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.
6. Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
Montenegro is home to many beautiful cities, but none of them compare to northwestern Montenegro. This breathtaking national park was formed by glaciers and is traversed by rivers and underground streams. Along the Tara river canyon, which has the deepest gorges in Europe, the thick pine forests are interspersed with clear lakes and shelter a wide array of widespread vegetation. While exploring the national park you will run into many beautiful lakes like Devil’s Lake and Black Lake. If you are lucky enough a local might even invite you in their home for some homemade rakija!
7. Kutna Hora, Czech Republic
Kutna Hora is an easy and worthwhile day trip from Prague. The unique gothic architecture makes you feel as if you are going back to the medieval times. The historic center is one of the country’s prettiest and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its bone church, a cemetery chapel decorated with the bones of up to 40,000 people, is a must see.
8. Maastricht, The Netherlands
What do you picture when you think of an Old Dutch city? If it is narrow cobblestone streets, ancient fortifications and town houses from the 17th century then you are picturing Maastricht. It is recommended to visit during the summer time because it is one of the sunniest cities in the Netherlands and in late August, the central Vrijthof Square becomes an outdoor food court. A cruise down the Meuse River is one of the most popular ways to enjoy the city.
9. Dresden, Germany
Rebuilt and risen from the ashes of World War II, Dresden is one of Germany’s most chic Baroque towns. The city’s silhouette is striking and takes more than a couple minutes to soak in. Dresden’s world-class museums will captivate you, its riverside beer gardens will get you a bit tipsy, and its carefree character will make you want to stay longer.
If you plan to visit Germany during the Christmas season, check out this article about 10 Can’t-Miss Christmas Markets in Germany.
10. Bucharest, Romania
Recently many people are calling Bucharest “Europe’s best kept secret”. Partying isn’t just one reason to love Bucharest. The city is Count Dracula’s capital and is home to Dracula’s castle and his remains. Bucharest is huge city with many large boulevards and parks. All the major streets are decorated with tons of beds of colorful flowers and there are flower shops on nearly every corner. The best things about Bucharest are not the sites or museums, but its liveliness.