Looking to discover underrated cities and hidden gems in Europe? Prepare to be amazed:
Welcome to the world of hidden gems in Europe! These are the lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path destinations that are bursting with charm, culture, and character. They are typically rich in history, have a unique local culture, and offer authentic and immersive travel experiences. These are the kind of places where you can truly get away from the crowds and connect with the local way of life.
Europe is a tourist magnet. Its colorful cities and towns capture our curiosity and spark our inner explorer. History lovers appreciate Europe’s ancient architecture, while outdoor enthusiasts are mesmerized by its diverse landscapes. And if you’re a foodie, it’s easy to eat your way through Europe’s hidden gems and cosmopolitan cities alike. Local ingredients and delicacies vary from village to village, so you will never grow tired of the endless food options that these unique places to visit in Europe have to offer.
Due to cheap airfare and social media hype, it seems that every square meter of this beautiful continent has already been trampled over. This begs the question: are there any hidden gems in Europe left to explore?
I’ve asked this question to some of my favorite travel bloggers and local experts who know Europe best. Europe hidden gems are hard to come by, but this list shows many of them. Here are the 21 best hidden gems in Europe that will evade the crowds in 2023.
1. Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain
Setenil de las Bodegas is a small town in southern Spain that’s etched into the cliffs. This means that the people here quite literally live under a rock.
The dwellings in town are totally whitewashed, providing a stark contrast from the dark cliffs looming overhead.
What to see and do
Aside from its scenic cliffside setting, Setenil de las Bodegas also boasts a pair of noteworthy attractions. Two intriguing sights include Nazari Castle and the Church of La Encarnación. Each are incredibly unique, and cement the town’s reputation as one of the best underrated places to visit in Europe.
Nazari Castle, which stands at the top of the hill, was formerly an Arab fortress dating back to the 13th century. This medieval castle was one of the last Moorish strongholds before the Christians retook the Iberian Peninsula in the late 1400s. All but one of the castle’s original towers were demolished after the last siege. However, it’s still worth making a quick stop for the incredible views of the picturesque town below.
The Church of La Encarnación isn’t the most extravagant church in Spain, but it’s special in its own right. It was built in the early 1500s to embody late Gothic architecture. The Church of La Encarnación is simple and peaceful, providing a glimpse of what life used to look like in small Spanish villages.
Where is it?
Tucked between Sevilla and Granada, Setenil de las Bodegas is one of the most unique places in Spain and among Andalusia’s best-kept secrets. It’s miraculous how this town has managed to stay under the radar for so long. Setenil de las Bodegas is only 11 miles (18 km) north of Ronda, another off the beaten path destination that merits a visit.
If you’re planning a road trip through Spain, be sure to tack on Setenil de las Bodegas to your itinerary!
2. The Algarve, Portugal
Located in southern Portugal, the Algarve is among the unique places to visit in Europe. While the French, Italian, and Spanish Rivieras steal most of the limelight, I think Portugal’s slice of paradise in the Algarve can give each of those spots a run for their money.
What makes the Algarve one of the best places in Europe to visit
This region hugs the Atlantic coastline and offers rugged landscapes and windswept beaches that you won’t find anywhere else. Whitewashed villages and towns are strewn between sandy coves and beaches, and you won’t have to break the bank to stay there.
The Algarve is much cheaper and lesser known than its Mediterranean counterparts. Having said that, the region is much less developed for tourism, so if you’re expecting touristy enclaves of beach resorts, clubs, and restaurants all over, you’re better off visiting those aforementioned places.
Check out the soaring cliffs and epic rock formations that the region is known for. Stroll through old fishing villages and endless beaches as you take in the sunshine. It’s no wonder this is among the best places to visit in Europe!
Where is it?
The Algarve is 155 miles (250 km) south of Lisbon. Some towns and cities you’ll want to visit include Lagos, Faro, Tavira, and Albufeira.
If you’re seeking a hidden gem with raw beauty in one of the coolest places to visit in Europe, definitely add the Algarve to your bucket list!
Read next: Coolest Vacation Homes in Portugal
3. Perast, Montenegro
Looking to add to your Europe bucket list? Check this out.
Just north of Kotor, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, lies a small coastal village called Perast. It’s cheap, quaint, and seemingly untouched. As such, it’s one of the best European hidden gems that you should visit in 2023.
Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Perast was a strategic port between the Ottoman Empire and Venetian Republic. With a population of 274 people and only one main street, it’s hard to imagine that this tiny town was once at the crossroads of these powerful empires.
What to see and do
More recently, Perast has attracted visitors with its medley of churches, royal palaces, and nearby islets.
