Unveiling Hidden Gem Alternatives To Italy: Discovering Similar Experiences Off the Beaten Path
Italy, with its rich history, captivating culture, and breathtaking landscapes, has long been a favored destination for travelers seeking an unforgettable European experience. Its popular cities, such as Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, and Naples, enthrall visitors with their iconic landmarks and legendary attractions. However, for those seeking a similar experience but with a lesser-known twist (and far less crowds / queues / cost) we’ve dug out six ‘hidden gem alternatives’ that should enchant and intrigue!
Instead Of The Dolomites: Visit Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains
Those who are interested in getting outside and into nature might be surprised to find out that Italy has recently needed to implement reservation systems, visitor caps, and traffic restrictions on its popular mountain region in the north.
While these measures are undoubtedly necessary to help the effects of overcrowding on the local environment, they can make travel plans a bit more complex for travelers.
If you are looking to explore some mountains, why not check out Georgia’s Caucasus Range?
Offering hiking, camping, skiing (ok, maybe not in the summer), and a variety of outdoor activities, this underrated eastern European country is worth a visit.
With a fraction of the crowds that you will see in Italy’s popular Dolomites, the Caucasus mountains offer something more unique, cheaper, and quieter for travelers who are willing to go off the beaten path a bit.
Instead Of Lake Como: Enjoy Lake Ohrid, or The Bay of Kotor
You will find the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro twice on this list of Italian alternatives, and for good reason.
The county’s most popular destination is a, which was founded by ancient Romans, but shows strong Venetian influence in its design.
The bay itself is stunningly beautiful, vast, and surrounded by mountains and little towns around every bend.
While the area does get busy in the summer months, it’s nowhere near as busy or pricy as Lake Como. Although unfortunately, you are not likely to spot George Clooney there.
In addition, those looking for some lakeside lounging can enjoy North Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid.
Another late and impressive (and lovely for swimming) Balkan lake bordering Albania and North Macedonia.
The town of Ohrid draws a bit of a crowd, but the smaller villages around the lake make for some peaceful lake days, and P.S.: North Macedonian wine is very good and very cheap!
Instead of The Italian Riviera: Try The Albanian Riviera
The Italian Riviera is stunning; there is no question about it. However, the summer months bring traffic to a halt, and with more traffic restrictions and parking issues, the task of zipping around to take in the sites becomes a bit of a nightmare.
Not to mention the mega-popular Portofino has just instituted a selfie and loitering ban for tourists, with heavy fines for those who take too long to get their photos.
Want to explore a stunning coastal region with significantly fewer people and much more laid-back and less expensive villages?
The Albanian Riviera is for you then!
Drive along the coast and check out popular Saranda and Ksamil, but if you are really looking for fewer crowds, head up further north and explore the smaller villages such as Dhermi and Himare.
Instead Of Venice: Visit Malta, or Old Town Kotor
Here we see Montenegro’s Kotor again, this time not so much for the lake but for its compact and ancient old town. Here is where you will notice the Venetian influence in every piazza you stumble across.
While you won’t see any canals running through town, you will be serenaded by live musicians, enjoy great food and drink (Montenegro wine is also a must-try, not to mention the fresh seafood!), and enjoy verandas offering stunning views of the mountainsides.
P.S.: you also won’t have to pay a tourist fee to enter the town and be greeted with dried-up canals.
In addition to Kotor, Malta makes an ideal substitute for a Venice trip. Again, you won’t see canals cutting through the old town here, but wandering the streets of Valletta or the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, you might have to remind yourself you are not in Venice.
Perhaps it’s the hundreds of colorful boats called Luzzus, the water taxis, the blue water lapping at the docks, or the architecture, all of which win over everyone who visits.
Insider Tip- Happy hour drinks in Valletta almost always include some fabulous snacks, usually homemade bread and tomato jam. Come hungry!
Instead Of Italian Ruins: Explore Turkey’s Ancient Ruins
Ok, Turkey is not exactly a secret. This is another country that is also expecting many more visitors this year than in previous years. However, its vastness and abundance of attractions ensure that crowds are dispersed, especially when exploring its ancient ruins. Positioned between the east and the west, Turkey has been a hub for ancient civilizations, resulting in remarkable ruins from Greek and Roman cities.
Turkey’s ancient structures rival those found in Italy. Remarkable sites include the Roman theatre in Aspendos, the ancient cities of a and Hierapolis, the iconic Library of Celsus, and the Temple of Artemis. With numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites and the 9,000-year-old city of Çatalhöyük, Turkey has rightfully earned its reputation as the world’s largest museum.
While we don’t suggest skipping Italy entirely, the next 12 months might be the perfect opportunity to explore these underrated destinations and save Italy for another time when the crowds have subsided.