Beyond the stereotypes: Surprising things to do in the most popular destinations

Most holiday providers thrive on offering you the stereotypes. France is about cuisine and culture, Fiji means tropical islands and palm-fringed beaches, South Africa is all about safaris and wildlife.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. The obvious is well-known for a reason, and you can have a mighty good time doing nothing else but ski in St Anton, surf in Hawaii or visit beer halls in Munich. Yet sometimes visitors can be so blinkered by a travel destination's reputation that they fail to look at its many other attractions.

There are plenty of good reasons, though, to look beyond the mainstream tourist trails, towards lesser-known but interesting alternative paths. If you're a repeat visitor, you may find a new way to look at an old favourite. And whether you're visiting for the first time or the 10th, you'll certainly get a more varied, multi-dimensional experience, and a greater appreciation of the places you set off to enjoy.

SWITZERLAND

THE EXPECTED

Although its cheese and chocolate are famous, Switzerland is considered a scenic rather than gourmet destination, with fondue the only Swiss dish of any renown.

THE UNEXPECTED

128 Michelin-starred restaurants gave this small nation more top-rated restaurants per capita than any other country. The cuisine has distinct regional variations, with French-speaking Switzerland tending towards lake fish, lamb and sweet-chestnut desserts, and German-speaking regions offering roasts, veal in cream sauce, dried meats and ham.

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With a comfortable middle class and plenty of industrial profits, Basel has particularly excellent nosh, from traditional dishes in medieval taverns to fusion cuisine at hip eateries. The city as 12 Michelin-starred restaurants, including three-star Cheval Blanc by Peter Knogl (chevalblancbasel.com).

DON'T MISS

Swiss wines, which are surprisingly good, especially the fruity whites produced on the Lavaux vineyard terraces above Lake Geneva (region-du-leman.ch). Follow the Winemakers Route between cellar doors for a superbly scenic drive.

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myswitzerland.com

RIO DE JANEIRO

THE EXPECTED

A magnificent harbour, Christ the Redeemer statue, great beaches and a party spirit culminating in Carnival. Nowhere to hike, surely?

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THE UNEXPECTED

You can do much more than ride up Sugarloaf Mountain on the cable car to enjoy Rios' spectacular setting. The city has many great hiking trails taking you to spectacular viewpoints such as Dois Irmaos or Pedra da Gavea. Meanwhile Tijuca National Park (bnparks.com) is the world's largest urban forest, featuring jungle, waterfalls and mountain peaks. You might encounter sloths, agoutis and monkeys.

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You can also enjoy Rio's wilderness by cycling, rock climbing or rappelling. Rocky outcrops Pedro Bonita is a launching spot for hang-gliders, for a spectacular drift over the city to land on Rio's beaches far below.

DON'T MISS

Tijuca Forest's tree canopy challenge (rioadventures.com), which has three zip lines and 30 obstacles that provide a limb-stretching workout while providing a toucan's eye view of the jungle canopy.

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visitbrazil.com

LOS ANGELES

THE EXPECTED

Hollywood, fashion-conscious beaches and Beverly Hills' boutiques suggest a destination all about pop culture and consumerism.

THE UNEXPECTED

A city of rich philanthropists means plenty of high culture. Top-class performing arts venues, libraries, heritage houses, art galleries and museums focusing on African-, Japanese- or Chinese-American history provide cultural depth beyond mere movies. The stunning hilltop Getty Centre (getty.edu) is the jewel in the crown, not just for its superb art collections but also for its architecture and gardens.

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There are too many world-class venues to list, but among them are The Broad Museum (thebroad.org) for contemporary art, Huntington Library (huntington.org) for rare manuscripts and books, and Norton Simon Museum (nortonsimon.org) for Asian and western art, and particularly Degas bronzes.

DON'T MISS

The world-class Walt Disney Concert Hall (musiccenter.org), especially for a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The acoustics are as wonderful as the spectacular steel building.

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discoverlosangeles.com

SINGAPORE

THE EXPECTED

A rather buttoned-up, unimaginative city with terrific food. Great for family-friendly activities, but no evening glamour.

