While some cities can leave you wanting more, others leave you disappointed and wishing you didn’t just waste your hard earned bonus. And then, there are destinations that exceed all your wildest expectations.
When reviewing the most under and overrated cities in the world, I realised the difference is only a matter of opinion—what one would call overrated, is likely to be another’s favourite. When I travel, I want an authentic experience that showcases the region’s culture. I want to be surprised by the food and landscapes, and I want to be thoroughly confused by the language and fascinated by the local customs.
On this list, I describe cities that I would never return to and cities that I would visit time and time again. This list is only this traveller’s opinion, your’s may differ.
Medellin, Colombia — Overrated
Medellín, Colombia was underwhelming in every sense of the word. In recent years, I saw the popularity of the city grow on social media forums as one of the best places to work abroad, and the surge of digital nomads supported that theory. Yet, I didn’t see what all the hype was about. It’s the second largest city in the country, but for me, it is a city lacking any character. Simply put, it’s a large monotone city with a good metro system, but lacks any flavour.
Guatapé, Colombia — Underrated
Not to far from Medellin (about a two-hour bus ride) there’s a little town by the name of Guatapé. It’s a small town that celebrates the cultural history of Colombia. It has a more traditional flare, consisting of vibrant buildings, with homemade tile detailing even the smallest surfaces. The town is scattered with traditional shops, such as shoemakers. It was everything that I was hoping Medellín would be.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Overrated
Dubai is another city that I have no desire to ever visit again and I am not alone. Suzanne Garber, chief networking officer at International SOS (a traveller assistance company), called Dubai the shopping mecca of the Middle East, so if shopping is your passion, you may love this city. Suzanne says of Dubai, “Where else can you ski inside a mall in 90 degree heat? But, guess what? The whole place is fake! Get a real life, go to a real mountain, and ski in real temperatures. You don’t need to go to Dubai for this.”. I’m not a big fan of growing displays of rapid development either, so unless you admire manufactured and engineered wonders, I feel the city itself lacks any real culture.
Busan, South Korea—Underrated
Busan, South Korea hosts some beautiful views of mountains and beaches, alike. The little town has a collection chic cafes, coffee houses, and is well known for its abundant and fresh seafood. It’s a large city with all the amenities you’d expect, such as department stores, movie theaters, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants—all surrounded by traditional South Korean culture. Just crowned Lonely Planet’s 2018 top destination to visit in Asia, the city offers a range of outdoor activities to entertain you, including hiking, surfing, skiing, and snowboarding. You can bike the entire peninsula from Busan to Seoul, and as major port city, Busan’s is a jumping off spot to explore close by islands.
“Busan is an awesome coastal city in South Korea,” says Natalie Laine Williams, a former resident and fellow avid traveller, “full of mountains and beaches! Your visa will expire long before you have time to check out all the tempting cafes and restaurants.”
Maldives — Overrated
I often spot the Maldives on luxury blogs; blogs that feature the crystal clear blue waters with extravagant eco-resorts—a scene that looks like it should be the screensaver on my laptop. The beauty is real and not overrated, however parts of the Maldives are hard to access, you can’t just island hop and wander in. “Advance approval is normally required to visit most non-resort islands, other than the capital island,” warns the Foreign Office. Not very welcoming at all.
Galle, Sri Lanka — Underrated
Skip the all-inclusive package deals of the Maldives and, if you have to, swim to Sri Lanka instead. Offering a more authentic experience, Sri Lanka has landscapes and ocean views that rival the Maldives and is much more welcoming, too. If you want a more down-to-earth experience, go to Galle, a charming coastal city with a fascinating blend of culture. Built by the Dutch in 1663, the city displays a balance between modern and old-world architecture, with ancient Mosques and churches, grand colonial-style buildings, and contemporary museums. Relish in the tranquillity of quiet streets, enjoy the tropical scenery, relax on beautiful beaches (with great diving and surfing spots), and experience a lively shopping district, featuring local handmade crafts of lace and wood carvings. Lonely Planet calls Galle “the timeless song of the sea.”
We all have have different desires and expectations of what kind of experience we want when travelling. For me, I want to feel completely alien in both in landscape and culture. I was surprised that the more I travelled, the more often the destination or experience didn’t live up to my expectations. But I was also pleasantly surprised when I found a destination that was far better than most people led me to believe.