How to Choose a Destination

Why rate destinations?

What is the best way to show someone that their intended travel destination is not as interesting as one nearby? Or how do you approach the issue of ranking several particular tourist attractions? My approach is rather methodical, but still entirely subjective and arbitrary, so it bears some explanation.

The first question to ask yourself or someone else is why they are traveling to begin with. For most people, travel is to some extent, a luxury or a status symbol. You might go to a warm beach in the Caribbean to relax and get pictures for Instagram and Facebook. Some times it may be more about relaxation, to a nearby spa or a quiet forest. For other people, travel may be about companionship or adventure.

Justin Bunch Sometimes you travel to experience unique events, like German’s famous Christmas Markets, even though you have less time to see other things, since the sun will set at 4pm.

This website largely caters to the latter group, by trying to shed light on lesser-known or hidden destinations that are quite worth your time. So I approach the issue of a rating scale from someone asking the questions:

  1. How easily can I get there?
  2. Is there something worth seeing there?
  3. Can I see or experience something unique there?
  4. (And for cities in particular) Is there anything to do here?

The corresponding categories are Tourism, Heritage, Immersion and Interaction.


Here are the main criteria, each one on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the best:

  • Accommodation
  • Transportation
  • Infrastructure
  • Volume/Capacity Ratio
  • (For Regions: Interaction)

The goal may be to experience new things, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the logistics of comfort. The focus on this region is mostly on accommodation and accessibility. A region scores highly if its easy to get to, easy to travel around and where there are plenty of places to stay. For most regions in western Europe, tourism will be quite high in this regard.

This category also includes consideration for when there are too many tourists. Tourist volume is not inherently bad, since it means you are at a location other people want to be at. It becomes a serious concern when the local infrastructure is unable to support the tourist volumes. Some locations, like Paris can support massive numbers of tourists, whereas some places like Dubrovnik, cannot.

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel Small destinations are less capable of handling large tourist volumes, but even large ones can be overwhelmed in peak travel season.

By this I don’t mean the issue of “Historical Theme-parks” like Venice, an issue covered by Immersion. Rather the concern is more about what happens when you physically run out of space. You may struggle to walk around in the streets, you will have to reserve tables for fast food restaurants, public transportation will be a nightmare and tickets may be sold out almost a year in advance.

Regions that rank highly include: Brandenburg, Upper-Bavaria and Brabant, mostly thanks to their large cities, i.e. Berlin, Munich and Brussels.


Here are the main criteria, each one on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the best:

  • Monuments
  • Context
  • Quality

The Monuments criteria refers to the number of significant historical structures and their level of preservation. This covers those specific attractions that make you want to visit a location. E.g. The Eifel Tower, Neuschwanstein, Versailles Palace and etc. Some regions are rich in monuments, you can instantly name five famous buildings in Paris for example. But what about Copenhagen? It’s a beautiful city, but yet you may struggle to name the individual destinations. A destination with more of these memorable attractions will score higher.

Copenhagen’s Royal palaces are a treasure of architectural history, but lack the commanding presence of the monuments in Paris or even in Potsdam.

Context, in contrast, refers to the overall level of historical preservation of the cityscape or region. Copenhagen has one of the best preserved 19th century city centers in Europe. The historical context in which each building or monument was constructed is still evident. The opposite would tend to be German cities, which were without exception destroyed in WWII. There are several cities that meticulously reconstructed important monuments, such as Cologne, but failed to restore any of their surrounding historical context. Thus Cologne may rate higher in the monuments category but lacks historical context entirely.

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel People often don’t appreciate just how ugly German cities can be. I think any tourist to Stuttgart will be disappointed if they didn’t know how badly it was destroyed in the war. Note that Stuttgart is actually one of the nicer cities in Germany.

The final category is quality, which refers to “how interesting” the surviving history is. For important cities, this measure will probably be quite high. For smaller cities and towns, this metric becomes more illuminating. Bamberg was once a capital city of a minor state and has the trappings of a state flush with cash. Compared to a similar town nearby, Ansbach, and the comparison is illuminating. Bamberg attracted the wealth associated with trade on the Main River, and could call upon the court artisans of Würzburg. Ansbach, by contrast, was the capital an impoverished state. Both cities have large churches and palaces, but its clear that the preserved cityscape of Bamberg is on a different level.

