Europe receives more than 480 million international visitors per year which is more than half of the global market, with 7 out of the 10 most visited countries in the world. Traveling to Europe comes with the great “responsibility” of visiting the must-see places: London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Madrid, among others. The old continent is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world, where art, culture and cosmopolitan life blend harmoniously together. Surely, the big European capitals, like Paris for example, should be on everyone’s “to visit” list, but we should not ignore lesser-known cities which offer distinctive cultures and histories that are worth our time. From medieval Latvian town to thriving cultural places, these cities prove there is so much more to Europe than the mainstream places made us believe. So here are 14 of Europe’s not so popular cities:
1. Birmingham, England, once a thriving metropolis that took a hit during World War II, has since rebuilt itself as a vibrant cultural center and it is near England’s famous historic sites like Shakespeare’s birthplace Stratford-Upon-Avon. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery displays a world-renowned collection of Pre-Raphaelite art and if you want to learn more about the area’s industrial history, you should make a stop at the Black Country Living Museum. Birmingham is known for its numerous canals which host many visitors who chose to walk along the water and browse through shops and colorfully painted barges.
2. Valencia, Spain, has reinvented itself in the past 20 years as a thriving cultural center. Historically plagued by conquests and flooding, the city charms its visitors with bold architecture and Moorish cuisine. If you happen to visit Valencia you absolutely need to make a stop at Ciutat de las Arts i les Ciènces to see crustacean-shaped buildings, and take a submarine ride through Europe’s largest marine park. The Old Town is a local favorite where you can visit the city’s fine art museum and royal gardens.
3. Riga, Latvia, holds a special place among the neighboring Europe cities because of the striking architecture and upscale ambiance. The Latvian capital is a perfect blend of old and new with refined restaurants, vibrant nightlife and colorful Art Nouveau buildings. The Old Town has plenty of attractions to visit like the Doma baznca, a 13th century cathedral with one of the largest organs in Europe, and Tris Brali, a trio of three stone houses and the city’s oldest dwellings and style that span centuries.
4. Naples, Italy, famous for its pizza, attracts tourists with its local character and history. Most people come to Naples to get a taste of the original margherita pizza, but they end up staying for the early century monuments and buildings that have withstood the test of time. Pio Monte della Misericordia is famous for its baroque-era paintings and altarpieces and Palazzo Reale features lavishly furnished apartments with ornate historic artifacts. The perfect way to end the day is to watch the sunset over the city at Certosa di San Martino, a cliff top destination that boasts many of the town’s religious and cultural attractions.
5. Ljubljana, Slovenia, lacks in size but definitely makes up for it with its charm. This tiny Slovenian capital features picturesque neoclassical buildings and squares. Take a stroll along the Ljubljana River in the Old Town and cross over to the left bank to explore the French Revolution square and the monument dedicated to Napoleon. The local’s city open-air market is part of the Slovenian charm and it includes everything from dried herbs to locally produced honey.
6. Bordeaux, France, is located in one of the most esteemed wine regions in Europe and it enchants travelers with delicious cuisine, fine vintages and captivating châteaux. There is no time for boredom in Bordeaux. Tourists can visit the city’s stunning neoclassical architecture or take a short trip to the countryside to sample the area’s best wines. Take a tour to Château Latour, an upscale winery for those serious tasters and if that doesn’t suit your taste, rent a bicycle and head to Pauillac, a picturesque village with less expensive wineries.
7. Dresden, Germany, once known as “Florence on the Elbe”, has regained its reputation as a blossoming metropolis. This Saxon capital was demolished during World War II and since then it has rebuilt much of its historic center. Frauenkirche or Church of our Lady in English translation, is a must-see baroque masterpiece which was restored after the city’s historic bombing. If you want a pause from the city’s rush, head over to Zwinger, a multi-building complex that includes historic courtyards, wide staircases and sculptures, and historic museums and galleries.
8. Basel, Switzerland, is located at the border between France and Germany and it combines the best of both worlds. Delicious gourmets, diverse mix of residents and a wide variety of cultural attractions, this city has a little bit of everything. Kunstmuseum which houses an impressive collection of Swiss paintings is the peak of attraction for art lovers, and a walk through the quiet medieval streets of St. Alban will present you to one of Basel’s best antique shops and bistros.
9. Frankfurt, Germany, known as Europe’s financial capital, delights its visitors with its avant-garde buildings, cultural attractions, and endless entertainment options. Among the main attractions are the city’s center which includes picturesque parks and gardens. Bike along the riverbank paths and cross the Eiserner Steg bridge to visit the popular district of Sachsenhausen where many of the city’s museums and historic pubs reside.
10. Antwerp, Belgium, is a thriving port city that hosts a variety of historic attractions and is also the home of a thriving couture culture. Browse the narrow, winding streets and explore centuries-old churches, or head to the city’s fashion district to browse haute-couture clothes. If you love the medieval architecture, stop at Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathredaal for an up-close look. The city’s diamond district features the area’s fines jewelry shops and boutiques.
11. Zagreb, Croatia, with its crystal clear waters, beautiful parks and towering fortress, make of this capital an ideal tourist destination. Located on the Adriatic coast, the stunning scenery invites you to explore the city. A hike through Gornji Grad, a hilltop dating back in the medieval times or a trip at the emerald green lakes and cascading waterfalls at Nacionalni Park Plitvica Jezera and a half-day trip to the giant fortress with 12 century galleries, Veliki Tabor, are just a few options Zagreb offers in order to make your holiday perfect.
12. Derry, Northern Ireland, one of the oldest destinations in Ireland, delights visitors with it captivating history and culture. The city is located on the banks of the picturesque River Foyle and it still maintains many of the original buildings and rampants. The city walls, which recently celebrated their 400th anniversary, offer an up-close look at the town’s rich history. The neo-gothic building of Guildhall and the old city’s military base, Ebrington Square which is being developed into an artistic center, should be on your must-see list when visiting Derry.
13. Bergen, Norway, is a unique, fairy-tale like town overflowing with natural beauty and surrounded by verdant green mountains and fjords. Take a stroll around Bryggen, a historic wharf for a better look at ships and pastel-coloured houses. Head over to Fisketorget to watch fishmongers bring in their daily catch and visit one of Norway’s largest museums, Berge Kunstmuseum where works by notable international and regional artists are featured.
14. Dundee, Scotland, with its verdant hills, pristine beaches and historic charm features a variety of cultural and historical attractions, including the RSS Discovery, a ship used in the early 20th century for expeditions Antarctic expeditions. Go to the Dundee Botanic Garden and browse its extensive collection of exotic and native plants and make a stop at the city’s West End where lively bars and restaurants are located and don’t leave without sampling the area’s standout dishes: fish and chips, and ice cream.