ADVERTISEMENT

​The 10 Most Beautiful Coral Reefs in the World

By Daniel Bortz
January 12, 2022
Raja Ampat Reef 2
© Jeremy Brown | Dreamstime.com

For snorkelers and deep-sea divers, coral reefs are the ultimate treasure troves. Also called the "rainforests of the sea," coral reefs are rich ecosystems that are teeming with underwater gardens, colorful rock formations, and diverse marine life.

Coral reefs are found in more than 100 countries, according to Coral Reef Alliance, a nonprofit that focuses on protecting reefs around the world.

Need a little help narrowing down your options? Here is Budget Travel’s list of the most beautiful coral reefs around the globe.

The West Bay in Roatan, Honduras

The second-largest barrier reef in the world is a must-see. Only yards away from a one-mile beach of white sand and palm trees, the West Bay is filled with canyons and crevices, hard and soft corals, and vibrant yellow and purple sea fans. It’s also one of the best-preserved coral reefs in the Caribbean.

Raja Ampat in Indonesia

Located at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Raja Ampat archipelago is home to one of the most colorful coral reefs in the world. Fed by nutrients from deep-sea currents, Raja Ampat – the most biodiverse coral reef ecosystem in the world – is known as the “Crown Jewel” of the Coral Triangle, an area of tropical marine waters in the western Pacific Ocean.

Gordon Reef in Egypt

Banner fish, parrot fish, cornet fish, and blue-spotted sting rays are just a few of the many marine animals that inhabit Egypt’s Gordon Reef. Keep your eyes peeled for sleeping reef sharks, and don’t miss the remains of the famous Loullia shipwreck, which ran aground on the northern end in 1981. Due to the shallowness of the water, the luminosity is exceptional.

Aharen Beach in Okinawa, Japan

Snorkelers and divers alike travel here to glimpse the beauty of this reef’s white-sand ocean floor, bright coral formations, sea turtles, and schools of tiny, colorful tropical fish. Underwater life thrives in this reef, which is notably well preserved.

Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea

Also located within the Coral Triangle, Papua New Guinea’s coral reef is dominated by stunning, rainforest-covered volcanic peaks that rise steeply from the water, some reaching over 2,000 meters above the surface. Spadefish, jacks, and barracuda roam the waters of these colorful corals. In addition to checking out the area’s diverse marine life, visitors should view some of Papua New Guinea’s aviation wrecks from World War II (the area sustained heavy Allied bombings), which are easily viewed through the Bismarck Sea’s clear blue waters.

Rainbow Reef in Fiji

Luminescent corals are the prized possession of Fiji’s Rainbow Reef. Home to millions of beautifully colored reef fish and sea anemones, these waters are brimming with 300 types of hard coral. Fiji is particularly famous for its butterfly fish, and the entire 27 species can be found swimming in Rainbow Reef, which is also home to Taveuni’s Great White Wall, a world-class dive site composed of soft, white corals and colorful sponges that stretches down about 25 meters below the water’s surface.

The Maldives

One of the best year-round diving destinations in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is also one of the most intricate marine ecosystems on the planet. The archipelago attracts more than 1 million tourists a year, and for good reason: its chain of 26 coral atolls are, put simply, a tropical paradise bursting with fish life, including manta rays, sea turtles, and giant clams.

The caveat? Since 2014, the Maldives have experienced widespread and, in some cases, severe coral bleaching as a result of rising sea water temperatures. The upshot: a number of marine life preservation organizations have banded together to address the reef’s coral bleaching issues.

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia

The world's largest coral reef is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations around the globe. Indeed, it’s one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Its sprawling reef system, which stretches over 1,400 miles, supports a range of marine life, including endangered species like dugongs and green sea turtles. The Great Barrier Reef also contains more than 400 types of coral and around 240 species of birds.

