Europe is filled with breathtaking places, but many of them are often crowded with tourists. Luckily, it also has a whole myriad of cities, towns, villages, and natural wonders that, despite their beauty, are barely frequented by visitors. So for those of you who like to travel off the beaten path, this article is for you. Here are some of the best hidden gems in Europe, from secret waterfalls to cities most people didn’t even know existed. One thing is for sure: it’s unclear why these places are still relatively undiscovered — they are absolutely remarkable.
Disclaimer: This awesome, free article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of these links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. No pressure to use these links, but I really appreciate it when you do!
28. Lake Skadar, Montenegro
By Cassie from Cassie the Hag
The photogenic Lake Skadar — the largest lake in the Balkans region at between 370 km and 530 km squared (season dependent) — lies over the border across Albania and Montenegro. You may also know it as Lake Scutari, Lake Shkodra, or Lake Shkoder. This lake is a 30-minute drive from the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, and makes a great addition to any road trip through Montenegro, combining it with historical European old towns and stunning mountain ranges.
First, you can enjoy the lake from various roadside lookout points in Virpazar — just be sure to drive carefully! This village is home to many small tour companies running boat tours over the serene lake and you can also visit the hilltop Besac Fortress or enjoy a local winery. The Crnojevic River lookout point is perhaps the most famous spot in Lake Skadar due to its sublime vantage point over the horseshoe bend in the river. You can find it on Google Maps as ‘Pavlova Strana Viewpoint’.
On the Albanian side, the lakeside city of Shkodër is a great base. From there, you can also enjoy hiking or cycling. The city’s Old Town is also very picturesque — particularly, the views from Rozafa Castle. Nature-lovers and those hoping to incorporate some waterside calm and charm into their holidays should definitely consider Lake Skadar as a must-see destination.
Where to stay: There are plenty of options, from beautiful villas in Virpazar (Montenegro), apartments in Shkodër (Albania), and hotels in Podgorica (Montenegro)
27. Ostuni, Italy
By Maria & Katerina from It’s All Trip To Me
Gorgeous Puglia in Southern Italy is one of the most authentic regions in the country and, as such, is home to many laid-back towns that manage to remain off the mass tourism radar. One of Puglia’s best hidden gems is Ostuni, a picturesque town with a historic center that seems as though it has sprung straight out of the pages of a storybook.
Ostuni is often called Italy’s White City for a good reason. The Old Town is dazzlingly white and its stunning architecture makes visitors feel as though they’re walking around a Greek island rather than a town in the south of Italy. Yet, there are quite a few quintessentially Italian elements in Ostuni, such as the beautiful Piazzetta Cattedrale and the vibrant Piazza della Libertà. Aside from checking out the charms of the historic center, Ostuni is also the ideal destination for exploring Puglia’s scenic countryside. In fact, this town is built atop a hill surrounded by centuries-old olive groves and vineyards.
Where to stay: The best place to stay while visiting Ostuni is right in the heart of the fantastic countryside at a traditional masseria, a fortified country house that is unique to Puglia. While there are many gorgeous masserie in Ostuni, one that stands out is the dreamy Masseria Il Frantoio, which is a 10-minute drive from the sea.
26. Mechelen, Belgium
By Caroline from Veggie Wayfarer
The charming city of Mechelen is often overlooked for its better-known counterparts Brussels, Antwerp, and Brugge. However, missing out on this city would be a true shame; while small, it has a rich history and a wide variety of things to see to keep you busy for at least a day or two. Mechelen is nestled in the heart of Belgium, a comfortable 20-minute train ride from Brussels.
The main highlights of this city include Grote Markt, the beautiful central square filled with colorful gabled houses dating back to the 16th and 18th centuries; the St Rumbold’s Tower, which you can ascend for a mere €8 and will provide you with a magnificent view over the city, and last but not least, the very quaint 16th-century Beguinage.
Mechelen is slowly reinventing itself on a culinary level, with many different restaurants popping up every week catering to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Be sure to visit the food market (De vleeshallen) for a taste of the city’s finest delicacies or a good cold glass of the local beer, Manenblusser.
Where to stay: There are many lovely Airbnbs in Mechelen. Due to its proximity to Brussels, you can also visit this city on an easy day trip and stay at one of the many cool Airbnbs in Brussels. If you prefer a more luxurious stay, then I recommend the charming Pillows Grand Boutique Hotel located at the heart of the capital.
