In this aricle we take a look at the best places to visit in Europe, and the European destinations we have selected might surprise you. Rather than simply rhyming off your typical tourist hotspots—the Londons, Barcelonas and Parises of the world—they’ve dug deeper to give some truly unique recommendations. Here’s my take on their top ten, starting with #10 and working up to #1, with additional opinions and suggestions from travel bloggers and influencers to help you maximize your Europe trip. If you want even more options, here’s a route for flying to ten European capitals for just $228 this summer.
Where: Le Havre, France
Why: Starting off with a summer’s dream, we’re going to Le Havre, a small city in the Normandy region of northern France. Le Havre, “Will celebrate its 500th anniversary with a five-month-long, art- and music-filled fête,” this summer. There’s plenty to see in this historically-rich commune, with the unique blend of old and new architecture serving as a particular point of interest for Heather Cowper, as she explains in her weekend guide to Le Havre. “What Le Havre lost in its picturesque pre-war town, it has more than made up for in stunning modern architecture like Le Volcan, the Volcano shaped cultural centre by Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. We walked down the steps from the road to an open piazza below the level of the main town and through the library which was packed with families, teenagers and locals of all ages.” Sitting on the English Channel, Le Havre is close to both Paris and London, making it an easy weekend getaway destination.
Average Highs: 70° F July, 46° F January
Flights From London: $100+ roundtrip to Caen
Where: Paphos, Cyprus
Why: Paphos, and Cyprus as a whole, flies well under the radar when it comes to European destinations, though I’m baffled as to why. Perhaps it’s because Greece, Malta and Italy are so much closer to Western Europe, or perhaps the tumult of the nations surrounding Cyprus has given it a bad reputation. Whatever the cause, Paphos’ recognition as the European Capital of Culture for 2017 means it will be buzzing even more than usual, with hundreds of events aimed at exploring, sharing and connecting different cultures of the local region and beyond.
As The Telegraph explains, “Cyprus is a land for romantics, dotted with castles, churches, monasteries, mosaics, white-sand beaches and the bluest of seas. Early suitors include Marc Antony, who thought the island so fragrant he gave it to Cleopatra, and Richard the Lionheart, who briefly put down his crossbow to marry there.” Beware of when you go, though, as Cyprus can get devastatingly hot: “You can bet neither of these alpha males had the energy for anything in August, when the heat is so paralysing you could be on Mars.” With that said, 300 days of sunshine per year and January temperatures in the mid-sixties makes a pretty strong case for a winter vacation in Cyprus.
Average Highs: 86° F July, 63° F January
Flights From London: $120+ roundtrip
Why: Moldova is another seldom-visited European nation, probably because few know what it has to offer. A landscape of low, rolling hills and a secretive cave monasteries are just a few of the gems you’ll discover here. Moldova’s capital city, Chişinău, is wonderfully slow, but the countryside is where you’ll feel most at peace. Take a trip to Orhei, an hour’s drive north of Chişinău, for a hike through fields and forests and a glimpse at the sacred Orheiul Vechi. Vino lover’s rejoice: wine is one of Moldova’s primary exports, so there’s no surprise that the country will play host to the 2017’s Black Sea Wines and Spirits Competition, plus its annual ExpoVin.
Average Highs: 77° F July, 32° F January in Chişinău
Flights From London: $170+ roundtrip to Chişinău
Where: Northern Germany
Why: Oktoberfest in Munich is one-of-a-kind. The castles of Bavaria look like they’re straight from a fairy tale. Berlin can be downright weird. With all this going on in Germany, far less attention is paid to the country’s north, where the likes of Hamburg and Bremen reside. Don’t let that fool you, though; there’s a lot going on up north, as well.
Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, one of the most acoustically-advanced concert halls in the world, opened this January to the locals’ delight. With or without the new facility, Hamburg is a charming city that has captured the hearts of many. Mitzie Mee chose to explore a different side of the city in her look at Speicherstadt, the largest warehouse area in the world and a recently-named UNESCO World Heritage Site. “It was such a beautiful place to walk around in during daytime, so one evening I decided to walk from the Rathaus Station and back to the hotel through Speicherstadt, as I wanted to see what the area was like after dark. It was very dark and it was very quiet. Even though I never felt unsafe in the sense that I was afraid to get assaulted or robbed, the place still managed to scare the guts out of me. The spookiness all came from the dim lighting and the completely deserted streets. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Dracula, a zombie army or Ozzy Osbourne around the next corner.”
Average Highs: 71° F July, 37° F January
Flights From London: $50+ roundtrip to Hamburg
Where: The Alentejo, Portugal
Why: Portugal has been receiving a lot of attention lately as one of Europe’s more affordable places to live, but there’s plenty happening for short-term visitors, as well. Évora, the medieval walled town ninety miles east of Lisbon, is one spot you definitely won’t want to miss. Sophie Saint sums up The Alentejo nicely: “The Alentejo Coast is a world away from the Algarve. We’re talking expansive sandy beaches, awesome surf, craggy intimidating cliffs and dusty red soils reminiscent to a Western Australian landscape. The area of Alentejo blankets a third of Portugal and is wild and beautiful, with actual tumbleweed that echoes the population: sparse and empty.”
