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Family Vacation Ideas: 24 Most Underrated Cities

family travel, underrated cities

The Markov family enjoying a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria, which did not make the list but should.

Sure, popular destinations like Disneyland or beach resorts take some of the pain out of travel with your little ones — kid menus at restaurants, free hotel cribs, playgroups or swim teachers so parents can get some alone time.  But popular destinations also come at a price — not just one with lots of dollar signs. Rather, being surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other out-of-towners can leave you with the feeling that, after all those hours of flying or driving, you didn’t really go anywhere.

Travel & Leisure magazine has a list of the world’s most underrated cities — the places people don’t often think of when they’re planning a vacation. It’s a great list and a great idea, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Some will have the conveniences of popular destinations, only with more eye-contact and rapport with actual locals. But get ready for a lot of confusion — maybe even concern! — when someone asks where you’re vacationing this summer and you tell them, “Detroit!”

Travel & Leisure came up with the list of 24 underrated cities, but we tell you why they’re great places for kids.

1. Detroit

Stop with your preconceived notions! Yes, enormous sections of Detroit are suffering but the once 5th-largest U.S. city still has big pockets of greatness. And it’s getting greater. Urban homesteaders are taking advantage of low housing costs and the virtual blank slates in some areas, as are artists from around the world. Recently, Patti Smith and Talking Heads frontman David Bryne called for artists to pack up and move to this Michigan city. Bonus: if you’ve ever known someone from Detroit, you know it’s filled with foodies. Pack your fat pants, because you won’t go hungry.

2. Taipei, Taiwan

In the ’90s, this once environmentally bereft city underwent an overhaul. Now the air is clean, the public transportation excellent and it’s filled with green parks. It’s also a foodie paradise, but there is a national park, hot springs and hiking trails in the mountains just outside the city — which means you can leave the fat pants at home.

3. Tucson, Arizona

The downtown has been redeveloped into a bit of old-west glory and it makes a great home-base for trips to the Saguaro National Park. Kids will love the Sabino Canyon tram ride, science, and air and space museums.

4. Glasgow, Scotland

Forget London — well, maybe just split your time — and explore Scotland’s largest city. It’s reported to have a great music scene (OK, that might be tough with the kids but you can make it work). There are a bunch of kid-centric museums — transport, football/soccer, science, and a big multimedia re-enactment of the first Viking raids on Scotland. Glasgow is also a foodie town, so …the pants!

5. Nara, Japan

Okay, this one has lots of tourists, but also has remarkably peaceful places around town. It’s easy to get to by public transportation and feels like the Japan you might have imagined when not imagining Tokyo. Kids will love the deer who come right up to you and also the gigantic Buddha statues. You’ll love being in the birthplace of sake. Drink up because you’re riding the train! Also, like so many places that aren’t the U.S., Japan is a very kid-friendly, kid-tolerant place. Just roll with those late afternoon meltdowns, no one’s judging you.

6. Bratislava, Slovakia

Everyone’s talking about Bratislava these days — so get there before the people who are sick of its Czech Republic counterpart up the Danube, Prague, do. In winter there’s skiing; summer brings pony rides and hiking. Good food, river rides. And beer.

7. Providence, R.I.

It’s like a mini, up-and-coming Boston (with fewer universities, high-tech workers and traffic). They’ve redone the waterfront, there’s lots of great eating. For kids there are zoos, museums, huge parks, old Victorian mansions and plenty of coastline.

8. Adelaide, Australia

Of course, Sydney’s all thrills, but a side trip to Adelaide means fewer people, tons of art and pretty much guaranteed mild weather no matter when you go. For kids in Adelaide, there’s a fairy village, a zoo and Pichi Richi Railway (gotta ride it for the name alone).

9. Valparaiso, Chile

It’s just two hours from big city Santiago and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s on the coast but built right into the mountains. Kids will love the funicular all over the city, cable elevators that take passengers on short trips up the steep roads. This was also where Pablo Neruda once lived.

10. Kotor, Montenegro

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kotor is a walled city with a rich history. Kids can climb the vertical trail that leads to a view of the quaint city in the bay. Kotor is a cruise line stop, so that’s one way to get there. It’s also only a half-hour drive to Dubrovnik, Croatia, which is called “the jewel of the Adriatic” and a great place for water sports, museums and excellent food.

Also on the Travel & Leisure list:

11. Galway, Ireland

12. Philadelphia

13. Antwerp, Belgium

14. Merida, Mexico

15. Denver

16. Valencia, Spain

17. Montevideo, Uruguay

18. Bologna, Italy

19. Hangzhou, China

20. Dusseldorf, Germany

21. Granada, Nicaragua

22. Calgary, Canada

23. Bordeaux, France

24. Durban, South Africa

Do you have an undiscovered city that’s a favorite travel spot? What about your hometown? Good reason for others to pack up the kids and visit?

Photo: stefanmarkov.com via creative commons

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