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The Best Places to Visit Before They Get Too Popular

Looking to mix up your travel traditions? From up-and-coming locales to hidden gems, scroll on for 15 intriguing locales to put on your radar.

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suitcase on white space and flat floor S_Photo/Shutterstock

A whole new world

The world is a big, beautiful place filled with fascinating cities, enchanting villages, charming towns, and far-flung islands. So, why on earth would you limit yourself by returning to the same vacation spots every year? We asked top industry experts to share their predictions for the next *it* destinations. You should also check out these 12 less crowded alternatives to popular destinations.

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Merida San Idefonso cathedral sunrise in Yucatan MexicoTono Balaguer/Shutterstock

Mérida, Mexico

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In contrast to the Gulf of Mexico beaches, Mérida keeps a low profile. This inland capital is steeped in both Mayan and Spanish colonial heritage and key cultural sights include Mérida Cathedral and Plaza de la Independencia. Mérida delivers a burgeoning food scene, too. “It’s a terrific jumping-off point to explore the less-frequented ruins, such as Mayapan and Muyil, along with some of the most gorgeous cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula,” discloses Haisley Smith, VP of marketing at Brownell, a Virtuoso Agency. Did Mérida ignite your desire for a south-of-the-border escape? Check out these popular Mexico vacation destinations.

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Wat Phra That Luang, Vientiane, Lao PDRGaid Kornsilapa/Shutterstock

Vientiane, Laos

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Travelers often favor Luang Prabang over Vientiane, however, the Laotian capital shouldn’t be disregarded. Perched on the banks of the Mekong River, this laidback city is very much on the rise, adding hip hotels and shops to its character-rich skyline of French colonial buildings, Buddhist temples (called wats), and gilded shrines. “Tree-lined avenues and manageable traffic evoke a sense of old-fashioned charm,” adds Mollie Fitzgerald, advisor at Frontiers, a Virtuoso Agency. Jetsetters are starting to take notice. So, if you’re keen to experience Vientiane before the throngs of out-of-towners swarm it, start planning your trip now. P.S. this is exactly how far in advance you should book your flights.

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Macdonald Bridge, Halifaxmatthayesphotography/Shutterstock

Halifax, Nova Scotia

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“I recently had the pleasure of visiting Halifax and it exceeded my expectations,” raves Melanie Schultz, advisor at Largay Travel, a Virtuoso Agency. “The people are so nice and the city has done a great job making the waterfront very inviting for tourists with lots to do in a very walkable distance.” Halifax brims with seafaring history. Nautical charts, Canadian merchant marine paraphernalia, and World War II convoys sit next to artifacts from the Titanic, which met its demise nearby, at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. There’s also an interesting public cemetery with gravestones of victims from the ill-fated ship. Find out the 13 Titanic mysteries that may never be solved.

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Sifnos, GreeceTom Zeman/Shutterstock

Sifnos, Greece

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“It’s easy to understand why Greece is a magnet for wanderlusters from across the globe, but that kind of widespread appeal comes at a cost,” notes Christie Hudson, senior communications manager at Expedia. Want to avoid the crowds? Located in the western part of the Cyclades, Sifnos is a low-key alternative to tourist magnets like Mykonos and Santorini. It still has that off-the-beaten-path charm and warm, authentic atmosphere with empty beaches. Plus, some of the best cooks in Greece serve up fresh seafood at family-run tavernas. Sifnos sounds pretty fabulous, right? Discover 18 more of the best Greek Islands.

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Blue fishing boats in the port of Essaouira - MoroccoLeonid Andronov/Shutterstock

Essaouira, Morocco

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A far cry from the frenzied pace of Marrakech, Essaouira is a happily unhurried port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. Formerly known as Mogodar, hard-core Game of Thrones fans can easily ID it as the real-life version of Astapor (scenes from the third season of the HBO series were filmed here). But the show wrapped and things are returning to normal in Essaouira. Strong winds keep the beaches relatively free of visitors, save thrill-seeking surfers. And if your social feed needs a boost, the stone ramparts, UNESCO-listed medina, winding alleyways, and blue boats are sure to earn you a lot of likes. These are 65 movie sets you can visit in real life.

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Spring view of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

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Looking to commune with nature, but prefer not to stray too far from home? Consider Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. “With many national parks seeing record visitors, it’s clear there’s an appetite for unplugging from our devices and reconnecting with nature,” says Hudson. If a tech-free escape is on your agenda, skip the usual suspects (no disrespect to Yosemite and Yellowstone) and set your sights on Harpers Ferry. Mountains, rivers, and rolling hills set the stage for outdoor endeavors. Craving more thrills? Here are 18 one-of-a-kind adventures to add to your bucket list.

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Punakha Dzong Monastery, one of the largest monestary in Asia, Punakha, BhutanKhanthachai C/Shutterstock


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Nestled between the massive nations of China and India, Bhutan has long been safeguarded by its mountainous borders. To this day, the remote Himalayas kingdom remains deeply protective of its Buddhist traditions. Its pristine landscape is dotted with monasteries, cliffside temples, and storybook fortresses. And the ancient arts of weaving and dance continue to mesmerize. Presently, it’s not the peaks or lack of roads, but rather the strict tourism policy and high daily tariffs that are limiting entry. Though, if you have the financial resources to make it happen, there’s no denying a trek to this mystically beautiful country is nothing short of incredible. And at least it’s easier to visit than these 10 forbidden places around the world.

