7 Destinations in Europe You Wouldn't Think to Visit (but Really Should)
As one of the most accessible and beloved parts of the world, Europe is home to plenty of bucket list–worthy places. History will draw you to ancient cities like Rome, Athens, and Lisbon, while culinary feats on nearly every corner call from Paris and London. And we can't forget the rolling, robust lands of Ireland and Scotland. It could take a lifetime to fully immerse yourself in every destination.
While these iconic stops are definitely worth your attention, there are others that might not have as much search traffic, but can give you a whole new perspective on a place and its people. These little-known wonders — most of which are not-so-far from larger metropolitan areas — will add depth and dimension to your getaway, offering a unique opportunity to see and experience something beyond the usual circuit.
Below, seven under-appreciated European gems you need to know about.
Scotland's Outer Hebrides
Scotland's Skye and the Hebrides snagged the seventh spot in this year's World's Best Islands in Europe ranking, but the former is arguably the most popular with travelers. Take a ferry ride beyond the Isle of Skye to explore what's considered to be one of Europe's last natural habits, the Outer Hebrides. This collection of islands — the largest being the Isles of Lewis, Harris, and North and South Uist — offers a full immersion into Celtic history, heritage, and charm.
You can hear locals speaking or singing in Gaelic, marvel at medieval churches, and see Neolithic standing stones up close. On Harris, where tweed fabric was originally woven, local artisans continue to craft capes, bags, and more traditional goods with the makings of an excellent souvenir. To visit, carve out your own schedule or book one of the many the tours that explore this region. This 11-day, 10-night option from CIE Tours International includes whiskey tasting, beach hopping, and more. Depending on the season, you'll want to pack layers, as summers can be ideal beach weather, but winters are often unforgiving.
The expansive island of Sardinia is just an hour-long flight away from Rome. If you've ever been to the Algarve on Portugal's southern coast, you might recognize the jagged — and breathtaking — landscape that defines Sardinia's 1,200 miles of coastline, blending beaches into mountains. There are two special qualities that set this destination apart from others: its Bronze Age stone ruins that look like beehives and its microclimate. Thanks to the headland behind Santa Margherita di Pula, which shields the coast from cold north winds, this region has 300 days of sunshine. Though it's lovely to visit from March through December, June and July will give you the warmest ocean temperatures. For a luxe, beachfront stay, book the Forte Village Resort in Santa Margherita di Pula.
On your next trip to Greece, hop on an hour-long flight from Athens to spend a few days in the country's "second city," Thessaloniki. This Northern port offers plenty for history lovers, but it's also got a modern liveliness to it. You can wander through ruins from the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans — thanks to its numerous occupations — and then make your way to Valaoritou Street for stylish cocktail bars and plenty of music. Since the heart of the city was entirely rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1917, the 20th-century architecture of this area will feel far away from the traditional Greek vibe. The city is also popular with locals because the beaches are also less crowded than on the islands. Don't miss White Tower, Roman Forum, and the cobblestone streets of the historic quarter, Ano Poli.
If you've already experienced the bath scene in Budapest, danced 'til dawn at the infamous five-story club in Prague, and ordered just-one-more cocktail while admiring the moonlit sea in Dubrovnik, set your sights on a lesser-known party destination: Belgrade. The capital of Serbia is becoming quite the watering hole for young travelers who, thanks to its many teeming bars and restaurants (and coffee shops to wake you up when morning comes). Here, you can experience splavovi — splav, for short — floating lounges anchored along the Danube and Sava rivers, each featuring a different musical genre. These tend to rage every night of the week, but if you need a break, make sure to see Beogradska Tvrđava, the historical fortress representing the city's part in the Ottoman, Serbian, Austrian, Byzantine and Roman empires.
You've heard of Venice and Verona, but a short 30- to 40-minute train ride from either of these known Italian destinations is Vicenza. Within the country's northeastern Veneto region, you'll be amazed by how little foot traffic this beautiful town hosts. It's most known for its unique buildings, specifically those of 16th-century architect Palladio. If you enjoy spending hours winding through halls of art, you'll find yourself sipping cappuccinos in between visits to the Basilica Palladiana and the Palazzo Chiericati. You might even catch a movie at the Teatro Olimpico, an outdoor theater that's indoors. As a bonus? You can add "wandered through a UNESCO World Heritage Site" to your checklist, since the longstanding value and importance of the architecture in this town earned it a nod. If your budget allows, consider staying for a long weekend where you can talk about the beauty you've witnessed over wine al fresco at the Villa Valmarana Ai Nani.
Though small in size, Slovenia is big on personality, led by its diverse and robust capital, Ljubljana. As a college town, you might find a younger crowd here, but they bring plenty of outdoor cafes along the river. Here you can stroll through plenty of green patches, most notably Tivoli Park (not to be confused with the amusement park in Copenhagen). As a true melting pot squished between Italy, Croatia, and Austria, the food scene has recently become one of Europe's most intriguing. Don't miss the tasting menu at Strelec and the pastries at Zvezda. When you're in town, book your stay at the Intercontinental Ljubljana and ask for a top floor in this 20-story high hotel, so you can wake up to one of the city's best views.
It's hard not to fall for the refined charisma of France — from the quaint, streetside cafes of Paris to the glittering grape vines of Bordeaux. But if you want to go off the grid? Head 45 minutes east of Cannes to find Vence, a small commune in the hills of the Alpes Maritimes. You might want to speak French, or at least attempt, when you pull into to this town, which is known for its landscape and the luxury destination spa at the Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa. You may also want to pack your watercolor palette, as inspiration struck for many an artist — Picasso and Matisse, namely — in this idyllic Côte D'Azur perch.