August 17 , 2023
There’s so much wonderment packed into the European continent, you could spend a whole lifetime trying to see it all. Yet somehow, the major share of tourists’ attentions is concentrated in a relatively small percent of the region’s cities. And while those typical places like Venice and Paris will always be worthy of your time, there’s a world of surprises waiting beyond the overcrowded itinerary regulars. With a custom-made travel plan, no city or small village 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 the places on this list aren’t necessarily ‘off the radar’, they will still help guide you toward the road less traveled.
Venice may be in a league of its own, but if you’re in the market for canals dripping with romance and legend, we have more than one great alternative for you.
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 romantic Colmar 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 take time to enjoy a scenic and tasty tour of the area’s vineyards.
Photo by Pierre Blaché on Pexels
Another French town, Annecy is a vision of pastel-colored buildings, bedecked bridges, pretty canals, the cutest little fairytale palace/prison (now museum) floating in the canal, and even a chateau. And, here’s something Venice doesn’t have – 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, Annecy is close to Switzerland, so you can enjoy excellent alpine fare like raclette, tartiflette, fondue, vin chaud and local Savoie wines. Near the Alps, this makes a picturesque, cozy retreat for wintertime as well.
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels
If you’re looking for that Italian Renaissance flair Florence is so known for, then head to the delightful capital of the Umbria region, an art city in the midst of an idyllic rural landscape.
The hometown of the artist Raphael’s own master teacher, Pietro Vannucci, Perugia is a small city of art, chocolate, and incredible scenery. It’s surprising that this city is mostly overlooked by travelers who throng to Tuscany on its doorstep. This fun university town, just 2 hours south of Florence, has an amazing collection of Renaissance art from masters like Piero della Franceso, Fra Angelico, and “il Perugino” (Raphael’s mentor). The historical town itself presents wonderful medieval streets, piazzas and architecture that will please any fan of the Florence aesthetic. And the region of Umbria features plenty more gems (Assisi, Spoleto, Montone, etc.) for the curious traveler.
Photo by tonixjesse on Pixabay
Catalonia is not the only region in Spain that serves up remarkable beaches and noteworthy cuisine. These beach cities in the Basque Country and on the Valencian Coast are major centers of culture and gastronomy.
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? Let your taste buds sing at Michelin-starred establishments and the local pintxos bars, which sell the fresh tapas of the Basque region.
Photo by ultrashricco on Unsplash
Valencia is like Barcelona back in the 60s, with many excellent attractions but very few visitors. The area is a beach destination, boasting plenty of clean, sandy shores from its position in the middle of Spain’s Mediterranean coast, over 200 miles south of Barcelona. The sea doesn’t outshine the city’s cultural interest – Valencia’s old town center is a world of beautiful squares, grand palaces, Gothic churches, markets and museums. Then, for the whole family, you can’t miss 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 – after all, you can thank the Valencians for inventing paella!
Photo by jonnyjames on Unsplash
No Italian city could offer the same menu of historically and culturally significant attractions as Rome, and yet the following two beautiful places have each played an important role in the history and legend of the nation.
It’s time to visit the unsung, regal city of Torino (Turin), the first capital of the united Kingdom of Italy. You won’t find many Roman ruins (the Roman city gate is the main highlight), but instead you will find the story of modern Italy’s foundation. This elegant city was once a particular 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. Don’t forget to try the hearty northern Italian cuisine (like risotto, mountain cheeses and sweet warming beverages), stop in at the Cathedral’s chapel to see the Shroud of Turin, visit one of the world’s best ancient Egypt collections, and so much more!
Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash
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 are set in this city?). And to make a trip to Verona even more worthwhile, you’re just an hour away from the gorgeous shores and towns of Garda Lake.
Photo by Gabriel Castles on Unsplash
If you’re thinking of the ‘City of Lights’, then you’re thinking of romance. There’s a small city at the edge of the Balkans that presents old-world European charm in a lovely, dare we say romantic, green paradise.
Paris is known for grand architecture, romantic bridges, and picture-perfect streets, and so is Ljubljana! – a true gem waiting to be discovered. The clean, green streets of Slovenia’s capital city are just as winsome as the celebrated avenues of Paris, but on a more intimate scale. There’s no need for a checklist of things to see in Ljubljana, so you can simply stroll its walkable old town area and let yourself discover lively outdoor cafes, breweries and unique museums. Like an ode to a fairytale, the castle up on the hill overlooks a city adorned with dragon sculptures and cobblestone lanes. Go beyond the capital for day trips to Slovenia’s stunning natural sights: Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj, Vintgar Gorge, Predjama Castle, the Skocjan or Postojna Caves, seaside Koper and Piran, and the Lipica Stud Farm.
Photo by Eugene Kuznetsov on Unsplash
Dubrovnik, the jewel of the Adriatic, has become Europe’s most overloaded tourist destination. Don’t worry, Croatia’s hidden region of Istria has plenty of medieval charm, along with nature, wine and the sea.
Far to Croatia’s northern region near Italy, you find a peninsula of quaint hilltop villages, olive groves, vineyards, and terracotta-roofed historic centers that cozy up to the crystalline waters of the Adriatic. You’ve landed in Istria. This region boasts several noteworthy towns with pretty Venetian architecture, albeit on a smaller scale than Dubrovnik. To the north, the small fishing village of Novigrad has its own historic walls and medieval urban center, a charming gateway to beautiful beaches and Istria’s rich cuisine, known for its heavy Italian influence. As you go south, the sights of Istria get better and bigger: Poreč is an ancient Adriatic city with a UNESCO-listed basilica; Rovinj has one of the most beautiful old towns in the country; and Pula harbors a collection of Roman ruins.
Photo by Leonhard Niederwimmer on Unsplash
Need help deciding where to go, or how to make it happen? You can call or email us now at 1-781-826-7610 and firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to talk with you about your next travel plans!