‘Destination dupes’: 12 places that feel like somewhere else

Photo of Jacob LewisPhoto of Jacob Lewis
By Jacob Lewis

28 March 20248 min read

View of the Pilgrimage Church and island on Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia For stunning scenery, swap Switzerland for beautiful Slovenia.

We all love a classic holiday destination, but let's be honest, sometimes the most popular tourist sites feel more like a crowded theme park than a relaxing escape.

That's why savvy travellers are turning to 'destination dupes'. These off-the-beaten-path alternatives let you avoid crowds and overpriced souvenirs, while still enjoying the best a region has to offer.

Think of it as a travel hack for a more authentic (and less stressful) adventure.

We've found 12 super substitutes for overcrowded destinations. Not only are they similar to the original holiday favourite, but they also boast lower prices, fewer people, and a chance to discover something genuinely unique.

1. Swap Croatia for Montenegro

Croatia's popularity has led to increased holiday prices, especially since its adoption of the euro. For budget-conscious travellers, you’ll get a similar Adriatic experience at a generally lower cost in Montenegro.

You’ll find a bit of Dubrovnik in the medieval walled town of Kotor, a UNESCO gem nestled in a dramatic fjord, and the pristine beaches of the Budva Riviera, with its inviting turquoise waters, is Croatia’s coastline in mini.

For a dose of adrenaline, experience the thrill of white-water rafting through the canyons of the Tara River, one of Europe's deepest.

Hotel Tara

  • Becici, Montenegro
  • 15 June 2024
  • Bed & breakfast
  • From Stansted

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2. Pick Patmos instead of Santorini

You wouldn’t think that the ‘Island of the Apocalypse’ would be such a serene alternative to the iconic sunsets and whitewashed villages of Santorini. But Patmos is a far cry from its dramatic nickname.

Like its Cycladic counterpart, Patmos is fringed with picturesque beaches of both the pebbly and sandy variety, but you can expect a more tranquil atmosphere on most. The capital, Chora, is a harmonious blend of Byzantine and Cycladic influences, showcasing vaulted arches and whitewashed houses that reveal a rich cultural heritage. For a livelier atmosphere, the port town of Skala has an array of shops and tavernas.

The island, where Saint John is believed to have written the Book of Revelation, also offers a unique spiritual experience, with significant historical and religious sites, including the UNESCO-listed Monastery of Saint John and the Cave of the Apocalypse.

3. Visit the Azores over Hawaii

Hawaii's volcanic landscapes and lush forests are world-renowned, but you can find similarly dramatic scenery (and a more temperate climate) without having to fly as far in the stunning Azores archipelago.

This verdant land of lush crater lakes, cascading waterfalls, and steaming hot springs is made for exploring. You can hike to volcanic peaks for breathtaking views and go whale watching for a chance to spot a variety of marine giants. The Portuguese islands' European influence, combined with their unique geology, give the Azores a distinct blend of culture and jaw-dropping nature, for an enticing alternative to Hawaii's tropical charms.

MS Vila Nova

  • Ponta Delgada, The Azores, Portugal
  • 14 May 2024
  • Bed & breakfast
  • From Stansted

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4. Consider Northumberland instead of Cornwall

Cornwall's coastal beauty and laidback vibe are a big draw. Head to the other end of the country for a quieter, equally captivating alternative: Northumberland.

Explore vast stretches of golden beaches perfect for long walks or try your hand at surfing in the crisp North Sea. Seek out ancient castles like Bamburgh and Alnwick (familiar to Harry Potter fans), or delve into Roman history at Hadrian's Wall.

Don't miss the chance to spot adorable puffins nesting on the Farne Islands, a wildlife haven just off the coast.

5. Choose Cape Verde if you’ve done the Canaries

Visited the Canary Islands? Swap the bustling Spanish sizzlers for the tranquillity of Cape Verde, a volcanic archipelago off the coast of West Africa.

Soft volcanic beaches, in shades of black and gold, are reminiscent of the Canaries and also bask under sunny skies all year round. Divers and snorkellers can find similar experiences beneath the waves too, with colourful reefs teeming with marine life just off Cape Verde’s coast.

Though alike in climate and scenery, the comparisons between Cape Verde and the Canaries stop there. With a unique blend of African and Portuguese cultures, best discovered through its morna music and Creole-influenced cuisine, Cape Verde provides a distinct experience from its more well known Spanish neighbours.

Dunas de Sal

  • Santa Maria (Cape Verde), Cape Verde
  • 24 April 2024
  • Bed & breakfast
  • From Manchester

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6. Go to Genoa for Venice vibes

Venice's canals and Renaissance architecture are iconic, but a blend of medieval charm and vibrant street life makes Genoa a compelling substitute.