25. Cartagena, Spain
By Paulina from Paulina on the Road
One of the prettiest little towns in Southern Europe that’s hardly visited by tourists is Cartagena, in the province of Murcia. Although the harbor of Cartagena is the main gateway to Southern Spain for cruise ships, there are very few tourists who actually plan their trips to Cartagena.
Why? It’s really hard to say because the city is absolutely gorgeous! It also boasts an incredible history — it was founded by none other than Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who defeated the Romans. In fact, this town’s first name was New Carthage, and strolling around, you’ll see countless monuments from the ancient Roman times. The Roman Theatre is a must-see attraction, and there are also plenty of neo-baroque buildings around town that are considered some of the most beautiful ones in Spain.
Other things to do in Cartagena include visiting Casa Cervantes, the Capitanía General (a former naval headquarters which dates back to 1738), and the Gran Hotel, the city’s most important Modernista monument.
Where to stay: There are plenty of lovely Airbnbs in Cartagena, some with gorgeous views of the beach!
24. Tapolca, Hungary – One of the Best Hidden Gems in Europe
By Giulia from Travelling Sunglasses
Even though Budapest is the highlight of a trip to Hungary, there are plenty of other picturesque cities to discover. The town of Tapolca is one of the cutest hidden gems in Hungary. It’s also a great day trip from Budapest — just 2 hours away by car and 3 hours away by train. Located around 15 km (9.3 miles) north of Lake Balaton and surrounded by hills and vineyards, it’s absolutely perfect for an enjoyable day outside the crowded capital.
The main square Fő Tér and the pretty Malom Lake are the heart of the small city center. A watermill and colorful buildings surround the lake, providing for plenty of picturesque photo spots. One of the stairs leading to the lake was turned into a fish-themed mural, with bright colors and nets on the handrail. On the side of the watermill, you can continue your relaxing stroll along a peaceful stream.
The Tapolca underground lake cave Tavasbarlang is without a doubt one of the main attractions of the city. After a very interesting exhibition about the local geology, you’ll enter a circular cave of crystal clear water. Jump on a boat and slowly row around this marvel of nature — it’s simply mesmerizing! Make sure to also try the Hungarian wine produced in the nearby hills. The restaurants around Malom Lake, such as Hotel Gabriella and Topart Bistro, offer a wide variety.
Where to stay: There are plenty of small hotels and flats to rent in town, but the most special one is Hotel Gabriella, located in the watermill by Malom Lake. The rooms with views over the lake are just out of a fairytale!
23. Shaki Waterfall, Armenia
By Vaibhav from The Wandering Vegetable
A 3.5-hour scenic drive from Armenia’s beautiful capital city of Yerevan gets you to a place that not many people know about. This hidden gem is Shaki Waterfall, and you can visit it on your way to the Tatev Monastery. It’s also located just 6 km (3.7 miles) from the town of Sisian. This waterfall is definitely worth a visit as it’s not only a natural wonder but also a lovely picnic spot where you can relax with your family and friends.
Shaki Waterfall is hidden in Vorotan River’s gorge. There’s a small hike you have to do in order to reach the site. At a height of 18 meters (59 ft), this waterfall makes for an incredible sight as the water stream flowing from the top crashes on the cliff rocks on its way down and breaks into innumerable shards of spray. What makes it even more interesting is a popular legend that claims the waterfall was named after a gorgeous woman named Shaki; when she jumped from a cliff, her dress opened up and turned into this waterfall.
Some of the best things to see and do near the waterfall are Karahundj (Armenia’s Stonehenge), Tanahati Karmir Monastery, Sisavank St. John Church, Aghitu Memorial, Tonir Wedding Village, and Sisian History Museum.
Where to stay: There are some wonderful accommodations in the nearby town of Sisian, such as Azoyan Holiday Resort and Karin's B&B.
22. Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria
By Kamila from Kami & The Rest of the World
Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria might be one of the prettiest towns in the Balkans that not many people know about. Located in the central part of Bulgaria, about 110 km east of Sofia (the capital), this town is set in a very picturesque location, nestled in the valley surrounded by green mountains.
Koprivshtitsa showcases one of the best examples of the so-called Bulgarian Revival, a beautiful 19th-century architectural style. Strolling around, you’ll find numerous old houses dated back to that time and that today, house museums of well-known Bulgarians. They’re definitely worth visiting for their interesting interiors, but admiring them from the outside is good enough too — their vivid colors, rich decorations, and distinctive shapes are truly something else. With that said, the best thing to do in Koprivshtitsa is to simply wander around and get lost in its narrow streets and alleys — you’re bound to fall in love with all the charming corners and stunning houses.
