Places Not as Romantic as You'd Think

Travel+Leisure

You’re canoodling on a Venetian gondola, while a musician croons a melody that seems composed just for you two. It’d be the most romantic moment of your life—if not for that stench from the canal and the bottleneck of gondolas up ahead.

Romantic destinations require beauty, mystery, and a sense of exclusivity. And if places that lay a claim to romance don’t deliver, the disappointment can be akin to being jilted at the altar. Yet romance is tricky to orchestrate. Some destinations can live up to their reputations as dreamy getaways—it’s just a matter of navigating their hidden hazards. Others face greater obstacles. But the bottom line: with the right partner and a spirit for adventure, almost anywhere can be romantic.

Atami, Japan (Photo: AFP Photo/Kazuhiro Nogi

Atami, Japan (Photo: AFP Photo/Kazuhiro Nogi

Atami, Japan

Honeymooners once flocked to this small town outside of Tokyo. While its glory days are long gone, that hasn’t stopped planners from attempting to reinvent Atami as a romantic destination—for lonely single men. These fans of the dating simulation game LovePlus+ come to Atami with their mobile phones to have photos taken at various points around town. In the final image on the screen, the cartoon girlfriend of their dreams appears by their side. Digital-age romance has never seemed so sad.

How to Find the Romance: Take a midweek jaunt to Hakone, an hour from Shinjuku via the Romance Car train (so named because of the loveseat layout). This picturesque town—famous for hot springs, lakes, and gardens—offers plenty of its own photo-ops, including Mount Fuji as a backdrop.

Venice’s Canals
Venice, Italy (Photo: Charlie Clift)

Venice, Italy (Photo: Charlie Clift)



The gondolas that ply Venice’s labyrinthine waterways are now mostly a means to fleece starry-eyed honeymooners out of a quick hundred euros. Unless you’ve had your heart set on it, avoiding those floating tourist traps is easy. But Venice has another dirty little secret. In winter, the Adriatic Sea routinely backs up the ancient plumbing, resulting in a distasteful aroma sure to overwhelm even the most enchanting perfume.

How to Find the Romance: Ditch the crowds on the neighboring island of Giudecca. The view across the canal from the rooftop pool of the Hilton Molino Stuckey Venice Hotel is breathtaking. A breath of fresh air, even.


Downtown Dubai
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Photo: Alamy)

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Photo: Alamy)



While this emirate has a cosmopolitan, modern sheen, visitors would be well advised to respect local laws and customs. This is one melting pot of diverse cultures, values, and social mores that can sometimes boil over. Consider the British couple arrested in 2010 for kissing in public. Both received one month in jail but were spared lashes, a common punishment for such crimes. Still, travelers can’t say they weren’t warned: the Dubai Mall displays prominent signage asking guests to abstain from public displays of affection.

How to Find the Romance: Retreat to the desert, where you can stay beyond the reach of judging eyes at Al Maha Resort and Spa, built by the Sheikh Khalifa. The private villas with oversize plunge pools overlook the shifting sands within Dubai’s first national park and are, not surprisingly, fit for royalty.

Paris’s Iconic Sights
Paris, France (Photo: Owen Franken/Corbis)

Paris, France (Photo: Owen Franken/Corbis)



Ideally, romantic places should give off a special je ne sais quoi, a sense that no other couple has set foot there. In France, that illusion requires serious effort. The country attracts 76.8 million tourists a year, more than any other, according to a United Nations World Tourism study from 2010. You can bet a good portion of them are lovebirds intent on a romantic stroll along the Champs-Élysées, a keepsake photo atop the Eiffel Tower, and a passionate kiss on the Pont Neuf.

How to Find the Romance: Seek out intrigue in the burgeoning 10th, 11th, and 12th arrondissements, which are just as swoon-worthy (intimate restaurants, 19th-century canals, and leafy promenades) minus all those swooners.

Mykonos in High Season
Mykonos, Greece (Photo: Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows)

Mykonos, Greece (Photo: Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows)



The cobblestoned alleyways and whitewashed houses draped with sprays of vibrant bougainvillea of this fabled Greek island make for an idyllic afternoon stroll, if you happen to be there in off-season. If not, an entirely less desirable personality emerges, as these same streets fill with spring breakers, stadium-size speakers, broken bottles, and other party detritus.

How to Find the Romance: Rent a villa off-season (October to March), when prices are lower and locals have time to make you feel welcome.

Honeymoon Hotels of the Poconos, PA
Poconos, PA (Photo: Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau)

Poconos, PA (Photo: Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau)



Coal and diamonds are close geological cousins, but unfortunately that doesn’t make the anthracite-rich environs of the Poconos a diamond in the rough. While the mountainous northeastern region has billed itself as a romantic weekend getaway, decades of mining have left many area towns feeling depressingly industrial, and the accommodations can be, well, kind of chintzy. This is, after all, the birthplace of the heart-shaped tub.

How to Find the Romance: Big industry and wealthy industrialists go hand-in-hand, so seek out the sort of places the swells frequented at the height of the mining boom. The Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary, for instance, was once a retreat for a glass magnate and is a short drive from the swanky, under-the-radar Lodge at Woodloch.

Cancún’s Hotel Zone
Cancun, Mexico (Photo: Alamy)

Cancun, Mexico (Photo: Alamy)



The coming of spring is celebrated in Cancún with the clink of plastic cups and the toast of cheap margaritas. That’s not to say that many romances have not taken their first lurching steps at this fabled resort area on the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula—it’s just that the romance may well have been intended to last only the night.

How to Find the Romance: Head an hour down the coast to Tulum, on the Riviera Maya, where romantic restaurants and boutique hotels dot the shore. The only disturbance during a midnight stroll might be from the turtles, which lay their eggs there every summer.

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