Europe might be the most traveled continent on earth, but still has an abundance of great, and often, overlooked places for the experienced traveler to discover. Nowhere is it written that in order to get to know Italy you have to travel to Rome, and for France, to go to Paris. I’ve learned more things about Ireland by spending two days in a tiny village by the Atlantic called Dunquin, than a whole week in Dublin, Cork, and Killarney. Here, I present to you some of the most underrated destinations in Europe.
Overlooked Places in Europe
Sibiu – Romania
Sibiu, along with other Saxon cities like Sighsoara and Brasov is one of the reasons Romania has risen as a promising travel destination in the last few years. It’s located on the foot of Southern Carpathians, not far from Moldoveanu summit — the country’s highest point. Sibiu is a city of immense architectural beauty and romantic ambiance, having a similar atmosphere to places like Bruges.
The Germanic bloodline of Sibiu is evident on every corner of the old center which is dominated by the Great square. On its north side, the gorgeous church of Holy Trinity and the beautiful municipality building lie side by side, presenting a fine sample of the city’s amazing architecture. Right behind them, the bell tower of Saint Mary cathedral has the best vantage point and the iron-casted Bridge of Lies, not far from there, is the city’s most romantic spot. Sibiu is very popular during Christmas when thousands of lamps light it up, making this charming city even more extravagant.
Kosice – Slovakia
With a rich history going as back as the Kingdom of Hungary and amazing architecture featuring styles from gothic and renaissance to art nouveau, Kosice is a city of immense beauty. The medieval town center with the narrow alleys and the flowery pots on the balconies, the majestic neo-gothic cathedral of St. Elizabeth — Slovakia’s biggest church — and the East Slovak museum with its famous gold coin collection, are some of the city’s main attractions.
Along Hlavna ulice which is the main street crossing the old town, you’ll find numerous cafes and restaurants where you can try some of the local delicacies. I strongly suggest klobasa (sausage), and haluski — a local dish made with potato pasta and cabbage.
Larnaca – Cyprus
The third biggest city in Cyprus is not the most popular destination on the island, far from it, but it’s the most genuine and hospitable. This coastal city has its roots in antiquity when it was a kingdom city called Kition. Today, it’s a magnificent all-year-round destination with a temperate climate, beautiful golden beaches with crystal clear water, and a spicy character — an amalgam of Eastern and Western civilizations.
The heart of Larnaca is Finikoudes beach with its iconic palm trees and a small fort by the sea. Good coffee and tasty food is the rule here. I would definitely taste souvlaki — pork skewer in Cypriot pita and haloumi, the famous local cheese with the intense salty taste. If you visit by the end of autumn, or in winter, you’ll have the chance to see the magnificent flocks of flamingoes that populate Larnaca’s salt lake every year.
Ioannina – Greece
Ioannina, the capital of Epirus — admittedly the most beautiful region of the Greek mainland, is an amazing and quite overlooked city built on the west shore of lake Pamvotida. Also known as Yannena, the city has a natural beauty and interesting history. The old center is inside a well-preserved castle town built on a small peninsula next to the lake, and it’s a great place to begin your urban exploration.
The centerpiece of Ioannina is the tree-lined coastal road that runs along the lakefront. In the afternoon, you see many locals strolling on the wide pavements or sitting in one of the numerous cafes, watching the peaceful lake with the small island of Ioannina in the middle, which you can visit by boat. The local delicacy is fried frog legs. It’s not for everyone but is definitely worth a try.
Dingle Peninsula – Ireland
The Emerald Island is famous for the lush green landscapes, vivid folklore, and good literature. If you don’t have time to see the whole country though, you can get a pretty good idea just by visiting the Dingle Peninsula in the westernmost part of the country. This piece of Gaelic land on the verge of the Atlantic Ocean has in abundance the magic dust that makes Ireland the legendary place that it is.
Rolling hills and long strands, small towns and scenic villages, people still speaking the ancient language of Gaelic, and a wealth of local stories and legends; all waiting to be discovered by the adventurous traveler. Dingle, a picturesque fishing town on the Atlantic is a great place to start before moving west along the coast by hiking or driving the epic Slea head drive. On the way, you’ll encounter the seemingly untouched by time village of Dunquin, and a few miles offshore, the Blasket Islands with some of the most amazing ecosystems in Europe to watch bird colonies and whales.
Marseille – France
The third biggest city in France never had the recognition it deserved. What it got instead, was a bad rap for being a French mob stronghold with a shady port. The black sheep of Cote D’Azur is genuine at heart though, and an amazing destination to explore and taste.
The nostalgic old port, the majestic basilica of Notre-Dam de la Garde, and the legendary prison island of Chateau d’If are just a few of the places that make Marseille a great city. The wild Massif des Calanques, just north of the city, are a great sight to shoot some dramatic seascapes. Don’t forget to taste fish soup a la ruille and pieds paquets — lamb foot stew with potatoes left to boil for more than seven hours.
Graz – Austria
Austria’s second biggest city might not have Vienna’s worldwide fame, but it certainly has the charm. Built on the bank of river Mur, Graz’ most defining landmark is Schlossberg— a fortified tree-covered hill that towers the city’s historical center which is a UNESCO world heritage site itself. The iconic clock tower on Schlossberg is Graz’ most visited spot and the views of the city from its eloquent gardens are more than worth a visit, especially near dusk.
Other notable sights are, Kunsthaus Graz — the futuristic modern art museum with the organic shape and roof windows resembling suckers; the Baroque styled palace of Eggenberg; and Murinsel, the artificial island in the middle of Mur River and a perfect spot for a cup of coffee. Graz is Austria’s culinary capital, and you shouldn’t miss the Styrian fried chicken, and of course, Schnitzel.
Moravia – Czech Republic
When people hear Czech Republic, their minds always go to Prague, Karlovy Vary, and the region of Bohemia in general. The other main region of the country which is Moravia, tends to be overlooked and that’s a great mistake. Moravia is a land of great beauty with green hills layered with vineyards and lush river valleys spread across its land.
Its charming cities like Brno and Olomouc are carte postal material, and so is the picturesque town of Mikulov. The pristine Podyji national park is ideal for short hikes around Dyje River, and Nove Mlyny reservoir, a nice resort to go swimming or do some water sports in the heart of Central Europe. Foodies will be at home in Moravia, especially those who admire wild game dishes and of course sausage.
The Allure of Unpopular Destinations
These destinations are not just beautiful, they are also cheaper, much quieter, and less touristy than their famous counterparts. Above all, they are genuine. Instead of offering tailored experiences, they push travelers to live like locals and do the same things that locals do. You don’t necessarily need metropolitan museums and world-renowned sites to have amazing travel experiences, just an open mind, and a spirit for adventure. So, the next time you’ll be looking for a destination try to look beyond the usual places, it pays off.
About the Author: Chrisostomos Kamberis
A travel writer by profession and an adventurer at heart, Chris loves hiking long trails and climbing mountains as much as exploring metropolises and tasting street food in some of the most obscure places in the world.