Hidden Gems in Europe You Should Visit in 2020
Are you looking for destinations that aren’t overcrowded with tourists? Maybe somewhere that isn’t on most people’s vacation radar? I reached out to some well-travelled (and very talented) travel bloggers and writers to find out their recommendations for hidden gems in Europe that YOU should visit this year!
Wondering why I don’t like to use the phrase ‘off the beaten path’ to describe these destinations? Take a read of my article on why this phrase can be considered offensive to some!
From Western Europe to the Caucasus and from mainland Europe to European islands, there are so many incredible destinations in this continent I call home. My current aim is to visit every single country in Europe by the time I’m 30 (for context, I’m 24 and have three countries left) but, even though I’ve visited almost every country in Europe, there are still so many cities, towns and regions that I haven’t yet explored!
While I have some favourite hidden gems in Europe, I called upon fellow travel bloggers to recommend destinations that they think are underrated vacation spots. So whether you’re looking for a peaceful beach holiday or a chill city break, these are the stunning European destinations that travel bloggers think you should visit in 2020!
Hidden Gems in Europe You Can’t Miss in 2020
We can’t talk about underrated destinations to visit in Europe without mentioning Tirana. The capital of Albania is not on many people’s radar. For too long, Albania has had a (false) negative reputation as a centre of crime. Tirana is a wonderful and safe city and has undergone a major transformation in recent years. The city painted many dull buildings in the centre in bright colours, there are bike lanes if you want to cycle and you can find big boulevards perfect for strolling through the city.
Tourists will love the multi-religious identity of Tirana where you can find mosques and churches within walking distance from each other.
Start your trip at Skanderbeg Square with its statue of Skanderbeg (an Albanian national hero) and the big Albanian flag. To learn about the city’s Ottoman past, make sure to visit Et’hem Bey Mosque, the National Historical Museum, and the Clock Tower (Tirana’s landmark). Just off Skanderbeg Square, you will see the gorgeous, colourful government buildings.
But no visit to Tirana would be complete without a stroll along the tree-lined promenade that is Murat Toptani Street. The pedestrian street is close to the walls of Tirana Castle.
As well as the National History Museum, you can also visit the National Gallery and the incredibly interesting House of Leaves. The House of Leaves, or the Museum of Secret Surveillance, details the painful reality under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.
In the evening, visit the Blloku neighbourhood. This trendy Tirana neighbourhood is where you will find cool bars and cafés. During Communist times, only government officials could enter Blloku but now the people have turned it into the place to enjoy an evening out.
Tirana’s young and modern population is excited about tourists visiting their city and will welcome you with open arms. Check out all eight reasons Tirana is my favourite city in the Balkans.
Nina from Lemons and Luggage
Every time I ask people what Austrian cities they know, I always get the same answer: Vienna, Salzburg and sometimes Innsbruck.
No one ever mentions the beautiful city of Graz.
Even though Graz is the second biggest city in Austria, very few people include it in their Austrian itinerary. The Styrian capital is really worth a visit and they are definitely missing out! Despite being the second biggest Austrian city, Graz still has its very own provincial charm. There’s a relaxed atmosphere in the entire city and Styrian people are probably the friendliest folk in Austria.
Graz has a lot of awesome things to see and do that you shouldn’t miss when you visit. For example, the famous clock tower called “Uhrturm” overlooks the city from a hill called “Schlossberg” (Castle Hill). The view from up there is simply breathtaking!
Inside the “Schlossberg” (yes, literally within the mountain/hill!!) you can also find the tallest underground slide in the world – a truly fun experience for both adults and kids alike. Another activity not to miss in Graz is a visit to the “Kunsthaus”. It’s an art museum with many different contemporary exhibitions. Because of its unique and kind of weird-looking architecture, it’s also nicknamed the “Friendly Alien”.
A little bit outside the city centre (but still only a tram ride away) you will find Eggenberg Palace. Located in the middle of a big park with colourful peacocks strutting around, it almost looks like it has come out of a fairy tale. It’s the perfect place to take a walk, especially in autumn when the leaves turn yellow and orange.
If you decide to take a break from sightseeing and want to find somewhere for coffee then some of the best spots are Gingko Greenhouse, Duck’s coffee shop and il Café. Graz is an underrated gem in Austria and should definitely be on every Austria itinerary!
Lina from World of Lina
Belarus is still a somewhat ‘undiscovered’ gem by most tourists – definitely a hidden gem in Europe you need to add to your list. Most people don’t seem to think of Belarus as a destination of think it’s a bit too complicated (or possibly even dangerous) to visit. Well, none of this is true! Belarus is an incredible destination and Minsk is a beautiful city that is well worth a visit.
It is true, however, that Belarus is ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’. This makes for some interesting museums (pretty biased) and intriguing politics. None of this is remotely likely to affect anyone visiting the country though – locals will even talk politics to you if you ask (although just take care when broaching this subject with people. Other topics are generally preferred!).
Belarus has been a relatively tricky place for most foreign tourists to visit until the last few years as they had some pretty strict visa regulations. In recent years, it has become much more simple to visit Belarus even without a visa! Citizens from 80 countries around the world can stay for up to 30 days in Belarus when they fly in and out of Minsk International Airport (excluding flying from Russia).
Minsk itself is perfect for a long weekend or even a week if you want to do everything in a pretty relaxed manner. In Minsk, you can’t miss visiting the Great Patriotic War Museum and its Victory Hall, the Church of Saints Simon and Helena, the beautiful little Alexander Nevsky Church, the National Library of Belarus and Victory Park. You also have to check out some of the incredible street art around the city, particularly on and around Oktyabrskaya Ulica (Кастрычніцкая вуліца).
For the best view over the city, head to Hotel Belarus and ask at reception for the tour to the rooftop. You can get great views over Minsk from here! Make sure to check out my guide to the best things to do in Minsk if this city is calling your name.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
While Mostar with its beautiful Ottoman-style bridge is pretty well known around the world, not as many people make sure to visit Sarajevo. Bosnia’s capital has an incredibly interesting history and is well worth a visit, particularly to learn about how resilient the population of this city were during the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s.
