Discover the 10 best slow travel destinations

Taking time out of the rat race is certainly a worthwhile pursuit; while you might not be making money, you’ll be making room for something infinitely more valuable in the long run. Though a privilege, slow travel can bring a whole new perspective to our everyday lives, allowing for full cultural immersion and the joy of learning new phrases and even new skills, guiltlessly indulging in some self-care at the spa or beach when needed. Once the lethargy of working life wears off, you’ll feel energised and stoked to navigate yourself in wholly new cultures, from the cloud forests of Costa Rica or the geisha districts of Japan, it’s entirely your call! So clear your schedule and get inspired by our 10 favourite slow travel destinations below.

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What Is Slow Travel?

Slow travel is not about the cruising speed on your rental, nor is it about your means of transport, instead, it’s about how you experience each destination. While you might be able to whiz round the main attractions in a half-day, slow travel forces you to decelerate and take more in. This way you’re more likely to form connections with locals and enjoy unhurried chats with all who you meet. Besides that, slow travel allows you to fully relax in the knowledge you have nowhere to be, no train to catch and no obligation to keep track of time.

Just like the slow food movement took off in 1980’s Italy to push back against the rise of convenience foods like McDonald’s, slow travel is the alternative to all-inclusive stays where authentic culture often lies just beyond the resort walls. Instead, slow travel will take your nose out of the guidebook and into the real world, finding the most fragrant coffee houses and freshest markets within reach, learning customs, language and local lifestyles along the way. Not only is this a much more eco-friendly way to travel – relying chiefly on your two feet and maybe a bicycle to get around – but it is also cheaper and less stressful than a fly-by weekend trip can be.

Photo: Cottonbro

Photo: Ketut Subiyanto

Slow travel is not for everyone

Before joining the slow travel movement, ask yourself whether it is really for you. Certainly, it can be an enriching way to travel, but some people may prefer the excitement of discovering a new place every day. If you’re on a tight budget or have a specific set of attractions you need to see, slow travel may frustrate you with its lack of structure and/or action. That being said, there’s also lots you can learn from slow travel without having to spend a lot to make the best of it. Chances are, even if slow travel is not for you, you’ll learn something about yourself in the meantime, which surely can’t be a bad thing!

How to travel slowly and the best destinations

There’s no right way to be a slow traveller but following some basic concepts can help you to switch gears. Firstly, avoid the pricey hotels you may usually be drawn to for convenience and instead opt for a vacation rental à la Airbnb, HomeAway or TripAdvisor. A short-term (or even long-term) rental can be much more cost-efficient, but bear in mind that most apartments are rented out a week at a time, likely Saturday-to-Saturday. Alternatively, a home exchange can be a cool way to save money, allowing you to tap into a ready-made community of your host’s friends and neighbours, and maybe even a free car!

Eating out at restaurants is of course a great way to sample local foods, but if you have the skills to cook for yourself, this is the perfect time. Visit the local fish market in the morning, stocking up on fresh produce, bread and wine to accompany your catch. You may surprise yourself by rediscovering how fun grocery shopping can be, rustling up a mean evening meal and saving money in the process.

Photo: Marius Venter

1. Kyoto, Japan

Staying a while in Japan is like bathing in Epsom salts; you’ll feel serenity seeping into your body and elevating you to whole new level of ease. Japan as a whole stretches across five main islands but this time we’ll stick to Honshu Island and the Kansai region, home of the cultural capital of Kyoto. A firm favourite on the tourist trail between Osaka and Tokyo, Kyoto is too good to miss, writ large with some 2000 temples and shrines which climb impressively into the hills, overlooking traditional machiya streets run through with teashops, food markets and zen gardens. Regardless of whether this is your first time in Japan, Kyoto has an endless range of things to see. Rent a bicycle to travel between temples such as Kinkaku-Ji and markets like Nishiki, passing through quintessential torii gates and over trickling streams, maybe catching a glimpse of a shy geisha girl along the way.

Pleasing to the stomach as well as the eyes, Kyoto is a dream for foodies, elevating common dishes of ramen, sushi, udon and tempura to whole new levels of refinement. You may want to refrain from blowing your entire budget on any amount of artisan tea, paper or textiles, and instead save your Yen for authentic experiences. Try a traditional tea ceremony or onsen bath, joining the seasonal crowds for cherry blossom watching in spring, when matcha sundaes sell out quick time. And among all of this, you’ll have your ryokan base, growing used to your indoor slippers and tatami mat bed until you never want to give them up. Learn more of the city’s nightlife and attractions with our Kyoto travel guide.

