These 10 destinations promise delightful surprises

See the spots that delivered more than our readers expected.

Published 8 Jan 2019, 11:37 GMT
A man carries a large kite at sunrise in front of the distinctive skyline of Pudong, ...
A man carries a large kite at sunrise in front of the distinctive skyline of Pudong, China.
Photograph by Sean Gallagher, Nat Geo Images Collection

There are certain trips you take thinking you know just what you’re getting yourself into. Perhaps it’s a consequence of hours of research and planning, scouring Instagram and travel books to curate the perfect itinerary. But every so often, some experiences manage to sneak up on you in all the best ways. A change of course lands you in a jam-packed city for a few extra days and you wander off the tourist track, or you meet someone who shifts your perspective. Or better yet, perhaps you avoid planning altogether and leave your expectations behind. [For more surprising spots, see our list of the best trips of 2019.]

We wanted to hear just where these delightful, unexpected turns had taken you—so we asked our social community and were dazzled by thousands of stories from around the world. It’s a testament to the fact that you can never quite be sure what awaits you someplace: It’s best to make an appearance and see it for yourself.

Havana, Cuba. Despite the crumbling infrastructure, Old Havana is delightful. The people are warm and kind, the buildings are beautiful, and the stories are amazing! —Carrie Cunningham

Kraków, Poland. I wasn't expecting much from the city itself, but the beautiful architecture, the walkability, and the laid-back vibes were surprising and very delightful! —Jocie Winterborne

Budapest, Hungary. Went there on a trip that included Prague, Vienna, and Bratislava but Budapest was by far my favourite. Delightful food, hidden treasure restaurants and bars, beautiful sights, history. Didn't think it would be my favourite of the trip but I was so pleasantly surprised. —Christy Mills

Canberra, Australia. Seriously. So many people ignore it, find it boring. But it's really not that bad. In fact, I enjoyed it very much. It might not be as vibrant as, say, Sydney or Melbourne, but it has so much to offer! Great museums, nice views from the mountain tops, a beautiful walking/cycling path around Lake Burley-Griffin ... It definitely is worth a stop. —Cédric Demets

Ljubljana, Slovenia. It is just a wonderful, lovely city. It has a very relaxed vibe to it. Locals were amazingly kind and helpful. And I like the fact that cars are banned in some places in the city. Ljubljana has this charming, so endearing character that really took me by surprise. —Arthur Del Rosario

Cape Town, South Africa. Fusion of almost everything you need for a good holiday—food, culture and art, people, countless places to visit, urban life experiences, the sea, and of course, cheese and wine! —Arnaud Et Sarah

Red Lodge, Montana. It’s delightfully charming and old-fashioned, from handmade toys to the penny candy shop to Wilkinson’s ice cream shop with Roy Rogers memorabilia. The Pollard Hotel was a luxurious stay, and nothing can beat the experience of the Beartooth Highway! —Susanne Carroll

Adelaide, Australia. I was surprised by how welcoming it was. It felt like home, being the capital of South Australia. Everyone was very open, helpful and especially knowledgeable. I was there for a race but I could have easily stayed longer to explore more of the city and its outskirts. —Jameson Jones

Shanghai, China. Gorgeous city—the old and the new side by side. Wonderful architecture in areas, lots of natural space and large trees in others, and of course delicious food. —Amy Payne

Toronto, Canada. Beautiful city, friendly people, and tons of stuff to do. Would love to go back and explore some more! —Crystal Cordasev-Frutiz

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