Searching for the best places to visit that promote cultural diversity and sustainable travel? The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recently released its third annual list of the Best Tourism Villages for 2023, a compilation of authentic, lesser-known places to travel. Consider this your new travel bucket list.
This year’s report showcases the 54 best villages and towns across five continents that have met a number of criteria, including economic sustainability, social sustainability, environmental sustainability, conservation of cultural resources, tourism development, connectivity, safety and more.
Released during the UNWTO General Assembly, the annual roster celebrates places that are preserving landscapes, culture, culinary traditions and more. This new list is in addition to the 2022 list (when 32 locations made the cut) and the 2021 list (when 44 places were chosen).
“This initiative acknowledges villages that have harnessed tourism as a catalyst for their development and well-being,” Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of UNWTO, said in a statement.
The country with the most destinations on this year’s list? Peru, which has five villages that were recognized for their charms. Other popular countries include Portugal, Japan and China—which each had four villages on the 2023 list.
Read on for the 2023 list of the 54 best locations to travel, along with commentary from the UNWTO about why each place made the cut. There’s no ranking: The UNWTO lists them alphabetically, and here, the list is grouped geographically.
Ordino: In the tiny principality of Andorra, Ordino—which celebrates its cultural heritage against a backdrop of stunning landscapes—was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in October 2020. According to the UNWTO, the town “serves as an exemplary model of contemporary society’s integration into a natural environment while preserving its rural traditions and customs.”
Schladming: Surrounded by mountains, Schladming is a sports paradise. The village’s alpine charm and outdoor activities make it a sought-after destination for skiing and mountain adventures. But it’s more than just that, according to the UNWTO: “Unlike typical ski resorts, Schladming boasts two captivating Romanesque and Gothic churches, an 18th-century town square and a rich history of hosting prestigious skiing competitions.”
St. Anton am Arlberg: Set in the breathtaking Tyrolean Alps, St. Anton am Arlberg is a renowned sports destination with great skiing, biking and hiking, plus its own dialect and rich cultural heritage. “St. Anton am Arlberg stands as a beacon of world-renowned tourism with a storied history spanning over a century,” said the UNWTO. “From its inception, the village has not only embraced its alpine surroundings but has successfully integrated a harmonious blend of tradition and modernity.”
Slunj: Known for its preservation of songs and dances, the village of Slunj—set on the serene banks of the Slunjčica and Korana rivers—also offers eco-friendly walking trails, making it a delightful blend of cultural heritage and sustainable tourism. According to the UNWTO, Slunj “places a high value on preserving its cultural heritage. Traditional practices, including local songs, dances and liturgical rituals, are actively promoted, contributing to the town’s unique identity.”
Tokaj: The village of Tokaj is synonymous with the world-famous Tokaj wine region. Surrounded by vineyards and historical cellars, it’s a place that invites wine enthusiasts to savor its rich viticultural heritage and charming landscapes. “This UNESCO World Heritage site, designated in 2002, is not merely a town but a living testament to the common cultural heritage of humanity, celebrated through its ancient winemaking traditions,” said the UNWTO.
Lerici: On the Italian Riviera, the coastal village of Lerici is ripe for exploration with its gorgeous waterfront, historic architecture and narrow streets. The UNWTO recognized it as an “idyllic haven, seamlessly blending nature’s beauty, cultural richness and a commitment to sustainable progress.”
Văleni: Surrounded by vineyards and filled with cultural traditions, Văleni is also rich in agricultural history. “Văleni, a picturesque village in southern Moldova, epitomizes the nation’s struggle between modernity and tradition,” said the UNWTO. “Situated within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, it has become a burgeoning tourist hub, boasting nature, culture and preserved traditions.”
Ericeira: Ericeira enchants with its seaside beauty and rich maritime heritage. As a UNESCO World Surfing Reserve, the village welcomes surf enthusiasts while maintaining authenticity and cultural vibrancy. “This seaside community is not only a haven for surfers but also a popular destination for both local and international tourists,” says the UNWTO. “Despite its modern popularity, Ericeira retains its roots as a traditional Portuguese fishing village, tracing its history back to the 12th century.”
