By Abigail Blasi, Lonely Planet Author

Palazzo Comunale City Hall on Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia Square.

Palazzo Comunale City Hall on Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia  Square.

Some places stay persistently off the beaten track, despite their many  charms. Here’s a sampling of places overlooked because of geography, chance and  the presence of more glamorous neighbours.

1. Trieste, Italy

Why isn’t this anomalous Italian city top of a must-visit list? It’s a  cultural melting pot, on a sea-thrusting prong of land, almost in Slovenia.  It was the key port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and retains an enticing,  elegiac sense of the past. Former resident James Joyce began writing Ulysses not in Dublin, but here. It’s  full of Hapsburg splendour, from its Viennese cafes and central European cuisine  to its sweeping neo-classical waterfront.

2. Arras, France

With its two Flemish-Spanish squares, lined by 155 gingerbread-like houses,  Arras is an astonishing surprise in an oft-forgotten corner of northern France.  It’s worth planning to spend the day here, so you can admire the 17th and 18th  architectural confectionery, climb the elegant bell tower for big views, and  wander through the town’s remarkable 22km-long underground tunnels, which were  used by soldiers during WWI.

3. Gujarat, India

India’s northwestern state of Gujarat is not on most travellers’ itineraries,  but if you have time it rewards exploration. Besides a friendly welcome, you’ll  experience an off-beat allure: the laid-back ex-Portuguese island of Diu; the  city of Bhuj, with an evocative dilapidated palace and surrounding craft-rich  villages; and the otherworldly salt plains of the Little Rann of Kutch,  populated by flamingos and the Indian wild ass.

4. Chóngqìng, China

Often bypassed in favour of neighbouring Sìchuān,  Chóngqìng is worthy of more attention, with its imposing location overlooking  the Yangzi River and conversation-stalling spicy food. Modern China’s futuristic  cityscape contrasts with the clutter of old steel boats at the docks and the  city’s ‘bangbang’ army of porters who suspend goods on stout bamboo poles,  transporting anything and everything over its steep hills.

5. Aberdeen, Scotland

The granite town of Aberdeen is home to a stately university centred on the  15th-century King’s Chapel, is fronted by a long sandy beach, and contains the  time-capsule, Hobbit-quaint fishing village of Footdee. And beyond the stern,  glittering city, you can take a dreamy coastal train trip to see Castle  Dunottar, the awe-inspiring cliff-edge ruin where Franco Zefferelli filmed Hamlet.

6. Utrecht, The Netherlands

Perhaps it’s the lure of Amsterdam that leads people to forget Utrecht. Whatever the reason, this graceful city is  bizarrely under-visited. Its old town is encircled by a medieval canal, and you  can hop on a boat tour to visit the city’s bustling, vibrant wharves. Built to  connect the canalside with Utrecht’s impressive townhouses, today these unique  spaces are filled with bohemian cafes, shops, restaurants and bars.

7. Meknès, Morocco

Everyone knows Marrakesh and Fès,  but who takes the time to stop off in lesser-known Meknès? On a smaller scale  than its more famous siblings, this ancient imperial city has a low key,  laid-back feel, yet an architectural and cultural bounty of 45km of walls,  nearly 50 palaces, and nearby, the plateau-top Roman ruins of Volubilis.

8. Helsinki, Finland

The small Finnish capital, continental Europe’s northernmost city, looks out  into the shimmering Baltic, and several of its major sights sit on islands, such  as the 18th-century fortress of Suomenlinna.  This unassuming yet charismatic capital retains glorious art nouveau buildings  and 1930s restaurants, and is notably clean, tidy and well behaved. It also  comes alive when the sun shines – almost all night from June to August.

9. Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

It’s rarely chilly, usually either balmy or baking, in this lovely,  off-the-track Andalucian town, which is famous for its sherry production. There  are many ornate churches, an imposing citadel, plus multiple bodegas  where you can taste Jerez’s most famous export. This is also the flamenco  heartland, and it’s one of the best places in Spain to experience authentic  performances of this most passionate art.

10. Takayama, Japan

Locals recommend that you take a trip to the less-travelled ‘other’ side of  the main Honshu island to gain a sense of old Japan. Those who make it out here  will discover Takayama, a small city dotted by morning markets, sake breweries,  and hillside shrines, and nearby Shirakawa-go,  famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri – farmhouses-on-stilts – and  countryside that looks like a Nihonga (traditional Japanese) painting.

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