Girona, Spain.

When you land in New York, Barcelona, London, Hong Kong or Sydney, you just know you’re going to get gouged on well… everything. You go anyway, because they’re iconic and life wouldn’t be complete without seeing each one of them, at least once.

But once you’ve done the bright lights and big cities, and find yourself craving a place that offers new horizons and exquisite tastes-  sans mega crowds, what do you do? The answer: take a flight to a place – then maybe a train, plane or automobile to another.

“I just can’t stand the crowds in Barcelona”…

Timing is everything in travel, and with more flights from more places at lower prices than ever, you’d need lucky timing or the flexibility of avoiding school holidays to avoid the crowds in any major city. Sure, some major cities were built with mass tourism or transient lifestyles in mind, but others weren’t, and either way it can be chaotic.

With more people taking trips than ever – that’s a fact –  cities of the moment are struggling to cope with the increased travel demand, and that can mean everything from inflated prices on hotels to longer queues to enjoy the main attractions you came all that way for.

For those that have “seen it all”, or don’t care about the tick box style of tourism, preferring more personal experiences, it’s the secondary and tertiary cities in each country which should be on the radar.

If you once flocked to Barcelona, no one is saying it shouldn’t still be on the itinerary, but it just may not be the final destination for a trip that offers a sense of true “place” in Spain. After a flight into the Catalan capitol, it’s a train ride or car journey to nearby Girona for the idyllic views, outrageously good food, lower prices and slightly more authentic glimpse into true Catalan life. The nearby beaches don’t hurt either…

But we’re talking about everywhere, not just Spain…

The rise of these second cities is nothing short of exhilarating. Immensely talented chefs, designers, artists and curators are returning to their regional roots as airlines open up more point to point direct flight routes to bring “in the know” tourists to these new hot spots. With more people fleeing the big cities, there’s more demand to create something special in a smaller environment.

It’s why we’ve said go here not there, or alternatives to major cities in Italy, within an easy ride to a city worth visiting, but without all the fuss of finding food coloured gelato and Caprese salad in the middle of winter.

Call it “big fish, little pond” or whatever you will, but it’s making for incredible tourism in a time where people crave new places to go, and experiences they won’t see everyone else sharing. You can’t beat a restaurant where you must adjust to their culture, not yours.

That includes cities like Bilbao, which has always played Spain’s third or fourth fiddle, just as much as Gothenburg, Brisbane, Taipei or Calgary. Yes, they’re big cities, but they’ve always been part of the orchestra. It’s why we recommend these budget friendly Southeast Asian gems over the ones you were probably thinking of.

Forget a New York foodie trip! Pittsburgh is winning all sorts of culinary awards.

Everyone goes to Tokyo! Osaka has better food and cheaper hotels.

Why Miami? Charleston is the place with better architecture and stunning beaches.

british airways 100 offerNo one is saying you should skip major cities, but if you’ve done them, or are seeking a place you can sink your teeth into for a bit more purpose, there’s genuinely never been a better time to spread your proverbial wings and fly somewhere new.

Thanks to new planes which are smaller and more fuel efficient, airlines are prioritizing direct flights to more cities over flights from one major hub to another, the possibilities are everywhere. In other words, cities which were once a few stops are now direct, or one stop at the worst.

For every action there’s a reaction, and as locals lose their grip – and neighborhoods – to mass in major cities, they’re bringing all the good stuff back to local environments where you’ll feel a deeper sense of discovery. The world is getting “small” again, and to grab the horns of the next travel trend, look at that great big city you were considering and then find the closest nearby getaway.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Add Bologna, Naples and Milan(kinda) over Venice, Rome and Florence. Although the latter are great…just not in the summer:)

  2. Photo 1 is probably a good example why people avoid second-rate, I mean second class, I mean secondary cities.

    But photos 2 and 3 look very interesting. Could you caption them with their locations? Thank u.

  3. AK beat me to it — was wondering where the second and third photos were taken! 🙂

  4. I had a wonderful time (evening and next morning) in Kadoka, South Dakota showing that off the beaten path is sometimes fun.

  5. @AK 2nd picture if from Penang hill, looking down into the old part of Georgetown, and mainland Malaysia in the background. it’s a lovely city

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