Want to avoid the crowds? Head to a city or country on the State Department watch list. Want to avoid crowds and stay safe? Head to a city that used to be.
History moves faster than the travel industry and the best places to visit are often yesterday's war zones. The main reason the pendulum swings so far so fast is that tourists are a tremendous boon to struggling economies and are generally welcomed with open arms in places where unrest has led to instability. That makes traveling to formerly dangerous places smart for both selfish and humanitarian reasons.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Why You Didn't Want to Go: From the late sixties until the millennium, Unionists (pro-U.K. Protestants) and Republicans (pro-independence Catholics) engaged in a particularly brutal form of street politics. Thousands were killed and violence erupted regularly.
Why You Want to Go Now: Today, Belfast is an up-and-coming destination thanks to the Titanic Quarter, a massive waterfront neighborhood thick with museums that are being built nearly from scratch, and the access it provides to the scenic coast of the Irish Sea. Tensions remain, but locals don't engage foreigners in debate, preferring to show them around scenic old town or take them to a punk concert. Don't miss the Merchant Hotel, which is among the most charming in the British Isles.
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