My 10 Unexpected European Gems

I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe prior to my current living situation. I’ve been to most of the Eurotrip favorites – from Lisbon and London to Dubrovnik and Santorini. Don’t get me wrong – the big, famous cities are worth a visit. I just think that there are so many wonderful destinations hiding in plain sight. I would try to them before everyone finds out. So what are they?

 

 

  1. Naxos, Greece – Like everyone who has ever visited, I love Greece. My first visit I went to three islands: Mykonos, Naxos and Santorini. The clear winner for me was Naxos. Mykonos was so stuffed with people at some points it was hard to move around the streets. Of course – there is shoulder season. But I have now also been to Paros and Kos as well as back to Naxos and I stand by my feelings that it’s the most charming island. Both times I visited, I spent a day driving around and finding the sweetest little villages and unbelievable vistas. 

  2. San Sebastian, Spain – San Sebastian is tucked away in the Basque region in the North. From Madrid or Barcelona, it’s a bit of a trek. However, it’s well worth the extra travel. It’s Playa de la Concha is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The old part of town is dotted with some of Spain’s most delicious tapas and pinchos.  There is also surfing, hiking, shopping and sightseeing. While San Sebastian is a little bit on the small side, it’s unbelievably pleasant. 

  3. Lubeck, Germany – Lubeck is a town in the North of Germany, about 40 minutes from Hamburg. It’s almost completely made of brick, from the roads to the buildings to the partially intact town walls. While I might not make an entire vacation out of this sweet little village, it is definitely worth a full day. There is something wonderful at every turn. I’ve been four times and I’m always finding something charming and surprising.11893751_10153310271521107_1063938196300790258_o.jpg
  4. Ghent, Belgium – Ghent is not unlike Lubeck in some ways – it’s full of wondrous brick buildings. However, it has some absolutely Belgian touches. The food – from markets to street food to restaurants – is mouth watering. Then there’s the fact that the river is  surrounded by guild houses, not unlike Brussels. However, I find Belgium’s 4th most popular city full of charm. I was most recently there at Christmas and their market was adorable and booming. Ever since my friend Jess recommended a visit 5 years ago, I’ve really loved Ghent. 

  5. Heidelberg, Germany – I’ve spent a good amount of time in Germany – especially in the West. Heidelberg is such a gem. Yes – there are lots of tourists. Yes – it has lots of commercialization. But it also has this wonderful hike up the Heiligenberg across the river where you can ponder your latest existential crisis on the Philosophers’ Walk. There’s also a wonderful schnitzel restaurant on the top of the mountain and a lovely open park at the base. Heidelberg is also a great jumping off point for the Weinstrasse (shoutout to riesling – my favorite wine). You can explore the old University as well. There’s a student prison there which full of genuinely wild 18th century graffiti. Plus, if you are there in the right time of year, you can get tons of free berries along the hiking trails!  

  6. Copenhagen, Denmark – So I’ve been to all Scandinavian capitals save Helsinki. Oslo is situated on a shallow fjord with lovely view. Stockholm has it’s archipelago, grace and style. Reykjavik is the favorite jumping off point of Europeans and North Americans alike to explore weird and wonderful Iceland. But – Copenhagen just is the best. There’s an amusement park right outside of the train station (Tivoli). They love hot dogs. The architecture is impeccable. It’s just genuinely the happiest city I’ve ever visited. I’ve gone maybe 5 times over the past years and I love it more and more each time. There’s always more to see but I also never feel any specific pressure to go to the major tourist attractions. I have seen the relatively understated royal palace. I’ve gone to Christiania to see the fascinating art culture where weed reigns supreme. I’ve enjoyed Walking tours and pub crawls and every time it’s better and better. It’s somewhere that doesn’t get worse as I get older. 

  7. Krakow, Poland – In 2014, my friend Liz and I picked Krakow for the airport. It was cheap and easy to get to from Western Europe and could kick off out Eastern European adventure. We didn’t really have high expectations. Holy shit – did this city knock our socks off. First off, everything was reasonably priced from food to attractions to the hostel. The people were so unbelievably welcoming – our hostel threw us a 4th of July party which was actually my favorite patriotic celebration ever. We enjoyed the main square and the park outlining the city. The center is charming and there are many corners to tuck away from crowds. Seriously – I am always looking for a reason to get back to Krakow. I can’t sing its praises enough. If you are looking for somewhere charming, reasonably priced but packs an enormous cultural punch – go to Krakow. 

  8. Lake Bled, Slovenia – Slovenia is slowly inching into the more mainstream travel lexicon like its neighbor, Croatia. However, Slovenia is still decidedly off the beaten path. Lake Bled, one of the more famous attractions in Slovenia is absolutely worth a visit. It’s one of those lovely lakes without motor boats clouding the clear emerald water. I spent an amazing day there with my friend Liz where we inexplicably saw the Stanley Cup. We enjoyed the island, row boats and views. I am looking forward to going back again someday. 

  9. Split, Croatia – Croatia has gotten some press in the past five years thanks to Game of Thrones. While most people head down to Dubrovnik – I recommend Split. It is home to lovely beaches, a beautiful city center built quite literally into a Roman palace and my favorite tourist attraction of all time – Froggyland. It’s one of those places you just have experience to understand but all I’ll say is hundreds of taxidermied frogs participating in old timey activities. In any event – I love the spirit, the food and the slightly less traveled Split to it’s more famous neighbors. 

  10. Porto, Portugal – so this one is very fresh in my mind as I literally have only gotten home in the past two days from my 7 day trip to Porto. I genuinely loved it there. It’s dynamic in the way I personally didn’t find Lisbon to be. First, the food was absolutely phenomenal. I would just walk around until I couldn’t stand the mouthwatering smells wafting from a kitchen and would eat there. Secondly, there’s all the wine. Not just red but whites as well. Finally, there’s the city itself which reminds me of Italy with its candy colored houses and winding streets. But the steep hills and trams were quintessentially Portuguese. Highly recommend this spot.

 

So tell me – did any of these choices surprise you? Which is your favorite European destination for people who want to skip the biggest crowds? Let me know in the comments below and happy travels!

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