The 10 Most Popular Travel Destinations Right Now and Their Hidden Gems

destinations tours travel tips where to stay
rome keyhole at the knights of malta hidden gem

We have mixed feelings about traveling to the world's most popular destinations.  While we want to see them because they are the most talked about and photographed iconic locations worldwide, they can also often be touristy. 

We think the key to seeing these places is to get off the beaten path and find the hidden gems.  Whether that is a hotel or vacation rental in a great location or neighborhood, a local tour to learn more about the people and places you visit (and get other recommendations), or just eating at the best local restaurants (where the locals eat). Remember, people live in the places and cities we often visit, and they aren't tourists (we know, we live in a tourist destination too). 

Traveling to popular destinations can be exciting, but finding the hidden gems within these tourist hotspots is what truly makes a trip memorable.

Here, we'll dive into the top 10 travel destinations currently trending. So, to help you begin your search on where to plan a trip in the coming year, where to stay, and what to do when you get there.  Some of these places we've been, so we will tell you a little about our experiences there and also link our podcast episode and other resources to help you as well.  The rest of the places these places are still on our bucket list too!

For each location, we’ll highlight a centrally located neighborhood to stay in, recommend a mid-range hotel, and suggest a unique local activity you can book through Viator.  Let's go.

Some links are affiliate links.  See our disclosure. Photos are our own unless otherwise credited.

1. Tokyo, Japan

Photo credit Booking.com 

Neighborhood: Shibuya

Stay: Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu
Activity: Tokyo's Hidden Historical Gems Tour

Shibuya is famous not just for its bustling Shibuya Crossing but also for its vibrant nightlife and shopping. Stay at Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu, which offers modern comforts and is centrally located. On a guided tour that takes you to off-the-beaten-path temples and shrines, explore the lesser-known historical sites of Tokyo.

2. Paris, France

Neighborhood: Le Marais

Stay: Hotel Bastille Speria
Activity: Hidden Gems of Paris Walking Tour

With its charming narrow streets and historic buildings, Le Marais is perfect for those exploring Paris beyond the Eiffel Tower. Hotel Bastille Speria offers cozy accommodations in the heart of this district. Discover secret gardens, hidden courtyards, and lesser-known museums on a walking tour.

The last time we were in Paris the Louvre was open late and so we bought evening tickets to go in.  That by far is a great way to beat the crowds and still get a glimpse of the most iconic pieces in the museum.  You'll never see the whole museum so we recommend that you download the Rick Steves audio guide and hit the highlights and then head out to see the Eiffel Tour sparkle while eating a Nutella crepe from one of the stands nearby. 

Photo credit Booking.com 

3. Rome, Italy

Neighborhood: Trastevere

Stay: VOI Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel
Activity: Rome’s Hidden Secrets Bike Tour

When we visited Rome, we stayed far from the city center. While we had a great view of the Vatican from our window, it wasn't in a quaint neighborhood, and it took us a bit of a train or taxi ride (one of the lines was shut down while we were there) and a lot of time to get back and forth.

However, Tastevere is known for its vibrant nightlife and authentic Roman cuisine. Stay at the VOI Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel, a former monastery offering unique charm and comfort.

Explore Rome's hidden gems by bike, including secret alleyways, hidden churches, and ancient Roman sites. Don't miss a trip to the Catacombs as well.  After our visit, we took a stroll on the Appian Way. We visited in June so maybe avoid July and August and be sure to buy your tickets early for popular tours such as the Colosseum and Roman Forum (do the underground tour) and the Vatican (do the early morning small group tour so you can be one of the first of the day to view the Sistine Chapel without all the crowds. Don't miss the Secret Spot (click here for how to find it) to view the Keyhole at the Knights of Malta. We share some of our experiences in Rome here.  

4. New York City, USA

Photo credit Booking.com 

Neighborhood: Greenwich Village

Stay: Walker Hotel Greenwich Village
Activity: Greenwich Village Secret Food Tour 

Greenwich Village is famed for its bohemian atmosphere and historic brownstones. Walker Hotel Greenwich Village offers a boutique experience with a touch of vintage New York. Delve into the Village’s culinary delights on a guided food tour.

Don't miss spending a morning (or afternoon) in Brooklyn too! Take a stroll across the bridge or ferry across and walk the iconic Brooklyn Brownstone neighborhoods.  I was able to do that recently and there are so many shops and coffee shops to stop in and take a peek around not to mention all the good food.  It is always hard to choose where to eat in NYC.

5. Barcelona, Spain

Neighborhood: El Born

Stay: K+K Hotel Picasso El Born (also called Borneta)
Activity: Hidden Gems of the Gothic Quarter Walking Tour

Barcelona is one of our favorite (if not our most favorite cities worldwide).  We love tapas, eating late, wandering the La Rambla, and seeing the Gaudi architecture.  We got to spend 2 days and a night here while we were on our Mediterranean cruise.  While we got to see and do so many things (including a hop on hop off tour, visiting the market, a tapas stroll, both Park Guell and La Sagrada de Familia, and spending some time and the beach), since we were on the ship we didn't get to spend the night in one of the neighborhoods, yet!