With 16 churches in total, Perast probably has the most churches per capita in the world. The most majestic among them is St. Nikola Church, a Baroque masterpiece that dates back to the 17th century. The town is also surrounded by scenic mountains, which watch over the bay below. With so much scenery and charm, it’s no wonder that Perast is one of the most underrated cities to visit in Europe.
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Other highlights in Perast
Just a quick ferry ride from Perast in the Bay of Kotor is an artificial island called Our Lady of the Rocks. Legend has it that sailors built this island 500 years ago by stacking piles of rocks and old ships. A small chapel sits atop this rocky mound jutting from the water. Inside, you’ll find many beautiful 17th-century paintings and an icon of the Virgin Mary dating back to the 1400s.
On your boat ride to Our Lady of the Rocks, you’ll encounter another small island with an intriguing past, Saint George. This natural island is best known for its 12th-century monastery. Unfortunately, it’s not open for tourists, but you can circle the island by boat for just a few Euros. It’s very tucked away and as such, deserves a mention among Europe’s hidden gems.
In addition to its interesting sights and attractions, Perast is also a spectacular spot for seafood lovers. Local fishermen bring the fresh catch of the day straight from the Bay of Kotor and Adriatic Sea. The oysters and mussels are some of the best in the region.
Where is it?
Perast is just 7.5 miles (12 km) north of Kotor and less than 50 miles (80 km) from Dubrovnik, Croatia. It’s also 100 miles (160 km) from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, making Perast a popular day trip. Needless to say, there’s a lot to see in this region of Europe. So pack your bags and get to it!
With its pretty architecture and captivating history, Perast is one of the best hidden gems in Europe that you should visit in 2023.
4. Tethe National Park, Albania
If you’re looking for one of the most unique places to visit in Europe, add Theth National Park to your bucket list! This underrated vacation spot is nestled in the heart of Albania, and it is a true paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
What makes Theth National Park so special? Firstly, it’s home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes you’ll ever lay your eyes on. The park is located in the Albanian Alps, and it is home to towering peaks, crystal clear rivers, and dense forests. Theth National Park is also home to a rich and diverse array of wildlife, including rare species of birds and animals that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
What makes Theth a unique place to visit in Europe
But what really sets Theth National Park apart is its rich cultural history. The park is home to a number of traditional Albanian villages that have been passed down for generations. These villages offer a glimpse into the unique way of life of the Albanian people, and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with the locals and learn about their culture and traditions.
So why should you visit Theth National Park? Well, if you’re a fan of nature and culture, then this is the perfect destination for you. It’s a place where you can escape the crowds and experience something truly authentic and immersive. Plus, it’s an underrated destination in Europe, so you’ll have the chance to experience all of this without the crowds and tourist traps that you’ll find at more well-known destinations.
I’ve been to the Swiss, Austrian, and Italian Alps many times, and I must say…these mountains in Albania can certainly rival them. And the best part? There were virtually no other people there. So, pack your bags and head to Theth National Park for an adventure of a lifetime!
5. Brisighella, Italy
Brisighella is a medieval fairytale town just south of Bologna. It’s incredibly beautiful and charming, yet it’s somehow managed to keep a low profile. You probably haven’t heard of it, which is why it deserves a spot among Europe’s best hidden gems.
What to see and do
Brisighella is a secret destination with a dense history and authentic culture. It’s tucked between three majestic hills, which contain a castle (La Rocca), a clock tower (La Torre), and a church (Il Monticino). These structures date back to the 14th, 16th, and 18th century, respectively.
Other qualities of Brisighella that make it among the most unique places to visit in Europe
Hiking is a popular activity here, particularly during the summer months. You can hike up from the village by foot to each of the aforementioned sights, where you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the village and countryside below.
Brisighella is truly a place where you can wander aimlessly and not grow tired of its quaint and colorful streets. But if you do grow tired, you’ll have plenty of world-class wines, olive oils, and gelato to try at its restaurants and cafés.
Given its glorious nature and charm, Brisighella is among the best unknown places to visit in Europe.
Where is it?
Brisighella is just an hour by train or car from Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna. It’s also just over two hours from Venice and 1 hour 20 minutes by car from Florence.
Brimming with beautiful architecture and scenic countryside, Brisighella is one of the best hidden gems in Europe that you should visit in 2023.
6. Mittenwald, Germany
Historic colorful houses: Check.
Snow-capped mountains: Check.
Bavarian food and beer: Check.
Tourist crowds: Nope!
Mittenwald is a sleepy village that appears to be taken from the pages of a Grimms’ fairytale. It may come as a surprise that Mittenwald has remained one of the best hidden gems and underrated places in Europe, particularly given its proximity to Germany’s robust automobile industry.
What to see and do
Mittenwald is one of those quintessential German towns that everyone should visit and experience. It’s chock-full of vibrant energy at every turn, beginning with its colorful architecture. Many of the homes and shops in town date back over 250 years, but you’d think they were built yesterday.