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Beautiful panoramic view of Tbilisi at sunset, Georgia, Europevvvita/Shutterstock

Tbilisi, Georgia

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Seated at the crossroads of East and West, Tbilisi translates to “warm location.” Tourists will find that to be true, from the sulfuric springs to the personable locals and soul-satisfying eats. “I visited a few years ago and would easily go back for the food alone—especially the khachapuri, traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread,” says Angela Walker, advisor at The Society of International Railway Travelers, a Virtuoso Agency. In addition to fantastic cuisine, Tbilisi offers unique architecture, vibrant markets, great local wine, and longstanding cultural pastimes such as Khridoli, a traditional martial art still practiced in Georgia. Bonus: a sojourn in Tbilisi won’t break the bank. On a budget? Try these sneaky ways to bypass airline baggage fees. (Hey, every bit counts!)

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Australia: Aerial view of Marcoola Beach at the sunshine coast in QueenslandGMC Photopress/Shutterstock

Marcoola, Australia

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“Australian cities have been plentiful on Expedia’s Trends Report the last couple of years, and 2020 is proving no exception,” reveals Hudson. While U.S. travelers seem keen to explore past Sydney, Marcoola isn’t necessarily in the conversation…at least, not yet. Wedged between Mudjimba and Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Marcoola is often overshadowed by its neighbors. It’s precisely because this Aussie gem hasn’t reached peak popularity that you can still enjoy uncrowded beaches, world-class surfing, affordable accommodations, and cute cafés sans hordes of hungry vacationers. Go now before it lands on the list of places that have been ruined by tourism.

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Brest, BelarusGrisha Bruev/Shutterstock

Brest, Belarus

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A city on the Poland-Belarus border, Brest goes unnoticed for the majority of folks in the United States, who are more apt to venture further west to Warsaw or south to Budapest, explains Hudson. Sadly, that means missing out on a destination that has reinvented itself to become modern without losing sight of its fascinating and, at times, tumultuous past. Brest Fortress, an important symbol of Soviet resistance in WWII, should be your first stop. Nearby, you’ll find the St Nicholas Garrison Church, which holds regular services. Travel insiders also recommend visiting the Bereste Archaeological Museum and Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park.

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Valletta, Malta: skyline from Marsans Harbour at sunsetkrivinis/Shutterstock

Valletta, Malta

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Forget Côte d’Azur and the Amalfi Coast, Valletta should be your next Mediterranean getaway. The capital of Malta enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year and a pleasant climate. Holidaymakers can take advantage of the superb weather by hitting the beach and frolicking in the cerulean waters. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, Valletta brims with time-honored attractions. History buffs will particularly love the many museums, palaces, churches, and other well-preserved landmarks from the late Renaissance. “And because English is one of the official languages, it’s a breeze to communicate with locals,” says Vicki Aubert, advisor at Largay Travel, a Virtuoso Agency. Discover these 13 small European enclaves you didn’t even know existed.

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Panoramic aerial view of Trier in a beautiful summer day, GermanyS-F/Shutterstock

Trier, Germany

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Can you name Germany’s oldest city? We’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with beer. And, yes, there’s plenty of Bavarian ale (plus sweet and dry riesling) to slog back in this under-the-radar locale in the western portion of the country. First settled by Augustus in 15 B.C. and called “Augusta Treverorum” for 500 years, Trier boasts many impressive Roman ruins—including an amphitheater, original iron gate, and baths. If you like brews, ancient architecture, and a lack of crowds, Trier might just be the perfect option. Feeling ambivalent about where to go next? Learn how to choose the best trip based on your personality type.

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Aerial view of Bodrum on Turkish Riviera.monticello/Shutterstock

Bodrum, Turkey

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“Bodrum is slowly transforming from a sleepy town to a place that draws shiny yachts and high-salaried Millenials with authentic action on their minds,” says Kenneth Sause, a specialist at Largay Travel, a Virtuoso Agency. Vacationers can expect medieval castles, gorgeous beaches, and numerous sea-view restaurants. Besides fresh fish and mezze, an increasingly dynamic culinary repertoire is attracting international attention. If you ask us (and anyone who’s been to Bodrum), the spellbinding vistas are reason enough to make the journey. Need another selling point? How about a slew of five-star resorts? The Marmara Bodrum, Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay, Voyage Bodrum, the list goes on… While there, be sure to make time to visit the only city in the world that straddles two continents.

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Sandstone cliffs in Gale beach, Comporta , Portugalmrfotos/Shutterstock

Comporta, Portugal

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Step aside Lisbon, there’s a new hotspot on the horizon. Hailed as the next great European beach destination, Comporta is not-so-quietly generating buzz for its beautiful coastline, relaxed ambiance, and effusive hospitality. When you’re not catching rays and strolling the powder-soft sand, relish pampering spa sessions and eat farm-to-table dishes. Talk about #vacationgoals. If you want to savor the wonderful cuisine, languid pace, and sun-kissed splendor of this seaside gem, go STAT. And, while you’re at it, score a reservation at Sublime Comporta before every jetsetter on the planet puts it on the top of their must-stay list. Portugal is also one of the 10 countries where you can travel cheap and vacation large.

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Parroquia Archangel church Jardin Town Square Rafael Chruch San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Parroaguia created in 1600s.Bill Perry/Shutterstock

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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There’s more to Mexico than Cabo and Cancun. San Miguel de Allende has long lured artisans—and, of late, loads of expats—with its creative spirit, craft markets, colonial buildings, and cobblestone streets. “There’s a timelessness to the rhythm of life in San Miguel de Allende. But as it becomes trendier, you can sense the balance of authentic and touristy is poised to tip in the coming years,” says Damien Martin, specialist at Largay Travel, a Virtuoso Agency, adding “I would suggest planning your trip ASAP.” Next, figure out where to go for your best beach vacation every month of the year.

Lindsay Cohn
Lindsay is an avid traveler who has visited 45 countries across six continents. At, she covers both domestic and international travel. When she's not writing, you can find her doing yoga and adding to her ever-growing list of future adventures.