21 Beautiful and Wildly Underrated Cities in Europe
There’s so much more to Europe than London, Paris and Rome—and sometimes it’s the less popular locales that prove the most spectacular vacation spots of them all. Take the road less travelled and visit these gems, which we’re celebrating as the most underrated cities in Europe.
Although the city of Split, Croatia, is one of the most underrated cities in Europe, it’s sure to appeal to just about any traveller. It is known for fine dining, excellent shopping and loads of bars to choose from. The city is also home to the Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and formerly a retirement palace built for the Emperor Diocletian around the year 300 A.D. If that weren’t enough reason to book your trip to Split right now, then the captivating view of the sea from this coastal town will surely do the trick.
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The city of love may be calling your name but before you book your ticket to Paris, you might want to consider Vézelay. Built back in the 11th century, this ancient city is known for its vineyards, and the famous church built for Mary Magdalene. Built on a hilltop, this town is nothing short of picturesque. Fine wine, inspiring architecture and beautiful landscapes ensure a most peaceful stay.
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Madrid and Barcelona may be among Spain’s most visited cities, but Gibraltar will inspire awe in even the most jaded traveller. Historically, Phoenicians were thought to be the first inhabitants of Gibraltar (around 950 B.C.), but new evidence suggests that Neanderthals were here as far back as 28,000 B.C. The Rock of Gibraltar, which borders Spain, is its only official landmark, but the densely populated city is so rich in its own unique culture and history that it never disappoints.
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Rome isn’t the only Italian city with rich history, culture and architecture. Located in Northern Italy, Ferrara, a lesser-known and less frequently visited city, is the destination missing from your summer itinerary. Ancient walls—nearly nine kilometres long—surround this city, which is filled with immense cathedrals and castles that date back to the 14th century. Every road and building are reminiscent of the era the city was constructed, garnering it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
Bordering Germany and France, this multicultural, multi-lingual city is among Europe’s most unique. Boasting the most museums in Europe, it’s a culture-lover’s dream. It also happens to be peaceful and quiet with an absolutely serene atmosphere, making it the perfect getaway from everyday stressors.
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Are you a wine lover? Porto is one of the top wine destinations in the world, featuring grapes grown in the region’s Douro Valley. Porto is a vibrant city that is worth visiting before it becomes overrun with tourists, because it is rapidly becoming one of Western Europe’s most desirable destinations. The city boasts extensive history, buzzing nightlife, and scenic boat rides.
The second largest city in Sweden, Gothenburg is known as a university town—but it’s much more than that. With a handful of extraordinary festivals, it’s a vibrant and fun place to visit all year round. Gothenburg is also an exemplar of Scandinavian architectural style, rich in history and culture.
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If you’re looking for cobblestone streets and dreamy canals, Bruges is a European city that will immediately capture your heart. The lively city has a rich culture and is a true hidden gem. History buffs should check out The Bruges Begijnhof, which has been a World Heritage Site since 1998.
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The city of Dresden was largely destroyed by the end of World War II. Since then, the city has been rebuilt and has come to be known as an elegant and chic Baroque town. Home to some of Germany’s largest universities and most renowned museums, the picture-perfect town, located right near the Czech border, flies under the radar but soars above the expectations of any traveller.
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Prague, Czech Republic
Though Prague is a well-known city in the Czech Republic, it’s not often considered a popular vacation destination. On the contrary, Prague is an extraordinary place to visit, rich in culture, history and magnificent architecture. Churches and cathedrals that date back to the 10th century can be seen while strolling through the city, and you’ll find the locals are friendly and welcoming. And if you’re a fan of beer, you’ll love it all the more. They serve it with breakfast here, and It’s often the cheapest drink on the menu.
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Recently ranked number one on Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe 2018 destination list, Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s foodie heaven. Bologna is the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy. Often overshadowed by the country’s popular cities like Florence and Rome, this region is a must-see for travellers planning a trip to Europe.
