One of the great things about travel is that it's full of surprises. When you visit a new place, you never quite know what new experiences, cultures, customs, sights, sounds, and flavors you might discover.
And while there are lots of wonderful places out there, there's nothing more rewarding than traveling somewhere that blows away your expectations and leaves you daydreaming about your return trip. So I rounded up responses from the subreddit r/travel from world travelers. These are the places around the world that seriously exceeded their expectations.
1."Nicaragua. From cool surf towns on the west coast to the peaceful, unique, and stunning volcanic island of Omatepe, the country was amazing. There's also Little Corn Island, which has some of the best diving and bioluminescence I’ve ever seen. It might be my favorite country I've seen so far, and I’ve only explored a fraction of it."
2."Albania. Lots of Americans don't even know where it is on a map, and many people in Europe still have this image that Albania is dangerous. In my experience visiting, it's the country with the kindest and most helpful people I have ever met. The beaches and the mountains were just amazing."
3."Pondicherry, India. I've traveled from Sikkim in Northeastern India all the way to the southernmost tip of this great country, and Pondicherry was my favorite place of all. Walking along the seafront at night was especially magical."
4."San Sebastian, Spain. I expected a nice little Spanish coastal town, but San Sebastian ended up being one of my favorite places I've ever visited. I could have spent weeks exploring the old town and eating my way through the hundreds of tiny pintxo bars. And I was mesmerized by scenic Concha Bay and the picturesque Basque fishing towns that lie on the outskirts of the city. As soon as I left, I already couldn't wait to plan my return trip."
5."Idaho. Almost everyone I tell reacts with 'really, what the heck is in Idaho?' Well, I can tell you this state boasts mountains, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, hot springs, and the fabulous Craters of the Moon National Monument. I can confidently say that Boise is easily my favorite state capital now."
6."Porto, Portugal. The layout of the city is amazing. It's not too touristy and everything is extremely walkable. I loved every moment of my time there."
7."The Cape Winelands in South Africa. I had a few extra days to kill in the Cape Town area before heading on safari, so on a whim, I booked a B&B in Stellenbosch in South African wine country. First of all, the scenery is absolutely stunning (think: sprawling vineyards with mountains in the backdrop). You can hire a van to chauffeur you around to different, beautiful wineries for very cheap. The Franschhoek wine train made for one of the most fun travel experiences I've ever had. South Africa as a whole is amazing, but this is seriously a must-visit destination for wine lovers that I rarely hear talked about!"
8."Sarajevo. Most Americans I've mentioned it to are surprised to hear that I visited this city, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It immediately became one of my favorite cities in the entire world. The people, the sights, and the history were worth the trip, but especially, the food, the food, the food."
9."Tarapoto, Peru. It's beautiful and clean, the jungle landscape is stunning, the people are super friendly, and the food was great. It's far less touristy than many other destinations in Peru. I went with few expectations but had an amazing time."
10."Slovenia. For such a small country, this place is jam-packed with some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen."
11."Bordeaux. I'd spent a lot of time in France but never made it to the southwest. When I finally visited Bordeaux I absolutely loved it. The city itself is great and there's a real emphasis on walking and cycling over driving. The surrounding coastal and inland towns are gorgeous. Plus you can get cheap, fresh oysters pretty much anywhere you go."
12."Laos is one of my favorite countries I've visited. I traveled the Mekong River by cargo boat, which was incredible. Luang Prabang, the ancient royal capital, and Vientiane, the current capital city, are both great places to visit. The food is great and the entire country is relatively unspoiled compared to its neighbors."
13."St. Louis, Missouri. I have visited twice now after moving from the South to the Midwest, and I've fallen in love with St. Louis. It gets a bad rap in the US, but it is such an interesting place to visit. There is lots of unique local history and culture, and some really cool neighborhoods. I particularly loved finding Gum Ball and Magnolia trees in the Midwest after leaving the South. There are many European-style parks in the city — huge green spaces with fountains, statues, and boulevards. There's just so much more to see here than most people in the US probably suspect!"
14."Bucharest, Romania. I spent a couple of weeks there recently and had zero expectations. It turned out to be a great city. I walked around a lot by myself and got to explore. It was beautiful with some gorgeous off-the-beaten-path areas. There are some really great museums such as the Military Museum, which I found unexpectedly fascinating, and the Tiriac Collection, one of the best car collections I've ever seen. I'd love to go back to Romania and traveling around more of the country."
