DiscoverCities

The alternative summer destinations you have to visit this year!

Looking for some sun but not sure where to find it? Here’s our top 10 offbeat options for a great summer vacation!

Bordeaux, France

A selection of people enjoying the shiny water surface of Miroir d'eau in Bordeaux, France.

Cooling off at Bordeaux’s most visited landmark, Miroir d’eau. © SamFa

Bordeaux is so much more than a red wine nirvana. The city’s nickname is ‘La Belle Endormie’ (Sleeping Beauty) and, while its beauty is unquestionable, Bordeaux is more thriving and alive than ever.

To see the city’s unique mix of refined neoclassical glamor, old-timey Francophile charm and contemporary flare, you best rent a bike. With the summer sun beaming on your back, soak up the sights with a tour around the exceptionally broad riverbanks of the Garonne. When you need to cool off, follow the locals’ lead with a frolic in the shimmering Miroir d’eau reflecting pool in front of the Place de la Bourse.

If you want to escape the buzz of the city, rent a car and head north to the Medoc region for the world-renowned vineyards. Then head for the western coast to guzzle oysters in the pleasant seaside village of Arcachon, trek through the thick and unspoilt pine trees of Landes Forest, or head for the surf offered by the Bay of Biscay.

A trip here wouldn’t be complete without jumping into the wonder of the world that is the Dune du Pilat – the tallest sand dune in Europe, which tops out at 107 metres!

Gdańsk, Poland

The charming Old Town riverside of Gdansk, Poland.

The buildings of the Gdansk promenade bounce off the Motlawa River.

A gorgeous Baltic seaport that dates back to the birth of the second millennium, it’s remarkable that travelers are only just waking up to the wonders of Gdańsk – Poland’s premier summer destination.

You’ll find most of the city’s charms in the central Śródmieście district. Wander down the cobbled St. Mary’s Street (‘ul. Mariacka’) for the city’s nouveau gastronomy hub, with restaurants like Estimo Klub Aktora leading the pack.

With food down, the Gothic-Renaissance styled town hall and enclosed Gdańsk History Museum. Grandiose and handsome, they’re revealing of the city’s prominence and prosperity from the days of the Hanseatic League in the 13th century, all the way up to the historic overthrowing of communism in the 1980s.

For thrill- and sight-seekers, a climb up the town hall’s rickety staircase to the 50 metre-high watchtower is essential. Offering panoramic views of the Dutch-inspired, candy colored buildings in the recently restored Old Town (‘Stare Miasto’) and the 30 km beach-front that runs along the bay. From these great heights, it’s no surprise that Gdańsk is toppling Krakow’s reign to become Poland’s most charming city!

Tirana, Albania

A woman wanders through central Tirana during the summer.

Tirana during the heat of the summer. © Sarahtz

For the people who say that Berlin just isn’t as cool as it used to be, tell them to head for Tirana.

In the early nineties, the Albanian capital was considered a no-go zone. Locals were crippled by the stronghold of the Communist reign, a high crime rate and the oppressive Red State buildings were crumbling. But today, the Albanian capital is not only the home of counter-cultural Balkan cool, it makes for a great summer destination, to boot.

Take a cable car up through the Mount Dajti National Park, or, back on the lowlands, sample some of the great and absurdly cheap seafood dishes on offer in the cafes of the Ish-Blloku neighborhood. Prefer to catch something yourself? The neighboring beach city of Durrës is just a 30-minute drive away.

Other than a great National History Museum and a decrepit pyramid structure built in the name of the former socialist dictator Enver Hoxta, Tirana frees itself of any notable landmarks. Instead, it’s the exuberant people that call this great city home that make it worth a visit. Meet them sipping sweet Albanian wine and relaxing on the Nation’s Martyrs Boulevard, featuring a blend of Ottoman, Italian, Fascist and luridly colorful postmodern structures from throughout this cross-cultural jigsaw of a city’s radiant history.

Seattle, USA

A woman serves customers in Seattle's busiest marketplace.

