What makes for a romantic getaway? A lot, apparently. You want a place where you and your partner can explore. An itinerary that lets you discover something new about each other, channel your teamwork, and have loads of fun together. And of course, a sweeping land-, city-, or seascape.
Here are some under-the-radar destinations for your next couple vacation. Why settle for Paris or Tokyo? These spots are on a whole other level.
Where to go: Jokulsarlon
Jokulsarlon (“Glacier’s River Lagoon”) is a glacier lake on at the southeast side of Iceland. It’s on the edge of Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland’s largest national park. Explore the ice-scape by riding a boat. You’ll see glaciers and icebergs with the most interesting shapes, maybe even spot seals swimming in the lake. Feast your eyes on all the shades of blue. You can walk on the shore to take pictures of the scenery and get close to blocks of ice. A trip to Jokulsarlon is a unique experience on its own, made all the more special by the fact that we don’t have that in the tropics.
Pro tip: If you’re visiting from September to mid-April, stay until night and you’ll finally see the aurora borealis with your own eyes. You can see auroras at practically any dark place in Iceland (provided there are clear skies too). But Jokulsarlon is the most popular spot, because you’re out in the open, and before you stands one of Iceland’s best gems.
Trivia: Jokulsarlon is so eye-catching, it’s been the set of films like Die Another Day, Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins; as well as music videos like Bon Iver’s “Holocene” and Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You.”
Where to go: Skaftafell
Skaftafell is a mountainous region on the south side of Iceland, at the edge of Vatnajokull Glacier. You can take an easy hike to Svartifoss Waterfall (“Black Fall”) and admire not just the falls, but also the black columnar basalt formations.
There are loads of hiking trails in the area, and camp facilities are available onsite. So if you and your partner love the great outdoors, you know what to do!
Where to go: Myvatn (mee-vaht)
Myvatn is a lake created by a large basaltic lava eruption that happened more than 2,000 years ago. Krafla Volcano is nearby, and you can hike and even walk on the crater. The surrounding landscape owes its unique and dramatic shape to volcanic eruptions, like the lava pillars (you can have a good view of them from Kalfastrandavogar).
Take a dip at Myvatn Nature Bath to experience a steam bath with natural geothermal steam. Their alkaline bathing lagoon has a view of the peaceful mountainous landscape.
Trivia: Myvatn was Game of Thrones’ location for the land beyond The Wall.
Where to go: The Westfjords
The Westfjords is the “climax of Iceland’s dramatic landscapes,” according to Lonely Planet. It has bird cliffs and coastal fjords that are steep and stretch for kilometers. It’s an unpopulated area and not frequented by tourists, so you can definitely have some privacy there. There are several birds that fly around the area, so you can do some bird watching or photography, too.
Where to go: Granada
Granada is in Spain’s Andalusia region and located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Explore the Alhambra, a hilltop fortress, palace, and garden. The Alhambra is “Granada’s—and Europe’s—love letter to Moorish culture,” writes Lonely Planet. The architecture is so astounding that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll definitely feel the love as you examine the intricate arabesques that envelop the walls.
As for Alhambra’s garden, the Generalife, its pools, fountains, patios, courtyards, tall trees, and flowers are a feast for the senses. There are benches around the area for you and your partner to unwind and just soak everything in. The arbors of flowers are the stuff of fairy tales.
Where to go: Seville
Seville is the capital of Spain’s Andalusia region. Before checking out restaurants and bars for passionate flamenco performances at night, visit the Cathedral of Seville and make your way up the Giralda (a minaret-turned-bell tower) for a panoramic view of the city.
A visit to the Alcazar of Seville is a must. The palace was developed by Moorish Muslim kings in the 1300s, and it’s still a royal palace since it’s used by the Spanish royal family when they visit Seville. The Alcazar’s patios, quarters, and halls have magnificent plaster and tile work, and their designs are a balance of Arab, Renaissance, and Baroque influences. It’s no surprise that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.
Trivia: Alcazar of Seville is the set location of Dorne in Game of Thrones.
Lounge at Maria Luisa Park, and the Plaza de Espana inside the huge park. Maria Luisa Park is Seville’s principal green area. A public park has never looked so enchanting.
Metropol Parasol or Incarnacion’s Mushrooms is a great mushroom- or waffle-like structure that has a market, some shops, and a podium for concerts and events. The basement has ruins of Roman districts, while the roof has a restaurant. The Metropol Parasol also has a winding walkway that takes you to high points at varying levels and angles for unique views of the city.
Where to go: Cordoba
A trip to Cordoba—the former capital of Islamic Spain—requires a visit to Mezquita, or the Mosque-Cathedral. Mezquita is one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture, making it a World Heritage Site. While the Islamic influence inside the mosque-cathedral is evident, Catholics can hear mass there since it’s a Catholic church now. (But Muslims are also hoping they get to worship inside Mezquita.) Explore the place and take a stroll at the Court of Oranges (Patio de los Naranjos).
Medina Azahara, or “the shining city,” is the ruins of a palace-city built in the 10th century at the western outskirts of Cordoba. Interesting to explore for the ruins and their architecture, as well as imagining how life must have been like there, the site of Medina Azahara also has a museum to help you appreciate the place’s history.
Where to go: Bilbao
The capital of the Basque Country, Bilbao is a port city in northern Spain known for its riverfront landscapes and the Guggenheim Museum, a museum of modern and contemporary art.
The Guggenheim Museum, designed by architect Frank Gehry, is considered one of the most groundbreaking architecture of the 20th century. Constructed with titanium, the building manages to appear like it’s flowing. And as soon as it catches light, the Guggenheim’s facade becomes ever more astonishing.
