brush up on your skills before you go, why not check out this online casino guide?
Popular: London, United Kingdom
Alternative: Moscow, Russia
London is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and also carries a lot of clout on the global scene. That’s not unlike its counterpart in the east, Moscow, capital of the world’s largest country.
London is a highlight for many travellers heading to Europe each year, but while Moscow is just as impressive, it gets nowhere near the same amount of attention. One reason for that is its visa problem – the application is fairly complex and isn’t that cheap.
But if you can look past that, you’ll find an incredible city packed full of jaw-dropping monuments and attractions. Red Square is truly remarkable, and no matter where you look there is something to see. The colourful domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral are one of the most recognisable sites on the planet, then there’s the Kremlin – the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation – as well as GUM, a high-end shopping centre.
Where London has the Shard, Moscow has Europe’s tallest skyscraper, Federation Tower, Izmailovo Kremlin draws parallels with Camden and Borough Markets, and attractions such as the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center and Gorky Park add to the Russian capital’s tourism armoury.
Popular: Paris, France
Alternative: Bucharest, Romania
Like London, Paris is high demand and high demand means high supply, and an increase in supply usually leads to places capitalising by hiking up prices. That’s exactly what’s happened in Paris, which is one of Europe’s most expensive cities. So, why not get more value for your money by visiting “Paris of the East,” Bucharest?
Romania’s capital city may not be held in regard as a traditional tourist destination, but it’s by far cheaper than Paris, despite displaying some of its own French flair. Bucharest got its nickname in the early 20th century not only for its elegant architecture, such as the Arcul de Triums (I’ll let you guess what that’s modelled on) and the buildings that line the street Calea Victorei, but also because locals greeted each other in French, wore the latest Paris fashions and would often travel to study in France’s capital.
Nowadays if you’re in Bucharest, you’ll be able to take advantage of its cracking selection of bars and restaurants (which enhance its reputation as a good city stag and hen parties), take a stroll in the beautiful Herastrau Park or be wowed by a tour of the Palace of the Parliament – the world’s third-largest administrative building.
Popular: Marrakesh, Morocco
Alternative: Tunis, Tunisia
Marrakesh is one of, if not the top tourist destination in northern Africa, and that’s no thanks in small part to the likes of easyJet and Ryanair operating several routes from Europe. While it is a cool city, offering interesting points of interest such as Jamaa el-Fnaa square, the medina, Majorelle Garden and Koutoubia Mosque, it’s loud, hectic and not the friendliest of places.
A couple of countries over you’ll find Tunis, just one letter shy of the country it’s capital of – Tunisia. Tunis has seen its fair share of visitors before, with a portion passing through the city’s airport to head to the country’s beach destinations, where a lot of its tourism centres. However, following a terrorist attack at one of those resorts, Sousse, in 2015, visitor numbers plummeted, airlines pulled routes and that section of the Tunisian economy virtually dissipated.
Only now are those cracks being paved over, and people are slowly starting to head back to Tunisia. But last year, when I saw the opportunity to fly to Tunis on a Friday night and return in the early hours of Monday morning, I just had to take it, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Much like Marrakesh, there are plenty of things to put on the itinerary including the Bardo Museum – which was also the scene of a terrorist attack in 2015 – the ruins at nearby Carthage and neighbourhoods such as Sidi Bou Said, which hug the Mediterranean coastline. There’s also Medina, home to the city’s markets.
Like the souks in Marrakesh, you’ll find plenty of souvenirs, clothing, handicrafts and food, except the traders are much more friendly and welcoming, as well as being far less obtrusive. It’s is a better experience, and you’re surrounded by locals rather than masses of fellow tourists.