Travelers love Paris, Rio and Rome because they’re tried and true. It’s hard to go wrong vacationing with the classics, and it’s difficult to deny that they’re all worth the cash. But at its core, a vacation is meant to offer a departure from the norm — and you can’t get much further from the norm than underwater museums or islands full of cats.
To help you plan your trip, GOBankingRates sourced round-trip flights from New York City and nightly hotel rates for late September into early October. If you’re seeking a truly unforgettable vacation worth the money, click through to discover the best offbeat destinations around the world.
The ‘Cat Island’ of Aoshima, Japan
- Flight: About $820 to Matsuyama, Japan
- Lodging: $50 to $100 nightly
Japan is known around the world for being a little quirky, and it has not just one but about a dozen “cat islands.” Among them, the fishing village of Aoshima offers a weird combo of abandoned buildings and an abundance of felines.
If your idea of a good time is a world in which cats outnumber humans, this is your spot. With about 100 fluffballs, the cats on Aoshima outnumber the island’s human population six-to-one — and the tourists outnumber the citizens, too. Even better, Japan is a great place to visit while the U.S. dollar is strong.
Edward James’ Surrealist Wonderland in Xilitla, Mexico
- Flight: About $400 to Tampico, Mexico
- Lodging: $55 to $130 nightly
If you want to see something weird or unusual, look no further than the property that belonged to English poet, artist and patron of surrealist art, Edward James. After fleeing metropolitan life — including a 300-room mansion in England — for the jungle, James constructed more than 36 surrealist statues over the course of 20 years, starting in the 1960s.
He called his “Surrealist Xanadu,” which ended up costing him millions of dollars, Las Pozas. Today, you’ll still find the wonderfully bizarre fruits of his labor spread across 20 acres of verdant jungle. Flights and lodging costs are similar to that of a vacation in the states, and tours of Las Pozas in English cost just under $15.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge of Key Largo, Fla.
- Flight: About $155 to $255 to Miami
- Lodging: $800 nightly, all-inclusive
Jules’ Undersea Lodge might be one of the pricier destinations on the list, but it’s also one of the most unique. For two guests, $800 per night scores you meals and lodging in an unexpected place: underwater. To get to your room, you’ll have to dive 21 feet down through the tropical mangroves of the Emerald Lagoon.
Once at your digs, you’ll find a clubhouse-like enclosure complete with hot showers, a media library, sea-life viewing windows and even — wait for it — underwater pizza delivery. The catch: To stay, you must be a certified scuba diver, or take the on-site Discover scuba crash course for an additional $95.
The Giant’s Causeway in Bushmills, Ireland
- Flight: About $710 to Islay, Scotland
- Lodging: $80 to $410 nightly
Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway — a massive rock formation of 40,000 natural columns shaped into strangely perfect hexagons — is a wild attraction millions of years in the making. Volcanic eruptions formed layers of basalt that cooled in the water and cracked in regular patterns. Over time, the rocks were meticulously smoothed by glaciers and the ocean, and the iconic Causeway was born.
Gaze at the site’s uncanny majesty, where you’ll see formations like the Giant’s Boot and the 167 rock stairs of the Shepherd’s Steps. You can also enjoy the modern and sustainable award-winning architecture at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, which opened in 2012.
Akihabara District, Tokyo’s Electric Town
- Flight: About $840 to $985 to Tokyo
- Lodging: $75 to $155 nightly
The Akihabara District of Tokyo is one of the best nerdy destinations on earth. CNET called this destination a “mecca of cheap electronics and gadget goodness.” The eight-story Yodobashi Camera, which blares its own poppy theme song from its loudspeakers, is the largest electronics store in the world.
But it’s the otaku culture that’s the heartbeat of modern Akihabara Denki Gai. Otaku translates to “fanboy” or “fangirl,” and that’s just what you’ll be on vacation here, surrounded by massive artworks of anime characters, tons of manga shops, bins of video games and thousands of DVDs to sort through. Not to mention, there’s lots and lots of cosplay. Basically, it’s an overwhelmingly colorful slice of Tokyo where every day is Comic Con.
Cancun’s Underwater Museum
- Flight: About $300 to $385 to Cancun, Mexico
- Lodging: $150 to $1,000 nightly
You know all about some of the world’s most famous museums, like the Louvre and the MOCA — but what about the MUSA? At the Cancun Underwater Museum, 475 statues await you. But you’ll have to snorkel to see them.