Manteigas: Set in the heart of the Serra da Estrela mountains, Manteigas serves as a gateway to Portugal’s highest peaks. The village seamlessly combines natural beauty with cultural richness, creating a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. UNWTO recognized Manteigas as “a unique mountain village with a rich history deeply rooted in wool, shepherds’ culture and a captivating mountain charisma.”
Sortelha: A medieval fortress atop a hill, Sortelha has cobblestone streets and well-preserved architecture—a journey back in time, surrounded by the scenic landscapes of the Portuguese countryside. The UNWTO described it as “a serene haven, untouched by the rapid pace of modern life.”
Vila da Madalena: A coastal village on Pico Island in the Azores, Vila da Madalena has historic charm and a thriving cultural heritage. “The village’s cultural and natural resources contribute to its allure,” said the UNWTO. “These include UNESCO-protected…vineyard landscapes, festivals, folklore and whaling heritage.”
Cantavieja: Set in the Spanish countryside, Cantavieja is a medieval escape with historic streets and easy access to Barranco del Río Dulce Natural Park. According to the UNWTO, “Cantavieja is a town full of history, customs and monuments worth visiting.”
Oñati: Well-preserved medieval structures and vibrant local culture offer a step back in time in Oñati in the heart of Basque Country. According to the UNWTO, Oñati is an ideal destination for “lovers of history, art, gastronomy and nature.”
Sigüenza: Sigüenza invites exploration with its medieval charm and architectural treasures. The village, a weekend getaway from Madrid, offers a cultural escape with its 12th-century cathedral and proximity to natural parks. According to the UNWTO, Sigüenza is great for active travelers, as it offers “a wide variety of activities to enjoy nature, culture and adventure (hiking, climbing, canoeing, caving, beekeeping, wine tourism, etc.).”
Morcote: Overlooking Lake Lugano, the picturesque cobblestoned village of Morcote blends Mediterranean and Alpine influences. According to the UNWTO, “Morcote, steeped in a historical narrative stretching across millions of years, has garnered UNESCO recognition for its diverse heritage, from dinosaurs to Neanderthals and beyond.”
Saint-Ursanne: A medieval gem along the Doubs River, Saint-Ursanne has well-preserved architecture and cultural events, offering a journey through time in the heart of the Jura region. According to the UNWTO, the village “showcases a unique blend of traditions, local customs and artistic expressions that reflect its history and identity.”
Huangling: The mountain town of Huangling is known for its picturesque landscapes. Every autumn, families dry chili pepper and other crops outside their houses, creating a colorful rainbow of colors in the village. “Huangling Village serves as a model of holistic heritage conservation, economic development and cultural exchange, demonstrating how a commitment to tradition and innovation can create a thriving and harmonious community,” said the UNWTO.
Xiajiang: In the eastern Zhejiang province, Xiajiang is no ordinary place, according to the UNWTO: “Xiajiang Village’s foremost commitment is to safeguard its time-honored traditions and cultural heritage. Through imaginative tourism endeavors, the village is breathing new life into ancient customs, such as local operas and the art of tea-making.”
Zhagana: This mountainous village of Zhagana is known for its Tibetan culture and unique landscapes, set against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks. According to the UNWTO, “it is renowned for its pristine environment, characterized by ancient glacial relics and a wealth of plant resources.”
Zhujiawan: In Zhujiawan, traditions like tea-making thrive. Surrounded by picturesque landscapes, the village invites visitors to experience rural Chinese life and immerse themselves in local customs. “Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the village’s rich culture, brought to life through meticulously restored ancestral homes, cultural festivals and the stunning Niubeiliang National Nature Reserve,” said the UNWTO.