Sarajevo is a great addition to any Balkans trip as it makes a great itinerary along with other destinations in Bosnia like Mostar, Blagaj and Kravica Waterfalls as well as other Balkan destinations such as Dubrovnik, Split, Kotor and Belgrade.
When you’re in Sarajevo, make sure to visit the Sarajevo City Hall (Vijećnica), Baščaršija (the old Ottoman bazaar where you can get delicious food and find amazing handmade goods), Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque and the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide.
You should also take a tour (I did a tour with Sarajevo Funky Tours and they were excellent) to visit the Sarajevo Olympic Bobsled Track, which was used in the 1984 Winter Olympics and then less than 10 years later was used as a snipers’ nest by Serbs shooting at civilians during the Siege of Sarajevo, and the Tunnel of Hope, which was dug by hand to provide Sarajevans with a way to get food, fuel and medical supplies into the city.
While many of the attractions in Sarajevo do relate to the Siege, there are many places to visit to escape that doom and gloom. It’s definitely important to learn about the sad history of the city but make sure to enjoy some of the beautiful mosques in the city as well as to eat lots of delicious Ćevapi.
Sofia, Bulgaria is the perfect weekend getaway destination in Europe. You need only two days to see the main attractions in Sofia and it is a great place to avoid over-tourism and enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere. Sofia is an underrated destination in Eastern Europe and offers a lot of history and culture to all its visitors.
This city is also a great destination if you want to travel on a budget as it is the cheapest capital city within the European Union. The locals are friendly and very open and welcoming to every visitor. Every person we spoke with was open to help us with recommendations on where to eat and what to see in Sofia.
The main things to do in Sofia include visiting the Church of St. George Rotunda, the Cathedral of St Joseph, the Sofia Synagogue, the Central Mineral Baths, and the Banya Bashi Mosque. No visit to Sofia is complete without photographing the incredible Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Other beautiful churches you should visit are the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, the Sveta Sofia Church and St. Nedelya Church.
Sofía is also the perfect hub to take day trips in Bulgaria. This huge country has beautiful landscapes and hikes to be enjoyed. Some of the best day trips from Sofia include Park Vrana, Vitosha Mountains, Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Seven Rila Lakes and the Rila Monastery and many, many more.
Jazmin from Travel to Blank
When people visit Croatia, it is usually the famous cities of Dubrovnik or Split that get all the attention. Both of these cities are indeed incredible to see and experience but Trogir is a Croatian city that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Trogir is a small island that is right next to the mainland and located just 30 minutes from Split. No trip to Croatia is complete without spending some time in Trogir!
One glimpse of Trogir and you will agree that it has the most photogenic and idyllic Old Town. It will capture your heart with its romantic and medieval charm. It is a town that you want to wander and get lost in. Walking among the maze of streets and passageways, there is always a beautiful surprise around every corner without the huge crowds.
Although you could see the main sights in a day, you should definitely spend a few days there. Time seems to slow down in Trogir, especially when you take some time to simply stroll along the seaside promenade lined with gorgeous palm trees and clear, turquoise waters. It is an excellent base to explore many parts of Croatia and particularly if you plan to go sailing to the nearby islands.
Some top sights to see in Trogir include the Old Town square and the St. Lawrence Cathedral, Clock Tower and the Duke’s Palace. Make sure to climb the bell tower of St. Lawrence Cathedral for spectacular views of the city from above. And don’t miss out on visiting the Kamerlengo Fortress at the end of the promenade. You can climb to the top and enjoy excellent views of the sea and sit and watch boats passing by.
While not as famous as cities like Dubrovnik, Split or even Zagreb, Trogir definitely shouldn’t be overlooked!
Vanessa from Traveling Ness
The little town of Cassis is a quaint and picturesque village in Provence, located only a few miles from Marseille. With many tourists heading to Cannes and St Tropez, Cassis is one of the most underrated towns in the South of France. Cassis is perfect to explore on a day trip when visiting Provence or to spend a little longer in. If you decide to drive in, keep in mind that there is very limited parking in the town (and the spots fill up early in the summer!).
One of the best things to do in Cassis is to hang out by the port and walk along the waterfront, which is lined with a myriad of colourful houses. It is the perfect spot to sit outside for a meal “en terrasse“. If you are a seafood lover, do not miss the Bouillabaisse from Chez Gilbert which was voted one of the best in France. Then grab a delicious lavender ice cream and take a leisurely stroll through the paved streets of the city centre. The old town is so picturesque you will want to take out your camera at every corner.
Finally, Cassis is the perfect starting point to explore the Calanques National Park. The Calanques are natural inlets surrounded by rugged and rocky cliffs, which create many coves drenched in turquoise water along the coastline. You can explore the gorgeous Calanques by boat and take a cruise from Quai Saint-Pierre, or you can hike in the National Park.
There are three Calanques you can access from Cassis: Port Miou is the easiest hike and can easily be explored with young kids. Port Pin is a short moderate hike, with some rocky and uneven terrain. Calanque d’En-Vau is probably the most gorgeous but it is a more strenuous hike, so better for the most adventurous types!
Cassis is truly a hidden gem in France and should be on any south of France itinerary.
Julie from Wandering Sunsets
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is a quaint village located in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France. Being roughly a two-hour drive away from major cities like Nice or Marseille, you are far enough from touristy areas that you will receive an authentic, French experience; the tourists are minimal, locals do not speak English, and stores don’t take major credit cards! Expect a slow-paced village with a waterfall running down the centre of town and the strong aroma of lavender filling the streets.
There are two major attractions near Moustiers Sainte Marie. The first is the Gorges du Verdon, which is a massive canyon that is filled with vibrant, turquoise water. You can spend the day hiking, driving to the major viewpoints, or renting a pedalboat to explore the gorge. For more information on the Gorges du Verdon, click here to read more!
The second major attraction is Valensole, which is an area in Provence that is known for its rolling fields of lavender. The fields are only in bloom for a few weeks a year, usually in late June to early July. There is little to no public transportation in this area, so you are best off renting a car and drive roughly 30 minutes. If you are allergic to bees, I would recommend skipping Valensole. Where there are flowers, there are bees – you can expect thousands of bees in this area!
