Europe unexpected cities you need to see.
There’s far more to experience in Europe than its most popular (and most Instagrammed) cities.
For every Paris or London, there is a yet undiscovered city located off the beaten path. And you can be the one to unlock its secrets.
The nearby Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum are the first obvious must-visit stop, but Naples’ historic center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its ancient architecture. The city’s many art museums are worth exploring, as are its streets, which you’ll want to stroll for hours on end. Of course, you’re also in Italy for the food, and you’ll find plenty of it here.
Slovakia’s capital city lies on the banks of the Danube and Morava rivers, and borders both Austria and Hungary — creating a diverse culture and history. The historical buildings, including Europe’s narrowest, are centered in Old Town, while more modern buildings (like the strange Kamzik TV Tower and UFO Bridge) can be found on the outskirts.
The bicycle-friendly city is also easily traversed; explore the famous, brightly colored architecture along the canals or head to the Tivoli Gardens. The bohemian neighborhood of Christianshavn is a less touristy option, where you can check out the independent community’s eclectic, mismatched buildings.
The city is surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains and is a good base for exploring the country outside of its capital. Once you’ve seen the sights (including the famous Black Church and Citadel Fortress) take a rental car to Bran Castle, a.k.a. “Dracula’s Castle,” and Rasnov Fortress. If you visit during the winter months, there are also many ski resorts in the Carpathian Mountains, most notably Poiana Brasov.
Located on the southern coast of Ireland, Cork was originally a monastic settlement in the 6th century. It’s changed a lot since then, and is now a great place to see a variety of historical sites and partake in cultural activities. For a stranger experience, the Cork Butter Museum details the history of the dairy industry. When you’re ready for a drink, head to the Franciscan Well Brewery to sample some local brews and then move to Sin E, an established pub that is the home of traditional Irish music in Cork.
Located along the Atlantic coast of Portugal, Porto is a historic, vibrant city that is well-known for its port wine. It’s a hub of culture, from the contemporary Serralves Museum to the Casa de Musica to the Soares dos Reis Museum. Lello & Irmao is one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, with its spiral staircase and stained glass windows, and 66 Avenida Brasil is a chic shop with its own café.
Brussels may attract most of Belgium’s tourists, but Ghent is also worth a visit. The Flemish city, which dates back to the Middle Ages, has several museums that showcase the history of Flemish art, while the Ghent City Museum reveals its past and legacy. On the culinary side, this is your best bet for a vegetarian vacation: Ghent has the most vegetarian spots per capita in Europe and promotes a meat-free day on Thursdays.
Helsinki has been called Europe’s “hippest city,” and many of its offerings support that claim. Its bars (like chic cocktail joint Liberty or Death and wine spot Vin Vin) and restaurants (like Chef & Sommelier) are equally cool and eclectic. At night, the Korjaamo Culture Factory is a central hub for culture, hosting everything from comedy to live music, with an art gallery and pub.
Just 12 miles south of the French border, San Sebastian is a seaside Spanish city that draws a lot of visitors, especially during summer. It’s a cultural hub, with numerous festivals and artistic events throughout the year, and was selected as the EU’s European Capital of Culture for 2016. San Sebastian is also a good choice for food lovers, especially as it’s home to Basque cuisine.
You may not have heard of Ljubljana, but the Slovenian city is a hipster mecca, swarming with cool cafés, bars, and restaurants. There are numerous historical sites, like Ljubljana Castle, Dragon Bridge, and Triple Bridge, but it’s also home to more alternative destinations. The graffiti-covered neighborhood of Metelkova is the city’s cultural center and nightlife hub.