Best Hidden Gems in Europe: 17 Underrated Places to Visit in 2021

by Global Viewpoint

Looking to discover underrated cities and hidden gems in Europe? Prepare to be amazed!

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 Europe has 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 17 best hidden gems in Europe that will evade the crowds in 2021.

Hidden gems in Europe pinterest image
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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.

Setenil de las Bodegas in Spain
Setenil de las Bodegas is one of the best secret and underrated places in Europe.

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 southern Spain, be sure to tack on Setenil de las Bodegas to your itinerary!

2. 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 2021.

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.

Perast, Montenegro is a best-kept secret, and among the best hidden gems in Europe.
Perast and Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor are among the best hidden gems in Europe.

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.

Perast Montenegro Mountains
The old town of Perast is top among the best unknown places to visit in Europe.

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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 2021.

3. 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.

Brisighella is one of Europe's best hidden gems
Brisighella, Italy is one of the best secret places and underrated cities in Europe.

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.

Brisighella clock tower (La Torre)
Brisighella’s clock tower, La Torre. This town is one of the best unknown 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.

Brisighella's castle is among the most underrated places to visit in Europe.
Brisighella’s hilltop castle, La Rocca is one of the best hidden places 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 2021.

4. 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.

Mittenwald in Germany is among the best unknown places to visit in Europe.
Mittenwald is one of Europe’s lesser known hidden gems.

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 in the Alps is one of the best hidden gems and unique places in Europe.
Mittenwald has a front row seat of the Karwendel Alps. It’s one of the best hidden vacation spots in Europe.

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 2021.

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.

5. 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
Varna, Bulgaria is one of the best hidden gems in Europe
Varna, Bulgaria is one of the best-kept secrets and hidden gems in Europe. Photo Credit: 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.

6. 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.

San Marino is a hidden gem in Europe
San Marino is definitely off the beaten path. It’s one of the best secret and underrated places in Europe.

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.

Located on the eastern coast of the Italian Peninsula, San Marino is one of the best hidden gems and most unique places in Europe.
Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, the Three Towers of San Marino are called Cesta, Guaita, and Montale. These are some of the best hidden places in Europe.

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.

7. 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.

St. John the Theologian (Kaneo) in Ohrid with lake and mountain views.
St. John the Theologian (Kaneo) in Ohrid with lake and mountain views.

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

Ohrid feels like a Mediterranean beach town. It's easily among the top hidden gems in Europe.
Ohrid feels like a Mediterranean beach town.

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.

A Macedonian Orthodox church built in the Byzantine style.
A Macedonian Orthodox church built in the Byzantine style.

8. 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.

St. Gilgen in Austria is among the most underrated cities in Europe.
St. Gilgen in Austria is among the most underrated cities 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.

Wolfgangsee and St. Gilgen are among the best hidden gems in Europe.
Wolfgangsee is a popular resort spot for Austrians. The masses haven’t yet discovered this hidden gem in the heart of Central Europe.

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).

9. Basel, Switzerland

Though situated in the heart of Central Europe, Basel is a hidden gem worthy of a spot on this list.

Spalentor (Spalen Gate) in Basel, Switzerland is among the coolest hidden gems in Europe
The Spalentor (Gate of Spalen) was built around 1400. It’s an iconic sight in the heart of one of Europe’s most underrated cities.

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.

View of Basel from the Rhine River. One of the most underrated cities to visit in Europe.
Walking along the Rhine River offers some of the most stunning views of Basel, one of the best hidden vacation spots in Europe.

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 be amazed at what you see. Two of the most iconic structures in town are the Spalentor (Gate of Spalen) and Basel Münster (Cathedral), which were both built more than 500 years ago.

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 tucked 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!

Aerial View of Basel, Switzerland
Aerial view of Basel from the Roche Tower, the tallest building in Switzerland.

10. 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)
Alentejo, Portugal is a hidden gem in Europe
The Alentejo region of Portugal is a hidden gem and underrated place to visit in Europe.

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.

11. 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.