Grab your grub at the Pike Place Market. © jbhthescots

Seattle is notorious for its wet, windswept weather and snow-capped Mount Rainier on the horizon. But, head here between July and September, and you’ll be greeted by a warm climate, salt-scented blue skies and an abundance of evergreen trees that have soaked up all the rain to reach shimmering full bloom. No wonder they call it The Emerald City.

Beyond all its natural splendour, this picturesque city in the Pacific Northwest sets the curve for the cultural offerings of North America. See the hot new thing in the contemporary art world at the University District’s top-notch Henry Art Gallery, before you venture Downtown and the eminent Pike Place Market. There’s almost too much to do in this lively centre, filled with crafts, cuisine and entrepreneurial upstarts. Grab a cup of Joe at the original Starbucks shop, see the dashing fishmongers hurtling the catch of the day over your head, and tuck in to a seafood bisque at the legendary Pike Place Chowder joint.

Seattle’s subcultures awaken by nightfall, looking to find their music fix. Whether you’re looking for improvisational electro, small-band jazz or the next big thing in grunge, the kind folk at the Café Racer bar and venue will make you feel at home.

Yerevan, Armenia

A long shot of the Yerevan Cascade during a summer's morning.

The view from the Yerevan Cascade.

As one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited capitals, Yerevan is a city with one foot in the past, and one firmly stepping into the future.

Experience something ancient with a morning stroll around the ruins of the 700BC Erebuni Fortress, followed by a cardamom-infused coffee in one of the many hip cafes surrounding the city centre’s Republic Square. Designed by the pioneering Russian neo-classicist Alexander Tamanyan – who set out to re-design Yerevan to be the world’s most “perfect city” in 1924 – the square is often telegraphed as the world’s finest example of Soviet era architecture.

For something a bit more futuristic, Pushkin Street’s Dolmama Restaurant offers up modern interpretations of traditional East-Armenian cuisine.

Then take a trip to the legendary Ararat Brandy Factory, a course of great national pride. Take a tour through the distillery and museum, tasting samples of the sweet nectar that was a noted favorite to the likes of Agatha Christie, Winston Churchill and Frank Sinatra.

Tour over, purchase a bottle of the sweet elixir and head to the top of the Yerevan Cascade stairway to watch the Eurasian summer sunset – how romantic!

Maputo, Mozambique

A fuchsia tinted flower garden overlooking the coast in Maputo.

Maputo, Mozambique. © Rosino

Take a dash of Rio de Janeiro, add a touch of Havana and Lisbon and place it in Mozambique on the Indian Ocean and you’ll get Maputo – one of the most attractive and pleasantly temperate African capitals to visit during the summertime.

This urban area is small and concentrated, with wide avenues dominated by buildings from the former Portuguese Colonial reign, and lush gardens scattered around Marxist housing blocks and new age high-rise constructions. It’s a mash-up, for sure, but it works – especially in the hive of summer activity. Highlighting the vibrancy of the people that populate Maputo and all its foodie offerings – with robust piri piri recipes from Africa transformed with Latin American spice.

Once you’ve wandered through the city streets you’ll want to take a rest on the glorious beaches of Xefina Grande Island, just a 30-minute boat ride away from the city port. A citrusy caipirinha cocktail might not be essential, but it’ll certainly help.

Montreal, Canada

A surreal street art installation during Montreal's public art festival, MURAL.

MURAL Festival, Montreal. © Mustang Joe

Hosting the world’s most prestigious jazz festival is just the tip of the cultural iceberg that hits Montréal every summer. The season starts in June with MURAL, one of the largest celebrations of free public art in the world, with nigh-on 1 million admirers flocking to see the world’s best street artists in full flow and socialize at the public block parties.

Then jump into the nature of the Parc du Mont-Royal. Designed by NYC Central Park architect Frederick Law Olmsted, this huge inner-city park is at its most vibrant during the summer, with flower-flushed walking paths and unrivaled views of the city skyline. Best of all is Tam-Tams, an unofficial parade of drummers who congregate under the George-Étienne Cartier Statue ever Sunday for a thunderous percussion and dance performance.