Where to stay: It's possible to visit Koprivshtitsa as an easy day trip from Sofia, but if you decide to stay overnight, there are plenty of good accommodations in town — you can even stay in old traditional houses!
21. Conques, France
By Mark from Mount Adventure Club
Tucked away on the side of a valley where two rivers meet sits small, original Conques. Most discover it by chance while walking the Le Puy Camino hiking route in southern France, but it is also easily accessible by driving from Lyon, Montpellier, or Toulouse. The settlement here was founded in the 8th century and steadily grew as a religious community, rapidly increasing once the imposing Abbey Church of Sainte-Foy received relics.
Eventually, the town lost its central role and was, in a way, forgotten about. The developments of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century passed the town by, meaning the roads are still narrow cobblestone lanes and the buildings are all, by and large, original medieval stone structures. The roads are too small for trucks and buses to pass through (most are nearly too small for cars) so the town remains almost as it was centuries ago. Walking into Conques feels engaging and genuine as you wind your way around the tight alleys and past low timber beamed homes.
The beautiful Abbey Church remains the overwhelming heart of the medieval town and is an unmissable visit. Its massive towers are visible from the entire town and the intricate carvings demand your attention. From its looming edifice, it’s a small wander across the square to a number of restaurants and cafes — a trip to Le Charlemagne for lunch on its grapevine-covered terrace is a great choice on a hot summer day. Conques sits almost as a modern museum, utterly charming and French to its core.
Where to stay: There are many gorgeous hotels in Conques surrounded by nature, but Camping Beau Rivage is also a great option with its riverside location and pool.
20. Trollpikken, Norway
By Aga from Worldering Around
Trollpikken in Norway is an interesting rock formation located in the south of the country, not too far from Stavanger. You can find it in the Geomagma park near Egersund, in the Eigersund municipality of Norway. Trollpikken was formed by ice during the last ice age, which happened over 10,000 years ago, and it’s made of a magmatic rock called anorthosite — this same type of rock can be found on the moon as well.
The uniqueness of Trollpikken lies in its shape. It has a characteristical form, one reminiscent of an elephant trunk or a banana, sticking out of the face of the cliff for a length of 12 meters (39 ft). The name “Trollpikken” literally means “Troll’s Spike”, and the place became famous in local media when the tip of Trollpikken was destroyed by vandalism. Later on, locals collected money and reerected the broken formation.
The hike to Trollpikken is quick and simple; the trail is 1.9 km (1.2 miles) one way. You can leave your car in the nearby car park and follow the route through a gravel road, a grassy area, and some smooth boulders. If you want to combine Trollpikken with other hikes across several days, some of the famous ones nearby are Kjerag and Preikestolen.
Where to stay: There are plenty of quaint Airbnbs in Egersund, which is only a 10-minute drive from Trollpikken. If you prefer a hotel, the Grand Hotel Egersund is perfectly located in the heart of town, with an amazing restaurant and beautiful rooms.
19. Lviv, Ukraine
By Inessa & Natalie from Through a Travel Lens
Located in the western part of Ukraine, Lviv is one of the most under-the-radar cities in Eastern Europe. And it really shouldn’t be. Everyone who comes here falls in love with its breathtaking mix of over 100 temples of all confessions and epochs, as well as with its Old Town. It’s also currently a thriving scene for lots of themed cafes and artisan shops.
A good place to start exploring Lviv is from Ploshcha Rynok, the main square of the Old Town. From late spring to early fall, lots of cafes set terraces there so people can sit down with a cup of coffee. Yes — in Lviv, time stops for coffee. There’s even a coffee mine inside Lvivska Kopalnya Kavy, one of the square’s shops. Right next to it is the old Pharmacy Museum, with its counters and cabinets made out of dark wood and shelves filled with countless mysterious vials.
Some of the other highlights in Lviv include the majestic Dominican Cathedral (which is more than 270 years old) and the City Hall tower — it’s well worth climbing the 306 steps up to the top to enjoy a gorgeous panorama of the city! Not even a week is enough to properly explore all of the city’s cute cobbled streets, let alone take day trips to enjoy the legendary castles in the Golden Horseshoe of the Lviv area!
