Sure, you love Paris, London, Berlin, and Rome—but so do the droves of other travelers clogging the city centers and hiking up hotel rates during peak seasons. Better to do as seasoned travelers do and visit one of the fantastic, underrated cities on this two-part list. From romantic, riverside Porto to Greece’s lovely seaside second city, Thessaloniki, these are cities where the appeal far outweighs the hype.
With its Taoist temples, Japanese-era mansions, and lively, laid-back dining scene, the tough little Taiwanese capital blends Chinese culture with Japanese, Southeast Asian, and American influences to fantastically unusual effect. Cosmopolitan but friendly, high-tech but traditional, Taipei is also lush with natural bounty, from misty wooded hillsides and winding riverside paths, to century-old trees growing on bustling city streets. We recommend staying at the minimalist-chic Hotel Proverbs in the Eastern District or at Humble House, a hotel and gallery located on the top floors of a “Diamond-rated Green Building” in the heart of Xinyi.
Reykjavik, the northernmost capital in the world, is not some frost-encrusted layover on an Iceland Air flight to London. Far from it. This city is buzzing with world-class restaurants, hip bars, a killer music scene, and other enticements that keep the Reykjavik hotels hopping. Here, too, one finds a natural wonderland of geothermal pools, tall birches, and volcanic surroundings, framed by a canvas of white-topped mountains. Stay at the sleek, newly opened Ion City Hotel or at Icelandic designer Ingibjörg Pálmadóttir’s 101 Hotel, housed in a former 1930s office building.
A city of Mayan roots and colonial foundations, Mérida is the cultural hub of Yucatán and one of the most beautiful cities in the country, abounding with art and music. Yet Mérida remains less well known than Tulum or Mexico City. With the 17-room Rosas & Xocolate, hotel owner Carol Kolozs has breathed new life into the once glorious avenue of Paseo Montejo, now the cornerstone of the cultural capital’s rehabilitation.
Punctuated by palm trees and relics of antiquity, Thessaloniki’s mazelike city streets open to century-old marketplaces, where ripe produce, freshly dismembered livestock, and an extravagance of spices still form the city’s commercial heart. It also offers some of Greece’s best beaches and an abundance of cultural venues and art galleries. But only one of those galleries is also an extravagant hotel: Built from high-end materials on a flourishing stretch of Thessaloniki’s urban coastline, The Met is a decadent cross between luxury hotel and world-class art gallery.