Castle Hill Lighthouse on Narragansett Bay in Newport, Rhode Island.

Vacationing at the end of the summer can sometimes mean being stuck in a crowd of other August travelers trying to squeeze in a trip before the season is over. Instead of picking a stereotypical summertime hot spot, consider some of these  alternatives that are less crowded with tourists this time of year, including winter destinations that offer discounted deals in the summer months, small cities that lie in the shadows of larger neighboring locales, and spots that are simply too gorgeous to overlook.

Here are five alternatives to popular summer destinations for a unique, uncrowded, and memorable vacation.

 

Popular vacation destination: New York City

Amazing alternative: Providence

If you want to visit the east coast, why not try Rhode Island’s capital? Unlike NYC, Providence is a college town that gets a little quieter as it empties of students during the summer.

Providence Rhode Island skyline.

Providence, Rhode Island skyline.

Known as America’s Renaissance City, Providence is certainly historical, but it is also eclectic with everything a tourist can want. One thing that is for sure is you won’t go hungry during your visit. Not only is it home to Johnson & Wales University, globally recognized as one of the best institutions for culinary arts and whose graduates oftentimes stay in the area to work, but the entire city is a foodie’s dream come true. Downtown is peppered with dining options from pizza places and fast food restaurants to a smorgasbord of diversity in the form of Mexican, Asian, Middle Eastern, European and New American restaurants that are both family and singles-friendly and alive with musical entertainment. And if Italian food is among your favorites, hop over to Federal Hill, the city’s Little Italy.

As one of the oldest cities in the US (and one of the 13 original colonies), many of the historical landmarks that reflect 19th and 18th century architecture are open to the public for tours. Among these is the John Brown House, a mansion that was once the home of John Brown (a major benefactor of the Ivy League Brown University) and visited by prominent historical figures like George Washington and John Quincy Adams. Providence also boasts cute boutiques, remarkable sculptures and nationally-renowned theaters that showcase a strong performing arts culture.

Castle Hill Lighthouse on Narragansett Bay in Newport, Rhode Island.

Castle Hill Lighthouse on Narragansett Bay in Newport, Rhode Island.

If you want to break your time between sightseeing and the seaside, head to one of the many gorgeous beaches on the nearby Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts.  Skip over Cape Cod, which is a sardine-can tourist-packed alternative, and try any one of the several little beach-side towns, like Little Compton, that are the area’s lovely little secrets.

Narragansett Beach, Rhode Island.

Narragansett Beach, Rhode Island.

And don’t miss the chance to experience Water Fire, a public event that blends artistic expression with spiritual and community symbolism. During this event, 100 fire lanterns flow along the river through the city’s downtown area. Keep in mind that there are only a couple of these showings in August (it is mostly a fall event), so plan accordingly if you want to enjoy this experience.

 

Popular vacation destination: London

Amazing alternative: Ireland

Are you craving a taste of Europe, but are unsure whether you’re mentally prepared for the crowded August peak vacation season? While droves flock to England, why not head to Ireland? This is the perfect place to go for cool weather, luscious landscapes, thousands of castles, cathedrals, and more charming pubs than you can imagine.

Doonagore castle, Co. Clare, Ireland.

Doonagore castle, Co. Clare, Ireland.

While the well-known cities like Dublin, Galway and Belfast are must-sees, make your trip memorable by adding some unique stops along the way, like the breathtaking 2,000 year old Cliffs of Moher, whose landscape inspired centuries worth of Celtic folklore, myths, legends and witch stories, and where bird watchers and photographers spot over 20 species of seabirds. Or, jump back in time while visiting Kilkenny, home to Ireland’s Medieval Mile, which extends from the 13th-century St. Canice’s cathedral (and its 9th century tower) to the 13th-century Kilkenny castle and 16th century Rothe House and Garden.

Ocean and O'Briens Tower on Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Ocean and O’Briens Tower on Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

Known as the Marble city due to the natural limestone that makes up many of the shiny pavements and buildings, Kilkenny is also chock full of pubs, including the Kyteler’s Inn Pub which was originally owned by Alice Kyteler, the woman whose story instigated the first witch trial in Irish history. .

ireland

In addition to immersing you in history, Ireland will also tickle your nerdy side. Do your best impression of a Hogwarts student while visiting the library at Trinity College (and sneak a peek at the Book of Kells), or spend a day acting as a member of your favorite Westeros clan during a Game Of Thrones tour in Belfast and Dublin.

ireland

And the summer is a time riddled with festivals: boat festivals, cultural festivals, horse races and drinking fests are on the agenda throughout the country all season long. Guinness, anyone?

 

Popular vacation destinations: Finland, Norway, Denmark

Amazing alternative: Iceland

Are the Nordic countries on your bucket list? While much of northern Europe is breathtakingly beautiful, few places in the world are as ethereal as Iceland. In fact, parts of the countryside feel so otherworldly that fantasy movies and TV shows are consistently filmed there.

Thingvellir National Park. Southern Iceland

Thingvellir National Park, Southern Iceland.

