Top 10 European Destinations To Get Slightly Off-The-Beaten Path

by Melanie

Tired of asking people for vacation recommendations and getting the same responses? Look no further. This h(oliday season, you’ll be the one at the dinner table that has all the recs.

Sanjay is writing up a series of off-the-beaten path destinations and how to get there on points and miles. From Kyrgyzstan to the Cook Islands, some of his spots are seriously out there. But even in a popular tourist destination like Europe, there’s a handful of cities that often get overlooked, and are just slightly off-the-beaten path. That is where I come in with these European destinations.

Here is a list of my favorite European destinations that you probably haven’t been to, and are just slightly off-the-beaten path. Best of all, many of these places are an easy day trip from a bigger city you’re likely to go to anyways.

Zaanse Schans, Holland 

An easy train ride from Amsterdam, this picturesque neighborhood is not to be missed on your next trip to Holland. In a word, it’s, well, Dutch. Tour a working windmill, buy a pair of wooden clogs, and hop back to Amsterdam before dinnertime. Buy a card here for discounts on a day trip.

Bath, UK

Go for the Ancient Roman baths, stunning Georgian architecture, and views atop the many stroll-able hilly neighborhoods. Easily done as a day trip from London, but worth an overnight stay.

Dresden, Germany

A controversial target of WWII, Dresden has been rebuilt and is as remarkable as ever today.

During my time there, I heard just two people speaking English the entire time — and they were Brits. You won’t find many Americans here, which adds to the charm of this beautiful city adorned with jaw-dropping baroque architecture. The Zwinger, Frauenkirche (church) and Dresden castle should be at the top of your list. And as with many places in Europe, the city shuts down on Sundays so prepare accordingly. 

Bologna, Italy

Perfectly situated for day trips to other Italian cities, do yourself a favor and spend a few full days here.

Climb the Two Towers for an incredible view across the region, stroll around under the porticos lining the city sidewalks, and stop by the oldest university in the world. Oh, and eat everything you can. For more on Bologna, see my full review here.

Lugano, Switzerland 

Do you like views? Italian language mixed with Swiss charm? This city has its own unique vibe, thanks to its blend of cultural influences.

Take the funicular up Monte San Salvatore for 360-views of Lake Lugano and surrounding mountains, the ice-capped Swiss Alps, and even parts of northern Italy as far as Milan. Remember to get Swiss francs as euros aren’t used here.

Pompeii, Italy

Of the European destinations on this list, perhaps this is the one least off-the-beaten path. However, Pompeii is still a mind-blowing look at an ancient civilization that was preserved under volcanic ash after nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

The tours provide excellent context about the life here before it was suddenly buried, frozen in time. Book a tour from Naples or Rome. And make sure you wear sunscreen and a hat or headwear if you visit in the summer. Shade is not plentiful in Pompeii.

Toledo, Spain

Holy Toledo. An ancient hilltop city with winding and narrow cobbled streets will transport you back 2000 years. Embrace getting lost, and take it all in.  You can get here by train from Madrid, but be sure to buy your return tickets in advance. Better yet, stay the night.

Strasbourg, France 

european destinations

On the France and Germany border sits the historic Alsace region. Start with Strasbourg’s stunning cathedral and its La Petite France neighborhood with old, half-timber houses and flowing waterways. Spend another day on the Alsace Wine Trail, visiting quaint towns like Colmar, Eguisheim and Riquewihr.

Bergen, Norway

european destinations

From Oslo, take the Norway in a Nutshell tour, through Flam and the fjords, ending in beautiful Bergen. If you’re lucky enough to get a sunny day (it rains over 230 days a year on average) you must hike to the top of Mount Floyen. Allow a few hours, and take your time at the top.

The Azores, Portugal 

european destinations

We’ve made it to my number one spot of slightly off-the-beaten path European destinations, and with all of the hidden (or not so hidden) gems Europe has to offer, it’s gotta be a special place to take home top honors. Our winner is the Azores — the Atlantic archipelago, technically belonging to Portugal.

A hidden paradise, and adventurer’s dream with a rich culture all its own. You’ve got thermal baths rivaling Iceland, with a fraction of the crowds and cost, free-roaming cows on the sides of the wide open roads, and parks that look straight out of the Jurassic era. Hundreds of miles from both Europe and USA mainlands, you’ll find yourself not wanting to leave this remote and beautiful place. 

Alright, itching to go now? For a full guide on the Azores, check out Sarah’s post below.

Related: Portugal Off The Beaten Path — The Algarve and The Azores

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