As the vast collection of wonderfully weird artwork is already hosting algae and coral growth, the eerie submerged museum is also the world’s largest artificial reef. Alongside the sculptures, you’ll witness schools of fish, rays, turtles and other marine life, meaning that $58 ticket packs in quite a lot of value. As a major tourist hotspot, Cancun’s hotels also cater to just about every price range, from value-minded to ready-to-splurge.
Salvation Mountain in Imperial County, Calif.
- Flight: About $395 to $425 to Imperial, Calif.
- Lodging: $45 to $90 nightly
Nobody’s ever accused Imperial County of being a U.S. tourist hotspot, but it does have one incredibly recognizable and photogenic destination that welcomes all comers. Created by artist Leonard Knight, Imperial County’s Salvation Mountain is a celebration of love.
Standing at 50 feet high and 150 feet wide, this massive technicolor-painted rock formation boasts more than just its famous “God is Love” proclamation. Explore a bit, and you’ll find hand-painted depictions of nature, an inscription of the Sinner’s Prayer and a wild recreation of the Sea of Galilee at the bottom.
Travelers can sleep cheap at hotels in nearby El Centro, while experienced vagabonds with a sense of adventure might consider camping in the adjacent hippie colony of East Jesus. Either way, it’s a vibrantly weird slice of Americana.
Copenhagen’s Hippie District: Freetown Christiania
- Flight: About $460 to Copenhagen, Denmark
- Lodging: $175 to $380 nightly
Here’s one for the freewheelers and wild at heart. Founded by hardcore hippies occupying abandoned military barracks in 1971, Freetown Christiania is a majorly eco-friendly and totally car-free colony completely outside of the jurisdiction of the Danish government.
There, you’ll find lots of cheap and fresh-picked health food, homemade living spaces, stalls selling illegal hash and heaps of crafts. There’s also a local blacksmith, bike rentals and a bastion of the LGBTQ community known as Gay House. Enjoy live music at local venues like The Grey Hall, Loppen and Nemoland. If counterculture is your culture, Christiania might just be your jam.
Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
- Flight: About $900 to $1,100 to Kiruna, Sweden
- Lodging: $180 nightly for a regular room for two at Icehotel
Icehotel is exactly what it sounds like: a hotel made entirely of ice. If that’s somehow not weird enough for you, this Jukkasjärvi destination has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It’s also a full-on art exhibition, and every year the Icehotel — created from the waters of the river Torne — completely changes its design.
If you happen to get bored of the chilly galleries, bars and restaurants carved from ice, you can pop out of your snow palace to feed local reindeer, petting zoo-style, or even check out the northern lights.
Hostel Celica in Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Flight: About $565 to $635 to Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Lodging: $25 to $125 at the hostel
For another outside-the-box art adventure, the uber-hip Hostel Celica in Ljubljana offers a vacation spot in a place you’d least expect: the reformed interior of a military prison. Today, Celica is a self-described “funky youth hostel” with a big emphasis on sustainability and socializing. Each of the 20 rooms is entirely unique, and each is surrounded by distinct art.
There’s no curfew here, and activities like exhibitions, workshops, performances, mixers, barbecues and cocktail parties go down on the regular. Lonely Planet once named Celica the No. 1 hippest hostel in the world. With rates starting at just $25 nightly, its worldly weirdness is more than worth your cash.
More Hostel Adventures: Hostel Your Way Around Europe on the Cheap
*Unless otherwise noted, round-trip flight estimates provided by Skyscanner, departing from New York City. Lodging estimates provided by Hotels.com, based on nightly rates for two guests. Prices were current as of Sept. 3, 2017.
About the Author
Dan is an honors graduate of western Kentucky’s Murray State University and has been a freelance writer and full-time creative since 2009, in addition to co-founding and co-owning two active media production businesses – one for the west coast in Los Angeles, California, and one for the east in Cincinnati, Ohio. As an independent creative professional with a scroll-like resume of both blue collar and white collar experience and a longtime business writer, Dan has been fortunate enough to publish with the likes of Chron.com, Fortune, The Motley Fool, Career Trends, Bizfluent, MSN Money, Legal Beagle, San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, USA Today, Builder’s Capital, Salon.com and Zacks.com, among others. He’s also offered his words to such diverse brands as ASUS, Kellog’s, Discover, Sony Pictures, Samsung, Linksys, LIVESTRONG, Office Depot, Canon Inc., Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation and Verizon, as well as frequently writing in the fields of entertainment, travel, fitness, lifestyle and fashion.