El Born neighborhood, with its medieval streets and trendy shops, offers a mix of the old and new Barcelona. K+K Hotel Picasso El Born provides comfortable lodging with a rooftop pool. Discover the hidden alleys and secret squares of the Gothic Quarter on a walking tour.

Check out our Podcast Episode, 2 Days in Barcelona, for all our tips! You can also read about it on the blog here.

6. Sydney, Australia

Neighborhood: Surry Hills

Stay: 57 Hotel
Activity: Hidden Gems of Sydney Walking Tour

This one is on our bucket list, so we are trying to figure out how to stay here for a while when we do visit (it's a long way from the East Coast of the US). Surry Hills is known for its vibrant dining scene and artistic vibe. Stay at 57 Hotel, a stylish boutique hotel in the heart of this eclectic neighborhood. Uncover Sydney's hidden gems, from secret gardens to historic lanes, on a guided walking tour.

7. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Neighborhood: Jordaan

Stay: Mr. Jordaan
Activity: Amsterdam's Hidden Gems Canal Tour

We spent a weekend here a few years ago when Scott worked for several weeks in Leeds/Bradford in the UK. We flew out early Saturday morning, in time to grab breakfast at the hotel we checked in to, and then grabbed some bikes to explore the city.  We rode all day, even taking it on a ferry to get outside of the city.  We met our daughter for dinner in Amsterdam as she was visiting with friends on the same weekend while she was doing a study abroad program in Germany.  We flew back to the UK late Sunday night.  Amsterdam was a perfect weekend spot to explore, and we had the best sunny weather too! 

Jordaan is an artistic neighborhood with narrow streets and beautiful canals. Mr. Jordaan offers a cozy stay with canal views. Explore Amsterdam's lesser-known canals and learn about the city's history on a canal tour, grab bikes and ride, and visit the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum. 

8. Bangkok, Thailand

Neighborhood: Sukhumvit

Stay: Adelphi Forty-Nine
Activity: Hidden Bangkok Bike and Food Tour

Sukhumvit is a bustling area with great shopping and nightlife. Adelphi Forty-Nine offers modern accommodations with easy access to the city's highlights. Discover Bangkok’s hidden corners on an evening bike tour, visiting local markets and lesser-known temples.

9. Cape Town, South Africa

Neighborhood: V&A Waterfront

Stay: Victoria & Alfred Hotel
Activity: Cape Town Highlights & Hidden Gems 

The V&A Waterfront has vibrant shops, restaurants, and beautiful harbor views. The Victoria & Alfred Hotel offers luxurious rooms in a prime location. On a tour, explore Cape Town’s hidden gems, including secret beaches and local markets.

We are headed here later this year so you'll definitely hear all about it on the podcast after our visit. 

10. Lisbon, Portugal

Neighborhood: Alfama

Stay: Memmo Alfama
Activity: Lisbon's Hidden Gems Tuk-Tuk Tour

We spent a weekend in Portugal, and we loved the city so much! Be prepared for some hilly walks, but don't worry—you can always catch the cable car, a taxi, or an Uber to help you get from place to place.

Alfama is Lisbon's oldest district, known for its narrow streets and traditional Fado music. Stay at Memmo Alfama, a boutique hotel with stunning views of the Tagus River. Discover hidden viewpoints and historical sites on a tuk-tuk tour of Lisbon’s lesser-known attractions. Don't miss an authentic Fado performance or the Pastel de Nata. You can also get a glass of wine at the wine truck outside the Castelo de Sao Jorge and enjoy the view overlooking the city. Hear all our Lisbon recommendations here. 

View from Castelo de Sao Jorge

We did a private tuk-tuk tour nearby in the town of Sintra, Portugal, and highly recommend it as a great way to see the sights, especially in the hilly city of Lisbon.

Jeronimos Monastery at Golden Hour

Our favorite way to explore a city and the biggest tip we want to leave you with is to get out and walk.  Exploring a city on foot so you can stop in at a coffee shop or explore a park, market, or shop is our absolute favorite way to visit a new place.  So leave some room in your itinerary to be flexible so you can explore. 

So there you have it! Traveling to these popular destinations doesn’t mean you have to stick to the tourist trails. You can uncover the hidden gems that make each city special by staying in centrally located neighborhoods, choosing unique accommodations, and booking local tours. Safe travels, happy exploring, and as always, let us know what you find! 

 
 
 
 

 

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About Us...

 

Hi! We're Scott and Melissa

The Sunshine Travelers

 

We are a couple of travel obsessed explorers sharing our travel experiences and stories to inspire you to travel more and better. We are so happy to have you here.

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