Although the more well-known cities of Europe present a plethora of iconic landmarks and rich history, getting off the beaten path provides a glimpse at a different side of European life. Discover pristine natural sites, wander archaic castles and archeological wonders, and learn about history through the eyes of locals in these less-visited destinations.
Ready to experience cities that are more untouched by tourism? Get to know the heart of the place with these 10 underrated cities in Europe.
Nestled in the Peloponnese region of Greece, the seaside port city of Nafplio is a relatively under-the-radar destination with much to offer. Located along the Argolic Gulf, walkable Nafplio is chock-full of castles, culture, and archaeological sites, making it one of the most underrated cities in Europe.
Visit the Theatre of Epidaurus, an ancient venue built in 340 B.C. that used to seat approximately 13,000 spectators and was regarded as a place for healing through the arts. The well-preserved site is known for its impeccable acoustics that you can try out for yourself when visiting the expansive structure. Visit the on-site museum to truly appreciate the significance of the site’s history and architecture.
Perched high upon a city hill, you’ll discover Palamidi Fortress, built by the Venetians in the early 1700s. Climb over 800 stairs to get to the top, or drive up to the site. Step back in time as you stroll through the stone walkways and gaze in awe at the breathtaking views of the gulf and the city below.
In-the-know travelers love the city of Bruges for its culinary delights, authentic Belgian brews, gorgeous canal-weaved streets, and fairytale-like ambiance. The historical city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and art and cultural experiences keep you enthralled in between sampling the country’s famous waffles.
For a fantastic viewpoint of Bruges from above, trek up the 366 steps of the iconic Belfort (Belfry Tower), dating back to Medieval times. Count all 47 carillon bells and admire the lively historical market square below.
Sample the region’s rich chocolate, or learn the art of crafting handmade chocolates in a country that’s known for excelling at just that. Professional chocolate makers will share their trade secrets as they teach you about the intricacies of making this sweet treat.
Known for arts, culture, and musical history, Liverpool is Northern England’s alternative to the well-visited London. Several UNESCO World Heritage sites, a bustling waterfront district, the start of The Beatles, and the city’s friendly, creative vibe make for a well-rounded destination to explore.
Spend your day in Liverpool exploring the historical city center’s landmarks and museums, like the Royal Liver Building, Liverpool Cathedral, the Royal Albert Dock, and the Maritime Museum, while spending time in the afternoon to pop into local eateries and pubs.
No trip to Liverpool is complete without a bit of Beatles history. Pose at the famous Penny Lane; visit the Cavern Club, a popular venue that the band played in often; and experience the overall soul of the city through the eyes of the musical talents that were inspired by their hometown.
Venture an hour outside of the city to witness the beauty of Conwy Castle in Wales, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and medieval fortress. Feel like royalty as you admire the soaring towers that rise above the picturesque harbor. Learn about the battles that took place here as you explore the castle, set amongst the backdrop of the Snowdonia mountains.
On the northeastern coast of Spain, nestled in the beautiful Basque Country, Bilbao is ready to wow with its cultural and culinary treasures. Indulge in authentic tapas, known as pintxos; admire the innovative architecture that manages to mix the old and new seamlessly; and experience the city’s artsy atmosphere and diverse set of neighborhoods.
Wander the Old Quarter of Bilbao, where you’ll be charmed by a myriad of architectural styles like Baroque, Renaissance, and Modernist. Peruse the quaint boutiques, sample the local cuisine, wind your way through the historic, narrow streets, and enjoy exploring this Spanish treasure.
Visit the Vizcaya Bridge, perched over the Nervion River, which joins the towns of Portugalete and Las Arenas in a unique way. This “hanging” bridge is its own UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the way it transports passengers and cars via cable car, while allowing for taller boats to pass by underneath.
Visiting the Guggenheim is a must-do not only for art enthusiasts, but for anyone looking to appreciate culture while spending time in Bilbao. Crafted and built by architect Frank Gehry, the museum hosts contemporary art exhibits and is a stunning piece of art in and of itself.
Once you’ve had your fill of Bilbao, consider heading to nearby San Sebastian, a seaside village gem complete with waterside promenade about an hour away.
The lesser-known Croatian destination of Zadar on the country’s northern Dalmatian Coast is a relatively undiscovered jewel well worth exploring. Indulging in fresh seafood at every meal and marveling at the swoon-worthy backdrop of the Adriatic Sea to the west and the Velebit mountain range to the east are highlights of any trip here.
Rich with history, including Roman and Venetian ruins, Zadar is the perfect jumping-off point for venturing to nearby islands with stunning beaches or inland to hike in awe-inspiring national parks brimming with waterfalls.
Strolling through the old town of Zadar, you’ll feel transported back in time. Visit St. Mary’s Church, the Cathedral of St. Anastasia, the Church of St. Donatus, and the Museum of Ancient Glass to learn about the long-running tradition of glass-blowing in the region.
Adventure along the Zrmanja and Krupa rivers in the Velebit Nature Park, and embark on a kayak safari through clear waters as you navigate rapids and marvel at waterfalls throughout the canyon. Head to the hills above the city for a wine tasting experience at the Royal Vineyards, where you’ll sip and savor pairings while taking in the panoramic views of Zadar below.
