12 Underrated Travel Destinations for 2020
2019 was one for the books.
After leaving my job and heading off for a 9 month backpacking adventure exploring over 20 countries, I’ve seen some pretty spectacular places. By climbing desert sand dunes, attending music festivals held in castles and ancient forts, feeding alpacas and countless other animals, being a part of a literal revolution, I’ve learned more about myself and the world than I ever thought possible.
Inspired by all that I experienced in 2019, I’ve created a list of the top 12 underrated travel destinations that took me most by surprise. Whether it was because they spawned from spontaneity, outstanding hospitality or because they were just a damn good time, here’s my take on the most underrated travel destinations to inspire your 2020 wanderlust.
Turquoise Coast, Turkey
Also known as the the Turkish Riviera, the Turquoise Coast covers the area of southwest Turkey that borders the Mediterranean Sea. During my 9 months abroad in 2019, this was by far the destination that took me most by surprise.
I had no idea what to expect, no set plans and was traveling by the suggestions of others, whether they were locals or fellow travelers. It was the first time I truly had nothing planned, but ended up being some of the best few weeks of my life. I mean just take a look at these views!
↓ Ölüdeniz Beach
↓↓ Kaputas Beach
↓↓↓ Olympos Beach
Another unplanned site I only ventured to through the suggestions of others were the ancient Roman ruins of Baalbek. About a 2 hour drive from Lebanon’s capital of Beriut, Baalbek houses some of the most impressive ruins I’ve ever seen, rivaling only those found in Athens.
The caveat most likely keeping visitors at bay is that Baalbek also plays de facto capital for Hezbollah. Although Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist organization by major Western countries, Baalbek itself is now entirely safe to explore for visitors. The locals are extremely welcoming as tourism was one of their main sources of income, but has since drastically declined due to the recent conflicts in the region.
Wadi rum, jordan
One of the best highlights of my 9 month backpacking trip in 2019 was going Bedouin style and camping in the Wadi Rum desert. It was my first desert visit and the spectacular views of orange sandstone cliffs that turned red as the sun set absolutely blew me away. I loved it so much that I went back for a second time while I was in Jordan!
Although Greece is a huge summertime tourist hotspot, Paros is one of the few main islands that doesn’t receive hoards of cruise boat tourists. Paros offers visitors a more laid back Greek island vibe, perfect for the backpacker or traveler looking to relax.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Save for the daytrippers to Mostar from tourist hotspot cities like Dubrovnik and Kotor, Bosnia & Herzegovina is a largely untapped market for travelers. Besides the incredible natural beauty of the country, its capital of Sarajevo is starting to catch on as a fantastic hub for digital nomads. Although it’s recent tumultuous past of the 90’s kept it clear of tourism until only recently, the beautiful Ottoman meets European architecture and cheap eats made it one of my new favorite cities in Europe.
- Latin Bridge
- War Tour
- Baščaršija Market
- Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque
- The Yellow Fortress
When I told friends I was heading to Estonia, I was either met with confusion or curiousity. Where even is Estonia? Why would you go there? Who the heck goes to Estonia???
But let me tell you! I went to the capital city of Tallinn expecting nothing, because well, I KNEW nothing, but came out pleasantly surprised. The city has the perfect combo of modern amenities and a cool, hip scene but with a medieval Old Town that’ll make you feel like you’re walking through time. Warning: your wallet will hurt after visiting here. Plan accordingly.
- Tallinn Town Hall
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
- Toompea Castle
- St. Olaf’s Church
- St. Nicolass Church & Museum
- Telliskivi Creative City
- Kalamaja Neighborhood
The Algarve, Portugal
Although some of the most iconic water landscapes of Portugal lie within the southernmost region of Portugal, not everyone heads south when visiting the more popular northern cities of Lisbon or Porto. If you travel the Algarve during off or shoulder season, you’ll find cheaper accommodations and sprawling beaches all to yourself.
