We all have pictures in our heads of these places. We all have something in mind when we think of Dublin, or The Pyramids, or the Australian Outback, but behind every place on Earth, there is so much more than that picture in your head. Sometimes, that picture might even be completely wrong in the first place. Whether you’ve never been somewhere or you’ve spent your whole life there, a change in perspective can completely change what a place has to offer you.
This article will show you 25 places across the world that either have a lot more to them than meets the eye, or are completely different to what you would expect from them. Some of these entries focus on entire cities that have an entire side to them that most of us don’t know about, while some of them focus on single places that we think of in ways that are completely inaccurate.
Regardless of what you like to see when you travel—whether that be exploring world-class cities or trekking through jungles, delving into history or just a bowl of noodles—almost every place on the planet has sides to it that you wouldn’t expect. So keep an open mind, stay curious, and explore these places that are completely different from that picture in your head.
25 The Pyramids Of Giza - Literally Right Across The Street From Pizza Hut
For over 4,000 years, people have wondered how the ancient Egyptians built the Pyramids of Giza, and for good reason. These ingenious monuments were built as tombs, but modern engineers still aren’t quite sure how exactly they were built.
The pyramids are the only one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of The World still standing and the world has clearly changed around them. Just across the street lies Giza City, one of the largest in Egypt. There is one famous spot in the local pizza hut where tourists gather to get a picture of the pyramid with the hut logo on top.
24 The Louvre - Way *Bigger* Than You Might Expect
Unlike its most famous resident, the actual building is ginormous. The building houses over 38,000 pieces of art over the size of a 0.75 million square foot building stretching several city blocks. If you’ve been one of the 8 million tourists a year who have visited the museum, then I’m sure the sheer size of the place came as a bit of a shock.
Most people know it best from the glass pyramid in the center, but a lot of people don’t know that this is just the entrance and that everything else around it is also The Louvre. There’s so much in there that it would take hours to even scratch the surface.
23 The Mona Lisa - Way *smaller* than You Might Expect
I’m sure by now that you’ve heard about how small the Mona Lisa is and how crowded the room in The Louvre always is. It certainly felt... underwhelming, at least for me.
The giant bulletproof-glass frame is several times larger than the actual painting and there are always two guards just sitting and watching, right in front of the popular painting.
It seems a little strange to wait in line to stand in a huge crowd to get a glimpse from far away of the tiny painting, especially when there are thousands and thousands of other amazing works of art to see in The Louvre.
22 Greenland—Bigger Than You Might Think. Or Is It..?
If you take a look at your average map, you might be surprised to see how massive it is. It looks to be about the size of South America or twice the size of Europe. The crazy thing though, is that it’s not. According to an article by Mental Floss, a lot of this misconception is the result of distortions from the popular Mercator Map—misconceptions that are going to have to be there in some way to be able to turn the Earth into a map.
This confusingly sized country is also the least densely populated territory on Earth with only about 50-some thousand people on the island. While Greenland is usually quite cold over the year, there are some beautiful sights making it a worthwhile visit.
21 The Aussie Outback
This is probably what you expect when you think of the Australian Outback—open skies, red earth, rolling planes, etc. While this is very much the case for a large part of the Outback, this area stretches all the way into the tropics, through monsoonal areas as well.
The area is largely void of human development. It remains one of the few places on Earth where Indigenous peoples are able to retain large parts of their cultures beside diverse wildlife and more traditional industries.
While tourism has been increasing in recent years, it has caused relatively little tension with Indigenous Australians and has even become a major marketing point for Australian tourism. If you are interested in ecotourism or if activities like camping appeal to you, check out the Outback.
20 Cape Town, South Africa - surprisingly modern and cosmopolitan
With a well-documented history, South Africa should be in a pretty poor position. However, the country remains one of the richest and most powerful countries on the continent. Cape Town especially is a very modern and cosmopolitan city, full of food, sports, and art.
If you’re looking for a nice city to go visit on vacation, it might seem a little surprising to throw Cape Town into that list, but there are plenty of reason to consider it.
The city also has some wonderful coastal areas and beaches to explore away from the hustle and bustle of the downtown region.
19 Lagos, Nigeria - The Most Advanced City In Africa
The capital of Nigeria is perhaps the most advanced city in Africa, and with a population of roughly 20 million, Lagos happens to also to be the most populous in Africa. Uniquely, the city consists of not only what is on the mainland, but also several large islands immediately off of the coast, providing diversity in scenery and culture throughout the city.
Lagos is famous for its extensive music scene that can take credit for birthing at least half a dozen different styles and the nightlife is some of the best in Africa. No matter what you’re looking for, Lagos most surely has it.
