The world's most underrated destinations in 2019: Traveller's top picks

Every 12 months our writers take the world's pulse, they weigh up the good and the bad, track the major changes, assess the current trends. Our team of wanderers considers the destinations that have caught their collective eyes over the last past financial year. Below are the destinations that have impressed our writers, even as the rest of the world underrates them. If you're looking to escape the crowds and discover something new, these are the places to go.

ROMANIA

Forget Dracula. If you're looking for a part of Europe that isn't crowded or overpriced, where your presence is a welcome novelty, where the villages come from Hansel and Gretel, where shepherds with enormous dogs guard their sheep from wolves, where forested hills are full of bears, boars and wolves, where the spires of fairytale castles and churches pierce the skyline, Romania is for you. See romaniatourism.com

See also: Europe's most underappreciated destination

KOLKATA, INDIA

Colorful columns form a partition on the grounds of the Mirrored Temple, center of Jain worship in Calcutta (Kolkata), India SatJan14Kolkata tra14-kolkata - Michael Gebicki Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

You would expect the former showpiece capital of the British Raj to do a nice line in colonial grandeur, and it does, but it is its unexpected attractions that make Calcutta such an appealing city. You will find art deco beauties, Hindu and Chinese temples rubbing shoulders with mosques and churches, and neighbourhoods where traditional craftsmen still ply their trade – not to mention the sweetly-scented delights of India's biggest flower market. See wbtourismgov.in

 

GUAYAQUIL, ECUADOR

Gateway to the famed Galapagos, this equatorial city – the second-largest in Ecuador – is worth a visit, too. Check out the rainbow-hued artists' precinct of Barrio las Penas, the historic Simon Bolivar Pier, which is undergoing restoration, and Parque de las Iguanas, where mainland iguanas, cousins to those who migrated to the Galapagos eons ago, slouch about among visitors in the hope of scoring mango scraps. See ecuador.travel

QUEBEC CITY, CANADA (IN WINTER)

Ice canoe teams take the start of the amateur division race at the Quebec winter carnival ice canoe race, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, in Quebec City. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jacques Boissinot)

Ice canoe racing. Photo: AP

What do you do when temperatures plummet and snow smothers the city? Get outside, of course! The Quebec Winter Carnival in February is an annual highlight for Canada's fortress city. The citadel is transformed into a winter playground with parades, ice-sculpting contests, outdoor parties, ice-canoe races and a snow bath in which the bravest participants plunge into the snow wearing nothing but their swimmers. See carnaval.qc.ca

BURANO, ITALY

MAHKNF Burano, Italy. View of the colorful houses at the island of Burano near Venice. Traveller ALAMY
Venice by houseboat story by BEN GROUNDWATER

Photo: Alamy

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Burano is a small island in the Venetian Lagoon that is everything Venice is not, particularly once the last vaporetto has left each evening. Burano has locals; it has life beyond the tourist hordes. It has cafes where workers pile in for a glass of wine and some fried fish at nine in the morning. It has laundry hanging from lace-curtained windows. It has fishermen puttering through quiet canals. It has reality, and that's a beautiful thing. See veneto.eu

See also: Secret Venice: The places tourist crowds don't know about

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA

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Suspended cable Russian bridge from the mainland of the Far-Eastern city of Vladivostok to the Russky island 

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Russia's Far Eastern naval garrison is closer to Darwin than Moscow and has China and North Korea as near neighbours, lending it a notable Eurasian sensibility. The Russky Bridge, soaring gracefully across Vladivostok's harbour, exemplifies the city's positive energy: let's look to the future, it seems to be saying. The new Primorsky Stage Mariinsky Theatre hosts numerous cultural events and the city is developing a reputation as a culinary destination, with eatery Zuma named one of Russia's best restaurants. See russiatourism.ru/en/

CORAL COAST HIGHWAY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

TRAVELLER SunSep3cover Title: Diver with a manta ray (Manta birostris), in Ningaloo Marine Park Mandatory credit: Tourism Western Australia

Ningaloo Reef.