Regions with well preserved heritage include: Alsace, Flanders and Sjaelland, largely thanks to having been spared destruction in WWII.


Here are the main criteria, each one on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the best:

  • Abstraction
  • Tradition

Immersion is concerned with the experience part of travel. It can refer to both the visual or physical experience, but clearly less defined than the other categories. The main question being answered here is whether a particular destination can be classified as a “historical theme-park”. By this I mean whether the destination itself has been abstracted from its cultural or geographic context, and exists only as a place for tourists.

The first category is aptly named abstraction. It refers to the process by which mass tourism to a destination eliminates the reasons which enabled tourism to flourish in the first place. In effect, tourism becomes the sole reason the place exists at all. The most famous example is the old-city in Venice. Nobody lives there anymore, it is a city inhabited and experienced only by tourists. It is fundamentally no different from Disneyland or an open-air museum. Venice as a living city ceased to exist a long time ago, all that remains are the visual artifacts that were left by the previous inhabitants.

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel Like this but, when the entire city is only meant to be looked at.

Now this is actually not that big of a deal. Living in Venice would be inconvenient, and the quality of life is undoubtedly much higher and the cost of business much lower elsewhere in Veneto. Furthermore, the truly priceless heritage of Venice is much better protected when it provides value as a tourist attraction rather than as an impediment to commercial activity. That being said, some people may be more interested in visiting cities where people actually live and experience aspects of local culture that are otherwise impossible in a theme-park.

The second metric is what I call tradition, and is more straightforward. Essentially it asks the question if the destination has any unique identity or traditions. Some cities, even towns, will have proud identities, while entire regions may exist only as faceless administrative units. Especially in the postwar period, some regional cultures simply ceased to exist.

Regions to immerse yourself in: Slesvig/Schleswig, Lower-Rhine Valley and Lusatia for their moderate tourist volumes and rich local traditions.


Here are the main criteria, each one on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the best:

  • Interaction

This category has only one metric, itself. Interaction is how easy it is to interact with the destination, rather than merely looking at it. Museums, Churches, local Restaurants, a tourist office and transparent opening hours all contribute. For regions and countries this is almost always high, so I group it into the tourism metric. For cities though, this becomes important to look at separately.

Justin Bunch | CityscapeTravel Major cities often have churches that you can simply walk into, and essentially become part of the experience.

Some cities (and regions) are more interactive than others. Go to a northern European city in winter, and you may find everything closed for the season. In some places, opening hours are not available online, and you may wonder if a palace or museum is ever open at all. I have been to some places where you have to call someone to bring down the keys.

Yet there are locations without very much to do at all other than look. Wiesbaden shares little in common with Odense or Maastricht, but all three locations are surprisingly devoid of interaction. All have beautiful streets, a church, maybe a palace or so, but you will struggle to spend more than a few hours there, and you will walk away having seen everything. By contrast, Liege, a city far from the main tourist circuits, is full of museums, churches and palaces and could easily fill a day’s visit.

No Final Score

As a final note, consider that I do not aggregate these values any further. I don’t think such a subjective rating schema can reasonably rank destinations, since the reasons for travelling vary so greatly. You can have just as much fun at Disneyland as you could kayaking in some Indonesian archipelago.

It helps to use the rating in order to guide your preference. Venice is famous for a reason, to find similar destinations you need only look for places that score low in Abstraction but high in overall Tourism. This would probably lead you to places like Dubrovnik or Heidelberg. By contrast, someone hunting for the best hidden gems may which to maximize Immersion and Heritage, at the expense of Tourism. This could lead you to places like Bamberg, Lund, or Namur. In any case I hope this guide helps explain how to use this site.

One thought on “How to Choose a Destination

  1. Pravin

    There are context you pointed out which one would never think of directly but look for subconsciously. Very well written!

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