HIDDEN GEMS FROM AROUND THE WORLD REVEALED BY LOCALS
In recent years, the majority of savvy travellers have chosen to swap traditional tourist spots for more off the beaten path hidden gems. These often remain a closely guarded secret of the locals who have the privilege of admiring these not so sought after locations in their true beauty and tranquillity. Less crowds and fanfare frequently means you can discover the true essence behind the culture of the visiting country, an immersive experience which will provide lasting memories, presenting a truly authentic travel experience.
As the notion of travelling like a local has gained much popularity amongst the travel community, what better way to compile a list of hidden gems and spots which hold a special place for locals than to take their personal recommendations with us on our future trips?!
So notepads and mental noting at the ready for some hidden gems from around the world by some travel adoring local adventurers. Think historical castles, urban islands, beautiful European parks, cloud blankets and oasis like city gardens to mention a few.
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Clifton Nurseries, Little Venice, London, UK
By Kirsty Marrins of What Kirsty Did Next
Related Article: Cool Things to Do in Paddington, London
Kirsty is fortunate to live within walking distance of Little Venice, near Paddington. If you’ve not been to Paddington before, or if you’ve not been for years, you’ll be forgiven for thinking it’s just home to a famous train station and a certain bear from Peru. Paddington is now such a bustling, vibrant part of London with lots of restaurants (some of them are boats), bars and cafes along the canal. And of course it’s also home to Little Venice, named by Lord Byron who compared this part of the Grand Union Canal to Italy’s Venice in the 1800s.
But Kirsty wants to share her favourite hidden gem in this area – Clifton Nurseries. Less than a ten minute walk along the canal from Paddington Station, or a two minute walk from Warwick Avenue station, you’ll find Clifton Nurseries. It’s set down a long passageway off the street, in a residential neighbourhood and is London’s oldest garden centre. It’s been inspiring gardeners since 1851!
It’s an oasis of calm in central London and a lovely place to just surround yourself in nature. There are several glass houses to explore, and Kirsty’s favourite is the cacti and succulent glass house. She often can’t resist buying something! Within the grounds, there is also an independently owned cafe, Flotsam & Jetsam café, where you can enjoy all day brunch or coffee and cake.
It truly is a hidden oasis in London and one which Kirsty loves to visit.
Location: 5A Clifton Villas, London W9 2PH
La Casita del Pescador, the Fisherman’s Little House. Madrid, Spain
By Cristina Gomez of Memories of the Pacific
Everybody has heard of the magnificent large artificial lake, where you can rent a rowing boat and the Crystal Palace in the heart of Madrid’s most famous park: El Retiro. However, not many people know about this little hidden gem: La Casita del Pescador, the Fisherman’s Little House.
This cute pink house is surrounded by a pond and is adorned with paintings and Italian frescoes. Cristina hasn’t had the chance to go inside but I’ve heard there are two rooms also decorated with Italian inspired paintings.
Located in the northeast of the park, king Fernando VII used to fish here back in the 19th century. After the war of independence, Retiro Park was pretty much destroyed and king Fernando VII did his best to restore it. One of the many things he did for the park was to commission the construction of this lovely building: La Casita del Pescador. This fairy tale house was abandoned for some time but later on it has served multiple and varied purposes such as pigeon loft, library, Tourist Office and most recently it works as an animal adoption centre.
Retiro is an incredibly beautiful park by itself. Wandering its paths and finding charming romantic fairy-tale spots like this one always bring a smile to Christina’s face. She loves visiting the park during different seasons and seeing how the colours of the trees and the light change during the year. La Casita del Pescador is a delightful place that will surely make you fall in love with Madrid.
Location: P.º de Fernán Núñez, 28, 28009 Madrid, Spain
Kirby Muxloe Castle, Leicestershire, UK
By Bejal Gosai of Be-lavie
Related Article: Beautiful Castles to Visit in the UK Inspired by Films
The centrally located county of Leicestershire is home to Kirby Muxloe Castle, which remains unexplored by many locals let alone visitors further afield. Located just off the end of a residential street, and with a backdrop of beautiful walking paths, this castle is most definitely an unexpected surprise that you stumbled upon accidentally.
This picturesque fortified mansion was built for Lord Hastings, who was dramatically seized and executed by Richard III in 1483. The work on the castle began in 1480, when it was founded on the site of a pre-existing manor house and throughout the years had undergone much work and renovation. After the death of Lord Hastings, his widow could not complete the works for it to be fully finished and so has always remained as you see the red brick building today.
The castle grounds comprise of an atmospheric moat, a finely erected gatehouse and a complete corner tower. It looks pretty impressive from the front but the best views are those from the rear. Take the adjacent path along the side of the castle and walk all the way around and you’ll be blown away. A complete feast for the eyes with a generous helping of peace and tranquillity surrounds you. The only sounds to waft pass are those of the geese and ducks paddling away gracefully on the large moat before you. Take a pew on one of the benches and let your imagination prevail the history of the castle and what went on within those brick walled ruins.
