Sometimes visiting the world’s best-known destinations can be a little tiring – so many people, piling in and out of attractions, keen to see, do and experience the same things. Almost anywhere can feel like a tourist trap at the wrong time of year. So if you’ve decided to spend your next trip feeling a little less harassed and a little freer, one of these up-and-coming cities could be just the trick. Get off the beaten track – you’ll be glad you did.
Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent is by far its most cosmopolitan city – and its 2007 nomination as the cultural capital of the Islamic World is testament to the huge cultural change the city has seen since the end of the Soviet era. Though the 1917 Revolution and 1966 earthquake did away with much of what was here before, many fine museums, parks and Soviet-era monuments make for fascinating sightseeing – the Navoi Literary Museum and the Fine Arts Museum of Uzbekistan being among the jewels of any visit. In summer months, temperatures in Tashkent can get very high and there’s a decent public transport system making it reasonably easy to see much of the highly redeveloped city centre. Being an up-and-coming city though, it’s worth bearing mind that many of the locals’ situations are still pretty tough and you’ll get by a lot easier if you’ve learnt a few Russian phrases.
São Tomé, São Tomé and Príncipe
The capital of Africa’s second smallest nation has known peace for hundreds of years and, with the equator skirting the tip of the southernmost island, basks in a perfect coffee-growing climate. Tourism in the city is still up-and-coming; with only twenty years since the first hotels were built it’s certainly in relative infancy. But the beaches around São Tomé are known for their remarkable beauty and clear waters, each year drawing more people. Activities-wise, boat hire and diving can be arranged, as can walking tours through mountain rainforests, and although shopping opportunities aren’t plentiful, some nice little boutiques can be found. The national mood is described as “leve-leve”, roughly translated as “slowly, slowly”. You’ll find it hard to stress about much here, except perhaps how to keep the place secret!
If you’re in search of some peace and quiet, destinations don’t come much more exquisite than the remote Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu. Tuvalu’s only tiny airport is on the main island of Funafuti and here you’ll be able to find plenty of accommodation, much with views of the extraordinary Funafuti Lagoon – a conservationist haven for tropical fish, birds and green turtles, with coral reefs ideal for exploring by diving, and plenty of space to picnic and relax. Time your visit well and you should also be able to visit Tuvalu’s outer atolls on the monthly touring ships. Although we tip this as an up-and-coming destination, Tuvalu sits just 15ft above sea level and the time to see it may well be running out as it’s threatened by rising sea levels.
A city which fought for hundreds of years to keep itself free of western influence, in Thimphu there’s an unusual purity to its remarkable cultural heritage; you’ll certainly feel like you’re a long way from home. It’s the worlds only capital without traffic lights – a set was installed, but locals claimed they were impersonal, so white-gloved policemen were reinstalled to direct the traffic. Visitors to Bhutan’s capital are well advised not to expect much nightlife; though a few pool rooms and nightclubs have sprung up in recent years – notably the Om Bar and The Plum restaurant – but these are, as so often, beyond the means of ordinary locals and largely serve the local elite and visitors.
Although we pick it as an up-and-coming European city break destination; Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, has remained relatively obscure despite being the 12th largest city in the EU. This is surprising as Sofia has a dazzling nightlife, with some of the best bars and clubs Bulgaria has on offer, fancy shopping malls and five-star hotels. Despite the availability of these large-scale hotels, you can also save cash and experience local culture by opting to stay in a smaller, family-run place – far more prevalent on the outskirts, though some can be found in the centre. And the city retains a unique sense of its history in the churches, Red Army monuments and Ottoman mosques are dotted throughout – free tours of which are available daily.
Reykjavik is a vibrant, ancient city with a full panoply of night-life and surrounded by a varied countryside. Still up-and-coming due to its unusual daylight patterns – in the winter there’ll only be a few hours of light (albeit with a chance to see the Northern lights) and in summer, conversely, the sun will never really set – there’s plenty to keep visitors entertained, from glacier trekking to whale-watching, climbing, midnight golf and Viking festivals. If you’re looking for quiet, the volcanic Westmann Islands off the south coast of the country offer a more natural and remote experience, though avoid them in August when the Þjóðhátíð (National Festival) is held and thousands descend on the area for four days of bonfires, big stage concerts, fireworks and crowd singing.