When you’re planning a visit to Mittenwald, you’ll want to give yourself ample time to stroll through the Altstadt, or Old Town. Timeless tradition is on full display on every street, especially the Obermarkt (the main street). Colorful homes, shops, and murals are peppered among the town’s pedestrian-friendly paths. It’s a lovely sight.
Interestingly, Mittenwald has a long history and legacy in the craft of violin making. It’s often called the “Village of a Thousand Violins” for this reason. Given that Mittenwald is both enchanting and rhythmic, the name suits the town perfectly.
Another big draw here are the Karwendel Alps, which provide an epic backdrop around the town. This makes Mittenwald an attractive place for skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer.
Mittenwald is truly a Europe hidden gem come true!
Without the massive crowds of tourists (which usually go hand-in-hand with Europe’s picturesque towns), the loudest noise you’ll likely hear on a given day is the gentle stream that runs through the center of town. Otherwise, you’ll probably hear a violin.
The tranquil and timeless ambiance is what makes Mittenwald one of the best unknown and underrated places in Europe.
Where is it?
Situated along the Germany-Austria border, Mittenwald is just 2 hours by train from Munich and 40 minutes from Innsbruck, Austria. Though it’s so close to each of these popular places, it’s still remained one of the best European hidden gems that you should visit in 2023.
If you’d like to pair this trip with a visit to one of the best castles in Europe, Neuschwanstein Castle is only an hour’s drive away.
7. Varna, Bulgaria
Unlike the first 2 hidden gems on this list, Varna is more of a cosmopolitan European city than a small village. Nevertheless, it has managed to stay out of the limelight thus far. Here’s why you should visit Varna, one of the best secret places and underrated cities in Europe:
Varna is a seaside resort town lined with beautiful beaches and a lively cultural scene. Locals consider it the Jewel of the Black Sea, yet most people outside of Bulgaria haven’t even heard of it. Kristin, a teacher and blogger who has lived in Europe and visited all corners of the continent, recently traveled to the coastal city of Varna:
“When I heard about Varna, I knew I had to visit. I knew a bit about Bulgaria from Rick Steves episodes, but other than knowing they nod their head yes for no and shake no for yes, I didn’t know much. And I had to look up Varna on Google, not knowing anything about it. What a beautiful location on the Black Sea…” – Kristin N., Under the Ligurian Sun
What to see and do in this European hidden gem?
In addition to its seaside charm, Varna is also brimming with historical and cultural attractions. A massive Roman bath complex and archaeological museum straddle the city center, as do many eccentric restaurants, cafés, and bars. As a beautiful beach destination and cultural center, Varna is known in Bulgaria for its nightlife.
Though Varna has a cosmopolitan vibe, the prices here are surprisingly cheap. This certainly makes up for the premium you’ll likely have to pay to get there!
Given its plethora of cool cultural attractions and sprightly beach life, Varna is one of the best hidden cities in Europe.
Where is it?
Varna isn’t super convenient to get to, but that’s part of the reason why it’s remained one of the best hidden gems and underrated cities in Europe for so long.
Located on the shores of the Black Sea in eastern Bulgaria, Varna is 275 miles (442 km) east of Sofia. As such, it’s about a 5-hour drive or 2-hour flight from Bulgaria’s capital.
Alternatively, Varna is 165 miles (266 km) southeast of Romania’s capital, Bucharest. This is the most convenient and economical way to arrive in Varna. Along the way, you’ll pass through Transylvania, a historic and mountainous region that every traveler should also add to their “hit” list.
Varna is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. Though many Bulgarian tourists come here in the summer, it’s still several notches down from the masses you’ll encounter in other coastal cities.
8. San Marino
Itching to explore winding cobblestone streets and timeless European charm? Look no further than San Marino.
Before the 19th century, the Italian Peninsula was a politically fragmented cluster of states. The boot-shaped landmass hadn’t been united since the days of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the 1800s when Giuseppe Garibaldi and other prominent revolutionaries sought to unite these states under the Kingdom of Italy. When the dust settled and unification was mostly achieved, there were only a handful of states that evaded this coalescence. San Marino was one of them.
More recently, San Marino has also eluded the immense tourism that dogs much of Italy. Here’s why you should visit San Marino, one of Europe’s best hidden gems.
What to see and do
San Marino is a micro-state perched high atop a mountain with panoramic views of the Italian landscape below. From here, you’ll catch a glimpse of gentle rolling hills and vineyards extending as far as the eye can see. It has the same magical allure as Tuscany without the crowds, making it one of the best hidden vacation spots in Europe.
San Marino’s historic center is deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside, you’ll discover a labyrinth of narrow streets that are lined with quaint cafés and shops. When you look up, you’ll see three towers standing tall on Monte Titano.