Another reason to visit North America’s foremost fusion city in summer is to experience the best of French-Canadian cuisine, which also takes influence from the Scottish, Greek, Italian and Haitian settlers who have called Montreal home over the years. This island metropolis is stuffed with great restaurants, but one of the loudest and proudest is Joe Beef in the hip neighborhood of Little Burgundy. Be sure to book in advance and get a table on the summer garden terrace, surrounded by the aromatic herbs, spices and vegetables that have grown in the ground and jumped onto your plate.

Bogotá, Colombia

The colourful houses of La Candelaria district align on a Bogota side street.

The jazzy Colonial houses of La Candelaria, Bogota.

With a population of over 7.5 million, the hot metropolis of Bogotá typifies the mishmash medley of South American culture, history and cuisine, while still maintaining an inimitable, electric spirit that is entirely Colombian.

To kick-off the sightseeing, head straight to La Candelaria. The cobble-stoned downtown offers up the best of Bogotá’s illustrious history. From the riches of the Emerald Museum (Colombia’s most lavish export) to the well-preserved vestiges of the Spanish Conquest, including the Baroque St. Agustin Church, looking splendid at 400-years-young.

Zig-zag your way through the small, homey side streets until you reach the plush Park 93 in the Chapinero district, with all its chic nightlife, alternative clothing boutiques and an abundance of great Colombian coffee shops. This is a wonderful leafy spot to relax and soak up the best of the summer sun, with the view of the Andes on the horizon.

Yunnan, China

The bend of the Yangtze winds through the Yunnan countryside.

The first turn of the Yangtze River in outer Lijiang, Yunnan. © Visit China Now

Sharing a border with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, Yunnan is famous for its diverse populace. A recorded 25 minority groups call it home, each with their own cuisine, customs, religions, language and dress. Bring them together all in one agriculturally thriving rural landscape, you not only get one seriously invigorating, but gentle summer vacation, but an unparalleled look into the vibrancy of China today.

Most people start in the province capital of Kunming, which manages to maintain its inherent sense of tranquility and traditional flavours, in spite of the in-flux of internationalist tourists and spa retreats.

Nevertheless, the real fun of Yunnan is found in the outer villages to the north and west. Engulfed by mountains, the sprawling Yangtze River, paddy fields and the Tiger Leap Gorge in the outskirts of Lijiang, all great to explore by foot.

Finish it all with a trip down south to Xishuangbanna to China’s only rainforest nature reserve. It’s a truly magical place, filled with relaxing spa retreats, dazzling Buddhist pagodas and a tropical cave that maintains a 21 degree temperate year-round called the Mengyuan Fairy Land.

Catania, Italy

A couple cross a street in Catania while eating lunch.

A Baroque street scene in Catania. © domfell

There is a grit beneath the delightful surface of Sicily’s second-city. Nestled along the foothills of Europe’s largest active volcano, Catania was liquidised by molten lava during Mount Etna’s 1669 eruption, only to be tarnished yet again by the Sicily earthquake in 1693.

Fortunately, Catania bounced back. Not only is its restored downtown a UNESCO graded World Heritage Site, the entire city stands proud as a fresh alternative summer destination to the crowded Palermo.

Wander through the city centre’s decadent Piazza del Duomo to get a feel of this regal province in all its Baroque glory. Once you’ve had your espresso fix, follow the black volcanic stoned buildings to the eastern part of town and the famed Catania Fish Market to sample the fruits of the Ionian Coast.

If things get a bit overheated and you need a break for the buzzing city then head for La Playa, a stretch of sandy beaches, south of the city or take a ride along the spectacular rocky volcano coast, Riviera dei Ciclopi, just 20 minutes north of the city.

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out our rundown of the top 12 best budget vacation destinations of 2015!

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