18 Madagascar - a diverse wildlife sanctuary
Perhaps one of the world’s best kept secrets, Madagascar is supremely unique. Researchers estimate that over 90% of the wildlife in Madagascar can’t be found anywhere else on Earth, giving the island nation the potential to become a major hotspot for ecotourism. If you are interested in this type of responsible and low-impact tourism, then you would struggle to find anywhere better than Madagascar.
Unfortunately, much of the country still lives in poor conditions and has few opportunities for education. However, the government has been focusing on further developing a strong tourism industry that will hopefully be able to improve the quality of life for the Malagasy people.
17 Tierra Del Fuego-- What's At The End Of The World?
It doesn’t get much further South than Tierra Del Fuego. This land encompasses hundreds of islands in the very South of Chile and Argentina and is primarily known as being the ‘end of the world.’ It’s difficult to know what to expect here and you’d probably be surprised at what you could find. There are many small towns in the area and an extensive array of wildlife including penguins, sea lions, and whales.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful natural spots in the world, this increasingly popular tourist destination hasn’t lost any of its charm in recent years, making it one of the most exciting destinations on the planet.
16 Panama Canal - A Modern Wonder Of The World
Situated in the thinnest stretch of land in the entirety of the Americas, the Panama Canal has greatly expedited global trade, taking in about 5% of all global trade. Built in a valley between mountains, the Canal offers plenty of gorgeous views and is occasionally cited as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
It takes about 45 minutes to drive from one end of the Panama Canal in Panama City on the Pacific side to the industrial city of Colón. If you’re interested in the history behind the Canal, there is a fantastic museum in the Western end of Panama City.
15 Antigua, Guatemala - A Town Stopped In Time
In a small valley in the heart of Guatemala, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, lies this spectacular relic of colonial Guatemala. This town looks as if it has been frozen in time and is completely unlike anywhere else in Central America. The iconic Arco de Santa Catalina (pictured above) and Cerro de La Cruz (giant cross on a hillside overlooking the town) are both emblems of the Catholic Spanish colonists.
The massive Volcán del Fuego overlooks the town, rather ominously as it is still active and still erupts from time to time, causing massive damage. It certainly makes for a breathtaking view over the city stuck in time.
14 The Mississippi Delta—America’s Forgotten Wilderness
There are so many beautiful places across the United States that it’s difficult to remember all of them. While the more popular locations like Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon will always pull the most visitors every year, there are relatively underappreciated parts of the country that could compete.
This 200-mile long floodplain certainly has a dark history which has led to a deeply unique area that has become the home of jazz and blues along with a very unique version of Southern cuisine.
This likely won’t be the first place you think of when planning a U.S. road trip, but you will certainly have an experience here unlike any other across the country, and the views are continuously breathtaking.
13 The Alamo - More Than Just An Obnoxious Saying
As famous as just about any other US landmark, The Alamo is not only tinier than you would expect, like the Mona Lisa, but, similar to the Pyramid of Giza, it’s also smack-dab in the middle of a city. Last time I was in Texas, I literally drove right past The Alamo from the hotel and didn’t even realize it.
According to thealamo.org, there is plenty to do there, such as annual events and a tour, but if you’re going to San Antonio just to see it, you might want to plan some other activities—of which there are plenty in this fascinating and underrated city.
12 Japantown, San Francisco—Just Some Buildings
Another place that you wouldn’t expect to look like it does, Japantown in San Francisco is the oldest and largest Japantown in the United States. There are several festivals throughout the year and plenty of Japanese restaurants and shops. The only thing is that it’s basically all indoors. Japantown is essentially a few malls connected through some walkways with one open, walkable street for pedestrians. The inside is, of course, awesome, but far from you might expect considering this ‘town’ is much more like a mall than anything else. It is definitely worth a stop if you want a unique experience and some great food.
11 Detroit - Not As Scary As You Think
What comes to mind when you think of Detroit? Probably nothing good. While Detroit used to be a major economic powerhouse for the United States, following a number of economic hardships, the city has gotten a bad rap. However, there is plenty to love about the city today. Many of the ancient mansions have been repurposed, such as The Whitney.
This one-time lumber baron estate now houses a fine dining restaurant and the Ghostbar. In just the last several years, many progressive restaurants and cocktail bars have been opening up in the city. These in tandem with extensive urban gardening programs have begun to revitalize the once near-dead city.
10 Atlanta, Georgia - Stepping up its film game
Hollywood might seem like the ideal place to go to see some movie stars, but you are far more likely to bump into your favorite superhero in Atlanta. This sprawling Southern state has become, in recent years, a major hub for film and television production. The Walking Dead (pictured above), Stranger Things, and many of the Marvel films are just some that have brought in enough money to completely revitalize the city.
With over 35 million visitors every year, Atlanta has quickly become a major tourist destination, largely because of the sheer diversity of things there are to see and do here. I would highly recommend Coca-Cola World—easily one of the coolest museums I have ever been to.