Church of St. Mary Pag Island
Church of St. Mary on Pag Island, one of the best secret and underrated places 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.

Pag Island in Croatia is one of the best unknown places to visit in Europe.
Pag Island in Croatia is among the best kept secrets and hidden gems in Europe.

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 remained one of the best hidden gems in Europe.

12. 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.

Kazimierz Dolny in the winter.
Kazimierz Dolny is one of the best hidden gems in Europe during all months of the year. However, if you really want to have the place to yourself, consider visiting in the winter.

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.

Kazimierz Dolny in Poland is one of the best secret places in Europe.
Kazimierz Dolny in Poland is one of the best secret places and underrated cities in Europe.

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.

13. 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.

Mdina is one of the best hidden gems in Malta and Europe as a whole.
Mdina has been a home for noble families from Malta, Spain, and Sicily since the 12th century. It’s one of the best underrated cities to visit 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 was built 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.

The streets of Mdina, Malta are one of the best unknown places to visit in Europe.
Mdina was once the capital of Malta, but today only has a population of 300 people. It attracts 80,000 tourists each year, which means you’ll basically have the place to yourself.

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.

14. 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 consider yourself a chocolate connoisseur (like myself), you’ll be interested to know that Matterhorn is the mountain depicted on the Toblerone bars. Fun fact!

Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland, is one of the best-kept secrets and hidden gems in Europe.
Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland. Though not totally unknown, it’s among the best underrated places to visit in Europe.

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

15. 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.

figeac-france-chateau is among the best secret and underrated places in Europe.
Château de Saint Dau in Figeac is one of the best unknown places to visit 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.

The Rosetta Stone replica in Figeac, France. This sight is one of the best secret places in Europe.
The Rosetta Stone replica in Figeac, France.

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 remained one of the country’s best-kept secrets. As such, Figeac is among the best hidden gems in Europe that you should visit in 2021.

Read next: Coolest Airbnb Rentals in the French Riviera

16. 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:

Triglav National Park in Slovenia is about as beautiful as it gets.
Triglav National Park in Slovenia is about as beautiful as it gets.

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.

Triglav is the highest mountain in Slovenia and the highest peak of the Julian Alps.
Triglav is the highest mountain in Slovenia and the highest peak of the Julian Alps.

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.

A beautiful waterfall in Triglav National Park.
Triglav National Park is brimming with breathtaking waterfalls.

17. 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.

Visby, Sweden is a beautiful off the beaten track destination. It's no wonder Visby is one of the best hidden gems in Europe
Visby, Sweden

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.

Visby is a colorful coastal town that's among the best hidden gems in Europe
Visby is a colorful coastal town.

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.

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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Looking for some cool hidden gems across the pond? Check out my round-up of the best hidden gems in the US!


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6 comments

marvike October 25, 2019 - 07:25

I also enjoyed myself while I was visiting this kind of places.

Reply
Global Viewpoint January 16, 2020 - 09:48

Awesome! Glad to hear it!

Reply
Tom April 22, 2019 - 05:12

Great post! I haven’t visited any of these hidden gems yet but definitely add to the list! Happy travels to you Jon and keep up the good work 🙂

Reply
Global Viewpoint April 29, 2019 - 14:32

Thanks Tom! Glad to hear that your bucket list grew a little longer! There are so many incredible places scattered around the continent. Happy travels!!

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Margit Ausserhofer April 19, 2019 - 02:38

You are presenting a great mixture of European gems. I‘ve been to four of them: Mittenwald (several times), St. Gilgen (also several times), Zermatt and Mdina. All four of them are really beautiful places. I‘ll visit Perast and the Bay of Kotor in May and I‘m looking forward to this visit. Unfortunately I can‘t decide for a favorite, but probably St. Gilgen because of the mountains and the lake.

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Global Viewpoint April 20, 2019 - 23:49

Wow! That’s wonderful that you’ve visited so many of these hidden gems! I’ll have to make this list a little longer 🙂 Hope you enjoy your trip to Perast this May! Happy Travels!

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