Around town, you’ll also find plenty of piazzas (squares) and palazzos (palaces) where time has stood still since the Middle Ages. As you stroll its enchanting streets, it’s easy to see why this has been the site of many a royal palace and castles for centuries. San Marino is considered by many to be the world’s oldest surviving republic. It’s shocking to think that it’s been such a hidden gem for so long.
Where is it?
San Marino is located in the northeastern part of Italy, just inland from the Adriatic coastline. It’s a 2-hour train ride from Bologna and 3 hours east of Florence.
9. Ohrid, North Macedonia
A list of the best Europe hidden gems wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Macedonia (now called North Macedonia as of 2019). Ohrid, which lies in the western part of the country, is an underrated destination that’s worthy of a spot on your bucket list. Here’s why.
Nestled on the shores of Lake Ohrid, this city offers a dose of history, culture, and sublime beauty. Ohrid is a UNECO World Heritage Site that’s considered the “Jerusalem of the Balkans,” filled with old world charm including historic streets, churches, and a medieval castle. They also call Ohrid the “Pearl of North Macedonia.” Take a stroll through the cobbled streets with views of the lake and surrounding landscapes, and you’ll wonder how Ohrid has remained off the beaten path for so long.
What to see and do in Ohrid, one of Europe’s best hidden gems
In the same day, you can explore the city’s historic landmarks and go swimming in the lake. One of the best views you’ll find is from St. John the Theologian, an old church with sweeping vistas of the lake and surrounding mountains. It was built during pre-Ottoman times in the 13th century, and boasts some beautiful frescoes and Byzantine-style architecture.
Other must-see sights include Saint Sophia, Church of Saint Clement and Panteleimon, Holy Mary Perybleptos, and Plaoshnik, all of which are ancient churches and archeological sites. In between, don’t miss Samoil’s Fortress, an 11th-century fortress that straddles the old town. The historic architecture is very unique, and unlike any of the structures you’ll find in Western and Central Europe. As such, it’s easy to see why Ohrid is among the best hidden gems in Eastern Europe.
Aside from sightseeing, Ohrid is a city where you should relax, unwind, and soak in the alfresco scene. There are lots of lakeside restaurants and cafés, where you can spend hours on end and never grow tired of the lively ambiance. And the best part of all? Ohrid is a budget-friendly city where you can pay as little as $10 per night on accommodation. Winning!
Read next: 14 Most Budget-Friendly Cities in Europe
Where is it?
Ohrid is located in North Macedonia, not far from the Albanian border. The easiest way to get here is by flying into Skopje, the capital, and then taking a bus for 3.5 hours. With its great location and endless things to see and do, Ohrid is one of the most unique places to visit in Europe.
10. St. Gilgen, Austria
St. Gilgen is a tiny village that straddles one of Austria’s prettiest lakes, Wolfgangsee. It has everything that you’d expect in an Alpine town: pristine scenery, fairytale houses, and traditional cuisine. What more could you want?
St. Gilgen doesn’t carry the hefty prices of Salzburg or the crowds of Hallstatt, making it a picture-perfect place to experience Austria’s off-the-beaten-path charm. Here’s why you should visit one of the best secret and underrated places in Europe.
What to see and do
St. Gilgen has a cheerful atmosphere that takes on many forms throughout the year. During the winter, it’s a popular skiing destination among Austrians. Zwölferhorn Mountain overlooks the town and adjacent lake, offering an incredible vantage point of the winter wonderland below.
During the summertime, the mountain draws avid hikers to its peak. The cable car ride to the top is an experience in and of itself. You’ll be amazed by the boundless greenery and Alpine lakes that dot the landscape below.
In addition to its scenery, St. Gilgen also puts you in a jovial mood with its colorful homes and shops. The façades are painted in every color of the rainbow (and then some). The wooden balconies, quaint guesthouses, and family-run restaurants are all so quintessentially Austrian.
During the summer months in St. Gilgen, there’s no shortage of water sport activities on the lake. You can rent boats, paddle boards, and pretty much any other type of aquatic equipment. Whether you’re looking for some relaxation or a jolt of adrenaline, Wolfgangsee has got you covered.
St. Gilgen is a famous place in Europe to visit anytime of year
Just before Christmas is another magical time to visit St. Gilgen. The town sprouts to life with an elaborate “Christkindlmarkt” or Christmas Market. The enchanting ambiance makes you feel like you’re strolling back in time through this Austrian village. The food and gifts on display are very enticing as well. Mulled wine, anyone?
Where is it?
St. Gilgen is 17 miles (28 km) east of Salzburg, which is just a 30-minute car ride. If you just want to stop by briefly, I recommend doing a guided tour of the whole region.