Dhordo: Rising from the challenges of a 2001 earthquake, Dhordo is a testament to resilience and thoughtful tourism strategies. Situated in the Rann of Kutch salt desert, it harmoniously blends growth and sustainability. “The initiative of using tourism as a key device to showcase what otherwise has been impeding the general development of the locality has worked wonders,” said the UNWTO.
Penglipuran: Experience the cultural richness of Penglipuran on the island of Bali. It is known for its well-preserved Balinese traditions and architecture. Surrounded by lush landscapes, the village offers a glimpse into the island’s spiritual heritage. According to the UNWTO, “the village has earned recognition for its commitment to maintaining traditional architecture, customs and way of life.
Biei: In the heart of Japan’s Hokkaido region, Biei is known for its natural beauty and is especially enchanting during the blooming seasons of spring and summer. “This enchanting “patchworkish” landscape, further adorned by strategically planted trees serving as windbreaks and markers for agricultural boundaries, perfectly encapsulates the essence of Hokkaido’s awe-inspiring nature and agriculture,” said the UNWTO. “It has become an iconic representation of this magnificent region.”
Hakuba: Surrounded by the stunning Japanese Alps, Hakuba is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts that’s renowned for its ski resorts and onsens. The UNWTO described it as “a remarkable destination where tradition seamlessly merges with sustainability.”
Oku-Matsushima: Right in the scenic Matsushima Bay, Oku-Matsushima provides a tranquil escape with picturesque islands and historic sites. According to the UNWTO, it’s “a place where the echoes of a 7,000-year-old human journey resonate with the rhythms of modern sustainability.’’
Shirakawa: Shirakawa captivates in winter with its iconic thatched-roof houses covered in snow. The village’s pretty setting and cultural heritage make it a timeless destination. According to the UNWTO, it “stands as a testament to the harmonious coexistence of tradition and innovation.”
Saty: As a gateway to the Kolsai Lakes National Park in the Asian portion of Kazakhstan, Saty provides a serene escape with pristine lakes and snow-capped peaks. “The village implements strategies to effectively showcase its unique offerings, including creating promotional materials, demonstrating its natural beauty at tourism fairs and exhibitions and collaborating with tour operators to increase visibility and attract visitors,” said the UNWTO.
Dongbaek: Famous for its camellia flowers, Dongbaek on Jeju Island is a visual feast. Engaging with the local cooperative ensures the preservation of flora and traditions in this unique village. UNWTO recognized the camellia colony for its “scenic excellence, conservation value and authenticity.”
Mosan: With its history and culture, Mosan “is striving to build a sustainable community,” said the UNWTO. It offers serene landscapes, traditional architecture and one of the world’s top dolmen sites where the UNWTO said you can “experience life during the Bronze age some 3,000 years ago.”
Sehwa: Sehwa, a former farming and fishing town, has reinvented itself as a coastal retreat with scenic beaches and cultural attractions. UNWTO recognized the fact that it “strives to maintain the local rural culture, design and legacy.”
Şirince: A picturesque village perched on the hills of Izmir in the Asian part of Türkiye, Şirince is surrounded by the ancient city of Ephesus, the temple of Arthemis and more. Known for its historic architecture and vineyards, the village offers a delightful getaway where traditional Turkish culture meets natural beauty. “The authenticity, cultural and historical value is preserved,” said the UNWTO.
Mexico, Central and South America
La Carolina: Once a hub of a famous gold rush, La Carolina preserves its historical charm. The village invites visitors to explore its heritage, surrounded by scenic landscapes and a touch of adventure. According to the UNWTO, “today, transformed into one of the main tourist destinations in the province, it attracts visitors who embark on expeditions inside the mines, visit the Stone Church, go horseback riding, climb the Tomolasta and explore the Museum of Handwritten Poetry, the House of Juan Crisóstomo Lafinur.”