Rugged coastline, sleepy hillsides and an opportunity to get away from it all. What more could you ask for?
Average Highs: 91° F July, 61° F January in Algarve
Flights From London: $50+ roundtrip to Faro
Where: Leeds, UK
Why: The first of just two larger cities in Europe on this list, Leeds can still fall by the wayside amongst the UK’s many desirable destinations. Those who know it well, though, know exactly why it’s been included as number five on this list.
Anna Addison describes the city like this: “Plush hotels, a plethora of fashionable bars, award-winning restaurants and designer boutiques. No, it’s not Milan or Paris but somewhere much closer to home. Just two hours from London by train and one of the UK’s busiest financial, creative and legal hubs, Leeds is an emphatic mix of old, new and up-and-coming.” Catering to both the foodies and the bookworms, the early risers and the completely sleepless, Leeds is breathing new life into northern England.
Average Highs: 64° F July, 41° F January
Flights From London: $120+ roundtrip
Why: “As Croatia’s lesser-known neighbour, Montenegro shares a lot of the same architecture, scenery and climate. But where Croatia’s popularity has rocketed – bringing crowds and high prices along with it in some areas – Montenegro is still relatively unknown. It’s got its own patch of the Adriatic coastline, historic walled towns, beautiful lakes and mountains. Back in the 1970s it was the place for celebs and royalty to visit. But the Balkans conflict put an end to that, and since then the turbulent history and a lack of tourist infrastructure have helped keep it under the radar until now.”
That’s how Lucy of On the Luce describes Montenegro, and she’s spot-on. The tiny nation’s blend of sandy beaches, gregarious mountains and historic towns perfectly epitomizes everything you’d hope for from a Balkan state.
Average Highs: 90° F July, 48° F January
Flights From London: $190+ roundtrip to Podgorica
Where: Galicia, Spain
Why: If you’re familiar with the Camino de Santiago—the renowned pilgrimage dating back to the 9th century—then you’re at least loosely familiar with Galicia, whose shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great is the pilgrimage’s destination. There’s a lot more to do in and around Galicia, though, with the Cíes Islands being the perfect getaway for anyone who feels Galicia itself isn’t remote enough.
“The Cíes are basically paradise, with the bluest water and the whitest sand I’ve ever seen,” says Alisa on Young Adventuress. “They’re also a natural preserve, so they remain mostly free of human influence. Cathedral Beach is a neat beach up in the north of Galicia where, when the tide goes out, the rocks on the beach appear like the spires of cathedrals sticking up in the air. Very cool stuff.”
Average Highs: 73° F July, 50° F January
Flights From London: $50+ roundtrip
Where: Gotland, Sweden
Why: As the largest island in the Baltic Sea, it’s almost surprising that Gotland receives so little attention. As we’ve seen, though, that seems to be the theme of this year’s roundup; Gotland is certainly an excellent destination. Tranquil space is easy to find here, whether it comes in the form of peaceful fishing villages or flowing, affable pastures.
When The New York Times reported on Gotland back in 2010, this is what they had to say: “Indeed, when driving through the vast openness of Gotland, the ribbon of road unfurls across a flat green landscape. There are no billboards, no guardrails, just country churches and grazing herds of indigenous gray, curly-haired sheep. Occasionally, a squat, decommissioned windmill appears in a meadow, or a sleek, modern wind turbine twirls slowly on the horizon. But everywhere, Gotland’s haunting beauty follows.” If you’re looking for an undiscovered piece of rural Scandinavia, Gotland might just be your place.
Average Highs: 70° F July, 36° F January
Flights From London: $210+ roundtrip
Where: Zagreb, Croatia
Why: “When it comes to European capitals, Zagreb has got to be one of the most overlooked destinations in the region,” say Oksana and Max of Drink Tea Travel. “It’s a place where you can still experience Central Europe without the crowds, and for significantly less than in places like Prague, Budapest, or Vienna.” They’re completely right, and Lonely Planet agrees—that’s why Zagreb has been rated the best place to visit in Europe in 2017. “Zagreb is at once cosmopolitan and edgy, with its heady mix of Brutalist architecture and sun-splashed Austro-Hungarian squares brimming with coffee drinkers,” Lonely Planet writes. Don’t miss the Martićeva area, where you’ll find plenty of cafes (try Booksa), restaurants (go for Divas) and the Kvatrić farmers’ market, a favorite among locals and visitors alike.
Average Highs: 81° F July, 37° F January
Flights From London: $130+ roundtrip
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