Apo Reef in the Philippines

Spread over 13 square miles, Apo Reef is the world's second-largest contiguous coral reef system. The channel is home to about 300 species of colorful marine life –including tropical aquarium fish, snappers, and yellowmargin triggerfish – and roughly 450 species of coral. Its pristine waters make for ideal snorkeling and scuba diving.

The Hawaiian Coral Reef

The Hawaiian Islands is home to more than 410,000 acres of coral reef in the main islands alone. Its clear waters feature over 500 species of algae and a dazzling array of colorful marine life, including the Humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, a triggerfish that is Hawaii's state fish. One-quarter of its marine life is endemic to Hawaii, meaning they can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

CLUB DISCOUNTS

Save up to 50% on Hotels

1 rooms, 1 guests
ADVERTISEMENT
Keep reading
Budget Travel Lists

The Best Museums in Every State

With so many amazing cultural, quirky, history-focused and art-centric attractions to visit across America, it’s nearly impossible to choose the one best museum in each and every state. However, these institutions continually rise to the top of must-see lists for good reason: Alabama A multi-faceted interpretive museum and research center, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute takes visitors on a moving and important journey through the advent and progression of the Civil Rights movement. Alaska Inside its stunning glacier-like façade, the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North in Fairbanks offers an in-depth peek into the biodiversity, culture and geology of this intriguing northern terrain. Arizona Founded in 1929, The Heard Museum in Phoenix celebrates Native American culture and advances American Indian art through a remarkable collection of historic and modern items, textiles, jewelry, ceramics and Hopi katsina dolls. Arkansas Named for the natural spring that feeds the 120-acre grounds, the striking architecture of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville makes a memorable first impression; inside, view exhibitions housed within a linked series of pavilions for free. California The expansive views of the Los Angeles basin rival the art inside the uber-modern Getty Center; admire the European and American collections, then enjoy a leisurely stroll through the Central Garden and an al fresco café lunch or refreshment. Colorado On a 15-acre former rail yard, the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden maintains more than 100 historic locomotives, passenger cars and cabooses to observe, along with a depot museum, a railroad reference library and a functioning roundhouse. Connecticut Experience adventure at sea without ever leaving dry land; the Mystic Seaport Museum pays homage to America’s seafaring heritage with more than 500 watercraft on display, a recreated coastal village, a research center and a working shipyard. Delaware The former childhood home of horticulturalist Henry Francis du Pont, the opulently restored Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library fills 175 rooms with American decorative art pieces and furnishings, some dating back as far as 1640. Florida With a thought-provoking permanent collection of original objets d’art, prints, photos, sculpture, paintings and illustrations, the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg lends an immersive peek into the life of the eccentric artist and master of Surrealism. Georgia The World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta traces the lineage of the iconic soft drink with a 4-D film presentation, a look at the bottling process, a pop culture gallery, and the opportunity to sample more than 100 different products from around the world. Hawaii The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in downtown Honolulu serves as a thoughtful repository for royal family heirlooms and also maintains a science adventure center, a planetarium and one of world’s largest collections of natural history specimens. Idaho The quirky Museum of Clean in Pocatello goes way beyond vacuum cleaners and washing machines to address the evolution of cleaning products and equipment and their effects on the environment; a gallery for kids actually makes chores fun. Illinois No Windy City visit is complete with a trip to the iconic Art Institute of Chicago to marvel at original masterpieces by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Chagall and Picasso during a docent-led or self-guided tour. Indiana Dinosaurs crashing through