Barrancas: With untouched landscapes, ancient salt flats and natural wonders to explore, Barrancas is all about pristine simplicity. “Barrancas is an integral part of the renowned “Salt Route,” a captivating experience championed by local tour operators. Here, visitors have the opportunity to delve into the salt extraction process, acquire exquisite salt products, and discover unique local crafts, all while interacting with the warm-hearted salt workers,” said the UNWTO
Caleta Tortel: Caleta Tortel, a remote village with wooden walkways, invites intrepid adventurers to explore unique architecture and pristine surroundings. “It stands out with its charming boardwalks and quaint structures predominantly constructed from Guaitecas Cypress wood,” according to the UNWTO.
Pisco Elqui: Nestled in the Elqui Valley, Pisco Elqui is a haven for stargazers and nature lovers. Surrounded by vineyards and mystical landscapes, the village invites visitors to explore its cosmic charm.
Filandi: In the heart of Colombia’s coffee region, Filandia is a colorful haven with vibrant architecture and surrounding coffee plantations. The UNWTO recognizes the town for its cultural experiences like “artisanal basket weaving” and its landscape, which “boasts a wide variety of green tones, along with the wonder of its fauna and flora.”
Zapatoca: Zapatoca is a charming village in the Andean foothills with colonial architecture and a rich cultural heritage. Its pleasant temperature has earned it the nickname “The Village with Silk-Like Climate.” According to the UNWTO, the village is also known for “its beautiful facades, featuring architectural styles ranging from colonial to republican, adorned with vibrant flowers.”
Oyacachi: Set in the Ecuadorian Andes, Oyacachi—a village surrounded by lush cloud forests—is known as the “land of water” thanks to all its rivers, streams, waterfalls, lagoons, and thermal springs. “All of these contribute to a satisfying visitor experience and directly impact the economic dynamism of the community,” said the UNWTO.
Higueras: Higueras mixes historic charm and scenic beauty. The village provides a tranquil retreat, allowing travelers to immerse themselves in local traditions and the warmth of its community. “The village has embraced the development of rural tourism as an economic alternative for its population,” said the UNWTO. “Part of this development has involved creating tourist routes that highlight the natural and cultural beauty of Higueras, promoting products that incorporate rural activities such as goat’s milk cheese-making, wine production and oregano harvesting.”
Jalpa de Cánovas: Recognized as a “Pueblo Mágico” or “Magical Village” in Mexico, Jalpa de Cánovas invites travelers to experience its rich history, tequila scene and gastronomy. “With a rich architectural heritage, an enviable natural landscape and fertile lands that have allowed for the proliferation of agricultural and livestock estates, it is the perfect place to savor traditional Guanajuato cuisine,” said the UNWTO.
Omitlán de Juárez: Omitlán de Juárez invites travelers to explore its natural wonders and cultural heritage. The village’s commitment to sustainable tourism and community-based values enhances its appeal. According to the UNWTO, “the village is located in an idyllic area, preserving a warm rural aura and is surrounded by forests and mountains, offering ample opportunities for outdoor activities in rural landscapes.”
Chacas: Serving as the gateway to Huascaran National Park, Chacas in Peru is a haven for natural wonders (it’s surrounded by snow-capped peaks and lakes), history (near the town are the pre-Inca archaeological remains) and culture. “For 30 years the village has been involved in productive activities related to small industries, especially the manufacture of furniture namely beautiful wood carvings, stained glass, and textiles that is exported to the United States and Europe,” said the UNWTO. As a result, these workshops in the village employ local locals and “serve as a school for future professionals.”
Chavín de Huantar: Explore the archaeological wonders of Chavín de Huantar, where history comes alive. This village, steeped in cultural richness, provides a journey into Peru’s ancient past. “The village of Chavín de Huántar is an example of how tourism can foster syncretism between religious traditions and ancestral cultural elements, generating experiences with a positive impact for the population and improving the quality of life of its residents,” said the UNWTO.
