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Panorama of Ljubljana, Slovenia, Europe
kasto | Adobe Stock

10 Secret Alternatives to Crowded Summer Destinations

Are your social media feeds filling up with snapshots of the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, and Empire State Building? Crowds of tourists are already descending on summer popular destinations, pushing up prices and causing long lines at restaurants and attractions.

Picture this instead: a summer vacation somewhere equally beautiful—except you have it practically all to yourself. Google Flights released data showing the most-searched for destinations for June, July, and August, and we’re thinking of it as a list of places to avoid this summer.

That doesn’t mean you have to miss out if you want to travel during peak season. Instead, we’ve compiled a list of the best under-the-radar alternatives to crowded summer destinations, so you can have all the good food and scenery without fighting through busloads of tourists.

Instead of London: Bristol, England

Colorful houses and boats on the coast in Bristol, England
SBphotos | Adobe Stock

King Charles’ coronation in May put London at the top of mind for many travelers. If you’d rather immerse yourself among locals instead of tourists, head to Bristol for the ultimate British city getaway. Small Bristol hosts an incredibly diverse food scene and is full of unique shops and restaurants. In fact, Gloucester Road, Bristol’s main street, is said to have the highest concentration of independent businesses in the United Kingdom. 

Bristol will also give you a taste of English country life alongside your city break. This outdoorsy destination straddling the River Avon has plenty of opportunities for sports, including kayaking, paddle boarding, walking, and biking. 

Instead of Cancún: Holbox, Mexico

Colorful canoes pulled up on the beach in Holbox, Mexico
arkadijschell | Adobe Stock

Just off the north coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula lies Holbox, a small and peaceful island alternative to crowded Cancún. Holbox is full of amazing natural attractions—it’s one of the best places in the Caribbean to swim with whale sharks. Although the sharks look large and intimidating, their tiny teeth only allow them to eat small fish and plants (not humans).

Holbox is also one of the few places in the world where you witness the bioluminescent phenomenon—the waters around the island light up at night with a special glow.

Instead of Paris: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Bridge crossing the river in Ljubljana, Slovenia on a sunny day
gatsi | Adobe Stock

Charming cobblestone streets, stone bridges, and sidewalk cafes—visiting Ljubljana feels like Paris except it’s cheaper, cleaner, and less touristy. The city is so appealing that it was voted the Best Destination in Europe for 2022 and was the Green Capital of Europe in 2016.

Pedestrianized streets in the heart of the city beg visitors to stroll down them, popping into shops and sipping spritzes at terraces along the brilliantly green Ljubljanica River. 

Ljubljana is home to a big student population, which gives the city a lively energy (and helps keep things affordable).

Instead of Orlando: Tampa, Florida

Low angle image of the Tampa, Florida skyline at sunset with palm trees in the foreground
gatsi | Adobe Stock

Get the theme park thrills on a budget (and with way fewer lines) by heading to Tampa instead of Orlando. Tampa has two great amusement parks located right next to each other: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Adventure Island water park. 

Home to pristine Clearwater Beach, Tampa has plenty of free outdoor activities that don’t require a theme park ticket. 

Instead of Rome: Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia

Fishing boats docked in the Harbor of Trpanj on the Peljesac Peninsula in  Croatia
r_andrei | Adobe Stock

Intrepid Travel’s Rome to Amalfi is one of the company’s most-booked tours for American travelers this summer. Since Rome was the fifth-most searched destination on Google Flights for the season, you can definitely expect crowds.

Ivan Svacov, Intrepid Deputy Operations Manager, Southeast Europe, recommends Croatia’s Pelijesac peninsula as a less-visited European alternative. “Being Croatian I would naturally start with praising the unmatched beauty of the Adriatic coast,” extols Svacov. “Peljesac peninsula was recently connected to the mainland for the first time with a bridge and has become even more accessible.”

Svacov cites the region’s wineries, famous seafood, and outdoor sports (including windsurfing in Vinjerac and hiking) as reasons to visit.

Instead of New York City: Chicago, Illinois

Aerial view of the skyline of Chicago, Illinois, United States at dusk
rabbit75_fot | Adobe Stock

Even New Yorkers don’t want to be in the city in the summer—locals flock to seaside destinations like the Hamptons in an effort to escape the stifling heat. Chicago’s lakefront location makes it the better choice for an urban vacation.

