Go off the beaten track in 2015. Forget the big hitters and try these alternative destinations instead.
Houston instead of New York
Houston, we have a problem. Beyonce’s hometown is eclipsing the rest of the US. This year Houston ranked second in Travel + Leisure’s America’s Favorite Cities list and it leapfrogged 13 spots, up to number 12, in TripAdvisor’s Top Travelers’ Choice Awards.
The city of 6.3 million people is the Culture and Culinary Capital of Texas. With an average age of 33, Houston’s nightlife is buzzing. There are more than 8,800 restaurants and eateries and more than 600 bars. A startling fact about Houston is that you could eat at a different restaurant every day for 23 1/2 years and not visit the same place twice!
Houston has 78 museums / cultural sites and 128 performing arts companies and two of the 10 largest urban public parks in the country — George Bush Park and Cullen Park.
If you want to use the city as a jumping-off point, Houston is an established travel gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. Well-sited to benefit from the US’s recent easing of restrictions on travel to Cuba.
Probably the best picture of Houston I have ever seen pic.twitter.com/ReKJJvkbC4
— rajiv (@_rajivvv) December 5, 2014
Abu Dhabi instead of Dubai
For lovers of luxury, Dubai is the preferred destination. Kardashians and Jenners, TOWIE regulars and the masssed ranks of celebrities smoast regularly from Dubai’s glittering resorts. Dubai is working towards a target of 20 million visitors per year by 2020. If this feels a little crowded, there’s a greener, smarter, calmer option in Abu Dhabi. The capital of the United Arab Emirates, where the goal is to attract three-and-a-half million hotel guests in 2015 is bidding fair to become the cultural capital of the Middle East. The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum will all call Saadiyat Island home. Sir Bani Yas Island recently won the World’s Leading Sustainable Tourism Destination Award at the 2014 World Travel Awards. And the new Star Wars movie was filmed there, playing Tatooine.
Yachts and buildings in Abu Dhabi. pic.twitter.com/QTQxxbdHG1 — Beautiful Pictures (@BEAUTIFULPlCS) December 29, 2014
Pilsen instead of Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a city-break favourite. Taking photos in front of the ‘I amsterdam’ sign or frequenting a coffee shop to smoke weed are tourist cliches that intrepid travellers might wish to steer clear of in 2015.
Pilsen in Western Bohemia is a wonderful old city on the radar because it’s the European Capital of Culture. Founded by Wenceslas II, the Czech king, in 1295 Pilsen stands at the confluence of four rivers and at the crossroads of two important old trade routes.
A magical roster of cultural delights will shine a light on Pilsen this year. The opening ceremony is in mid January, Le Cirque Nouveau Season runs from January to November, the Festival of Light in February and there will be nine weeks of Baroque between June and August. The Royal de Luxe in August will see giant marionettes travel East of Berlin for the first time ever.
— Igor Alesenko (@IgorAlesenko) June 28, 2013
Fuerteventura instead of Tenerife
Tenerife and Gran Canaria are the most popular of the Canary Islands but the second largest in the chain is an altogether better bet for a holiday. A new(ish) service by British Airways (Fuerteventura is a four-hour flight from the UK) and some new hotels are widening Fuerteventura’s appeal for 2015. Its beaches are big and its waters warm, year-round. During the winter months, the average temperature is a balmy 22 degrees. And the island is a cheap spot for a family holiday too. Fuerteventura, which means strong winds, is well named. Its conditions welcome windsurfers and kitesurfers, divers and big-game fishermen year round.
Virginia Beach instead of Orlando
Virginia Beach runs second choice to Orlando in terms of popularity, but there are plenty of reasons why VB should be the holidaymaker’s first port of call.
Virginia Beach has the longest pleasure beach in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Fourteen miles of free beaches, more than 18,000 acres of state parks and a national wildlife refuge and a budget-mined mentality which means that families can s-t-r-e-t-c-h their holiday budget.
