Asia | Inspiration

11 off-the-radar city destinations to add to your 2023 bucket list

Some cities get overlooked in favour of icons like London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. Others just simply aren’t well known. If you’re looking for unique city tours and travel destinations to visit in 2023 and beyond, step right this way. From Italy and France to Australia and Thailand, here are 11 off-the-radar city destinations that you should visit – before everyone else finds out.

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1. Modena, Italy

Italy is packed with legendary cities from Rome and Venice to Florence and Naples. Even in the North, the off-the-radar city destinations are overshadowed by the legendary Milan and Verona. But venture a little further to Modena and you’ll be rewarded with some of the greatest gastronomic delights and ancient architecture in the country. 

Modena is famed for its balsamic vinegar, salty prosciutto, sparkling Lambrusco, famous Parmigiano cheese, tiny tortellini, and Michelin-star restaurants. It’s also the home of Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars and you can visit the Enzo Ferrari Museum and Ferrari’s childhood home here. Art and culture lovers will soak up the pastel façades in the Old Town and the UNESCO-listed Piazza Grande with its 12th-century cathedral and Torre Civica. Visit the 18th-century Museum Palace and the Estense Gallery to see works by Correggio, Bernini and Tintoretto or spend a night at the opera house – it’s only fitting in the birthplace of Luciano Pavarotti. 

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2. Évora, Portugal

Often overlooked in favour of Lisbon and Porto, Évora is one of our off-the-radar city destinations. As the ancient capital of the Alentejo region, it’s an oasis of historical treasures. Start in the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of Évora and visit the stunning Cathedral of Évora, a striking Gothic building dating back to the 12th century. Explore the Roman temple and the Church of St. Francis with its skeleton-lined Chapel of Bones. 

Walk along the ancient city walls, stroll through the whitewashed houses, and seek out the remarkable mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture across the city. At the end of the day, relax with a bica (espresso) and pastel de nata in the beautiful Praça do Giraldo.

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3. Kanazawa, Japan

If you’re dreaming of a trip to Japan, you’ve probably got the heavyweights like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto on your bucket list. But have you heard about Kanazawa? This enchanting city has endless gems from ancient castles and ornate gardens to tranquil temples and a traditional teahouse district dubbed ‘Little Kyoto’.

You can stroll through the Nagamachi District to see beautifully preserved samurai houses lining traditional stone streets. Be sure to visit the Nomura house, a stunning samurai mansion. Head to the spectacular Gardens of Kenrokuen, where gorgeous ponds, trees, flower beds and temples have taken shape over 100 years. You can also marvel at Kanazawa Castle, built in the 1580s. When you’ve worked up an appetite, wander through the Omicho market to sample fresh seafood and experience everyday life in this coastal city. Kanazawa is also a great place to learn the delicate art of gold leaf painting, practised in Japan since the 16th century. 

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4. Lille, France

We all know and love the legendary Paris, Nice, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lyon and Cannes. It’s also time to add Lille to that list. This northern French city on the border of Belgium is only one hour from Paris and is packed with culinary and cultural gems – without the crowds. Kickstart your Lille adventure in the historic centre, Vieux Lille. Admire the 17th-century brick townhouses, cobbled streets, and the stunning square, Grand Place.

Peruse the exceptional art collection at Palais des Beaux-Arts or see the striking 360° view from the bell tower of the Hôtel de Ville, the tallest belfry in northern France. You also can’t miss the gastronomic delights, like the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Clarance Hotel. The city is also famed for its carbonnade flamande, a beer-stewed beef, or sample traditional genièvre at the Distillerie Claeyssens de Wambrechies, Lille’s last remaining distillery.

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5. Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide may be nowhere near as famous as Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, but it may just be Australia’s coolest capital. It’s one of the most off-the-radar city destinations yet it was named the third most liveable city in the world in 2021. ‘Radelaide’ is the world’s only city in a park, and is also famed as the Festival State and a UNESCO City of Music. From vibrant street art, world-class restaurants and charming speakeasies, to lush vineyards and dazzling beaches, what can’t Adelaide do? 

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While you’re here, find out why it’s known as the ‘City of Churches’ (hint: there are dozens of stunning churches and cathedrals). You should also indulge at the Adelaide Central Markets, go beach-hopping in the beachside suburb, Glenelg, and enjoy a tipple at the spectacular wineries in the Adelaide Hills. 

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6. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Filled with ancient castles, stunning gardens, and medieval architecture, Ljubljana is the fairytale capital city of Slovenia. It may not be as big and glitzy as the likes of London, Paris, or Rome, but Ljubljana is one of those cities that makes you seriously ask yourself “could I live here?”. 

