The 'Hidden Gem' Travel Destinations That Are No Longer Hiding

Some hidden gem hotspots are now facing challenges with overexposure, a new analysis shows.

If you're an avid traveler, you're probably drawn to uncharted territories and on-the-rise destinations that have yet to be touched by the vacationing masses. To put it simply, you're probably always on the hunt for those oh-so-rewarding hidden gems.

But some of them might not really be hiding anymore. On the contrary, they are metaphorically on display in a museum—which surely doesn't help your goals. It also doesn't help the issue of overtourism, which is having a pronounced impact on the global tourism industry right now. As experts have warned, the presence of too many tourists can lead to both environmental and structural damage, and can have repercussions on the local economy by negatively affecting rents and prices.

Some former hidden gems are now at an overtourism risk as a result of the growing buzz around their "untouched" nature. If you do know which ones they are, though, you can choose to avoid them, and opt for more sustainable (and actually hidden) destinations.

Holidu, the vacation home rental agency, just released results from a recent study which analyzed and ranked which "hidden travel gems" don't really deserve the qualification anymore. To do so, the team took a list of 100 destinations that credible travel sources and magazines have cited as hidden gems, and then looked at the number of times that travel journalists included them in an article in the last three months. Additionally, they also factored in the average number of Google searches for each destination, and ended up ranking them on these parameters.

The most unhidden hidden gem according to the study is Italy's region of Puglia. According to the Puglia Tourism Observatory, the number of visitors there has been increasing by a lot in the last few years, witnessing an 11% uptick in the first 10 months of 2022 compared to pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

Second on the list is Riga, Latvia. According to the study, the average number of Google searches each month is 365,000, and in the last three months alone the city has been mentioned at least 132 times in travel articles. The numbers make sense, and they translate well in actual tourism data too. As the Riga City Council reports, bookings for 2023 indicate that by the end of this year, at least one million tourists will have visited the Latvian city.

Croatia's capital of Zagreb closed out the top three on the ranking, counting as many as 371,000 average Google searches each month. The Croatian Tourism Board can confirm—overnight stays in Zagreb increased by 20% this year compared to 2022, with 1.1 million of them between January and June 2023. Thanks to its gorgeous cities and delightful beaches, Croatia has become an easy target for tourists visiting Europe, but it has been leading to overtourism issues in different parts of the country. Dubrovnik, for example, has been named the most overcrowded tourist spot in Europe.

Take a look at the complete ranking of the not-so-hidden hidden gems below, featuring the number of travel journalist mentions in the last three months as well as the average number of monthly Google searches:

1. Puglia, Italy–278; 330,000
2. Riga, Latvia–132; 365,000
3. Zagreb, Croatia–116; 371,000
4. Plymouth, England–207; 201,000
5. Vilnius, Lithuania–131 ; 276,000
6. Annecy, France–99; 357,000
7. Asturias, Spain–112; 203,000
8. Faroe Islands, Denmark–70; 431,000
9. León, Spain–223; 107,000
10. Baku, Azerbaijan–61; 401,000

Of course, landing on this list doesn't necessarily mean a destination has already become overcrowded, but it's something to be mindful of when planning your trip and setting your expectations. 

That said, where can you go that has some buzz but isn't too crowded still? Below, you can find a ranking of the more realistically true hidden gems according to the study featuring the same data as the list above:

1. Kulikalon Valley, Tajikstan–0; <10
2. Adishi Georgia–0; 150
3. Guacalito De La Isla, Nicaragua–0; 1,100
4. Vipava Valley, Slovenia–0; 1,100
5. Bahamas Out Islands, Bahamas–1; 250
6. Principe Island, São Tomé and Príncipe–0; 1,500
7. Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazi–0; 2,000
8. Ore Mountains, Germany–2; 800
9. Eastern Highlands, Zimbabwe–1; 1,700
10. Lake Bacalar, Mexico–1; 1,800

To take a look at the complete study, you can visit this website.

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.