The castle is the ideal location to enjoy a picnic in the grounds whilst admiring its glory but that’s not all. The Castle has been extensively conserved by English Heritage. Bejal says English Heritage Members are in luck as it’s possible to go and visit inside and get up close and personal with a slice of Medieval history.
Bejal says bring a book, a picnic hamper and blanket or just get lost in your thoughts, Kirby Muxloe Castle is a must for your Leicestershire itinerary!
Location: Off Oakcroft Ave, Kirby Muxloe LE9 2AP
Valanari Stream. Athens, Greece
By Naya Lou of Lifestyle but Not
When gathering around the breakfast table in a hostel somewhere on the coast of Ecuador or when chatting with that Aussie backpacker couple in Kuta Bali and everyone was sharing their favourite place back home for the others to visit Naya would always stay silent and just say “oh just come to me when you come to Athens”. She would say, ‘I’ll share my favourite bars’ because truthfully Naya didn’t want anyone to know about her hidden Athenian gem because it was hers! She’s often say go to the Acropolis, it’s more than enough after all!
But especially for you readers, Naya has made an exception but with a caveat, you promise to keep what she reveals a secret because there’s a waterfall in Athens that only a handful of people know about.
Valanari stream is one of the last of its kind so close to the city centre (just a 30 minute drive from Athens) and located in an area called Ntrafi. It creates a six metre waterfall that has water all year round but depending on rainfall of course it changes in volume and on occasions there are two cataracts rather than one.
Due to constant wildfires Ntrafi is not as green as it used to be but the area surrounding the waterfall is lush and it’s somewhat of a sanctuary for birds like sparrows, owls, hawks and grouses!
Naya says park your car on the side of a residential street and hike a steep dirt path shadowed by fig trees down the little gorge. You’ll hear the running water and possibly local teens chatting and five minutes later you’ll see before you, a shoulder deep pool and the double waterfall! After a dip go find a spot under the trees along the stream and get lost in your own magical world just like Naya.
Location: Drafi of Pendeli
Pearl Lake State Park, Colorado, USA
By Susan Heinrich of Midlife Globetrotter
Pearl Lake State Park in Northern Colorado is a hidden gem in winter. The campground closes between October and May, other than the park’s two camping yurts. This area of northern Colorado is known for its “champagne powder”, snow so light that skiing through it feels as though you are floating. While on a yurt adventure at Pearl Lake, Susan learned that while powdery snow may be ideal for skiing, it produces only a small amount of water when melted for doing dishes.
Washing dishes in snowmelt may be inconvenient, but it comes with incredible mountain views and a state park to yourself, other than a smattering of day visitors. The hike into the yurts is just over a kilometre, far enough that you can’t see your car but close enough that carrying all the gear is manageable. From the yurts, a pretty mountain landscape stretches out in every direction. The snow is so deep here that snowshoes are required if you venture off the paths that the park service keeps shovelled. The lake is a short hike from the yurts and offers the chance to try winter ice fishing. And Nordic skiing is located just a few minutes away at the Steamboat Lake Ski Centre.
The Pearl Lake yurts are set on wooden platforms and furnished with bunk beds, and a table and chairs, perfect for cards and board games. They have electricity and lights, but no running water – vault toilets are a short walk away. Natural gas heaters keep visitors toasty warm even on the coldest winter days.
After a day of skiing, Susan likes to light the campfire and watch the sunset beyond the Rocky Mountains. When the fire goes out for the night, it’s time to stargaze; being far from the city lights offers the chance to appreciate the twinkling stars and the milky way’s river of light.
Beyond Pearl Lake, another five of Colorado’s state parks offer yurt rentals which cost between $60 and $90 a night.
Location: 61105 Rcr 129, Clark, Colorado 80428, USA
Park Špica Ljubljana, Slovenia
By Petra Jan of Erratic Engineeress
Park Špica, which translates to “the pointy tip” in Slovenian, is a large green area on the banks of the Ljubljanica river. Even though it is located only about a ten minute walk away from the busy Ljubljana city centre, it has a quiet, peaceful feel to it and is a great place to catch some sunshine during any season.
It used to be the town beach in the past and you’ll still hear locals saying we’re going to the beach when they want to meet at that part of the embankment, but nobody swims in the river anymore, both due to some pollution and the dangerous undercurrents. Although Park Špica has been very nicely renovated recently and the café there has a sort of beach bar vibe to it, it is not actually that popular and is large enough that it is rarely overcrowded, so it is one of my favourite places to go on a short walk. The Ljubljana tourist office also offers picnic baskets with traditional Slovenian food that you can take there during the summer and that is an experience I always recommend to both locals and visitors.
What Petra loves about park Špica the most is that it is so green and forms a real contrast to the city centre, so it can almost feel like going out in nature even when you’re pressed for time. You can see lots of beautiful weeping willows on the banks of the the river and there are always lots of animals around, such as ducks, swans and other birds, as well as large families of coypus in the recent years, which are very used to people and like to hang out on the bottom steps close to the river.
