Underrated cities to visit: The 13 best cities you've never thought of going to

Steer clear of the tourist hordes with a visit to one of these little-known but worthy destinations.

Steer clear of the tourist hordes with a visit to one of these little-known but worthy destinations.

YAZD, IRAN

Why you've never been: Even in a country as seldom visited as Iran, Yazd is fairly out there, a desert city about a four-hour drive east of Esfahan with none of the big-ticket items of its distant neighbour.

Why you should: Yazd oozes charm, with its narrow alleyways hemmed in by mud-brick walls, its centuries-old caravanserais that now act as hotels, and its towering Amir Chakhmakh complex – a monument of archways and minarets – making it worth the journey.

See: Why you should visit a Muslim country

MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA

Why you've never been: This was once home of the drug baron Pablo Escobar, and Medellin has retained a reputation as a dangerous city in an already dangerous land.

Why you should: Medellin has cleaned itself up since those bad old days, and morphed into a cosmopolitan city full of bars and "discotecas" that attract a young, good-looking crowd. Even the city's traditional slum areas are becoming tourist attractions.

Brightly colored streets in Medellin.

Brightly colored streets in Medellin. Photo: iStock

TAIPEI, TAIWAN

Why you've never been: Most travellers probably know very little about Taiwan except that some of their clothes were made there. So why plan a trip to its capital?

Why you should: While you wouldn't go to Taipei looking for history – it's barely older than some Australian cities – you would go there looking for something to eat. With its mix of Chinese, Japanese and Western influences, and the fact it's home to Din Tai Fung, you know you're in for the good stuff.

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Chiang Kai Sek Memorial Hall at night in Taipei.

Chiang Kai Sek Memorial Hall at night in Taipei. Photo: iStock

See: Why Taiwan is Asia's glittering best-kept secret

PORTO, PORTUGAL

Why you've never been: You're not going to call into Porto on your way to somewhere else – perched on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, it's relatively isolated from the rest of Europe.

Why you should: Porto is the European city you're searching for: full of history and culture, awash with traditional architecture mixed with splashes of modern art, chockers with bars and port lodges that are welcoming and fun. And the best part? Not many tourists.

Colourful houses with tiles facades in Porto, Portugal.

Colourful houses with tiles facades in Porto, Portugal. Photo: iStock

See: The three-minute guide to Porto

LIMA, PERU

Why you've never been: Plenty of people have probably been through Lima – it's an unavoidable stop-off on the way to Cusco and Machu Picchu. However, given its reputation for petty crime, not many choose to stay.

Why you should: Lima is teeming with culture, from pre-Columbian history that can be viewed at the Museo Larco, to a thriving food scene that can be enjoyed at the bars and restaurants of Miraflores and Barranco. Three of the world's 50 best restaurants are in this area – Central, Maido and Astrid y Gaston – and they're surprisingly affordable.

A paraglider flies over the Larcomar in Lima, Peru.

A paraglider flies over the Larcomar in Lima, Peru. Photo: iStock

​See: A lesson in sex at Lima's erotic attraction

BOLOGNA, ITALY

Why you've never been: When your country boasts world-class tourist magnets like Rome, Florence and Venice, there's very little room for a university town like Bologna that lacks the big drawcards.

Why you should: If you're into food, then the truth about Bologna is that it does have big drawcards. This is the home of Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese, of prosciutto, of mortadella, of tagliatelle al ragu, and of the custom of aperitivi: stopping off at a bar for a pre-dinner drink and a few free, and delicious, snacks.

Mortadella in Bologna.

Mortadella in Bologna. Photo: iStock

See also: Eating your way through Bologna

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO

Why you've never been: Because it's big and it's bad, a sprawling, dangerous city that's often overlooked in favour of tourist hotspots like Cancun and Cabo.

Why you should: Mexico City can certainly be intimidating – it's huge, and its reputation for crime isn't unfounded – but this is still a city that knows how to have a good time. There's a great food scene, plus "lucha libre" wrestling, and an artistic history that includes the likes of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Photo: iStock

See also: 20 reasons to visit Mexico City

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN

Why you've never been: A few Scandinavian cities have been gaining popularity lately, the likes of Copenhagen and Stockholm for example, but Gothenburg – isolated on Sweden's west coast – isn't one of them.

Why you should: If you think Stockholm is hipster heaven, wait until you see Gothenburg. This is a city brimming with cozy little cafes, great restaurants, bars, boutiques, live music venues and galleries. Think of it as the capital's grittier, cooler sibling.

Gothenburg in Autumn.

Gothenburg in Autumn. Photo: iStock

See also: Why Aussies are flocking to Scandinavia

PITTSBURGH, USA

Why you've never been: Why would you? No one knows anything about Pittsburgh, and besides, there's New York, LA, Chicago, Las Vegas…

Why you should: For a former steel town, Pittsburgh is surprisingly beautiful, set in a valley at the confluence of two rivers. The real attraction here, however, is the modern culture of friendly bars and restaurants, and the joy of watching the big game in a sports-mad city.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo: iStock

MOSCOW, RUSSIA

Why you've never been: Even if you were to go through the laborious process of getting a Russian visa, you'd probably focus your travels on St Petersburg, given its world-famous museums and historical sites.

Why you should: Moscow isn't always pretty, but it is fascinating. It's the communist era writ large, a sprawl of grey apartment blocks that suddenly morphs into a beautiful, historic old town with world famous monuments and trendy shopping centres. Amazing place.

Christmas village fair on Red Square in Moscow, Russia.

Christmas village fair on Red Square in Moscow, Russia. Photo: iStock

See also: Why now is the time to visit Moscow

BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA

Why you've never been: Despite Australia's collective obsession with visiting Japan, we seem to forget about its neighbour, Korea – and in particular, its second-largest city, Busan.

Why you should: Busan is a pleasant place to stroll around, but the real business of being here is eating. This coastal city is known for food, glorious food, from its market stalls selling Korean-style sashimi, to restaurants specialising in "galbi", the local barbecued ribs.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple sits upon a cliff overlooking the East Sea in Busan, South Korea.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple sits upon a cliff overlooking the East Sea in Busan, South Korea. Photo: iStock

CHIANG RAI, THAILAND

Why you've never been: Ever-popular Chiang Mai is probably square on most people's northern Thailand hitlist – but few take a detour to its neighbour.

Why you should: Set high up near the Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai is a relaxed, friendly place that you'd visit as much for the local street food as you would the temples or the access to the more rural parts of the surrounding area.

A street food market in Chiang Rai Thailand.

A street food market in Chiang Rai Thailand. Photo: iStock

CORDOBA, ARGENTINA

Why you've never been: Little-known Cordoba lacks the big-city notoriety of Buenos Aires, and the stunning Andean backdrop of the likes of Mendoza and Bariloche.

Why you should: Cordoba is not just a gaucho city, a place of cowboys eating steaks the size of your head, but a student town, with several large universities and the bar scene that inevitably comes with them, and a former Jesuit hub with a series of 17th-century churches.

A busy alley in Cordoba, Argentina.

A busy alley in Cordoba, Argentina. Photo: Alamy

What do you think are the best cities that most tourists don't go to? Post your comments below.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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