Cities Less Traveled

For a vacation that gives you a look at how the locals live, follow our lead to some of the world's most interesting underdog cities.
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It's a no-brainer to put Paris on your itinerary in France, or do the Dublin pub-crawl thing when in Ireland. But travelers in the know also realize that the greatest rewards often come from discovering the delights of a lesser-known locale.

The benefits to travel off the beaten paths of large, touristy cities can also be found in your wallet: Smaller cities are typically more affordable than their nearby bigger brethren.

At home and abroad, so-called tier two cities - and even those towns further down the name recognition rungs - are full of surprises for trail-blazing travelers willing to add them to the itinerary.

For a vacation that gives you a surefire look at how the locals live - without depleting your savings - follow our lead to some of the world's most interesting underdog cities.

Toulouse, France
Much like New Yorkers making an exodus for South Florida, Parisians tired of the big city are moving en masse to this sunny town in the South of France that's been dubbed the Ville Rose (Pink City) thanks to the abundance of red-brick construction. Toulouse lays some 400 miles south of Paris in a region known for producing fois gras and other culinary delicacies, such as the thick stew called cassoulet. And while the city is also known for being the headquarters of Airbus, there's a tangible artsy vibe to counterbalance the engineer mentality. After all, c'est la France - although Toulousains are fond of saying that their city has one foot in France and the other in Spain (Barcelona is just a few hours away). Take in some people watching with a bowl of gelato or a biere at the Place du Capitole, Toulouse's main square. Or hire a bike to cruise along the city's waterways - Toulouse is hemmed in by the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi, and the Mediterranean seaside and Pyrenees Mountains are within easy striking distance, too.

Malaga, Spain
Malaga's beautiful urban beaches pocketed with seafood grills and its culture-rich city center have long placed Andalusia's other city (Seville still reigns supreme on tourist itineraries) on the radar for sun-seeking northern Europeans. Ask most Americans if they've heard of Malaga, however, and they'll be hard-pressed to place the Mediterranean city in Spain. Downtown, the white marble pedestrian promenade called the Calle Larios is the spot to stroll with the beautiful people. And culture vultures can make a pilgrimage to the Picasso Museum (the artist was born in Malaga in 1881). Don your bathing suit and sit with your toes in the sand for a lunch of grilled sardines by the seaside in the trendy beach neighborhood of Pedregalejo - on Sunday afternoons, it seems as if the whole town is out for a stroll and a glass of rioja.

St. Petersburg, Florida
Sunny boulevards lined with Art Deco buildings, laid-back street cafes and an independent vibe help inspire St. Petersburg's artsy population. This twin city to Tampa Bay is the antithesis of Florida's strip-mall-centric stereotype. St. Pete, as locals call their burg, offers the best of both worlds - city culture and beach culture - with the bonus of ideal year-round temperatures (sea breezes even keep summers bearable). The Salvador Dali Museum is home to the most comprehensive collection of works by the Spanish surrealist painter, and it's a brain- and eye-teasing experience to wander through room after mind-boggling room of his works. And even though it's had a facelift of late, the St. Pete Pier still serves up a vintage and quirky Florida experience, with fishing rods for rent, pelican feeding stations, an aquarium and eateries.

Galway, Ireland
Ask most visitors where they've been in Ireland, and it's likely to be Dublin, with side trips to usual tourist must-sees like the Blarney Stone and the Cliffs of Moher. To seriously gauge the energy of an eclectic Irish student town, however, get off the beaten path and give Galway a go. Sidled up against the Atlantic Ocean, the city sits roughly 140 miles due west of Dublin. Bike-friendly streets and an outwardly artistic population of less than 100,000 make Galway both approachable and eclectic. There's something Left Bank-ish about the town's Medieval Quarter, home to nightclubs, pubs and boutiques. The city's love of live music burns brightest during the annual Galway Arts Festival, held every summer, when an international array of comedy, music, literature, dance and more fills the streets, parks and pubs.

Montevideo, Uruguay
Ever overshadowed by big, bold Buenos Aires - a short ferry ride (2 1/2 hours) west across the muddy waters of the Rio de la Plata - Montevideo offers a toned-down but no less sensual take on South American city living. In Uruguay's capital city, stroll through the Ciudad Vieja (Old City), where young designers and artists have reclaimed aging 18th-century buildings for their funky ateliers. Hit the hipster beachside burg of Pocitos to bronze your body. And whatever you do, be sure you're here on a Saturday, so you can experience the music and conviviality of the Mercado del Puerto - an all-out party at the parrillas (grill stands) inside an old building near the port, where the socializing is fueled by Samba music and medio y medio, a heady mix of white wine and sparkling wine that goes straight to your cabeza.

Hamburg, Germany
For most American visitors to Germany, hitting Munich for the beer halls, the Bavarian Alps for the scenery and Berlin for the culture are the requisite cornerstones of a wunderbar vacation. But in-the-know urbanites add the Northern town of Hamburg to their itineraries. What's to like? Everything from an abundance of galleries and museums, funky boutiques, Portuguese eateries (one seafaring culture loves another) and three golf courses within the city limits give Hamburg near universal appeal. The city claims more canals than Venice and Amsterdam combined, and it's home to one of Europe's biggest red-light districts called St. Pauli, where some of the hippest nightclubs, design hotels (hit the top-floor bar at the newly opened Empire Riverside Hotel for killer views of Hamburg's huge port) and live-music venues abound. In the wee hours of every Sunday morning, flopping fresh fish from the nearby North Sea is hawked alongside sizzling sausages and steins of beer at the Fischmarkt - a huge outdoor-market-turned-party on the banks of the River Elbe.

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