The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis façade get visitors excited for the five floors of interactive fun they’ll discover inside, including areas that focus on science, global culture, archeology, space travel and extraordinary children. Iowa Part of the 30-acre TechWorks campus in Waterloo, the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum gives voice to Iowa’s farming history and heritage as interpreted by one of the industry’s most significant contributors. Kansas The Kansas Aviation Museum in the original Wichita Airport facility flies high with historical military and civil airplanes, flight simulators, exhibits on major aircraft manufacturers, a retired air control tower and the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame. Kentucky The stunning works of art on display in the National Quilt Museum’s three exhibition galleries make it easy to see at a glance why enchanting little Paducah is famous for its quilting, crafting and fiber arts heritage. Louisiana Let the good times roll at Mardi Gras World on the New Orleans riverfront with an insider glimpse at how extravagant parade floats take shape, in addition to the opportunity to learn about Mardi Gras history and try on costumes. Maine The Portland Head Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park dates back to 1791, making it the oldest lighthouse in Maine; the museum in the former Lighthouse Keeper’s quarters holds maritime artifacts, documents, navigational tools and models. Maryland Both part of the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center in Cambridge and the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad State Park Center in Church Creek honor the life and legacy of the groundbreaking abolitionist. Massachusetts Inside a striking exterior designed by I.M. Pei, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library in Boston examines the life of America’s 35th Commander in Chief from childhood through his political career, marriage and assassination. Michigan Encompassing the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, the Greenfield Village living history site and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, the comprehensive 250-acre Henry Ford campus in Dearborn merits several days of exploration to fully absorb. Minnesota Founded in 1883, the Minneapolis Institute of Art boasts a permanent collection of 90,000 objects spanning 20,000 years and six continents, in addition to gorgeous architecture, traveling exhibits and community-oriented programming. Mississippi Visitors can immerse themselves in the sounds and stories of legendary artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton and John Lee Hooker at the Delta Blues Museum in the historic 1918 Clarksdale freight depot building. Missouri Crawling through colorful tunnels, scaling large-scale wire sculptures, playing amid indoor urban artscapes and riding the rooftop Ferris Wheel at the 600,000 square-foot City Museum in St. Louis is enough to make anyone feel like a kid again. Montana The Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman honors its rugged roots with one of the world’s largest dinosaur fossil collections, a Yellowstone National Park display, planetarium shows, a paleontology research facility and a seasonal living history farm. Nebraska Step back in time to the days of the Oregon Trail; the landmark Archway facility in Kearney retraces the steps of America’s settlers as they traveled the Great Platte River Road during Westward Expansion. Nevada Get a lesson in Las Vegas history with a walk through the Neon Museum to see flashy signage that once adorned the Strip’s extravagant casinos, hotels and tourist attractions, along with blueprints, photos and other memorabilia. New Hampshire The Mount Washington Observatory and Weather Discovery Center in North Conway offers a way to safely explore some of the planet’s most extreme climates and conditions through guided weather station tours and interactive science exhibits. New Jersey Experience the bells and whistles of the Jersey Shore at the Pinball Hall of Fame and Silverball Museum Arcade in Asbury Park by trying your luck on a rotating selection of 200-ish playable machines from the museum’s 600-item collection. New Mexico The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe imparts an inspiring look at the life and work of New Mexico’s most recognized 20th-century artist by inviting guests to experience her distinctive abstract, landscape and floral paintings in nine themed galleries. New York Rising from the ruins of the World Trade