Monique from My Perfect Itinerary
Frankfurt is known as the Christmas Festival Capital of the world. If you visit in December, you’ll be greeted with crowded streets filled with food vendors and pop-up shops selling everything from socks, ornaments, and handmade wooden toys. The people are packed in like sardines, excited to experience a Christmas holiday in Frankfurt. The city centre itself is compact and can easily be explored within a couple of hours.
No matter the time of year, Sunday is considered a day of rest in Germany. Most shops, supermarkets, and museums are closed. However, restaurants and cafes are usually open. Plan accordingly so you don’t miss out on exploring the sites Frankfurt has to offer.
For a fantastic view of the city, visit the top floor of Galleria Kaufhof, a huge department store in the middle of town. If you’re looking for somewhere to sit down and eat a healthy meal, be sure to stop by Walden. It won’t disappoint and they serve complimentary bread with every meal.
Other places you ought to visit in Frankfurt include beautiful Römerberg, Kleinmarkthalle (a food market), the cathedral, and the Palmengarten (botanical garden). Römerberg is a stunning recreated district that was painstakingly made to look like what it would have before being more than 90% destroyed in the war.
Ann from Ann Plans Travel
Freiburg im Breisgau
Freiburg is a beautiful university city in southern Germany, just a stone’s throw from the border of Switzerland and France. At first glance, the cobblestone streets, cosy cafes and distinctive medieval buildings will immediately charm you, but it’s the surrounding nature that makes Freiburg truly special. Environmentally, Freiburg considers itself to be one of Europe’s greenest cities, and you can imagine how being surrounded by thousands of hectares of woodland could inspire this outlook.
Visitors to Freiburg will likely want to make the most of being so close to the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). A popular half-day trip from the city is to visit Schauinsland, a mountain with insane views over the Black Forest from the observation tower and also home to the longest loop cable car in Germany at a massive 3.6km. You should also take the time to walk up Schlossberg (or ‘Castle Hill’) which is right next to Freiburg city centre. From this spot, you get brilliant views of the city and the 13th-century Romanesque church, the Freiburger Münster.
Other key interest points in Freiburg include the sights in the old town, including the two remaining Medieval-era gates Shwabentor and Martinstor, as well as the distinctive Bächle which are essentially thin canals that line the city streets (officially ‘water-filled runnels’ which date from the 13th-century and were used as a water source for fighting fires). Rumour has it, if you accidentally trip or step into a Bächle you will marry a man from Freiburg and stay there forever. So be sure to watch your step if you want to keep travelling!
Cassie from Cassie The Hag
Nuremberg is one of Germany’s most underrated cities as well as being one of the most beautiful places in Germany. Filled with so much history, good food, colourful buildings and a medieval feel, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Nuremberg.
Feel like a princess and admire the view at Nuremberg Castle or hang out in the old town where you can wander the bridges and eat ice-cream in the sun. Shop for Christmas decorations (yes, all year round) at Kathe Wohlfahrt and, of course, drink lots of German beer.
Nuremberg does have a dark past and was home to the Nazi Party rallies (six of them between 1933 and 1938) and then, later on, was host to the Nuremberg Trials. Most of the city was actually destroyed during the war, but Nuremberg rebuilt itself from the ashes and stands as a reminder of the dark past. Learn the history of the Nuremberg rallies (which was an annual rally known as the Reichsparteitag) and the Nuremberg Trials at the Documentation Centre and make sure to walk through the Way of Human Rights (Straße der Menschenrechte), a powerful walkway built by the city as a way to move away from its reputation as home of the Nazi party rallies and instead to be known as a city of ‘peace and human rights’.
Nuremberg is also one of those Instagram worthy places, where there’s so many hidden places around corners waiting to be discovered, endless ice-cream parlours, bars and boutique shops. It’s the kind of place where you can jam-pack your day with all of the interesting things to see and do, or just spend the day wandering and taking in the atmosphere. Nuremberg is just an hour north of Munich, so it’s easy to make the journey to one of Germany’s most beautiful cities.
Emma from Emma Adventures
One of Western Europe’s most overlooked destinations has to be Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory that is located south of Spain. There are many misconceptions about Gibraltar, including that it’s an island (it’s not – it’s connected to Spain and has a land border), that it’s part of Spain (as mentioned previously, it’s not) and that it’s a colony (which it isn’t – it’s a self-governing British Overseas Territory).
Most people only ever Gibraltar as a day trip from Spain or as a stop on a cruise ship, rather than actually making a bigger trip to Gibraltar. Two of the biggest misconceptions about Gibraltar as a tourist destination are that it’s only got enough things for a day trip (so you shouldn’t bother coming for longer) and that Gibraltar is literally just the Rock.
While the Rock of Gibraltar is indeed the main tourist draw to Gibraltar and many attractions are located within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, there is more to this overseas territory than this large limestone rock. Beautiful parts of the main town include Irish Town, a historical street with impressive architecture, as well as parts of the Upper Town such as Referendum Steps. Important places to visit in the town include The Convent and King’s Chapel (the governor’s residence which was previously a Franciscan friary) as well as the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned (with its inner courtyard that is the only remnant of the mosque that previously stood in this spot) and Casemates Square, one of the main squares in Gibraltar. One of my favourite spots in Gibraltar is Catalan Bay, with its colourful houses and the beautiful church.
There are three ways to explore the Rock of Gibraltar – by taxi tour (starting at around £35pp), by foot (great if you’re a fan of hiking) or by cable car. The three can also be combined (e.g. cable car up, visit the attractions and walk down). The best attractions and spots you can’t miss in Gibraltar include St Michael’s Cave, the Great Siege Tunnels, the Ape’s Den, Windsor Suspension Bridge, and the Skywalk.
Read more in my article on the ten most awesome things to do in Gibraltar!
Most people visiting Iceland stick to the Southern part of the island. You hear a lot about Iceland’s Golden Circle which covers the waterfalls, geysers and other sights in the South but you don’t hear much about Iceland’s Diamond Circle. It covers the lesser-known but just as stunning sites such as Godafoss, Lake Myvatn and Dettifoss, which is the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
To visit Northern Iceland, you can fly to Akureyri for a day (or take a longer road trip to do the entire ring road of Iceland) to visit this part of Iceland which is closer to the Arctic. You can visit the Akureyri Church to see the stained-glass windows portraying scenes from Icelandic Christian history. The Akureyri Art Museum has a wonderful contemporary art collection from Iceland.