As an avid fan of The Sound of Music, I naturally felt compelled to do The Sound of Music Tour. In general, I’m not too fond of bus tours and prefer to explore on my own, but this was something special.
Firstly, it gives you a great overview of the region and its top sights. We drove through Salzburg, up and down verdant mountains, and around nearby villages and towns (including St. Gilgen). The bus stopped frequently so we could take pictures. For me, this tour was a blast from the past. Hit songs from the movie blared through the speakers of the bus throughout the entire tour. Admittedly, I sang along with the choir of other die-hard Sound of Music fans. It was fantastic, and I would definitely do it again (both St. Gilgen and the bus tour).
11. Rye, England
Looking to stay in one of the most unique places to visit in Europe? Rye is what you’ve been dreaming of!
Rye is the quintessential English town that brings you back in time. It’s probably one of the quaintest towns in the entire country with its charming homes and buildings dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. It’s nestled near the English Channel, offering stunning views of the River Rother and Romney Marsh.
Meander down cobbled passageways as you pass by half-timber homes and historic inns. Take in the medieval ambiance of Mermaid Street and stop inside the Rye Castle Museum. It’s easy to see why this is a best place to visit in Europe!
Where is it?
Rye is 70 miles (112 km) southeast of London, just a 1.5-hour car ride and 1-hour train ride away. If you just want to stop by briefly, I recommend doing a guided tour of the whole region.
Read next: Coolest Vacation Rentals in the UK
12. Basel, Switzerland
Though situated in the heart of Central Europe, Basel is a hidden gem worthy of a spot on this list.
What to see and do
During the summer, Basel is especially lively. The Rhine River that flows through town provides locals and visitors with a scenic summer swim. The alfresco scene along the riverbank, amid the backdrop of the Old Town, makes for an incredible sight as you’re making your way downstream.
In addition, Basel has a thriving art scene. This underrated city is home to more than 40 museums and cultural attractions, hence it’s nickname the “cultural capital of Switzerland.”
Outside the museums, you’ll find plenty of art exhibitions in the streets, most notably in its architecture. Take a walking tour and you’ll love what you see. Two of the most iconic structures in town are the Spalentor (Gate of Spalen) and Basel Münster (Cathedral), which are more than 500 years old.
Basel has so much to see and do, making it one of the best hidden cities in Europe.
Where is it?
Basel is a pocket-sized city in the northwestern corner of Switzerland, sharing a border with Germany and France. The city strikes a unique balance between urban cool and small town by the river.
Inspired to visit Switzerland? Don’t miss these 12 best Airbnbs in the Swiss Alps!
13. Alentejo, Portugal
Unless you’re a wine sommelier or native to Portugal, you probably haven’t heard much (or anything at all) about Alentejo. This region in southern Portugal has all but eluded the pleasure and plight of European tourism thus far. With its historic villages, endless vineyards, and steadfast sunshine, Alentejo is worthy of a spot on your ever-growing list of the best hidden gems in Europe.
What to see and do
Dan Flying Solo is a UK travel blogger and Lonely Planet Trailblazer who currently lives in Portugal. He recently visited Alentejo, and here’s how he pitched it to me:
“The Alentejo region of Portugal covers a huge area of the country, yet surprisingly remains relatively unvisited. Famed for its quality wine production, here you can sleep at Quintas (farms) and sample delicious local produce and wine from the source. Start in the city of Évora, where Gothic and Roman history collide amongst whitewashed houses, before taking a road trip through the green vineyards and contrasting arid nature of the landscape. Complete your Alentejo exploration in Beja, an adorable city most famed for its traditional tiles, or on the rugged windswept coast, where black sands provide a different beach escape than the more well known Algarve.” –Dan (Follow him on Instagram at @DanFlyingSolo)
Where is it?
Alentejo covers a broad swath of land in the lower third of Portugal. As such, there are a couple of convenient ways to arrive here from the north and south. In the northern part of Alentejo, you can fly into Lisbon and make the 2-hour drive east to Évora. In the southern part of the region, it’s best to fly into Faro. Then, head north about 2 hours to arrive in Beja, one of the best secret places in Europe.
14. Achill Island, Ireland
If you’re looking for underrated European destination, then look no further than Achill Island! This little slice of paradise is located off the west coast of Ireland, and it is the perfect destination for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
So what makes Achill Island so special? Well, for starters, it is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes imaginable. The island, which is located along the Wild Atlantic Way, brims with rolling green hills, picturesque beaches, and rugged cliffs that will take your breath away.
So why should you visit Achill Island? Well, if you’re a fan of nature, culture, and a good pint of Guinness, then this is the perfect destination for you. It’s a place where you can escape the crowds and experience something truly authentic and immersive. Plus, it’s an underrated destination, so you won’t have to deal with those pesky tourists clogging up all the best sights (not that there’s anything wrong with tourists, of course – they just tend to ruin everything).