Where to stay: Lviv’s Old Town has a diverse selection of accommodations, from comfortable hotels to budget-friendly hostels and lovely apartments in the historic buildings.
18. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
By Jackson from Journey Era
Lauterbrunnen is one of the most stunning regions in Switzerland with a picturesque valley and a quintessential Swiss-style village. Surrounded by the Swiss Alps and nestled down in the valley between the famous towns of Mürren and Wengen, it’s truly one of the most remarkable places in all of Switzerland.
What makes Lauterbrunnen so unique is that it has a plentitude of waterfalls. In fact, it’s commonly known as ‘Valley of 72 Waterfalls’. While you’re in Lauterbrunnen, you can enjoy the short trails to several of the waterfalls or tackle longer hikes up into the Swiss Alps. If hiking isn’t your chosen activity, take the cable car up to Schilthorn ‘007’ viewpoint, where you’ll be mesmerized by the snow-capped mountains… without having to work for the view!
For the adrenaline junkies, the best activity in the region is to paraglide from the cliff-tops down into Lauterbrunnen Valley or try the exhilarating Via Ferrata, a cliff-side climb where you’re attached by a harness as you traverse above Lauterbrunnen. There’s something for everyone in Lauterbrunnen, which is one of the most incredible little towns in Switzerland.
Where to stay: There are some truly epic Airbns in Lauterbrunnen, many of which are cozy mountain houses that offer incredible views! You can also find plenty of charming hotels nestled in the mountains.
17. Ohrid, North Macedonia
By Odette from Omnivagant
Situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid, you will find the picturesque city of Ohrid, a destination that is not only a cultural but also a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ohrid is filled with history and stunning views, and there’s one place in particular where the two of them are perfectly combined: the Church of St. John at Kaneo. This church is believed to date all the way back to the 13th century and is located on a cliff overlooking Lake Ohrid, a postcard-like view that is undoubtedly one of Ohrid’s most iconic sights.
However, there are also many more attractions worth discovering, especially in Ohrid’s Old Town. Visit the Church of Saint Sophia or head all the way up to the top of the hill to Tsar Samuel’s Fortress, a 10th-century fortress that offers a 360-degree view over the lake and Ohrid’s Old Town. Those seeking a relaxing vacation might want to stay close to the shores of the lake instead.
Wind down at one of the many lakefront restaurants to enjoy a drink with incredible views, or take a dip in the refreshing waters of the lake, even. Whether you’re a nature lover, a history buff, or simply feel like tasting the local cuisine, there’s truly something to do for everyone in Ohrid!
16. Sighisoara, Romania
By Arnav from Eat | Travel | Live | Repeat
In the historic region of Transylvania, Romania, lies one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns — Sighisoara. The main attraction of Sighisoara, apart from the pastel-colored houses and cobblestone streets, is the well-preserved Old Town, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
An interesting fact about this city is that it’s the birthplace of Vlad The Impaler, AKA Count Dracula, and the birthplace is also open to visitors as it’s been renovated into a museum/restaurant. The huge sign on the building is hard to miss! One of the best things to do in Sighisoara, which is indeed one of the most beautiful and well-preserved hidden gems of Europe, is to wander through the cobblestone streets. They’re lined with pastel-colored buildings, most of which have been refurbished into boutique homestays and B&Bs.
While the city does get busy in the summer months, it’s in the summer when you’ll find flowers in full bloom everywhere, be it on window silts or lining the buildings. Taking a virtual tour of the city through this Sighisoara travel photo blog will definitely have you adding it to your bucket list!
Where to stay: For an authentic experience, stay the night in one of the many B&Bs in town, and while you're there, try out the local pálinka in the inhouse distilleries, such as the one at La Teo. It can't get better than that!
15. Kangerlussuaq, Greenland
By Kristen from Yonderlust Ramblings
One of the most magical hidden secrets of Europe is the island of Greenland. The best way to glimpse its unique culture and otherworldly sights is to visit the quaint Greenlandic town of Kangerlussuaq, located on the southwestern coast. Kangerlussuaq is home to Greenland’s international airport, which makes it an ideal base for exploring a multitude of the best things to do in Greenland, from traversing the world’s second-largest ice sheet and walking among glaciers to sampling local cuisine!