Rent a car and drive or go on a tour to visit the grand sites in this part of Iceland. You can visit the beautiful Lake Myvatn area, Godafoss, the fumarole fields of Hverarond, Asbyrgi, Husavik and other areas in the North. If you have time you should definitely go on a whale-watching boat tour.
Don’t miss the Dimmuborgir area (Dark Castles) near Lake Myvatn which consists of a massive, collapsed lava tube formed by a lava lake which flowed in from a large eruption. This place was the Games of Thrones filming location for Mance Rayder’s wildling camp.
In the photo below you can see the fumarole fields of Hverarond (Námaskarð) where groundwater is heated by an underground magma intrusion. Sulfur deposits are brought to the surface and the area is characterized by a strong smell of sulfur.
Priya from Outside Suburbia
Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal
Dunfanaghy is a small town that sits along Sheephaven Bay in northern County Donegal, Ireland. It consists primarily of one street — the main road, N56 — and around 300 permanent residents. So it really is a wee village!
Don’t let the size of this village deter you though, because there’s more than enough in the way of amenities for every traveller — pubs, hotels and B&B’s, restaurants, shops and a couple of markets. There are also lots of things to do nearby as well!
There’s the town beach, Killahoey Beach, and the not-to-be-missed Tramore Beach. Killahoey is just off the main road so is easily accessed. It’s a great spot for a lovely walk along the sea. Tramore is a 30-minute walk but the walk is through the sand dunes so getting there is loads of fun! Tramore is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen and, at 3km long, there’s lots of room to have a spot all to yourself.
The Dunfanaghy Golf Club is just behind Killahoey Beach and along the main road for those who love to golf. If horse riding is more your thing, you can do that too with the Dunfanaghy Stables — no matter your level of expertise. You can even learn to surf in this small village with Narosa, a surf shop/school located in the heart of town!
The beautiful Horn Head loop drive begins at the edge of town and is one of the best things to do in Dunfanaghy. You don’t want to miss this drive with its stunning views. Nearby you can also find Ards Forest Park, Fanad Lighthouse and Glenveagh National Park. For seeing all these places, hiring a car is definitely recommended!
Dunfanaghy is a great base for exploring this part of Ireland. If you decide to add this beautiful village to your Ireland trip, The Whins B&B is a great place to stay and you can enjoy the traditional music sessions at Patsy Dans.
Dunfanaghy is a wonderful village and is not quite as much of a hidden gem to those in nearby Northern Ireland as it is to the rest of the world! It can get pretty busy in summer and at Easter so visit outside of these peak seasons for more peace and quiet.
And the locals in this village? Some of the nicest people on the planet!
Lynne from Wander Your Way
Asinara Island, Sardinia
If you are looking to visit a lesser-known place in Europe that is absolutely stunning, make it a point to travel to Asinara Island in Sardinia. This is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Sardinia! The island is located off the north coast of the main island and it became a National Park in 2002, after having been a prison and leper colony for more than 120 years.
Back when it was a prison and leper colony, nobody lived on the island other than prisoners and prison guards. Hence, wildlife on the island thrived and nature was actually protected. In other words, the island is pristine. At the moment, Asinara is uninhabited – there just are the rangers that patrol the national park. There is a hostel, a boutique hotel, and two restaurants.
Asinara is the kind of place you will enjoy if you love nature. There is a great range of hiking trails offering breathtaking views – make sure to walk the trail to the lighthouse. The beaches are small, but they have the most pristine waters and hardly ever get crowded. When roaming the island you can spot the white donkeys and other animals as well.
Other places to visit in Asinara include the prisons – there are 10 scattered around. The one in Fornelli used to be a maximum-security prison; whereas in Cala d’Oliva, which is the only village in Asinara, you will find the Diramazione Centrale (the prison headquarters) and the bunker where mafia bosses such as Toto Riina were kept.
Asinara is easily reached from Stintino or Porto Torres on a ferry journey that can last between 30 and 90 minutes. Once there, you have the option of going on a guided tour by jeep or train on wheels; you can rent a bike or even an electric car.
Though most tourists visit Asinara on a day trip, it deserves at least 3 days to be fully enjoyed.
Claudia from My Adventures Across The World
Bergamo is a hidden gem of Italy that is located close to Milan. It is a beautiful medieval town that most people never explore even if they use Bergamo airport to get to Milan. This makes the city the perfect destination if you want to explore the real, non-touristic Italy. Due to its proximity to the airport, you can find a variety of hotels without the tourist hordes.
This charming town is split into two parts. The lower Citta Bassa and upper Citta Alta, which is located on a hill. To get from the lower to the upper town you have to walk or take the funicular, which is an experience in itself.
Citta Alta is a magical place with beautiful old buildings and its Venetian city wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the best things to do while in Bergamo is to wander the cobblestone streets. As you stroll through small alleys you will discover a rich history and stunning architecture. Standing on Piazza Vecchia alone will allow you to see buildings from several centuries.
If you want the best view over the city and landscape, you should take another funicular from Citta Alta to Rocca di San Vigilio. It is the highest point of Bergamo and watching the sunrise or sunset from there is a must-do!
Steph from A Nomad’s Passport
Though it was once a major European naval power, today, Genoa is one of Italy’s most underrated destinations. It’s located right in between the French and Italian Rivieras, in a prime spot along the Ligurian Sea. But, for some reason, most tourists pass right by it and head instead to nearby Cinque Terre or Portofino. Maybe it’s for the best, though, because this makes Genoa the perfect place to avoid the crowds and get a taste of authentic Italy!
There’s plenty to do in central Genoa, such as getting lost in the narrow streets of the historic old town, strolling along the colourful harbour front, or going up to Spianata di Castelletto for a sunset view. After exploring the city centre, head out to Boccadasse, one of Genoa’s outer neighbourhoods. To get there from the city centre you can either take the bus or walk the Corso Italia promenade. This neighbourhood is often called a mini Cinque Terre because of its colourful buildings nestled together along the water. It’s the perfect spot for an aperitivo before dinner and it even has a beach, if you fancy a swim!