If you’re looking to explore Ireland anytime soon, I highly recommend spending time in the western part of the country. Just be sure to bring a good raincoat – it is Ireland, after all.
15. Pag Island, Croatia
Pag Island is one in
a million 1,200.
It’s one of Croatia’s 1,200 islands in the Adriatic Sea, which may explain how it’s managed to keep a low profile and remain one of the best hidden gems in Europe.
What to see and do in Pag Island, one of the coolest hidden gems of Europe
Unlike other islands in Croatia, which tend to be tropical and covered with dense vegetation, Pag Island is almost otherworldly. It looks more like the moon than our own planet. There are no rivers and trees, but instead, the arid landscape is draped with white stones and lots of salt. It’s no wonder why Pag has become a desirable destination for salt-of-the-earth people and beachgoers alike.
The northern part of Pag Island is known for its sprightly nightlife scene, while the south is much more quiet and serene.
Also sprinkled around the island are a myriad of secluded beaches. The coastline is relatively calm with its shallow coves and crystal clear water. Top beaches include Zrce Beach, Strasko Beach, and Spiaggia di Rucica.
In addition to the exotic terrain, Pag Island is also famed for its sheep milk cheese. It’s widely considered the best artisan cheese from Croatia. To go with it, be sure to try the Pag Zutica (local white wine) and Pag Lamb.
Where is it?
Pag Island is just 35 miles (56 km) north of Zadar, Croatia, equating to roughly a 2-hour bus ride.
To arrive here, you’ll want to fly into Zadar and then take a bus connection from there. During the summer months, there also connections to a few other major cities: Split, Zagreb, and Rijeka. However, these cities are much further away than Zadar, so you’re better off flying through there.
It’s not super convenient to get to, which may explain why it’s one of the best hidden gems in Europe.
16. Kazimierz Dolny, Poland
When most international travelers think of Poland, the first places that probably come to mind are Warsaw and Kraków. However, there’s a small town nestled between these cities that’s equally lovely, yet doesn’t draw the same crowds. With a population of only 3,500, Kazimierz Dolny has mostly flown under the radar of European tourism. It’s undoubtedly one of the best unknown places in Europe.
What to see and do
If you like art, you’ll feel right at home in Kazimierz Dolny. The streets are like an endless art exhibition. You’ll find art galleries on pretty much every street, where artists and painters eagerly set up shop to sell their work. Fittingly, the homes and shops lining these streets are also vibrant and colorful. For these reasons, Kazimierz Dolny has a reputation for being among the top art hubs in central Europe.
On a more solemn note, Kazimierz Dolny is also home to the Holocaust Memorial Wall. In this town’s long history, it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. The Holocaust Memorial Wall is a place of contemplation and reflection, just a short walk from the city center.
Another top attraction in Kazimierz Dolny is its Old Market Square. It’s much smaller than that of Kraków (which happens to be the largest among Europe’s medieval squares), but it definitely merits a visit to marvel at the extraordinary architecture. During the summer months, the small square can quickly fill up with Polish tourists. So if you’d like to have the square all to yourself, be sure to stop by early in the morning.
Where is it?
Kazimierz Dolny is just 90 miles (145 km) southeast of Warsaw and 160 miles (260 km) northeast of Kraków. Generally speaking, the trains in Poland are very reliable and inexpensive, so you should have no problem jumping between cities. However, in the case of Kazimierz Dolny—a small town in the countryside—you’ll likely want to take a train to Bakowiec and then complete the rest of the journey by bus or taxi.
Whether you’re a history buff or an art enthusiast, you’ll agree that Kazimierz Dolny is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets.
17. Mdina, Malta
When you’re standing on the streets of Mdina, you feel like you’re in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East all at once.
This enchanting city has been a prized fortification for nearly 2,700 years. Its architecture was influenced by many powerful empires, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, and Normans. Today, it’s undoubtedly one of the best hidden vacation spots in Europe.
What to see and do in one of Europe’s top hidden gem vacation spots
The walled city of Mdina is a place every history and architecture aficionado should visit. Founded in the 12th century, St. Paul’s Cathedral is probably the most magnificent building in town. Much of the structure we see today is in the Baroque style and dates back to the late 1600s.
If you’re a Game of Thrones enthusiast, you’ll definitely want to add Mdina to your bucket list as well. The Mdina Gate and Fort were used as filming locations for King’s Landing and the Red Keep.
I was also amazed by Mdina’s quiet, narrow streets and the timeless charm that lingers in the air. At night, the streets of Mdina become lamp lit and eerily silent, hence its nickname “the Silent City.”
This definitely aligns with Mdina’s reputation as a European hidden gem.
Where is it?
