.Deciding where to go on holiday can almost be as much fun as actually going, can’t it?
The whole world is open to you, and with nothing more than a passport, a suitcase, and a daydream. You could find yourself cycling through rice fields in Bali, jetting down the Hudson River with the New York skyline stretched out in front of you, or strolling along one of Europe’s many markets and town squares.
However, popular destinations can often become overcrowded and overpriced – particularly in peak season. So, it can be a good idea to venture off the beaten track and take a chance on a location that’s more up and coming. If you fancy going somewhere lowkey sometime soon, and like the idea of going somewhere that your friends haven’t already been, here are ten underrated cities in Europe that you should consider exploring.
Dubbed as a European Capital of Culture in 2011, it’s incredible that six years on, this city isn’t more popular with tourists. But, they don’t know what they’re missing… with a sparkling waterfront, medieval castles, and a bustling population of locals who enjoy dancing, dining, and chatting in the cafes, this is a city you have to go to when booking a city break.
If you’re interested in history, you’ll be pleased to know that you can walk the cobblestone streets and explore the medieval castle, as well as the cathedral next to the Old Great Square which is the most important religious building in Finland. If you find yourself here during the holidays, the Old Square is also a magical centerpiece to the city’s Christmas celebrations. Fantastic during the winter or during summers, you’ll love Turku for a slow-paced city break.
When people want to head to a Spanish city, it’s typically Madrid or Barcelona they think of visiting. But how about turning your attention to Barcelona’s smaller (but every inch as wonderful) counterpart, Girona?
This ancient Catalan city is dominated by a cathedral in the center of the city, with a blanket of twisting streets winding their way around it. The city boasts restaurants that have Michelin stars, so this is no sleepy corner of Spain and is instead a memorable place to dine out. And did we mention that the local wine is delicious, too? So…what are you waiting for?
If you think of Tuscany, what is it you imagine? Sweeping olive groves, rugged mountainsides warmed by the Mediterranean sun, and the grandeur and sophistication of Florence perhaps?
Well, a trip to Siena is every inch as romantic as all of this and is the perfect place to visit if you’d like to go to a city that feels low-key yet refined. A location for the James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, Siena was founded in Roman times and looks every inch as handsome as you might imagine.
The ancient city sits across three hills and is at the center of its honey-colored streets is the Piazza del Campo, the site of an old Roman forum. You can climb to the top of the Piazza’s tower for incredible views, or simply step inside the museum to see some of the most beautiful frescoes painted during Siena’s medieval government. Either way, make sure you have enough storage on your phone for all the photos you’re going to want to take.
If you’re a little bit trendy, you’ve probably fancied going (or have already visited) cities such as Copenhagen and Stockholm. For us though, Aarhus in Denmark is one that should be on your bucket list. Voted as one of 2017’s European Cities of Culture, we get the feeling this city will soon see an influx of tourists, so book yourself a flight as soon as possible if you want to beat the crowds.
In terms of finding things to do, stretch your legs along the city’s rainbow panoramic circular skywalk that or along the picture-perfect river that runs through the center. You can have barbeques on the beach which is just four kilometers north of the city or sample some of Aarhus’s restaurants.
Last year the city won an accolade for being a European Region of Gastronomy, and you’ll have the choice of Michelin starred restaurants, quirky cafes and everything in between.
Brno, Czech Republic
Brno is the Czech Republic’s second city, and it’s often overlooked by its more famous sibling, Prague. But, it’s considerably cheaper, far less busy and a whole lot less spoilt than Prague (you won’t see many stag dos here).
That’s not to say it’s not a great city for a night out – much the opposite is true in fact, and that’s due to the large student population at Brno’s University. There are plenty of nightclubs to choose from, as well as wallet-friendly cafes, so you can have a great time here if it’s drinking and dancing that you’re up for.
That said, you can stick to sober pastimes if you prefer, exploring the contemporary architecture the city has to offer (Brno was one of the leading centers of modernist architecture in the 20th century) or taking a tour of the streets on a Segway.
Often overlooked by tourists flocking to London, Edinburgh has just as much to offer in as far as culture, food, fashion, scenery, and music. Only, it’s a lot cheaper!
So, spend a few days exploring the West End Village (filled with award-winning speciality shops, cafes and restaurants), walk through parks, shop in luxury stores (or independent boutiques), hike your way to the top of Arthur’s Seat (it’s a short hike, don’t worry), sip a cocktail, watch a play at the Traverse, and find a great spot for dinner!
If you want to know what the Algarve looked like before it became a tourist hotspot, Tavira is the place to go. This city is definitely one of our top picks for underrated cities in Europe, mainly due to its location. Located east of Faro’s airport (and therefore perhaps the reason it’s stayed so authentic and traditional), Tavira has managed to keep off the changes of tourism.
It’s quiet, quirky (the beach is located 14km offshore, and requires catching a ferry from the town center to reach it) and utterly picture-perfect; just sit beside the Ponte Romana on the Gilão River to watch fishermen searching for clams in the shallows, or old men playing dominoes in the sun.
Related: Read our article on Europe in Winter to find all of our favorite holiday destinations.
Estonia isn’t particularly popular with tourists from the UK and Ireland, which is good news for those who know the value of maintaining Tallinn as a well-kept secret. It’s an incredible mix of old and new, with stone church spires stretching up into the sky alongside shimmering glass skyscrapers, and despite its previous reputation for raucous stag dos, it’s now somewhere that draws an increasingly sophisticated crowd.
It’s a small city, so you’ll find you can explore many of the best bits on foot, and because it’s located on the coast, you’ll get to enjoy the lively atmosphere and plentiful amenities while still being within easy reach of a sandy beach. However, as you can see, if you visit Tallin during Winter, this place transforms into a winter wonderland and can very well be one of our favorite spots in Europe during the winter.
Gothenburg is Sweden’s second city but every bit as exciting as Stockholm. Begin your visit with a tour on the hop-on-hop-off bus to get to know its streets and history, and then head out to the coast to explore the Gothenburg archipelago – a string of 20 islands that each have something different to offer a visitor. And, why not try fika while you’re in Gothenburg?
Fika (meaning taking a break to sit down with a coffee and a baked treat) is ubiquitous across the country, so you’ll be spoiled for choices when it comes to picking the best cafes to visit in Gothenburg. You won’t go wrong if you try fika at Ahlströms Konditori (they’ve been serving fika for more than 100 years, so it’s safe to say they know exactly what they’re doing by now), and Brogyllen is a great choice too with its grand pillars and glitzy chandeliers.
Another ‘second city’, Bergen is somewhere that will linger in your memory forever. Located on Norway’s south-western coast, it’s a truly stunning location: it’s surrounded by fjords and mountains, and it will leave you open-mouthed with amazement at how beautiful mother nature really is. But it isn’t just the natural scenery that’s pretty, with colorful wooden houses meeting a lip of ice cold water on the old wharf.
The city used to be an important Viking stronghold, so its bursting with history and legends too, so do make a point of stopping by the museums to see what you can learn. The markets are fantastic (the fish market is a must-visit for anyone who enjoys seafood), and a trip on the Fløibanen Funicular (a railway that will take you from the center of the city to the top of Fløyen mountain) will give you excellent views of Bergen below.
What about you? Have you been to any of these underrated cities? Do you have a favorite from this list?