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For my first few years of travelling, I was visiting all the big cities where you can see all the major famous landmarks all over the globe. But over the course of my travels, I am more drawn to smaller cities, towns and even villages. Perhaps its the close-knit groups of people and the coziness feel to the small communities. I don’t know exactly why but I just love everything about the off the beaten path cities.
So I came up with a list of ten favourite places I’ve been that embodies the small-town feel and charm. They are fantastic places for solo travelling and meeting other people on the road. Maybe these off-the-beaten-path cities will inspire your travels for the upcoming year.
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Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
When I travelled to Argentina, a few other fellow travellers told me about Punta del Diablo in Uruguay. I googled it and immediately knew I want to go there regardless of how many buses it required.
Located a few hours east of Punta del Este, I arrive at this sleepy village and immediately fell in love with this place. The brightly painted houses or cabaña line edge of the spectacular beach. Fishermen sell their catch of the day at Playa de Los Pescadores (fishermen’s beach). There’s even a spot by the beach where you can whale-watch. But I ended up spending my time in beach huts and strolling the never-ending beach. I can understand why this laid-back beach scene is famous for solo backpackers and also a favourite of Brazilians and Argentinians.
Japan is easily one of my favourite countries to visit in Asia. I stumbled into this region earlier this year when I was in Japan. I wanted to visit somewhere between Kyoto and Tokyo, and my research took me here.
Ito is located on the eastern coast of Izu Peninsula. Due to its proximity to Tokyo, a day trip to Ito is possible via the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet train). People from all over the world come here to experience the Japanese hot spring, also known as onsen. That is the exact reason why I went there! This famous hot spring resort town pumps out 32,000 litres of hot spring water every minute! Every minute!
Just 10km to the south of Ito is Mount Omuro where you can take the chairlift to the top and walk around the crater of an extinct volcano. On a good day, you can see a panoramic view of the peninsula, and you can even see Mount Fuji.
I went a bit further south and found a scenic 10km hiking trail lining the Jogasaki Coast. The coast is jagged and cliffy due to the lava flow from volcanos in the areas that were once active. The coastline of Jogasaki Coast is very different from the rest of the country.
The summer of 2008 was the summer I spent travelling before my last year of university. I started my journey to Greece, and travelled through Italy, Germany and made my way over to the Netherlands. Of course, I had to see Amsterdam while I was there! While Amsterdam is an exciting city but I wanted to see the quieter side of the country.
I was drawn to Rotterdam because of its superior infrastructure, efficient transportation and modern facilities. Being the second-largest city in the Netherlands, Rotterdam is a hip and artistic city where art and culture rules. The Second World War destroyed the city, but the country rebuilt this city with a modern flare where they put a lot of emphasis on urban planning. Because of the thoughtful city planning and focus on innovation, the cityscape is full of beautiful modern architecture. I indulged in all forms of art, which is one of the best ways to spend time in Rotterdam as a solo traveller.
My friends and I were on a road trip in Croatia where we started our journey from Zagreb to Dubrovnik. One of the attractions we wanted to see along the way was Krka National Park. We spent almost the entire day in the park swimming and taking photos of all seven of the waterfalls.
Towards the end of the day, we arrived at our accommodation in Šibenik. The little apartment we found was sitting on the top floor looking at the water. The picture above is what we saw from our window.
Šibenik is a small town but genuinely picturesque. The rich cultural and historical monuments in the main square take you back to the medieval age. We hiked up the hill in St. Michael’s Fortress in the evening where we saw a panoramic view of the town sitting at the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Then the night was topped off with an alfresco dinner where local cuisine was served with a lot of Gemišt (white wine cocktail).
Even though I wasn’t travelling by myself, I can completely see myself spending time here. I love finding gems, and Šibenik is one of them!
When I was researching for my trip to Scandinavia, I wanted to hike various trails and see amazing scenery. Prekeistolen (the Pulpit Rock) caught my eye right away. To visit this path by the fjord, a visit to Stavanger is a must.
Located in southwestern Norway, Stavanger is accessible by train and plane. Known as a university city, Stavanger is a compact city where everything can be seen on foot. There are many museums, colourful houses on the shopping street and excellent eateries everywhere.
