Off-the-Radar Alternatives for 6 Typical Destinations
Why do you travel? Is it to fulfill a checklist of those "must-see" cities and landmarks, or is it to connect, to educate, and to get inspiration? There are really only a handful of cities in the top European countries that most people ever see. And while these places will always be worth your time, you can find another world of surprises beyond the often overcrowded spots. With a custom travel planner, no place is too out-of-the-way – you don't have to be stuck in the same easy route that has been carved out by millions before you.
While none of the places listed below are ‘undiscovered’, they can still help guide you toward the road less traveled.
Instead of Venice, try …
Venice may be in a league of its own, but if you’re in the market for canals dripping with romance and legend, and taking a step back in time, we have more than one great alternative for you:
Colmar, France:This little French town, next to the German border, even has its own “Little Venice” where you can have a lovely boat tour down the curving river. The cobblestone streets of this romantic getaway look exactly like a setting from “Beauty and the Beast”, with colorful half-timbered houses and early Renaissance architecture, and plenty of overflowing flower boxes to make your photos pop. This is also an important wine capital along France’s Alsace wine route, so you can also enjoy a scenic and tasty tour of the area’s vineyards.
Another French town with pastel-colored buildings, bedecked bridges, pretty canals, the cutest little fairytale palace/prison (now museum) floating in the canal, and even a chateau. And what’s even better than Venice, this town comes with a gorgeous lake that is a dream to paddle across, bike around, swim in, and just admire with its view of the mountains behind. Capital of the Haute-Savoie region, it’s close to Switzerland, and you can enjoy excellent alpine fare like raclette, tartiflette, fondue, vin chaud and local Savoie wines.
Often called the “Venice of the North”, the delightful Belgian city of Bruges has a lot to offer. This preserved medieval merchant town boasts historic streets lined with gingerbread houses, scenic boat rides down canalways, romantic folklore, pretty parks, Michelin-star fine dining, and museums (dedicated to fine art, diamonds, beer, chocolate, Belgian fried potatoes, lamps and even torture).
Instead of Florence, try …
Perugia, Umbria, Italy:
Looking for an Italian culture city with Renaissance art and architecture? It’s surprising that Perugia, the capital of the beautiful Umbria region, is mostly overlooked by travelers scouting out the treasures of Tuscany. This fun university city, just 2 hours south of Florence, has an amazing collection of Renaissance art from masters like Piero della Franceso, Fra Angelico, and “Perugino”, a local artist who was also the mentor of Raphael. The historical town itself presents wonderful medieval streets, piazzas and architecture that will please any fan of Florence. And the region of Umbria also features many other gems just asking to be admired.
Instead of Milan, try …
This 2,000-year-old city in the west of Germany is also well-known for its stunning Gothic cathedral. And in fact, the landmark icon of Cologne (or Köln) is over 150 feet taller than Milan’s. This fun university city is also known for its brew, the pale ale Kölsch, and has plenty of other ostentatious architecture to support the main attraction. Visit in December to see various city squares lit up with themed Christmas markets and warm winter beverages.
Instead of Barcelona, try …
San Sebastián, Spain:
A culinary superstar with a gorgeous strip of sandy beach, and plenty of cultural events on its calendar, San Sebastián is one of our favorite lesser-known destinations in Spain. The beautiful natural environment is set off by grand architecture from the Spanish royalty who frequented the area: from lavish belle époque to art nouveau structures, the old world streets and colorful boutiques of the historic center, to manicured green spaces and lively bars buzzing with people, you won’t miss the crowds of Barcelona. And did we mention the food? Make your taste buds sing at Michelin-starred establishments and local pintxos bars, selling the fresh tapas of the Basque region.
Valencia is like Barcelona back in the 60s, with many excellent attractions but very few visitors. It also boasts superb clean beaches along the Mediterranean. There’s plenty of culture in its old town center, with beautiful squares, grand palaces and Gothic churches. Then, for the whole family, you also have the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex designed by hometown architect Santiago Calatrava. Like Barcelona and San Sebastián, the city is also a renowned center for gastronomy – they did invent the paella after all!
Instead of Rome, try …
Rome is a big city that doesn’t suffer from overcrowding as much as some others on this list, but this is still a good chance to mention a couple of underrated Italian cities we adore:
It’s time to visit the unsung, regal city of Torino (Turin), the first capital of the united Kingdom of Italy. Ok, so there aren’t as many Roman ruins as you’ll find in Rome (the Roman city gate is the main highlight), but here you will find the story of modern Italy’s foundation. This elegant city was also a destination for great literary thinkers and intellectuals especially in the 19th century, and you can still sit at the same historic cafes frequented by Nietzche, Dumas, Puccini and Cavour. And you can’t forget to try the northern Italian delicacies, stop in the Cathedral’s chapel to see the Shroud of Turin, visit one of the world’s best ancient Egypt collections, and so much more!
This pink-hued city in the northern Veneto region is the perfect destination for those who like to mix music with their Roman ruins. Visit Verona’s well-preserved Roman arena, dating back to 30 AD, and during the summer months you can also attend a concert inside. Plenty of travelers are drawn to see the attractive architecture of the old town and its piazzas, especially the balcony where Juliet called to Romeo (Did you know that 3 of Shakespeare’s plays were set in this city?). And to make a trip to Verona even more worthwhile, you’re just an hour away from the shores of gorgeous Garda Lake.
Instead of Prague, try …
Prague is known for grand architecture, famous bridges, a meandering river and many bars, but Slovenia holds another gem waiting to be discovered. The clean, green and beautiful streets of Slovenia's capital city, Ljubljana, are quite as stunning as the celebrated avenues of Prague or even Paris. If you want a city with historic bridges, a walkable Old Town area, and eye-catching architecture, topped off with its own Castle and lively outdoor cafes and bars, this one’s for you.
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