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Kickstart your adventure in Tivoli Park, where you’ll find stunning botanical gardens, a tropical glasshouse, and two historic mansions. Explore the ancient Ljubljana Castle on Castle Hill or take a boat ride down the peaceful Ljubljanica river. The city is also home to some fantastic museums and galleries including the National Museum of Slovenia, the Slovenian Museum of Natural History, and the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum. Ljubljana has a thriving foodie scene. Our favourites are Slovenian kremna rezina, potica, and Štruklji. You can also visit the local markets, serving up the best Slovenian delicacies. 

Just 45 minutes away, you’ll find the enchanting Lake Bled. Sail across the sparkling water and take in the snowy peaks and alpine forests. You can also explore Bled Island, the Church of Assumption, and the 1000-year-old history of the medieval Bled Castle. 

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7. Durban, South Africa

Famed as the “warm city”, Durban has glorious weather almost all year round. But that’s not the only reason to visit one of South Africa’s most off-the-radar city destinations. The sandy beaches are just as stunning as Cape Town’s, but far less crowded. You’ll fall in love with Golden Mile beach and the balmy promenade. If you want to try surfing, head to Addington Beach, or if you’re looking for calmer waters, families love North Beach. 

On land, you can check out the Durban Botanical Gardens with an array of African plant species, or get immersed in the delicious local seafood. When you travel with Trafalgar, you’ll stay at one of our favourite Stays with Stories in Durban – the Oyster Box Hotel. This five-star seaside hotel overlooks Umhlanga’s iconic lighthouse and is home to the mouthwatering Curry Buffet. Owned and run by Trafalgar’s Tollman family, this special hotel and the city of Durban holds a special place in our hearts.

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8. Helsinki, Finland

Stockholm and Copenhagen may be Scandinavia’s best-known cities, and we think Helsinki is in the same league. As the cool capital of Finland, Helsinki offers up interesting architecture, vibrant markets, unique delicacies, and soothing sauna culture. 

As you wander through this harbour city, stop and see the marble façades of Finlandia Hall and the red-brick Uspenski Cathedral. Wander down the central avenue Mannerheimintie, lined with the National Museum, Kiasma art museum, and the striking Parliament House. You also have to check out the bright stalls in Market Square. This is the perfect place to tuck into some traditional food and drink like smoked reindeer, liquorice, and aquavit. Kippis!

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9. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Usually overlooked in favour of neighbouring states like Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, New Mexico is a hidden gem of a state. And Santa Fe is one of the best places to visit here. It’s the state capital, but it’s woefully underrated. Set in the Sangre de Cristo foothills, Santa Fe serves up stunning Pueblo-style architecture, excellent museums, gorgeous landscapes, rich culture and superb cuisine. 

As you wander through the winding streets, you can see the traditional Plaza, the Palace of the Governors, and the striking cathedral. Discover the many historic adobe structures like the San Miguel Mission Chapel, El Rancho de Las Golondrinas, and the nearby Taos Pueblo and Acoma Pueblo. You can also explore the historic Pueblo homes in the Barrio de Analco Historic District.

Visit the Allan Houser Sculpture Garden, a 50-acre property with incredible artworks surrounded by juniper trees. Make Travel Matter at the Tesuque Pueblo Community Farm. You’ll learn about this Indigenous community and their work to preserve heirloom seeds and achieve food sovereignty. You can also visit the Nambe village and enjoy a meal with the indigenous community at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the Rio Grande.

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10. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bangkok may be your first stop and Phuket may be your beach destination, but don’t miss out on Chiang Mai. This enchanting city is located in northern Thailand, surrounded by lush mountains and cascading waterfalls. As soon as you arrive, you’ll fall in love with the slower pace and magical atmosphere. It’s a joy to wander the leafy streets and stumble upon hidden gardens and glittering temples.

Visit Wat Suan Dok where we’ll meet a local monk, admire the striking golden chedi, and learn about Buddhism. You also can’t miss making the drive up Doi Suthep mountain to visit the sacred temple of Wat Doi Suthep. Listen to the monks chanting as the sun sets over the temple, the light reflecting off the golden buddhas, and soak up the views over this magnificent city. There are also countless exceptional restaurants and bars here where you can try traditional cuisine like the famous Khao Soi, a Northern Thai noodle soup. 

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11. San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina

After visiting the iconic Buenos Aires, be sure to head to Bariloche, the ‘Switzerland of South America’. Set in the spectacular Nahuel Huapi National Park, this is where the mountains meet the city in an outdoor playground. You’ll find charming Alpine-style architecture surrounded by snowy mountains, lush forests, sparkling beaches and glacial lakes. 

If you want the best view, ride the Campanario Hill chairlift for breathtaking views over Catedral and Tronador peaks. You can also head to Playa Bonita and take in the views from the hilltop of St. Edward’s Chapel. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll definitely love Bariloche. The city has a centuries-old chocolate-making history. You can visit chocolateries to learn about the product and of course, sample a mouthwatering variety of locally made chocolates.

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What are your favourite off-the-radar city destinations? Let us know in the comments below…

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