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One of the oldest cities in Europe and built on the confluence of two rivers, Belgrade is the city that never sleeps. As one of the most underrated cities for nightlife, Belgrade is known for its floating lounges called splavovi, which are anchored along the Danube and Sava rivers during the summer. Each splavovi has its own musical genre and they aren’t limited to weekends only. Belgrade is also home to an ancient fortress built in 535 BC that sits atop a cliff.
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Sitting on the west coast of Scotland, Ayrshire is a destination with the perfect combination of island life, countryside towns, and sandy shores. Whether you’ll be exploring the nearby castles or driving down the coast, there are plenty of hidden gems to find along the way. Glenapp Castle is a European hidden gem—the five-star luxury castle hotel sits in an area of extraordinary natural beauty in Ayrshire. Here are more gorgeous castles you can rent on Airbnb.
Beautiful and often overlooked, Helsinki has a vivid design, food, and wellness scene, and has recently been voted the best city in the world to raise a family. Finnair offers a stopover program that lets travellers stop in Helsinki for up to five days on the way to or from other European cities, including Rome and Berlin. The stopover costs no additional airfare—it’s just a matter of time and planning—so consider this your excuse to explore more of Europe.
A cultural hub to the region, Cologne is a city you don’t want to miss when visiting Germany. The awe-inspiring Cologne Cathedral is known for its gothic architecture and sweeping river views. Make sure to visit the Fischmarkt area, an old town square filled with restaurants, colourful old houses, a fountain, and outdoor cafes.
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Zurich is an often overlooked travel destination in Europe. The Swiss banking metropolis offers canals, the stunning Lake Zurich, a lively art gallery scene, impressive medieval architecture, and a world-class food scene. Unlike other well-known European canal cities, Lake Zurich’s water is clean enough to swim in year-round. With views of the distant Alps, the luxurious Baur au Lac hotel is surrounded by its own park on the shores of the lake while still offering easy access to the bustling city.
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Cities and towns scattered throughout the sprawling English countryside are filled with some of the world’s most historic and amazing sights. The Cotswolds offers charming old-world ambiance mixed with natural beauty—its towns feel like storybook villages. The iconic Lygon Arms hotel in the Cotswolds village of Worcestershire has roots dating back to the 14th century, and guests can stay in the suite where Oliver Cromwell slept the night before the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
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Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
The southwestern castle city of Český Krumlov is also one of the Czech Republic’s finest medieval sites. Its Old Town is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, a maze of twisting alleys built around the extensive Český Krumlov Castle. The city is also one of the most picturesque towns in Europe, making visitors feel as though they’ve stepped into another era.
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Love hiking and outdoor sports? Innsbruck is the ultimate European destination for adventure and recreation year-round. In fact, the town has hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice (in 1964 and 1976). Innsbruck is nestled in a unique location where the mountains meet the valley, and which makes the city feel one with nature.
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Tucked away in southeastern France, Annecy is a charming, medieval village within the Rhone-Alpes region. It’s known for its crystal-clear blue lake waters, snow-capped mountains, historic markets, and active culture. Biking, hiking, boating, swimming, and even paragliding are all common activities for residents and visitors. Surrounded by the picturesque Alps, visiting Annecy feels like stepping into a fairy tale. Located on the edge of Lake Annecy is Auberge du Père Bise, a famous hotel with 23 rooms and suites owned by Michelin star chef Jean Sulpice and his wife, Magali. The hotel has housed celebrities and politicians from the world over, and it continues be a prime vantage point for lake viewing.
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Want to visit a city that lies at the foot of popular ski mountain Vitosha? Sofia is Bulgaria’s often overlooked, laid-back, culture-filled capital. Offering stunning views of Narodno Sabranie Square and Alexandar Nevski Cathedral, the ultimate luxury hotel InterContinental Sofia helps give travelers a full immersion into this destination.
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