Most people visiting Stavanger will visit Prekeistolen. The Pulpit Rock is one of the world’s most spectacular viewing points according to CNN and Lonely Planet. The 3.8-kilometre self-hike is easy to get to from the city centre. Even though the hike is relatively easy, the most challenging part is standing at the edge of the rock, looking into Lysefjord. Many people will stand at the tip of the rock and take a photo. For someone who is afraid of heights, I also went to the tip of the rock (but I was sitting and not standing! Ha!)
I feel people have very different feelings about Bali. But for me, it’s one of those places that I immediately love and still one of my favourite places in Asia. Even though the island has a lot of tourists and pollution is at its worst, my heart still belongs there.
Canggu is a little town sandwiched between Seminyak and Tanah Lot. This area has a lot of cute cafes, restaurants and coffee shops run by locals and foreigners. There are a lot of great western food options which ultimately reminds me of home. There isn’t any particular attraction in Canggu but its more about the feel of the place. It is laid-back and relaxing; it is just a place you want to hang out. I’ve been to Canggu many times as a solo traveller, and I find something new each time.
Whether it is surfing at Echo Beach, eating smoothie bowls at Betelnut Cafe, or getting a tattoo at Babayaga, there is something for everyone. And there’s a great coworking space called Dojo Bali; you can even show up at work in a bikini and swimming trunks.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
Of all of the towns in the Italian Riviera also known as Cinque Terre, Vernazza is my favourite. Cradling between Monterosso del Mar and Corniglia, Vernazza is easily the most picturesque town in my opinion.
Vernazza is a steep, hilly town along the Italian Riviera. The fishermen painted the houses in a colourful pastel palette so they can spot them from the sea. The colours have become a trademark for all of the Cinque Terre towns. The quaint preserved town is bustling during the day where tourists and locals wander through the narrow alleys that resemble a maze. At night, people dine in dimly lite restaurants or sitting by the small harbour enjoying the quietness.
The best part about Cinque Terre is the main hiking trail that links all five villages together. When you hike the trail, there are many viewpoints along your path that will simply take your breath away. And if hiking is not your thing, get a day pass for the train where it takes you through all five villages and La Spezia.
I wasn’t even aware of Ronda until a hotel host in Seville recommended it. As the third most visited city in Andalusia, Ronda is a small little town and full of charm. Even though Ronda is the birthplace of modern bullfighting, tourists know Ronda as a beautiful town with panoramic views of the escarpment.
A quick stroll through the old town was a must. We quickly followed the signs and wandered off to find the best views of the city. The trail takes you outside of the old town and draws you into nature. When you look back towards the old town, you will see the whitewashed villages in the heart of Ronda.
The famed dramatic escapement is unique in its region. The Spaniards do their best to preserve their environment to the best of their ability. And the result is apparent. This town brings in many tourists from all over the world and from different parts of Spain. The landscape is unique and one of a kind in this country.
During my last year in design school, I spent some time in Mexico to collaborate a project with some students from Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México. But before class started, my friend and I went off to Puebla.
We went to Puebla because of the architecture in the city. While the old town has beautiful, colourful colonial architecture, modern buildings are starting to pop up in different pockets of the neighbourhood. As design students, we couldn’t help but visit the contemporary Hotel La Purificadora and its famous rooftop. We also tried classic Mexican dishes like mole poblano, visited beautiful churches and cathedrals and indulge in the vibrant arts-and-crafts culture scene.
We also visited Cholula which is one of the oldest cities in America. Seeing the Popocatepetl volcano was high on our list, but between our lacklustre Spanish skills and our luck that day, we didn’t see the volcano and got lost somewhere. But somehow we made our way back to Puebla to continue our adventure.
Hoi an, Vietnam
Hoi An is an ancient town that is well preserved. It used to be a town where foreign traders from all over the world, populated this area of the country. It is evident that there were Chinese and Japanese influences everywhere. Architecture and streets reflect all of the cultural influences. In 1999, UNESCO recognized Hoi An as a World Heritage Site.
As one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam and one of my favourite countries to visit in Asia, Hoi An is known for its lanterns, making clothes at any of the tailor shops and their local cuisine. There are also fabulous beaches nearby where you can easily bike to.
What captured my heart is the overall atmosphere of this town. Lanterns line the river where they light up the town at night. The soft glow of the lantern creates a serene atmosphere. Between the food, the people and everything else, Hoi An has become one of my favourite places in the world. I went back to Hoi An and it was everything I remembered. I even put together a solo traveller’s guide for Hoi An.
Hope this inspires your future travels! And if you list this post, share it and pin it!