— WTKR NewsChannel 3 (@WTKR3) August 14, 2014
Nerja instead of Malaga
The sun shines down on the Costa del Sol for 320 days a year. Malaga may have the cathedral, Picasso Museum, the Gibralfaro, Thyssen Museum and Roman Theatre and stretches of beach but Nerja is a quieter, more laidback, delightful holiday destination. Nerja’s caves are the most visited in Spain. Their incredible, coloured stalactites and stalagmites extend for 15 kilometres and draw visitors from around the world. The beaches along this stretch of the Costa del Sol are quiet and popular with the locals – and nudists too.
Bucharest instead of Paris
Bucharest was once known as the Little Paris of the East. Through its French-inspired architecture, fashion-conscious sensibilities and the feeling that anything goes it’s regaining that title. At a fifth of the price.
The best thing about Bucharest right now that it’s outside the Eurozone. The lei holds sway which means that a pint of lager costs about two euros.
And wine is cheap too – and comparable to a good French red, given the mild climate that encourages viticulture.
— Rolandia Travel (@RolandiaTravel) November 29, 2014
Valencia instead of Alicante
Legendary nightlife and long stretches of beach are abundant in Alicante. But a fantastic alternative to Alicante lies up the Mediterranean coast in Valencia. Whereas Alicante is a hub for tourism in this part of Southern Spain (read all-day breakfasts and English-style pubs) Valencia draws a different crowd. It’s an industrial city, a hub of science and technology, and there’s lots of sightseeing to be done. Perfect for families who want a mix of beach and culture. For example, La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias – The City of Arts and Sciences – Spain’s most prestigious attraction stands at the end of what was the bed of the Turia river. Finally, Valencia’s festivals are incredible. The most riotous is Las Fallas in March. Giant papier-mâché figures stalk the streets in an amazing show of satire before getting torched in a massive bonfire.
Shanghai instead of Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s setting and views are justifiably world famous and its international, “Western” feel is welcoming to first-time visitors.
It’s also a noted shopping city, packed with luxey stores and malls. On the mainland, Shanghai is a multi-cultural metropolis, a bustling, whirring city that blends modern and traditional features. It’s a cheaper option for visitors.
Restaurant prices are about 25 per cent cheaper in Shanghai and groceries (if you’re on the budget trail) are almost 40 per cent cheaper here too.
It’s cold, but it doesn’t snow during this Christmas night in Shanghai Nada de nieve en esta noche Navideña, Shanghai pic.twitter.com/ZgsiGdOFBt
— Nestor Bustamante (@pylosRuler) December 25, 2014
Ho Chi Minh City instead of Bangkok
New air services over the past couple of years have placed Vietnam firmly on the budget-traveller map. Vietnam now challenges Thailand in terms of value and accessibility. Bangkok needs little introduction. It rocks and rolls with a modern, Westernished tourist-friendly vibe. Infrastructure is top notch and it’s a fantastic jumping-off point for getting to Phuket, Krabi, or Chiang Mai. Ho Chi Minh City is a beautiful city of tree-lined streets, along which all manner of motorbikes and scooter put-put during peak hours. HCMC is packed with great bars and nightclubs and the food (Asian with some French influences) is cheap and delicious. Vietnam is the world’s second-biggest exporter of coffee and it’s an art form here, as far from Starbucks as is possible to get.
Cape Town instead of Sydney
There are so many reasons why you should give Sydney a wide berth and visit Cape Town instead. The country is a jet-lag-free zone and the flight is a maneagable 11 hours non-stop rather than 22-plus (with a stopover).
Plus, it consistently tops the best-value charts offering superb value for visitors.
The relative weakness of the rand means bargain-hungry Brits can snap up a cheap holiday. In 2015 there’ll be a greater shift towards experiential tourism and health-and-wellness holidays, both areas in which Cape Town excels. and this bodes well for South Africa as such an experience-rich destination.
The last photo I took in 2014 – Cape Town, South Africa pic.twitter.com/dUdq5HV8uE
— Vexy Vox (@Vexyvox) January 1, 2015
(Feature image: Glenn Merritt)