Kangerlussuaq is a multi-faceted town, one that is brimming with distinctive experiences for every type of traveler. An active traditional culture is very much alive there, evidenced by travel still conducted by dog sled, boat, and snowshoeing, and residents bundled in musk oxen wool, still habitating local bodies of water to ice fish. In Kangerlussuaq, you can visit the local city museum, take a dog sledding tour, and sample Greenlandic dishes including reindeer, musk oxen, and seafood.
Outdoor adventures abound in Kangerlussuaq, including chances to visit stunning sights like the pristine Russell Glacier, the local peak Mount Hassell, and the world’s second-largest ice sheet, the breathtaking Greenland Ice Cap! Multiple local tours operate to provide visitors a glimpse of every perspective of Kangerlussuaq, from its peaceful harbor to its icy tundra, home to Arctic foxes and hares. And of course, don’t miss one of the best locations on the planet for Northern Lights viewing!
Where to stay: For history buffs, the best lodgings in Kangerlussuaq are renovated old military barracks rooted in WWII history, such as Old Camp Lodge and Polar Lodge.
14. Durdle Door, United Kingdom
By Jiayi from The Diary of a Nomad
Around a 2.5-hour drive southwest of London is an incredible beach and stone arch called Durdle Door. Although this natural escape is one of the most iconic landscapes of the Jurassic Coast, it’s still relatively unknown especially to those who live outside the UK. Durdle Door definitely deserves more attention though; it’s the perfect city getaway, especially if you’ve already hit all the most picturesque places in London and are ready to explore something different!
The stone arch of Durdle Door formed around 10,000 years ago when the sea pierced through a hard limestone that stood vertically out of the water. Aside from enjoying the stunning views and relaxing on the beach, some of the other incredible things to do here include rock-pooling, coasteering, camping, and taking nature walks, of course! There are also plenty of attractions to check out nearby. In fact, a trip to Durdle Door is best done on a road trip through the Jurassic Coast, stopping by the splendid Lulworth Cove, the charming Corfe Castle, and the secluded Mupe Bay — just to name a few.
Where to stay: There are plenty of cozy countryhouse inns and hotels in the area — the beachside Lulworth Lodge is especially breathtaking. Lulworth Cove Inn also offers rooms with stunning sea views, and for an elegant and fancy experience, there's Limestone Hotel.
13. Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain
By Joanna from Andalucia in My Pocket
Setenil de las Bodegas is one of Andalucia’s hidden gems; a white village you shouldn’t miss during your trip to the south of Spain. Located in the Cadiz province, Setenil de las Bodegas is a unique village because it was built inside a canyon rather than on top of a hill. Many of the houses in the village are in fact caves, with façades that resemble regular buildings. Some of the streets in the village are covered with large boulders and it’s intriguing and scary at the same time to walk underneath them!
There are plenty of things to do in Setenil de las Bodegas, from exploring the village to visiting the last remaining tower of a once mighty castle; from having lunch in a cave restaurant to finding the best viewpoints overlooking the village. While the village can get popular around lunchtime (when the locals go out for menu del dia), it’s very quiet otherwise. Setenil de las Bodegas is easy to reach from Malaga, Cadiz, and Seville; the driving time is around 1.5 hours from each of those cities.
Where to stay: Some of the cave houses in the village have been repurposed as B&Bs and usually cost €50/night, so if you want to spend the night in a unique accommodation, they're great choices to book!
12. Telč, Czech Republic
By Adriana from Czech the World
Telč is a small fairytale-like town surrounded by ponds, fields, and forests in the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic. It’s an ideal destination for anyone who wants to escape the rush of a big city and explore a picturesque historical town and its surroundings. Telč’s main square is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and is one of the most romantic places to visit in the Czech Republic. Imagine colorful historic houses with high gables and arcades built in Renaissance and Baroque styles, with lovely cafes, galleries, and little shops surrounding them. It’s truly a magical place.
Once you’re there, don’t forget to visit the 17th-century chateau with an English-style park, one of the gems of Moravian Renaissance architecture. The chateau’s facade is decorated with the beautiful sgraffito technique, which can also be found in other buildings around town. In general, houses and buildings in Telč are characterized by a myriad of decorative elements.
Besides romantic walks in the historical center, there are many other activities you can do in your free time in Telč. The most popular ones are cycling, horse riding, swimming, taking rope courses, visiting the nearby steam mill, exploring the technical museum, discovering the reconstructed underground, and much more!
