Full of historic buildings, cathedrals, castles, towers, bridges and cobblestone streets, Europe has some of the prettiest and photogenic cities in the world. While popular cities like Paris, Rome and Prague are consistently found on lists of the most beautiful cities in Europe, there are many more charming and picturesque European cities that are less well known or overlooked by most travelers so I decided to ask my fellow travel bloggers to name their favorite beautiful European city. If you are looking for a destination that is more off the beaten path on your next trip to Europe, read on for the most beautiful and underrated cities in Europe that are worth a visit.
The magical thing about exploring Europe is how easy it is to get between the smaller destinations thanks to the extensive bus and rail connections available, especially given buses can sometimes be the best way to reach the hidden gems of Europe.
Here are 20 unique places in Europe worth adding to your travel list in 2020.
1. Bosnia and Herzegovina
Perfect for? Adventure activities, fascinating history, Ottoman architecture.
For the most part, exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a relatively off the beaten path experience in Europe.
Sure, beautiful Mostar is rightly famed, and now getting very popular with daytrippers from Dubrovnik, and Sarajevo, the capital city, is starting to attract more and more visitors thanks to its affordable pricing, fantastic cultural mix, and historically significant, especially in relation to WWI, but the country offers so much more to experience.
For adventure lovers, the rafting around Konjic is fantastic, with the water so clear and illuminated it looks photoshopped, a common theme of all lakes you’ll find around the country. The water-based magic extends to the postcard-perfect Kravica Waterfalls and the monastery in a lake at Rama in Scit. For cultural adventures and hiking, head to Lukimor, one of the last remaining mountains villages, or if you are in the area in the winter months, Skiing is available.
But the real magic in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the little moments, whether it’s staying in a converted railway station in Zavala, a town with a population of two where you are serenaded by guitar playing owner pouring you their homemade wine before whisking you into epic caves or enjoying a chilled lemonade or Arabic coffee looking out on the Ottoman wonder village of Počitelj.
2. Mantua, Italy
Perfect for? Lovers of Italian architecture and art, escaping the crowds in Italy.
From the Dolomites in the far-north region of Trentino to the epic coasts in the heel of Puglia, it’s going to be a given to discover a few of Europe’s hidden gems while here, and Mantua is one of the most surprising, earning it a top spot on this year’s Europe hidden gems list – especially given so many of Italy’s top tourist attractions are quite simply put, overflowing with tourists.
Located in the Lombardia region of Italy, it’s easiest accessed by car, although train connections from Verona, Venice, and Milan can bring you here. Its best calling is the art and architecture that bring so many of us to Italy’s most famous cities, and here there is an abundance.
Home to the largest residential building in Europe, after the Vatican, Mantua (or Mantova) is surrounded by three artificial lakes, one coated in lilypads that call out for a sunset boat cruise. Also impressive and worth a visit is the Te Palace (which has nothing to do with the drink) which also offers some rather grand halls.
3. Vipava Valley, Slovenia
Perfect for? Food and wine, sustainable travel, outside activities.
Much of the country remains blissfully off the beaten path, and Vipava Valley is undoubtedly one of Europe’s best-hidden gems… for now!
Slow-travel and sustainability aren’t buzz words in Slovenia; they are a way of life, and nowhere is this truer than in Vipava Valley. A gorgeous set of greenery, hills, and vineyards, you could easily mistake this for Tuscany at first glance.
The joy of visiting Vipava is in cycling or hiking between little villages, heading into the mountains, enjoying Paragliding with their famous winds, and sampling everything that is put in front of you. There is an unknown number of wine cellars here, as everyone seems to have on under their house. The most inauspicious home doubles up as a restaurant serving local delights and home-made wine, and the whole place is pretty as a postcard. Whether you want a couple of days of downtime with a foodie focus, or a week escaping modern life in favor of local flavors, this small part of Slovenia will deliver you back home feeling totally refreshed.
4. Cuenca, Spain
Perfect for? Impressive architecture, city-side hiking.
While most online discussion around this medieval city is on the Casa Colgados, the hanging houses which seem to dangle off the side of the rock, the whole old city is magical and deserving of its UNESCO world heritage status.
Perched upon a rock and with a history that can be traced back around 1300-years, the colourful houses, castle ruins, and cathedral packed with architecture spanning through various time periods come together to provide another world like feel. Stepping into Cuenca is like stepping back in town, and the surrounding nature of the karst mountains, coupled with the crystal blue river provides an awesome adventure playground alongside your city break.
5. The Hague, The Netherlands
Perfect for? Politics and History, Beach Bars, Museums, Vegetarian Food.
The Hague really really really shocked me with how cool it is, and how much is going on there, hence naming it a Europe hidden gem!
As a city more known for politics and social justice, it will also impress you with the fantastic food and bar scene, especially for vegetarians, the in-depth and fascinating museums such as Humanity House, the never-ending selection of chic-clubs and bars along the golden sandy beach, and of course, the critical work the city does international for Peace and Justice.