Apart from finding works by Warhol, Rothko, and Koons inside, one Friday a month, the Guggenheim hosts a night of music and art in collaboration with a nightclub. The best DJs from Spain and around the world perform there. Make sure you check the dates early and book your tickets!
Bilbao Fine Arts Museum is the second largest and most visited museum in the Basque Country, after the Guggenheim Museum. It opened its doors in 1914 and has added new wings to cater to modern art. Now, it has over 7,000 artworks inside, a balance of ancient and modern art, as well as Spanish and Basque pieces to introduce and educate more people about the Basque Country.
Where to go: Barcelona
Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region of Spain. It’s known for its fantastical art and architecture, since designs by modernist Antoni Gaudí fill the city.
Sagrada Familia is a Roman Catholic church in the city. It’s still under construction (it began in 1882), but it’s already a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture is nothing like we’ve seen before in a church!
Park Guell is a public park where you can explore the gardens and structures designed by Antoni Gaudí. The park has been open to the public since 1926, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The designs are very intricate, colorful, and quirky.
In case you want to check out more of Gaudí's works, visit Casa Mila or La Pedrera (“the stone quarry”). It’s the headquarters of Catalunya-La Pedrera Foundation. It’s a cultural center (art exhibits, concerts, and debates are held inside) and a learning center. Like other Gaudí designs, Casa Mila is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Casa Batllo, designed by Antoni Gaudí, lies in the heart of Barcelona. It’s one of Gaudí’s several masterpieces. It’s also the house of the Batllo family, well known in the city for their contribution to the textile industry in the early 1900s.
If you feel like taking a break from art-filled Barcelona, check out CosmoCaixa with your partner. It’s a science museum, and one of the most famous ones in Europe. It prides itself in being hands-on and interactive, so you’ll definitely learn or remember some scientific laws or principles as you experiment!
Where to go: Plitvice Lakes National Park
Head for paradise by going to Plitvice Lakes National Park. It’s one of the oldest and largest national parks in Southeast Europe. It has 16 crystalline lakes that are terraced, and they cascade into one another through waterfalls. There are walkways and hiking trails around and across the water, and a ferry to link the upper and lower lakes.
Where to go: Mljet
Mljet is an island in the Adriatic that has lush greenery and a scenic lake. It’s also a source for one of the most beautiful pearls in the Mediterranean. Mljet is still unfrequented by tourists, so you can easily enjoy some peace and quiet with your partner and with nature.
Where to go: Tibet
Tibet is “the roof of the world,” according to Lonely Planet. It’s the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 4,900 meters or 16,000 feet. (The highest elevation is no other than Mount Everest.)
Being in Tibet is a spiritual experience because of how isolated and serene it is, and with several sacred sites dotting the region. Visit the grand Potala Palace, the winter palace of the Dalai Lama, which stands on the Red Mountain in the Lhasa Valley. It symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism.
Basum Tso Lake (“Three Rocky Mountains Lake”) is located at 3,700 meters above sea level. If you’re here, you’ll see clear waters, the Tashi Island (where a chapel rests), and be surrounded by snow-capped mountains and forests.
Lake Namtso (“Heavenly Lake”) is a mountain lake described to be beside heaven because of its high altitude—it’s the highest saltwater lake in the world—and pure blue water. You’ll have sweeping views of the mountains, as well as breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. The area is incredibly peaceful, with signs of city life (aka hotel accommodations) two hours away. Best time to go here is from June to September when the weather is warm and the oxygen content is higher.
Pro tip: Some tourists experience highland altitude sickness in Tibet. Some symptoms include breathlessness and difficulty falling asleep. To reduce your chances of having highland altitude sickness, don’t over-exert yourself. Drink plenty of water (more than four liters per person). Before you go to Tibet, make sure you’ve exercised, too—you need to be in good shape.
Where to go: Guilin
Li River in Guilin is known for its limestone karst scenery. You can take a three-hour cruise or ride a bamboo boat down the river. And when you do, you can’t help admiring the landscape. At sunrise and sunset, the view of the mountains is reminiscent of the classic Chinese calligraphy paintings.
The reed flute cave is a limestone cave with multicolored lighting. The lights cast shadows and create silhouettes that make stalactites and stalagmites look all the more dramatic. The cave is big enough for you to tour it.
Where to go: Marrakech
Jemaa el-Fna is a square and marketplace in Marrakech frequented by locals and tourists. Even if the square is noisy and crowded as snake charmers play their oboes, merchants bark their wares, or the night performers prepare for their sets, the liveliness and the chaos make for a memorable and fun experience. The Jemaa el-Fna is a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
While you’re exploring Jemaa el-Fna, make sure to swing by Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakech. The architecture is a sight to behold, with scalloped arches and perfect proportions. (The minaret is the basis of Seville’s Giralda.)
The Majorelle Garden is a garden created by French painter Jacques Majorelle, who toiled for 40 years to make it captivating. Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge bought the vibrant blue villa/studio in the garden, preserved the vision of Majorelle, and kept the garden open to the public. The garden has 300 plant species from the five continents.
Where to go: Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is Morocco’s blue city located in the Rif Mountains. The houses, mosques, government buildings, and squares are blue-and-white-washed! The tradition of painting things blue started with Jewish refugees in the 15th century (the time of the Spanish Inquisition) who settled in Chefchaouen; they did that to mirror the sky and remind them of God. You can opt to explore the blue city or join walking or trekking tours since their routes also begin in Chefchaouen.
Where to go: Sahara Desert
The Sahara is the dream desert destination of all dream desert destinations. Erg Chebbi is one of Morocco’s two large sand dunes, and you can take a camel trip to it from Merzouga, a nearby village. You’ll have a clear view of the sunrise and sunset if you go in January and February. As if that’s not enough, you can camp and dine under the stars, and just get lost in all that beauty.