August is one of the best times to visit and though it’s also the country’s busiest season, the crowds may seem minuscule for tourists from most American or European cities. In Reykjavík, the capital, you can enjoy striking architecture, late-night clubs, and adventurous expeditions through nature, not to mention a diverse assortment of museums. The days are also long and you can expect between 16-18 hours of sunlight to help you see as much as possible.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, Iceland

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, Iceland.

Unparalleled natural landscapes are the main magnets that attract tourists to Iceland and its three major national parks. To the southeast is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, a mixture of fresh and salt water covered in chunks of floating ice. These glass mirrors of calm water reflect surroundings that include a painter’s palette of colors from blue and pink skies to black ice and sand, and turquoise glaciers.

Icelandic Ponies

Icelandic Ponies

Then, located 40 km east of Reykjavík, is Thingvellir National Park, the location of the oldest Parliament in the world, as well as one of the only spots where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge can be seen on land. Last, but certainly not least, is the 700,000 year old volcanic site built atop alternating lava and ash, known as Snæfellsjökull National Park. Located on the west coast, Snæfellsjökull is a spot for discovering caves, bird watching, and hiking.

Skyline cityscape of Reykjavik, reflected in lake Tjornin.

Skyline cityscape of Reykjavik, reflected in lake Tjornin.

In Iceland, you can also go swimming in a geothermal beach or the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, check out local festivals, drive around the perimeter of the country on its Ring Road for more photographic opportunities, and ride on Icelandic horses.

Hot spring Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

Hot spring Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

Summer is also the only time the roads open to the Highlands, the center of the country. More glaciers, volcanoes, nature reserves, mountains, deserts and hot springs than you can fathom are all part of the ecosystems in this virtually untouched part of the world.

 

Popular vacation destination: South Florida

Amazing Alternative: Mexico

In a hotspot with over 40 miles of beach lined with turquoise blue waters, the south of Florida is muy caliente (bienvenido a Miami), but don’t overlook the 6,000 miles of coastline in Mexico. The temperatures will scorch, which is why winter is a popular time to visit, but those who can handle the heat may appreciate the reduced airfare, hotel prices and decreased tourism.

Norten beach on colorful Isla Mujeres island near Cancun in Mexico

Norten beach on colorful Isla Mujeres island near Cancun, Mexico.

Cancun will answer the prayers of party-seekers, but in August it also attracts families with thoughts of water parks, day and dinner cruises, and zoos. For a bit more sophistication, visit Playa del Carmen, and those who want to submerge can find one of the best snorkeling and Scuba diving sites in the world in Cozumel.

The lagoon of fresh water just next to Caribbean Sea in ecological park on Cozumel

The lagoon of fresh water just next to Caribbean Sea in ecological park on Cozumel, Mexico.

Then again, maybe snorkeling followed by yoga and exploring old ruins are more your pace? In that case, head to Tulum, which is also among the smallest and quietest beaches on the Mexican coastline. This relaxing little getaway might make you want to curl up on a hammock with a book and is filled with relaxing spas, but don’t overlook the hiking opportunities through Mayan archeological sites.

People swimming in Dos Ojos cenote, located 20 km from Tulum.

People swimming in Dos Ojos cenote, located 20 km from Tulum.

 

Popular vacation destination: Los Angeles

Amazing alternative: San Francisco

California conjures thoughts of summertime, convertibles, surfers’ waves, and beautiful, friendly people, so considering it as the location for your summer vacation is a no-brainer. And while it’s true that Los Angeles is where you will find both the happiest place on Earth and some of the best Mexican food without going to Mexico, the smog and traffic may be enough reason to avoid it and skip right on over to San Francisco.

The Painted Ladies of San Francisco, California.

The Painted Ladies of San Francisco, California.

The Golden Gate City is home to miles of waterfront, beautiful yet underrated beaches, and weather that is much cooler than in its southern counterpart. While it is the most densely-populated city in the state,and the second most densely populated city in the US, the vibe is welcoming and relaxing. Don’t let the jaw-dropping 10,000+ people per square mile make you overlook the countless and assorted neighborhoods that offer distinctive experiences from ritzy hotels and hipster bars to quieter “small town” streets. And no matter which part of the city you choose to visit, bring a camera as there is lots to see. One of the more popular spots is North Beach, the second “Little Italy” on this list, filled with cafes and restaurants. Here you can climb to the top of the 210-foot Coit Tower for panoramic views, picnic on the luscious green Washington Square, and absorb the beauty of the 19th-century Saints Peter and Paul Parish.

View of North Beach and the San Francisco Bay from Coit Tower, in San Francisco, California.

View of North Beach and the San Francisco Bay from Coit Tower, in San Francisco, California.

And don’t forget to enjoy the winding streets over the rolling hills, traversed by bright cable cars, that are as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Famous Lombard Street in San Francisco at sunrise

Famous Lombard Street in San Francisco at sunrise.

While the Mexican food may not compare to what you can find in LA, the other cuisines are widely known for their excellence and authenticity. Culinary diversity is strong in San Francisco and the area is especially known for delicious Filipino and Caribbean food. You can also find plenty of farmer’s markets (like Ferry Building Marketplace), where locals and tourists enjoy spending their days.