With Amsterdam about to burst, this second-city, and political capital of The Netherlands is a well worthy alternative. It might not have as many canals or as much coffee-culture as Amsterdam, but it more than makes up for it with the laid back vibes, friendly locals, and culture to gorge on. Seriously, if you are looking for a Europe city-break in 2020, you can’t go wrong with The Hague!
6. Durham, England
Perfect for? Castles, TV & Film Locations, Museums, Nature.
If you are looking for the quintessential British experience that has it all, then don’t look any further than a visit to Durham. Durham’s city boasts a UNESCO listed castle and cathedral, while the rest of the region is packed full of hidden gems with history, nature, and one of the best museums I’ve ever visited.
Durham city itself is most famed for the castle and cathedral, both spectacular and deserving of a few hours to tour, while cool cafes, river water sports, and historic architecture are close by. Outside of the city, you have the Durham Heritage Coast, ideal for hiking and relaxing, and plenty of castles and green rolling hills in the region, with Raby Castle the favorite of those I visited. Durham is also reasonably easy to get around by public transport for those not wishing to hire a car, which is a huge bonus when visiting England.
Be sure to visit Beamish Museum, a living museum which I ended up spending a full day in, it was that good! Imagine a museum meets theme park vibe, where everything is fully interactive, and you can discover the history of England from the 1800s onwards. From old-school sweet shops and photography studios fully staffed to vintage trams and busses driving around, the chance to see history played out, there are actors in the ‘homes’ and ‘schools’ for example makes this an excellent opportunity to experience history.
7. The Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
Photo By: @donaldhyip
This fairytale castle, also known as the New Swan Stone Castle, is ensconced in the Bavarian Alps. Once the home of King Ludwig II. This building, close to the Tyrolean border, is said to be one of the most beautiful attractions in Bavaria.
8. Ushguli: Highest Settlement – Georgia
Georgia’s on everyone’s minds, at the moment. With Tbilisi reigning as the hot ‘new’ city break, thanks to direct flights which launched last year and new flights from Luton to Kutaisi opening up the north of the country, it feels like everyone is going.
One place they aren’t going, though, is to Svaneti, in the far, mountainous north of the country and in particular, to the four villages that make up Ushguli, one of the region’s most remote outposts and Europe’s highest permanent settlement.
Tough and taciturn, speaking an archaic Georgian dialect and practicing a version of Orthodox Christianity owing much to earlier beliefs, Svan cultural identity is distinct. Isolated by an annual six-month winter, until the early 2000s Svaneti remained a lawless place; blood feuds and banditry were widespread. Georgians even ridicule Svans as unsophisticated (although, sensibly, they do it quietly).
9. Lake Komani, Albania
Perfect for? Off the grid escapes, waterspouts, outdoor hiking.
In the north of Albania, you can find a hikers and nature lovers paradise. The one day hike from Valbona to Thethi in the Accused Mountains is just breathtaking and for now, remains a pretty secret spot in Europe. Lake Komani shouldn’t be missed before or after your outside adventures, depending on which direction you come from.
This relatively flat lake made me think of Norway, cutting through the valley with the rising green cliffs on each side. You can directly take the passenger ferry to go across to the other side but for some real R&R book a stay at the stone house in the middle of the lake, free from electricity but complete with homemade cheese, honey, and liquor. The day tours provided by Molla Molla also arrange excursions and stays at the farmhouse.
10. Venta Rapid Waterfall, Latvia
At just 2 meters tall, the Venta Rapid, or Ventas Rumba in Latvian, is one of the smallest waterfalls in the world. But its low height is compensated by its impressive width. At its widest, which happens during spring floods, Ventas Rumba is up to 270 meters wide making it the widest waterfall in Europe. Even during summer, when there is less water, the falls are about 250 meters wide.
The Venta Rapid flows over a layer of Devonian dolostone. Below it is a more fragile dolostone that has been slowly eroding away undercutting the harder layer on top creating overhangs, which fall down from time to time. As a result, the waterfall is slowly receding and as the stream in the central part is more powerful, the middle part has receded further upstream than the sides of the waterfall.
11. Ksamil Beach, Albania
This beautiful beach, situated north of Greece, features pebbly beaches with some of the clearest bluest water in the world. While it’s been the country’s best-kept secret, it may soon get its moment in the tourism sun so get there now and beat the crowds.
12. Tuscany, Italy
This scenic region features sweeping hillsides, surreal landscapes, picturesque Plazzas, Duomos, and respected art museums. It’s a vine-lined region that also offers culinary delights not found anywhere else and is, therefore, a perfect place for a vacation no matter what time of year you go.
13. Tatev Monastery, Armenia
Tatev Monastery is a 9th-century historical monument. It is one of the oldest and most famous monastery complexes in Armenia. During medieval times Tatev Monastery was a vital scholastic, enlightenment, and spiritual center and played a singular role in the country’s history.
Restoration of the monastery, re-establishing its educational legacy, and reviving monastic life at Tatev is one of the main goals of the Tatev Revival Program, a part of which is Wings of Tatev aerial tramway.
