When planning a holiday to Europe, there are a few big name cities that invariably spring to mind. London, Paris, Rome – these cities are the stuff of legend; rich in history and romance. However, these destinations are far from your only options. Europe is bursting at the seams with exciting, beautiful, and awe-inspiring cities, yet many of them unfathomably fly under the tourist radar. In these lesser-known European destinations, you can visit remnants of the ancient world, taste unique local flavours, and hike to soaring peaks – and all without the tourist hordes.
Here are some of our favourite often-overlooked cities in Europe.
When considering a trip to England, many people will zero in on London. It is, after all, one of the most exciting European capitals, but it’s not all that England has to offer. Located in the country’s north, York is a vibrant walled city that was founded by the Romans around 71 AD. Even today, visiting this city feels like you’re stepping back in time, as York is full of beautiful buildings and narrow, winding streets. The star attraction is of course York Minster, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral featuring medieval stained glass and two bell towers.
Portugal’s second largest city is often overshadowed by Lisbon, but Porto is a colourful and cultural hub that has quietly become one of the best European cities to visit. The list of things to do in Porto is simply endless: stroll through the cobblestoned Ribeira neighbourhood, sample traditional Portuguese fare such as grilled sardines and the Francesinha (a sandwich reminiscent of a croque-monsieur but invented in Porto), visit the Livraria Lello bookstore that’s said to have inspired J.K. Rowling, and shop at the traditional Bolhão Market. Of course, you can’t visit Porto and not sample some port, with this dessert wine taking its name from the city itself. Most wine cellars are located just across the Dom Luis bridge, with nearly all offering guided tours and tastings.
Berlin and Munich are two more extremely popular places to visit in Europe, but when you’re planning your Europe trip, consider travelling to Germany’s northwest as well. Bremen is hands down one of the prettiest cities in Germany, with the old town showcasing many beautifully-maintained medieval buildings. The market square is the city’s hub, and features the Gothic town hall and the Roland statue (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites), as well as the quirky Bremen Town Musicians statue, which legend says will bring you good luck if you touch the donkey’s hooves with both hands.
If you want food to feature prominently in your next European adventure, then you’ve come to the right place. Bologna, about 90 minutes’ drive from Florence, is one of the best place to visit in Europe for foodies, with this Italian city being home of the tagliatelle alla Bolognese. But there’s more to the city’s food scene than this iconic dish: taste your way through traditional pizzas, gourmet cheeses, fresh fruits, addictive gelato, and world-class wine. Of course, there are many non-food related things to do in Bologna as well, but one of the best ways to spend an afternoon here is to grab an outside table at a quaint cafe, order a cappuccino, and just watch the world go by.
You’ve probably heard the name before, and now it’s time to consider travelling to Innsbruck? This charming Austrian city is one of the most exciting holiday destinations in Europe for outdoor enthusiasts, with Innsbruck hosting the Winter Olympic Games in both 1964 and 1976. Here, the mountains meet the valley, making it the perfect location for hiking, climbing, and mountain biking in the summer, and all types of winter sports once the snow starts falling.
In the heart of the Balkans lies Sofia, a proud and resilient city that has been shaped over the past two thousand years by Thracian, Roman, Ottoman, and Russian influences. Wondering what to see in Sofia? Where to start… visit the Aleksandâr Nevsky Cathedral, which is Sofia’s centrepiece; have a drink in the sun outside the gilded Ivan Vazov National Theatre; pick up some Bulgarian cured meats and cheese from the Central Market Hall; try some rakia, a potent fermented fruit distillate that’s a local delicacy; and wander through the Archeological Museum, which is housed in a former mosque that was built in 1496.
Spain is understandably a favourite destination with travellers looking for some sun, but Barcelona and Madrid seem to receive the lion’s share of tourism. Both are wonderful cities, don’t get us wrong, but the next time you decide to travel Europe, consider heading down south to Granada. Situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada boasts stunning architecture dating back to its Moorish occupation, with the majestic Alhambra fortified palace high in the hilltops an absolute must-see attraction. Spend some time wandering around the quaint Albaicín neighbourhood as well, where you’ll spy old white-washed buildings, cute cafes, and striking gardens, and stop into as many tapas bars as humanly possible – Granada is the capital of free tapas, so this is a wonderful (and economical!) way to spend an afternoon.
Tallinn is one of those cities that will have you feeling like you just stepped into a fairytale. Set on the shores of the Baltic Sea, this compact city is made for wandering, with the Old Town quite possibly one of the most charming neighbourhoods in all of Europe. Visit various churches, cathedrals, museums, and fortifications, then take a seat at a restaurant to try some local and traditional fare alongside a glass of beer or vodka. Tallinn is also a lively music hub, and if you time your visit just right, you can head along to the National Song Festival, which began in 1869, or the annual Tallinn Music Week, which showcases Estonia’s growing rock and electronic music scene.
On a continent as diverse as Europe, it pays to branch out and get off the tourist track. There are more than a few hidden gems in Europe, so take it upon yourself to uncover them all on your next adventure. Book flights to Europe, or any of the destinations above, with Webjet to get your European holiday started today.
Feature image: Porto, Portugal. Credit: Carlos Machado on Unsplash