While exploring the area, be sure to try pesto dishes and snack on focaccia bread – two beloved Italian staples that are straight from Genoa and the region of Liguria!
Em from That Travelista
Europe is an amazing continent to explore – it also has 6 micro-states and one of them is the Principality of Liechtenstein. Only 25km long, Liechtenstein can be easily explored in just one day!
Liechtenstein is a country filled with royalty, medieval castles, and a beautiful landscape that is hard to beat. You must add this beautiful principality to your Europe itinerary. Liechtenstein is a paradise for nature lovers and there are lots of outdoorsy activities to choose from, including hiking and skiing.
Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, is home to many art galleries, including the second-largest private art collection in Europe (which belongs to the Prince of Liechtenstein). With a high GDP per capita, Liechtenstein is also one of the richest countries in the world, making it retail heaven and a haven for tax purposes.
Liechtenstein is one of two doubly locked countries in the world and is surrounded by Austria and Switzerland. One can see a lot of Swiss influences in Liechtenstein, including the use of Swiss francs as the national currency and the main language being German (in particular, Alemmanic or Swiss German).
As Liechtenstein has no airport, the best way to reach Liechtenstein is by travelling there from Switzerland or Austria. So if you are headed to Zurich, take a day trip to Liechtenstein and you won’t be disappointed!
Mayuri from To Some Place New
There are so many beautiful hidden gems in Europe and the city of Vilnius, Lithuania is one of them. It’s the perfect city to have a weekend break! The old town is stunning, there are so many excellent coffee shops and bars, the street art is cool and the sights are pretty. It’s a very affordable city but can feel luxurious at the same time. The local food is delicious and there are some very interesting museums to check out. What more could you want from a city?
Curious what food in Lithuania you can’t miss? Check out my guide to Lithuanian food you must try when you visit!
When visiting Vilnius, it’s important to visit the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, previously known as the Museum of Genocide Victims. It provides an opportunity to learn more about Lithuania’s sombre history. The museum is housed in what became the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in 1941 and then subsequently was occupied by the Soviet Secret Police – the KGB – when Soviet Russia took over Lithuania and the Nazis left.
Lithuania’s difficult history is one of the reasons they actually celebrate TWO independence days – once for their independence from Tsarist Russia (February 16th 1918) and the second time when they declared independence from the Soviet Union (March 11th 1990).
You can also spend hours getting lost in the old town. Vilnius’ old town is larger than some old towns in Europe, but it’s easy to navigate. This area is brimming with restaurants and you can do your own little food tour here. Additionally, make sure to take photos of some of the street art. Graffiti Pier is an iconic place in the city for this art.
You can also soak in the views of the orange rooftops from the top of Vilnius University, St. John’s Church or Gediminas’ Tower. Lastly, be sure to check out the Gate of Dawn. Vilnius used to be protected by several gates and this is the only one that remains today.
Vilnius is a wonderful city and has so much to do that you could easily spend a week here!
Disha from Disha Discovers
Luxembourg City is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe which is why it should be at the top of your travel list for 2020! The city is filled with so much culture, monuments, and great food to eat. Almost everywhere you look there is so much history. Plus, Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world!
While in Luxembourg City, be sure to at least stop at the Bock Casemates, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They’re a series of underground tunnels that were first built in 1644 and have been used a lot over the centuries, including as an underground bunker during World War II. Though some of the tunnels were destroyed by a treaty signed in London, the majority of the tunnels can still be explored today for a pretty affordable price. If you’re a student, be sure to bring your ID. Tickets cost €14 for adults and €12 for students and there are guided tours three times a day.
My other top recommendation for Luxembourg City is honestly to just walk around and explore. There is so much history and you can see pieces of old Luxembourg City scattered throughout the more modern buildings of today. Soak up all that’s going on around you and definitely talk to the locals. They’re super friendly, especially in restaurants, and will be sure to give you great local tips!
Krystianna from Volumes & Voyages
While most have heard of the Mediterranean island of Malta, considerably less have heard of its sister island, Gozo. Situated a short 20-minute ferry ride away, the island is much smaller and quieter, offering visitors a different experience.
Due to its strategic location in the centre of the Mediterranean, the region has a rich past. Famed for its character and places of interest, it comprises interesting places that include the Calypso Cave and the Ġgantija Neolithic temples, which are among some of the oldest surviving man-made structures. It was also home to the famous Azure Window that is sadly now no more.
Gozo is a year-round destination which is perfect since you can escape chilly or damp winters in the rest of Europe and enjoy this island paradise instead. Public transportation is cheap and well-suited to get around to most parts on the island. A visit is almost guaranteed to encompass unique experiences, fine food, friendly locals, beautiful landscapes and an amazing mix of cultures and languages. It is well worth taking the time to get to!
Rai from A Rai of Light
When I first visited the Balkans, I didn’t know a whole lot about this region of Europe – nor did I realise I was about to fall head over heels in love with it! One country I really had zero expectations of was Macedonia (previously the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, now North Macedonia). I’d heard its capital, Skopje, was a little weird and full of statues and I’d also heard that Lake Ohrid has a beautiful monastery somewhere on its shores.
And that’s all I knew. I didn’t even know Ohrid was a town! So imagine my surprise when we turned up to cobblestone streets and lakeside boardwalks to explore in the glorious sunshine. Ohrid is seeped in history and surrounded by beauty – a sure-fire combination to win me over. In fact, the whole town is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and every corner you turn throws up some surprises.
There are churches everywhere (we even passed one that was literally just in someone’s house!) and it’s said that there are 365 – one for every day of the year – although I’m not sure if that’s true!
St Naum Monastery is not in the town, but it’s nearby and well worth a visit. There are peacocks lurking all over the grounds, including an incredibly photogenic albino one, and the views over the lake are phenomenal. Inside the monastery, you can lay your head on St Naum’s tomb. Sounds weird? It kinda is, but it’s said that if you can hear his heart beating, it will bring you good luck!
