Johor is Malaysia's most populous state and a growing economic power player. Most travel itineraries skip it, but those who stray into the southern gateway to Malaysia will be rewarded with the blissful solitude of its postcard-perfect islands and wild jungles, while getting access to a taste of authentic Malaysian culture and character not easily found in bigger tourist hotspots.

The top draw is the ridiculously gorgeous white-sand islands of the Seribuat Archipelago, where you'll find world-class diving, lost-beach trails and plenty of relaxation time with a fraction of Tioman's crowds. Inland, Endau-Rompin National Park offers the same rich flora, elusive fauna and swashbuckling action that visitors flock to experience at Taman Negara in Pahang, is available here in a more pristine setting.

And then there's the lively capital Johor Bahru, with a handful of worthwhile religious sites, museums and a heritage district, that plays sister-city to neighboring Singapore.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Johor.