Center, the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City honors the lives lost during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and pays tribute to the heroes that emerged. North Carolina With 8,000 acres, 250 preserved rooms, priceless works of art, a massive banquet hall, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool and bowling alley, the palatial French chateau-style Biltmore House and Gardens estate is Asheville’s crown jewel. North Dakota The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck takes a wide-ranging look at the state’s geologic evolution over 600 million years through four galleries filled with artifacts, art and interactive displays. Ohio Music fans make pilgrimages to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland to learn about the legions of legends who’ve been inducted into the Hall of Fame, catch live performances and even noodle on real instruments in the Garage. Oklahoma Experience the great American West at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City through exhibits and galleries that highlight Native American life, the American Cowboy, rodeo and other cultural touchpoints. Oregon One of the top science centers in the country, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland maintains 200 hands-on exhibits spread across five halls, a planetarium, six labs and a full-size US Navy submarine to discover. Pennsylvania The echoes of history ring through the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitors Center; the museum offers a primer on one of America’s most significant Civil War battles before visitors embark on guided tours of the battlefield itself. Rhode Island The RISD Museum on the campus of the Rhode Island School of Design holds its own against much bigger facilities thanks to an extensive collection of 100,000+ globally sourced paintings, sculpture, textiles and furniture. South Carolina On the actual site where slaves were auctioned back in the mid-1800s, the Old Slave Mart Museum educates visitors on the facts and realities of the most shameful chapter of American history through informative, emotionally moving content. South Dakota Currently closed for a massive architectural expansion with plans to reopen in 2021, the National Music Museum on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion delights visitors with instruments on display from the facility’s 15,000+ piece collection. Tennessee A shrine fit for a King, Graceland in Memphis gives visitors the chance to tour the estate of Elvis Presley to see the rooms in which he lived, his racquetball court, personal family effects and final resting place in the meditation garden. Texas Retired spacecraft, astronaut spacesuits, an Independence shuttle replica, an International Space Station gallery, moon rocks, virtual reality experiences and motion simulators await at the Smithsonian-affiliated Space Center Houston. Utah Just west of Temple Square, the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City provides an overview of the religious history and foundations that inform the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Mormon faith. Vermont The Shelburne Museum serves up an all-inclusive sampler of history, art and culture through 39 New England–style buildings on a bucolic 45-acre site, all filled with materials and artifacts from the collections of founder Electra Havemeyer Webb. Virginia Colonial Williamsburg brings American history to life through costumed interpreters who populate a working 18th-century village, as well as museums dedicated to folk art and decorative arts, seasonal programming and historic dining opportunities. Washington Next to the Space Needle, Seattle’s long-term Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibition sparkles and shines with eight galleries, three drawing walls, a Glasshouse and a garden filled with vibrant works by the renowned glass artist. West Virginia Veteran miners lead underground tours through the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and Youth Museum, a recreated 20th-century Appalachian miner’s camp settlement and an authentic West Virginia mountain homestead. Wisconsin Get your motor running at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee while learning all about the history of America’s signature motorcycles and the culture they’ve inspired among their loyal customer base through the years. Wyoming The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody encapsulates the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum, the Plains Indian Museum and the Cody Firearms Museum all under one expansive roof.