9 Edinburgh Castle - towering over the city
Edinburgh is a beautiful city full of vintage shops, winding cobblestone streets, and gorgeous views, but above it all is Edinburgh Castle. This monumental landmark literally towers over the whole city from on top of a mountain right in the middle of everything. You can see it from pretty much wherever you are downtown. The castle does allow tours and is a fascinating piece of Scottish history, giving you just another great reason to visit this outstanding city. Just below the hill, you’ll find some of the best bookshops, pubs, museums, and tailors in the world, all with a fantastic view.
8 Temple Bar—More Than Just A Bar, Really
‘Temple Bar’ is a bit of a misnomer—sure, there is a bar with that name, but the phrase generally refers to an entire section of Dublin, Ireland. If a friend asks you to meet at Temple Bar, you’re probably going to have to ask “Which bar?” Weird, right?
Over the years, the term has become what it is and the area has grown to massive possibility. Several of the bars including the namesake are nearly impossible to walk through on a Friday or Saturday night because of the hundreds of people standing around. It’s probably best to explore when things are a little slower, have a pint, and make some new friends.
7 Athens, Greece - Living History
The natural associations you have with Athens are probably historical, and for good reason. The city has been able to maintain so many ancient monuments that it’s difficult to get away from them. The place is beautiful, the food is outstanding, but it’s not all good here nowadays. Greece, and especially Athens, has been hit extremely hard by recent economic hardships and the now-staggered economy has taken its toll on the once-great city.
Unemployment is way up and there is a sombre air around parts of the city, so if you’re headed there to soak in some history and some sun, you might be surprised at what present-day Athens has to offer.
6 St. Petersburg - a lot of misconceptions
Few cities are able to strike the balance between historical artifact and modern metropolis as well as St. Petersburg, Russia. While this country is easily one of the most misunderstood in the world, it is certainly able to pull in quite a lot of tourists to its major cities who have been able to correct some of the misconceptions surrounding the place.
St. Petersburg is stunning and a one-of-a-kind location with especially beautiful religious architecture and booming alternative music scenes and nightlife. The clashes of various subcultures make for a unique experience packaged into a big, beautiful city.
5 Norway - Captivating beauty
We don’t hear a lot about Scandinavia outside of great healthcare, education, quality of life, etc. that makes these Nordic nations sound like a pretty great place to live. You might not know, however, how absolutely beautiful it can get here.
Sure, it can be pretty cold, but Norway especially is packed with beautifully tidy cities and towns surrounds by some of the most underrated lakes and islands in the world. If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, consider Norway. I can guarantee that you’ll find something completely different to what you expect from this largely under-appreciated place.
4 Tokyo - Everything imaginable
Whatever image you have of Tokyo is wrong. At the very least it is woefully incomplete. This metropolis is the most populous spot in the world. Throughout the 23 special wards in the city, you can find, essentially, anything. Food, art, entertainment, nature, every kind of person or place you could possibly imagine, you can find in Tokyo.
According to TripAdvisor, Tokyo is the #1 city in the categories for ‘best overall experience,’ ‘helpfulness of locals,’ ‘nightlife,’ ‘shopping,’ ‘public transportation,’ and ‘cleanliness of streets.’ What more could you want out of a city? No matter what it is, I guarantee that Tokyo has it.
3 Singapore - Utopia, Kind Of...
My old home of Singapore is one of the most widely misunderstood countries in the world, being presented as basically a utopian society in the heart of Southeast Asia. And there is certainly a lot to this claim—one in ten citizens is a millionaire, so much of the architecture including the Singapore Flier and Marina Bay Sands are iconic, it’s the world’s safest country, it’s a global hub for pretty much anything in business, education, and tourism... I could go on.
The unique mix of cultures and influences from China, Malaysia, India and Europe makes Singapore one of the most uniquely diverse cities in the world, and one of the few where a cocktail will cost you $20 but a Michelin-star meal can cost you only $3.
2 Shanghai - it's not just skyscrapers
Shanghai is another one of those cities that just has everything. No matter what you’re looking for, Shanghai will be able to provide it.
History buff? The city has dozens of major museums and has recorded history dating all the way back to the 700’s BC. Foodie? There are 30 Michelin-star restaurants in the city and some of the best street food you could possibly imagine. Into nature? There are several major parks and forests throughout the city and immediately surrounding it that provide the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle. This is one of the most advanced and exciting cities in the world.
1 Your Own Hometown
The whole point of all of this is, of course, to explore! You don’t know what you’re going to find, no matter where you go and if you approach a place with a closed mindset, you’re going to miss out on so much of what makes that place great.
This is a mindset that you can take with you anywhere—including the places you think you may know best. I encourage you to try to be a local tourist and find whatever makes where you’re from interesting and worth visiting.
Maybe you live in a small town or maybe you’re from a major city. Regardless, there are things that you haven’t seen or done there that can completely change your outlook on your own hometown.