Ready to summer somewhere new? Pack your sunglasses and your best camera and start working your way through our list of alternative summer destinations.
By Stine Gjevnøe Sørensen
Skip the crowds this summer and try a road less traveled – and way more interesting. From the world’s highest-altitude capital city to an obscure Balinese island beloved by surfers, we’ve picked our top alternative summer vacation destinations for fun in the sun.
Victoria, BC, Canada
Snuggled in on Vancouver Island, Victoria melds the old and the new with mild-mannered charm. Its formal buildings, London-esque double-decker buses, stunning flower gardens and tearooms all speak to its British heritage – all in tandem with the outdoorsy beauty of Canada.
Explore the Parliament Buildings and the Royal British Columbia Museum in the Inner Harbor, then put your arms to work with a kayak tour from Fisherman’s Wharf.
Take the kids to the Victoria Bug Zoo or Miniature World; drag historians to the magnificent Craigdarroch Castle or the fancy Fairmont Empress Hotel for tea and scones.
Wine lovers should set aside some time for a day-trip to Cowichan Valley.
Nestled away in the Ionian sea, Parga is the town equivalent of a Greek God. Pine-stippled cliffs hug its colorful houses, which sweep up the side of a mountain like an amphitheater. Tiny craft boutiques and markets spill out on to the cobblestone streets, beckoning with pottery, antiques and island delicacies, including honey.
Stop in at restaurant Tzimaz for traditional eats and Motley Coffeesweet for honeyed desserts.
Once you’ve explored the languid streets, kick back on the sun-kissed Valtos beach, hike to the Ali Pasha Venetian castle ruins sitting atop the hill, and take a ferry excursion to Corfu and Paxos.
Synonymous with flamenco and bullfights, this culture-rich Andalusian capital is a summer stunner. Trams and bicycles take you deep into its historic center, notable for its awe-inspiring Gothic cathedral, one of the world’s largest. Baroque marvels like the Alcazar royal palace showcase Mudejar artistry, while icons like the 12th century Giralda bell tower celebrate the city’s spiritual roots.
Snap pictures from the Metropol Parasol’s walkway, shop at Soho Benita, and stroll the winding streets of Barrio Santa Cruz. Explore the incredible bar scene before clapping along to a flamenco show or listening to the crowd cheer on Sevilla FC.
Spare some time to visit the Italica archaeological site just down the road.
At the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle, the town of Koblenz is a 2000-year-old beauty studded with castles and fortresses. Stolzenfels Castle and the Elector’s Palace make for majestic sightseeing, and the looming Ehrenbreitstein Fortress delivers an incredible panorama of this ancient city’s Old Town and its riverfront setting.
Point your camera from the statue-topped Deutsches Eck, where the two rivers meet, explore the Military Museum, and gasp at the incredible Heart of Jesus Church. The neoclassical Koblenz Theater brings crowds in formal attire; there’s also the KuFa Culture Factory for plays and live music.
Take a boat down the Rhine, and be sure to try the region’s famously tangy white wines.
Andorra La Vella, Andorra
Way up in the Pyrenees, the capital of Andorra is a duty-free retail center wrapped with quaint, old-timey good looks. It’s divided into two sections: the commercial north end and the historic south and west.
Visit 12th-century wonders like the churches of Sant Esteve and Sant Andreu. Tour the Casa de la Vall, step out on to the medieval Bridge of la Margineda, and picnic at the town square. Shop for bargains on clothing and electronics, then relax in the sauna at Caldea.
Surrounding the city is the “Green Ring”, a natural reserve full of trails that take you through forests, farms, orchards and Roman sites.
Sweden’s southern city is a medieval beauty presided over by the striking Lund Cathedral and the famed Lund University, the city’s lifeblood. Laid-back and lovely, it’s all cobblestone streets, artsy cafes and colourful cottages. View and listen to the cathedral’s twice-daily clock show, explore the 11th-century Drotten Church Ruins, and explore the Ingvar Kamprad Design Centrum, founded by IKEA’s originator. Museums and galleries abound, and the performing arts scene is buoyed by a large student population.
The impeccable Botanical Gardens are worth an afternoon of your time, and rustic local eats abound.
The nightlife is student-oriented, but try the Bishops Arms pub or the proud Cafe Ariman.
Santa Fe, NM, US
In the Sangre de Cristo foothills, Santa Fe combines wild west charm with a bustling arts scene. Build around a central square, the delightfully walkable downtown area is always open for business. Check out the multi-museum offerings of Museum Hill, visit the George O’Keeffe Museum, and wander glorious attractions like the St Francis Cathedral, Loretto Chapel and the Santuario de Guadalupe.
Relax with an open-air performance at the Santa Fe Opera, shop Native American arts and crafts and explore the fine art offerings of Canyon Road.
There’s also an expansive festival calendar, with events celebrating food, film, music and culture all year round.
Sumba Island, Indonesia
A cult surfing destination, Sumba Island is slowly luring travelers away from its famous sibling Bali. Lush and tropical, it’s all verdant rainforest, crisp waterfalls and picture-perfect surf beaches. Tourism infrastructure is still nascent, with even paved roads a rarity, but that means a quiet, nature-filled reprieve from the across-the-water tourist heartlands of Kuta and Ubud.
