Rome, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona - when dreaming of a European holiday, your itinerary starts to write itself. While these tourist hotspots offer so much to travellers, getting off the beaten track may just lead you to a truly special hidden gem.
Below we explore seven of the continent’s lesser-known cities, and offer tips on how to get the most out of your unique European adventure.
Iceland is gaining popularity as a tourist destination, and its capital and largest city, Reykjavik, is its star attraction.
Travellers brave enough to face Iceland’s harsh cold will find a windswept, barren and utterly tranquil natural landscape. If they’re lucky, they’ll enjoy the famous Northern Lights, too.
Despite being Iceland’s largest city, Reykjavik has an almost country town feel, with cosy hotels and restaurants. But its real appeal is its waterfalls, volcanoes and sweeping glaciers.
Its towering volcanoes aren’t dormant, either. In 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano famously erupted, causing an ash cloud big enough to severely disrupt air travel across Europe. We know disruptions like these can be stressful, which is why, (if you’ve purchased a policy prior to a natural event occurring), our TravelCare policy covers you for unexpected delays.
2. Tallinn, Estonia
Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, is one of Northern Europe’s oldest capital cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s famous for the charming Old Town district, which resembles something out of a fairy tale with cobblestone streets and medieval architecture.
Travellers who grow tired of the often-busy streets of Old Town will find the arts area of Telliskivi a fascinating alternative. Diverse restaurants, hidden cafes, countless museums and galleries make Telliskivi a must-see for culture lovers.
Tallinn can be reached by a scenic two-hour ferry ride from Finland’s capital, Helsinki.
3. Bergen, Norway
Norway is renowned for its breathtaking scenery. The coastal city of Bergen, with towering mountains on one side and the sweeping North Sea on the other, is no exception.
Bergen is known as ‘the city of seven mountains’ and a favourite of keen hikers and sightseers. One of its most popular hiking trails is the Stolzekleiven, which ascends 300 metres and offers sensational views of the city.
The Stolzekleiven trail is known as one of the easier hikes in the area because of its relatively short length and paved surface. However, the Bergen area gets a lot of rain, so even short hikes can become slippery and dangerous. If you intend to go hiking in Bergen, you should always follow Norwegian ‘mountain rules’, including paying close attention to the weather and never walking alone. Serious and even fatal hiking accidents are an unfortunate reality in Norway, so stick to your abilities and seek the advice of local tourist centres before you embark.
4. Krakow, Poland
Krakow is Poland’s cultural and academic hub, and proud home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world.
The city is also called one of Europe’s most beautiful. Its gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture will delight history buffs and everyday sightseers alike. Krakow’s Old Town famously features Europe’s largest medieval square, Rynek Główny, which hosts regular markets, festivals and events.
While tourists fall in love with the stunning cultural elegance of Krakow, visitors should note that Polish culture is conservative and local laws can be strictly enforced.
Jaywalking and drinking alcohol in public (even at picnics) will land you in hot water with local police, and the legal blood-alcohol level for driving in Poland is zero.
5. Turin, Italy
Italy’s Turin falls behind the likes of Venice, Florence and the Amalfi Coast in terms of popularity. However, with its dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountains and intricate Baroque buildings, it’s certainly one of the most attractive.
Turin is also a foodie’s dream. The local cuisine is all about freshness, simplicity and rich flavours. Try some local cheeses for your antipasti (starter), creamy risotto for your main course and finish with a scoop of gelato. Then walk it all off with an evening stroll through the ancient medieval streets of the Aurora district. Unfortunately, Turin experiences the fourth-most incidents of robberies in Italy.
Unwary travellers are often the victim of petty theft. While it may be easy to lose yourself in the fresh flavours at the plentiful restaurants and cafes, visitors should avoid leaving their bags under the table, it’s a good idea to keep your personal items with you.
Our policy won't cover you for the theft of personal items that are left unattended in a public place. For more information on the cover our TravelCare policy provides you, please see the policy wording here.
6. Marseille, France
As far as French destinations go, Marseilles can be considered an underdog. With Paris as the centrepiece and glamorous beach towns like Biarritz and St Tropez, it’s easy for others to be overlooked.
Like Turin, Marseille is renowned for its plentiful dining options. Bouillabaisse (fish stew) is the most famous local dish if you’re after authentic cuisine. However, Marseille will also excite the shopaholics among us. You can burn through some euros with upscale shopping along Rue de la République.
7. Porto, Portugal
Like many other cities on this list, the most immediately striking feature of Porto is its colourful architecture. But dive into the lively street-life and vibrant arts scene, and you’ll discover there’s much more to Porto than meets the eye.
The town is famous for the São João Festival (celebrating midsummer) in June as well as the Queima das Fitas Festival in May. Queima das Fitas is a week-long celebration for students before their final exams. It involves parades, nightly concerts and, predictably, a little too much port wine!
To escape the masses of rowdy students, we recommend a scenic tour of the many churches, castles and bridges dotting the town.