The road from Perth to Exmouth, the gateway to Ningaloo Reef, doesn't see as much action as it should which is a pity since it's lined with some of Australia's most spectacular scenery: pristine beaches, salt lakes, offshore islands, inland formations and that famous fringing reef, Ningaloo, which lies just metres from shore. But Tourism Western Australia and Avis are now luring visitors with fly-drive packages between the two cities that include drastically reduced one-way drop-off fees. See australiascoralcoast.com

LYON, FRANCE

Lyon, France - September 5, 2007: Outdoors Restaurant in Lyon, France. Empty tables waiting for clients. Unrecognizable people on the street. SatJun17cover-WorldFood - Ben Groundwater Credit: iStock

Photo: iStock

Food fans drool over its banquet of dining options, which includes France's largest constellation of Michelin stars. Design fans swoon over its architecture, which ranges from medieval to Renaissance to Belle Epoque. Wine lovers base themselves here to explore the nearby wine regions, which include some of France's best, while fashion fans buy up big on local silk. Oh, and in the glorious new Intercontinental Lyon – Hotel Dieu, you will find the most spectacular hotel bar in Europe. See en.lyon-france.com, ihg.com

IZUSHI, JAPAN

GXDNM8 Japan, Izushi castle. Tojo wooden foot bridge over moat, castle Ishigaki stone wall and Koraimon style Tojo gate. Springtime Cherry blossoms.
Alamy image for Traveller. Single use only. Underrated places. tra5-places-ml

Photo: Alamy

Thumbs up to this old samurai town in the Toyooka region north-west of Kyoto, which proves you can find tranquil slices of old Japan far from the tourist tumult. A fine ensemble of Edo-era architecture, noodle shops, a 300-year-old sake store and a delightful wooden kabuki theatre is all overlooked by view-gazing castle ruins. See visitkinosaki.com

BEND, OREGON, US

An undated photo made available Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009, of McMenamins Old St Francis School. The school is the perfect place to stay if you're visiting Bend, Oregon, to try the beer. The former Catholic schoolhouse is now home to a hotel, its own brewery and its own lively pub. (AAP Image/Liz Devine, McMenamins Marketing) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY satjul6cover-WILKINSON

Photo: AAP

Nicknamed the outdoor playground of the West, Bend is a true mecca for those with a love for the active lifestyle. Home to hundreds of hiking trails on the town's doorstep, there are also superb rock-climbing opportunities – try Smith Rock – as well as kayaking the Deschutes River, mountain biking and in winter, you can also snowboard the varied terrain of Mount Bachelor ski area. Oh, and it's also a microbrewing capital should you need a cold one after all that exercise. See visitbend.com

KRAGERO, NORWAY

D1E6GD Town centre, Kragero, Telemark, South Norway, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe SatOct20-Norway - Norway - Kragero - text Alison Stewart
Credit: Alamy

Photo: Alamy

Norway's southern coastal town of Kragero (population 11,000) on the edge of the 490-island Kragero archipelago was Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's "happy place" thanks to its inspirational, luminous light. The town, 194 kilometres from Oslo, is known as "the gem among coastal cities" with its calm environment, ancient wooden buildings and narrow streets. Artists still flock here seeking the inspiration Munch found in his Kragero period. A 90-minute walking tour takes you in the footsteps of Munch. See visitnorway.com

TARRAGONA, SPAIN

A Roman aqueduct, locally known as the Devil's Bridge, outside of Tarragona, northeastern Spain, that was added to the World Heritage list by the United Nation's World Heritage Committee, a branch of UNESCO, Thursday Nov.  30, 2000.  (AP Photo/EFE, Jaume Igne)  SPAIN OUT

Photo: AP

If you're after Roman history without the crowds of Italy, or chasing Catalan charm without the bustle of Barcelona, Tarragona might just be your spot. Set on Spain's northern Mediterranean coast, the city's extensive, heritage-listed Roman ruins are highlighted by a 2nd-century seaside amphitheatre, and a beautifully preserved aqueduct. The city also has a charming hilltop Old Town filled with restaurants and bars. See tarragonatourisme.cat

GREATER ST LUCIA WETLAND PARK, SOUTH AFRICA

Kosi Bay mouth
iSimangaliso
SatJuly13iSimangaliso

Named iSimangaliso, place of wonders, this pristine World Heritage-listed park in northern KwaZulu-Natal hosts a dizzying diversity of wildlife and habitats but is often overlooked. From coral reefs and beaches to coastal forests, salt and freshwater marshes, estuaries, lush coastal plains and drier woodlands, iSimangaliso is home to hippo, crocodile, elephant, Cape buffalo, rhino, zebra, eland, kudu and more than 500 bird species. Leatherback and loggerhead turtles breed on St Lucia's protected beaches. See isimangaliso.com/

LONGARONE, ITALY

Beautiful view of memorial site at Vajont Dam, Veneto, Italy. iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. Underrated places. tra5-places-ml

