Skip to main content

5 off-the-beaten-path historic sites you should visit

The best places for historical travel that aren't as touristy

An airplane mid-flight
Pixabay

Everyone has their own parameters when it comes to defining the best places to travel, but I myself lean toward historical sites and destinations that aren’t overrun by tourists. That typically means choosing places to travel to that are more off the beaten path, and maybe even somewhat difficult to reach.

If you are of a similar disposition, I have suggestions. Below are several outstanding travel experiences that are somewhat fringe compared to the typical fare. Some are more accessible than others, but all offer heaping portions of history and are unfrequented by the usual tourist hordes.

The Trojan Horse.
Nick Hilden

The ancient city of Troy: Çanakkale, Turkey

The charming port town of Çanakkale is located a scenic three-hour drive or bus ride south of the city of Istanbul, and it’s here that you’ll find what remains of the ancient city of Troy, best known as the setting of Homer’s Iliad. The ruins span 10 different settlements over 4,000 years, and some are astoundingly well preserved.

Çanakkale itself is a fun place to spend a couple of nights. Looming over its port is a mockup of the Trojan Horse that was used in the bad but fun movie Troy, and throughout the town, you’ll find an abundance of tasty restaurants, bustling bars, and random shopping opportunities.

There are plenty of buses to Çanakkale from which you can catch a shuttle to the Troy site, but I recommend renting a car in Istanbul and then stopping by en route to Izmir, which is five hours farther south.

My Lai Memorial.
Nick Hilden

My Lai Memorial: Sơn Mỹ, Vietnam

Just south of Danang on the coast of Central Vietnam is the town of Sơn Mỹ, where you will find the memorial to one of the most infamous atrocities of the Vietnam War: the My Lai massacre, during which over 500 civilians were murdered by U.S. troops.

At a glance, the memorial seems like a recreation of a tranquil rice paddy, but as you explore the grounds, you come across the remains of several homes and other structures that were destroyed in the massacre. There is a temple dedicated to the victims and a pair of monuments over what had been mass graves. The whole place is outright haunting and serves as a stirring, if strangely peaceful, reminder of the horrific nature of war.

To reach it, you’ll need to fly to Danang and stay either there or in Hoi An. From there, bus access does exist, but your best bet is to rent a motorbike. Google Maps says the ride will take just over two hours from Danang, but don’t trust it. In reality, it ends up being more like just over three hours each way.

The ruins of Carthage.
Nick Hilden

The ruins of Carthage: Carthage, Tunisia

Just outside of Tunis on the upper shore of Tunisia is Carthage, a quaint suburb with a big backstory. This was once the capital of the Carthaginian Empire, which for a time was Rome’s greatest enemy. The two essentially spent a century at war 2,000 years ago, and after Carthage very nearly defeated Rome, the latter finally triumphed over the former and razed the city to the ground before building their own series of settlements.

Today there are astoundingly well-preserved ruins from both eras scattered all over the city. The Baths of Antoninus are among the most popular, as visitors can explore the remains of an extensive complex. Nearby you’ll also find the vestiges of the original Carthaginians on Byrsa hill, excavations of a Roman circus, theater, and amphitheater, as well as the Punic Port that for a time made Carthage the supreme naval power in the Mediterranean.

You’ll fly into the Tunis-Carthage Airport. Book a place in Tunis if you’re more into urban bustle, restaurants, and markets, and stay in Carthage itself if you’re looking for tranquility.

John Steinbeck Museum.
Nick Hilden

National Steinbeck Center: Salinas, California

A lot of people are familiar with or fans of the writing of John Steinbeck, but few ever make it to the museum in his honor. Here you’ll find an abundance of artifacts pertaining to the great author, including his DIY camper Rosinante that he used to van life his way (long before van life was a thing) across the country while researching his novel Travels with Charlie.