THE UNEXPECTED

Singapore has transformed itself in recent years, especially its bar scene. It doesn't do cheap or raucous, but if you're after a sophisticated, stylish evening out, Singapore delivers with several of the world's best bars and an innovative cocktail scene.

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Choose from wine bars, whisky bars, gin joints and cocktail venues that use interesting local ingredients such as ginger, red date and osmanthus syrup. SKAI (skai.sg) has undoubtedly the best views, MO Bar (mandarinoriental.com) has the most striking cocktails, such as the gorgeous Mother of Dragons, while Lantern Bar (fullertonhotels.com) has a great outlook over Marina Bay.

DON'T MISS

Atlas Bar (atlasbar.sg), which specialises in gin – its menu runs to 1300 labels from some 40 countries. Even more spectacular is the Jazz Age décor, opulent with extravagant Art Deco motifs, creating surely one of the world's most beautiful bars.

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visitsingapore.com

DUBAI

THE EXPECTED

Skyscrapers, shopping malls and a giant airport set the image of this Emirati city, seen more as a quick stopover than a destination in its own right.

THE UNEXPECTED

Never mind the tame indoor ski field, or scuba-diving in an aquarium. Dubai is a great sporting destination, where the real deal will get your blood pumping, whether water skiing, windsurfing, skydiving or dune-bashing in the desert in a 4WD. Even the Shaheen Xtreme falconry experience (royalshaheen.ae) is exhilarating.

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You can also get your adrenaline going from the sidelines by watching power-boat racing, winter camel races and a roster of international sporting events, including Rugby Sevens (dubairugby7s.com), the Dubai Tennis Open (atptour.com) and the world's richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup (dubairacingclub.com).

DON'T MISS

Dubai Autodrome (dubaiautodrome.com), which provides you with instruction before you get behind the wheel of a Formula 1-style racing car and hit speeds of 200 kilometres an hour – the closest you'll get to a grand prix experience.

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visitdubai.com

ENGLAND

THE EXPECTED

History, royalty and pretty countryside are the drawcards. When it comes to drinks, isn't it all about tea and lukewarm beer?

THE UNEXPECTED

Southern England has some 400 wineries, many open to the public, and with wines that are increasingly taken seriously internationally, making this an interesting alternative destination for wine lovers. Some compare the chalky soil and mild climate – recently helped along by global warming – to France's Champagne region.

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Among excellent wineries is Three Choirs Vineyards in Gloucestershire (three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk), very beautiful Nyetimber in Sussex (nyetimber.com), which produces sparkling wine voted best in the world, and Chapel Down in Kent (chapeldown.com), which is wedged into an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

DON'T MISS

Denbies (denbies.co.uk) in Surrey is England's largest vineyard, with a comprehensive visitors centre that features an art gallery, hotel and working winery. In summer you can tour the vineyards, but indoor winery tours and tastings run all year.

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visitbritain.com

CHINA

THE EXPECTED

China is touted for its culture and usually visited in spring or autumn. As a winter and ski destination, however, it remains virtually undiscovered by overseas visitors.

THE UNEXPECTED

China will have 700 ski resorts by the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Top resorts such as Changbaishan, Beidahu and Zhangjiakou Wanlong already have superb infrastructure and international hotel chains. Skiing apart, winter offers fewer crowds (except over Chinese New Year) and classic sights such as the Great Wall and Huangshan Mountain under snow.

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North-east China is the place for the best of winter (and frigid Siberian-influenced temperatures). Among its top destinations are Jilin city for its spectacular rime-encrusted trees and Yabuli, China's largest and most international-standard ski resort, spread across three mountains.

DON'T MISS

Harbin's Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival in January, the biggest of its kind in the world. It features huge ice sculptures and entire ice buildings, illuminated at night to spectacular effect.

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cnto.org.au

ANDALUSIA

THE EXPECTED

Cities such as Seville and Granada, bursting with flamboyant architecture, palaces, cathedrals and centuries of culture. If there are natural wonders, who has heard of them?