Italy is always a good idea, and Trieste is another hidden pearl to prove that. Wander the ancient Roman Amphitheater that still stands; gaze at the resident Castle of Saint Giusto, perched upon the Capitoline Hill, which offers fantastic views of Trieste; and sample regional Italian food, like the local goulash Triestino.
Admire the largest seaside piazza in Europe, the Piazza Unita d’Italia, Trieste’s main square featuring many historical and architecturally impressive buildings. Enjoy an espresso or evening aperitif while people-watching in what has been historically referred to as the “front parlour” of the city.
Visit the Faro della Vittoria, a lighthouse built in the 1850s on Gretta Hill that serves as a beacon over the Gulf of Trieste. Art enthusiasts will jump for joy at the opportunity to observe modern art in the Museo Revoltella, founded by the city’s famous resident, Baron Pasquale Revoltella, in the 19th century. The museum also showcases his house, making this a unique experience.
On the southern coast of Spain, you’ll find the gorgeous Costa del Sol, a stretch of seaside bliss on the Mediterranean. It’s there that you’ll unearth the up-and-coming city of Malaga, a city to slow down and savor, the Spanish way.
Malaga is proof that the capital of Andalusia, once known only as a transit city with the region’s airport, can come back to life. The city’s diverse history is reflected in the architecture and culture which you’ll discover within this underrated city in Europe.
The city is rife with famous attractions. Malaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso—a visit to his home and the Malaga Picasso Museum are a must for art and history appreciators. Visit Alcazaba Palace, a castle constructed in the 11th century at the bottom of the Gibralfaro Hill. Continuing further up the hill, Gibralfaro Castle awaits with some of the most awe-inspiring views around.
Ready for a beach break? Head to El Bajondillo Beach for sun, sand, and siesta. The paved promenade is perfect for a walk with a sea breeze to cool you off, and the beach itself has plenty of facilities available, including chair rentals and cute cafes. If you’re interested in a more active venture, the Montes de Málaga Natural Park offers trails for hikers and bikers amongst this protected nature area.
Resting on Slovenia’s Adriatic Coast and sandwiched between Croatia and Italy, the city of Koper is often overlooked for the nearby city of Piran. The rich history and Venetian influence of this medieval port town is well worth a visit, and without the crowds to boot.
A solid starting point in Koper is Tito Square, where you can visit the Cathedral of St. Mary’s Assumption, Praetorian Palace, and make your way up the stairs of the Bell Tower, which reward with stunning views. Meander through the charming old town, shop on Shoemaker Street, sip drinks by the harbor, and taste local delights at the open-air farmer and flea markets in Carpaccio Square.
Koper serves as a great base for exploring the surrounding villages and natural attractions. About 45 minutes northeast of the city, discover the underworld of Slovenia at the Postojna Caves, a wonder of nature carved by the Pivka River. Stand in awe at the incredible stalactites of this five-kilometer cave system.
Get your adrenaline pumping with a white water rafting expedition on the well-known Soca River. Approximately two hours from Koper, the vivid green waters await to push you out of your comfort zone as you paddle through untouched nature.
Southwestern Norway is home to the city of Stavanger and an abundant number of natural escapes to experience. Fjords, hiking trails, boat trips, and endless beauty will immerse you in Norwegian nature as you explore the city and its surroundings.
History is evident in landmarks like the Stavanger Cathedral, built in the 12th century, as well as the preserved wooden housing settlement. The city goes deep on the Norwegian cuisine and cultural fronts too, making this underrated European city a very well-rounded destination.
Within Stavanger’s old town, learn about its culinary history and traditions at the Canning Museum before sampling local foods at the market square. Be sure to try the salmon, as it’s some of the best in the world.
Embrace your inner Viking while exploring the Lysefjord by land and by boat for the ultimate Norwegian scenery. Take a high-speed RIB boat for an adventurous peek into the 25-mile-long fjord, where you’ll encounter waterfalls, rock formations, and soaring mountains.
For another vantage point of the Norwegian fjords, hike to the famous Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen). Reaching the flat rock and overlooking the incredible fjord scenery is an unforgettable experience.
The province of Murcia in southwestern Spain is home to Cartagena, one of the most underrated cities in Europe. The city is host to castles, monuments and museums, a lively harbor, a walled old town, incredible Roman Theater ruins, and a gorgeous beach.
Dive into the historical side of Cartagena with a visit to Concepción Castle, built in the 13th century. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the city and a lovely garden to stroll in, too. Nearby, admire the stunning facade of the Palacio Consistorial and discover the relics of the Punic Wall, an ancient defensive barrier built to protect the city.
If relaxation is on the docket for you, spend a bit of time lounging on Cala Cortina, a beach adjacent to the town center with facilities for refreshments and chair rentals. Afterward, you can stop at a local brewery to learn about Cartagena’s craft beer scene while tasting some of those brews.
Experience the Spanish countryside and visit a local ranch to meet the famous pure-bred Spanish horses. Learn about the training center before watching an exciting stampede show.
Visit these underrated cities in Europe and uncover some hidden gems on a luxury European cruise. From ancient historical ruins and palatial medieval castles to thrilling adventures and natural wonders, these cities have much to be discovered.
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