Looking to give selfie-stick-wielding tourists the slip this year? Then hide from the crowds in one of these lesser-visted destinations.
From this week citizens of 45 countries – including Britain – are permitted visa-free travel to Uzbekistan, as the country tries to woo foreign tourists. There are some compelling reasons to visit the Central Asian nation, whose glorious cities provided a welcome respite for travellers on the Silk Road.
Those same cities – Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand – have been painstakingly restored and once again bedazzle with their magnificent minarets, shimmering domes and hypnotic mosaics. The dusty bazaars, hospitable locals and spectacular mountain scenery add to the country’s considerable appeal.
Explore offers a 13-day Wonders of the Silk Road itinerary from £2,575pp.
Since “Africa’s North Korea” made peace with Ethiopia a wind of change has blown across the country, which seems to be coming out from the cold. Obstacles remain, chiefly in the form of Isaias Afwerki, who has run the country with an iron fist since 1993. Nethertheless, the FCO deems most of Eritrea safe and some tour operators are offering packages to the country.
The country has also been buoyed by Unesco’s decision to declare Asmara, the capital, a Unesco World Heritage Site on account of its beautiful modernist architecture, which went up during the Italian occupation (1889-1941). Massawa, a centuries-old Red Sea port, is also worth visiting; from there sail to the Dahlak Archipelago, home to empty beaches, vibrant reefs and pearl fishermen.
Steppes Travel offers a 12-day tour from £2,995pp, with the next departure in autumn 2019.
3. Pittsburgh, US
British Airways promises to put Pittsburgh on the map this April with new direct flights from London Heathrow. Expect to be pleasantly surprised by this easy-on-the-eye city, which is consistently ranked one of America’s most liveable places. The city abounds with public art, quirky restaurants and art galleries, which are helping breathe new life into defunct industrial sites.
Cheap-ish rents are helping lure young creatives, but the city has a long connection with art having been the childhood home of Andy Warhol. Pittsburgh salutes its most famous son with a seven-storey museum stacked to the rafters with his work. Sport is also a big deal here thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers (American football) and Pittsburgh Pirates (baseball), both of whom have significant followings. A trip to their stadiums is usually a lively affair.
A seven-night stay at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, flying out on May 12, starts at £1,277 a head via British Airways Holidays.
It’s a mystery why more people aren’t visiting Georgia, which is truly is one of the prettiest places on Earth. Blessed with soaring mountains, crumbling monasteries and famously hospitable locals, the supposed birthplace of wine is a joy for those looking to get off the tourist trail.
Travellers are cottoning on, mind. Last year Georgia welcomed more international visitors than ever (just over eight million) and guesthouses are cropping up across the country. New flights from Luton to Kutaisi are likely to entice more travellers in 2019, meaning those snow-capped peaks, vineyard-carpeted valleys and pretty cities may not be empty for long.
Explore offers an eight-day Hiking in the Caucasus tour from £1,175pp.
5. Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Reckoned to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, Plovdiv is also the continent’s newest Capital of Culture, a title it shares with , Italy. The “City of Seven Hills” boasts an impressive collection of Roman ruins, including a partially-excavated stadium, a portion of which can be seen in the basement of H&M.
The star attraction, though, is the Roman theatre, which overlooks the city and hosts events throughout the summer. Linger in the Old Town to admire the Bulgarian Revival houses, before energising in Kapana, a new entertainment district where coffee shops, craft beer pubs and contemporary restaurants cater for the city’s burgeoning hipster population.
Ryanair flies to Plovdiv from Stansted. Located in the Old Town and festooned with antiques, Hotel Evmolpia (hotelevmolpia.com) has bags of character. Free wine and cheese is served every evening.
6. Faroe Islands
Everyone’s going to Iceland nowadays, but the nearby Faroes? Not so much. Floating in the Atlantic Ocean, only a few hundred miles southeast of Iceland, this ruggedly-handsome archipelago serves up similarly spectacular scenery but without the crowds we have come to expect further north.
The archipelago is a paradise for hikers, who can follow quiet walking trails between shimmering fjords, misty cliffs and cascading waterfalls. All of which provides a dramatic backdrop to some fascinating folktales, many of which feature the famous Huldufólk: little elves that live under rocks. Watch where you’re treading.
Atlantic Airways (atlantic.fo) flies direct to the Faroe Islands from Edinburgh on Mondays and Fridays, with return fares from £189. On Vagar island, the Magenta hotel (00298 286408; magenta.fo) features unusual Fifties décor. Double rooms cost from £117 B&B.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Liechtenstein has the dubious distinction of being the least visited country in Europe – and one of the least visited nations in the world. This was an unwanted accolade a few years ago, perhaps, but with more destinations feeling the impact of overtourism, you could forgive Liechtenstein for coming over a little smug.
So what are we all missing? Well, as you would expect from a country sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, it serves up some spectacular mountain scenery, which lures a steady stream of hikers, bikers and skiers. Hilltop castles, crumbling forts and the diminutive capital city, Vaduz, with its 5,000 odd inhabitants, are amongst the country’s other attractions.
Vaduz has neither a train station or an airport, so you must fly to Zurich. Swiss, BA and easyJet offer flights from the UK.
Ryanair will launch two new routes between Stansted and Ukraine this summer. One will serve the capital, Kiev, which is lauded for its gold-domed churches, atmospheric old town and fine museums.
The other route will serve Lviv, a Unesco-listed city in Eastern Ukraine, whose fragrant coffee houses, rickety old trams and pretty architecture escaped the brutalism of the Soviet epoch. Hopefully, the arrival of low-cost carriers won’t breach the peace in this long-forgotten city, which remains largely unspoiled by tourism.
To really surprise your friends, how about a day trip to Chernobyl? It is a couple of hours from Kiev, and utterly fascinating.
9. Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Cluj-Napoca remains under the radar for most holidaymakers, but that is slowly starting to change. Located in northeast Romania this pretty university city has a small but growing reputation for its lively nightlife, bohemian coffeehouses and gorgeous architecture, which runs the gamut from gothic churches to baroque castles.
Being the unofficial capital of Transylvania, the city is also a gateway to Dracula country. Needless to say these attributes have caught the eye of Ryanair, which will start flying direct to the city from London Southend in April.
10. Azores Islands, Portugal
Once famous for its whaling industry, this Portuguese archipelago has since forged a more wholesome reputation as one of the planet’s best whale-watching hotspots. A recent uptick in tourism has prompted many to declare it “the new Iceland”, but this seems extremely premature and the islands still have a desolate and forgotten beauty.
So what’s to see? Well, sperm whales gather year round in the deep offshore canyons, while April-June sees mighty blue and fin whales pass through on their migration north. Other marine life includes dolphins, sea turtles and seabirds, while back on shore the fascinating culture and geology invite exploration – with birdwatching, mountain climbing and wine-tasting all on the agenda.
Azorian specialist Sunvil sells holidays that cover all nine islands.