Travelers from all over the world flock to Europe, and the reason why is no secret. The continent is packed full of famous cities, each one slightly different and all very much worth a visit. When holiday-makers think of Europe, a few famous cities immediately come to mind – Barcelona, Paris, Berlin – however, the experienced traveler might find these famous urban centers a little too full of tourist traps and overpriced hotels.
Here are some of Europe’s most underrated cities for holidays – perfect for the traveler who wants to jump off the beaten path and into the thickets of the lesser-known. Just make sure you visit before the stag-dos discover them!
The Baltic States took a long time to shake off the shadow of the Cold War, and only in the past decade have tourists been discovering the incredible (and incredibly cheap) holidays that await them in North-Eastern Europe.
One of the gems of the area which has yet to be discovered by the crowds is Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. If you take the beautiful castles of Prague, infuse them with the culture of Paris and invite the friendly locals of Budapest, you’ll have something similar to Tallinn.
Wandering through this ancient and beautiful city is a joy for the eyes, and on every corner, there is a bar or restaurant to keep you going. Plus, cheap holidays on teletext to Tallinn can be found throughout the year.
Since the 2008 film In Bruges starring Colin Farrell came out, crowds of tourists have descended on the Belgian city of Bruges. While the shopkeepers of nearby Ghent might be jealous, they shouldn’t be, because their city is equally as beautiful but doesn’t have to deal with the obnoxious crowds.
Like it’s a more famous neighbor, Ghent offers incredible medieval architecture, copious amounts of Belgian beer (one bar offer it in glasses so beloved that patrons have to deposit a shoe before being served it to stop them being stolen) and, of course, waffles aplenty.
Having a world-famous competitor nearby also means that Ghent offers far more reasonable hotel rates and taxis always seem to be easier to find on a Saturday night.
People go to Italy for many reasons, but when they arrive everyone seems to have the same idea – ‘let’s get some food’. However, tourists often make the mistake of heading to Rome or Milan, when really they should be visiting Parma, one of the best gastronomic centers in the world.
Parma was once voted as the Italian city with the best quality of life. The sublime food might be a reason for this. Or maybe it’s that this charming spot is small enough that you can easily explore it on foot? Perhaps it’s the great weather and friendly locals? Whatever the reason is, you’ll have to discover it yourself.
Utrecht, The Netherlands
As the lesser-known alternative to Amsterdam, Utrecht is a picturesque, canal-clad city that has not been flooded by tourists yet. Still, it features everything that tourists love about the Netherlands, including plenty of Dutch coffee shops (including one on a boat), LGBTQ-friendly nightlife and amazing beers and ‘bitterballen’.
Utrecht’s claim to fame is being home to the world’s biggest bicycle parking area – a gigantic structure next to the train station which provides a secure parking space for 12,500 bicycles. In this student city where most journeys are made by bike, locals agree that it’s probably not big enough.
In Utrecht, you can explore plenty of independent shops, art galleries and cafes along the Oudegracht (the main canal) and throughout the historic city center – ideal for off-the-beaten-track travelers.
For a completely different view on Europe, we can’t recommend Belgrade enough for a city break. Despite being the capital city of Serbia, you’ll find hardly any tourists here and the lively streets are littered with locals chatting away.
Belgrade is home to some amazing street art which you will find scattered around town – the Lower Dorćol district, for example, shows the more alternative side of the city in a formerly industrial area. While you’re there, visit Pržionica D59B for Belgrade’s best cup of coffee.
Whereas Serbia’s turbulent history is still very present in Belgrade and its inhabitants, the city has been booming with foreign investment, resulting in an interesting contrast between the brutalist, socialist-realist and Serbo-Byzantine architecture of the city center and the branded office buildings on the outskirts of town.