Shouldn’t travel be a lot more than crossing popular destinations of a bucket list? While those places are certainly fun too, there is something to be said about discovering some of the more surprising towns that most tourists seem to miss, including these fabulous under the radar European towns.
Aveiro, Portugal (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Hugging the Portugal’s Atlantic coast, Aviero is a colorful canal city with eye-popping architecture. Often referred to as the “Venice of Portugal,” thanks to its alluring setting of scenic canals linked by picturesque bridges and dotted with brightly-colored gondolas and speed boats, Aveiro is a delight. Visitors can discover numerous historic sites and impressive buildings like the Aveiro Cathedral and cultural attractions like the Aveiro Museum, once a convent for women that was built in the mid-15th-century, today it houses an interesting collection of Portuguese baroque art and the portrait of Princess Santa Joana. There are beautiful beaches for soaking up the sun and enjoy water sports too, like Costa Nova, popular for windsurfing and kite surfing. It’s also known for its unique fishermen houses that are painted with vertical and horizontal stripes.
Lacoste, France (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Lacoste can be found in the south of France in the region of Provence, legendary for its wine and cheese. There are numerous vineyards in the area to tour and wines to taste, although the main reason to visit is to soak up the charms of its medieval architecture that makes it feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Visitors can also view the haunting ruins of a castle that once belonged to the notorious Marquis de Sade, and enjoy gorgeous vistas over the valleys of the Vaucluse. Chateau de Sade crowns Lacoste with its crumbling walls, although it’s slowly in the process of being restored, thanks to its new owner, fashion designer Pierre Cardin.
Bergen, Norway (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Bergen, established centuries ago in 1070, is surrounded by the Seven Mountains, and its old town is built right on the water, while the colorful 15th-century wooden merchant houses surround the harbor. The city truly enjoys one of the most picturesque settings on the planet, but that’s not the only reason to visit. The narrow alleyways are lined with artist studios. leather crafters, potters, jewelers and other artisans in between the historic homes. If you’re into nature and outdoor adventure, enjoy hiking in the surrounding mountains – the options are endless. Afterward, you’ll have lots of great dining choices for feeding your appetite too. As Bergen is on the water, seafood is especially fresh and tasty.
La Coruna, Spain (Hotel Prices & Photos)
If you want to see more than Spain’s big cities like Barcelona and Madrid, consider visiting La Coruna. While most tourists overlook it, here you’ll discover a rich history, an exciting nightlife and jaw-dropping beaches too. Take in the view from Torre de Hercules, a Roman-era lighthouse and enjoy strolling the Paseo Maritimo, a path that stretches all the way from the port around the peninsula and alongside the ocean. La Coruna is considered to be the gastronomic hub of the region – and, with the Atlantic right at its doorstep, there’s no better place to enjoy seafood as well as the area’s famous Galician hospitality. For the best of the best, head to Avenida de Marina, Europe’s longest harbor promenade, where you can sip cocktails and dine al fresco.
Isle of Arran, Scotland (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Known as “Scotland in Miniature,” the Isle of Arran is just 166 square miles in size and a mirror image of the landscape found on the mainland. It also boasts sandy beaches, lots of wildlife, majestic mountains and castles, fishing villages, great golf and incredibly friendly locals. You’ll find awe-inspiring views just about everywhere you look, including overlooking the Firth of Clyde towards the Kyles of Bute. Gaze up at the mountain range with Goatfell in the foreground while sailing into Brodick Bay and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into heaven. Look for deer around Lochranza and enjoy a bird watcher’s haven by walking just about anywhere on one of the isle’s long beaches, with a wide variety of seabirds, including sea eagles often spotted along the coastline. Archaeology sites abound too, including the best known Machrie Moor, with the remains of six stone circles.
Poysdorf, Austria (Hotel Prices & Photos)
This tranquil town just south of the Czech Republic border is nestled within grapevine-dotted hills and seems to have been created just for the wine enthusiast. One of Austria’s largest wine regions, you’ll have the opportunity to spend your time exploring the many wine caves and vineyards. In addition to the abundance of tasty wines, a wealth of succulent fresh juices and local liqueurs can be enjoyed as well. Poysdorf also hosts a museum dedicated to the town’s history as well as its wine and culture. From May through October, the “open cellar” program offers the chance to take a tour of wine growers’ properties and enjoy wine tasting too. Another popular must-do is to take a selfie in front of the monument in the town center that depicts Joshua and Caleb carrying a pole laden with huge grapes.
Saaremaa Island, Estonia (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Saaremaa is the largest Estonian island. Filled with forests and quaint villages dotted with windmills, you can still find houses with thatched roofs and stone fences, and even see residents donning beautiful national costumes. It’s also home to the Kaali meteorite craters, some of the biggest craters in the world, and the best preserved medieval fortress in the Baltic nations, Kuressaare castle. Thanks to its mild maritime climate, the island is also famous for its flora and fauna, with more than 200 local species calling it home, including marbled seals, which have special protection status. Every year, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds visit Saaremaa, including mute swan and barnacle goose. If you’re a beer lover, you’ll fit in well as the islanders are well-known to be outstanding brewers, and drinkers, with the tradition of home-brewed beer still very much alive.
Sighisoara, Romania (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Few travelers have heard of Sighisoara, let alone visited, but there is lots to see and do here. Located along Tarnava Mare River in the Transylvania region, it dates back to the 12th century, when it was home to numerous German merchants and craftsman. Enjoy strolling the cobbled streets, gazing up at the colorful buildings in the pedestrian-friendly Old Town and climbing up the Clock Tower where you can enjoy impressive views over the city and its walls. As Sighisoara also happens to be the birthplace of Vlad III, better known as Vlad Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, there are more than a few kitschy tourist shops selling Dracula t-shirts and the like, but you’ll discover many wonderful treasures too, including handmade crafts at the International Cafe’s gallery where a family of woodworkers sell hand-carved wooden products and ceramics.
Matera, Italy (Hotel Prices & Photos)
Matera may be one of the world’s most unique towns, and one its most breathtaking. Even so, few outside of Italy have ever heard of it. It sits atop a ridge with deep canyons on either side and here, people live in the natural caves of the canyon walls. UNESCO calls the city “the most outstanding example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean.” People have lived here for thousands of years, for much of it, without running water, sewage or electricity. The cave homes were abandoned for a time, but in the 1980s, some people returned to renovate the old cave houses and in 1993 it was named a UNESCO heritage site. Today many of the caves have been transformed into stylish eateries and hotels, allowing visitors to enjoy the rare experience of sleeping in a cave.
Tellaro, Italy (Hotel Prices & Photos)
If you’ve dreamed of visiting the stunning region of Cinque Terre but don’t want to mingle with hundreds of other tourists, the peaceful fishing village of Tellaro is just as gorgeous without the crowds. It’s located in the area that’s part of the Gulf of Poets, aptly named as for centuries it attracted and inspired poets, including Shelley and Byron. Get lost in the maze of tiny lanes and alleyways that are fun to explore, relax and sip wine or espresso in the sunshine on its picturesque seafront, mingle in the piazza with the locals and take a walk up to The Oratory of San Maria in Selaa where you’ll discover stunning panoramic views over the Ligurian coast.