You can get to Sveti Naum Monastery from Ohrid either by boat or by bus. The boat trip costs €10 return and runs every day at 10am, returning at 4pm, and it’s 1.5 hours each way. You can also go by taxi which takes around 30 minutes and costs €16 one-way or €32 return (and for that price the driver will stop at the Bay of Bones also). There’s also a bus that goes to Sveti Naum from Ohrid and it runs six to seven times daily (110MKD to 150MKD, approximately €1.70-€2.40).
When you’re in Ohrid itself, make sure to visit the Byzantine Samoil’s Fortress, the Church of Saint Sofia and the Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon. Probably one of the best places to visit is St John’s Church (or the Church of St John at Kaneo), which overlooks the lake.
I could quite happily spend a week relaxing on the shores of Ohrid – and it’s definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.
Clarissa from An Orcadian Abroad
Located at 70 degrees north latitude and well above the Arctic Circle, you’ll find the small town of Alta in Norway. Dubbed “the town of the Northern Lights”, Alta is home to only 20,000 but is the main town in the Finnmark County of Norway. Alta can be visited throughout the year.
During summer, you can experience the midnight sun when it is light throughout the day and night. In winter you can experience the opposite – the polar night means it is pitch black most of the day. Whilst it is a strange experience, it’s perfect conditions for viewing the northern lights, which is the main reason why people visit Alta. During the day, however, you can experience winter activities such as snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dogsledding, Cross-Country skiing, ice fishing, and reindeer sledding.
Alta also has its fair share of sightseeing including the modern Northern Lights Cathedral (which is an absolute must) and the unique igloo hotel at Sorrisniva. There are plenty of places to stay in Alta, but I can recommend Trasti and Trine, which are beautiful lodges with organic food experiences and the chance to dog sled from your doorstep.
Roshni from The Wanderlust Within
Poznań is is a beautiful city in central-western Poland that often gets overlooked but has a lot to offer. Poznań is a charming city with a cosy, town vibe and gorgeous fairytale-esque architecture. One of the biggest draws to the city is its picturesque old town with cobbled streets and brightly coloured buildings. Spend some time exploring the old town and walking down all the side streets admiring the architecture.
The city hall is another splendid piece of architecture and is home to one of the biggest, cutest and most bizarre attractions in Poznań: the goats! Every day at noon, crowds gather in front of the city hall to watch two mechanical goats slowly emerge from the tower to a fanfare and fight each other. There were literal gasps as these goats butted horns and there were people watching from the windows of the surrounding hotels. I loved the goats but, even more than that, I loved how celebrated they were! From the goats to a musical parade shortly afterwards, the goat memorabilia all over town and the street musicians, the old town felt like a really magical place.
Whilst you’re in Poznań make sure you try a St Martin’s croissant – it’s so important to they even have a museum dedicated to it. Another must-see is Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island). Cross the Warta River and take some time to stroll around the historic “island” and the gorgeous cathedral. This is believed to be the birthplace of Poland. You can find out more about the history of Poland’s first settlers and kings at the visually impressive and interactive Porta Posnania museum.
Poznań is a beautiful city and well worth a visit. It should definitely be on any Poland bucket list!
Imani from Imani Escapes
The town of Zakopane in southern Poland will truly blow your mind with its beauty. You are surrounded by the Tatra Mountains that border Slovakia and it has an abundance of hiking trails nearby for the adventure seekers.
This charming Polish town is popular with locals and hikers in the summer months. Around the town, they have food stalls selling fresh cheeses and spreads and a variety of souvenirs shops. In the centre of town you can take a cable car up to the top of the mountain (summit of Mount Kasprowy Wierch) where there is an amusement park, the Adventure Park Gubalowka. This is great for adults and kids alike and the views from the cable car are spectacular.
One of the most popular hikes is to Morskie Oko Lake (you can find my ultimate guide to this hike here!), a beautiful five-hour round trip hike that is great for all hikers, including families. If you are looking for more of a challenge, the trail from Morskie Oko leads to the Rhys peak which is on the Slovakia side of the park.
I loved my time in Zakopane; being in the mountains, meeting the friendliest people and getting to hike every day was a highlight of my time in Poland!
Tiana from Passport of Memories
Elvas is a small town that exudes Portuguese charm with its local residents, narrow streets, and whimsical facade – it truly is a hidden gem. Located east of Alentejo near the border with Spain, Elvas was once a strategic defence point as evidenced by its famous star-shaped fort Forte de Nossa Senhora da Graça and strong encompassing wall. It is, after all, the biggest fortified city in Portugal. However, war days are in the past and what’s left is a charming, quaint town.
In the heart of the village, you will find Praça da República where you will discover many cafes and, if you are lucky, you may get to enjoy the antique flea market. Elvas is also a UNESCO Heritage Site and features an impressive aqueduct which is the largest one in the Iberian Peninsula.
Once you are done exploring all the imposing forts and famous sights, don’t forget to take some time to get lost in its colourful and narrow passages. You will definitely fall in love with this lovely town! Make sure to treat yourself to the local sweet delicacy, Ameixas de Elvas, before you leave Elvas to explore more of Portugal! To discover more amazing places in Portugal, check out my 10 Day Portugal Itinerary.
Diana from In Between Pictures
Évora, located in the Alentejo region of Portugal, is a short 70-minute drive from Lisbon but is often overlooked. Evora was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. The historic centre of Évora, Portugal dates all the way back to the Roman and Moorish periods. It features pretty whitewashed houses with bright yellow borders and glazed tiles typical of Portugal. Évora was an important Roman town because of its location on a trade route to Rome. Through the 8th and 12th centuries, the Moors ruled Évora and, during its Renaissance glory years, Évora was favoured by Portuguese kings.
While driving into Évora you will see the aqueduct which provided clean drinking water by connecting the city to the nearest flowing river. This helped the water flow into the Praça do Giraldo, the main plaza. In the city centre, 14 Corinthian columns sit above a granite block which many refer to as the Temple of Diana. While there is no clear evidence of any association of the Roman temple of Evora with the Roman Goddess of the Hunt, the associations stem from a legend created in the 17th century by a Portuguese priest.
Don’t miss visiting the Cathedral of Évora (Sé de Évora), dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Chapel of Bones (an ossuary, or the resting place of human skeletons) is another place you might want to if you can stomach seeing the remains of 1,200 monks. It is located inside the Church of St. Francis. After seeing all the Evora attractions, drive to see the Megaliths (Almendres Cromlech) which are older than Stonehenge!