Explore the huge Neolithic megaliths that dot the island, watch the traditional horse-back jousting events called pasalas, and tour the tiny local villages, many of which produce a painstakingly woven cloth called ikat.
Water lovers will spend their days swimming, snorkeling and surfing before returning to refuel with simple meals of roasted goat, pork, chicken and fish.
The world’s highest-altitude capital city, Quito is an old-fashioned stunner located in the Guayllabamba River Basin in the Andes. Its untouched historic center has received a Unesco nod, and rightly so. Parks and plazas abound across its 800 acres of colonial churches, museums and administrative buildings – try the recently restored Calle de la Ronda for a glimpse at the city’s past.
Visit the golden La Compañia de Jesus Church and the unique Basilica del Voto Nacional, then head to the Bellavista neighborhood for an incredible collection of art museums and open-to-the-public studios.
For an even better look at this remarkable city and its incredible volcanic setting, climb aboard the Telerifico cable car and enjoy the view from 13,000 feet up.
A jauntily cosmopolitan settlement on the Black Sea, Varna mixes the historic with the unabashedly new. Look beyond its famed beaches – the city center delivers locally influenced takes on Renaissance, baroque, art nouveau and art deco styles, all perfect as selfie backdrops.
Wander the massive Sea Garden, home to a zoo and terrarium, and featuring a bustling waterfront promenade. The Aquarium and Dolphinarium introduce you to local sealife; an Archaeological Museum and Ethnographic Museum provide an overview of local history and culture.
Rock lovers should stop by the Aladzha Manastir, a monastery carved into a giant boulder, and the Pobiti Kamani rock formation, said to have healing energy.
To get the blood pumping, try a twilight bicycle tour, or bungee jump from Asparuhov Bridge.
Shetland Islands, Scotland, UK
A place of rugged beauty at the fringes of the UK, the Shetland Island archipelago is a secluded gathering of islands closer to Norway than to Scotland. The port town of Lerwick is Shetland’s maritime heart, while historic Calloway features a brooding castle and marina.
But the core appeal of the islands is their untouched splendor: puffins, otters, ponies, hares and stoats ramble about the moorlands and cliffs, and whales and seals can be spotted in the ocean. Explore on foot, by kayak or on a chartered boat.
Play a midnight round at the Dale Golf Course, dance the night away at the Up Helly Ha festival, or tap your foot to traditional music at the Shetland Folk Festival.
Ringed by mountains and nestled deep in an emerald valley, Medellín has long shaken off its Pablo Escobar days, growing into a vibrant, cosmopolitan jewel of a city. Brand new infrastructure, including a metro system, hillside gondolas, parks and museums speak to its rich cultural heart. Nicknamed the “City of Everlasting Spring”, it offers up perfect weather all year round, and you’ll want to squeeze the most out of every day.
El Poblado’s Parque Lleras, a park with a perimeter of bars and restaurants, is where you want to be in the evenings – even if you’ll feel distinctly underdressed.
Visit in August to check out the famed Feria de las Flores – the Flower Festival.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
Stretch out your vacation days in the land of the midnight sun. Norway’s Lofoten Islands are a craggy cluster of windswept wonder topped with the quaint red cabins and bobbing boats of its old-timey fishing community.
The Hurtigruten ferry chugs between the islands from the main port of Svolvær, and there’s plenty of hill hiking, dune strolling, kayaking and cycling to keep you busy. The rugged land soars above you, offering magnificent glimpses of rocky landscapes, including Fløya, and a pale sea cruised by sperm whales.
Go deep-sea fishing in the world’s largest cold-water reef and snack on the codfish (klippfisk) you’ll see drying in the open air.
Surrounded by massive stone walls and looming mountains, the red-capped city of Kotor feels protected against the march of time. About an hour south of Dubrovnik, it’s a Unesco-listed medieval masterpiece with an abundant heritage. Churches dating back to the 12th century bristle among its narrow streets, with other highlights including a Prince’s Palace and Napoleon’s Theater.
Grab a stuffed burek to snack on while you explore, take your time over a coffee al fresco, or book a cruise around the far-too-beautiful bay.
It’s as sleepy as can be during the day, but the lights come on at night – along with a bar, club and live music scene that’ll surprise you.
Faroe Islands, Denmark
Wedged between Norway and Iceland, the Faroe Islands are known for their isolated wonder. But this famously rainy archipelago full of rocky gorges and lush valleys is an annual summer destination for music lovers. Every year the three-day G! Festival descends, swelling the population of the tiny grass-roofed town of Fuglafjørður, the capital of mountainous Eysturoy, from a few hundred to the thousands.
Head to the beach for live performances – and for a soak in the hot tub and saunas conveniently set up on the sand. Chill with more tunes at the Summarfestivalurin in Klaksvík, and drive the twisty one-lane roads in search of the endless classical and folk concerts held throughout the islands all summer.
This article originally appeared on Momondo.
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