Steinbeck spent most of his life in Salinas, and there are sites relating to him all over, including his grave and Cannery Row, which he immortalized in his novel of the same name. About 45 minutes south in Big Sur you can visit a bonus literary site: the Henry Miller Library. Tucked in the woods just off the highway, this bookstore and performance venue operates in a house that was once frequented by the author, who had bought it for a close friend.

Salinas is just under two hours south of San Francisco. The drive between the two isn’t all that impressive, but if you head south to Big Sur the coastline will blow your mind.

Palenque.
Nick Hilden

The archaeological site of Palenque: Chiapas, Mexico

While this is probably the most popular of the destinations included on this list, Palenque also tends to be one of the more overlooked pyramid sites in Mexico because it is — for all practical purposes — out in the middle of nowhere. Located in the lush hills of Chiapas, the Palenque pyramids are stunningly well-preserved Mayan structures just outside the modern-day town of Palenque.

Part of what makes the Palenque experience so impressive is the process of getting there. The fastest way is via a two-hour drive from Villahermosa, but this small industrial city is not the most attractive starting point. Instead, fly into San Cristobal then drive a gorgeously gradual five or six hours north from there along a route that — while certainly beautiful — is not for the faint of heart. You can also fly into Merida to the north and then take a relatively straightforward seven-plus-hour drive that is definitely long, but it provides access to cenotes and a few great little towns along the way.

Editors' Recommendations

Nick Hilden
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nick Hilden is a lifestyle and culture writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Afar…
Need travel inspiration? These are the best places to visit in June
Yosemite National Park water and mountains

Yosemite National Park Rakshith Hatwar via Unsplash

With its mix of spring and summer, June is an ideal time to get away. There’s a lingering freshness in the air, but there’s also a sweet warmth inching in. It’s a time to be outside, experience nature, and take in new places. Not only that, but since peak crowds haven’t arrived, you could score a deal on airfare and lodging.

Read more
This is the best time to visit Iceland
The best time to visit Iceland depends on what you want to do and where you want to explore
Gullfoss Falls Iceland during midday.

Iceland is one of the most fascinating countries in the world: an oversized island of fire and ice between North America and mainland Europe in the North Atlantic. While this island is somewhat larger than Ireland, Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe, which means Iceland abounds in open spaces and natural wonders. And with Reykjavík as its cultural center, Iceland touts additional great lures, from a thriving art and music scene to intriguing cuisine and colorful architecture.

One of the country's greatest features has to do with its positioning. Being so far north, Iceland is treated to wildly long days right around the summer solstice. The weather tends to be cool and wet, but it's compensated for by the hyper-extended days. During June, the sun there tends to set around 23:00 (or 11 p.m.) and come up around 4:00 (or 4 a.m.). It's prime time to cross things off your Nordic bucket list, like driving around the whole country via the gorgeous Ring Road or trekking up north to dip in the restorative waters of Mývatn. But when is the best time to visit Iceland? Keep reading and we'll give you a guide.
What happens in a year in Iceland?

Read more
Lake Quinault’s 33-mile rainforest tour transports you to a fantastical world
Lake Quinault offers a magical outdoors experience
Moss and Lichon covered tree in the Quinault Rainforest

The Olympic Peninsula offers all of the outdoor attractions you could want: mist-enveloped mountains, pristine lakes, rugged coastal cliffs, and one of the best national parks in Washington state.
But most unique is the 1.3 million acres of enchanting old-growth rainforest, seemingly lifted straight from the pages of a fairy tale.
Most visitors flock to the Hoh rainforest to witness the iconic moss-covered trees, but the Quinault Valley offers a less crowded, equally stunning experience.
For those seeking an intimate and informed connection with the Quinault Rainforest, the one-of-a-kind 33-mile Lake Quinault Tour weaves comfort, educational rigor, and unrivaled access into the valley's hidden gems.
Here's what you can expect on the Lake Quinault Tour, alongside helpful tips on how to make the most out of your time in this otherwordly region of Washington.

What to expect on the Lake Quinault Rainforest Tour

Read more