The Most Underrated European Cities
While London, Paris and Rome might seem like the most obvious places to start when exploring Europe (and there’s certainly nothing wrong with these iconic cities), why not try something off the beaten path? Europe is filled with hidden gems that are packed with history and culture, ideal for just about any type of traveler. From the less frequented beaches in the South of France to a Spanish city with connections to the author of “Don Quixote,” we’ve rounded up some of the must-see places that are slightly off the tourist trail.
Grab your hiking boots and make plans to stop off at Aysgarth in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire. This small, sleepy village in Yorkshire Dales National Park is an ideal spot for a laid-back break with great trekking opportunities. The beautiful Aysgarth Falls are a mile east of the village, in what’s known as Freeholders’ Wood. This local nature reserve, an ancient semi-natural woodland, includes paths to neighboring villages. After a hard morning of trekking, unwind with a pint at the George & Dragon Inn or grab lunch and something sweet at one of the village’s tea rooms.
Slovenia is quickly gaining popularity as a European destination and holds its own against its more obvious neighbors, like Austria, Italy and Croatia. Ljubljana, the country’s capital city, has much to offer, but the country’s second-largest city, Maribor, offers similar cultural and historical opportunities with a small-town vibe. Wine enthusiasts will want to visit the world’s oldest vine (more than 400 years old) located in the oldest part of the city, Lent. Attached to the vine is the Old Vine House, a museum dedicated to Slovenia’s longstanding history with viticulture. Art and architecture lovers will find several must-visit landmarks, including the Maribor Art Gallery, Franciscan Church and Maribor Synagogue. And if skiing or hiking is more of what you’re looking for, head off to the Pohorje mountain range, located an hour west of the city.
While Saint-Tropez and Cannes might be the more obvious locations for beach getaways in France, Guéthary offers a quieter and more family-friendly experience. This former whaling and fishing village, located in the southwest on the Basque coast, features four different beaches. The most popular is Parlementia, which features long sandy stretches of beach (perfect for working on your tan) overlooked by heath-covered cliffs. Those who have come to surf will want to make sure that they’re a few hundred yards out if they hope to catch the best waves (and avoid getting scraped up by the underwater rocks). While inland, check out the contemporary art museum, sample local cuttlefish at one of the many eateries or take a 10-minute drive down the road to the commune of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Meanwhile, for those looking for a civilized night out on the town, Guéthary also offers a subtle, yet buzzy nightlife.
Alcalá de Henares, Spain
If a city steeped in history is what you’re after on your next European getaway, consider Alcalá de Henares. Located 18 miles from Madrid, this city was founded in 1508 and is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes (author of “Don Quixote”). It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to several buildings that date back to the Spanish Golden Age. Visitors can visit Corral de Comedias, one of the oldest theaters in Spain; stay in a Parador hotel that was once a 17th century convent; wander the cobblestone streets of the Jewish, Moorish and Christian quarters; and explore the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes, the birthplace of the famous writer, which is now a museum.
There are places that you need to see before they become too popular, and the Croatian Island of Pag is one of them. This vibrant spot is considered to be one of Croatia’s top party destinations, with enough open-air clubs to keep you dancing until dawn. There are also plenty of music festivals that take place during the summer months, including Barrakud (Aug. 13-16), Hideout Festival (June 25-29) and Black Sheep Festival (July 30 - Aug. 2). Pag also offers plenty of non-nightlife activities and sights. The island is perhaps best known for its cheese-making. Those hoping to sample the local specialty should pay a visit to the tasting rooms at Gligora Dairy, located in Kolan. Architecture enthusiasts should make a stop at the Collegiate Church of the Assumption, a gothic structure located in the main square. Moreover, the island is also known for its lacemaking and has an entire gallery dedicated to the industry.
Moletai, located in northeastern Lithuania, is one of the country’s oldest settlements, and, because it sees few tourists, it’s a great destination if you want to get to know the locals. Its surrounding natural landscape includes beautiful lakes, which are best visited during the summer months. And those who consider themselves to be astronomy nerds will want to check out the spectacularly named Lithuania Museum of Ethnocosmology and the Moletai Astronomical Observatory, both located in Kulionys village. The museum is a 20-minute car drive from Moletai. Visitors to the observatory can look through the telescopes and sit in on astronomy lectures, while the museum offers a look at the relationship between humans and the cosmic world.
Ashley Bess is an editor turned freelancer writer who describes herself as short, opinionated, recently repatriated, lover of gin and travel and with a head full of useless song lyrics and movie quotes.