Budget Travel Lists

7 Easy And Affordable Wellness Retreats And Escapes

You need a break. You’ve worked hard lately; you’re always connected; and you’re feeling a little burned out. These are seven easy destinations for you and/or your family to unwind, disconnect, and recharge both body and mind. Better yet, none of them will break the bank. And in some cases, some of them are downright cheap. Before booking your next wellness retreat, consider one of these: Bluff Dwellings, Utah You’ve heard of Bears Ears National Monument. Now see it for yourself from the area’s brand-new, gorgeously located, and perfectly arranged resort in Bluff, Utah. At Bluff Dwellings Resort (pictured), you can stay on-site for the pool, spa, and surrounding views, or drive 30 minutes to hike or off-road in the new national monument, river raft the Grand Canyon-like San Juan with family, or take in the timeless Monument Valley in nearby Navajo Nation. Far away from the crowds of the rest of Southern Utah, Bluff Dwellings is a fantastic place to lose yourself during an extended mountain stay. Huntington Surf Inn, California Long revered for its beginner-friendly and expert breaks, Hunting Beach is and will forever be “Surf City, USA.” But whereas Southern California can be notoriously expensive, the Huntington Surf Inn is as affordable as it is accessible to the beach—just a few minutes' walk to both the waves and International Surfing Museum. Award-winning amenities include comfortable and colorful rooms, free wifi, parking, complimentary beach toys, and big screen TVs with premium cable to binge on. From here the perfect wave is within reach. The Fox Den, Montana Welcome to one of the finest rental properties within minutes of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park and still one of the best places to go off grid. This five-star rated “superhost” Airbnb is located in the woods of Soda Butte Creek with easy access to decks with spectacular views, hot-tub overlooking the creek, and many of Cooke City’s best hiking trails. Feather beds, hardwood floors, and full kitchens make staying in a must, but with so much of the great outdoors nearby, you’ll also want to explore. In addition to hiking, fishing, biking, and snowmobiling, be sure to drive the nearby Beartooth Highway, which is considered one of the most scenic drives in America. Casablanca Resort, Nevada If sunbathing by a fantastic, palm tree-lined pool all day replete with waterfall, kids slide, hot tub, and an immense amount of playing room appeals to you, look no further than Casablanca Resort in Mesquite, Nevada. Better yet, this five-star pool at a three-star hotel ranges from $40–70 per night, depending on the season and weekend. What’s more, there’s a lot of great golf courses and hiking trails nearby if that’s your thing. Make no mistake – the rooms and casino are about as bare bones as they come. But you’d be hard pressed to find a better desert oasis on a budget than here. Ocean Village, Dominican Republic While most tourists flock to the resort-filled Punta Cana, you’ll find a lot more affordability, fewer crowds, and more authentic Dominican adventures, food, and culture in Puerto Plata. On a recent visit to Ocean Village, I swam at the on-site private pool, took several naps on the sundeck hammock, lounged around at the nearby beach resort and infinity pool, and even surfed with locals using Airbnb’s new Experience listings. Beautiful, relaxing, and affordable are all three adjectives that perfectly describe Puerto Plata. The Inn at Thorn Hill, New Hampshire Like Southern California, New England can be prohibitively expensive. That’s not the case at The Inn at Thorn Hill, however; this budget stay is a 2019 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice winner located in the famously beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. "The perfect couple’s getaway,” “One of the 10 most romantic inns in North America,” and “Most amazing B&B ever” have all been used to describe the four-diamond lodge. With loads of free amenities, namely parking, internet, hot tub, spa, fitness center, and breakfast, there’s a lot to love about this beautiful property. Hallmark Resort, Oregon Few places on Earth are more timeless, rejuvenating, and/or romantic than Cannon Beach, Oregon. And few places on Cannon Beach are better than the award-winning but still affordable Hallmark Resort & Spa. As the closest hotel to the iconic and Goonies-famous Haystack Rock, this oceanfront property offers panoramic views of one of the most stunning and deepest beaches on the planet. With a variety of rooms to fit a variety of budgets, you’ll never be more than a few steps away from the sand, homemade lobby cookies, and endless scenery.

