Five Cities That (Probably) Aren’t on Your To-See List, but (Probably) Should Be…

There really aren’t any places that are off-the-beaten-path anymore. For some people, Thailand or Nepal sound exotic; for others a winter in Allepo or Baku is old hat. With that in mind, depending on how well-traveled you are, these cities may or may not be exotic or new to you. But I feel none of them receive a whole lot of attention in the backpacking world. There are a lot of amazing places in the world, and the following five are just the tip of the iceberg and in no particular order.

Lahore, Pakistan
Lahore Museum with bookshop

As they say, “You Haven’t Lived Until You Have Visited Lahore.” Pakistan’s cultural capital, this thousand year old city has been at the heart of more than one Empire. It sounds like the current city is not without some danger, but as long as you travel respectfully and intelligently, it should be alright. Plus you are well on your way to the Karakoram Highway, the so-called Ninth Wonder of the World.

Karakoram Highway.

Talinn, Estonia
view of talinn

The Estonian capital is a European Capital of Culture in 2011. It has been popular with vacationing Finns and Swedes since time immemorial, but is still gaining traction with other travelers. With a well-preserved medieval center, affordable prices, and some unique festivals, it sounds like Talinn will be well worth visiting even after 2011 (which is good, because we’ve only got a month left anyway.)

Isfahan, Iran

Plaça Naghsh-i Jahan, Isfahan, Iran
When it was capital of the (medieval) Persian Empire, this city was so grand that it was said “Esfahān nesf-e jahān ast” (Which means, if your Persian is rusty, “Isfahan is half of the world.”) But it Isfahan goes way back, older than old school. We’re talking Palaeolithic here; people have lived here for nearly as long as people have lived. It’s hard to visit (nearly impossible as an American) but those who have been are more than impressed. By all accounts is a perfect mix of Muslim hospitality, stylish modernity, and medieval buildings.

Krakow, Poland

Krakow has been “the next Prague” long enough that it must just be the current Prague by now. That’s to its credit, though. It dates back to the 7th century (just a baby compared to Isfahan, but by most other measures is quite old.) Seven million people a year visit; you will by no means have the place to yourself, but it’s a far cry from the bustle of Paris or London. There’s even a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which might not sound exciting, but it is. (Click the link if you doubt me.)

Yangshou, China

Yangshou China
If you haven’t seen Avatar, the scenery here could come with a spoiler warning. The town is famous for not feeling “Chinese”–it’s small, relatively uncrowded and unpolluted, and has loads of amenities for travelers. Spelunkers, rock climbers, bike riders, river drifters, and trekkers will all have lots to do.

Have you been to any of these places? Do you have any other under-appreciated cities to add to the list?

7 responses to “Five Cities That (Probably) Aren’t on Your To-See List, but (Probably) Should Be…

  1. Yangshuo, yes! One of my favorite vacation spots in China, for sheer stupendous natural beauty. Party scene doesn’t hurt, either.

    Haven’t made it yet to any of the others, but Krakow may actually happen in the next few months.

  2. Cool. Krakow is (hopefully) in my future, but still a ways out. I see you were just in (are still in) Nepal. How are you liking it?

    • Still in Nepal, for a little over another week yet. It has been a lot of fun, and is looking like one of those places that just fits well and stays on the radar as somewhere to come back to. I’ve been here about two and a half months, and covered only a small bit of the stuff that catches my interest about the country.

      • Awesome. I spent over 2 months there last year, and will be heading back on my next trip. I actually just read about your Everest expedition–sounded tiring but incredible. I did the AC last time, which I imagine is comparable.

      • From talking to others, Purna actually sounds more tiring than most of the stretch from Lukla up to EBC. Because of the altitude, you only really walk a few hours a day up there, but it sounds like on the AP you have a lot more long days. If you have time, too, I cant recommend the stretch from Tumlingtar to Lukla highly enough. Like I mentioned in the post, it ended up being one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole experience.

        My next goal in Nepal, probably the focus of another trip, is going to be Upper Mustang. Expensive for permits and guides and whatnots, but it sounds incredible.

  3. That’s interesting. From Manang on, it’s pretty slow going–some days as short as 4 hours. And Thorung La is higher than EBC, I seem to recall. Either way, I guess, it’s a tiring, scenic time. I’ll definitely add Tumlingtar to Lukla as part of the next trip to-do list.

    Manang. I took a couple of steps into it but that was far as I got before the guards yelled at me. Not only does it sound incredible, but you can drink beer with the King! With the KING!

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