Last updated: 10:00 AM ET, Tue October 27 2015

5 Overlooked Cities That Are Worth Visiting

Features & Advice | Josh Lew | October 27, 2015

5 Overlooked Cities That Are Worth Visiting

PHOTO: Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi might get all the attention, but Danang, pictured, has a lot to offer. (Courtesy of Thinkstock)

Some cities around the world are such a major tourist draw, they actually define travel to their country. After you get back from a trip to France, people won’t ask you if you went to Paris, they will just ask you what you thought of Paris. It is usually assumed that if you went on a trip to France, you spent most of your time in its most famous city. The same usually occurs for trips to England (London), Italy (Rome) and Japan (Tokyo).

If you tell someone that you went to Nice or Marseilles, but not Paris, the conversation might end abruptly, either because the person is not familiar with these places, or they have no interest in hearing about anywhere except Paris.

Here are five destinations that are often overshadowed by their larger, more famous neighbor, but are very much worth visiting. In some cases, you can have a more immersive, more pleasant and more authentic experience in these overlooked metropolises than if you opted to spend your trip in a bigger city.

Danang, Vietnam

Danang is pretty well known to domestic tourists and East Asian travelers because of its beaches, seafood restaurants and hotels. Most Westerners, however, only spend a few hours in Danang. They head straight from the airport to the ancient cities of Hue or Hoi An, both of which are only about about an hour or two away by car or bus.

Danang is smaller than both Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, but it is not short on attractions or attractiveness. New roads mean that the chaotic traffic of the two aforementioned metropolises is most absent here. Many Vietnamese immigrants left from Danang after 1975, and many have now returned to open up shops, nightclubs or restaurants. All this new investment has made the city a great place to go out in the evening. During the day, the beaches and seafood restaurants are enough to keep tourists busy.

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Rotterdam: Erasmus Bridge

Photo via Flickr/Roman Boed

Amsterdam is not just one of the most exciting places in the Netherlands, it is one of Europe’s most popular destinations. Rotterdam, the second largest city in the country, is best known for its massive port (the largest in Europe and 4th biggest on earth).

Rotterdam is a modern city, and perhaps not as charming as its Dutch counterparts. But it is incredibly bicycle friendly, clean and very efficiently organized. Rotterdam has plenty of other positive traits as well: a full festival calendar, a killer menu of live music venues and a nightlife scene that some say even tops Amsterdam’s in terms of fun and diversity. Add all this together and Rotterdam becomes the most exciting European city that you’ve been to.

Birmingham, England

New Birmingham

Photo via Flickr/New Birmingham

Unless you’ve spent lots of time in Great Britain (or you are a fan of the BBC/Netflix series Peaky Blinders), you are probably only vaguely familiar with Birmingham. It is the second largest city in England, and it is currently experiencing a bit of a renaissance. The modern downtown area has become a lot more pedestrian-friendly in recent years. The city’s canals have been cleaned up, and many now have walking paths next to them.

Admittedly, Birmingham’s collection of boutiques and museums is not as impressive as London’s, but certainly not anything to scoff at either. Like the other secondary cities I’m pointing out in this article, one of the best things about Birmingham is its lively nightlife scene, which is more accessible than London’s. If you want to see up-and-coming British rock bands or hear famous DJs spinning into the wee hours in unpretentious surroundings, this is the place for you.

Osaka, Japan

Photo by James Ruggia

For some people, Tokyo is the center of the universe. If you measure the population of the entire metropolitan area, it is the largest city on earth. Osaka is only a short bullet train ride from Tokyo, but it has a very different feel. Osaka visitors are never at a loss when it comes to shopping. They can head to Shinsaibashi for high-end brand names and department stores and Nipponbashi for electronics. A third retail hotspot, Tenjinbashi-suji, is a covered arcade that stretches for more than a mile.

Osakans love to have fun, and they claim to be much more laid back than their Tokyo-dwelling counterparts. Kitashinchi is akin to Tokyo’s Ginza area (lots of little restaurants and bars), but Dotonbori has no equivalent. This raucous nightlife center has restaurants, karaoke joints, dance clubs, jazz bars, hostess lounges, and a tangible fun-loving atmosphere. 

Bergen, Norway

Photo courtesy of Bergen Tourism

Like Danang, Bergen is a gateway to other destinations. People pass through Bergen on the way to see Norway’s fjords. The city has a quaint feel, but it is actually Norway’s second largest population center. It is well-known domestically as a cultural destination. There is an annual jazz festival and a well respected symphony orchestra here. Famed Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen started his career with a theater troupe in Bergen.

Luckily, for people who aren’t thrilled by the idea of being immersed in highbrow culture, Bergen also has a great underground music scene. It has produced electronic artists like Royksopp and indie stars like Kings of Convenience. It could be a bit of a downer that bars stop serving at around 2:30 in the morning, but the beach is actually quite pleasant in the summertime, so there is a reason to try to get up at a decent hour.

These five cities prove that you can find worthwhile destinations if you look beyond the obvious. 


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