Budget Travel Lists

7 College Campuses That Are Actually Great to Visit

Back to school season is almost upon us, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your travel plans as you head back to class or send your beloved students off to school. Some of America’s college and university campuses are destinations unto themselves. We’ve rounded up the most notable campuses across the US, highlighting features like stunning architecture, diverse landscapes, and culture and activities for the whole family. Because, let’s face it, studying isn’t everything. Flagler College, St. Augustine, FL Imagine attending college in a luxury hotel? This opulent campus centers around the original Ponce de Leon Hotel and was built in 1867 by a New York oil tycoon in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style. The school is a National Historic Landmark once visited by distinguished guests like Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and Babe Ruth. Thomas Edison personally wired it for electricity and the world’s largest collection of Tiffany stained glass works resides inside. In 2018, Flagler celebrated its 50th anniversary and Flagler Legacy Tours are offered from May to August. Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY This National Historic Landmark overlooks the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains – spreading out over 540 acres. And though it dates to 1860, its architecture swings wildly from neoclassical to modern. With sweeping mansions now used as dorms, students and their families will appreciate the beauty of the Georgian revival Blithewood, the Collegiate Gothic Stine Row and Tudor revival Ward Manor. But it’s the cutting-edge Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Frank Gehry’s first building constructed in the Northeast and open since 2003, which provides this campus a solid home for theater, music and adventurous performing arts, with over 200 events open to the public every year. The main building of Rice University from inside the campus © Christian Offenberg / Dreamstime.comRice University, Houston, TX Nestled in the museum district of this busy city, Rice University consists of about 50 buildings spread across 285 acres and boasts an oasis of green space – including the over 4000 trees and shrubs in the Lynn R. Lowrey Arboretum. Of course, this is Texas, so football is a big part of campus life, and Rice Stadium, the site of Super Bowl VIII, can seat 47,000 fans and up to 70,000 people for other events. Most of the architecture is uniform in its Mediterranean Revival-style, though older buildings like Lovett Hall, named after the university’s first president, preserves medieval elements and welcomes students and families alike with its iconic Sallyport arch. The more modern Twilight Epiphany Skyspace is also a draw, and the light show is open to the public six days a week.De Pauw University, Greencastle, IN Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this Midwestern campus combines old world charm with a naturalist bent, boasting nine miles of trails in its 520-acre nature park – which encompasses fields, forests, waterfalls and even an abandoned limestone quarry. It’s also closely integrated with the lively town of Greencastle, which offers a rotating roster of performing arts and community events as well as a safe, fun space to socialize. The university’s celebrated Joyce Green Center for the Performing Arts hosts everything from musicals and theater productions to ensembles and chamber music concerts. A small Japanese style bridge on the campus of College and William and Mary © Brian Cherry / Dreamstime.comCollege of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA This campus is a bastion of history, housing the oldest collegiate building in the US, the Sir Christopher Wren Building. Named after the English royalty which chartered it in 1693, William III and Mary II, the college’s 1200 acres accommodates several other historic buildings used as both dorms and academic spaces, and the grassy Sunken Garden, best to visit in spring and fall, is a haven for students to relax, study and socialize. The Duke of Gloucester Street also links the campus to Colonial Williamsburg’s reconstructed capital – allowing for a unique relationship to the past while retaining the student body’s robust modernity. Lewis & Clark College, Portland, OR This Pacific Northwestern campus is named after renowned explorers Lewis and Clark and more importantly, is contiguous to the Tryon Creek State Natural Area. Though just over 130 acres, its location atop Portland’s Palatine Hill allows for stunning views of Mt. Hood and the over 100 types of trees that surround it. Though beautiful to look at and explore, the college’s location also inspired its LEED-certified buildings, which uses 100 percent wind power to provide electricity. The Tudor-style Frank Manor House presides over the campus architecture and includes a conservatory, a rose garden and reflection pool. Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA Proudly towering over the City of Angels atop the Del Ray Hills bluffs, you’ll be bowled over by the striking views of the Pacific Ocean as well as the proximity of Los Angeles proper. Because of its Catholic roots, there are six chapels dotted inside campus, four of which are operated by its ministry. The Spanish Gothic–style Sacred Heart Chapel is known for its intriguing and colorful stained-glass windows, while the post-modern Chapel of the Advocate designed by Frank Gehry includes a sunken entrance and an igloo-like structure with more impressionistic stained glass.