Location: Gruberjevo nabrežje 20, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
The Tsavo, Kenya. Africa
By Harpreet Ubhi of Harpreets Wanderlust: Footsteps Across The Globe
One of the silver linings of the pandemic for Harpreet finding acres of diamonds in her own backyard. Being grounded at home meant that travel took on a new meaning, that of rediscovering parts of Kenya and embracing the concept of slow living. The luxury of checking in to places for a lot longer than a fleeting weekend was soul fulfilling, allowing for more immersive experiences.
A park that is like coming home for Harpreet is The Tsavo. While not so much a hidden gem for Kenyans anymore, this is a safari destination that is off the usual tourist track and so, is still quite special. Harpreet’s favourite part of the beautiful landscape is the chain of the Chyulu Hills, which are adorned with ancient forests spanning back hundreds of years.
Harpreet has walked through the forest barefoot, feeling the cool earth beneath her feet, under the canopy of green. The feeling of being at home with nature is one that evokes immense peace, and so, on a recent trip, she went back to the forest at dawn for a different experience: that of walking amongst a canopy of clouds. Harpreet experienced, climbing up the hill in the darkness of the early morning with an element of mystery, battling the wind and being licked by wispy swirls of mist. Trusting the moment, she walked on until arriving at the top, where the magic started to unfold: watching the sky turn from inky black to purple, and then watching the world slowly wake up as the fiery orange sun rose and filtered through the clouds and in the light of day, Harpreet was surrounded by clouds and a feeling of peace.
The Cloud Forests of the Chyulu Hills are one of few left on this planet, and Harpreet feels incredibly lucky to have witnessed this great spectacle of nature, at home.
Location: Tsavo National Park, Kenya
Governors Island, NYC, USA
Tori Chiarello of Above The Plumtree
Governors Island is one of the least talked about, most amazing island in New York City. If you’ve been to NYC before, it’s a great alternative to Central Park. If you haven’t been to NYC it’s definitely something to add to your list. This year is the first year in history that it will be open year-round.
172-acre island in the heart of New York Harbour. You can see New Jersey, Manhattan, and Brooklyn from the island. The island was originally for the Leape tribe who used it for fishing and hunting. In 1775 it became Fort Jay, and was a military base for the US Army, then the Coast Guard until 1996. In 2003 the island was handed over to the city and the state of New York. The ability to visit and have fun there has only been possible since 2004 after they had done a ton of renovations to the island.
You can get to Governor’s Island by taking a ferry from Lower Manhattan in The battery Maritime Building which runs daily. Alternatively, from Pier six in Brooklyn Bridge Parkor from Atlantic Basin in Red Hook, Ferries are free at weekends.
There is so much to do on the Island. Tori recommends dropping by the Instagrammable swanky bar/restaurant, Island Oyster. History lovers have a peruse at Castle William, a former prison and army barrack dating back to 1807.
Tori suggests renting a bike from Blazing Sadddles or even staying at Collective retreats overnight but top tip, drinks are pricey so swap a water for a cocktail as it’s more than worth it!!
Governor’s Island is perfect for kids and adults. Children will love the longest slide in NYC that’s 57 feet long and three stories tall and adults will adore all the artworks in the arm buildings around the island. There are great photo ops – the Statue of Liberty and the skyline of Manhattan are spectacular.
Location: 800 yards from Lower Manhattan
Parque de La Batería, Torremolinos, Spain
By Cristina Reina of My Little World of Travelling
Related Article: The Best Things to do in Torremolinos
When visiting Costa del Sol, you cannot miss the opportunity to explore beyond Malaga. Torremolinos is a popular destination for family holidaymakers because of the wide range of accommodation near the beach, water activities and friendly atmosphere. It is also less expensive than other areas in Costa del Sol such as Marbella.
Despite being known as a tourist destination, you can also find hidden gems within Torremolinos. One of Cristina’s favourite spots is Parque de La Batería, a beautiful park located in the north of La Carihuela neighbourhood. Its name, Battery Park, comes from the old defensive artillery battery that was located here, and nowadays you can still see some of the cannons and underground bunkers.
The park has over 74,000 square metres of green spaces with incredible things to do. One of the main attractions of this park is its beautiful 900 metres artificial lake where you can rent a boat and have fun with your loved ones. However, you will also be amazed by the Venetian-style sculptures you can find in some of its fountains across the park and the observation tower.
The 15 metres tall observation tower is a special place to enjoy the panoramic views of Torremolinos. You will see the coast, mountains and town from one point. The views are even better at sunset.
The park also includes kids attractions such as a lovely carousel with plenty of carriages and a large play area.
Not only is the park full of impressive features but it is less known by tourists which makes it a relaxing place to visit any time of the year.
Location: C. Decano Antonio Seoane, s/n, 29620 Torremolinos, Málaga, Spain
The selection of hidden gems are sure to have made you want to go out and explore beyond the regular tourist spots and next time you’re crafting your perfect itinerary, why not include some of. these special, almost secret locations to your trip?!
Feature Photo Courtesy: Harpreet Ubhi
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