11. Aran Islands, Ireland
By Pam from The Directionally Challenged Traveler
Some of the best islands of Ireland are the Aran Islands; an enchanting destination that often goes overlooked for the Cliffs of Moher. There are three islands — Inis Mór (Big Island), Inis Meáin (Middle Island), and Inir Oírr (East Island), and since they’re so remote, over the past few hundred years they’ve fostered a rich culture that is different than the rest of Ireland. In fact, the people who live on the Aran Islands speak a particular dialect of Irish and have their own homemade items such as Aran Knitwear.
The islands were originally owned by a family (who rented to the islanders who lived there) until the Irish Government bought them in 1921. Few people call the Aran Islands home, which makes it a great place to escape the crowds of larger tourist destinations. You can enjoy bike riding among the rock walls and past farms, spotting a wide array of wildflowers along the ride. Visiting the steep cliffs will get your heart racing — there’s no fence or railing stopping you from getting up close, so be careful!
You can see the Aran Islands on an extended Wild Atlantic Way road trip. Do yourself a favor and get off the beaten path; take a short ferry ride from Galway to these remote Islands and escape the chaos of the world — even if only for a night.
10. Eibsee, Germany
By Diana from The Globetrotting Detective
Eibsee Lake is one of the most spectacular lakes in Bavaria, Southern Germany. It’s situated at the foot of Zugspitze, about 100 km (62 miles) away from the Bavarian capital of Munich.
One of the main things to do around Eibsee is walking around the lake. It’s an easy 2-hour hike and a very unique adventure because the lake looks very distinct from each and every angle — its diverse beauty will take your breath away. After walking around the lake, simply sit down on the terrace of Eibsee Hotel’s restaurant and treat yourself to a Bavarian meal while admiring the sparkling emerald green water of Lake Eibsee. Around it, you’ll also see stunning greenery and majestic mountains.
If you enjoy hiking and decide to spend an entire day at Lake Eibsee, you can ride the famous Zugspitze Railway to Hammersbach or Grainau, and then hike to Eibsee Lake via Badersee Lake, another little hidden gem. During your hike to Eibsee, you’ll witness diverse landscapes, traditional Bavarian houses, and farms with local animals such as sheep, cows, and if you’re lucky — even alpacas.
Where to stay: Right next to the Eibsee lake lies Eibsee Hotel, a beautiful accommodation with gorgeous views, a modern spa, and free tennis courts.
9. Luxembourg’s Hiking Trails
By Inma from A World to Travel
The fact that Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe — and the world, for that matter — does not exempt it from having unprecedented natural wealth and dreamy landscapes. Establishing your base in the capital for a few days, it’s possible to discover the country through many Luxembourg hiking trails scattered throughout the territory thanks to its great network of public transport.
Well signposted and with many more amenities than one might expect, some of the best trails are Escapardenne Trail and Mullerthal Trail. If you only have a day or half a day in Luxembourg City, you may be interested in walking the Wenzel Circular Walk, a beautiful route that will take you through some of the best views of the city and one of its most important historical landmarks. Head to the article linked above to learn more details about these three hiking routes, including where to sleep and where to eat.
Where to stay: From glamping sites to modern youth hostels, there's a myriad of great accommodation to choose from in case you want to spend the night near the trails!
8. Baku, Azerbaijan
By Jiayi from The Diary of a Nomad
Despite its fascinating beauty and unique facade, Baku — the stunning capital of Azerbaijan, is still free of large crowds, making it one of the best destinations to head to if you enjoy traveling off the beaten path in Europe. This city also appeals to every kind of traveler, whether you’re interested in history, modern architecture, or natural wonders. In fact, one of the first things you’ll notice about Baku’s skyline is that there’s a very captivating blend of ancient and futurist architecture coexisting next to each other.
Some of the most best places to visit in Baku include the mysterious Maiden Tower (whose reason of existence is still debated upon by scientists), the iconic Flame Towers, Upland Park (where you can get a magnificent view of the whole city), Heydar Aliyev Centre (where you can learn about the history and culture of Azerbaijan), the historical Palace of The Shirvanshahs, the peaceful Heydar Mosque, and the very scenic Baku Boulevard.
After exploring the city, you can also take a day trip to see the intriguing mud volcanoes of Gobustan, an experience not to miss given that half of the world’s mud volcanoes are in Azerbaijan! Not too far from there is Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape Reserve, home to over 6,000 petroglyphs dating back to 20,000 years ago. They were said to be a part of pre-worship and pre-hunting rituals, and are absolutely worth a visit.