Budget Travel Lists

7 Affordable Alternatives To Europe’s Busiest Destinations

Europe’s top cities groan with museums, wine bars, hotels and plenty of tourists. But happily, the continent is also awash in destinations that promise more elbow room and less spending. From the source of Bordeaux wine to the birthplace of the Beatles, from tulip-flecked towns to island escapes, here are the spots too often eclipsed by their big-name neighbors that beg to be explored. Instead of Dubrovnik, try Pula Located in the far north of Croatia, Pula was never cast in Game of Thrones like Dubrovnik but it certainly looks the part: the city’s architecture is composed of several surviving ancient Roman structures, including a 1st-century amphitheater. In the summer months, the ancient mammoth hosts concerts and a film festival. The space that once served as a Roman forum in antiquity is now Pula’s bustling main square, hemmed in by restaurants and cafes; grab a coffee within eyeshot of the neighboring Temple of Augustus, dating back to roughly 27 BC. Beach-dappled peninsula Verudela and the verdant Brijuni Islands (declared a national park) are tempting day trips. Instead of Santorini, try Milos Home to the iconic Venus de Milo statue, this Aegean island shimmers with a beauty all its own. Over 70 beaches rim the shores, from family-friendly Firiplaka to elusive Tsigrado (reaching its turquoise waters involves shimmying down a rope ladder). Stroll through village Klima with its punchy multi-colored doors before lunch at beachside tavern Medousa. Later, watch the sunset from the Panagia tis Korfatissas church, whose dazzling viewpoint encompasses the Cape Vani gulf and the islet of Antimilos. For a good dose of antiquity, seek out the island’s ancient Roman Theater from the Hellenistic Age. Instead of London, try Liverpool The northwest port metropolis of Liverpool boasts an impressive resume: besides birthing The Beatles, it reigns as a UNESCO World Heritage City, is the home base of six-time European-cup football champion Liverpool FC, and has one of the richest collections of museums in Europe. Waterfront Albert Dock brims with cultural hotspots, including art gallery Tate Liverpool, Merseyside Maritime Museum, and immersive experience The Beatles Story for Fab 4 devotees. Eating well on the cheap is a cinch, too. Local pub the Baltic Fleet shines in cellar-brewed ales and unfussy breakfast plates, while Liverpool institution Kimos dishes out Middle Eastern and North African fare. When the sun ducks down, the Ropeswalk district thumps with live music. Read more: The Beatles Tour of Liverpool Instead of Barcelona, try León Barcelona may be known for its splashy architecture, but León more than holds its own, with a skyline thick in Gothic and Romanesque-style buildings. Gaudí made his mark here, too, with modernist masterpiece Casa Botines. The soaring Basilica de San Isidoro and 13th-century Catedral de León keep watch over the city; duck inside the latter and marvel at its vidrieras, or stained-glass windows. In the evening, peruse the city’s “old town,” or former medieval quarter, also known as the Barrio Húmedo. Translated as the “wet neighborhood” thanks to its slew of taverns, bars, and restaurants, this slice of León enjoys a hallowed tapas scene. Instead of Paris, try Bordeaux An exceptional gastronomic culture is enough of a reason to flock to Bordeaux. The city’s unceasing viticulture tradition and myriad vineyards have made it arguably the wine capital of the world; paired with an unparalleled dining scene, ranging from staunchly traditional French restaurants to fusion to food trucks, locals and tourists alike are merrily well fed and watered. Not sure where to begin? Bordeaux’s tourism board has debuted a downloadable wine guide, and the city also hosts museum Cité du Vin, dedicated exclusively to the grape. The Musée des Beaux Arts and CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, meanwhile, pamper art enthusiasts. Instead of Amsterdam, try Leiden Wedged in between Amsterdam and the Hague, the city of Leiden proves delightfully Dutch: think gabled houses, crisscrossed canals, and a smattering of windmills. Its art game is strong, too, as both the birthplace of Rembrant (look for various tributes to the artist around the city) and the home of Museum De Lakenhal, which displays paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. On Wednesdays and Saturday, hundreds of stalls set up shop in the city center, hawking everything from flowers to gouda cheese. Sunny days, meanwhile, call for a visit to the leafy green sprawl of the botanical gardens, where the very first tulip bulbs in the Netherlands were planted in 1593. Read more: Save Big in Europe's "Second Cities" Instead of Venice, try Bassano del Grappa Venice’s strife with mass tourism has raged for years; if a budget-friendly, serene holiday is what you’re after, swap the floating city for nearby Bassano del Grappa. A little over an hour from its noisier neighbor, this medieval hamlet sits at the foot of the Venetian Prealps and gazes out onto the Brenta river. Wooden bridge Ponte degli Alpini gives a lovely view of the town, made up of craggy mountains and charming arcaded streets. Unsurprisingly, grappa, a nostril-clearing distillation made from the discarded skins and pulp of wine-making, originates here. Sample some at local favorite Grapperia Nardini. If Venice is an absolute must, save it for a day trip; connecting trains run daily.