15."Bologna, Italy. Out of all the places that people travel to in Italy, you don't often hear this one talked about as a prime destination. I was pleasantly surprised by Bologna. The crowd skewed on the younger side but it felt like 'touristy,' and oh my...the food was spectacular."
16."Tasmania. When people travel to Australia they think of beaches and reefs. Tasmania is a different landscape. It has massive rain forests, beautiful scenic islands, and one of the largest Antarctic ports on the planet in Hobart."
17."La Paz, Bolivia. I am absolutely obsessed with this strange and amazing place. Between the witch shops, a cemetery with huge graffiti murals, and the teleféricos used for public transit, this city surprised me over and over again. Sucre was a beautiful city and the salt flats of Bolivia are great, but man oh man, once I spent time in La Paz I've been itching to go back ever since."
18."York, England. When I went, I expected it would be a boring day trip to yet another historic town. But I was surprised to discover it was really beautiful with amazing history, great food, and a little bit of quirkiness. I loved it!"
19."Taganga, Colombia. While I lived in Colombia, this was one of the hidden gems I discovered. It's a small fishing village next to Parque Tayrona on the northern coast. The highlight for me was the great scuba diving."
20."Goa, India. It's a small state of India that was ruled by the Portuguese, unlike the rest of India which was British. The southern Indian cuisine is totally distinct, there are beautiful beaches, impressive old Catholic churches and fortresses, and it's really affordable to visit."
21."Muscat, Oman. IMO, it's the hidden gem of the Middle East. A lot of people travel to Dubai, but most have never heard of Muscat, which is nothing like the urban sprawl of many Middle Eastern cities. It’s a charming port town surrounded by mountains and desert with a lot of history."
22."Kaohsiung, Taiwan. None of my American friends have even heard about this place, but it's a really amazing port city at the southern tip of Taiwan. The vibe is relaxed and friendly. There are night markets with delicious food and a great art scene."
23."Venice. I was prepared to be disappointed given how much people complain about Venice, but I loved it. In fact, I wish I spent more than two nights there. It was so magical to walk around in the evenings (and during the day, especially if you avoid the crowds around the Rialto bridge). I loved the water taxis, the decaying buildings, the Peggy Guggenheim collection, and getting lost in the little alleyways."
24."Antwerp, Belgium. There's a great beer culture and awesome bars, the city is extremely walkable, and it's full of beautiful architecture. It's also home to the most stunning train station, especially when you see it at night. I was planning on heading to Brussels, but a hostel mate in Paris told me to skip it and visit Antwerp instead. This was great advice."
25."Nikko, Japan. This city is just a few hours outside of Tokyo, but it gets far less attention than some of the more popular tourist destinations on the outskirts of the city. The shrines are superb and the crowds are minimal. You almost [feel] like you're on a magical quest as you explore."
26."Ticino, Switzerland. It's an Italian-speaking region in the south of the country that most people don't think to visit. It's incredibly beautiful and untouristed."
27."Zimbabwe. I met the nicest people, experienced some of the best safaris in Africa, and took in so much stunning scenery. Plus this country has the added bonus of Victoria Falls."
28."Budapest, Hungary. This city stole my heart. I didn’t get to spend enough time there, and I definitely look forward to going back at some point. Seeing the parliament building lit up at night from the Danube will blow your mind."
29."Mexico City. People told me the city is dangerous and 'nothing special,' but it was absolutely gorgeous, so alive, and fun. The people were some of the friendliest I've encountered anywhere and all the food was amazing. It remains one of my favorite places I've visited to this day."
30."Edinburgh, Scotland. I have visited three times and each time I find it more magical than the last. Between the architecture, history, ghost stories, pubs, sports, and museums, it is quite a fantastic place."
31."Curaçao. I have traveled to lots of tropical islands all around the world, and this one is my favorite. There's wonderful snorkeling and beautiful beaches, each of which is totally unique. Klein Curaçao was my favorite place I visited on the island. The hiking is great and the scenery is other-worldly. Plus, the temperature is consistent all year 'round so there is never a bad time to visit."
What's a destination you've visited that totally surpassed your expectations? Tell us about it in the comments.