Kyoto | Photo: Masaaki Komori

2. Canmore, Canada

The quieter more secretive sister town of Banff, Canmore shares equal access to the Canadian wilderness, thanks to its position way up in the Rocky Mountains. Just 20 minutes outside of Banff National Park, Canmore offers a less commercialised alternative for visitors keen on taking it slow. The historical town itself comes kitted out with a leisurely mix of cafés and art installations, with hiking adventures beginning right in the town centre, such as at Policeman’s Creek. As well as being a great base to begin multi-day hiking tours into Kananaskis Country, Canmore is great for getting to know the local culture, staying at an eco-hotel or residential apartment doors down from yoga and relaxation activity centres, as well of course phenomenal skiing at affordable rates.

Canmore | Photo: Nick Linnen

Canmore, Canada | Photo: Ezra Jeffrey Comeau

3. Pranburi, Thailand

Retrieve your harem pants from the back of your closet as Thailand beckons for a second (third, fourth or fifth) visit. Rather than chugging fishbowls in the chaotic capital or enjoying trance music on a party island, however, we move instead to Pranburi, where rural Thailand stretches out as if in a dream. A tranquil region towards the west of the Gulf of Thailand, Pranburi comes layered with rolling hills and pineapple farms inlaid with dirt tracks and the winding Pranburi River. To Thailand what Kerala is to India (albeit with fewer honeymooners), the region offers up beautiful landscapes which come crazy cheap and authentic to make for the ultimate slow travel destination.

Prepare to get dusty on the roads around Pranburi as you explore the wilderness and jungle-laden peaks surroundings. While motorbiking is certainly an option, other thrilling rides include paddleboarding along the mangroves or kiteboarding, cable wakeboarding and paragliding from the coast. For the latter, travel to the mouth of the Pranburi River to reach Pak Nam Pran, a small commercial hub where boutique beach resorts meet traditional fishing lifestyles in reach of day trips to Skull Mountain within Thao Kosa Forest Park.

Thailand | Photo: Sippakorn Yamkasikorn

4. Costa Rica

Never far from our minds is the winning Central American nation of Costa Rica, a place brim-full with sustainable stays, unknowable rainforests and a biodiversity like nowhere else on earth. Almost made for slow travel, Costa Rica allows long-term visitors to touch the soul of the nation by way of wellness retreats and conservation programs, with all manner of adventure activities to be had along the way. While some might prefer to take a yoga or meditation course, others may be better suited to surfing school or one-off ziplining through the jungle canopy. Wherever you base yourself, you’ll never be far from dozens of attractions, including bat-filled caves and volcanic mountains, all on rainforest national parks and wildlife refuges that cover 28% of the nation’s land. Anglicised as ‘Pure Life’, Costa Rica is a place to remove yourself of the toxins and stresses of modern life, floating through mangroves or rafting over white water for as long as time allows. Discover the best places to unwind with our article of the best yoga retreats in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Credit Zdenek Machacek

Photo: Zdenek Machacek

Costa Rica | Photo: Asap Story

5. Granada, Spain

Bedecked by the hilltop citadel of Alhambra Palace, Granada is Andalucía’s crowning glory, bringing a whole new take on Spanish culture thanks to its Moorish tastes and textures. Not far from the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a site known for Europe’s most southernmost ski resort, Granada is both a city of cultural heritage and unbounded natural wilderness. Right in the heart of things, beyond a series of ornate arches, lies Albayzín the historic Arab quarter and the last stronghold of the Spanish Moors. This is the prime place to try Middle Eastern street food before resting a while in a traditional tetería (teahouse) beside landscaped gardens, all while enjoying the sweet contrast of Islamic and Christian architecture on streets painted in subversive graffiti. For a lofty view over Grenada, stay in a lodge or apartment in the whitewashed hilltop settlement of Cádiz where the air comes heavy with orange blossom and memories of both bullfighters and troubadours remain. Enjoy the views over some tapas, naturally, saving your energy for action-packed evenings centred on bohemian bars, cafés and an intimate flamenco club or two.

Granada | Photo: Dimitry B

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Bedecked by the hilltop citadel of Alhambra Palace, Granada is Andalucía’s crowning glory, bringing a whole new take on Spanish culture thanks to its Moorish tastes and textures

6. Siargao, Philippines

A series of over 7,500 islands, the Philippines could easily take a lifetime to explore in its entirety. Thankfully, we’re going slow and many of these islands are inhabited anyway, making it somewhat easier to land on Siargao as your base. Pronounced ‘shar-gow’, this teardrop-shaped island offers up much in the way of tropical wilderness – waterfalls, lagoons, limestone peaks and the like! – all bordered by prime beach real estate. As yet unspoiled by development, the waves are always up around the island making for a wicked surfing vacation any time of year, basing yourself out of any of the low-key resorts or apartments on the main stretch of coast between General Luna and Cloud Nine in Dapa township.

Sparsely populated, holding 200,000 people in comparison to Bali’s four million, Siargao maintains its remote island heritage, at large across coconut woodlands and mangrove forests fed by twisting rivers on the journey to the Dapa Channel. While navel-gazing in a hammock is certainly a top thing to do, wildlife watching is also a reason to visit, with native marine and mammal life all around, from rockpool to jungle.