THE UNEXPECTED

Andalusia has glorious landscapes that include the Sierra Nevada mountains, wetlands, fir forest, little-developed coastlines and Europe's only desert, the Tabernas Desert, where spaghetti westerns were once filmed. Almost a fifth of the Spanish region is covered in protected nature areas.

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Limestone peaks, river valleys, waterfalls and dense forest combine in Parque Natural Sierras de Cazorla (sierrasdecazorlaseguraylasvillas.es). Playa de Bolonia (playadebolonia.es) has powder-white sand and some of Europe's largest dunes, while Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata-Níjar (parquenatural.com) has more superb beaches, wild cliffs and startling volcanic rock formations amid semi-desert terrain.

DON'T MISS

The newly redeveloped Caminito del Rey (caminitodelrey.info), which brings you on narrow walkways across the face of canyons and gorges near Malaga. It provides a hair-raising landscape encounter for adrenaline junkies.

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andalucia.org

KUALA LUMPUR

THE EXPECTED

Kuala Lumpur is perceived as a conservative, Islam-influenced nation with great food but only passing sights, and certainly no reputation for nightlife.

THE UNEXPECTED

While KL is no Bangkok, Malaysia's largest city has a buzzing, varied nightlife, with raucous outdoor cafes, chic rooftop bars and thumping clubs. The epicentre is Jalan Bukit Bintang for themed bars, and cross street Changkat Bukit Bintang, where pubs, cocktail lounges and speciality beer and whisky bars jump at weekends.

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The renovated colonial-era buildings of Asian Heritage Row provide hip hangouts, while along Jalan P Ramlee, backpackers and locals mingle in unpretentious bars and music lounges. Huge multi-venue Zouk Club (zoukgroup.com) has long been the city's must-visit clubbing venue.

DON'T MISS

Gazing out over the light-twinkled city from KL's rooftop hotel bars. Mai Bar at Aloft Hotel (marriott.com) has playful cocktails and cutting-edge music, while Luna Bar at Pacific Regency Hotel Suites (pacific-regency.com) features a pool, daybeds and Petronas Towers views.

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malaysia.travel

INDIA

THE EXPECTED

The Taj Mahal, monuments and colour in Rajasthan, vivid street scenes, but surely not much wildlife apart from elusive tigers.

THE UNEXPECTED

Safaris aren't just confined to Africa. India has numerous luxury safari-style lodges and tented camps, and abundant national parks that showcase the diverse wildlife of ecosystems from the Himalayan foothills to tropical forests. Tigers aren't the only big cat – there are lions and snow leopards, too. Other top attractions include elephants, rhinoceros, bears and more than 1200 bird species.

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Top national parks include alpine Hemis (ladakhtourism.in) for golden eagles, Tibetan sheep, ibexes and perhaps an elusive snow leopard; Kaziranga for tigers, rhinos and elephants; and Keoladeo Ghana (tourism.rajasthan.gov.in) for birds and large nilgai antelope.

DON'T MISS

Sasan-Gir Wildlife Sanctuary (girforest.in), the only place outside Africa where you can see wild lions. Asiatic lions have smaller manes but are otherwise just as impressive. You might also see leopards, jungle cats, hyenas, porcupines and mongooses.

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incredibleindia.org

10 MORE TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED

CHICAGO FOR BEACHES

The summer is short but the beaches are long, and there are plenty of them along Lake Michigan. Oak Street Beach has skyscraper views, North Avenue Beach is always packed and Oakwood Beach hosts frequent festivals. See choosechicago.com

REYKJAVIK FOR COFFEE

The residents of Iceland's capital are coffee obsessed. There's a happy absence of international coffee chains, but every block features a cosy coffee shop where someone can talk at length about the origin of the beans. See inspiredbyiceland.com

MUMBAI FOR ART DECO

Over 200 heritage art deco buildings make this Indian city a must for architecture aficionados. The ensemble culminates along Marine Drive in a great curve of period apartments and office blocks. See incredibleindia.org

