When planning your upcoming trip, most of us probably scout out on TripAdvisor what cool places there are to see in and around the place. This is a good way to start, but you’re likely to mostly find the tourist magnets; the Eiffel tower in Paris, Dam Square in Amsterdam or the Atomium in Brussels. And while you should most certainly visit these places, it’s not where you will find the truly secret spots. No, for hidden gems, you’re going to have to look a little further. That’s why they are hidden, after all…

Hidden gem, definition: An idiom which means something which is extremely outstanding and not many people may know about.

So, how is it that you do find the wonderful, hidden places? We will give you some insight into how we usually look for hidden gems when planning our next trip. They’re easy methods that you can start using right away!

Look for hidden gems but start with the highlights

Our research into a new place to visit usually starts out shockingly superficial. Take our upcoming trip to Southern Spain for example. We will spend a week in Málaga working before touring around Andalusia for another 9 days. Our starting point is a Google search for ‘Málaga’ and ‘Andalusia’. Looking at the top image results and reading two or three articles on the top places to visit, gives a nice overview of what the place is best known for, and gives us a chance to decide which of these places are worth including in our itinerary. And with any upcoming travel blog, article or photo you’ll find, knowing which places are the touristy highlights makes it much easier and faster to scan for truly hidden gems.

How to find hidden gems highlights
While looking for hidden gems in Groningen, The Netherlands, we started our city tour at the Groninger Museum. One of the highlights!

Use the right search terms while looking for secret spots

Good Google searches can get you much further in your search for hidden gems though. Running a Google Search for ‘hidden gems <destination>’ can sometimes help you find some more hidden spots – for example when it helps you find our recent article on hidden gems in Noord-Brabant. But it just as often results in articles that describe an entire area or city as a hidden gem, or you still end up finding a list of highlights dubbed ‘hidden gems’.

We’ve found that more specific search terms, related to your topics of interest, can help you find those unexpected results you’re looking for. Here’s a list of some examples we’ve used:

  • “War History” <destination>
  • “Hidden courtyard” <destination>
  • “Abandoned building” <destination>
  • Boutiques <destination>
  • Alley <destination>

One of the crucial rules to follow is to not be afraid to get lost in the depths of the internet. We can’t tell you how many hours we’ve spent clicking from article to article, Googling the name of a place that comes up and reading forum articles on where exactly to find questionable places hidden away in a forest. It’s all part of the fun!

Use Google Maps to find cool places

Something that’s a little more work, is using the immense amount of resources that Google Maps has to offer to your advantage. There’s two ways that we’ve used recently in preparation for our trip to Spain.

The first is using POIs that Google Maps lists. In the strangest places, it shows where you can find viewpoints, castle ruins, places of cultural value, and much more. You can help speed this up with Google Maps searches along the lines of ‘points of interest’, ‘viewpoint’, ‘castle ruin’, or whatever it is you’re hoping to find.

Secondly, photo spheres are another great source. In the street view functionality, light blue dots are photo spheres uploaded by the community. This helps you track where people tend to go and what there is to see. It’s a bit more work to scour through the photo spheres, but this can definitely turn up some surprising results.

For our upcoming trip, we’ve found the supposed location of a rather new viewpoint with a swing – one of those that you would expect to find on a Thai beach and have to stand in line for – on top of a mountain, without any path leading to it.

How to find hidden gems Google Maps

Look for hidden gems in Maps.ME

For anything on foot, the free Maps.ME app is hard to beat. Wherever you are – or at least wherever we’ve been – its maps include just about every walkable road, path or stairway into the finest detail. We use Maps.ME to find our way through towns, across mountainous paths and through forests. Take the example of our hike to Lago Goletta last summer; Google Maps was great in navigating us to the parking lot, but we switched to Maps.ME for the hike. It showed us every possible hiking route to the lake, including altitude data.

How to find hidden gems Google Maps MAPS.ME
Why we use Maps.ME (right) over Google Maps (left) when hiking.

Maps.ME is a great resource to use not only when navigating your way to hidden gems, but also to use in search of more hidden places. In a typical location, the map shows a few more viewpoints and buildings than you might find on other maps. This works in any kind of place, from the largest cities to the most rural areas.

Explore hidden gems on Instagram

As you might expect from us, Instagram is another important way to find hidden gems. In the weeks leading up to a trip, we will look at local Instagram accounts and swipe through the feed linked to a specific city or area. From time to time, this churns out another unexpected hidden gem.

Keep looking for hidden spots when you’re there

All of these tips can help you find secret, hidden spots when planning an upcoming trip. But don’t forget to keep looking once you’re there! Turn into that cute alleyway, drive to that tower on top of the mountain, keep your eyes open. And let us know if you have more tips on how to look for hidden gems!

Kirsten & Thomas

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