When people think of Europe, the typical knee-jerk reaction is to think about destinations like London, Paris, and Rome. Those who are a little more adventurous might consider exploring other cities such as Vienna, Berlin or Brussels. But Europe has so many other beautiful cities that shouldn’t be missed, especially for travelers interested in art, food, history and music. An added bonus? Some of the lesser-explored countries offer better deals and fewer crowds. Yes, please.
Check out some of the best off-the-beaten-path destinations in Europe:
Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is full of magnificent castles, churches, museums and palaces. For the aesthetically-inclined, you’ll be pleased to find an unusual mix of architectural styles, from Baroque to Ottoman to Art Nouveau. It’s a fascinating mixture of old and new, with several distinct areas, including one of Europe’s largest Jewish quarters. One of the highlights is Buda Castle, which has more than 200 rooms and is spectacularly lit up at night. Pro-tip for visiting Budapest: Avoid spending money at touristy attractions right by the scenic Danube, and opt to explore District VII to discover some local gems.
Currently on my bucket list is a stay at the Budapest Corinthia, because this building sure is a looker:
Sofia, Bulgaria, has a fascinating history that dates back to the Roman era, and is also the only country in Europe that hasn’t changed its name since it was established (681 AD). History-buffs should definitely make their way over to National Institute of Archeology and the National Museum of History, some of Europe’s finest museums. Sofia is also known for its beautiful and ornate religious buildings, such as the Saint Sofia Church, Central Sofia Synagogue and Cathedral Saint Alexander Nevski.
Budget-savvy travelers will be pleased to find that Sofia is a city where you can find tremendous value, with many 4-star hotels for less than $100 per night. If you’re a fan of winter sports, Sofia is one of Europe’s low-key ski destinations with resorts such as Vitosha Mountain offering snowboarding and mountain biking as well as thrilling ski slopes.
Romania’s largest city and capital, Bucharest, is known for its glamorous palaces, wide boulevards, and picturesque Old Town, and is sometimes called the Paris of the East. The decades under communist rule made their mark, but the city has been steadily modernizing since the protests and reforms of the 1990s.
The heartbeat of Romania, its capital Bucharest, is not to be missed. Some of Bucharest’s most alluring attractions include the Palace of Parliament, the National Museum of Art, Revolution Square, and the Old Town, filled with charming old buildings, restaurants and shops. For those looking to escape the city, travel east a few hours toward the Black Sea and visit beach resorts that are entirely different than what we are used to.
And foodies rejoice — Bucharest has some of the best farm-to-table restaurants in Europe, and offers incredibly diverse menus. For local cuisine, be sure to try mici, sarmale, and ciorbă de burtă.
Portugal is missed far too often by those traveling through Europe. Lisbon is one of my favorite cities, and the charming streets, delicious food, incredible art scene and inviting people make Lisbon so memorable. Lisbon’s history goes back to the days when Portugal was a major world empire. You can explore some of this history at the Maritime Museum and Miradouro da Graca, which is one of the best places for amazing views of the whole city. Lisbon is also known for its vibrant nightlife and liberal social attitudes. Costa de Caparica is known as one of Europe’s best beaches, and one of my personal favorites is Guincho Beach in Cascais, which is just a short train ride from the city. For all the wine connoisseurs, definitely stop into a local bar that serves Vinho Verde (translates to ‘green wine’) on tap (you can thank me later).
Although Krakow has had a difficult history that includes the Nazi occupation and communist rule, its story is one of survival. Today, Krakow is establishing itself as a world-class European city with a vibrant nightlife and haven for local restaurants. Krakow also includes a rich selection of churches, museums and historic buildings — all of which come together for a harmonious blend of past and present. The main market square (Rynek) is especially rich for exploring and shopping, and right underneath it is the Rynek Underground Museum, a historical yet modern museum with interactive exhibits. Areas such as the Historic City Centre and Jewish District are great for walking, shopping and learning about architecture and history.