Mdina is only 8 miles (13 km) from Malta’s capital, Valletta. However, it’s about a 1-hour bus ride away due to heavy traffic. Malta may be a small and compact island, but it’s among the most densely-populated countries in the world. It’s also one of the world’s most Instagrammable countries.
18. Zermatt, Switzerland
Unlike the other European destinations on this list, which are relatively inexpensive (after all, we’re talking about hidden gems), Zermatt comes with a steep price tag. But when you consider its setting amid lofty snow-capped mountains, ritzy resorts, and charming cottages, it’s definitely worth every Swiss Franc.
Among wealthy social circles, Zermatt is considered a popular ski resort town. However, for the rest of us, it’s definitely one of the best hidden vacation spots in Europe.
What to see and do
Zermatt fills the foyer with many prominent roles throughout the year. From January to March, Zermatt is a winter wonderland and has a lively après ski scene. From April onwards, it transitions into a summer resort town, though you can still spot plenty of snow covering the iconic Matterhorn (elevation: 14,692 ft. / 4,478 m) in August. If you are a chocolate connoisseur (like myself), prepare to be blown away: the Matterhorn is the mountain on the Toblerone bars. Fun fact!
Marie-Lise is a digital marketing consultant with a hospitality background based in Switzerland. Here’s why she thinks you should visit Zermatt:
“Zermatt is beautiful during all times of the year. In the winter, the snow-covered mountains are ideal for skiing. During the summer, Zermatt becomes a haven for hikers. Regardless of the time of year, you’ll have the chance to see Switzerland’s most breathtaking landscapes.”– Marie-Lise (Graduate of École Hôtelière de Lausanne and Glion Institute of Higher Education)
Where is it?
Zermatt is located in southern Switzerland along the Swiss-Italian border. The closest airports to Zermatt are Sion and Geneva, though it’s also within reach of Zurich and Milan. The last leg of the journey is by taking the mountain cog railway from Tasch, which gives you an incredible perspective of the Swiss Alps.
Though a sought-after destination among hikers and skiers, Zermatt is definitely overshadowed by Interlaken. It’s also much smaller and less accessible than other Alpine towns further north.
Stay in a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb with views of these snowcapped mountains, and you’ll see why it’s one of the best hidden gems of Central Europe.
Read next: Top Airbnb Stays in Switzerland
19. Figeac, France is a top Europe hidden gem
Figeac is one of the most underrated and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The town’s Wikipedia page has less than 50 words written about it, which is proof of its surreptitious nature.
Figeac is quiet, quaint, and probably the best depiction of what life looked like during the Middle Ages. It’s also one of the best unknown places in Europe.
What to see and do
In Figeac, a cheerful mix of timber and stone buildings blur into the surrounding landscape. Gentle rolling hills and waterways skirt around the beautiful village, a raw and unfettered taste of the French countryside. Figeac is where history and nature harmoniously intersect.
What makes this town intriguing and different from the rest is that there isn’t any one or two dominant attractions that lure visitors. In fact, there are only a handful of TripAdvisor “Things to Do” that have garnered any reviews. Rather than enticing tourists with specific sights and attractions, Figeac’s irresistible draw is its timeless charm.
The cobbled streets, 13th century buildings, and sublime landscapes all speak for themselves. It’s quite refreshing to find a destination that’s retained its sense of liberty and authenticity without the buttress of social media and online reviews.
If, however, you’re looking for that extra bit of pizzazz to spark your wanderlust, you may find it interesting that Jean-François Champollion— the famous French scholar who deciphered the Egyptian Hieroglyphics—was born here. There’s even a museum dedicated to him and his journey to uncover ancient history’s biggest riddle. Inside the Musée Champollion, you’ll also find an incredible reproduction of the Rosetta Stone.
Figeac is an unusual city in Europe like no other
For those who enjoy the outdoors, Figeac is a great place for hiking and canoeing. On Saturdays, there’s also an elaborate market where you can buy local produce. It probably hasn’t changed much in several hundred years, and that’s the beauty of it.
Where is it?
Figeac is essentially the midpoint between Toulouse, Montpellier, and Bordeaux. It’s just a 2-hour drive north from Toulouse, 3 hours northwest of Montpellier, and 3 hours east of Bordeaux. The map below will help you visualize this better.
Though Figeac is within striking distance of many large French cities, it’s one of the country’s best-kept secrets. As such, Figeac is among the best hidden gems in Europe to visit in 2023.
Read next: Coolest Airbnb Rentals in the French Riviera
20. Triglav National Park, Slovenia
Most of these European hidden gems have been centered around lesser-known cities and towns, so here’s a top nature getaway.