Chicago comes alive in the summer as locals embrace the sunshine after a long cold winter. With fun events like the Hyde Park Summer Fest and the Old Town Art Fair happening nearly every week, you’ll never be bored in the summer. 

Outdoor patios and rooftops open for the summer, expanding the city’s famous dining scene even further.

Instead of Las Vegas: Palm Springs, California

"Palm Springs" sign surrounded by palm trees at the outer edges of Palm Springs, California, United States
Jason Busa | Adobe Stock

You can still have casinos, hotel pool parties, and live shows—just without the crowds—if you choose Palm Springs over Las Vegas. This resort town has more of a relaxing, luxurious vibe compared to Vegas’ glitzy party city reputation, but you’ll still find plenty of action here. 

Palm Springs boasts world-class golf courses, five-star restaurants, and natural hot springs that will appeal to every type of traveler.

Instead of Tokyo: Seoul, Korea

Skyline of Seoul, South Korea at sunset
Atakorn | Adobe Stock

Your dollar will go far in both Tokyo and Seoul, but you’ll find the best value for your money in South Korea’s capital. The vibrant city of Seoul has plenty to explore, from a thriving food scene (with options for any budget) to ancient culture and modern art.

Seoul’s public transportation system is consistently named one of the best in the world—it’s clean, fast, and affordable, making it easy to explore the outer reaches of the city. 

Instead of Seattle: Portland, Oregon

Skyline of downtown Portland, Oregon at sunset
f11photo | Adobe Stock

Seattle may be bigger in size, but Portland is the better bet for visitors looking for an eclectic city experience. Portland’s small size and unique neighborhoods make it extremely walkable (or bikeable, thanks to an extensive network of cycling lanes) and you’ll be sure to discover a charming coffee shop or boutique bookstore on every corner as you wander.

Nicknamed the City of Roses, Portland is at its best in the summer, when the city’s lush green spaces and gardens are in bloom. 

Sit outside at a microbrewery patio and sample the suds from one of the best beer scenes in the country, catch a live show from an indie band, or take a road trip to one of the many national parks nearby. 

Instead of Miami: Fort Myers, Florida

Sunny street lined with Palm Trees in Fort Myers, Florida, United States
Kristina Blokhin | Adobe Stock

If you want the laid-back Florida vibe without the Miami traffic and crowds, head north to Fort Myers. 

Jackie Parker, Communications Manager for Lee County CVB, tells SmarterTravel, that Fort Myers is the perfect vacation spot if you’re looking for solitude. “There’s plenty of room to explore at a more laid-back pace,” says Parker. Think: “Sunset cruises on the Gulf of Mexico, fresh grouper sandwiches at your choice of restaurants, and unique places to shop.”

Tips for Escaping the Crowds This Summer

Crowds on the Spanish Steps in Rome in summer
leventina | Adobe Stock

Still scrambling to find an affordable summer vacation? Laura Burdett-Munns, Managing Director, Journeysmiths, offers these tips:

Be Flexible

Widen your search to include alternative destinations and consider traveling outside of peak season. According to Burdett-Munns, lodges and camps in Africa’s most iconic safari destinations, like Masai Mara and the Serengeti, are already sold out for the summer, so she recommends looking to lesser-known areas, suggesting instead Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, or Kenya’s diverse Laikipia region.

“Each offers an amazing safari experience, only without the crowds,” says Burdett-Munns. “There’s loads of availability still to be had in these regions, especially at the smaller, more intimate camps, which in our opinion, provide a more immersive and authentic experience.”

Staying Longer Can Save Money

You’ll get more value for your money if you’re able to extend your stay. Burdett-Munns says travelers can frequently find deals for longer trips, such as getting four nights at a hotel for the price of three. 

Consider Low Season Destinations

Summer isn’t high season everywhere, so look to places where it’s low season in order to find great deals. Costa Rica, for example, has its rainest weather from May to mid-December. 

During this “green season,” you’ll find better deals and fewer crowds than if you were traveling in January. This doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck inside your hotel while it downpours your entire trip—like in most tropical destinations, summer weather usually only involves an occasional light shower each day. 

Research Similar Destinations

Think about what it is that appeals to you about a popular summer destination. If Alaska cruises are sold out or too expensive, Burdett-Munns advises booking an Arctic cruise instead. You’ll get similarly epic scenery with glaciers, icebergs, and wildlife sightings at a fraction of the cost. 

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