Photo: Alamy

Longarone, in Italy's Northern Dolomites, 100 kilometres from Venice, is a memorial to human resilience. About the time of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, the entire town, along with four others, was destroyed by a man-made mega-tsunami that killed about 2000 people, 1400 from Longarone alone. In 1963, a section of the mountain the size of a small village broke away, falling into the deep, narrow Vajont Dam, earmarked for hydroelectric power. Today, the rebuilt Longarone is set in the long valley of the Piave River facing the mountain that brought disaster. There are "places of memory" everywhere. See infodolomiti.it

See also: The Italian town wiped out by an 'inland tsunami'

YPRES, BELGIUM

Ypres, Belgium - Apr 2014: The Menin Gate memorial to the dead of World War 1, Ypres, Belgium - Image
 SatFeb9Ypres - Ypres, city of remembrance - Alison Stewart 
Credit: Shutterstock

The Menin Gate. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Ypres is a symbolic place of pilgrimage and memorial to courage. World War I German bombardment reduced it to rubble but it has been faithfully rebuilt, now a place of peace amid terrain still seeded with the bodies of war dead. Ypres, now called by its Flemish name, Ieper, is the launch point to Flanders' so-called "silent cities" of war cemeteries, memorials and battlefields. Its Menin Gate is inscribed with the names of 54,900 soldiers (6000 Australians) who died before August 16, 1917, and have no known grave. It is one of only two Great War cities, including Verdun, to be awarded the Military Cross. See toerisme-ieper.be

See also: Ypres: A living place of the dead

OFF-THE-BEATEN-TRACK, JAPAN

Aerial view of a sightseeing boat cruising on autumn Lake Towadako in Towada Hachimantai National Park, Aomori Japan tra10-Asia-Cruiseasia-ml

Lake Towadako in Towada Hachimantai National Park, Aomori. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

While Japan's "golden triangle" – Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto – grabs most of the country's tourists, there's real value in stepping away from the popular spots and exploring the farther reaches. Cities such as Akita, Aomori and Hirosaki in northern Honshu, Hamamatsu and Kanazawa in the centre of the island, and Oita in Kyushu, have a lot to offer curious and adventurous travellers. See jnto.org.au

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN

A couple take a selfie outside of a typical bar of the Basque Country, in San Sebastian, northern Spain, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. The disbanding of Basque militant group ETA announced for this week has laid bare the scars of one of Europe's last violent conflicts. (Alvaro Barrientos)

Photo: AP

For food lovers, San Sebastian is Disneyland. This Basque seaside town is a permanent festival of delicious cuisine, a city-wide smorgasbord of food cooked with love and skill. And it's eminently accessible, thanks to the culture of pintxos, small – sometimes bite-sized – portions of food sold at pretty much every bar and restaurant; perfect for grazing and ideal as a window into the culinary traditions and spirit of experimentation that make this destination so remarkable. See sansebastianturismoa.eus

NORTH BEACH, SAN FRANCISCO, US

Located next to Chinatown, San Francisco's Little Italy was the historic centre of beatnik culture as well the infamous Barbary Coast; a hotbed of opium dens, vice, all-night jazz clubs and Shanghaied sailors in the second half of the 19th century. Today it's one of San Francisco's best nightlife areas with great bars and restaurants, live music venues and it still retains more than a hint of its grittier past. See sftravel.com

ST HELENA ISLAND, SOUTH ATLANTIC

This January 2011 photo provided by St. Helena Tourism shows Devils Hole Black Rocks on the remote island of St. Helena. One of the world's most remote places became a little less isolated on Saturday, Oct. 14 2017, when the first commercial flight departed from Johannesburg for St. Helena, a South Atlantic island that until recently was only accessible by boat and where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last years in exile. (Edward Thorpe, St. Helena Tourism via AP) satjul6cover-MARSHALL

Photo: AP

Once only accessible by Royal Mail Ship, this tiny South Atlantic Island finally has its own airport (weekly flights leave from Johannesburg; an additional weekly flight will depart from Cape Town over the 2019-2020 summer). Best known for Napoleon's legacy (he was exiled and died here), St Helena offers a superfluity of historical and natural attractions along with with the world's most gender-equal gathering of whale sharks, which arrive around Christmas each year. See sthelenatourism.com

Contributors: Ben Groundwater, Jill Dupleix, Terry Durack, Michael Gebicki, Belinda Jackson, Julietta Jameson, Brian Johnston, Ute Junker, Nina Karnikowski, Rob McFarland, Catherine Marshall, Alison Stewart, Craig Tansley, Guy Wilkinson, Sue Williams, David Whitley

See also: Oversold Australia: Ten major attractions that don't live up to the hype

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