The city's historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, resembles Venice's grandeur, with its intricate baroque palaces and winding, narrow alleyways. But instead of floating through Venice’s canals on a gondola, scenic boat trips will whisk you to nearby Cinque Terre for a taste of the colourful Italian Riviera.

And where Venice has tiny tapas-style cicchetti, in Genoa, you can sample generous serves of traditional pesto in the city where it originated.

Ostello Bello Genova

  • Genoa, Italian Riviera, Italy
  • 22 September 2024
  • Room only
  • From Stansted

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7. Get back to nature in Slovenia instead of Switzerland

Switzerland's breathtaking beauty and alpine adventures may be tempting, but for a greener, less hectic alternative that's kind on your wallet, Slovenia should be on your radar.

With 58% of its land covered by lush forests, the country offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle. Outdoor enthusiasts will love conquering the soaring peaks of the Julian Alps and exploring the emerald-green Soča Valley, perfect for white-water rafting and hiking.

Picture-perfect Lake Bled, complete with an enchanting island and hilltop castle, rivals anything you’ll find in Switzerland. And don't forget to delve into the mysterious beauty of the Škocjan Caves, recognised by UNESCO for being one of the world’s largest underground chambers.

Austria Trend Hotel Ljubljana

  • Ljubljana, Slovenia
  • 21 May 2024
  • Room only
  • From Manchester

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8. Bypass Barcelona and try gorgeous Girona

With its architectural marvels, fantastic museums and incredible food, Barcelona has everything you’d want from a city break. Overlooked Girona, located just northeast, has just as much charm – without the crowds.

Wander its Old Quarter, visit the imposing Girona Cathedral, and stroll along the ancient city walls for panoramic views. Explore the well-preserved Jewish Quarter, one of the best in Europe, and lose yourself in the city's charming mix of romanesque and gothic architecture.

For foodies, Girona's culinary scene rivals Barcelona's, with a range of eateries from quaint cafes to Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s close to the Costa Brava too, which means stunning beaches are just a short drive away.

9. Journey to Jordan instead of Egypt

Think Egypt’s ancient pyramids are hard to beat? Enter Petra, Jordan’s awe-inspiring ruins carved into rose-coloured rock. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, a sprawling complex more than 2,000 years old, deserves at least two days of your time.

You’ll need at least five more days to see the rest, though a longer ten-day trip will give you enough time to tick off the sights at a more relaxed pace. Make time to float in the hyper-saline waters of the Dead Sea, renowned for its therapeutic properties, and marvel at the Roman ruins of Jerash, considered one of the best-preserved Roman cities outside of Italy. For a touch of cinematic adventure, venture into the vast desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia.

10. Try Bermuda for a Caribbean-esque holiday

If you’re in search of idyllic shorelines and azure seas, resist the Caribbean's allure and make a beeline for Bermuda instead. Situated in the Atlantic, this island enchants with its unique subtropical climate and beaches that rival (or dare we say, beat) many of their Caribbean counterparts.

Away from the sand, the historic town of St. George is adorned with pastel-coloured houses, golf fans will revel in the island's top-tier courses and you can explore the glowing Crystal Caves for a glimpse into Bermuda's geological wonders.

11. Step into a fairytale in Český Krumlov instead of Bruges

Bruges is a picture-perfect medieval town, but its popularity means it can get busy with tourists. You'll find a similar fairytale atmosphere with fewer crowds (and often lower prices) in the charming town of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a stunningly preserved medieval centre nestled within a bend of the Vltava River. Its magnificent 13th-century Český Krumlov Castle is one of the largest in Central Europe, and a stroll through the cobblestone streets will take you past pretty renaissance and baroque houses.

Take in the views from the castle tower, or enjoy a leisurely boat ride on the river for a different perspective of the town.

12. Make for Matera to see Cappadocia-style views

Cappadocia's otherworldly landscapes and cave dwellings attract throngs of visitors. Matera, in southern Italy, offers a similar experience with a distinct Italian flavour.

This ancient city, carved into limestone rock, has been continuously inhabited since the Palaeolithic era. Its Sassi districts (meaning ‘stones’) showcase a unique network of cave dwellings, churches, and monasteries that create a maze-like cityscape unlike anything else.

Explore the historic neighbourhoods and stroll through winding alleyways within this UNESCO World Heritage Site. For an extra dose of history, visit the Matera Cathedral and the many churches built from caves, which house ancient frescoes.

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