One of my favourite things about travel is that you don’t necessarily have to jump on a plane to a really unique location halfway across the world to feel like you’ve really travelled. Sometimes, hopping on the Eurostar or a short flight to spend 48-or-so hours in a random European city is just a as rewarding.
European cities are currently big on my to-travel list currently. I’ve got trips lined up for both Copenhagen and Lisbon over the next coming months and I’m constantly keeping an eye out for somewhere more underrated to visit.
Here are some lesser known European gems you could consider visiting before this summer is out – perfect if you want to avoid the tourists in places like Amsterdam or the prices of popular cities such as Copenhagen.
Most people think of Bucharest when they think of Romania, or many tourists tend to flock to Brasov, home of the famous Bran Castle (Dracula’s castle). But for a place that is the perfect balance between the two; you’ll want to visit Cluj. The sights are just as pretty as the ones spotted in Brasov, and although it’s generally quieter than Bucharest, it has enough buzz for cool stuff to often be going on. It boasts beautiful churches, a chilled nightlife and, in the summer, Untold festival. This August will see artists such as Black Eyed Peas, The Chainsmokers and Tiesto perform.
Tip: Visit Bricks for the best Mojito outside of Mexico – and trust me on this one, I’ve been after a decent Mojito in every place I’ve visited after my Mexico travels!
No, I’ve never heard of Vilnius either. But LuckyTrip tells me this is the ideal place to visit on budget. Known as the city of 100 churches, this unique place also boasts weird angel sculptures, hidden underwater roads and more charming cafes you can shake your stick at. Visit the old town to take a slow stroll and explore, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, hop on a bus and visit Trakai Castle which is around 30 minutes outside of the city.
Tip: A climb up Gediminas’ Tower is said to provide the best views of the city – do this when you first arrive to scope up any must-visit places.
GIETHOORN, THE NETHERLANDS
Technically not a city, the village of Giethoorn is totally underrated – but if you’re a Pinterest addict like me, you’ve probably seen photos of this place many a times. Giethoorn is dubbed as ‘Venice of the Netherlands’ and is unique in that it has no roads. To get around, you must use a whisper boat (obviously) along one of the village’s many canals. It’s beyond peaceful (a stark contrast to Amsterdam) and is most beautiful in summer or autumn when the trees and flowers show their most beautiful colours. Still, even a visit in winter would be fun, as many photos show villagers ice skating across the icy canals! You’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale visiting this place.
Tip: if you’re an adventurer like me, take a two hour road trip (or you could even stop off and spend a night in Amsterdam!) down to Kaatsheuvel, where you’ll find the huge and unique fantasy themed amusement park Efteling.
Most people tend to head to Brussels or even Antwerp when visiting Belgium, but not many people know about the unique gem that is Bruges. Though there’s not much to do there most of the year, the place really comes alive at Christmas. Everywhere has the most beautiful and classic festive decorations, the centre square has an ice skating rink and there’s even music played as you walk down the street. I visited one Christmas years and years ago with my Mamaw and my sister and it’s still one of my fondest memories. I’d love to go back one day with someone special as it’s a very romantic place too. You’ll also feel like you’re in a fairytale/another world when visiting here.
Tip: Watch the hilarious black comedy film In Bruges either before or after your visit. I’d recommend after as a) you don’t want to spoil the surprise of how festive it really looks and feels when you arrive and b) it’s so much fun watching the film and realizing you visited so many locations from the movie.
NEWCASTLE, THE UK
Finally, much closer to home is Newcastle. Forget Geordie Shore for a moment (although there’s no denying that Newcastle is a great night out), there’s much more on offer then cool bars. Newcastle is rich in history with two castles super local, has tons of museums (The Centre for Life is a science village in the centre with exhibitions, a Science Theatre and a planetarium) and it is one of the shopping capitals of the UK. And yes, it’s not technically underrated, but places like London, Birmingham and Liverpool tend to always come first when people visit the UK.
Tip: If you want to get out of the city there’s tons to do nearby in the North East: Alnwick Castle, Chillingham Castle, the charming Durham village, Beamish Museum and the quirky Forbidden Corner.
If you’re really after an adventure, may I suggest waiting for a flight sale and literally just booking at random or whatever’s cheapest? Or, try LuckyTrip for something more suited to your budget! Who cares if you’ve not heard of the place before or it doesn’t look exciting. Visiting somewhere new will always be exciting. Hostels will always be cheap and you’ll always find something fun to do with enough research. And if the place really doesn’t have much going on? Book as plush of a hotel you can afford, stick some movies on your laptop and just soak up a weekend of being able to do whatever the hell you want. Getting on a plane and being somewhere new is bound to give you tons of inspiration.
Do you have any must-visit but underrated European cities to recommend? Let me know!