Priya from Outside Suburbia
Kaliningrad is a tiny piece of Russia that is separate from the rest of the country – the Kaliningrad Oblast is sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland and therefore has a slightly different culture and history than the rest of Russia.
Having been part of Germany for many years, Kaliningrad city is filled with stunning European architecture – beautiful churches, museums, gates and cathedrals. Go visit Park Yunost’ to see the Marzipan museum, the Upsidedown house and a Ferris wheel. For stunning architecture, make sure you go to the Rybnaya Derevnya part of the city.
When visiting Kaliningrad Oblast, you will most likely arrive in Kaliningrad city, which is the main city of the region. But don’t forget to leave the city and visit other parts of Kaliningrad. The region has some impressive development plans for its seaside towns – Svetlogorsk and Zelenogradsk – so I have no doubt these will become very popular beach destinations in Eastern Europe within the next few years.
Make sure to visit the Curonian Spit National Park, a long and thin spit of sand dunes that is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Kurshskaya Kosa), shared by Lithuania and Russia. For more unique nature you should visit Baltiysk, Russia’s westernmost city.
Because of the new visa regulations that allows citizens of 53 countries to visit Kaliningrad with a free e-visa (check which countries are included here – sadly the United Kingdom, USA and Canada aren’t included), it has become very easy to visit this beautiful and unique part of Russia, and I am sure that more and more people are going to visit this region very soon.
Elīna from Elina Abroad
Tucked between Italy and Croatia is 29 miles of coastline belonging to Slovenia. Here you will find Piran, part of the Istrian Peninsula famous for its landscapes, salt, wine, and truffles. The city itself is filled with Venetian architecture, boats docked along the main square, people sunbathing around the edge of the peninsula, and the smell of fresh seafood filling the air.
If you are planning a visit to Piran, don’t miss the tower of St. George’s Parish Church for incredible views of the whole town. You can also walk the old Walls of Piran for beautiful views of the city.
For museum lovers, there are plenty of options for exploring the local history and culture and its relationship with the Adriatic Sea. For a perfect ending to your day, try fresh pasta and seafood from Pirat and enjoy the best sunset views!
Helene from Wandering Helene
The Prekmurje region lies in the northeastern part of Slovenia and is named after the Mur river (a literal translation would mean “over the Mur region”).
It is often overlooked by tourists due to the popularity of the capital, Ljubljana, and the Gorenjska region (location of the famous Lake Bled).
Prekmurje consists of mostly flatlands with a few hilly areas and is inhabited by Slovenes and Hungarian and Romani minorities, thus creating one of the most unique regions in Slovenia, linguistically, historically and culturally.
Since it has been inhabited from the Stone Age, it has a rich history which is reflected in many medieval castles and interesting museums. The unique architecture of the traditional Prekmurje houses can be seen at the open-air museum, or you can even get a first-hand experience by sleeping in one of such houses!
In the past, the Mur river was dotted with watermills and you can visit one that still operates today. For those interested in ethnography, workshops for making heart-shaped lect (a type of honey bread) or pottery will be great experiences.
Vast flat areas are perfect for exploring the region by bike and lush green hills are covered with vineyards, where delicious wine tastings take place. Rich cuisine will leave you wanting more, but make sure to save some space for the famous Prekmurje layer cake or an unusual, yet delicious, combination of vanilla ice-cream with homemade pumpkin oil.
Tired from all the exploring? The Prekmurje region is rich with thermal waters and offers a wide selection of thermal experiences to relax and rejuvenate. This region truly has something for everyone and is an underrated gem in Slovenia and in Europe!
Sandra from Blue Marble Vagabonds
While most visitors to Southern Spain opt for a trip to Seville or Granada, you definitely ought to visit the more underrated Córdoba. In fact, this Andalusian gem is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Mezquita, the historic city centre, the Córdoba patios, and Medina Azahara.
As far as what makes this destination stand out, it was the capital of a Muslim Caliphate in the 10th century. Therefore, Córdoba presents a unique amalgamation of Spanish and Moorish culture. During your time in the city, the main attractions are the Mezquita and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. The former was originally a Grand Mosque, which was later converted into a Roman Catholic church during the Reconquista in the 13th century (when forces under Ferdinand III, King of Castille and Leon, captured the city and Muslims were either forced to convert to Christianity or were expelled). The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (or the Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs) is a medieval fortress that housed some of Spain’s most famous leaders: the Catholic Monarchs.
After checking out these sites, take your time to peruse the rest of the city’s adorable historic centre. In particular, you won’t want to miss Córdoba’s prettiest flower-lined street: Calleja de las Flores. If you happen to be in Spain during the first two weeks of May, you’re in luck! During this time of the year, Córdoba plays host to a stunning celebration called the Patio Festival. As the aim of this contest, residents compete to have the most beautifully decorated patio–this, of course, involves a considerable number of flowers! Plus, the best part about this festival is that it’s completely free to attend.
No matter the time of year you choose to visit Spain, you should definitely plan to make a stop in Córdoba!
Leah from Gringa Journeys
While most of the Spanish cities are already well-established on the tourist track, there is always a place for the big unknowns. If you want to experience an authentic Spanish vibe without the crowds, Teruel fits the bill here. It is definitely one of the most stunning hidden gems in Europe!
The whole province of Teruel will definitely surprise you with its majestic Mudéjar architecture, unique archaeological sites, and secret medieval villages. However, the city of Teruel should be your first stop. It is a perfect match if you want to dive into Spanish history while avoiding the crowds.
After you check the main square of Teruel, Plaza del Torico, there are three top sightseeing attractions in the city you can’t miss: Mudéjar architecture such as the Salvador Tower (Torre de El Salvador), the Lovers of Teruel and Dinopolis.
You should definitely make sure to visit the Lovers of Teruel. Despite the fact that you will never find Teruel on the lists of most romantic cities around the world, the city has been an ultimate lovey-dovey inspiration for the Spanish artists and poets since the 13th century. The Mausoleum of Amantes de Teruel (Lovers of Teruel) will reveal to you the romantic story of Diego and Isabel, the Spanish Romeo and Juliet.