Triglav National Park is Slovenia’s lone national park and largest protected area. It’s located in the eastern part of the Julian Alps, and is home to the highest mountain in the country, Triglav (9,395 ft. / 2,863.65 m). Here’s why it’s one of Europe’s best hidden gems:
What to see and do
If you’re looking to get off the beaten track in the Julian Alps, this is it. Take a walk along the hiking trail at Triglav National Park, where natural beauty meets cultural heritage. As you’re exploring the beautiful lakes, streams, mountains, and villages, it’s easy to see why this national park has inspired people for generations.
Go hiking and mountain climbing to soak in the unique valleys and mountains. The scenery here is breathtaking, especially during the autumn when the trees are ablaze in fall colors. When you’re visiting Triglav National Park, be sure to spend ample time relaxing, unwinding, and connecting with nature.
Where is it?
Triglav National Park is in northern Slovenia near the borders of Italy and Austria. It’s about a 30-minute drive from Villach, Austria, and an hour from Ljubljana (Slovenia’s capital). The park is also a short drive from Lake Bled, another of my other favorite hidden gems of Europe.
21. Visby, Sweden: A top destination among these Europe hidden gems
Looking to discover a hidden gem in northern Europe? Visit Visby and you won’t be let down!
Nestled on the Swedish island of Gotland, Visby is a medieval town with lots of charm. It’s tucked away from the typical tourist crowd and is only really popular amongst Scandinavians. If you’re looking for an authentic Swedish experience, this is the one.
What to see and do
Visby is best known for its Medeltidsveckan (“Medieval Week”), a large medieval festival running from June to August comprised of fairytale-esque events like jousting, street performances, and concerts. The best part? You get to wear Swedish medieval attire! I wouldn’t want to drink my Swedish lager any other way.
Adding to Visby’s medieval charm is a 700-year old wall that circles the town. Visby has played a key strategic and commercial role in the Baltic Sea from the Middle Ages through today.
Where is this cool Europe hidden gem?
Located in the Baltic Sea, Visby (and Gotland) are accessible by boat and plane. Most visitors come here via direct flight from Stockholm (35 minutes) or as a port city during a Baltic Cruise. It’s also around 3 hours by ferry from Nynashamn and Oskarshamn, Sweden.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about unique places to visit in Europe
Here are some common questions (and answers) about the most underrated European cities and other hidden gems in Europe.
Q: Why should I visit a hidden gem in Europe?
A: There are so many awesome reasons to visit a hidden gem in Europe! These destinations are the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy destinations. You can enjoy a slower pace of life, and take the time to really explore and appreciate the local culture. Plus, hidden gems are often much more budget-friendly than the more well-known destinations. So you can stretch your travel budget a little further.
Q: What is the most underrated place in Europe?
Well, it’s a tough call, but I’d have to say that the most underrated place in Europe is probably Moldova. It’s a small, landlocked country in Eastern Europe that is often overlooked by tourists in favor of more well-known destinations like France and Italy. But trust me, Moldova has a lot to offer! It’s home to beautiful forests, rolling hills, and a rich cultural heritage. Plus, the wine is top-notch – you won’t find a better deal on a bottle of cabernet sauvignon anywhere else in the world! So if you’re looking to experience the best of Europe without the crowds and tourist traps, Moldova might just be the place for you. Just be sure to pack your sense of adventure – and a designated driver if you plan on sampling the local vino!
Q: Are hidden gems in Europe safe to visit?
A: Just like any destination, it’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and take common sense precautions. However, hidden gems in Europe are generally very safe places to visit. These destinations are often located off the beaten path, which means that they are less crowded and less touristy, and therefore may have less crime.
Q: What is the best way to find hidden gems in Europe?
A: One of the best ways to find hidden gems in Europe is to do your research and dig a little deeper. Look for destinations that are a little off the beaten path, and read reviews and blogs from other travelers who have visited the area. You can also ask locals for recommendations, as they often have insider knowledge about the best hidden gems in the area.
Q: Can I visit a hidden gem in Europe on a budget?
A: Absolutely! Hidden gems in Europe are often much more budget-friendly than well-known destinations. So you can stretch your travel budget a little further. Plus, these destinations are often located off the beaten path, which means that you’ll have access to more authentic and local experiences, rather than the overpriced tourist traps that you’ll find in more popular destinations. So don’t be afraid to go out and explore the lesser known parts of Europe. Who knows…you might just find your new favorite destination!
Have you been to any of these ‘best’ hidden gems in Europe?
If so, let me know which is your favorite! If not, I hope some of these places have made their way onto your bucket list!
These best hidden gems in Europe come in all shapes and sizes. I hope this article peaked your interest and introduced you to a few under-the-radar destinations and hidden vacation spots in Europe.
To follow my journey through Europe and around the world, feel free to connect with me on Instagram: @Global.Viewpoint!
Happy Travels! -Jon
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