West Bank, Palestine
Palestine encompasses some of the most contested land in the world. And upon entering Palestine from Jerusalem, it shows. Although the Gaza Strip is absolutely out of question for tourists (and for good reason), the West Bank of Palestine is a great introduction for travelers wanting to learn all sides to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Before I decided to head to Palestine for a week, I already knew a good bit of the history and stayed up to date on news involving Palestine. So the heavy military presence and checkpoints did not come as a surprise.
What did surprise me though were the people. They were some of the most welcoming and accomodating people I have ever met. Even though my country has unfortunately played a large role in the demise of the Palestinian people, they were happy and almost excited even when I told them I was American. Be forewarened though, it’s a stark contrast to modern and vibrant Israel, but it shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the area.
↓ Bethlehem | Ramallah
Cyprus is a hotspot for tourists all year round, but large crowds gather in the summer months when the notorious beach clubs open up for the season. If you come during the off season you’ll find a far quieter and calmer Mediterranean island. Although the coastal towns offer magnificent views, no town surpised me more than landlocked Nicosia.
As the last divided capital in the world, the divide is prevalent saparating the UN recognized Greek side in the south and the Turkish side to the North (also known as Lefkosia). A UN peacekeeping border lays in the heart of the city where passports must be shown to cross. Don’t let that deter you from exploring both sides though. Each side has immense charm uniquely their own and is very safe for visitors. After chats with locals on both sides, most want to see a peaceful reunification in the near future.
Southern Greek Side
- Ledra Street
- Pivo Microbrewery
- Venetian Walls
- Nicosia Municipal Arts Center
- The Home Cafe
- Lost + Found Drinkery
Northern Turkish Side
- Büyük Han
- Municipal Market
- Sarayönü Square
- Selimiye Mosque
- Arabahmet Quarter
↓ North | South
As my first non-western country, Morocco was a bit of a culture shock. Unlike most first-time visitors who dote on their Morocco vacays, we didn’t stay in the 5-star riads or resorts you see on social media. Instead we rented Airbnb’s in local areas, presenting an entirely different, more authentic Morocco experience.
During my 3 and a half weeks in Morocco, Essaouira shone like a beacon of light and was a place I would’ve never known about if it wasn’t for my then travel-mate. Out of the way from the normal tourist route, you’ll find a far more laid back, beach town atmosphere and the perfect place to relax after the hustle and bustle of places like Marrakech and Fez.
Often termed at the ‘Forgotten Son’ of Israeli tourism, Nazareth should not be left out of your tour through Israel. As the only predominately Arab town left in Israel, you’ll get a unique flare of culture and architecture as evident in the winding alleyways of Old Town. Check out my one day in Nazareth city guide here!
With the larger cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam harnessing visitors attentions, Utrecht is a lovely underatted tourist destination for those heading to the Netherlands on holiday. Similar to Amsterdam with picturesque canals and lovely brick architecture, Utrecht is a much quieter alternative without the massive crowds of tourists.
Hovering your keyboard searching for flights yet? Hopefully my list of my top underrated travel destinations of 2019 have inspired your wanderlust for the new year! Cheers!
Top 12 Underrated Travel Destinations
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Turquoise coast is phenomenal. Well done!
Very interesting list and gorgeous pictures! I would love to visit Nazareth & The Algarve. Of this list which surprised you the most?
I actually saw your post earlier today on IG. Again amazing photos and places. Good travel inspiration for 2020 🙂
Woah, I didn’t even know you could visit Palestine! That sounds fascinating. Sarajevo was one of my travel highlights of 2019, absolutely loved it. All of these sound amazing!
WOW!!! What an amazing list! I’ve pretty much added all of these to my bucket list. Tallinn is beautiful and I loved my time there. I’m always itching to go back.
Each location is more spectacular than the last. I’ve been waiting to go to Morocco and Jordan and here is additional confirmation. Great article!
Can I visit every single of of these please? As much as I love visiting the major cities and big destinations, underrated places like these end up being some of the best trips by far. I never even considered visiting Nazareth, but that one photo alone makes me want to get on a plane right now and head over!
This is such an exceptional list you put together and your adventure sounds like it was amazing! I would love to visit all of these spots and love that you traveled to some of the more unbeaten paths!