Where to stay: Da Vinci Hotel is at the heart of the historic center and offers rooms with beautiful views at very affordable prices. For a luxury experience, Four Seasons Hotel Baku will win your heart with its incredible terrace views of the Flame Towers.
7. Naxos, Greece
By Tiffany from A Girl and Her Passport
Most of us think of Santorini when we think of a Greek island to visit; however, there are over 200 other inhabited Greek islands to explore. This makes it hard to pick just one. When selecting a Greek island, most people want great beaches, some culture, and that island feel. Naxos has all of those things.
Naxos is a Cycladic island in the Aegean Sea. It’s located between Athens and Santorini, and is a great alternative to Santorini as well. Naxos’ beaches are sandy and very clean. Not only are they stunningly beautiful, but they’re plentiful as well. One of the beaches is located right in town, making it walkable from the ferry. Other beaches are reachable by public buses that run frequently during the summer.
Wandering the Old Town area of Naxos (also known as Chora) allows you to experience the history and culture of the city. At the top of the Chora is the Kastro area, which is home to a Venetian Castle. Within the Kastro district, you can also visit the Catholic Church, an archeological museum, and have a rooftop drink. Because Naxos is less known than its famous island cousins, you’ll avoid the crowds found there and really get to relax on your holiday!
6. Costa Nova, Portugal
By Jiayi from The Diary of a Nomad
Just a 20-minute drive from the vibrant city of Aveiro (which is an hour by train from Porto) is the tiny coastal town of Costa Nova, a charming fishermen’s village right by the beach. Costa Nova is characterized by its distinct rows of colorful striped houses, which used to be haystacks back in the days; they were built by fishermen in the 19th century to store their fishing materials. As time went by, the fishermen turned these haystacks into beach houses and sold them to different families as summer homes.
Today, strolling around Costa Nova, these rows of vibrant houses truly stand out. Painted in vertical stripes of red, blue, green, and yellow, it’s hard to not feel happy when looking at them. Sandwiching the houses are a lagoon and Costa Nova Beach, which offers a great range of water activities such as surfing, sailing, water skiing, and rowing. You can also relax on the nearby beaches of Vagueira and Mira. If you’re a fan of seafood, make sure to also stop by the Mercado do Peixe (fish market) and better yet — grab a meal at one of the small seafood restaurants in town!
Where to stay: To stay in a "typical" striped Costa Nova house, Costa Nova Hotel is the perfect choice as it's very close to the beach and many restaurants. Another option is Belle View Apartment, which offers great views over the lagoon. A good budget option is Family Hostel Costa Nova, which is also close to the beach.
5. Gdańsk, Poland
By Loredana from Destguides
Gdańsk is a small coastal town situated on Poland’s Baltic Coast. Considering its proximity to the neighboring beaches, most people assume that it’s only a good place to visit during the summer. However, Gdańsk is actually a great destination at any time of the year — yes, even in the cold winter months! A long weekend in Gdansk is time well-spent no matter the season.
Gdańsk is worthy of your dollar and time for several simple reasons. To begin with, your dollar goes further there than other more expensive and popular cities in Europe. Moreover, the city is easily walkable and the food is delicious and super affordable. In fact, having pierogies at one of Pierogarnia Mandu‘s locations and trying a traditional Polish doughnut are a must! If you get bored of touring the city, you can take day trips to the surrounding sites and areas, such as Malbork Castle. Immersing yourself in history at the Museum of the Second World War is also highly recommended.
Where to stay: A great place to stay in Gdańsk is Celestin Residence. It's modern, affordable, has friendly and helpful staff, and is centrally located in Gdańsk's Old Town. Not sure what else you could ask for?
4. South Styria, Austria
By Lori from Travlinmad
Südsteiermark (South Styria) in Southern Austria is still a well-kept secret. Known as the ‘Green Heart of Austria’, the area has beautiful green rolling hills covered by orchards and vineyards, all very reminiscent of Tuscany — yet just an hour drive from the city of Graz.
Dotted with colorful farms, wineries, historic castles, and boutique wineries, the area is popular with Europeans who flock there in the fall when the grape harvest is underway. Most importantly, Südsteiermark is known for producing the crisp white wines for which Austria is famous.
Hiking and biking are very popular there, but one of the very best things to do for food and wine lovers is driving the 44-mile South Styrian Wine Road. The country roads are well-marked and scenic every stretch of the way. You’ll pass through small towns like Gamlitz and Eckberg, so stop to browse the shops for a while before getting back on the Wine Road.
