If the prospect of battling tourists to get that prime spot at the Trevi Fountain exhausts you, you’re not alone. Leave the braying hordes behind and explore some of Europe’s most overlooked and under-the-radar destinations for the best in culture, food, architecture and history.
With winding, cobbled streets lined with colourful medieval timber homes, Colmar is the perfect place to take a languorous amble, punctuated with regular food and drink pit stops. Technically a town and located close to the German border, Colmar is also the capital of Alsace wines, making this an ideal destination for a vineyard tour. For foodies, there are three Michelin-starred restaurants to sample, alongside a selection of independent vintners for quenching your thirst.
Get outdoors and make the most of the clean, Swedish air in Malmö. This coastal city in southern Sweden is full of green space, including Folkets Park – the oldest public park in the world, with a large green area and ponds to sit and relax by. A walk along the waterfront will clear away the cobwebs, followed by a visit to Malmö Konsthall – the city art gallery – which contains a selection of classic art and temporary exhibitions, and is home to one of the largest exhibition halls in Europe.
Engineering buffs will also want to check out the 8km-long Öresund Bridge, which forms part of a link between Sweden and Denmark and is the longest combined railway and road bridge in Europe.
Leave behind the teeming masses in Rome and head south to Naples, home to some of the country’s best pizza and pasta dishes. Southern Italy’s largest city is often unfairly overlooked in favour of its shinier neighbours, but it’s a mistake best avoided. In addition to a significant historical cache, which includes three castles, two royal palaces and ancient ruins, Naples is also one of the best places in Italy for contemporary art. Madre Museum, Casamadre and the Palace for the Arts in Naples (PAN) are all worth of a visit for those in search of creative inspiration.
Estonia’s capital city retains an incredibly well-preserved – and Unesco-listed – Old Town, full of fairytale turrets and cobbled streets and perfect for taking a leisurely stroll around. In summer, hire bikes and cycle downriver to Pirita beach for a refreshing dip. To warm up, enjoy a glass or two of the eye-wateringly cheap beer on offer in the city’s many bars and explore the exciting (and affordable) dining scene, which takes inspiration from the Scandi school of cooking.
Visit Bergen’s historic wharf, where you can pick up a cruise to some of Norway’s most spectacular fjords, such as Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord. Alternatively, head off on the Bergen Railway. The stretch to Voss is considered to be one of the world’s most scenic train rides, with beautiful views of the surrounding fjords.
Looking for some new bling? Head to the port city of Gdańsk on the Baltic coast, centre of the amber trade, which can be found in countless boutiques and jewellers around the city. In the summer, take the tram to Stogi, one of the city’s most popular beaches, replete with sunbeds and free wifi. Enjoy some fresh fried fish on the waterfront on the way home – seafood is a must-try for visitors to this unique historical city.
San Sebastián, Spain
This culinary hotspot on the Bay of Biscay combines excellent food and drinking opportunities with golden beaches surrounded by verdant mountains. In addition to the traditional Basque country tapas pintxos, visitors to this coastal resort can enjoy txakoli – a sparkling white wine – cider and exceptional seafood. Find out more about Basque history at the Museo de San Telmo. Those wanting to catch some waves should head to Zurriola Beach, home to surfers, skaters and volleyball players.
Situated at the foot of the Julian Alps in Slovenia, the town of Bled is home to one of Europe’s prettiest lakes: Lake Bled. Those wishing to get acquainted with this beautiful body of water can walk its 6km circumference, while those seeking more of a challenge can hike up Osojnica Hill to be rewarded with spectacular views. Other ways to enjoy the lake include cycling routes, rowing or simply admiring the views with a glass of something cool.
Naples may have pizza, but Genoa also holds a strong hand when it comes to matters of a culinary persuasion. As the birthplace of focaccia and pesto, diners are spoilt for choice in this northern port town, which also boasts superb seafood. Wander down the narrow medieval streets and discover hidden market stalls and the city’s piece de resistance: the hilltop Basilica di Santa Maria di Castello.
Situated on the clear Aegean Sea, Thessaloniki comprises sweeping sea views, history and shopping opportunities to satiate all your retail therapy needs. The revamped waterfront area is perfect for indulging in both classic Greek cuisine and European flavours while sipping a drink and watching the sun set. Home to some of Greece’s most eminent artists and thinkers, this is a laidback city, ideal for people-watching and ambling through the streets to be surprised by ancient relics and ruins.
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