The road less travelled: 5 great alternative travel spots

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While in Donegal, Ireland a few years back, my friends and I heard from locals about some impressive cliffs near the fishing port of Killybegs going by the strange name Slieve League, so we decided to take a look.

Slieve League turned out to be spectacular. A curving, colourful cliff face, it's essentially a mountain cleaved in half with a sheer drop from the peak 600 metres to the churning Atlantic Ocean below. For the brave, the aptly named 'One Man's Track' leads to the top of the cliff - and amazing views.

So why do Ireland's Cliffs of Moher get all the fame (and guidebook covers) while Slieve League exists in relative anonymity? Hard to say, but there's a take-home lesson: sometimes lesser-known destinations can be just as rewarding as their more famous counterparts. With that in mind, here are a few more great 'alternative travel sights':

  1. Split vs Dubrovnik, Croatia Behind Dubrovnik's beautiful white marble walls and under its terracotta rooftops, you'll find the usual tourist mash of Irish bars, bland restaurants, souvenir shops and tour groups. A few hours up the coast, Split's UNESCO-listed old town is built on the remains of Roman Emperor Diocletian's enormous retirement palace, and buzzes with the authentic sounds of day-to-day Dalmatian life.
  2. Bulgaria vs any other European countryIs there a conspiracy to hide the delights of Bulgaria from the rest of the world? Consider: the ancient Black Sea coastal resorts of Nesebar and Sozopol with their ruins and beaches, Veliko Tarnovo's dramatic riverside setting and ancient hilltop palace ruins, idyllic Koprivshtitsa's traditional grand mansions and pristine streetscapes. Heard of them? If not, take a look.
  3. Dingle Peninsula vs Ring of Kerry, IrelandIt's hardly unknown, but it's amazing how many travellers skip Dingle and make do with the coach-choked roads of the Ring of Kerry instead. There's plenty to see in Dingle town, with its idiosyncratic pubs and Funghi the dolphin, while ancient standing stones dot the roadside out of town. If you find Dingle too mainstream, try the lonely but impressively stark Beara Peninsula further south.
  4. Matsumoto Castle vs Himeji Castle, Japan One is a delicate, elegant beauty known as the White Egret. The other is dark, brooding and nicknamed the Crow. While there's no denying stunning Himeji-jo is a highlight of any trip to Japan, Matsumoto-jo's setting really, well, sets it apart. Surrounded by lush parkland and using the Japan Alps as borrowed scenery, its black and white façade is photogenic from any angle. And unlike gritty Himeji city, sophisticated Matsumoto is well worth a visit as well. (For more info, check out the Thorn Tree community's discussion of Japan's castle options).
  5. Ningaloo Reef vs The Great Barrier Reef, AustraliaThe Great Barrier Reef stretches for 2,000km along the island continent's northeast coast – so chances are you'll only manage to visit a small section from one of the crowded access points near Cairns. On Australia's west coast, the smaller Ningaloo is more remote and not easy to get to, but is quieter and more pristine. And it has one attraction you won't find on the east coast – whale sharks!
Related article: Driving Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way