14. Alpbach: Austria’s Most Charming Village
Alpbachtal’s unique location between the Kitzbühel and Ziller Valley Alps offers a beautiful picture-book mountain setting. It’s a hiker’s paradise with more than 900km of marked hiking and walking paths. Whether it is multi-day hikes in the Brandenberger Alps or easy family trails through the foothills, there’s something for every level of walker. One favorite hour-long walk is up to the Wiedersbergerhorn, with unbelievable views over some of Austria’s highest peaks.
In summer, Alpbachtal runs two mountain lifts (free of charge with the Alpbachtal Seenland Card). One rises high up to the 1,850m Wiedersbergerhorn. At the top, you’ll find an adventure playground for children and huts serving food and drinks.
15. Flanders Fields, Belgium
Remembrance of the First World War will always live on in Flanders. In places such as the Menin Gate, where the Last Post sounds every evening, Tyne Cot Memorial and Cemetery (the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world) and the many, many memorials dedicated to the fallen and the missing. Also, the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’, by John McCrae, went on to inspire the use of the poppy, which once grew on the battlefields of Flanders Fields, to become an enduring symbol of remembrance across the world.
This colorful yet solemn place is dotted with small red flowers. It is a cemetery that holds memories of the first world war. It is meant to symbolize the bravery, relentlessness, and the sacrifice of all the soldiers who died in that struggle.
16. The Seven Rila Lakes In Bulgaria
The Seven Rila Lakes are the most visited group of lakes in Bulgaria, both by locals and tourists. They are situated in Rila National Park and are perfect for seasoned hikers, but also for nature lovers with less hiking experience.
Each lake has a name according to its shape or characteristic. They are (in the order you will visit them): The Lower Lake, The Fish Lake, The Trefoil Lake, Twin Lake, The Kidney Lake, The Eye Lake and The Tear Lake. A mountain ridge above them called the Lake Mount offers the best panoramic view to all the lakes but one. You will need at least three hours to see them all (a round trip will take six hours), so plan to start early. It’s a good idea to spend the night at one of the chalets close to your starting point so you don’t have to rush.
The Seven Rila Lakes are all of the glacial origins. Each lake is situated a little above the previous one; they sit at an altitude between 6890 ft. and 8200 ft. (2100 m—2500 m). All the lakes are connected by small streams.
17. The Plitvice Lakes & Krka National Parks, Croatia
Serene emerald pools, wooden pathways, gushing falls that burst out of craggy rocks, and turquoise water so clear you can see the fish swimming through it. These are just some of the mesmerizing scenes you’ll find at Krka National Park and Plitvice Lakes, which are the best places to see waterfalls in Croatia.
The vibrant colors and tranquil trails at these natural wonders are guaranteed to make your jaw drop, providing a welcome escape from busy cities like Zagreb and Dubrovnik. And while both parks are known for their spectacular backdrops showcasing Croatian waterfalls, that’s about where the similarities end. There are some major differences between exploring the Krka waterfalls and those over at Plitvice (like for example, where you can swim), which are important to consider if you only have enough time to visit one park during your Croatia trip.
From the color of the water to the on-site attractions to how many tourists you’ll be sharing the boardwalks with, here’s everything you need to know about choosing between Krka or Plitvice Lakes.
18. Aphrodite’s Rock, Greece
Photo By: @yuvalohayonn
Aphrodite Rock is a landmark located off the shore along the main road from Paphos to Limassol, on the island of Cyprus. As its name suggests, the rock is associated with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. According to legend, this was the place where the goddess was born. Aphrodite Rock is known also as Petra Tou Romiou, a name that is derived from a later legend. The beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters make the site a well-known tourist destination today.
Greek mythology notes that the rock indicates the exact birthplace of the Goddess of Love. Aphrodite was born here by the sea. Locals do not recommend swimming
here despite the legendary claim that those who brave the wild waters will be blessed with eternal luck and beauty.
19. Tallinn, Estonia
The breathtaking capital of Estonia — Tallinn — is possibly one of the most beautiful cities in Northern Europe. The encompassing medieval stone walls, sky-scraping church bell towers, and winding cobblestone streets opening into squares and courtyards will certainly cause visitors’ jaws to drop in awe.
Enter Tallinn’s marvelous old town through Viru Gate, which was part of the city’s 14th-century extensive defense system. Though a portion of the Viru Gate was demolished to allow for horse-drawn traffic, the towers of the gate remain. The area around Viru Gate is now home to market stalls selling woolen mittens, sweet-smelling roasted nuts, and numerous restaurants.
The Old Town has to be the top draw for visitors to Tallinn. Featuring beautiful architecture and locals dressed in medieval clothing, the Old Town somehow escapes feeling overly touristy or kitschy that other cities with costumed workers might experience.
20. Chemin de la Corniche, Luxembourg
Dubbed “Europe’s most beautiful balcony” Le Chemin de la Corniche offers panoramic views across the river valley and the fairytale-like city as well as heaps of photo opportunities. Running along the 17th-century city ramparts–built by the Spaniards and the French– this picturesque pedestrian promenade winds down to the cobbled streets by the river and the old town.
If you visit any time in the winter, you can take in the storybook-like ice-tipped houses here in what some call “the continent’s precious balcony.”