From climbing the Eiffel Tower to walking the rim of the Grand Canyon, there are some iconic destinations that seem to appear on everyone's bucket list. Don't get us wrong; some capital cities and famous landmarks rank high for a reason (these hot spots live up to the hype), but seasoned travelers know that the most memorable travel experiences usually happen away from the crowds.
Here, we've gone in search of the best destinations in the world that you won't find on an airport postcard. Nestled in rural China, inland Morocco, and the depths of the Bulgarian countryside, these stunning locales aren't the usual tourist fodder. Decide how much time you can set aside (you'll need more than a few days to see Myanmar and Thailand) and choose your own adventure. From sunbathing on a sandspit in Koh Nang Yuan to getting lost in the winding blue alleyways of Chefchaouen, there's something in this list for every type of traveler.
Pack good walking shoes, a camera, and let us be your guide—these gorgeous travel destinations should be seen in your lifetime.
Tulip Fields, The Netherlands
Wandering Holland's tulip fields is an otherworldly experience. The tulip route runs through 25 miles of flower fields, with every variety from daffodils and tulips to hyacinths and lilies filling the air with their sweet scents. Plan your trip around mid-April when the flowers are in full bloom, and rent a bicycle to pedal the path in your own time.
Île aux Cerfs, Mauritius
Courtesy of Mauritius Tourism
Sun seekers will love this picturesque beach with unbelievable blue-and-white swirling shallows. Île aux Cerfs is an exclusive locale in Mauritius, a former French island that sits off the coast of Africa. It's privately owned and accessible by boat. Pack for a full day of water sports; the island has an offshore floating platform for parasailing, offering a stunning aerial view of the aqua lagoon.
You may not have heard of Guizhou before, but you're about to hear a whole lot more about the region in coming years. The New York Times named this little-known destination on its list of the top places to go in 2016. Why? It was once one of China's least accessible regions, but now Guizhou is starting to open up to tourism, thanks to a new high-speed railway. Hotels are also opening in the region, attracting visitors to its winding mountain trails and authentic, untouched villages.
Thanks to its powder-blue buildings and ornate hand-painted doors, Chefchaouen, a small town in northern Morocco, is starting to find its way into the itinerary of leading travel bloggers. It's not hard to see why: The cobbled streets burst with stunning shades of blue, kittens lie on doorsteps, and antique shops abound. Add this destination to your bucket list for stunning décor finds like bejeweled water flasks, hand-woven rugs, and leather ottomans. Oh, and pack a good camera: This is one photogenic location you won't want to forget.
It's a scene out of a fairy tale: Huge hot-air balloons rise above ancient terra-cotta–hued temples and drift quietly through the morning breeze. Until recently, Myanmar might as well have been a fantasyland. In 2012, the country started welcoming tourists after a long military rule. Lonely Planet dubbed Myanmar the top destination to visit in 2014, but it's only now that the developing country is catching up to demand.
Nestled in the heart of the Southeast Asian country, Bagan rivals ancient wonders like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat. Discover thousands of beautiful temples dating back to the ninth to 13th centuries, all of which you can walk through and climb atop without bumping into other tourists or security guards. Just be sure to pack crisp American notes: Myanmar accepts U.S. dollars, but locals will only take brand-new bills. Keep a purse on hand, as you'll be given change in the local currency, Burmese kyat.
Devetashka Cave, Bulgaria
Nature lovers should add this unbelievable cave to their list of must-visit destinations. Located in rural Bulgaria, a Balkan country that borders Greece and Turkey, Devetashka Cave is a huge natural karst formation punctured with openings in the roof that allows sunlight to filter through. The stunning cave was home to humans for over 70,000 years. You'll need to hire a car to find this hidden location, but the two-hour drive from Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, will reward you with unbelievable natural beauty.
With Ibiza and Mallorca just a boat ride away and Barcelona on the horizon, Menorca often gets overshadowed by its popular Spanish neighbors. Fashion blogger Nicole Warne of Gary Pepper Girl was stunned by its untouched natural beauty. "I hadn't heard much about Menorca before. Actually, I hadn't really heard anything at all, so I really had no idea what to expect," she says. "As soon as I arrived, I was lost for words, and to be honest, I still am." Head to this Balearic Island for a dose of sun or to seek respite from the party scene.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Slovenia is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. Nestled between Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary, the mountainous country is home to world-class skiing and breathtaking trails. Given its neighboring countries, it's surprising that Slovenia can be hard to access. The best way is to fly directly into the capital, Ljubljana (pronounced lee-oob-yana), a quaint European city complete with a heritage castle, a beautiful old town square, and an exceptional restaurant scene. Drive less than an hour to reach Lake Bled, and hire a traditional wooden boat to row out to the tiny island in its center.
The Metéora, Greece
Courtesy of Greek National Tourism Orgranization
Greece's coastline and islands often steal the limelight, but its inland offerings are just as awe-inspiring. Translating to "in the heavens above," Metéora consists of a series of picturesque monasteries that seem to defy gravity, perched atop sandstone rock pillars. Add the UNESCO World Heritage site to your bucket list for challenging hikes that will reward you with unforgettable views of the mountainous landscape.
Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland
Far from your usual caving trip, the winter caves in Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland, glow with a surreal turquoise hue. Thousands of years of compressed snowfall created the wave-like formations that can only be traversed in the depths of winter. At some points, the ice reaches over 600 miles deep, so you'll need to find a local guide to help you explore the area.
Aurora Australis, Australia
The northern lights are often featured prominently on travel lists, but their lesser-known Southern cousin, Aurora Australis, will take your breath away. The stunning natural phenomenon occurs when charged particles from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field. The spectacular light show often throws emerald, fuchsia, and orange into the dark sky, but the science behind the amazing particle reaction means no two shows are ever the same. Head to the southernmost points of Australia, such as Tasmania or parts of Victoria, to catch a glimpse, but be prepared to brave the cold, as Aurora Australis is only visible at night.
Mikel Hernandez Salazar/500px
Brimming with history, Mostar is fast becoming a main attraction in the Balkans. The town was at the center of the Bosnian War, and a number of its historical landmarks and original buildings are still peppered with bullets. Be sure to stay in the old town, which has a certain European charm about it, with cobbled streets, Ottoman architecture, and fabulous restaurants with views of the Neretva River. It's also home to one of the most popular diving competitions. If you're lucky, you might see one of the local divers take the 79-foot plunge into the river.
Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand
Like a tiny slice of beach paradise, Koh Nang Yuan is a cluster of two islands in the Gulf of Thailand. A short boat trip from Ko Tao, this hot spot attracts visitors with its thin sand spit, where holidaymakers can lie beneath beach umbrellas surrounded by azure water on both sides. To see the island, charter an early longboat and bring plenty of reading material; there are few shops on land. Or, better yet, stay at the Yuan Island Dive Resort, which gives you private access when tourists catch the last boat home. Make sure you climb to the lookout for a spectacular photo of the sand spit from above.