Pozuzo: In the heart of the Andes, Pozuzo reflects the fusion of European and Amazonian cultures: The village was the first colony of Austrian settlers founded in Peru in 1859. It’s known for its vibrant traditions and natural beauty and provides a unique cultural immersion. According to the UNWTO, the town maintains the balance “between nature, biodiversity, the founding Austro-German people and the original communities of the central jungle of Peru.”
Paucartambo: Paucartambo enchants with its colorful festivals and Andean traditions. The village, located in the cloud forest, is a gateway to Manu National Park, showcasing the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest. According to the UNWTO, it has “succeeded in preserving its architecture, culture and traditions.”
Taquile: Taquile is an island village on Lake Titicaca known for its vibrant textile traditions. The community’s commitment to preserving cultural heritage and sustainable tourism makes it a captivating destination in the Andean highlands. “Taquile stands out as one of the most uniquely located places in the Puno region, southern Peru, where ancient customs and traditions of the region are kept alive,” said the UNWTO.
Africa and the Middle East
Dashour: Dashour is a treasure trove of ancient pyramids and archaeological marvels. Travelers are invited to step back in time while experiencing the village’s commitment to preserving its rich cultural heritage. “Dashour village presents a traditional lifestyle where the livelihoods are based on crops and livestock farming,” said the UNWTO. “The rich natural and cultural heritage has remained largely hidden; however, the village has many key features which are attracting more and more tourists.”
Siwa: Siwa is an oasis of tranquility in the desert. Renowned for its ancient oracle and unique cultural practices, the village allows travelers to immerse themselves in its rich history. “Since tourism development started in Siwa some 15 years ago, the community began promoting this cautiously in an effort towards safeguarding Siwa’s unique resources and, at the same time, to enable the village to benefit from the positive economic outcome of developing Siwa’s attractions including the traditional handicrafts,” said the UNWTO.
Lephis: Offering a captivating journey into Ethiopia’s cultural richness, Lephis is named after the Lephis Waterfall and crosses a designated dense forest of the Gambo Forest Zone. The village has a strong, community-based tourism initiative, Lephis Ecotourism Village. “The visitor program is run by professional tourist guides, the production and selling of handicrafts are managed by local women and the locals organize horse riding services,” said the UNWTO.
Kandovan: Explore the unique rock-cut architecture of Kandovan, an ancient village where homes are carved into volcanic rocks—a testament to human adaptation to nature. “Kandovan village is one of the most famous and amazing natural and historical attractions in Iran,” said the UNWTO. “It is unique in the respect that it is one of the few rocky villages in the world where people still live.”
Al Sela: Ancient wonders are just part of the reason why Al Sela made the cut. “Al Sela village has unique natural and cultural features including scenic nature and the beautiful landscape of valleys, mountains and plateaus, as well as the presence of many perennial trees such as Romanian olives and distinctive and rare vegetation cover at the local level, which is an extension of the natural pattern of Wadi Feynan and the Dana Nature Reserve,” according to the UNWTO.
Douma: A Lebanese village that dates back to ancient times, Douma seamlessly blends historic traditions with modern allure. Set against scenic landscapes, the village offers a delightful mix of history, culture and warm hospitality. UNWTO said that is “noted for its stunning location, natural beauty and rural and agricultural character.”
Sentob: Surrounded by natural parks, high mountains and the Fazilman Lake, Sentob invites travelers to explore its Silk Road heritage and architectural marvels. “Many indigenous traditions have been preserved, and all the houses of the residents are built from natural wood,” said the UNWTO. “The local community turned this natural and heritage village into a tourism destination through various initiatives, involving historians, ethnographic and anthropology experts who researched and created a fact-based narrative of the destination and its branding.”
Tân Hoá: In the heart of the Mekong Delta, Tân Hoá captivates with its cultural richness and scenic landscapes. “The village is situated in the vicinity of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, benefiting from unique natural conditions and a rustic charm,” said the UNWTO. “Surrounded by primary forests, limestone mountains and the tranquil Rao Nan river, Tân Hóa village exhibits a simple and enduring beauty that leaves a lasting impression on visitors.”
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