London, Paris, Rome – Everybody knows these popular European cities, and that might just be the problem. Everyone dreams of a European vacation, but that makes it so that all of Europe’s largest cities are jam-packed with tourists, and no one wants to be lumped in with other tourists. If you want to experience the vast history and extensive culture that Europe has to offer, it is time to skip the well-worn trail between some of its largest cities. If you take a sharp turn off the beaten path and visit some of Europe’s hidden gems, you can experience Europe like few ever have before.
Tuscany is well-worn territory in Italy for wine lovers and romantics alike, but you can easily wander off the beaten path and find wonders that none of the usual tourists have ever seen. The rolling green hills, blossoming vineyards, and winding cobblestone streets of Bolgheri are some of those wonders. Although small and out-of-the-way, this is one of the most enchanting villages in Tuscany. Wine and nature lovers will enjoy the vast vineyards and ancient Cypress trees while those enthralled by Italian history get an excellent view of Bolgheri Castle almost anywhere in the area.
Everyone knows the world-famous wines that come out of Bordeaux, but it seems like no one ever goes there. It is Bordeaux’s lack of tourists that has made this city earn the nickname of France’s Sleeping Beauty. However, while you will want to go here to sample its wine and gourmet dining scene first hand, that is not the only thing to do in Bordeaux. The city is filled with large pieces of classical architecture like the Place de la Bourse and Le Grand Theatre, but even more impressive is the city’s large cathedrals. If you want to skip Paris, but still want to shop like you are in the city, Bordeaux’s alluring Rue Saint Catherine can provide as well.
(Read more: Locals Guide to Bordeaux)
If you want to explore France even more, we recommend Burgundy, and you can check out our list of five of the best things to do in Burgundy here.
San Sebastian, Spain
Although once the resort town for Spanish royals, now the luxury seekers and the hip young tourists have all flocked away from San Sebastian in order to enjoy the pleasures of Spain’s bigger cities like Madrid or Barcelona. However, San Sebastian is far from a dead city. Smart travellers head here to enjoy the city’s pintxo bars and Michelin-starred restaurants that have made this a real foodie mecca. Combine the city’s long love of food with the beaches that brought Spanish royalty to this town in the first place and you have a great beach destination without all the tourist crowds.
(Read more: The Best Foods in Spain and Where to Find Them)
When you go to Amsterdam, you find that the beautiful, liberal, and historic city is filled with a certain kind of person – tourists. The tourists are college-aged and generally there looking for something in particular, and it isn’t the beautiful architecture. However, if you want to visit a city with the same liberties as Amsterdam and the same fantastic architecture, wander over the Utrecht, one of the oldest cities in The Netherlands. Filled with a long and storied history, Utrecht shows it off with its peaceful below street level canals and cobbled streets. While you will find a lot of young natives in this university town, they are not quite as unruly as the visiting young tourists in Amsterdam.
Finland ranks high among other countries in a lot of areas, like providing the best education and having some of the happiest people. Naturally, a lot of travellers want to check this country out, but they really only visit the capital of Helsinki and nowhere else. Before the capital of Finland moved to Helsinki, it was in Turku. Still today Turku remains one of Finland’s most important cities with many of the country’s businesses depending on its position on the Aura River. While Turku has its man-made sights like the 12th century Cathedral and the Castle of Turku, one of the city’s best attractions is the long, island-dotted coast that stretches along the sea.
Do you have a favorite “secret” city in Europe? Let us know in the comments or @alltherooms!
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