Photo: Lorenz Narbs

7. Tuscany, Italy

In a country where take-out coffee is seen as sacrilegious, what better place to learn of the slow life than in Italy herself. As well as being serious about savouring their beans, Italians turn Sundays into marathon feast days, stretching a several course meal out over three hours, followed by a passeggiata (digestive stroll) and an hour long nap. In Tuscany especially, it’s not just the food and drink that stops Etruscans in their tracks, it’s also the seductive quality of the region itself, particularly at sunset when the River Arno turns pink and the medieval streets of regional capital Florence buzz with romance and al fresco nightlife. Besides the big city, Tuscany is littered with townships and villages and the hills in between lie fragrant with world-famous wineries, olive groves and wheat fields. Stay in the cultural city of Florence, soaking up Renaissance history and art or drain your credit card dry in any of the artisanal boutiques about town.

To live like a local, however, get your wine from the source and make the best of slow food travel by dining at a cucina contadina (farmer’s kitchen). From there, move north to the mountains for hiking or biking tours or south to Sassi di Matera for a UNESCO-recommended stay inside a heritage cave residence.

Tuscany, Italy | Photo: Rowan Heuvel

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A sleepy beach town turned eco-friendly hippy haven on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Tulum still has all the right elements to be the perfect slow traveling destination, particularly if you know how to dodge the crowds

8. Tulum, Mexico

A sleepy beach town turned eco-friendly hippy haven on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Tulum still has all the right elements to be the perfect slow travelling destination, particularly if you know how to dodge the crowds. Tulum is home to arguably the best beach in Mexico (a hard shout) in proximity to the mighty Cobá ruins, and though it can get crowded along the town’s main drag, visitors who rock up at a beachside bungalow can rest assured they’ll find the peace they’re looking for. If money is no object, Tulum can provide you with a heady selection of boutique apartments, but the more hippy-oriented bungalows and camping spots can be just as memorable and infinitely cheaper.

As well as beachfront, Tulum boasts some outstanding regional attractions, in particular, the Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka’an and the secluded fishing village of Punta Allen. Alternatively, just stay put and bask in the sunshine around the indigenous town, checking in at a wellness resort or yoga hotel when things get too much. This isn’t our first rodeo; Mr Hudson has been here before, judging the 10 best hotels in gay Tulum.

Tulum | Photo: Anna Sullivan

Photo: Austin Distel

9. Theth Valley, Albania

Coming to the forefront as the trendiest new European travel destination, Albania is a little piece of underrated heaven. For our first time, we choose to go north into the  Accused Mountains to rest on Theth Valley. The small village here is unassuming, with just a handful of modest guesthouses and farms, lacking the hotel complexes and gentrified cafés we’ve come to expect elsewhere. And that’s exactly the beauty of Theth Valley; it’s authentic nature blessed with an incredible Albanian Alps backdrop. The roads leading to the valley can be a little sketchy at times so it’s advised you take the shuttle bus from Shkodra (10 EUR), saving your efforts for hiking from Theth to Valbona on the Valbona Pass Trail, or even taking on the multi-day Peaks of the Balkans trail. Stay a while in Theth either side of the hike, winding down in a rustic guesthouse overlooking the valley where you’ll likely be served farm-to-table fare and as much homemade wine as you can handle.

Theth, Albania | Photo: Sara Darcaj

Photo: Roman Odintsov

10. New Zealand

As far as we’re concerned, you’d have to be out of your mind to want to do a whistle-stop tour of New Zealand’s best bits. New Zealand was made for slowness, by the ancient Maori gods who formed the land into an endless natural playground, from the mountains, bays and lakes of the South Island to the rolling hills and rocky beaches of the North Island where most Kiwis settle. While the North Island’s cosmopolitan cities of Auckland and Christchurch are worth a weekend, it’s Mangawhai and Hahei that make for the most memorable stop-offs. Mangawhai brings boho vibes and museum culture while Hahei meanwhile offers up its green village and access to Mercury Bay, Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.

Back on the South Island a while, Wanaka draws us first with its Maori heritage and protected landscapes that upstage Frodo Baggins in the Hollywood blockbuster trilogy and more recently Oprah Winfrey in A Wrinkle in Time. Live like a hobbit (or a talk show host) in one of the area’s ecolodges, moving out to Picton for more slow-life bliss among a choice of hip cafés, galleries and seafood restaurants spread out along the colour-changing waterfront – the perfect base to rest before exploring the Marlborough Sounds valleys. Then in Akaroa, find British and French history at play as well as hiking, kayaking inside a volcano (!) and general all-round adventure. We say for all of that you’ll need longer than two weeks!

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New Zealand | Photo: Tim Grundtner

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