Some of the best architecture in Teruel includes sights such as the Salvador Tower, the Teruel Cathedral (Catedral de Santa María de Teruel) and the Escalinata del Óvalo (a grand staircase that connects the Paseo del Óvalo to the train station). Teruel is definitely one of Spain’s most beautiful cities and a wonderful hidden gem in Europe!
Anna from At Lifestyle Crossroads
Situated in the French part of Switzerland, Gruyères is a fantastic destination to spend a few days or enjoy as a day trip from Montreux. This classic Swiss town has a charming centre and beautiful rolling hills with the main highlights revolving around – you guessed it – Gruyere cheese.
Start your visit to the town by visiting La Maison du Gruyere. In the morning they are busy producing the cheese so you can witness the process from the observation deck. For a more unique experience, head up to Moléson-sur-Gruyères and watch traditional alpine cheese production in a smoky chalet.
Of course, seeing all this cheesemaking will require a tasting, so walk to the centre of town and enjoy fondue at one of the restaurants in the main square. After lunch, there are several activities to do in town, including visiting the old medieval castle, Château de Gruyères. If you’re a fan of the artist HR Giger, there’s an entire museum dedicated to his work (fair warning, it’s for a mature audience and won’t be everyone’s taste).
After exploring the town, take a short train ride to Broc and visit the Cailler chocolate museum. Make sure to reserve your tickets in advance as it’s a guided visit through interactive rooms. You’ll learn the history of the brand and see how chocolate is made, ending in the best part – the free sample room!
Find more details in our photographic travel guide to Gruyeres, Switzerland!
Natasha from And Then I Met Yoko
If you’re looking to find one of the top hidden gems in Europe, look no further than the beautiful country of Ukraine! More specifically, I recommend a visit to Lviv, which is one of the most underrated and undiscovered destinations for many travellers.
Visiting Lviv should be on the top of your list because it’s very budget-friendly (you can get by on $35/day on average), has plenty of gorgeous spots to see, and is a great introduction to Ukraine. If you’re planning to travel around the region, Lviv is also an excellent base for visiting the Carpathian Mountains — it’s only a 4-hour bus ride to Yaremche or a 5-hour bus ride to Bukovel, one of Ukraine’s premier ski resorts.
If it’s your first time visiting Lviv, you should spend at least three days there to really get a taste of the city. Start off in the city’s Rynok Square (Market Square), which is known as the heart of Lviv and is bustling with locals, cosy cafes and street artists. From there, don’t miss out on Lviv’s cafe culture by checking out one of the dozens of cool cafes — some of my favourites include House of Legends (there’s a car on the roof!), Lviv Coffee Manufacture (where you can “mine” for your coffee) and Viennese Coffee House (for a taste of Lviv’s history).
Finish off your day by wandering outside the centre and over to Lviv High Castle (Vysokyi zamok) for some of the most gorgeous panoramic views of the city.
Luda from Adventures With Luda
Glasgow is often overlooked for its nearby Scottish neighbour (and the capital), Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a beautiful city, but Glasgow is a great home base for travelling to other destinations in Scotland, as well as the city being well worth a visit itself. Glasgow has a very local vibe, and you will usually be surrounded by Scots rather than tourists.
Accommodation in Glasgow is significantly cheaper than in other areas of Scotland. The Hampton by Hilton Glasgow Central costs less than £150 a night, and it has air conditioning! It is close to restaurants and Glasgow Central Station is less than a 10-minute walk away (with luggage). The Butterfly and the Pig is my favourite restaurant in Glasgow and is almost next door to the hotel. You can also enjoy a wonderful modern twist on traditional Scottish food at Pie & Brew. The Pot Still is also within walking distance and offers hundreds of whiskies as well as a great atmosphere.
Glasgow has a lot to offer in terms of attractions including the beautiful Cloisters at the University of Glasgow, and the West End neighbourhood with great shops and nightlife as well as distinctive architecture. Glasgow Central Station is an attraction in itself, and the Lighthouse is mere steps away. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery is also nearby and worth a visit, particularly if you are an art lover.
Glasgow is also a great place to stay for day trips to other parts of Scotland. Stirling Castle, Doune Castle, and Loch Lomond are less than a 45-minute drive away, and Cairngorms National Park is under a 2-hour drive.
No matter your travel style, you can experience some of the best Scotland has to offer in Glasgow!
Julie from Blonde Hair Blue Skies
Harrogate is a beautiful town in Yorkshire, England, fighting for recognition between its two better-known neighbours, Leeds and York. As a result, it is a frequently overlooked and underrated destination. But for what it lacks in size when compared to its neighbouring cities, it makes up for in beauty, character and history.
There are a number of reasons why Harrogate should be on your list of destinations to visit in 2020. Firstly, its history as a spa town is fascinating and is the reason Harrogate as we know it exists today. The best place to find out about Harrogate’s spa history is at the Turkish Baths.
Harrogate’s Turkish Baths are still used in their traditional means today. If you visit the baths, you can book to join a history tour at 9am on various weekdays to understand the purpose of the building, the treatments, and why it put Harrogate on the map. If you’re keen to learn more about the town’s spa roots, you can experience Europe’s strongest sulphur well at the Royal Pump House Museum.
Secondly, Harrogate is a great destination for food lovers! Betty’s Tea Room was founded by Swiss-born baker and confectioner, Fritz Bützer, in July 1919. Stepping into their tea room today is truly like stepping back in time. Sampling their afternoon tea is an absolute must when in Harrogate!
As if Harrogate’s thriving town centre and fascinating history wasn’t enough, it also has some stunning open spaces. Both Valley Gardens and the Stray that surround the town are reminders that you’re in the heart of Yorkshire, just a stone’s throw away from the picturesque Yorkshire Dales National Park.
So, as a town full of history, character, good food and beautiful Yorkshire charm, everyone should put Harrogate on their 2020 bucket list!
Hannah from Get Lost Travel Blog
There are so many incredible hidden gems in Europe and we have barely scratched the surface! These are just some favourites of travel bloggers from around the world and you are sure to find somewhere to add to your 2020 travel bucket list.
Where in Europe do you think is an amazing hidden gem that more people need to visit? Let us know in the comments!
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