Better yet, book an overnight at a country inn, or büschenschank, to have dinner. These small social places by law can only serve their own wine and cold foods like smoked meats, homemade cheeses, and salads dressed with the local food specialty, pumpkin seed oil. To stay in a buschenschank, Gamlitz has many options, and Weingut Hack-Gebell is a solid choice — plus, their own food and wine are fantastic. Austrians already know the treasures of South Styria. Isn’t it time you found out too?
3. Zadar, Croatia
By Diana from Travels in Poland
Zadar, a beautiful hidden gem on the north coast of Croatia, is a city not to be missed with a variety of things to do and see. As one of Croatia’s main cities, it gets much less traffic than the larger Dubrovnik and Split, which are a lot more popular due to the filming of Game of Thrones.
Zadar has several islands off the coast that can be reached by boat. This is one of the best-kept secrets of the city; being able to take a boat out to an island for the fraction of the price of the southern coast. Zadar is also known for its ancient Roman architecture sprinkled throughout town. An old church is situated next to tombstones and stonework from the ancient Roman times. A bit further along the coast is another popular place, the Sea Organ. Carved into the stone along the coast, the hollowed-out bits create a beautiful organ tone when the waves lap into the side. The natural sound reverberates through the stone and visitors can sit atop it and listen to the peaceful sounds.
Not far from the Sea Organ is the Monument to the Sun. Inlaid into the walkways, the monument’s tiles are created directly according to the direction of the sun, and in the evening, a brilliant light display occurs. Thanks to its prime location, Zadar also has a fantastic array of hidden restaurants and great seafood. Finally, be sure to pop into some shops to get some lavender from the area, as it’s a wide-selling item in this part of Croatia.
2. Taormina, Italy
By Veronika from Travel Geekery
Taormina is a small town in the northeast of Sicily, one of Italy’s best islands. Many people visit Taormina for its amazingly preserved Ancient Greek Theatre. The amphitheater overlooks the sea and thus, apart from its historical value, also provides magnificent views. But there are also many other things to do in Taormina. The historical heart of the city is alive and kicking, and you can stroll the Corso Umberto to see that for yourself. Don’t leave out the wonderful churches lining it — from Santa Caterina Church to Piazza IX Aprile, where there are a few more.
A short cable car ride will take you downhill to Taormina’s beaches. Though usually quite packed, the small Mazzarò beach is very picturesque. Just a 5-minute walk from there is the much larger Isola Bella beach, with a tiny islet of the same name. You can even cross over to the islet itself and for a small fee, discover its abandoned house and all its hidden nooks.
If the beach hasn’t cooled you enough, you can also go for the famous Sicilian dessert — the granita. This icy sorbet-like dessert is eaten with brioche and can even substitute a light meal. For the best granita, head to Bam Bar.
1. Verdon Gorge, France
By Jiayi from The Diary of a Nomad
Nestled in the heart of Provence in Southeastern France is Verdon Gorge, Europe’s most ravishing river canyon and the deepest gorge in France. With its limestone cliffs reaching an impressive height of 700 meters (0.4 miles), Verdon Gorge was created by erosion caused by the Verdon River, which gots its name because of its turquoise-green water.
Although most tourists come to France to visit the popular Paris, Nice, or Alsace region, the less known Verdon Gorge and its surroundings are the perfect outdoor getaway. You can enjoy a wide range of activities here — from bird-watching and fishing to hiking, paragliding, and rock climbing. In fact, there are over 1,500 incredible climbing routes at the gorge encompassing lots of pillars, crack, and smooth walls — a truly thrilling experience! If you enjoy white-water sports, you’re at the right place too. There are lots of water activities to indulge in here, including kayaking, rafting, and canoeing.
Verdon Gorge can be explored through a road trip from one of the prettiest villages in France, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. You can get beautiful views of the gorge along the way, especially when crossing Pont de Sainte Croix, where the Verdon flows into Lake of Sainte-Croix. Bordering the lake is the medieval village of Bauduen, which offers more stunning views and charming beaches.
Where to stay: For the most incredible views of the Verdon, there's no better choice than Hotel & Spa des Gorges du Verdon, which also offers a sauna and hammam. Another option is the relaxing and scenic La Bastide De Moustiers nearby. If you enjoy camping, Camping RCN Les Collines is very close to the gorge and has a breathtaking outdoor pool!