The average tourist knows all about the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the fabulous shopping in Milan or the beaches in southern France, but there are plenty of beautiful European cities that are off the radar for most travelers. Traveling to a slightly more obscure city while studying abroad can be as great as hitting the capitals and other popular destinations. You’ll be able to discover hidden gems while also avoiding over-priced meals, long lines, and tourists wearing fanny packs and Hawaiian shirts. Here’s a list of 10 underrated European destinations you should consider visiting while studying abroad.
1. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Often referred to as “The Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik (shown above) is a charming city in southern Croatia. Picture stone cliffs plunging down into the blue waters of the Adriatic and hundreds of terracotta roofs. Walk through its Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and get lost along its cobblestone streets that wind between churches, farmers markets, and local cafes. Begin the day drinking and cliff jumping at Buza, a bar situated along rocks on the city wall overlooking the Adriatic, and end the day by watching the magnificent sunset over the sea. No matter where you are in the city, there is always a beach nearby.
2. Cinque Terre, Italy
The five villages located on jagged cliffs along northern Italy’s Riviera make for a never-ending picturesque view. If you feel like being adventurous you can hike from the first village to the last village or if you feel like relaxing you can unwind at one of the many beaches. Be sure to try different types of their famous focaccia bread and their locally made pesto. It’s almost unfair how much unique beauty, delicious cuisine, and amazing beaches are packed into such a small area.
3. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana is one of the smallest European capitals and surely one of the prettiest. A mountaintop castle towers above the winding cobblestone streets surrounded by splashing fountains, onion-domed churches and a tavern with a huge door lined with flaming torches. I highly suggest taking a day trip to Lake Bled. Outside of the old town, this city is just as comfortable but a bit edgier with trendy cafes decorated with street art and urban gardens hidden down side streets.
4. Porto, Portugal
Sitting at the mouth of the Rio Douro, Porto has waterfront restaurants, bars, cafes, and medieval alleyways. The city is home to many festivals during the year, such as St. John (late June) and Queima das Fitas (early May). Porto also has a long tradition in music, art and athletics. The best part of the city is the friendly locals that make it feel less touristy than other destinations. You can lose yourself for a few days in the anti-grid of crazy hills, winding lanes paved in black and white tiles, architecture layered in various stages of wonder and decay.
5. Bruges, Belgium
Some describe it as the “Venice of the north”; Bruges (or Brugge in Dutch) is one of the most well preserved medieval cities in Belgium with its canals, gilded architecture, and Flemish art. The city is filled with cultural, architectural and artistic treasures. Take a bike ride along the canals before participating in a Belgian beer tasting and after indulging in Belgian chocolate.