With each welcoming more than 50 million international visitors each year, France, the United States and China dominate the list of most popular countries for travellers. But are the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and Great Wall overshadowing other destinations that should be on travellers’ bucket lists?
We turned to question-and-answer community Quora.com to find out, asking “Which country is the most underrated?” From a medieval African trading town to a Mediterranean island nation, readers weighed in on why these overlooked outposts are worth a look.
This central European country often gets passed up in favour of its neighbours — including Prague in the Czech Republic or Munich in southern Germany — said Steve Estes from New York City.
Austria was once an Imperial capital of Europe (Credit: Karl Thomas/allOver images/Alamy)
“What Americans (and some Europeans) forget about Austria is that 100 years ago, it was a great Imperial capital of Europe, on par with London, Paris, Rome... and then the political fortunes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire faded,” he explained. “So most everything that people love about, say, Paris, goes just as well for Austria.”
That means incredible museums and art galleries and impressive palaces like the Schonbrunn are all accessible via the safe and clean Vienna subway system. The ski towns are also some of the best in the world, Estes added, especially Innsbruck: “a city by the mountains that every [US] ski town from Vail to Stowe to Tahoe tries to copy”.
Innsbruck is one of Austria’s hidden treasures (Credit: Craig Holmes/Alamy)
While plenty of African countries could be on this list, Deirdre Beecher of Cork, Ireland honed in on this southeastern nation for its diversity and potential.
“Mozambique has stunning white sandy beaches that are lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean,” she said. “There are islands off the coast that rival anything the Maldives have to offer and are largely uninhabited.”
Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique, has beautiful, unusual sand dunes (Credit: Zute Lightfoot/Alamy)
Visitors can enjoy many aspects of the landscape: a safari on the Limpopo River valley, surfing and reef diving off the coast of Tofo, or swimming with whale sharks and manta rays near the Bazaruto Archipelago. The country’s history can be appreciated in Mozambique’s colonial architecture or in medieval trading towns, such as Sofala, which were frequented by Swahili, Arab and Persian traders.
Nestled between better-known neighbours China, India and Nepal, Bhutan is a small country that is well worth a visit, said Amit Sinha of New Delhi. Located on the eastern side of the Himalayas, the country is “peaceful” and “full of panoramic views”, he said, including views of Gangkhar Puensum, the tallest unclimbed mountain in the world.
Bhutan’s Thimphu is the only capital city in the world without traffic lights (Credit: ajlber/iStock)
The country is also known as one of the world’s happiest. In fact, instead of measuring output in standard economic GDP, the country measures GNH (Gross National Happiness), based on sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation and good governance. Its capital, Thimphu, is one of the world's only capital cities without traffic lights.
Bhutan does have strict tourist requirements as part of an official “High Value, Low Impact” tourism policy, and visitors must have a visa and book their stay through an official Bhutanese tour operator. A daily tourism fee of $65 is also required, and goes toward the country’s education, healthcare and infrastructure.
The Mediterranean island nation of Malta is warm, cheap and accessible, making it a perfect alternative to more-visited neighbours like Italy and Greece. Locals speak English as well as Italian and Maltese, so Anglophones won’t have any problem communicating.
Malta is a cheaper alternative to spots such as Italy and Greece (Credit: Sabine Lubenow/Alamy)
“It has Italian food and wine without the Italian bureaucracy,” said Deepak Shukla, who lived in Malta and now resides in London. “There is also a culture of eating and drinking outside,” he added — all the better to appreciate the beautiful year-round weather.
Happily, outdoor libations are plentiful and cheap. Locals recommend ordering the pastizzi, a traditional savoury pastry, usually filled with ricotta, washed down with local Cisk beer. Beyond culinary pursuits, the island’s megalithic temples – built between 5000 and 7000BC – are renowned for their architectural beauty and skill, given the limited resources available at the time they were constructed.
Malta’s megalithic temples were built between 5000 and 7000BC (Credit: Bildagentur Geduldig/Alamy)
While the United States attracts tourists for its iconic cities and famous national parks, its northern neighbour’s charms often go overlooked.
Canada has vast and beautiful natural landscapes (Credit: Ptrbnsn/Wikipedia/CC-BY-SA-3.0)
“Many people believe Canada is full of igloos and maple syrup, but that couldn't be farther from the truth,” said Thomas White. “Some of the best cities in the world are in Canada!”
That includes Vancouver, where “you can snowboard and surf in one day”, Toronto, one of North America’s fastest growing cities, and Quebec City, “one of the best examples of European architecture outside of Europe”. And Canada’s cultural hub, Montreal, rivals some of the best cities in the world, White affirmed.
Canada’s national parks are far less crowded than those in the US (Credit: David Nunuk/All Canada Photos/Alamy)
Beyond its vibrant cities, Canada’s vast landscape offers plenty of opportunity for exploring, with its national parks often less crowded than those of its neighbour to the south. In Algonquin Park in Central Ontario, visitors often hear wolf howls, while lobster boils are a favourite activity in the coastal national parks of Gros Morne and Terra Nova in Newfoundland.
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