BUENOS AIRES FOR NIGHTLIFE

The Argentine capital isn't just about tango. It has the best nightlife in South America. Nightclubs, funky bars and trendy speakeasies pack the districts of San Telmo and Palermo Viejo. See turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar

TASMANIA FOR CELLAR DOORS

In the past 20 years Tasmania has established impressive, internationally competitive whisky and gin scenes. There are now dozens of cellar doors across the island where you can get into the spirits. See discovertasmania.com.au

ORLANDO FOR PERFORMING ARTS

If you overdose on Disney, there's high culture aplenty in Orlando, which has quality ballet, opera and philharmonic orchestra ensembles, a Shakespeare theatre and an annual festival of orchestras. See visitorlando.com

SICILY FOR GREEK RUINS

For spectacular temples, Sicily rivals Greece itself, and its classical sites have a fraction of the tourist crowds. Highlights are Agrigento, the fabulously located temple at Segesta, and coastal ruined city Selinunte. See italia.it

VIENNA FOR VINEYARDS

The capital typically associated with music has vineyards on its northeast fringe, making it Europe's only city with a demarcated wine region. Crisp white wines dominate, best enjoyed in local wine taverns. See wien.info

NEW YORK FOR BEER

Forget Munich, Prague or Portland. Following the 2014 Craft Act, the beer scene in New York went from zero to hero. There are now dozens of breweries in the city once more famously associated with cocktails. See nycgo.com

BOLOGNA FOR MUSIC

The north Italian town famous for its food has a great music scene, whether you're into classical, jazz or electronic music. You'll find a good opera house, great live-music venues, a music museum and several music festivals. See bolognawelcome.com

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

These cities have vibrant food scenes that you might not have predicted.

JAPANESE FOOD IN LIMA

The Peruvian-Japanese fusion cuisine known as Nikkei now has an international following, but the Peruvian capital is still the best place to sample its fresh, spicy flavours in top restaurants such as Maido and Mesa 18. See peru.travel

INDIAN FOOD IN MANCHESTER

Curry Mile (or Wilmslow Road) has more than 70 restaurants rich with the aromas of India, South Asia and the Middle East, and competing with the smell of shisha smoke from cafés. See visitmanchester.com

FRENCH FOOD IN TOKYO

Tokyo boasts some of the world's best French restaurants, several of which are Michelin starred, and helmed not just by French luminaries such as Jo?l Robuchon but top Japanese chefs, too, at L'Osier and Chez Matsuo. See gotokyo.org

VIETNAMESE FOOD IN PARIS

If you have a craving for pho in the French capital then head to the 13th arrondissement which, though referred to as Chinatown, is much more Vietnamese, and has dozens of cheap eateries. See parisinfo.com

MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD IN DETROIT

The suburb of Dearborn has the USA's largest Arab population, and flavours to match in its many Iraqi, Lebanese and Syrian restaurants. More recently, Yemeni eateries have added to the repertoire. See visitdetroit.com

NOW THAT'S UNUSUAL

SURF IN MUNICH

A challenging metre-high artificial wave on the Eisbach River in the city's Englischer Garten could see you test your skills (and tolerance for cold water) as passers-by watch from a nearby bridge. See munich.travel

CYCLE IN LONDON

The Tube may be London's go-to transport system, but hop on a public bike for a far better outlook onto city-centre sights. Nearly 14,000 bicycles are available at 840 docking stations. See visitlondon.com

SCUBA-DIVE IN FRANCE

Most winter visitors to ski resort Tignes are on the slopes, but sink through an ice hole into the depths of a frozen alpine lake instead for another whole angle on the Alps. See tignes-plongee.com

BIRDWATCH IN DUBAI

There's more to Dubai than shopping malls. The city sits on avian migration routes between Africa and Asia, and more than 400 bird species (including flamingos) can be spotted at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. See visitdubai.com

RIDE A GONDOLA IN LAS VEGAS

The made-in-Venice gondola is real, though not the canals, bridges nor blue sky overhead. Still, The Venetian is the best-realised of Vegas's themed hotels, and the opera-singing gondoliers are fun. See venetian.com

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